Monday, April 16, 2012

Hugh

Last week Gustav and I watched Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 film Blow-Up. Its images of swinging London evoke a near nostalgic sense of what was happening half a world away when I was a young boy. I haven’t seen this film since some inevitably cropped and colour-sapped screening on TV (cf. Borsalino) when I was not much older, yet my earliest memories are completely bathed in the colours and noises of that time.

In 2005 I wrote:

I’ve had many old memories bubbling up, many more than usual, but all seem to be from the time I was between 4 and 8. Some are mainly sensory, a quality of light, colour combinations; others are flashes of events, which may or may not coalesce into a ‘definite’ memory. I suppose that is the time at which I was becoming conscious of the scope of the world, and I feel great longings for that time – but not to be that age again – more to be of the age, and understand what it was to be full of and engaged in that time. There’s a different quality to my subsequent memories, and feel like I’m building a bridge backwards in time, perhaps to find another path that would have continued from that era.

That well-spring of memory continues to feed into my consciousness as if all parts of my life endure as tributaries even as the main torrent of water has continued on towards a future sprawling delta.
Hugh O'Keefe
My friend Hugh O’Keefe, staying with me for a few days as he tours from Spain northwards to Amsterdam was living and teaching in London as the swinging 60s turned into the glam of the early 70s. Hugh has been sharing some of his memoirs with me online over the last year, each chapter adding considerable detail to his portrait of that era.

When we first met back in the late 80s, Hugh was pursuing his other career as a bar pianist, usually surrounded by a group of raucous singers in the cocktail bar of the Albury Hotel on Sydney’s Oxford Street. His prior life in parts of London – such as Barnes and Richmond – which I came to frequent three decades later was not known to me.

The Albury Hotel closed down in the 90s but I occasionally bumped into Hugh through a circle of mutual friends and acquaintances. Most memorably for both of us, I was staying in Los Angeles briefly on a business trip in 1996 when my host Scott suggested we dine at Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant Granita in Malibu.
This coral-decorated pizza joint was quite the place for celebrity spotting: adjacent to our small central table for two, Robert Altman and Larry Hagman were sharing a quiet meal, but on the other side, a larger group were making considerably more noise. Staring wide-eyed at one in their company I inquired  in a loud low voice “Hugh. O. Keefe. Is that you?”

  Los Angeles - Michael & Hugh O'Keefe @ Granita
I tell you there is nothing that will stir the flames of curiosity more in a crowd of stars and starstruck than two unknown Australians noisily recognising each other in their midst. Hugh had returned from playing piano at a party in Cuba, but was not even known to all at his table. This quickly changed when it was established that he was a recognisable face at Granita. So there was much whispering and pointing at both of us through the rest of the evening.

Now meeting up on a third continent, we’ve only got Hugh for a shade under two days, and he’s missing the best of Gascon spring weather as rain clouds continue to scud overhead, propelled by what is frankly quite an icy wind. With most of France still in drought, we’re very grateful for the long drenching; it’s just not well-timed for this visit. Gustav and I took him on a quick tour of the central belt of the farm, but then retreated to the villa’s warmth. An hour of Hugh on the piano at least took me back to the 80s, if not to the heyday of Carnaby Street.

1 comment:

  1. Its odd you mentioning the Albury cocktail bar - in the throes of moving house yesterday while packing boxes, I came across an album (the only album recorded I believe) of Plan 8 the duo of Phil Colville and Cat Critch. Phil was an old friend (sadly no longer with us) so I used to go and hear them perform most sundays. I didn't know Hugh personally but he was friends of friends. Seems like two lifetimes ago now!!

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