Damp squids and veekend viewing

We ventured into the heart of London on Saturday to witness the Lord Mayor’s Fireworks display. Public transport woes and an unsatisfactory ten-minute display left us feeling a little disappointed. A damp squid indeed.

(Before any of you boffins jump to tell me that saying is incorrect – I know. It’s intentional. Keep reading.)

Rugged up good and proper (as my Aussie friends say), we headed off with some friends into central London, to watch the fireworks display. I asked one of our friends what the Lord Mayor’s Show was all about (it took place all day on Saturday) and he said it was to mark the inauguration of the new Lord Mayor of London.  The show has been taking place at the same time each year for 785 years! Read more about it here – such a heritage astonishes me!

First up, our local tube was not operating at all over the weekend. Ideally, we could have jumped in a tube, travelled for about ten minutes and then walked up the road from the tube station to have a good view of the fireworks. Instead, we caught a bus and, as we approached London Bridge, discovered that the bus wasn’t going any further. Because of the Lord Mayor’s Show. This meant a repeat of our walk of last weekend, but in reverse. Not actually walking backwards (although that would have been fun!), but walking from London Bridge to Blackfriars Bridge.

It took us about 45 minutes, with the added challenge of three gorgeous, energetic, small boys running this way and that, fascinated by everything that caught their eye, not least of which were the mounds of autumn leaves which got kicked and thrown and tucked into other people’s jackets!

We got to Blackfriars Bridge, along with the rest of the world and his wife, and found a good spot in the middle of the bridge. The fireworks were due to start at 5pm (at which time it’s been dark for about half an hour). The fireworks are set off from a boat on the Thames, somewhere between Waterloo Bridge and Blackfriar’s Bridge, so you can view from either.

The display began at 4.55pm (just as well we had got there a little early) and were over by about 5.05pm. What we saw was spectacular, but it certainly left us expecting more. Apparently the show is usually much longer and more spectacular, but I guess no-one has escaped the austerity of the budget cuts that the bosom buddies have introduced since taking office.

As teenagers, my siblings and I used to talk about things being “too much effort and not much fun”, and I think that described our venture to Blackfriars Bridge on Saturday. As a teenager I met someone who described a disappointing event as “a damp squid” … I rest my case.

And on to the veekend viewing. I have mentioned before that we are enjoying the current series of X Factor, the reality TV show for aspiring singers. Saturday’s show began with the final nine, which includes fabulous young soloists, a gorgeous and infectiously enthusiastic boy band, a delightful 50-year old Irish woman who describes herself as a belter and who left her day job as a cashier at Tesco to enter the show. And then there’s Wagner.

Hmm, how to describe Wagner? He’s Brazilian. He’s 54. He has long hair, which he usually wears in a half-moon. He can’t sing. And he can’t dance. Apparently he’s in the show for the sheer entertainment of having a former lion tamer in the line-up. (He was actually a PE teacher, but they keep showing a photo of him in his bare-chested youth, holding the tail of a lion.)

His mentor, Louis Walsh, can’t pronounce his name. No matter how much he’s reminded that Wagner is pronounced Vagner, Louise continues to correct everyone by air writing “W” and saying, “No, it’s spelt with a W. So it’s Wagner.”

However, things seem to have backfired for the show. Last year, a bunch of people started a Facebook group to try and stop the X Factor’s winning single from becoming the Christmas number one (which it usually does). They pushed for support to buy Rage Against the Machine’s Killing in the Name and they succeeded; it outsold the X Factor single. X Factor Haters 1. Simon Cowell 0.

This year, the same group – I understand – have mobilised to vote to keep Wagner in the show. And so he survives week after week. His rendition – or shall I say rending – of Elton John’s I’m Still Standing rang false but true, if you know what I mean, on Saturday night. He dances like he’s running downhill in heels. And he sings like he just stepped down a steep staircase and can’t stop himself. Like he’s trying to keep up with the music. The music always wins. He smiles. And his numbers (and outfits) are always over-stuffed into productions reminiscent of Gary Glitter at his tottery-heeled peak.

Each week when Dermot announces that Wagner is safe (he hasn’t yet been in the bottom two), the X Factor-watching public sighs. No doubt the X Factor haters punch the air. And Louis grimaces – like he doesn’t know what to do next. And week after week talented youngsters slink off the stage, into a future that I hope will bring them more meaning and success than the X Factor drama. And Wagner prevails.

And ve continue to vatch. Vy, I ask you, vy?

Sunshine signing off for today!

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No complaints and no regrets

“I’ve got sunshine, on a cloudy day,” is playing on the radio as I write. It’s grey and miserable and wet and cold in London today. The song is perfect encouragement for me.

So back to our weekend. After our delightful breakfast in Bethnal Green on Saturday morning, we went to Greenwich to show our friend the market and the wonderful second-hand record shops. The first record shop we went into had this poster on its window – there’s a bit too much reflection in the photo, but it’s clear enough to show you the message. Sorry to all the Celine Dion fans out there … nothing personal! Promise.

So this was a great record shop!

“You got the new Celine Dion, man?” “Gulp! Err, No. But we have got some decent music, though.”

My husband and his friend were lost in old records and memories, and moved on from that shop to another that has two levels of second-hand sounds. Wall to wall records and CDs … heaven, indeed!

After a good old bogle, we moved across the road to Greenwich market. The market in Greenwich dates back to 1700, when the Royal Charter Market was assigned to Greenwich Hospital for a thousand years. It has moved site since then and over the years has grown and evolved into the arts, crafts and food market that it is today. You can buy anything from a divinely iced cup cake to a leather handbag, jewellery, clothing, second-hand books, Italian nougat and a hat. Flanked by vintage clothing stores, pubs, coffee shops and toy shops, there is also a fabulous food section in the market where you can buy any kind of food from curries and Turkish wraps (our absolute favourite!) to cakes and sweets.

One of my favourite places in London.

One of our favourite things to do is to go there after church on a Sunday, pick up a Turkish wrap and then go and walk through Greenwich Park, venturing up to the Royal Observatory if we have the legs, or just relaxing on a bench or on the grass. It’s always lovely there, and if you do walk up the hill, you can see just how curvy the Thames is. I look forward to going there when it’s snowing and watch the tobogganers speeding down the hills. Earlier this year, a few English bobbies were reprimanded for tobogganing on their shields (somewhere in Oxford, I think). I loved that story – they just couldn’t resist the thick snow and they had perfect makeshift toboggans!

On Saturday night we took our friend to the Vortex Jazz Club in Dalston, north London, to see Britain’s finest jazz singer, Ian Shaw. Despite getting slightly lost en route there (our trademark), we got there good and early and sat and had a drink in the pub downstairs until the doors opened.

We went upstairs as soon as we could, and waited for the great muso to arrive and start his show. He was just fabulous. He sang a few of his Joni Mitchell numbers – mashing Edith and the Kingpin together with Big Yellow Taxi, Talk to Me and a wonderful mix of River and A Case of You. In between he delighted with Stuck in the Middle With You, Bowie’s Ch-ch-ch-changes and a beautifully poignant Alone Again, Naturally that brought me to tears.

Ian Shaw, jazz singer extraordinaire.

When we were waiting downstairs before we went in, we saw a huge posse of youngsters arrive, all dressed in matching tracksuit tops, and heading towards the Club. The Club is pretty small and we couldn’t imagine that they could possibly be going to see Ian Shaw. Where would they sit, and why would youngsters – apparently on a school trip – want to go to an evening of jazz? Turns out they were a big band from a school in Finland and were obviously mad-keen musicians. I felt quite ashamed of my assumptions, and listened in awe as a handful of them scatted along confidently at Ian Shaw’s nod, and one took out his saxophone and, with perfect attitude and flair, accompanied Ian Shaw’s intuitive piano playing. I was humbled and oh so impressed.

Ian Shaw took a few requests, and generously sang Baghdad Cafe, mixing up a hilarious snippet of Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights in the middle. An absolutely fabulous version of Al Wilson’s The Snake led him to the perfect closing number in Shirley Horn’s Here’s to Life. A beautiful conclusion to an exceptional day.

No complaints and no regrets.
I still believe in chasing dreams and placing bets.
But I have learned that all you give is all you get, so give it all you got.
I had my share, I drank my fill, and even though I’m satisfied I’m hungry still
To see what’s down another road, beyond a hill and do it all again.
So here’s to life and all the joy it brings.
Here’s to life the dreamers and their dreams.
Funny how the time just flies.
How love can turn from warm hellos to sad goodbyes
And leave you with the memories you’ve memorized
To keep your winters warm.
There’s no yes in yesterday.
And who knows what tomorrow brings or takes away.
As long as I’m still in the game I want to play
For laughs, for life, for love.
So here’s to life and all the joy it brings.
Here’s to life, the dreamers and their dreams.
May all your storms be weathered,
And all that’s good get better.
Here’s to life, here’s to love, here’s to you.
May all your storms be weathered,
And all that’s good get better.
Here’s to life, here’s to love, here’s to you.

Sunshine signing off for today!

Come and walk along the South Bank with me

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.

A bobby in a tutu. I think he's off duty.
A street dancer in action

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.

The soap bubble blower

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.

A book market with a river view

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 London Eye on the South Bank

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.

Van is The Man. The End.

I knew it was going to be a great Sunday. I woke to see three swans gliding on the glass water of our dock, in the weak autumn sun of a chilly blue sky. It was a majestic start to a day that ended with a Van Morrison concert at the Royal Albert Hall.

If you have read any of my blog posts, you will know I am crazy about Van Morrison’s music. Like silly crazy. So when my husband got this new job, we celebrated by buying tickets for this one-night-only Classic Van concert at the Royal Albert Hall. He knew it was a big treat for me, as I had eyed this show since it was first announced back in June. I think we got the last two tickets in the house. We didn’t even sit together. And our seats were in the “choir” section, above and behind the stage. We had a fabulous view of the band, and – knowing Van and his propensity to turn to face his band – I was pretty confident we’d see more of his face that way. And we did.

We had to brave the cold London evening and cross the city on unreliable weekend public transport, but we arrived a good hour early. The Royal Albert Hall is a beautiful, regal venue in South Kensington, built as part of Prince Albert’s vision for the promotion of the arts and science. It was completed after Prince Albert’s death from typhoid, and opened in 1871. Directly opposite it, in Hyde Park, is the famous golden memorial to the Prince Consort, described as one of the grandest, high-Victorian gothic extravaganzas anywhere. At night it stands in grand, spot-lit splendour against a dark sky.

We went into the Hall as soon as the doors opened, bought some coffee and hung around the foyer and the corridors. We looked at brochures and framed photographs of stars on the hall’s hallowed stages, reckoning we’d take our seats about 15 minutes before the show was due to start. I was so excited I couldn’t stand still … classic Van, man! Does it get better than that? Seriously? I don’t think so.

Our seats were not too bad, one row and about five seats apart. Enough for me to keep looking at my husband and smiling and waving and winking and smiling and waving and, did I say smiling? There was not much leg room between the rows, and I was glad not to be long-legged, nor to have shoes one size bigger. The seat was big enough for me to boogy in, though, and boogy I did!

I sat next to a stiff-lipped English couple, and a cheerful Dutch chappy in a checked shirt. Turns out he was as much of a Van fan as I am – sheesh, he’d flown in from the Netherlands for the concert – and we soon became new best friends.

The band started to arrive on the stage, the lights went down and that big voice said, “Ladies and gentleman, MR VAN MORRISON!” I like that voice. And that’s when I began to scream. And whistle.

Van, in trademark dark suit, dark glasses and black fedora, walked on to the stage, microphone in hand, harmonica in mouth, and opened his show with a medley of Baby, Please Don’t Go and Here Comes the Night. I felt like crying. He went on to sing his well-known favourites like Brown Eyed Girl, Moondance, Have I told You Lately, Into the Mystic, Ballerina, Bright Side of the Road. My personal favourite was All in the Game, which he teased out into the most incredible arrangement with solos from each of his band members: trombonist, pianist, saxophonist, drummer, double bass player, lead guitarist and acoustic guitarist. The double bass player doubled as a bass guitarist, and Van doubled as a saxophonist and harmonica player. I can’t even describe the music they made – just sublime.

I loved watching Van control his musicians with the flick of his hand and a trilling of his fingers. He did what he does so well – brings the music to a stomping crescendo and then right back down to a whisper. I was with him on his every word, every note and I didn’t want to miss a thing. He closed with a rousing version of Gloria, which brought the entire audience to its feet. It was indescribable to experience a packed Royal Albert Hall, filled to the rafters, with Van-loving punters clapping and screaming and whistling for his music never to end. We couldn’t take photographs, but that sight – and feeling – overwhelmed me as it etched itself in my mind.

I made a note of Van’s playlist, lest I forget, and my Dutch neighbour chipped in when he thought I might not know the title – which, believe me, wasn’t often! If I couldn’t sit with my husband, it was wonderful to sit beside another fellow Van fan. After the show finished, we agreed we had just experienced a very very special concert. I told him I had felt like crying, and he said, “Yes, I had some of those moments too.”

One thing about Van’s music is that it is so difficult to categorise. When I look for his music in a music shop, I never know whether to look in the soul section, R & B, jazz, blues, folk. His music could be in any or all of those. But last night, I was reminded that he is in a category all of his own: awesome. Totally awesome.

Sunshine signing off for today!

London and fine jazz – a Shaw thing

We battled public transport. We crossed a bulging river. We ran the gauntlet of a cussing hobo. But we got there. And it was worth every ounce of blood, sweat and tears to get there. Ian Shaw is one splendid jazz singer.

My music-mad husband has this thing about Joni Mitchell. He loves her music, her lyrics, her everything. A while ago he discovered that Welsh jazz singer, Ian Shaw, had made an album entirely of Joni covers. So he bought the album. And now he has a bit of a thing for Ian Shaw. Not really, but kind of.

Ian Shaw lives in London and one of his favourite venues to perform at, we have discovered, is the Vortex Jazz Club in Dalston, north London. We bought tickets for his Saturday night gig there earlier this year. Being the weekend, the usual tube routes were disrupted, so our only option was to travel by bus. As we always do, we allowed ourselves an extra hour to get there. Buses were late, diverted and voluminously far apart. We resisted every urge to turn round and go back home again, but we eventually got to Dalston and walked and walked and walked.

We turned around and walked back the way we came and discovered the road to the club was right next to the bus stop where we’d alighted. We turned down the road, and saw the lights of the club. It lifted our hearts and we hoped we hadn’t missed the entire show. Our final hurdle was to walk past a dodgy, tatty and foul-mouthed homeless person who drank from his brown paper bag and called me a word I don’t even like to think. The evening was not turning out the way we’d planned.

We got upstairs to the jazz room an hour and a half after his show was due to start. We discovered that Ian Shaw had not. Yet. Begun. His. Show. Woohoo! We sat at our table, exhaled, ordered two tall, chilled glasses of wine and Ian Shaw walked to the piano. Our timing, as it turned out, couldn’t have been better. The Vortex Club is a small, intimate jazz club with a raised platform at the front with a grand piano on it. The rest, as they say, is music.

We got treated to about two hours of fabulous entertainment. An accomplished, award-winning and crazily talented jazz singer, Ian Shaw opened the show with his version of Joni’s Coyote . Sublime. He then sang his way through a mix of songs from Joni (including a stunning cover of A Case of You – one of my favourite Joni numbers), Elvis Costello (Shipbuilding) and some songs he had penned himself – achingly honest and angst-ridden and wonderfully lyrical.

It wasn’t surprising to learn that Ian Shaw used to be a stand-up comedian. The witty banter between songs was brilliant. We laughed so much and it felt like we’d been treated to a double act. You had to be there, really, but his list of reasons for wanting to lose weight made me laugh till I ached.

He’s something of a national treasure. And such a pleasure to listen to. He loves performing locally and is a regular at the Vortex Club. We’re going to see him again next month. Only this time we’ll travel there on the new overground train. And this time, you’d better watch out, Mr Hobo – shake your filthy mouth at me and I’ll give you something to drink about!

Sunshine signing off for today!

Taking it to the seats

The best part of our London adventure has been to see as much live music as our time and pockets will allow. We have treated ourselves to an embarrassment of concerts and gigs at the most amazing venues in and around London. Shall we eat or shall we see another concert? Hmmm, food can wait.

In the middle of summer, on one of the hottest days of the year – temperatures were well into the 30s, even mid-30s (I’m not sure what that is in Fahrenheit, or “old money” as they say here in London!) we went to see Diana Krall in concert at an outdoor venue. We honestly couldn’t have chosen a better day to do that. We arrived in Hampstead in the afternoon.

George Michael lives in Hampstead and he had, notoriously, driven into a Snappy Snaps photo shop in the early hours of a morning that week, heavily under the influence of an unknown substance. I laughed when I saw a sandwich board bearing this handwritten headline for a local rag: “George Michael drives into shop”. He was subsequently sentenced to four weeks in prison for that misdemeanour, and is currently fighting to be released on bail.

So on we continued to Kenwood House. It is a stately home, in the leafy suburb of Hampstead, and is used as a venue for outdoor concerts through the summer. It is really beautiful, the emerald green lawns roll from house to lake and on to the woods on either side and we languished next to a peaceful little lake to picnic before the show. As show time drew near, we made our way to the concert area, where row after row of brightly-coloured deck chairs awaited our arrival.  Our seats were near the front, and gave us a good view of the stage area which stood in sharp relief against the royal blue sky. The wooden deckchairs filled with fans, all eager for the show to begin.

What an amazing evening! Diana Krall is a fabulous musician, and we were so excited to see her live! She performed a huge variety of jazz numbers, accompanied by her talented band of drummer, double bass player and acoustic guitarist. She bobbed and weaved through her songs, and caressed the grand piano with such tenderness and skill I was in awe. A concert such as this, on a night such as this, in London – it doesn’t get much better than that!

On another hot summer’s day, we went to the O2 Arena in North Greenwich  to see Michael McDonald and Al Green. We live right next to the Thames, so we decided to travel along the river – we took the Thames Clipper and bounced along the rippling river to North Greenwich.

I am a huge fan of Michael McDonald, he is another one of my all-time favourites, and I’ve loved his music since his Shine Sweet Freedom days of the mid-1980s. In 1986 my husband and I went on a three-month holiday to the UK and Europe, and I remember sitting in a park in Amsterdam one chilly Sunday afternoon, under blue sky and icy wind, drinking Heineken beers and listening to the piped music of Michael McDonald and Patti LaBelle singing On My Own.

I digress.

We arrived at the O2 about an hour before the concert was due to begin. We sat down and soon a mountain of a man and his petite wife came to sit in the row in front of us. He said to me, “You’re not going to want me sitting in front of you, are you?” To which I said, “Not so much.” He duly sat down in front of me and blocked out the sun. Luckily when the lights went down we were able to shift along a few seats and both get a clear view of the stage!

To see Michael McDonald performing live was just unbelievable. He was sensational. We again needed three seats as I was beside myself, and I boogied myself silly in my seat! I did my ugly whistle at the end of each song. I think I annoyed the people on either side of me (yes, I do include my husband!) as I bobbed and jived and shimmied and shook my bones to the dulcet tones!  – what a relief when Michael shouted out, “School’s out!” and gave us the nod to stand up and dance – YAY! He sang everything that I know and love from Yah mo’ be there, to Shine Sweet Freedom, You belong to me, Taking it to the Streets, Minute by Minute, What a Fool Believes and he was joined by a local singer – Jaki Graham – who filled Patti’s high heels fabulously to join him for On My Own. He left the stage amid much protest from the fans, after an hour and a half of pure, beautiful, blue-eyed soul.

It was interesting to combine Michael McDonald and Al Green in the same concert. They had equal billing, they didn’t share the stage but brought their music from opposite ends of the soul spectrum.

The interval over, we made some noise for the Reverend Al Green. He entered from stage left, resplendent and melodramatic in dark glasses, suit and boots and carrying a bunch of long-stemmed roses. He waved with his other, white-gloved, hand. And so began the Reverend’s soul session, interspersed with the flinging of long-stemmed roses to adoring female (and male) fans in the audience. He sang his heart out through soul standards and smooth cover renditions. His three daughters doo-whopped in the background, and he was accompanied by an outstanding band that he ordered around with elegant, frilly, trilling fingers.

When the Reverend got excited, he would stamp his feet and slip his silk-lined jacket off his shoulders and on to the floor. He would pick it up and put it on again as he pulled himself together after each song.

I was less than impressed with the audience that night. After an absolute treat of songs like Let’s Stay Together and Let’s Get Married, part of the audience thought Let’s Get Outta Here, and started to leave the auditorium before the end of the concert. The Rev called out to them, reassured them he was on “no curfew” and yet he watched as a steady stream filed out. I guess it was to get ahead of the traffic but come on, London … you can do better than that! This was a one-night only show. Al Green was clearly not amused, and the show ended abruptly.

My husband is mad about American Idol-winner, Fantasia, and she had a one-night only, first-ever concert in London in May. This was held in IndigO2, within the O2 Arena complex. We had fabulous seats in the second row upstairs, and watched Fantasia perform to the writhing mosh pit in front of the stage.

She was incredibly energetic and passionate, she put her heart and soul in her songs and most of her wardrobe on the stage floor. I exaggerate … she threw her shoes off as she walked on to the stage, and got rid of her necklace and earrings and anything else that bothered her as she stomped and sang her way beautifully and emotionally through a range of old and new numbers.

She gave the organisers a headache, as she wanted to “feel” her people; the mosh pit was separated from the front of the stage by a barrier, and, when the people couldn’t come to Fantasia, she stepped down from the stage to come to her people. It was a wonderful concert, a treat to see her and experience her stage presence and vitality, and to enjoy a talent that we watched unfold on international television.

I stand in awe of such talent, of endless opportunity and of life in a city that breathes life into so many artists and actors and buskers and students and punters-who-watch. May I never take this for granted, and may I always jump around in thrill and excitement. And may we always need three seats.

Sunshine signing off for today!

London, alive and screaming

Today, I thought I would take you on a journey to some fun London venues, and tell you about some wonderful new, up-and-coming artists that we’ve seen while we’ve been here. We’ve also seen some old and fabulously well-worn artists, who I’ll write about another time.

There are SO many things that I love about London. (Like you haven’t heard that one before!) But one thing that stands out above the crowd for me is just how much everyone loves London! Every day we read about interesting people who are visiting London; if it’s not the Pope (and I just loved the comment I heard on the radio on Sunday, by a young teenager in Birmingham who’d seen the Pope. She said, and try and imagine a nasally Birmingham accent saying this: “He was amazing. He’s kind of like a celebrity. But holy.”), it’s actors here for their movie premieres, singers and bands on concert tours, cricket teams on match-fixing tours, politicans, philosophers, bankers, chefs and models. And, of course, there are people like my husband and me, people from every nation and continent and language and race and accent and religion you can imagine. This heaving mass of humanity, the focus of so much attention, in such a small country. I stand in awe and constant fascination.

It is also the place musicians flock to if they want to “make it” on the music scene. There are weekly magazines and websites that list gigs that happen each week in London, and these number in their hundreds. My husband and I grab any opportunity we can to go and see new artists whose names we may not at first know, but whose gift of music is outstanding, and whose music we now love and share and will follow.

My husband is something of a music geek. He absolutely loves music and anything to do with it. He reads about new artists, tests out their wares on iTunes, and checks out who’s performing where and when. He found out about a young singer/songwriter called Diane Birch, and was so excited to read of a “one and only” performance in London in March. A lovely friend of ours was staying with us at the time, so the three of us went to the Vibe Club in Brick Lane (east London) to watch her performing. If you haven’t heard of her, check her out. She’s a young American singer/songwriter whose talent is incredible, and way beyond her 20-something years. Her style is folk, country, soulful – and she has enjoyed some commercial success with one of her songs, Valentino, which was featured on the soundtrack of an Ashton Kutcher movie, Valentine’s Day. We stood in the small club and enjoyed the treasure of an evening of her brilliant music.

Brick Lane is the best place in London (well, one of them) to get a good, genuine curry (in London people talk about “going out for an Indian”, meaning an Indian meal!). As you walk along the length of Brick Lane, restaurateurs stand in their doorways, touting their menus and trying to encourage you to patronise their spot. After our concert, we headed purposefully towards the far end of Brick Lane in search of one of the legendary bagel shops that stay open 24 hours a day. We found them – there are two right next to each other! – and had a the most delicious smoked salmon and cream cheese bagels ever! At £1.50 a pop (a steal, I tell you), it wasn’t surprising that we “mmm, yummmmm’ed” all the way back down the Lane!

After my birthday in July, we went to see Diane Birch for a second time. It was another unique performance at an outstanding venue in Notting Hill. What a beautiful area that is! If you’ve seen the movie, Notting Hill, you will know what I mean! And being there in person was even more fabulous. Streets of unique little shops selling antiques, vintage clothing, unusual clothing and all sorts of other interesting things! And the houses are just stunning – three and four storey Victorian terraced houses, really beautiful! I want to live there when I grow up! We saw a house for sale there (between £2million and £5million!) – and thought we’d wait until I got a job before we put in an offer!

The concert venue, The Tabernacle, is a beautiful old refurbished church building which dates back to 1888. When it is not hosting well-known and less well-known artists in concert, it is a community centre where you can learn Spanish, capoeira, ballet, belly dancing or zephyr yoga. Its history is remarkable. Diane Birch performed without her backing band this time, although she had a guitarist in tow, and it was another gift of an evening. Quite lovely.

Another concert that my husband discovered was a young, English singer called Rox. We arrived at The Scala in King’s Cross good and early for the 7.30pm start, and immediately realised we were in the minority in a queue-full of youngsters. We were relieved to see some older punters join the queue and, once inside, and the crowd started gathering, we realised we were not the oldest there! The Scala also has an interesting history, having been built as a cinema which was nearing completion just before the First World War began, and which was used as a labour exchange for demobbed soldiers in 1918.

What made the evening all the more special for us were the two opening acts: a young singer/songwriter from Jackson, Tennessee, called Lauren Pritchard. She was first up on the evening programme and, at that stage, there were probably about 30 people in the venue. I couldn’t believe the whole of London wasn’t there watching her and cheering her on – what an amazing voice, a beautiful talent, and achingly soulful songs. I loved her!

Next up was an English singer/songwriter called Liam Bailey. His reggae style songs take you on journeys through pain and triumph, joy and angst; another young, soulful and generously talented young singer. Rox is a tiny dynamo of a singer. And she’s about 12. Actually, she’s 21 and has a big voice, a delightful personality and gave a rocking performance. The tickets cost us just £10 each: what a privilege to be able to enjoy such talent. These are all artists to watch – please check them out and let me know what you think.

One of my most precious friends in Cape Town is the only person I know who’s seen The Beatles live. She went to a concert in London when she was 14, and wasn’t too fussed – although quite intrigued – about these Liverpool lads who had turned the music world on its head. She decided, before she went in, that she wasn’t going to scream and swoon like all the other silly teenage girls, and she stood in the queue, with her painted-on eyelashes and seriously mini skirt, resolute that she would stay cool . Once she got inside, she screamed her voice hoarse with the rest of them – she got totally caught up in the moment. She didn’t know at the time, but she was watching history in the making. Hell, that’s enough to make anyone scream!

Sunshine signing off for today.