DAY-DREAMING IN WESTMINSTER
I went with friends to the Philip Glass marathon four-and-a-half hour “Einstein at the Beach” at the Barbican this week. It is a masterpiece of psychedelic minimalism, strange and lovely – and with absolutely no comedown. I confess I did drift off a few times – mainly because I was day-dreaming about how Einstein used to seem much cooler than Isaac Newton. I rather took against the latter in the old days because I found physics (or at least my physics master) very dull. But also of course because my hero WIlliam Blake depicted Newton as the manifestation of repressive rationalism and the malign forces of anti-imagination (see the image here).
I have recently changed my mind – mainly because of my friend Rosella Black who curates the Westminster Arts Library just behind the National Gallery. The library sits on the site of Newton’s old house in St Martin’s Lane – now long gone like so much of lost London. I have been researching the house a little and reading more about the man. I particularly like the story of how he would often get up in the morning but only make it as far the edge of his bed and remain there lost in some thought for hours whilst his toast went leathery and coffee got cold. I occasionally do the same thing myself – although, it has to be said, with far less productive results to show for it
Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, Newton. Perhaps to facilitate dreaming by day and sky-watching by night, he built himself a little glass observatory on the roof of the house where he spent many happy hours. This was obviously in the time before Leicester Square and Westminster was all lit up with neon. Sometime after his death, the observatory was bought by an American follower who presumably took it back to the States and re-erected it there. I would be very interested to hear from any American friends or physicists who know of its whereabouts. I also came across a curious obscure record claiming that the whole house was drawn, carefully taken down and put into storage somewhere. Yet another holy grail for us seekers of London Arcana. If you know where it is, do let me know.
Rosella and I will be hosting a regular London Salon at the library later this year. More on that soon but in the meantime, if you are free, we will be playing a couple of songs there next Saturday May19th with a host of wonderful guests for the Arctic Circle 6th Birthday Party. You can get a recording of last year’s Christmas concert where we also played a couple of seasonal songs (and a load of other lovely things) here.
Arctic Circle was founded and is mainly run by champion day-dreamer Ben Eshmade. I attended his own birthday party at Marine Ices the other week and witnessed him demolish a Newton’s Observatory sized knickerbocker glory. It is difficult to know how to applaud him enough. He has been putting on the most beautiful, magical gigs, events, radio shows and all manner of wonderful happenings working away against the odds, against the tide for the last six years. There is really nothing like him, not even a penguin.
I hope he – and Arctic Circle – get much older..