Listen to a Londoner: Paul McConnell

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.

Paul McConnell

Paul is a born and bred londoner. Having lived in Central London his whole life, he spent his childhood within a 15 minute walking distance of Buckingham Palace and Big Ben. His favourite thing to do in London or anywhere else is to hang out with his friends on a Saturday afternoon watching the football, or spend it with his lovely fiancee going around all the markets and shops.

LLO: As a born and bred Londoner, how has the city changed since your childhood? Anything you miss?
PM: The city has changed a ton. There is a lot more diversity now, with many different cultures, and its made london more of a melting pot. You really can get anything you like from any culture in the world in london.

LLO:Which part of the city are you most familiar with and what’s the best thing about it?
PM: I’m most familiar with central london as I’ve grown up within walking distance from Buckingham Palace and Big Ben. My favourite part of London is the Southbank and all the bridges that cross the thames – so relaxing and beautiful.

LLO: Best London discovery?
PM: Great family run Italian restaurant near Notting Hill called Ffionas. You have to be there early though because they only have 8 tables.

LLO: If you’re in the mood for some last minute live music, which venues would you check first to see what’s on?
PM: Brixton Academy have shows all the time where you can always pick up tickets on the day, or if you walk through Camden you’re sure to find something you like.

LLO: Tell us about a memorable moment that could only have happened in London.
PM: It has a be a marathon weekend which consisted of 3 live football matches, 3 nights out clubbing and about 3 hours sleep during all 3 days.

LLO: Know of any great little hole-in-the-wall pubs, restaurants or coffee shops that are worth stopping by?
PM: The Black Horse just behind Oxford Street is a great pub, great food, all fresh the same day.

LLO: If you were to leave London in the near future, what 5 things (people not included) would you miss the most about the city?
PM: 1.) Arsenal football club 2.) The London Eye (near where i proposed to my fiancee) 3.) Being able to hear Big Ben on a quiet night from my house 4.) Fish and chip shop on Sutherland Street in Pimlico (best fish and chips on earth) 5.) My mum’s roast dinner

LLO: Best pub to watch your favourite football team on match day?
PM: Either the Barley Mow in Vauxhall or Victoria’s Sports bar above Victoria station

LLO: What about a great venue to go watch some live sport (not necessarily football!)?
PM: Wembley or the Emirates Stadium, or Battersea Power Station where they have live festivals, extreme sports/extreme Winter sports.

LLO: Share a random London fact that not many people would know.
PM: The actual City of London is only 1 square mile. All other major roads such as Oxford Street, Piccadilly and Regent Street actually come under “The City of Westminster”.

Even though being the sovereign of The UNITED KINGDOM, Her Majesty the Queen is not allowed to enter the City of London with seeking the permission of its Lord Mayor.

Thanks Paul!

For more Listen to a Londoner posts, click here.

A Weekend of Caribbean Chaos

Expect elaborate, vivid, colourful costumes covering strategic bits of wriggling bodies in a long and impressive parade.

11: Notting Hill Carnival 2009

Expect whistles and party horns from a crowd of a million people that make up an incredibly vibrant atmosphere, 40 static sound systems pumping out Soca, Calypso, Reggae, Funk, R&B and House music that makes you want to dance along with stages featuring live acts that have included in the past the likes of Wyclef Jean and Jamiroquai.

10: Notting Hill Carnival 2009

Expect to be enticed by the mouth-watering aroma of jerk chicken and curried goat coming from 100 booths serving up delicious Caribbean food.

9: Notting Hill Carnival 2009

Yup, it is Notting Hill Carnival weekend this Sunday and Monday, and the only bank holiday I get off of work because my office is in the thick of it all. It’s also a brilliant weekend for photo opportunities if the weather holds cleans itself up – or even if it doesn’t.

8: Notting Hill Carnival 2009

The carnival was started in the ‘60s by the Afro-Caribbean community, drawing its roots from the carnivals of the 19th century in Trinidad which celebrated the abolition of slavery. The first carnival in Notting Hill was meant to showcase a steel band that used to play in Earl’s Court on weekends.

1: Notting Hill Carnival 2009

It ended up creating a community feel that has been built up to the world-famous festival it is today.

7: Notting Hill Carnival 2009

Head down on Sunday if you’ve got kiddies for family fun and costume prizes. Or, if you’re in it for the pure chaos, Monday is made for madness and music that starts in the morning and carries on late into the morning hours.

6: Notting Hill Carnival 2009

Take public transport, don’t expect an easy escape or clean toilets and keep your eyes on anything valuable you bring along, but also expect to be impressed by the effort that goes into the costumes, energised by the music and inspired by the culture. I’d say it’s a must to go at least once if you’ve never been before.

5: Notting Hill Carnival 2009

One more little tip – If you’re coming from outside of London and want to save a bit of money on accommodation, vouchercodes.co.uk is running a deal in connection with Travelodge offering £15 off “flexible rate room bookings”.

2: Notting Hill Carnival 2009

Photos are from my visit last year!

Listen to a Londoner: Owen Duff

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

Owen Duff, 29

Singer-songwriter and sometime conceptual artist Owen Duff was born in Northern Ireland, grew up in Hull and now lives in Hackney, East London, where he makes songs and videos. His latest project is the EP ‘Under’, which is a set of songs inspired by living in the capital.

LLO: Which aspects of London life most influence your creativity?
OD:
I think the biggest influence is just being amongst so many people, and being able to observe the things that people spend their time and energy making and doing. Life seems to happen faster here, so all these experiences, relationships, environmental and cultural changes are coming and going in quick succession, which can be overwhelming on a personal level but good for sparking off ideas. I also think the kind of people London attracts has an effect, in that it’s quite easy to meet people who’ve come here to try and achieve big and exciting things. Conversations with these people is often instrumental in provoking new thoughts and ideas.

LLO: You just released your first video to the song “London You’re My High”. What should we remember to appreciate about living in London if our spirits start to droop?
OD:
Well, it’s an amazing place; most of us live in relative wealth and freedom, in a city with so much variety, history, and culture… really there’s so much opportunity to enjoy ourselves that we’re spoiled. Having said that, for me it’s the personal relationships that London has allowed me that I appreciate most – the size of the city means that I’ve been able to find many people with whom I have a lot in common and whose company I enjoy, whereas in a smaller town I might only have found a few.

LLO: Tell us a bit more about the video itself, where the idea came from, some of the locations you’ve picked out that are especially special to you, etc.
OD:
The video was an idea I had whilst trying to get to sleep (most of my best ideas happen at this time; I’m a bit of an insomniac). I wanted to create something that both summed up my personal history in this city and was universal enough for other people to relate to. I started by making a list of all the memorable things that have happened to me since moving here, and then I started to think about where these things had taken place, which led me to think geographically, which is when I had the idea to use Google Earth to map out these experiences. I could have been more specific about what exactly each event was, but I wanted to leave it vague enough that people can read what they want into each.

LLO: You sing, play piano, guitar, ukulele, cello and percussion; write, record and produce. Sounds tiring. What are the most rewarding and most challenging aspects of producing an EP from start to finish?
OD:
I think the rewarding-challenging aspects are intertwined – it is in overcoming the challenges that one finds the sense of reward. Certainly the early stages of writing can be totally euphoric, but after the initial inspiration comes the hard work of turning ideas into finished songs.

Lyrics are the thing I usually spend longest on, musically I tend to work quite instinctively and a lot from improvisation (sometimes I’ll just record a piano improvisation then go back and put words over the top, and that’s the song finished). There is a definite tension between the words and the music – often in order to express something properly I’d want to squeeze in as many words as possible, but that can really compromise melody and the ability to sing something well, so a balance has to be found. I tend to use extended metaphors and conceits quite a lot in my lyrics, which can make them hard work to complete as you’re trying to write about several different things at once.

I also find production difficult at times – unfortunately, I don’t have the skills nor resources to always arrange my songs as I imagine them (I’d love to arrange for different instrumental ensembles), so I have to find compromises, some of which work better than others. Production is so influential on people’s overall impression of a song that I can get quite hung up on trying to get it right. For example, ‘London You’re My High’ has gone through five different arrangements over a few years…

LLO: Your bio on your website says “Owen sometimes hides CDs in weird places around the world, just to see who finds them.” I’m intrigued. Tell us more.
OD:
I did a project between 2008 and 2009 – http://twentytwominutesfourweeks.blogspot.com. The first part was writing and recording twenty songs in four weeks, which was a challenge I set myself just to see if I could do it. Once I’d finished the songs I was mulling over how and if I would release them, and decided that it would be fun to play with the way people find recorded music now. The ease with which music can be discovered and heard on the internet means some of its value is perhaps lost (of course there are many advantages to this, in terms of everyone’s ability to access music). I wanted people who found the music I’d made to feel that there was something different and enigmatic about them, so I had the idea to start hiding CDs with the twenty songs on them around London, for people to come across, without knowing what they were or who had left them there. I then extended the idea and started asking people in other cities around the world to help out – photos of all the different places that the CDs were hidden were then recorded on the blog. People should take a look! I haven’t hidden any in a while but I might do it again for a future project.

LLO: Favourite venue to play a gig in the capital?
OD:
Well, I played Bush Hall last year, which was lovely, it’s a really nice building and has a good acoustic. I think though the favourite gig I played was at the Fleapit in Columbia Road, it was completely unplugged so I just sang and played guitar without having to worry about how I sounded through a microphone.

LLO: According to Twitter, your reading rate needs to match your book buying rate. Where are the best places to buy books in London?
OD:
The best book shop I’ve found in London is in Notting Hill, the Book and Comic Exchange. I also like wandering around the second-hand bookshops south of Euston road.

LLO: Favourite London discovery?
OD:
Ah, that’s a difficult one… I think it would have to be the amazing experiential/site-specific theatre that happens here, Punchdrunk being the main proponents. I have to give a mention to You Me Bum Bum Train as well, as I had an absolutely mind-blowing experience courtesy of them just last night.

LLO: Where is the most unique or quirky place you can recommend for food or drinks round here?
OD:
I love Mess Cafe in Hackney, but it closed recently for refurbishment and I’m a bit worried they’re not going to reopen… For drinks my current regular haunt is the Nelson’s Head (also in Hackney), and I went to the Jerusalem Tavern in Clerkenwell recently, which is quite special – the current building dates back a few hundred years and going in there feels a bit like traveling back in time.

LLO: What’s next for you and your music career?
OD:
At the moment I’m working on another EP/album derived from some of the 20 “Two Minutes 4 Weeks” songs. I have woodwind arrangements I wrote for a live show in 2009 so would like to get those recorded. Once that’s done I’ll be gigging again, although I’d like to find more offbeat venues to play than those on the regular London circuit. I’m also working on new songs to release after that, and recording a few cover songs and videos – so far I’ve done Buddy Holly, Joanna Newsom and Whitney Houston, and I’m very open to suggestion as to others I could do. Last but not least I have some side-projects which involve different styles of music to be released under different names, but which will all exist under the banner of ‘Clothmother’, which is a sort of nominal label I created recently. After that, who knows…

Thanks Owen!

Links:

http://www.owenduff.co.uk
http://www.owenduff.co.uk/videos
http://owenduff.bandcamp.com

For more Listen to a Londoner posts, click here.

Guest Post: Africa’s Sweetest Voices in London

Written by Efemena Agadama, a poet and playwright, originally from Nigeria, who is working on his first novel. 
He normally contributes articles to
his Amnesty International blog.

_______

“The man who can dominate a London dinner table can dominate the world.” – Oscar Wilde

From top left: Lily Mabura and Namwali Serpell;
From bottom left: Alex Smith, Olufemi Terry, and Ken Barris

As London remains the global city of literature, where the great minds of Shakespeare, Wordsworth, George Elliot, Oscar Wilde, Dickens, Milton, and Keats once held sway, the sweet voices of Africa shortlisted for the 2010 Caine Prize for Africa Writing converged at the prestigious Travel Bookshop at Notting Hill on July 3, 2010.

But this time around, it wasn’t the flag of the English literature that they hoisted, though with due respect to the English literature.  It was the brightly coloured rainbow flag of the sweet African literature; the literature where words of wisdom, onomatopoeic rhythms, drama and compact plots entwine to weave the beautiful honeycomb of a unique world literature that has been the love of other world literatures.

And the revered voices were Namwali Serpell, Alex Smith, Olufemi Terry, Ken Barris and Lily Mabura.  Oh! It was a lovely and endearing gathering.  They were so humble and social that you wouldn’t be able to identify them.  Even I couldn’t identify them.  However, I guessed on one – Namwali Serpell.  As soon as she entered with all smiles, complexion of a mixed race, pretty hair style and a modest gown, she hugged two members of the audience at the front row, and I was behind at the third row.  In fact, I felt hugged too.  I felt her hugging me with her pretty smiles.  And when she smiled at them, I still felt she was smiling at me.  Please, don’t laugh at me.  The aura of the African literature that the five shortlisted writers brought into The Travel Bookshop auditorium could make anyone feel hugged in such a situation.  Now I understand why people used to fight over Michael Jackson’s shirt during performance.  Look at me fighting over a hug in my spirit.

After a while, the moderator, Saara Marchadour hit the drum for the music of the day to begin.  She in her modesty asked them one after the other to read excerpts from their shortlisted entries.  Ken Barris started the drumming.  He stood up and began reading from his “The Life of Worm.”  Its reading had the professionalism of a news caster.  He cleverly alternated his eyes between the script and the audience.  Alex Smith read hers “Soulmates” with a very emotional tone; Sharp, clear and with subtle demonstrative cues of drama.  As she read, one could hear the words like the rendition of an actress on Shakespeare Globe Theatre during the performance of Macbeth this past June.  Olufemi Terry had a louder voice.  I think his body build added substance to his voice – softly audacious.  Then Namwali read from her “Muzungu”.  She read with a dramatic flow and a clear voice.  As she read one could see a reflection of all her travellings in her rising and falling tone.  And the fifth shortlisted writer, Lily Mabura with her creative candour, gave us a noble background to her story and set the fire aglow to signal the end of the reading sessions.

Thereafter, the respected and famous Saara Marchadour of the Travel Bookshop interviewed them on the stories and inspiration behind their shortlisted works.  And she opened the floor for audience members to ask questions.

It was lovely and very exciting.  Just being in the presence of these great writers is like being locked in a small room with a million and a million of Shakepeare, Wordsworth, Soyinka, Achebe and Coetzee.  These shortlisted writers have really re-hoisted the African literature flag in London and it now flies higher.  Really, London remains the world’s leading city in Arts and Literature.