SMOKE, MIRRORS, MUSIC, MOVIES


I finally got to series five of Breaking Bad (yeah, I know, two years after you did) and realised there are officially only two degrees of separation between me and Walter White. Todd, the new recruit to Walter's meth squad (and who shoots the little boy after they rip off the cargo train), is played by Jesse Plemons who was the male lead in Meeting Spencer, a US Indie I scored a few years ago. *

My connection with Jesse is to do with the song 'If I've Got You' which I was commissioned to write and which got me involved in the film.

If you find all the behind the scenes technical stuff about films and music really boring, stop reading now and skip to the video below.

Still here? Ok, a few weeks before they started to shoot, my publisher Randall Wixen asked if I could write a song for the Spencer character to perform in a pivotal scene. I love this sort of thing. It was the same deal with L A Noire - a tight deadline and songs that need to be about a character rather than about yourself (which is cool as I find I have less and less to say on the latter subject). 

After a couple of false starts and some back-and-forthing over the lyrics, I delivered.  The next thing was to get a version with Jesse singing it.  In the scene, his character performs at a piano in a restaurant. Jesse doesn't play piano, so I sang a version in London with me playing and sent it to LA in bits so they could replace my vocal with his. The issue in the studio there was that naturally, he was finding it difficult to sing with any vibe to my pre-recorded piano part. To prevent it sounding wooden, he wanted to sing it whilst he played guitar.  This done, they sent his vocal and guitar parts back to me, I removed the guitar and played a new piano part to his vocal - with a solo. Still with me? Then I sent the final recording back to LA and he mimed to it whilst they shot the scene. As he doesn't play, they shot someone else's hands during the piano solo..  

Ah, the magic, the smoke and the mirrors of movies.**

Click for more of our music in films

And check out this if you want to hear what the song sounded like with Jesse on guitar before I took over on the ivories..



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*For trivia fans, another of the the Meeting Spencer cast, Mark Harelik, plays Walt's doctor in Season Three of Breaking Bad. Arrested Development's Jeffrey Tambor and Batman Begin's Melinda McGraw also starred. 

**In Meeting Spencer, Jesse's character is an aspiring ingenue who has played supporting roles but by the end is bound for stardom.  Sounds like it all worked out in real life too. After his success as a psycho in Breaking Bad, he is rumoured to be taking the lead role in the next Star Wars movie..


THE LONDON SANDMAN


Re. Dave McKean at Salon for the City June 26th
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Were you a fan of Neil Gaiman's 'The Sandman' series as I was as a youngster? Somehow it made the undeniable fairytale appeal of fantasy works relevant in a way that The Lord of the Rings, however wonderful, just couldn't to urban youth.

Or was it just the long The Matrix-style coats and cool haircuts?

The Sandman is a "story about stories and how Morpheus, the Lord of Dreams, is captured and subsequently learns that sometimes change is inevitable".  It was right up my street. Plus, crucially, girls liked it too.  The dust covers from the many The Sandman editions were made by Gaiman's friend and long-term collaborator, the British illustrator Dave McKean (and were so good they were eventually released in their own volume). I loved them.  

Dave is a horribly talented illustrator, photographer, comic book artist, graphic designer, filmmaker and musician. His work incorporates drawing, collage, painting, found objects, photography, digital art and sculpture.  His collaborations with Gaiman on The Sandman and Coraline plus countless CD and book covers have inspired many other artists and writers.  He is also a very nice guy.

And, he is coming to speak at our Salon for the City next week to talk / sing / play  about London in his work.  Hurrah!

I recently saw him performing live with Neil Gaiman at the British Library at the opening of the 'British Comics Unmasked' show curated by our out other guest at the Salon the fantastical Paul Gravett.  It was super.  Neil has obviously done a deal with some demon - he is annoyingly good looking, seemingly eternally youthful, also horribly  talented, massively successful - and very nice too to boot..

Here he is reading the poem 'The Saucers have Landed' live in my bootleg recording.




Dave McKean at Salon for the City June 26th

LONDON GOLD - 32 STORIES


A couple of weeks back, with Suzette of A Curious Invitation, we held our 32 Londoners on The London Eye event.  Without any false modesty, I can shamelessly say it was absolutely amazing.  OK, it rained and it was a bit shambolic at the beginning but once everyone was with their correct host and were on their way to the Eye, I believe we all had immense fun.  I was in the green room with the speakers (some of my favourite Londoners themselves) for much of the evening and that was a particular pleasure.
  
Whether you were there or not, you may be very pleased to hear that we recorded each speaker's talk and are releasing the recordings as podcasts today Tuesday 27th May at 12.00pm GMT.  It starts with Anne Duggan telling the story of Thomas Becket and running chronologically through our 32 Londoners to finish with Philippa Thomas on Zadie Smith.

I have been listening to them and they are gold. Pure gold.  London Gold.  So if you want to hear the likes of Dan Cruikshank, Claire Tomalin, Andrew Motion, Julien Temple and Ken Livingston talking about the likes of Samuel Pepys, David Bowie, Bobby Moore, Keats and Chaucer, check 'em out at 32londoners.com

IT'S A FINE LIFE


It is fifteen years ago today since the great London songwriter Lionel Bart died.  I love his songs.  I love the melodies, the slightly eastern european harmonies and the funny, poignant and very English words.  For me he is up there with the Sherman brothers - particularly with the songs for the musical Oliver! - It's a Fine Life, Consider Yourself One of Us, Food glorious Food, You Gotta Pick a Pocket or Two et al. 

You can hear Bart's biographer David Stafford talk on Lionel at our 32Londoners event on May 1st.

One of the many, many things to love about Carol Reed's 1968 film of Oliver! is the way it depicts 19th Century London  and 19th Century Clerkenwell. In particular I would say that the way it shows the Fleet valley is super realistic.  If you know anything about the Fleet, you know that is the biggest of London's 'Lost Rivers' but is now a sewer under Farringdon Road.  I have explored it  - both in dreams and in waking life (you can read more about that here if you like). It has been written about a lot in recent years - there are now guided walks of the Fleet valley and even a movement to have it uncovered and integrated back into the city.  .

Fagin's den - in both Dickens' book and in the film - is set teetering in a crumbling rookery on the edge of the Fleet - which by the era of the story was a stagnant ditch of sluggish green water - the very water into which that Fagin drops his hoard of jewels at the end.

For me Lionel Bart IS Fagin - not the Fagin of the book or of the earlier David Lean film but Ron Moody's Fagin, bursting with life and mischief, a rogue who is almost good in spite of himself, funny, self aware and, in the end, quite tragic.

Lionel's life was tragic too.  Like that of child star Jack Wild who plays The Artful Dodger in the same film, it had the archetypal rise and fall trajectory of myth. He was an East End boy born in poverty and obscurity who became fabulously wealthy and famous and then blew it and lost it all.  There was some redemption at the end thankfully and it is rare to see a photograph of him where he isn't smiling.  Like Fagin in Carol Reed's film (if not in the book), after a fabulous full life of terrible joys and sorrow, it's nice to imagine he picked himself and headed off into the sunset whilst "Reviewing the Situation'.

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David Stafford talks on Lionel at 32Londoners on May 1st.



"I'm reviewing the situation.
I don't want nobody hurt for me,
I think I'd better think it out again! 
Hey!

I'm a bad 'un and a bad 'un I shall stay!
You'll be seeing no transformation,
But it's wrong to be a rogue in ev'ry way. 

Or made to do the dirt for me.
This rotten life is not for me.
It's getting far too hot for me

There is no in between for me
But who will change the scene for me? 
Don't want no one to rob for me.
But who will find a job for me?
Hey!"


AN EYEFUL OF LONDON


As well as looking for teleportation chambers when we were in Paris last month, we walked the city up and down.  That is the best way to uncover its myths** I believe. We also benefitted from having a room right at the top of a tiny hotel in Montmarte.  It was most unusual in that it was the first hotel I have stayed in for ages that actually had a window in the bathroom. In fact, it had "a loo with a view" - from which you could contemplate the Eiffel tower.

I like the tower - as do most Parisians - though they wouldn't think of going up it.  Like The London Eye, it is associated almost entirely with visitors. But like The Eye, it gives a wonderful perspective on the city and is a fun, childlike thing to visit.  Our Salon for the City is all about perspectives on the city, so it was a pleasure when myself with Antique Beat and Suzette Field (of A Curious Invitation) were asked to suggest ideas which could reconnect The Eye with the city it observes.  We did, and here, after months of secret planning is the result: 


"On the evening of May 1st the EDF Energy London Eye will be set to a special slow rotation speed and each of its 32 capsules will be given over to a talk by a well-known authority on a famous Londoner. The subjects will range from Thomas Becket to Joseph Bazalgette, from WS Gilbert to Ray Davies and from Queen Victoria to Zadie Smith. The speakers themselves will be a roll call of those who have contributed to the capital’s cultural legacy: from former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone, to ex-Poet Laureate Andrew Motion, film director Julien Temple, broadcaster Robert Elms and biographers Claire Tomalin and Kate Williams.

And to commemorate the occasion our friends Hendrick’s Gin have devised 32 bespoke cocktails, one in honour of each London borough. Each guest will be served a complimentary cocktail in capsule during the talk.

After disembarkation there will be an opportunity to share a drink with your fellow passengers and speakers and to discuss the talks, the city and Londoners in general"

I am so pleased that we have pulled it off.   We rather hope that this will become an annual London May Day institution.

Be quick if you want to be part of it. It will sell out.

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* To Uncover the Myths of London's Square Mile,  join us this Thursday 27th March at Westminster Arts

OUT OF THE BLUE AND DANS LE NOIR

I was in Paris last week.  One of the reasons we went was to try to locate the alleged 'teleportation chamber' in the cemetery of Montmartre.  I wrote about the London funerary teleportation grid made by Joseph Bonomi and the Clerkenwell inventor Samuel Warner here.  
I remain undecided on whether Warner was a complete fraud, a visionary or just deluded.  Amongst several other inventions, he claimed to have developed a missile capable of destroying ships from a distance: 'a teleportation bomb'.  In a period of war and abiding mistrustful relations with France, The Royal Navy were so keen for an advantage that they paid him to develop this extraordinary weapon but proved unable to reproduce his results independently. 

Bonomi was a believer for sure and it was allegedly with his occult knowledge that Warner had developed this  'psychic torpedo'. 

When convincing the military of the efficacy of the mind bomb proved unlikely, they turned their joint efforts and techniques to a semi-commercial venture - the London teleportation system .This was constructed across the seven major London cemeteries and sponsored by Lord Kilmorey, but secretly Warner continued with his military schemes.

In amongst the extravagant claims and self justification of his various books on the subject of National defence, there appear to be references to another teleportation chamber hidden in a Parisian graveyard.  This may have been intended for the purposes of reconnaissance or spying - hence the employment of owl symbolism-  but it seems to have been designed without Bonomi's assistance for it does not bear the typically Egyptian stylings he favoured in London.  

This cannot have been so that it would not stand out in Montmartre - it lacks any religious decoration and being the only structure in the graveyard engineered from blue ship metal is not that difficult to spot when you know what you are looking for.  The naval connection is evident in the side panels which have cast images of ships with engines on them - perhaps the fantastical machines used to launch Warner's occult weapons?
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Whist in Montmarte, we stumbled over another most peculiar monument - that of the amazing 3D Doctor Guy Pitchal.  Whilst mysterious and odd, this relies on a more obvious psychic technique to prove there is life of a sort after death.  Press play to see why..

video

I LOVE MY UMBRELLA


"It feels as if this rain will never stop" you say, gazing out at a very damp London and feeling rather like one of the kids at the beginning of The Cat in a Hat.  But I don't mind.  It is public knowledge that I love the Rain and, if we needed any more proof,  Antique Beat are releasing the original version of The Real Tuesday Weld's "I Love the Rain" - on an umbrella.  Yes, you read that right, they are putting out an Ep of the song with brand new music and remixes ON AN UMBRELLA - and it's totally fabulous. Our US friends may know the song from that very nice Chevrolet 'Rainy Day' ad and one of the remixes is by our very swinging friends Bart and Baker - the Parisian Kings of Electro-Swing**. It is toe-tappingly cute. 

So forget about Wet, Wet, Wet (I'm sure you'll be happy to), if you want to be singing - and swinging - in the rain, this is the way to do it. It was partly inspired by Fred Astaire, partly by Paul Newman and Katharine Ross in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  It is 'a love letter to the clouds' and a super stylish shelter from the coming storm.. whatever the weather with you.

And, if you should live somewhere very hot and dry like my Californian friends, what better way to signal your disapproval of those constant blue skies or hide from the oppressive monotony of The Eternal Sunshine? Then again, you could always get the matching T-shirt...

The umbrella is a beautifully made limited edition and can be bought here - just in time for Valentines if you are super quick.

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**Speaking of Electro-Swing, I sometime get asked if I invented it.  It is true that I had been mixing 1930/s jazz with electronic beats right back in the nineties and I suppose "I Love the Rain" may have been the first of the genre. I would be a fibber to say I don't find it nice when people remember that, but the answer to the enquiry is: 'No, I didn't invent Electro Swing' - because we called it 'Antique Beat' - and that means something more - it is where memory and melody meet.

I was, and remain, as much influenced by the sound and by the song as by the swing and have never liked being part of a scene. That is why we created our own.  And that is why when dear Chris Tofu introduces me as 'The Godfather of Electro-Swing"  I always protest: "No, Chris, no, no, I keep telling you - I'm the Fairy Godmother of Electro-Swing.."


DARK DREAMS OF LIMEHOUSE

This week we have our last  Salon for the City of the year at Westminster Library. We will be hearing all about Limehouse - the literary Limehouse and the literal Limehouse. Opium dens, criminal masterminds, the Yellow Peril and Edwardian Bogeymen.  It is a strange area and almost lost now as Thom Bolton, one of the speakers will relate. It was also one of the last known sites of another object on the London Arcana Hunters list. I have written about various of these before. There are currently ten - The Vestris Hams and Joanna Southcott's box  being another two.

The object in question is the skull of the serial killer John Williams.

It was unearthed during excavations in 1862 by a gas company at the point where Cannon Street Road and Cable Street cross near Hawksmoor's St George's in the East.  The landlord of The Crown and Dolphin a local public house, fished it out as a souvenir and kept it displayed behind the bar. The pub has since become derelict and the whereabouts of the skull are unknown but it is thought that it was stolen or bought from the landlord a couple of years before by an occultist as John Williams was thought to be a vampire.

He had been buried at the crossroads as it was commonly held that such a location would confuse an evil ghost arising from the grave. In addition, and to ensure he could not rejoin the Limehouse living, a stake was driven though his heart.   His crime was the alleged infamous brutal spree killing of two local families - seven vicious and apparently motiveless crimes involving decapitation, mauling and dismemberment. I say 'alleged' because it is not completely certain that Williams perpetrated the crimes.  But is likely that even if he did not, the authorities wanted him out of the way as he was thought to be part of a wider vampiric cabal which included various members of the aristocracy

Some believe that the removal of the skull allowed William's spirit to escape, move north to Whitechapel to become the force behind the later more famous Jack the Ripper murders. Who knows? But Limehouse itself continued to have a reputation for wrong doings, depravity and evil deeds - flowering in the exotic persona of the oriental villain  Doctor Fu Manchu who had his headquarters in  Lmehsoue opium den. Now of course it is the home and workplace of various city bankers..



Go figure.
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On a lighter note, here are Fred Astaire and Lucille Bremner
dancing to a dream of Limehouse Blues

 

BREAD-CRUMBS IN BARNET

There has been a lot in the papers recently about how much food we waste.  Vast quantities are dumped daily by supermarkets, food chains and restaurants and apparently the average family (whatever that is) regularly discards up to six meals a week, throwing away around £700 a year.  

You can make an album for £700.

I am a culprit myself although if absorbed in work, I don't leave the house for days and end up eating absolutely everything - including those weird pickled cherries that aunts give you at Christmas.

But it wasn't always this way.  During the war years it was illegal to waste food.  I was reading the other day about a woman in Barnet who was arrested and  prosecuted for putting out bread crumbs for the birds in her gardenCrumbs.  

The men from the ministry could come and inspect your bins - and your kitchen cupboards, checking for black market contraband.  Mind you, given what you were allowed to eat under rationing, probably not much was voluntarily wasted anyway and it is perhaps understandable that people would do whatever they could to get a bit extra.  For an adult: 4 ounces of bacon, 2 ounces of butter, 2 ounces of tea, 2 ounces of cheese etc. per week. Per week! (I probably absent-mindedly just ate 2 ounces of cheese whilst reading the paper).  There was no ice-cream.

It must have been an extraordinarily tough time - but quite nice in some ways: there were pigs and sheep grazing in Hyde Park and Green Park, allotments everywhere.  You were allowed, even encouraged, to keep chickens.  Even the king and queen had ration books ("Any pate de foie gras this week?" "No Ma'am, sorry").   The Upper Norwood Rabbit Club" held talks on which breed were most suitable for 'the production of flesh and fur'..

But loo paper was in very short supply.

Right, what's for lunch?

LONDON DAY OF THE DEAD

October 12th at 33 Fitzroy Square.
How to die In London

Antique Beat have programmed an incredible day of Death and the City related things for the Hendricks Carnival of Knowledge in a gorgeous Grade I listed Robert Adam house in central London.

At one of our Salons for the City at Westminster Library earlier this year, I asked the question of the audience:  "How many people think they will die in London?".  Surprisingly few responded in the affirmative.  I wasn't sure sure whether that was because most people plan to leave at some point - or whether they don't think they are going to die anywhere..

The latter possibility is leant weight by the fact that two thirds of people here haven't made a will.  We became intrigued by this a few years back and included a lovely free Last will and testament form in the special edition of The Real Tuesday Weld album "At the End of the World'.  Despite that, most of my friends still haven't made one - although in the light of the most superficial questioning they seem to have quite strong preferences for what should and shouldn't happen to them and their stuff when they are gone!  I see planning your end as an enjoyable, creative exercise - like designing a party.  It is salutary, sure,  but in a positive way.  You feel rather refreshed and ready for action when its done - and also much more likely to stop dicking around and get on with what you really should be doing.

Anyway,  when Hendricks asked us to put together a day for their Carnival as part of London Cocktail week, it seemed a perfect opportunity to explore London Beyond London in some detail.


So there will be a series of talks - arranged as our salons are with two related speakers followed by conversation.  And it is an incredible line up - Historian of Death Robert Stephenson, Curator of Osteology Jelena Bekvalac, London Way of Death's Brian Parsons, Londonist's Matt Brown, Future Death expert Dr John Troyer, Fashion guru Amber Jane Butchart, the BFI's Will Fowler and Dead Social's James Norris.

They will cover everything from the mediaeval way of death to the future of cemeteries. We have death mask making workshops, we have Dresses to Die for.  You can spend time in a coffin, you can meet an Undertaker, make a will (provided), find out what will happen to your Facebook account when you are gone, learn how to carry on updating it from beyond the grave - and of course drink cocktails.

My only regret is that I will be MC-ing rather than just hanging out.

Several things are free and drop in, others require booking.
Full details and reservations here

See you on the other side then..