London, England 2008-04-28 - 2008-05-01
We arrived in London with the small hours of Monday morning having flown directly from our show in Moscow three hours earlier. With four days off, the emphasis is on recharging the battery and I didn't feel the need to be an overactive tourist or take on the town. Still, here are a few highlights of those days.
1. The worst/best/most expensive haircut. The one thing I HAD to do was to get a haircut. I asked the concierge at the hotel if she had any ideas about a good, not too expensive or fussy place to get a bit of a trim. I was directed to the salon in the well established department store Harvey Nichols. Not a bad idea as these great stores all have good salons with experienced cutters. Alright, I'm in. How much? 45 pounds?!?!! Alright, alright...I know it's London and that's still half of what an unnamed band member paid to get his hair cut. I dunno, I don't consider myself cheap or even thrifty for that matter, but there are certain things that I just find ethically wrong and spending that much for a haircut is one of them. Forget it. I turn up at the appointed time to the very posh salon on the 4th floor of Harvey Nichols to find customers waiting to be styled sipping freshly made lattes, espressos, fruit smoothies and munching finger cakes. "May I get you something sir?" "Uhm, no thanks, I'm just here for a haircut." I am teamed up with a cutter who takes one look at my mop and throws his hands up in horror. "Now look," I said " here's what I want. Just a bit of a trim, a shape up, see? I know it might be a little tricky to find the shape in there, but trust me it's there. Not too much off the top and I don't want it to look like I've just come out of boot camp. Got it?" He pokes around at my hair for a few seconds, pulling bits of it this way and that, all the while frowning in the mirror. I can feel my blood pressure beginning to rocket. I am banished to the other room to have my hair shampooed by the shampoo girl who asks, "Are we having a single or double shampoo?" "Jesus, I dunno. I've already washed my hair once today, better just make it a single and throw some conditioner in for good measure." Then it's back to the cutting chair. My cutter is pale and shaken but composed enough to quietly tell me, "You've got a lot of hair and I think it needs to come off." Now, he's got a point there because I haven't been able to do anything with this mess for a couple of weeks now, longer than that if the truth be told. I figure he's the expert and this is London. I've been watching the other customers and everyone's hair is looking pretty good. So, with some apprehension I agree and away he goes. I hear the first big slice of the sheers and feel great hunks of hair hitting my shoulder. After that first cut there's no turning back and a commitment has been made to his vision. Sometimes this can be a good thing I keep telling myself, but about midway through I felt I'd made an awful mistake and couldn't bring myself to open my eyes. All the while I'm trying to cook up an alternate plan, like some kind of hat I can wear for a few weeks. After loads of mussing, fussing, primping, snipping and the working in of at least four different hair enhancing products, he announced he was finished and I cocked an eye open. "Hey, it's not bad," I told him and opened the other eye, "it looks really cool. Yeah, I think it's great, thanks" And it is. What I can't figure out is how he lobbed off so much hair and made it look like I didn't just get a haircut. Brilliant, and ONLY 45 POUNDS!!! I think I might go back and next time I'll have a triple latte and croissant. Harvey Nichols hair salon, don't miss it.
2. Apricot and Lavender Leaf Preserves. Room service is something I seldom indulge in except for breakfast. It's really just the hit of coffee I'm after so I can face walking out the door and what usually comes with that is some very expensive toast, juice and an assortment of tiny jars of marmalade, jams, honey, etc. The hotel we were staying in is so exclusive they have their own home-made individually numbered jars of these things. One, No. 16, was Apricot and Lavender preserves. Aw c'mon, sounds like one of the products that was worked into my hair the day before. So, I open it up and sure enough apricots, syrup and lavender leaves. Smelled pretty good and tasted like the best combination of two things I've ever had in my life. After I'd finished the jar there were still a couple of pieces of very expensive toast left so I rang down for another jar of old No. 16. I'll have to find a recipe for that somewhere.
3. Shepherd's Market. Our hotel for the last four days is just next door to another hotel that I logged several weeks in exactly 30 years ago when I was playing with Neil Diamond. We'd finished a European tour here in London and stayed for a number of weeks thereafter to record an album. Just behind the hotel is a handful of tiny streets and narrow alleyways known as Shepherd's Market, loads of shops and boutiques, clothes, hand painted lead soldiers and figurines, jewellery, fruit stands, pubs etc. and a dozen or more great little restaurants to fall into for a snack or dinner. My wife was with me 30 years ago and we'd explored the warren of shops and eating establishments then. I've always recalled it fondly but hadn't been back since 1978. Well, I've had a several great dinners the last few evenings in Shepherd's Market and the vibe is exactly as I remembered it being all those years ago. One of the best steak and mushroom pies ever with a crackling suet crust that arrived piping from the oven. It was so hot when I broke open the top it was still bubbling, probably close to the temperature on the surface of the sun, the kind of heat you read about. I stupidly dove straight in knowing it was hotter than hell, searing the inside of my mouth. Glorious, the best thing I've ever tasted, right up there with apricot and lavender. A couple of glasses of wine, some freshly steamed and buttered spinach, warm crusty bread...a monstrously delicious meal. The following night along with Matt, his wife Paloma and Glenn, we fell into the Indian Tandoori just next door and followed it with a couple of pints of Bombardier Ale in the pub across the alleyway and the night after that was Italian and the night after that was Continental. For the adventurous there's a Polish-Mexican restaurant with a pretty attractive dish of stewed lamb with chilies. How about French and Lebonese? It's all there. Another 30 years will not get by before I return to Shepherd's Market.
4. Tate Britain. I try to get to the Tate every time I'm in London even if it's just for an hour. It is home to the works of the great British artists from the 1500's to present. I never tire of the landscapes of Constable or Turner's water colours. First was a viewing of a 27 minute film by Derek Jarman from 1984 called Imagining October. Jarman, regarded as an icon of experimental film, shot this in Moscow in the final years of the Cold War with a hand held Super-8 mm camera. Very grainy, dark and moody. I'm not quite sure what it was all about, but let it wash over me and it was timely having just come from Moscow. Taking the dark mood into the gallery I got the knock out punch in an astonishing exhibit of William Blake's paintings, drawings and etchings. I also revisited the work of modernist Christopher Nevinson. I remember seeing his paintings over the years but they really had an impact this time. Completely overloaded, I could take nothing else in and joined the crush of late afternoon commuters smashed into the trains of the London Underground which would have made a good subject for Nevinson. 5. The National Gallery. It's difficult to begin describing this treasure. The National Gallery houses one of the finest collections of Western European paintings in the world. From 1250 through the 20th century, every important artist is very well represented here. In no particular order, here's a small sample of the artists I viewed: da Vinci, Van Gogh, Michelangelo, Botticelli, Rembrandt, El Greco, Goya, Rubens, Monet, Vermeer, Canaletto, Van Dyck, Gaugin and on and on. Staggering, humbling, inspiring. It never fails to amaze me how close you come to these famous works, you can get right up to it and see every brush stroke. Another case of severe overload, but like the Tate it will be here the next time to rediscover and enjoy.