We once ran the Solstice Bookshop, 1977-82

Photo:Paul Bonett outside the Solstice Bookshop in 1977

Paul Bonett outside the Solstice Bookshop in 1977

Photo by James Stevenson from Paul Bonett's collection

Photo:The Solstice Bookshop advertised in the North Laine Runner in 1978

The Solstice Bookshop advertised in the North Laine Runner in 1978

At 28 Trafalgar Street

By Paul Bonett

We, Tim Pullman, Geoff Moore and I, opened Solstice Bookshop at 28 Trafalgar Street in the spring of 1977.

Next door to Bioscope Books

It was a continuation of Symposium Bookshop, a funky bookshop in The Lanes run by Chris Reid, Anthony Hindson (and Richard Inverarity?) in Market Square. (Geoff also worked there but I am not sure he was paid very much - more a labour of love!). As far as I remember, they were at the end of their lease and could not afford the new terms, so decided to close. We made an offer for their stock and bookshelves and opened Solstice at 28 Trafalgar Street, right next door to the brilliant Bioscope Books, a treasure trove of film books with a very good second-hand general selection too.

Reasonable rents then in the North Laine

The North Laine was deeply unfashionable in the 1970s so rents were more reasonable.  Our landlord was Murray Gordon, owner of Sammy Gordon’s, a trendy, mainly Italian, suit shop in North Street. One of his staff lived upstairs and I think No 28 may have been Murray Gordon’s tailors before we took it over.

A reading room for Brighton bibliophiles

We were able to take the ‘palm trees’ (designed by Roger Dean?) from the Virgin Records branch in Queen’s Road, which was being revamped, and we had pouffes as seating too. This gave the shop a sort of ‘Island Records’ feel. It also meant that we became a bit of a reading room for Brighton bibliophiles with little money but time on their hands, who would come in to read our books rather than buy them! Maybe not our best business decision to have comfy chairs, but we were not the most business-like people then.

Books that mainstream bookshops ignored

Our agenda was to stock books that most mainstream bookshops ignored – European and American literature, poetry, including local poets, science fiction, politics, religious mysticism, psychology and psychotherapy, alternative technology, martial arts, underground comics (such as the brilliant Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers and Metal Hurlant ), holistic therapy, especially acupuncture, astrology, the occult, and so on. We also had a small second-hand section. We had an account with Surridge Dawson in Gloucester Road, by the Eagle pub, and stocked some guitar mags, Time Out and a few other specialist magazines, including Azimov’s Science Fiction and Analog Science Fiction. We had The Leveller, Co-evolution Quarterly and Resurgence too.

Our suppliers

A book which pretty much represented our values was The Last Whole Earth Catalog, a brilliant source of information, which we received from San Francisco.  Our UK paperback suppliers were Gardners, but our favourites were Book People in San Francisco. Their catalogue was brilliant and very wide ranging. We could get City Lights Books (the poetry of the Beats, etc); Black Sparrow Press (Bukowski, Paul Bowles); new science fiction; Children of Dune before it was available in the UK; and other highlights. Book People also stocked Princeton University Press paperbacks, publishing Jung’s works at much cheaper prices than the Routledge hardbacks! We generally stocked Jung in hardback and paperback: I am not sure RKP were very happy that we had the US imports, but…

Early books by Raymond Briggs

Children’s books we loved were the early Raymond Briggs': Fungus the Bogeyman was our all time bestseller! Mr Briggs, who worked at the Art College in those days, was also a customer of ours from time to time.

Good relationship with other booksellers

We had quite a good relationship with most other booksellers in Brighton, although, at the time, I think Richard Cupidi, owner of The Public House Bookshop, thought we were parvenus: he may have been right, but our customers liked us.  Latterly, Richard and I have met a few times and we are pretty friendly now! John from Public House was always very friendly and, of course, there were Vernon and Gisella at Kemp Town Books, who we often recommended if we did not have a title in stock.

We each had our special interests

Tim was knowledgeable about and really enjoyed photography, so we stocked Ansel Adams, Edward Curtis and others. He was also a muso and we had some good music biogs. The Martial Arts and Eastern Philosophy sections reflected my interests (this continues today). The poetry section was Tim’s baby too. Geoff was very knowledgeable on astrology, so our Astrology section had a big following. It was around then that astrology evening classes took off locally and we were stockists.  He could be relied on for literature and politics too.

The shop was sometimes targeted

We used to stock Socialist Worker (the weekly paper of the Socialist Workers Party), which got us into serious trouble a few times. We were threatened with being bombed and set on fire on two occasions, and we had our windows smashed twice. There was a third attempt when we were open on a Saturday afternoon. A drunk National Front member threw a bottle at the window but it bounced off the frame. I ran out and chased him up the road. Amazingly, a police car happened to be driving up Trafalgar Street: the police got involved and we trapped the man in a car park next to where GB Liners has their big store now, and he was caught. Allegedly he was a prospective NF election candidate for Shoreham: that was the end of his political career!

Special Branch kept an eye on us

As a result of local fascist activity, we developed a close relationship with Special Branch, with two of them keeping a close eye on us. I am not sure they were that happy looking after hippy booksellers, but they did their job and were really good guys to have on your side.

The windows had to be boarded at night

Following the attacks, our insurers insisted we put boarding on our windows at night, so we had these specially painted by Dave Parvin, a graduate of Ravensbourne College of Art. They depicted the four seasons of the year over the panels. Dave was also responsible for the giant honeycomb and bees in our window display, on which we showcased our stock (they were a part of his degree show - I wonder if anyone has a picture of these, as they were really great).

Poetry reading with Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky

A special literary event happened at the Meeting House in The Lanes in 1979, when we and Public House Bookshop jointly organised a poetry reading with Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky.  I am sure Richard Cupidi could add a lot of detail to this event. My wife Dee still has the copy of Howl that Allen Ginsberg signed for her.

Bookstalls at Sussex University

We used to run bookstalls up at Sussex University in September.  We were pals with the other alternative people in Brighton such as Infinity Foods, Pulse Wholefood Café and, politically, the Anti-Nazi League (ANL).  We stocked a few records on The Attrix label, who had a shop around the corner in Sydney Street.

We helped promote the early London to Brighton bike rides

We got involved in promoting the early London to Brighton bike rides and, when the aggro was on with the National Front, I ran a few self-defence classes at the Resource Centre in North Road: strange times!  These were attended by some staff from Infinity Foods, local Labour Party activists, ANL members - a selection of non-violent people.

No money in alternative books

You can’t make money out of ‘alternative’ books: we had a pretty much breadline existence, although really fascinating. By the time I had two children I really needed to earn some kind of living, so in 1982 we agreed to sell the shop as a going concern and it was bought by the Garlands, who changed its name to Garlands Bookshop and Solstice sadly was no more.

The North Laine area in the late 1970s/early 80s

When we opened Solstice, Trafalgar Street was the last vestige of civilisation before entering the hinterland that was Cheapside and the New England Road area. Most of the north side of the Street was empty of shops, bar a few gems such as the Pottery Workshop run by the indefatigable Peter Stocker, and the Golf Shop, which moved out to the Lewes Road. Of course on our side of the street there was the Steam Bakery at the bottom, the Lord Nelson pub, Bioscope Books, a second-hand bookshop (called Trafalgar Books I think), plus the great newsagents next door to us, who must have thought we were very weird…we were! 

Sydney Street, around the corner, had vegetable shops, butchers and all sorts of useful stores: no comment about some of those there now!  Clippers Barbers was there too (and still going strong in 2011) and a great toy shop, Gamer.

[Previously published in the North Laine Runner, No 210, May/June 2011]



This page was added on 10/06/2011.

I have a recollection of a poetry reading in the basement in the late 70s.....

By Roy
On 19/10/2011

Given a whole new concept of over the counter transactions and derivative products!

By Hal
On 01/05/2012

Now back as a book shop. Probably not as cool, and definitely still not making a fortune. But Rainbow Books survives (almost 15 years so far).

By Kevin
On 05/03/2013

Does anyone have any photos of the old Trafalgar Street steam bakery?

By Adam
On 17/06/2013

Nice piece Paul! John, once of Public House Bookshop, here. Despite those damned Nazis (probably all respectable UKIP members now...) these were very good and inspirational times. It was great to hook up with Richard a couple of times recently to talk about the Public House and the whole Brighton scene at that time. You were slightly annoying newcomers up there in Trafalgar Street but actually we got to love you in the end. Hope you're all well and very best wishes!

By John
On 21/06/2013

I used to buy underground comics in Solstice... the above mentioned Furry Freak Bros and another, darker publication called Slow Death - which was years ahead of its time - being an ecologically based comic. I used to shop in Public House books as well. They used to have a few records in a cardboard box on the counter which always held interesting stuff. As mentioned, Cheapside on the north side of Trafalgar Street was a wasteland, but it did have Comet electricals, which was based in a very tall building. You had to go up the stairs right to the top (I've no idea what was on the other floors) to view the stock. I got all my early record players, cassette/ hi-fi stuff in there in the late 70s.

By M Bradshaw
On 13/01/2014

Hi John, just seen this and good to hear from you. I've met up with Richard C a couple of times too...friends now :)

By Paul Bonett
On 19/03/2014

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