Last Updated on 20. September 2021

The October in London – that means it’s time for the London Month of the Dead. Stephen, one of the founders of this unique event, tells us more about it in today’s episode of “Meet the Londoner”.

Stephen Coates from London Month of the Dead

Stephen, please introduce yourself briefly:

I am Stephen Coates, I am a musician by trade but I have been involved in the arts all my life. And in recent years, I have promote and curate events with my company “Antique Beat”. Still a musician during the daytime.

Where in London do you live?

For a long time, I’ve lived in Clerkenwell which is the old part of the City. Now I am living in Vauxhall which has become famous most recently as it’s the site of the new American ambassy. It’s just south of the river.

The London Month of the Dead

When did you start with London Month of the Dead?

We curate London Month of the Dead with our friend Suzette Field of  A Curious Invitation. It started 8 years ago. We were asked by Hendricks Gin to promote and curate a day for them, and that day happened to be in October. So, we had the idea to do a London Day of the Dead, like the Mexican Day of the Dead. They were having a festival for a week and we had an undertaker and various talks about death in London, a death banquet,

It was so popular that we decided the next year, Suzette and I, to have a month of the dead. And we’ve been doing it since then really.

Why did you create this event?

That’s a great question and the answer to that is that we both love London and we both love stuff to do with mortality. We also felt that there was a huge, underused resource in London which is the London cemeteries. The so-called Magnificent Seven in particular. Which are the great gardens of sleep, as the Victorians called them. They were created in the 19th century in response to the awful conditions that the dead were kept within the City before that. Really horrible conditions with overflowing graves in churchyards, a horrible health hazard and also a very disrespectful way to treat the dead in a city that has grown very fast. The Victorians created these new magnificent cemeteries and we felt that they were underused resources, and that people should know about them more and we’d like to do events in them. It really grew from there.

How do you divide work between yourself and Suzette?

I am more at the programming end –  connecting to speakers at the beginning and each year when we sit down and decide whom we would like to hear from. I usually liaise with the speakers more; Suzette builds the website and creates the visual aesthetic. She is extremely good at producing events. So she is more of the producer and we curate it between us.

How do you find topics and speakers for the event?

During each year we write down when we come across interesting speakers or thoughts on whom we would like to hear from. We sit down in April and think about whom we personally would like to hear from and then we get in contact and usually people say yes. Which is great. We do take suggestions and we have speakers that come back year after year.

Which has been your favourite talk ever so far?

That’s a difficult question as there has been so many great ones. I think in some ways, perhaps some of the talks that we had online last year. From Joanna Ebenstein from Morbid Anatomy. She gave a great talk on art and death and the beauty in death. And I think in some ways that was one of my favourite talks because she is a great speaker but also because it kind of summed up what our interest is. There is a huge cultural energy in the subject of mortality and death. Joanna was talking about that.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have had a talk, a wonderful talk, on entomology and death. Which is how insects are on dead bodies and how this is used by the police to solve crimes and also how it tells us something about what happens to a body when they have left. It’s gruesome in a way, but in fact, it was absolutely fascinating to hear that. So that was another favourite.

But there have been many.

What makes London Month of the Dead special?

Well, it’s a much-loved festival and I think one of the reasons for that is that there is a growing ‘Good death’ movement which, I think, is a global thing and it reflects the fact that people would like to be able to talk more about death, to discuss it, to do events about it. It’s almost as if death is back on the menu. It has been hidden away for a long time and so I think we are part of that. We have helped promote that. That what makes it partly what makes it special but also that London has a huge resource of architecture and art and environments connected with death, like cemeteries, which people often don’t realize. We do lots of events in cemeteries which are quite special, obviously.

Why should people visit this year’s event?

We wll back in the cemeteries. Last year we did most of our talks online due to Covid. If you have you been on a tour before you know it’s really magical stuff. So please come!

If people want to support your work, how can this be done?

Great question. Go to our website (https://londonmonthofthedead.com/). We have a series of events happening throughout the year. We have monthly talks, and we have various other events like guided walks, self-guided walks etc, so go to the website and you can join us there.

About Antique Beat

You are also the founder of Antique Beat.  What do you offer there?

Antique Beat was set up originally to do events connected with music, specifically my music. Because we are film-markers and artists, we always want to expand our repertoire outside the music industry. We started off with little exhibitions and it’s grown from there really into areas of performances, talks, cultural events which we offer all year round. Usually talks about London or specific themes. We offer a whole range of talks in person and online.

Stephen about London

What’s a must-see sight in London?

This is gonna sound strange because obviously people regard this as a tourist thing and lots of Londoners don’t do it. But what I always recommend people to do if they are coming to London is to go on the London Eye. Obviously, that’s a very touristy thing to do but it is great fun and it’s a great way to see the city. I recommend going at dawn or sunset and it’s a spectacular way to see the City. Other must-see sights are the London cemeteries. If you wonna go to one only, go to Brompton cemetery in Earl’s Court. There is a café there and you can have a wonderful afternoon there.

3 words to describe London

  • Deep – London is deep with history
  • Layered – there are layers of life all the way back to the Romans
  • Curious – it’s a curious place

Where do you go for a nice lunch?

If you are in the centre of London, go to St Martin-in-the Fields crypt. It’s a cheap cafe underneath the church. If you wonna go a bit more expensive with a good view, I would go to the National Portrait Gallery restaurant. That’s also very nearby St Martin’s. Try to get yourself a seat by the window if you can, it’s got a great view. Or I’ll grab a picknick and I would go to one of the parks.

Favourite cemetery?

Difficult one for me. I probably say Brompton. It’s got a bit of everything.

A place/area/spot to find quiet and peace in busy London?

I have promoted the cemeteries a lot, so I am not gonna say those again. I would say a really lovely place to go in Central London is Southwark Cathedral. It is next to Borough Market which can get very busy at the weekend. The cathedral is a lovely place to sit and get some head space and peace.

Fun stuff about Stephen

Gin and Tonic or Pimm’s?

This is gonna be a shock for you, I don’t actually drink alcohol!

Milk in first or last?

Well, I am also a vegan, so I only have oat milk. But always put the milk in first if you gonna have tea from a pot. That was the reason for putting it in first, of course, to stop the beautiful China cup from shattering.

Favourite colour?

Black, of course

Best advice you were given?

Stay curious, my parents told me that.

London Month of the Dead on Social Media

Thanks Stephen for the interview and see you soon on one of the events for London Month of the Dead.

 

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