I learnt a lot of things about London and Londoners on Thursday. For example I learn that Michael Caine made his screen debut in the 1961 film The Day The Earth Caught Fire, playing a London bobby ushering members of the public to safety, and that he developed his trademark ponderous and methodical style of speech in order to maximize the time he was on camera.
I also learnt that the telephone box in Heddon Street, immortalised by David Bowie on the cover of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, appeared in Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow Up, with David Hemmings; that the expression ‘falling off the wagon‘ came from condemned convicts being allowed a drink in a saloon on their way to the gallows, and that Chas Hodges, the curly haired one in Chas ‘n Dave, wears plastic Crocs shoes, and used to sing with an American accent with Jerry Lee Lewis. A veritable soiree of learning
That and live music from the cinched and very delightful Segue Sisters (think Andrews Sisters crossed with Cabaret), some comedy, and even a few card tricks and illusions, and all for the princely sum of £10. Actually I should declare here that Elms is a good friend of mine, meaning that Kim and I didn’t have to pay. But if we’d had to I couldn’t have complained at all at that – and a dry spell in the heart of London’s loveliest park – for the price of a round of drinks.
Cynics might here point to a clear conflict of interest, one that might have impaired my impartiality. Perish the thought. Thursday evening at the Serpentine, was in the words of Steve Marriott at the Fillmore, ‘a gas’, and never less.
This was the second of his Thursday Nights Lives, informal and fascinating events held throughout the summer in Hyde Park’s Serpentine Gallery Pavilion, close to the lake,on the southern side of the park, a stone’s throw from the Albert Memorial. Every year, for the past twelve, a different architect has been commissioned to design and build a new summer pavilion on the site, from scratch. The current one, resembles a flying saucer hovering just feet above a scoop in the earth and is furnished with benches and what look like giant mushrooms. It is the result of a collaboration between architects Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Weiwei. It’s rather lovely, works extremely well as an open sided summer pavilion, and will be taken down in the autumn.
The events are live versions of Elms’ popular radio show, broadcast six days a week on BBC London. It shares the same a blend of music, events, history, personalities, and the sort of information that goes down well at dinner parties. Except whereas on the radio Elms’ enthusiastic trademark interaction with his audience is channelled through modern digital media, at the Serpentine Gallery the audience is actively encouraged to take part. Questions like, ‘what’s your favourite London film’ was thrown out to the gallery? I offered Donald Pleasance in 1973‘s ‘Death Line’ – vintage British horror in which the crazed zombies that inhabit the tube system mumble “mind the gap”.
Elms show’s ‘rock ‘n roll route master’ Russell Clarke traced the history of live music in Hyde Park, from the first with Pink Floyd playing on two flatbed trucks, while the effusive and always good value, Jason Solomons ran through his top ten of London films. He left us with a thigh slapping excerpt of Dick Van Dyke’s coal stained Chim Chim Cheree from Mary Poppins. Von Majik, a young and softly spoken magician from south London made balloons and ten pound notes disappear, and comedian Barry from Watford was very, very funny, doing for the navy blazer what Berlusconi did for the bandana.
Finally, before a barn storming boogie woogie performance by Chas Hodges (Gertcha and Roll Over Beethoven) Senna director Asif Kapadia talked about Odyssey, a film commission by the BBC for the OIympics, and which was shot entirely from the air. It is being screen this coming Tuesday (July 24).
The first Thursday night featured Elms’ old friend Gary Kemp (you may recall among the host’s many claims to fame was naming Spandau Ballet). Others weeks promise Sir Paul Smith (they’ll probably discuss suits and cycling), Heaven 17, musical arranger and 007 aficionado David Arnold, novelist/journalist, and another Elms spar, Tony Parsons, radio regular Maxwell Hutchinson (architecture), and more from the Segue Sisters and the mightily funny Barry from Watford.
There’s nothing on the telly Thursdays, and it’s all kids films at the cinema this time of year. It’ll be the best tenner you’ve spent in a long while.
Thursday Night Live with Robert Elms, July 26, August 2, 9, 16, 23, and 30, from 7pm.
+ all photographs by Christina Wilson +