lovelondonscenes 128 – From Flat Iron Square to Kings Cross

Yesterday Kath and I walked from Flat Iron Square, which is just down from Borough Market, through old London, to Kings Cross. Inspired in part by Peter Ackroyd’s “London – The Biography” which I’m reading at the moment. No other reason to walk up Fetter Lane, off Fleet Street, if it wasn’t the fact that it was once the home of the down and out, the shysters, the dissolute and the intellectuals. And the hidden – the Catholics at the time of the reformation; the Protestants at the time of the counter reformation! We took in a couple of exhibitions: the Wolfgang Tillmans photography at the Tate Modern (interesting, but not that amazing, I thought), and the Sir John Soane museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields (interesting, but weird – was he really living with all those sculptures?).

A few photos. Starting with Flat Iron Square. It’s on Union Street near the junction with Southwark Bridge Road in Borough/Bankside. The square has presumably been there for ages, but there is now a food hub tucked away under the railway arches on one side of the square. There may also be a bit of life in the square itself, but there was no sign of that on Saturday lunchtime. I learned about the place through a Guardian review of a Portuguese restaurant called Bar Douro. Sounded good, and looked good when we had a look in too. We just had something from the food stalls, which was good, though it took a while to get our order. Borough Market is obviously the place in the area, but Flat Iron Square is a good option if you fancy something a bit less rammed and more relaxed.

Southwark Bridge.

Views from the Millenium Bridge.

St Paul’s, the magnificent.

A fascinating new building on Old Bailey.

Looking up to Fleet Street from Ludgate Hill.

This church, St Etheldrada’s – good Saxon name – is the oldest Catholic church in London, dating back to the 1200s. It’s on Ely Place, near Holborn Circus. In its heyday it was a magnificent palace. Henry VIII and then Elizabeth I put paid to that. But it survived, was rebuilt and sits now between Georgian terraces. Classic London. A wealth of history tucked away.

One for my friend Paul. This pub is on Farringdon Road and hosts Paul’s favourite local Americana bands.

Exmouth Market is a cool place off the Farringdon Roard, on the way to Kings Cross. Clerkenwell, sort of. Nice restaurants, bars and vibe. There’s a church on the street where I saw Emily Barker in Applewood Road last year.

Kings Cross Road. London’s mixed architecture.

Home of many of my favourite gigs these days, the Scala.

St Pancras station, looming, in the London haze.

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Have you Heard? – (81) “Babes Never Die” by Honeyblood

My first new favourite album of 2017 is “Babes Never Die” by Honeyblood. It was released in 2016, and I didn’t really pick up on it until the end of year reviews. Honeyblood are Stina Marie Claire Tweeddale (vocals and guitar) and Cat Myers (vocals and drums). They are from Glasgow.

Their sound is a punky/indie/pop mixture. I include the pop, because they have some great melodies. Listen to this album a few times and it really grows. And not only are there some great melodies, but they know how to lay down a riff – and in a way which I think will be awesome live. I’ll find out soon enough, as I’m seeing them at Koko in Camden in June. And they are at Latitude too.

Of course they remind me of some other bands – I have 40 plus years of influences to refer to! On the other hand, someone who is say, 18, could find them one of the most exciting bands they’ve ever heard, and pretty original. Like all good bands, they make familiar melodies, riffs and sounds their own.  But for what it’s worth, the bands they remind me of most are Ash (Northern Irish indie-punks with equally great melodies) and Elastica (from the 90s). With a Scottish element, which brings in a bit of that celtic soul that I wrote about in my book, “I Was There – A Musical Journey”. You hear it in the slower songs like “Cruel” and “Hey, Stellar”, which I love.  The singing by Stina has elements of Hayley Williams from Paramore too, and in “Cruel”, I was reminded of Courtney Barnett in “Depreston”. These are all good things!

Favourite songs? Well, the punkiest tune, “Ready for the Magic” is still the best, but it’s not typical. The opener, “Babes Never Die” also rocks, as does “Justine, Misery Queen”, which, notwithstanding the title, is the most singalong track on the album. “Sea Hearts” is rousing and “Love is a Disease” powerful. But I do like those two slower pieces, “Cruel” and “Hey, Stellar” just as much as the upbeat stuff. It’s just a great, accessible album.

Here are a couple of the official videos. But check out the whole album. It’s uplifting.

Nothing is ever entirely new in rock’n’roll, but the capacity of the music to regenerate, in the hands of young, spirited bands, is forever an inspiration.

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lovelondonscenes 127 – View from the Photographers’ Gallery towards Oxford Street

The Photographers’ Gallery is on Ramillies Street, between Oxford and Great Marlborough Streets in Soho. These shots were taken from the fifth floor of the gallery, through a window, with some kind of covering to mitigate the light coming through.  The gallery is really worth a visit. You can see all the exhibitions for £4, and I think it may be free before midday. Highlights for me, when we were there on Good Friday, were Roger Mayne’s photos of people in West London, Leeds, Sheffield and Nottingham in the 50s; and a series, made over the last twenty years, of the people of South Central Los Angeles by Dutch photographer Dana Lixenberg. Both stark and revealing, in black and white.

Anyway, I liked this view, with a narrow sight of Oxford Street, but an odd bit, with trees. Perceptions disorientated.

 

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lovelondonscenes 126 – Heron by Vauxhall Bridge

Walking to work yesterday the sun was shining and a lone heron was perched on the Thames shoreline at low tide. I couldn’t resist stopping and taking a few pictures. Shooting into the sun, the grey stones and mud, the river, seem to be in black and white. The first three photos were taken on my digital camera, the last on my iPhone.

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Three concerts in a week

I managed to pack in three concerts this week, while work was pretty intense too. I was pretty pooped by Friday evening – it took all my energy to watch the Masters on the TV. I’m writing this on a lazy, sunny Saturday, which is just what I needed. But no complaints about the gigs – they were all memorable.

It started on Monday, with a trip to the Roundhouse, to see Grandaddy, supported by my great favourites, Amber Arcades. On Tuesday it was the Village Underground in Shoreditch, to see Moonlandingz, supported by Goat Girl. After an evening off on Wednesday (which just meant I stayed late at work), it was the Royal Albert Hall to celebrate the 80s classic album “Lexicon of Love” with ABC. A few contrasts there!

Starting with Monday then, my friends Jon E and Dave and I headed to Camden for our customary pre-gig feast at Sushi Salsa on Camden Lock before heading up to the Roundhouse. First on were Amber Arcades. A big step up for them – an important moment. You could see that in their body language – there were undoubtedly a few nerves. But they played a good set, including all my favourite tunes: “Come with Me”, “Fading Lines”, “Constant’s Dream” and “Turning Light” included. There were a couple of new tunes, including new release “Can’t Say we Tried”, which has definite anthem potential. The sound was a bit bass-heavy at first, which meant some of the subtlety and flow of the songs was lost – at least for me, because I know them so well.  But that got better and they got a good reception from a Grandaddy crowd.

And yes, there is a Grandaddy crowd. The place looked sold out and there was a mix of ages, even though, until recently, the band’s last album was in 2006. There was a real energy too, in the response to the music. That’s a kind of Americana-plus; there’s greater sense of pop melody and some electronic doodlings in the mix. They’re in the same sort of category as Mercury Rev, Flaming Lips, Wilco, Fleet Foxes, even Bon Iver. What, for want of a better term, I called in my book “I Was There”, American pastoral. I downloaded the new album “Last Place” the weekend before the show, and really liked it. Quite poppy, even rocky, early on, but with some lovely, wistful tunes towards the end. It was one of the featured albums at Rough Trade East when I went there on Saturday afternoon – the band have indie credibility.

The show was captivating, helped by an intriguing film backdrop. Probably helps, as the band themselves are a modest lot, dressed in standard Americana gear. They’re not going to leap around the stage. The musicianship was top level and some of the songs felt like anthems – a lot of the crowd knew the words. You didn’t need to know the songs to enjoy them. I came away pretty impressed, having enjoyed them more than I expected.

And I was pleased for Amber Arcades – the main reason for going, in my case. They did well and I hope it’s a stepping stone to greater things. A long haul.

Tuesday was my friend Jon G’s initiative. He, as am I, is a fan of The Fat White Family, and Moonlandingz is, is part an offshoot of FWF. The main singer, Lias Saudi, is in both, and just as crazed in Moonlandingz as he is in FWF. You do wonder if he’ll last the pace he’s set himself. When we got there a young punky three piece were on. I didn’t catch their name, unfortunately, but they made a good noise.

Next up were a support band we wanted to see, called Goat Girl (and I’ve just realised we missed a previous opportunity, as they opened for Parquet Courts and Eagulls last year at the Kentish Town Forum). They have a growing reputation, and are playing Latitude this year. Another all-woman indie/punk band – a good thing. They are from South London and play raw, jagged songs that veer off in interesting directions – it’s not an all-out punk thrash. Good when it is though! Really enjoyed their set, which, alone, made the evening worthwhile.

(The hats came off, but my photos weren’t great – strong lights).

And then Moonlandingz. Well, they started with some high energy, glam-stomping riffs which caused immediate moshing. Looked promising, if a bit chaotic – there were a lot of band members. Lias prowled around with a bottle of red wine and shouted a lot. As did everyone else. But after about three songs, something went wrong for me. I just start to feel, this is taking the piss. And I got bored. I felt like it was just a bit too contrived – like, what can we do to get them moshing, as opposed to, what is it we care about, love playing? I’m sure I’m doing them an injustice, and most of the crowd were loving it. So maybe I just wasn’t in the mood for that type of thing on the night. Maybe it was comparing them with Goat Girl, who had that sincere passion. Jon thought it was brilliant, and it’s not often we have such divergent responses. So, yeah, maybe it was just the circumstances. I’d happily check them out again at a festival, if they were on, and I might change my mind completely.

On to the Albert Hall, for a night of pure, new romantic nostalgia. ABC, backed by full orchestra. Playing “The Lexicon of Love”, their one big album. The tunes that everyone of a certain age remembers being “Tears are not Enough”, “Poison Arrow”, “The Look of Love” and “All of my Heart”.  And they went down a storm. There was a great deal of Mum and Dad dancing. And it was unabashed fun. Singer Martin Fry was on great form, replete in gold lame jacket for the second half of the show, when they played “Lexicon of Love”. The first half was good too – a mix of old and new – but of course it was the classics that everyone was there to celebrate. Much to-and-fro pointing  between Martin and the audience was had. The encore was an encore, in the French sense of the word: they played “Look of Love” again. And everyone went away happy. A spirit-lifting evening.

So, some pretty different bands over the week. I’d have to say the highlight was the ABC classics, followed closely by Amber Arcades (because I love Amber Arcades) and Goat Girl (because I love new, passionate, daring, rocking music). Grandaddy, very good, but not really a band to excite me; and Moonlandingz memorable, if not entirely for the right reasons on the night.

A good musical experience!

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In Manchester

On 24 and 25 March I spent some time in Manchester, one of England’s great cities, but one I don’t know terribly well, other than for its football and music. I’ve been there quite a few times in the past, but mainly for work or partying reasons and had never had a proper look around. So when I decided to go and see Car Seat Headrest on the Friday evening, I took a day off and spent Friday afternoon and Saturday morning wandering around. For part of Friday I was guided by my old friend Andy, who I went to university with many an eon ago.

Naturally, photos were taken, so here are a few of this city, which still bears the features of its Victorian pomp, but of course has embraced the new as well. And the very centre seemed mercifully free of heavy traffic, helped, I’m sure, by the tram network. Both days were gloriously sunny too, which made walking around a pleasure.

Manchester Town Hall and the adjacent Albert Square tell you all you need to know about Manchester’s commercial glory days. First photo is from Saturday morning, the rest from Friday late afternoon – hence the different light conditions.

 

The great Liberal Prime Minister, William Gladstone, giving it some.

The old Royal Exchange has been refurbished, with a round theatre built inside it. It really works.

Manchester Victoria station.

Manchester Cathedral.

River Irwell. The canals are/were Manchester’s lifeblood, more than the river, I think..

Manchester Art Gallery.

I had a look at the exhibitions on Friday. All free! There was one called “Manchester’s Monet”, featuring an late 19th/early 20th century artist called Winford Dewhurst. I’d not come across him before. His art certainly resembled that of Monet, with a bit of Pissarro thrown in. Here’s one example.

There were a few Lowrys, of course, but they shared a room with another artist, I’d never heard of before, Adolphe Vallette. A Frenchman who settled in Manchester, he portrayed the Victorian city, shrouded in mist, or smog and smoke. Very atmospheric, I thought.

The street my hotel was in. Red brick, as you’d expect.

The Rylands library was founded by Enriqueta Rylands, the wife of a wealthy Manchester entrepreneur. It took 10 years to build and was opened on 1 January 1900. It’s now part of Manchester University, though in the city centre.

It has a striking Gothic interior.

More buildings around the place.

Last thing I did was to wander down to the university area, mainly to go to the Whitworth art gallery. But it was interesting to check out the university grounds too, as both my  daughters might go there. It was very quiet on a Saturday lunch time. I enjoyed the tranquility in the sunshine.

This place has an art deco quality to it. It clearly was a cinema. Might still be – but also a club?

The Whitworth was a great artistic space, with room for five or six exhibitions. Again, all free.  There was a really interesting exhibition about textile design, with some amazing pieces. But the highlight, inevitably, was an exhibition of Andy Warhol’s work.

As he said himself though…

Yeah, great place, Manchester. I’ll leave the last gesture to William Gladstone.

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lovelondonscenes 125 – Round Victoria way

Part of my London walk the other weekend was through the familiar territory of Westminster/Victoria, as I meandered up from the Tate Britain. Here are a few of the shots I took on the way. The first four were walking down to the Tate.

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