Notes on London

  • We’ve had fantastically hot sunshine over the last two weeks like the rest of the country, but stepping off the train at Euston on Tuesday was like being hit by a wall of heat, as though walking into a furnace.
  • I don’t think I stopped laughing for any notable period of time during The Book of Mormon.  It’s by far the best stage show I’ve ever seen.  The thing about it is that while on the surface it could appear to be completely offensive to the Mormon religion and probably to the entire continent of Africa too, it is actually the opposite.  Sure, it pokes fun at Mormons, and it certainly paints a crude picture of Africa, but beneath the surface the story has a heart of gold and has a warm message.
  • That said, I can’t get the spooky Mormon hell dream out of my head.
  • I spent a little time on Wednesday morning watching as Leicester Square was prepared for that nights premiere of the new Alan Partridge movie.  It was quite interesting watching how much work goes into what you eventually see in your magazines and on television.
  • Did I mention that it was hot as hell?
  • I forget how much I love Camden sometimes.
  • I have this unflinching ability to firstly get myself lost, and then somehow I seem to develop an amazing sense of direction to get myself out of it.  When planning how to get to Village Underground on Wednesday night I saw that the options were basically tube to Liverpool Street or overground to Shoreditch.  For reasons which are unknown even to me, I used the previously unconsidered third option:  tube to Old Street.  I immediately realised the gravity of my error upon arriving at Old Street station and being confronted with, I think, 9 different exits.  So I picked one seemingly at random and, realising that I was not entirely sure of where to go next, I searched for the safety net of Google Maps on my phone.  It wouldn’t work.  So I picked a direction and started walking.  For some reason it felt wrong after a couple of minutes, so I backtracked and walked in the opposite direction.  I checked one of those handy street maps and I couldn’t find Hollywell Lane, the location of the venue, so my urgency was heightened and I was beginning to consider flagging down a taxi.  But I did see Shoreditch High Street and I decided that heading in that direction would probably be a good start.  So I did and, long story short, I found the venue without too much drama.
  • Incidentally, it turned out that Shoreditch High Street station was literally across the road from Village Underground.
  • Something about the street performers at Covent Garden really creeps me out.
  • I read something in today’s Times about how a “true Cockney accent” is more likely to be found in Essex these days than it is in East London.  I actually mentioned something similar to a friend via text on Tuesday, and now I think back on it I can’t recall hearing a single Cockney accent.
  • There were, however, a lot of Irish accents.  Both in London and in Glasgow.
  • The excitement over the birth of the Royal baby portrayed by the media wasn’t that palpable.  I encountered a trio typically middle class folk discussing names at the bar before The Book of Mormon, but that’s the only baby talk I recall hearing.
  • It embarrassed me how much of a hot Scottish mess I must have looked compared to the almost entirely impeccable majority of underground passengers.
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Josh Ritter and The Royal City Band @ Village Underground, London

“I’d like to dedicate the final verse of this song to how hot it’s going to get in here,” smiled Josh towards the end of his third song, Good Man.  It wasn’t a wildly bold prediction, given that this was a compact underground venue in London in the midst of the country’s most prolonged heatwave since 2006, but it was accurate nonetheless.

Having opened with a solo version of Bruce Springsteen’s The River, the following hundred minutes would draw from all angles of his seven record career, all performed with an impossibly infectious smile which defies Josh’s divorce and near-death experience of the last few years.

There’s an electric energy and enthusiasm to the set.  Even songs from current album The Beast In Its Tracks covering Josh’s divorce, such as Hopeful, are cheerful and uplifting, while Joy To You Baby wishes “joy to the many.”

Despite the complexity of some of Josh’s lyrics they have a poetic resonance and the foot-stomping Lillian, Egypt provides a lusty sing-along, while Wolves sees him lead the audience in a chorus of wolf howls.  It was a surreal moment, but it gave birth to an epic climax to the song.

There were softer moments in the set, where Josh’s smile gave way to a more dramatic serious demeanour.  The lights in the cave-like venue were dimmed for the museum love affair in The Curse, while The Temptation of Adam and Folk Bloodbath exhibit the full extent of Ritter’s artistic prowess.

The pace of the set quickened again as the lights returned and the heat rose in a “misty, sexy smell”.  Kathleen, one senses, was the song everyone was waiting to sing, and its words can’t fail to tug on your emotions, even with Josh teasing the final verse with a tangent about buying a red van to go and look for his baby.

To The Dogs or Whoever was a fitting instrument drenched finale, with three men violently thrashing the drum set, piano keys pounded wildly and Josh rhyming off lines like he was Jay Z, slowing down only to demonstrate his beating heart at the “did I mention how I love you in your underwear” line.

Ordinarily the idea of being crammed into such a small cave-like venue with a mass of hot, sweaty arms and legs would seem like a nightmare. But at Village Underground with Josh Ritter and his band it was a joyful experience.