Thursday, 25 September 2008

London's Heroes (that's Antigone and Neil Tennant to you and me)

To celebrate 40 years as THE London magazine, Time Out mag has gathered together 40 men and women who shape and are shaped by (in my *ahem* humble opinion) the greatest city in the world. And like the city itself, there's no dead wood. No spent forces or of-their-ages. They're all still DOING it like the Ever Ready Bunny of pop, Neil Tennant. In this interview, he reminds everyone that as well as the references in tons of other Pet Shop Boys songs, their biggest hit, West End Girls is directly inspired by London. Maybe it's time spent in and around Flood Street in Chelsea (listen to The Ghost of Myself) that helped create his very English habit "of looking in people’s windows at dusk".

For his own London hero, he looks to the past in choosing Noel Coward for defining "an idea of a smart, society London". But looking to the future, it's street urchin Lily Allen who gets his imperial nod: "The great thing about London is the potential for creative anarchy. So at the moment London is a stage for Lily Allen, whether she likes it or not... I was at the Groucho Club and there was a swarm of paparazzi outside. I said, “Why are you all here?” and they said, “Lily Allen’s in here, innit, Neil.” It’s a stage. It was a stage for Oscar Wilde."

And the creative anarchy goes on and on in the city. Baton after baton is passed, new upon new of ideas light up like flames and then... there's Antigone. Like most Londoners, she ain't from London. But she's picked up on the point of it all. She has created something special right here in London. And it's not just the music. The buzz from blog to blog, the ever-growing live audiences and the general good feeling around her are foundations for a future London hero, or, number 41...

Why London to launch yourself? Is there something particular (or peculiar) that attracted you?

Having already tried and failed twice to live in London, I thought I might get lucky third time round. First time I was three years old and not quite in a position to immigrate myself; second time I ran out of money and so had my partner in rhyme before even trying to leave Australia; third stint started Spring 2004 and I'm still here. I'm a Sydney girl and I outgrew it. London was big, intimidating, competitive and important enough to provide just the challenge I was looking for to escalate my music career"

How did you first arrive and what was your first glimpse of the big smoke?

I remember stuff from when I was three: a black friend called Ebony at preschool whom I called my cat after back home; dressing up in armour with the dirty boys next door. Second time I was flying in from Delhi after a stint studying Indian vocals in Mumbai for three months. It was night, dreary, drizzling weather, and the woman beside me was telling me she'd loathed London for a year before falling in love. This time I scarcely saw it at all because I was collected and driven west to stay with family at 120 miles an hour... I remember thinking: I've flown this far to die in a crash on the M4?!"

How does London compare to your home city Sydney?

It's really quite different. If London's the internet, maybe Sydney's more of an intranet. What I mean is that I find London incredibly decentralised, whereas Sydney is easier to navigate because it is very strongly defined by its (beautiful) geography. London is choose your own adventure - it's not obvious - you have to investigate to find your niche. People always ask me why I would live in London when I could be in Sydney but they just think of the weather, whereas I'm thinking about incredible culture, being a global citizen and living in a city that takes my industry seriously. But the one thing they have in common is they're both fucking expensive!"

Robyn picked up on the fact that London is actually a load of small towns knitted together (she's not far off, most of London is made up of ancient villages and parishes). So which are your favourite 'small towns' of London?

There's probably one area I love more than any other that I don't even know yet! Depends what I'm after. For mere electricity it's Sunday 'round Brick Lane [read my take on it here]. Broadway Market or Stoke Newington Church Street for mellow grooviness. For buzzy urban village vibes you can't beat Soho, but then for seriously scenic chilling it's the heath or where I live, on Highbury Fields."

What are your favourite landmarks? Have you done the tourist thing?

I've done the touristy thing, but for me the best landmark is just the air of London's overwhelming history pretty much wherever you turn. When I catch apathy, I read a chapter in Peter Ackroyd's London: The Biography and remind myself I am but a blackhead on her butt. Love the juxtaposition of Tate Modern and St Paul's though: brilliant mash-up."

Everyone has their favourite 'spot' in London. For me it's being able to view the city as the vibrant monster it is: on top of Parliament Hill, from Waterloo Bridge, from the top floor of the Park Lane Hilton and the corner of Old Compton St and Frith St in the middle of Soho.

It's hard to get a vantage point in London though isn't it? It's quite flat and there aren't that many skyscrapers, well not that I've been in. But I kind of like that. It's like the opposite of Manhattan. You know you're in the thick of this massive fuck-off metropolis but you can't see it and you feel like you're in a big village: brilliant! But I reckon mine would be somewhere like Dray Walk in the Truman Brewery off Brick Lane on a busy day. It's just always so buzzing with manic creative energy and I love the sense of style the kids who frequent it have."

How long do you forsee yourself being here?

As long as it takes baby!"

More Man Than Man
is still available here and this week's special Time Out issue is available here. Black Truffle is a gorgeous little boutique on Broadway Market, which Antigone mentioned as one of her favourite places to hang out. Go see the cute site here. I'm biased, it belongs to a friend.

For my previous Antigone interview where she describes her Top 5 Disco Foxes, go here.

And a BIG thank you to Tricky Richard for the London images!


xolondon said...

I guess it would be a bit obvious for me to say, errr, xo London.

Paul said...

My sister is one of those people who went to London for uni and never left because she totally gets it. I do not get it. I like to visit, but am always happy to leave :P That doesn't mean I don't like London, I just think the city has to become you and be part of you life (ditto New York, ditto Paris, etc) and somehow that passed me by :( But great post sir! Love the Antigone quotation marks!

Adem With An E said...

Lovely post.

Since I was a child I've been drawn to the image of London and, whilst I've never been there, over the years and as I've gotten older, something inside of me just yearns to live there even more.

It's interesting Antigone refers to Sydney as London's Intranet, as I'm considering moving to Sydney for a while before the big shift overseas...

Phil said...

XO, er, xo!

Paul: and can you remeber when, in a city this massive, I actually saw you and the boyf across a junction when you were visiting! Madness.

Adem, get your arse over here!!! Girls Aloud are waiting for you!