Scott Matthews @ East Wintergarden

Where: The East Wintergarden, Canary Wharf, E14
When: 29/10/12
Website: www.scottmatthewsmusic.co.uk
Price: £17.50
Rating:

The evening didn’t get off to the best of starts. Ruth had been caught up in the vagaries of the London transport system, rendering her nearly half an hour late; the almost full Moon was straining to creep through the clouds that were unleashing their unique brand of constant drizzle.

When Ruth finally managed to emerge from Canary Wharf tube station, we wound our way through the workers running through the rain for their bus home. We were heading for a gig at the East Wintergarden, a venue I’d never heard of before let alone been to. Initially I was underwhelmed as the entrance had the same cold, slick and soulless quality that doesn’t see me visit Canary Wharf very often.

However, the venue itself was a pleasant surprise. Tables had been arranged in a “cabaret style” with round tables, topped with candles and encircled with chairs. Behind the stage was a black screen littered with pin-pricks of light mocking up stars. But the real sight was to be seen overhead, a glass ceiling revealing a canopy of lights from the surrounding office buildings, mapping out their own makeshift constellations in the cloudy, starless sky.

This was a cool place to see one of our all time favourite artists: Scott Matthews. A lanky, Ivor Novello award winning singer/songwriter from Wolverhampton, he is a troubadour in every sense of the word. He also has a special place in our affections as one of our first dates was at one of his gigs back in 2006 when we were both students at the University of Manchester.

Before Scott took to the stage, his support act – ESKA – entertained us for half an hour or so. Born in Zimbabwe, but raised in London, she is certainly a force of nature – I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a voice like hers before. Soulful yet folky, with beautiful lyrics, I couldn’t actually decide whether I liked it or not. At times she hit such high notes – think the love child of Kate Bush and Minnie Ripperton on steroids – that I gurned and physically had to shrink away from the stage. I’d be interested to listen to her studio stuff though.

After a brief hiatus, Scott Matthews tip-toed on stage. Not a natural showman, his on-stage banter is often awkward but we’ve come to love it over the 5 times we’ve seen him in London. All is forgotten when he opens his mouth to sing, though. In the school of Nick Drake and Jeff Buckley, his songs are like a warm comforting blanket to me. Dark, frank and often tackling themes of loneliness, his lyrics are beautifully poetic and his melodies haunting.

He played a mixture of old and new songs, opening with Dream Song, from his debut album Passing Stranger, before wrapping up ninety minutes later with the stunning Ballerina Lake from his latest album, What the Night Delivers. My personal highlight of the evening was his beautiful rendition of the aptly titled So Long My Moonlight (Spotify album track below). He left without playing Elusive, his biggest mainstream hit, perhaps a sign he is tiring of it being the only song to have registered in many people’s consciousness. It shouldn’t be – his entire canon is as mighty.

Verdict:

A class act on the top of his game. Happy to tinker with a few songs to keep them sounding fresh, this was the ultimate antidote to the encroaching darker nights and the inauspicious start to the evening. The East Wintergarden is a great venue for an intimate gig and we’ll certainly be keeping an eye on their programme of events. With a new album due out in 2013, we might even get some new songs to play at our wedding!


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Muse @ O2 Arena

Where: O2 Arena, North Greenwich, SE10
When: 27/10/12 (The 2nd Law tour)
Website: www.muse.mu
Price: £55
Rating:

Frequently voted the world’s greatest live band, Muse are usually guaranteed to deliver a great performance. Their second night at the O2 definitely didn’t disappoint. The anticipation from the crowd was palpable; tickets sold out within minutes of going on sale, a testament to how popular the band have become.

The tour was timed to coincide with the release of the band’s 6th album: The Second Law. This provided an opportunity for the audience to hear some of the new material live for the first time. The crowd were incredibly enthusiastic throughout the gig, however, as expected, it was the old material that got the best reaction. Particular highlights were ‘Falling Down’ from the first album, and classic favourites New Born and Plug in Baby. Some of the new songs got a mixed reaction, having much more of a stadium rock, Queen-like slant.

Muse utilised the size of the arena to full advantage, with a large multi-platform, semi-circular stage complete with florescent piano and a descending inverted pyramid of lights. Matt Bellamy seemed in his element, strutting across the stage like a rock star peacock, determined to thrill and entertain the audience. It was clear no-one wanted the gig to end, and with such a wide back catalogue of great songs there were a few disappointed fans who missed out on hearing their favourites (including myself – no Hysteria!)

Verdict:

Muse have never been more popular than now, and certainly delivered a fantastic show. However, whilst the quality of their performance can’t be doubted, arguably musically they are slightly past their best. Despite this, they continue to be one of the most exciting live bands around; I’d urge everyone to try and get tickets for the current tour, or see them at one of the festivals next summer.

Old Operating Theatre

Where: Old Operating Theatre, St Thomas Street, SE1
Website: www.thegarret.org.uk
Price: £6 Adults (£5 conc, £3.50 children)
Rating:

Living in the shadow of The Shard, we’ve seen the finishing touches being applied to the latest addition to London’s iconic skyline. Yet tucked away on the very same street as that glass mountain is a much less understated structure: St Thomas’s Church. When the Baroque church was rebuilt in 1703 a garret (attic space) was added to store the herbs used by the apothecary of St Thomas’s – the height thought to have offered protection from the capital’s rodent army.

The loft is also home to Europe’s oldest surgical operating theatre. Whilst the attic of a church may seem a peculiar choice to perform operations, the plan below shows that the Church used to sit directly alongside some of the hospital wards allowing easy access (note how the Shard now sits towards the site of the old hospital’s Washhouse and Bathhouse). After the hospital moved locations the theatre lay dusty and forgotten until it was rediscovered in 1956.

Today you can visit the restored theatre for yourself between 10:30 and 17:00 every day including Bank Holidays. The Museum is closed 15th December to 5th January every year. To gain access to this once neglected gem you must first climb 32 steps of a creaky wooden staircase where you encounter the ticket desk and a shop piled high with treasure (I picked up a really good book on 19th century New York).

Once you make it into the garret you’ll find your experience split into two sections: the collection of medical paraphernalia and the Old Operating Theatre itself. The collection of surgical equipment from yesteryear is both fascinating and scary; one look at the obstetrics area is enough to make your eyes water! Two thirds of the collection is available to view online if you can’t make it down to St Thomas’s Street yourself.

After taking in the collection, wander next door to the Theatre where you’ll see for yourself the conditions under which the pioneering surgeons of the Victorian era demonstrated the latest techniques to their students. With anaesthetics a fledgling field, amputations often occurred in less than a minute. The exhibition is well appointed with interesting information to supplement your wanderings. You can also take an online panoramic tour of the Theatre.

Verdict:
A fascinating place to spend an hour or two and it is probably possible to squeeze everything in to an hour’s lunch break if you work in the area. We often takes things for granted in the modern world, whether it is our ability to build 308 metre glass monoliths or perform amazing feats of medicine. It is easy to forget what life was like in our city 150 years ago and this marvellous little place, hidden in an old church, is a wonderful way to transport yourself to the past.

So it’s been a while…

Those of you who had started reading our little blog may have noticed a fairly extensive silence in these parts. Things got a little hectic and the fledgling blog got popped on the back burner. Whilst the eyes of the world were on our favourite city over the summer, we were busy putting the wheels in motion for our wedding after Colin popped the question over a sunset picnic in Sardinia in May.

Now things in London town are settling back to what passes for normality, we are starting up again, in no small part to reading Spitalfields Life – a book compiled of posts from the blog of the same name. Having been reminded of how amazing our capital city can be, we are back in business with no shortage of interesting pins to add to our map in the coming months.