Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Festival of Britain

"The Government really done their best. I am sure the event will be a success. And we must thank Mr Morrison for his amazing imagination ..." Serious fun and lighthearted solemnity, it has ben described as. Talk to people of a certain age, and they will get wistfully nostalgic about the 1951 Festival of Britain, and how it captured the imagination with its absurd ambition. Others will sneer and say it was over-rated and a waste of money. It certainly appealed to calypsonian Lord Kitchener. I would have loved to pop along too, but then I thoroughly enjoyed the Millennium Dome so is there any 'ope for me?

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Prisoner's Model

"And the art exhibition was sponsored by B.P. Held at the lush head-office of the oil company ..." History can be a snapshot too. And The Red Crayola's Prisoner's Model (with Art & Language, of course) is just that. A miniature capturing the moment. You'll recognise the moment. The Academy holds an exhibition of prisoners' art, sponsored by global corporation. Corporate sopcial responsibility, and all that. Putting something back into the community. Good PR. The 'opening' is held at the company's lavish HQ in the centre of London. Gets some good media coverage. And what does the 'nameless' prisoner get out of it? "Would you rather have your hand cut off or be appreciated by a toff?" asks Mayo Thompson at the end of probably the only pop song to use the word penology. At the time of the LP this appeared on (Kangaroo?) Mayo was the hardest working man in showbiz, with his fingerprints all over the pop underground of the time. He was also playing with Pere Ubu ...

Monday, 28 September 2009


"How do you do it, divide and rule? Split 'em up, split 'em up, keep 'em out of sight. End up in the factory instead of in a school. Left right, left right, right right, wrong! GLC, GLC, GLC, you're full of ..." In 1978 Menace perfectly pointedly share their thoughts on the GLC, or the Greater London Council. Most people understandably associate the GLC with Ken Livingstone, but in the '70s it was a very Conservative administration, with a notoriously flamboyant, beard and bow-tie sporting, leader in Sir Horace Cutler who was far more of a showman than our Ken. Cutler's cronies were notoriously anti-punk,banning concerts where possible, and this inspired Menace's Small Wonder single, which didn't get a lot of airplay for some reason.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Kill The Police Bill

"Me have to tell you about the stop and search. It happened one day me a come from work. A huff and a puff in a the evening rush. I went to me bus down at the terminus. And when I make a move me jump on the bus me hear a car screech and it create some dust. Me see some police which me never did trust. They jump round me and pull me off the bus. People flashing badge and bawl out sus ..." Ranking Ann's Kill The Police Bill was a remarkable 12" recorded as a protest against a proposed Police Bill introduced by the Thatcher administration after it was re-elected in 1983. The Bill was intended to extend police powers, which was seen as provocative at a time of considerable civil unrest amid widespread concern about stop and search policies. The 12" was 'produced' by the GLC Police Committee Support Unit, which was a monitoring body chaired by Paul Boateng. In the traditional sense the track was more likely produced by The Mad Professor, but it was certainly funded by the GLC as part of its opposition to the new legislation. That's GLC as in the Greater London Council, run by Ken Livingstone, and a real source of irritation to the Thatcher regime, being delibrately inflammatory right under her nose. Thatcher's response was to abolish the GLC. Kill The Police Bill and its dub are available on the CD reissue of Ranking Ann's A Slice of English Toast. No home should be without a copy.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Brixton Trial & Crosses

"The youth them in a Brixton they say they win a good fight ..." declares Prince Hammer on Brixton Trial & Crosses, a Rod Taylor track. There remain different views on what was behind the riots of April 1981. Was it a racial fight? Or something more, blacks and whites together, an anti-state uprising, as commentators like Linton Kwesi Johnson have claimed? Lord Scarman led an enquiry, and came up with the blindingly obvious conclusions that young black people in the area were angry about heavy-handed policing, were disadvantaged economically, were to put it bluntly discriminated against. The riots were also mentioned in the track Brixton Incident by Roy Rankin and Raymond Naptali on the reggae independent KG Imperial.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Sonny's Lettah (Anti-Sus Poem)

"Mama, dont fret, dont get depres an doun-hearted. Be af good courage til I hear fram you ..." I can still remember the first time I heard Linton Kwesi Johnson reading Sonny's Lettah. It was absolutely chilling, and the calm, measured tone in which he recited this 'anti-sus poem' made it far more effective than all the ranting and raving in the world. The (sus) stop-and-search policy of the late '70s/early-'80s created massive friction between the black community in London and elements of the police. It was cited as one of the factors that sparked the Brixton Riots of April 1981. Linton Kwesi Johnson called the riots Di Great Insohreckshan ...

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Bright Lights

"I got down to London and what did I see? A thousand policemen all over the street. The people were shouting and looking at me. They said the Colin Roach's family demand an inquiry ..." sings Stan Campbell on The Special AKA's Bright Lights. The lyrics refer to the case of young Black Londoner Colin Roach who died in bizarre circumstances in 1983. A verdict of suicide was recorded after he died of a shotgun wound to the head in Stoke Newington police station. There were widespread calls for a full inquiry at the time, but these were rejected, provoking considerable anger. Benjamin Zephaniah, who was among the first on the scene when it happened, wrote a poem about Colin's death. The case is also mentioned in Macka B's remarkable We've Had Enough, which in addition refers to the police's part in the stories of Cherry Groce and Cynthia Jarrett which ignited riots in London in 1985.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Jah War

"The winds were blowing and stirring up reaction. A storm broke out. A militant action. Hot heads came in uniform. Thunder and lightning in a violent form ..." Jah War by The Ruts refers to the Southall riots of 23 April 1979. The neo-nazi National Front had provocatively chosen that day to campaign in Southall, where one of the UK's largest Asian communities lived. Anti-Nazi protestors and the local community turned out in force. The police presence was confrontational and there were serious disturbances. The Ruts' song specifically refers to an incident where the reggae group Misty-in-Roots had their HQ raided by police and smashed up. The group's manager Clarence Baker was beaten around the head and ended up in a coma. The group's equipment was also destoyed in the process. The day is remembered particularly for the death of Blair Peach, a special needs teacher from New Zealand who was a member of the Anti Nazi League. He was killed by a blow to the head, and to date no one has been charged for this. A verdict of death by misadventure was recorded, but the finger has always been pointed at members of the Special Patrol Group. The death of Blair Peach has been marked in song by Linton Kwesi Johnson and in poetry by Michael Rosen.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Riot in a Notting Hill

"Now you're seeking someone to give a the blame ..." sing The Pioneers in their track Riot In A Notting Hill. The 1976 carnival ended in a riot which apparently was sparked by the arrest of a suspected pickpocket, though there are several other views. In pop culture the riot is remembered for inspiring The Clash's White Riot. But many others see it as being more significant for raising the whole issue of racial discrimination and bringing elements of the black community together. The riot also inspired this track by calypsonian Lord Tokyo ...

Monday, 21 September 2009

Wat Tyler

"When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman? From the beginning all men by nature were created alike, and our bondage or servitude came in by the unjust oppression of naughty men. For if God would have had any bondmen from the beginning, he would have appointed who should be bond, and who free. And therefore I exhort you to consider that now the time is come, appointed to us by God, in which ye may ( if ye will ) cast off the yoke of bondage, and recover liberty." Thus went the speech of radical cleric John Ball on 12 June 1381 as he addressed the thousands of rebels who had risen against the poll tax of the day, and had marched up from Kent, and were camped at Blackheath before marching on to London to storm the prisons and the Tower of London. Among the leaders of the Peasants' Revolt was Wat Tyler, who after meeting with the King at Mile End was struck down by the then Lord Mayor of London. He is celebrated in this brilliant song by Fairport Convention, which dates from the mid '80s I believe.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

The Ghosts of Cable Street

"So listen to the sound of marching feet. And the voices of the ghosts of Cable Street. Fists and stones and batons and the gun. With courage we shall beat those blackshirts down ..." Most of the songs featured in this project are about a sense of place. But what about a sense of occasion? Can the history of London be told in song? Well, try this. On Sunday 4 October 1936 the East End of London united against the threat of British Fascism, and stood up against Oswald Mosley and his Blackshirts. The Men They Couldn't Hang's magnificent Ghosts of Cable Street celebrates this popular resistance. Writings by Joe Jacobs and Arnold Wesker give more details, and it's a story that needs repeating in these troubled times. Mosley himself tried to stir things up again in the East End almost 30 years later, but was rightly seen off again. They shall not pass!

Saturday, 19 September 2009

The Procession of Popular Capitalism

"At the the head of the gang were top civil servants and captains of industry. With well-manicured hands and greasy smiles enticing the populous. "Come buy our shares! Who will buy our shares? For this is your country too ..." McCarthy's The Procession of Popular Capitalism is another dream like sequence which has a touch of William Morris about it. It's funny. I wasn't the world's biggest McCarthy fan in the 1980s. I'm still not a massive fan of their music but I do think Malcolm Eden's lyrics are fantastic. And this is one of his best as he paints a picture of grotesque rich capitalists marching in a procession down The Strand and up Whitehall tempting the populace with treats and treatises to buy shares and council homes.

Friday, 18 September 2009

The End of the Surrey People

"I'm watching you. I am the fox in your trap. I'm watching you. I am the wife you would slap ..." So begins The End of the Surrey People by Vic Godard. A song that Vic has said "came from a bizarre dream I had at the time the trouble in Yugoslavia started off with Slovenia and Croatia breaking away and somehow I was thinking what it would be like if that kind of thing happened in Surrey." It would be the title track of his wonderful 1993 LP on Postcard Records, the last of the punk independents. A record that sort of started when Vic felt inspired to start songwriting again after reading an obituary of Johnny Thunders. This would appear as part of the short-lived Rough Trade Singles Club.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

London Boys ... the revenge

"You're so pretty, suburban kitty. You think you're gonna change, rearrange your city ..." Johnny Rotten singing about New York with the Pistols got under the skin of one Mr Thunders and he penned a poisoned riposte. Glorious stuff. Slightly ironic too that half of the Pistols would be on Johnny's record. So Alone. The one with You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory on.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Keep a little Marc in your heart!

"Mighty mean mod king. Dressed like fame. London to Brighton and then back again ... Changing life's patterns to get to the top. But when you get up there you don't know if you're there or what ..." On 16 September 1977 Marc Bolan was killed in a car accident on Queen's Ride, in the Barnes/Richmond area of London. His beautiful wife Gloria Jones was driving at the time. Marc was rightly stepping back into the limelight with his own TV series, which I vividly remember rushing home from school to watch religiously. The final show, which was aired after Marc's death, would feature Generation X, the Rods, and David Bowie performing Heroes before a duet between Marc and David as the closing credits rolled. Today it seems appropriate that The London Nobody Sings ... and our New York colleagues remember a very special person ...

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Richmond ... three times

"I'm waitin' here in New York City. The rain is falling. There's no one who cares. There's no one loves me here ..." The Faces' Richmond finds Ronnie Lane in a melancholy homesick mood. Must be those leafy lanes he was missing. Don't ask me why, but it still amazes me how wonderful some of the Faces' recordings were. And those moments when they get all tender are pretty special. Especially when Ronnie Lane steps up to the microphone. Debris, and so on. That vulnerable voice. And that cheeky grin. Bless 'im.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Richmond ... two times

"Remember the nights on the island. Newcastle ale. Lying on the grass. Jeff on stage with the Tridents. And talk about the past ..." Richmond by Shelagh McDonald is from her debut LP from the start of the '70s. A completely beautiful folk rock record, which includes contributions from the Mighty Baby guys which is always a good sign. Shelagh made one more LP (with arrangements by Robert Kirby and most of Pentangle helping out, so another good sign) before disappearing for the next 30 odd years. She reappeared in the offices of the Scottish Daily Mail in 2005. Richmond itself was written by the equally intriguing Andy Roberts, who apart from making some fantastic solo LPs (Nina and the Dream Tree is particularly recommended, featuring the lovely I've Seen The Movie) also played with the Liverpool Scene, the poetry/rock experimental project, and Plainsong with the great Ian Matthews. The Plainsong LP In Search of Amelia Earhart is at times better than the Byrds and the Burritos.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Richmond ... one time

"In Richmond we've all got the right credentials. In Richmond where the breakfast's continental. In Richmond where the cigarettes are menthol ..." Arturo Bassick was in an early incarnation of The Lurkers (playing on Shadow and Freak Show) before going off to start his own group Pinpoint. Their debut single, Richmond, was another classic slice of class war south west London style. But in the interests of balance it's worth mentioning the legendary Crawdaddy club in Richmond. Without Giorgio Gomelsky's place where would we be? Logical links take us to Crawdaddy Simone by The Syndicats. But if you don't know that ... If you do know that you'll love this. Arturo would approve.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

East Sheen

"They think because you're young you don't know what you're doing ..." I doubt the local Chamber of Commerce uses East Sheen by O Level to promote the prosperous south west London suburb. But Edward Ball sounds like he is less than thrilled with life down Richmond way. I always get a little confused exactly where this debut O Level single sits in the TVPs' scheme of things but I'm pretty sure it was right there at the start with 14th Floor. A follow up O Level EP would include a 'tribute' to Revolver, the TV series produced by Mickie Most where Peter Cook would introduce the hip punk acts of the day. Among the guests would be The Lurkers, circa Fulham Fallout. You may remember the Part Time Punks would have bought the O Level single, but it wasn't pressed in red so they bought The Lurkers instead. Hook it Stride ...

Friday, 11 September 2009

The Putney Bus

It's not all plain sailing y'know. Our intrepid sleuths are out there tracking down London songs for you, following up clues, but just occasionally there's a bit of a dead end. We got very excited about there being a song called The Putney Bus, made famous in its time by music hall entertainer Arthur Lloyd. We found an image of the sheet music, ascertained that it tells the tale of Arthur walking home from the city and spotting a pretty girl. He follows her but is dismayed when he loses her after she gets on a bus to Putney. He chases her in a cab and when he catches up with her discovers, in true music hall fashion, that the pretty girl is actually his wife. Great stuff. But can we find a recorded version of this song? Can we heck! So we'll have to console ourselves with a song by a great entertainer, educated in Putney, and who drove buses for a living before being 'discovered'. This is a very atypical Matt Monro moment but a rather wonderful one, and a very London one. It also makes me think of a story I read about Matt and the Pretty Things hanging out on the Isle of Wight.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

On Tooting Broadway Station

"On Tooting Broadway Station I knelt down and wept. My fingers hit the concrete floor until my fingers bled ..." The Kitchens of Distinction's grandiose and dramatic song of despair based on Tooting Broadway Station, with its echoes of Elizabeth Smart's tragic tale, is itself doomed. Doomed, for mention Tooting Broadway Station to anyone of my generation and they'll clench their raised fist and look to the skies and cry: "Power to the people ..." before starting to whistle The Red Flag in tribute to the great John Sullivan's comic creation, Wolfie Smith, the urban revolutionary who never quite got his act together. Jim Connell incidentally wrote The Red Flag in 1889 on a train from Charing Cross to New Cross. Probably stuck on a signal at Spa Road Junction ...

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Let him dangle

"Not many people thought that Bentley would hang. But the word never came, the phone never rang. Outside Wandsworth Prison there was horror and hate as the hangman shook Bentley's hand to calculate his weight. Let him dangle ..." Squeeze may have known a couple of likely lads that were in and out of Wandsworth. But there have been those that never should have been in there. The hanging of Derek Bentley in 1953 was a classic case of misjustice. It would be many, many years before the campaign to clear his name had any kind of success. And of course by then it was far too late for Derek. The case was highlighted in popular music by The Bureau in 1981 in their classic Let Him Have It. Several years later Elvis Costello would write about the case in Let Him Dangle on his Spike LP. This clip of him from a BBC TV special is fascinating because of the opportunity Elvis gets to 'plug' his record, but the respect is seemingly genuine, the format is refreshingly gimmick free and suitably stark, and it's intriguing to hear Elvis talk about the writing of the song. It's a performance and a song Phil Ochs would have approved of ...

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Goodnight Sweet Josephine

"Goodnight sweet Josephine. She's the queen of Clapham. Every night, she goes out with men to trap 'em ..." Ah. It wasn't just Squeeze then that resorted to tortuous rhymes about Clapham. Goodnight Sweet Josephine was towards the end of The Yardbirds' life. For Jimmy Page it would then be downhill all the way. I do prefer the earlier material, like Mike Hugg's You're A Better Man Than I, which I first heard via Sham 69 oddly enough. And before we leave Clapham, whatever happened to The Man on the Clapham Omnibus? The mythical embodiment of reasonableness ...

Monday, 7 September 2009

Up The Junction

"Day's begun and people rush. Off to work by foot and bus. Open eyes and open mind. Conditioned to the daily grind ..." Manfred Mann's theme to Up The Junction, written by the godlike Mike Hugg, is a great way to start a great film. Dennis Waterman and Suzy Kendall and several other great British names star in the adaptation of Nell Dunn's novel. "You're the only beautiful thing around 'ere princess ..." There was a few years earlier a Nell Dunn adaptation of Up The Junction broadcast on TV as a play. Directed by Ken Loach. And bless the person who has posted ten minutes of this on YouTube complete with some appropriate comments from Edward Ball. Grittier and artier. And ironically Paul Jones is singing on the theme for that.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Lavender Hill

"While people eat their biscuits with tea, they dream of daffodils that sway in the breeze. And every sunday afternoon tidy ladies shine their shoes. And every little lady dreams lavender memories ..." The thing about London is that it can get confusing, with your Mill Hills, your Plaistows, and your Lavender Hills. Which Lavender Hill were the Kinks singing about? The one up Enfield way? Well, they were north London lads. Or was it the one down Clapham? It's a beautiful song whichever one you fancy. And as we've finally succumbed to the Kinks songbook, here's Dead End Street ...

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Thingabout London

"You see London pulls the wool over your eyes, and day to day keeps you hypnotised ..." Asher Senator is another MC who came through the south London reggae ranks at the same time as Smiley Culture, and among the tracks he made would be the wonderful Abbreviation Qualification. He is also probably the only man to mention Fu Manchu and Danny La Rue in the same verse. Nearly a quarter of a century on from first recording for Fashion Records Asher would take time out from his youth/community work to record Thingabout London for fashion label English Eccentrics. It's a quite lovely thing ...

Friday, 4 September 2009

Police Officer

"One say: 'Shall we put him in the van or in the back of the Rover?' Me say: You can't do that ca' me name Smiley Culture. 'You what? Did you do that record Cockney Translator?' In the reggae charts number one was its number. 'My kids love it and so does my mother! Tell you what I'll do . A favour for a favour. Just sign your autograph on this piece of paper' Me cut him short and me just draw out me Parker. 'Pon the producer me just sign Smiley Culture. Them never lie. Them never bother..... arrest me or take me ganja!" The Battersea and Clapham areas have quite a history when it comes to reggae. The Dub Vendor shop on Lavender Hill is a bit of an institution. And once upon a time it had a studio in its basement where many cuts were recorded for the associated Fashion Records, the UK reggae label that has already featured a few times in this project. At the end of '84 into '85 Fashion had a massive hit in a way independent labels like Creation could only dream of. Local lad Smiley Culture's Police Officer almost made it into the Top 10 which was all the more extraordinary as it dealt with a scenario where young black man gets pulled over and searched by the local constabulary. As befits the style of the young London MCs of the time the track has a twist and a lot of humour. And as the video cuts off before the punchline it's worth checking out this version.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Shot Gun Wedding

"Buy a house and do it quickly. Me don't want no cottage down by the sea. Me want a three bedroom in a Battersea ..." In Shot Gun Wedding Ranking Ann has no time for stereotypes and expectations. A familiar theme with Ranking Ann's work. This comes from a Mad Professor/Ariwa 1982 Sessions compilation, which was around the same time her debut LP, A Slice of English Toast appeared. You need that record. Ranking Ann can be seen here performing the title track in 1984. The live Mad Professor mix is astonishing. The song itself qualifies for inclusion here as it mentions being born in the labour ward down a' Waterloo. St Thomas' to you. What other songs mention London's hospitals?

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Down at Battersea Park

"I know a place in the centre of London where you can get your money's worth. You can play on the swings or the sideshow. You can sail in a boat on the lake ..." Now this is surreal. Germany's answer to the Edwin Hawkins Singers come up with an ode to one of the best parks in London sung in a distinct north of England accent. Our pop sleuth Brian Kotz advises that it was written by Jimmy Bilsbury (once of the Magic Lanterns) and that he probably handles the lead vocals too. He would later write Belfast for Boney M, who have links to the Les Humphries Singers, but then so do Uriah Heep. Mention Battersea Park to me and I will immediately think of the Easter Parade which relatives would religiously attend. Once upon a time this was a significant event in the social calendar ...

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Meet Me In Battersea Park

"If you're a Londoner just like me, meet me in Battersea Park. If you are young or you'd like to be, meet me in Battersea Park ..." Over Chelsea Bridge and into Battersea Park. How could you refuse Petula Clark's singing Meet Me In Battersea Park? A number from 1954, written by her dad and Joe Henderson (no, not the Bluenote cat ...). It's easy to forget that by the time of Downtown and Don't Sleep In The Subway Petula was already a seasoned pro, and a generation older than a lot of the Brit girl singers. Nevertheless she trumped everyone at the end of the '60s with her contribution to Michel Legrand's score for The Lady In The Car With Sunglasses And A Gun. Being one of those people that always prefers Petula en francais it's the continental version of the theme song, Je Roule, that gets me going everytime. Wonderful stuff. Did someone mention the Scars or Sebastien Japrisot?