London, Music, Musings

As a musician, London has always been sacred. Any trip there has been no less than a pilgrimage! Wikipedia says, “London is famous for its rock scene, and was the starting point of some of the greatest 60s and 70s artists such as David Bowie, Iron Maiden, The Clash, Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac, The Sex Pistols, The Who, Pink Floyd, Queen and popular 90s acts like Blur and Coldplay. Most major bands’ tours will pass through London as well, favourite venues being the Brixton Academy, the London Astoria, and the Hammersmith Apollo”. Over the years, London has served as the base for innumerable internationally important acts such as The Beatles, Elton John, Madonna, and Jimi Hendrix. From pop acts like the Spice Girls and One Direction, to neo-soul artistes like Adele, Amy Winehouse, and Sam Smith, London has always been musically extremely rich.

It was supposed to be a regular mid-week night out with my working-class friends in London. An eclectic mix of people- posh locals, hipster Asians, artistes, filmmakers, and bankers! I was walking down the extremely busy, tourist-friendly, shopping paradise called Oxford Street. It must have been about 6:30 in the evening. The chilly north winds that London is (in)famous for were dangerously flirting with the satin tights I’d worn underneath my little black skirt. I shivered a little, pulled my coat closer, and gulped down a lot of the piping hot Caffe Nero cappuccino I wish I could have every single day of my life! As I walked past the iconic Selfridges, faint strains of the saxophone floated in.

About a 100 steps later, I was greeted by a shriveled man sitting on a low stool and blowing into what I believe is the most grand and posh wind instrument ever. He was playing a Thelonius Monk jazz standard. A motley group of curious onlookers surrounded him as he played the sweet notes of Round Midnight, and created an atmosphere straight out of a black & white Hollywood classic. I stood there staring at him, my coffee getting cold, oblivious to my surroundings, and transported to a far away, magical world. I wouldn’t have broken out of my reverie had my phone not vibrated violently, and threatened to send me into cardiac arrest! After being adequately chastised by my friend, who was waiting for me at Oxford

Circus, for being late, I quickly started walking again, stopping only when I spotted her jumping up and down so I’d not miss her in the crowd of extremely swift-walking, insanely tall people.

After a quick Thai dinner which comprised spilling red curry on my white blouse, and attempting to unsuccessfully teach my friend to work chopsticks, we headed to Soho to meet up with the rest of our friends. Soho is one of the trendiest parts of Central London. From chic boutiques to hole-in-the-wall bars, from cheap hostels to fancy hotels, from housing London’s red light district to its Chinatown, Soho is throbbing with life at any given hour of the day! What Soho is equally famous for is its music-jazz bars, to be precise. I remember spending hours in its many little alleyways trying to locate the very famous Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, during my first trip to London.

This club was opened in 1959, and was managed by musicians Ronnie Scott and Pete King. It’s a very important piece of jazz history in the UK, and carries special significance as the site of Jimi Hendrix’s last live performance. Umpteen legends have played there, including Chet Baker, Ella Fitzgerald, Anita O’Day, Nina Simone, Dianne Reeves, Stacey Kent, Katie Melua, Madeleine Peyroux, Prince, and Chick Corea. Being a jazz aficionado, it only made sense for me to visit this holy site and pay my respects. I remember the house band playing that particular night, and being blown away by Sam Burgess’ terrific bass! But, this time was different. I literally stumbled upon a
treasure, without even having to look for it!

We’d barely just reached Soho Square, cold and out-of-breath, when a wicked, velvety voice sang Anytime At All (The Beatles’ classic) into a mic, and we couldn’t help but trace our steps towards it. The next hour was the most blissful of my weeklong stay. A three-piece progressive rock band was doing a free, tribute, street concert for fans and paying homage to music we all have grown up listening to. From Dire Straits to Bob Dylan, from Cream to Stevie Ray Vaughan, from The Beatles to Bryan Adams, from Deep Purple to Nirvana, they played music that transcended time, gender, age, generations, borders.

From squealing teenagers to nattily dressed, beer chugging bankers, from disillusioned twenty somethings to pot smoking hipsters, the band had something for everybody!

And, this is exactly what London for me is, at least the music is. It’s out there for all, something for everybody. You don’t need to be rich, or belong to a particular generation/gender/class in order to listen to the music you love. Yes, there are fancy clubs, and posh arenas. But, it’s the streets where the music lives. And, it’s the music that livens up the streets!

The author is a snotty single child, mountain junkie, playback singer, Austen addict, hopes
to soon finish writing her debut novel, and dreams of singing alongside Buddy Guy
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