Sunday, 27 October 2013

My New Mission & Golders Green

Hello Readers

I am on a mission to rediscover London.  After living here for over a decade now, I find myself in patterns and ruts adhering to the daily grind… cramming in studio time, gigs, videos and all the busy Piney stuff on top of work work work.  It's a viscous cycle and if I don't do something to break that pattern I will soon be mayor of Burn Out City. 

So, I have made a list of cool stuff to do in London to remind me why I live here.

Because we all know London is one of the finest cities in the world, right?  There is the best theatre, modern dance, art galleries, music of all types, fashion shows, pop up restaurants, cocktail clubs with secret doorbells, tranny bars in Soho, foodie markets, dog beauty contests, kitsch bowling and indie discos alongside the Royal Opera House and Shakespeare's Globe… every night one is spoiled for choice, able to do just about anything at any time (apart from ordering blueberry pancakes at 3AM - if anyone finds a place like that in London, please let me know!)

Anyway, it is so easy to find oneself suffering from tunnel vision; when all we see is what we already do as a course of habit.  It can be a real drag, the same-o/same-o, and one could forget why we chose to live in The Old Smoke in the first place.

… and so I've made a list, because I don't want to lose sight of why I live here, that it's not just about paying bills and cramming in as much work as possible.  It can also be about the good stuff.  I need to make time for the good stuff.

Now, my idea of the good stuff might be different from yours… but join me on my 'Rediscovering London' Mission if you wish, and feel free to post your ideas on this here blog forum.  Thanks!

Today, I went to explore a part of London that I've never been to before.  Golders Green.  Golders Green is historically Jewish - popping up as a London suburb in the 1800s or so… though it is more diverse in these modern times, there's still a hub of kosher delis, bakeries and shops.  Some local attractions tend to be closed on Saturday (the Sabbath) so bear that in mind if you're planning a trip to G.G.

This zone 3, North London destination may not be everyone's cup of tea.  However, I had a fantastic time exploring.  I browsed the many charity shops (there are so many, that I lost count!) charity shop staff was quirky and attentive, prices were very reasonable and there was a good mixture of genuine vintage and designer labels as well as your typical discarded Top Shop and Primark fare; I bought a few Christmas presents (yes I always start early with that kind of thing) and enjoyed whiling away the afternoon on the little high street there.

I went to the Paradise Bakery and bought a chocolate babka that was AMAZING.  I had a coffee-flavoured gelato at Bella Del Gelato and a good strong kosher coffee at SoYo.  Though what makes a coffee kosher, I'm not sure… does it need to be blessed by a rabbi?  

I went to Golders Hill Park for a walkabout before the weather changed.  And then had some fresh sushi at Cafe Japan.  

All in all it was a grand day out...

Stay tuned for the next instalment!  I wonder what I'll do next?


Friday, 30 August 2013

Londonniversary - 15 years!

So, it's official, I think I can truly call myself a Londoner, I have been a girl about town in London for 15 years now!  

I know, it’s hard to believe that 15 years ago, I got off the plane from Kansas City via Newark with two big trunks full of tweed and wool and jaunty little hats and sensible shoes (because I thought that’s how Londoners dressed... well that’s how you guys dress on the shows I’d seen on PBS like Poirot and films like Cold Comfort Farm).

I soon realised that y’all are a much more stylish bunch, intimidatingly stylish.  I went through phases to try and blend in, wearing all black, the C&A equivalent of what waspy girls were buying at French Connection in 1998, I tried to dress ultra modern in 2000 – ya know, millennium style , lots of white and silver, anime Japanese tops  and crisp trendy sportswear, my favourite store was SuperLovers on Neal Street...  I recall having a silver bum bag (which of course I referred to as a fanny pack).

Then I thought, f*ck it, who am I kidding?  I like vintage dresses, the kind I used to pilfer from the back of my grandmother’s closet, why am I trying to blend in?  The thing is, you can take the girl out of Kansas, but you can’t take the Kansas out of the girl.  And it was then that I really felt I found my niche, my London niche, and I’ve stuck with it for 15 years...

My first weekend in London I went to Notting Hill Carnival.  I vowed never to go back!  But this year, just days before my 15 year anniversary here in London, my boyfriend’s mother was really determined to go, she’d never been... and I felt sort of morally obliged to help her though the experience.  Like a local guide who enables tourists to climb the Himalayas so shall I guide my boyfriend's mom through the Notting Hill Carnival. 

Now, one thing I can say is Notting Hill Carnival is the same now as it was 15 years ago and something tells me it wasn't so different from the first Carnival in 1966.

But I tell you what, this time it was different, this time instead of feeling overwhelmed by the sea of people, the chicken bones in the street, the warm Red Stripe, piss and vomit creeping steadily down the streets and sidewalks; I felt strong, I knew where I was going, I knew what side streets to take to avoid the worst crowds, I knew which tube station to hop to, to avoid the worst of the rush, and I knew I wasn’t going to let Notting Hill Carnival win.  I felt a bit like I’d conquered London, I’m winning!

You’re a tough city London, but I love ya (most of the time)


Monday, 20 May 2013

My Will Oldham Story - the FINAL Installment

Okay, so I’ve kept you waiting long enough haven’t I?

Here is how the story ends.

After the gig Will Oldham was swapping wardrobe tips with Calexico (before you get too baffled by that fact, they were discussing the merit of vintage waistcoats) and I was stood about 4 yards away discussing with G, Rob and Garo the “Should I / Shouldn’t I?” talk-to-him dilemma.  I was there, holding the CD with my cover of the Bonnie Prince Billy song “Ease Down The Road” and I had totally psyched myself up to give it to him leading up to my trip to West Virginia’s Mountain Stage.  

But when we finally came to be in the same room he had these intense eyes, he barely spoke to anyone pre-show (I put this down to him getting into character) and frankly, he wasn’t putting out a ‘come-up-and-talk-to-me’ vibe.  And so I was nervous about approaching him.

Eventually Rob told me to, “Get a grip, he’s right over there and he’s just a guy so go talk to him if you want to.  It’s no big deal.” – Easy for you to say Mr. Robert B. Campanella!  And so I took a deep breath and marched on over there. 

Me: “Excuse me for interrupting (your discussion about vintage waistcoats).  I wanted to say how much I enjoyed your show.  I’m a big fan, and I have even covered one of your songs on one of my singles.” 

I shoved the CD into his hands, he looked down at it... 

...insert awkward silence here...

Me: “So if you hate it, then you hate my guts”

...More awkward silence... I turn around and walk away...

Will Oldham (speaking to the back of my head): I liked your set.

Blushing giggles in the back of the tour van, "He liked my set, he liked my set!" cue copious amounts of wine at the after show.  The after show!  This is where we'll become new best friends over a few drinks and some vol-au-vents...everyone loosens up after free hotel wine and black olive tapenade, right?

... And then he'll invite me to tour the world with him.  I'll sing on his album, he'll sing on my album.  I'll move to Kentucky, we'll be neighbours.  I'll make him a pie for his birthday.  He'll whittle a flute for me out of a twig.  I'll learn to play that flute.  I'll become the greatest twig/flute player the world has ever known, and I'll owe it all to him.  Good ol' Will, my new best friend.

But he didn't come to the after show.

That’s right folks, I’ve met Bonnie Prince Billy, and unfortunately we are not new best friends.  He might remember the girl who once said "If you hate it, then you hate my guts" though.


Tuesday, 16 April 2013

My Will Oldham Story – part 3

“Man she’s really dragging this story out!” you might be thinking... but it’s amazing how a short trip to West Virginia can feel so epic.

I believe we left off here: After grabbing the guitars from Michael’s West Virginia Hall of Fame, we went to collect Rob and G at the airport.  They schlepped over from Los Angeles; the ice and snow of the Smoky Mountains was a complete culture shock for those California boys.

We were safely shuttled to the city centre where we visited a rockin’ pizza place called Pies and Pints the guys crashed out because we had a big day to come.

** my pizza did not have meat on it! xx p

The following morning the Culture Centre welcomed us with open arms (and all-you-can-drink coffee).  Because me and Garo live in London and G and Rob live in LA we hadn't played together since the tour in October.  So we jammed in the dressing room for a couple of hours while Calexico soundchecked with all their wonderful warm mariachi brass and crazy percussion pit.  They don’t half put on a show!

I was running around with curlers in my hair trying not to get nervous, that all-you-can-drink coffee wasn't helping the nerves.  

Chatted to those nice chaps from Camper Van Beethoven for a bit... 

...and I got to meet Larry Groce not only is he the lovely presenter of The Mountain Stage, but he was a pop a star in his own rite!  He had a hit with Junk Food Junkie and it was even covered by the Jackson 5 AND he wrote albums for Disney.  How cool is that?

So we do our gig and it was really great fun to play such a classy big venue, and to see a radio show recorded live and to see all the other performers.  The House Band was off the hook!  And we had the best seat in the house for the rest of the gig, just backstage on the left...In fact you can hear the Mountain Show, on NPR here:

Will Oldham’s set moved me to tears when he did a cover of the Loudon Wainwright song “Screaming Issue.” But I can’t tell you what a fan I am of Will Oldham already anyway... and he had such an intimidating air about him I didn't know how to act.  Rob said I was probably just making that up in my own mind.  Rob is probably right.  Maybe what seemed intimidating about him was just shyness or getting prepared in his own mind for his show to come.  He had very intense eyes and he barely said a word to anyone.  

My anticipation in the weeks building up to the Mountain Stage Session was magnified by how big of a Will Oldham fan I actually am.  I covered his song, ‘Ease down the Road’ on one of my Country Roadshow singles a few years ago.  In my mind I was going to meet him in West Virginia, give him the copy of the (now very rare) single where I covered his song, and he would love it... then we’d be new best friends.  He’d put me on his speed dial (if he even has a speed dial) and I’d be his quirky Kansas City via London gal pal.  We’d tour the world together; he’d sing with me, I’d sing with him.  My friendship fantasy grew and grew... Will Oldham was going to be my new best friend! 

Stay tuned for the final instalment of ‘My Will Oldham Story’
Do you think we are new best friends?  Vote now: yes/no...

Thursday, 11 April 2013

My Will Oldham Story - part 2

Right, so here’s part 2:  We dump our stuff at the Super 8 and go across the street to the grocery store to stock up on supplies.

By supplies I mean the stuff I get homesick for living in England.  I.e. S’mores-flavoured Pop Tarts, lemon meringue chewing gum, Lawry’s Seasoned Salt, Kraft Mac ‘n’ Cheese (yes the kind that comes in a box with the powdered cheese), Jello Pudding (all flavours), Jiffy Corn Bread Mix, a variety of hot sauces, Kool Aid (Black Cherry & Pink Lemonade flavours specifically), Peanut Butter Oreos... you get the picture.

After the big shop, we meet Adam from Mountain Stage and his lovely girlfriend Trish at the Mexican restaurant across the road and we heartily decide it’s ‘margarita-o’clock’ so get stuck in to chips, salsa, and salt-rimmed glasses of tangy lime tequilas.  We ordered extra queso sauce and I daresay we feasted.  

After being awake for 36+ hours we then passed out in a food-booze-queso-induced coma.  I have never slept so well.

The next morning super-sweet Jeff from Mountain Stage collects us to take us to The West Virginia Hall of Fame, it is here we meet Michael who kindly let us use some lovely, vintage guitars and we nosed around his Hall of Fame, which is basically a bunch of super cool West Virginia stuff!

Michael is also in a band, they’re called The Carpenter Ants and wow were they good!  Great musicianship, wonderful singing, and just the kind of gospel-tinged, blues-oriented, riff-led,  country-rock you’d expect at the foot of the Smokies... After the Mountain Stage show we ended up at a The Empty Glass where the Carpenter Ants were playing.  The bar girl gave my band free hot dogs which pleased G and Rob muchly!  I spotted there were a couple of girls in that bar that took a shining to my boys but they were obliviously chomping on their freelicious hot dogs... 

Ah!  But I digress, because this happened AFTER the Will Oldham encounter, and that’s why you’re reading this blog right?  Hmm... this is getting pretty long though, so stay tuned for part 3


Friday, 5 April 2013

My Will Oldham Story - part 1

Right, so for those of you who haven't been in the loop you may not be aware of the fact that I now have a 'Will Oldham Story'...

Yes he's a bit of a hero, right?  I mean, he's a strange, warped, twisted hero, but you can't deny he's an indie-rock-underground legend!

So I went to the Mountain Stage, in Charleston West Virginia and this is how the story goes.

Firstly, our flight was cancelled in the middle of the night, luckily I was online checking last minute e-mails before the trip to West Virginia to play NPR's famous Mountain Stage Sessions with an amazing line up!  We'll get to that in a minute.

So we literally hoof it straight to Heathrow at 2:00 AM in hopes they can put us on the next flight.  You see, because our flight was cancelled we would have missed the session!  It was tres stressful!

We hang around Heathrow for hours, fueled by large coffees, on the promise that they will get us on a flight, and they do!  Hurrah!

The flight is turbulent to say the least, there is a serious blizzard brewing below and there were times I wondered if the Mountain Stage was worth risking my life for... When we landed safely I kissed the earth, the terra firma that is my homeland - America awaited me.  We were in the nation's capital city of Washington DC and we had more hours to kill waiting for the 2nd flight.  Much to my delight there were burritos and tortilla soup in terminal C, and I utter the words "there is no place like home."  You see, Mexican food made by a Mexican person is in another league to this British Mexican food we get here in the UK, and that's true even in the airport.

We get on a tiny tiny plane, which requires bundling up and slipping out onto the runway where the salt and grit had melted the ice away in little pathways.

The plane felt like it was made by Playmobil.

We hadn't slept for 24 hours.  The view below was stunning and other-worldly, like a white-dusted, crazy quilt.  I felt like I was floating due to the lack-of-sleep, caffeine-fueled, post-Mexican-food, trance-like state I found myself in.  It was a beautiful way to see the Smokey Mountains, up high in the clouds with snow below.

Adam from the Mountain Stage was there to greet us and he was the epitome of Southern hospitality.  He took us to our Super 8 through the winding, snow-ploughed roads.  He was used to these conditions.  He runs the Mountain Stage dang it, and he's a Mountain Man, a little snow on the zig-zag roads left him nonplussed.

And we were there!  The city of Charleston welcomed us and that's where I'm going to leave you (until the next installment)

Here's a little video about the journey featuring a cover I did of Bonnie Prince Billy's "Ease Down The Road" - please check it out!

And watch this space for Part 2 of the story!