A long time has passed since I last blogged.
At the time of my last entry, I was thousands of miles away, in London. And I was loving every waking second of it.
I spent six unbelievable weeks getting to know the city as much as humanly possible. I jumped on the Tube and got off at random stops just to see a brand new part of the city. I walked down any street or alleyway that looked like it might have had something interesting waiting around a bend. When I got back to my flat at the end of every day, I was exhausted. My feet and back were killing me. But most nights, I’d head right back out on the town, only to stay out late enough to see the Underground close for the night and have to navigate the night bus system in the early hours of the morning.
I met amazing people who made me love the city even more. I saw more great live music than I could process. I hung out with some absolutely incredible bands who deserve the world’s attention. I dove headfirst into a music scene that was miles and miles bigger than I could ever wrap my head around. I spent entire days outside, drinking strange beers at music festivals. I kicked soccer balls around with hundreds of strangers for hours upon hours.
Time was never more irrelevant in my entire life.
I took full advantage of the greatest city I have ever laid eyes on at the greatest time of year.
Before coming back over the Atlantic, I spent three days in Paris. Initially, when I couldn’t find anyone to go along with me, I scrapped the idea, even though it had been a goal of mine from the start. About half way through the six weeks, however, I realized I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I didn’t go, so I bought one round trip train ticket for my last weekend abroad. I left London from King’s Cross at 4am (trains are cheaper when if you don’t mind traveling at odd hours) and traveled for two hours, under the English Channel, arriving in Paris on a beautiful Friday morning.
Granted, I knew my high school French was going to be a little rusty, but I made a promise to myself that I would start every conversation in French and give it my best shot. And while I didn’t carry on many meaningful conversations in French, I got by. Wondering around cluelessly through Gare Du Nord station, panic started to really set in. I had come to Paris with absolutely no itinerary or schedule. I had booked no hotel reservations and had no real idea where I was going. All I had with me was a backpack and a pocket map of the city I had bought at the station. No cell phone. Nobody else. Just me and Paris.
I immediately began to doubt that my spontaneous weekend getaway would work out without any major problems. An hour later, standing in front of the towering glass pyramid entrance to the Louvre, my doubts had vanished completely. I turned around to look through the Jardin des Tuileries, straight down the Champs Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe. On the horizon to the left towered the Eiffel Tower. All these sites were previously only lucid photos in books. They were Google images. And now they were right before my eyes.
In two and a half days in Paris, I saw everything I came to see. I ate some of the most amazing meals of my life. I took hundreds of photos. And really, I just quietly observed and took it all in. My Paris trip was the single most liberating event of my life.
The train took me back to London, where I stayed one last night, before sadly heading back to the States. One morning I woke up in Paris, the next I woke up in London and the following I woke up in Laurys Station, Pennsylvania. Talk about a change of scenery.
I came home from Europe only to start all over, back where I was before ever leaving for Temple. I’m now a college graduate, and I’ve got nothing but time. But things are different than they were four years ago. Old friends have moved on, and in a lot of ways, I’m jealous of them for that.
I’ve had time to write new music, play open mics and visit Philadelphia on a lot of weekends. All in all, I’ve been way happier than I predicted I would be. But now it feels like I’m just playing the waiting game. Waiting for the next thing that’s going to propel my life forward in some direction. And the more I sit around and wait for that to happen, the more I get scared that life is passing me by. The truth is, I know I need to get out of here, sooner rather than later.
It’s an extraordinarily uncertain time for me, and for so many other people my age. And all I can really do is wait it out.
I started this blog before I left for London, because I knew I’d have a lot to write about while I was there. And I did have plenty to write about, even though I didn’t always take the time to sit down and type it out.
Honestly, I don’t know what this blog is for anymore. I don’t have the interest or the audience to start commenting on every bit of music I hear. I’m not in a place where I can review live shows or interview bands anymore. I’ve thought about just turning it into more of a journal where I can talk about my own music and life. Maybe it’s for this kind of aimless rambling.
And if nobody ever reads it, maybe that’s OK.
But I like to write, so I should write.
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A few weeks ago, I caught up with the Brute Chorus, an incredible London rock band, at a video shoot for their brand new single, “Heaven.” It was shot at Abney Park Cemetery, a very cool, old backwoods graveyard in northeast London.
The video follows lead vocalist James Steel as he leads a procession through the cemetery in a mangled figure-8 pattern, belting out the tune over the strums of an acoustic guitar. He’s joined by his bandmates Nick Foots, Matt Day and Dave Ferrett, who add percussion, and a group of mourners who add some background vocals.
Here’s the really impressive finished result:
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It’s been an amazingly busy and musical couple of weeks. And it’s pathetic I haven’t updated in a week, but again, it’s just impossible to do everything London has to offer and find enough time to sit inside, typing on a computer. Here’s a rundown of some of the other things I’ve been doing.
The other week I caught up with Benji Rogers, an awesome guy who, one year ago started up an ambitious and innovative website called Pledge Music. The site, based in London, allows bands who are strapped for cash and without the support of a major record label to set up a campaign tailored to their needs and fund recording projects and other endeavors. Fans receive specific exclusives for different pledge amounts. For example, a $10 pledge might get you a CD, or, on the other end of the spectrum, $1,500 might get you a live show in your own house from the band. Along with that, any pledger also received exclusive updates, photos, videos and downloads that give them an in-depth look into the band’s studio progress. And if that wasn’t enough, each band chooses a charity, of which a small percentage of their donations benefit.
As Benji explained to me, he wanted to create a “scenario where bands, fans and charities all could win.” And so far, it looks as though he’s accomplished that.
I got involved with the website earlier this year, when my favorite band, the Damnwells set up a Pledge Music campaign to fund the recording and release of their new record. I pledged $25 for a CD and t-shirt, and through the last several months, I’ve had access to all kinds of unreleased tracks and demos, feeding my appetite for new Damnwells material. It’s really an unbelievable innovation, that bypasses the restrictions of major label contracts and a lot of other difficulties for upstart, independent bands.
I’ll be writing a longer story on Pledge Music after I talk with the Damnwells’ Alex Dezen next week.
I also had the privilege of seeing two fantastic Filthy Boy gigs in the past week. These kids are really something else, and they’re going to be huge. I just wish I could stick around and see them burst onto the scene.
Saturday, a group of us spent the afternoon into the night at the London Fields Festival in Hackney. We consumed our fair share of beer in London Fields Park, listening to live music as well as blaring dubstep from the dance tent. The real highlight of the day came in the simple form of a small, plastic soccer ball, that provided literally hours of entertainment. It got tossed and booted all around the entire festival, before we finally got it back, and continued kicking it back and forth with strangers until well after dark. Such a simple concept, and it introduced us to so many new, different people.
It’s really hard to believe I have less than a week left in London. I’ll be taking a three-day trip to Paris from Thursday to Saturday, then have one last day in London, and Sunday, I’ll be back in the States. This has been the most amazing experience of my entire life, and I don’t want to see it end.
Pub crawl in Camden Town tonight. I gotta go.
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Hopping around to all different kinds of shows all over London and meeting with record label folks, it was pretty natural I was going to happen upon some terrific, largely undiscovered musical talent. I’m working on stories about two bands in particular, and I just wanted to tell you a bit about them.
A quartet of schoolmates, all age 18, Filthy Boy craft mysterious, unpredictable and sometimes volatile rock songs. I met up with brothers Paraic (guitar/vocals) and Michael Morrissey (bass) in the band’s practice space (an eclectic room in their dad’s Southeast London flat) along with Harry Weskin (guitar) and Ben Deschamps (drums).
There, I watched as they hammered out all the details of a brand new song, with the brothers leading the charge through a dark but enchanting progression strew with minor chord changes, while Harry tinkered with intricate lead guitar riffing and Ben beat the crap out of his kit.
Filthy Boy has got a few upcoming gigs, one tomorrow night, at Proud in Camden Town, that I can’t wait to check out.
Earlier this week, I caught up with The Brute Chorus, a tremendously inventive rock band that blends older styles like rockabilly into a complex, atmospheric formula.
I swung by a music video shoot for their upcoming single, “Heaven” in an old, backwoodsy East London cemetery, and then had a few drinks with them at a nearby pub afterward. Lead singer James Steel opened up to me about the origins of the band, his writing process and the band’s new record (How the Caged Bird Sings, due in September).
I’ll be writing in-depth profiles on both of these bands for our magazine, and I’ll be sure to keep you updated on them and post the “Heaven” video when it goes live, probably next week.
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I regretfully haven’t blogged on Rhythm and Melody as much as I would like to since arriving in London at the beginning of the month.
But that’s partly because I’ve been doing writing for other places as well.
Our class has been contributing to three separate blogs. Some of this content will likely end up in our magazine, but for now, the blogs are updated every day.
The music blog, I Rock London, is the one to which I most contribute, naturally. There, you’ll be able to read a lot of short write-ups on various live performances we attend around the city, as well as other London musical happenings.
Credit the snappy blog names to one George Miller, who will be very pleased to see them get more hits, so please check them out. My classmates have written some amazing stuff and taken some fantastic images. The three blogs really do encompass our London experience, and it’s a great glimpse into the stuff we’ve been up to.
I’ve been working like mad on a few different stories at once lately. I recently had the chance to meet and interview two really interesting bands, which I’ll definitely tell you all about very soon. More photos are also on the way. But first, sleep.
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A few days ago, I finally made the long-awaited pilgrimage to Abbey Road.
The famous crosswalk in front of Abbey Road Studios is still right where it was in the late 60s, when the Beatles walked across it for the photo that became one of the most iconic album covers in history.
I took the long way from the tube, just so I could walk up to the crossing from the direction in which the photo was taken. Here’s what it looks like today:
What’s kind of funny to watch is the tourists all trying to walk across while friends or family members try to take their picture. It’s funny because Abbey Road is a busy street near Maida Vale, and London motorists are not very patient. There isn’t a stop sign (these don’t really exist in London) or traffic light, so people are really taking a risk that a frustrated driver won’t run them over.
Right next to the crossing is Abbey Road Studios, which is still to this day a full, working studio. A very exclusive one, I might add (I tried to get in, to no avail).
There’s also the old graffiti-filled wall in front of the studios, where fans from all around the world have written messages, inscribed Beatles lyrics and tagged with whatever came to mind.
I had brought along a Sharpie, intending on doing the same, but when I got there, I realized I hadn’t thought about what to write. I scanned my mind for meaningful Beatles lyrics less generic than “All you need is love.”
Finally, I landed on something that hit me with overwhelming clarity and finality. Mine is along the very bottom of the wall:
As I carefully wrote the lyric from the Abbey Road song “The End,” a little girl squatted down next to me, watching curiously and intently. When I finished writing, I asked her if she wanted to use my marker to write on the wall. She nodded shyly, taking the Sharpie from me. Without any hesitation, right next to the line I had just written, she scrawled:
“Paul is cute.”
There will never be another band as captivating to a larger audience than the Beatles.
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I’m starting to feel more and more at home in London.
I understand the Tube (subway) system and can figure out how to get pretty much anywhere. I’ve given tourists directions. And while I may not have seen even close to everything there is, waiting for me to see, I’m starting to finally get a grasp on this vast city.
Yesterday, I ventured down to London Bridge and the Borough Market, an enormous, mostly outdoor marketplace, open every Saturday from 8am to 5pm. It was absolutely breathtaking, with endless rows of food vendors and shops, cheese and wine samples, beers from all around the UK and fish and chips. The best beer-battered fish and chips I’ve ever had. I picked up three strange English beers from Utobeer, including one from the Titanic Brewery in Stoke-on-Trent.
Last week, I wandered into the Camden Stables Market, and was similarly impressed. That market, a huge converted old horse stable, is more devoted to various crafts and boutiques, but had an equally lively atmosphere.
Yesterday afternoon, George and I saw a fun Japanese garage rock band at a really great, intimate space in Notting Hill called the Notting Hill Arts Club (review coming soon). Last night, we walked down to the Troubadour, an old venue that once hosted the likes of Dylan and Hendrix that now has a terrific cafe above it, where we sat and drink some exotic beers we had never seen before.
I’m in London at a fortunate time during the year. Summertime here sees Londoners out and about, all the time. The weather is perfectly comfortable, usually ranging from the low 60s to low 80s (I haven’t gotten used to Celsius quite yet). Because the weather is just right this time of year, London embraces it with a whole multitude of outdoor events, music festivals and open markets, most of them free.
I suppose that’s the main reason I haven’t done very much with this blog: I’ve been too busy trying not to miss a single thing.
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