All text copyright Stephen Coates 2006 - 2015


It seems all of London's bridges are stained with blood.

If you had been catching a bus southward on Waterloo Bridge on 7th September 1978 you may have witnessed the murder of Georgi Markov.  He was on his way home after a day's work at Bush House in Aldwych - the home of the BBC's World service where he worked in the Bulgarian department.  LIke Roberto Calvi under Blackfriars Bridge (see 'A Hanging and a Haircut' below) he was assassinated - but this was classic cold war stuff.   Georgi was an outspoken critic of Bulgarian Communist Party Chairman Todor Zhivkov and ridiculed him mercilessly in his broadcasts via Radio Free Europe.  His death is thought to have been a birthday present to the Chairman from certain Soviet friends.

In some ways way it was also a very English Death.  The murder weapon was either an umbrella or a fountain pen and was delivered by a gentleman in a bowler hat (nationality uncertain). Markov felt a sharp pain in his leg and looked around to see the gentleman backing off apologising as though he had stumbled.  A few days later he was dead - fatally poisoned like Alexander Litvinenko a couple of years back - but in this case by the Ricin in the pellet shown above which his bowler-hatted assassin had injected into his thigh. 

I was thinking of all this as we were driving from Brussels after a show with The Real Tuesday Weld last weekend and passed a sign for Waterloo.  Waterloo bridge like the station is of course named after the famous battle when the Duke of Wellington defeated the French and about fifty thousand people died. Can you imagine their ghosts lining the bridge? I always thought using the name was rather tactless towards the French who arrived in London via the station.  (As too apparently did a French politician who asked that it be re-named.  That would have been unacceptable of course but is one of the reasons they moved the Eurostar arrival location to St Pancras Station).  

The modern bridge is rather elegant and without doubt has the best view of any of the Thames crossings in both directions.   In some ways it is also the most female.  It was built mainly by women in the second world war and for a long time previously was known as 'The Bridge of Sighs' because of all the female suicides that happened there (for a beautiful example, check out Vivien Leigh in the film "Waterloo Bridge").  The name works rather well for the romantic trysts for which is suited too - I notice that the British Film Institute which shelters beneath it has become the assignation place of choice for certain internet daters.  I often get approached when there alone with a hesitant "Are you William?", or a gentle cough and an enquiry like: "Is that Frank…?".  
Of course if you've seen Terence Stamp and Julie Christie crossing the bridge in "Waterloo Sunset" that makes perfect sense.

Speaking of which, apart from the perennially lovely Kinks track of the same name, the area and bridge are associated with a few very good songs. Some of my favourites are Abba's pneumatic Euro-salute 'Waterloo' and the very nice 'Waterloo Station' recently penned by Rufus Wainwright for Jane Birkin.   But the most moving by far has to be Gavin Bryars orchestrated loop of a tramp singing "Jesus Blood Never failed me Yet".

The area now occupied by the IMax cinema was for years a bleak submerged roundabout where many homeless people sheltered.  Gavin made the recording in the 1970s whilst involved in filming a documentary about them.  The tramp concerned, a war veteran, is long dead now but he has gained a kind of immortality through this beautiful piece - singing a song which keeps me just this side of Atheism and which is timeless enough to serve as a lament for all Waterloo's dead - whether they be in London or in Belgium, now or long ago.


I will be in Paris on Valentine's Eve  - playing with the The Real Tuesday Weld at Le Comedy Club . I am looking forward to it especially as we have already released a live album 'recorded in London on Valentine's Eve 2012,  the last night before the apocalypse'  This album was beamed back to us in a dream.  Assuming the dream was metaphorical, as many are, that the Mayans or whoever it was got it wrong and that we are still all here on the 14th, I intend to spend Valentine's day in the City of Love at Pere Lachaise  - which is of course in fact a rather wonderful City of the Dead.  

I've always associated love, death and dreams together.   I guess true love is a kind of dying (une petit morte as it were) to one's ego and hence something to be both feared and desired in equal measure.  To paraphrase Mark Twain: I have always loved life so I hope I shall love death.  That is one of the reasons we made Catherine Anyango's artwork for the aforesaid album as a real life blank Last Will and Testament form.  You can complete this for the benefit of your loved ones if you haven't done one already (most of us, unable to contemplate the idea of our demise, have not). 

Personally I find spending time thinking about my own inevitable end a useful prompt to love my friends and foes rather better.

I hope to meet you at our Paris show or perhaps at one of our shows in Gent, Brussel or Alsace that proceed it  but if I don't, above is a song on the theme at hand - it is a demo and rather ragged so forgive me for that. And, so as not to get too sentimental, here is Woody Allen on the matter:

“I'm not afraid of death; I just don't want to be there when it happens.” 

See you on the other side then?