Even in our broad and beautiful capital there’s a distinct lack of events that combine live music, readings from novels and the London Transport Museum. Crime and the City, one of a run of themed Friday Lates, also topped up the vibe by running black and white films alongside a Fifties-inspired soundtrack.
So where do you start at a cultural Christmas such as this? Well the transport of course. From an ancient tube with a sign that politely requests that commuters do not sit on the engine, to an anticipated vision of what the Underground will be like once one million has been invested in every train, there is much exploring to be done. And with wax tableaus such as be-turbaned chap getting his ticket punched by a conductor to a young lad in school shorts being chastened by an upstanding fellow, life from every recent decade hides here.
The presence of numerous private enclaves amid a public space gives the whole experience an ‘if I was in Poirot I would find a dead body on the upper deck of the 341’ edge and all the while, courtesy of Beautiful and the Damned DJ Dickon Edwards, classics by the likes of Louis Armstrong and Nancy Sinatra infused the ambience with nostalgia.
After a respectable time had been left for us to explore our surroundings and soak up the music, the poised and stylish Cathi Unsworth read a gripping extract from Bad Penny Blues, a novel about Jack the Stripper who haunted Soho in the late Fifties and early Sixties. With black and white London projected on a screen behind her Cathi painted an eloquent portrait of the low life, the high life and the sexual proclivities that bind them.
Shortly after this came the Real Tuesday Weld, an ‘antique band’ with a goodtime jazz feel downplayed by vocalist, Stephen Coates who graduated from the same school of gruff as Tom Waits. Dressed in zoot suits, shades and bowler hats, they cranked up the criminal underworld factor and looking around, I began to see the odd flapper tapping her foot and the odd suited gent swaying his head.
A coup in a night whose character had a playful yet restrained appreciation of transport came at the beginning of the set when Stephen appeared on an open top bus whilst twirling an umbrella. Shortly afterwards, a saxophonist popped up from the nether reaches of the top deck, prompting a question asked all too rarely in life, how many other musicians were stashed on that bus?
And who was behind this ingenius and singular night I hear you cry? That would be Travis Elborough, a writer with three novels to his name, a love of London arts as his game and a series of nights at the London Transport Museum spreading his fame.
Crime and the City took place at:
London Transport Musuem
Covent Garden Piazza
For details of Travis’ final two Friday lates at the LTM visit The London Transport museum website.
Image by Nick Tucker