Occasional posts on subjects including field recording, London history and literature, other websites worth looking at, articles in the press, and news of sound-related events.

24 January 2010

Night-walking and the poet of Villiers Street

ONE OF THE two reasons why the London Sound Survey doesn’t have search boxes is that they close off the possibility of serendipitous discovery. The other reason is I don’t know how to do them.

Making happy discoveries by chance was the motive for a night-walk last Saturday, Shure mics safety-pinned inside the Benny-from-Crossroads Hat of Sound. The final destination was Fulham Broadway because it’s been portrayed in the Evening Standard recently as a nocturnal basin for drunks to roll around in. This Standard article comes with the required girl-worse-for-wear photo. Around midnight the Broadway had a lively, cheerful atmosphere, and the entrance to Fulham Broadway tube station seems to be a popular meeting-spot:

Earlier there had been some fruitless wandering around the back streets of Earls Court and West Brompton, with the hope of coming across that brief auditory scene which is likely more common in upmarket neighbourhoods. Night-time, a quiet residential street. 30 or 40 yards away a car pulls up, the engine stops. Brief silence. Then animated conversation and laughter as two couples get out, the doors slam with deep thuds – it’s an expensive car. Voices and footsteps are heard briefly, then the slam of a front door. Silence. No luck.

But a fine discovery was made in Villiers Street by Embankment station at the start of the night’s expedition. Two years ago I’d seen a man occupying a small pitch on the river path by Blackfriars Bridge. By him was a handwritten notice stating he was available to recite poems he’d written. The batteries in the recorder had gone flat and by the time I’d returned after buying some from a cornershop, he’d gone.

It was a real pleasure to see the poet and his pitch spread out once again. Dozens of handwritten cards were propped up on the ground, each bearing the title of a poem, with a couple of candle-lanterns set among them, and him keeping a benign and hopeful eye over the whole scene.

I pointed to a card with ‘An Ode to London’ written on it: “Would you recite that one please?”

After that I had to hear more, but asked him to make the choice. He correctly guessed that another poem relating to the city would go down well. Before reciting it from memory, he explained that the idea came from a Big Issue seller, who’d told him about a woman commuter who always took the time to stop and talk to him on her way home from work. The poem is called ‘It’s a long day, lady’.

If you come across him, ask to hear one of his poems, and pay him for his time.