Tuesday, 21 April 2020

London Horror Reading: Rats

DC Editor Adam writes…

Book my Virtual Tour Ghosts of the Old City here: virtualghostwalk.eventbrite.co.uk

A few weeks ago on this blog I posted a few self-guided tours featuring locations from London horror movies. Today, I've moved over into the library to root around for a good horror read…

The Rats (1974)
By James Herbert

My goodness, the Visit London people are going to HATE this post… the most gruesome and shockingly memorable London-set horror novel of all time.

Before you’ve even opened the thing, the title has the heart racing: The Rats. It plugs directly in to one of mankind’s most primal fears: and in a London context it sends historical shivers down the spine resonating back to 1665 and the Great Plague.

But a good title is nothing without a strong tale, and Herbert has fashioned a gripping narrative enhanced greatly by a vivid backdrop of a crisis-torn London.

All this and we haven’t even mentioned the giant, man-eating black rats.

Upon its publication the book attracted great criticism for its graphic scenes – but with 40 years hindsight, Herbert can be seen as the man who brought British horror fiction out of the 19th Century drawing room/stately home/haunted castle and in to the streets of the 20th Century.

The exhilarating terror of the piece is timeless. The context is both very much of its time of writing (1974) and deeply Millennial. Its dystopian vision of a London failing to deal with a crisis places it firmly in the tradition of post-apocalyptic movies and TV of the period (the BBC’s Survivors, Hollywood’s The Omega Man).

Looking forward, it is hard to imagine the conception of recent horror/disaster movie 28 Days Later without Herbert’s disturbing tale. Just like that movie, the desolate London scenes haunt the memory for long years after. The scenes on the tube train will stay with you forever. Be afraid. No, really. I'm not kidding. Be VERY afraid.

Book my Virtual Tour Ghosts of the Old City here: virtualghostwalk.eventbrite.co.uk

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Saturday, 18 April 2020

#tourguidingfromhome The Royal Festival Hall

DC Editor Adam writes…

A busy day of #tourguidingfromhome lies ahead! The weekend, after all, is a working time for a tour guide… even on lockdown.

Firstly… have a listen to my London Walks podcast on London Music

… it's all about music and you can listen to it here: https://www.walks.com/podcast/their-music-is-part-of-your-story-adam-on-guiding-music-tours/

Then at 6pm I'm LIVE on Facebook presenting the 5th episode of Big Smoke Radio Nite. It's a Eurovision Special!

It's FREE and you can register here…

Ahead of this evening's Big Smoke Radio Nite, have a look at this post (below). We'll be "visiting" the Royal Festival Hall on tonight's show and here's a little bit of background and trivia regarding the building…

The Royal Festival Hall

 At about 2.15p.m Tuesday afternoons you can often find me standing on this spot…

The photo - shot from County Hall by Westminster Bridge – features in the South Bank Exhibition Guide for the Festival of Britain 1951

… and it shows the site of the Festival before development.

The Festival of Britain 1951 plays a big part in the first part of my Somewhere Else London walk – a tour of the South Bank and North Lambeth – this afternoon at 2pm (Embankment tube).

Here's a map of the site…

And here's the spot where we'll discuss the Festival this afternoon…

Here's a preview video of the Somewhere Else London tour…

The guidebook opens with photographic portraits of the Patrons of the Festival – King George VI and Queen Elizabeth…

 And the whole thing is bookended with advertisements for the popular products of that austere age. Noteworthy is the full page for Heinz, which takes great pains to point out that “The British House of Heinz” had been established for 55 years, predating both world wars and presumably hoping to rid the name of any connotations linking it with our then recent foe – the Festival of Britain celebrated peace in our time, but the “P.R Disaster” still presented a clear and present danger in the world of cold economics…

The ad for No.7 cigarettes features a posh couple at the races, and suggests that glamour and riches are simply a puff away. All one needs do is change one’s brand of gasper…

The ad for Cow & Gate baby food states: “We all know a Royal Baby is bound to be given the best that is obtainable.” Could they be referencing the birth of Princess Anne in August of the previous year?

The content of the guide maps out the South Bank location of the festival. The South Bank as we know it today was laid out to accommodate this “Tonic For The Nation”, a celebration for Londoners at a time when rationing and shortages, as well as bomb sites, still dominated London life.

The stated aim in the guide is “to bring to the British way of life some enrichment that will endure for long after the Festival year is over.” And indeed the Royal Festival Hall remains one of the capital’s finest concert halls. Not only that, but it is thanks to the Festival of Britain that we can enjoy the run of this part of our riverside.

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Tuesday, 7 April 2020

Telling Music Stories

DC Editor Adam writes…

SCENE: A Living Room.

MUSIC: Florida Suite (1887) by Frederick Delius

ME: (Talking over the music) “Did you know that Delius was buried at night time?”

MY WIFE KAREN : “No I did not know that. Did you know that I can’t hear Delius’s lovely music because you keep telling me stuff such as ‘Did you know Delius was buried at night time?’”

My dad in the late 1960s
I have always been fascinated by the stories behind the music.

It was perhaps inevitable, therefore, that I would end up spending my life sharing music stories as a Music Tour Guide.

I recently found myself wondering where this interest – this obsession? – came from. And whether or not I’d have a greater appreciation of the music if I forgot all about the backstory and just listened.

Frankly, I didn’t fancy the prospect.

Rather than change the habits of a lifetime, I tried instead to trace back up the tracks of my trainspotterish proclivity for musical biography.

And the line led, as it so often does, to my father.

That's him in the picture above. His name was Alec and he was born on this day, the 7th of April in 1933.

He shared a birthday with Billie Holiday (1915) and Ravi Shankar (1920).

My old man had an eclectic taste in music.  For the purposes of the tale at hand I’ll set the gamut as being everything from John Phillip Souza to Johnny Cash.

Johnny Cashmy old dad was fond of saying, could sing heartfelt songs of life behind bars because he had himself been a hardened jailbird.

This last is a PR man’s dream. In truth, Cash served several one-night-stands in the pokey for various minor misdemeanours (including the daft flower-picking incident that featured in the song Starkville City Jail). Down through the years, however, these incidents have, in the retelling, become a tale to rival anything out of Dumas.

A Chequered Past, of course, does no harm to The Image.

John Phillip Sousa, my dad told me, also had a backstory…

Sousa, according to my dad, was a man obsessed with precision. Evidence? Well that was plain in the marches that he wrote. My dad loved them. Martial music. March time. Brisk. Not a hair out of place.

Sousa’s obsession was such, so my dad told me, that his quest for precision in all things eventually drove him stark staring MAD.

I have always LOVED that story.

My dad (above) and me… 

But I’d never sought to question it. Until, that is, I decided to trace back up the tracks, etc, etc (see above)…

It turns out, thanks to just the most cursory glance at Google, that J.P Sousa lived to the ripe old age of 77, was happily married and had three kids.

The "maddest" thing he ever did was that he once considered joining a circus band, but soon thought better of it. He was fond of wearing his Marines uniform when performing, even long after he left the military – eccentric, rather than barking, I would have thought.

Far from the stuff of raving lunacy.

Does it make me think any less of Sousa? Well, he was never going to feature on my Desert Island Discs at the best of times. Does it diminish my dad, somehow? Not at all. The fact that my old man was a bit of – ‘ow you say? – a Romancer, was one of things I loved most about him.

I just wonder where the story came from? Did my dad just assume that the slightly unhinged undertone of marching music would surely drive you to the booby hatch over time? Was it a paternal cautionary tale to take Sousa in small doses?

And, frankly, who could take large doses of Sousa? For most listeners, a march spends most of its time either approaching and/or receding – based on the reasonable assumption that the listener is standing watching a parade. Thus the music never outstays its welcome. The only folks exposed to the music for protracted periods of time are the band members themselves. Or people who like following parades. Those band members are often soldiers with training to toughen them up for horrors almost as bad as martial music. Those who jig along in their wake, however, would need to be judged in another court.

So is this another tale of parental let downs and disappointments then? Far from it.

It’s a thanks-giving tale. My father’s love of music and a good yarn both are the greatest gifts he bestowed upon me. Music and the stories behind the music are central to my every living day.

Thanks dad.

Here’s the U.S Marines giving it large on Sousa’s most famous piece…

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