The Adventures of Worldwide Welshman in London, Kent, Madrid and Birmingham, August 2015 to January 2016
After a summer of renting a room in a fairly decent house in Lewisham with great housemates, at what was a low price for London (about £420 with bills), the time came when I had to move out. The lad who's room I was renting was returning from Camp America. But before I get to that bit I must tell you about what I got up too before I moved out, continuing roughly from where my last blog entry finished...
On the last weekend of August, Timestealers played at Small World festival in Hedstone, Kent! Well, I'm exaggerating somewhat…Paul Murray and I played on the open-mic stages. We weren't on the bill. And it wasn't the full band; Nick the bass player was busy with exams and Adam the drummer was busy working and soon going back to Nottingham for his final year of architecture.
Steve Broe the busker, who was helping promote me and getting me a few gigs, said I would love it at Small World, so he put me in touch with Stacey Cohen, who put my in touch with Gaia Knight on facebook, who invited me to do “impromptu jamming” in her Tribal Voices campfire area. Gaia got us in for free on her guest list!
In July I'd supported Stacey Cohen in the Silver Bullet, Finsbury park in a gig organised by Steve. As it happens, I'd already met her and I played on the same bill with when she was living in North Wales, and she also happens to be friends with my cousin.
Paul and I travelled to the festival in Paul's family's small car. The festival's website was terrible, so we had no idea what sort of event it it would be; some hippies in a field getting high around a campfire, a village fête type thing, or a 'proper' festival? Turned out to be the best festival in the world, ever! (the best that we've been too so far at least).
There were a few people getting off their heads on drugs too, but that did not hinder our enjoyment, and it was a better atmosphere than it would have been had everyone been pissed (we did not partake in the drugs however).
We pitched our tent next to these two gorgeous girls, Amber and Lily who turned out to be great festival buddies. We met a chap called Martin who was our other festival friend, also camped nearby.
Almost everyone we met was a musician. People walked around with clarinets and violins. Paul's trumpet went down very well!
I remember particularly Larry's Lounge which was always full of musicians playing board games, drinking, smoking, and once eating a chicken curry (at a mostly veggie festival) from a dirty oven that sat outside at the back of the tent. There was a piano which I played, and Larry, a New-Zealander who looks like John Lennon, joined on bass sax or bass guitar, along with whoever was about. It wasn't such a good jam actually as most people there were off their heads and hadn't slept for the whole festival. I remember meeting a pretty girl there who played clarinet and had lots of jewels on her face, looking like an Indian gypsy, but white and blonde. That is my image of the festival.
Oddly, it was mainly White British people, and no visibly Roma people as far as I could tell despite lots of gypsy and Balkan influenced music. There could have been people with Romany heritage but I wouldn't know. The bands sung mainly in English, but there was a bit of Spanish and French singing too, and West African languages from Mosi Konde (so there's lots of space for me to add something different with my multi-lingual set when I get on the bill one day!).
My thoughts on the lack of Roma people in the festival were only solidified afterwards when I got chatting to another teaching assistant called Anna Lowenstein at Linden Lodge, a school I worked at for a while. She plays violin in Tell Tale Tusk, and she also plays some Klezmer. In our conversation I discovered that she was familiar with, or part of, the Small World, new-age, hippy scene (Small World is a genius name, right?). She did her dissertation on festival gypsy music and its connection, or lack thereof, to real gypsy music. She emailed it to me but I haven't read it yet.
I bumped into her again in January at the Bucumis Trio gig in Jam in Jar. They played Bulgarian folk music, but most of the band members were not Bulgarian, but they'd studied Bulgarian music in Plovdiv, in a music school which is right next to the Roman amphitheatre that Paul, Swinn and I visited in our Balkan backpacking holiday back in 2013.
One of my personal highlights from the festival was a jam on the Tee-pee Village stage. The stage had no pre-booked acts, but instead was like an open mic for music and poetry, and bands would come on and play surprise warm-up sets there before going to the main stages. The guy who ran it played bass. I asked “can I do something and you guys back me up?” and then not long afterwards, after eating some dinner, I was on stage backed with a drum kit, bass, trumpet, violin and dijeridoo! I sang my usual gypsy-pop covers – Amaritzi Amari, Misirlou, Chi'lett la Yeni, Volare, Llorando se fue, and then Paul arrived and we did another one I've been doing for years, Can't Get You Out of My Head. My voice was knackered already; it became so after the first night (before this I'd been doing a lot of singing in London). I remember singing a very cracked & hoarse but energetic & cool sounding rendition of the Algerian song Chi'lett La Yeni, sitting on a straw bail in the cider tent with Steve Broe, Paul and our festival buddies.
Early in September I went to Madrid for five days with Beccy Swinn to visit Rebe, JP and their friendly bohemian crew.
In September & October I had a full time position as a teaching assistant at Linden Lodge and I went to gigs pretty much weekly. On the 20th of September while the long summer was still going strong, I performed for the second time in Grow Elephant, the Elephant & Castle community garden on New Kent Road. I also did a mural for them with help from some Korean artists I'd met recently and some local children. After it went dark we watched a captivating storytelling band who used shadow puppets in their performance. The pianist and songwriter sang inventive, surreal, tragicomedy songs.
The organisers gave out a flyer for an event the following week which looked interesting. It was an anti-colonialist event held at the School of Oriental and African Studies called “1492 Resistance Continues” (this is the date when the Europeans started colonising South America). On the day of the event, I went to Artworks to meet a friend from ICS and we met Mauritian poet and thinker called Khal Torabully who was giving a talk. It was very interesting, also about colonialism, so it fitted with the event I went to afterwards at SOAS.
At the event, I met people from the anti-colonialist movement, which became another recurring theme in my adventures in London, and heard some interesting and challenging perspectives. I have to say that the best part for me was the dancing at the end; although compelling and important I sometimes find 'politics' is too much for me and makes me a bit stressed by filling up my mind with confusion and uncertainty. People are so certain, yet everything is grey and nothing is certain, and what's right for one is wrong for someone else. But this is a topic for another blog entry.
Varldens Band describe their music as "transglobal roots fusion". The a collaboration between a Swedish folk-pop band of guitars and fiddles, an classical singer from India, a Kora player and singer from Senegal, some British folk boys playing accordion and guitar, a French girl on the bagpipes and flutes and some percussionists. Some of them had decorated themselves with feathers and jewels, and had dreads and exuberant clothing, in the hippie or new-age traveller style. The theme was “no borders” and “peace and love” two other regularly recurring themes in my life. The event was organised by “Celebrate Life” who are followers of Prem Rewat, one of the guru's I'd heard about in India.
The Transglobal Underground gig was on a Sunday. On the Friday and Saturday of that weekend I went to Birmingham to see my friend Swinn, and we went to Digbeth.
I returned to London on the 6th November to attend Nick Allen's birthday jam/mini-festival in rural Kent. It was quite an adventure. A friendly local offered Paul and me a lift from the station to the part, but as we didn't have an exact address we were dropped off on a verge in the dark, with me carrying a heavy Lidl bag of stuff that I'd ended up not needing but still had to lug around everywhere for the next few days. I'd invited some friends and I was a bit worried about how they'd get there, because I hadn't realised the type of event it was. But Arianna, Steve the busker, and his girlfriend arrived at the same time as Tamarugo, both having hitched lifts from the station. People in Kent are very friendly. We stayed up all night jamming and dancing and caught the early train back to London at around 6am. After catching a few hours kip on Tamarugo's sofa, I went to the Artworks to help run the Easles Art Market while Jos Azawala was in Ghana.
Arianna and I left really late and I ended up staying on her sofa in Beckenham (which was actually Steve the busker's sofa because she was his lodger). On the Sunday I went out busking on South Bank with Kerttu the Finnish singer I met at the Silver Bullet in summer, also through Steve. After being moved on twice, we set up on the Millennium Bridge at sunset, looking over at St Paul's. It was beautiful.
I met Javi Perez at the end of September when I was walking past Tottenham Court Road station. He'd just finished busking. He's a long haired, friendly, free-spirited Spanish dude. We chatted and exchanged numbers. He told me about his busking collective, Undergrooveland, and invited me to jam with them sometime.
That time finally came on November 21st, when Javi invited me to a protest in Camden against the council banning his band and other buskers from playing outside the station. He'd gathered together a welcoming bohemian group of musicians, dancers and artists. Rico (from my old band Naughty Magic Simon) was visiting from North Wales so I took him too. When Paul, Rico and I arrived everyone was drawing posters and standing with the instruments in a silent protest. Then at some point Faisal and Muti started singing “we want to sing good music” and Javi added “but the council won’t let” us, and this grew into a choral acappela piece. A crowd started forming and I picked up my guitar and added some Cm, Gm and Fm chords with a reggae rhythm, then soon the drums, bass and trumpets joined in, and we had a street party.
When I'd taken a break and started filming the jam, a girl came up to me in surprised recognition. It took a few seconds for me to figure it out, but then I recognised her and remembered her name (Kenza)! She was a girl I'd met in the computer room in my department at uni and then bumped into again when she happened to move into Rebeca Ortega's old house (I'd tried to ask her out actually but she cleverly escaped that).
There was a march coming up which we were both planning on attending. Kenza, the freind from uni, invited me to steward with her, so I went to a briefing session with Avaaz in the Christian Aid building in Waterloo, and a few days later I donned one of those green flourecent jackets and stewared at the march.
The decolonisation activists and speakers who I'd met at the SOAS event pushed to the front of the march chanting “we are the wretched of the earth!” and other slogans. I didn't understand at first and found their slogans a bit aggressive, but by the end of the march I understood. They were leading the march on behalf indigenous peoples around the world because these are the people worst effected by climate change and least responsible for it. The speaker from Friends Of The Earth talked a lot about this too. One of their points was that indigenous voices are too often buried and ignored, and even in this event they felt they were not being listened to because they said they'd been promised the front of the march, but Avaaz wanted their block at the front. There was some negotiating, and at one point the SOAS group all lay on the ground in protest. They were very effective campaigners. The most recognisable from this group, who I first saw at the SOAS event, is a stunning Aymara or Quechua lady who dresses stylishly in the traditional Andean Cholita outfit that was so common in La Paz. I never actually got to speak to her; she seemed to be one of the organisers and was always very busy.
I got to see all this happening because Kenza and I were lucky enough to be among the stewards brought right to the front of the march, at the head of a tens-of-thousands strong crowd! My close friends Paul and Swinn were there too, but I only found them at the end.
This was also the first day I went to Passing Clouds in Dalston, the best discovery of them all! It was the Sunday jam and this week it was being hosted by Kanti Quena, a Peruvian, his Bolivian wife, Janet, and their band, Lokandes, the band who supported Chico Trujio! At the start of the jam they praised “pacha mama” (mother-earth), and played some beautiful spiritual music with their five year old son on the drums. It tied in beautifully with the rest of the day. And to make it even more perfect, the Sami singers from Scandinavia who were right at the front of the march singing a traditional chant about mother-earth came to the jam arrived sang on stage!
The jam happens every Sunday hosted by different people and before the live music starts the DJ plays a brilliant global mix which is right up my street, the sort of thing I enjoy listening to on World on 3.
That first night I also met Juan Marcelo, a Chilean musician specialising in Andean music and Spanish rock who'd just moved to London from Spain, and we became friends.
Balkan relief gig at Goldsmiths with Sion, Rae, Margarita, and some cool and gorgeous Germans
On the last day of November I played at a “no borders” event in Goldsmiths raising funds for Balkan Relief, which is a cause I am passionate about. The set was with my brother, as Naughty Magic Simon. An anti-colonialist poet from the group “Sorry We Made You Feel Uncomfortable” raised some interesting points which made me question my beliefs and ideas, and yet again I became confused and worried that I might be guilty of cultural appropriation by singing in different languages and wearing clothes from different cultures...but I spoke to another poet who knows about this and she said I need not worry, the criticisms of “middle class white” ideas that prompted my thoughts were not directed at people like me. Still, my brother decided to pull the “Pub” from the set because he sings that with a Jamaican accent and we were worried we'd be accused of being racist. But we use the Jamaican accent for that song because it is in the Sean Paul style and we like the sound. People sing blues and rock with American accents, so for us it is the same as that.
An eventful month: Tuesday 1st of December, I went busking with Javi the guitar genius and another Spaniard called Mario outside Spaghetti House, where Stafano works (he was my housemate at the time, Arianna's boyfriend). Afterwards I stayed and danced to gypsy jazz from Gyps 'n' Progress with some gorgeous Italian Students who'd filmed us for their website. And I had a nice dance with mysterious stranger (as seen in the video below). I remember sitting on the pavement with Arianna and Steffano, and meeting this interesting French-Moroccan guy who liked my 'spiritual' aura and hippy clothes and beard. In November and December I met a lot of students who included me in their documentaries or photography projects about buskers, and so did Javi.
Using Unit 2 (The Trunk) in Artworks as my studio in which to mount prints and make paper bags from newspapers, I sold prints and Christmas cards on Trafalgar Square (for a donation, because technically you can't sell things on the street without a street vendor's licence). One of the nicest people I met there was Freddy, an Italian who does big chalk pictures on the floor. https://www.facebook.com/freddystreetartist
My friends JP and Rebe visited from Madrid on Thursday 17th, and on Friday we went to the Welcome Collection by Euston and experienced a great installation about consciousness (a room full of multi-coloured mist which meant you could only see a meter in front of you) and an exhibition on Buddhism. Rebe and I decided to learnt about Mindfulness and become more spiritual to solve our problems (which seem to be similar). We were stuck about what to do in the evening, but last minute I remembered the “Contact Jam” I'd been told about at the Varldens Band gig, which happens every Friday in in “The Place” - it was very nearby as we were in Euston. We improvised music for the dancers and had a go ourselves. Later on the street in Camden, I bumped into Ipek Ergin from uni! She was in London for a few days for her graduation. Small world.
On the 19th Gareth came down from Sheffield and we saw Star Wars!! it was brilliant.
On Wednesday 23rd I discovered the Elephant's Head, the best pub in Camden: my friend Santi (part of Rebe & JP's friendship group who I went on holiday with last year) was visiting from Spain and Arianna's younger sister was visiting from Italy too, so I arranged to meet everyone in Camden. Just to complicate things, I arranged to go busking with Marcelo too. To complicate it even more, I was in complete silence on the instructions of my singing teacher. Obviously I got quite frustrated and finally gave up on the silence at 4pm, after a day a half.
After some unsuccessful busking, Marcelo, Santi and I went to the Elephants Head to join the Italian girls and Steve the busker. We met lots of other Spaniards and South Americans too. My set with Marcelo went well and we got everyone dancing. We inspired an Andalucian called Al de Luna to perform some of his original Andalucian Reggae songs where were great. We also met Youness and Zacharias, Moroccan Gnawa musicians. https://www.facebook.com/ElephantsHeadCamden/
Here's us all dancing, if the link works...
The gigs, busking, jamming, coincidences and fun continue in 2016…