I was recently driving along ‘Parkway’; a busy road lined with bars and restaurants which ploughs through trendy Camden.
Being a Monday afternoon, it wasn’t exactly the busiest part of the day for the area, and I wasn’t really expecting a job. If truth be told, I was in fact heading towards Camley Street, a small, Camden backwater which happens to be home to a popular cabbie’s café (where a cup of will set you back a mere 60p!)
However, whilst waiting at a set of traffic lights, a woman jogged towards me, arm held aloft.
“I need to get to Earl’s Court please.”
From Camden, that’s a very good journey indeed, and I was more than happy to forfeit my cuppa!
Only problem was, we were in the middle of Camden’s complex one-way system and, in order to head in the right direction, a bit of twisting and turning along a number of small side-streets was required. Whenever I have to do this (which, unsurprisingly in London, is quite often), I often quickly explain the reason to my passenger, for fear that it looks like I’m deliberately going around the block in order to nudge the meter up!
“No problem; you’re the boss! Do what you have to do.”
The passenger was most cheerful and clearly very friendly; an energetic woman colourfully dressed in a long, purple coat and red hat.
“Have you been shopping at the markets?” I asked, turning into yet another one-way street.
“Oh no, I wish! No, I’ve been working at rehearsals.”
“Oh… are you an actress?”
“No, nothing that glamorous I’m afraid! I’m a make-up artist; been working on a sitcom for the BBC.”
Now that I’m finally out of Camden’s labyrinth one-way network and heading through the quicker, tranquil roads of Regent’s Park, I ask the passenger where exactly in Earl’s Court she’s heading for.
“Redcliffe Square, please; I’m meeting a friend there.”
I’m interested to learn a little bit more about my passenger’s experience in make-up.
“You probably get asked this all the time,” I ask, “but what shows and films have you worked on?”
“Oh, quite a lot… I’ve been doing makeup professionally for over 25 years now. I suppose my favourite job I worked on was ‘Frankenstein’; the one directed in the 1990s by Kenneth Branagh.”
I’m quite familiar with that version, mainly because the creature cobbled together from various corpses is played by Robert De Niro; a popular actor amongst cabbies thanks to his role as ‘Travis Bickle’, the troubled loner in the classic 1976 movie, ‘Taxi Driver.’
It is perhaps the most clichéd question I could possibly ask on the subject, but I can’t help but inquire;
“What was De Niro like to work with?…”
“He’s very approachable… a polite man but, when working; whilst in character, he is deeply intense.
I worked on Saving Private Ryan too; that was an interesting job. Very upsetting though.
I did make-up on the opening scene… you know; where the soldiers storm the beach and get shot at and blasted from all sides.
It made you realise what those men went through. For that scene, they used a lot of amputees; guys with arms and legs missing. False limbs were made, and then blown off; graphic stuff. That wasn’t filmed in France though; they did it on a beach over in Ireland.”
“Do you get to travel much with your job then?” I ask.
“Quite a lot yes. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful; I know how lucky I am, but it can get pretty tiring sometimes; especially when you’re stuck in an open field for 12 hours in the freezing rain, it doesn’t feel that glamorous!
I did another film though with Kenneth Branagh; ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ and that was wonderful… got to spend lots of time in the Mediterranean sunshine; a real treat!”
By now, we’ve hit the inevitable traffic. I apologise for the hitch, and start to wind through a number of twisting shortcuts.
“Oh, don’t worry about it” my passenger reassures me.
“I grew up in London; I know what the roads are like around here.
When I was younger, I used to drive around town all the time. It was so much easier back then; traffic didn’t seem quite as bad, you could park a lot easier. No cameras watching your every move- that’s the worst thing, isn’t it? You know the ‘Ritz’ Hotel; where they have that covered walkway outside?”
I do indeed know it. The passenger is referring to a fancy pedestrian walkway; a colonnade sheltered by a long, fancy roof. It runs along the front of the famous hotel; the windows and blue-coated doormen offering a tantalising glimpse into the luxury which lies within.
“Well, I was just a kid at the time; only about 19. I’d just passed my driving test, and I became the proud owner of an old Mini.
I went all around London in it and, early one Sunday morning, I drove through the Ritz’s walkway! Ha ha! It was like something out of the ‘Italian Job’! You’d never get away with that now would you; the CCTV would catch you out like a shot!”
The image which this conjures up in my mind makes me laugh so much that I nearly have to pull the taxi over! The make-up artist laughs too, amused at the impact her tale of juvenile anarchy has on me.
“I bet you’ll never be able to look at the Ritz in quite the same way again now, will you?!”
Usually, I’d take such a story with a pinch of salt, but the passenger is certainly eccentric enough to have committed such a reckless stunt!
As we drive on, I’m reminded of a film; revolutionary in its make-up and special effects which was filmed in the very square to which we are headed.
“Going back to movie make-up,” I say, “do you know the film, ‘An American Werewolf in London’?”
“Ohh, of course I do… it was the very first film I worked on!”
“You’re kidding? Did you know that they actually filmed that on Redcliffe Square?!”
“I do indeed… “
She pauses and looks out of the window briefly, clearly remembering, and then smiles to herself.
“Didn’t really think about it until you mentioned it, but I’m returning to where my career started aren’t I?”
To those unaware, ‘An American Werewolf in London’ is a film which has steadily gained the status of cult classic.
Released in 1981, the movie tells the story of two young, American friends; David and Jack who, as the story begins, are backpacking across the windswept, Yorkshire Moors.
Seeking a hot meal and a cup of tea, the pair come across a rather sinister pub called ‘The Slaughtered Lamb’.
(London has its very own ‘Slaughtered Lamb’ pub, named in homage to its famous movie namesake. It can be found on Great Sutton Street in Clerkenwell, and has a great music venue downstairs).
After being made to feel rather unsettled by the somewhat sinister, cagey locals, the two Americans leave the pub and resume their hike across the moors…
However, shortly after leaving the pub and as night sets in, the pair are attacked by a large and wild, vicious beast. Jack is killed instantly but David, who is severely injured, survives and slips into a coma.
When he awakes several weeks later, David finds himself lying in a London hospital bed.
The authorities tell him that he and Jack were ambushed by a crazed lunatic, but David knows better and insists that the attacker was a creature; a werewolf. Naturally, his bizarre recollections are brushed off as a symptom of the trauma through which he has been.
After being discharged from medical care, David is invited home by a young nurse; Alex Price (played by Jenny Agutter) who has rather fallen in love with the young American. Her flat is on Redcliffe Square, near Earls Court.
As he recuperates, David is haunted by gruesome nightmares and visions of his dead friend, Jack. Every time Jack appears- including a haunting in the Redcliffe Square apartment- he appears to be in an advanced state of decay. He warns David that, as he has been clawed by a werewolf, he is destined to become one himself.
Sure enough, on the full moon, and whilst Alex is on night-duty at the hospital, David undergoes a startling and painful transformation… Never before has Redcliffe Square witnessed something so terrifying!
Following the metamorphosis, David- in werewolf form- proceeds to go on a midnight rampage across London; feasting on a number of hapless victims.
In one of the film’s most famous scenes, the beast finds its way into Tottenham Court Road tube station and chases a late-night commuter along the eerily deserted walkways before cornering him on an escalator…
The following morning, David has returned to his human form. Despite waking up in the unusual location of London Zoo, he has no memory of his violent antics from the night before… and it takes a talkative London cabbie to make him realise what his nocturnal self has become!
(I must say, I wish I could drive from Earl’s Court to Trafalgar Square that quickly; it would do wonders for my blood pressure!)
After failing to get the police or authorities to take him seriously, David is forced to roam the streets of London and, as night falls, he finds himself in the ‘Eros Cinema’ on Piccadilly Circus.
(The Eros was a cinema which used to screen films of a more adult nature. Back in 1981, the area around Soho and Piccadilly Circus was notorious for its seediness and attractions of a more red-lit nature. The Eros closed in 1985, and has since been replaced by a far more clean-cut Gap clothing store).
Being a full moon, David once again warps into a werewolf. Bursting out of the grubby cinema, he proceeds to cause havoc in the West End, as the following clip demonstrates (Warning! Some if it’s a bit gory!)
For this amazing sequence, director John Landis was granted permission to completely close Piccadilly Circus off to the public for a night-time shoot.
All of the people you can see are actors, all of the vehicles carefully choreographed. The only other film to have been granted this amount of access to this famous London landmark was the more recent Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
When the American Werewolf in London scene was being prepared, the film crew had to do a sweep of the area, making sure all entrance points were closed, and no members of the public were around to stumble upon the carefully organised set.
There is a story (probably an urban legend, but fun all the same!) that an elderly homeless fellow, tucked away and fast asleep in an alleyway was missed by these roaming checks.
A few hours later, when he awoke, the filming was well underway; complete with crashing cars, screaming actors and a marauding, animatronic werewolf… needless to say, the elderly tramp received quite a shock!
* * *
“I was 16 years old when I got that job” continues the make-up artist. “Gosh, I was a precocious kid; a little snot really! I just went up to them and asked them to take me on. I practically insisted.
But you could do that in those days- it was certainly a lot easier to get into that business than it is today. Nowadays, you have to go through all sorts of hoop-jumping; lots of expensive courses and training.
On the American Werewolf set, I was just a tea girl; they had me running all over the place. I got to see things though; I picked up lots of knowledge on set.
I remember seeing one of the werewolf models; it was on a sort of see-saw contraption, and I got to move that up and down a bit.. quite primitive really, but then I still think models and puppets like that are miles better than the computer animation they use today, don’t you agree? You can’t beat having something solid in front of you; you know; something that actually exists. I learnt a lot on that job, and I’ll always be grateful to them.”
We finally arrive at Redcliffe Square and the friendly make-up artist bids me a cheerful farewell, leaving a generous tip in the process.
Putting the cab in gear, I drive off, turn the corner, and drive past the apartment where a team of talented make-up artists worked their magic all those years ago.
This is Clive; one of London’s true characters.
Clive’s full name is Clive Nugent, but he prefers to call himself Clive Natural; a reference to his outlook and approach to life.
Any London Cabbie who works during the daytime will be familiar with Clive. You can often find him at either Paddington or Waterloo Station, where he runs a business providing useful items such as receipt books and cab-stickers.
If Clive’s around, you’ll see him as you pull up beside the station’s taxi rank to pick up or drop off a passenger. He’ll be there; casually pacing up and down the long lines of cabs, wearing his bright yellow high-visibility jacket, receipt books in hand, chatting and joking away with the taxi drivers.
You’d be surprised just how many receipts us cabbie’s dish out in the course of a day’s work, so it’s always vital that they are kept to hand. Clive’s receipt pads are the cheapest in town; three blocks for a mere £1.20. I keep trying to tell him that he’s practically giving them away, but his response is always the same- the cabbies would “cry” if he were to put the prices up, especially in these financially difficult times!
The environment in which Clive works each day is hectic, noisy and grimy.
At Paddington and Waterloo, the taxi ranks and drop-off points are very close to the railway platforms and, as Clive plies his trade, he is surrounded by rumbling taxi engines, belching diesel trains and thousands of people, swarming in and out of the main line terminals in a never-ending stream.
The noise created by these elements is deafening; a constant, background roar, frequently punctuated by the loud, but melodic ‘ding-dinngg-dinngg-dinnnggg’ of the station tannoy, booming out echoing security notices and information on train departures, delays and arrivals.
Because of the fumes generated by trains, cabs and buses, Clive often wears a mask over his nose and face in order to protect his lungs from the polluting onslaught (he removed the mask for the above photo, but you can see it hanging around his beard).
The harsh, smoky atmosphere; characterized by iron and concrete, in which Clive spends his working day, is a far-cry from his native Jamaica. Originally from Trench Town, Clive moved to the UK in 1971.
Today, with his friendly nature and good humour, he certainly brings a touch of Caribbean sunshine to the cab ranks- I can safely say I’ve never seen Clive looking miserable!
I first met Clive at Paddington Station, not long after beginning my career as a cabbie. In urgent need of some receipts, I gladly purchased a few books off of him.
The receipts are designed by Clive himself and, later that day, I noticed a tiny web-address printed in the bottom right hand corner of each one.
Typing the address into my browser, I was directed to Clive’s site- whereupon I discovered a well-kept secret: that he is, in fact, a gifted musician.
When I next saw Clive, I asked him about his musical profession, and why he was selling receipts and stickers rather than pursuing his talent. He laughed, and replied;
“Well, a man’s got to eat!”
Clive Natural’s career as musician is an impressive one which stretches back many years.
As mentioned earlier, Clive is originally from Trench Town; a part of Jamaica which is notoriously tough, but has also provided a fertile ground from which some of the greatest names in Reggae have sprung: Peter Tosh, ‘Toots and the Maytals’ and of course, the legendary Bob Marley all have their roots in Trench Town.
Being a relatively compact community, Clive knew Bob personally as a young man, along with members of his backing group, ‘The Wailers’ (if you get Clive talking on the subject, he’s able to give you a detailed account of each Wailer and where their lives eventually took them).
Shortly after first arriving in the UK in the early 70s, Clive joined a band called ‘Nyabingi’ and, in 1977, the group supported the late, great Barry White at the ‘Rainbow Theatre’; a once legendary music venue on Seven Sisters Road, near Finsbury Park in North London.
When I first asked Clive about the musical side of his life, he revealed that, as well as his taxi bits and pieces, he also had a few copies of his albums tucked away in his work bag. I purchased two; ‘Shine the Light’, which he recorded in the early 1980s, and his latest project, ‘Set It.’
For ‘Set It’, Clive was able to gain a well-earned break, travelling back to Jamaica, where the album was recorded at a Kingston based studio. Further work on the album was carried out back in London; on Coldharbour Lane in the heart of Brixton.
Although I purchased ‘Set It’ some months ago, it is only recently that Clive has been able to start fully getting it out to the public; he hopes to have the album for sale on both ‘E-Music’ and ‘I-Tunes’ very soon.
The album contains some great reggae, and I was especially taken in by the second track; ‘TrenchTown’; a clever (although sad) song, in which Clive sings about the neighbourhood in which he spent his childhood, before it succumbed to violence and instability. The twist in the song is that it’s a loose, reggae-based version of Petula Clarke’s 1964 hit, ‘Downtown’.
If you want a flavour of Clive Natural’s music, you can treat your ears to some examples of his earlier work here, on his website (click on the ‘samples’ section).
You can also hear the great man talking about his latest album in the following, short clip:
Thanks for brightening up the ranks, Clive!
I had great fun recently doing an interview for Michelle Garrett, creator of the website, ‘The American Resident.’
Michelle is from the States, but has lived in the UK for over 20 years. Her blog is all about life as an expat.
The interview can be read here:
Be sure to have a look around the rest of the site- especially the ‘food’ section, where Michelle has listed some great recipes!