I took a trip to London this weekend. While in Berlin last week my friend Anita recommended the Frida Kahlo exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum. There was only one person who came to mind when I thought about whom I should go with. I had text Barbara immediately to see if she would be interested, “Hell Yeah” she replied. I took the National Express from Leeds. I filled the nearly five-hour journey with music. I have recently discovered a band called the Viagra Boys. Upon returning from Berlin I noticed in my wallet a note with unfamiliar handwriting, which simply said ‘VIAGRA BOYS’. Where did that come from? Then I recalled it was from Marie the Norwegian lady that I had met in the Franken bar. I entered the text into my Spotify app and cranked the volume up to full. This is wonderful, a hi-energy punk, rock n roll, disco, funk band. They remind me of lots of CBGB-style bands like Television, Richard Hell, Talking Heads, and even some Brian Ferry/Roxy Music but they have a harder edge. I’m all over this. I drop the Yallas a group message such as the importance of this discovery. Will had already heard of them. Dempsey and Lewis liked them.
After two hours I switched the music around. After the hi-energy of Viagra Boys I’m wanting something a little smoother. The previous night I had been watching a documentary based upon Primal Scream making their ‘Give Out But Don’t Give Up’ album. They have recently rediscovered and released a lost version of the classic album. This version recorded in Memphis featured the famous Muscle Shoals backline and was recorded at the infamous Ardent studios. Naturally I’m still feeling the story and want to give the record another listen. I like Bobby Gillespie’s vocal. I hear myself in him. Like myself he is not the greatest singer however he does have a lot of soul, a nice groove and energy. I start to think about our album. I hope I can nail the vocals this time. I always feel after an album is released that I could have done better. I genuinely have little confidence in my singing ability. Bobby Gillespie expressed the same sentiment in his documentary. I think most singers have the same experience. You’re really vulnerable in that vocal booth, everyone sat in the control room analysing your performance, emotion, and ability, and there is a lot of pressure as a result.
The bus reaches London but the traffic is stood still. The roads are never easy here but today there is a huge protest by environmentalists. They have blockaded five major bridges in the city. Great work I think. London is at a standstill. Ironically though all the stationary vehicles are now probably pumping more pollutants into the atmosphere as a result of idling. Barbara is waiting for me at the bus station. I suggest that we walk in the general direction of the museum. A five-hour bus journey really plays havoc with my left knee these days. I feel like I need to walk it off. I’m also a little docile from the journey. I struggle to make a lucid conversation with Barbara. I apologise and tell her that I need wake up a little. She understands and asks me if I’m cold. I didn’t notice that I was freezing until she said anything. After all I’m only wearing a shirt and a suit jacket. “I’m from the north, I’ll survive” I quip. We walk through Kings Road in Chelsea and find a pub where we can talk and catch up.
After a couple of beers we go to the Victoria and Albert Museum. It is beautiful. We have a membership card so we’re able to have a late night viewing of the exhibition. I express to Barbara that I feel like I’m too poor to enter such a building. A boy from Bramley, Leeds, West Yorkshire shouldn’t be traipsing these hallways. I’m told not to be silly. I love reading the story of Frida, she was a remarkable woman. There was extracts from her diary, items from her jewellery collection, and her vibrant clothing. I’m impressed and inspired by her work. I make some notes regarding her reading habits. She had a copy of Walt Whitman’s poetry, which had been transcribed into Spanish. I must investigate his work when I’m home.
After the exhibition we again walk through Chelsea and I’m starting to feel a little hungry. I notice a butchers shop and they are selling fresh sandwiches. They look delicious. I’m not eating much meat these days but my god that dead pig looks fucking delicious. I walk in and ask for a Ham and Cheese Baguette. My northern wallet trembles and shakes as they lady announces that the price will be seven quid. I try not to care as the sandwich looks too damn good. Outside the shop I take a huge bite and excitedly declare “OH MY GOD … THAT’S CRACK HAM … GIMME MORE MORE MORE”, Barbara grins and I offer a bite. She takes a more gentle bite and then asks, “How much is a bite worth? Two quid?”, I chuckle “Don’t worry about …eat some more if you like”. We find another pub and wash down the baguette with a Peroni and a Guinness.
After the beer we took a tube to Brixton and we walked to the Hootananny, I’ve been here before when The Yallas stayed here in May. I didn’t stay out that night but the rest of the band did. Will had told me that it’s a lively pub with great music and a nice outdoor space serving up Jerk Chicken street food. I drop him a message letting him know where we are. He replies saying that we should do another London trip soon. I agree. Barbara introduces me to her friends and they are all very friendly and sociable, I’m made to feel very welcome. Drinks are flowing and the bands are great. I’m hitting the rum pretty hard. The place is pretty full and the atmosphere here is great. I feel much more at home in Brixton than I did in the pubs of Chelsea. There is such a stark contrast in people in just a couple of miles.
Around 2am we leave Hootananny and we find a night shop for more beer and take a bus back to Bromley. We stay up for a little while longer listening to music. I play Barbara the latest recordings of the new Yallas album. I try explaining some of the backing vocals and she sings along. She seems to enjoy these songs and then tells me that she is pleased with the new direction that the band is taking. This fills me with encouragement. I respect her opinion. Barbara is a very honest woman. On one of the songs she laughs at my out of tune singing and says, “we need to work on that”, I agree and I ask her to help me when I’m in the studio.
The next morning Barbara serves up the most delicious breakfast to set me up for my journey home. I’m instructed to be the DJ whilst she prepares it. I play some music by Lewis and Sam who will both be joining her on backing vocals on the album. She seems to like Lewis’ vocal and comments that it’s similar to mine, “Except its in tune” I reply. Around 2pm I leave and I take a train back to London. On route the train stops at Brixton and I notice an eerie statue of a lady on the platform, she fascinates me. As the train pulls away from the station I search the Internet for articles explaining the statue at Brixton station. I learn that there is actually three statues dotted around the station and they were commissioned in 1980’s and depict three ordinary commuting passengers. Some believe that they are the first bronze statues of black people within the UK.
I make it in good time for my bus home to Leeds, another five-hour journey. I’m not in the mood for music. Which is strange. I’m not even in the mood for thinking. Actually for once in my life I just want to switch off. I load Netflix on my phone and watch some TV all the way home. Never have I done this. I have travelled all around Europe many times on many long journeys and never have I resorted to watching TV on my phone. I’m not sure I like it but it will do for today.