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(Credits: Far Out / Clifford / Charles Postiaux / Jonathan Chng / Patrick Tomasso)

Travel

A trip around London in a playlist of odes from Waterloo to the Oratory

@TomTaylorFO

What can you say about ‘Waterloo Sunset’ that hasn’t already been said? Countless times The Kinks classic has been championed as the best song of the 1960s, which is certainly saying something, and while I wouldn’t be so bold as to cast my two shillings on that matter, one thing is for certain: the song is at its best during twilight in Waterloo. 

Not only that but the hushed waterside corner of London where the song unspools like the Thames itself is also transfigured. It’s as though sound and sight combine to induce a sudden bout of Kalopsia. And for those unfamiliar with that word, here’s the definition: “The delusion of things being more beautiful than they are.”

In truth, this delusion is the job of culture—it is what it brings to a city. It’s true that the poetry of prose can turn words in a book into a beautiful person, a painting like ‘Starry Night’ can render the pastoral fields of France into a dreamscape, and the raucous music of the Big Smoke can certainly pop rose-tinted specks on the beholder who cares to listen.

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As Waterloo falls to twilight the streets of London beguile with a certain hard-luck air, just as Ralph McTell foretold. But as he sang, you can stroll your way to a prettier place, “Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of London, show you through to make you change your mind.” 

That is, ultimately, the purpose of our travelling playlist, so you can stroll from Waterloo to Brompton Oratory in the west, via Trafalgar, Soho and Hyde Park and pair the sights with some of the beauteous sounds that have been written about them. After all, as The Kinks classic extolls, simply taking in vistas like Waterloo Bridge as dusk is one of the finest things you can do in the capital. 

Across from the bridge and “down by the river” you reach Trafalgar. And here, the grand contrast to humble Waterloo is imposingly apparent. As Herman Melville once wrote about the hallowed square that the Bee Gees solemnly sermonised: “Admiral Nelson, also, on a capstan of gun-metal, stands his mast-head in Trafalgar Square; and even when most obscured by that London smoke, token is yet given that a hidden hero is there; for where there is smoke, must be fire.”

And after that grandiosity, if you keep heading north, you soon come to a different glare that cuts through the murk—the glowing neon of Soho. Some people lament it, but it is a great beauty of London how it changes from one corner to the next. From the highfalutin ways of statues and columns comes the culture of the cobbles and the Bar Italia’s where “other broken people go”. 

And speaking of broken people, beyond the club scene of Soho, to the west lies the folk beginnings of Bond Street. It might have been gentrified now, but back in the day, this is where Paul Simon and Bob Dylan lumped around their dogeared guitars for singalongs in local alehouses. Even Bowie went a bit gingham clad with his sound when he penned ‘Maid of Bond Street’ about the place, and as you listen and stroll the ghost of those days still lingers.

Further down the road, passed Berkley Square lies Hyde Park in all of its glory where “people talk about ‘bout all kinds of different Gods, and have their point of view”, but that chatter is philosophical and the greenery in London always offers some escape of calm. And then finally you come to the Oratory where Nick Cave sang, “Up those stone steps I climb, Hail this joyful day’s return, Into its great shadowed vault I go.” And at this point, your playlist will leave you in peace as you take a rest from the stroll.

A walk from Waterloo to the Oratory playlist:

  • ‘Waterloo Sunset’ – The Kinks
  • ‘Streets of London’ – Ralph McTell 
  • ‘London Calling’ – The Clash
  • ‘Trafalgar’ – Bee Gees
  • ‘Trafalgar Square’ – Jonathan Wilson
  • ‘A Rainy Night in Soho’ – The Pogues
  • ‘West End Girls’ – Pet Shop Boys
  • ‘Herculean’ – The Good, The Bad & The Queen
  • ‘Bar Italia’ – Pulp
  • ‘Soho’ – Bert Jansch, John Renbourn
  • ‘Maid of Bond Street’ – David Bowie
  • ‘Blessed’ – Simon & Garfunkel
  • ‘A Nightingale Sang in Berkley Square’ – Nat King Cole
  • ‘T.V. Talkin’ Song’ – Bob Dylan
  • ‘I’ve Changed My Address’ – The Jam
  • ‘Jog Along Bess’ – Vashti Bunyan
  • ‘Brompton Oratory’ – Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

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