Last night Hade and I had our first evening out since Stanley was born. We went to see American country/folk singer/storyteller Jim White at Union Chapel in Islington, North London, the first time Jim’s been over for 3 years or so.
A bad start. I’d read that doors were 7pm and the performance would start at 730pm, but in fact the unexpected support act went on at 8 and White at 9, which would’ve been fine except we had Hade’s Mum and Dad up in the flat looking after Stanley and a late night hadn’t entirely been anticipated. We fretted about this but a quick phone call back encouraged us to not worry, so we didn’t.
Union Chapel’s recently been voted as London’s best gig venue, according to a poster on the wall, and I guess it is if you’re there for a certain type of act and are, perhaps, of a certain age. You see it really is a chapel, and you sit in arse numbing wooden pews and can’t drink in front of the stage (because it’s a chapel – so you have to get all that done at the bar beforehand) and so on. The audience, gathered in the bar (a student union type hall) were almost exclusively middle-aged Guardian reader types. We, mid-thirties, were certainly at the younger end of the spectrum. Which was nice.
Jim White’s had an up and down life. His general biography mentions surfing, modelling, but also taxi driving and other less glamourous undertakings, and these ups and downs come through in his songs and in his stories. The underlying hook to it all is religion: White is from a strong religious part of America’s South, and has throughout his life tried to reconcile these strong ideas with his own rejection of same. So there’s lots of god and jesus, but in an interesting and humerous way.
White told a story about an evangelist jesus salesman whose job it was to ‘save’ people, convert them to the ways of Christ and so on. Well this salesman, whose main tactic was to scare people into what might happen if they didn’t convert, wound up doing the rounds in a prison, and was told by one inmate that if God was behind everything then God was behind this inmates crimes: this is what God wanted me to do.
It’s a comforting thought, that you are what you are and you are that way because that’s God’s will. It’s not something I could believe in but I do believe that most of us are, by and large, a function of our (ancient) genes and are more or less destined to be whatever we’ll be. Some of us will diverge from our paths but if this is the case it’s usually a case of opportunity and luck, which are not unrelated. Striving to be or do something that you’re not can be one of the more stressful things to get involved with, which is why being a teenager can be hard and why being in your 20s can be even harder.
In any case, White’s good like this. He’s funny and interesting and while his songs dragged a little bit last night, you always leave his shows with a lot to think about, and in a good way, too.
One more thing: I can sometimes hate London but ultimately I’m fairly sure it gives more than it takes. (If only there was a way to live here and not be several shades beyond skint.)