On Wednesday, I experienced a return to a level of outside activity that would have seemed ‘averagely normal’ only 18 or so months previously, but now seems head-whirlingly multivalent: a film in the cinema, a meal in a restaurant, and a live music event. All in FIVE hours, what’s more! The fact that all three experiences were, in addition,very positive gave me a considerable boost, at a time where there has been little to celebrate. (One reason for the lack of blogs recently has been a series of personal and familial losses, post-Covid hesitancy and my continual bemusement with the behaviour of our elected government and the populace that voted them into power.)
The film was director Todd Haynes’ newie, The Velvet Underground, and I urge everyone interested to catch it on the big screen, where its immersive sound will pin you to your seat. The split-screen techniques may annoy some (and perhaps bring back memories of having to endure Woodstock: the Movie), but there is enough high content here to satiate even the most obsessive leather jacket & shades merchant. It’s two hours in length, but flew by for me, even though I was one of those smart asses who figured that “there is nothing new you can tell me about the Velvets, man”. The structure of the film is as it should be with regards to its various participants: invariably it’s mostly the’Lou and John Show’, with the two musical poles of this historic band being Reed and Cale. It is clearly narrated how the unique sound of the VU emerged from the creative tensions of these two avantists who shared a pop sensibility. They shared equally difficult childhoods, with parents who were ignorant of and indifferent to their children’s unorthodox attitudes and intentions. The early/mid-60s New York scene is given considerable time, as is The Factory scene and Warhol. Mo Tucker and Sterling Morrison (and even Doug Yule) are given an appropriate amount of time to celebrate their own (very strong, in the case of the first two), contributions but there was always only going to be twp main(men), with John Cale coming across as a man who has tamed his demons, to emerge, impressively, as someone seemingly without rancour, (to be commended, given the way he was treated by Reed) and content with his lot. I really can’t recommend it strongly enough for anyone who has been captivated by probably rock music’s most challenging and influential group. (And I haven’t even mentioned Nico!)
We moved on to Dalston, and visited Evin Cafe on Kingsland Road (just down from the Rio Cinema on the same side), a Turkish restaurant that we have visited many times on various pre-Cafe Oto excursions. I particularly recommend the succulent lamb chops, marinaded overnight and slow cooked for just under an hour. I haven’t been to Oto since March 2020, so it was great to be back, to witness a Dominic Lash Quartet iteration, the last one of which I saw in January of that year. Lash himself and John Butcher remained, but Mark Saunders’ drum seat had been surrendered to Steve Noble, and Pat Thomas’ piano replaced the guitar of the late John Russell, who, it turned out, was sadly playing one of his last live gigs. The second set was by a large scale Lash ‘Consort’ (16 in number, I think), who unfurled a masterful ‘quiet through to sheer racket and back’ piece. I only recognised Steve Beresford (on kitchen sink et al.) in the Consort (Lash was hidden away behind a pillar on guitar, which says much about his healthy lack of narcissism), Phil Durrant (modular synth), Hannah Marshall (cello) and Angharad Davies (violin). Apparently, the music was mostly improvised, an impressive brush-with-chaos, given the amount of participants and the risk of musical shipwreck represented by the event as a whole. Lash opined that the group were really relying on a sort of ‘muscle memory’ from their last performance in this space on the thirteenth January 2020, in which case even more power to their discipline and focus on the night.
More to come at various venues through November by the look of it, and it will be very interesting to see what our dunces in Parliament will do with regards to the ‘entertainment industry’, if Covid-19 continues to provide its unavoidable political and epidemiological dissonances. (Boris Johnson clearly prefers uncomplicated major chords and ‘open tuning’!.) This was my fourth live gig of 2021 (thus equalling my four of 2020), and I just hope that I can leap that low bar (being my lowest gig attendance since, I fear, 1970) over the next couple of months: “O brave new world…”, as Miranda has it in The Tempest, someone else who had suffered somewhat from isolation from her fellows.