The Belmonte club

Saturday, 13 December, 2014 0 Comments

“My mother is Irish, my father is Neapolitan. I was born in London but raised in West Cork. I’m a singer-songwriter living in London.” So says Francesca Belmonte. For the last five years, she’s been the lead singer for trip hop star Tricky, co-writing and performing on his latest album False Idols. Now, she’s striking out on her own.

Bowie here, there and everywhere

Saturday, 15 November, 2014 0 Comments

On Monday, David Bowie will offer the world an early Christmas present in the form of Nothing Has Changed, which covers his music from 1964 to 2014, with some previously unreleased material among the 59 tracks in the three-disc box set. To coincide with this cornucopia, Bowie has issued a très noir video of the first track, Sue, featuring the Maria Schneider Orchestra. Filmed in New York and London, the clip was directed by Tom Hingston. And for those who can’t get enough of the stardust, Hamish Hamilton has made a film about the closing night of the Bowie exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum last year. As we look back at what’s taking shape as Bowie’s legacy, let us not forget that he once said, “Tomorrow belongs to those who can hear it coming.”

Feather Tongue

Saturday, 19 April, 2014 0 Comments

Didn’t get tickets for Kate Bush at the Apollo in Hammersmith? Lots of other people didn’t, if that’s any consolation. For those seeking solace, there’s always Lyla Foy, who’ll be playing in Chicago tonight and in Kilkenny in May. The young Londoner does not disguise her adoration of Kate Bush in Feather Tongue, which exudes the kind of retro romanticism that made the composer of Wuthering Heights so famous so long ago.

Journalist of the day: Vera Brittain

Wednesday, 9 April, 2014 0 Comments

To understand the pacifism of Vera Brittain it is imperative to know that her brother Edward, her fiancé Roland Leighton, and her two dearest friends, Victor Richardson and Geoffrey Thurlow, were all killed during World War I. Thirty years later, she was vilified for speaking out against the saturation bombing of German cities during World War II, Vera Brittain but her position was seen in a different light when, in 1945, the Nazis’ Sonderfahndungsliste G.B. (Special Search List G.B) of 2,820 people to be immediately arrested in Britain after a German invasion was shown to include her name.

9 April 1942: “At tea-time went to Mayfair Hotel to see demonstration of ‘Liberty cut’ sponsored by the Ministry of Health as an anti-typhus measure. New line of country for me; place crowded with hairdressers; representatives of the Press (mostly hard-working women plainly dressed), and fashionable ladies in mink coats looking as if they’d never heard of the war. Several leading hairdressers talked on the importance of shorter hair for women in present crisis. Demonstrations of ‘Liberty cut’ on different girls followed, including a showing of the ‘cut’ itself. The number of men present interested me; it showed how much money there is to be made out of women’s hair.” Vera Brittain (1893 — 1970)

Tomorrow, here, Mme. de Gaulle mispronounces “happiness” and Kenneth Williams gleefully pounces upon the double entendre.

Chelsea, before it became part of Londongrad

Friday, 14 March, 2014 0 Comments

In light of Sunday’s illegal referendum in Crimea, what now for the West? That is the question. Writing in the Financial Times, John Gapper makes a suggestion: “It could impose asset freezes and visa bans on a few selected oligarchs (perhaps seizing Chelsea Football Club from Roman Abramovich, the minerals magnate).”

Long before Chelsea became the home of resource thieves and their fawning retinues, Sir John Betjeman, the British Poet Laureate, was casting a wary eye on the borough. The transformation of spelling through texting was still a way off in 1977, but punk was in the air and Betjeman was convinced that “the kiddiz know the sound”. And for all those Stamford Bridge fans who think that there is no tomorrow, he reminds them, in gleeful anticipation of the inferno of the oligarchs, that “Satan stokes his furnace underground”. Here’s Chelsea 1977 from from The Best of Betjeman.

Chelsea 1977

The street was bathed in winter sunset pink
The air was redolent of kitchen sink
Between the dog-mess heaps I picked my way
To watch the dying embers of the day
Glow over Chelsea, crimson load on load
All Brangwynesque across the long King’s Road.
Deep in myself I felt a sense of doom
Fearful of death I trudge towards the tomb.
The earth beneath my feet is hardly soil
But outstretched chicken-netting coil on coil
Covering cables, sewage-pipes and wires
While underneath burn hell’s eternal fires.
Snap, crackle! pop! the kiddiz know the sound
And Satan stokes his furnace underground.

Sir John Betjeman (1906 — 1984)

Born to run

Saturday, 22 February, 2014 0 Comments

Matan Rochlitz and Ivo Gormley of Banyak Films hire “all the kit needed to make documentaries, music videos and shorts” at their studios in Hackney in London. The results have attracted international praise. Here, they bombard runners with intimate questions and extract “funny and brutally frank confessions.”

“Someday girl I don’t know when
We’re gonna get to that place
Where we really wanna go
And we’ll walk in the sun
But till then tramps like us
Baby, we were born to run.”

Bruce Springsteen, Born To Run

“Her accent is really rather awful”

Monday, 4 November, 2013 0 Comments

We begin a week of historical diary entries with one by Sir Roy Strong, the former director of both the National Portrait Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The supercilious tone may sound rather grating to the emancipated ear but this is exactly how a certain stratum of British society views itself and its peers.

4 November 1981: “The Princess [of Wales] looked sensational, her dress cut straight across revealing the by now famous shoulders, but with a triple choker of pearls fastened with a diamond clip around her neck in the manner of Queen Alexandra. She has a clear complexion and lustrous blue eyes. Tonight she seemed a large girl in a billowing white dress full-skirted to the ground with a broad blue ribbon at the waist. More petticoats, however, Julia [his wife] observed, were called for. How can I describe her? Well, after the event I would categorise her as Eliza Doolittle at the embassy ball. Beautiful, in a way like a young colt, immensely well meaning, unformed, a typical product of an upper class girls’ school. But she has so much to learn, which she will, unless she gets bored with it and it sours. At the moment she has not learned the royal technique of asking question. Nervous, certainly, so I placed myself next to her and as I promised Edward Adeane [private secretary to the Prince of Wales], kept an eye on her the whole time. Her accent is really rather awful considering that she is an earl’s daughter. Not an upper class drawl, at all but rather toneless, and dare I say it, a bit common, as though it were the fashion to learn to talk down. That is what I meant by Eliza at the ball.” Sir Roy Strong

The Princess of Wales

Tomorrow, here, diarist and spy Robert Bruce Lockhart, who won the Moscow league championship in 1912 playing with Morozov, a textile factory team. He was much more entertaining than the unbearably narcissistic Edward Snowden.

The towers, domes, theatres and temples of London

Monday, 7 October, 2013 0 Comments

Our blogging theme this week is the city, ancient and modern, with its towers, domes, theatres and temples. We’re kicking off with an urban sonnet by William Wordsworth describing London, viewed in the early morning.

Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802

Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth like a garment wear

The beauty of the morning: silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky,
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.

Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour valley, rock, or hill;
Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!

The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!

William Wordsworth (7 April 1770 — 23 April 1850)

In the school of hard knocks

Saturday, 10 August, 2013 0 Comments

The New Young Pony Club was formed in 2004 and over the years its members have been drawn from London, Hereford, Cambridge and Bromley. The band is now known as NYPC, which is both shorter and less likely to be confused with equestrian pastimes. Nice ending here, by the way.

The ethereal, classical sound of London Grammar

Saturday, 27 July, 2013 0 Comments

London-based Hannah Reid, Dot Major and Dan Rothman comprise London Grammar. Their debut EP, Metal & Dust, was released in February and their first album If You Wait is set for release on 9 September. Echoes here of Lisa Gerrard of Dead Can Dance in Hannah Reid’s vocals, and the huge influence of Elizabeth Fraser’s recording of Tim Buckley’s Song to the Siren for This Mortal Coil cannot be overlooked.

Making The Leadenhall Building

Tuesday, 16 July, 2013 0 Comments

The 225 metre (737 foot)-tall Leadenhall Building is currently under construction on Leadenhall Street in central London. It is due for completion in mid-2014 and is one of a number of new tall buildings in the City financial district. This clip by Dan Lowe and Paul Raftery covers the first six months of a year-long project to film the construction of the skyscraper.