I had never stayed in London for more than 6 days. This time, I was looking forward to hang out in town for 6 weeks. No musical adventures, for a change – I was in London to attend a course on teaching Italian to foreign students. Crazy? Not at all. I’ve always been into studying languages (especially my own language!), and I needed a break from doing music for a living. I don’t like it when I find myself repeating the same thing over and over again. I got to the point of being stressed out by music. Not really a positive thing for a professional musician! And I couldn’t find a way to get out of that cul-de-sac.
Some of you will think, “Oh goodness, how can you be tired of being a musician? It’s the best job in the world!”. Well, IT IS the best job in the world, when you can make ends meet. Sad but true. Otherwise, it’s just the same as any other job. Even worse than a job you don’t like, because music, in my case, is supposed to be the #1 thing in life. Actually, you don’t make music because of money. Money should be a consequence. You make music because you have a urge to express yourself, what you feel. Sometimes you’re lucky: other people will get what you’re doing, they will connect. Sometimes it’s very hard. You go through compromises, and do things you don’t like, just to survive. That’s the death of creativity. That’s exactly what I had been experiencing last summer. Apart from the EchoTest extravaganza in August (a breath of fresh air), I had been working as a music teacher and playing cover gigs all year. I couldn’t find joy in those activities anymore. I’m one of those stupid idealists whom are happy when they’re able to work on their own music and promote it.
A big change was in order. I decided to move to London for a short while and put myself into a daily routine, going everyday to the Italian Cultural Institute, studying and working 8 hours a day, for 6 weeks straight. It was intense and difficult at times, but felt like a great accomplishment in the end. It was refreshing to have a strict schedule, to be home in the evening after a full day of work. I don’t know if it’s because I have just turned 30 – but I’m not into late nights anymore. Sometimes they’re fun, especially when you’re with good friends. Many times in Italy, I find myself playing with cover bands in bars, and we start playing so late that it’s nerve-wrecking, plain awful. The best part is when you’re actually performing, the two hours you spend making music. As soon as you’re done, people (drunk people, most of the time) will approach you, but you’re not really in the mood to talk to drunks (unless you’re drunk, too). At that point, I just want to go home and sleep, because it’s late and I’m tired. Ten years ago, I was most happy to do that… staying up late and playing music in bars: a real dream coming true! I guess we do change as we grow older.
Oddly enough, I found some peace of mind in London. It’s a big town; still, you have chances to wander through giant green areas. Suddenly, you’re away from all the hustle and bustle of the city. Very different from New York, for instance (which is a place I love, anyway, for different reasons). I visited Hampstead Heath almost every Sunday, a huge park in north-west London. I’m aware that more splendid parks are spread all around London town, I just didn’t have enough time to visit them all. The Italian Cultural Institute is very close to Hyde Park, which got insanely crowded for Winter Wonderland; and what about the gorgeous countryside of Richmond Park? Or I would go for a stroll through Kensington Gardens sometimes. A friend suggested I should get a bike and visit the Epping Forest… hey, remember that old Genesis tune?
Also, if you’re into gothic cemeteries (I know, I’m a creep), there are spectacular ones. I went to the Brompton Cemetery. Crows on the headstones were a real treat to watch. I was transported into an Edgar Allan Poe tale of terror… how can you not think about Edgar Allan Poe when you spot crows on headstones?
I spent a lot of time on my own, and loved it. London is a perfect place to live in, if you have misantrhopic tendencies (ok, I’m definitely a creep. I like cemeteries and I like being alone) – nobody will engage in a talk with you unless you want to. But I made new friends. Here’s what I find thrilling about going out on my own: you can talk to strangers and make new friends. I ventured into the streets of Shoreditch one night, to see the lovely Petra Haden perform with guitarist Jesse Harris, and once I got to the club I started talking with an English man called David, and a Scottish woman called Raina. They were sitting right next to me and were super friendly. We had a great chat: just to let you know that UK people are not as cold as you would expect (if you can find them in London, by the way!). It was wonderful to meet Petra after the show (an excellent concert – her rendition of “Moon River” moved me to tears. It became my “London song” for the rest of the journey). I had never met her before, but always been a fan. I have to thank my bandmate Julie Slick for providing the connection.
Later that night, I walked back to Brick Lane for another American-style bagel at the (in)famous Bagel Shop. I did have one, right before the concert… but I needed more, I guess! It’s a neat place if you want to eat out and you are on a budget. I randomly met another couple who were at the club. Nice people. We commented on the concert over bagels. A nice way to end the evening.
It is also worth mentioning that I’ve seen great concerts while in London. One day I was nerding out at Rough Trade Records, and stumbled upon the poster of an upcoming gig. It said, Margaret Glaspy, live at Village Underground. I was attracted by the picture of Margaret, a good-looking girl, with a good-looking guitar. I just thought it could be fun to go and check her out. I’m glad I did! Honest music, played and composed from the heart. Nice lyrics. She had a cool band backing her. One girl in the audience went topless during one of the songs. I guess she was tipsy; maybe got high? Good for her, she was totally enjoying the music. Security immediately stopped the girl, trying to suppress her enthusiasm, and hiding her breasts from the rest of us. Lots of fuck yous were thrown around. I’m happy I was there to witness the scene. However, I understand Margaret is starting to get more recognition these days. She has an album out, called “Emotions and Math”, that I recommend. Here’s a nice stripped-down version of the title track, just Margaret and her guitar.
I’m back in Italy now, trying to figure out what will come next. Lots of exciting projects in the works, and I’m confident you will get to hear a lot of new music from me in 2017. I’m traveling again to East Coast America in late January (my winter tradition… more adventures with EchoTest). I might go back to London after that, probably in March, for more teaching work and who knows what. As guitarist Steve Hackett once told me, “Future is an open road”.