lovelondonscenes -81

 

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Trafalgar Square from the steps of the National Gallery yesterday afternoon. popped in for an hour or so before doing a bit of Christmas shopping – wanted to check the Turners and Constables. Inevitably stopped by Caravaggio, Van Dyck, Cezanne, Monnet, Sisley, van Gogh…. how privileged we are in London to be able to do this – for free!

Look carefully in the left foreground and you can see a young boy transfixed by a Yoda! All life…

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My Top Ten – Albums of 2014

So, after much head scratching, here’s my Top Ten of 2014. The hardest choice was between one and two. I thought about equal 1st, but decided that was a cop out. More after the list.

1. Royal Blood – Royal Blood

2. Lost In The Dream – The War On Drugs

3. Sunbathing Animal/Light Up Gold (2013) – Parquet Courts

4. Augustines – Augustines

5. Liminal – The Acid

6. Total Strife Forever – East India Youth

7. Are We There? – Sharon Van Etten

8. Art Official Age/PlectrumElectrum – Prince/3rd Eye Girl

9. Songs Of Innocence – U2

10. I Forget where We Were – Ben Howard

Yeah, it was a hard call to pick No 1. There were three contenders really. Parquet Courts are the best New York new wave band I’ve heard since The Strokes first burst on the scene. I didn’t hear their 2013 album “Light Up Gold” until this year. I immediately fell in love with the opening two tracks, which go together: “Master Of My Craft” and “Borrowed Time”. Amazing punk rock’n’roll. And then there was the epic “Stoned and Starving”. The guitar is something else. 2014’s “Sunbathing Animals” was good, if not as good. Still worth 3rd place though. The War On Drugs “Lost In The Dream” is a wonderfully moving mix of Americana and electronica, with echoes of Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan. It’s a break up album, the story of frontman Adam Granduciel. It’s heartbreaking, utterly beautiful and quite grandiose, as the guitars and sax launch into magnificent solos. Live, at Latitude, I was completely bowled over.

So how didn’t the War On Drugs make No1? Because Royal Blood came along and made the most enjoyable hard rocking album for years. On one level hugely retro, with echoes of Led Zep and the White Stripes’ blues rock; on the other, a totally modern take on the genre. I got into them seeing the impact they had at Glastonbury and Reading/Leeds festivals. Just the two of them – Mike Kerr on bass (sounding like guitar) and Ben Thatcher on drums. A truly awesome noise, which I found completely inspiring.  To continue they’ll have to evolve, probably build up the band. But for now, this was visceral, hugely enjoyable rock’n’roll. It wouldn’t have been honest for me to put anything else at No 1.

At no 4, Augustines continued what sounds to me like their Bruce-inspired rock’n’roll journey. You might have read my review of their recent concert at the Roundhouse, which was so good. They are one of the great live bands. The energy is extraordinary. Singer and guitarist Billy McCarthy really wears his heart on his sleeve. You need to listen to the album a few times before it reveals its treasures, but it is worth it.

The Acid at No 5 you may not know. I heard them for the first time at Latitude. It’s seriously good electro pop. A techno Depeche Mode. Quite a sinister sound at times. Great tunes, with some strikingly bass heavy grooves. This should be massive.

At no 6, I’ve got another artist I saw at Latitude, East India Youth. The album, title a pun on Foal’s second album, is a glorious mixture of pop, electronica and techno. Another grower. Live, William Doyle – who is EIY – leaps around from keyboard to keyboard and plays the bass and just makes an awesome sound. It can only get better.

Sharon Van Etten at 7, is very confessional. “Are We There?’ is a deep album, which works as a whole piece. The previous album, “Tramp” was more country/Americana; this one enters torch song territory. I’m hearing a bit of Patti Smith and PJ Harvey in there too. This is a good thing! One to wallow in.

Prince has been tearing things up live for the last few years. I saw him at the Roundhouse this year, with 3rd Eye Girl giving him some heavy-rocking backing, and he was quite astounding. So many absolute classics, but some good new stuff too. He marked that by releasing two albums together. “Art Official Age”is a great soul funk piece that really grows on you. “PlectrumElectrum” is mostly seventies retro rock, which comes to life on the stage. Together they are immense.

U2 were reviled by some by releasing their new album, “Songs Of Innocence” on iTunes, in collaboration with Apple. You got it even if you didn’t want it – sort of. You had to get it off the Cloud. But onto the music…. it’s not in my U2 top 5, but it is still a really good rock/pop album. Give it a chance!

Finally, in the ten, Ben Howard, with his follow up album to the hugely successful “Every Kingdom”. I’ve got my son, Kieran, to thank for putting me on to the man. We saw him at Latitude in 2012 and he was superb, one of the best that year, and really popular with the youth. An excellent guitarist, focusing at that time on the acoustic. On “I Forget Where We Were” he’s switched to electric, with plenty of echo and is creating a similar atmosphere to another contemporary band, Daughter.  Most of all though, I’m reminded of the late great John Martyn, and some of his classic seventies pieces like “Solid Air” and “One World”. That is a recommendation and a half!

So that’s the Ten. For those of you with access to Spotify, you can hear a selection of tracks from the albums at the link below. I’ve added four other artists to that playlist because they each meant a lot to me in 2014.

Nils Frahm is a brilliant electro-classical keyboardist. He, again, was at Latitude and was astoundingly good. I’ve included his track “Says”, from 2013 album “Spaces”.  I had to include an Emily Barker track from her wonderful 2013 album “Dear River” and I’ve chosen the heart-rending “In The Winter I Returned”, which is musical poetry. I saw Swedish folkies First Aid Kit at Latitude and enjoyed them without  getting too excited. But I kept on hearing tracks on BBC 6 Music from 2013’s “Stay Gold” and thinking, I really like this. So I bought the album and I now love it! The title track is on my selection.

And finally, in honour of the wonderful Don Letts-inspired reggae dance-athon into the early hours on the last night of Latitude, I give you Bob Marley’s “Is This Love”. When this came on and everyone was skanking, it was one of those truly magical moments. On a muddy slope in a damp wood, we grooved to the sunshine sounds of Jamaica.

Yeah, this is love!

Best of 2014 (and some 2013 extras)

 

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lovelondonscenes – 80 – A Walk to Work

I work in an office in 30 Millbank, just off the monstrous Millbank Tower, which is now a listed sixties building. It’s all near the Thames, which is great. I walk there most days from Pimlico station, about ten minutes away. I love the walk. It’s often a relief after a hideous tube journey from home to Green Park or Victoria, littered with signal failures and defective trains. The last leg, on the Victoria line, from one of those stations to Pimlico, is usually smooth. But the stress can still be there. The walk to work, with great music on the iPod, soothes the soul.

I like the walk because it’s uncrowded, quite serene and full of interesting sights. Some are obviously there every day; others, especially in the Chelsea Art College square, appear from nowhere from time to time.

On a lovely sunny day recently, I thought, I really should take some photos of this walk. I did it today when it was cloudy grey – and freezing! – but I’ve fiddled around with the effects on iPhotos to create a series of photos, all in a ten minute walk, which I hope will be interesting.

To me they show how fascinating the daily routine can be, if you just take a closer look at what is around you.

So, rather more photos than usual on one of my lovelondonscenes, but I hope you you like it!

The offload.

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Leaving the station. These next two are straight iPhone photos. The Tate is near, so it’s advertised.

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Looking at you!

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Escape.

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A government building of some sort.

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Publishers. Turned my eighties novel down many years ago. I’m not bitter!

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Approaching the College.

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Digression.

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Back on track.

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Chelsea Art College, with the Tate ahead,  is the main reason I love the walk…

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Latest exhibit in the square. Something to do with human-powered travel – see next photo!

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Latest shows.

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Spot the Shard!

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The Tate Britain from the front.

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The brutal tower is inescapable. But it’s OK to work in (I don’t, but I’ve been there).

The Boris bikes, named after our quirky Mayor of London.

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A sculpture of sorts. I like it!

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The office!

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In the office we have great view across the Thames to the City… and the Shard.

 

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So amazing!

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Augustines at the Roundhouse, 8 December 2014

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Last concert of the year, back to the Roundhouse, where I’ve had some great moments in recent times, notably Prince and 3rd Eye Girl. This time it was the mighty Augustines, one of the most energetic rock’n’roll bands on the planet. I’d caught them, fairly briefly, at Latitude, in the summer, part of a brilliant sequence on the Sunday afternoon: Parquet Courts, Fat White Family, Augustines and The War On Drugs. And, of course, there was that cameo at the Berwick Street festival in Soho in April, which I blogged about.Tonight we got the full works and it was amazing!

Augustines, led by Billy McCarthy on vocals and guitar, with Eric Sanderson on bass, keyboards and sometimes guitar and Rob Allen on drums, are one of those bands that give you absolutely everything. Their love of the music, their delight at playing to ever-bigger crowds, their passion, honesty, is overwhelming. There are some parallels with early Bruce Springsteen: some of the phraseology, the difficult childhood an inspiration for some of the songs, the redemption in music. The escape, the means of expression, the release of emotion – and the celebration. But it’s simpler, more uptempo, a basic rock’n’roll trio, leavened by the manic trumpet of John Panos on this tour.

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I’ve seen the band four times now, and this was the best. The intensity remained, the interaction with the crowd, but there was a new confidence. McCarthy knew if he turned the mic to the crowd, they would sing the words, knew they could take risks with some of their best known songs. “Philadelphia (City Of Brotherly Love)”, their most dynamic rocker, was stripped down and slowed down to a heartfelt solo triumph for McCarthy, with added crowd singalong. One of the highlights.

Where it turned from a really good concert to a great one was in the drawn out encore, which was almost as long as the main set! But only part of it was on the main stage. First, they appeared, with acoustic guitars, on the balcony and played a couple of songs: “The Avenue”, “Now You Are Free”. The first a lovely ballad, the second one of their anthemic chants. Then they returned to the stage and belted out the awesome “Book Of James”, a song I remember from the first time I saw the band, in front of a few hundred fans in the i-Arena at Latitude in 2012, when I was amazed at the following they already had, and the sheer energy of the performance. The future of rock’n’roll, I said, thinking a little of the hype around Bruce in 1975, when he played Hammersmith Odeon.

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And then, and then, they appeared in the middle of the crowd on the floor of the Roundhouse, again with their acoustics – and communed. There was a raw version of “Weary Eyes” – with audience participation of course – a swaying “East Los Angeles” and then a joyful rendition of Toots and the Maytals “Pressure Drop”. Which was also covered by The Clash – I think there was a connection there. Billy McCarthy shares that rock’n’roll spirit with the great man himself, Joe Strummer.

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They finished with “New Drink For The Old Drunk” back on stage – I think! Memory was getting blurred by now!

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While they were in amongst the crowd I got the distinct impression that they would happily have set up shop and played favourite songs early into the morning. This is a band utterly in love with what they are doing and they want to share that love. Billy McCarthy, in an earlier introduction to a song, betrayed that love and some of the angst that goes with it, because of the difficulties he has faced in his life, when he said something like, I still worry that one day someone is going to take this away from me…

He choked as he said it. It seemed incongruous at a moment of triumph. But real. Raw emotion and maybe the reason why Augustines play every concert like it is going to be their last.

See them if you can.

 

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Sportsthoughts (121) – Today was a good day!

Yeah, as Ice Cube once sang, today was a good day. If you support Harlequins and West Ham, like me.

Let’s start with Quins, because I was there, at the Stoop today.  European Champions Cup, against Leinster (in terms of cities, Dublin). One of the great European teams of recent years. The team we lost to when the infamous bloodgate incident sullied the name of Quins. The game today was intense, closely fought, but in the second half Quins were magnificent, and pulled away, with two tries, to win 24-18.  It has been a bit of an iffy season for the team so far, but this must surely launch them on a new trajectory. The whole team was great and Nick Easter was a deserved Man of the Match. But I might have given the accolade to Chris Robshaw. For the last four weeks, he has given his all, as captain of England, against the best teams in the world – New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, as well as the brutal Samoa – and with no break at all, this weekend, he was pitched against Leinster. And he was everywhere, relentless, tackling everything that moved, winning ball, heaving the scrum, offloading. From the first minute to the last. Awesome.

And then West Ham. 3-1 victors against Swansea, another unfancied team doing well. The victory puts us 3rd in the Premier League. We will slip to 4th on Monday, as Southampton or Man Utd, who are playing each other, will get the points to overtake us, but it is just fantastic to be 4th in December. Playing excellent football against allcomers. Watching the highlights on Match of the Day 2, I was just overjoyed to see the renaissance of Andy Carroll, after so many injury problems. Two magnificent headers for goals. Not today’s norm in top level football, but if the team can keep putting it on his head, he will score! Add a brilliant finish from Sakho, on his return from injury, and all seems well in the West Ham world. They have come through a spell when a lot of key players have been injured and carried on getting good results. The squad now has real depth. It is looking good.

Of course, as a West Ham fan, with forty plus years of disappointment to draw on, I’m expecting it to go wrong at any moment. But I’m daring to dream that something good is happening, too.

With luck, things for West Ham and for Quins are looking up!

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lovelondonscenes – 79

A misty Thames scene, yesterday, taken from Millbank, looking over Victoria Tower Gardens, towards Lambeth Palace. Winter beauty.

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lovelondonscenes – 78

 

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The latest sculpture in the courtyard of Chelsea College of Art. Yes, they are blocks of ice. On Wednesday, as I walked into work, I saw a woman taking them out of cardboard wrapping and placing them on the cobbles. They survived the day – no melting – and were there this morning when I took these daylight photos.  Who is responsible, what do they mean? What have they got in them to stop melting? No idea!

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I liked them in the night light. On the way back to Pimlico station after the day at work.

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