lovelondonscenes 138 – Canary Wharf from the Cutty Sark pub, Greenwich

This is a bit of a companion piece to my last blog on the Prince exhibition at the Dome. After that, my mates Dave, Jon and Tony and I wandered down to Greenwich to the Cutty Sark pub for a late lunch. We had a table upstairs by the window, and had a brilliant view out over the river. After a while – we were there for some time – the sun began to go down, and Canary Wharf, on the other side of the river, revealed its various hues. I took a few snaps, which are below.

Just starting with something different, which is a view from the Clipper, which we took from Westminster to North Greenwich earlier in the day. There are are so many iconic views in central London from the river these days. This is one as we moved out of the centre.

Views from our restaurant spot, starting with one of the Dome. The rest are Canary Wharf. They are all through a window and taken with my trusty but rather limited iPhone 5S. Excuses, excuses…

Yes, that is my head!

The actual Cutty Sark.

This image sums up the latter part of the evening quite well. It’s taken from inside the Clipper on the way back. It had been a long day!


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“My Name is Prince” at the Dome

Prince at the O2 - O2 Arena: My Name Is Prince - The Official Exhibition, 26 October –7 January 2018 at The O2, London

If you are a fan of Prince and can get to North Greenwich, don’t miss the “My Name is Prince” exhibition at the Dome. It’s an extensive trawl through his musical history, with 35 soundtracks of varying sorts to listen to on the headphones, a vast array of videos and concert footage and loads of his guitars and costumes.

The show brought back loads of memories, with “Purple Rain” and “Little Red Corvette” as spine tingling as ever. But the fluid funk of the early albums like “Controversy” came across well, and plenty of the later albums got their fair due too. It was a great reminder of the quality and breadth of Prince’s music, and the inventiveness within a familiar musical framework. The 80s were when it really became natural for pop, soul, funk and rock to come together, and Prince was the epitome of that.

The costumes were dazzling and they reminded you how small Prince was. Couldn’t have been much more than five feet. The high heels too – no wonder he developed knee problems leaping around on those.

It was a geeky pleasure, too, to take a close look at all his weird and wonderful guitars, and to discover that his favourite, which he used a lot for recording, was a Hohner Telecaster copy. He bought his first ever model for $30 at a local store. No doubt he modified them over the years, but those Hohners provided the funk.

He was always a trouper, and well known for his after-show sessions. He played 21 nights over August and September at the O2 in 2007, so the place has a special association with him. And one great example of his show-must-go-on attitude was his performance at half time at the 41st Super Bowl. The exhibition has some great footage of that show. It was played in a thunderstorm. Forked lightning was shooting out of the clouds, the heavens had opened, but Prince and band played on as if it were a balmy summer’s evening. Maybe a bit less dancing, but a truly awesome solo on “Purple Rain”. The perfect song for the occasion.

I had the pleasure of seeing Prince live three times. Twice at Wembley Arena in the second half of the 80s, and then in 2014, at the Roundhouse, with Third Eye Girl. What an amazing concert that was. Still going strong, still restless and inventive – some of the versions of old songs that night were remarkable. And that was why it was such a shock when he died, in 2016.

The exhibition doesn’t dwell on the circumstances of his death. Nor does it say a lot about the absurd business of changing his name and claiming he was a slave of Warner Brothers in the 1990s. He lost his way at that time, and made some pretty substandard music. But this is a show to celebrate the greatness of the Purple One, and it does that very well.

If you love the music – and the spectacle – of Prince, then you will love this exhibition. If you are just vaguely familiar, it will still entertain you, and maybe whet your appetite for more.

Go see!

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Julia Jacklin, Nilufer Yanya and Faye Webster at the Shepherds Bush Empire, 9 November 2017

On Thursday night I took the short journey down to Shepherds Bush Empire to see Julia Jacklin – again!

I first caught a glimpse of her at End of the Road in 2016, in the Tipi Tent, which was packed because of the rain. Didn’t hang around that day, but it sparked an interest. I downloaded the album, “Don’t Let the Kids Win”, and loved it. I made it No 7 in my 2016 Top Ten, and haven’t stopped playing it since – especially the beautiful ballads like “Motherland”, “LA Dream” and “Don’t Let The Kids Win”. I saw her play at Koko, supporting Whitney, in November 2016, headlining the Scala in March this year, and then she was at Field Day, Latitude and End of the Road (though I missed this one, as we skipped Sunday because of the rain).

Having booked tickets for tonight, I then found out that Girl Ray were at the Scala the same night. Damn these clashes! I decided to stay loyal, and I’m sure glad I did. It was her best show yet, the culmination of her biggest UK tour to date. The Empire wasn’t sold out, but there was a decent-sized crowd to help her and her excellent band celebrate a successful year promoting the album. Back to Oz, via the US, for a bit of proper summer weather.

I went onto the Empire’s Facebook page to check starting times and they helpfully had links to all the artists. There were two support acts: Faye Webster and Nilufer Yanya. The latter had been at Latitude, but I’d never heard of Faye Webster. So I clicked on the link and the video of her singing, unaccompanied, her song “Alone Again”. What a lovely song! So that decided it – had to go along to see her live.

She came on at about 7.45 with a reasonable number of people near the stage. I’d got a seat in the balcony and could take my pick, apart from the front row. Pint of San Miguel and space to chill. Initially it was just her and one of her band, who played what seemed like an electronic steel guitar, which gave the songs a lovely country twang, without being actual country.

At this point the only song I knew was “Alone Again” and she played that once the bassist and drummer had come on stage. I’d say the drums were a bit too thumping for the fragility of “Alone Again”, but were fine for most of the other songs, which were a mix of indie, easy listening and country. I saw Faye’s music described as “alt-folk”, which I guess will do as a description. A couple of times the bass and drum intros made me think were about to be treated to Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams”, and Faye has the same sort of dreamy voice as Stevie Nicks. Another artist I was reminded of was Josh Rouse. He made some excellent albums like “1972” and “Nashville” in the early 2000s, which combined melodic pop with that country twang. Faye Webster is a bit more indy, and she seems to have connections with the Atlanta rap world too, but her music is coming from a similar place.

When I got home I downloaded her album “Faye Webster”, which came out this year, and I haven’t played much else since – except a bit of Julia Jacklin, of course. Songs like “She Won’t Go Away”, “I Know” and “Remember When” are real mellow pop delights – and “Say it Now” is the one with the “Dreams” bassline. Another comparison that comes to mind as I write is Whitney. Yes, a new contender for my 2017 Top Ten.

Nilufer Yanya was second on the bill. I had intended seeing her on the Lake Stage at Latitude on Saturday afternoon, but ended up at Declan McKenna instead. She’s from West London and has an interesting set of influences, as the Guardian article here describes. I thought she was pretty good – harder rhythms than Faye Webster and a sound that was part R&B, part indie.  The music didn’t grab me in quite the same way as Faye’s  – not the same instantly engaging melodies – but it’s someone worth listening to a bit more.

And then Julia.

After a year on the road, she and the band have really got it together – you can feel the confidence in their sound. In a full length show like this, she was able to introduce a couple of new songs, “Good Guy” and “Why I Love You”, while recent singles “Cold Caller” and “Eastwick” are now well-established in the set. The set order had been turned around a bit from the festival selection. The slow-burn blues of “Hay Plain” no longer opened – in fact it was a perfect song to end with, in the encore. The band started with three of the more uptempo numbers, in the same way as the album does: “Leadlight” and “Coming of Age” from the album, along with “Cold Caller”. The album opener, “Pool Party”, closed the main set, as it usually does. In between we got all the usual delights – affecting songs, played sparely and sung beautifully by Julia. I particularly enjoyed the wistful reflections on friendship in “Elizabeth” this time around, and of course “Don’t Let the Kids Win” as the light streamed streamed onto Julia, alone on stage, was a moving highlight.

I guess we won’t have Julia Jacklin back on these shores for a little while now. Maybe there will be a second album in the meantime. I hope so – from what we have heard of the new material it will be another brilliant effort. So if you still haven’t heard Julia’s music, have a listen on Spotify – it’s a treasure waiting to be discovered.

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Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul at the Roundhouse, 4 November 2017

Last Saturday, I went with my friends Jon and Dave to see Steve van Zandt and his band, the Disciples of Soul, at the Roundhouse. It was his first solo tour for 25 years, although he has been in the E Street Band, supporting Bruce Springsteen, as well as making a name for himself as an actor, in “The Sopranos” and, more recently, “Lillyhammer”. A man of many talents. He and the band released a new album in May this year, called “Soulfire”. It, like the show, is a celebration of the music that inspired Stevie: rock’n’roll, soul, doo-wop and the blues. There’s a strong link to the music of Southside Johnny and the Asbury Dukes too, with the horns to the fore. No surprise about that – Stevie wrote some of Southside’s best tunes, like “I Don’t Wanna Go Home”.

So we were expecting a feelgood show, and that’s exactly what we got, for more than two hours. Stevie talked at the beginning about how his 80s shows were political, at a time when it was hard to find out what was going on. Now politics is in our faces 24/7, and it was Stevie’s mission tonight to provide us with a sanctuary.

The new album formed the basis of the show. I particularly liked “I’m Coming Back”, which was straight out of the Springsteen/ Southside song book. If you know your Bruce, think the uptempo songs on “The River”, or all the songs from the late 70s that didn’t make the main albums, but made a fine contribution to the “Tracks” compilation. The band was excellent: rocking guitars, soaring brass, soulful backing vocals and a tight rhythm section. These guys all knew how to play. So what could have been a standard run through the sounds of old really did sparkle. Never a dull moment!

One of the highlights for me was a lengthy reggae workout, which, I read elsewhere, was called “Solidarity”. Now, rock bands playing reggae are usually best avoided – the Clash and Police honourable exceptions. But Stevie and the band, especially the bassist, who laid down a languid dub wise rhythm, really captured the spirit of the music. The horns played their part like they were part of the Wailers, while the bass and guitars echoed and swayed  in a way I would never have expected. I doubt Bruce could have done this, or would even want to. Top marks to Stevie.

The encore was memorable too. Second of three songs was a wonderful version of “I Don’t Wanna Go Home”, but it had to play second fiddle to the opener. Sir Macca of Liverpool – no less than Paul McCartney – only came on to play guitar and sing along to “I Saw Her Standing There”! Whoo-hoo!

Can’t remember much about the third song after those two, but what a great way to end a magnificent show. A two hour celebration of why we love rock’n’roll. We didn’t wanna go home!

And check out this video clip of Stevie and Macca from Rolling Stone magazine. With thanks to Dave for spotting.


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London Grammar at the Brixton O2 Academy

After Sunday night seeing one of my favourite old bands, Steely Dan, at the O2 Arena at the Dome, it was the turn of one of my recent favourites, London Grammar, at the O2 Brixton Academy. I am not sponsored by O2!

London Grammar’s first album, “If You Wait”, has five or six songs that I play frequently. There’s little better for melancholy beauty, encapsulated in the affecting vocals of Hannah Reid. “Strong”, “Wasting my Young Years” and “If you Wait”, in particular, are truly moving pieces. The 2017 follow up, “Truth is a Beautiful Thing”, is a shoo-in for my annual top ten, and songs like the total track, “Hell to the Liars” and “Rooting for You” are up there with the aforementioned trio.

I’m glad to say all those songs (except “If You Wait”) made it into last night’s set. It was a good mix of tunes from both albums, obviously with a bit more emphasis on the new release. The crowd in a sold-out Brixton Academy was enthusiastic about old and new, and had a great rapport with the band, even though they were shrouded in darkness or a half light much of the time.

Possibly the most captivating show from Glastonbury that I’ve ever seen was London Grammar on the John Peel stage in 2014. There was a sparse, atmospheric quality about the songs which was truly moving. With Hannah, of course, at the centre of it, with that beautiful sadness in her singing. Last night didn’t quite capture that feeling, maybe because it was more of a celebration – and I was standing in a big crowd, with people bobbing about, talking, getting drinks. No complaints about that – that’s what live concerts are like. A shared celebration. But you lose a bit of that stillness, which is so integral to the band’s sound and persona.

So, the wonderful “Strong” became a crowd singalong, Hannah greeting all parts of the crowd. That’s fame for you! My highlight was “Rooting for You”. Hannah sat down, in front of a large glowing orange circle, and explained how sitting helped her hit the high notes – and they go high! – in that song. She talked briefly about how writing the song with her colleagues helped her pull through a difficult time for her, when she got stage fright and couldn’t perform. That set the context for the performance – fragile but uplifting. And when Hannah hit those notes the crowd cheered like they do for a great sax solo at a jazz concert. Celebration.

Three songs in, we went on a brilliant journey through “Wasting my Young Years”, “Stay Awake”, “Hell to the Liars”, “Truth is a Beautiful Thing” and “Hey Now”. All in my London Grammar top ten. What’s not to like?  Excellent encore too, starting with “Bones and Ribbon” and then two of the more strident songs – by London Grammar standards – “Oh Woman Oh Man” and “Metal and Dust”. Just writing this, I’m thinking I want to see this again! Ah, maybe they’ll do Latitude in 2018. They’d be perfect headlining the BBC Music stage on Sunday night.

We can but hope…

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Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers at the O2 Arena, 29 October 2017

On Sunday a bunch of us went down to the O2 for a bit of 70s soft rock nostalgia: Steely Dan, supported by the Doobie Brothers.

The Doobie Brothers? Yes, the Doobie Brothers. Not sure they got a mention in my book, but a few of their songs are etched in the memory: “China Grove”, “Long Train Running” and, of course, “Listen to the Music”. They were a real Bob Harris favourite on the Old Grey Whistle Test, if I recall. On those grounds alone, I would have turned against them once punk came to the fore!

Anyway, they were pretty good on Sunday. Very slick, in good voice, ace guitars and some impressive hair. And a handle bar moustache that was a true monument to 70s California. They played all the classic tunes, with the aforementioned three taking pride of place at the end. “Listen to the Music” was a joyous singalong. Put us all in a good frame of mind for the Dan.

Steely Dan, of course, is now just Donald Fagen and assembled musicians, after the passing away of Walter Becker this year. There were no fulsome tributes, just an acknowledgement from Donald that he just had to carry on. I guess the real tribute is the enduring legacy of the music, some of the best around.

The set was great of course. It featured the later 70s pretty heavily, when Steely Dan got jazzier and funkier. There were four songs from “Aja”, which may just be my favourite Dan album of all. “Black Cow” was second up, after a rousing “Bodhisattva” opened proceedings. I did love the rendition of “Aja” itself, with that laid back, wistful groove and some sparkling saxophone. And the upbeat “Peg” and “Josie” towards the end went down really well. Other highlights for me were “Kid Charlemagne” and, just because it’s a bit sentimental for me, “Dirty Work”. The three backing singers each took a turn at the verses, all in their different, expressive styles; but the reason that song has a special place in my heart is that my kids used to sing along to it in the back of the car when they were little and one of my girls used to call it “Daddy Work”. Happy days!

The guitarist, John Harrington, deserves a special mention. He took on all the guitar duties – they often had two, I think – and was really excellent. Subtle where subtlety was needed, and capable of rocking out too. For those who love the rockier side of Steely Dan, and some sharp solos, two from the first album, “Can’t Buy a Thrill” were standouts. A lot of my friends think “My Old School” is the best Steely Dan song of all, and the guitar work the most intricate. John Harrington was pretty awesome on that. And “Reeling in the Years” was perfect for the encore.

There were a few quibbles with sound mix from where we were sitting (fairly high up in the O2). Some of the vocals got a bit lost, and even the guitar at times. But the sheer quality of the songs and the band won through. Everyone could name a whole load of songs they wished had been played, given the brilliant back catalogue; but really, there wasn’t much to complain about. This was a superb concert by one of the greatest bands.

Like I said in my book, if in doubt put on the Dan… it always makes sense.


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lovelondonscenes 137 – The City aglow

From our office on Millbank we have a great view of the river at Lambeth Bridge and the City beyond. As the sun goes down at the moment, it reflects in the glass of a couple of the buildings and imparts a glow over the whole cityscape. It’s quite stunning when the skies are clear. The shots here are taken through a window which is (a) a bit mucky and (b) was just beginning to reflect back the pattern of the room. So they are not crystal clear, but are OK, I think. Hope you like them.

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