It was the longest day of the year with the most sunlight - the summer solstice - and a really hot summer... very unusual for London.... but the fullest moon was out, guiding my way in this historic city. It's been a long time coming to this town. I came here in 98 very briefly
Oh my, what a change. They even have good coffee!
I arrived at Heathrow airport on the Saturday and was greeted first by a very young and hip-dressed customs agent who stamped my passport. "What brings you to the U.K?" this spunky plain clothed dressed Brit asked. "I'm here to see the Queen!" "Bless your heart, you've got bollocks of that, she's away for the summer but the Palace is still there even though the weather's awfully sticky." With that he smiled and winked, stamped my passport, and let me through. What a change to the U.S airport, always so scary and army-like, with scrupulous questions and intimidating attitudes. The British customs seemed to friendly, and youthful. I don't reckon any agent was over 30.
Outside Rusty was waiting. If you ever remember the old JJ in Sydney, the now Triple J radio station, my good friend is Rusty Nails once greeting me on air every morning, on the best radio breakfast show there was. Now, he lives back in London and is to be my guide and rep in London. I was so excited to see him. "Hiya" he cheered as we hugged after not seeing each other since Christmas or thereabouts in L.A. "Hiya" is the welcome from everyone here. Always with a smile. We hopped into his little car and sped down the freeway to Kent.
The people are friendly this time around. Must be due to the weather. It was sunny and hot. So unlike London. Guys were wandering around town with their shirts off which is a bit of an eyesore as I'm sure most of them have barely let their skin see the sun, so it was like looking at bright pink skinny pigs. And the Brits drive like maniacs! I thought New Yorkers and Romans were bad, but the Poms are scary as hell on the road. They don't even look left or right when coming out of a side street onto the main road. They just come out, and push their way in. Pedestrians don't even look to see the cars coming. I don't even know how they all survive. I was holding onto my stomach as we sped through the outer southern suburbs of London.
Rusty lives about 35 miles outside London in Tumbridge Wells, a quaint town in Kent that is famous for its wells, (springs), but apparently the water is yellow. The drinking water in the taps, however, is crystal clear and clean. I drank a lot of it in the heat. Rusty has a cute 3 storey terrace house (in Boston they'd call it a Brownstone) with kitchen, TV room and back garden full of herbs downstairs, 2 bedrooms on the middle floor and another bedroom and bathroom up top. Really cute. So Rus and his mum, Ida (83 and still as pretty as she was young in the photos but just not as active) and his 16 yr old daughter Emily live together in this town. I was way happier to stay out of town than in the hustle and bustle of London. I'd seen the sights before, and my trip this time was of completely different nature.
I'm here to show this town a different kind of moon. a gilli moon ;)
The weekend went by fast. I did a bit of shopping and actually was impressed with the fashion although the prices were awful. The exchange rate is horrible with only 50p for a dollar. So everything cost double. But I loved the sizes of the clothes... just made for curvy girls like me. I am so sick of Hollywood stick thin sizes. I was in heaven here. I sat having a coffee at Cafe Nero, the new cafe chain that's everywhere. I saw a few Starbucks around, but they couldn't compete with the Nero chain. Way better coffee... real Italian expresso. I also listened to the radio a bit but really got sick of the music. They are very focused on pop here, anything that sounds like the Beatles for the boys, and anything that fits into a small mini dress and sounds like Dido for the girls. Nothing is unique. The charts is a huge focus in the U.K. It's all doof doof music to me, just electronic beats and choruses that don't have any meat. But that's what sells. Of course, U2 and Coldplay are big, but what stays on the charts are the fluff stuff. It was a little demoralizing. What was interesting to see is the lead up propaganda about Bob Geldof's new "Live 8" (he did Live Aid 20 years ago) which will be televised right round the world in many countries again and has all the huge acts.
The newspapers are all about sensationalism and sex. Front page headlines "How to find out if your partner is faking her orgasm". Oh-my-god. So if you happen to have sex in this cat scan type machine they can check your heat levels to see if the other is faking. Um... yeah right. The rest of the paper is about Wimbledon (tennis is on this week), Prince Charles and Camilla, Posh Spice revealing all just before the Spice Girls reunite (publicity), some Popstar making out with another popstar (more publicity to sell records), and how a local town gets hit by robbers and grave diggers (nothing changes in London.) Mainly though, the media is all tits and ass. I couldn't believe how the TV was full of it. It was like watching modern day Benny Hill and swearing is common even at the dinner hour.
Sunday night we drove down to Soho and met up with Tim Friedman at Ronny Scott's. Ronny Scott's is the coolest jazz club in London with a piano, in the round seating, low lighting and European style. Stu who runs the Sunday night program was the quintessential Londoner with his accent and good sense of humour. And then I met Tim Friedman. A seemingly quirky man (he liked when I told him he was 'quirky'), dressed in a soft pink shirt and pin striped jacket, and hair all over the place... Tim had already had half a bottle of wine and was in fine form. He reminded me of a dashing Yahoo Serious, eyes wild with..um well I don't know.. excitement? history? a dark past? His show was equally quirky. If you don't know this witty boy, he has a successful band called the Whitlams, in Australia. A solo show, Tim played a good set on the piano to a packed room of about 300 die-hard Whitlams fans, mostly expats living in London who have followed his career. His first 6 songs were very melancholy. I think he is rather melancholy in general. Very dark and edgy. Should I slit my wrists now?... But wow he really knows how to use satire and humour to deliver dark truth. Half way he had me laughing. I was spellbound. I certainly was day dreaming of me up there duelling with him on two pianos.... seeing who could sing the darker song and outwit and tease each other and the audience. That would be fascinating. I certainly assimilated with how he poured his heart out on stage. I found it refreshing coming from a guy. It's usually a girl thing to do. So I liked how he was emotional.
The next day the three of us, Tim, Rusty and I, sat around a table drinking beer and talking about taking over London. He was leaving to go back to Oz, and my start in London was just beginning. But we promised to keep in touch, maybe get him to L.A, and me getting back to Sydney one day.
I loved Rusty's porridge every morning (they say it's good for cholesterol) but what I like about him the most was his fantastic hospitality when it came to my music. He had organized a show for me at Australia House, put on by the Australian Consulate and Australian High Commission, to welcome me to London. On the Tuesday night we caught the train to Charing Cross and walked along the Strand to the House. The Strand, a long famous street, is in the West End. All the best shows are on this street including Chicago which I remember coming to see my friend Michael in 98 playing one of the leading roles. Chicago was still there on the Strand as we walked by to my show.
I have to say that the show at Australia House was one of the nicest shows I've done and I was so taken by the welcome. About 80 guests arrived all dressed up (you had to really, just to feel part of the building, which is so regal and historic.) High ceilings, ornate windows.. and then of course the most delightful piece of furniture: the Steinway grand piano. Waiting for my fingers. Rita and Jeremy (Jeremy being the deputy High Commissioner) put on an amazing spread with free Australian wines and hors d'euves. There were people from the press, including Vince Lovegrove from the Daily Telegraph, agents and labels, even Hugh Cornwell from the band The Stranglers, and a slew of ex-pats from Oz living in London. I was so blown away. I began by sitting down on the piano stool and taking my shoes off, showing my newly painted toes. They laughed. Had to break the ice right. (Did they know what they were in for?) So... I did a quick 30 mins show on the piano delivering some old songs that I know goes well (this was a brand new audience.. had to go with stuff I knew without skipping a beat and that I knew would go well) and sung new songs from the album too, like Hollywood and Release Me. I even got on to Emma Carton's guitar for Evolution (she is a locally based songwriter who was so nice to bring her guitar for me) ...and I So enjoyed myself. I set it up "I don't play guitar so just concentrate on my lips ok?" Later, Hugh from The Stranglers said he loved my guitar song the most (I was shocked). "Sometimes one's first instrument (piano) can take away being able to really hear the song, and the simplicity of you playing Evolution on guitar allowed me to really hear the song. I also liked the A to Am. Really effective". Now that's big coming from a famous guitar player.
I did find the audience very serious. Was this London or just the venue calling for being polite? I wasn't sure. I'm very alternative and edgy on the piano, sometimes my hair goes everywhere (bit like Tim's really), and every time I caught a person's attention they were sitting prim and proper, clapped politely and smiled. They were so polite I thought any minute now the queen will make her entrance. It got me quite nervous actually and that's a rare phenomenon for me. I got a little stiff on the piano sensing their ever so proper reception of me... so wasn't sure how I was being received at first. But when I finished, I was taken back by the overwhelmingly positive feedback. finding out only after how much people enjoyed me, I felt like hopping back on the piano and really taking off. Maybe I could run around the piano like I do at my residency back in l.a when i'm really looney. hmm next time. Bunches of girls would come up to me and say how much they related to my love struck or love-gone-wrong songs, guys loved my personality and style and I sold a bunch of my new cds like hotcakes. Good test. This was the first time I had my new cd, extraOrdinary life available. I had people offering me more gigs, places to stay, things to do, and people to meet. It was a great night. The High Commission brought me flowers and a wonderful bottle of red. Heaven. Afterwards, Rusty and I grabbed some yummy pasta and a quaint Italian restaurant round the corner and hopped on the last train back to Tumbridge Wells. Couldn't have asked for a better entree to the London scene really.
The following night, my last night in this city, was spent at the old Bedford in Balham. Just south of London in the burbs, the Bedford is a historic old pub that makes good tucker, pulls good beer and has 3 stages for entertainment. My old friend Tony Moore runs the entertainment at the Bedford every night of the week. The first stage is in the ground floor room with a grand piano. Then there's another room that is a miniature Shakespearean Globe theatre, in the round with a balcony overlooking the stage from above with more tables and chairs. Apparently Tim and Neil Finn did a closed TV show here recently. I played in the third room, an intimate acoustic stage that is webcast worldwide on the internet. This is where Tony's Kashmir Club idea comes to life. When I first met Tony, he had just started an acoustic singer/songwriter night called the Kashmir Club in Knightsbridge. I only found out this time around that he had only done 3 shows when I first performed for him 8 years ago. Tonight I was performing with 4 other local artists, weirdly all male songwriters, to a packed room and the internet. So I shared some of my new album songs again, like I did at Australia House, had a great meal and a glass of red, and played to people that sang along, stomped their feet and clapped. I found the audience way more easy going tonight than last. Heck, officially this was my international launch for the album... all over the net! Ha Ha!
The songwriting scene in London seems to be kind of underground. I can imagine, with the tits and ass Pop Charts being so significant as what is "the music business", but yet so hard to crack, the true songwriter scene is kind of relegated to the underground. Well what's changed really! I felt Tony's night was extremely important for the songwriting community. I also was approached by at least 5 songwriters here who are eager to help start a local Songsalive! chapter so I'm very excited by that and we'll be getting that going soon, with critique workshops and showcases. For me, this is so important and it will help also create an immediate community I and other foreign members can find support through and interact. So look out for that!
Thursday morning we were up bright and early. It was time for me to say goodbye, but not for long. I know I'll be back to this town soon. I said goodbye to Ida and Emily, and Rusty and headed off to Stansted airport for me to catch the 2 hour flight to Rome, next destination. It was still hot and sticky, but the drive through green pastures was a delight and Rusty and I made plans to get me back for more. Onwards and upwards.
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"extraOrdinary life" ALBUM LAUNCH L.A Sun July 17 Monsoon Cafe, Santa Monica