[Here is Paddy's fourteenth article for the Newsletter. It appeared in the twenty-first issue (Christmas 1986).]
The other afternoon I found myself in a small Albanian cafe sipping tea and enjoying the clarinets, when I was suddenly presented with a note by the waiter. It was from Kate. I've always admired the Albanians' sense of rhythm and timing, it seems so unique--perhaps not to everyone's taste, but to me it often sounds somewhat like Irish music but with some very unusual twists and turns. I read Kate's letter. It said that she was going to be late. The band was playing some really fast music now. The Tupan player was excelling himself by bashing out rhythms like a machine-gun on one side of his drum and on the other skin an intriguing, complicated slower beat that repeated every two minutes fifteen seconds. You really need a watch to truly appreciate Albanian music. Most of them live till they are 120 years old, so don't be too surprised if they measure time differently from us. There was a small map on the other side of Kate's note. It showed me how to get to a new little Japanese vegetarian restaurant. It was about twenty minutes away. Kate was going to be there in half an hour, so on with my raincoat and into the drizzly streets of London. Not far from Covent Garden I thought I could hear a familiar sound that gradually rose above the traffic rumble...the gentle jingling of many tiny bells. Was it the Hare Krishna guys? Every now and then the odd percussive sound like a rifle-shot would ring out. Perhaps it was some Chinese new-year celebration. As I drew closer to the source, I imagined I'd see some huge Oriental dragon-type structure being carried on the heads of twenty Kung-Fu practitioners, but instead I saw what looked like a cricket team involved in some kind of formation jumping-ritual.
Every now and then they would hit each other with their bats and shout, then back to the jumping. They all had bells on their legs; it sounded lovely. There were a lot of people around that day, and it had started to rain quite heavily. I concluded that this must be the reason behind the dancing cricketers, and that they could probably stay in quite good condition by doing this when they found themselves rained off their favourite pitch. By now the rain had turned to hail and its pitter-patter rhythm doubled its timing and became the thundering fast roll of a snare drum. Large hailstones were now bouncing so high that they slowly filled my pockets. I followed Kate's little map through the covered area of the market. There were a lot of street performers that day. The sound of the storm beating out explosions on the roof literally drowned any music that was being made, so everybody stopped what they were doing and watched the mime artists. Everyone except myself...
Cue sound of large gong...I have arrived on time at the inscrutable Japanese emporium "Soto Kasi's". "Hello, Mr. Bush, may I take your hat and coat and er...ear-protectors?" said the exquisitely beautiful waitress. I said "Excuse me?" She removed my ear-defenders and repeated her greeting. I said "Thank you. It's very loud out there today!" She smiled understandingly and took my coat.
The music started. Two Shamisen players, a drummer and three girl singers, wonderful. My waitress led me to a little table near the stage. I sat entranced, all eyes and ears. She poured some tea and asked me, "Do you like Japanese music?" Her English was impeccable. I was very excited. I love the sound of the Shamisen and Japanese Min-Yo music has some of the catchiest tunes ever written, so I replied in Japanese something to the effect of "Honourable Madam, pray permit this humble creature to answer your question...Does not the bright river-kingfisher or the tall, majestic crane not cravest for the Golden Halibut of the Sun?" Her smile flickered for an instant. I was thinking that maybe I had placed the odd word in the wrong place and perhaps the meaning of my complimentary little speech had gone adrift...when there was an enormous crash of cymbals. I glanced at the stage. The girls had stopped singing and were staring curiously over my shoulder. I turned and looked over by the hat-stand. Near the door was a Japanese waiter. He was sat on the floor and was wearing a hat made from seaweed that was slowly dripping down his face. Around him the debris of a once-airborne vegetarian meal now lay scattered on the floor like a delicate chain of islands in a coral sea of spinach, rice and slippery, white, little chunks of ice that looked a bit like hailstones. How very curious.
Inscrutably the Shamisen and drummer went into a real favourite number of mine called "Long Live Eo", which is a fan dance with a fantastic tune. Another waitress appeared to my right with a telephone on a small tray. She placed it on the table, bowed and backed away cautiously. I picked up the phone. "Hello, Kate." "Hello, Pad. I'm still at the Dance Centre. Why don't we meet at Poona's in ten minutes?" "Good idea!" I said, and no sooner had I replaced the receiver and stood up when I found myself back on the streets of Covent Garden. The storm had passed and it was sunny now, and all the street performers were back in full swing. The sound of bagpipes was maybe the easiest sound to pick out above the turmoil. As I got closer I could see a bloke wearing a tartan skirt and socks jumping up and down over a pair of very sharp, long swords. Most original, I thought, and placed my hand in my pocket to drop a coin in his tam when I found it was full of water. Oh well.
Anyway, cue sound of finger running down a quarter-tone scale on the sitar's sympathetic strings. Yes, I have arrived at Poona's. It's busy tonight.
"Hello, Mr. Bush, may I take your coat and earwarmers?" Great clouds of steam billow from my pockets. I love English weather, it's so unpredictable. Here at Poona's there were large white rotating fans hanging from the ceiling, and huge green palms, jasmine and rubber plants. This wonderful Oriental atmosphere was truly brought alive by the addition of real music. The tamboura provided the background sound like a ten-bar electric fire. The tabla beat a bubbling pitter-patter matrix of raindrops, and the sitar...warm, intellectual, convoluted and toothpaste-shaped sound... It was tremendous.
Over by the coat-stand it was beginning to look like a Swedish sauna bath. A waiter laden with four or five trays of food balanced precariously on his arms suddenly made a flamboyant entrance from the kitchen straight into the sauna. His glasses instantly steamed up. I couldn't watch. Instead I watched the face of another waiter who was bringing a tray to my table. His mouth dropped wide open as his eyes followed the track of ballistic curries as they struck the fan on the ceiling. Flying-saucer popadoms bounced off the ornately decorated mirror surrounds. The other waiter placed his tray on my table and lifted up one of those silver domes with a handle on it, while bits of lettuce and cucumber fell from the ceiling and decorated the telephone that he had brought me. I groped through the salad and picked up the receiver..."Hello, Pad?" "Hello, Katey, how's things?" "O.K., thanks. Look, I've been delayed again. Do you know that little Peruvian restaurant off the Edgeware Road?" "Yep! See you there."
Into a cab. Cabby--cheerful, chirpy, Cockney--sings jolly improvisations to some Vaughn Williams playing on Radio 3. Cab arrives. Cue Peruvian music. "Hello, Mr. Bush, etc." Two pan-pipers, one charanga player, three vocalists--brilliant. Kate arrives-- incredible. Order food--no problems. Food arrives--delicious. Music plays--tremendous. The bill arrives--most reasonable. Hats, coats--so far so good. "Thank you, sir, thank you, madam, adios mes amigos, call again"--seems too easy. Put hand in pocket, feel for ear-defenders--find a big gun and bullets instead. Oops, wrong coat. Newspaper clippings in other pocket... "Murderous Psychopath On Rampage In Edgeware." Back in restaurant, huge gorilla of a man, sticking out of my little coat, seems to have been rummaging in my pockets...looking for something that he doesn't seem to be able to find. His fingers are covered in spinach and the distinctive yellow stains of vindaloo sauce. His face is red...I am faced with a dilemma...Should I go to that charming little Swiss bistro in Kilburn with live Alp-hornist and yodelling trio...or should we go on to Skinks and catch the cabaret? I wonder what your choice would be?
©1990 Andy Marvick