Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Secular joy: The Monochrome Set 40 Years of Aural Pleasure at The Lexington, sniffing Mrs Potts, and Yves Rocher Quelques Notes d'Amour

For those of you who remember my post in November about a B & B in West Hampstead and its aggressively laundered bedding, you may also have clocked the reference at the end to the fact that I had booked a Travelodge for my next trip to London at a very favourable rate, and that it was even prepaid. And that time came round finally last weekend, and I was beyond delighted at the prospect of paying considerably less, while not having to rough it in a 'plywood hotel', to reprise my sister-in-law's incomparable term for this most basic category of accommodation. Okay, not the most basic, maybe, as that way lie dormitories in hostels, but the most basic kind I can possibly tolerate.

Accordingly, on Saturday I set off on the train, and had a table and four seats to myself most of the way, for the rather offbeat reason that the guard had poured a pile of red sand on the carpet in the gangway to ensure no one tripped on some ground-in food a thoughtless passenger had left. I don't know about you, but I associate piles of sand on messes with vomit in particular, and I think other people entering the carriage may have had the same idea. Not quite travelling first class by the back door, but a crowd deterrent for sure.

Once in London, it was only a quick squirt up the Victoria Line to Finsbury Park, and my hotel was just a stone's throw from the station. On arrival, the first thing I did was close the window. What's the deal with open windows in the dead of winter? It wasn't even a smoking room. I guess if you are the sort who regularly sleeps with an open window you might see the point, but it definitely negated the benefit of the central heating set to a luxurious 23C. The second thing I did was to assess the stocks of those little milk portions (or 'jiggers' in the trade - or in the trade in 1984, certainly, when I was briefly product manager for catering products at St Ivel),and kick myself for not assuming they would only last one mug and requesting extra milk before I even left reception. I should know better. I stay in a lot of Travelodges.  Indeed - as I may have mentioned on here, so forgive me if so - it is a superb irony that while I regularly stay in her hotel rooms, the current HR Director for Travelodge Europe used to live in my house as a teenager, where she had the middle bedroom.

Source: Tripadvisor

I still haven't mentioned the reason for my trip to London, though there is a clue in the title, which contrary to appearances is the actual name of the event and not the usual bonkersness I might well have dreamed up myself. For the weekend just gone marked the 40th anniversary of The Monochrome Set, and the band decided to put on a couple of concerts, playing their entire first two albums in track order - one on each night - as well as a set of mixed stuff from different eras. The event attracted a lot of media attention, and fans flew in from as far afield as the USA and Japan. I can only claim to have had 39 years of aural pleasure personally, having discovered the band via a John Peel session on my 20th birthday, but that still makes me an old timer as fans go.

I was fortunate enough to be invited on a guest basis...well, there was a bit of an administrative glitch about the first night, and I had to be hastily reconstrued as 'crew'. This would have meant arriving preternaturally early before the door people opened up to retrieve my crew credentials - the all-important 'artist/staff' wristband - while possibly also carrying a dummy bag of leads for extra verisimilitude. I would have gladly done that, but in the end another guest was unable to come on account of his wife having fallen downstairs at the last minute, breaking several ribs. My first thought on hearing this was: 'Oh my gosh, poor woman!' and my second: 'I bet she was popular!' The guest in question had sadly missed the last gig he had planned to attend due to being rushed to hospital himself, so it seems he is pretty well jinxed on that front. So I was hastily re-reconstrued as 'Honorary Him' for both nights, and could pick up my guest wristband anytime I liked.

Source: Ents24

A word about these wristbands, which you were required to keep on your person for the duration of the weekend event, including in the shower and in bed at night. There were stern warnings to the effect that if the wristbands were tampered with in any way you would be refused admission on Night 2. Accordingly, after the gigs, the band page on Facebook was full of stories of activities people attending had undertaken while keeping the wristband on and intact. The most impressive of these was without doubt 'burying a dead fox in the garden'.

Having queued up to get 'banded', I repaired to the bar, and apprehensively ordered an alcoholic drink. I say apprehensively, because as I once said of The North in my post about Giles Coren:

"Why, you can buy a whole terrace for the price of a glass of Merlot in a trendy bar in Hoxton!"

 I gingerly proffered a fiver and asked for a 'small glass of house white'. And guess what? It was exactly a fiver! The last time I was at the venue I remember a bottle of cider costing £7.50 (the Jeroboam of cider bottles, admittedly!), so that felt like a bit of a win.

Source: Pinterest

Once upstairs, I made a beeline for Rachael Potts, who is not only a perfumista well known to many readers, but also - quite fortuitously - the wife of the legendary Tony Potts, the 'fifth Beatle' of The Monochrome Set, who used to do all their promotional videos and moody black and white films on stage during the early days of the band. He has come back into the frame all these years later, creating the latest video for their new album, Maisieworld, and was also responsible for all the back projection of film footage at the two gigs.

Obviously I had to sniff Rachael without further ado and ask her what she was wearing, as my spontaneous powers of recognition are nigh on zero. 'It's a mixture of ancient resins, topped up with Minotaure'. That's Minotaure by Paloma Picasso, which was famously one of the scents worn by David Bowie. Well, I was never going to guess that combo!

Jane, now the band's promoter outside Germany, and also co-manager of the growing merchandise enterprise with husband Dave, was next up on my sniffing list. She was sporting neat jasmine oils procured on her recent holiday in Granada. They smelt dark and rich and not unlike Rachael's 'ancient resins' indeed.

Staying with our perfume theme, another long time fan of the band was down from The Lakes. I had recently spotted a killer deal on a nearly full bottle of his favourite perfume, Isfarkand, on a Facebook perfume site, and had brought this to his attention. In the end, however, he blew his money on a box set of six vinyl LPs, the reissue of which coincided with the launch of the new album. And of course I really couldn't argue with that. ;)

On the first night I wore Immortal Beloved by House of Cherry Bomb. I have a little purse spray that is beautifully presented in a burnished red metal canister with a black leather bow. Well, the base knot of a bow, strictly speaking, not the bowy bit as such. It actually matched my outfit of red top and black trousers, though as I didn't need to re-apply the scent, such serious attention to colour coordination was rather wasted.

On the second night, Rachael was in Geisha Noire, also by Maria McElroy - to start with at least. I think she said she added another layer of something after that, but you know how hard it is to hear people at gigs. I had opted for Ormonde Jayne Ta'if, which is my second favourite winter scent after Immortal Beloved. That said, I am on such an Immortal Beloved kick at the moment - and Rachael really liked it too - that I could quite happily stay in this till spring.

Then as she does from time to time, Jane kindly gave me some 'gift with purchase' freebies that she had no use for (being a vegan, and a non-make up wearer), which included a mascara - yay! - and a bottle of Yves Rocher Quelques Notes d'Amour. Now my go-to review site for all things Yves Rocher is I Scent You A Day. Samantha didn't initially care for this perfume on account of the opening whoosh of red pepper, but she came solidly round to it not long after, while I liked Quelques Notes d'Amour from the off. I totally agree with Sam that it is a 'grown up rose', more suitable for autumn and winter. And for a scent that costs just £20 for 30ml on Yves Rocher's own site it really is punching above its price tag, at at least the level of Rose Essentielle by Bvlgari, say, which is the fragrance I would say it is most closely resembles. Both have a sandalwood/rose/patchouli thing going on, while avoiding that 'catch in the throat' issue you can often get when the patchouli is too heavy-handed. And the light and airy feel also steers clear of wan, cheap chemicalness that is a feature of scents at the bargain end of the designer spectrum.

Notes: bergamot, red pepper, Damascena rose, guaiac wood, patchouli, cedar, amyris wood, benzoin

Oh, and Quelques Notes d'Amour comes in a cute little bottle too, not unlike a miniature Maison Kurkdjian! Maybe I am drawn to this scent because of the happy associations with the weekend when I was given it, plus its name is rather fitting for Valentine's Day, if you are celebrating. I just checked back and I haven't written any kind of Valentine's post on Bonkers since 2016, and it's a pretty tongue in cheek one at that. But there's the link in case anyone is feeling shortchanged today by this 'secular' post.

Because the crossover of TMS aficionados and perfumistas reading the blog can be counted on the fingers of one hand (to date, to my knowledge! ;) ), I shan't dwell on the gigs themselves, amazing as they were, or on the fantastic feeling of fellowship with fans from far and wide, though that was one of the highlights. An American woman living in London - whom I would have very much like to have met - summed up the weekend perfectly in a post on Facebook, which I have abridged below:

"Two nights of unadulterated joy at The Lexington with TMS and 200 plus like-minded people, a community of true music lovers and the ineffable pleasure and infectious joy coming off the stage..... I danced, I swayed, I got so warm I had to take off everything but my tights and top ,feeling like Edie ( without the money or youth) at a Velvets gig..... Thank you for a tremendous evening, a foray into my wild and happy youth. There is no reason to stop feeling young and gay and listening to TMS."

Source: Jane Barnes

Finally, on my way back on the Sunday, I was accosted by a woman who asked if I had any spare change - not a homeless person, though clearly someone on her downers, who didn't have the train fare to Surrey. There's been a lot of positive publicity lately about people living on the streets, and though this woman's circumstances were somewhat different, I immediately got my purse out and gave her a pound. To my surprise, she looked unimpressed. 'Could you not give me a fiver, or six quid? That's what my fare is?' I said I was very sorry, but that that was all the change I had, tossing in my unemployed card for good measure. 'I am sure if you ask a few more people you will get the fare together', I added cheerily. 'No, I won't, I have been here for an hour and a half already and that's all I have got.' After a split second's thought I decided that I wouldn't feel personally liable for the lack of donations of other passers by and stuck to my original amount. I was really curious to know, but too polite to ask, why she would have come to London knowing she hadn't got any money to go home again. The answer may be obvious and I am being naive, but it did puzzle me no end.

So there you have it - a truly memorable weekend, with a gratifying perfume element, and a resistance to being shamed by an impecunious stranger.

Source: Jane Barnes


Tara said...

Fabulously enjoyable post, V. The TMS fans do sound a great crew.
I wonder if Rachael was wearing the Ancient Resins body oil by Mandy Aftel. Well done for not being guilt tripped by that woman. I'm not anti giving to the homeless but people with homes in Surrey need to take some responsibility for themselves!

Anonymous said...

Still reading. :) Yves Rocher has begun identifying some of their perfumers. A couple of years ago Kurkdjian did a summery scent for them. The one you wore is by Sophie Labbe (too lazy to figure out doing accents). I really have to getting around to trying some- - they do minis of most of their perfumes and often at half price! Neroli is the one I have my eye on.

-- Lindaloo

Undina said...

Loved the post - so much of everything! The only “problem” is that with you changing sub-topics and providing new fascinating bits, it’s hard to keep in mind all the comments I wanted to make :)
First, I wanted to mention that I rarely (ever?) see windows that you can open in hotels in the U.S. I wonder if it’s to minimize liability?

I think I’m familiar with the atmosphere of that type of event. In my youth I was a part of the movement (it’s hard to translate/explain: groups/clubs of people who wrote songs and sang them with guitar accompanying), so we used to gather for festivals in different parts of the country from time to time, all joined by the same love to those songs, escaping for a couple of days the everyday life, problems (and the oppressive regime - since those gatherings were not 100% official). So as I was reading your post, I was reminded of those festivals, and how uplifting it felt.

And as the last point, I hate ungrateful people. And I am glad that you didn’t allow her to manipulate you (and it did sound like an attempt to manipulate).

Vanessa said...

Thanks, T! It is a terrific community and I have never known anything like it for starting to chat to your neighbour because you are simply having such a good time. The polar opposite of being on the London tube in that regard. ;)

I must ask Rachael about those resins in case they are by Mandy Aftel.

Still chuckling at your comment about people living in Surrey!

Vanessa said...

Hi Lindaloo,

Thanks for the interesting background on Kurkdjian and Sophie Labbe. (I am too lazy too.) Maybe that explains the bottle resemblance I detected. I can recommend the Neroli one - Sarah Waite of Odiferess is another big fan of the line, and she gave me a sample of that.

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

Sorry for all the sub-topics, hehe. That is how my mind works. ;) And yes, you are quite right about liability being the reason. The windows of many hotels I stay in - on the upper floors at least - are hermetically sealed to stop 'jumpers' and larkish drunken behaviour on a weekend.

Loved hearing about your festivals, as I do all the vignettes of life in your home country, and am happy you could relate to that kind of atmosphere.

It was an attempt to manipulate! The woman had quite a forceful manner, so I am glad I did not capitulate to her manipulation.

Anonymous said...

Did I undertand you correctly, a carpet in the train? Would that even be possible to keep clean during the winter?

Wish I had the stamina to go to such crowded concert venues, there's a bit more eneergy during such performances than the sit-down singer/songwriter type.

No need to feel guilty about not giving a larger sum to someone begging at the station. Here I've heard that kind of story sometimes twice from the same person some weeks apart (in my case usually drug addicts, I'm guessing I look like someome who wouldn't get angry for being asked). I think it is a strategy which sometimes gives a bit more money than just enough for a cup of coffee, at leasr more than asking for "small change" which is the most usual way around here.


Not a big fan of the festival wristbands (last encountered in June 2017 at Norwegian Wood), but better than having one's hand stamped with some kind of ink, I would say.

Vanessa said...

Hi Ingeborg,

Yep, carpet indeed! A thin one but still.

There is a good atmosphere at these standing up concerts, though I have enjoyed the seated ones, also (very occasionally) with this band.

I don't mind the ink markings instead of wristbands, in fact I prefer them.

Interested to get your take on beggars. The old request for 'small change' is definitely subject to inflation these days. ;)