Friday, 30 April 2010

Life From A Window

"Life from a window, observing everything around you. Staring at a grey sky, try to paint it blue - teenage blue ..." The Jam are (is?) sort of excluded from this project on the grounds that everyone should know their songs by heart. But Life From A Window is just about the only song to spring to mind that mentions the Post Office Tower. And that was my favourite building in London as a kid (and caught here perfectly from a window chez Dusty 7s). The idea of the revolving restaurant or whatever seemed decidely glamorous, and I suppose the fact that I was never taken up there has kept the romance alive. Likewise The Jam's Modern World LP is a little unloved or blindingly worshipped. But it was one of the first LPs I ever bought, and there are a couple of songs on that flawed work I still love ... that is, Life From A Window and I Need You. Raw love songs in a way. Out of all of Paul's London-related songs I would have to choose Strange Town. I think it was Danny Baker who wrote that if you don't like that song you don't like pop music. I can remember cutting my head open in the school playground one day (you can still see the scar), being sewn up at the hospital, and coming home to watch Top Of The Pops where The Jam performed Strange Town in striped jackets like I'd recently picked up in a charity shop ...

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Oxford Street, W1

"'Cos there ain't no love in Oxford Street ..." sing the Television Personalities on Oxford Street, W1 on the flip of their debut 45, which of course contains one of the greatest guitar solos in the history of pop. The TVPs were right. Who would want to go to Oxford Street now? But ... "When I was 17, London meant Oxford Street ..." sings Tracey Thorn on Everything But The Girl's Oxford Street. And I know what she means. At that time (the start of the '80s) the street had three branches of Virgin, and there was no need to head out west to Rough Trade or up to Camden. You could get all the independent and odd pop releases you needed in the Megastore, downstairs at The Pantheon, or up at Marble Arch where memorably I saw John Lydon and Feargal Sharkey in the shop at the same time (not together) and to a 15 kid that was a dream come true. I can remember buying the Marine Girls' Beach Party LP on Oxford Street (Tracey Thorn's first group's release on the TVPs' Dan Treacy's Whaam! label) and I guess I would have been 17 then. I certainly bought her A Distant Shore cassette on Oxford Street the following summer. And probably Ben Watt's Summer Into Winter 12". Possibly the first Everything But The Girl single too ...

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Negotiations in Soho Square

"As music drifted from the late night show. The boy and girl without a place to go. Sat together just to pass the time. They found a love as good as you will find anywhere ..." Soho Square may be closely associated with Kirsty MacColl, but The Tremeloes' Negotiations In Soho Square touched on the subject of benches and romance many years before. It's a fantastic song, and yet another great example of a '60s group tapping into what's hip and happening. It was a smart move to use the songwriting pair of Tony Colton and Ray Smith. They're one of those teams that the more you delve the more you realise their significance. They wrote some fantastic mod blasts, made some of their own using the Tony Colton name, penned some for others like I Stand Accused (which Elvis Costello covered), Zoot Money's Big Time Operator and Star Of The Show, The Shotgun Express' I Could Feel The Whole World Turn Round, Sharon Tandy's Border Town, Cream's The Coffee Song, and Georgie Fame's Red No. 9. At the end of the '60s they had their own group Poet and the One Man Band which also featured Albert Lee and a couple of Fotheringay guys. They made an incredibly beautiful but sadly lost LP. They'd later work again with Albert Lee (and indeed Chas Hodges) in the great country rock outfit Heads, Hands And Feet. Among their side-projects would be writing Belfast Boy for Don Farnon and working with Richard Harris on the soundtrack of A Man Called Horse. They also worked quite a bit with the great arranger Johnny Harris, notably on Shirley Bassey's Something LP where she was given a fantastic hip makeover. This was an assignment Johnny had won after the release of his wonderful LP Movements where he came up with some exceptionally cool orchestral workouts ...

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Berwick Street

"Last two bananas 'ere for a pound ..." I suppose part of the magic of music is its ability to evoke a certain time and place. Berwick Street by Loaded Knife is a work of art that does exactly that. It is quite simply a tribute to the street, its market, and its record shops. Indeed it's created out of samples from records bought in Berwick Street mixed with cries from the traders. Listening to it suddenly you are back in the late '90s standing on the threshold of Sister Ray's, trying to remember the titles on your shopping list, was it a new Certificate 18 12" or an On-U Sound reissue or a Pole CD, before wandering up to Mr CD to sift through the temptingly cheap jewel cases or being reckless in Reckless or perusing the wares in Selectadisc. Loaded Knife's Berwick Street was on a 7" released a few years back on Spiky Records. Loaded Knife is DJ Wrongspeed and DJ JD, a pair of sound remodellers with a wonderful sense of mischief. Their work is very much worth investigating. The track Berwick Street is particular intriguing though in its use of street cries. After all the setting of street cries to music is a very old tradition, and while the great Luciano Berio updated the Cries of London in 1974 I can't think of too many occasions when London's sounds have been used as effectively. While touching on the subject mention must be made of the London Sound Survey which is a remarkable labour of love and a valuable archive of the Capital's very being.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Carnaby Street

"The street's that a part of the beat that's the heart of the scene. You know my Auntie Rene would find it quite obscene ..." Rita Tushingham and Lynn Redgrave star as Brenda and Yvonne in the George Melly-scripted film Smashing Time where two girls from the North are drawn to the delights of swingin' London but quickly find it's a hollow sham. Rita and Lynn were so great at the 'ugly duckling' roles. And oddly I've always been more drawn to the awkward anti-swingin' London films like Smashing Time, The Knack and Georgy Girl (with the wonderful Jim Dale-composed theme song) rather than the likes of Blow Up or Performance. I don't think that bears too close an analysis. There is a kind of irony in George Melly sending up the swingin' '60s scene as his book Revolt Into Style on the Pop Arts in Britain helped fuel my own obsession with the mod thing. Ah gone are the days when you could pick up a copy of that, Generation X (the Charles Hamblett and Jane Deverson one), Folk Devils and Moral Panics by Stanley Cohen, and all the Nik Cohn books, for next to nothing in any charity shop.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

In Der Carnaby Street

"I walk around in Piccadilly. Looking at the shops in Regent Street. There's lots of things to see in London. And when you're feeling low there's always Soho ... " sings the great Sandie Shaw on her lost 1968 b-side London where she rather wonderfully sounds as if some clothing is about to be removed. Oddly the song is easier to find now in the Spanish or German versions. I loved the way the proper pop singers would record their songs in other languages. Sandie in Italian works a treat for me. This recording of pop songs in other languages sometimes resulted in singers being more successful away from their native shores. Nancy Holloway and Peggy March are great examples. Peggy, for example, from the mid-'60s onwards was far more popular in Germany than back home in the US. And one of her German hits was In Der Carnaby Street which as well as demonstrating the international currency of pop culture features some rather splendid whistling too ...

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Up At The House Of Cecil Sharpe

"And now I'm working in Soho. The glasses clink and the lights are low. Those dear old days are dead and gone. I dance with nothing but a python on ..." sings Carole Pegg during the version of Sydney Carter's Up At The House of Cecil Sharpe she recorded with her husband Bob in the early '70s as part of an LP And Now It Is So Early. This was a great collection of Sydney Carter songs, which featured the great man himself on a handful of tracks. Bob and Carole had a little earlier recorded Sydney's Lord Of The Dance on their He Came From The Mountains LP. That record features a fantastic and haunting cover of Phil Ochs' The Scorpion Departs. The Peggs are perhaps best known for their works as Mr Fox which are right up there with the best of the British folk rock recordings. I would argue that Carole's voice was the best of that whole electric folk era. And her solo LP Carolanne is very much worth seeking out. This song of Sydney Carter's though is a witty piece about someone who was very much part of the folk scene up at Cecil Sharpe House, the home of the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS), but times change, people fall out of favour, and needs must so they're now earning their money by doing a bit of exotic dancing in Soho. You can see what we meant about that mischievous twinkle in Sydney's eye. The LP itself can be bought direct from Carole, who is now a highly respected ethnomusicologist, at her website.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Fanlight Fanny

"Up the West End, that's the best end, where the night clubs thrive. Down into a dive you go. Now there's a jazz queen, she's a has-been, has been Lord knows what. Every night she's there on show. She dances underneath a magic spell. She's full of charm and beer and stout as well ... " sings the inimitable George Formby at the start of his little number about Fanlight Fanny the frowsy night club queen. Ah the allure of the underworld. Not all it's cracked up to be sometimes is it? This song was performed by George in the 1939 Ealing Comedy Trouble Brewing which also starred a lovely young Googie Withers. The late great Clinton Ford resurrected the song at the start of the '60s and had a hit with it as Fan Dance Fanny. It's got some great lines in it this song it really has ...

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Rockin' At The Two I's

"Now I rushed out the gate, went walking down the road, I got up to the bus stop, put on my overcoat. Along came a bus, a number 54. When I got inside they were rockin' on the floor ..." sings Wee Willie Harris in his tribute to the birthplace of British rock 'n' roll, Rockin' At The Two I's. This infamous coffee bar in Old Compton Street was sanctuary for anyone who was anyone in the early history of UK skiffle and rock 'n' roll. If you look at old pictures of the time you can practically smell the coffee and hair oil, and sense the svengalis, songwriters and would-be stars hanging out there dreaming their dreams. Bermondsey boy Wee Willie Harris is perhaps best known now as one of Ian Dury's Reasons To Be Cheerful, but he was one of the graduates of the Two I's academy. His debut single was his tribute to the coffee bar, and I particularly like it for the reference to coming home to have his tea because that's what people did. Another south east London graduate of the scene was Terry Dene, and his debut single White Sport Coat is a particular favourite of my mum. The flipside, Man In The Phone Booth, is a bit of a London song with its reference to the telephone number Stepney 51586. With a hint of mystery and vulnerability you can see why our mums went for Terry ...

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Old Compton Street Blues

"Mmm, you made it to the silver screen and yet you're not a star. And advertising corsets didn't get you too far. But money has its favourites and yours went back to them. So you modelled in a studio in Greek Street for the rent. There you met Antonio, your lover from afar. Who put you on the streets to make the money for his car. And the circle turns and turns and turns so fast, little girl ..." Al Stewart's Old Compton Street Blues tells rather a sad tale about shall we say Soho's entertainment industry. And it's all the more effective because it's sung in such a detached, impersonal way. It appears on Al's second LP, Love Chronicles, from 1969, which is perhaps his finest work. It features some nice musical settings, which are helped by the presence of a Fairport Convention/Jimmy Page types. But it's the story telling that works so well on this particular track. It's a film in itself ...

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Soho ... again

"We ate cream cakes in Valerie's. We could stroll to the National Galleries. We got talking about John Deakin. We could see Francis Bacon. Went to The French House and we drank too much. And I think I love you ..." During The Hangovers' Soho Gina Birch touches on some lovely London colour which seems straight out of a Shena Mackay short story. The Hangovers it should be said was a short-lived project of Gina's after the 1990s return of The Raincoats. While the sound is eyebrow raisingly robust it is the delivery of the vocals that makes the Slow Dirty Tears LP so remarkable. Gina sounds possessed and gloriously theatrical at times. Among the others playing on the record are Simon Fisher Turner, who is quite a London legend in his own right. SFT is something of what you might call an all-rounder: child actor, would-be teen pop star, composer, and a key part of the el Records story as, among others, The King of Luxembourg and occasional in-house songwriter for folks such as The Would-Be-Goods ...

Monday, 19 April 2010


"See the dazzling nightlife grow beyond the dawn and burning in the heart of Soho. Hear the market cries. And see their wares displayed through the window of your soul. Come watch the naked dance that spins before your very eyes. Naked like the sun. Step inside where men before have drunk to fill to senseless till the dreams fade and die ..." The song Soho by Bert Jansch and recorded with John Renbourn will have grown out of the time spent playing in the area's folk clubs in the mid-'60s. It's a time and place I would have loved to be part of. I relish the idea of watching musicians like these, singers like Sandy Denny and Jacqui McShee performing in the intimacy of a coffee house or a pub function room. Of course from this milieu the mighty Pentangle evolved. The works of Pentangle are something I started to explore after the great writer Dave McCullough commented on a similarity between Flowers by Hurrah! and Pentangle's Light Flight. There is a certain London resonance too as Light Flight was used as the theme tune for a TV series about three girls sharing a flat in the Capital ...

Sunday, 18 April 2010


"I stood in Piccadilly and I thought I heard the sea, thought I heard her sing, and a thousand voices laughed at me ..." Tir Na Nog's Piccadilly is an exquisitely beautiful song about feeling lost and abndoned in the heart of London. "Please don't leave me in this lonely, lonely city". And you get the sense of an Irish country boy lost and bewildered. The Irish folk duo Tir Na Nog made some lovely recordings, and deserve to be as revered as your Nick Drakes and Incredible String Bands. As for Piccadilly? Well, I was always told as a kid that if you stood for long enough at Piccadilly Circus you'd see someone you know. It's certainly something the great Calypsonian Roaring Lion discovered when he thought he saw his Caroline. And indeed it's true. For you never know who you'll see come riding past in the jim-jams ...

Saturday, 17 April 2010

The Piccadilly Trot

"No doubt you've heard about the Turkey Trot. Some say it's rot. Some say it's not. Well, I've got another one that speaks a lot. And it doesn't come from Yankee land. If you see a Johnny in the latest style ..." sings Marie Lloyd at the start of her number about The Piccadilly Trot. So, long before Londoners were doing The Lambeth Walk, they were parading around Piccadilly according to this delightful number by the Queen of the Music Halls and possibly a great aunt a few times removed. The song itself, from that period just before WW1, refers to the ragtime style which was very much in vogue (even Erik Satie had a ragtime inspired piece called Le Piccadilly). The little digs at America was a bit of a feature of music hall numbers, and the magnificent Marie was certainly fiercely loyal. Loyal to her profession by backing the 1907 Music Hall strike. And loyal to her own London in her performances, in songs such as A Coster Girl In Paris where she suggests: "And if they'd only shift the 'Ackney Road and plant it over there, I'd like to live in Paris all the time ..."

Friday, 16 April 2010

Piccadilly Folk

"Morning noon and night you'll see them patrolling. And lo you'll really hear them saying: 'If you have the money dear we have got the time to spare.' That is the policy of the folks from Piccadilly ..." A highlight of the fourth title in Honest Jons' London Is The Place For Me series, and originally a cut from the mid-'50s, which appeared on the flip of a Melodisc single Black Pudding (I'm already making up my own punchlines), Lord Kitchener's Piccadilly Folk is a cautionary tale about the sexual impulse and the dangers of being tempted 'round Eros. Interestingly he uses the line about the Piccadilly folk descending like a fighter jet, as Piccadilly Lily was the name of a famous American one. Mind you, Piccadilly has also long been the location for the sports store Lillywhites. And Piccadilly Lily is also the name of Heironymous Merkin's hit in Anthony Newley's splendidly strange film ...

Thursday, 15 April 2010


"Father was a cockney cupid. Mother wheeled a barrow. I was born in Piccadilly with a bow and arrow ..." claims London folk singer Mike Sparks in the song Eros. It comes from an excellent CD called Singing Sydney, which is a collection of songs written by the great Sydney Carter. Mike nicely describes Carter as "a folk poet and holy sceptic". Certainly many of his songs may have had a religious theme, but they often challenged and cajoled. His best-known composition Lord of The Dance actually dates from the mid-‘60s. It even appeared on an EP for Elektra, featuring Martin Carthy and the Mike Sammes Singers, with Joe Boyd involved somewhere. As a 'native' Londoner it seems appropriate that his own London songs have something of a twinkle in their eye. Eros is a real gem, and a timely reminder for those who want to make a big thing about race that there is no such thing as a 'pedigree' cockney when since the days of Julius Caeser the river has brought goodness knows how many to this city. We're mongrels and proud of it. Mike's collection of Sydney Carter song is unreservedly recommended, and a visit to his website is certainly called for. Another of Sydney's songs, The Crow On The Cradle, has been sung by many people, and Jackson Browne has been singing it as an 'anti-war' anthem for many years now ...

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

She's Expecting You

"Take the London Road east out of Watford. The A409 from Bushey Heath. Harrow-on-the-Hill. By pass Wembley. Turn left into the A4005. On to the A40 towards Shepherd's Bush. Then the Bayswater Road ..." One of the great travelogues in the London songbook is She's Expecting You by Department S. The late Vaughan Toulouse enigmatically outlines the route someone should take as they head from the outskirts of north west London to a suite in the Park Lane Hilton. Quite why and what happens next is something to get the imagination working overtime. For a while this was a great lost b-side but Department S' work has been given a new lease of life by salvage experts LTM. There is a case to be made for Department S capturing the spirit of the age at the start of the '80s, evolving from Guns For Hire and the underground scenes of the time (namely the mod and the Billy's/Blitz ones), almost accidently becoming pop stars with Is Vic There? before disappearing. History is at least being kinder ...

Tuesday, 13 April 2010


"I love your oil refineries, motor factors, motor works, sewage plants, factory farming, theme pubs, launderettes, transport caffs, haulage firms, betting shops. People who look so dowd. Swaggering aggressive young men who hate themselves. A carbon copy of dad who really passed it on. And their sisters. Bleached blonde. Already typecast in the role of victim. And it's perfect ..." Jah Wobble's A13 is an astonishing achievement. It captures, perhaps more than any other inclusion here, exactly that strange mix of disgust and affection that drives this project. I would argue that only someone born and raised in the Greater London area, of it but necessarily part of it, could have written what is a remarkable piece of poetry. "O land of my father. Ancient warrior Celtic race. How are your tomatoes doing?" I am particularly grateful to Daniel for suggesting it be included here. I like the idea of the A13 as symbol of the east London/Essex heartlands it runs right through. And the detail is spot-on and frighteningly apt. I haven't (yet) read his memoirs but clips of an old interview from 1984 capture something of what's behind the song. Much of Wobble's solo work is magnificent, but it is impossible to ignore the impact of Public Image Limited and what were often London songs in their way ...

Monday, 12 April 2010

The Battle of Epping Forest

"There's Willy Wright and his boys, one helluva noise. That's Billy's boys, with fully-fashioned mugs. That's Little John's thugs, the Barking slugs, super smug. For today is the day they sort it out, sort it out. Yes, these Christian soldiers fight to protect the poor. East End heroes got to score in the Battle of Epping Forest ..." sings Peter Gabriel during Genesis' epic The Battle of Epping Forest. Well sings is perhaps a little weak a description because Peter did so much more than that. The LP this comes from, Selling England By The Pound, is a bit of a guilty pleasure. Ordinarily the mention of Genesis would make me run for the hills. And while Phil Collins may be a decent cove, a big fan of The Action and David Ackles and all that, the music's not my cup of tea. Well, certainly not after Peter skedaddled. This track though is wonderful, and a great piece of musical drama telling the (true) tale of various East End gangs getting together on the outskirts of east London to, shall we say, discuss territorial rights. From the same LP comes the irresistible I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe) ...

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Friday Hill ... again

"I went for a walk over Friday Hill, and I looked down on Chingford spread below. It was hard for me ..." When Bulldog Breed sing about Friday Hill there is no doubt they're referring to the one out Chingford way. It's a track from their much loved cult UK psychedelic set Made In England, which has also been reissued by Grapefruit and is an essential purchase. Same label salvages two songs about Friday Hill? So there must have been something in the air up around Pimp Hall at the end of the '60s. There are moments in the song Friday Hill that it seems strangely reminiscent of the Television Personalities to whom we owe so much for the odd paths they led us down exploring the undergrowth of '60s pop culture ...

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Friday Hill

"Friday Hill so fine. Reaching out beyond my eyes. Friday Hill we can climb ..." I can't say for certain whether Edwards Hand's Friday Hill was inspired by a spot in the Chingford area of London, but it seems reasonable to make the assumption there's a connection. The song appears on the (Rod) Edwards (Roger) Hand LP recorded in 1969, and now given a new lease of life by Grapefruit Records, part of the Cherry Red empire. The LP starts with Banjo Pier, which suggests Cornwall. But there is a London song, Characters Number One, which is about life down the Charing Cross Road. So, yeah, why not Friday Hill as well? After all before they were Edwards Hand the pair played as Picadilly Line. Anyway, Edwards Hand is a fantastic record, with a stellar line-up of session musicians, including Danny Thompson, John Cameron, Alan Parker, Clem Cattini, and Alan Hawkshaw. They even had George Martin at the controls. Now Edwards Hand, of course, was not the only London outfit George was involved with ...

Friday, 9 April 2010

Dagenham Dave

"I guess he lost control. And welcomed in the night. It was too much for him. What were his thoughts that night? The River Thames is cold. It keeps on flowing on. But it left Dave alone ..." The Stranglers' Dagenham Dave is a pretty tragic tale., which is odd as from the song title you might expect an Ian Dury sketch. And we won't mention Morrissey. Dave was the group's number one fan from early on, even before The Finchley Boys started following them. He sounded like quite a character. He'd work labouring, scaffolding, or whatever, making plenty of money, but he'd be the most well-read person around. He followed The Stranglers, but was a big jazz and classical buff. He was a committed socialist, by all accounts, who liked a good scrap. He had his problems though, and shortly after the recording sessions for The Stranglers' first LP in February 1977 he commited suicide by jumping off Tower Bridge. Ironically the name Dagenham Dave is slightly misleading. He was from Manchester originally, and the nickname was given to him after a stint working at the big Ford's factory in Dagenham. Dave didn't live to see group he loved so much on Top Of The Pops ...

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Pretty Little Villa Down At Barking

"We ain't a living where we used to live afore we moved away from the little wooden 'ouse in Peckham Rye ..." states Gus Elen at the start of his 1911 number Pretty Little Villa Down At Barking. In the true tradition of the English working classes Gus has moved further out and he's inviting his old pals to come and see the new place and hear the sparrows sing. This gradual migration was the subject of Michael Collins' controversial book The Likes of Us. Gus Elen is certainly peerless when it comes to playing the caustic coster. In his much loved number If It Wasn't For The 'Ouses In Between he sings the famous lines about "Oh! it really is a wery pretty garden. And Chingford to the Eastward could be seen. Wiv a ladder and some glasses you could see to 'Ackney Marshes. If it wasn't for the 'ouses in between ..." The more you explore the work of Gus Elen the more rewarding it is. And certainly the noble Savages and holy Greils missed a trick in failing to finger 'im as one of Rotten's dynasty. It's a great big shame there's not earlier film of Gus in his prime ...

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Ilford Town Hall

"I'm sending you this little gift of Ilford Town Hall to wear 'round your neck 'til I return. It isn't very much. Just a homely touch to remind you that the flame of love will always burn. The Albert Memorial doesn't match your eyes and West Ham Baths I know you'd spurn ..." Marty Feldman's Ilford Town Hall continues the theme of wearing London buildings as jewelery. The gem comes from Marty's 1969 LP I Feel A Song Going Off, and it's one of a series of London songs on the record. Once again I am grateful to Paul Cowdell for pointing us in the direction of miniature masterpieces such as Kensington High Street. The brevity of the tracks on this LP will appeal enormously to fans of Wire's Pink Flag. Marty was a big jazz fan from the Jewish East End. You can tell somehow ...

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

First Transmission

"I'm the mirror man. So don't ask who is it. London is my city. Jamaica's my country. Africa's my history. It ain't no mystery. How I came to be Earthling-free. Sitting in Ilford watching TV ..." Released right in the middle of one of the greatest periods of pop music Earthling's Radar LP seems to be quintessentially part of the Bristol blues and roots thing, complete with Portishead connections. But then you catch the torrent of words Mau uses on the opening track, First Transmission, and you realise he's talking about being from London, and watching TV back at home in Ilford. He mentions pretty much everything else too, from the Only Ones to Juliette Binoche, like Bob Dylan's stream of consciousness poetry might have been like if he'd grown up listening to the Native Tongues. It's a fantastic record, but then any outfit that samples Spizz AND Curtis is going to be great. It's not even as though First Transmission is the only song on there that mentions Ilford ...

Monday, 5 April 2010

Beckton Dumps

"Then I give my lucky dog a stroke. Well he just gives me a wink. And I know what that mean now. Well it mean that I need to put on his lead if I don't want a mess on my cheap pan. That's cool. 'Cause I know I can trust him to grab the fuzz if they bust in. Get him boy!" sings Steve Marriott from deep in the Essex countryside on Humble Pie's Beckton Dumps before he escapes in a Proustian way back to the area of east London in which he grew up. The track comes from the LP Eat It which has some great tracks on, and is made all the finer for the presence of The Blackberries, as Stevie aimed for a real soul revue vibe. What transports Steve back to Beckton, the old gas works and the piles of waste dumped there, which locals knew as The Alps, is not made clear, but certain Small Faces songs sometimes have the power to transport me back to my own youth and it's then you realise how great they were ...

Sunday, 4 April 2010

All Our Yesterdays

"And now for your delight the darling of Wapping Wharf Launderette ... Ronald 'Leafy' Lane!" Our comrade William recently sent a link for a piece of film he'd recorded of Ian McLagan speaking about his old soulmate Ronnie Lane. In it he refers specifically to two London songs Ronnie had written. One was the Small Faces' Itchycoo Park, which is one of those numbers so familiar you almost forget how good it is. Ian explains that the Park his old bandmates would have known as kids was not some ornate lovingly landscaped green space, as featured in the promo film (was that Chiswick House?). Instead it (Little Ilford Park or wherever) would have been a bit of a wreck, an overgrown bombsite, covered in nettles and rosehips (hence the itchycoo part), but it would have been their playground, where they got their education. The other song was Debris, from The Faces' era. It's such a beautiful song, and it becomes more poignant when you realise it's about Ronnie's father. I believe the market in the song is Club Row, the poor relation of Petticoat and Brick Lanes, once known for its animal trade. Ronnie's father, apparently, would go down there every Sunday morning to rummage through the junk on sale. Naturally the young Ronnie couldn't wait to break away, but later there is a sense of loss, an unexpected feeling that, yeah, that old routine is something you kind of miss ...

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Limehouse Blues

"Oh, Limehouse kid. Oh, oh, Limehouse kid. Goin' the way that the rest of them did. Poor broken blossom. And nobody's child. Carefree and happy. You're just kind of wild ..." A lot of people have sung Limehouse Blues over the years but some correspondents from West Ham strongly suggested that the Mills Brothers' version of the Douglas Furber/Philip Braham number be the one featured here. I had been tempted to go for Nancy Sinatra's, but the guys had a point. The song was originally performed by Gertrude Lawrence and Jack Buchanan in the revue A to Z in 1921. In 1934 the Mills Brothers recorded their immaculate version, tapping into the Limehouse chinatown stereotype propogated by the stories of Fu Manchu, Sherlock Holmes, and Dickens. The Mills Brothers spent quite a bit of time in London in the '30s and this was far from the only song they recorded related to the Capital. Their London Rhythm springs to mind. And who needs to seek solace in an opium den when the Mills Brothers can soothe the savage tumult ...

Friday, 2 April 2010

From The City To The Isle Of Dogs

"Hey young executive. You've moved to the island. With your shady deals and your wheeling and a dealing. Get a cheap thrill from someone's home that you are stealing. Low life, you'd better close your eyes. 'Cos this is no life ..." From The City To The Isle Of Dogs is another of the late great Frank Tovey's songs about London life. This one captures the moment when the old Docklands was being regenerated, and the young professionals were moving into the area creating a striking polarisation among the population. I don't think the 'traditional' working class population has ever rid itself of that feeling of resentment, resignation and rejection. Part of the appeal of new property in the old Docklands area was its proximity to Canary Wharf, the new financial centre, which is nicely dismissed in the Bitter Springs' single My Life As A Dog In A Pigsty. The Springs' Simon Rivers carries on the sardonic storytelling tradition Frank Tovey embodied so well. Oh and it wasn't the first song Frank wrote that mentioned the Isle Of Dogs. Back in 1982 when he was still performing as Fad Gadget the title track of his Under The Flag LP started with a reference to the island. That LP I believe was made with his newborn son in mind amid Frank's fears for the world he was bringing him into.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Ratcliffe Highway

"As I was a-walking down London. From Wapping to Ratcliffe Highway. I chanced to pop into a gin-shop. To spend a long night and a day. A young doxy came rolling up to me. And asked if I'd money to sport. For a bottle of wine changed a guinea. And she quickly replied: 'That's the sort'..." sings an unaccompanied Jim O'Connor on the traditional number Ratcliffe Highway from The Critics Group's anthology of London songs, Sweet Thames Flow Softly, which was overseen by Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger in 1967. The song is a cautionary tale about being fleeced while out and about on the stretch of road which, as the excellent Victorian London site details, was notorious for its vice and violence, as a haunt of sailors and what were known as 'unbonneted ladies'. It's still there, though now known as The Highway, running from The City out to Limehouse, and still trying to shake off the notoriety of the Ratcliffe Highway Murders which in turn inspired Peter Ackroyd's great novel Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem. The naughty/nautical nature of Ratcliffe Highway also pops up in other songs, including The Deserter from Fairport Convention's Liege and Lief LP. The traditional song Ratcliffe Highway has been performed by many people, though The Dubliners' live 1964 version provides a fascinating contrast to The Critics Group's ...