Friday, June 15, 1984

Ancient to the future

I caught the three-thirty train to London to see the Art Ensemble of Chicago. I went straight to Camden Town via the tube and spent a couple of hours in Compendium Bookshop and Rhythm Records (formerly Honest Jon’s). I bought the Mottram study of Burroughs for £3.95 and three records: Urban Bushmen (Art Ensemble of Chicago), the soundtrack to Aguirre Wrath of God (Popol Vuh ), and a record by Gilbert and Lewis (of Wire and Dome). I haven't listened to any of them yet.

Got to the Royal Festival Hall about quarter-to-seven and waited, feeling alone, wishing I had someone to talk to. At seven thirty prompt, the doors opened and we were allowed into the vast auditorium. The doorman in evening suit and bowtie made some cryptic remark about my garb.

I sat about fifty yards from and slightly to the right of centre stage. The support band, Barb played lightweight jazz-funk love songs. Everyone was impatient. The glittering mountain of instruments caught my eye, the banner remembered from March 1982 (Great Black Music – Ancient To The  Future), a great array of gongs, saxophones, drums, bells, kettles, flashing lights, a panoply of shapes and sounds.

The machine began, Lester Bowie starting with a throat-hoarse whine on the trumpet. How can I capture (for you, for me!) the precise essence of the things I heard and saw and (as Alex would say) categorically felt? The set seemed less free and unstructured than my memory had led me to expect: long eruptions of rhythm overlaid with wild and repetitive sax solos which had us captivated and enmeshed for hours, one piece where each member built up a thundering, galloping conga and kettle drum rhythm which brought spontaneous applause.

(This formal method of 'capturing experience' is hopelessly inadequate at capturing this particular experience. I'm not skillful or committed enough at this moment to attempt a long and soul-destroying struggle with words and grammar and finite vocabulary in order to achieve a ridiculously inaccurate approximation of the reality of mt experience. I saw and heard and it was good. Let this, for the time being, suffice).

After the concert finished I decided I’d visit Andrew and I had a mad dash across London to Liverpool Street Station to catch the last train to St. Merefin’s. Somehow a return to Watermouth seemed too much an anticlimax. I ended up—an hour later—in Tanburh, the last train back to London having gone, marooned on the station platform in the pouring rain. I should have—but had not been told that I should have—changed at Monkney. So there I was, bitterly disappointed and angry at myself and at British Rail.

The porter let me sleep in the train for a little while.

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