Monday, December 07, 2009

John Foxx at University of Bath ICIA, December 5, 2009

This past Saturday, I took a weekend trip to Bath to see John Foxx perform “The Quiet Man” at the University of Bath ICIA, an event followed by a conversation between Foxx and novelist Iain Sinclair. Since October 2008, this is my sixth time seeing John, so I’m really racking up the frequent flyer miles. I used to think Elite status for an airline was just pretentious, until I achieved it and got to bypass long check –in lines, security lines, didn’t have to wait to get on the plane—and my luggage was always the first off the conveyor belt at baggage claim. Needless to say, I am now a fan.

My weekend began on Friday afternoon, when I went to the airport for a late flight that ended up in London at 7:00 in the morning on Saturday (London time). From Heathrow I took the trek to Paddington, and from there to Bath Spa. I booked a hostel in Bath, as I was only staying for a night and saw no reason to pay a lot of money for a hotel. I had enough time to dump my things in my room before running back to the train station to meet my friend Gem at noon.

Bath was very crowded that day, with market stalls set up (apparently for Christmas stuff), and it was pouring rain to boot. Gem and I went to lunch, and then spent some time walking around Bath, but it just wasn’t the best day for it. So, we found a pub in the center of town that wasn’t totally packed or a gay bar, and went in for a drink until about an hour before the show.

We finally got a taxi to the ICIA, which no one at the University has ever heard of. To make matters more complicated, there are signs everywhere for something called “ICIA”, and about 6 different buildings on the campus map that “might” have been the ICIA. We ran into some other fans looking for the show, and eventually, through collective brainpower and questioning, we found our way to the venue. It was pretty busy—a very large crowd. We saw Brian right away when we entered the waiting area, and got to chat with him for awhile. Tessa and her husband also showed up, though it was crowded and difficult to chat the longer we waited to get in.

Around 7:30, Michael Bassett, the music coordinator for the ICIA (and native of Troy, NY—one of those places, we agreed, if you pass it on the Thruway—you should probably just keep going) appeared to tell us that the start of the show would be delayed due to “technical difficulties”. By 8:15, when they finally let us in, the room where everyone was waiting looked like the holding area for the Colbert Report before taping. (Those of you who have gone to a show taping know what that’s like. Everyone is so packed in, you get to be intimate friends with people you never wanted to meet.)

John and Karborn came out right away, and did a magnificent set. They showed 3 films—“The Quiet Man,” “A Man Made of Shadows,” and a live VJing set by Karborn that included bits of “Shifting City” and “Cathedral Oceans”. Foxx played the piano throughout all the film sets, and the live video set was fantastic. They skipped the post-film Q&A, and John announced an intermission before his conversation with Iain Sinclair. You can see some of the film and video events here and here (courtesy of Brian).

At about 9:30, the conversation with Iain Sinclair began with Iain getting the ball rolling, as he said John had done the bulk of the work thus far. He discussed his own impressions of John’s work on the Quiet Man. I’m wishing I’d taped the event, or taken notes, as my memory of the conversation in order is rather shaky. Part of the problem is that I’m not terribly familiar with Sinclair’s work—John had his copy of “London Orbital” with him, which is a book of observations about walking along London’s M-25. What impressed Foxx about Sinclair was how he tended to write about the present, which is more difficult than guessing about the future, or trying to recall the past based on some set of facts. Foxx also alluded to his recent posting on media ghosts, on the things that we believe exist without ever seeing them—only through the media. He kept bringing up the President of the United States—how everyone says he exists, but he may not. (As an aside, I will say that several people I know HAVE met the President, or at least been in the same room with him, as he visited our University at the end of October, while campaigning for New Jersey governor Jon Corzine. We are fairly certain that the police would not shut down the New Jersey Turnpike for a fictitious being. But you never know.)

Well then. After some discussion, John opened up the floor for questions, which is usually a good thing, but ended up being a mistake this time around. First—after all of the fascinating discussion about cities, and places, and people’s identities within such constructions, what do you think the first question was? If you guessed, “Will you ever get back together with Ultravox?” you would win a prize, if there was one. I wasn’t sure if this man was planted in the audience just to play a prank. He said he was a fan of John’s for thirty years; shoot, I’ve been a fan of John’s for only about a year and a half, and even I know the answer to that one. His friend persisted in the Ultravox vein, when John politely suggested that questions should be for both himself and Iain, and moved on.

Someone asked a rather interesting question about how the ideas of cities as “hives” fit in with other ideas they mentioned about individualism. The answer to that question can be seen here (many thanks to Brian for posting, once again). Then, as Brian suggested, things “got lively”. During the conversation, a man stood up in the back, turned around and started yelling at some students that were apparently creating a disruption. He then turned and apologized to John and Iain, and the conversation went forward. Apparently those five students were ejected from the venue—no one down in the front knew anything about it, until the fellow who asked the last question raised his hand. He asked a long winded question that ended with him telling John about the five students ejected, and acting as though John had some responsibility for this, or was some kind of hypocrite for allowing it happen. John simply said he had no idea it had happened, and he really didn’t know what the young man wanted him to do about it. The young man persisted rather belligerently, and someone stood up and told him to shut up, as he’d never produce half as much in his life as those two men did. Which was probably not the best thing to say, but a rather understandable knee-jerk reaction to the absurdity of the whole thing. Finally, Michael came down front and formally ended the conversation by thanking Iain and John, and everyone involved in the program. You can see Brian’s clip of this event here.

So, between the technical difficulties and bizarre audience behavior, it was quite an event. There was some discussion of the disturbance afterward, probably best summed up by one among our company who said that the student who asked that last question “was being a twat.” According to Rob Harris, the show almost didn’t happen because of the technical difficulties. Karborn said, “well, we knew Brigid was coming for this, so we had to make it work.” (I’m sure he was kidding, but it was nice of him to say that.)

Afterward, John had arranged a little get-together in a pub a couple of miles out, so I went with Rob and his friend (also called Rob) and Karborn, and we had a rather amusing excursion around Bath trying to get to the pub, as Karborn was the only one who knew where it was, but he’d only been there on foot or in a cab, and giving directions to someone driving is another matter entirely. We got there just at the same time that John arrived, so it all worked out. I stayed until about 1:30 in the morning, when Steve called and got me a cab to go back to my room at the hostel. The cab came much quicker than expected, so I had to dash out without getting to say goodbye to anyone except John and Rob. But it was an interesting evening, to say the least. I met Steve’s wife Isabelle (hopefully I’m spelling her name correctly), who is a really lovely person. (I also learned that Steve’s nickname is “Fluffy”—something which, perhaps because he’d been drinking, he said he wouldn’t mind if I mentioned in my blog, so now I’m mentioning it.) If you’ve ever gone to a wedding and experienced the one table at the reception that is somehow louder than all the others—I think that was pretty much our table at the pub. I did bring holiday cards for the folks I thought I’d see there (Karborn, Foxx, Steve, and Rob). Foxx had ordered champagne for everyone and was toasting the new year, so I didn’t feel quite so premature with my cards. And I won’t see any of them now until 2010, so it’s not untimely. Fortunately, 2010 is not far off.

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