LONDON’S AT ITS best between Christmas and New Year. The streets are quieter and that pleasantly slow-moving melancholic mood you get when you’re hungover pervades everything. Christmas Eve gives a foretaste of that as the shopping frenzy peters out, so it was a good time to roam the streets with Soundman binaural mics lodged in the earholes.
Buskers are an easy subject to record if you can find a good one. But many now perform to backing tracks delivered by battery-powered PAs, and that can sound worse on a recording than in real life. Because London attracts tourists from all over the world, street entertainers must also search for universally recognised themes without local nuance built on simple humour and sentimentalism.
Steel drums emerged in the Caribbean as a way to get round the colonial authorities’ restrictions on what instruments could be played in public. Using a shallow steel drum to play Sleigh Ride is about as pragmatic as it gets, but it’s still got a good sound. This man was performing alone on the Hungerford footbridge:
The best coffee in London is to be found in Ethiopian and Eritrean restaurants. For the next best you may as well try Bar Italia in Soho, assuming you were weaned off the breast without upset and don’t crave the milky concoctions of Costabucks. The atmopshere was relaxed that afternoon, with customers wishing the staff a happy Christmas as they left:
Echoes of an older and more robust city culture were heard in the morning at Smithfield meat market. Every Christmas Eve, Hart’s the butchers hold a meat auction and by eleven o’clock a good-sized crowd of people was filling the street outside. The butcher and his assistants stood at two large open windows as they held up mighty lumps of maroon-coloured steak before heaving them down into the crowd.
Meat makes people happy. The crowd jostled, each trying to squeeze and squirm their way closer to the front, but all grinning and shouting, hands raised up to grab at the bloody missiles thrown by the butcher – a primordial scene!
One of the best things about recording with binaural mics is that you can often be part of the event rather than a bystander, as you would be if you were toting a camera. Get some bins in your ears and enjoy yourself. Happy Christmas and best wishes for 2013.