Quaint ramblings and occasional reflections of a journeying Aussie musician...
30 January 2006
Just little things....instead of feeling like I have to walk as fast and hard as I possibly can everywhere I go, I find I'm taking my time in little spots here and there, easing into a more comfortable, laid back stroll....walking the streets now, at least in the parts I frequent, I'm a bit less depressed with how the whole place looks, or maybe I still am but it doesn't affect me as much, doesn't affect me in the same way it used to....
Heads up for electronica fans here by the way - been checking out a CD by Eivind Aarset, guitarist for Nils Peter Molvaer - chilled out, wild stuff. My electronic music collection is still quite small, but my housemate X has turned out to be something of a connoseiur, and this one is totally connecting with me (title of the album, funnily enough, is 'Connected'). Electronic music can feel a bit inhuman to me sometimes, so I guess it's that meeting place between the bleeps and bloops and instrumental improvisation that the material starts to take me somewhere. It somehow fits in a whole lot more with here, the constant cloud cover, no sunlight...the alien brown-green glow of night rising above endless terrace house rows. Oz feels a lot more like a place where people would be more likely to play instruments in bands, in between beers in the backyard or down at the beach....
Funny now how used I am to the part of London that I live in...I was briefly down in South London last night, and it almost felt uncomfortable walking down the big open streets they have down there round Oval and Kennington, like I wanted to run back to the winding nonsensical alleys of the North West. How bizarre!
But while perhaps becoming more at ease here in terms of getting to know it all, as well as the great gigs and work situation, the people thing is starting to get to me. Dr A made an astute observation once that wherever you go in this town, you're never more than a couple of metres from a person, even when sitting in your own living room or asleep in your bed. I'm starting to feel kind of negative about this in a big way, particularly with the housemate situation at the moment.
Sunday afternoon was ridiculous! I'm vacumming in the living room and DJ is lying there sprawled on the couch, apparently in some strange indirect effort to keep B out of the living room. And then I go in to clean up in the kitchen and B is sitting there, bitching to me about DJ! Once again, I'm just doing my easygoing thing, you know, reeds in the wind and all that, trying to gently suggest to each person how the other might see things a little differently, when I'm feeling this increasing need to grab'em bowf by da colla an mash veir 'eads togevva, innit!?...tell them to both get over themselves and find some kind of middle ground between their respectively hardened ways...or maybe I'm starting to get too high and mighty about all this. Must keep head down, back to the piano, mind back on the job....ho hum!
Speaking of the music, another audio heads up for all you hip hop fans....beside the house stuff, DJ knows a bit about hip hop here and there, and has hipped me up to Mos'Def, 'Black on Both Sides'! Rocking my world! It's not quite music from another universe like D'Angelo is, but it's pretty much there, and definitely resonates. And so, henceforth, I shall have occasion to end this particular entry with a quote from the first track of said album, strangely relevant to my own musical situation. If you exchange the word 'hip-hop' with maybe other musical genres, then you might know what I'm talking about...
"People talk about hip-hop like it's some giant livin' in the hillside, comin' down to visit the townspeople....we are hip-hop. Me, you, everybody, we are hip-hop, so hip-hop is goin' where we're goin'. So the next time you ask yourself where hip-hop is goin', ask yourself, 'Where am I goin'? How am I doin?' And then you get a clear idea...."
Until next time, my love to you all...
27 January 2006
Once again (so tiresome), it's differences in personalities between two housemates, but this time including a third virtual housemate, a romantic involvment of one of said two, which I guess makes this particular situation slightly different territory for me (about the only interesting thing to be gained from the situation). Once again, the active housemate in this particular situation was so bothered by something seeming quite insignificant to myself that this person just HAD to take action, to which I am sure the response from receiving housemate and romantic involvement will be heated, ultimately resulting in vivd displays of emotion, plenty of nonsensicality and, once again, boring but at the same time nerve-racking conflict between people you share your living space with.
It is happening again! Why is it also that I'm okay, everyone still loves me and wants to be my mate, while they all ending up hating each other!? And why this time around did it only take a couple of months?....bloody London! Guess it's just keep head down, concentrate on my stuff, try and offer consoling words and alternative opinions to the ensuing rants and character assasinations from both sides, and make sure it doesn't end up involving money or leases....
Had our little national day yesterday (back in the homeland, I mean), and while it's great to celebrate the most magnificent country on earth, I can't help but use the opportunity to drop in a couple of words on the subject. January 26th is I find an unusual day to celebrate, as it marks the day Arthur Phillip and the First Fleet set up shop in Port Jackson. Aside from obvious historical reference to the ensuing genocide of the local population, it's not actually the date on which the Commonwealth of Australia was created, which as I hope all patriotic Aussies know is January 1st, a much more suitable day to celebrate the place (although as my ever astute and skeptical mother said once, everyone would be too hungover from New Years Eve to care!).
Something else that irks me a little is our flag, something of course which is bandied about with great relish by fellow Aussies here in London, sportspeople, politicians, racist gangs reclaiming Cronulla beach for "Straya" et al, as the foremost symbol of the nation. The Union Jack, while referring to a major part of Australian history, doesn't represent what Australia is any more, certainly not a quarter of what it is. From my recent travels, it's become plainly obvious to me that if we're going to have a flag in the top left hand corner then it might as well be the Stars and Stripes....
While I'm on the topic of history, a common conversational topic when talking about the Great South Land is how 'little' history we have, barely two hundred years. Somehow, the estimated sixty to one hundred thousand previous years of Aboriginal history always seems to be left out of these conversations. Just because it's measured and documented in folklore and stories of the Dreamtime, not battles and treaties and cathedrals, doesn't make it any less relevant. Taking into account various other elements of our national identity (probably the main one being the fact that the Queen of England is the Australian head of state), a sense of confusion can emerge, certainly not as to where we have come from, but as to what Australia is today, and where it is going tomorrow.
And why have I rabbited on about this? Because I am currently living in a place which at times seems to exhibit this same sense of confusion. England certainly seems to know and relish in it's own history, but the classic example is when one visits the voluminous expanse of the British Museum to find no exhibits of British history. We all know the English national faunal symbol is the lion - I haven't checked recently, but are they native to here? I remember being out on St Georges Day, in honour the patron saint of England (who I found out the other day was of "black-Palestinian" descent), and all I seemed to come across was a lone poster out front of a pub. I guess when you live in a city that alone is ten times older than Anglo-Australian history in total, "the nation's capital", surrounded daily by all these national symbols, it just gets you to thinking about these things sometimes...
25 January 2006
I play Cuban danzones and guarachas and guagancos with Flavio at our duo spots at Oxo and I walk out thinking, "Yeah, I could do this for the rest of my days." Next day, I might be sitting in my kitchen and housemate X puts on an electronica album and I think, "Yeah, I could sit there with a laptop and sequencer and do this for the rest of my days." Then I play Stardust with Uncle Dave and I think, "Yeah, I could play old swingy stuff and stride and standards for the rest of my days." Then I want to do all of them. Then I wonder how I could ever do justice to ANY of them.
But the trick is, you pick one thing. And I have. And I'm working towards this one thing at the moment, and while it may not come entirely to fruition, the fact that I am focused on one thing is the most important thing. Already, another thing is emerging into my stylistic view as a counter to that one thing....I can handle one thing at a time. And like Uncle Dave says, if you want to branch out, if you wanna be one of these multi-guys that can do loads of things at once, it's just gonna take longer. Well, if I'm doing this for the rest of my days, then what's the problem, right?
Ambling my way past those gigantic lions, I leave the square at it's southernmost corner to enter the Trafalgar, tonight's stop on the gig trail. Nice little duo spot with singer J, easy, chilled Tuesday job.
I enter the establishment. The whole place has a feel not unlike many other places I've seen in this town - schmick at first glance, or if you were walking past it on the street, and there's obviously money invested, but on closer inspection, it's got a strange Truman-Show-esque vibe, like a studio set, like everything was put there five minutes ago, and will be gone in ten. I've been to restaurants like this too, where the appearance of the building is more attactive than the menu.
The laptop DJ has the most random collection of whatever that I've ever seen....Coltrane? Pointer Sisters? Incognito? Doesn't matter! No-one's listening, no-one cares.
The decor has changed slightly tonight - there are pictures and photos up around the place, and some brochures on the bar...perhaps an attempt by management to inject some life and flavour into yet another soulless shopfront, housing the masses of after work suits in here for a quick cocktail, the kind of place they go when they're not working or sleeping or holidaying. I'm expecting the management to come out and say, "Yes, that's right, sorry darling but we've got a function on tonight...didn't anybody tell you?" But no, my fears are allayed when J get's there...
Easy set up - the place has a house keyboard (bit of a rarity) and for once the DJ desk that we're plugged into yields a sound first time! J and I get some house reds on the band tab - a dry little Argentinian number, goes down quite well, and at five quid for the punters it ought to!
I have to say though that J is one of the most delightful musicians I have ever had the pleasure of playing with, and that usually saves this gig for me. We play a couple of sets, all the usual stuff. We get a couple of quickly stifled claps for one song over the two and a half hour program, and after another two house reds it's all over!
Don't get me wrong here - I've never been one to knock back work because I'm not interested. I don't want to stop doing these duo jobs, and after the year I've had I'm still willing to take whatever I can get my hands on. It's just that it's WELL PAST time for me for other stuff to be happening.....along the lines of maybe more band work? Maybe something (gasp) original? To fulfill the creative side, the artistic output of what I do, as a counter to the money gigs, to keep me sane....
Quick packup, a kiss on the cheek, and then it's on to the night bus home, stopping early at Kensal Rise for a three quid fried chicken extravaganza before the chilly stroll home...watch some TV with housemates, go to bed.
Another night on the gig trail...
24 January 2006
Compositions of the first set were similarly inviting, quite complex but never obtrusively so....and then when the boys came back on for the second, that was the gold...the tunes took the experience to another level, well appreciated by a totally packed house.
I liked the venue as well, the Vortex in Dalston, a block from the overland station. Large room, upstairs, with big windows looking out onto Kingsland Road. Anything that feels accessible in this town is a blessing.
1. The riverside - refer to previous entry.
2. Riding up the front of the bus. Most of the city is only three stories high at the best of times, so when you're up top and at the window, it feels like you're flying, especially after a couple of pints!
3. The long dusk in summer. In my first warm months here, a welcome respite from days of photocopying and unusual living conditions was the fact that I got home from my day job at 5.30 and still had a good four hours of sunshine left....
4. The park in summer. On the first really bright hot Saturday here, I looked out the window and saw people briskly walking down to the local park. Initially I thought the circus was in town or something, but then when I actually went down to the park, I was astounded...Aussies take their park time for granted, because the weather is never too harsh and the sun is always there, so it's all cool, but here, once there's a skerrick of sunlight, it's time to beeline (as best you can in this town) for the nearest open space....when I got there I couldn't believe it! dogs doing somersaults to catch frisbees, little kids running around....palpable excitement in the air.
5. Golden weathervanes - also near where I used to work (near the Barbican, and in Angel), some of those old grey stone buildings have these turret looking things with golden weathervanes on them, a welcome adornment against summer's dreamy pastel clouds. In a country with such crap weather, it instills in any kind of forecast a sense of optimism...
Anyone notice a common theme here!? Can't wait!!
20 January 2006
Couldn't help but muse upon it all as I trudged back from teaching the other day down one of the long residential streets common in this part of London. The endless rows of terraces either side, literally walls of houses, seemed to rise as far as to meet the flat, grey, sunless sky...makes you feel so hemmed in....might as well be back down on the Tube!
Got some respite from the gloom last night on the way to the gig. I decided to walk from Chancery Lane down Fleet St to cross the river at Blackfriars Bridge.
It's always arresting in a way, getting to the river...sure, the water is a shade of brown that makes the Yarra look clean, and I dread to think what could be under that grim, uninviting surface, but when you get down there on a bridge or along Southbank, it's one of the few places in town that your eyes get to focus on objects far away. That and the obvious space between the banks, and you find yourself pausing, slowing down for a second, starting to look around and things and people and buildings.
I have to say, I'm not entirely impressed with the architecture down there. Some of those buildings, with their pallid greys and creams and dark metallics, are a strange visual echo of the faces and suits of the financiers and businessmen that inhabit them.
And then ones eyes are always drawn to St Pauls, which has never failed to impress me, whenever I've seen it. From the eighth floor of the Oxo Tower, on any given evening, it's quite a sight.
This place, the living, the working, the travelling, it absorbs you so much, if you're from somewhere else it can't help but start to alter those memories. I think back to Australia and it feels like some strange, bright, hot dream....did I ever live there?! In a past life maybe?!
But then perhaps not such a dream....walking down Chancery Lane to work this morning, it feels a little too warm on the skin...and then....no, it can't be! I look down the gently sloping narrow street lined with dour legal buildings and suddenly....a blinding shaft of.....a whole wall is blazing in front of my eyes! and I feel my feet skip below me down the pavement, my astonished body too weak to resist. Can't anyone else see it? It's that big glowy red thing in the sky, it's back!
It hits my face and strings and choirs are heard across the land (or maybe just in my head)! and for a minute, this place seems not so bad after all...
18 January 2006
This whole blog thing just keeps getting better!
While I'm at it, I also should put in a plug for www.thesituationists.com. During my three years in Melbourne I had the privilege to play with a whole bunch of world class musicians, and one band of particular note was 'The Situationists', a six piece world fusion jazz thing with all-original tunes, run by my good friend Anton. We recorded an album in March 04, due for release sometime this or next month, which includes three compositions by yours truly, and on the website you can hear one and a half of them! ('Dance of the Newcomer', and if you check out the page about the band, there's a latin thing in the background which is a grab from 'Descarga Estrella', one of my own as well). If anyone's keen for a copy, I'll be in touch with Anton and let y'all know....until next time!
Today it's C and F triads, and try as I might, for most of the lesson I'm not getting anywhere with them...they're yelling and playing other tunes and glissandoing their way through the half hour and I'm trying not to raise my voice with them.....but then one of them, there's a moment of stillness in his eyes and he says, "Oh, it's like this, is it?" And he moves those two top fingers in his left hand up from E and G to F and A...and he's GOT IT! And in my mind I breathe a sigh of relief, because at least one of them has absorbed one kernel of information...and that somehow makes the whole thing worthwhile?
Okay, so that was Monday....then there was Tuesday.....
I teach at another school, a Jewish boys primary school....the place is an old synagogue, so it's tiny, and I teach in the shed outside, where they keep the fruit! so people keep coming in and interrupting every once in a while...my head almost touches the ceiling....can't quite get the door shut because there are workmen out in the bitumen 'yard' drilling away at something....
The kids come out of class and they've got so much energy, it's literally bubbling out of them...and they're taking me for a RIDE! yelling and making silly noises and falling off the chairs and backchatting me and I AM yelling back at them....some information is imparted, some of them get to play some of the time, but after my two hours are endured I trudge back out of the school, across the park to the tube, wondering where it's all going....
Don't get me wrong, teaching's great when they're switched on and they want to listen and stuff is learnt, but when they're not up for it....last week I started a day a week at a high school, and it was so refreshing to actually converse with students, feel some respect from them, and be able to actually show them something....
I know I'm just having a whinge, and there are loads of people out there working longer hours in crapper jobs for less money....I know I'll move on sometime....
10 January 2006
And yes, M, my ex-girlfriend...despite all that happened, in the grand scheme of things, she helped me too in a whole bunch of different ways, for which I am also truly thankful.
Couldn't have done it without you, guys!
06 January 2006
If I had to concentrate these abovementioned feelings into one(ish) word, it would be 'wind-up'. This place gets me so wound up sometimes...I can literally feel it in my stomach some days....and I believe that it's due to the plethora of daily factors, all strangely related to each other, that this place serves up at you that don't have to be that way.
Example no 1 - Indirectness
A sense of this pervades many if not all things here:
* - I teach at a school about two blocks from my house, that is, as the crow flies. Don't get me wrong, it's a cushy deal, but because my suburb is built of big long streets, I have to walk halfway down one and then back up the other to get there...
* - Argos is this great cheap chain place where you can buy every single thing for your house, but because it was originally only a mail order service, when you go into the stores you have to fill out a card with the number of the good you want, then wait in line to pay, THEN go wait somewhere else while they dig it out of the back of the store for you, i.e, you can't just walk in and buy something...
* - When you register with a doctor here as part of the NHS, if it's just a regular appointment or check-up, you can't just get the next available time - you have to book a week in advance...
Example no 2 - Administration
Hopeless! You want anyone in any particular organisation to do something for you, then it's going to require you to fill out a whole bunch of forms, wait three or four times longer than is reasonably necessary for it to be done, and then when it's sent back to you, it's usually wrong, so you have to ring somebody up and figure it out what's actually happened!
* - Earlier in the year, I went to take out £10 from a cashpoint, and somebody had a card copier rigged up in there somehow, so by morning all my money had disappeared. "No worries," says Natwest anti-fraud squad the next afternoon in a phone call, "just fill out some forms and it'll be back in your account in a week or two." TWO MONTHS LATER, after about 15 phonecalls, I finally find the guy one afternoon in the system who I'm presuming clicked a button and bing, there it is back in my account, two hours after I talked to him.
* - Went for an interview with a music service a while ago - they were interviewing in November for place in January - why so early? Because the background criminal check takes THREE MONTHS - they were already hugely backlogged, and you can't work in schools until it comes through....ridiculous!
Like my uncle J says, 'nice guys finish last' - to get stuff done here, sometimes you just gotta yell and get angry, and for some inexplicable reason, people here seem to respond to that?
Example no 3 - Physicality
This is a difficult place to get around in. Sure, the public transport is great and goes everywhere, but it's dealing with a 17th century street system which makes no sense whatsoever.
* - The tube, supposed engineering miracle, on various lines is consistently delayed or breaking down, due to signal failures, lack of staff, employee strikes, lack of safety measures, flying saucers et al. Various lines have various reputations i.e, Jubliee and Victoria lines good, District and Northern lines bad! And if you're lucky enough to be on the tube during rush hour...I can't think of ever being closer to purgatory, especially if you're doing it twice a day, five days a week.
* - One of the great things about my four days in Paris was walking down all those grand boulevards and feeling a sense of open space, standing at the end of the Louvre and being able to look across the Seine to the Eiffel Tower and beyond! Sure, there's Hyde and Regent's Parks (and they are great), but central London feels so closed off sometimes
I think my grievances about this place can best be described by an account of a particular day I had in mid July. At the time I was working 9-6 five days a week at a Real Estate firm as a personal assistant (stapling, photocopying, filing, blah blah). I had no gigs, no teaching, no money (strangely enough), I was living in a one-bedroom apartment with my ex-girlfriend (a whole other saga), any love life I had was absolutely MESSED UP....the tube bombings happened the week before, so police were everywhere (it might have been the next day when that Brazilian guy got shot)...let's just say the tension in the air was high!
So I stumble out of my day job, eyes fixed on the ground, two blocks down to the tube, and what's happened? Station closed - security alert. It's Green Park - three lines go there - central London, it's 10 deep on the pavement, the traffic's nuts, the buses aren't going anywhere.....the only way I was going to get 'home' before the next day was an hour and a half's walk....TOO MUCH!
So I decided to take that walk home, and on the way I did two things, one of which was quite foreign to me personally, but is quite common here - I put on a scowl. Now, for someone who has always endeavoured to be as genuine as possible at all times (if I do say so myself), this was really quite strange for me, it felt like it went against who I am, and yet it came so naturally. I figure somehow that it was London, as a presence of some sort, maybe trying to tell me something......of course the other thing I did was have a drink on that long walk home, something which has always been quite familiar, to myself and the inhabitants of this town especially!
In my long-winded way of telling things (by the way, if you've hung on this far, you're doing great!), what I'm trying to say here is that London really sorts you out. When you first get here, it sucks you along, you play by it's messed up rules only, but then it DOES level out, and that's when you realise that it forces you to seriously ask those big questions of yourself, about what you're doing with your life.
The circumstances surrounding me coming here, in short, were fairly scattered, and the situation I got myself into I thought I'd never get out of, so what did I do? I thought harder, I went faster, I became smarter...London presented me the challenge of itself and I took it and went with it, realising that I actually had the energy, in fact I had LOADS of energy, to deal with this place.
And that, my dear friends, is why at the moment I'm thinking about trying to stay here for longer than my two year visa. That's right! After taking this long to slag the place out, I'm actually considering extending my time here. And I think you might be able to see why. It's when I get past my grievances that I take into account the obvious benefits of living here, combined with the feeling that if I've survived here this long, why not get the most out of it that I can? It's all wrapped up in the same thing, see?
Before coming here I spent four months playing piano on a cruise ship in the Caribbean. A lot of people have asked me how amazing that must have been, and I still have mixed feeling about it, but YES, there were definitely amazing parts about it, and I always seem to recount stories from that time quite eagerly.
And so, as it follows, I was already imagining the other day, ten years down the track, being some place else (probably up the back at a gig, hunched over a house Red!) and some youngster asking me what my years in London were like.
And I suppose I would answer him with a shake of the head, a roll of the eyes, a chuckle....and maybe a wistful smile....
05 January 2006
Ever the clever friend of mine Sherd has gotten onto this blog thingy and sussed out a couple of things I didn't know about, that is, putting links within an entry, so here's one to hers! - http://sherdieinbrisvegas.blogspot.com. Here's one to my mate Ms N, who I got all h'inspired from to start this whole extravaganza - http://ninalaitala.blogspot.com. And here's another one that I just picked up randomly that gives me a chuckle now and then - http://thecompanybitch.blogspot.com. Ms N has some other cool ones as well, so when she sends me them I'll pass them on.
By the way, Happy New Year to y'all! For the first time in a while I didn't have a gig, and the prospect of central London at midnight didn't thrill me entirely (fighting through a maelstrom of drunken drugged up people to freeze my ass off watching Big Ben...enticing!), so DJ, A and I decided to catch the 52 down to Ladbroke Grove, where we ended up in this great little bar with cool house music (DJ's been turning me around lately) taken over by a party in 70s gear and wigs, and so we got stuck into it, started dancing and talking to girls and stuff....ended up having an awesome night.
The other boys ended up not having much luck, but I ended up dancing with this girl with electric blue hair who told me she was from the Pink Forest! So numbers were indirectly exchanged and I took her out for coffee yesterday in Angel...was just so amazing to feel like that again - the getting there, the meet up, the caffeine rush, shooting the breeze, getting to know each other, watching people walk by....really, what else is there!? Thought I'd like to meet up again sometime, so it's looking like a walk in the park might be coming up...could be tricky this time of year (dreadful weather and all), but we'll see how it goes...
03 January 2006
Caught the early Saturday morning Eurostar, Christmas Eve...strolled out of Gare Du Nord at about 11AM onto the street, and just started laughing out loud, not really believing where I was! First stop Sacre Coeur, about 20 mins walk away...got picked out in half a second by some Nigerian bracelet makers...."Okay," I thought, "I'll pay my tourist tax," as this guy wound a string thing around my wrist, not realising it would be 10 QUID!
Up the stairs, checked out Sacre Coeur...astounding...met up with J-Sax, Miss J, Noel and S and had a coffee around the corner at La Boheme, checked out Place de la Tertre with all the artists...magical! Left on my own for a couple of hours, I took the Metro into town (even that was great), got off at Hotel de Ville, walked around the Louvre and the Ile...amazing...had dinner with everyone at this great French restaurant...
Next day, one of the best days I think of my life....met up with S at the Louvre and just WALKED and walked and walked, taking in magnificent building after windy street after wide boulevard after....for the whole day I just felt this amazing warm happy glow....everywhere we went, everywhere I looked, was beautiful, and I mean EVERYWHERE! Ended up lunching at Luxembourg Palace, then north to Invalides and an incredible walk up some big open avenue to the Eiffel Tower (pleased to say it was TALLER than I expected)...didn't have to wait too long to get to the top...incredible views....
Came down, crossed the 'street' (seems not word enough) towards the big curved building in front of the tower...caught up in the electricity of the people everywhere....
Other places haunted by our merry crew were:
* - The Latin Quarter, where Mr T and I went twice to the shop that sells the best kebabs in the world (with sour cream and french fries...who would have thought!)
* - Boulevards St Michel and St Germain...somewhere there we found this zany English bookstore, complete with cosy upstairs bit with cats and beds to have a little lie down and read in!
* - Notre Dame, Ile de la Cite, Ile de la St Louis, Hotel De Ville, Opera, Dali Museum, numerous cafes, streetside creperies, patisseries et al...
Was great to see me old mate Mr T and stay in this awesome apartment he borrowed from friends...needless to say, can't wait to get back there...I can't imagine how beautiful the place must be in the warmer months...anyway, check out the photos - but a hint of the charm and romance of an amazing town...