Tuesday, 20 September 2016


I recently took part in a charity rowing challenge as one of a team of six. The aim was to row 8.5 miles down the river Thames from Westminster to Deptford. Not only did we manage to complete the challenge, we came third out of seven, only six minutes behind the leaders, so we were rather pleased!

Alongside the challenge itself, individual team members organised other activities to raise additional funds for the charity we were rowing on behalf of, the Ahoy Centre, who work with disadvantaged and disabled youngsters. A charity disco, guided walks (one of the team is a London tour guide) and, my own contribution, a couple of guided pub history walks. All went very successfully and have added to the overall total.

I had mentioned my pub walks and the charity row to a London artist friend, Marc Gooderham. Marc’s work is outstanding (as his website testifies) and I was blown away when he just casually offered to donate one of his original London themed works to raise even more money for Ahoy. The image shows St Bride’s Church, off Fleet Street, the current church having been in this location since 1675:

After some deliberation, it was decided we would raffle (rather than auction) this piece, to give as many people as possible a chance of owning it. Not only has Marc donated the artwork, he has also gone to the trouble of mounting it behind glass and tastefully framed it as well. All the winner will have to do therefore is simply hang it on their wall!

Also, ticket prices are affordable, in keeping with giving as many people as possible the chance to win - £2 per ticket, with no minimum purchase requirement (so if you want to buy just one that’s up to you!). Here are the two ways you can obtain tickets:

1) For those who know me on Twitter and are London based, I can meet you to hand over any tickets purchased.

2) For everyone else, please visit the Ahoy Charity Rowing Challenge charity page here and do the following:

·       Make your donation in accordance with your ticket requirements (for example, if you’d like to purchase 3 tickets, pay £6; for 5 tickets, pay £10 etc)
·       Enter your details, including your name and Twitter handle. Alternatively, DM me directly on Twitter and leave contact details there, informing me you’ve donated and the number of tickets you’ve purchased. If you win, I will then contact you via Twitter to take further details and arrange the handover/delivery of the artwork.

The cut-off date for ticket purchases will be Friday 30 September, so don’t delay or you’ll lose out on the chance of owning this excellent piece of artwork. 100% of all ticket purchase income will be going to the charity. You will be helping a very worthy cause. For more information about the work Ahoy do, please check out their website.

And that’s it! Now, it’s over to you. For those that decide to take part, I wish you every success. Good luck and thank you!

Thursday, 26 February 2015

The Vault Festival

This is a first for me. I'm writing this blog - about the Vault Festival - while at the festival itself. Ok, so I've posted it today. From home. Several days later. BUT, I promise you, hand on heart, the content is all written (even that last bit!) with a beer nearby and chattering hoards aplenty all around me, in the venue's Underbar on a Friday evening (20 February to be precise). Smart phones are wonderful things aren't they?

The entranceway in to the Underbar
Anyway, back to the blog. Here I am, having a few drinks post-show, during my second visit to what has now become one of my favourite arts festivals. I discovered the festival last year and subsequently attended several shows from the line-up on offer. It was a pretty diverse and wide ranging programme back then, but I was amazed to learn when I saw this year's (the Vault's third by the way) that the number of individual events has pretty much doubled this time round. Over 100 artistic groups are involved. There is something for everyone; from dance to comedy, music to drama, even a helping of opera and much, much more. Check out their website for the full listing. It runs for six weeks, from late January to early March.

Early evening in Leake Street and already a performer is out doing his thing
The approach to the venue is an experience in itself: Leake Street, off York Road, a long tunnel covered in graffiti art, was initially created during the "Cans Festival" organised by Banksy in May 2008. The road was pedestrianised shortly afterwards and has remained so ever since. The street artists are always out, creating new work, and the smell of spray paint fills the nostrils. Many people take pictures of the work or simply stand and observe the artists. Even late at night, the artists are out in force continuing to paint, along with a variety of street performers, and audiences gather to watch them, often on the way home from their evening's entertainment at The Vaults.

Late night entertainment in Leake Street, as passers-by stop to watch the street performers
The festival is unthemed, which allows it greater flexibility in what it can offer and is one of its key strengths. All the shows I've seen here so far - this year and last - have demonstrated that diversity and it's undoubtedly one of the main reasons I look forward to returning.

Another strength, helping to create different degrees of nuance to the visual aspect of the performances, is in the venue itself. The Vaults is a network of tunnels and performance spaces situated beneath Waterloo rail station. It covers an area of some 30,000 square feet and uses the space very effectively. Each of the performance areas are individually named; The Studio, The Cage, The Cavern, The Pit, etc. Some are smaller in size, others more expansive. Everything is stripped bare. Plain walls exposing brickwork, stone floors which are not always even and, I remember at one show I came to last year after a bad rainfall, there were small puddles of water that had collected in the uneven ridges around the flagstones. It all contributes to the ambience. In many ways, it helps draw you even more into the performances, many of which are interactive in nature anyway. I should point out while it occurs to me that within these spaces proper stage lighting and sound is implemented, along with various stage sets and props. In case that wasn't entirely evident from my description! And of course both lighting and sound add more to the general atmosphere. 

A beer is at hand as I continued to write this blog!
I'm also impressed that the venue has not rested on its laurels in terms of its layout. The performance spaces and bar have been redesigned and relocated from where they were last year, giving people like myself, who attended in 2014, a whole new perspective and a general sense of it feeling 'different'. Which of course the programme is. But they could so easily have just configured the floor space identically to how it was in 2014. I hope this approach continues next year.

The organisers are clearly supportive of upcoming performers and theatre companies and another pleasure for me is in discovering original talent being given the opportunity to shine. There is so much out there and it's great to see them getting the chance to show what they can do. Other acts are more well established. It's a good mix. I imagine that from time to time it can be a somewhat thankless task playing to some audiences for these touring performers. Here, the audiences are warmly appreciative.

A great space for partying into the early hours
If theatre isn't your thing, the festival is also running a series of late night events, at which you can have fun into the early hours. The Underbar is a pretty funky addition to the tunnel space and a great place to party. Or just come along to hang out and soak up the vibe with a beer or two.

It really is a different kind of night out, so I'd urge you to come and experience it before it ends for another year on 8 March. I'll certainly be returning for a show or two before then.
A cosy little nook near the bar to hang out with friends
And yes, I do not lie, every word of this blog was written at the venue on the night of my second show this year. I've been moving around the venue as I've been writing and these last few lines are being composed whilst seated in a deckchair in a room just off the main bar area! I'll be leaving soon for my last train, but already a live band is setting up ready to play on the main stage in the Underbar as another Lates event commences. If only I still lived in London! Of course, if someone would offer me a bed for the night ...

Entrance to The Vaults in Leake Street
Oh, and I'm fairly certain that earlier this evening I caught sight of the author and journalist Will Self, so you might even bump into a celeb - who knows? I'm no celeb myself of course, but do feel free to come up and say hello if you see me!

The Vault Festival. On until 8 March. Get a ticket. You really don't want to wait another year now do you?

Monday, 12 January 2015

Tim Arnold at The 12 Bar Club

I had the great pleasure of attending a gig last week by Tim Arnold, a singer/songwriter of some repute, who has been recording albums, mainly as a solo artist, since 1997. His first success came as singer and songwriter of Britpop band Jocasta. Since 2012 he has also performed under the name of The Soho Hobo

It was the first time I’d seen Tim play; the set was full of jaunty numbers, interspersed with some more introspective pieces. The gig took place at The 12 Bar Club, an iconic establishment close to Soho, and being quite 'cosy', I thought it might be just Tim and his guitar, but the stage did allow room for a drummer, bassist and guitarist in addition to Tim, beefing out some great songs. The musical style was reminiscent of the halcyon days of Britpop, with a ring of Blur and a smattering of Ray Davies, blended with a quality that was all Tim's own - catchy ditties belting out one after the other and performed with energy and enthusiasm.

Tim described the club as a place he'd loved playing at over the years and would often try out new songs there, as indeed he did at this gig, treating the audience to several brand new numbers. Behind all the jollity lay the poignant reminder that The 12 Bar Club was due to close just days later. So it was Tim's last ever gig there and must have been an emotional experience, as indeed I'm sure it was for many of the audience.

For me, another bittersweet aspect was that, to my shame, having worked in London most of my life, I'd never been to the club before. And here I was, at the venue for the very first time, really enjoying it, but knowing I'd never be able to experience it again. I will say in my defence however, that the main reason for this is that I rarely attend music events these days because I suffer with tinnitus, ironically caused (I believe) through noise damage during my own days playing in bands (nearly twenty years on and off). But this gig sounded extra special and I didn't want to miss it.

Why is the club closing? The age old reason; the owner wanting to sell up to big business. I spoke to the club manager, Andy Lowe, who had managed the venue and booked all the excellent acts that had appeared there for the past 20 or so years. He was understandably very sad at the prospect of leaving, but informed me that The 12 Bar Club will resurface again at another location very shortly. It had been there, in Denmark Street, for 20 years and had been a launching pad for a number of now well known artists, such as KT Tunstall, Regina Spektor, The Libertines, Seasick Steve, Adele and the late Jeff Buckley. One positive note was that Andy believed the building would not be razed to the ground by whoever ended up in ownership, because it was now protected after a successful campaign to get it listed. It was once, he informed me, a Jacobean forge, which was in use right up until the beginning of the First World War. The original forge fireplace is still visible at the back of the stage. It first became a music venue in the early 1990s, as 'The Forge Folk and Blues Club', but in 1994 it was expanded and renamed The 12 Bar Club.

While Andy acknowledged that there was still a tiny glimmer of hope that the club might return to this location, it seems unlikely in reality. And so it goes, with other parts of London's cultural and creative heritage also under threat. One prime area under particular threat at present is Soho itself, with the recent closure of Madame JoJo's and the uncertainty of other venues as developers eye up the area in the upheaval caused by the ongoing Crossrail project.

And this is also where Tim Arnold has a strong connection and influence. A Soho resident himself, he recently founded the 'Save Soho' campaign, which describes itself as 'a coalition of performers, residents and politicians who have now come together out of concern after the closure and repossession of world renowned club Madame JoJo's'. Famous faces aplenty have lined up to become involved, including Stephen Fry, who is the campaign chair. It has already resulted in what is hoped will be a positive dialogue between campaigners, businesses, Westminster Council and the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, keen to keep the uniquely bohemian vibe that Soho has been so well known for, nurturing new creative and artistic talent for decades. If you love the area yourself, I'd urge you to take a look at the website, leave comments and spread the word. London simply wouldn't be the same without Soho.

Tim is currently in the process of recording a single to help promote the campaign, a song he's written called 'Don't Go Changin' Soho', which includes contributions from a number of famous faces in the music world; already confirmed to appear on the track are Marc Almond, Gary Kemp, Boy George and Adam Ant. More are expected to be announced shortly. A certain Mr McCartney has even been approached (his MPL offices are in Soho)!

You can hear the song at Tim's next gig, which will be at the St Moritz Club in Wardour Street, Soho, on 23 January. Come along and enjoy and don't forget to check out Tim's website, his Soho Hobo website and of course the Save Soho website. 

The real return.

Since my last post in 2014, it has become clearly evident that I wasn't ready at all to return to blogging. One of the key reasons for this was, that within a few short months of that post, I had a bit of a life crisis; I left my job of more than 14 years and decided to take my chances and look for another job opportunity. A bit risky in the current economic climate but, after temping on and off for a few months, I finally fell back into full time employment and I'm now settled in a new workplace and earning a regular crust.

And so I say that NOW is the time I can think about a return to writing the blog! No, really. As I mentioned in the last post, people still read the old ones (to my continuing surprise) and for those that enjoyed them I wanted to get some new posts up. I think it's about time!

So, I hope you enjoy my future ramblings. And thank you in advance for reading!

Friday, 28 February 2014

2013: the missing months.

After such a busy and enjoyable run of social/cultural excursions in 2012, I wasn't certain whether or not I could keep up the momentum of activity throughout 2013. There was no need for doubt however, as my ingrained enthusiasm to continue onwards ultimately ensured that, by year's end, I had actually managed to surpass the total number of outings of the year previous. Many of those experiences I would have liked to blog about; indeed, with some I did and with others may still attempt to, but most will probably now go unrecorded, as there were just too many. Suffice to say, it was another busy year and I treated myself to a wide variety of activities. 

To give you a flavour, here's a brief summary of just some of the things I got up to last year: a visit to the London Short Film Festival at the ICA; Stargazing LIVE event at Regents Park; Fuerzabruta at the Roundhouse; Helen Keen's Spacetacular! at the Leicester Square Theatre; The Architects: Shunt at The Biscuit Factory; Light Show at the Hayward Gallery; Rich Hall's Hoedown at the Soho Theatre; How Do Surgeons Learn to Operate? at The Dana Centre; Sandi Toksvig in conversation at the Stratford Picturehouse; Have I got News for Thee! at Dr Johnson's House; several days in Norwich (taking in a number of historic venues); In the Beginning was the End at Somerset House; Helicopter experience over London; An Evening with William Russell (Doctor Who companion) at The Cinema Museum; Music, Ho! Shakespearean Music Concert at The Underglobe; Kino #50 at The Horse Hospital; Surgery by Gaslight at The Old Operating Theatre; an evening with Lucy Worsley at the Banqueting House; Bullet Catch at The Shed; several visits to Wilton's Music Hall; Zoo Lates at ZSL London Zoo; Doctor Who Live: The Next Doctor at Elstree Studios; Oedipus and Antigone at The Scoop at More London; several events at The Royal Institution of Great Britain; several events at Barts Pathology Museum; Twelfth Night or What You Will at The Rose Theatre; candlelit viewing at Sir John Soane's Museum; a visit to the Museum of Brands in Notting Hill; Aldwych Underground Station Tour; Ernest at the Etcetera Theatre; The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable at Temple Studios; Gliding experience in the skies of Oxfordshire at Bicester Gliding Centre; a couple of days in Brighton; and many, many more examples ... 

For now, it's the end of February and I've already notched up the same number of outings as this time last year. I was out pretty much every night for the first couple of weeks of January and am now settling back into a slightly calmer schedule as the weeks progress. As the rest of 2014 beckons, there's hopefully lots more ahead.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Back in the world.

When I started writing this blog, a friend of mine, who'd been instrumental in helping me set it all up in the first place, told me I shouldn't attempt to blog about absolutely everything I do, as it would simply be impossible to keep on top of. And, while I certainly took that advice on board, inside I kind of considered it to be something of a challenge: of course I could do it if I really tried ... couldn't I? But ultimately, the truth of the matter was, my friend was right. With two jobs that collectively take up six days of my week and a social life that once prompted Matt Brown, founder of the Londonist website, to once remark to me "Even I don't go out that much!", it was always going to be an uphill struggle finding the time to write about my activities.

Initially, the blog writing started fairly well, but then tapered off a bit as I became busier and busier. This continued for a few months, and then, something terrible happened. Completely unexpectedly, in the middle of last year, my mother had a fall at her home and was taken to hospital. A very difficult period followed, culminating, sadly, in her passing away in September. She never made it back home. I was devastated. I had spent the last six days of her life by her bedside. In the months leading up to that moment, I had endeavoured to continue with my cultural/social pursuits. I was aware she derived pleasure from the fact that I wasn't taking life for granted and that I was always out and about and this knowledge kept pushing me forward, as I tried to continue with normality. And it was nice from time to time to be able to tell her all about my activities and she seemed to enjoy hearing my stories. Now, she has gone, and it's more important than ever that I keep busy and continue doing the things I love.  

In terms of the blog, which had already been quite a demand before, after my mother's fall, it naturally dried up altogether. But now, here we are, a new year just begun, and I have finally reached a place where I feel ready to begin writing some new entries again. 

People still seem to be reading the older entries, which has been a very pleasant and unexpected surprise, but I hope I can now provide some newer posts for those who enjoy them (and it appears there are one or two of you out there). I hope you'll bear with me while I get back up to speed. 

It's good to be back in the world again.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Have I got News for Thee!

Before the advent of newspapers (which first appeared in English around 1620) a popular way of disseminating information was via a broadsheet (also known as a broadside) - a single piece of paper, printed on one side, often containing news, woodcut illustrations, ballads and rhymes.

They first appeared in the sixteenth century and were sold for as little as a penny. The ballads on these sheets were sung in the streets, taverns and theatres, in an attempt to attract customers. They could be viewed in the same way that tabloid newspapers are today, containing stories of scandal, gossip, murder trials and other major news of the day, along with more light-hearted (and bawdy) content. They were set to popular tunes of the period, many of which have survived to the present day. 

So it was with great interest that I went along to Doctor Johnson's House in London on Thursday 14 March to see Have I got News for Thee! - a performance by Lucie Skeaping and Douglas Wootton, which recreated some of these ballads, using the music and lyrics taken from original broadsheets of the time.

I'd never been to Doctor Johnson's House before; an interesting venue, it was the home of the writer Samuel Johnson, from 1748 to 1759. It is situated in a small, pedestrianised, L-shaped court, off some small alleyways not far from Fleet Street.

The performance took place in a room at the very top of the five story house. Lucie (who presents The Early Music Show on BBC Radio 3, as well as performing early music in a number of groups, notably The City Waites, and has also written on the subject) talked the audience through the history of Broadside Ballads (as they were known), using a set of around fifty slides to illustrate many points of note.

Interspersed throughout, we were treated to performances of many of the ballads, sung by Lucie and accompanied by Douglas Wootton on Lute and Cittern (who also took vocal charge on a number of the songs). Audience participation was encouraged and we soon found ourselves singing along with Lucie and Douglas, which was all very enjoyable.

Not always was the choice of song to accompany the lyrical content particularly appropriate, given the context of the news story being related. One such (unintentionally amusing) example that Lucie gave of this was the ballad entitled 'The barbarous and bloody son who shot his father as he was going into the church', a news story of an actual event, which was sung to the tune of 'I love you dearly'! Below is a facsimile of that original broadside (apologies for the poor quality - this was hard to find!) and, if you want to know how it sounded, a recording of the ballad can be heard here (not performed by Lucie by the way!).

It was also rather interesting to learn that the reason we have as much knowledge as we do about these ballads in England is because a small number of significant individuals in society chose to collect them, most notably the diarist Samuel Pepys, who had amassed a collection of some 1800 or more during his lifetime! 

After the performance ended there was a drinks (and sandwiches) reception with Lucie, Douglas and all attendees in one of the rooms on the floor immediately below and a chance to buy Lucie's book on the subject or one of her CDs. Or indeed to simply have a chat. But sadly I couldn't participate, as I was going away for the weekend the next day and still had some things to do back home, so headed straight off to my station. Otherwise I'd have loved to.

The house has a modest programme of events but it is open to the public every day bar Sundays and Bank Holidays. I'd like to go back at some point and explore this fine old house in more detail.