Saturday, 9 February 2008

Revived drawing project

July 2005 was a demanding month for Londoners. I don't mean it was particularly hot that month although it might have been but I can't remember. I do remember watching the tv at work on 6 July when we all stopped what we were doing to find out which country was going to be awarded the 2012 Olympics. I can remember the astonishment and mild hysteria (in the office) when London was announced the winner and the Prime Minister, Tony Blair said that hosting the games would be 'momentous and tremendous for the capital'. There was major hysteria on the tv. I think the decision was broadcast towards lunchtime because soon after the announcement I left the building in search of food and, as I was wondering how long our elated mood might last, the Red Arrows swooped overhead in a celebratory flypass over the capital.

The elation ended around 9am the following morning on what is now known as 7/7. This was a time of great confusion. As is my wont I set off for work somewhat late. I suppose I got to Mile End tube station at about 9.30am. There were two trains waiting in the station but going nowhere and there were many people milling around the platforms. Before I had too much time to wonder how long it would be before the trains would start moving we were ordered up the stairs and out of the station. This was weird. I hadn't been involved in an evacuation since the IRA bombings and they'd ended some years before. Fortunately there are few steps at Mile End because the tunnel is so shallow at that point but even so progress up the stairs was slow as there were so many of us trying to leave. The mood quickly became silent and sombre and this was before any of us knew that three underground trains and one bus had been blown up by terrorists. So much has been written about that day there is little point adding to it so I won't.

Two weeks later on 21 July there were copy cat explosions on the tube executed by a different group of bombers and the only reason they are serving prison sentences and no-one was killed was because their bombs didn't so much go off but fizzled out. By now an all pervading feeling of anxiety was well established and there were police (some armed) patrolling every single railway station in London. This was just at the point when I was starting a new drawing project.

You might well wonder what terrorism has got to do with me drawing. Well nothing really but this project I had devised meant travelling to railway stations and drawing what I could see. I had decided to award myself a travel grant and my plan was to visit each station on what had been called The North London line but I think is now called Silver Link (this is an overground line not underground). I was to start at North Woolwich in the east and eventually finish at Richmond in the west and take in north London en route. Depending on how interesting or dull each destination proved to be I would either do one or two drawings. The plan was that all the drawings would be in mono (tones of black and grey). I would be able to work in pen and ink, or draw using graphite, or sketch in watercolour so long as there was no colour. The resulting work would fill one sketch book reserved for the purpose and when complete would be a record of a journey.

I was happy with this self-imposed structure and did begin the project on 1 August 2005. I travelled to North Woolwich and produced two sketches. The one shown here is of the Woolwich ferry which ferries people and lorries and cars back and forth across the river Thames and I was fascinated just watching the ferries come and go. What I wasn't too thrilled with was seeing so many of Her Majesty's police force prowling around every station I passed through. So I stopped this project almost as soon as I had begun it for this reason.

However for the moment things have calmed down and I'm ready to pick up my pen again and make my way to the next station on the line which is Silvertown. If anything interesting crops up during this visit I'll be sure to let you know.

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Foot tapping to Stan at the Barbican

I've just noticed that it's been nearly two months since I posted a blog and that seems such a long time ago but in fact wasn't much before Christmas. I have to admit that I've been busy like everyone else I know and I also haven't been inspired to write about anything 'arty' .

That changed just last week when we went to a Stan Tracey concert at the Barbican. Stan is a famous jazz pianist. He was born in Denmark Hill in London in 1926 and raised in Tooting in south London. My Dad also lived in Tooting in the dying days of WWII and it was where I lived when I first moved to London in 1979 so I feel Stan is a kindred spirit for that reason alone. By the way, Tooting has nothing whatsoever to recommend it. It is part of the sprawling mass which is south London but does boast a good selection of south Indian restaurants so if you find yourself in the vicinity enjoy a meal at one of them.

My husband sold the idea to me of going to a Stan Tracey concert a few years ago saying 'He's ever so good and we don't know how much longer he'll be with us' meaning he might peg out at any moment. So we went to see him perform and I became a Stan Tracey fan. Just like that. When he's playing the piano he looks to me like an old fashioned journalist thumping a news story out on an old manual typewriter but the sounds you hear are magical - it's quite amazing. Fortunately Stan's health has remained vibrant enough for him to keep performing so we've been able to see him twice at The Bull's Head in Barnes which is a great old pub right near the Thames but a pain to get home from once the trains have stopped running in the evening, and once at the Vortex jazz club in Dalston which I prefer because we can get there on the bus and it's small so you're practically sitting in the musicians' laps. The sketch shown above clearly is not of Stan, because I find he plays too quickly for me to draw him in action, but one of his fellow musicians playing the sax at The Bull's Head and is dated 28 February 2004.

The setting at the Barbican was a complete contrast to the intimate venues we've been to before. The Barbican is a rather grand concert hall with large, comfortable leather seats where people speak in hushed voices and, from where we were in the circle, the stage looked to be a long way away. It crossed my mind that this might be detrimental to the experience of listening to the music but the acoustics were so good the distance didn't matter. The evening began briskly with Stan playing with an octet of musicians. What I like about jazz is that every musician gets a chance to do a solo and at the end of their set they all took their bows, bobbing up and down to the audience, while Stan read out their names.

This was followed by a two-piano duet with Keith Tippett which was completely improvised and this was the first time they had performed together for 15 years. They didn't do any preparation for it and the result was remarkable. Here we had to have a break because I for one was emotionally drained and we came back refreshed for the second half. This was Stan with his Big Band and it was the first time I've seen a big band live and it was a complete contrast to the first half of the evening. It was big, noisy and vibrant. Stan closed the evening by playing a solo on the piano after everyone else had left the stage; just him and us - it was great.