After checking into the Adelphi, I went across the street to the newsstand at the Charing Cross train station to buy copies of NME, the weekly rock tabloid, and Time Out, which lives up to its boast of being "London's Weekly Listings Bible."
I had planned to devote Thursday night solely to Bloc Party, a new quartet whose intense style and social commentary are reminiscent at times of the Clash. The show was its return home after a tour of the States.
But Van Morrison, one of the great rock singers, was going to preview his new album for a small audience at the Shaw Theatre, next to the British Library. Sounded perfect — if I could get from the Shaw to the Astoria for Bloc Party's 9 p.m. set.
Morrison can be notoriously unpredictable onstage. He has been known to walk off if something displeases him. Also, I feared he might be late. But he was on at 7:30 p.m. sharp and the new R&B-shaded music was his most appealing in years.
To reach the Astoria in time, I had to leave a few minutes early, so I exited carefully between numbers — while his back was turned. I didn't want to do anything to put him in a bad mood.
It was a short Tube ride on the Northern Line to the Tottenham Court Road stop, just across the street from the Astoria.
The show was sold out, but brokers in London or scalpers at the venue were selling tickets. If you use a scalper, expect to pay two to three times the face value — and hope the ticket isn't counterfeit. In this case, scalpers were asking $74 to $92 for tickets that originally sold at the door for $28 plus service fee.
The day had been lovely, sunny and in the low 60s, but the temperature inside the drab, grimy building felt like triple digits as Bloc Party took the stage.
Some English critics think Bloc Party could be the most substantial of all the new British bands, and the group played with authority. The Astoria audience seemed delighted as it left the theater — and not just because of the fresh air.
After dinner at Wagamama, a wonderful noodle chain that seems to have a location in every fashionable block in London, I walked back to the hotel, thinking about the day to come: a performance by Rufus Wainwright, one of America's most acclaimed singer-songwriters, and maybe even some sightseeing.
The Beatles and Churchill
Despite lingering predictions of rain, the weather was fine Friday morning, making for a lovely walk along the river.
If it's your first trip to London, you might spend the afternoon checking out famous rock tourist spots, starting with a stroll by Abbey Road Studios.
It's where the Beatles made their landmark albums and where many bands still record. You will often find fans retracing the Beatles' steps in the crosswalk out front — a scene from the cover of the band's album "Abbey Road." The studio is in St. John's Wood, which means you'll need to take the Jubilee Line to the St. John's Wood Tube stop. (Be sure to buy an all-day pass so you have unlimited rides.)
If you want to explore historic sights, stop by the Cabinet War Rooms, the underground headquarters of Prime Minister Winston Churchill during World War II.
It's on King Charles Street, near the Houses of Parliament and easy walking distance from the hotel. The fixtures and supplies (all the way down to the pins in the map room) have been preserved so faithfully that it's almost eerie.
Once back at the hotel, it was a short walk to Foyles on Charing Cross Road, a London institution for so long that there's even a book detailing the shop's history. In recent years, it's been modernized — two spacious, fast-moving elevators now supplement the old, tiny, slow one, in response, no doubt, to the new Borders across the street.
I've never walked away from Foyles without at least one pop music book. The one that caught my eye this time was Nick Hornby's "31 Songs," a series of essays on the recordings that have touched him over the years. In one, he raves about Wainwright's recording of "One Man Guy," a song written by his father, singer-songwriter Loudon Wainwright III. Hornby says he tries not to believe in God, but he hears something in the record — something so beautiful or moving — that it brings him up short.