Month: October 2017

Live music venues – use ’em or lose ’em

Live music venues – use ’em or lose ’em

600 Club, Chelsea

‘Keep Music Live’

Took a trip to the 606 Club in Chelsea last Sunday to see Tony O’Malley, an old friend who fronts an excellent young band doing jazz, blues and soul numbers. Don’t worry I’m not going to review a friend’s gig here, but suffice to say Tony and his mates dished out great bucket loads of beautiful boogie.

I’ve been visiting the 606 since the 80’s when it sat slumped in a musical dungeon on the King’s Road. Then it was really cramped, dark and dusty with room for an upright piano and about twenty punters. The club now lives in more spacious premises on Lots Road, Chelsea close to the river.

It has the vibe of an old-fashioned jazz club with rickety bentwood chairs, a small stage replete with Yamaha grand piano and Ronnie Wood pictures on the walls. Even the food by jazz club standards is tolerable. The menu rarely seems to change but I generally go for Cumberland sausage with mash, largely because I’m either chatting with friends or listening to music and am not paying too much attention to what I’m gobbling.

If you look at their website you’ll see though the music is predominantly jazz, there’s also plenty of R&B, soul and blues. Heavy Metal; not so much.

If you are not a member you have to book a table to eat and you’ll pay a £10 or £14 music charge, that I’m reliably informed goes to the band.

Getting membership is a little byzantine. Essentially you must visit the club three times, and get a signed document to say you’ve done so, before you’ll be considered. Membership is currently £140 a year, and £90 should you renew. If you’re a member you don’t have to eat – yeah, I know it’s a little odd.

I was recently in New York where there seemed to be live music everywhere. Unfortunately, live music venues in London are closing left and right. If you have any interest in jazz or music that’s closely related, get down to the 606; you’ll be glad you did.

So you wanna be a rock & roll star?

So you wanna be a rock & roll star?

Perhaps you play guitar and sing or play the Venezuelan nose-flute and fancy placing your enormous talent before the discerning public. You need an urgent visit to an open mic.

You may well have heard about these vaguely intimidating events but don’t know how they work. Step forward Richard Gregory the open mic night king. He runs a website which is a sort of Trip Advisor for open mics. He lists the best and worst on offer and reviews what you can expect to find at various venues right across London. Summon up your courage, find one close to where you live and give it a go.

The majority take place in pubs, some in a separate room, others in the corner of a bar. They vary enormously, some are quiet shoe gazing events for whey-faced acoustic purists, others are noisy bare knuckle affairs. Choose your poison.

Many open mics are incredibly popular and you may need to get there in good time to get on the list. Music typically begins at 8pm, but you should get to the venue by 6.30 or 7pm to have any hope of getting on. There will be an organiser who runs the whole farrago so make sure when you arrive you find out who that person is and they are aware of your presence. The list may not open straight away and some are better than others at recognising who pitched up first; some also favour their mates. So keep an eye on this individual and when the list opens beat a path to the queue.

You will likely get to play two songs, on a quiet night you might get three. Your audience will often be made up of fellow musicians, a tricky crowd, but many are supportive especially if they discover you are something of an OM virgin.

A few ground rules for you:

  • You are performing and taking up people’s time and while the audience will cut you some slack, if you really can’t play, can’t remember your words, keep stopping and starting any residual goodwill, will soon fade away.
  • A personal plea from me – No Backing Tapes. I have nothing against Karaoke, but this is not the place for it.
  • There are usually around 20 or so slots a night and on a typical night around 5 acts will play in an hour – so you do the math as to when you might get on.
  • If you play guitar make sure it’s tuned up and unless you must use a pedal, perhaps a looper, leave them at home.
  • A quick stage entry and exit is vital to keep the wheels greased.
  • Listen and applaud other artists if you like them.
  • Don’t just turn up, play and leave, it appears rude.

These can be fun events, you won’t be paid but you will sometimes get free food and drink. Above all when you hit the stage look like you’re having a good time, because if you don’t it’s unlikely anyone else will. The range of talent is enormous from the gawd-help-us go away and practise for a year to the utterly sublime. Tempted? Give it a go.

Meet the mutt

Meet the mutt

Meet Rusty – AKA Rust Bucket, Police Dog Rusty or when out for a walk usually just BUCKET! She is the newest and most welcome member of the family and came to us from Battersea Dog’s Home.

We love Rusty; the cat (Ziggy) not so much. In fact, there’s a Mexican stand-off going on. Ziggy now lives upstairs, is spitting tacks, and making occasional sorties downstairs to eat the dog’s food in an effort to really piss-off the interloper. Meanwhile, the dog, located downstairs – baby-gate in place – thinks the cat is probably a cleverly disguised squirrel, and as according to Rusty squirrels are an abomination, must be destroyed. Keeping the peace is tricky, but we live in hope.

If you want a dog I’d urge you to get down to Battersea. Their service, a sort of Tinder for dogs and humans attempts to match you with your perfect pet.

First you register then face a not very rigorous interview to prove that you are fit to rehome a hound. Then comes the fun part of matching the type of dog you want with what they currently have in stock. (You can do this online but beware the pooch that looks perfect might already have found a new home.)

Process complete and with two or three dogs that might be right, you get to meet the mutts. Astonishingly, Rusty was the first dog we saw, and loved right away.

Battersea Dogs Home provide a fantastic service; Rusty cost us £135, but came with collar, lead, dog food, all the necessary shots, was neutered and had had a bad tooth removed. You also learn the dog’s history,  if it wasn’t a stray. There is aftercare too, so if you have problems you can take your dog back to see a vet in the early days after adoption.

Now we can’t wait for the Battersea Dogs get together in Battersea Park next summer. Right Bucket, walkies!

Want to be healthy and happy? Live in London

Want to be healthy and happy? Live in London

We learnt some things about health and happiness recently. First up the shocking news that four in ten adults fail to manage even one brisk 10 minute walk a month.  

Then we discovered that the way to defy depression, disease and early death is to – yes you guessed it –  exercise. Latterly, a counter-intuitive report from Oxford University revealed that city-dwellers are happier and healthier than those who live in the ‘burbs or the countryside. 

Time to put two and two together.

When my wife and I started living together we each owned a car and discussions ensued about maybe getting rid of one, but no, we couldn’t possibly do that as both cars sat outside our house doing nothing very much at all. Thankfully one of the cars was nicked and we made the astonishing discovery that one car was just fine.

Ten years ago, we dumped the family car and have never looked back. We live in central London, close to two tube stations, busses, a Boris bike stand on our street and the now ubiquitous Zip cars that can be hired by tapping a card on to the car’s windscreen. We are not alone. None of our close neighbours have cars. There are empty parking slots on our street all the time which are only filled by builders’ vans on the weekend when parking is free.

Tell country folk or suburbanites that you don’t own a car and they give you a pitying look that says they didn’t realise you were that poor. During a recent talk at my daughter’s school they were encouraged to work hard so they could get ahead in the world and thus be able to buy a car and not have to travel with odd people on public transport. I wasn’t especially happy about that.

You visit the countryside and everyone seems to drive everywhere, they even drive to a location to take a walk. My wife’s family live in small town in the North East of England where there is a magnificent country park on the site of a former mine. Lottery money helped make it a wonderful spot for hiking and dog-walking, but hardly anyone uses it.

Not so us townies without a car, we walk. We walk to the shops, we cycle to the gym we take the dog to the local park – Battersea Park in our case, which is a never-ending source of joy for me and Rusty. We take exercise without even thinking about it. It’s just been pointed out to me that my new iPhone has a health app that tracks how far I walk each day. My average is about 7k a day.

If you live in London and you haven’t already done so, dump the car, walk and live a happy healthy life. The bucolic countryside may not be all it’s cracked up to be, I know, I was brought up there.