Bopping with Niall JP O'Leary

Niall O'Leary insists on sharing his hare-brained notions and hysterical emotions. Personal obsessions with cinema, literature, food and alcohol feature regularly.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Place to Be

Wednesday the 6th of June, a friend of mine, self-styled singer-songwriter Nigel Place was playing a gig in London and I was going over ostensibly to see him, but also to meet up with some friends from my travels.

I should say I had gotten what I thought was an incredible 2 cent return flight from Ryanair, but when I checked my confirmation email last week I discovered that they had booked me on a flight from London to Dublin on Wednesday and vice versa on Thursday. After many, many attempts, I finally got through to their optimistically named 'Help' centre. Naturally no 'help' was to be had. I may be prone to idiocy, but I am pretty sure I made the correct booking to begin with and I have my suspicions. Certainly I resolved not to book with Ryanair again, then went on to their site and paid full whack for my flight. Yes, weakness, but the only other option at the time cost fifty euro more. If only Aer Lingus would be a little more competitive, I don't know anyone who wouldn't choose them above Ryanair.

I had met up with an old college friend of mine the night before and ended up drinking until 1. When I got home I discovered my brother would drive me to the airport (where he works), but he had to be leaving before 7, so an early start was in order. That meant 6; not a good time for a hangover, nor, for that matter, anything. In the event after I had washed, eaten etc., he decided to lie on until 8. The day had not started well.

Dulin Airport is undergoin some renovations right now and one of the upshots of this was a 12 mile hike to the departure lounge which, once I got there, turned out to be a huge barn of a prefab. If ever I was depressed beforehand, this place made sure of the job now. Not feeling up to reading, I stuck my headphones in my ears and tried to doze. The stereo started to go on the headphones there being something wrong with the minijack connection. Like I say, the day had not started well.

Nigel was on the same plane as me and after an hour or so (I had been in plenty of time), he turned up. Ryanair did their usual premature announcement that the gate was open (it wasn't and wouldn't be for another 15 minutes), but eventually we boarded, got adjoining seats and where soon in London.

Phil and Helen from the Indochina leg of my world trip had agreed to meet me at arrivals, so leaving Nigel to find his guitar, I headed off for lunch with them (he had an engagement too).

Most people don't change too much in the course of two months and thankfully Phil and Helen were among those people. They looked relaxed and well, but it did feel like we were meeting up for another slightly delayed leg of our trip. They had married almost immediately prior to travelling and for them travel was still a part of life. It would be too until another week or so when they would go back to Switzerland to settle down once more and try the domestic side of married life. Anyhow they were cheerful about things. A job for Helen seemed likely and Phil was recording songs for a second album (I liked his first).

We tried to find a pub run by Jamie Oliver's dad, but ended up in The Three Wickets (which I half suspect was our intended destination), where pub grub was very appetising indeed. There was a good selection, but when in England...I settled for steak and kidney pie. I had put on nearly half a stone in weight the night before eating in the new Yamamori on the quays. Now I completed the full measure.

They dropped me back to the airport to catch my train(!) and all things running smoothly I made it to Balham, the location of that night's gig and my B and B, by 4.

Two Eastern Europeans greeted me at the reception to the Balham Lodge. The place looked nice; a large, spacious, adapted Victorian house. I was given a keyring with no key and initially thought that this was another variety of the any swipe devices for hotel rooms. When I got to my room I discovered it wasn't. There just wasn't any key on it. I went back to reception, but the key could not be found, so they gave me another room, one closer to the kitchen. There was a good bit of noise and the door seemed like cardboard for all the noise exclusion it gave. Nevertheless I was still exhausted and grateful had a shower and a rest for an hour.

Mary from the New Zealand leg of my tour was to meet me for dinner, so by 5.30 she was in the neighbourhood and we were walking down to Balham town centre. It was definitely the same old Mary, chirpy, happy and full of fun. She hadn't had a Nando's chicken since she had gotten back, so to Nando's we went. I was still reasonably stuffed after lunch, but I found I could manage my burger, corn, fries, olives etc.. Make that two stone.

Mary had her infamous scrapbook with her. This is a wonderfully eclectic momento of her extensive travels incorporating bus tickets, drawings, magazine clippings and short written asides. I had seen it quarter-ways filled in Auckland, but now it was full and covered Australia, America, Canada and Mexico among other hotspots. Poring through this brought us closer and closer to gig time, but when we finally did arrive at the Bedford Inn, Nigel was shivering alone outside the venue. He didn't want any pre-gig alcohol and was waiting for some other expected guests. It was getting cold though, so we convinced him to come inside and if not drink, at least warm up.

As we warmed up in the crowded bar (the England-Estonia soccer game was on), we were soon joined by Tom (another schoolfriend from home) and two guys Nigel used to work with. Then suddenly Nathalie was standing there. Nathalie had been on my Australia trip in 2005, the Contiki one, and I had not seen her in over a year. She hasn't changed a bit, lovely, sweet soul, and she is getting ready for some more travels of her own, ones that dwarf any of mine, involving working holidays in Australia, Japan and months in South America. She filled us in on the details while some of the others went for a bite to eat.

The Bedford seems to be a minor place of showbiz fame and covering the walls along the stairwell to the location of the gig were pictures of comedians etc. who seem to have gotten their break there, or at least performed there in their younger days. Where Nigel was to play was right at the top and small enough. The acts seemed to enter the stage from a balcony by the side. In all there weren't more than thirty people. Nevertheless the lineup proved to be impressive. The gig was organised by City Sounds and was one of many being held in various locations over four days or so (indeed each performer had a gig the next day). In the past Razorlight and Amy Winehouse have performed in this festival, so it does have a strong reputation and so a reputation to maintain. No one playing was a beginner and indeed most were flogging an album. (Nigel Place in contrast was giving his EP away and he had 170 copies with him to give away).

Each of the four acts was given a three song space in the first hour, then after a short break, each played again. Nigel was first on. He has a very distinctive voice to complement a songstyle that's far from the mainstream. Certainly those at our table who had not heard him before were very pleasantly surprised. I have heard Nigel before, many, many times, so I can recognise a strong performance when I hear it and this was one of his stronger ones. Among the professionalism of all who played that night, his unique sound stood out, and an A and R man came in search of his cd afterwards. Which is not to say the others were no good. Jennifer Clarke, from Cork, followed with a very professional set. At this level, where each act could definitely play, it was all down to whether you liked their sound or not. Jennifer was a little too safe for me, I am afraid to say (Mariah Carey-ish tunes as one person described her work to me). Next up Gaz Something or other was the open shirted rocker type, a calculated girl pleaser, but certainly accomplished. Finally Ahab, a long-haired wisecracking duo, gave more rock-tinged professionalism and entertained. Whether I'd go out and buy any of the albums by these last three acts I am not sure, but for a free gig, we more than got our money's worth.

We stayed a little after the gig, drank some more (though neither of the girls were drinking), but when Nigel, Tom, Pat and Michael decided to hit another bar, I passed. After the night before, and then the early morning, a night on the tear was not for me. Nathalie got a tube, while Mary drove home. I tried to get a bite to eat, but found surprisingly little in the way of a chipper in Balham. I had to settle with a leg of fried chicken and chips from an unsavoury place near the tube station. On my way back to the B and B I came across several foxes lacing through the leafy gardens in search of food.

After a fry for breakfast and a last doze on my bed, I headed off to the Tate Britain for a gander. As usual I left it too late. Getting there around 11.20, I had only two hours or so before I had to leave to meet Nigel for lunch. Nevertheless I got to see a good deal. George Romney's very rough 'Lady Hamilton as Circe' stood out among the more polished Gainsboroughs etc. in a room of mythical scenes. I cannot say I care too much for Constable's tranquil country scenes, though again his rough and unfinished sketches did impress (particularly his sketch for Hadleigh castle). Then there were the pre-Raphaelites (including some interesting Ford Madox Brown works), Sickert, Bacon and more. A Turner exhibition was just being prepared for the 14th.

Lunch was had at Nigel's next venue, a cafe just off Carnaby Street. We were there at 2 and he wasn't to play until 4.30, so we had a leisurely feed and a couple of drinks out on the pavement watching the world go by. Jennifer Clarke was playing in a cafe just opposite, so we listened to her for an hour during that time. Later Jasmine Falconer, the photographer who took pics for Nigel's EP, came along with a friend of her's, Isla, an event promoter, in time for his performance. A Sony rep turned up too and video-taped the gig. I just ate, chatted and drank, oh, and gave out free cd's. When it all was over we had to leave promptly to catch our train to the airport.

In contrast to getting to and from Stansted Airport, Dublin Airport is a disaster. Arriving at 11 that night, we emerged from the terminal to a taxi queue a mile long. There was no hope of catching a cab in the next half hour or more, so getting the final bus into the city instead (after immense trouble trying to get change), we ended up getting a taxi from O'Connell Street. After the energising effect of London over those two days, every step home was a heavy (and difficult) one.

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At 3:24 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"If only Aer Lingus would be a little more competitive, I don't know anyone who wouldn't choose them above Ryanair." --- we fly Lufthansa and Aer Lingus exclusively. We pay enormous premiums to do so - especially to the USA (with Lufthansa, flying out of M√ľnchen) but do ye know what? We don't care 'cause they get us there and everywhere with very little bullshit, complication or hassle. Lufthansa offer enormous leg room too, beautiful staff and on some stretches not just one "free" alcoholic drink, MANY! ... Phil


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