Letter from London: Set to Music

Two young London musicians gather in a small room atop a South East London house. On the table is a laptop. It is plugged into all manner of things. This laptop is operated by a young male producer and musician. On the small grey sofa behind sits a woman. She is also young, a songwriter. Together these two have produced over 20 new songs in the past year. No one has been allowed to hear them played live yet. This is about to change.

I wonder separately if our love of the game of football — you say soccer, let’s call the whole thing off — is not also a love of the past. Memories of childhood moments of discovering joy and elation as well as disappointment abound. Then I remember there are few things more captivating and present tense than watching football live. There is an attractively contradictory element of both running for cover and heading into battle when we watch an important game. Our eyes are on different players and tactics while the rest of the world somehow disappears. If it is a form of escapism, it is not escape from struggle, just from our own struggles. A friend sent me a photo from his stadium seat watching a Premier League game at the weekend. He is closer to 70 in age than 60. His message carried the tone only of childlike glee.

I feel the same when I see a small packed bus in East Africa with the colors of Chelsea football club painted across its over-hammered bodywork, being chased by a second bus, equally small and sporting the colors of Manchester United. I am swept away by this. Respect for safety falls by the roadside. I am in thrall to two spluttering but determined vehicles, each straining to take the lead, each urged on by their separate groups of passengers, and this isn’t even a football game. No, money slops about the deck of the English Premier League — like over-sugared whipped cream — but we fans lap it up anywhere.

The new songs belonging to the young musicians mentioned earlier have already been well received by a select few as demos. One important music business person has described them as the best he had heard in 2023. Writing some of them has included the two musicians hopping over to Berlin to work with another songwriter, and to Bergen to work with a mixer. Last weekend saw their first-ever proper gig in South London. Music is not only the food of life but the food of all London. Or, love is a friendship set to music, as Joseph Campbell said.

The bombing of Houthie targets comes as no surprise. A response from the West had been on the cards for a while now. Well, ever since the Houthi attacks began in November. However, while this comes at a time when Israel has a genocide case brought against it at The Hague by the government of South Africa, it could also be added into the mix that South Africa need not look beyond their own continent to find the existence of war crimes. Indeed, only a week ago it received one African military commander presently guilty of epic violence.

These attacks in Yemen come with inevitable party political cheerleading, though France is not among any of this, perhaps protecting its influence as a peacemaker between Hezbollah and Israel. As everyone knows, Germany, Denmark, The Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Korea and Bahrain backed the strikes, while Italy and Spain joined France. In London, there were immediate recriminations about Parliament not having been consulted. At the same time, many blamed the speed of this particular action on the fact Obama allowed Assad to cross a red line once upon a time. I must admit I always thought extreme violence an abhorrence deserving of no celebration whatsoever wherever it is. People seem to like banging drums, let alone letting off weapons — even when the consequences of the banging alone remain profound. The sound right now reminds me of Colonel ‘Mad Mitch’ Mitchell reoccupying the Crater district in Aden, a port city in Yemen, when the Brits were about to leave the region anyway.

On stage, the two musos and their drummer join forces again and play in front of an excited crowd. Music business dignitaries have flown in. They are in a cluster in the middle of the crowd. The response at the end of the set is several thousand decibels more than favorable. The artists are over the moon.

You win some, you lose some. I still haven’t got my suitcase back. The one lost flying to Africa. It is over a month now. Losing it, while serving me right for going on about how non-materialistic I am, has been a useful lesson for me. So what if I had to dry my only remaining clothes with a hairdryer in hotel bathrooms? At least I had remaining clothes. Catching myself in the mirror doing this each morning would always bring a smile to my face, anyway.

Would it be helpful or unhelpful to remember what Carl Jung said? ‘The greatest and most important problems of life are all fundamentally insoluble. They can never be solved but only outgrown.’ Anyway, as long as we don’t outgrow football and can continue to listen to music, I guess I can live with that.

Peter Bach lives in London.