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.

13 December 2009

Out and about

SATURDAY JUST GONE found plenty of people in the city centre making music. Oxford Street was of course a human log-jam, but the sounds of a steel band had me quickening my pace to find their origin. In a pedestrianised side street near the House of Fraser, the Ebony steel band were playing to a large crowd doubtless grateful to jump off the shopping treadmill for a brief while:

Ebony also appear on a recording made at the 2008 Notting Hill Carnival. They’re one of around five steel bands performing from lorries trundling along Ladbroke Grove at the Jouvert parade held early on the first morning of the Carnival. In the early evening, I headed down to Trafalgar Square to see what the Climate Camp people were up to, but they weren’t doing a lot. A few individuals stood quietly around a brazier warming themselves and gazing into its fiery interior. But a few yards to the north a crowd was gathering to hear the London City Mission’s carol service:

There was less luck in other places. The Winter Wonderland funfair in Hyde Park, while looking far superior to most other fairs, didn’t offer many surprises. Yes, there was a man in the Bavarian village enclave dressed as a Tyrolean peasant, playing David Hasselhof songs on a synth, but you don’t want to hear that, do you? The ice rink turned to slush any hopes of making recordings with a strong stereo wow factor from skaters hurtling about. Most people made their way around the ice cautiously and without much noise. A Greek kebab house in Green Lanes, visited later at night, somehow produced a recording where the stereo image sounded all wrong, creating a sense of uncomfortable pressure when listened to over headphones.

The subways around Charing Cross station have all kinds of curious shops, including a wonderful-looking one for stage magicians. They also attract beggars and buskers. Something about the style of a woman playing a saxophone held the attention – no tune that I recognised, more an extended improvisation with a lot of abrupt stops to draw breath. She was hesitant when, having stopped playing, a few people offered her coins, and there was no hat or instrument case to collect money. Perhaps she was just looking for somewhere to jam without neighbours banging on the walls, absorbed in her playing and as far from the world as Chekhov’s bishop:

By now he could not utter a word, he could understand nothing, and he imagined he was a simple ordinary man, that he was walking quickly, cheerfully through the fields, banging the ground with his stick, while above him was the open sky bathed in sunshine. Now he was as free as a bird and could go wherever he liked!