Wednesday 19 January 2022

Introducing London Symphonies

What are London Symphonies? Let me tell you the whole story.

This is a special year for me. If I make it through to August, I will be 60 years old. I can't believe that the time has passed so quickly. I have to be honest and say that 99% of the time it's been an absolute blast. I was asked if I was a glass half empty or glass half full person recently. I said that I am someone who drinks the glass and fills it up again. When the glass is empty, it is an opportunity to try a different tipple.

Over the past four years, I've been working diligently on a little project. It started off as an idea for a concept album for my band, The False Dots. We started writing songs and then the pandemic struck.  During the period of lockdown, I sat at home, sorting out old photo's, getting boxes out of the shed, looking at all manner of things I'd put away for safe keeping. In the middle of the pandemic, I had to go to UCH for an MRI for my Cancer. As we were only allowed out for 'essential reasons' I realised I would be seeing a London that most of us would never see and it was a unique opportunity to record this for posterity. I photo'd the journey and recorded it on Instagram. I then put this together as a blog - From Mill Hill to UCH, a lockdown journey through London as you've never seen it before - as I was doing this, I came to realise just how fascinated I was with London. I reflected long and hard on the album we'd started to write. I came to the realisation that what I wanted to do was something completely different. London is such an amazing subject for a project, but there was more scope than just music. The old photos in our family collection made me realise that there was a visual story to be told. The old videos I found also told a story. For a couple of years, I've been chatting with my good mate Richard Wilkinson, who has provided guest blogs about Mill Hill in the 50's and 60's about London and the suburbs. Richard is an amazing storyteller. His storys got me thinking about whether we could encompass such reminiscences in London Symphonies. 

As I thought about the project, I realised that I didn't want to do a history project. I wanted to do something that encapsulated living London. I wanted to capture the stories, images and sounds of London through the lifetimes of living Londoners, be it memories of times gone by or current times.

If it can be called  Eureka moment, it was when I was putting a song together with The False Dots at a rehearsal recently. I'd written a song called "Sunday Morning at The Sacred Heart". It was based on my experiences of having to go to Church as a child, being an alter server, etc.  I got the band playing it, and our drummer, Gray Ramsey said "That really reminds me of Sundays at our house. My Mum would always do a big seafood spread in the afternoon. It was lovely, there was great big crabs, whelks, prawns. All my mates would come around. It made me realise that there was far more to Sunday in the 70's than going to Church for most Londoners. I remembered how my Dad would take us to Church and then go to the club for a few beers, arriving home just after 2pm when the bar shut. 

I remember my Aunty would nip around and borrow two shillings for the meter and we'd all have to shut up whilst she gossiped with Mum. Her husband Michael drove a skip lorry and he'd chat football with us and tell us stories. I threw out most of the old lyrics, rewrote the song and we recorded it. I was blown away. I dug out old footage of Mill Hill, a video we had of me starring in a Heinz beans commercial, some old photo's and my good mate Richard Logue got some footage of one of the vintage tellies he collects and put it together into this. 

I didn't want to make a big thing of it, just gauge the response. The response has been amazing. It has been really well received by just about everyone I know. 

I've been reflecting on the project and I realised that there are four main strands to what I want to do.

1. Stories of London. 

When I was at School, I did a project on St Pancras Station. I was given a guided tour by an old railwayman, who was close to retirement. He'd started on the railway in 1940 at the height of the blitz. St Pancras was bombed. He'd been working on the day it was bombed. He told tales of the station through the years. At the time, in 1976, the station was run down and at risk of demolition. If I had a regret, it was that those stories were lost. Another similar thing was a Cafe I used to visit in Aldgate called Sidoli's on Leman St. Margaret who served the tea was always good for a chinwag. She'd tell me stories of when the cafe was full of sailors from the London docks, rather than city types from Nat West banks offices next door. Another such great racontour is the much missed Stan Davison RIP. We video'd Stan for the film "A Tale of Two Barnets". The interview was so good that when he passed away, I posted the whole thing on my Youtube channel. It is well worth a look

I really want to capture as many of these stories of London as I can. 

2. Photographs. 

London may be the most photgraphed city in the World. I realised that what I want is not pictures of buildings, but pictures that tell the tale of London. I found a picture of my sister and my cousin as kids in the fountain at Mill Hill Swimming pool in the summer of 1963. For many, this is the London they remember, not Big Ben.  These are the images I want to capture.

I want images that someone, somewhere will say "Wow, I remember that". I want pictures that spark memories, not just well composed images of buildings and routemaster buses etc. It would also include times of change, where the passing of something is marked.

3. Films.

I've made films of a couple of things of interest in London, I hope to make some more. A good example is the film I made of the official opening of the Handley Page memorial at Cricklewood.  I love the memorial and it was an honour to make this film. I hope that in years to come, people will see the memorial and be inspired enough to search out the film. I'd really like to make more of such films. I'd also be happy to include other things, I'm not so much looking for mini history films as getting an insight into the people behind them. 

4. Music.

Initially, this will be the songs that The False Dots have been working on for the album. That will be volume 1 of London symphonies. Who knows if there will be a volume II, if there is I'd like it to be something radically different to the first album. The first album will be songs that evoke the spirit and sound of London in our lifetimes.

Initially I will be collating all of this into a website. If that works out OK, I'll be looking to make some sort of multi media show or exhibition. I hope that there is something in this you think might be worth a look. My intention is to spend 1 day a week working on it all year. I plan to visit a neighbourhood I know, where I've worked etc and re-explore it. I've deliberately not overplanned it. Next week will be the first day. I'll be spending the day in and around Aldgate and Spitalfields, My plan is to just spend a few hours walking around, taking pictures, making videos and see how it all comes out. We'll take it from there. 


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