Sunday, March 07, 2004

ENGLAND THREE. To cite Joe Strummer, London's burning, it seems from our vantage (that is, our van), but not with boredom now. Saturday night as we rode home to Lincoln from the third gig we observed tons of nightlife spilling out of or into bars, clubs, and pubs. The streets of Central London are for the most part not so brightly illuminated as New York's, giving the impression of a dark carnival: folks of all ages (but mostly young-looking at least), dressed either in impeccable gladrags or presentable yobwear, chatting animatedly, at cellphones or one another, and gravitating between glowing entryways. The ancient buildings that house these posh new places add to the air of mystery. If you saw Gangs of New York, and remember the candlelit blind tigers and music halls peeping out of the darkness, you have some idea. The interiors and some facades here may be thorough modern and colorful, but the sooty stone of London reaches back to Samuel Johnson.

We thought our show at the Arts Cafe at Toynbee Hall would be a dead loss. The room was small and part of some sort of Wilson-era council-funded complex for social improvement in the East End (the courtyard featured an especially ugly statuette of Jane Addams). It brought to mind the youth centers I'd played in the Netherlands, which were usually terrific; but this neighborhood (near Whitechapel) looked so bleak, stacked with grimy working-class housing projects and nearly depopulated at load-in, that I assumed in England these places were more like the youth centers popular in 1970s America: drop-in joints behind which one would smoke weed and plot a more exciting time somewhere else.

But it got interesting: there was a great assortment of bands -- one country-fried acoustic group, another with a cello and proper singing, a hilarious geezer-rap duo called Milk Kan ("I shot a man in Aldgate just to watch him die"). Their members were enthusiastic and encouraging to us; we applauded each other's sound checks! The room was packed and my friend and fellow NYC blogger Margaret, in town on holiday (Like the way I said that? "on holiday"? Don't I sound English?), showed up. We played hard and loose and the crowd was on our side. Most of them were really there for Bifteck, a terrifically powerful young groove-oriented band whose fans howled and mini-moshed for them, but they knew quality, by God, and gave us a fair hearing, bless them.

My favorite compliments are backhanded. "Saw you at the Borderline last time," said an industry guy. "I didn't like it. Too uptight. But this was brilliant."

Or maybe my favorite compliments are surreal. "Was he in Yes?" asked a young skinny feller, pointing at Lach.


"Me mate told me he was the guitarist in Yes."

"No. Someone's having you on. Lach was never in Yes."

"Me mate told me he was! I'm going to smash the cunt's face!"

He was smiling as he said this, I should note.

Not all is gravy. My cold is hanging on, and casts a mild pall on my normally ebullient self. Billy is tour-cranky, and became enraged this morning when I "stole" his bathtown. (Steve had given us each towels of the same color.) I'm played Leicester before and I can't imagine our Sunday night there will be super-exciting. But we're bringing the Rock to the Kids, and to that noble end some sacrifices must be made.

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