08.07.2010 - 08.07.2010 80 °F
The "chunnel" ride back to London takes around two hours (so, like three dollars a minute?), and during that time I write this entry and begin to steel myself for the last few days of my trip. Arriving at St. Pancras station in London at around 19:40, after the start of the-concert-which-I-still-don't-know-the-location-of, I mull my options. Returning to Des’s place would clearly be the sensible thing to do. Buuut... screw it!, I say, I’m on vacation and I’m taking a risk! (Why do risks always seem to be expensive?) I hire yet another cab – who seems to have a general idea that it’s in the Chelsea/Park Walk area – to take me there. The cab driver is a real character, speaking in a (what I later found out was South London) brogue so thick that I could only understand, quite literally, about 20% of what he was saying. Lots, however, about immigrants and how they’re taking all the jobs, and about football matches and about his friends in America. A really friendly fellow, actually, and I tell him about my trip. About 20 minutes in, however, I realize the meter is steadily approaching 20 pounds (close to $30 US!) and I ask if we’re close. “No, we’re only about halfway there – you’re looking at around a 40 pound ride.” This is way more than I had anticipated – my iPhone GPS had said it was only 3 miles away! Seriously bummed, I ask if he can just drop me at a subway station so I can make the familiar deflated walk back to Waterloo. “Tell ya what, mate – I’ll cut off the meter at twenty and take you the rest of the way.” A stroke of good karma! I arrive at the concert, conveniently, right at intermission, which allows me to change my continent-leaping clothes and settle in. Funny how things work out.
I first heard Stile Antico on Bernard Gordillo’s excellent Harmonia podcast on Indiana University station WFIU, and coincidentally my father purchased their Grammy-nominated (one of their two nods) Music for Compline CD a few years back, so I’ve been following them for a few years now. We’re also friends on Twitter! One of the distinctive things about Stile is, at least from a marketing perspective, the fact that the members seem to be all in their 20s or 30s, and their record label (the excellent Harmonia Mundi) has done a terrific job distributing their music. The concert, as expected, was gorgeous, focusing on hidden Tudor and Jacobean gems composed during the 16th century meant for private concerts. I was familiar with some of the composers like Thomas Tomkins, John Dowland, Thomas Campion, and Thomas Weelkes – um, what's with all the Thomas's, guys? – but also heard some revelatory works by the relatively unfamiliar Robert Ramsey, John Milton (father of the famous poet), Giovanni Croce, John Amner and Martin Peerson.
Singing without a conductor and cuing their own entrances, Stile Antico sings with an incredible amount of precision and tonal purity, and their intonation is perfectly centered. It’s so nice to settle into this music after such a hectic day, and though smaller than other recently visited spots, the church is quite pretty. In between some of the pieces, a few of the group members step forward and recite (with comic flourishes) short texts contemporaneous to the music. At the conclusion of the concert, I stick around for the reception in the lobby with the hopes of introducing myself, and start chatting with Kate and Helen, two of three twin sisters in the group, Kate's boyfriend Matt (doppelgänger? Tom Hulce in "Amadeus!"), Rebecca, Oliver, the solid low bass, and Carris, who runs the Stile Twitter feed. (Haha, thanks for the shoutout!) We hit it off well – I play the role of the ignorant American and jokingly inform them that they've misspelled two words in their concert title, "Tune Thy Musicke to thy Hart." Who can spot the tourist in the following shots?
I’m invited out for a few pints and we make our way to an authentic-feeling local pub, where a much-appreciated traditional British pint, low in carbonation, high in smoothness, is purchased for me. We discuss European football, traveling, early music, why these neighborhood pubs close so early (!), Matt does an uncanny impression of what he (quite correctly) imagined my South London cab driver to have pontificated upon during my earlier trip, and it’s all great fun; I confess to the group that “this is exactly how I drew this night up!” Oh, serendipity. Stile will be singing in Boston in October and I wonder out loud if I might plan a trip home then; at the least I’ll try to send my folks! After we close the pub, I’m tossed into a cab which Kate’s boyfriend Matt graciously covers, and ancillary group member James gets me situated on my train back to Waterloo. Now, if I could only get this group booked on an NPR Tiny Desk Concert in DC… hmm…
Not quite dead yet, I return to Des’s place, catch up with old pal Will on my travels, and head out around 23:00 to see what I can see of London on a Friday night. Heading in the direction of a piano bar Des had recommended, I remember he had also mentioned I should check out the pub attached to the Old Vic, which is only about two blocks away. I pop in, and sure enough there’s a lively scene. I end up making a gaggle of terrific new friends here – May (a local actress – I’ve met my London Kate Winslet-type, at long last!) and her younger sister, a dancer named Lily, both of whom I spent time chatting with, interspersed with a loopy guy named Sebastian (who though it’s drippingly hot is wearing a “jumper”… I needed clarification from May regarding the meaning of this term), and May and Lily’s friendly and fun cousins Wayne (doppelgänger? Pete Townshend on a good day), Emily, and Suzanne. After closing down the Old Vic pub around 1:00 we depart in the direction of Des’s to a late-night dance club, where the next two hours are spent dancing our faces, tails, and anything else that will move, off. This was such a fun night all around, with the introduction of lots of cool, interesting people in London, and I hope to keep in touch with all of them! God bless Facebook. The new friends barter for a cab, head on their way, and I walk the two blocks back to Des's, collapsing around 4am. I'd say I’m making the best of my few European hours which remain.