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.

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