The quality of music is not strained. It rumbles as the gentle train to Chesham.

I stole the title from Willie the Shake (well, paraphrased him a bit)

I stole that from Joni Mitchell

She stole it from… answers on a post card please.

I went to a concert, well, no great shakes about that, is there? Or is there? I’m not far off of 60, what am I doing going to concerts? I frequently ask myself that question and never seem to come up with a satisfying answer.

A while back I went to see a band called “Karnataka” at the O2 Academy in Islington, London. I like Karnataka, they’ve been through a few personnel changes but I do like the music they make. The O2 Academy in Islington is quite a good venue, it’s in the middle of a shopping centre, up several flights of stairs, well, up a few stairs but once you’re in it’s not too small and certainly not too big. I really do not like the really big concert venues. I saw Rush at Wembley Arena, three blokes about half a mile away; the music was good but the whole concert lacked something. The Academy then, just about the right size for my liking. No support band, just Karnataka. I was looking forward to the concert. The band came on and started to play.

Does it really have to be that noisy?

As I said, I like Karnataka but to my ears, the quality of the sound was not good. Maye it’s just an age thing, but then again maybe it’s just really bad sound engineering. It was loud, no, it was… noisy. I don’t mind it being loud, most of the time, loud can be good, loud can be very effective but this was just noisy. There was quite a bit of “hum” from the speakers to start with and the quality of the resulting sound was not best. It was as if someone had decided to turn it up to 11 without bothering to listen to what it actually sounded like.

I decided I would stick it out, after all, I like this stuff but about two thirds of the way through I could take no more. Let me stress, it was the quality of the sound I couldn’t stand, not the songs themselves – and so I left. I found refuge and solace in a nearby bar; a craft beer pub no less.

Sometime before the Karnataka gig I had seen a band called “IQ” also at the Academy there in Islington. I think I can safely say that IQ is one of my all-time favourite bands, I stayed until the end of the concert but again, the sound quality, the mix, was not good.

Bearing all this in mind it was with just a little sense of foreboding that I went to see an Italian band called “Premiata Forneria Marconi”, at the O2 Academy in Islington just recently.

Let me just add here that a week after the Karnataka walk-out I saw Karnataka again, this time in the ruins of a Teutonic castle in Poland where the sound quality was much, much better but that’s another story.

The World Became The World.

I first encountered this band Premiata Forneria Marconi or PFM way back in 1976. Atlantic Records had released a compilation album, a double LP called “By Invitation Only” and I managed to get my hands on a copy. They had signed-up Alan Freeman (the somewhat legendary radio presenter) to lend his name to it and it was full of rock acts of the time, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, Buffalo Springfield, but more importantly there were Progressive Rock acts too, Alan Freeman was a great champion of Prog Rock so there were also tracks by Yes and Emerson Lake and Palmer and nestling down there, the last track on side 1 was a track from PFM called “The World Became The World”; four and a half minutes of pure magic, or so it seemed to me. Yes, I know musical appreciation is a very subjective thing and I’m not going to suggest you check this or that out because you’d probably not like it but to me it was musical heaven.

I had only just started work and buying LPs. LP’s? I always have a problem with using an apostrophe there, you wouldn’t write “long player’s” or “long playing record’s” would you? Well, I hope you wouldn’t, not unless you are going on about some quality of the aforementioned LPs. Go on, call me a Grammar Nazi or whatever but that’s how I rock, or roll, one of the two. Now, where was I? Oh yes, I had only just started work and buying LPs, I had several LPs to my name already; “Tubular Bells”, “Brain Salad Surgery”, “Relayer” and “The Six Wives Of Henry VIII” amongst others but apart from that one track on “By Invitation Only” no PFM and so the search began for LPs by PFM. The local record shop didn’t seem to have heard of them so occasional trips up to London included visits to The Record and Tape Exchange chain of shops. Wonderful places which were stuffed full of second-hand LPs (and tapes, obviously). Gradually the PFM collection took shape.

PFM started out in Italy, as you may have expected, I did mention that they were and indeed still are, Italian. They released their initial albums in Italy and they were sung in Italian. The band caught the ear of some luminary in the British music business, something to do with Emerson Lake and Palmer as I recall, anyway they were signed to ELP’s Manticore record label and released a few albums, mainly re-recordings of their earlier Italian offerings, but with English lyrics written for them by Pete Sinfield who also wrote with and for King Crimson and then ELP.

The song “The World Became The World” was as I later found out, one of these re-hashed songs with English lyrics which really bore no relation to the original Italian lyrics. The original song “Impressioni Di Settembre” has its own rather lovely lyrics but I had heard the Anglicised version first and that’s the one that got me hooked.

Over the years my musical appreciation has evolved but there are certain albums, certain bands that I still go back to and PFM is firmly in that category.

No offence guys but I came to see PFM

So to the concert, PFM in concert. Was I going to go? You bet your boots I was. I had never seen PFM before and never really thought that I ever would so when I saw the concert advertised some months beforehand I bought a ticket there and then. Slowly the time ticked away and the days counted down.

It was a Wednesday evening, it had been an uncharacteristically hot September day, I went home from work, changed my shoes (I was going to be standing and I wanted a change of shoes, Chelsea Boots actually, a bit more Rock and Roll) and went to the railway station.

There was a support band, “The Fierce And The Dead”. I’d actually heard of them in fact I have one of their albums, the fabulously titled “If It Carries On Like This We’re Moving To Morecambe”, the music is Post Rock, instrumental guitar stuff, quite good in its own way but… It was a hot day, I am old, I was feeling old, I was tired. No offence guys but I came to see PFM.

I had arrived fashionably late but the concert had not yet started. Pint of lager. How much? Bloody rip-off. Ah well, at least it’s cold. I stood there, shuffling my feet, surveying my surroundings and checking-out my fellow concert goers. Almost exclusively blokes of a certain age, my sort of age, older, he’s definitely older… some with girlfriends/partners etc. a few younger people, but mostly blokes of a certain age.

Eventually The Fierce And The Dead came on stage, they introduced themselves and launched into their set which I have to say, I did enjoy. It only lasted about 40 minutes so why couldn’t they have started earlier? Why do they keep you hanging about? Why not; doors open, 20 minutes later band on stage? The doors opened at 19.00, The Fierce And The Dead came on at 20.40 or thereabouts. Maybe they, yes, those mysterious “they” people think that “we” are going to boost their coffers by buying lots of drinks at the bar whilst waiting for the music to begin. Newsflash! Not at £5 plus a pint, not this lad. One to quench the journey’s thirst perhaps but that’s it.

È festa.

The inter-band gap, the Interbandnum, yeah, I made that up but it seems to me that there ought to be a word for it, anyway, it always seems interminable; people come on stage, fiddle with something and wander off again. I rise up and down on the balls of my feet, shuffle about a bit. I’m not going to stay for entire concert. I’ll stay until about 22.00 and then slip out and get the easy train home. How can I explain this? I really want to see PFM but I’ve been standing here for over an hour now and… Movement at the back of the stage, another roadie? No, it’s, it’s PFM!

The band takes to the stage; they all come to the front of the stage and introduce themselves and then the music begins.

I first encountered PFM in 1976 and perhaps not surprisingly there aren’t many of the original members left in the band but they started to play and suddenly aching feet and plans to duck-out early disappeared. This was the music I had listened to, played from second-hand LPs on my trusty Dansette in my bedroom all those years ago. This was the music I loved.

They played for two hours or so and although over the years they have released many albums the concert seemed to consist almost entirely of music from before 1977, including a rendition of “Impressioni Di Settembre”, with original Italian lyrics, the song, the music that had hooked me all those years ago, albeit in its English guise. At one point I realised that I had a great big foolish grin on my face, no matter, so did others. I was singing along, even to the Italian songs, well, as much as I could remember. I was carried away with the euphoria of it all. Moreover, the sound quality problems which had beset the previous gigs I had seen here seemed to have been resolved. I was a very happy bunny.

And then, all too soon it seemed, the concert was over. Amps off, lights on, people trudging towards the exit at the back of the auditorium.

This is an all stations Metropolitan Line train to Chesham.

It had just gone 23.00. Oh well, I’d best get a wriggle on, there was something about the Metropolitan Line not running through Kings Cross after a certain time of night I seemed to remember. The easy route up to town, Chesham to Kings Cross, Kings Cross to Angel could not be reversed.

I got to Angel Tube Station, scrutinised the map and chose my route:

Northern Line to Kings Cross.
Victoria Line to Oxford Circus.
Bakerloo Line to Baker Street.
Metropolitan Line to Chesham.

What a palaver, and down in those deep tube lines it was hot, it had been a hot day, it was a warm evening but down there, it was still hot. Eventually I arrived at Baker Street and ascended the levels into the somewhat cooler air. Up the escalators, up the last flight of steps and onto Platform 2, the northbound Met Line through platform. There is a train in the platform but it’s not the one I want, I look at the information screen.

Uxbridge - 1 min. Platform 2
Chesham Fast - 3 mins. Platform 2.

Joy of joys, not an all stations train and just enough time to buy, hmmm, what shall I have? Ham and cheese baguette and bottle of water, that’ll do.

Uxbridge - 1 min. Platform 2
Chesham Fast - 5 mins. Platform 2.

What?

There is a train in the platform but it is not in service, it departs northwards.
Over in Platform 4, one of the two bay platforms, there is a train for Uxbridge.
And another train for Uxbridge due in Platform 2 any second now…

It arrives; the Platform 4 train for Uxbridge departs. The Platform 2 train for Uxbridge departs. Neither of them particularly full.

Chesham Fast - 2 mins. Platform 2.

Why are there so many Uxbridge trains? It’s a mystery (…Oh it’s a mystery… I’m still searching for a clue…). Whenever you pitch-up on the Metropolitan Line wanting a train back to Chesham there’s always about 20 trains to Uxbridge first. No, I’m not exaggerating… OK, I’m exaggerating but there do seem to be an awful lot of trains to Uxbridge

Chesham Fast - 1 min. Platform 2.

Lights around the curve, rumbling and the squeal of wheel flanges, my train arrives. I get on and take a seat.

Now for the near hour-long journey out to leafy Buckinghamshire. I can’t say that I’ve ever fallen asleep on the train and woken-up in the sidings at Amersham, I don’t remember ever having done that. Not even a chance to do that now anyway as the Chesham trains are through services, no more changing for the Chesham branch.

In spite of the repeated announcements that, “This is a fast Chesham train, next stop…” a chap jumped to his feet at Harrow on the Hill muttered some dark oaths and made a hasty dash for the Platform. There was another chap siting just ahead of me on the opposite side of the carriage, his head was down, he was in the Land of Nod, well away. As we pulled into Chorleywood he awoke to the sound of “This is Chorleywood, this is etc. etc.” He sat up, bolt-upright, cocked his head to one side, no doubt to hear better, then got to his feet. The look on his face was something like a startled animal caught in the headlights of a fast approaching car. Muttering his own brand of dark oaths he stepped onto the unexpected Chorleywood platform, looking about him as if for some sort of divine guidance. At this time of the night he was running out of options. The next southbound train was only going as far as Rickmansworth. Maybe that’s where he needed to be, maybe not. Maybe his lady wife got the call to come and collect him.

The train reaches the end of the line, Chesham, where, as we have been informed by the automated recording that had been keeping us company throughout the journey, it terminated. Surely there must be a better form of wording? Termination always sounds so, final. Maybe at the start of the return journey the negativity and finality of “terminates” could be countered with, “This train has risen Phoenix like from the ashes of the previously terminated service and will call at…”

The train doors opened and, as requested by the automatic voice, taking all my belongings with me, a PFM t-shirt, an empty water bottle and the wrapper from the baguette, I stepped off of the train, out of the station and onto the mean streets of The Chesh, finally reaching my front door at just gone half past midnight. It had been a long evening even though rather paradoxically the good bits had seemed to be far too short but I stepped into the house with some very good musical memories.

A satisfying answer.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s