Listen to a Londoner: Martin Payne

Listen to a Londoner is a weekly interview with a Londoner – someone who lives in this city, born here or elsewhere. If you’re up for being interviewed, email littlelondonobservationist@hotmail.co.uk.

Martin Payne

Martin Payne, born in Barking but left with a family move at age 2, returned to work in London following a work re-location. He describes himself on Twitter (@MWPayne) as “Accountant on weekdays, Murderer at weekends, a Plinthian, and an occasional Gorilla … oh and I steward at the Globe / usher at Tristan Bates Theatres…”.

LLO: London is one of those places that thrives on random, unexpected moments. You’ve contributed to the randomness by recently wearing a gorilla costume for a charity’s silent disco and the gorilla run. What’s the most unusual thing you’ve done in London that may have made a few people look twice?
MP: The gorilla suit is worn to raise awareness of the Gorilla Organization (formerly the Dian Fossey Memorial Trust). It’s a charity I have only relatively recently started supporting – due to the sheer Great British Eccentricity of donning a full gorilla suit and running 7km to raise funds to help both gorilla protection and people support in Rwanda, Uganda and the Congo. The Gorilla Organization provides efficient fuel stoves and work for families living near the three Gorilla areas to try to minimise the need for poaching and thus protect the Gorillas. As well as the Silent Disco (Millennium Bridge) and the Run itself, I’ve also been videoed wandering around dressed in a business suit and gorilla head to raise awareness of the Run and the Organization – great fun to do and a real shock for people suddenly realising the guy in the crowd next to them is a Gorilla!

On Saturday 13 November 2010 (today!) I will exchange my Gorilla Suit for a fox suit as I’ll be the mascot for the Balfour Beatty London Youth Games float in the Lord Mayor’s Parade! I hope that will make more than a few people look twice – especially as the float is at almost at the head of the parade! I’ll just be trying to avoid any “messages” left by the horse of the City of London Police’s Assistant Commissioner which is immediately ahead of us, preceded by the Band of the Grenadier Guards. Being “Foxy”, the mascot of the Games, will certainly be a very different way of spending a Saturday in November!

LLO:Tell us about a favourite London moment that could only have happened in London.
MP: Only in London could a ‘normal’ person (if I am one) be able to stand on a Plinth in Trafalgar Square wearing a Gorilla Suit for an hour. A once in a lifetime opportunity and one that I will remember forever. Of course, it has to be in London since Trafalgar Square is here but …

That was the 2009 “One & Other” project by Antony Gormley as part of the London Mayor’s Fourth Plinth commission. Has any other city tried something similar? Only London could be the first.

LLO: Have you ever overheard anything really amusing on public transport that you’re willing to share?
MP: My exposure to public transport tends to be limited to the train into either Vauxhall or Victoria (depending on whether I wake up in time to change at Clapham or think the weather is nice enough to walk to work from Vauxhall – or ‘Boris Bike’ it). So I really can’t recall anything amusing – but there must be a law that says I will now hear something really amusing too late for this interview!

LLO: I want to go on a date in London – somewhere quirky or unusual. What would you suggest?
MP: Trudy, my ‘other half’, and I have decided that we need to spend a weekend in London being tourists and certainly one of the places on the list of places to visit (‘have a date’) is the Wellcome Collection. I was there in October 2010 for the launch of the “One & Other” book celebrating Antony Gormley’s “One & Other” on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square and so I picked up a few leaflets. That may be somewhere different…

LLO: Is there a place in London that always seems to make you happy? Why?
MP: I guess that my time spent stewarding at the Globe Theatre on Bankside would fit this question. The Globe seems to have exactly the right atmosphere for making Shakespeare work and be understandable – and it’s great for people watching! There is a degree of responsibility as a steward in looking after the safety of the audience members and trying to stop sections of the audience from irritating other sections with mobile phones etc, and it is a long evening standing, but it’s a great way of seeing a lot of performances at no cost!

LLO: What’s the best thing about living in your postcode?
MP: I don’t actually live in London, but in Windsor in Berkshire. The best thing is probably being close enough to London to be able to work here (an hour’s commute) and yet be almost instantly into green space walking out my front door. Mind you, the worst thing is easily the tourists … but my ‘other half’ and I have got into the habit of waving at the coach parties as they trundle past our front window as they invariably are looking directly into our house – most look away quite quickly when they realise we’re watching them as much as they are looking at us!

LLO: You’ve got a free day to explore a part of the city you’ve never been to. Where do you go and why?
MP: There is a place that I have wandered through once and I do want to go back and explore further – The Inns of Court. It seems to me to be a very tranquil place, away from the hustle and bustle of the City surrounding it. I’m waiting for the London Observationist to take some pictures…

LLO: I’ve got one night in London and want to head off the beaten track to find something to eat and drink. Where would you recommend?
MP: Just off the beaten track is a café called “Stockpot” (Panton Street, just off Leicester Square). Friends of mine took me and Trudy there for a meal after my stint on the Fourth Plinth. For that reason, it is memorable – and the food was excellent and good value despite being so close the Leicester Square / Trafalgar Square.

LLO: Best London discovery?
MP: I’m not sure it is really a discovery of my own, since it was suggested to me as something that Globe stewards could do during the Globe’s ‘close’ season (winter performances in an open air environment would not be generally well attended!). I spend some evenings ushering at Tristan Bates Theatre, just off Seven Dials. This is a very small theatre, attached to the Actors Centre, that has a maximum seating capacity of 70, and is usually not full despite the very cheap tickets (for a West End theatre, the average ticket price is £10 – £12). There’s never any major shows playing there but there are frequent changes of shows (perhaps a bit developmental and not necessarily as long an evening which means that you are in the West End and still have time to enjoy the after-show buzz – but, for me, early finishes there mean I don’t miss my last train home!

LLO: Who is the most interesting Londoner you’ve met and why?
MP: Difficult question because some of the most interesting people you meet simply have an impact on you but you may never know their name or meet them more than once. There was a great guy I met in a pub once near Westminster Bridge – he either was, or at least pretended to be, a town crier and knew many of the Pearly Kings and Queens. I think he passed away a few years ago.

More recently, I re-met “Captain John”, a fellow Fourth Plinthian and a staunch supporter of the Fourth Plinth project in general and ‘One & Other’ in particular as well as being one of the very few people who attended every day of the Diana Inquest….

That’s what makes London special.

Thanks Martin!

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Listen to a Londoner: Natalie Lester

Listen to a Londoner is a weekly interview with a Londoner – someone who lives in this city, born here or elsewhere. If you’re up for being interviewed, email littlelondonobservationist@hotmail.co.uk.

Natalie Lester

Natalie has a BA in English, BSc in geography and MA in publishing; She loves English literature and her outlet is writing. Her favourite gelato is found in London at Gelato Mia in Notting Hill (dark chocolate and Biscotto). She loves the theatre and when she was younger, wanted to be Christine in Phantom.

LLO: How long have you been in London, where did you come from originally and what brought you here?
NL: I’ve been in London for a little more than a year – I just finished my MA in publishing at UCL…turned in my dissertation in September so here’s hoping for the best! I grew up in Idaho (in the US) and during my undergrad I did a study abroad in London. Ever since I have been planning to come back. In my opinion everyone should live in London for at least a little bit!

LLO: What’s your favourite way to pass a Saturday afternoon in London?
NL: Nothing beats the markets in London on a Saturday. I live right next to Regent’s Canal (Little Venice) and you can easily walk along the canal to Camden Market. If you go early enough then usually you are the only one along the canal and you get to breathe in the crisp air all by yourself. On my way to Camden I sometimes take a detour into Regent’s Park with my book… but I always make sure I get to Camden for my favourite treat in London – Chocolate covered strawberries and pineapple on a banana leaf!

LLO: Where is your favourite place to pick up an American treat if you’re craving something from home?
NL: One time I was in desperate need of some Root Beer and happened to be in the Leicester Square area so I had to pop into Ed’s Diner and pay a ridiculous price for a can of some A&W…it was worth it!

LLO: Which part of London are you most familiar with and what’s the best part about it?
NL: Well, I live on Edgware Road, which is pretty central London, so probably that area and then the Regent’s Canal area I was talking about earlier. London is great for its diversity and there is no better place to see this than Edgware Road with its plethora of Middle Eastern restaurants. And while the rest of London seems to close ridiculously early, you can venture onto Edgware at midnight and it still has the liveliness of midday.

LLO: If I told you I would be in London for one night only and wanted to get off the tourist trail, where would you send me to eat and drink?
NL: Ok, maybe this is still a bit touristy, but you can’t beat their chicken and leek pie at Doggetts Pub. It is right on the southbank by Blackfriar’s Bridge and if you want a nice meal you can go up top to the restaurant and sit by the window and watch London light up at night.

LLO: What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced as an expat in London?
NL: Maybe this is a lame challenge to have, but I miss my clothes dryer every day! Jeans just don’t fit the same here with nothing to dry them back into shape. Like I said, lame, but other than that…oh, and trying to find a frozen turkey at Thanksgiving (an adventure that ended with my flatmate and I carrying a frozen turkey in our arms for 45 minutes on our walk back from Camden). Other than those two things I have very few complaints about London.

LLO: Tell us about a favourite London memory that could only have happened in London.
NL: Keeping on the Thanksgiving theme, last year my flatmate and I were hosting a Thanksgiving party for a lot of people and we had purchased two turkeys. Somehow we forgot that this wasn’t America and not only did we not have room for them in our fridge, but we didn’t have two ovens. On Thanksgiving day we rang up some friends that lived about 15 minutes away to ask if we could borrow their oven. We ended up carrying the pre-cooked (but stuffed and seasoned) bird down the road and stuffed it into their oven which was even smaller than ours. Four hours later I picked up the bird—who was now full of juices and twice as heavy—and proceeded to walk down the very busy Edgware Road with a 20lb bird and turkey juice sloshing all over me everytime I placed a foot down! Surprisingly, after all that poor turkey had been through, and my arms shaking for about 20 minutes afterwards, Thanksgiving dinner never tasted so good!

LLO: Favourite London discovery?
NL: My favourite place in all of London is one I discovered with my fiancé. He is a Londoner and loves to walk on the southbank by the London Eye at night when the trees have their blue lights. While we were sitting, gazing up at the Eye through a sea of blue, we noticed that there was a break in the hedge and on the opposite side of the trees was a park…with swings. Now, it isn’t like this playground is exactly hidden, but it is further back from the main southbank walkway and I had never noticed it before. We quickly climbed over the rest of the hedge and snuck into the playground to swing (my all-time favourite past-time). In front is a large tree, and when you swing at night you catch glimpses of the London Eye lights through the trees and it looks like the London sky is full of stars that you can almost touch. I think it is one of the most magical places in London.

LLO: What would you suggest if I asked you to plan a creative, off-the-wall or otherwise unique date in London?
NL: Saturday morning head down to Borough Market, bring your appetite! Spend the first little bit just wandering around the stalls and take advantage of the free samples. Then, just about midday choose something that either a) you can’t possibly resist or b) something that is really strange and you have never tried before. Don’t eat it yet, but walk to Shakespeare’s Globe and wait in line for the groundlings so that you are the first ones in. While you are waiting break open lunch and enjoy! When they open the gates make sure that you get front and centre and you can lean up against the stage! Enjoy!

LLO: If you move back to America in the future, what five things will you miss most about London?
NL: Where do I start, once you have lived in London it becomes a part of you and I think there will always be something that I miss. But, if I had to choose 5, I would have to say 1) waking up on a crisp Autumn morning, getting a Chocolate Milano at Café Nero and crunching through the leaves in Hyde Park; 2) Big Ben at night…it just looks so magical and everytime I see it at night I think that Peter Pan will come land on the hands of the clock at any moment; 3) Amazing fish and chips the the hole-in-the-wall chippies (they are always the best); 4) Christmas time in London, from the Harrod’s Christmas Parade to the Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park; 5) Low-tide on the Thames on the southbank skipping rocks.

Thanks Natalie!

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London Art Spot: Guy Keown & Luke Smith

Guy Keown

Luke Smith

Luke Smith and Guy Keown are aspiring comedy writers who live in Golders Green and Salford, Surrey respectively. They met at an Oxfordshire school at the age of 15 and formed a lasting friendship despite guy moving to back Swansea a year later. After finishing university, they ended up (entirely by accident) living a stone’s throw from one another (as had been the case seven years earlier). They took this as fate (or stalking from both or either party) and, in the summer of 2008, decided to write together.

They both share the same influences and enjoy the same styles (Chris Morris, Red Dwarf, Curb your Enthusiasm, Black Books, Peter Cook, Spike Milligan) so it was a happy arrangement. Their first sketch show (The HaHa Show) was praised by both the Writer’s Room and Pett Productions (the company founded by Reeves and Mortimer) for its wit and pace, but has found no offers as of yet. Their sitcom “Seen the Light” is a current work in progress that follows a doomsday cult facing Armageddon, a shortage of food and one member hogging the comfy chair.

For this week’s London Art Spot, Guy and Luke tell us about how adventures on the London Underground influence their comedy, about their current “tour” around the West End and share the first podcast episode of The HaHa Show. 

LLO: Tell us about your new podcast “The Ha Ha Show”.
GK:
The Ha Ha Show Podcast is the result of pent up anger and masses of rejection. We have received nothing but compliments from the industry in regards to our material, but alas no one is willing to front us the dosh to make our scripts into fully fledged media texts. So we have taken up the microphone and put together our very own podcast to share with the world.

We just want to demonstrate our writing abilities and put forward some fresh ideas into the comedy genre. We know our material is great, but seeing as no one is going to help us we have decided to do it ourselves.

LLO: What’s the funniest thing that happened to you this week?
LS:
Oddly enough, I get my biggest laughs at my capoeira class. What tends to happen is we’re practicing some complex move then someone says something utterly ridiculous just to break the tension. We were listening to a CD with a master singing and when my teacher asked a student who was singing he said, poker-faced: “Susan Boyle”. Classes are intense, so moments like that are a huge release.

LLO: Is there a specific moment that stands out when you knew you loved to make people laugh?
LS:
I was in a production of Abigail’s Party at sixth form that clinched it. We worked really hard because it’s very naturalistic and easy to get wrong. You have to pitch it perfectly. We got such a fantastic response; the audience were in hysterics and the cast were fighting to stop laughing ourselves because it was so infectuous. I got my second dose after my first stand up gig. I got a few laughs and it was more exciting than I can describe.

LLO: You’ve got four sentences. Give us a chuckle.
GK:
There once was a man called Ronald. Took a trip to McDonald’s. His burger was modified, promptly his mind died. And he spent the rest of his days as a clown. (They aren’t people too.)

 

LLO: What makes a good comedian and what elements make a great comedy show?
LS:
A good comedian is always honest. I’ve seen comedians trying to be something they’re not and it shows. They take the world apart as they see it and hopefully enough people tap into that and laugh. They make you see the world in a different way. Personally, I find observational stuff like Michael McIntyre horribly banal as it doesn’t make you think. A great comedian makes you gasp with suprise and recognition as you laugh at something you never noticed.

A great comedy show has suprises because an audience expects a lot these days. You can see a million stand-ups online now and I think that’s made people tougher. However, we’re familiar with lots of pop culture which mean shared humour is wider than ever. Mitchell and Webb works great for me as it has so many approaches and subjects. One minute you’re in a lab, the next you’re up a mountain. Its exhilirating to bounce inside someone’s head and see so many ideas in so many different settings. Obviously that’s a little tougher on stage.

LLO: Which London comedians do you most admire?
GK:
We both have a great admiration for the king of wit, Paul Merton. He is the master of comedy and is just brilliant. I think that is about as much as I can say without sounding fanatical.

LLO: Which aspects of London life most influence your comedy sketches?
LS:
The mix of cultures obviously. The tube is another. Because people are often locked in their own world, there are great moments on the tube where people are chatting, not really thinking that someone can hear them as most have their iPods on. I heard a hilarious conversation between two actresses coming into Victoria. People they knew were divided into people they had or hadn’t slept with. One of them said she liked a certain guy and added as an afterthought “but I haven’t slept with him”. I had this bizarre image of her liking everyone up to the point she had sex with them.

LLO: What do you get up to when you’re not making people laugh?
GK:
In the rare moments I spend in life not making people laugh, I get up to such simple things as reading, dreaming, imagining myself as ruler of time and standing around in parks dressed in a skin tight pink leotard arguing with ducks about their views on crusts and why it doesn’t make their feathers curly. They constantly tell me it’s all hokum and I’ve been lied to by my elders, but I won’t stoop to their level. Partly because I’m a very tall man, partly because deep down inside I harbor a fear they might be right, and I don’t want to see my mental stability forced into jeopardy.

So just the usual things really. I’m just like all of you.

LLO: Best London comedy venues or comedy nights?
LS:
There is a great place in Leicester Square inside Storm called the 99 Club. It’s quite cheap for a non-open mic night as well, £9. You get a 2-hour show and some good comics. The Lions Den in King’s Cross offers a lovely open mic on Tuesday. Great atmosphere and some suprisingly good people, although it’s not called the Comedy Car Crash for nothing! The Comedy Rocket off Leicester Square is tiny, but quite funny. There’s so many comedy nights in london, they’re like mushrooms in a cupboard.

 

LLO: Where’s the best place to catch the two of you on stage?
GK:
Well, at the moment, we are doing a very successful tour of the West End. We sold out the pavement in front of the Gielgud Theatre and the alley behind The National. Our audiences by the backdoor of the Albery were disappointing and our run at the Palace Theatre was cancelled by some stupid musical about the suburbs. Apparently it’s got Michael McIntyre in it. No review could sting that much.

Thanks Guy & Luke!

Listen to the first edition of The HaHa Show here: The HaHa Show

Future HaHa Show podcasts can be found on MySpace.

Guy also writes a blog called Thoughts from a Former Optimist.

For more London Art Spot interviews, click here.

London Art Spot: Tom Blackford

Tagging London’s walls with a spray can as a student bursting for creative freedom led Tom Blackford to where he is with his artwork today: freelancing as an illustrator, painter and muralist. With his debut solo show lined up, clients like EA Games and Magna Entertainment on his CV and plenty of new pieces in the works, Tom is one to keep an eye on. He’s painted on everything from the inside of the Barbican and outside of The Foundry to white office walls to surf boards and snowboards.

Tom has taken a few moments away from preparing for his show to talk to us about what he learned from being a graffiti artist, his passion for Japanese culture that seeps into his painting style and the mystery girl who keeps appearing in his latest work.  

LLO: How does living in London influence your creativity?
TB:
 To be honest I’m not sure. I’d say my subjects were pretty ‘other wordly’ and not directly influenced by the city itself or the people it inhabits. Growing up in London in the 90’s turned me on to graffiti and that’s become a big part of how I like to realise a certain proportion of my work. Other artists I’ve met and painted with have inspired me and helped clarify my goals as an artist but aesthetically I think my work represents a world in my head that’s pretty distant from the the place I physically reside in.

LLO: Tell us a bit about your artistic background.
TB:
I’ve drawn since I could hold a pen and never stopped. I studied art at school but found the formal teaching side of it boring and frustrating. I just wanted to express myself and never followed the briefs. Based on a portfolio of personal work I went to university to study illustration only to be completely disillusioned by the ‘commercially viable’ aspect of the work as I’d always been more interested in art for art’s sake, so I decided to focus on graffiti. Although risky at the time, looking back it was a great decision as where as I already knew how to draw, graffiti taught me a lot about colour theory, composition and ultimately how to paint.

LLO: Your debut solo show is coming up next month. What can we expect from that?
TB:
 Blood, sweat and tears! The show is through Upper Playground which is great as although I’ve been involved in many group shows, I wanted to wait for a name I could trust before getting excited about the prospect of a solo show. We’ll see what happens…right now I’m working on about 10-12 new paintings among other bits and pieces. I thought about the idea of a very strict theme for the show although my mind’s all over the place right now with different ideas and I guess the work will reflect that. Thees nothing like a looming show to really get you asking yourself a lot of questions about what it is that drives you. 

LLO: When did you create your first piece of graffiti?
TB: 
I was tagging for years before I attempted to use a can to produce anything more substantial. I started painting a few letter based pieces in around 2004 and switched to focusing on characters the same year, realising very quickly that if anything, it was going to be figurative work that was going to work for me.

LLO: You’ve already worked for some big names like Marvel, Nike, MTV, Pixar, etc. Who is your dream client?
TB:
I don’t have a dream client but there are some musicians I’d love to do cover artwork for and galleries I’d like to exhibit at. I think that concept work for video games/movies would be interesting too. 

LLO: There is a girl who features regularly throughout your latest work. Who is she? Your muse?
TB: 
I wish I knew! I actually reflected on my latest work recently and realised that she seems to have cropped up quite a bit. It’s not a conscious decision. I’ll start sketching a female character and no matter where I start out, something often leads me back to ‘her’. Some people say she looks like my girlfriend but the fictitious girl appeared first!

LLO: Your website bio says you have a “passion for Japanese history and pop culture”. Any advice on the best place to get a bit of Japanese culture in London?
TB: 
I’ve always been obsessed with oriental culture but really got into it when Japanese animation and Manga hit the UK market in the early 90’s…a lot of the good stuff was hard to find then so it had this ‘cult appeal’, a lot like graffiti. Some of the things I watched and read back then had a massive impact on me and the imagery it contained is stuff I think I still feed off through memory to this day. It’s funny because I don’t consciously think about my work as having strong Asian sensibilities until I have a new viewer mention it…it’s something that I think will always be identifiable, something I can’t escape but don’t really want to. It’s something I’ve definitely embraced in the canvas work I’m producing right now.

Oriental City (formally known as Yohan Plaza) in Colindale used to be a great place to shop for Japanese food and books but I haven’t been there in years so couldn’t say whats happening there now. The Japan centre in Piccadilly is good for Manga and Orbital off Leicester Square would be the place to check out Japanese comics and toys. 

LLO: Which piece are you most proud of and why?
TB:
This changes all the time. There are pieces I’m proud of because of the circumstances that surround them and others because of the things I learnt whilst creating them. I just finished a new painting for my debut solo show that I think highlights where I’m at right now.

LLO: You’re currently a freelance painter, illustrator and muralist in and around London. Where’s the best place to go to find your work in the capital?
TB:
My paintings can regularly be found at White Cross gallery although with exhibitions looming most of my canvases are in storage right now. I recently painted the front of ‘The Foundry’ in East London and decorated the entrance to the Upper Playground store off Carnaby street. My graffiti work doesn’t tend to stick around too long unless commissioned by a specific property.

LLO: Favourite London-based artists?
TB:
That’s difficult…pretty much all of my favourite artists are from Japan and the States. I really like Jamie Hewlett’s work. I felt like I’d been waiting a long time to see someone do a really cool animated music video when Gorillaz came along.

Thanks Tom!

For more of Tom’s work, check out his website: www.inkfetish.co.uk

For more London Art Spot interviews, click here.