Hobgoblin Unsung Heroes

Camden Town is a rock and roll Disneyland. A place where the very essence of music has become entrenched through the indelible influence of the likes of Amy Winehouse, The Libertines and Madness. Its reputation as central London’s rough diamond has brought swathes of middle class mothers who fawn over the drug dealers that loiter next to the canal as a picture postcard testament to the areas ‘authenticity’. But whilst Camden Town may have lost some of its youthful brashness, the area has never ceased to play host to a wide range of bands and every night the cream of contemporary music can be found playing somewhere between Mornington Crescent and Kentish Town stations. Last Thursday was no exception with the London leg of Hobgoblin’s unsung heroes tour.

The premise of the Unsung Heroes tour is a truly worthy one. It’s all about giving recognition to the usually invisible team that make live music possible; the soundmen, technicians, roadies, drivers and managers. On Thursday night, at Dingwalls, a venue that needs no introduction, Glass Peaks and Island took to the stage to champion this cause.

I have been to gigs in Camden where deserving bands have played to little more than a handful and, conversely, to gigs where some intrepid promoter has managed to cajole a roomful Spanish exchange students into watching a group that weren’t quite ready to leave the garage, but the venue began to fill well before Glass Peaks started, and by the time they hit the first note, the place was heaving.

Rarely can it be said of a stage that has hosted the Foo Fighters and The Strokes that it was overpowered, but in the case of Glass Peaks, this is pure fact. Their sound was purely anthemic, and, in the spirit of the event, the sound technician deserves a well earned round of applause. The addition of a saxophonist in the band added an unconventional yet wholly complementary layer that defies comparison and helped to create an immersive soundscape. For me, their standout song was ‘Home’, the Battles/Foals-esque guitar hook is an earworm that is sure to be a hit for the band.

It’s only fitting to begin talking about Island by first congratulating their unsung heroes, Ben and Mike. I have to admit I’d been sleeping on Islands and didn’t really have much of an idea of what to expect. What struck me first was Rollo Doherty’s voice, it has the gritty and heartfelt distinctiveness that made the first wave of indie bands so great. Their performance was polished to the point of near perfection whilst retaining a presence on stage that made you appreciate you were watching them live and not merely listening at home. With a solid repertoire of well written songs, and gems such as ‘Stargazer’ and ‘Waves’, I’m sure these boys will be gracing playlists up and down the country. It’s a genuine pleasure to discover great British bands like Island that deliver a little flush of national pride that seems rare in these post-brexit days. If you haven’t heard of these guys most definitely check out their soundcloud and catch them at a show somewhere near you.

Hobgoblin, despite a tacit association with rock music, are just beginning to host gigs and live music, and, if their future events are anything like their Unsung Heroes tour, they will no doubt be firm favourites in the live music scene.

Park of the Week: Leicester Square Gardens

Week two and I find myself in a park right in the centre of Central London, flanked by its crowning glory M&M’s World. Amid the tourists clutching brightly coloured bags, the religious salesmen vying for souls and minds and the street dancing trio vying for loose change and recognition, I didn’t find Leicester Square Gardens a particularly peaceful place.

 Close as it is to the cultural behemoth of the National Gallery, it was covered in a film of fast food wrappers and sickly sweet smoke that someone was blowing in plumes from their electronic cigarette. I locked eyes with Shakespeare on his marble plinth and we shared a consolatory nod.

 Admittedly I was visiting during its period of redesign, which explained the expanses of soil where the grass should have been, but, it lacked that unplaceable ‘thing’ that makes a place memorable, The Small Faces certainly wouldn’t have had a hit if they’d only visited here.

Mostar

The bus arrived in the austere light of an ethereal sky. Darkness was quickly descending, and I could only clearly make out the most severe silhouettes, like the large cross high up on the hillside and the domed roof and minaret of the mosque.

A cluster of old women holding hand painted signs jostled for position and called out with phrases memorised through painstaking repetition to advertise their pension or spare room. We walked out of the coach park and into the streets where we led a small pack of stray dogs around terraces, slipways and side streets.

We eventually found our hostel, locked and in complete darkness, it was with a tentative ring of the bell that we summoned our hosteller. A widow of inconsiderable height but considerable girth, she thrust upon us a box of chocolates and led us through a maze of passages and stairways to our room. We were to share with a couple who were travelling back through Europe to reach a French hospital where they were to be treated for their unspecific but apparently communicable illness. I chose a bed as far away from theirs as possible and tried to breathe as little as I could.

My travel companion and I had been travelling around Croatia for several weeks and were becoming desensitised to architectural beauty, but Mostar took us both by surprise. Winding cobbled streets, vendors minding stalls filled with remnants of the Yugoslav wars, ornate brass jewellery and paraphernalia of indeterminate age and purpose, booming voiced old men selling a spectrum home brewed spirits, bustling bars, and, of course, the Stari Most upon which a lone figure stood watching and waiting, created a city which  seemed to us pure and unspoilt.

We spent a few hazy nights drinking our way through the establishments of Mostar and revelled in the raucous atmosphere of Ali Baba’s, the cave bar, and drank in the views of the city from the Sky Lounge Roof Bar.

But, the time to depart was quickly upon us. After spreading pocketfuls of coins on the floor to buy two bus tickets to Dubrovnik, we left Mostar with fond memories and plastic bags stuffed full of crudely distilled spirits.

Bradley’s Spanish Bar

Making a good bar is either some form of ancient wizardry or a highly unappreciated fine art, because it is a volatile and unpredictable operation.

There is no list of attributes that add up to the perfect bar or pub, neither is there a list of irrecoverable faux pas. Dim lighting and broken locks on the toilet doors are a staple of an East London basement bar, but would leave something to be desired in your local Wetherspoons. Therefore, I think it is a praiseworthy achievement when someone concocts a unanimously appreciated establishment.

Bradley’s Spanish Bar, which lies on Hanway Street, just off Oxford Street, is a perfect example of a bar that does everything right.

The main bar is tiny and would become crowded by a medium sized birthday party, but, in the liberating spirit of European bars, most people drink on the street just outside. There is another bar in the basement with a fair amount of seating, but personally, I prefer the rare freedom to drink outside without being hemmed into a cramped smoking area.

The choice of Spanish beer is very good, the bar staff are friendly and they have the intuitive policy of refunding you the difference in cash if your drink falls below the £10 card limit.

If you find yourself around Oxford Street searching for a bar that has a bit of personality, definitely go and find Bradley’s Spanish Bar.

Park of the Week: Harrington Square Gardens

London, for such a large and sprawling metropolis is extremely well endowed with green space. A map of London looks like an irregular patchwork quilt with parks, gardens and open spaces of all shapes and sizes. I, for one, have no idea the exact number or relative virtues of each, so, in the search for enlightenment, I have set myself the task of visiting a park each week and documenting what I find. For the first week, in a rather understated start, is Harrington Square Gardens.

I would like to say my choice of park wasn’t motivated by the apocalyptically heavy rain that ushered in 2017, but, frankly it was. I have to admit to a rather fleeting visit, inspired at least partially by the intensely quizzical expressions from those passing by, and the fact that I could substantially dry off if I were to take a dip in the Regent’s Canal, thankfully, however, the park is very small, so I think my exploration of it was satisfactory to pass judgement.

Located a stone’s throw from Mornington Crescent tube station, Harrington Square Gardens is very modest. To give it the title ‘Gardens’ is a perhaps an overstatement, admittedly it does have trees, grass and even a few benches, but these are surely the very base qualifications that a garden must possess.

The park itself houses a circular pathway centering on an undersized Christmas tree. Whether the tree was planted as an afterthought for Christmas just passed, or whether they’re playing the long game for a Christmas yet to come is unclear, but that is undoubtedly the focal point. It is fairly difficult to attain a favourable view of a park in a dress rehearsal of the great flood, but I feel as though the Gardens are sorely underappreciated, modest as they are, as I have honestly never seen another soul in there. I did see an advertisement for a BBQ, which is early, late or optimistic, but I hope it does at least indicate some regular patrons.

Slipping into Chocolat

 

A sea of patchwork fields; interspersed with meandering country lanes and accompanied by the distant roar of a tractor or perhaps a peal of church bells from the village below.

This is how I picture the area that I grew up in, which, for a long time, seemed impossibly boring. There wasn’t, as far as I can recall, a single event that even approached noteworthiness in all the time I lived there. Now, however, I can appreciate that this is no bad thing, and, on returning from London, my family home seemed like a bastion of unspoilt countryside rather than a monochromatic bore.

Several weeks previously, somebody had told me about a lake a few miles away at Fonthill where they had filmed part of the film ‘Chocolat’. I understand that this immediately contradicts my saying that nothing noteworthy ever happens in the area, however, I can assure you that this is completely out of character for my humble district and I met the news with disbelief. But, after some rudimentary research, it proved to be true. The river scenes from the film, for example when Johnny Depp’s character arrives in the village, were filmed there.

My journey began rather auspiciously. The fog was so thick that you couldn’t see from one end of a field to another, and, being a fairly cold morning, the normally bustling footpaths were deserted, which felt slightly eerie. I also quickly realised that the desert boots I had chosen, having left my walking boots in London, were deeply unsuitable for the muddy and uneven paths I was following and spent more of my time developing a rudimentary style of ice skating than I did actually walking.

Eventually, I made it to Fonthill Lake, and, after clumsily vaulting the stile, I followed the footpath that led around its edge.

My first thought was that I could see very little resemblance to the scene before me and the body of water depicted in the films. I quickly came to a fence that informed me that it was prohibited to continue any farther. Unperturbed, I turned and continued back the other way and was stunned. The view was spectacular, mist shrouded the trees around me, the lake stretched far off into the distance, and to my left a stream gurgled contentedly through perfectly green hillocks and sweeping trees. I am not in the least surprised that they chose to film here, as to me it looked like an ethereal paradise.

I couldn’t believe that such a beautiful spot could exist so close to where I had grown up, and what’s more it was completely deserted. Being totally alone is a luxury I had forgotten the value of until I moved to the city.

On my way back, I noticed what looked like an extremely oddly shaped bush on a hillside, which, upon closer inspection, happened to be a grotto upon which a tree was growing. I must admit it was quite a surreal sight, and I expected any moment to see a goblin poke his head out of the side, but, to my immense relief, it was deserted. After poking around inside, and smacking my head on a low hanging rock, I left with a considerably higher estimation of my local area.

 

 

Le Beaujolais

In the sea of chain restaurants and gastropubs that central London is quickly becoming engulfed by, discovering a noteworthy independent establishment is like finding a hen’s tooth in a haystack. Thus, it was with no small amount of excitement that I discovered Le Beaujolais just off Charing Cross Road.

Le Beaujolais is a traditional French restaurant, serving authentic cuisine with a healthily varied wine list and a perfect array of aperitifs and digestifs. This place truly feels like a little slice of France in London, which, I suppose is relatively unsurprising as the proprietor and all of the bar and waiting staff are French.

I am fortunate enough to have a French partner, who amid an array of other talents, operates very well as a gastronomic barometer. I don’t know what it is about the French sense of taste, but they seem to possess powers far beyond those of the English, perhaps it’s a fringe benefit of early exposure to strong cheese. Whatever the case, my barometer was pointing with both hands at ‘delicious’, she pointed because she was preoccupied with a mouthful of their fantastic hachis parmentier.

If you find yourself around Charing Cross Road and yearn for something more than a Jamie’s Italian or a Pizza Express I highly recommend making your way to 25 Litchfield Street, which is a right just in front of Subway if you’re walking towards Shaftesbury Avenue.

Monday – Friday – 12:00-23:00

Saturday – 17:00 – 23:00

Sunday – Closed