Maybe It’s Because…

I’m a Londoner, that I love London so

It’s a song my father used to sing me when I was a child (even though he was from Dundalk via Dublin, though to be fair he also used to sing Molly Malone) but it only occurred to me last night how true it is.

I was at the Sydney Opera House to see The Cinematic Orchestra do a set with the Sydney  International Orchestra with a special visual ‘backing track’ by The Light Surgeons. It was, in a word, epic. And as I sat there, on the other side of the world, listening to an amazing group of musicians play music which had tinges of jazz, Italian movie soundtracks, afro-beat, hip hop, folk and everything in between, it got me thinking about London.

Because, to me, precisely because they sound so globally eclectic, The Cinematic Orchestra sound like the sort of group who could only have come from London. I’m sure that the musicians are from all over the world, but it always strikes me that people come from all over the world to create something truly new.

New York is always lauded as the city of immigrants, whilst Australia was the destination for one of the largest migrations ever, but both of them are still, in many ways, a little segregated. And they’re also new at this game. London on the other hand has been welcoming and absorbing immigrants since the Romans arrived two thousand years ago.

I used to like to paraphrase Douglas Adam’s take on the famous Samuel Johnson quote by saying:

Someone once said that when a man is tired of London he’s tired of life; the suicide rate quadrupled overnight

And I also used to like to repeat a description of London from a black can driver that I heard in a documentary about London cabbies. He said that he quit his job when London was no longer a city but just:

7 million strangers I hate

And both of these are true. Londoners love to put themselves and their city down in a way that doesn’t seem to happen in other cities.

As I was watching fireworks to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the birth of the Australian navy a couple of days ago my friend made the very insightful observation that Sydney celebrates itself like almost no other city. And that’s no bad thing. But Londoners like to mock their city because, really, underneath it all, we know it’s amazing. Most of us, I would imagine, share Stephen Fry’s view when he compared London, and the English language, to Paris, and French.

A few years ago I joked that:

I have no soul, just a map of Soho burned on my heart

I guess I meant it as a way of putting myself down. But really, I think it’s a badge of honour.

The Cinematic Orchestra’s performance last night was a perfect example of this; at time spine-tingling, at times almost over-whelming, at times incredibly funky.

If anything, my only criticism would be that they tried too hard to be sophisticated, and went a bit John Coltrane (at his noodly worst) when they are at their best when their obvious love of the grimier side of modern music, whether that be rave or hip hop comes through.

It was a privilege to witness though and I came out of it as proud as I’ve been in a while to be a Londoner. Like most people who claim that distinction, I’m not actually from the city, but it took me to its heart.

(And yes, I realise that the image at the top of this post if of a piece by a French artist, but it’s in Soho and I never claimed to be consistent)

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