Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Smokefree Music Venues in London

OK, there's a few choices for people in London who want to see live music but don't want to stand in the smoke. I find gigs particularly bad on second hand smoke as they're often packed and smoking still seems to be largely accepted. I just want to see the show and the smoke often spoils it for me, if i bother to turn up at all. I've really cut down on gig going because of this, they're just such unhealthy environments unfortunately. I have excellent earplugs that make me hear clearly while controlling often dangerous volume levels, but I can't turn up in an oxygen mask as well, as someone helpfully suggested. When we were in NYC in Dec 2004 we saw three shows in a row at Irving Plaza and I wouldn't have lasted if smoking would have been allowed there. To me, cigarettes and rock'n'roll (or whatever you might like to call it) just don't go together like for some people. It's such a (dangerous) cliche. Anyway, there's some choices now, and with the smoking ban due next year there's something on the horizon too:

The Roundhouse in Camden: it's completely smokefree inside the venue, there's a large outdoor terrace for smokers. It's a legendary venue in a former rail depot, hosted many famous shows in the 60s and in the punk era, was supposed to become a library at some stage, but recently reopened after an extensive facelift and now hosts gigs, theatre, dance and other things :


The South Bank: The Royal Festival Hall is being refurbished right now but Queen Elizabeth Hall (& the Purcell Room), right next to it, is still open, the whole building is now non smoking, including the foyer bar, (open to the public every day til 10 pm) that also sometimes hosts free gigs, there's a small stage there. The great thing about the South Bank is that they sometimes host really eclectic, unusual gigs, occasionally really big rock acts too, in a fairly uncommercial, informal, and *smokefree* environment, not as stuffy and conservative as one might suspect(Same goes for the Barbican too):


Bush Hall: small old music hall in Shepherd's Bush. The concert space is completely non smoking and there are very visible signs everywhere advising punters of this. The front bar is smoking, but it's separated from the concert hall. Really great little place, beautiful ornate ceilings with chandeliers, very different to usual music venues. Last time I was there, for the great Yo La Tengo, it was a sold out all-standing show and noone smoked! I should go there more often...


I hear the (new) Vortex in Dalston is non smoking too, famous for hosting jazz concerts, we used to go to the old one in Stoke Newington quite a bit for Keith Tippett (and that scene) etc concerts, but it was always smokey in there, time to go back and check out the new venue:

http://www.vortexja zz.co.uk/

I've read this on a blog, The Inn on the Green in Ladbroke Grove is apparently a smoke-free venue/club. I haven't been there but it sounds interesting:

Inn on the Green 3 Thorpe Close
Ladbroke Grove London W10

Union Chapel: old church with a beautiful round interior in Islington, quite a famous venue, recently reopened after some time. You sit in church benches and you have to leave the church to go to the bar where you can smoke. Great Syd Barrett tribute the other day (see below)

That's all I can think of right now, but there are probably a few more. Anyone want to comment/ add anything?

Friday, September 22, 2006

Clovelly in Devon

Back in the summer from our West Country trip with my parents just after my birthday: on the way from Boscastle in Cornwall and Lynton in Exmoor we stopped for the day and walked along stunning dramatic coastline and extensive woods to Clovelly, a small, steep, very touristy, and I guess kitschy old town that's a bit like a museum, no cars, just one steep old street leading down to an old harbour, surrounded by serene coastal woods for miles. We arrived in the harbour from our walk and later walked that one street up very slowly, so we walked through the place just once, it was a total trip on that day, despite the tourists and all that, I guess having walked there made it more impressive when we got there ... sometimes it's best to be in between destinations, cos that was my favourite walk of that week ...

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Syd Barrett Tribute at the Union Chapel

The Mystery Jets are an odd band, and i'm still not convinced what to think of them. When i first saw them on MTV 2 i thought they were kinda annoying, some young dudes prancing around in a vaguely burlesque style apparently trying to be next cool thing, and I didn't get the song. I shouldn't watch so much MTV2, and in fact, i don't anymore, it doesn't always do the bands justice, though there's good stuff on there too occasionally. once you get past all that terrible stuff. So when I later read that they were based in the vaguely mythical location of Eel Pie Island, featured a father and a son, and loved old psych and prog music I thought, hmm who are they? ...Anyway, i'm still not so sure about the music, though it's not as bad as i first thought, but i'll give them full kudos for putting on a lovely Syd tribute on Monday at the wonderful, recently reopened Union Chapel in Islington. Bathed in appropriately psychedelic floating lava lamp lights, but ornate enough even without those, it's a great venue for a night like this, the longer i was there the more i liked being in that room, sitting in the back on church benches, meeting some lovely people back there too, including a real Syd obsessive (I mean, really...). I'm not sure who everyone was but there was a constant stream of acts doing short sets, Lupen Crook, quite driven and manic, Kid Harpoon, good presence, nice clear voice, some awesome syd covers, a very young guy singing two Syd songs in an artfully smudged voice, sounding almost like Scott Walker (!), some guys from Babyshambes doing a surprisingly modest and lovely 'It's no good trying'. there was some very special surprise guest mentioned before the event but i guess the real surprise was that The Television Personalities managed to turn up for once and just about managed to play a set. Dan Treacy is a very volatile performer but his band just about held it together, at times it almost seemed like a rerun of the way some of the later Syd Barrett material must have been recorded, flashes of brilliant, lovely songs then distortion, chaos, ranting etc. He even played 'I know where Syd Barrett lives', but not without making it clear that the Mystery Jets "twisted his arm" to play it. Followed by a very passionate rendition of 'I've got a bike...you can ride it if you like" Fascinating and a bit sad at the same time. the more syd songs got played the better the evening got, these songs are meant to be played live. It wasn't even that sad and sombre, there was a sense of celebration and musical magic in the air, or something like that. And maybe a bit of lofi school production too, mostly in a charming way though. So...the Mystery Jets. In their boat at Eel Pie Island they have a portrait of Syd ringed by a lifebelt, it's hanging from the altar today. They start with an ace cover of Lucifer Sam, goosebumps, really, it sounds so full and overwhelming when played by such an efficient live band. Later they also play the Gnome, another favourite of mine from Piper. Their own material still doesn't grab me too much, i think it's the songs that is the problem but it does sound alright tonight, nice harmonising, maybe if they'd loosen up a bit and got a bit wilder, that could work. They are planning an acoustic tour for October that could be interesting and make people see them in a different light. maybe. Impressive that such a young band (apart from the white haired dad on keyboards who sometimes seems to secretly drive the whole operation) spearheaded this tribute too. Another one please, maybe next year! I want to do that walk in Grantchester Meadows that i was trying to do the other day. . .


Saturday, September 16, 2006

Guided By Voices - Titus & Strident Wet Nurse (live)

this song has ... mysterious powers. a fairy tale? a childhood snapshot?

Psychic Dancehall: The Fall in Cricklewood

so, we've lived within walking distance of Cricklewood for almost two years but until yesterday i hadn't been there, I guess there was no need to. Cricklewood Broadway is basically the same road as Kilburns main drag, you just have to follow it up the nicely named Shoot Up Hill and eventually you get there. It kinda looks like Kilburn too...though the pubs look just a little bit smarter than Kilburn I guess. Though generally too smokey for me, Kilburn has some good places these days, well, mainly The Luminaire, an old Irish dance hall that has quietly morphed into a well loved indie hole that reminds me of other real favourites of the past, say, the old Concorde in Brighton. I think it's definitely haunted too, but updated for the 21st century in a way that seems to work well at the moment. I love the fact that even in this relatively uncool corner of London you can still leave the house and wander down the road to see some shows. So The Fall were taking it up the road to The Galtymore, a big Irish music hall, that still mainly hosts Irish country music, and hasn't changed much since the fifties or so. There's a slightly nasty edge to the room that works incredibly well with The Fall I have to say. I mean, the small bar is hopelessly overwhelmed by the demand of the hard drinking Fall fans, the place has a stale, slightly depressive air, but it's still comfortable, an old fashioned Friday night at the dancehall. The Mancunian punk poet and comedian John Cooper Clarke in his pink specs and what Simon reckons is a (punk rock) wig is a superb opening act for the occasion, then The Fall come on, relatively punctual, MES looking really quite incredible, his hair immaculately coiffed and wearing an old fashioned black and white jumper, i'm not sure who is in the band these days, obviously his wife Elena on kyeboards, but i'm not sure whether some of the players have returned to the band after the US tour when they had a big fight or not. I'm really not a completist when it comes to the records either, but I actually know a few songs played yesterday night, namely Mr Pharmacist, the first song of the encore. But with The Fall it's hypnotic and immediate as always, whatever they play. Very speedy, dancy, repetetive and deranged, though it could have been wilder and probably would have been, had they played a bit longer than their customary one hour set. Some hipsters wiggin out on the balcony over the stage. MES in fairly good form i reckon. I loved it when he played around with the amps of his band. They played really well, I think. Not the best Fall show ever (for me that was ATP 2002, still, one of my favourite concert memories) A good old fashioned night out then, but also a warped and deranged version of an old fashioned night out, with the surrounding seeping into the atmosphere of the gig in a subtle and interesting way for me. What happened? I feel rough today though...and I've finally been to Crickleweood...

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Simon, Matsuko and Richard in Hay-on-Wye

After the Green Man Festival we decamped to Hay-on-Wye, a famous small town with about 38 second hand bookshops, right on the edge of the Brecon Beacons, there's a superb remote valley nearby and quite spectacular scenery, though in Hay you don't really see that yet, it's all very bucolic and charming still, lush green meadows and rolling hills, but you only have to drive a few miles and you're in the wide open spaces of the Black Mountains leading over a pass into the Llanthony valley (and you don't want to get stuck in there with a flat tyre as happened to us). So we went hillwalking during the day and bookshopping when not...and on the last evening we ran into an old friend of mine, Richard, and his lovely Japanese girlfriend Matsuko. He lives in Japan now, in a city in a fairly remote southern japanese island, and he's only been back for a little while before returning there again. So quite a surprise, he was a housefriend back in the old days in Brighton. While in the pub I forgot to take photos even though i took gazillions of photos of hills earlier in the day, so when we ran into them again the next morning we had to take a photo. this is in the grounds of the castle ruins in the middle of the town, where there's the so called "Honesty bookshop" - it's open 24/7, and there's lots of trashy books for next to nothing. The choice in that town is somewhat overwhelming but the more time you spend there the more you appreciate its unique atmosphere and all the things it has to offer, there's specialist shops and sections, and even a poetry bookshop, the town is so small and tranquil, and the pervading literary, eccentric, borderline atmosphere makes it slightly different from both England and Wales. And you never know who you might run into there...

below are some photos from earlier in the afternoon, walking up Hays Bluff and, ermm, Lord Herefords Knob (that's the name of the mountain though it's got a celtic sounding name too, to use for official occasions i think, a visit of the Queen?), the evening sun came out and made this a pretty special walk. The Brecon Beacons are really gorgeous, i'm glad we lingered in the area after the festival.

Green Man Festival Sunday Afternoon

mucho mellow... on Sunday afternoon the Green Man Festival really started to fall into place for me. We discovered the top terrace overlooking the entire valley with superb views of the surrounding hills. Juana Molinas was playing, more in the background i'm afraid, apparently about geometrical shapes. It fitted it all rather well. . .

Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Lantern procession at the Green Man Festival

though a kid friendly festival, there were moments when it was quite hard work to be there, even for hardened adults like us, not having slept at all, rain, and all that folk music ;-) but on Sunday night the lantern procession showed that this festival is a lot of fun for kids too...i wish i'd filmed a bit more of it actually but it's a lovely little snapshot anyway...
Vegetarian Bacon

Michelle at the Green Man festival...