Strip light


The dedication of a musician to his or her life pursuit is likely determinable as much as by any other measure as it is by his or her tolerance for spending time in affordable rehearsal studios. More than ten years since the instigation of the UK ban on smoking in the workplace, I still miss walking into a hot, windowless room in Acton’s Survival Studios after five men have been chain-smoking and spilling beer in there for six sweaty hours or more. My nostalgia for those heady, carcinogenic evening rehearsals late every Monday and Tuesday in my twenties meets with some comfort in the new and emerging ways that London’s (and, doubtless, every other UK city’s) rehearsal rooms have come to embrace and embody the furtive musical existence of the originals band

Sweet Tooth has acquired keys to a free rehearsal space in central London. Of all the dingy, dank and claustrophobia-inducing places I have rehearsed with a band, this has the distinction, every time I set up to rehearse, of impressing upon more any than other location, that the end of it all could well feature in the briefest of tragedy pieces in the Metro about a bunch of stupid indie musicians burning to death dramatically but discreetly in an inevitable fire in a hidden underground room. I expect either this, or at any moment for the police or gangsters to burst in and arrest, shoot, or torture us. The place is probably illegal – it was kitted out by a friend of the singer, who works for the Council. To reach it, one descends the stairs outside of a prestigious concert venue, where waiters from the restaurant put out the recycling. Miraculously, I can normally park with a few feet of these stairs, whence I carry as much stuff as possible, painfully stretching tendons and muscles up and down my arms and back, in part because carrying tons of stuff makes me feel strong and manly, and mostly out of laziness, inasmuch as I hate to return to the car for one damned bag that I couldn’t be arsed to mange on the first trip. Just beyond the foot of the stairs there’s a door that opens about 45 degrees, adding tremendously to the fun of stumbling under eight heavy bags. That door is followed by a dip in the tiled floor generously filled with a puddle, which each week claims one of my shoes. On the left, then, is a door, dramatically marked “Electricity: Danger of Death”. This opens a full 90 degrees, revealing a doorway 4 ½ feet high (I tore my scalp on this one evening when wearing a baseball cap, despite having ably navigated the aperture on dozens of prior occasions). Steep stairs lead to a short corridor, past a couple of generators, and to two more doors concealing the small, dark, navy-carpeted room with a six foot six ceiling and a miniature, hardworking dehumidifier, functional back line for a band (PA, bass amp, drums, stacks of cases, mic stands) and a vacuum cleaner. There is one crude strip light, that we habitually switch off after unpacking, collectively in favour of the dark yellow mood lighting that shrouds the dusty, thick air, making silhouettes of the rest of the band so I can see only shapes, and find out later that the bassist was mouthing to me “quietly” or “stop playing now”.

The band rehearses late, arriving after 8, and finding our groove around 9.30 or 10.00 pm. I set my gear up at the far end of the room, sitting against the back wall. It takes a while to de-bag and ergonomically situate my headphone amp, iPad, sample module, sticks bag, shakers, tambourine and set list out of range of flailing sticks. Unhampered by the oppressive light and the musty, stale aroma, Hugh the bassist times his arrival to fit in with me getting the set list in place, headphones on, and sticks into eager hands. From time to time the lighting cuts out abruptly with a bang, and the singer rushes, mobile phone flashlight aloft, to replace a fuse in a mouldy corner. Our basement accommodation is air conditioned, as much as might be expected of a homemade concealed space beneath a major London thoroughfare. From time to time, however, the air con fails, and we schedule our breaks according how long it takes for the first of us to succumb to the spores and we all lunge for the succession of doors, gasping in lungfuls of the glorious fresh night air of subterranean Bloomsbury.

I quite like the subversive feeling of banging the crap out of a drum kit in a fantastic-sounding band in a secret rehearsal space underneath _______ Street. There’s something naughty about it, like hiding behind the garden shed at my parents’, or shagging in the practice rooms at the Royal Welsh College – it’s just a tiny bit dangerous. Despite my classical music training, or, more likely, because of it, I also enjoy or imagine a feeling of rebelliousness against the high culture of chamber ensemble performance adoration and toffs pompously dining just a few feet away, and the juxtaposition of that audience with the band’s middle openly class aspirations to creatively autonomous, safely chic and quasi-bohemian lifestyles in which we connect cool people with luscious pop music music in venues not smug enough for a string quartet, but sufficiently legitimate to make into The Guardian Culture section or the Royal Festival Hall.

I’ve usually loaded back into the car by shortly after 12, and there is traffic on the way home. One of the things about London that continues to impress, anger and disappoint me in equal measure, is the inevitability of the midnight traffic jam. The only time of day I’ve consistently found endearingly little traffic in the capital is at 4.00 o’clock in the morning – the golden hour – when once upon a time I would drive epically home from Mike’s (south of the river) after sleeping off a night of movies and marijuana and music.










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