Thursday, May 29, 2008

Chelsea Pub Walk

Bank Holiday Monday and I was going to go walking, trying to ignore the weather report as, um, mentioned and almost recommended in my last post when I described a good walking day with a "light rain" forecast. Well, "light rain" might be doable but this Bank Holiday Monday it pretty much rained all day. A lot. And heavy. So no way we could go walking in the country, so at the last minute, literally before leaving the house, we decided on the Chelsea walk in a London Pub Walk book called "London by Pub" by Ted Bruning that seems out of print now but is really very good. I don't know who Roger Protz is but there's a quote by him on the sleeve saying he can't think of a better guide to London's pubs. Well, we're talking historical pubs, he focuses on old pubs, their history, the way they changed, the look of the interior, who used to drink there etc. and also tells us a bit about the area. I don't really know Chelsea that well at all, I found. I guess it's not really my kind of scene, and the 60s and the punk days when there were interesting things going on there are long over. Still, it's a very beautiful area - despite all the poshness - and has lots of mysterious little old lanes winding up and down, beautiful old houses, and quite a few pubs. I haven't yet found out whether Mr Bruning bitches about all the areas in his book as much as he does about Chelsea but he does mention the fact that most of these old historical pubs have had very similar-looking makeovers, especially the beige painted walls. It's true but I have to say most of them were very comfortable to sit in, and kept at least some of their historical atmosphere. It was interesting actually, as 3 or 4 pubs were shut down for good, and at least one of those was praised in the book for keeping the original interior and pub atmosphere. So the makeovers won, there are now dining rooms where there were downstairs bars and corners, and everything is more streamlined in a fairly upmarket fashion. And one pub near the river front that used to be frequented by artists and writers like Dylan Thomas, "The Kings Head and Eight Bells", is now a brasserie with a different name (and was closed too).

He also makes an interesting point about the current trend for clear glass pub windows, so people can look in and out whereas in a traditional pub you couldn't: "The more clear glass I see in pub windows, the more I realise that the opaque alternative is a strong definer of traditional pub character. It not only prevents the outside world from being tempted by the depravity within; it also creates an enclosed, inward-looking space - you don't watch the world go by inside a traditional pub... the quality of the light is different too...A traditional pub is cut off and protected from the outside world, and its etched and frosted windows are its curtain walls." So in the Chelsea Potter, a pub once frequented by the far out denizens of the 60s counterculture (Mick Jagger, etc), we sat in the giant bay window looking out into the Kings Road and did indeed see the world go by (well, there wasn't much depravity left to watch inside the pub, it has to be said). And instead of the punks of the 7os and the hippies of the 60s we saw the "Chelsea tractors", as 4 x 4s, SUVs etc are known.

Ok, I see them everywhere in London these days but I will never understand why people use them in this city or anywhere that isn't really rough terrain with no access to public transport. And there were indeed a lot of them in Chelsea, in fact probably at least half of the cars we saw drifting past our clear glass pub windows were these scary oversized antisocial dangerous (for pedestrians and cyclists especially) wasteful, um, shall we say monsters? I hate them. And as always, usually there were only one or two people sitting in them when there was often space for six or seven people and their dogs or their entire record collection. It's ridiculous and such a waste. And it can't be sustained forever. So yeah, maybe those pub windows should have been opaque...

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Gerrards Cross to Cookham

Some pics from a walk from Gerrards Cross to Cookham, a posh old village by the Thames, last weekend with a group of people from the Deutsche in London msg board. 

Forecast was "light rain" but it only rained once, fairly briefly, and that was when we were in the lunchtime pub, so we just had another drink, and by the time we finished that, it had stopped already. In fact, it was good walking weather, overcast but everything felt fresh, the forests were steaming, the flowers and the wild rhododendrons everywhere were in bloom, and while the springtime is impressive in London as it is, once you get out into the woods and fields everything is even more lush and overwhelming right now. In the morning, looking out of the window, it really didn't look like a day for a trip out to the country, but since we'd arranged it we did it and it worked out fine. Just goes to show that you shouldn't pay too much attention to the weather forecast and just do it anyway. As often on these walks, we hardly met any other walkers... 

Just before we arrived by the Thames we walked up this field to an old church on a hill, St Nicholas, from which you can overlook the Thames valley, it looked like something out of a film, on another hill nearby a Victorian folly, a mock castle ruin, loomed, horses grazed and some beautiful old trees were standing alone in the fields like huge green balloons. We arrived at the old church in Cookham just as a wedding party stepped outside. It's an odd place,  Cookham, it is very pretty and old and definitely has atmosphere, but it also looks very expensive and upmarket, I guess the riverside location has spoilt it a bit. Still, there are some good pubs there, and you can walk in many directions from there too, especially along the river. I've done the walk from Gerrards Cross twice now but I'll do it again sometimes...

Saturday, May 17, 2008

ATP vs Pitchfork in Camber Sands (a little slideshow)

The pics are not in order, so it goes back and forth between "Surf City", the really quite happening patch of grass outside our chalet and temporary home, the glorious beach in Camber Sands, the outside of the Queen Vic pub and some pics from the gigs. It felt quite ... emotional coming back to Camber Sands, Mr Hogan referred to it in the programme as an " abandoned playground" and it felt right to be back, I thought maybe they'd switched operations to Minehead for good. As many I feel quite a strong bond with Camber, it's smaller, and oh so familiar by now. Walking down the little track to the dunes to THAT beach. Well, we didn't have it to ourselves this time though. It was very sunny and hot all weekend, and there were a lot of people there who had nothing to do with the festival. I actually found it too much during the day, but managed to sneak in a few quiet moments when it was practically empty at dusk on the Friday night, and Monday early morning. Long afternoons in Rye on the Sunday and fabulous Hastings on the Monday.

And, ok, I saw all these bands, in order, Friday: Vampire Weekend (loved it, sounded just like the record, but more colourful, the singer referred to Camber Sands as England's Cape Cod, which is of course a place VW sing a lot about, very sweet), Sebadoh (after some long pauses switching positions they really nailed the songs IMO, "Brand New Love", Eric Gaffney doing a triple whammy of "Bubble and Scrape" songs, etc. one of my highlights for sure), Ween (didn't really know them before but was pleasantly surprised, we heard a bit of Steely Dan and Blue Oyster Cult(!), the room was half empty but the people who were there loved it, and it was getting better and better for over two hours), Redd Kross rocking out downstairs.

Sat: Times New Viking (very groovy - though I don't really hear that much GBV in them, somehow reminds me a bit of the Riot Grrrl bands of the 90s instead, Huggy Bear, etc), Bon Iver (a revelation, fleshed out to threepiece they deliver stunning a capella singing, really lush and gorgeous, need to get that album!), Howlin Rain (Ethan Miller from Comets on Fire's other more retro/trad band but still channeling the pure cosmic SF acid vibes, they were great, like a bunch of gnarly old trees in the moonlight), Los Campesinos (Why was the singer wearing a Mika shirt? I think I needed to chill at that point...) , then onto the next hightlight, Deerhunter (pretty wild and shoegazy, Mr Cox wore some strange garland that fell off during the first song, later he stood on the amps staring in to space, looking like a deranged teenager, the guitarist stood with his back to the audience, haven't seen that for a while), the Les Savy Fav singer brought a bunch of people downstairs in a procession just in time for Black Lips (perfect psychedelic pop party band for ATP, they delivered, even if the lead singer almost lost his voice, really like them too), later Hot Chip played a strange and rocking set that got the whole hall going, the voice of that little guy really cuts through. I'm a fan of their last album and it was fantastic to see it done so well. Hmmm, sorry, can't hate on music too much here, is it all too positive?

Sunday it's even more chill time in Rye to start with, then my favourite band of all weekend: Of Montreal in their surreal costumes and the frontman from ... another dimension, or is that Norway ;-) I love that record so much right now. For the last song they played all twelve minutes of "The past is a grotesque animal" and I was in some weird zone. Fantastic! The Hold Steady: that singer is quite nerdy, even more than I thought, and it's infectious, close your eyes and you are in America in some shithole town crawling around the bars, it might be a cliche but it seems lived enough in their music. I've loved how on the records they seem to successfully channel bands like the Replacements and to some extent even the boozier anthemic side of GBV, so it was cool to see them live for the first time. The Meat Puppets, laid back and varied, but still with an undercurrent of madness, so great to see the brothers on a stage, they seem to have come through all sorts of weird shit. And on to Harmonia winding the party down, a great choice for Sunday night. We were in the back and grooved along gently, some of it was quite dancy but still complex and mysterious sounding. Obviously echoes of Kraftwerk and Can resonating...

Might have forgotten one or two. I thought the programme, done jointly between Pitchfork and ATP themselves, while I couldn't discern any real obvious pattern to the choices, tried to represent both some very happening and "now" acts as well as some old obscure cult bands like Ween. There was a lot of rocking but a lot of it was quite weird/complex/detached rocking, and you needed to keep an open mind. Personally I managed to find the breathing spaces you need to enter to endure the marathon, and ended up seeing a lot of good stuff. Plus I had good earplugs, they really are essential. It's ok to just hang in the chalet and at the beach and I love all that too but for me the music always came first at ATP. Oh, and no more smoking. That made a difference too, and probably made me see more bands. It used to be pretty bad, you know. So here's to all tomorrows ATPs!