Tag Archives: london musicians collective

The Zen Cycle-Route

Had planned to see Caroline and John play last night. As the gig didn’t start until 8.30pm, I had time to kill beforehand. Hung around in the bar at work with Niina for… too long, probably. Had 1 too many drinks, probably. I finally donned my cycling hear and headed for the gig around 9pm.

At least that’s where I tried to head. I found my way to Vauxhall OK, then checked the MapBlast! directions I’d downloaded to my Handspring earlier. I’d forgotten to include the bloody map, and the text directions were quite useless. Cycled around and around Vauxhall in ever-decreasing circles without ever finding the venue.

So instead, I decided to take the Zen route home. Headed off into South London, tacking from street to street like a demented sailing boat. I felt certain I was headed in the right direction, but before I knew what was happening (could it be that I blacked out while cycling for a while there?) I found myself at a crossroads on the South Circular, with Crystal Palace signposted straight ahead, Dulwich and Lewisham to my left and Clapham to the right. My rudimentary geography of South London told me that I had probably gone too far South. I took the East turn, towards Dulwich, and soon found a signpost to Dulwich Village. Never having seen our former prime-minister’s former home, I thought I’d spin off in that direction.

Dulwich Village was a bizarre anachronism – twee rurality dumped into the heart of London. It had the feel of Highgate Village or Petersham, wide gravel pavements edged with chain-linked white concrete posts and banking grass verges, neo-Gothic shopfronts and pubs spaced out by parks and footpaths. It seemed fairly naff, but at the same time reminded me of “Grandpa’s London” – Highgate Village, so self-assured in its high status that it’s not ashamed to be musty, dusty, fraying at the edges. Perhaps that was because I caught that time during a decline, but that’s how it always seemed to me. I prefer this kind of comfortable lazy affluence to the noveau-noveau riche need to showcase the latest polished clinical fashion in every aspect of their lives.

Dulwich Village gradually turned into Red Post Hill; they even have a hill here, like Highgate and Petersham and unlike most of the rest of London. Not a proper, Sheffield hill, but steeper than anything I had encountered in my last few weeks’ cycling. Does the money follow the landscape, or does the ground swell up wherever old money is to be found?

I emerged in Herne Hill, which sounds like it ought to belong somewhere in Suffolk, but was actually far more urban than Dulwich. I headed towards Camberwell (and almost back to Kennington, where this whole crazy adventure had started). At Camberwell Green, hunger finally got the better of me – despite having eaten a healthy dinner, the number of curry and chip shops passed on my route had exerted an irresistable pull on my stomach. I managed to save my conscience and my guts by sticking to houmus and salad, which I tried to keep in my mouth and off the floor while pushing my bike along Camberwell Church Street. I passed the gallery – was it really only today that Niina and I discussed this place, seems like lifetimes ago.

The landscape started to get familiar once again – unavoidable Peckham! Just as any random North London trip draws one into the unrelenting clutches of the Stoke Newington triangle, so visitors to the South of the river must be wary to avoid getting sucked in by the Peckham tug. I worked up enough centrifugal force to slingshot myself out of its evil grasp, and meandered safely again through New Cross, past the pub where I saw John when he played with the Revs all those years ago. Finally made it into the Greenwich one-way, up onto the Cutty Sark Gardens and down Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s wonderful Greenwich Foot Tunnel. Cycling down the (mile-long?) tunnel is strictly forbidden, so I felt rather nervous sitting on my back, shuffling along in front of a bunch of engineers who were doing overnight work on the lifts. Needn’t have worried – as I passed, one called a friendly “watch yourself at the other end mate, there’s a box up there”.

Emerging onto the Isle of Dogs, a clock stuck – I sat still and listened to the 11 bells while gazing at the night river skyline. From here the 3 miles or so back to Bow seemed like nothing compared to the distance I had already covered. One Canada Square watched over me, steaming benevolently, from Canary Wharf, while two towers alongside struggled to be the highest in Europe, but failed. An old man hobbled across the pavement in Canning Town, mumbling forgotten thoughts to himself. The flat door opened, I went in and shrunk into the bed, where I lay writing letter for the next hour before sleeping.

Free Love with the Bohman Brothers

Treated myself to my first LMC gig in yeeeeears last night, Free Love (a free concert of free music on Valentine’s day). Cycled late from work straight to Conway Hall and prepared myself for some strange and beautiful noises.

I was a little unsure of myself – ready to make a quick retreat if necessary. After all, it had been a long time. And I wasn’t sure that I still liked free improvisation that much – although I remembered moments of rapture, I also seemed to have been avoiding that part of my CD collection recently. First up was Sylvia Hallet, a tyre-less bicycle wheel slung over her shoulder which she played with a violin bow. The resultant skwawks, swoops, keenings and clangings were fed through a delay unit to create layers of rhythym and sound textures which she played and sang over. Some undoubtedly beautiful stuff there – at times my heart pulled me up and I lost myself in the music, but then my head would always pull me back down again, busy trying to analyse, intellectualise, comprehend, when I should have just gone with the flow. All the old problems of improvisation gigs came back to me – should I watch the performance, and thus distract myself from the music, or close my eyes and enjoy, and risk missing some vital moves: understanding where a particular noise came from, seeing what implement made what sound, or just dodging the person fleeing the concert who’s about to bump into me. In the end, as usual, I spent most of my time with my eyes open, but still didn’t get much idea how the musicians extracted such a wierd and wonderful array of sounds from their wierd and wonderful array of objects.

For me the night all came together at the end, with a performace by the Bohman Brothers. I was looking forward to this, having chatted to Jonathan Bohman a couple of times on the phone, and been sent a CD of his brother Adam which I really enjoyed for its humorous and musical use of speech and household implements. The performance lived up to and exceeded my expectations – the brothers came on stage with large sheets of paper from which they read short quotes, presumably pulled from newspapers, books, magazines, wherever. Words and sentences mingled, and a tape of the two brothers reading gradually merged with the live performance so that four voices were throwing up quotes, creating new sentences out of old. The theatricality of the performance really enhanced it, and had me giggling in my seat. Jonathan occasionally glanced across the stage, looking with annoyance at his brother, or ranged around kicking an old violin. During the next piece, when they bowed wine glasses and other mundane objects, Jonathan not only poured wine into the glasses, he had a good drink too (before beating the bottle about the table with a fire-brush).

Cycled home, lifted.