Context

I’d tweeted earlier this week that one of my favorite things about vacationing in London is hearing some of my favorite songs in their original context.  By that, I mean hearing songs that were big and important hits in the UK that may not have been even a blip on the US radar.

A year or so ago we were at a bar near Smithfield Market meeting with a friend of ours when Manic Street Preachers’ “Everything Must Go” popped up on the jukebox.  It was a top-ten hit in the UK and signaled a new direction for the band after the strange disappearance of their former lead singer months previous.

David Bowie was of course a worldwide success, and his title theme for the movie Absolute Beginners was a very minor hit in the US (hitting #55 on the Billboard chart) but hit #2 in the UK.  The movie itself is somewhat based on the British novel of the same name written by Colin MacInnes — a well-loved coming of age novel set in the hip London of the late 50s.  Heard this one in a coffee shop just outside of St. Paul’s Cathedral one rainy morning.

The Divine Comedy is well known in the UK as an ‘orchestral pop’ band in the vein of Scott Walker (another musician quite familiar there but not in the US), and they wrote a song about the oversize tour buses one sees all around London.  This track would pop into my head every time I saw one of them go by.

 

I love doing this kind of thing wherever I go, come to think of it.  It’s partly to get the feel of the local sound, and partly because I’m just a sucker for rock music history.  Whether it’s getting in touch with with Britain’s quirky rock (most of which became alternative rock here in the states), or Boston’s unique mix of collegiate and blue-collar, or San Francisco’s purposely weird sounds, I love being able to not only connect with the music itself, but the context in which it was written and recorded.  It brings me closer to the real lives behind the music…it lets me understand why the song exists.

London never sleeps, it just sucks the life out of me and the money from my pocket

Warning: May Contain High Amounts of Britpop.

Warning: May Contain High Amounts of Classic Ska and Britpop.

We have returned home, albeit about six hours later than expected, due to missing our connecting flight, the illogical checking through US Customs while in Toronto, and an incredibly frustrating and nonsensical argument at one of the help desks.  But I won’t go into that.  I will mention, however, that we finally got back to the apartment at 1am PT this morning (after waking in London at around 7:30am UTC), so that means we’d been up and awake for…um…20 hours?  Maybe?  Either way, we both decided to stay awake instead of attempting to sleep for six or so hours.  So yeah…not quite loopy (yet), but my inner clock has no idea what time or day it is right now.

That said… As you can see above, our London trip was a success on many levels…many sights seen, a few great friends met up with, many beers and pub food had, and way too many pictures taken.  The above cd stash is courtesy of Sister Ray in Soho and Rough Trade in Notting Hill, two great music stores well worth searching out.  Sister Ray is probably my favorite — it’s not huge, but it’s got an excellent selection, very well kept, and the workers there are quite friendly and knowledgeable.

My main goal for import shopping, as is evident, was cheaply-priced reissues.  I believe the average price for the Catatonia and Specials cds were £12, and the Wedding Present cds were slightly more — translating to about $18 and $20 USD each.  Not bad, considering they’re all two or three cd sets costing about six dollars more before tax on Amazon.  I’m still missing 3 Weddoes titles, but I think I can find those relatively easily on Amazon UK.  Still — it added up rather quickly, so I may have to tighten my belt for a little while!

[Noted, London didn’t so much suck the life out of me as it drained me of energy.  It’s a very walkable city and OH BOY did we walk all over creation!  I shall be posting pictures of our trip eventually over at my Tumblr blog, and may post some music-related pictures here.]

Jonc’s Britpop Meme Part 2

More pictures taken for my #joncsbritpopmeme hashtag over at my Twitter feed during our London vacation.  It so happened that I took many with my camera and not my phone’s camera, and thus more (and sometimes clearer) pictures will show up here.  As before, click on the pictures to embiggen.  Enjoy! 🙂

Trafalgar (Square)

Trafalgar (Square)


Trafalgar. Trafalgar Square is a lovely open area with tons of walking space and views, and a short walk from many other things to see. This was taken from the steps of the National Gallery looking southwest–basically looking at Nelson’s back.

Your lovely eek and your lovely riah

Your lovely eek and your lovely riah


Piccadilly Palare. Piccadilly Circus is right up the street from Trafalgar Square, and let me tell you, it’s a complete mess as far as foot and car traffic is concerned. [For my Boston friends–think the worst parts of Harvard and Kenmore Squares, multiplied. For the rest of you, think a smaller but equally tourist-heavy Times Square.] The plus side is that there’s a ginormous Waterstones Bookstore there that’s worth getting lost in.

St Martin in the Fields

St Martin in the Fields


St Martin in the Fields. Okay, it’s not exactly a lyric or Britpop reference, but any classical section of a record store worth its salt sells releases either recorded in this church or by its Academy. Taken from the same portico where I took the Trafalgar Square picture. It’s actually pretty amazing how many famous locations are in this spot–the National Portrait Gallery is around the corner, the theater district on the Strand is up the street, as is Whitehall Street, 10 Downing Street, Big Ben, and Westminster Abbey. You can easily hit all these stops in a half a day like we did.

On Sunday nothing opens late, the clock across the river chimes

On Sunday nothing opens late, the clock across the river chimes


Big Ben. Walking down Whitehall, it’s kind of interesting to come across the House of Commons because you’re busy looking at all the other government buildings in the area, when suddenly you’re at Parliament Square and OH HEY there’s all the famous buildings! The House of Commons itself is quite impressive in its Gothicness, and the clock tower makes its presence known as soon as you turn the corner onto Bridge Street. And yes, I did hear the chimes as we were walking down the street. Big Ben’s pretty damn loud, actually.

So why do you smile when you think about Earl's Court?

So why do you smile when you think about Earl’s Court?


Piccadilly Palare (again). Post-con, we stayed for a number of days over in Earl’s Court/Kensington. It’s an absolutely lovely area. The hotel was a bit pricey, but I adored it. Earl’s Court Road is filled with all sorts of stores, pubs and whatnot, and its Underground station is perfectly situated. Also note–that police box in the lower left corner behind the walk signal is indeed painted TARDIS blue on purpose. [Side note: the hotel has rooms both in its main building and its interconnected neighboring building, and it immediately reminded me of my years in Charlesgate and the 126-130 Beacon block of Emerson College’s former Back Bay ‘campus’. Our room was in the basement, in which we had to walk to the back of the building, take the rear stairs (or the elevator), take a corner and go up a short set of stairs, enter the basement of the other building, our room being on the left with the one window looking at the dead end of the mews.]

(I don't want to go to) Chelsea

(I don’t want to go to) Chelsea


(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea. Actually, I do! Chelsea’s a little neighborhood right down the road from Kensington/Earl’s Court and was a lovely little area with many things to see and do. And we happened upon the football club grounds completely by accident!

More pictures and tunage soon! I promise I won’t take nearly as long to post next time!

Jonc’s Britpop Meme Part 1

If you happen to follow my twitter feed, you may have noticed a run of pictures I posted during our London trip with the hashtag #joncsbritpopmeme, in which I took pictures hinting at certain songs with a distinctively British pop history.  Here’s a slightly updated/’remastered’ version of the pictures…click on the thumbnails to embiggen the pictures.  Enjoy!

Going Underground

Going Underground


Going Underground. Within an hour of landing at Heathrow we jumped on the Piccadilly Line to head out to our destination. My first reaction to the Underground was that it was remarkably like the MBTA in Boston, with its color-coded lines and specific neighborhood stops. I pretty much grokked the transportation bit right away.

Victoria

Victoria


Victoria. The ExCel London is on Victoria Dock, right alongside the Thames, a few miles outside of the town proper. It’s a lovely area, even if there was quite a bit of construction going on.

He was such a stupid get.

He was such a stupid get.


I’m So Tired. Sir Walter Raleigh’s cell at the Tower of London. Not exactly a small room, probably about the size of our living room, complete with a writing desk and a view of the yards. Per John Lennon, ‘he was such a stupid get.’

I emerged in London rain

I emerged in London rain


The Metro. The weather in London was pretty wacky, even to our Bay Area standards! Clear day, only to rain heavily for about ten minutes, and then clear up again.

On Wednesdays I go shopping...

On Wednesdays I go shopping…


The Lumberjack Song. Okay, technically it was Monday and these were scones with clotted cream (yum!!) but it was tea in the basement of St Paul’s Cathedral. It’s where I discovered Tregothnan is my favorite brand of tea right now.

Millennium (Bridge)

Millennium (Bridge)


Millennium. A lovely view of the bridge from an upper deck of the Tate Modern. It spans from this arty little neighborhood over to the center of town where St Paul’s is. You may remember this bridge being destroyed in one of the Harry Potter films.

Gonna have a ball tonight, down at the Globe

Gonna have a ball tonight, down at the Globe


The Globe. The Globe Theatre–not the original, of course–is right on the shore of the Thames, in an area that definitely reminded me of Pier 39 here in San Francisco…lots of touristy shininess.

Down in the tubestation (not at midnight)

Down in the tubestation (not at midnight)


Down in the Tubestation at Midnight. In the Waterloo station, waiting for the line to bring us back to our hotel. Loved the tilework on most of these stops, especially the older ones where the “way out” exit signs were inlaid against the walls.

Parklife

Parklife


Parklife. An idyllic scene in Green Park, strolling from the Piccadilly line stop over to Buckingham Palace. It was a gorgeous day for sitting on the grass and relaxing in the sun.

So I broke into the palace...

So I broke into the palace…


The Queen Is Dead. For the record, I did not have a sponge or a rusty spanner on me. Buckingham Palace is quite flash, and definitely a tourist attraction. Didn’t see the Queen Mum, however. Oh well!

'..I hope we passed the audition.'

‘..I hope we passed the audition.’


Get Back. 3 Savile Row, the former Apple Corps office. The famous rooftop concert at the climax of the Let It Be film took place here, and many of the studio recordings for that album took place in its basement studio. It’s an investments office now, but you can see a few “thank you Beatles” scribbles on its doorframe.

More to come! 🙂