Thursday, May 16, 2019

Why I like London.

People ask me, why do you like London so much? Why do you keep going to London? Are you not bored?

I had all sorts of answers, from the Samuel Johnson cliché - When a man is tired of Londonhe is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford” – to the more mundane, though true explanation – London refreshes the mind.

But, honestly, London is truly an amazing city. You have the world’s best theatre, the best films, the best music, museums and galleries. You have fantastic exhibitions running, events that will absolutely thrill you. Yes, probably a New York could match London, however, London is right up there with the best. For many London is Harrods, Bicester Village and Selfridges. To each their own.

We truly love what London offers. Each visit is different, each visit has a new and stimulating experience which we cherish and later, look back on with pleasure.

This visit was yet another example.

A day after landing, we were booked to see Jocelyn Brown at the Jazz Café. Jocelyn Brown is a unique talent. She is a 69-year-old American who now lives in London. Though an excellent singer in the R&B/Soul/Disco genre, on her own she did not achieve many hits. Her fame came by lending her voice to several bands, often studio bands, which had huge disco hits. She sang with bands like Incognito and Inner Life among several others. Her big solo hit was Somebody Else’s Guy. I have several of her songs on several different CD compilations, but, as she was often a hired vocalist, I had no idea it was her singing. These CD compilations have non existent liner notes, so information on the songs is difficult to come by.

Back in the day when I was between 18 and 25, disco music was regarded by us sophisticates as the pits, no sensible music lover listened to disco. At the absolute bottom of the heap, the most disgusting music you could listen to was Bollywood, then, one level up was Smooth Jazz – Kenny G, Spyro Gyra and Grover Washington were big Smooth Jazz stars – and then it was Disco. Frankly, I always liked Disco, it was, to my ear, simply Funk/R&B/Soul all mixed up and simplified, with great singing. As I grew older my collection of Disco or dance music grew. So here was a chance to see Jocelyn Brown a true Disco star in the flesh. I grabbed it with both hands.

When Jocelyn Brown came on stage, I was shocked. Here she was, hugely overweight, on crutches, barely able to walk, struggling to get up on stage. On stage she sat on a chair thru the entire performance. Her band consisted of a Drummer, 2 Keyboard players, a Bassist, a Guitarist and 3 female back up vocalists. Everybody on stage was Black, and everyone was hugely overweight. I was really distressed. This did not look good at all.

Then, the music started and Jocelyn Brown opened her mouth to sing. My initial shock changed the moment she started to sing. What a voice, such power, such beauty. The initial shock changed to complete respect and amazement at what I was seeing and hearing. Here was this 69-year-old obese, non mobile singer belting out vocals. The cliché stand-and-deliver came to mind, except, she was sitting. There were no theatrics, no movements on stage, no fancy lighting, no dancing, no video screens, nothing. Just a singer sitting down and singing beautifully, powerfully and soulfully. Song after song after song, familiar hit after hit.

Jocelyn Brown sang for about 90 minutes. She had the entire audience in the palm of her hand, people we literally dancing in the aisles and singing along. What an absolutely lovely experience. A great show, we were so glad we went. It was magical.

The next day we had bought tickets for the new film Amazing Grace. This is a film commissioned by Warner Brothers with Sydney Pollack hired as director to shoot the two-day concert by Aretha Franklin. This concert was released on LP [long playing records for those who can remember] called Amazing Grace on 1st June 1972. Amazing Grace is the biggest selling record of Franklin's entire fifty-plus year recording career as well as the highest selling live gospel album of all time. This concert was held in the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles. In the film you can see the band which comprised of real heavyweights – Bernard Purdie, Chuck Rainey, Cornell Dupree and others - sitting discretely in the Pews with their instruments.

The film had technical problems; the sound could not be synchronized. Finally, with the advent of digital technology this became possible. Then there were problems with Sydney Pollack dying of Cancer, then Aretha Franklin sued and subsequent she passed away too. Finally, her Estate gave permission for release and 47 years later the film is out for all of us to see.

To call the film brilliant is probably incorrect. The film merely captures a seminal music concert. This was Aretha at the height of her powers. Her singing is titanic, magical and ethereal. There are times when members of the choir jump up and sing or dance, members of the audience fall into a trance, and, Mick Jagger who is part of the audience is seen clapping along ecstatically. Once again, this is a recording of a concert with no stimulants. No lighting, no dancing, no musicians showboating. Just simply the cumulative power of the music and the majestic singing. You cannot but be moved when you see this film. At points I too had tears rolling down, I am glad the theatre was dark.

This is a truly remarkable recording of 2 enchanted evenings. If this is ever released in India you must watch the film.

So, there you are, these are some examples of how coming to London does not ever bore us.   


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