Nightingale keeps singing in the Big Smoke

Kylie Price in concert in Camden. PHOTO: ALLAN MCKAY
Kylie Price in concert in Camden. PHOTO: ALLAN MCKAY
My favourite thing to do at any concert is to watch the people around me.

In a darkened room, lit only by wall-lamps or a few candles, I watch as my fellow concert-goers sit, by turns enraptured, distracted, entertained, their faces turned towards the artist.

I was thus occupied a few months ago at a small gig in Camden, held at a delightful little bar called Green Note, listening to fellow Dunedinite Kylie Price sing.

Kylie is one of those rare performers to whom rapport with the audience comes easily.

She has, of course, the voice of the proverbial nightingale, but she also possesses a razor-sharp comedic timing and a warmth one can’t help but feel, even at the back of the room.

That night, she held the audience spellbound as she sang about her messy, raw, wonderful and frustrating London experience.

Kylie arrived in London late last year, treading the well-worn path of many Kiwis before her, venturing abroad on the big OE.

Countless young people leave the Antipodes each year to jam themselves like sardines in the sweaty Tube and crowded housing of London’s outer suburbs, all in the name of a grand adventure. We’ve been making this pilgrimage to the Big Smoke for decades now, and while there are many other countries with whom we have reciprocal working holiday schemes, London remains the most popular destination, it seems.

"I have always lived in Dunedin, NZ — a small city at the bottom of the country," Kylie says, "I’ve never known the hustle of a big metropolis such as London."

Like me, Kylie has a British father, so she was able to nab herself an ancestry visa, and thought London would be a good base, especially for travelling around Europe.

"I wanted to plunge myself into the unknown and teach myself to swim in these unchartered waters."

According to the United Kingdom’s Office for National Statistics, there are an estimated 41,000 Aussies and 22,000 Kiwis living in London at any one time.

Traditionally, Kiwis and Aussies tended to settle in the enclaves of Clapham, Fulham and Shepherd’s Bush. In recent years, Tower Hamlets, Camden, Wandsworth and Hackney have become popular places for adventurous Antipodeans.

The UK is relatively easy to move to as a young Kiwi.

For those aged 18-31, the two-year tier 5 visa is their best bet.

In good part due to the stereotype of Kiwis being cheery, good, hard workers, it’s not too difficult to find a job in London, especially in light of the fact Britain’s employers are struggling with the worst labour shortage since 1997.

But there are downsides to living here.

London is an excruciatingly expensive city, with eye-wateringly high rents, extortionate food prices and hideous transport costs.

I’m surprised they haven’t instituted an organ donation clinic at the entrance to most Tube stations.

Indeed, it’s the fourth-most expensive location in the world for expatriates, according to ECA International’s latest cost of living report. (It’s only surpassed by New York, Hong Kong and Geneva).

However, there’s something to be said for travelling 19,000km to plunge oneself into an entirely new environment and be forced to be independent. Perhaps this amplifies life — perhaps the thrill of being a young person so far from home is something of an exhilarating rush that sweetens and sharpens everything from the unexpected sunshine on a spring morning to the kick of finding new friends in a strange city.

In addition to Buckingham Palace, Big Ben and black cabs, London is also the spiritual home of many bands, artists and music genres.

It’s a noisy city, but one which is equally happy to applaud the various artists and musicians who find themselves performing within its streets, bars and concert halls.

London, after all, produced Adele, Ed Sheeran and the Rolling Stones.

In the 1970s, it was the home of a biting and colourful punk scene — think Sex Pistols, The Damned and The Clash — dressed by the likes of Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren.

I ask Kylie about some of her favourite moments performing in London.

"Recording at Abbey Road was an out-the-gate experience," she says, "that was really wonderful."

"Selling out my show at the Green Note in Camden (Leonard Cohen, Amy Winehouse and Ed Sheeran have all played there) was also a very humbling experience for me."

Next, I ask Kylie if she has encountered any obstacles since moving to London.

"Of course!" she says. "I think it comes with any relocation that you’ll come up against challenges both career and personally.

"London is a very big city, and can feel equally as lonely."

Kylie had her backpack stolen recently in Central London, with her laptop inside.

"My laptop had all my music files and unreleased music, as well as some sentimental items from when my dad passed away."

But she’s not fazed.

"Setbacks and hard moments happen, but it’s not enough to make me bow out."

Londoners work hard, they also play hard.

New York might be the city that never sleeps, but London is something of an insomniac also.

And perhaps because there’s so many of us here, and because of our hilarious cultural offerings on the global stage — Lorde, Taika Waititi, Flight of the Conchords — the British sense of humour isn’t at odds with the Kiwi.

And then there’s the fact that Europe is only two hours away.

You can hop on a train, and within the time it takes to listen to a few podcast episodes, you’re munching a croissant in the City of Love.

Flights from Stansted or Gatwick to any number of European cities can also be unbelievably cheap — I once nabbed a ticket to Helsinki for £5 ($NZ10.4) each way.

Having grown up at the bottom of the globe where even venturing to Australia costs hundreds of dollars, these travel options are almost unbelievable.

I last interviewed Kylie several years ago. I close this interview by asking her what has changed since then.

"This is a big question.

"I have changed as a person in terms of what I want and what is important to me and how I connect to people."

"My sound has evolved and matured but I still prioritise writing honest, relatable and transparent music.

"I also back myself now in a way I didn’t have the courage to do when we last spoke."

 - Jean Balchin, a former English student at the University of Otago, is studying at Oxford University after being awarded a Rhodes Scholarship.