The Wall anniversary: How Pink Floyd kids’ choir put another plaque on the wall at Islington Green School
PUBLISHED: 10:00 30 November 2017 | UPDATED: 10:57 30 November 2017
Today (Thu) is the anniversary of the release of The Wall, Pink Floyd’s seminal 1979 concept album. But it isn’t just rock fans who’ll be marking the date. Sam Gelder tells a story that has become Islington folklore: how a choir at Islington Green School landed a starring role on one of the most iconic singles of the 1980s.
November 30 is a date that has lingered long in the memory of a group of fourth form students from Islington.
It’s the day when, in 1979, Pink Floyd released their ambitious concept album The Wall – on which they had a starring role.
It all started when maverick music teacher Alun Renshaw, of Islington Green School, was approached by the band to round up some pupils to sing the chorus for single Another Brick in the Wall (Part II) at the Britannia Row recording studios the Floyd had built around the corner four years earlier.
The school – now City of London Academy, Islington – was at the time one of the biggest comprehensives in London.
Head Margaret Maden had recently been drafted in to transform the fortunes of the school and set out a mould for progressive teaching. And so she hired Alun, who would chain-smoke in class and wore the “tightest jeans he could possibly get into”.
Months before the record was released, Roger Waters had decided he needed some London kids to sing the iconic line “we don’t need no education” on the single, which he wrote based on his own experiences of school in the ’50s. “I had this sound in my head of kids, London kids,” he’s since said.
And the stars aligned when the band sent their manager into Islington Green looking for some to do just that. Renshaw snatched the opportunity and marched a group of kids round to the studio.
Last year town hall planners gave the green light for Britannia Row’s conversion into eight flats, though what went on inside those walls back in 1979 will never be forgotten.
“One thing’s for certain,” Alun joked when contacted by the Gazette this week. “If the Pink Floyd studios are turned into flats, the residents will be haunted by the ghostly sounds of children singing, ‘we don’t need no education’.”
It wasn’t just the children causing trouble at Islington Green back in the 1970s. “I would often stand by the gate to see which teachers showed up when – and if they were sober,” Mrs Maden has since been quoted as saying.
Quite significantly, Alun was unaware of the lyrics Roger Waters had penned for his class to sing. When he went to the head to break the news about what they’d actually ended up committing to tape, she was less than pleased, and she still had no idea the scale of trouble the anti-establishment message would cause.
Another Brick in the Wall (Part II) was banned in South Africa and parents everywhere were appalled by its message.
"If the Pink Floyd studios are turned into flats, the residents will be haunted by the ghostly sounds of children singing, ‘we don’t need no education’."
That didn’t stop it spending four weeks at the top of the charts in the UK, though, and it hit the top spot around the world too, much to the delight of the pupils. Unfortunately, they were banned from being in the video by Mrs Maden – but they did get tickets to a Pink Floyd concert, an album, and a copy of the single.
Alun soon moved to Australia, where he now runs a music education website and writes books. When he went back to the school in 1983 he saw a plaque on a wall at the school announcing that its pupils had performed on the song.
He still keeps in touch with students after flying back for a BBC documentary 10 years ago and has enjoyed a level of fame himself thanks to the track. He’s even having a feature film made about his life by Holborn production company Left Bank Pictures.
The school became an academy in 2008 and the band’s studios have also seen major changes.
It was owned by Floyd drummer Nick Mason, and was eventually turned it into offices, with the studio moving to Fulham in 1995.
Britannia Row Productions, a music production company that was also based in the studio, was bought from Pink Floyd in 1979. The firm moved to Wandsworth in 1991, but not after working on shows for major soul stars including Whitney Houston and Stevie Wonder, and before that doing the sound for Queen’s Hyde Park show in 1975, which attracted 150,000 people.