Notting Hill Gate
Will Bryant (piano)
Connor Kennedy (guitar)
Behind the Song
My friend Brett and I had landed ourselves back in London; our final destination in our month-long trek around Western Europe. I was pretty much broke by this point. We were staying at the Palace Court Hotel which, at that time, was a youth hostel. One of the guys that we shared the room with looked like Jimmy Page, accessorizing his persona with a fifth of whiskey by the close of each day (the empty bottles lined the room’s window sill). As luck would have it, our arrival in London coincided with the Notting Hill Carnival; an annual festival since 1966.
Lively Caribbean music resounding off the buildings lining Westbourne Grove, wildly decorated floats drifting by, beautiful girls in outrageously colorful costumes parading past. At times, the entire scene seemed like some euphoric remnant hallucination from the few days prior in Amsterdam. I remember a gang of men, stripped down to their boxers and slathered in axle grease, running and slamming into the throngs of spectators with reckless abandon; a veritable mosh-pit on the move, targeting the most nicely dressed people in the crowd.
In the evening we returned to the Hotel, where the party was still raging in the street. While Brett made his way to the hotel bar to grab us a few pints, I found an empty table in the corner of the lobby and began to write down my observations, casting the characters I encountered into verse. When we left the lobby- I am sure a few more pints later- I continued to document the madness of the late-night unfolding from a small balcony off of our room.
The long, warm Hopperesque light and shadows of the quiet morning seemed at odds with the landscape of passed-out partygoers and trash left in the festival’s wake.
Years later in San Francisco, words, revisited in a journal, were set to music. Ergo, Notting Hill Gate.
The hotel balcony leaning out upon the evening ~ A run plank amidst the top of all them pirate trees ~ Mutiny whispers out there in the London breeze ~ While the Piccadilly Circus has crept straight through the lobby ~ Filling the corners with the grotesques and gypsies ~ The drunkards in the street their songs drift up to my window ~ Harmonious discord and all that fanfare ~ And the nocturne beauties parade past all of the shadow boys ~ Eclipsed by a breath of whiskey all they can do is stare ~ All they can do is stare ~ Jolly Roger, he’s standing up atop a soapbox ~ Crushing ‘neath his very weight ~ And he calls to me with his crutch and his eyes ~ Three cures for a pound and the crown from Notting Hill Gate ~ Three cures for a pound and the crown from Notting Hill Gate ~ The carnival stragglers with war paint on their faces ~ Sit upon the steps of that Palace Court Hotel ~ The conversation bleeds from some open window wound ~ Staining the sidewalk where all them dying words fell ~ And I find a lost soul biding time drinking to his tombstone ~ Humming a few bars of his inebriated epitaph ~ The costumes now pass like a child afire ~ Yet if she were burning you would not know it for look how she laughs ~ Look how she laughs ~ With her smile turned up towards the moon ~ Her eyes closed tight so to create ~ Visions of London Bridge falling but none of them were too soon ~ For the guards are already crashing Notting Hill Gate ~ For the guards are already crashing Notting Hill Gate