Annual Cardiacs pilgrimage to London

I had a hectic-frantic two days in London last week. Arrived on Thursday evening just in time to have an early dinner with Martin and then head to Forbidden Planet to meet M John Harrison, who was signing copies of his new book Nova Swing. We were slightly delayed because we all thought that Forbidden Planet was in New Oxford Street (it was, but it’s now in Shaftesbury Avenue. London keeps shifting and changing when I’m not looking). Forbidden Planet was slightly depressing, too many memories of a life I thought I’d left behind. Martin wandered around pulling out random books and making cutting comments about them.

After the signing, we headed around the corner to the Phoenix Arts Club, underneath the Phoenix Theatre in Charing Cross Road, where an elderly camp barman in a colourful waistcoat served us overpriced drinks. Meanwhile, the hits of the musicals provided an aural backdrop, like some kind of light-night version of Elaine Paige’s Sunday Radio 2 show. Very strange. Even stranger, among the theatrical ephemera were hung posters advertising all the latest sci-fi/fantasy doorstop novels (I presume something to do with the proximity to Forbidden Planet).

I made my excuses and left early, as I had to get to Islington in time to see Arthur and John’s band, Animal Maths, playing at the legendary Hope & Anchor in Islington. Animal Maths were great, although they could have been a bit livelier (I think I’ve been spoiled in this respect, having seen loads of great Sheffield bands recently who put on a good performance as well as playing good music). Both lively & musical (and photogenic) were headline band The Mighty Roars. After the gig I had a good chat with their Debbie Harry-esque Swedish/Swiss singer Lara, until another woman positioned herself between us and said to me accusingly “are you trying to hit on her?”. More photos of Animal Maths and the Mighty Roars on my photographers website.

After the gig I walked down to Angel tube station, only to discover that, at 12.30am, I’d already missed the last tube (London is such a lame-ass city!) so I went to the bus stop, where I witnessed a crash between two taxis, before catching a bus to Ed’s studio. Sat there chatting to Ed, Taku and Rachel, who were making leather reindeer for some film or shop-display or something. I read a chapter of Nova Swing to them before collapsing, almost unconscious, into “bed” at 4am.

The next day started slowly, a gentle walk around London (if only I didn’t have to lug my heavy bag everywhere), I meandered over to the BJP vision (the British Journal of Photography’s annual event for aspiring professionals). I wasn’t quite sure of my purpose in being there, I thought that perhaps I’d doze off at the back of a lecture theatre while picking up Photoshop tips by osmosis, but in the end I didn’t go to any Photoshop lectures, just one talk by portrait photographer Brian Griffin. Brian was charming, fascinating, eccentric in just the right measure, and inspiring. Although I’d promised myself I was going to keep my London trip on a tight budget, I couldn’t resist splashing out on a signed copy of his absolutely luscious Influences book BRIANGRIFFINFLUENCES.

Motoring on, I walked the South Bank to the Tate Gallery, where I disgusted myself by being too chicken to ride down Carsten Höller’s wonderful slides (even though I thoroughly enjoyed watching the excited faces of every single person emerging from the bottom), then continued towards Waterloo and over the river to the National Portrait Gallery where I took a lengthy look at the finalists and winners of this year’s Photographic Portrait Prize which I entered but didn’t make the grade for. There was some wonderful stuff there, but also some confusing choices, including initially the winner, although some time spent absorbing it and the information printed alongside helped me to come around to it eventually.

By this time, it was almost 6pm, time to meet Arthur in The Tottenham for our annual pilgrimage to the Cardiacs gig at the Astoria. While I was waiting for Arthur to turn up, I bumped into Andy Wilson, maintainer of the Faust Pages, who I hadn’t seen for several years. Andy alerted me to the fact that on the 1st December, the ICA are screening a film of the best Faust gig I ever went to (also, apparently, the best Faust gig ever). My review of that gig still lives on via the Faust pages. Damn, I shall have to get back to London for 1st December.

Arthur finally arrived and we went in to the Astoria. First up were Jon Poole’s band the God Damn Whores. They played some great mungey punky metal. I’d planned to keep my camera in my bag for the night, but the number of camphone-wielding fans tempted me otherwise: I started snapping away. Bad move. I was spotted and singled out for using a “pro camera”. I thought this would come to nothing when the bouncer wandered off again, but at the end of the support set he tracked me down (not easy in an audience of thousands) and hauled me out of the gig. I had to hand my camera over to the box office, in exchange for a cloakroom ticket, before I was allowed back in to see the Cardiacs.

Meanwhile, Arthur had bumped into some friends of his, Scaramanga Six. This band are (almost) local to me – from Huddersfield, and I had previously met their drummer (who lives in Sheffield) and been told many times that I ought to check them out, but I still have not to date (I’m determined to see them on December 16th, when they’re next in Sheffield – at the Grapes). So it was good to finally meet them and all freak out to the Cardiacs together. I can’t say it was one of my favourite Cardiacs gigs – I was already too drunk when they came on, plus my mind was on my camera for much of the night. Still, it’s not really possible to have a bad Cardiacs gig, and from what vague memories I still have, it was a lot of fun.

Afterwards I collected my camera and tried to revive myself with a coffee, before boarding a tube to Old Street where Scaramanga Six smuggled us into the Cardiacs after-show party. Much madness I am sure ensued, but I’m sorry to say that I was too drunk to really remember any of it. All the band were there, I got to say hello to William D Drake and the DJ played Gong and King Crimson. Woo-hoo! I just hope I didn’t make too much of a fool of myself. Arthur and I stumbled outside at around 4am, realised the only way of getting back to Twickenham was in a taxi (ouch), I forked out £40+ (ouch!) for the cab and then collapsed on Arthur’s living room floor, aware that I had to wake up again in about two hours to be sure of catching my train back to Sheffield. I checked and re-checked several times that the alarm on my phone was set for 6am and was switched on.

Several weird dreams later… I’m one-quarter awake, thinking “I could get up now, but the alarm hasn’t gone off yet”. I decide to check the time anyway. It’s 9am. Shit! I check the phone and there’s no sign of the alarm – I must have switched it off “in my sleep”. I’m normally very good at waking up to alarms at any time of the day or night, but once in a while, when I’ve pushed my body too far, it switches to automatic mode and “deals with” the alarm for me without any need for my waking mind to kick in. My train to Sheffield was at… 8.25am. I meandered, still drunk, into St Pancras and instead caught the 11.25, but as I had a time-restricted ticket I had to pay another £52 for the privilege. Ouch! (again).