Sunday, January 11, 2004

Well our trip to London was certainly rich in contrasts. From the cheap and cheerful indie splendour of the Ladybug Transistor gig in shabby old Kings Cross, to the opulent glamour of tea at The Ritz, I think we covered most of the bases.

After arriving in London around lunchtime, we decided to head off to The Design Museum for our first visit for several years, in order to catch the Alison & Peter Smithson exhibition. It was a bit disappointing to find that for one week only the museum was closed for maintenance work! We caught the bus up to Liverpool Street station and then had a wander around the Spitalfields Market – Brick Lane area for a while.

After checking into our hotel (where we discovered that breakfast was included in our bargain price), we set off for the gig. The evening got off to a slightly farcical start when we found ourselves part of a small group of fans (including one of the Ladybug Transistor and the obligatory Japanese indie fans, everyone being very nice and chatty) outside the venue, watching as the staff tried to bludgeon open a very resistant front door. Eventually, the door was prised open and in we went. The night was the middle evening of a 3-day mini festival set up by the people at Track And Field, so we had four bands from the labels roster to entertain us.

First up were Homescience, who were pleasant enough, but seemed to lack any defining quality, which would make them stand out from the crowd. Next were The Finishing School, who I really enjoyed. They are yet another offshoot from The Ladybug Transistor (in fact the whole band minus Gary Olson), Sasha Bell is very much in control of this project, judging buy some other reviews I have read, people appear to have doubts about her voice, but I though it was lovely, imagine Natalie Merchant fronting a more 60’s sounding keyboard lead 10.000 Maniacs and you won’t be far wrong.

By way of contrast, the next band to take to the rather chilly stage area were The Broken Family Band, They are that strangest of all things an English country band. Wonderfully cynical, with more than a touch of early Loudon Wainwright about them, they were very entertaining and certainly went down well with the enthusiastic crowd.

Finally the wonderful Ladybug Transistor arrived on stage, giving us our first chance to see them since discovering them at The Bowlie back in 1999. They played a great selection of their best songs, including plenty from their recent and best self-titled album. Gary Olson has the best crooning voice in the world and we just love the minimal simplicity of Jeff Barron’s guitar playing (also love his strange knee’s and feet together, bottom thrust out stance as he drifts through those beautiful solo’s!). We took the short walk back to our hotel with a jaunty skip in our step.

On Friday morning we caught the tube to Camden and had one of those fortunate instances, where we found a great building by chance. On a whim, on leaving the tube station we went looking for the Jewish museum. Our track was unsuccessful, but we did come across Greater London House, formerly the Carreras cigarette factory. It’s recently been restored to its Tutankhamun inspired Art Deco beauty. A pair of huge cats guards the entranceway, whilst rather bizarrely the building is topped with an enormous row of smiling cats heads, which go the full length of this extraordinary building. Camden itself was rather disappointing, in the old days, you really felt that you could find anything there, now with a few exceptions it appears to either clothing or food, some of which is great, but the variety which made it fascinating is somewhat lacking.

We then made our way back into the west end in order to meet up with Crescentia for our afternoon tea at the Ritz. It was splendid, and even committed cake lovers such as ourselves had to admit defeat in the end and wave some away.


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