Northcote, July 2015
London, July 2010
Millions of people swarming like flies ’round Waterloo underground
But Terry and Julie cross over the river where they feel safe and sound
And they don’t, need no friends
As long as they gaze on Waterloo sunset, they are in paradise
Waterloo sunset’s fine.
The Preston Bullants Junior Football Club holds an annual dinner dance. What adds to a great night is that parents ( good friends) tend to kick on after the dance at whatever bar or pub will have such an old and motley, but well-dressed, crew descend on it after midnight.
So it was that we found ourselves ordering pints in the beer garden of the Northcote Social Club as that figurative mouse contemplated running down the clock. A little while later I was standing at the urinal in the men’s toilet at the Social Club. Three 20 something hipsters had finished their business and were washing their hands. I heard one of them remark, Best band ever. Then another, You’ve got to be joking. No, I’m not. Just listen. And so we all did.
Coming ever so faintly through the pub speakers was Dedicated Follower of Fashion by none other than The Kinks. I was a sail or two into the wind by this stage of the night and I had to check myself. Three (very) young guys were discussing and praising The Kinks. My sense that the world is going to be alright just improved a touch.
As an elder statesman and (dare I remind you) a little pissed, I believed I needed to enter this discussion. I zipped up, turned around and with a less than faint hearted entrance into someone else’s conversation, blurted out, Yes, a great band and I was fortunate enough to see them back in the 1980s. They were impressed. What? You’ve seen The Kinks? How good were they? Where’d you see them?
To be honest, the memory is hazy but I wasn’t going to ruin my moment in the men’s toilet with three Northcote hipsters. They were great I said. Did they sing Lola? asked one beard. Of course. I saw them at the Perth Entertainment Centre. Turns out my new friends were all ex-Perth as well. What are the odds? I bid them farewell and made my way back to my actual age group.
But I couldn’t shake The Kinks from my mind. The Kinks have many great and memorable songs but there is one stands head and shoulders above the others. At least that’s what my wife Vicki and I reckon. Waterloo Sunset. What a gloriously cinematic song. What a bittersweet tale. What a personal and poignant reflection Ray Davies selflessly shared with us. What a universal truth – searching for a reason to believe.
In 2010 I was in London (Sheffield actually) for work. Vicki flew over to meet me and we were heading off to Paris for a week. For a week of art and romance and wine and macaroons and lazy summer days strolling along the bank of the River Seine. But first, we had business in London.
Our little pilgrimage began at Waterloo Station. This is London’s busiest train station so you have to be really focussed to enjoy a musical pilgrimage. Or on holidays. Vicki and I strolled through the station to Waterloo Road, heading north. Around the roundabout, through Southbank and onto the bridge. Not London Bridge, not Tower Bridge, no not even Westminister. But Waterloo Bridge.
This nondescript greying structure, with concrete beams and its five supporting arches, provides traffic movement from the south to north London, from London’s historical theatre precinct to the West End. And on the bridge, just like Terry and Julie before us, Vicki and I looked out across London, unsure what part we played in its greater story. Standing on Waterloo Bridge, hearing in my mind that deceptively simple tune backing such a complex idea, I had a perception of belonging and at the same time, feeling so alone.
The drum beat that starts the song, feels rushed, impatient or in a hurry. The guitar melody line that cuts across the rhythm is exquisite. The opening line Dirty old river immediately confuses the sounds and sense of the song. The song turns into a nursery rhyme beat, backed by light and beautiful harmonies. This then shifts, seamlessly, to a Brian Wilson melody before the song finally settles in behind the singer (as protagonist) feeling unafraid, away from the maddening crowd.
Vicki and I scan the north side of the river, trying to imagine what window of what flat Ray Davies peered out to look at people swarming like flies down below. Is he looking at us now? Somewhere in the mass and throng he saw a couple, he saw a moment, and he saw the beauty of the world.
Standing on Waterloo Bridge Vicki and I savoured that moment. We sang a very poor version of the song to each other and the Thames, rising in tempo and volume as we belted out the confirmation, as long as we gaze at Waterloo sunset, we are in paradise. Feeling as giddy as Terry and Julie, we held hands and strolled across the bridge towards Covent Garden in search of wine and music, hoping to chance upon something more of Ray Davies’ wonderful town.