Tuesday, 28 May 2013

just another angel in the crowd

Stepping out from Angellucci's for my coffee beans
Checking out the movies and the magazines
Waitress she watches me crossing from the Barocco Bar
I get a pickup for my steel guitar

When I mentioned to my barber that last week I had been in Soho he gave me a quizzical look and asked me what I was "up to down there?" It would appear that the very mention of Soho still raises eyebrows as it still seems to hold some mystique of being a Mecca for perverts. A place so beloved over the years that plenty of songwriters have commemorated it in song: Donovan Sunny Goodge Street, Bert Jansch & John Renbourn Soho, Al Stewart Soho Needless To Say, Ray Davies Denmark Street, RT Beeswing and Knopfler's Wild West End to name just a handful.

As it happened I had wandered down there after the marking conference, as I normally do, for some wallowing in nostalgia I suppose. I've been going "down there" for so long now that it is part of my psychogeography. I think I've used the term correctly but could be wrong - I fully expect to be corrected at any moment. However, if this apparently serious term 'psychogeography'", writes Guy Debord biographer Vincent Kaufman, "comprises an art of conversation and drunkenness, and everything leads us to believe that Debord excelled at both" then I'm probably okay with it too.

Having grown up a twenty five minute train journey from London, Soho indeed became a regularly visited place. Through my early-to-mid teens I would travel up to visit Virgin Records, occasional Galleries and Museums and then as I got older went to gigs regularly there. The Marquee and just down the road The Lyceum with its all-nighters were great fun. The Marquee in Wardour Street and the Nellie Dean allowed me access to many of my musical heroes. Charisma Records used the Dean as their watering hole so rubbing shoulders and sharing a laugh (and a few pints) with members of Genesis and Lindisfarne before going up to watch some great bands just round the corner at the Marquee was wonderful. These people weren't famous then. Viv Stanshall drank (a lot) there too. I still frequent the Nellie Dean but as they don't sell London Pride I tend to prefer one of George Orwell's regular watering holes, The Dog and Duck, which is where I was heading off to at the start of this post. 

A quick pint at the Dog and Duck and then I wandered over to Charing Cross Road and Denmark Street (aka Tin Pan Alley) to drool over a few vintage guitars. Cross over the road and pop into Foyles before rushing up to Tottenham Court Road tube station to get to Liverpool Street for an early evening train home. Foyles, by the way are still in the same premises but should be moving soon. Business as usual.

Many years ago I would meet friends in the Pillar of Hercules for a pint before shuffling off to Ronnie Scott's or the Marquee. Again, raised eyebrows as it's known as a gay bar but it was next to a great Greek restaurant I used to frequent. I was quite saddened when it became victim to a bombing incident some time at the end of last century. Foyles is just behind it. I performed the Amoeba Twist there once*.  Nearby there was the Admiral Duncan and St Annes Court where Dark They Were And Golden Eyed was hidden away (or was it Forbidden Planet?).

In my very late teens and early twenties we would go and hang around the guitar shops in Denmark Street a lot. Well, when we could manage to get out of some seedy bar we'd found ourselves in. I went up once to buy a guitar with my bassist Brian** and we didn't get out of the bar at Kings Cross Station, just drunkenly got back on the train to come home to Stevenage in time for last orders.  Over the last few years I've returned more sober with another friend to poke around these wonderful shops and rubbed shoulders with Noel Gallagher and that bloke from the Manic Street Preachers - the little one not the one that disappeared. Many years ago I bumped into Steve Howe from Yes and just up the road saw Richard Thompson rushing across the road. Probably dashing off to pray or something.

Anyway, over the years I have visited the area so often that it is part of the landscape I carry in my head. Blimey, even Mrs Dave and I shop around there quite often still. A visit to London without popping in to Fopp Records or a bite of lunch in one of the many lovely little cafes is almost unheard of. So when I read this article last year I thought I'd better get up there a few more times before it all disappears. It's worth reading if you've ever spent a bit of time walking in the wild West End but I'm not one hundred per cent convinced that things are changing that much. Yes, there's no Starbucks (named after a character in Moby Dick trivia buffs - the knowledge of which helped me win a Quiz recently) but other than the obvious Nando's and chains of pasta & pizza parlours, there's little to convince me that it's changing that much. I notice in the article it mentions that "since the 1970s . . . when the music did informal business in its pubs" - they certainly did. Tony Stratton Smith held court in the Nellie Dean and would buy anyone a drink. A great bloke.

Sitting in the Dog and Duck - a tiny pub on a corner - last week (and three times last year) I watched the world go by - it seems to be a similar world that I've watched through these windows for the past 40 years. Yes, there are lots of strip clubs, gay clubs, dirty book shops and seedy "film companies" and yes, there are far more oddly dressed people of some indiscriminate gender, blokes holding hands and wide eyed lost-looking foreign visitors but thus has it ever been. And also, the world has changed of course - and I've moaned at times about that more than many others - but there does seem to be some cosy familiarity about Soho that I enjoy visiting. I certainly wouldn't want to be there all the time but I'm rather pleased that my fears have been allayed somewhat since reading the article. Interestingly, one of the teachers I meet each year at the marking conference works at Barclay School in Stevenage and had been down to Sister Ray's record shop in Berwick Street the day before.

Okay, perhaps there was a bit too much name dropping here but I wanted to try to show that Soho has always been a place that the public could rub shoulders with genuine working musicians.  God knows how many actors and writers I've stood next to or walked past. The article is all about "decline" and higher rents. These are the realities of life I suppose. However, the whole area is held in some affection by more than just me, I'm sure. I started jotting down thoughts about this article after reading it last year. As is often the case, I drew a map of the area (possibly a psychgeographic one) and besides some of the memories mentioned above there is also:

  • The Dominion Theatre where many gigs were attended before it became the home to Ben Elton's awful Queen tribute
  • A guitar shop I've long since forgotten the name of where I bought a Shergold Guitar (behind/underneath Centrepoint)
  • The Phoenix Theatre where we went to see Chaucer's Prologue to the Canterbury Tales just before our O'levels
  • The Shaftesbury Theatre where we went to see Jesus Christ Superstar the first time round
  • The Marquis of Granby, Soho Square, the café we called Angellucci's after the Dire Straits song (where I learned that a young bearded man on his own shouldn't eat egg mayonnaise sandwiches***) . . . 
. . . well it goes on and you get the picture.

It appears that historic Soho is hanging on in there and I hope that it'll be a similar situation when I go there next year.

Soho, needless to say
I'm alone on your streets or am I dreaming?
I've been here all of the day
I'm going nowhere with nowhere to go

* you had to be there, I guess, but if you ever saw Patto live . . .
** who mostly played a double bass in those days. That's one reason we never gigged much.
*** nowadays explained away by "dyspraxia" but that was then . . .

Sunday, 26 May 2013

fish out of water

Well, it's been a while and I'm beginning to get comments from all sorts of people about my apparent lack of effort. So, I'm here again and off we go.

It's been a long few weeks and lots seems to have been going on. Interestingly, just in case you were interested, no the house hasn't been sorted out yet since the fire (idly interested parties may want to go back to posts at the end of February) but we are "turning the corner" or - well just stick in whatever poor cliché you want to. Mrs Dave has a cousin in America whose house was wrecked by Hurricane Sandy last October and has recently posted pictures on Facebook of how it's all been sorted. It does look beautiful. Three months on for us and the one room wrecked has finally been attended to. Evidently, the decorators will be in from Tuesday and we could possibly see the last of them in about two weeks time.

Actually, the insurance money has been sorted out and on the whole it's "all over bar the shouting" (Welcome to Clichéville) but why does it take so long? We've got to the point where we can't remember what colours we've asked for when they come in to redecorate!

Anyway, more importantly, why such a long time between posts, eh? Well, I won't bore you with the full story but work has been the main problem. It's always difficult at this time of year but usually I'm more on the ball*. So, last week I was up in London at the annual marking conference - more of which later - and obviously the amount of time now spent trying to get blood out of a stone*, sorry I mean collect coursework, has got worse. The worst ever. However, here I am indeed and will endeavour to write more often. This week whilst on half term break despite marking exam scripts, I will write a few times. Promise. Of course, if enough money is offered, I won't write anything.

the one in the middle kept moving
This afternoon I went up to the Ferry to buy a fish for tomorrow's dinner. I had wrongly assumed that they'd be shut as they usually are on Mondays - fishermen traditionally didn't work on Sundays. Never mind, I managed to turn up a half hour after the catch was delivered. On Sunday. While I stood there waiting to be served there was a lot of movement of gills and various bits of piscine matter that would have put a few people off. I didn't manage to capture the Red Gurnard (which looked phenomenal with its blue wing-like fins) in the photo. The Mullet were all as big as the sort of Salmon that gets sold at Christmas in most supermarkets. However, the wild Bass - all caught locally - were the ones still moving. Huge mouths that look like poly tunnels. Anyway, I bought one of them for tomorrow but managed to look in awe at the wondrous bounty before me. I sincerely hope that they are able to sell it off - last year I was quite upset to be told that the grey Mullet I was impressed with had mostly been thrown away as nobody bought any of it.

For any future visitors to Leeke Towers, the Fludyer Arms reopened last week - two hundred yards away with wonderful views over the sea and three proper beer pumps: London Pride, Adnams Bitter and Woodfordes Wherry. So, stop the whinging - after twenty five years in our stop-gap house, we finally have a bar worth visiting. Okay, we're looking into retirement to another area but at least Friday nights will be sorted for now.

Something a bit more interesting to follow . . .

* supplied by "Clichés are Us"

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

some grandads slip away

As I close down for the night, the sad news of Ray Harryhausen's passing has just come through.

I had thought recently that I was in danger of writing a series of obituaries and needed to be careful about it. However, I really think that this guy was a hero. As was Carmine Infantino who passed on last week.

I grew up* reading American comics and watching films like Jason and the Argonauts - I learnt to draw and got to understand storytelling from such people. More on these another time but it's interesting that whilst friends and colleagues are bemoaning the various paedophiles and celebrity rapists as the "loss of their childhoods" (sic) some of us really are losing our heroes who genuinely fuelled our fantasies and taught us so much that we can't learn in school.

*yes, alright . . .

walk my way

did I hear you call me brother?
did I hear you say
all we have is one another?
won't you walk my way?

roll on silver lining roll along
back on the streets where we belong

An interesting few weeks . . .

Nothing quite as drastic as February half term but busy, busy, busy. According to our management, OFSTED are in the car park and about to enter the building any moment. Honest. But that's been going on for weeks now. Mind you, Mrs Dave is so busy she hardly ever gets home. I'm thinking of parking Harvey in the car park, let her live there and have done with it.

Still, what can I tell you? Oh yes, an amazing Martin Simpson gig last Monday at the Colchester Arts Theatre. However, I have never been at a gig before where the act has to leave because his "body has rejected something I've taken in". Several false starts and a fair amount of time spent calling god on the great white telephone still lead to a wonderful few hours (with breaks) of fine guitar wizardry and poignant songs. Happy 60th birthday, Mr S and I look forward to Cambridge Folk Festival in the summer.

Mrs Dave and I travelled down to Wales on Friday evening with some friends to join a larger group of like-minded fellow travellers. A fine time was had by all generally, although those damned bottles of Talisker catch you out, don't they? We climbed Cadair Idris on Saturday which ended up a scramble up a very steep incline in a howling wind. After all the hard work the Blind Watchmaker opened the curtains briefly through sheer vanity to show us the most glorious sight of the west coast of Wales and its beautiful beaches. Oh that's why we spent all that time crawling up there on hands and knees.

The pub at the foot of the mountain had the best beer I've tasted for years - Butty Bach (Martyn?) - which was a fruity mouthful that slipped down very easily. Too easily. Later as 28 of us sat around a (very) primitive bunkhouse. We ate chicken curry, drank that Talisker and sang old campfire songs. Sunday was gentler. A quiet walk down a closed rail track (an early Beeching closure - 1964) towards the coast and a virtually Temperance* town still created a thirst. Back to the bunkhouse, then to drink whatever was available. A lovely part of Wales but not a great sleeping experience. We live and learn.

After a farewell to friends old and new, we travelled back home via the old home town to drop off some friends and back to reality. This really was a way of recharging batteries and reminding ourselves what life is really all about.

Oh, and I had left my phone at home (by accident) but between Friday evening and Monday evening, not a single call or text. There wasn't any service down there anyway. As I've said before, the phone has become so much more than simply a phone - a camera for a start. So, no photos of the fantastic scenery. I saw a jay, though!

Right, back on your heads then (surely everyone knows the joke?). Work as usual and then the weekend. Mrs Dave is doing the Moon Walk again this weekend, so if anyone fancies sponsoring her . . ?