Sunday, 28 February 2010

Down Below

"Hatton Garden is a spot ... that we like to go a lot ... since a bloke in Leather Lane dropped a diamond down a drain ... we've been waiting .... but in vain ... " sings Ian Wallace in his recording of Sydney Carter's Down Below. Ian Wallace? That Ian Wallace? Oh yus. And Sydney Carter's the Sydney Carter that wrote the Lord of the Dance. So Ian Wallace singing Sydney's little ditty about what goes on underground. Anyway, when folks talk about the wonders of Victorian architecture they tend to refer to the grandeur of buildings such as the Royal Albert Hall or St Pancras Station. But one of the great architectural achievements of the Victorian era was, well, down below. The network of sewers built in response to The Great Stink of 1858 was a great success, and among the features of the scheme was pumping stations in key locations such as Abbey Mills on the River Lea and Cross Ness down on the marshes in Erith. One of the key architects of the scheme was Sir Joseph Bazalgette. He was also the man behind the Woolwich Free Ferry, which started in 1889 and runs to this day (though daily traffic bulletins will often inform you there is a reduced service) linking Woolwich on the south east side of the Thames with North Woolwich in east London. Sir Joseph's great-great-grandson is one Peter Bazalgette, the media mogul responsible for popularising Big Brother and other reality TV formats. Ironically the original Big Brother house in east London is a short distance away from Abbey Mills. Sydney Carter isn't the only person to write a song about the sewers beneath London ...

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Dirty Squatters

"Some dirty squatters moved into my street with their non-sexist haircuts and their dirty feet. Their dogs, cats. Political elite. They may have beds but they don't use sheets ..." Zounds' Dirty Squatters starts off in typical Daily Mail Tory tabloid rant mode but there is a nice twist at the end when Mr Angry finds his job's not going too well and he's beginning to think if you can't beat 'em then join 'em. Zounds was one of the groups closely associated with the Crass anarcho-punk thing. Funny phenomenon that scene/subculture, with all the kids walking round in their leather jackets with the circle-A branding on the back. It's easy to be cynical, but things are never simple, and in fact Zounds was a cracking group with fantastic tunes and smart lyrics. Their LP for Rough Trade, The Curse of Zounds, was even produced by the incredibly important Adam Kidron around the same time he was working with Orange Juice, Scritti Politti, Raincoats, etc. Actually a number of the groups associated with Crass were great, like The Mob, Rubella Ballet, Poison Girls, but Zounds' sounds resound still. Zounds was associated with the squatting/punk community around Brougham Road, Hackney. And it would be interesting to know statistics on the number of discarded/derelict properties in central London in the '70s/early '80s which were used by squatters, and of those squatters how many were seeking a new life/identity in London rather than being born 'n' bred in the metropolis. There have certainly been arguments made for squatters saving Victorian London from the town planners, with the irony being that these saved properties now sell for ridiculous sums which only the likes of Kate Moss can afford. Anyone know the link between Kate Moss and Zounds? Here's a clue ... Blyth Power!

Friday, 26 February 2010

On The Bombsite

"On the bomb site you be mum and I'll be dad. He'll be sad. Waiting for the boat that sails down Garden Street ..." sings Duncan Browne on the gorgeous track On The Bomb Site from his 1968 LP Give Me Take You on Immediate. His partner on this record was the lyricist/poet David Bretton. Now I don't know whether David was from London (though there's a Garden Street Stepney way), but his words for this song will strike a chord with the generation of children who grew up in the Capital in the post-WW2 years for whom the bomb sites were their playground. It's something captured in Leslie Daiken's 1957 film One Potato Two Potato . A couple of years earlier Ken Russell had composed a photo-essay on the Teddy Girls for Picture Post magazine. These photos were then 'lost' for 50 years until some invaluable salvage work resulted in an exhibition at the Spitz Gallery called Bombsite Boudiccas. It was an incredibly important piece of archaeology as it challenged prevailing stereotypes about female '50s fashion. Russell had taken his photos around Walthamstow Market and bomb sites in the area. The girls I believe were art school friends of Shirley Kingdon, who would become Russell's first wife. There's actually some great footage from Russell's first films, from that era, on YouTube with his blessing. One clip is from a 1959 BBC documentary, and features Davy Graham playing Cry Me A River, with some great bomb site backdrops and beautiful beat girl. The astute among you will at this point mention there's a brief clip of Davy in Joseph Losey's The Servant ...

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Gasoline Alley

"When the weather's better and the rails unfreeze and the wind don't whistle 'round my knees, I'll put on my wedding suit and catch the evening train. I'll be home before the milk is on the door. Crawling home, running home, to the gasoline alley where I started from. Going home, and I'm running home, to the gasoline alley where I was born ..." sings Rod Stewart during the lovely Gasoline Alley. Well, Rod was born in Highgate, and by all accounts his family ran a newsagents in Archway Road. How much gas street lighting was around in Rod's youth I couldn't say, though London had the first gas street lighting in the world when Pall Mall was lit up in 1807. Indeed there remain parts of London that are gaslit, including some of the Royal Parks and Covent Garden. As for Rod, well I can remember going shopping with an aunt in a Peckham department store (Jones & Higgins?) and her buying me a copy of Oh No Not My Baby though I think I really wanted The Sweet's Ballroom Blitz. Then a little later she took me to a charity football match at Bexley United's ground where Rod was playing but every time he came on to the pitch he was mobbed by young ladies. I think Georgie Best was playing in that match too, along with some of the old Radio One DJs, but it was Rod people were there for.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Missing You

"All ye young people now take my advice. Before crossing the ocean you'd better think twice. 'Cause you can't live without love, without love alone. The proof is round London in the nobody zone. Where the summer is fine, but the winter's a fridge. Wrapped up in old cardboard under Charing Cross Bridge. And I'll never go home now because of the shame. Of misfit's reflection in a shop window pane ..." sings the great Christy Moore on his recording of Jimmy McCarthy's Missing You. The song tells of the dangers of crossing the ocean from Ireland in search of prosperity in London. The striking thing now about the song is the reminder of how in the '80s the Irish in London were often seen as drunkards fit only for digging up the roads or as potential bombers. Society needs its bogeymen it seems, and it's only the races and religions that change. Christy had covered the Irish navvy theme before, naturally, including the recording of Dominic Behan's Paddy On The Road, the title track of his debut LP: "So come all you navvies bold who think that English gold is just waiting to be taken from each sod or the likes of you and me could ever get an OBE or a knighthood for good service to the hod. They've the concrete master race to keep you in your place, the ganger man to kick you to the ground, if you ever try to take part of what the bosses make when you're building up and tearing England down ..."

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

The Grapes of Wrath

"The rain won't wash away their tears. The time has passed for crying. Cardboard walls against the cold. Where's the point in trying?" The Tyrrel Corporation invoke the spirit of John Steinbeck to condemn the economic policies that led to a rise in homelessness on London's streets on their track The Grapes of Wrath from the fantastic North East of Eden LP. Cardboard City was a congregation of homeless souls sleeping rough in the bullring at Waterloo. It was for many years a symbol of Thatcherism's failure right in the heart of London. It was cleared away and the bullring destroyed in the late '90s, to be replaced by a multi-million pound pointless BFI IMAX cinema. A totem for New Labour? The Tyrrel Corporation was sharp enough to realise that deep house Chicago style with socialist lyrics was a perfect mix. But then who could resist Marshall Jefferson, Ten City and the soulful vocals of (the splendidly Dickensian named) Byron Stingily ...

Monday, 22 February 2010

Solitary Confinement

"At Holborn station the vagrants greet my eye. It's a wonder they survive these cold and bitter nights. The chill I feel comes not from these cold winds. But from seeing youth pulling food out of the bins. And hour by hour their numbers increase and you know ..." sings The Neurotics' Steve Drewett on the excellent single Never Thought. The group was previously known as the Newtown Neurotics, which is significant for our London theme. The Neurotics' home town was Harlow, one of the New Towns built on the outskirts of London after WW2 to provide new housing and opportunities. Other locations included Stevenage, Basildon, and Hartford. Many working class couples and families moved out of an inner London still recovering from the Blitz to these New Towns where affordable housing and employment was promised locally. The only proviso was that you had to stay and work there for a set period of time, which put my dad off but that's another story. Another Neurotics' single was Living With Unemployment, which dwelt on the theme of recession and long-term youth unemployment with the Army seen as an escape clause. Some things don't change. The song itself was an affectionate adaptation of the Members' Solitary Confinement, one of the great entries in the London songbook. And now The Members are gonna tell you about reverse migration and what it's like to be on your own in London ...

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Underneath The Arches

"They're still underneath the arches so you said. Don't you shiver as the rain falls overhead. The chinless and the spineless grow more callous by the wineglass. A miserable device with an aftertaste of sugar and spice ..." sings the fine folk punk outfit God's Little Monkeys on Underneath The Arches where it seems to rail against cosy sentimentality and conscience easing. While there may be an absurd side to the 'down and out' wistfulness of Flanagan and Allen singing Underneath The Arches, with its celebration of camaraderie during the depresssion of the '30s, speak to anyone who lived in London during The Blitz and they will make a strong case for the way Flanagan and Allen kept morale up with their gentle humour at a time when whole rows of houses were disappearing. There is a school of thought that argues that as Bud Flanagan wrote Underneath The Arches while in Derby on tour he must have been referring to the Friar Gate railway bridge. But we're not 'aving that. Certainly later versions of the song refer explicitly to the Embankment, so it has to be the arches at Charing Cross. Anyway, Bud was from Whitechapel, born as Chaim Reuben Weintrop to parents who were Polish Jews. So why would he need to sing about people sleeping rough in Derby? He would have seen enough of that in London. There is a later Flanagan and Allen number called Where The Arches Used To Be, which has Bud and Chesney bemoaning the fact that they're building flats where they used to sleep, so they'll have to head west. In 1968 shortly before his death Bud recorded the vocals on the theme tune for the TV comedy series Dad's Army, a song every bit as familiar as the duo's signature tune. Around the same time another enduring duo Gilbert & George started doing their 'Singing Sculptures' where they would mime to a recording of Flanagan & Allen's Underneath The Arches for hours at a time ...

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Until I Believe In My Soul

"I'm on the train from New Street to Euston. And out to Harrow again. I'm trying to get the feeling that I had in 1972 ..." sings Kevin Rowland during Dexys' Until I Believe In My Soul. Well, at least he does on the Too-Rye-Ay version. By the time that LP came out in 1982 we were very familiar with some of the songs, from live tapes and indeed the astonishing Richard Skinner session on Radio One. The general view is that the earlier Projected Passion Revue versions are superior, but I'm not so sure now. It may have lost some focus but the LP recording of Until I Believe In My Soul is the one where I think they got it dead right. Maybe it is the very cinematic inclusion of the lines about Kevin catching the train from Birmingham back to London trying to recapture something that had been lost. I love that image. I know the feeling. In November 2003 Kevin Rowland and Dexys made a triumphant return to the London stage. Kevin entered the fray draped in a fur coat, a little like a Mafia don and a little like Bud Flanagan. He left, punching the air, like a champion fighter who had defied the odds. One of the highlights of the show was a performance of Until I Believe In My Soul which incorporated Tell Me When My Light Turns Green and the Officer and the Gentleman sketch. I don't think Kevin mentioned Harrow in that version, though it was definitely referred to in My Life In England with the lines: "'Cos accents like mine, in Harrow there were few. I learned to talk more cockney but thought about the Wolves. The sound of Wolverhampton, its toughness and The Doog". Harrow is also the setting for Geno, so that's very much a London song where Kevin tells of being a young kid and going to see Geno perform at the Railway Hotel. And this was the song that spoke to all the smart young men performed live at The Marquee in Wardour Street ...

Friday, 19 February 2010

Should Husbands Work?

"Now if they were to ask 'should 'usbands work?' Then, I said 'no!' And them that says they oughtta is the married man's foe. If blokes with wives 'ave got to work then what I want to know is 'what does a man get married for?' In the song Should Husbands Work? Charles Coborn gets rather worked up when a daily newspaper editor broaches the subject of should wives work. For, as Charles sees it, what else should a wife do but work and keep the 'usband. Otherwise you get people with ridiculous ideas like sending a bloke orf ter work. The very idea. Charles is so upset at the suggestion he considers forming the Husbands Protection Assassination. He accuses the editor of preaching hanarchy, and thinks the Government ought to intervene and 'ave the said individual examined and carted off to Colney Hatch. Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum was a massive institution for the mentally ill in north London which was later known as Friern Hospital (doubtless an attempt to lose the widely-used phrase 'booby hatch') and eventually closed in the early '90s. You might not be surprised to learn luxury flats have since appeared there. Those who know more about the music hall tradition will know of more songs that refer to Colney Hatch. One I do know of is Ben Lawes' Up From The Country. This Charles Coborn recording is from early in the twentieth century and appears on the essential Saydisc set Cockney Kings Of The Music Hall. Charles Coborn himself was a great of the 'alls, an erudite east ender who took his stage name from a road in Mile End, who could play a variety of characters, from costers to swells. It is as the latter he is best known for Two Lovely Black Eyes and The Man Who Broke The Bank At Monte Carlo. Here he is captured on film, performing when he must have been in his 80s ...

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Brent Cross

"Let's all go to where the people go ..." sings Nick Cash on 999's Brent Cross, a live b-side. In 1976 punk rock wasn't the only thing that was big news. The opening of the Brent Cross shopping centre in north west London hit the headlines too. And just as punk changed people's approach to music, so Brent Cross changed people's shopping habits. It was the first stand-alone fully enclosed shopping centre in the UK, controversially built as separate to any existing shopping centre. Brent Cross nevertheless was a massive success, and for people from all parts of London and beyond it was very much the place to go as 999 suggested. 999 by the end of the '70s were not front page news, but their early singles still sound fantastic. They were among the punk era groups to benefit from Martin Rushent's magic touch, and not enough has been done to celebrate his contribution to the sounds of the time. The Stranglers were another of the United Artists groups to work with Rushent. Coincidentally they were linked to the Brent Cross catchment area via their hardcore fans The Finchley Boys whom they celebrated in Burning Up Time: "The weekend's here. The Finchley Boys are gonna make a lot of noise!".

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Finchley Central

"Finchley Central is two and sixpence from Golders Green on the Northern Line. And on the platform, by the kiosk that's where you said you'd be mine. There we made a date. For hours I waited. But I'm blowed, you never showed. At Finchley Central, ten long stations from Golders Green. Change at Camden Town. I thought I'd made you, but I'm afraid you really let me down ..." Not a song for London transport pedants but nevertheless one of the most frequently suggested for this project, Finchley Central by the New Vaudeville Band is a great excuse to talk about the genius of Geoff Stephens, one of the great London songwriters and one of the great people associated with the Southgate area, along with soul ambassador Randy Cozens and mod legends Back To Zero. The New Vaudeville Band is regarded as a bit of a novelty act for its nostalgic stylings, and of course Winchester Cathedral is known worldwide, but there was a lot more to mainman Geoff Stephens. Among the other songs he wrote or had a hand in composing are The Crying Game, Semi-Detached Suburban Mr Jones, There's A Kind of Hush, David Soul's Silver Lady, Carol Douglas' Doctor's Orders, the New Seekers' You Won't Find Another Fool Like Me, the Hollies' Sorry Suzanne, Scott Walker's Lights of Cincinnati. The New Vaudeville Band itself did have other entries in the great London songbook, including I Was Lord Kitchener's Valet and Green Street Green. It's stretching a point to call Green Street Green a London song but it is technically part of the London Borough of Bromley. To locals the joke is that Green Street Green can be found just below Pratt's Bottom, but we won't go into that. If you took Geoff Stephens' advice and took a trip to Green Street Green you might not recognise the place Peter Noone sings about here. I still like to think he sings about onomatopoeic evenings but suspect I'm wrong ...

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Fortis Green

"Mum would shout and scream when dad came home drunk. When she'd ask him where he'd been he'd say up the Clissold Arms chatting up some 'ussy but he didn't mean no harm ..." Dave Davies' Fortis Green defies conventional logic about the Kinks' canon. A beautifully bittersweet story of growing up around the Fortis Green part of north London, the immediate reaction on first hearing it is that it's one of the lost creations by brother Ray from the Village Green period. But it is a work by Dave from over 30 years on, and as good as anything the Kinks created. The Kinks' canon, of course, could provide plenty of works related to their native north London, such as Willesden Green, Holloway Jail, and Muswell Hillbilly. Anyone for a bit of cockney 'n' western? "They're putting us in identical little boxes. No character just uniformity. They're trying to build a computerised community. But they'll never make a zombie out of me. They'll try and make me study elocution. Because they say my accent isn't right. They can clear the slums as part of their solution. But they're never gonna kill my cockney pride ..."

Monday, 15 February 2010

Losing Haringey

"In those days, there was a kind of fever that pushed me out of the front door, into the pale, exhaust-fumed park by Broadwater Farm or the grubby road that eventually leads to Enfield: turkish supermarket after chicken restaurant after spare car part shop. Everything in my life felt like it was coming to a mysterious close: I could hardly walk to the end of a street without feeling there was no way to go except back. The dates I’d had that summer had come to nothing, my job was a dead end and the rent cheque was killing me a little more each month ..." There are many things I love about The Clientele's Losing Haringey. The use of colons in the printed lyrics. The use of the original Haringey spelling. The fact that it's one of many highlights on the glorious Strange Geometry set, one of the greatest work of neo-pop classicism, which proves you've either got it honey or you ain't. On this track Alasdair MacLean wanders through north London, and reminisces about 1982. I have a particular passion for spoken word numbers, monologues and conversations. Among the finest examples of this form is Dexys' Reminisce Pts 1&2. Part 1, of course, has Kevin Rowland also reminiscing about 1982 and walking by the Thames and recalling searching for the spirit of Brendan Behan, ending up by declaring Ken Livingstone a folk hero. If I remember rightly we would have heard Pt 2 first where Kevin recalls the summer of 1969, being young and in love in London, and uses that great line about how you remember summers through certain songs. While Pt 1 appeared as a b-side slightly later, Reminisce Pt 2 appeared on the original pressing of the remarkable Don't Stand Me Down. As did this ...

Sunday, 14 February 2010

14-Hour Technicolour Dream

"Reality is getting you down. Just can't seem to get your feet off the ground. Could it be you're caught up in the gravity's strong pull? Is it society making you out to be a fool?" If so, then The Syn suggests the 14-Hour Technicolour Dream is the answer to all your troubles. You can be free there. You can be a freak there. Well, you could be on 29 April 1967 if you were at the Alexandra Palace in north London for the UK's first multi-media, multi-artist counter-culture happening. The Palace itself had been opened just over 100 years earlier. The Syn's song was appropriate in a way as they were from that part of north London. To be more precise they were from Kingsbury, and indeed had a song named after Mallard Way there. The song 14-Hour Technicolour Dream is actually more mod noise than you might anticipate, and is therefore a real gem as is their Grounded. If the actual event sounds like your idea of purgatory then you might enjoy this footage of east London mischief makers The Flies (of Stepping Stone fame) playing there and in particular the scenes at the end ...

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Saturday Night Beneath The Plastic Palm Trees

"Found my mecca near Tottenham Hale Station. I discovered heaven in the Seven Sisters Road ..." Saturday Night Beneath The Plastic Palm Trees by the Leyton Buzzards is a work of genius. In terms of capturing a sense of time and place it's perfect. The attention to detail would have served singer Geoff Deane well in his future role as a scriptwriter. "Eddie Holman slows things down. You ask a girl to dance but you get thumbs down. Maybe it's just not your day." It's set in the suedehead London of 1969 into 1970, and what makes it perfect is the contradiction of the Buzzards' blatant disregard for coolness in their delivery when they might have spotted an approaching bandwagon early in '79. Always had a knack for an unexpected bodyswerve Mr Deane, but then who hasn't shaken a tail feather to Modern Romance in the sanctuary of a private party? Kevin Rowland also touched on the suedehead theme, or what he called 'the lost look', in his recollections of growing up in Harrow in his wonderful essay for Paul Gorman's book The Look. I seem to recall Geoff Deane doing a great interview with Kevin Rowland for Arena around the time The Wanderer came out. I'd like to see that again.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Broadwater Farm

Don't just respect the rich and the dead. Show some respect to the poor and the living ... that is the gist of the message Junior Delgado sings on Broadwater Farm, a 12" from 1985 that highlighted tensions on the estate a short time before the Tottenham Riots. Look up any reference to Junior Delgado on the internet and you will surely see a reference to this track, how it prophesised the disturbances, and how it was subsequently banned. If you want to get hold of a copy now, one of the original 12"s will set you back more than a week's unemployment benefit. There's an irony there somewhere. One of the great Jamaican vocalists, Junior Delgado spent many years living in London, and indeed died here in 2005. The first time I really caught up with his work was on an excellent compilation put out by London legend Adrian Sherwood, on his short lived Sound Boy label in 2003. Junior Delgado was for many years closely associated with Dennis Brown, another reggae legend who spent a lot of time in London. The photo, and it has to be by the great Jeanette Beckman who I hope won't mind it being used here as part of London's history, features them both at the old Acklam Hall in 1979. Another London legend Penny Reel wrote a great biography of Dennis Brown focusing on his time in and associations with the Capital, called Deep Down with Dennis Brown, which is one of the best music books around. Here's Dennis performing in Crystal Palace Park way back in 1984 at a massive London Sunsplash event ...

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Law Abiding Citizen

"In Broadwater Farm the pressure was building so in 1985 a policeman was killed in the Tottenham Riots so I have to mention that on the black youth the police are putting on too much tension. Me as a youth me witness this ..." The Demon Boyz' Law Abiding Citizen deals with the issue of mutual suspicion between the black community and the police force which was a massive factor in igniting the riots in Broadwater Farm in Tottenham on 6 October 1985 and remains a big issue to this day. The Demon Boyz were from Tottenham and it is not overstating the case to say that they were UK hip hop pioneers. Like the London Posse and Rebel MC they were important in giving the music an identity that reflected the UK rather than Brooklyn in terms of accent and by incorporating reggae/dancehall elements via the sound system tradition they'd grown up on. Their two LPs are real gems. The second of these, Original Guidance, from '92 is harsher lyrically and in tone, reflecting a loss of innocence and the inevitable industry trials and tribulations they'd endured. There was also a strong jungle flavour to the set, which worked really well despite the irony that the advent of drum 'n' bass MCs took away many opportunities for the more articulate rappers.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Council Estate of Mind

"Talkin' about the science of social deprivation ..." And SkinnyMan has quite a bit to say on the subject on his classic Council Estate of Mind. Specifically he talks about his Finsbury Park home and generally he's talking up for the 'poor lower working class'. SkinnyMan is a fascinating figure. Another veteran of the UK hip hop scene, active since the year dot, part of the Mud Family with Chester P of the Task Force, appeared on Countryman by Skitz as part of the next wave but never got the breaks. He is in many ways the missing link between music hall coster singer Gus Elen and dancehall legend Yellowman. Part shrewd observer and part cartoon caricature. His sleevenotes for his sole LP are a spot-on summary of the traps and obstacles facing the poor on council estates. He then follows this with a string of expletives as though he's been rumbled and wants to throw up a smokescreen. Something suitably Shakespearean in that ...

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

The Junkyard

"Broke for three days. Late Giro again. New Deal. Low pay. Big ball and chain ..." Task Force's The Junkyard appeared on Countryman by Skitz back in 2000 on 23 Skidoo's Ronin label. It's a chilling account of life on the Highbury Estate, N5. Inner city deprivation and the vicious circles of poverty from which there seems no escape. The Brothers McBain, or Chester P and Farma G, that make up Task Force, along with DJ Louis Slipperz and other cohorts, are stalwarts of the UK hip hop underground but full of contradictions. They are steeped in hip hop culture, but within that context they're not at all what you would expect. They are heroes to many, but not broadsheet-friendly. Now could that be because there's no novelty angle? They avoid pigeon-holing and defy stereotypes. They are defiantly or necessarily independent, and have released a string of self-produced sets in the Music From The Corner series, as well as solo works and various collaborations. If as a casual observer you think you know UK hip hop then think again. Nothing's clear cut, so don't accept other people's prejudices. As they say in their track Letter To God ..."Never felt god on these cold streets of London. But felt man's wrath in the upper class judgements ..."

Monday, 8 February 2010

Chapel Market

"On the couch was this girl from Hamburg. Black mascara like you've never seen. Edie Sedgwick's evil twin ..." Animals That Swim's Chapel Market contains snapshots of life in and around a squat opposite the market. Sounds almost knowledgeable that doesn't it? Actually there is a very useful web page giving an A-Z of locations relating to Animals That Swim songs. So I know for instance Holloway Aviator was inspired by some wording on a headstone in Highgate Cemetery, though goodness knows what the words were. I have already confessed I missed ATS at the time, and certainly never knew of the 50 Dresses EP when it came out in 1993. At that time if you'd mentioned Chapel Market and music I would've thought of the great Andrew Weatherall and Sabres of Paradise's Haunted Dancehall. That's a record steeped in London references, though without words. Perhaps one day there will be a dub version of this site? Oddly enough I chanced upon an excellent radio show the other day where Weatherall was giving a bit of a guide to his London ...

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Emptily Through Holloway

"When I met you at The Coronet this morning you said that your happiness had gone ..." The Clientele's Emptily Through Holloway is one of those beautiful aches of a song where you find yourself straining to catch whispered words, perhaps mishearing but that's irrelevant. I rate it up there with Felt's The World Is As Soft As Lace. It's a cinematic sweep of a song in its way, which is apt as The Coronet on the Holloway Road opened as the Savoy Cinema in February 1940 in all its Art Deco-ish glory, and was one of the few cinemas to be opened as planned in the early days of WW2. In my version of the Emptily Through Holloway script a couple meet in the last days of an affair in the cinema, holding hands one more time where no one can see their tears. They leave the cinema separately, and don't see each other until the war is over. All very Graham Greene, I confess. This was the first Clientele song that really stayed with me, and actually it makes me think of happy endings so perhaps we should add one to our script. Talking about films it's difficult to distance the Holloway Road from the Joe Meek story, so here's David John & The Mood with Bring It To Jerome ...

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Stavordale Road, N5

Wet wallpaper, curry stained mattresses, mashed potato, music papers, tube trains, Stork margarine, British council houses, Golden Virginia, same old discos, the greasy chip shop on the Holloway Road, Capital Radio ... these are among the things mentioned in The Nips' Stavordale Road, N5. The song refers to the group's formative days when Shane, Shanne and associates were living in a musty bedsit Drayton Park way. The song reminds me of one of my favourite Shane quotes, from the April '79 edition of Zigzag where he says: "When I was excited in the punk days, I wrote about being bored. Now that I am bored I write about being excited. It's a rock 'n' roll fantasy." 30 odd years on and the Holloway rock 'n' roll fantasy lives on ...

Friday, 5 February 2010

Beyond the son

"Got back the other day to find the pub on the corner had been burnt down. A dark London street story I won't burden you with now ... Yup, I know they're casting their lots to see who can get the old pub's lease and turn it into more luxury flats. Brick by brick infiltration has begun ..." Rob Gallagher is one of the heroes of this project, having already appeared in his Galliano and Earl Zinger guises. Here, on Koop's Beyond The Son, he reads aloud a letter he's sending an old friend, giving all the news from back home. He mentions, in passing, seeing a mutual friend's dad carrying a bag of potatoes on his shoulders on the Holloway Road. It's a beautiful track, but I have to confess I was completely out of the Koop loop until a fellow member of the resistance chez Dusty 7s put me right, which is a little odd as among the other Koop collaborators is Yukimi Nagano, who with Little Dragon has created some of the most uplifting music of recent times. Oh well ... "the drunkards still own the park". Even in summer ...

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Royal Northern

"Royal Northern. North seven ..." While that may not be the most well-known of chorus chants from the height of the punk explosion, Demon Preacher's debut single Royal Northern was nevertheless the embodiment of the era's spirit of get up and go. The group's debut performance was in a church hall on the Holloway Road, and the show was attended by sundry Sex Pistols. So it seems only appropriate the group's debut release, on its own Illegal Pressings label, in 1978 would feature a song about the Royal Northern Hospital, similarly on the Holloway Road, and stories circulating at the time about porters assisting with operations. The hospital is long gone, and so many of London's hospitals have flats on the site, but Demon Preacher is better known now thanks to sites like Punk77 which have featured the group and Chuck Warner's invaluable Messthetics series which features Royal Northern on its volume #107 which covers the DIY activity in London between '78 and '81. The whole series is incredibly important for providing an insight into what was going on musically at that time and proving there was no one defining sound - just a mess, that was occasionally glorious. This third round-up is a real gem. I thought I knew the era and area pretty well, but there are all sorts of dots joined-up here, and facts which are a delight to learn about. There is a lot of focus on Dave Henderson and the Dining Out story. I had no idea, for example, he was in the Disco Zombies with Andy Ross. I had no idea about Martha Tilson's activities pre-A Certain Ratio, either. It puts a totally different slant on the ACR story, and justifies long-held beliefs that her contributions to the ACR legend are incredibly important. Film from that time is still mesmerising. Demon Preacher itself is of particular interest to some punk archivists because it was led by Nik Wade who would go on to form Alien Sex Fiend. I don't think any of his later songs were postcode related. And if you're not sure about the north London postcodes ...

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Highgate Cemetery

"Come and be buried with me, up in Highgate Cemetery ..." Roy Harper's Highgate Cemetery is a suitably spooky number. I am sure I remember reading somewhere it was inspired by a couple of nights Roy and some mates spent there, having sneaked in to explore the overgrown sections where the weeds and tangled vines hid the tombs, catacombs, sepulchres and statues. Not my idea of fun, but each to their own. Didn't Morrissey and Devoto have a bit of a thing for days out in cemeteries with their cheese and pickle sandwiches? Highgate is one of the more striking examples, and I do like the idea that it's home to Karl Marx and Max Wall. Highgate Cemetery, the song, appeared on Roy's second LP, Come Out Fighting Ghengis Smith, from 1967. It featured a couple of other London songs too, in Freak Street and Ageing Raver. The previous year's Sophisticated Beggar debut had appeared on the London independent Strike, and was produced by one of my heroes Pierre Tubbs. Among the many things Pierre has given us is Right Back Where We Started From by Maxine Nightingale, a north London girl herself. Pierre's co-writer on that was J. Vincent Edwards, a great singer himself ...

Tuesday, 2 February 2010


"Blue broken tears hide away the years. The misty highway seems colder today. And I saw Waterlow where the evergreen grows. And the wise man knows why he cries ...." I always liked the fact that The Clash were always defiantly fans of Mott The Hoople. I like to think of a young Mick Jones practising daily in his room, strumming an acoustic along to the beautiful Waterlow, from Mott's early Wildlife set. It's such a lovely sad song, and it's easy to imagine Ian Hunter wandering around the park lost in his lonesomeness. It's a 'pulling your overcoat tighter around you' sort of song ... whatever the weather.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Willesden to Cricklewood

"From Willesden to Cricklewood, I tell you the town looked good. Walking lonely avenues. Where rhinestone cowboys find the blues. There's people in doing their thing. Gettin' all the mozzarella in. And the passing time and phasing moons. Words flying in cloudy rooms. Plastic bags, milk and eggs. The poor old crone's got aching legs. How I would love to speak to everybody on the street. Just for once to break the rules. I know it would be so cool ..." Joe Strummer says the lagers are on him in Willesden to Cricklewood, so let's drink a toast. Ah Joe. I always liked the slow dances best of all. Now, funnily enough, Willesden has a fine railway tradition, and there's still a depot there, where perhaps the Class 47 loco named in honour of Joe has been stabled. Cricklewood has been the focus of a number of songs, the best of which is most well-known as performed by the great Christy Moore, though I understand it was written by John B. Keane ... To Joe, Christy, and the rebel spirit!