On Friday 29th September I went to the London Palladium to see The Zombies performing their 50th Anniversary show of Odessey and Oracle, an album released in 1968 but recorded in 1967, hence the 50th anniversary. I was there with Marysia and Przemek, keyboards and guitar respectively in the Warsaw based band, Signal To Noise Ratio. I’d met Marysia earlier in the year at an open air concert in Toruń and we were both complaining about the beer on offer so I suggested to her that in between bands, we adjourn to a craft beer pub which was just outside the venue and which I’d seen earlier on the way in. We supped a few beers and she told me all about her keyboard playing, how she’d learnt as a young kid but was on the verge of giving it up when a friend lent her an album by The Nice… She also told me that she and Przemek were going to London to see The Zombies in September and she waxed so lyrical about the album upon which the show was based that I decided to go too.
I left work early and caught the train up to Baker Street station and exiting the station onto the Euston Road I immediately remembered why I have come to hate London. When I was a younger chap I’d regularly come up to London just to while the day away, I loved the place, it was busy, hip and happening. Now it’s just crowded, noisy and smelly. I negotiated a stream of people to get to the pedestrian crossing opposite The Globe public house and started on down Baker Street itself. Winding your way down on Baker Street… Funnily enough that song didn’t pop into my head but thinking about it now the lyrics are so true:
This city desert makes you feel so cold
It’s got so many people, but it’s got no soul
And it’s taken you so long
To find out you were wrong
When you thought it held everything
Baker Street – Portman Square – Orchard Street. I turned the corner into Oxford Street and immediately wished I hadn’t, I’d forgotten just how barmy-mental that part of London is, especially on a Friday night. I sought refuge in a pub, the Lamb and Flag, just above Oxford Street; a little Dutch courage was needed. Suitably fortified I ventured back out into the maelstrom and fought my way down to Oxford Circus and then into Argyll Street. The Palladium was emblazoned with a giant screen proclaiming The Zombies, Odessey and Oracle, 50th Anniversary Finale Tour. I took a photo of it thinking that I’d send it to Marysia but then I got a text message from her saying that they were in Regent’s Street, following her aunt as her aunt knew the way and she and Przemek didn’t; Marysia’s aunt wasn’t going to the concert, she was accompanying them to make sure that they didn’t get lost. I walked around the corner into Regent’s Street to see if I could spot them in the crowds and believe it or not, I did. We greeted each other and made our way to the Palladium Box Office, where Marysia collected their tickets. Marysia’s aunt, her mission accomplished left us and the three of us decided that a beer was in order before the show.
As I’ve intimated, this part of town is simply crazy; Marysia and Przemek were looking for a pub or bar in which to sit and enjoy a beer. The sight of clientele spilling out onto the streets was I think a bit of a culture shock; nowhere to sit… Sitting, that’s how they do it in Poland, I’ve been with friends over there who have walked out of a perfectly good, not overly crowded bar simply because there were no free seats; I was all for standing at the bar, English style, but they were having none of it. Anyway, being the native it was left to me to find a pub and happily we chanced upon the Soho BrewDog bar, happily because they brew very decent beer, there was however nowhere to sit at first but then a solitary bar stool plus standing space became vacant at an island table and the three of us made for it, I offered Marysia the stool and she sat while us two chaps stood.
Then to the show, I’d booked my ticket separately so I wasn’t sitting with the other two, they were in the circle, I was towards the back of the stalls but I had a good view of the stage. The first half of the show was a retrospective of The Zombies back catalogue, with a few “outside” songs, hardly surprising given that among the band members were Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent. I have to admit that most of the rest of The Zombies work was unknown to me; She’s Not There and Time Of The Season notwithstanding. For me the highlight of the first half, indeed of the entire show was an absolutely stonking version of Argent’s Hold Your Head Up with Rod reigning supreme on Hammond.
After the interval the second part of the show was a performance of the album Odessey And Oracle in its entirety; I’d bought a copy of the album some weeks beforehand so I knew what I was in for, I had quite enjoyed the album, it’s very much of its time and does have some nice songs on it including the haunting Butchers Tale (Western Front 1914), and Took A Long Time To Come, a song which I knew but couldn’t have told you who it was by. The show finished, as does the album, with Time Of The Season which is just so in the 1960s psychedelic groove thing. The music of The Zombies although it is very much of the 1960s does, for me at least, have a sort of timeless quality to it; some of the songs I knew, some I didn’t but the whole concert was very enjoyable.
We met-up outside the theatre after the show and it was decided that another beer was in order and once again it was up to me to find the pub. We ended-up in a very noisy bar halfway between Oxford Circus and Tottenham Court Road, very noisy but we did find vacant stools around a beer sodden table where we set-to discussing the concert and various other related and tangential matters. Eventually we decided that it was probably time to go home so I led the way to Tottenham Court Road tube station and we said our goodbyes, Marysia and Przemek headed south, they were staying with Marysia’s aunt in Wandsworth, not too far away. I headed north to Euston and walked along to Euston Square station making the last train back to Chesham with four minutes to spare.
On Saturday I met-up with Marysia and Przemek again, I’d invited them out to Chesham to come and see a little bit of Home Counties charm. My intention was to go back into London in the evening to see a band called Kaprekar’s Constant at The Water Rats, a pub and live music venue just off King’s Cross. I have to say right here that I was very excited about this concert, I’d only found out about the gig a couple of weeks beforehand so I suggested to Marysia and Przemek that maybe, if they had no other plans we’d all go to The Water Rats on the Saturday; they didn’t, so we did. I met Marysia and Przemek off of the train and we walked down into the High Street where Marysia bought some strong English Cheddar from the cheese man on Chesham market and then I treated her and Przemek to some English Ale at my favourite Chesham pub, the Queen’s Head; after a pint each we went to Berkhamsted, only 4 miles away, and I showed them around the ruins of Berkhamsted Castle, probable scene of the surrender of the English Crown to William The Bastard in 1066. The castle wasn’t there then but was built afterwards by William’s half-brother Robert of Mortain in about 1070. Still, the present remains serve as a focal point for these happenings.
After a reflective time at the castle we went to my favourite pub in Berkhamsted, The Rising Sun and sat outside by the canal chatting about this and that and enjoying a refreshing pint. By now we were feeling peckish so we went to The Crown up in the High Street to get something to eat. Not that the Riser doesn’t do food, they do a rather fine Ploughman’s but something hot was called for. When we got to The Crown, Marysia waved the menu under my nose and said, “Show me something very English”, I looked, there was, pizza, lasagne, spaghetti, New York this, Tennessee or Louisiana that, but then I spotted the steak and kidney pudding, “Here” I said, “it doesn’t get much more English than this…” so she had the steak and kidney pudding and indeed enjoyed it. Przemek and I had chilli con carne and of course it involved another round of beer. After that we walked along to the railway station and got the train up to Euston.
One of the topics we had chatted about earlier in the day was the subject of regional accents; there are accents in Poland but none as diverse as those in the UK. As we were walking along the Euston Road towards King’s Cross a small group of young lads, possibly in their early twenties were prancing about, running after each other in some sort of tag game, one of their number feeling slighted for some grievance or other yelled out, “Fook off…” Marysia immediately turned to me and said, “He said fook, not fuck”., “Yes”, I smiled “a northern accent.”
The Euston Road was much like yesterday in Oxford Street, full of people but thankfully not quite so crowded, we traversed the frontage of King’s Cross station and turned into Gray’s Inn Road where the number of people decreased the further we got from the station and soon we were at the doors of The Water Rats. Doors open, for the concert, not the pub, was advertised as 19:30; it was 19:43 but the doors to the performance area were still closed so we found a space to sit and wait, yes, there was actually space, chairs and table, to sit. I had a beer, the other two had coffee, czarna kawa. We sat for a while; behind the doors to the back room there was a sound check going on, I could hear snippets of the songs from the debut Kaprekar’s Constant album.
Kaprekar’s Constant are new on the scene as a band but some of the members are definitely not new to the scene, chief amongst those is David Jackson, ex Van der Graaf Generator, yes, that David Jackson. They play a style of folk infused prog and their 14 minute epic “Hallsands” about the South Devon fishing village of Hallsands which was washed away by the sea one stormy night in 1917 because the shingle bar which protected the beach had been dredged to make concrete for the new Devonport dockyard, is currently my No. 1, favourite song; the only song I know of which has the word “scrotes” in it. If you know of another one, please do tell.
I “discovered” Kaprekar’s Constant on the Bandcamp website, I was searching for “Prog” and “English” and their album, Fate Outsmarts Desire was one of the results I got. Firstly I was intrigued by the album title, then looking at the track list my eye was drawn to a song called Blue Bird, could this, I thought, be about the car or boat? I pressed play, ah-ha, it was indeed about Sir Malcolm Campbell’s record breaking attempts on Pendine Sands. Next I pressed play on a song called Hallsands, I sat and listened, transfixed, I was in love. This was epic, story-telling music and I loved it.
And so here I was, sitting in a pub with a couple of friends, waiting to see Kaprekar’s Constant live. There was a movement of people towards the door to the back room; here we go then, we finished our drinks and got into the queue. The Water Rats is not a big venue, it’s a pub, not a gigantic pub, just a normal sized boozer but the back room is given over to music. It’s a standing venue, there are a handful of small tables and chairs around the periphery of the room but they were all occupied. The small stage was crammed with equipment and paraphernalia, there didn’t seem to be enough room for any musicians. Music was being played through the sound system and we began our wait, our second wait.
OK, look, if I had known that the band was going to be on stage at 21:00 I probably wouldn’t have arrived so early, oh well, we were here now so we just had to stand and wait; and that is my only criticism of the evening, of the day really. As we were standing there I was tapped on the shoulder and a voice enquired, “It that Tony?” I turned and faced the enquirer, it was Shaun Geraghty, presenter of The Prog Mill, a progressive rock show on Progzilla Radio. He’d obviously seen me and recognised me from my Facebook picture. Am I famous yet?
21:00 rolled around, the band took the stage and I was transported. There were a few technical hiccups along the way, the projector casting against a small screen behind the band gave up; “Windows Media Player has stopped working…” was the visual accompaniment at one point but that didn’t detract one iota from the music being played. Funny that though because the same thing had happened the previous evening at the London Palladium; The Zombies had had a much bigger screen, well, they had a much bigger stage, and they had a much more elaborate visual presentation going on but at one point the whole thing gave up the ghost but the music continued.
As I said earlier, Kaprekar’s Constant are fairly new and they don’t have a large back catalogue, indeed they have only one album to their name. They played 6 songs that night, 6 songs and a reprise but two of those songs are approaching 20 minutes long and one is over 20 minutes long but as usual it seemed to be all over far too soon. We went out into the street and walked back up towards King’s Cross, the place was still full of people. We said our goodbyes and went our separate ways. The train I caught this time was an hour earlier than the previous evening but spookily enough, as I walked onto the Metropolitan Line platform the train indicator said; Chesham 4 minutes.
The music of Kaprekar’s Constant is maybe not everyone’s cup of tea but I think my two guests enjoyed the gig, I know I certainly did. Friday and Saturday then, two very different venues and two very different bands but on the whole a very enjoyable time.
I think I’m getting old you know, on Sunday I was feeling decidedly jaded…