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Woolwich: How Pouya Ehsaei is set to bring his Parasang project to Woolwich Works

The British Iranian musician will be performing on the same bill as Addictive TV at Arsenal Of Sounds

Pouya Ehsaei, centre, is set to perform at Woolwich Works – image Monika S Jakubowska/Kings Place

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Musician, sound designer, producer, curator and promoter Pouya Ehsaei wants his audience to join him on a journey and it’s called Parasang.

Talk to him about the project and it quickly becomes apparent that the British Iranian creative is more or less constantly in a state of flux himself – sands shift, ideas evolve and develop.

Parasang is a Farsi word for an ancient unit of measurement – specifically the distance it is possible to travel from one location to another in a single day.

“If you were to go from London to Reading, for example, that would be two parasangs,” said Pouya. “If you go today, then you’d get there tomorrow night.”

Parasang isn’t, however, about traversing great distances.

“It’s a live collaboration between Pouya and a series of other musicians, fusing his electronic music with their free improvisation.

Created initially as a club night, it ran for 30 performances between 2018 and 2020.

“The idea was to invite musicians from around the world with different backgrounds who would not normally play with electronic music to join me on stage in a club so we could improvise and play together,” said Pouya.

 The project then went virtual during the pandemic and has now changed again.

“That was using streaming platforms and we were jamming online,” said Pouya. 

“There was me in my room and musicians from all over the world – from Detroit, Berlin, South Korea and Brazil – we played together remotely, which was very complicated to set up, but we managed it.

Pouya’s system allows him to jam on stage with musicians – image Monika S Jakubowska/Kings Place

“Now we changed Parasang to be a bit more like a trio or duo that plays electronic dance music mixed with world music in a concert set-up.

“I developed a hardware system so I could improvise with the musicians on stage.

“I have a modular synthesizer, a sampler, a drum machine and a few effects pedals – I signal process all of the sound from the musicians I’m working with as well.

“Everything goes through my system. I mostly make the structure with simple beats, atmospheric sounds and modular generated patterns and then the musicians will freely improvise over the top of that. 

“Each of our concerts is one of a kind – the music is made there on stage and it will never be the same again.”

Parasang is set to be one half of the double-bill event Arsenal Of Sounds, which is set to take over Woolwich Works’ Beanfeast venue at Royal Arsenal Riverside on October 7, 2022.

Also on the bill will be Addictive TV’s Orchestra Of Samples, which sees soundscapes created from a vast library of recordings from musicians all around the world.

For this iteration of Parasang, Pouya will be joined on stage by Kadialy Kouyate, a kora player and griot (storyteller and musician) from Senegal.

“Every time I’ve played with him – three times so far with Parasang – it’s magic,” said Pouya. “His sound, his voice and his kora go very well with the stuff that I do.

“I’m really looking forward to the performance at Woolwich.

“The main idea is the sense of journey in our music. We start with something very pure and we take that purity to many places and we like our audience to come with us.

“Our music is hypnotic, immersive and atmospheric.”

Addictive TV's Orchestra Of Samples is also on the bill
Addictive TV’s Orchestra Of Samples is also on the bill

Pouya has been on a journey himself, both physical and musical, to get to where he is.

“Originally I’m from Iran and I started as a musician when I was a teenager – I took flamenco guitar lessons before moving on to classical guitar,” he said.

“In my early 20s I was teaching classical guitar in a school in Iran and then I found out about the electric guitar and I got into metal, nu-metal and rock music.

“It was a big thing back then.

“This was all underground though, in people’s houses or very small venues because that kind of music was banned.

“It was very hard to have a band and to do concerts – really to keep everyone motivated – so I gravitated to electronic music because you could just do that on your own.

“I could sit in my bedroom and send it out into the world, just to have a voice. There was no need to find rehearsal space for a band. 

“It’s hard to be committed as a group if you can’t play concerts or really get any kind of feedback on what you’re doing.

“So then I stopped playing guitar and applied to study music technology at York and then I did a PhD before moving to London 10 years ago.

“I’ve been playing music here for a decade now.”

In many ways, Pouya created Parasang in an effort to recapture the feeling he’d had playing music as part of a group, rather than creating it on his own.

“When I came to the UK, I was working on electronic music and that aspect of being in a band with others was missing,” he said.

“That’s why I thought I’d get rid of the laptop and arrange my instruments so I could just play with others intuitively and do that live if I wanted.

“I really like it, the state of flow you get into – the connection I feel with the musicians is completely different than if you just play alone.

Pouya will be joined by kora player Kadialy Kouyate for Parasang in Woolwich
Pouya will be joined by kora player and singer Kadialy Kouyate for Parasang in Woolwich – image Monika S Jakubowska/Kings Place

“Especially when you’re improvising, you have to be present in the moment – all your senses are at work – and with my setup there are so many cables, knobs and buttons, they demand a state of complete focus. That’s something I really enjoy.

“When you come to a city like London it’s so vast and so big that you’re a little bit confused in the beginning. 

“Finding people you want to work with and feeling part of a community can take a long time.

“But I have that now and I really feel that this is just the beginning for me. I’m now in the process of turning Parasang into more of a band situation.

“We don’t want to be a club night any more.

“The plan is to have an album a year with, say, with two musicians I want to work with, and then to go on tour with that before changing the line-up.”

It’s also through collaboration that Pouya came to be aware of the work of Addictive TV, the group he’s now sharing a bill with for the second time.

“I have a band called Ariwo, which is me playing with three musicians from Cuba – mixing Cuban and electronic music,” said Pouya, who has performed at venues such as King’s Place, the Barbican, the Royal Albert Hall, the Southbank Centre and the Royal Academy of Arts.

“We were playing at the Womad festival and I saw Addictive TV’s Orchestra Of Samples there – I was totally blown away by what they’d done.

“They saw one of the Parasang club nights in London and we got in touch. I think it was in May that we did a similar thing to what we’re doing in Woolwich – getting together for a concert. That turned out really well – we’re a good combination.”

Arsenal Of Sounds – Orchestra Of Samples And Parasang takes place at 8pm on October 7, 2022. Standard tickets cost £10.50.

Read more: How Third Space helps Wharfers make the most of their time

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com

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Greenwich: How Joy’s Caribbean Fusion tackles waste and meat consumption

Founder Tescha Joy blended banana skins, spices and veganism to create a street food business

Tescha Joy of Joy's Caribbean Fusion
Tescha Joy of Joy’s Caribbean Fusion image Matt Grayson

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Taste and waste is what Tescha Joy is all about. Driven by a desire to create sustainable, eco-friendly, flavourful food, she created Joy’s Caribbean Fusion – a street food brand that had its debut at Bexley’s Wasteless Market two-and-a-half years ago.

Since then she’s gone on to establish herself at RARE Farmers Market at Royal Arsenal Riverside and recently started a residency every Thursday from noon-8pm, at Pegler Square in Kidbrooke Village, just by the station.

 Her food is vegan and contains only plant-based ingredients, cooked with Caribbean spices to create dishes that attract longer queues at the markets she serves than stalls selling meat. And it all started with some banana skins.

Scroll down for Tescha’s Banana Skin Curry recipe

“I’m a public health nurse and work three days a week in the NHS,” said Tescha.

“My first dish was banana skin curry – I was at work one day and everyone was throwing away their banana skins and I asked them to give them to me instead.

“I hate waste so I took those skins and created a dish with them. There’s lots of iron, fibre and many other nutrients in them. The whole point of the dish was that I wanted to show people that you don’t have to throw away certain ingredients. 

“I showed you can create a nice meal from them and that’s where I got the idea for the business – it’s the dish I took to the Wasteless Market and it’s the only recipe I’m happy to share because I want people to recreate it at home.

“I want to have it printed in this paper so readers can use it rather than throw away their banana skins. 

“We’d normally throw them away in the Caribbean too – people over there are amazed when I tell them.   

“I’d decided to go vegan for environmental reasons – I think we eat too much meat in this country. I’m not anti-meat, but I think it’s important to cut down.

“Climate change is important to me because I want a better future for my children – I want them to grow up in a world where we waste less food. 

“I know what it’s like to be hungry. The majority of people in this country don’t know what that’s like and we need to cut the amount of food we throw away.

“I’ll literally make a dish from nothing – some potato peelings can be put in the oven with olive oil and you have some crisps.”

Tescha's take on doubles with chickpea curry
Tescha’s take on doubles with chickpea curry and pickles – image Matt Grayson

Tescha’s banana skin curry remains a firm favourite on the menu at Joy’s, joined by a host of core dishes intended to delight diners with both flavour and texture.

She said: “Cooking is also my passion and it’s in my blood. My parents owned a restaurant in the Caribbean. I would have to just get changed after school and go and help whether I wanted to or not.

“My brother owns a restaurant in Catford and I have another brother who is in America and has a restaurant there.

“There’s a long family tradition of cooking, but I’m the only one who does vegan.

“Normally you’d have jerk chicken and jerk pork – quite meaty dishes. I wanted to explore different types of food using Caribbean flavours.

“Also, I think it’s good for my children to see that vegetables can be really tasty and it’s better for the planet.

“On the classic menu, I have chickpea curry with flatbread – it’s really naughty because it’s deep fried – and that’s served with mango chutney, which I make from scratch before every market, tamarind sauce and pickled onion, red cabbage and cucumber.

“In the Caribbean we call it doubles because you get two smaller breads, but I do it as one large one, just to be a bit different.

“We also do rice bowls with toppings of barbecue jerk mushroom, jerk tofu and cauliflower bites.

“My best seller is the combination bowl where you get a bit of everything including the chickpea curry and the flatbread. It all comes with the same toppings – the chutney and the pickles.

“Then we do specials such as vegan fish, which is made from jackfruit or banana blossom with plant-based marine ingredients to give it that fishy flavour.

“People can be a bit hesitant to try vegan dishes, but once they do, they usually come back and say they don’t need the meat.

“I catered for a wedding in December and the bride told me some of the guests thought they’d need to go to the local burger shop after they’d eaten the food.

“But she called me back later and told me nobody had gone – they all were amazed at the texture of the dishes and the different flavours.

“I’ve built up a big following in the areas where I trade – at RARE in Woolwich I have a queue, which is longer than the meat queue and I think people are becoming more aware of veganism and meat-eaters are also cutting down and having plant-based food instead.”

Joy's serves a range of vegan dishes
Joy’s serves a range of vegan dishes – image Matt Grayson

New dishes undergo strict quality control from Tescha’s children who taste all of her dishes before they’re allowed to make it onto the stall.

Her ambition is to keep growing the business to the point where it can operate more widely and be her sole focus.

“I’m still working as a nurse, which is something I’ve been doing for 20 years,” she said. “I’d love to have Joy’s in multiple locations, to train people up to run those stalls and serve the food. 

“At the moment my goal is to get a van so the business can be more mobile.

“This really is my passion – it’s something I want to develop. I now make and sell my own sauces too – called Island Drizzle. 

“People kept coming and asking me for my recipes and my husband said: ‘Don’t tell them, just put it in a bottle’.

“It comes in medium, hot and extra hot. They’re all vegan too and are quite different to a lot of sauces out there because you can use them as a marinade, a dressing and as a condiment.

“It’s not the hottest sauce around because I’m more into the flavour than the heat – customers can come down and try it.”

Cook it: Banana Skin Curry

While most of Tescha’s recipes remain secret, she’s happy to help people cut down on waste by sharing this one – perfect for using up that unwanted peel…

Tescha's Banana Skin Curry
Tescha’s Banana Skin Curry

Ingredients (serves three-four)

4-5 large ripe banana skins

1 cup peeled, diced potato

3 tbsp lemon juice

1 tsp sea salt

1 tbsp curry powder 

1 tsp turmeric

1/4 tsp fennel seeds 

1/4 tsp cumin seed

2 cardamom pods

3 cloves garlic

1 tsp ground coriander 

1/3 tsp chopped scotch bonnet 

       chilli pepper (optional) 

3 tbsp vegetable oil

1 large onion finely (chopped) 

1 tbsp fresh thyme (chopped)

1 tbs curry leaves (optional)

2 tbsp fresh coriander (chopped)

1 cup water 

1/2 cup coconut milk

Method

Thoroughly wash the banana skins, remove the rigid woody end at the top and dark spot at the end. 

Add lemon juice to the skins to stop them going dark while chopping (they will still be edible, even if this happens, so don’t worry).

Use a spoon to scrape out the inner lining and discard the scrapings. Depending on your preference, finely or roughly chop the skins. Then add the diced potato to them and combine with salt, curry powder and turmeric. 

In a pestle and mortar, place the fennel seeds, cumin seeds, cardamom pod, garlic, ground coriander and chilli. Grind into a paste. Add the paste to the banana skins and potatoes and mix in well. Add chilli here if preferred for a spicier dish.

Add the oil to a frying pan, heat and turn down. Add the chopped onion and stir until softened and then tip in the chopped banana skin mix. Increase  the heat and sauté for 10 minutes. 

Add the coconut milk, water, thyme, curry leaves and fresh coriander to the pan. Cover and leave to simmer for 15-20 minutes. 

Add an extra 1/4 cup of water if you prefer a more moist curry. Remove from heat once the banana skins and potatoes are soft. Serve with rice of your choice, a flatbread or on a bed of salad.

Tescha Joy

Read more: Tom Carradine celebrates six years of Cockney sing-a-longs at Wilton’s

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Greenwich: How a bottle of Greenwich Gin contains a journey all around the world

We talk to Gonzalo Ruiz about creating a spirit with consensus inspired by the prime meridian

Greenwich Gin’s Gonzalo Ruiz – image Matt Grayson

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Greenwich Gin is a coming together in many different senses.

Its creator, Gonzalo Ruiz, first began distilling botanicals at his home at Royal Arsenal Riverside as a lockdown project.    

“Since I was born I’ve always been moving around,” he said. “I’m originally from Colombia but I’ve lived in Canada, in the USA, in Switzerland, in Hong Kong, Germany and now here.

“The person that I am is a mix of all of the places where I’ve lived and, in many of them, I’ve picked up on specific flavours and cuisines. I’ve always been a gin lover, so I thought I would try to distil some of these botanicals and see what happened.

“I spent about a year and half playing with my two-litre copper still, trying dozens and dozens of ingredients. I found that while many work really well on their own, they don’t mix.

“So it’s trial and error – there’s no scientific explanation for why a combination of flavours work together. It was often a frustrating process, but eventually I narrowed it down to a selection of botanicals where I was happy with the result.” 

Having come up with the recipe, Gonzalo thought the resulting spirit would contribute something different to the ever growing gin market.

So he set about scaling up production and creating a brand that would do justice to the liquid in the bottle.

“The name of the gin has a lot to do with the prime meridian, which enabled navigation around the world,” he said.

“But there’s a subtlety about Greenwich, which is often overlooked – to me it’s a really nice detail. Unlike the equator, which is the physical middle of the Earth – something nobody can dispute – the prime meridian could really be anywhere.

“So the whole world has to agree where it is. All the countries had to come together and make a decision for the greater good – to decide that time would begin in Greenwich – the place where west and east separate.

“The concept of the world coming together for something is reflected in the gin. The gold line down the middle of the bottle symbolises the prime meridian.”

Greenwich Gin is inspired by consensus – image Matt Grayson

Inspired by the spirit of consensus reached at the International Meridian Conference in 1884, Gonzalo’s recipe is all about diverse ingredients working together to achieve something greater than themselves. 

“I describe the flavour as an ocean journey around the world,” he said. “There are always the marine botanicals in the background – Atlantic dulse and kombu kelp from the Celtic Sea and sea fennel from the British Isles. The first two grow in the ocean and provide that backdrop.

“There are traditional botanicals found in many gins too such as bitter orange, coriander, juniper and angelica.

“Then the world botanicals I’ve hand-picked from across the globe – some are dry, some are sweet – they help give the gin peaks of flavour as you drink it.

“As much as it is a local gin, created in Greenwich and produced in Kent, it is a global spirit that ties back to my personal story. It brings all those world flavours and cuisines together.

“I’ve sourced many of the botanicals directly from people around the world that I have a connection with.

“There’s a map on the bottle that shows where they come from. Balsam fir, for example, comes from the Canadian arboreal forest and there’s a family who actually live among the trees and ship the fir tips that they forage every spring, to us.

“There’s lime from Mexico and lulo, which is a tropical fruit from Colombia. It’s really acidic – you can’t really eat it on its own, but people use it to flavour desserts and juices and now I use it to flavour gin.

“That’s why you get a citrus flavour that’s a bit more on the tropical side.

“We also use sustainably sourced tonka beans and pink pepper from the Amazon in Brazil and sakura from Japan, which are the cherry blossoms. Their floral flavour is very subtle and brings a touch of spring into the gin.”

Greenwich Gin at Royal Arsenal Riverside – image Matt Grayson

Balancing the input of these diverse ingredients was tough enough during development and Gonzalo discovered that scaling up production threw up new challenges. 

“It was almost like starting over, but more expensive because the quantities are greater,” he said. “You’d think you’d just multiply the original recipe but there are so many variables.

“I haven’t started a distillery as that’s a big investment, but I found a family business in Kent that allows me to be very hands on.

“First we scaled up to 50 litres, which was difficult and then to 200, which was slightly easier. In the end we’ve got something that’s close enough to the original and it’s in time for the Christmas season.”

That final period of development provided yet another opportunity for the theme of consensus to emerge.

“When you treat something as a business, you treat it differently – it’s no longer a hobby,” said Gonzalo. “You’re trying to balance your prices with the quality of your product. 

“One of the things I struggled with when developing a recipe, was that you might create something that’s perfect for you, but it might not be what most people want.

“I had to make some compromises on that, more towards the end.

“While we were doing the final scaling, we had a lot of blind tastings with other people and I tweaked the recipe in a way that maybe I wouldn’t have if it had just been for me.

“But people found it pleasing – they enjoyed some of the botanicals we’ve included more, so we’ve brought them a little more into the foreground.

“It’s all about finding balance. If I were to describe the flavour in one word, it would be ‘fresh’. But the great thing about this gin is that the taste is not homogeneous, it’s a journey.

“You start on the citrus side and then get peaks of intriguing flavours. On the finish you get spice from the tonka beans and the pink pepper.

“Creating the branding has also been very hard – bringing together work by freelancers with my own additions to represent the spirit.”

Greenwich Gin is available online as well as at select retailers in the borough including the Old Royal Naval College and Royal Museums Greenwich.

Miniatures cost £6 while 50cl and 70cl bottles cost £32 and £39.50 respectively. 

Gonzalo is also often to be found selling the spirit at weekends at Greenwich Market.

Read more: Hawksmoor opens up in Canary Wharf

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Woolwich: Why Berkeley Homes continues to finesse Royal Arsenal Riverside scheme

Tweaks to Building 10 deliver greater access, commercial units and eight new properties to buy

Windsor Square under construction at Building 10
Windsor Square under construction at Building 10 – image Matt Grayson

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As the team from Berkeley Homes are leading me on a tour of the Building 10 site at its Royal Arsenal Riverside development, I spot an unexpected local resident. 

As the dwindling light of an autumnal Monday streams through the open roof of what will become a partially enclosed public square, it falls on the glossy, auburn coat of a fox.

He stops briefly to survey us in our hi-vis PPE, before disappearing off about his business, bushy tail bobbing behind him.

Foxes are deeply practical animals. Their intelligence and flexibility has seen them adapt with ease to increasingly built-up areas of London, becoming a common sight across the capital as they effortlessly tailor their lives and ambitions to the realities they encounter. They’re smart – and it pays off. 

Berkeley is similarly adaptive and pragmatic. It has to be. Instead of simply levelling the 88-acre Woolwich site and starting again – arguably the easier option – it’s made a consistent and conscious effort to preserve and celebrate the area’s heritage. 

That has meant refurbishing and reimagining existing structures and ensuring a flavour of Royal Arsenal’s sprawling operations – that at their peak saw 80,000 people employed locally in the manufacture of weapons and ammunition and supporting trades – remains.

Berkeley East Thames development director Julian Evans
Berkeley East Thames development director Julian Evans – image Matt Grayson

Working with older buildings, no matter how careful the preparations made, is unpredictable. Sometimes, until you get on site, the feel of the finished product is unclear. 

It’s also the case that developments take a long time and, sometimes, what was originally planned no longer suits the demands and desires of the people who will ultimately use it.

A certain amount of finessing is therefore to be expected and Berkeley’s latest proposal for Building 10 continues a process of tweaks made to the original scheme, which was approved in 2017.

That included plans for 18,800sq ft of commercial space split into seven units, which was increased to 34,600sq ft over 10 units in 2019 with the addition of mezzanine floors to spaces at the western end of the site and the introduction of a fresh access route out to Major Draper Square.

The original architectural model of Building 10
The original architectural model of Building 10 – image Matt Grayson

Berkeley East Thames development director Julian Evans said: “We continually think about whether we have the right solution in terms of the buildings we are developing.

 “We’ve recognised that the nature of the proposed commercial spaces underneath the new-build section of Building 10 is they are constrained by the historic arches, meaning they would be compromised to the point that, if we took them to market, they wouldn’t be attractive to potential tenants.

“The nature of retail, particularly, is about that frontage – that footfall. It’s understanding that visually, people need to be able to see that where a business is and what it does.

“So we reviewed the eastern large ground floor space and created something new – we’re proposing an atrium with four smaller commercial units that gives people a wonderful sightline through to an existing archway, which will connect out to the next phase of Royal Arsenal Riverside.

“This will create a link between the two, while also maintaining the ability to have smaller, modern but more prominent retail units that face outwards onto the street.”

An interior at the Building 10 show home
An interior at the Building 10 show home – image Matt Grayson

The new proposal keeps the total number of commercial units at 10, with a slight reduction in space on the 2019 proposal. It still represents an increase of 52% on the 2017 scheme and opens up the semi-enclosed square at both ends. 

“At the same time, this change means there’s an opportunity to create eight mews-style houses that we know people crave from what we’ve delivered on-site to date,” said Julian. 

“Buyers want something different. The properties would be set over two levels – they have the feel of a house and they’re quirky in their nature.

“The houses at Building 10 will also be homes people can both work and live in if they need to.

“What people have loved over the years is that the historic properties we’ve created at the development don’t exist anywhere else – they’re unique to this place. 

“It’s a really great proposal and, I think when we take all of the commercial units to market, it’s such an exciting space that they will be really well received.”

The change also plays into Berkeley’s strategy for fostering small business growth locally.

Head of social value Carolina Correia
Head of social value Carolina Correia – image Matt Grayson

The developer’s head of social value Carolina Correia said: “We’ve been very lucky to have been working with a number of micro businesses in the area who have expressed an interest in being on-site. 

“They recognise how interesting Royal Arsenal Riverside is as a proposition.

“We have a coffee cab that stays here from Tuesdays to Sundays. Then we have a rotation of different street foods.

“The plan is to create an arcade at Building 10, which will have some of these smaller commercial units, and it’s a great opportunity for some of these businesses to trade here. We’re also working hand in hand with Greenwich Cooperative Development Agency to provide training and mentorship so these businesses can grow to full commercial propositions.

Julian added: “This whole concept of incubating local businesses that start on a kitchen table and come to us, explain what they want to do and then get help, is what Berkeley has been doing from day one. This latest proposal is part of that.”

Building 10 comprises a new-build structure containing more than 110 apartments, alongside Windsor Square, a partially covered space that once formed part of the Carriage Works at Royal Arsenal.

The proposed eight new residential properties would range in size from one to three bedrooms and would feature double height spaces, first floor balconies, historic features, a split level layout and dual aspect living.

Prices for homes already on sale at Building 10 start at £470,000. One, two and three-bedroom properties are available. 

The building is located close to Woolwich Crossrail station which will offer direct services to Canary Wharf in seven minutes when trains start running in 2022.

A show home is available to view on-site. 

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