Thursday, 24 June 2010

A suburban relapse ...

"Harmful elements in the air. Symbols clashing everywhere ..." Or is it cymbals crashing? Never was sure. But if you were to pin me down and force me to pick one London song that summed up this project it would have to be Hong Kong Garden by Siouxsie and the Banshees because when this was a hit back in 1978 it seemed so absurd that here was this achingly hip song in the Top 10 basically about a Chinese takeaway in Chislehurst High Street, out in the south east London suburbs, just a short bus ride away. The beautiful thing was that so many people didn't realise, thinking the song oh so mysterious and enigmatic, and if they did know they probably weren't aware the place was so nondescript. Siouxsie down the years has made no secret of the song's subject matter, often referring to the local thugs that would harrass the restaurant's staff. "I remember wishing that I could be like Emma Peel from The Avengers and kick all the skinheads' heads in," said Siouxsie some time later. Oddly, as far as I know, the restaurant's owners never seemed to cash-in on its 'fame'. It was there for years and years, even though the name changed along the way. I kind of liked that sense of obliviousness. It's one of the attractions of London's outer regions. Being able to hide. Except of course some are desperate to escape. And the whole Siouxsie/suburbia thing, the Bromley Contingent, the dressing up and being outrageous angle - it's all part of punk mythology, of course, with Billy Idol and Generation X which is where this all started and this project ends ...

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

London, Queen of My Heart

"London, queen of my heart. Too much laughing and tumbling down upstairs on the night bus from Camden Town. Plague rhymes and Hawksmoor's lost underground and you, London, queen of my heart. London, queen of my heart. In your secret streets I've seen you naked and asleep on late nights lost in the rain and from early morning trains but you won't leave me - leave me - I keep moving but you won't let go. Who'd have thought that I'd miss still those sickly summers and that old, damp chill that loves to creep in beside you while you sleep ..." And then there are those who have fallen in love with London, fallen in love in London, and left but not forgotten, having found that you can leave the Capital but it won't leave you. Cath Carroll's haunting song London, Queen Of My Heart captures this feeling perfectly. It makes me think of places you can't go back to because they are so special. Places that are so special because you can only think of having been there with someone special. So there are places in London that are off-limits. London, Queen Of My Heart comes from Cath's self-titled 2000 set, which would have been released around the time LTM's excellent series of Cath Carroll/Miaow reissues/releases was underway. More recently Cath has returned to the London/exile theme on Moon Over Archway, which is a prequel to London, Queen Of My Heart ...

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Nan I Am London

"Yeah, I know Nan, I know you always told me come out of London, but I can't ... I am London ... ask London ..." There is a certain genius in being able to throw together a track that immediately makes the listener feel that they're eavesdropping on a private conversation. That's what Wiley aka Eskiboy achieves on Nan I Am London, from his mixtape Tunnel Vision Vol. 5. Part of the genius of it is using the word Nan. One of the most widely used words, but how often have you heard it in a song? It takes a Wiley old soul to get away with it. And actually without that one word, Nan, it would all fall flat. I like the split personality of a Wiley/Eskiboy. Most great performers can do pop or underground, but few manage to do the two at once. Is it too pretentious to suggest that duality is a bit like the London Wiley can't leave behind? Like, for instance, Dagenham rapper Devlin will chat about putting on his Lyle & Scott to go up West for a night on the town in London City. But then on the other hand there's his track Community Outcast about the lost of London ...

Monday, 21 June 2010


"I look out the window and see the streets below. Cars and the people. Lonely church steeples surrounded by grey. We need to move away ..." Ah the eternal debate couples seem to have. It's the gist of the dialogue Sarah Cracknall and David Essex have during Saint Etienne's Relocate. Do we move out of London to the countryside for a better way of life? Or should we accept the city for all its faults because at least we've roots here and it's got a bit of life after all. From what is surely the group's finest work, Tales From Turnpike House, this wasn't the only time they worked with David Essex. David (along with Linda Robson) provided the narration for their film What Have You Done Today Mervyn Day? Set on 7th July 2005, a unique day of national celebration and horror in London's history, it captures something of an east London about to disappear for better or worse just before the preparations for the 2012 Olympics begin. David Essex, of course, is one of the great London pop figures, but did he record any London songs at the height of his fame? Similarly, the Saint Etienne lads, for all their London related works, did they really write about the Croydon suburbs that wrought them? Well, if they didn't at least Danish progressives Burnin' Red Ivanhoe did at the start of the '70s with their unexpected track, the wonderful 2nd Floor Croydon from an LP that even saw a UK release via John Peel's Dandelion label. "And when she moved her head in a certain way outside her window she could see Big Ben ..."

Sunday, 20 June 2010

We're Going To The Country

"It's called evacuation. They take you to the station. They put you on the train ..." sing the evacuees and mums in We're Going To The Country from Lionel Bart's musical Blitz! The evacuation of many thousands of children from London (and indeed other large cities and towns) during World War Two is something that makes the head spin. For many children this remained the biggest thing in their lives. Being uprooted from their homes, often split up from brothers, sisters and parents, deposited with strangers in far away places with very different ways of life. My own mum was evacuated to south Wales at the start of 1941, after the heaviest part of the Blitz when the family's flat was destroyed and they were pretty much left with nothing at all. She has never forgotten leaving London by train, with a luggage label tied to her like Paddington Bear, arriving in Cardiff the night it was bombed (and a lot of Londoners thought sod this we might as well go 'ome and be killed there), going on to their new locality, being petrified at seeing the miners with their coal blackened faces, and let's not forget the kindness of strangers who took all these cockney urchins into their homes. Some kids were lucky, some were not. But honestly the immensity of the operation, and the way it changed people's lives. And yet how many songs are there about it all? Well,there was the Harry Phillips/Gaby Rogers number, Goodnight Children Everywhere, which was written "with a tender thought to all evacuated children ...", and performed by Vera Lynn, Gracie Fields, and even dear Gert and Daisy ...

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Leave The Capitol

"Showbiz whines, minute detail. It's a hand on the shoulder in Leicester Square. It's vaudeville pub back room. Dusty pictures of white frocked girls and music teachers ..." sings Mark E Smith at the start of The Fall's Leave The Capitol from the 1981 10" Slates. While the sleeve may claim it's any capital this still seems a very London song. It's a very London record actually for some illogical reasons, not least for the fact Adrian Sherwood produced one track and I spent a large part of my youth in London pub function rooms watching young hopefuls play their hearts out. I can remember buying it in the Virgin Megastore on Oxford Street on its release where it was prominently displayed. There was a piece in Smash Hits too. It may have been around the time Julian Cope was a pin-up and namechecking Pere Ubu in that mag, and there was always that link between the Liverpool groups and The Fall despite the lyrics to Slate, Slags, Etc. which echo Dexys' There There My Dear. And actually Slates is the pivotal record of the 20th century, not just my favourite record by The Fall. As a 10" EP it turned out to be too long for the singles charts, which seemed like a typical Rough Trade own goal because if it had been a hit the world may have turned out a different place and we may have seen Josef K, Fire Engines et set go on to have the impact the Soft Cells, Adam Ants and ABCs did. Instead the world shrugged its shoulders, the great pop moment passed, and The Fall understandably went all perverse with Hex Enduction Hour. There's some great lines on Slates, such as passing references to Arthur Machen and Albert Finney, and the one about plagiarism infesting the land. Then there's the one about feeling like Alan Minter. There was a piece of graffiti by the side of the railway between Blackheath and Lewisham stations in south east London which simply said "I FEEL LIKE ALAN MINTER" in four feet high letters. It must have been there for well over 20 years, and may be still there now for all I know buried by the buddleia, the rail network's national flower. Just think of the number of people passing through south east London who saw it during that time who would never have heard The Fall perform Fit And Working Again or indeed any of the tracks on Slates ...

Friday, 18 June 2010

Leaving London

"Last night the Troubadour was so full they barred the door. And I sang a song she knows quite well. But it wouldn't take too long to make up another song for a lonesome and a last farewell ..." With a nice reference to the folk club/coffee bar on the Old Brompton Road Tom Paxton's Leaving London is a beautifully bittersweet number in which he endures our "cold, hard town" while hoping to get enough money to travel home to his love assuming she remembers who he is. Tom may never have been as photogenic as Bob Dylan or Phil Ochs but many of his songs are right up there with the very best in the folk or any other world. He could write the most tender of love songs and the most scathing of political songs, and better still sometimes those lines got blurred ...

Thursday, 17 June 2010

London Leaves

"Soon the wind will be blowing. And the snowflakes will come drifting down. It's been a long hot summer. But your cold love has chilled me to the bone ..." Now before you say it I am aware that there is rather a strong possibility that London Leaves by Boxcar Willie may not be about England's capital. There are, after all, several Londons in the US for starters, and seeing as ole Boxcar is from Texas, well ... Does it matter? The lyrics fit our London rather neatly. And even if it is about London, Ontario or wherever have we ever said we're exclusively about the UK? It's just London ain't it? Anyway, Boxcar Willie the hobo troubadour is an adopted persona like many Londoners reinvent themselves. And our London has always had a thing for country music, from Joe Brown in the '60s to '70s country rockers Brinsley Schwartz singing about their Country Girl or London legend Wendy May with the Boothill Foot Tappers letting their roots show ...

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

London Homesick Blues

"Well, when you're down on your luck,and you ain't got a buck, in London you're a goner. Even London Bridge has fallen down, and moved to Arizona. Now I know why. And I'll substantiate the rumor that the English sense of humor is drier than the Texas sand. You can put up your dukes, and you can bet your boots, that I'm leavin' just as fast as I can ... " I first heard the song London Homesick Blues via David Pajo's Papa M project at the end of the '90s. Pajo's progress through that decade is quite fascinating, playing with Slint then Tortoise (and it's easy to forget now just how remarkable those groups sonded at that time, with that Ry Cooder/Paris Texas thing going on etc.) then doing his own electronica/folk/country thing with his Aerial M/Papa M personas. I have to confess I've not kept up with his work since. The song itself was written by Texas troubadour Gary P Nunn, who was working with Jerry Jeff Walker's band. I was just thinking how an interest in Texas troubadours was stimulated by The Clash and their support for Joe Ely. The astute among you will at this point mention that, of course, Joe Ely and London Bridge get a mention in The Clash's lovely If Music Could Talk, but then what doesn't ...

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

London Blues - Pt. 2

"When I asked you here for dinner. And you brought all your friends. I said here I am feeding half of London. And all I should be feeding here is you ..." sings Alan 'Blind Owl' Wilson in Canned Heat's London Blues. A true story apparently. And one of the last songs he recorded before his tragic death. What I love when you read about the Canned Heat guys, apart from making some great music, Al Wilson and Bob Hite were real blues obsessives, and not just a couple of schoolkids who wanted to be the Rolling Stones. The Stones themselves were blues fans, but Blind Owl and The Bear were true blues scholars and collectors. There's that lovely story about how when Son House was 'rediscovered' Al Wilson sat down and lovingly taught him all his own songs. Am I the only person in the world who has occasionally been reminded of Canned Heat when listening to Stereolab? Mind you Tim Gane was a bit of a musicologist too ...

Monday, 14 June 2010

London Blues

"No one here is sipping tea but me ..." claims Margie Anderson as she sings about the London Blues. Hats off to soul spinner supreme Jo Wallace for suggesting this one be included. And a tip of the hat to the YouTube contributor (wally1435) who has helped bring Margie Anderson's name back into circulation, even if plenty of mystery remains. It seems this track comes from an LP shared with the great Pearl Bailey. Would Pearl have sung about having the London Blues? Well, she married the Italian-American big band jazz drummer extraordinaire and composer Louie Bellson here in 1952 four days after they met, and they remained married until Pearl's death in 1990. They married at the famous Caxton Hall registry office, and Louis recorded his Caxton Hall Swing shortly afterwards in celebration. In 1970 Louie recorded a wonderful concept LP about London, called Louie In London. Predominantly swinging big band sounds, one track (the epic London Suite) features the Mike Sammes Singers. Other tracks include Carnaby Street, Kings Road Boogaloo, Sketches From National Gallery and the gorgeous Proud Thames.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

I'm Trying To Make London My Home

"I put in for my citizenship papers and I'm going back to London for sure because if the good Lord lets me live I'm not going back to the States no more ..." I'm Trying To Make London My Home sings Sonny Boy Williamson with a little help on guitar from Hubert Sumlin on a live 1964 recording. Unfortunately the great bluesman died the following year while back in the States on tour so didn't get to live here full time, despite adopting the trademark two-tone, city gentleman's suit (complete with bowler hat, rolled umbrella and attache case full of harmonicas). The track was recorded on one of the famous American Folk Blues Festival appearances. There is a lovely little book by David Williams called The First Time We Met The Blues which tells the story of young London electric blues fans. Part of the book details a 'pilgrimage' the author made up to Manchester in October 1962 to see the first UK appearance of the Festival. Travelling up in the van with him were Mick Jagger, Brian Jones and Keith Richards, and they would meet David's old school friend Jimmy Page there. Guy Stevens and Dave Godin make great cameo appearances in the book, and there's even a September 1962 pic of the Rolling Stones trio (possibly) in Dave Godin's Bexleyheath home. Val Wilmer's Mama Told Me There'd Be Days Like These gives an alternative insight into growing up as a blues fan in south London and seeing some of the greats performing in the Capital.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Loneliness of London

"The night people going home greet me with a yawn. A tramp in a doorway huddles up and mutters ..." sings Peter Reeves on his 1969 single Loneliness of London. It's a song I came across via the Living For Pleasure Alone site where when it was posted I spectacularly failed to seem knowledgeable about the London songbook. I still suspect this was the actor Peter Reeves, a stalwart of the London stage, having a bit of a go at a Richard Harris/Jim Webb thing. If anyone's got a spare £20 or so then why not show how much you've enjoyed this project by treating me to the Peter Reeves LP, The Way I See It? Oh please yourselves. This particular song may have a happy ending, but it's certainly not the only time the words London and lonely have been linked. Ralph McTell and Sam Selvon spring to mind. And then there's Dave Edmunds' London's A Lonely Town, an adaptation of The Tradewinds' NewYork Is A Lonely Town. Was this really a 1976 session featuring Bruce Johnston, Terry Melcher, Gary Usher, and Curt Boettcher? And how did it end up on a Pebbles compilation? Oh well, there'll always be a place in our hearts for Dave Edmunds - for his part in Stardust, his work with the Flamin' Groovies, and of course for his time with Nick Lowe ...

Friday, 11 June 2010

I'm Going To Get Lit Up (When The Lights Go Up In London)

"I'm going to get lit-up when the lights go up in London. I'm going to get lit up as I've never been before. You will find me on the tiles. You will find me wreathed in smiles. I'm going to get so lit up I'll be visible for miles. The city will sit up when the lights go up in London. We'll all be lit up as the Strand was, only more, much more. And before the party's played out they will fetch the Fire Brigade out. To the lit-est up-est scene you ever saw ..." Our old friend Carroll Gibbons with the Savoy Orpheans captures a certain mood in the WW2 number I'm Going To Get Lit Up (When The Lights Go Up In London). Apparently there were questions asked in the House about this song. One time Nazi sympathiser Lady Astor asked if this was an appropriate way to carry on. Hmm. The song itself was written by Hubert Gregg, who for many years presented the delightful Radio 2 show Thanks For The Memory. His most famous composition was Maybe It's Because I'm A Londoner, one of the Capital's anthems. Among his other numbers is this one sung by his wife Pat Kirkwood ...

Thursday, 10 June 2010

A London Sumtin'

"Just for you London ..." While passing on some kind comments about the project Charlie Weisfeld did gently take us to task: "It seems you've missed some very important tunes. Well they were very important if you spent the late '80s and '90s travelling to warehouse parties in and around London in dilapidated business/industrial parks. These tunes are absolute documents of the time, of rave culture and the birth of Jungle music. They might not have much in the way of lyrics but they bag loads of vibe ..." Charlie had made a very valid point. While on a personal level I may not have been haring around London to events (due to shiftwork and various practical reasons) the music was nevertheless a vital part of daily life. The tracks Charlie refers to were heard via the pirate stations which I would have on all the time, and still in my head I can hear the incessant babble of MCs urging London town to 'old tight and keep it locked. The music itself hasn't dated, and the rush and rattle of the tracks Charlie specifically referred to in his message is still incredibly uplifting. He picked Code 071's A London Sumting Dis on Reinforced, Bodysnatch by Euphony, and Sacred's Do It Together. All Junglists: A London Somet’ing Dis is the title of a documentary made in 1993, directed by Rachel Seely, on the origins of the very underground Jungle scene, and available in three parts on YouTube. And for those interested in some Hardcore Londonism ...

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

London Rock

"Don't need Manhattan. Just give me Leicester Square. 'Cos I know that the rock 'n' roll is universal, everywhere ..." Ah rock 'n' roll as a universal language. As the wonderful London Rock shows Tony Crombie was quick off the mark to realise just that. Now we all know the British rock 'n' story about the kids graduating via skiffle and the Two I's. But Tony Crombie, who arguably with his Rockets released the first British rock record, is something else altogether. Born in Bishopsgate, he started playing drums in the London jazz clubs as a kid in WW2. Still in the '40s he played with Duke Ellington, was involved with starting the legendary London jazz haunt Club Eleven, went on to play with Ronnie Scott and Johnny Dankworth among others. In the '50s he started his own jazz orchestra, played regularly at places like The Flamingo, recorded with Annie Ross, before veering off at a tangent and starting a band called The Rockets in response to Bill Haley & The Comets' success. Among the participants in this project at various times would be Tubby Hayes, and it's no surprise Crombie soon returned to jazz, playing with the likes of Stan Tracey, had his number So Near So Far adapted by Miles Davis, and played with organist Alan Haven on a TV special of Beatles adaptations. He also did some great soundtrack work, including the theme for the TV series The Man From Interpol.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

She Wears Red Feathers

"I worked in a London bank. Respectable position. At half past three they serve you tea. But ruin your disposition. Each night at the music hall. Travelogues I'd see. And once a pearl of a native girl kept smiling right at me ..." sings Guy Mitchell (here looking suspiciously Suggs-esque) in his 1953 hit She Wears Red Feathers. There is still a tendency to think pop music began with rock 'n' roll. But Guy Mitchell, like Johnny Ray and Frankie Laine, was a great pop performer, pre-r 'n' r, with a little bit of an edge. He was certainly one of my mum's favourites. This early British number one hit was a bizarre tale of a London banker falling in love with an exotic hula girl at the music hall, sets off around the world to follow her, then the happy couple return to London and live happily ever after. It was written by Bob Merrill, who was also responsible for (How Much Is That) Doggie in the Window, If I'd Known You Were Comin' I'd've Baked A Cake, and Mambo Italiano. He also had a hand in Breakfast At Tiffany's and Funny Girl. Another of Guy Mitchell's big hits was Singing The Blues, which has a certain London resonance as Bermondsey boy Tommy Steele also had a number one with it in 1957, and I assume the last line of The Clash's London Calling refers to it ...

Monday, 7 June 2010

Back On The London Stage

"Back on the London stage. We sailed away, oh we sailed away. Back on the London stage. Maybe one day we'll have time to argue. Looking for London pride. We'll watch your day but we'll keep away from you. Back on the London stage ..." sings the great Jayne Casey on the Pink Military track Back On The London Stage from their classic 1980 LP Do Animals Believe In God? I loved the 'hit' single, Did You See Her, from that LP so much. Played it endlessly. Over the years I've read an awful lot about Patti Smith, and come across lots of people who talk about the impact she's had on their lives. I respect that. But I've never really felt the same about Patti. For me Jayne Casey captures that whole thing better. From Big In Japan to Pink Military to Pink Industry to Eight Productions and beyond Jayne's vocals and presence are remarkable. She has been part of some of the best music ever made ...

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Drums Over London

"The natives are restless. They're brandishing their Spear & Jacksons. Their primitive chants thinly disguised as national anthems. Things are getting slightly less than British in the towns. Soon it will be time to stop the rot. We've got to put our foot down ..." sings a one-time MOJO editor on the Disco Zombies' Drums Over London. Caused a bit of a controversy this track at the end of the '70s, if I remember rightly. Being sung from the perspective of a racist, conservative, little Englander the number was open to misrepresentation, and the subtlety was lost on some. The Disco Zombies were called on to explain themselves to some of the fanzines of the day. This Disco Zombies single was released on their own South Circular label, which was a great south London name. The South Circular being one of the great London roads running from Woolwich in the east out to Gunnersbury-ish in the west. Together with the North Circular it forms a sort of inner London Orbital. There was a mod fanzine called South Circular around the same time, I seem to recall, which made a case for The Teardrop Explodes' Treason and the 'mutant pop' Dave McCullough was writing about in Sounds. That single, of course, came out on Zoo Records. One of the Zoo keepers was Dave Balfe, who would later start the rather less appetising Food Records where later one of his partners would be an Disco Zombie. The Messthetically inclined will find more to investigate Disco Zombies-wise on #107 ...

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Sights And Sounds Of London Town

"Oh Jean-Paul he came over from Toulouse. They told him that London was the golden goose. He never got his hands on enough to eat. He never did get his arse up off the street. Wanted to be a rap DJ. They took his pulse then they turned him away. Under the radar of your fellow man. With all that charisma it ain't worth a damn ..." That's the Sights And Sounds Of London Town according to Richard Thompson. Or, if you like, the side of the Capital they don't promote to tourists. Richard has a gift for writing about the darker sides of city life, and has a number of London songs in his portfolio. There's a case to be made for early Fairport numbers like Meet Me On The Ledge and Genesis Hall, for example. While more recent numbers like Old Thames side and Cooksferry Queen fit the bill nicely. The latter song's title refers, I believe, to a hotel up Edmonton way that was part of the '60s live circuit. For someone as important to the history of popular music as Richard Thompson it's a little ironic that I first became aware of his name through his playing on some of David Thomas' recordings ...

Friday, 4 June 2010

The London Look

"See the country vicars and the city slickers, pearly kings and noble dukes. Everybody moving, everybody grooving. They've all got The London Look ..." sings Peter Noone in the chorus of the Herman's Hermits number The London Look. This was a 1968 track recorded for a Yardleys cosmetics promotion, written by Graham Gouldman. One of our great songwriters, Gouldman is associated with Kennedy Street Enterprises, the Manchester based songwriting stable, but The London Look was by no means the only song related to the Capital he penned. On his own debut LP, The Graham Gouldman Thing, he had the number Chestnut where he claimed: "If all of us were doomed to die when we'd lived a minute I think I know what Ann and I would wish to happen in it. We'd let our sixty seconds run where chestnut blossoms harden some early morning in Kensington when Spring is in the garden ..." Graham of course wrote hits for top '60s acts like the Yardbirds and Hollies. Other less well known but more local acts that covered Graham's songs were Manchester mods St Louis Union who had a single out with Behind The Door on the A-side. Is it true Magazine's Dave Formula was in this outfit?

Thursday, 3 June 2010

There's No Place Like London - Pt 2

"When you walk down the street feel the history under your feet. From the top of St. Paul's to the old market stalls. All in all it's my cup of tea ..." sings Shirley Bassey on her 1986 single There's No Place Like London. Written by Lynsey De Paul and Gerard Kenny (who wrote the Minder theme) the song was used by the British Tourist Board (or some such body) to promote tourism in the Capital at a time when visitor numbers were falling off, possibly as a result of the IRA's bombing campaign. Strange choices all round, but then Dame Shirley's been around, as she says. My mum remembers seeing her on a bill in London in the '50s singing Burn My Candle (At Both Ends). No Place Like London is also the title of a number written used by Stephen Sondheim in his Sweeney Todd musical. In 2009 house/garage producer Todd Edwards used the track in a mix as a crowdpleaser when playing to a London audience. As far as I know that has not been used yet in a tourism advert ...

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

There's No Place Like London

"English songs are now forgotten. Everyone I know sings the tune The Land Of Cotton he must go. Some for Dixieland are sighing. Some for Alabam are crying. Others want to live and die in Ohio. I don't want their Dixieland nor their Alabam. I don't know where either are and I don't care a ... " sings music hall star Whit Cunliffe in the number There's No Place Like London. In Whit's London "the girls are young and pretty and the boys are gay hip hip hooray" which he why he claims "I don't want to go to USA". So more than 60 years before The Clash sang about being so bored with the USA having a bit of a go at the Yanks was a familiar music hall line. This particular number was written by R.P. Weston who has a special place in the London/Great British songbook. He had a hand in goodness knows how many songs/monologues in his day, including What A Mouth, I'm Henery The Eighth, Brahn Boots, Hobnailed Boots That Father Wore, With Her Head Tucked Under Her Arm, Paddy McGinty's Goat, and indeed Goodbye-ee. Now Goodbye-ee is an interesting one, because it mentions "nah poo" and Kew in certain versions. Among his writing partners were Bert Lee and Fred Barnes. If R.P. Weston songs may seem to have a bit of a tendency towards the cockney persona, then this little tongue twister might make you think again ...

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

My Love Went To London

"Never thought I'd live to see the city on the Thames. Where's that sky of grey? Where's that foggy day? The Gershwins have their say. But now I'm here to tell you ..." My Love Went To London sings the great Blossom Dearie on a song from Tweedledum and Tweedledee, an LP she made with Mike Renzi some 20 odd years after she'd sung about liking London in the rain. Lyrics for this song were written by New York cabaret favourite John Wallowitch, whose 1964 debut LP had a sleeve designed by one Andy Warhol apparently. Tony Bennett and Shirley Bassey are among others who have recorded this song. The wonderful Blossom had spent quite a bit of time in London in the '60s. She'd spent time too in Paris in the '50s where she'd directed the pioneering Blue Stars of France with their hip vocalese arrangements which paved the way for Les Double Six and Swingle Singers. And as for Americans heading for London ... well, on his lovely track When Americans Come To London Ed Harcourt took a bit of a let's not be beastly to the Yanks stance ...

Monday, 31 May 2010

La Fille de Londres

"Un chinois est sorti de l'ombre. Un chinois a regardé Londres. Sa casquette était de marine. Ornée d'une ancre coralline. Devant la porte de Charlie. A Pennyfields j'lui ai souri. Dans le silence de la nuit. En murmurant je lui ai dit ..." sings Juliette Greco in her version of La Fille de Londres. Ah Juliette Greco. I think now of Alfie and Robert Wyatt's song Old Europe. I think of Richard Barnes' Mods! where I first saw the name Juliette Greco. And I think of Juliette dismissing Malcolm McLaren with the line: ‘I have had the greatest poets in France write for me, and you are asking me to sing this!’ And how delighted he would have been to have her slam down the score. Among the poets whose words Juliette has sung is Mac Orlan who wrote La Fille de Londres (with its nice reference to Pennyfields down near the old West India Docks). One of the famous interpretations of that song is by Germaine Montero. I believe a collection of Mac Orlan songs sung by Germaine was a particular favourite of Guy Debord and his circle in the '50s. Start putting all this together and you can understand why Malcolm as a London boy was so enchanted by Paris ...

Sunday, 30 May 2010

L'Inconnue de Londres

"La chambre était au paradis. D'un vieil hôtel à luminaire. Où l'on cultive la chimère. En y mettant un peu le prix ..." sings Léo Ferré during his early composition L'Inconnue de Londres, which if you'll excuse my schoolboy French translates as the lost of London. I have a growing fascination for French chanson, particularly the chansons réalistes about which Kenneth Rexroth wrote so vividly in 1969. And if my poor grasp of the French language inhibits an ability to understand, then at least the sound and feel and flow of the words overwhelms the senses and maybe more is left to the imagination. Ever since discovering the work of Léo Ferré as part of the whole May 1968 thing I have become a huge fan. The works I came across first, Amour Anarchie, La Solitude and Chante L'Ete '68, have become massive favourites. And if these reflect a man in his 50s being influenced in turn by the new sounds and spirit of the age then there is a lesson there for us all. Some of the arrangements are exquisite, like say Sinatra's Watertown. He sums up that whole wonderful mix of elements and contradictions that the French are so great at: communist, romantic, anarchist, poet, rogue ...

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Initials BB

"Une nuit que j'etais a me morfondre dans quelque pub anglais du coeur de Londres parcourant L'Amour Monstre de Pauwels me vint une vision dans l'eau de Seltz ..." recounts Serge Gainsbourg at the start of his wonderful Initials BB. Happens to me all the time. There is a case to be made for more London songs to be delivered in anything but the local vernacular. After all a song starting: "One night as I was sitting moping in some pub in the centre of London reading a bit of Louis Pauwels I saw a vision in my tonic water ..." just doesn't have quite the same charm does it? Initials BB like several of Serge's greatest moments was recorded in London, where he worked with some of the great arrangers like Arthur Greenslade and David Whitaker. He also recorded his big hit with Jane Birkin in London. Indeed one of the tracks from that LP, Le Canari Est Sur Le Balcon, is set in London. I have to confess I nearly overlooked Initials BB as a London song, but since the mid-'90s re-serge-ence of interest in the great man's works they have become so familiar you almost don't notice the words for the sound they make - if that makes sense. Was it more fun when we had to scratch around for bits of Serge? Perhaps. But the joy of finding clips about the creation of Initials BB is still something wonderful. This is the second part ..."Here we go mate ..."

Friday, 28 May 2010

Night in London

Night in London is a 1967 Bollywood crime caper starring Biswajeet and the beautiful actress Mala Sinha. The soundtrack features the popular singers Mohammed Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar. The music is composed by Laxmikant Pyarelal. And there are plenty of people who know more about such things. But the fantastic title track of Night in London qualifies perfectly as a London song. The opening sequence it features in is suitably extravagant and delightfully illogical. And the film features a gorgeous poignant jazzy beat ballad called O My Love which has some nice London settings and some sharp schmutter ...

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Mr Dante Fontana

"Get your bowler hat at Lock. Look around you. See who is around you. Get that hat at Lock. Buy your style of shoe at Lobb. It's the done thing. Stroll and walk around in shoes from Mr Lobb. Your umbrella straight from Brigg. Never never trust the weather ever. Get your brolly from Brigg. Then you'll find at Fortnum & Mason a beautiful red carnation. A moment of sweet fascination will linger with you. From Dunhill a pipe for the manly type. Get your ties each day the Piccadilly way. Gentlemen everything is just okay ..." Towards the end of the number Mr Dante Fontana the singer Lydia McDonald outlines how to get the perfect English gentleman look. Astonishingly 45 years on those establishments are still there in central London. The song itself comes from the 1966 film Fumo Di Londra, a vehicle for Alberto Sordi. Significantly the soundtrack was by Piero Piccioni, one of those Italian composers whose work became astonishingly hip and ridiculously sought after at the turn of the millennium. The film was a light comedy based around the Anglophile Sordi's quest to become the quintessential English gent but he gets caught up in the new swingin' London. There's the inevitable night club 'happening' scene, actually out at Eel Pie. Most of the vocals are provided by Lydia, the Cinecitta muse, but the great Julie Rogers (a Bermondsey girl) is featured too. The fascinating thing about the Italian soundtracks is that the music is extraordinarily addictive, without needing to see the films, and there is a temptation to become totally immersed in these sounds. There's a distinct similarity to the Bollywood soundtracks of the same era in that respect ...

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

London Rain

"The rain of London pimples/The ebony street with white/And the neon lamps of London/
Stain the canals of night/And the park becomes a jungle/In the alchemy of night ..." That's how Louis MacNeice's poem London Rain begins. There's a lovely bit in Arnold Wesker's East End trilogy where the young romantic revolutionary recites a few lines of MacNeice's and his mum says something along the lines of aww that's nice why don't you write poetry like that more often? Jah Wobble set London Rain to music on his collection The Celtic Poets. Jean-Pierre Rasle plays the pipes on this track and the words are read by The Dubliners' Ronnie Drew in that remarkable, distinctive voice. This is not the only occasion when Wobble has provided us with musical settings of poetic works. He recorded a set inspired by Blake's verse, which appropriately featured an adaptation of the poem London from Songs of Experience. Back in 1969 Allen Ginsberg recorded poems from Songs Of Innocence and Songs Of Experience, including London sung in his unique way, with musical contributions from some of the greats like Don Cherry, Elvin Jones, and Bob Dorough. A more recent and very lovely interpretation is by Paul Howard and Jo Clack ...

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

The Aspidistra Flies

"All the rain in this town. And still the sky is blue. St James's Square is teeming with doves. And that sunset they flew across the darkening city. To an attic room for two. All the umbrellas in London. Couldn't hide my love for you ..." sings Torquil Campbell in Stars' The Aspidistra Flies which I assume refers to the Magnetic Fields' song. Intentionally or not the song makes me think of Helena Bonham Carter in Wings Of A Dove and Keep The Aspidistra Flying. Or should that be makes me think of Henry James and George Orwell? Stars are Canadian but there was another pop pretender called Torquil once upon a time. '80s underground hopefuls Reserve were fronted by one Torquil MacLeod, and they were briefly recording artists on the splendid Sombrero label. Reserve's flexi favourite The Sun Slid Down Behind The Tower was itself a London song. Other Sombrero scenesters included the Siddeleys and Bob. Vintage guitars, Oxfam suits and sweet smelling hair wax a gogo ...

Monday, 24 May 2010

Swinging London - pt 2

"Planets crash, the world goes nova. Sun explodes, all goes black. You went off swinging London and forgot to come back ..." I bet if all the artists featured as part of this project were given the task of writing a swinging London related song we would have a pretty amazing range of themes. One we do have is the Magnetic Fields' Swinging London. Stephin Merritt and the Magnetic Fields are undoubtedly underground pop heroes, though it wasn't until the release of 69 Love Songs that I was even aware of their existence. Interestingly for such a prolific pop classicist Merritt, despite his way with words and melodies, has not become a major contributor to the great American songbook. Perhaps no one has had the wit to capitalise on his songwriting skills. So, for example, no one has had a massive hit with All The Umbrellas In London. Now what does that tell us about the world we live in?

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Swinging London - pt 1

"There are people out there who make me sick. People out there who I haven't got time for. People out there who think they're it. People out there who I wouldn't want to die for ..." Punk contenders London appropriately had a great song called Swinging London which is about anything but that. Nevertheless it is one of the great London songs of the punk era. Their front man was one Riff Regan who under his real name of Miles Tredinnick would become a script writer for Frankie Howerd and Birds Of A Feather. London (the group) had the unique selling point of being managed by swingin' '60s legend Simon Napier-Bell whose assistant had stumbled across the group playing in the Rochester Castle, in Stoke Newington. Interesting the way the old '60s pop moguls dabbled in punk, like Mickie Most hooking up with The Vibrators on RAK briefly which even saw them appearing on the TV pop show with Chris Spedding performing Pogo Dancing. Napier-Bell's previous charges included the Yardbirds and John's Children ...

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Swingin' London Scene

"Five o'clock on a Sunday morning. Sleeping city grey and still. Even the early milkman's yawning ..." A number written by one John Britten (and certainly not the Subway Sect/Orange Juice one) First Impression's Swingin' London Scene pops up on a glorious round-up on the valuable RPM label of what it calls "the accidental genius of Saga Records 1968-1970". Saga was a budget label that a little late in the day decided to cash-in shamelesly on the Swingin' London pop scene. As is so often the way with these things it just so happens that some of the material it 'processed' was as good as anything else on the market. First Impression's Swingin' London Scene also appears on an excellent Spiral London-themed mix called Teatime At The Circus which I'm very grateful to Nick Hamilton (who produced the excellent London-themed Lost Steps show on Resonance FM)for pointing out. The mix itself features a number of London songs I certainly wasn't aware of, and I will resist the urge to pinch them. Another thing I particularly like about mass produced cash-ins is that they often go off at odd tangents which purists would never countenance. So, for example,I love Swingin' London numbers where things aren't quite what they seem. A modern variation on that theme would be the Noonday Underground, named after the archetypal Tom Wolfe mod essay, and yet their London. Well ...

Friday, 21 May 2010

Sunday Afternoon in Belgrave Square

"With my friends surrounding me I should smile most happily but I'd rather spend my afternoons with you ..." sings Trevor Billmuss at the end of his gorgeous song Sunday Afternoon In Belgrave Square, which came out on the b-side of a 1970 single on Charisma, and has since turned up on the Fading Yellow series of rare psych/sunshine pop sounds. There was an LP too, but that's pretty elusive. Would love to hear it though. There's the famous '60s quote from, I think Roger Daltrey (or was it Pete Townsend?) about becoming famous and buying a flat in Belgravia and spitting out of the window any time you wanna just to annoy the Conservative geezers. Punk group The Depressions borrowed the line for their Family Planning single which had the familiar punk refrain of dad's in the pub, sister's in the club, and so on. Fantastic flipside though, called Living On Dreams, which had this real '60s blue-eyed soul growl to it. The Pretty Things were notoriously based in Belgravia too, and famously used their address, 13 Chester Street, as the title of one of their tracks. What a fantastic group the Pretty Things were ...

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Percy From Pimlico

"No doubt to see me you'd think I am a millionaire by the clothes I wear. Think that I ride around in my carriage and pair round Leicester Square to make folks stare. I've got no 'oof but I always play spoof. I'm a rickity rackity bloke. I'm as happy as the Prince of Wales although I'm stony broke ..." sings Tom Leamore in his music hall classic Percy From Pimlico about a cove wot's "a slasher, a dasher, the up-to-date masher." It's another of the numbers Ian Whitcomb includes on his Titanic Tunes set, and covers familiar themes of the chap with nothing creating an illusion to the contrary. The roots of modernism? This recording of Leamore was made in the '30s when there was a brief revival of interest in music hall and variety which resulted in electric recordings of a number of original artists who had been stars pre-WW1. I like it for the use of the word masher, which is a piece of slang that's long gone referring to a fop that acts the part of a lady killer. Talking of fops, many years on David Devant & His Spirit Wife would claim we've all been to Pimlico, and that it's the kind of place lovers like to go. Well, certainly the Ealing Comedy Passport To Pimlico is the kind of plucky Londoner against the establishment story we've all been part of in our dreams ...

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

London At Night

"In the markets of Soho to the far less exotic and more patriotic restraints of Pimlico ..." Noel Coward's London Pride is rightly one of the Capital's anthems, but it is by no means the great man's only song about the City. There is, for example, London At Night from his 1954 musical After The Ball, which was based on Lady Windermere's Fan. On paper the idea of Coward combining with Wilde is one to savour, but it's not everyone's favourite. Nevertheless London At Night is a wonderful number, and it's interesting to see Coward succumb to the London song writing temptation to take the listener on a whirlwind random tour of the town. I suppose there is a certain irony in the fact that Noel Coward is best remembered by some for his role as Mr Bridger in The Italian Job. It was something special though. As is of course the song London Pride. And the next time someone mentions the 'special relationship' to you then think of this amazing piece of film footage ...

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Clunk Click

"We be all the King's Men. Minds of Jack The Ripper to the strokes of Big Ben. When we hear the tones we be breaking bones. Roaming through the gas lit alleyways of bloodstained cobblestones with the groans of Mr Hyde howling at the moon we be lunar like the tide ..." Ah The Brotherhood's Clunk Click captures better than any other track the dark heart of London past Peter Ackroyd also conjures up perfectly in novels like Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem, The Lambs of London and The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein. The Brotherhood's Elementalz is one of the great lost masterpieces of UK hip hop. It has the distinct advantage of being produced by Trevor 'The Underdog' Jackson and features some of the most individualistic UK rap full stop. To give a flavour of how the outfit was out of step one track's entitled Punk Funk at a time when no one was listening (1996). The Brotherhood was from north west London and the city was quite a feature in its work ...

Monday, 17 May 2010

Big Ben

"On Sunday nothing opens late. The clock across the river chimes. Towers above the bridge we crossed were bound for better times ..." Nick Drake's At The Chime of the City Clock is one of the songs most often suggested for inclusion in this project. It's referenced in Roddy Frame's Big Ben, one of the highlights of the great man's Surf set. "At my best I believe in love. I can't conceive there's only sky above ..." I love those lines. It's a gloriously sentimental song. Speaking of which Big Ben is a sort of symbol for London, and so it's the perfect imagery for Vera Lynn to use when singing When You Hear Big Ben, You're Home Again. The great bell of the clock tower at the north end of the Palace of Westminster is, of course, known all over the world just like Vera Lynn, the forces' sweetheart from East Ham. Less well known is the fact that visits to the clock tower are free for UK citizens and can be arranged through the local MP. It's your democratic right but there'll be a waiting list ...

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Public Servant

"Public servant number one. Sits in Whitehall. Is waited on. Do they know something we don't know? Public servant number two. Sits in Whitehall with nothing to do. Do they know something we don't know? Chief of Staff in a big black car. Buying arms for his jungle war. Does he know something that we don't know ..." sings the inimitable Charlie Harper at the start of the UK Subs' Public Servant, a great track from their second LP Brand New Age. Charlie is a London institution held in far higher regard than the heart of the Civil Service he sings about. It really is scary the role played by the higher echelons of the Civil Service in controlling this country and shaping what the Government of the day thinks is its policy. Of all the songs that make passing reference to Whitehall the most powerful and poignant has to be the Style Council's Homebreakers. Mick Talbot's vocals capture the vulnerability of the vengeful perfectly ...

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Green Park

"It didn't last long. In seconds this moment had gone. It happened in Green Park ..." claims Anthony Adverse in her song Green Park. Oh I know the feeling only too well. This 'legendary b-side' was written by our old friend Louis Philippe, as was the Red Shoes suite of songs which features another fantastic Anthony Adverse London song, London My Town, which sounds rather wonderfully like the blueprint for Saint Etienne or Noonday Underground. It should perhaps be mentioned in passing that Anthony Adverse also recorded one of my favourite Vic Godard covers (T.R.O.U.B.L.E). The Anthony Adverse character was one of Mike Alway's fantasy pop figures on the wonderful el label and it's all there - the Powell/Pressburger references, the bossa inflections, the brassy '60s swing. I rather liked the fact that I didn't have a clue about who Anthony Adverse really was. Then, damn the internet, I found some snippets of information suggesting she was Julia Gilbert who had been in underground pop greats Five Or Six and who went on to become a script writer for EastEnders with a father who might have been Head of BBC Light Entertainment during one of its golden ages. Even Mr Alway couldn't have made that one up.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Klub Londinium 20-30

“The sunglass stands of Via Buckingham. People came to join the organised dancing. So we made a Klub. Made it all up ...” Klub Londinium 20-30 is a track from the final Sudden Sway record, Ko-Opera, released on Rough Trade in 1990. Sudden Sway’s story is the great untold pop adventure. Throughout the 1980s they were the ultimate pop strategists playing with formats and processes, all the while creating sounds several light years ahead of the pack. If you’re not familiar with their work follow the clues on the web to their Peel sessions, the Spacemate game, the To You With ReGard 12”, Traffic Tax Scheme, the Sing Song exercise and, my personal favourite, the ’76 Kids Forever pop opera. Ko-Opera is in some ways their ‘straight’ record, though musically it was a blueprint for the ‘90s to come. Similarly, well before the likes of Iain Sinclair were the toast of the town, to complement Ko-Opera there were special themed Klub Londinium walks around the Capital. To my eternal shame I didn’t take part, though I do seem to remember seeing people pick up headsets at the Rough Trade shop in Covent Garden. This is borrowed from an account posted online, with thanks and apologies to the author Ken C: “Klub Londinium was the best thing they ever did. It was an exercise in psychogeography in which you walked the city in someone else’s shoes. Having completed a personality assessment questionnaire, you were assigned to a tour for a quite different personality. They decided I was an Outsider, so sent me on the Hedonist tour. The cassette contained two voices; one giving directions and factual, historical information about London; the other representing the interior monologue of the ‘raver’ driving himself to despair in pursuit of the good time that must be going on somewhere else. The tour began at Charing Cross station and led through Soho and Mayfair, describing this history of the Crystal Rooms in Leicester Square, the location of the first strip show in London, Sheeky’s restaurant, the location of private gambling clubs, 18th century brothels, and much else. A tremendous amount of research must have gone into the tours. I bought the tapes for the other tours: the ‘Mystic’ personality (a satire on new-age nonsense the led around Regents Park and up Parliament Hill); Materialist (through the City, St Katherine’s Dock and the yuppie housing in Docklands, ending in Tobacco Dock) and, the best I think, the Outsider tour, an eternal wanderer’s search for a home, through Spitalfields and Brick Lane, ending at the Geffrye Museum. The degree of synchronisation between the taped speech in your head and what you saw in front of you was often uncanny; graffiti on the walls was read to you as you passed; an electronic tone representing the onset of a migraine kicked in as you emerged from the shadow of a building into the sunshine; the sound of footsteps following you as you walked through a long tunnel in a dodgy part of Shoreditch.” The same internet posting refers to an earlier Sudden Sway installation at ICA in The Mall, and a clip of the group performing its Human Jukebox featured on the Old Grey Whistle Test ...

Thursday, 13 May 2010

The Changing of the Guard

"The Changing of the Guard is part of our tradition but now we find it's been applied to us ..." mourns The Marquis of Kensington as he feels the gentry is up against it in swingin' England. If his Changing of The Guard has a touch of the Noel Coward sings The Kinks about it then that'll be because their manager Robert Wace was on vocals. The Marquis of Kensington was a studio project featuring Wace with the great Mike Leander. This song was featured in Peter Whitehead's 1967 documentary Tonite Let's All Make Love In London, and was a hit on the continent. As Wace wanted to keep a low profile they got a young art student to do the TV appearances. Another single, Sister Marie, had a great mod instrumental, Flash, on the flip which was covered in Italy and became a hit for the equally aristocratic Duke of Burlington.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

I Dig Everything

"Ain't had a job for a year or more. And I don't own a thing. Everything's fine and I dig everything. I feed the lions in Trafalgar Square and I dig everything ..." You could make up a nice little mix of David Bowie's London songs from the 1960s if you were that way inclined. Certainly our Dave's London Boys has been one of the most frequently suggested songs for this project. Rather brilliantly right at the offset Andy Hitchcock of the Socialist Leisure Party nominated I Dig Everything. Rob Symmons of the magnificent Fallen Leaves proposed London Bye Ta Ta. Bob Stanley has made a case for Can't Help Thinking About Me. And soul spinner supreme Jo Wallace trumped us all with Did You Ever Have A Dream? with its mention of Penge out there in deepest Shena Mackay territory. Oddly no one suggested Memories of a Free Festival . Stranger still none of Bowie's London songs seemed to feature in the fantastic Ken Pitt film, but you do get a nice shot of Mr Fish in Clifford Street here ...

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

I Live in Trafalgar Square

“My last ‘digs’ were on the Embankment. The third seat from Waterloo Bridge! But the cooking and, oh!, the attendance, didn’t happen to suit me so well. So I ordered my man to pack up and look out for another hotel ...” sings the splendid Ian Whitcomb on his interpretation of the old Music Hall classic I Live In Trafalgar Square which has the lovely subtitle of The Optimistic Outcast. It comes from Ian’s CD/Songbook Titanic Tunes where he recreates an impromptu ‘knees-up’ that took place in the steerage lounge of the doomed ship on the evening before the disaster. An American vaudeville act returning home, the Musical Murrays, was playing a mix of ragtime and music hall numbers they’d fallen in love with while in the UK. The audience would have been largely Eastern European immigrants whirling around the dancefloor. Ian takes on the role of Mr Mortimer St John of Mornington Crescent, “a delineator of high-class ballads, tragedian and dramatic monologist”, who may just have helped out with a spot of singing on the night, displaying an unexpectedly authentic Cockney tone at times. It’s great stuff, and a treasure chest of London songs. Proceedings end with Ian performing Albert Chevalier’s A Fallen Star which includes the lines: “I do not wish to gas. I merely state in self-defence the denizens of New Cut thought my Hamlet was immense”. Of course US audiences thought Ian was immense too ...

Monday, 10 May 2010

This Is Charing Cross

"This is Charing Cross; It is midnight; There is a great crowd. And no light— A great crowd, all black, that hardly whispers aloud. Surely, that is a dead woman—a dead mother! She has a dead face; She is dressed all in black; She wanders to the book-stall and back, At the back of the crowd; And back again and again back, She sways and wanders. This is Charing Cross; It is one o’clock. There is still a great cloud, and very little light; Immense shafts of shadows over the black crowd That hardly whispers aloud…. And now!… That is another dead mother, And there is another and another and another…. And little children, all in black, All with dead faces, waiting in all the waiting-places, Wandering from the doors of the waiting-room In the dim gloom. These are the women of Flanders: They await the lost. They await the lost that shall never leave the dock; They await the lost that shall never again come by the train To the embraces of all these women with dead faces; They await the lost who lie dead in trench and barrier and fosse, In the dark of the night. This is Charing Cross; it is past one of the clock; There is very little light. There is so much pain." This is the fifth part of the poem Antwerp by Ford Madox Hueffer (Ford), which The Wraiths have set to music as This Is Charing Cross. It is a haunting poem about (Ford's) WW1 experiences which T.S. Eliot famously described as “the only good poem I have met with on the subject of the war.” Pretty daft quote that actually. The Valleys by Electrelane which uses words from Siegfried Sassoon's A Letter Home disproves that for starters. The Wraiths specialise in setting poetry to music, exceptionally beautiful music for which the words chamber folk seem ridiculously inadequate, and I am eternally grateful (yet again) to Daniel for suggesting this number be included, thus triggering a love of The Wraiths' work. Serves me right for not taking notice of him earlier. Interestingly Daniel has geographical links to both The Wraiths (Bristol) and Ford Madox Ford (Merton). The Wraiths have a fantastic new (second) collection out, Welcome, Stranger, To This Place, which continues the challenge of combining poems and music in a way that is exquisite and very moving. Coincidentally Ford Madox Ford's The Soul of London, which some argue is the best book about the Capital and I wouldn't necessarily diagree, is now available as a print-on-demand paperback. I'm not sure I like what that says about publishing today no matter how much I love the book ...

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Rose Ann of Charing Cross

"There by my lonely bed, a lovely angel stopped and said: 'That's only thunder overhead' And that's how we met. Rose Ann of Charing Cross, the rose you gave me never died. Rose Ann of Charing Cross, it knows one day you'll be my bride. And it will live till then, until that happy moment when I know our paths will cross at Charing Cross again, Rose Ann ..." sing the Four Vagabonds in exquisite harmony on their 1943 hit Rose Ann of Charing Cross. It's an interesting one this, as most of the popular songs of WW2 on the face of it have nothing to do with the war itself. But this is a number seemingly about a wounded soldier who falls in love with a nurse while laid up in Charing Cross Hospital. The Four Vagabonds had the hit, but plenty of others have sung it including Frank Sinatra. It was written by the American team of Kermit Goell and Mabel Wayne, which perhaps is why the location is a little eyebrow-raising and doesn't bear too close an analysis. Mind you, this was well before the hospital moved way out west. The Four Vagabonds have been cited as pioneers of r 'n' b vocal stylings, and it's easy to make the link to the doo wop boom. Listening to the group's wartime tribute to Rosie the Riveter it's easy to make links to Billy Stewart and General Johnson ...

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Rosemary McLaren of the Strand

"Miss Rosemary McLaren is a lady of renown. Like a piano she is upright and grand. She spends her daily hours selling flowers by the bunch at a pitch situated on the Strand ..." In which Richard Digance declares his love for the flower seller Rosemary McLaren of the Strand during one of his lovely early sentimental folk/vaudeville numbers. London, of course, has its famous flower sellers, from Eliza Doolittle to the Great Train Robber Buster Edwards who had a stall for years outside Waterloo station. The Strand also has its place in pop history, from Let's All Go Down The Strand to Do The Strand. And then there's Bob Dylan and Don't Look Back where he's filming the infamous promo for Subterranean Homesick Blues behind the Savoy. But this particular Richard Digance number makes me think of one of Bob's old comrades, namely one of my all-time favourite fighters Phil Ochs and his own Flower Lady. Here's a toast to those that are gone ...