Tuesday, 6 February 2018

The ghosts of ‘95

It’s freezing cold. It’s actually really rare for me to get cold, but sometimes, once I’ve started feeling the sensation, I can get quite obsessive about it. Today I actually wished I had a coat. I might have a look in my wardrobe to see if there’s one in there. I should look for a jumper as well. There’s never really a point in my having either of these garments because I only ever need them for about four days a year and when I do wear them, I instantly over heat and end up leaving them at people’s houses and in cafes and things. I also think that coats can look quite horrible. Especially those big puffy modern things made of shiny man-made fabrics with logos all over them.

I went into Spitalfields yesterday evening to meet Philippa for tea. For some reason, as I walked from Moorgate, through Liverpool Street Station, I found myself transported to that same area in the 1990s when I first moved London. It was a very different place in those days. Once out of the station, the further East you walked, the darker and emptier the world became. These are the streets where Jack the Ripper once roamed, and, in those days, his ghost seemed very apparent. The area around Brick Lane, which is now a swanky haven for wannabe hipsters, was a complete no-go zone back then.

At the time, I was living even further East, near Mile End, in an equally shabby district which these days hums with yummy mummies.

Spitalfields Market was just an empty barn of a building with a leaky roof. It had a few indoor football courts on Astro turf, but was largely a deserted brick shell. At one point, when they started to understand the resource they were sitting on, they built a pop-up mini opera house within the space. It was a giant, white fabric cube. I think they were trying to attract a few city workers off the beaten track, because it was never going to be popular with the local Bengali kids.

We performed Berio’s A Ronne there in 1995. It was my first paid gig as a performer. We had to learn the highly complex piece off by heart, which was quite a feat. It was all weird shrieks, extended vocal techniques and strings of made-up words sung at unfathomable pitches. There were five performers, two of whom were my tutors at university. We did a tour of some very unusual Northern Towns and I loved every minute.

Anyway, perhaps because it was so cold, and a Monday night, there were very few people hanging about in the market yesterday evening. In fact, it seemed eerily quiet, which is possibly why the ghosts of 1995 were out in force.

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