A very good friend of mine recently launched a blog offering twice weekly psychogeographical anecdotes on our famous home of London Town. An excellent blog it is too, but in case you think I’m biased, I suggest you have a read for yourself. See how I underhandedly slipped in the plug? Hmm, that sounds disturbing out-of-context, and this has all gone wildly tangential. The reason I’m mentioning his London-based blog is because it concentrates the majority of its efforts on Central London. This is probably because, like the majority of major cities, the most exciting parts of London are found in its centre; there’s a reason why London’s iconic Tube Map is so dense within its hub. That’s not to say that there aren’t places of interest to be found in its periphery, but as a South Londoner I’ve explored every nook and cranny of the lower end of the Northern Line. There’s only so much diversity and exhilaration to be found within the morose, vacant pubs of South Wimbledon, or in the daily crime just outside Stockwell Station. Like my friend and many others, I find London’s true heart to be in its heart, in the hustle and bustle of Oxford Street, in the culture and history of Covent Garden, and in the pigeon droppings of Trafalgar Square.
Unfortunately, London is crippled by population saturation and a transport system that, despite its stoutness, is incapable of dealing with said saturation, let alone the upcoming Olympics I might add. Consequentially, getting into Central London is frustratingly expensive. The best way to do it, at least from my present residence, is via the Tube; to get the equivalent of a return trip to Central London costs roughly £5, around $7. Not much you might say, but for a previous job I had to commute daily into Central, and over the course of that year the £5 added up into something alarmingly large. Factor in the apparent back-alley agreement between every Central retailer to overcharge like it’s Christmas, and a trip to London’s heart can be stressful enough on the wallet to give you heartburn.
It was with great pleasure, then, that I found such instant gratification from last weekend’s trip into Central. I stepped out of Charing Cross Station and onto a bright Trafalgar Square – where the pigeon droppings are – with Simon Viklund’s Bionic Commando Rearmed soundtrack thumping through my iPod’s earbuds. This blend of exceptional 8-bit remastery and precious British sunshine was pretty good in itself, but what brought the gratification was far better. As I gazed down from the gallery onto Trafalgar Square’s lively arena, I saw a crowd around a small, central stage. I peered more closely, and was rewarded with a troupe of white-clad, handkerchief-waving, and rather aged (and aging) morris dancers stepping out from the crowd and onto the stage. The twenty-man troupe quickly assembled into four columns, and then a traditional piece of music began to play as the (very) grown men leaped, galloped, hopped, and skipped their way around the stage. Well, I’m assuming there was folk music, because I couldn’t hear any; I still had my earbuds in and the Rearmed soundtrack playing through them. What I was greeted with was the sight of twenty very old men who were all bounding and prancing perfectly in time to the bass-heavy techno beats of “Power Plant”. This was my instant gratification. This was simply beautiful.
Sadly, it was fleetingly beautiful, so much so that I almost regret having not pulled out the digital videocamera to record it, even if I would’ve had to superimpose the music onto the video myself. Having found a similar YouTube video has dampened that regret, and I’m sure that when you view it you will understand why my moment was so beautiful. Has morris dancing ever been cooler?
When the dancing regretfully concluded, I reflected on why people find things being performed to the wrong soundtrack so engrossing. I think as a nation we love the surreal, something largely instilled into us by Monty Python’s absurdist comedy, and more recently through surrealist sitcoms like Green Wing and Spaced. I think it’s this unreality that makes inappropriate soundtracks so very appealing – that and that it’s really, really funny.
As I reflected, however, it occurred to me that there was something wonderfully appropriate about morris dancing being played to the Bionic Commando Rearmed soundtrack. My knowledge of morris dancing is inexcusably scarce, so maybe I was wrong to think the following thought, but I was only basing it on the morris dancers I saw. It seemed to me that morris dancers could skip, they could hop, they could bound, and they could even gallop, but like the proverbial white man, they just could not jump. A true jump, both feet off the ground et al, did not seem to be part of the morris dancing style. It would seem, therefore, that the morris dancer and Bionic Commando’s Radd Spencer have more in common than one may immediately realise. Like the morris dancer, Radd cannot jump into the air, and he so resides sullenly in the outskirts of the conventional platfromer, just as the morris dancer does for conventional dance. Factor in that both have their roots in days bygone, both have been remastered for modern times (see the above funk video), and that both have been included in this very column, and the similarities are endless. As such, I think Morris Dancing Rearmed was so beautiful because the music was so very appropriate. I think the video I’m going to leave you with is similarly beautiful. It was originally created by Kei Houraku, but then edited to include Radiohead’s “You and Whose Army” by freelancer and fellow Brit Simon Parkin, just to give it that British surrealist touch. I think it’s what we do best.