Last Saturday was a London day, one of those which end up on this blog from time to time: exhibition, walking around and gig in the evening.
All those years of living, working and going to exhibitions in London and I had never made it to the Museum of London Docklands (although the Museum of London in The City is a favourite of mine).
It is one of the oddest places: the sturdy, beautiful remnants of London's history rooted deep into the ground of the city, holding their ground whilst surrounded by the domineering presence of ever taller, shinier corporate towers (this contrast I intend to explore in my fourth novel, Anti... If London is still standing by the time I get to start work on it!)
I highly recommend the exhibition we went to see: Soldiers and Suffragettes, the photography of Christina Broom.
It is on until 1st November and it is free (but for how long? I keep hearing that museums will start charging very soon because of cuts, a complete disaster if you want my humble opinion).
Christina started taking pictures in 1903 and quickly became an extremely successful photographer with a thriving business. She was a bold and creative photographer who didn't use a studio like most of her colleagues at the time, but carried her equipment around the streets of the capital (especially her home turf of West London).
We just immersed and lost ourselves in the exhibition, our imagination fired up by Christina's incredibly sharp images of a London as bustling as ever, full of movement and life - and later, death, as the soldiers of the Chelsea Barracks she had been photographing for months start leaving for France in 1914.
Her images documenting the Suffragette and Suffragist movements are fascinating and really express the great energy and hope of the numerous groups involved in the fight for women's rights - I didn't know they made merchandise they sold in their own shops and at big conferences! Some of the fiery personalities in the Women's suffrage movement really come to life in Christina's pictures.
Her images of the numerous battalions based at the Chelsea Barracks take on an extra poignancy as we realise that most of them are destined to die on the Western Front. Christina's photos show strong, confident young men full of pride. Most will disappear in the war. Christina (or Mrs Albert Broom as she was known professionally) was the only photographer with a pass for the burial of the Unknown Warrior at Westminster Abbey and also the only professional photographer allowed to take pictures of King Edward VII lying in state after his death.
Watch this short film about the exhibition:
We spent a bit of time wandering around Canary Wharf and its underground shopping center, a monstrosity of designer bling built for bland people whose personality has been sucked out of them (but whose wallets are obviously bulging obscenely). It's all sleek, shiny, non-porous, devoid of any history, character, knowledge, culture or beauty. Not for the likes of me.
Still, definitely good visual inspiration for my fourth novel.
So then, we thought that taking refuge on the first floor of a small pub in Farringdon for a high dose of antidote to Canary Wharf would be the best thing to do!
For various reasons, I am still playing catch up with acts who have been going for years and whom I end up coming across for the first time two decades after everyone else... I do not belong to any particular scene and have been moving between music genres for as long as I remember. I have been aware of Sol Invictus for a while but had never seen them live before or owned any of their albums.
Better late than never, as they say...
Because of a last-minute problem with the original venue, the sold-out show (tickets sold in 48 hours!) London: In The Rain was moved to the rather intimate Betsey Trotwood in Farringdon; thankfully, all the beautiful people who turned up managed to squeeze themselves into the atmospheric room upstairs...
Matt ArtPix and I were on door and merch table duties, so we missed the support act, Simon Satori's new project Hi-Reciprocity. But someone has filmed a bit of the set, so here it is! This one is all about Suburban faeries, as you do!
Sol Invictus's only constant member is their frontman Tony Wakeford (a pioneer of the neo-folk/neoclassical music scene).
The terrific line-up for tonight was composed of Lesley Malone, Caroline Jago, Eilish McCracken (all three of Seventh Harmonic - Caroline and Lesley are also members of Shadow Biosphere), Clive Giblin, and very special guest on cello, Jo Quail.
I barely breathed during the performance, and it was not only because of the heat: I was transfixed by the sheer beauty of the composition and execution. It really, really spoke to me, and I don't think I was the only one: everybody was very attentive, enjoying the music with genuine reverence; I like a respectful audience; it is becoming rare nowadays, especially in bigger venues in which there just are too many names on guest lists and too many people turn up just because they have to hold on to their street cred or something.
Sol Invictus's In The Rain is 20 years this year, and the evening was dedicated to this particular album (acoustic version). I am delighted to have gotten my hands on the lovely (and high-quality) In The Rain anniversary edition double CD/book (yes, I know, I simply cannot resist a book, and it will be my downfall...) illustrated by American artist Tor Lundvall. Printed lyrics allow me to "absorb" the musicians' world better, and the combination of Tony's evocative lyrics and Tor's haunting images works beautifully.
I understand Tony Wakeford's universe - pessimistic vision of humanity, misanthropy, cynicism, love of the historical and ancient worlds... yes, this is definitely my world - and I have already listened to In The Rain five times whilst writing this blog...
There is an interesting tension at play here: grace and strength, romanticism and anger, the hopeless desire for a different world and a definite sense of history and the lessons that have never been learned...
The vision of humanity displayed in those songs is cruelly lucid and uncompromising, and they resonate with us 20 years down the line: I mean, Down The Years is about the state of the world today, isn't it?
"Rulers rule and foolers fool/How easily the flock is streered/By hands so fine, cruel and kind/Hands that point us down the years/The power of gold, or even God above/Awash in blood, in history's mud/With assassins'bullets and martyrs'spears/slaying and praying down the years [...] And your paper heroes they turn to dust/Like our knights in armour they turn to rust/Go hang the scapegoat, let the masses cheer/Their idiot laughter, an anthem down the years"
My other favourites are the epic Europa In The Rain and In Days to Come, as well as the wonderful An English Garden. The latter - together with Tor Lundvall's illustration - reminds me of MR James's story The Mezzotint. I have actually decided that An English Garden is indeed the perfect soundtrack to my Gothic novel The Book of Thoth, itself inspired by MR James (among others)!
It was a very special evening (bonus was to finally meet the incredibly talented Jordan Reyne, whom I interviewed for my Book Talk series last year HERE), and I hope I will have the pleasure of seeing Sol Invictus on stage very very soon...
Here are a few pictures; as I had to squeeze myself behind the bar at the back of the packed room, the quality of the images is not brilliant, I'm afraid.
More pictures of the evening by SteveK photography HERE.
Some excellent videos of the evening here, do watch them!
And here, back in May at WGT, on a big stage and plugged in!
All photos on this blog our own:
Canary Wharf/Museum of London Docklands (c) Matt ArtPix
and gig pictures (c) Carya Gish
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