Saturday, 13 March 2010
The Liberty of Norton Folgate
"Once round Arnold Circus, and up through Petticoat Lane. Past the well of shadows, and once back round again. Arm in arm, with an abstracted air. To where the people stare out of the upstairs windows. Because we are living like kings. And these days will last forever. 'Cos sailors from Africa, China and the archipelago of Malay jump ship ragged and penniless into Shadwell's Tiger Bay. The Welsh and Irish wag tails, mothers of midnight. The music hall carousal is spilling out into Bow firelight. Sending half-crazed shadows, giants dancing up the brick wall of Mr Truman's beer factory, waving, bottles ten feet tall. Whether one calls it Spitalfields, Whitechapel, Tower Hamlets or Banglatown, we’re all dancing in the moonlight, we’re all on borrowed ground ..." There are certain acts, such as Madness, Ian Dury, Squeeze, The Clash, Pogues and Saint Etienne, that have not really been featured in this project because they are so closely associated with London songs. That is not a reflection on their work. Far from it. Madness, for example, are pretty much held in universal affection. They could trade on sentiment, and tread water on the festival circuit. But their most recent work, The Liberty of Norton Folgate, is their finest yet. And in the pop context it's a struggle to find others who have come up with their finest and most adventurous record after 30 odd years. The title track is a remarkable achievement, which is why it is included here. In its survey of the east end there are enough London historical, literary and popular culture references to keep us amused for donkey's years as we follow up clues, from music halls to the docks to the markets to the places of sanctuary ... in me secondhand coat.