The 50s were every bit as exciting – at least to me – as the 60s. OK, the scene was drabber than during the somewhat frenetic Beatles decade, and London Inside and outside the Troubador now….much gentrified, but still there!
was still smog-bound and somewhat grey, but a heck of a lot was happening in what was, and, despite a great deal of social degradation, still is, the greatest city on earth.
And a lot of it was happening in Earl’s Court, that amazing (then) melting pot of young Commonwealth, Old Empire, youth. Youngsters from down-under, Canada and South Africa (like me) crowded into the gently decaying mansions of SW3 and SW5.
My own perch in this exuberant zoo of a place varied over the years between 1957 and 1959, from a single cell-like space high in the Overseas Visitors Club at a cost of £3 per week (where – when I was not attending class – I stoked the boilers and worked at the bar for half-a crown an evening, 12.5 pence today) ….. to sharing a ‘flat’ in Cromwell Road (the building is still there despite the widening and mass demolition of much of that area) with two Australians (the smell of unwashed socks and stale beer remains an abiding memory, either of which instantly evokes whatever the opposite is of nostalgia).
And then, later, there were similar flat-sharing episodes. I can’t recall the nationalities of the co-inhabitants, but we all shared a space in which to have a bath the kitchen had to be evacuated, and a large wooden cover removed that otherwise served as the working surface for meal preparation….. I think that particular memory, and other (un)hygienic elements, can be rapidly glossed over.
But, there was one benefit of that particular living space, for just around the corner, in Old Brompton Road, was the most exciting place in London – for me and for a multitude of ex-colonial youth, experiencing life in London for the first time…...The Troubadour……and it’s still there, with an added art gallery and delicatessan .
It’s website describes it now as : “a proper café. The last 50s coffee house in Earls Court with a proud history as a low temperature centre of courtesy, peace and artistic energy.“ Nights in that heaving, crowded place, slowly sipping coffee, talking, and above all listening to music and poetry (in the basement mini-theater space – which is also still there), well fed and well watered (well you know what I mean) by the jovial owner, who ladled vast plates of spaghetti napolitan for the regulars, for a shilling (5p) or two.
And who played there?
Everyone, including a very young Bob Dylan….and of course there were, a short tube ride away – uptown, in Soho – coffee bars aplenty – such as the 2 ii’s, where youngsters like Tommy Steel, Adam Faith and Cliff Richard exercised their budding talents to bopping, beehive-hairdo-laden, taffeta skirted and drainpipe trousered teens.
In these cramped spaces the energy and the music that was to become the 60s was beginning to bubble.
And – back at the Troubadour – what did we talk about when not listening to music, eating our pasta and drinking coffee? Philosophy, politics (I recall evenings being lectured on dialectical materialism and the evils of capitalism, by an intense Trinidadian student who went on to become a barrister, and very very wealthy) …..and of course art….which was inevitable, since many of these eager and talented immigrants were bound for stage, screen and other artistic destinations.
But, I suppose, the most passionate discussions of all were about higher things – rugby and cricket. As I recall through the mists of half a century that other ball-game, soccer, was hardly every mentioned as, for Australians, New Zealanders and, particularly, South Africans this was seen to be a somewhat effeminate hybrid of real football – rugby.
Despite evidence of skill by some of its participants, I still – when obliged to reluctantly watch a soccer game on tv – find myself muttering, ‘why don’t you pick the ball up you idiot, and run like a normal human being!’
The non-sporting philosophical conversations, arguments and debates at the Troubadour were as wide ranging as it’s possible to imagine, and for a youngster with no previous exposure to any of this heady stuff…. really mind-expanding in a literal sense (try to imagine if you can just how philosophical you would be after growing up in the Northern Transvaal in the late 40’s and early 50’s!).
The aspects I latched onto seemed to revolve around the thoughts of that fascinating man, Jiddu Krishnamurti, and he and his extraordinary story will form the focus of the next posting, unless something diverts me from it. If it does, I’ll certainly get round to it sooner rather than later, as he remains an abiding influence…..
……and a synchronistic thought, reading again Aldous Huxley’s words from the Foreword of Krishamurti’s classic The First and Last Freedom, takes me straight to my daughter, Sasha’s blog posting of yesterday (Vitriol)…….read it to see why.
Huxley said about the book that it offered a ” clear contemporary statement of the fundamental human problem, together with an invitation to solve it in the only way in which it can be solved – by and for oneself.”
…. just so.