'CITY AIR MAKES you free after a year and a day' runs an old German saying. Yet it sometimes feels like there's greater freedom to be found along the Thames estuary than in London. The skies are open and people are usually more approachable. The river fills out and grows independent after its buttoned-up adolescence between the city's embankments.
The Kent and Essex sides of the estuary have been among my favourite places to visit for the last fifteen years or so. Here are some recordings from the clay-pigeon ranges of Dartford in the west to the empty expanse of the Maplin Sands in the east. All this will change if plans go ahead to build an airport at the estuary's mouth.
Top row, left to right: the Dartford River Crossing; lyrics from The Jam's Saturday's Kids as grafitti at Tilbury; decaying barge stranded on the Kent shore. Bottom row: detail from the Hoo Peninsula; electricity pylon at Greenhithe, one of the two tallest in Britain; crack in the wall near Canvey Island.
TWO YEARS BEFORE Bill Fontana's well-publicised River Soundings show at Somerset House was Soundings from the Estuary, a more intimate depiction of the Kent side by sound artist Dave Lawrence, writer Germander Speedwell and photographer Frank Watson. You can hear four of Dave's compositions inspired by the Isle of Grain on his website here.
The southern shores of the estuary also star in the 1952 British film noir The Long Memory, set in Gravesend and the marshes to its east. John Mills plays an ex-con trying to lead a quiet life with a draughty old barge as his home. Of course, the past won't leave him alone.
Julien Temple's recent documentary Oil City Confidential is about the pub rock band Dr Feelgood. The film pays nearly as much attention to the band's spawning ground of Canvey Island as it does to the band itself.