A weekend in London (aka Wilco @ O2 Academy Brixton)


When the 12.40 from Glasgow rolled into London Euston at 5.05pm it meant two things:  1) Remarkably for a Virgin service it was arriving several minutes early, and 2) we were heading straight into rush hour on a Friday evening in the capital.  Within minutes I was telling myself that I hate London as hundreds of commuters were fleeing in every conceivable direction around me.

That was a very rash statement to be making in my internal monologue and I immediately accepted that I was being foolish.  I’ve been travelling to London for nigh upon fifteen years, and while there has been the ocassional falling out it is easily the longest relationship I have ever been in.

All it ever takes is one ride on the Tube and I know that everything is going to be alright. Even a simple journey to Covent Garden (changing for the Piccadilly Line at Leicester Square) is enough to set my loins ablaze.  Maybe I just have a fetish for underground transport systems, but there is little makes me feel more alive than planning out a journey from A to B via C (and sometimes D and E) and then completing it.  The tap of an Oyster Card, the stoic announcements asking you to “mind the gap”, the rush of an oncoming train; it’s all so exhilirating.

My purpose in London this time was fourfold:
1)  To see Wilco play for the first time since they played Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall far too many years ago (that is to say that I can’t remember how many years it has been)
2)  To attend the Fulham vs Sheffield Wednesday game at Craven Cottage
3)  To have a beer at The Harp, the best bar in London and maybe the world
4)  To find a suitable bar to watch the Celtic game

In a manner which is absolutely contradictory to the way in which lists traditionally work I completed these tasks in reverse order.  The abforementioned trip to Covent Garden was a means of striking #4 off my list as it had been recommended that Philomena’s was the ideal location to watch the Kilmarnock vs Celtic match.  This turned out to be the least Irish “Irish pub” I have ever drank in, and despite the fact that there were three or four different games showing on various screens I’d venture to say that it barely qualified as a sports bar due to the constant assault of nineties disco classics on the ears at the expense of commentary from any of the sports on TV.  It was almost as though they were trying to appeal to three different audiences at once:  the drinker, the sports fan and the dancer.  As The Killers might ask:  Are we sports fan or are we dancer?

[Sidenote:  I’ve never been entirely clear on what qualifies a bar as being ‘Irish’.  Is it the name?  The decor?  The content?  ‘Irish pubs’ are everywhere, in every big city, but I’ve never found out what distinguishes them from any other bar selling Guinness.  I’m not saying that they should be filled with dancing drunk leprechauns cheerily greeting you at the door, but you know, maybe for a little added authenticity?]

It’s difficult to be too harsh on Philomena’s, however, because their table service ensured that I always had a pint of Peroni in hand and that I didn’t have to miss a minute of Celtic’s arduous 1-0 win against Kilmarnock.  So thanks for that.

The Harp, now there’s a bar with an Irish sounding name that has no pretences of being ‘Irish’.  I’ve enjoyed many a good night in here and it was my pre-game boozer of choice on Saturday, with it being a short walk to Embankment station and the District Line train to Putney Bridge (see how exciting planning can be?)  This place is a classic old style pub with no loud and overbearing pop music, no distracting televisions and loads of old men discussing world affairs around pints of Suffolk ales.  Though in this bar, given its proximity to the heart of London’s theatre district, they were likely discussing all things thespian, but the point stands:  These old dudes know what’s going on, and they talk about it over pints of fine English ale.

It was with a bit of a heavy heart and a hint of a stagger that I left The Harp, however I had underground stations to travel through, lines to change and a journey to Brixton via Craven Cottage to navigate; an opportunity to truly engage my love for planning transport routes.  This was tested even further by the suspension of the Circle Line.  And while I had no intention of riding on the Circle Line on Saturday anyway, I felt it was worth celebrating my success in travelling from Putney Bridge to Brixton without the use of the yellow line on the Tube map by dropping in to The Craft Beer Co. for pre-gig beers.

This chain of London bars is a haven for hop lovers with 30 keg and cask taps of various beers (the Covent Garden branch has over 45.)  Though with hipster craft beer enthusiasts comes procrastination, and it is often the case in these bars that bearded beer drinkers will take as long deciding what to order at the bar as they will drinking their pint.

Saturday was a night for bearded, plaid shirt wearing hipsters in Brixton with American alt. Rock band Wilco playing their final show of 2016.  The Chicago sextet churned out riffs like the Craft Beer Co. poured pints, and the Academy audience drank it up.  Their set was as unpredictable and powerful as a citrus infused IPA, from the wild drum assault on Via Chicago to Nels Cline’s imperious showcase of the electric guitar on Impossible Germany.  Perhaps the only thing more remarkable than Jeff Tweedy and co’s command of the stage was the sight of a mass brawl breaking out in the stalls – twice.  I can only speculate as to what middle-aged men have to fight over at a Wilco gig, and if I had to guess it would be combover techniques or tweed.

Fortunately I wasn’t wearing tweed and so didn’t get caught in the midlife crisis melee and my love of London was reaffirmed by a weekend of rock and roll and trains.

Advertisements

A different day at the football

img_12222

Walking through the idyllic Bishop’s Park on the banks of the River Thames from Putney Bridge Underground station to Craven Cottage yesterday afternoon inspired a not entirely unexpected realisation.  As the amber Autumn leaves rustled underfoot and young children played ball games in the brisk November chill against the backdrop of houses with an average selling price of £746,709 and terraced properties valued at £1,659,934 I thought to myself how different this was to walking through the Gallowgate as I do any other Saturday to reach my footballing paradise.  There was no-one stumbling from darkened doorways in search of cigarette butts; no slurred requests for change.

Large groups of away supporters mingled amongst the Fulham fans in a sombre procession to the ground without a police officer sporting a body camera from the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act 2012 collection in sight.  I tried to imagine swarms of Hearts fans walking up London Road alongside 50,000 Celtic fans without so much as a “fuck the Pope” being uttered and it seemed very unlikely.  This was like a different planet.  Perhaps it was.

img_12231

Craven Cottage is quite unremarkable from afar.  It is, quite literally, a cottage nestled in the middle of a sleepy residential area – unlike Celtic Park, which dominates the skyline of Glasgow’s east end.  Upon squeezing through the impossibly small turnstyle and entering the ground there is immediately another indication of the different planet of football you are now on as you encounter a series of carts offering cold beer.  Guinness and San Miguel on tap before you even enter the stadium.  You’re not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy.

There’s nothing particularly remarkable about enjoying a pint of San Miguel.  But when the choices inside a Scottish football ground are Bovril or something vaguely resembling hot chocolate then a cold pint of San Miguel is like an attractive blonde woman at a Donald Trump rally:  it is bound to be grabbed.

Of course, the addition of a beer to the standard half-time fare of a pie was all the more welcome and made the ten minutes spent in line that bit more rewarding than at Celtic Park – especially when there was an actual pie at the end of the line.  To enjoy this with a riverside view as opposed to the bi-weekly struggle to find a spot around the monitors to glance at the half-time scores whilst fishing through hundreds of tomato ketchup sachets to find a lone brown sauce was a real treat.

img_12241

It is reasonable to suggest that going to the football at Fulham was a gentrified affair.  The atmosphere in the home stands was largely generated by those abominable clapper contraptions that seem the craze in modern football, unlike the boisterous support offered up by the travelling Sheffield Wednesday fans.  There was an ocassional cry of “come on whites, movement!  Movement!” from the gnome-like gentleman in the row in front of me, but none of the scathing abuse that greets any misplaced pass in Glasgow.  Even the referee, whose decisions certainly seemed to favour the away side, was spared accusations of being an orange bastard or questions pertaining to his masonic tendencies and merely faced the suggestion from a woman behind me that he might have travelled south on the Sheffield Wednesday coach.  I’m not sure whether it was an accusation of bias or of austerity, both of which are likely to be looked down on around leafy Richmond.

A late Fulham equaliser meant that both sets of fans left the Cottage into the early evening darkness in good spirits, though with the eerie quietness that is more speculation than it is a statement.

The night we couldn’t stop talking at the gig (aka The Low Anthem @ Electric Circus, Edinburgh)


“Hey, I know we see each other all the time and we’re always talking, but how do you fancy getting together on Saturday night to talk about the old school days?”

“Sounds great.  Want me to come round to your place?”

“Nah, X-Factor is on on Saturday night and I like to be able to hear all the acts.  If I record it we could maybe go out to a bar?”

“Hmm pubs can get pretty loud sometimes.  We might not be able to hear each other over the sound of other conversations.”

“Aye, you’re right,  People can be so obnoxious!”

“Maybe we could go to a restaurant, get a wee bite to eat?”

“Eating out in Edinburgh can be quite expensive man.  Besides, most of the good spots will be full.  I doubt we’d even get a table in Wings at seven o’clock.”

“Here, this could be a shout.  There’s a band playing at Electric Circus on Saturday.  The Low Anthem.  They sound like they could be an acoustic group, quiet enough for us to talk over.”

“Good call.  And Electric Circus…seems like they’d be expecting us to behave like badly trained monkeys.”

“Probably.  Though you don’t think that other people might think that we’re worse than Donald Trump if we’re talking over a bunch of quiet songs they like?”

“Who goes to a gig to listen to the music anyway?  Ha ha ha.”

“lol.  True.”

“I’ll bet Electric Circus is one of those great places that puts two straws in your Jack Daniels and coke.”


“Oh, let’s hope so.  I love those bars!  I don’t even need one straw, let alone two.  But I just like that they are there, getting in the way of my nose.”

“Totally worth paying £4.20 for.”

“I can’t wait.  Saturday night it is then.”

“Real shame about Leonard Cohen, eh?”

“Who?”

The day where I couldn’t understand what the guy beside me was saying


It would probably be in everyone’s interests if I could get the Guy Fawkes puns out-of-the-way at the beginning of this blog post.  So, with that in mind:  Celtic blitzed Inverness with three second-half goals in a crackling atmosphere at Celtic Park in a performance where the Celtic attack sparkled, with a rocket from Tom Rogic particularly making the crowd oooh and aaaaah while Patrick Roberts dazzled like a Catherine Wheel as the Inverness defence disintegrated in a cloud of smoke.  After a drab opening 45 minutes where Caley Thistle managed to extinguish the home side’s attacking flame this game exploded into life following the interval when Griffiths sizzled and Stuart Armstrong was red-hot.  Celtic have as good as thrown this SPFL title race into the bonfire, etc etc.

My experience at Celtic Park this season has largely been that the folk in surrounding seats will not talk to you, and you don’t talk to them.  It is almost like an unwritten agreement where, unless you know someone (or are going to the game with someone,) you don’t make contact with anybody in the seats around you.  You can wrap your arms around them when doing the Huddle, but that’s it!  Despite that I have been able to characterise a number of people in my section.  There is the guy in the row in front of me who looks like a walking midlife crisis with greying hair swept back, he appears to be a student of the game.  The elderly gentleman in front of him begins to grow impatient if there hasn’t been a goal inside the first fifteen minutes and invariably demands that the ball is “blootered up the park.”  There is a woman a row or two behind me, whom I have yet to muster the courage to turn around and look at, who screams for anyone to SHOOT the moment they are within 45 yards of goal and is absolutely scathing when the ball inevitably lands several rows away from us.  I have been picturing Rab C. Nesbitt’s ‘Mary Doll’.

The two seats either side of me generally tend to lay empty most of the time, save for maybe the games against Rangers and Aberdeen earlier in the season.  There is a regular in the seat on the other side of the empty one to my left, however, and I will always remember, remember the fifth of November as the day that he chose to break the unwritten agreement of no contact.  (Dammit, sorry, that one just came to me.)

He hasn’t uttered a word all season.  At least I think this was the same guy: underneath all of the multiple layers of clothing he had covering virtually every inch of naked flesh on his being it was difficult to tell; he genuinely had the appearance of a man who was about to tackle Ben Nevis.  But today he was in right chatty form, from the very moment I arrived in my seat prior to kick-off.

“Blah blah blah blah blah lineup blah blah” is what I think he said.  Turns out he is Northern Irish and I had forgotten to bring my Ulster translation device with me.  I had no idea what he said.  I was able to decode the word ‘lineup’ and having seen the team selection on Twitter before heading out to the game I speculated that he was maybe quite surprised by it,

“Very attacking, isn’t it?”  I guessed.  How wrong could I be when it’s Brendan Rodgers?

“Blah blah blah blah blah three or four goals blah.”  His accent was impossibly strong and I had immediately switched to my default setting in situations where someone is talking very quietly or in a manner I can’t understand:  I nod and laugh.  He could have been telling me that he feared we would lose 4-0 with such an attacking set-up and I was standing there with a grin as wide as Emilio Izaguirre’s starting position.  For all I know he may have decided that this moment, on a freezing cold November afternoon at Celtic Park, would be the first time he would talk to another human being about the horrible death of his wife and children and the family dog in a sickening car accident and I was laughing along at every word because I can’t understand the Northern Irish accent.

“Blah blah Scott Sinclair blah blah blah.”

WHAT ARE YOU SAYING??

It was a trial, and while I wasn’t putting my utmost effort into finding out what he was saying I was trying nonetheless to converse with the guy – even if we did end up communicating in a mangled form of the English language whereby he would make a statement and I would make a counter statement which vaguely related to what I thought he might have been saying.

I can only conclude that my strategy must have been working, because at various intervals during the game he would lean across the empty seat between us and poke me on the arm to produce another incomprehensible observation.

“Blah blah blah blah blah midfield.”

“Aye, Scott Brown has been superb.”  At one point I’m sure he nodded and laughed.

Final scores:
Northern Irish accent 1-0 JJ
Celtic 3-0 Inverness Caledonian Thistle

Playlist:
Edwyn Collins – Gorgeous George
Gene – Drawn To The Deep End
Compulsive Gamblers – Crystal Gazing Luck Amazing
Wilco – Kicking Television, Live in Chicago
Lambchop – Flotus