We’re headed for Leyton in east East London, close by the new Olympic games complexes. The Games are 10 days away, but we’re worried about traffic. We take the outer ring motorway, and it’s a smooth sail, until traffic stops cold. Six lanes of gridlock, with oddly pastoral fields to the right, between us and the legendary metropolis somewhere south in the distance. We get off the motorway, into suburban gridlock, quickly get back on. If we don’t get the rentacar back by 4 p.m. we get gouged a fee of unknown size and scale–rental companies have a wild imagination when it comes to missing deadlines.
Traffic picks up, and we exit for the high road heading south into Leyton. We’re in the outer realms of metropolis, rolling south in slow lumbering traffic through unending canyons of three story flats with business fronts. But this is pure entertainment. Every people on earth is living here, in veils, beautiful robes, cheap suits, hip suits, Euro Americana knockoff t-shirts and jeans, all ages, from Eastern Europe, Russia, Africa, the Middle East. The streets are a bazaar, shop signs profuse in polyglot tongues, spices of the world waft into our idling car, the sidewalks are packed to bursting with human traffic. This is the crossroads of the world.
Our high road lurches and bends and turns southward, through harrowing roundabouts. We’re barely moving. An hour of life’s rich pageant out the window, and we reach Leyton, take side streets through quiet poor neighborhoods to our destination: The Birkbeck Tavern.
We load in through the side door in great haste, and Paul and Rob pile back into the car and race south, more teeming humanity on the high road, to the docks area and the striking brand new Olympic Village, onto a long pier and a deserted rentacar complex. We leave the car on a desolate dock, undinged despite roundabouts and lorries, hand over the keys triumphantly ten minutes before the deadly deadline.
The duo is feeling a weight lifting. We’re in London, we’re out of the car and into the best public transportation system on earth, staying in the same place we’re playing for the next three days. This feels like a vacation. We take a double decker bus back towards Leyton, enjoying the slow crawl from the upper level, then hoof it the last couple of miles, part of the sidewalk stream of humanity, mark the scrubby pub claiming to be the birthplace of Iron Maiden with Instagram photos, stop off for a pint of Jamesons in a shop, sip it from a paper bag on our meander. This is the most leisurely we’ve felt in three weeks.
Back at the Birkbeck Tavern, we meet Steve the tough and cool N. Ireland expat and his even tougher Yorkshire wife Ali, with charming tough accent. These hippie wanderer pub managers put on the What’s Cookin’ series in the bar, which draws established and even famous acts from all over the world. What’s Cookin’ is cookin’. We grab our rooms upstairs: PL and VJ settle into spacious matrimonial suite overlooking a lovely garden; MD and RW struggle to inflate two airmats with their own shrinking lungs in a living room where the family smokes. Invigorated, the band grabs some food and checks out the very good opening British folk act.
The Parsonesque electric country rock band The Snakes hits the stage next, and they sound great, jangling guitars and good singing. We use their gear, do an electric show, and rock the house. The Hawks are a touring machine, our 21st show in 19 days, and the crowd is with us.
We hang, sign CDs, quaff pints, and eventually head upstairs.
We have a piece of the rare and precious nugget handed to us in Leicester. It’s our second to last night of a long journey so we fire up. Even Victoria’s going to take a hit, her first in years. The windows are nailed shut, it’s a tough neighborhood. But there’s a big ashtray filled with butts. So it it’s cool to spark a J in here, right? Sir? A mellow evening in our upstairs den awaits—ah, but for England’s draconian pot laws. Our hostess Ali comes in to turn down the beds and smells the herbal essence, kinda really freaks out. We feel like teens in mom’s basement caught red-handed. She claims it’s a serious bust for the Birkbeck if the cops come around after smelling our sweat leaf. Really? Sorry, mates. We’ll try and make up for it. We’re from mellow California, where the weed flows like wine. God save the CCTV.
Next day, gloomy of course, or nurturing, as a desert dweller might notice, we roust ourselves and take the tube out to Barry Everett’s House Of Mercy, west and north of Birkbeck but still in vast east London, on an old tree lined street of brick flats with ancient small parks and ruined churches decaying with dignity. Barry and crew are great, show us around, set up a video cam and mikes and we have a great live show/interview. Barry’s lived the full UK to US Concorde 60s 70s counterculture lifestyle, and we hope he writes his memoirs and sends us a copy. Fascinating guy.
It’s only noon and we’re in London, well rested and jacked up by the emanations in the air, as the center of western civilization preps for the Olympics. We grab the tube for Covent Gardens, a kind of Grove at Glendale if it were built hundreds of years ago, of massive brick and beautiful stone. The place is rocking, intriguing markets and outdoor food vendors, street performers, packed with tourists, including the guitar toting Hawks. Victoria lived in London for three years, and she guides us through the mazes, finds us a spud stand, where we gorge our suddenly starving selves. Bacon, butter, chives, mushrooms, we do it all. Damn. Rob and Paul find a tobacconist, buy a silver tin of snuff. The male Hawks sniff, our lady abstains. What a fantastic buzz. You’re alert, relaxed, in love with life’s rich pageant. We wend our way through packed people, back to the tube, bouncy ride underground back to Leyton, half mile walk through flat land to the Birkbeck.
It’s our last show of the tour. This is it. Our straight-edge vagabond hippie hosts have set up a great acoustic show that we’re headlining. We dig the young old timey band, uh oh, pretty damn good, tough act to follow, lots of energy and free spirits. They lead the crowd outside into the garden, where blue competes with gray in the heavens above, shout micless into the open air. The crowd loves it. We start our set indoors with mics, oh yeah, we win the crowd over quickly. Steve then leads the crowd and bands outdoors, where we do a couple of acoustic songs and then jam with the other musicians, 12 of us belting out Ring Of Fire, jumping up on the big wooden table to sing verses. Gentle long English twilight commences as we pack up, embraces all around, long chats with new friends and fans.
We’re done. Next day we scatter over London, Rob meeting his sister, Marc a cousin, Victoria and Paul exploring Brick Lane, where Victoria’s English born grandmother lived in gray poverty before emigrating to America. The ghosts of want are still in the air, even as the area has become a hotbed of British optimism and new commerce. Hip couture, an actually excellent espresso bar, an architect’s school showing off student final projects in an old warehouse space, Rough Trade Records, where we’re pleased to see the Blue Rose release of our new CD in the bins. Victoria spots Zooey Deschanel walking down a wide lane. We meet old Coles compatriots, young and happening architect and Cole’s Alumnus Chuck and his wife Georgia, an immigration lawyer, who show us their cool flat, fill us in on local lore, tell Victoria she can get UK citizenship because of her grandma, and take us to a phenomenal Vietnamese restaurant. Life is, once again, very very good.
Next day we scatter. Rob and Marc tube it to Heathrow and America, Victoria and Paul roam London for a few more days, good food and food for thought, tubes and walking, films and culture, the global feast as the Olympics loom and flowers are planted while the city carries on.