There is nothing quite like a walk along the South Bank on a lazy afternoon. After watching the buskers and street artists at work, take a few moments to browse through the books at the outdoor book market. Round it off with a free concert at the National Theatre, and you have another reason to love London.
We’ve spent a few afternoons, usually with visitors to London, wandering along the South Bank, a walkway next to the Thames. We have watched jugglers and street dancers, street artists and musicians, statue artists (or whatever they are called) and a London bobby in a tutu. It is so vibrant along there. There is true talent on show and some talent just along for the ride, and it is all wonderful entertainment.
Recently we stood and watched a busker blowing giant soap bubbles into the air. They were massive bubbles, boasting rainbow reflections as they floated into the air before being stabbed to death by pimply adolescents. We noticed a family standing across the way from us and soon became transfixed by their little, curly-haired, blue-eyed toddler in a buggy. He was so excited by the bubbles; his legs went rigid, then he screamed and laughed and kicked his legs in a frenzy. It was so sweet to witness pure, unadulterated joy and excitement. A precious moment.
You cannot walk along the South Bank without stopping to check out the book market. It nestles under Waterloo Bridge and I understand is the only established second-hand/antique/vintage book market in southern England. It stays open till 7pm daily and is well worth a good browse; I saw some old Billy Bunter books there, something I haven’t seen since my childhood. Many of the traders are book specialists who can help you if you are looking for something in particular.
The South Bank is lined with restaurants and culturally populated with theatres and galleries: the Royal Festival Hall, the Queen Elizabeth Hall, the Hayward Gallery, the National Theatre, BFI Southbank, Shakespeare’s Globe and Tate Modern. The London Eye is also there; a relatively recent addition to London’s skyline.
The National Theatre quite regularly hosts free concerts in the foyer, and we have been privileged to see some up-and-coming and established artists performing there. One Sunday, after a long walk over a number of the London bridges (material for another day), we stopped at the National Theatre and were lucky enough to see a young singer/songwriter, Callaghan, performing in the foyer. Her musical idol is Shawn Mullins, so you can imagine that her style is acoustic country, folk music.
Callaghan plays guitar and piano, and shifted between the two as she shared her wares of beautiful, lyrical songs of joy, triumph, love and longing. She chats between songs and is refreshingly open and honest, self-effacing even. We went to a second, free concert of hers there just before Christmas last year, and walked along the frozen South Bank, decorated with a brightly-lit German market, to get there. Beautiful, magical, colourful Christmas on the South Bank.
We went to a third concert of Callaghan’s in July. It was a farewell concert of sorts, as she and her husband were about to leave for the USA, for her to fulfil her dream of making an album with Shawn Mullins. As we speak, she is touring with him in the US; check out the tour, you might want to go if you’re nearby.
Her farewell concert was at the 100 Club in Oxford Street, central London. Described as the oldest live music venue in London, the club opened in 1942 as a jazz club. During World War II it saw the likes of Glen Miller perform there and, because it is situated in a basement, it was promoted as a bomb shelter of sorts. You could listen to great jazz music while the bombs rained down all around London. “Forget the Doodle bug – come and Jitterbug” was its payoff line in those days.
Callaghan performed her set of beautiful songs, shared her story of coming to London and trying to make it in the music business while working as an admin assistant in an accounting firm. Moving to the USA was to be her plunge, full-time, into the business, and she was thrilled and excited. And she was beside herself to have Shawn Mullins agree to produce her album.
She was accompanied in a couple of songs by the most outrageously talented jazz pianist, Joe Thompson. A pianist, artist and arranger, he is the musical director at London’s The Ivy Club. I am out of words to describe his talent. I was mesmerised.
I feel so privileged to witness the birth, the breath and the expression of talent in this city. Artists clamour to perform here, to ‘make it’ here and to launch their careers here. Some never want to leave. I cherish the opportunity I have to watch and listen, to whistle and scream, and always to walk alongside the river.
Sunshine signing off for today.