Thursday 31 December 2009

Life in London

"Life in London is bittersweet. Spray can slogans along the street. Some kind of revolution in the town. Razor blades and safety pins make you look like a clown. What's goin' down is just the same old sound. You know that energy has always been my drug for me. And I came across a lot of water just to see if it could be the place to go, the life for me. I changed my dollars into pounds. And now that drink is gonna cost me 50p. But the District Line just doesn't seem to be running as far as I'd like to go today ..." sings Canadian hard rocker Pat Travers on his 1977 track Life In London. He seems to equate the punk rock explosion with the District Line in that neither goes as far he'd like. Cor! Controversial eh? Pat I remember from tuning in to Nicky Horne's Your Mother Wouldn't Like It rock show on Capital while waiting for Peel to come on. Nicky would play a mixture of new wave and old school rock, and I seem to recall Pat Travers as one of the few of the long hair brigade to rise to the punk challenge by saying I'm as tough and as hard rockin' as you young punks. Interestingly Pat was probably younger than a lot of the punk stars of '77, and maybe a lot more honest. Let's rock!

Wednesday 30 December 2009

Day by day

"Stranded in the jungle. Locked inside a tube. Hate your next door neighbour. He's got more than you. Going round and round. Day by day. On the Circle Line ..." sings Billy Idol on Day By Day, the flip of Generation X's debut 45. The use of the Circle Line as a metaphor for the treadmill, going nowhere, no tomorrow, is a bit of a Cockney cliche. Though I guess it's less relevant now with changes to running patterns. Anyway that Generation X first 45 was a real pop blast, and I was totally in love with the group, the ripped pop art t-shirts and all that. Early appearances on Marc Bolan's TV show and Top Of The Pops with the single's a-side were electrifying ...

Tuesday 29 December 2009

Circle Line

"This is swinging London town. Hanging on to iron bars. We swing, we swing, we swing like apes ... going round ..." sings Carmel on her lovely early '90s song about the "no smile, no time Circle Line". Carmel the singer and Carmel the group are ridiculously underrated national treasures. Look in books by Simon Reynolds and Michael Bracewell, for example, and you will see Carmel dismissed with lazy, ignorant one-liners which perpetuate superficial stereotypes, ignore the fact Carmel's worked with the likes of Mike Thorne and Eno, and suggest a lack of familiarity with the group's roots in Bee Vamp. Oh the arrival of Carmel on to the pop scene in 1982 was astonishing. We all fell desperately in love with her in that vintage new bohemian summer, along with the Pale Fountains, Weekend and Vic Godard's Songs For Sale. No more rock 'n' roll for us, we swore. And Carmel's Storm was one of the greatest arrivals of all time, and in my view they've never let us down even when we weren't listening. The flipside of Storm, appropriately, was I Can't Stand The Rain ...

Monday 28 December 2009

All Change for the Bakerloo Line

"Piccadilly Circus, Regents Park, Baker Street then Hyde Park ..." Okay okay don't get all pedantic on me. Maybe I've misheard? Who cares? It does say all change, after all. Mood Reaction's All Change For The Bakerloo Line is such a glorious life affirming romp that it would churlish to split hairs. A bit of participation from The Pyramids too. And what a number for participation. Kent's Mood Reaction were (actually they're still going strong ...) the UK's leading white reggae outfit at the end of the '60s and recorded a glorious live LP at The Cumberland for Pama. The song itself was I believe written by Eddy Grant and first recorded by The Pyramids for President but there will be people who know more about this than me. Of course Can also recorded a track about going up the Bakerloo Line with Anne. And Can and other Krautrockers liked a bit of a dabble in reggae themselves, so perhaps Michael Karoli and others will appreciate the guitar work on Mood Reaction's Roaring Twenties, a b-side which will sound familiar. The title though may be a tribute to the Carnaby Street club run by the legendary Count Suckle or James Cagney and Bogey ...

Sunday 27 December 2009

Piccadilly Line

"Just outside the tube station there's a big gate. And of course everyone who goes through that gate gotta pay the man some money. Gotta give him a ticket. 'Course if you have a certain ticket boy you don't have to pay the man anything. Now we see a fella walking through the gate. As he goes through the ticket collector shouts: 'Say fella, fella, you got anything for me?' Fella turns 'round and he shouts back: 'I gotta season' ..." says Jim Dale at the start of his song about the Piccadilly Line. Naturally the fella hasn't got a season ticket at all. So this early British rock 'n' roll number promotes fare dodging. What a carry on! 'Specially when the Piccadilly Line is used by so many tourists to our shores arriving at Heathrow. The Piccadilly Line was Jim's London take on the skiffle standard Rock Island Line. It was produced by George Martin, which is a bit ironic as one of his later '60s productions, Edwards Hand, had roots in another combo called Piccadilly Line. The ever resilient Jim at the end of the '60s contributed to the soundtrack of the film Twinky which featured Susan George using a rather different form of transport ...

Saturday 26 December 2009


"Half the people think they're better. The other 'alf just don't care. Class distinction's alive and well here ..." In their splendid song Stanwell !Action Pact! maintains a great punk tradition by having a bit of a go at its hometown. Stanwell, as George Cheex tells it, is in sweet suburbia, just by Heathrow. Indeed the group's first recordings were on an EP called Heathrow Touchdown. Among Stanwell's other claims to fame is I believe the education of one Gary Numan. Heathrow itself doesn't seem to have been immortalised in pop song as often as you'd expect (I don't think File Under Pop's Heathrow counts!). But one song that springs immediately to mind with its line about every lousy Monday morning Heathrow jets go crashing over our heads is The Members' magnificent The Sound of The Suburbs ...

Friday 25 December 2009

Moving to the city

"Well I was tired of being a small minded fish in a smaller minded pond. We're moving to the city where they don't care where you're from ..." sings Simon Rivers in the Bitter Springs' Moving To The City. What can you say? This band has got away with sheer genius for the past 25 years. Until now. Ah but even now I can still recall first hearing the group under its earlier brand name The Last Party when the much missed John Peel played their Mr Hurst. In those days six miles to the local post office seemed a bit extreme rather than the norm. Listening to it now it's jarring to think this was before Sunday shopping became the norm. You can listen to it too on the excellent Last Party comp Cacophony on Port Hampton. Ah Hampton. The Bitters mention Uxbridge Road in The Idiots Computing where mobile phone users get on Simon's wick. So, yes, Hampton. The Last Party/Bitter Springs' manor out west. They've stayed loyal. You get a sense of that too in the 'movie' for the Springs' splendid single And Even Now ("And even now there's something here. That brings me back. That makes me care. With freedom of movement and freedom of speech. Some of us practice what others just preach ..."). There's a French version too with the Springs' partisan comrade Vic Godard singing. What more could you want from life? Well, seeing as how this could appear on Christmas Day ...

Thursday 24 December 2009


"My friend how will you ever thrive in this strange and loveless land where hatred mocks you at every turn, where souls are as cold as ice, where the very soil is contaminated? O my friend you came to England leaving your Punjab ..." I love a good introduction. The Mekons' Where Were You springs to mind. And Bob & Earl's Harlem Shuffle, naturally. I would suggest the start of Southall by Amar Arshi & Miss Pooja is something special too. I'm not able to say how much, if at all, the song is a tribute to the west London suburb where there is a significant Indian Punjabi population, but it provides a great excuse to share the song. The last time I looked Miss Pooja seemed to have undergone a contemporary r&b makeover. Fair enough. After all Timbaland and others have borrowed heavily from the Punjabi bhangra sound to great effect. Before that there was a period of using bhangra in jungle/drum 'n' bass records, and vice versa. I still have a couple of jungle-bhangra fusion CDs somewhere where there was a certain crossover of tracks with earlier UK bhangra acts like Premi and Shava Shava. From that same '80s UK bhangra scene came Kala Preet who would be filmed, with a cheeky nod in the direction of The Beatles, playing on the rooftop of a shop on Southall Broadway performing Us Pardes Ki, their biting commentary on moving to the city from the Punjab ...

Wednesday 23 December 2009

The Battle of Brentford

"Captain Lilburne, well, he rode after us all sir, he grabbed our colours, and bid all those with weak hearts to march back to London, but calling on those with the spirits of men and the gallantry of soldiers to follow him back to Brentford ..." Nope, not an account of a heated local derby at Griffin Park, The Battle of Brentford is instead part of an ambitious musical project, Freeborn John, put together by the Rev Hammer. The dramatic work is based on the story of John Lilburne, the 17th century agitator, who was a key figure in the English Civil War, which the Battle of Brentford formed part of on 12 November 1642. Lilburne was captured by royalist troops after the battle, and became the first prominent Roundhead to be seized. The Rev Hammer's Freeborn John features members of The Levellers and New Model Army (indeed Justin Sullivan narrates this track), and for once their participation is wryly appropriate given the subject matter. The project prominently features Maddy Prior, one of the great English pop figures. Another great English pop figure was Marie Lloyd, queen of the music halls and a distant relative according to my grandad, whose most famous 'character' numbers included the immortal I'm One Of The Ruins That Cromwell Knocked About A Bit, which sadly turned out to be her swan song. Here is a later rendition by Doreen Harris with Leon Cortez and his Coster Band ...

Tuesday 22 December 2009

Kew Gardens

"Suddenly the rain came flurrying, sending the two of them scurrying, helter skelter for the shelter. And feeling bolder in the big pagoda,he gently enquired her name. And they waited till the sunshine came ..." sings Mary Hopkin in her version of Kew Gardens, a song written by Ralph McTell. Ah both Mary and Ralph are in that enviable/tragic situation of being known for one particular song. Ralph, of course, for THAT most famous of London songs. And Mary for Those Were The Days, naturally. Funny really in these days when TV talent shows loom so large in our lives to recall Mary too was a by-product of that world. So the story goes Twiggy saw her on Opportunity Knocks, got The Beatles interested, with the result Mary got signed to Apple. Paul McCartney remembered a song he'd heard in the folk clubs which he thought would suit her. It had been sung by Gene Raskin, who had adapted an old Russian gypsy melody he'd heard in a film adaptation of a Dostoyevsky novel, adding new words referring to his time on the New York folk scene with the Clancy Brothers etc. The rest is history, with versions of the song being recorded right 'round the world. Mary didn't really play the fame game, though. Good for her, but then again anyone who appeared on the Radiators' Ghostown LP (produced by Mary's husband) is alright with me. Many years later there would be another song by the very great Lady Sovereign called Those Were The Days about growing up in London ...

Monday 21 December 2009

Hoover Factory

"Five miles out of London on the Western Avenue. Must have been a wonder when it was brand new. Talkin' 'bout the splendour of the Hoover factory. I know that you'd agree if you had seen it too. It's not a matter of life or death. But what is, what is? It doesn't matter if I take another breath. Who cares? Who cares? Green for go, green for action. From Park Royal to North Acton. Past scrolls and inscriptions like those of the Egyptian age. And one of these days the Hoover factory is gonna be all the rage in those fashionable pages ..." A touch of vision from our man Elvis in Hoover Factory, his homage to the pride of Perivale. And while this splendid example of '30s art deco architecture is indeed rightly revered I believe it's also to let. The vacuum cleaners are long gone. There's a Tesco superstore on the grounds these days. Of course. Supermarkets being our new cathedrals. This song first appeared in my home on a Elvis compilation of bits 'n' bobs called 10 Bloody Marys & 10 How's Your Fathers, which was cassette only and came in an elaborate gold lettered cover. Still got mine. It featured Elvis singing George Jones' Stranger In The House, when we were just coming to terms with the fact that country and western could be cool and soulful too ...

Sunday 20 December 2009

In Gunnersbury Park

"So the leaves touch the ground of a bowling green in Acton ..." sings The Hit Parade's Julian Henry in the charming number In Gunnersbury Park. London songs are perhaps unique in covering such unexpected locations as Gunnersbury Park. Can you think of another city's songbook where the same thing happens? And what I like about a lot of these songs is that they are less than flattering about their chosen place. So, for example, nothing changes in Gunnersbury Park. Is that a bad thing though? Hmm. Anyway, I had this song at the back of my mind for possible inclusion, being vaguely aware of it from a Sarah Records compilation I think, but Daniel Williams, who knows so much about these things, gave me the necessary prompt. Julian Henry's is a name I see these days in a role as media/PR commentator occasionally, so I assume it's safe to make a connection then between the Sarah legend and Simon Fuller's Pop Idol empire, which I believe Julian is part of. You'd have thought he'd use his influence to get one of the pop-ettes to cover an old Orchids or Sea Urchins song. Funny old game this pop business ...

Saturday 19 December 2009

Dear Old Shepherd's Bush

"I'm on my way home to dear old Shepherd's Bush. That's the spot where I was born ..." sings Nat D Ayer in a number from the smash hit WW1 revue The Bing Boys Are Here. Actually Nat was born in Boston, and came to London riding high on the success of Oh! You Beautiful Doll, which he had a hand in writing. The Bing Boys was a major success in the West End, and one of its songs If You Were The Only Girl In The World is still popular today. In Dear Old Shepherd's Bush Nat works in mentions of Ealing, Woking, Tooting and Acton and the various forms of transportation. The Shepherd's Bush tube also gets a mention in Wait A Minute, a Cockney music hall gem from Tom Woottwell in which he lists a series of unfortunate scrapes he's got himself into, including insurance fraud. There are other Woottwell treats out there, including I Ought To Be Punished where a copper's come a cropper and Tom admits he's at fault for using his fist and being a brute ... when he oughtta have used his boot.

Friday 18 December 2009

(Do You Remember) The Saturday Gigs

"'72 was born to lose. We slipped down snakes into yesterday's news. I was ready to quit. But then we went to Croydon ..." Mott The Hoople's Saturday Gigs is one of the greatest London songs, and a peerless piece of self-mythologising. Mott The Hoople was one of the great singles groups. And one of the many things that makes the Mott so special still is the attention to detail in the lyrics, and in particular 'Unter's little asides. Rockabilly parties and six-string razors. The "oh dear oh lor oh my oh my ..." in Saturday Gigs. The reference to Top Of The Pops. Ah. I have fond memories of Mott on TOTP from an early age, in the days when watching the show was a religious ritual, and the television centre at White City where it was filmed seemed like the promised land. And I loved the way Generation X rewrote Saturday Gigs for the punk age as Promises Promises. They kept in a mention of Top Of The Pops too, though their punk peers the Rezillos trumped them by singing Top Of The Pops on Top Of The Pops. And as Mott might have sung: "Who needs Thunderthighs when you've got Faye Fife?"

Thursday 17 December 2009

White City

"Oh sweet city of my dreams. Of speed and skill and schemes. Like Atlantis you just disappeared from view. And the hare upon your wire has been burnt upon the pyre. Like the black dog that once raced out from trap two ..." There's certainly a case to make for The Pogues' London songs being unfairly ignored round 'ere. But there is also a case to make for certain London songs being too deliberate. So to redress the balance a little here's the best of their London songs. A tribute to the White City stadium, which was built for the 1908 Olympics, ironically. From 1927 it was a venue for greyhound racing until its eventual demolition in 1985 when it made way for more BBC buildings. Shane mourns its passing and the way of life that seemed to be disappearing with it ...

Wednesday 16 December 2009

Wormwood Scrubs Tango

"I used to tramp the streets beneath the stars and knock off other geezers' cars. I used to flog 'em down the lane. I'd never 'eard of Wormwood Scrubs ..." And then it's down 'ill all the way for the poor old tea leaf in Spike Milligan's Wormwood Scrubs Tango. Produced by George Martin, no less, afore he got mixed up with those lads from Liverpool. Down 'ill for him too. Spike though. Never got The Goons, but grew up on his wartime memoirs and the various series of Q whatever on TV. My all time favourite joke comes from one of those. "Wanna buy some elephant powder?" "What for?" "To keep elephants away!" "You don't get elephants round 'ere!" "There you go then. Proves it works ..." Spike contributed another classic London song for our delight ... All together now ...

Tuesday 15 December 2009


"Doesn't matter who you are. There's a melting pot of lunatic fringe. Seething with sedition. Annointed with wisdom. The streets of Portobello's extremes ..." The punk supergroup Lords of the New Church cast Portobello as an outlaw's republic, quoting the anarchist maxim of Emma Goldman along the way with the line about if voting could change things they'd make it illegal. It's a line that would take on particular significance for Londoners when the deposed leader of the former people's socialist republic of London Ken Livingstone used it for his memoirs. The Lords themselves were formed from the legions of The Damned, Sham, Barracudas and Dead Boys. Singer Stiv had been young, loud and snotty in New York where his Dead Boys were produced and mentored by Genya Ravan, the very great Genya Ravan, once the leader of Goldie & The Gingerbreads and once the mysterious Patsy Cole. Her own anarchic memoirs Lollipop Lounge are priceless, and deal in part with her time in London when the '60s were beginning to swing.

Monday 14 December 2009

Portobello Road ... take three

"People raising hands to bid. Taking off the top and seeing what's been hid. Wrapping paper on the ground. Screaming children showing off the things they've found ..." sings Billy Nicholls in his Portobello Road. I think I'm right in saying Billy was actually from the area (well, White City ...) which seems unusual for someone who's written a song about the market. The song comes from his Immediate LP Would You Believe, a record that for all the usual reasons vanished from the radar on its release but gradually acquired a cult following. Now it's rightfully regarded as a classic piece of pop psychedelia with some lovely lush arrangements. It includes another wonderful London song in London Social Degree, which the astute will know the lovely Dana Gillespie did a great cover version of on her fantastic Foolish Seasons set. And here's Billy with a familiar voice in the background ...

Sunday 13 December 2009

Portobello Road ... take two

"Getting hung up all day on smiles. Walking down Portobello Road for miles. Greeting strangers in indian boots, yellow ties and old brown suits. Growing old is my only danger ..." sings Cat Stevens in his tribute to Portobello Road. Cat is in a fairly unique pop position having been brought up in the heart of London's West End. And yet this very early recording of a London song actually has lyrics written by Kim Fowley. Pop aesthetes can never resist mentioning those facts. Unfair in a way as from the off Cat wrote some cracking songs. One of the first singles I remember playing to death was his Matthew & Son. Over familiarity can mask the brilliance of this song, and so it is still possible to be surprised like members of the audience in this wonderful clip.

Saturday 12 December 2009

Portobello Road

"Portobello Road, Portobello Road. Street where the riches of ages are stowed. Anything and everything a chap can unload is sold off the barrow in Portobello Road." If someone asked me which songwriters had the most influence on me at an early age I'd doubt I'd say the Sherman Brothers off the top of me 'ead. But I ought to. After all, they wrote songs for Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book, The Aristocats, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and Bedknobs and Broomsticks. Films I absolutely adored as a kid. Still do, but we won't go into that. Bedknobs and Broomsticks I particularly remember going to see at the cinema, and I recall being enchanted by it. I suspect at the time I was more taken with the cartoon animals playing football. But now I'm more besotted with the musical number in Portobello Road market where the world and his wife does their turn ...

Friday 11 December 2009

On the terrace

"I'm sittin' in the terrace on the Portobello Road. I'm waitin' for my man to come. It's a complicated situation ..." sings Michael Head at the start of Shack's On The Terrace. There is a nagging memory that looking back at the Michael Head story there is another Portobello Road connection. I seem to recall reading that the 'controversial' photo on the cover of the Pale Fountains' Unless (an image Morrissey would've sold his soul for) was a photo Mick had picked up down Portobello Rd market. I might've made that one up. Dunno. Another Michael Head London song that's been oft suggested for inclusion in this project is London Town from Waterpistol. That sort of thing restores your faith in human nature.

Thursday 10 December 2009

Nine out of ten

"Walking down Portobello Road to the sound of reggae. I'm alive ..." What a fantastic piece of imagery that is by Caetano Veloso at the start of Nine Out Of Ten. It's such a lovely song. Transa is a special LP too. Caetano lived for a while around the Notting Hill area during the time he and Gilberto Gil were in London, in exile from the military dictatorship in Brazil at the end of the '60s. It's a time well documented in Caetano's remarkable book Tropical Truth. I think there's even a shot of Gilberto on the steps of Notting Hill tube station. Caetano in the book admits to feeling particularly vulnerable during his time in London, and it's a feeling he captures perfectly in his famous number London London, which has been one of the most frequently suggested contributions for this project. Our comrade PC wisely recommended Gal Costa's exquisite rendition. But it is Caetano's song, and even after nearly 40 years his delivery brings a tear to the eye ... "Green grass, blue eyes, grey sky, God bless".

Wednesday 9 December 2009

Don't Be Mean

"I saw you out walking down Westbourne Grove. You caught my eye and your arm it rose. It rose in the sky oh everso high. But it wasn't my dear to wave to me. It was simply to hail a big black taxi. Which you jumped in as fast as you possibly could. Well you know my dear I'm not made of wood. And my name may be Birch dear but I'm not a tree. And I can see you ignoring me ..." sings Gina on Don't Be Mean, the shop window for the Raincoats' undervalued '90s return. If there is one group that evokes the adventuresomeness of the whole Rough Trade London W10/W11 beat boho cool it is the Raincoats and the way they turned pop inside out. While Rough Trade's history may have been over-sentimentalised (there's a lot to hate!) the Raincoats' work still surprises, and the Gina Birch documentary is a treat in store.

Tuesday 8 December 2009

Carnival Song

“Tabasco sauce, Worcester sauce, Prince Buster, draught Guinness, Roy Orbison, Huddy Leadbetter, Chuck Berry, Woody Guthrie, Converse All Stars, Sta Prest, our founder, Elvis Presley, midnight movies at the Electric, Joe Orton, medical text books, William Faulkner, Allen Ginsberg, Francis Bacon (painter), William Burroughs’ Junkie (hate everything else by him), Dostoyevsky, Sylvia Plath, Diane Arbus, Burning Spear, early Stones, early Keith Hudson”. Another London list song? Nope. It's a list of influences cited by the Vincent Units in Zigzag May ’79. The Vincent Units, and splinter group the Tesco Bombers, were legends of the London W10/W11 scene in the post punk era, and were led by well connected wide boy and clown prince Neal Brown. The infamous Robin Banks in Zigzag turned them into cult heroes without anyone really hearing them. It would be a couple of years later that the Notting Hill (ex)centric classic Carnival Song appeared as a single on Y Records. Neal would become more involved with the art world as the years went by. You might recognise his name from the foreword to Bill Drummond's 45. More recently he has written a short study of Billy Childish. Among the groups associated with the Vincent Units back in the day would be the Raincoats and the Mo-Dettes (who played their first show supporting the Vincent Units at the Acklam Hall) ...

Monday 7 December 2009

Teddy Boy Calypso

"Every night they walking about in a band attacking woman and man ..." Some enlightened thoughts on apt punishments are shared by Lord Invader in his Teddy Boy Calypso. Bring back the cat o'nine tails! That'll learn 'em. Sadly it wasn't all getting down to Vince Taylor and Terry Dene. And teddy boys did have a bit of a name for getting involved in racist attacks, becoming fascist pawns, and such actions ignited the 1958 race riots in Notting Hill. The following year in the same area Kelso Cochrane, an immigrant from Antigua, was killed by a gang of white men. No one was ever convicted but it was claimed Oswald Mosley's British Union Movement were responsible. Here modern day calypsonian Alexander D. Great pays tribute to Kelso.

Sunday 6 December 2009

Three Babylon

"Three babylon try to make I&I run ..." sings Aswad on Three Babylon, casting a wary eye around their Ladbroke Grove locale. Brinsley Forde's words eerily echo the ending of Babylon, the great Franco Rosso film, where he defiantly chants over the uplifting Aswad track Warrior Charge while the police break down the doors of the dancehall. Aswad unlike a lot of the musicians who took up residence in the W10/W11 areas were really local lads, but they did reach out and interact and the Aswad sound reflects a wide mix of influences in a way others are said to but rarely do. It wasn't just a punky reggae party, either. There was a lot of jazz, funk and all sorts in there. That's the way it should be. For example, the cover of The Face in April 1981 featured Adam Ant, The Beat, Polecats, Gang of Four, Selecter, Delta 5, Lounge Lizards, Aswad, PiL, juju, afrobeat and highlife. Now that's what I call pop music.

Saturday 5 December 2009

London Hooligan Soul

"Fila, Lacoste, Tacchini, Armani, Lois, Nike and Kappa. Taxing the rich and famous and rushing the Burberry door. Scoring a draw down the Saints. A pick up from the SPG. Blair Peach a crying shame. The NF and unmarked police vans. Who is to blame? Clash city rockers and white men in Hammersmith Palais. Road trips to Caister, Soul Tribes ..." Thus goes the elegy for lost youth that is London Hooligan Soul by the Ballistic Brothers. It's part of a grand tradition that is the art of the list song. Personally, I'm a sucker for 'em. And they are bloomin' hard to get right. The Ballistics (London club land faces Ashley Beadle, Rocky & Diesel, Dave Hill) evoke their own youth on this title track of their Junior Boy's Own debut LP. Any one else's youth is just as valid, and there will be others featured here. But there are some lovely touches included nevertheless. The reggae record shop Peckings, the Jay brothers' sound system at Carnival, The Jam at Wembley ... "A poll tax riot going on. They have sold my country..."

Friday 4 December 2009

The Battle of All Saints Road

"A couple of years ago down Ladbroke Grove. The dreads uptight sitting on a treasure trove. A skinny white dude came in and took a chair. He had a black leather jacket and greased back hair. Well they ain't seen nothing like it down the Mangrove. Plugged his guitar into a flat iron stove Now all the brothers they began to stare. Hillybilly cat blew 'em on their derriere ..." Oh those London derrieres. The Battle of All Saints Road is Mick Jones mythography at its very best. Rastas and rockabilly kids outlaws together. The Harder They Come meets The Loveless. Rebels united against the cops and yuppies. The Paul Simenon cover painting for the Tighten Up 88 LP this track comes from captures the mood just right ...

Thursday 3 December 2009

London's Brilliant

"Elvis C you shouldn't have written her solo elpee. It should have been me ..." claims Lawrence during his hymn to Wendy James from Go-Kart Mozart's Instant Wigwam and Igloo Mixture. He suggests she's second only to "the very, the very great Joan Jett". It's a point of view Tom Vague in his Notting Hill timeline seems not to agree with. I mean the Wendy James being great thing, rather than the Elvis C part. Interestingly Elvis Costello has contributed quite a few London songs to our collection. Some may be too obvious to use, and some will, ahem, be on parade here, while some others are less than obviously London related like the great Man Out Of Time and Fish And Chip Papers. One of Elvis' songs for Wendy was The Clash mythography referencing London's Brilliant ...

Wednesday 2 December 2009

One Man Band

"Well everbody knows down Ladbroke Grove you have to leap across the street. You can lose your life under a taxi cab. You gotta have eyes in your feet. You find a nice soft corner. And you sit right down. Take up your guitar and play. But then the law man comes says move along ..." I very much doubt I would have made the connection between Leo Sayer's One Man Band and the wider Notting Hill area without a prompt from Tom Vague's timeline. The funny thing is how I must have heard this song goodness knows how many times but it never really registered as a London song. Odd as I loved the first few Leo Sayer hits, and as a pre-teen adored Leo's early pierrot image. I can remember feeling desperately let down when he abandoned that look and went for the grown-out curls. As for songs about busking? Well, the great Orson Welles made a remarkable piece of film with a London theme where he plays nearly all the parts. And it's called One Man Band, which I believe is the title he wanted for his autobiography. It was a lost piece of film which resurfaced in a documentary after his death but it will haunt you now ...

Tuesday 1 December 2009

Notting Hill Gate

"Things look great in Notting Hill Gate" claims Quintessence with the optimism that comes from meditation and mysticism. Getting it straight in Notting Hill Gate at the end of the '60s freak scene, this was the quintessential hippy outfit, jamming and searching, with amusingly direct connections to Factory Records. At this point, with the focus on the environs of Notting Hill it is only appropriate to pay tribute to the pioneering pop-situ work of wordaholic Tom Vague and his remarkable Notting Hill timeline. There is a whole raft of writers on the fringes of popular culture and the serious art world like Tom Vague, Stewart Home, and so on whose industriousness amazes me. Anyway, this Quintessence track dates from just after I Was Lord Kitchener's Valet and all that ...

Monday 30 November 2009

Notting Hill Eviction Blues

"I'm off to work in the morning. Back home late at night. The landlord gets his money. But the children hardly a bite ..." It's not just Van that's had a hard time of it down and out in W10. Roddy Frame sang about having the Notting Hill Blues, and 20 odd years earlier Ram John Holder had the Notting Hill Eviction Blues, echoing the era of Rachmanism., and the exploitation of West Indian immigrants in the Notting Hill area by unscrupulous landlords. Around the same time Ram John put in an appearance in John Boorman's Leo The Last, which told the story of a European aristocratic ornithologist who inherits a mansion in a deprived part of Notting Hill and watches his neighbours through a telescope. The great Marcello Mastroianni took the lead role in this experimental work which criminally doesn't seem to be generally available. A while later Ram John appeared in Horace Ove's Pressure, a pioneering work of Black British cinema, again set in the Notting Hill area. This is available on DVD, and a taster appears on YouTube ...

Sunday 29 November 2009

Friday's Child

"You're up in Park Lane now. And I'm somewhere around in Tottenham Court Road ..." It's fascinating what songs people came up with immediately when this project kicked off. Brian (Back To Zero) Kotz straight away suggested Them's You Just Can't Win, one of a few of Van's songs from that time that refer to London. Bring 'Em On In has Van walkin' down by Queensway, so that could be one. More certainly, Friday's Child has Van singing about watching the sun come up 'round Notting Hill Gate. This is perhaps my favourite Them track, and makes me think fondly of a cherished series of Rock Roots LPs Decca put out in the '70s featuring Them, Small Faces, Zombies. Changed my life those LPs. On into his solo career, and in the fantastic He Ain't Give You None Van's warning people not to go down on Curzon Street, and confessing how he got messed up somewhere called Notting Hill Gate ... "I lived up there for a while. But I moved out. And when I moved out I was in such a state. Ain't never goin' back there ...". Then on Astral Weeks' Slim Slow Slider he's seen her walking down by the Ladbroke Grove. I love it when places in London are awarded the definite article. Like Van's the man ... down by The Thames.

Saturday 28 November 2009

London By Night

"Down by the Thames, lights that sparkle like gems seem to wink at each girl and her beau ..." Another suggestion with a Thames reference was Frank Sinatra singing London By Night. Somewhat appropriately it came from Rob Simmons of The Fallen Leaves and once of Subway Sect. I say appropriately as it was the Sect's frequent mentions of Frank that sent me rummaging through my mum's records, thus beginning a long love affair with the artistry of Sinatra. London By Night came from Frank's 1958 set, Come Fly With Me, his first work with Billy May, and much to our approval it's a themed LP. The song itself, London By Night, was written by Carroll Coates, about whom I know shamefully little. Frank recorded the song again on his 1962 LP, Sinatra sings Great Songs From Great Britain, which may be the only record he made outside the US. Among Carroll Coates' other credits is Sunday In New York, one for our American comrades to feature. Frank of course was passionate about his USA which is just one reason he applauds so madly at the end of this astonishing Patti Labelle rendition of The House I Live In. Frank himself made a public service film of the same name, and in case anyone still wonders why he is considered to be so cool ...

Friday 27 November 2009


"Weekends we'd just wash away the dirt of busy, hazy London. The night grew cold, the Thames is old ..." Peter Ackroyd's fine book on the Thames: Sacred River is the sort of work you want to keep returning to. And yet, perhaps understandably, among all the literary references etc it's missing out on the songs. There have naturally been many songs that refer to the Thames in passing. One of the most beautiful examples would be Earlies by the Trash Can Sinatras, which Alistair Fitchett has suggested we feature. It is a song I'm ashamed to say I wasn't familiar with, but I have fallen in love with it. It makes me think of days long gone when I would be on earlies too, and you'd be heading out while the world seemed to be still sleeping, and one day as I set out before sun up I saw these two fox cubs playing in the snow while their mum looked on protectively. You wouldn't have seen that round our way in the daylight ...

Thursday 26 November 2009

Boy meets girl so what

"The day you left me my world fell apart. The sun ceased to shine. That day you broke my heart. And London fell down into the Thames ..." Now Mr Eden those words I believe are taken from your song Boy Meets Girl So What, a what you might call ironic pop tone, I'm sorry I mean tune, from your days in McCarthy. We are here to discuss this obsession you have with the waters of the Thames. We have already made reference to The Drinking Song of the Merchant Bankers where you suggest: "I'm not about to throw myself in the Thames". And now one of our witnesses, a Mr Dan Dan The Pantry Man, draws our attention to the words you use about a poor couple in Unfortunately: "Oh let us both go to a better town where money's not scarce. 'Cause otherwise we'll go to the Thames or The Serpentine ..." Unfortunate is hardly the word Mr Eden. You seem to paint us a picture of the couple on the verge of throwing themselves in the water. And this seems a particularly unhealthy obsession in your work. What do you have to say for yourself? I am, I assure you, prepared to keep an open mind ...

Wednesday 25 November 2009

Grief came riding

"I started thinkin' about London and how nothing good ever came from this town, and if the Thames weren’t so filthy I would jump in the river and drown ..." sings Nick Cave in Grief Came Riding. Discuss! Actually this is a quite beautiful song, with Nick at his melancholy best. It also has some nice references to Battersea Bridge, and you are warmly encouraged to listen to this number in conjunction with Nick's homage to the Brompton Oratory. And being something of a ladies' man Nick's grief would have no doubt have been eased by the sight of Lulu delightfully dancing by on the Embankment ...

Tuesday 24 November 2009

Someone's pinched me winkles

"The Cockney tribes in Britain were meeting for the games held annually, once a year, along the River Thames ..." I have this recurring nightmare where on accepting a prestigious literary or cultural studies prize up pops a family member to point out that even at the age of five he was a smart boy and could perform a word perfect rendition of Two Little Boys. So it's a bit of a relief to reveal without fear of humiliation Rolf Harris in something of a more scholarly mode, performing a traditional folk ballad highlighting quaint Cockney customs ...

Monday 23 November 2009

Dirty Water

"Yeah, down by the river. Down by the banks of the river Thames. That's where you'll find me ..." As their name implies The Inmates weren't adverse to a little appropriation, and they made The Standells' Dirty Water their own, adapting it to reflect London rather than the Boston Ed Cobb wrote about. Certainly when this version hit the charts many of us were hearing the song for the first time and weren't familiar with The Standells'. I have to confess I actually prefer The Inmates' interpretation. Sentimentality? Well, Wild Bill Hurley and his outfit benefited from the new mod generation's interest in '60s source sounds, and were perhaps the last of the future primitives in the tradition of Dr Feelgood, Hot Rods, Count Bishops etc ...

Sunday 22 November 2009

Thames at high water

"Everything you say you say to threaten. Anything you hold you hold like a weapon ..." sings Cath Carroll in Miaow's Thames At High Water, a fantastic dancefloor filler originally recorded for a Peel session and salvaged by LTM on an essential compilation. LTM also reissued Cath's wonderful England Made Me set. Factory has had some stick for its A&R policy, but I admire Wilson's loyalty to Manchester scenesters. Cath nevertheless cites several Miaow numbers as being very much London songs, and Thames At High Water is one she pinpoints as being Rotherhithe or Bermondsey related, dating from a time she was squatting in the area.

Saturday 21 November 2009

Thames Crokadiles

"Thames Crokadiles will be fed well tonight ..." sings Earl Zinger ominously in his mean, moody and magnificent number about strange goings on in the night and Thames Crokadiles. Not for the first or for the last time does our hero Rob Gallagher set himself up in opposition to the madness of the modern world. Putting on his Luddite hat and coming on like a contemporary resurrection man he suggests switching off the TV, karaoke, laptop and so on, and refers to the ritual hanging of palm pilots. The track's taken from Zinger's Speaker Stack Commandments, which is an essential work of art. And as for crocs in the Thames? Don't bet against it.

Friday 20 November 2009

Dear River Thames

"Dear River Thames, distress blurs my mind, through London's gray pastures, so bleak and unkind ..." sings Richard Digance on his 1974 recording of Dear River Thames. Looking on the internet you might be forgiven for thinking this is a Ralph McTell song, but that's a salutory lesson in the viral way the web works and how misinformation oft repeated becomes fact. While, as this lovely song shows, Richard has his roots in the folk scene those of us of a certain age will think of Richard on our TV screens performing topical and comical compositions. Sometimes he would simply sing sentimental and quite touching songs like this ...

Thursday 19 November 2009


"Stand on a bridge overlooking the Thames. Stare at my reflection. It's here I learnt my lesson ..." The next time someone tries to tell you there ain't no soul left in the UK's old shoes just play them Kevin Mark Trail's D'Thames. It's quite lovely, and one of the best Thames songs full stop. If you recognise Kevin's name it may be from his work with The Streets. He did a great solo LP in 2005 called Just Living which EMI did their best to keep a secret and then dropped him for not selling millions. Life eh? Shop around and grab yourself a copy ...

Wednesday 18 November 2009


"Mother said when you're young like this things can seem pretty bad. Let's get out, walk by the river. And there are people who roam the Docklands, and there are ships passing in the night ..." When lists are drawn up of Trevor Horn's productions it's to be hoped the Mint Juleps' Docklands would be at the top. It was the sort of uneasy and unlikely alliance Horn relishes. East End street corner soul outfit given a smooth synthetic sheen in Stiff's dying days. But it works a treat. The world's changed a lot since it was recorded in the late '80s, and the Mint Juleps' homepatch Docklands has changed an awful lot too. The old ways of life on the east and south east sides of the river, the places such as Bermondsey, Beckton, Surrey Docks, Wapping and Limehouse, the Isle of Dogs, are all unrecognisable from the days when the Mint Juleps recorded this track. The once thriving docks were already long gone by the '80s, and deprivation and dereliction was rife. Then came the redevelopment, the gentrification, the building of a new financial centre, the light railway, pricey flats galore, all out of the reach of existing communities. The defiance of the old Docklands can be heard in the Mint Juleps' Round Our Way which has the theme of we may not have all you've got but we've got something you'll never be able to buy. This is a more natural setting for the Mint Juleps (who I believe still perform) and there are some wonderful clips on YouTube of the group taking part in a Spike Lee acapella special. As an aside the Mint Juleps were managed by Rita Ray who is herself a London legend ...

Tuesday 17 November 2009


"Marcel lives in Wapping. The dockside view is stopping. Marcel's got a houseboat on the Thames. There's grotesque decorations. Eccentric demonstrations. Oh let's go down to Marcel's on the Thames. Knock, knock, sesame, it's open. It's an East End wonderland ..." An invitation you can't refuse to visit Marcel's with Herman's Hermits. Surprised at this wander into Small Faces territory? Shame on you. The 'Ermits are cooler than you think. After all didn't Paul Morley describe Subway Sect's Ambition as the missing link between Peter Noone and Kafka? I'm a big fan of Herman and his gang and they did their bit to repopularise the traditions of vaudeville and music hall though I'd suggest Ian Whitcomb trumped them with his 'Enery. Second verse, same as the first ...

Monday 16 November 2009

Night time in Bermondsey

"It's night time in Bermondsey. The tide is turning now on barges in Bermondsey. The waters laps their bows. And on London Bridge young lovers shiver and gaze at the lamplight in the river ..." sings Nadia Cattouse in Bermondsey. Well, actually she's singing it at the Edinburgh Festival in 1969 for a recording that appeared on her Earth Mother LP. Maybe like me you first came across Nadia's name on The Numero Group's Belize City Boil Up compilation, where it mentions her moving to England and becoming part of the folk scene. Well, Earth Mother is a beautiful record that emerged from that milieu. Songwriting credits include Andy Roberts, Mike Evans, Donald Swann, Sydney Carter, Bob Dylan and Nadia herself. Mysteriously Bermondsey is credited to Unknown, which is fascinating as the local colour is an absolute joy (St Saviour's, Guy's, Southwark Cathedral, barrow boys etc.). Does anyone know any more?

Sunday 15 November 2009

Sweet Thames Flow Softly

"I met my girl at Woolwich Pier beneath the big cranes standing. And oh, the love I felt for her. It passed all understanding ..." Ewan MacColl's mid-'60s composition Sweet Thames Flow Softly is all the more romantic in my view for being defiantly non-romantic from the off. There have been many renditions over the years, but my particular favourite is by The Johnstons, an Irish folk outfit, on their excellent 1968 Give A Damn LP on Transatlantic which is infused with the era's harmony pop influences. Am I right in saying the first recorded version was by The Critics Group in '67 when it was the title track of a LP of London related songs (aha!), mixing old broadside ballads with new compositions by Ewan and Peggy Seeger? Great record, and reissued by the good people at Vocalion. I understand that another poem set to music, The Ballad of London River by Mary Byron, was the 'official' school song for many Londoners up to the 1960s, but that is a very different thing. I would like to think that today's school children have the opportunity to hear Ewan's song. Ewan, despite his Manchester roots, lived for many, many years in London (south) and his life story should be studied by us all. "Her necklace made of London Bridge her beauty was enhancing ..." There's a lovely rendition by the great Christy Moore on YouTube which I particularly like for the relish with which he sings the words ...

Saturday 14 November 2009

Cutty Sark

"I dream of empire. I dream of sailing ships. A fortune beneath their decks. Heavy with cargo, copper and ivory ..." sings Charles Hayward on Cutty Sark by Camberwell Now. Over Blackheath, through Greenwich Park, down to the river, and the Cutty Sark. This is for anyone who has stood by that beautiful clipper and heard it sing of another way of life. Tragically the Cutty Sark was all but destroyed by fire in May 2007, apparently as a result of a malfunctioning vacuum cleaner left plugged in. Hopefully the restoration project will be a success, as it is such an important landmark. Charles Hayward is a Capital treasure too, and Camberwell Now is an impeccable south London name for a group. And the track Cutty Sark comes from an EP appropriately called Meridian, recorded at Cold Storage, Brixton, the now famous base for the group's predecessor This Heat. I love what the great Steve Walsh wrote about This Heat for Zigzag in January 1979: "A quaint, nauseous, halting tune emerges. These 'quiet' interludes often employ quite pretty melodies, but the kind of charm they exude is that sinister sense of foreboding that one associates with Victorian music boxes. I listen and watch transfixed with a morbid, unhealthy fascination ..."

Friday 13 November 2009


"Blackheath saw us all today. Whitsun tide in the month of May ..." sings Peter London in his song about Blackheath Fair. Blackheath Fair has a long, long history, and indeed Spring Heeled Jack put in a pretty shameful appearance in 1837. These days it's not such a big deal, and the annual fireworks display is a far more popular draw. As the excellent Transpontine blog details this too has something of a history, and is mentioned in E.S. Nesbit's The Story of the Treasure Seekers. I fear I can add little about Peter London other than that he is still active on the folk circuit of south west London. Blackheath Fair also features in another brilliant modern twist on the traditional folk song by Paul Whiting. I don't ever remember seeing a man with a ukelele on Blackheath, but I do recall a chap taking a mongoose for a walk ...

Thursday 12 November 2009

Georgie (Shooter's Hill)

"For what has Georgie done on Shooter's Hill? Was it stealing or murder of any? Oh he stole sixteen of the lord judge's deer. And we sold them down under the valley ..." Georgie, performed by Martin Carthy (one of Scritti Green's heroes) is an old folk song I first became aware of via a Transpontine post on south London folk songs. This version has a similar poaching/pleading theme as Geordie, which has already been featured. Shooter's Hill, south London's highest point, has quite a reputation. It's frequently associated with Dick Turpin and the dandy highwaymen who would work the Roman Road or late night on Watling Street if you like, and hangings used to be carried out there. Shooter's Hill also features in the nursery rhyme about John Cook and his grey mare. More recently Frankie Howerd went to school there, Boy George grew up there, and Mark Perry may still live there. And here Martin Carthy sings Georgie in his back garden ...