Saturday, 31 October 2009
"It rained for days on end and when it stopped there was not a leaf on the tree. Just one sad woman to shout 'They've taken him away'. What kind of day is this to be out in Angell Town?" The Band of Holy Joy's More Tales From The City debut LP is a powerful evocation of south London moving into the latter part of the '80s. There are several specific references to the area in the songs. Santley Street in Who Snatched The Baby? The New Cross Road in Mad Dot. And Angell Town in the LP's great moment When Stars Come Out To Play. Angell Town, like its similarly inappropriately named north of the river counterpart Somers Town, is an area named after a specific person. Angell Town is an area roughly between Lambeth and Camberwell, and it's also an estate that was notorious for many years but is now hailed as a transformed eco-friendly living environment. More Tales From The City, like Geoff Dyer's The Colour of Memory, both revels in and is repulsed by the south London grime and spirit. When I think of the Band I think of serious young men with severe haircuts and ancient overcoats and suits scouring secondhand and charity shops. I think of the singer getting excited about meeting Harboro Horace. I think of a TV documentary where the group's all excited about going to see the Salvation Army band perform in the streets. And I think of their Xmas party at the Albany in Deptford. One of the best shows ever. When was that? '87? This is from slightly later and is rather more polished ...
Friday, 30 October 2009
"Said 'eaven will protect an honest girl. Next day I pawned me shawl in Camberwell. Then me skirt and blouse I sold 'em. And went trampin' back to Oldham ..." Camberwell now? Well, Basement Jaxx, one of our premier pop institutions seem to have cornered the Camberwell market. Camberwell Skies. I Live In Camberwell. Great stuff. But Camberwell has quite a tradition in popular song. In 1915 Lionel Monckton wrote Chalk Farm To Camberwell Green for his wife Gertie Millar on the 'how far are ya going' theme. The splendid south London (literally) blog 'zine Transpontine has helpfully posted the words for you to singalong. Then there's the fantastic Gracie Fields number from the '30s, Heaven Will Protect An Honest Girl. In this song, written by the great R.P. Weston and Bert Lee team (with Harris Weston too), Gracie sets out for London to go into service, gets into trouble, and heads home to Oldham in her undies.
Thursday, 29 October 2009
"I love Lambeth. With all the dirt on the streets. There's no better place for your feet ..." Ah but there's a catch. Just when you think the Monochrome Set's I Love Lambeth is going to be a bit of a Peter Ackroyd doing the Lambeth Walk romp Bid sings about getting a lung full of fumes from an old Vauxhall Chevette. Contrary character Bid. Rewrote Lonnie Donegan's My Old Man's A Dustman from the perspective of the privilegentsia. You half expect some Tory toff to cite it as a Desert Island Disc times being what they are. And among his many other glorious moments Bid juxtaposed armoured Cadillacs in Montevideo with the tailor's scissors in Saville Row in a moment of pure Graham Greenery.
Wednesday, 28 October 2009
"Don't you ever wonder why people never hear you talking when they stand right next to you? Not just once. More than twice. In the market it will happen to you ..." I am delighted Miss Claudia nominated Nine Below Zero's East Street SE17 as it gives us an opportunity to return to the theme of one of London's oldest street markets. East Street runs between the Walworth Road and the Old Kent Road, and for generations it's been the place to go shopping and be seen. Confusingly it's known locally as The Lane. Charlie Chaplin was born here. Dennis Greaves gets it right when he sings: "See the people standing round who are gathered here today. It's all the generations. They come from miles around ..." London and its markets eh?
Tuesday, 27 October 2009
"White labels in a suitcase ... I'm on a corner over East Street, yelling rag and bone style ..." Those lines from Roots Manuva's Baptism conjure up a wonderful image of the great man in a sheepskin coat and flat cap flogging his wares down the market over Walworth way. Featuring the gifted but criminally underheard Wildflower, Baptism is one of many highlights from Roots' debut Brand New Second Hand, a record that oozes a sense of south Londoness. References to Travelcards and heading under the Thames (the Rotherhithe tunnel, I guess) and so on. The Roots Manuva debut outing remains UK hip hop's finest moment, and this El-P remix of Juggle Tings Proper gives a real twist to the song though the original is hard to beat ...
Monday, 26 October 2009
"Oh-ho-ho, Bermondsey, that's home to me. I'm longin' for the moment when I shall see the 'appy, laughing razor-slashed faces of the people I love ..." Cor! Until the end of the '80s when you'd get the train out of London Bridge you just might catch the scent of biscuits being mass produced driftin' from the Peek Frean's factory in Bermondsey which The Siddeleys' Johnny Johnson sang about in My Favourite Wet Wednesday Afternoon. Jumping on Johnny Johnson's bandwagon Sid James also sang a less than flattering but equally wonderful ode to Bermondsey in the 1964 film Three Hats For Lisa, with support from co-stars including Joe Brown and Una Stubbs. Mind you, it was Joe's fellow coffee bar rocker Tommy Steele who was known as the Bermondsey Boy, and had some songs written for him by Lionel Bart and someone whose son might have ended up in Speedball, including Rock With The Caveman which the Polecats did a neat version of ...
Sunday, 25 October 2009
"As I rode over London Bridge one misty morning early I overheard a tender hearted girl plead for the life of Geordie ..." The folk song tradition, murder ballads, child ballads, and so on, I'm sure would be another rich source of London related songs. The rendition of Geordie by Shirley and Dolly Collins is a great example. Folk songs being folk songs, there are apparently many different versions of the Geordie tale, and only some of them have the London Bridge setting. Among those that use this version have been Joan Baez, and the Italian folk singer Fabrizio De Andre whose own songs would be sung by many including the very great Mina. Returning to our London theme and traditional folk songs, it's worth mentioning Shirley and Dolly's works also include Fair Maid of Islington ...
Saturday, 24 October 2009
"I bow my head in silent prayer. And thank Him for the love we share. He blessed the night we met in London town when London Bridge came tumbling down ..." sings the very great Jo Stafford in her 1956 recording of On London Bridge. Cor that old bridge must have been a cracking place for finding your soul mate. No wonder the Americans snapped it up. I have no idea of the story behind how Jo came to be singing about finding true love while walking over London Bridge. But then she could make anything sound magical. Including Autumn in New York, a little number which our American comrades will want to share.
Friday, 23 October 2009
"London Bridge is finally fallin' down. They packed it up and shipped it outta town ..." A nice what would have been topical reference in Bread's London Bridge from their debut LP. Now my definition of someone who loves their music is someone who can appreciate a bit of Bread with their hip hop and vice versa. So let's bring in Newtrament on this with one of the very earliest UK hip hop outings, and another way of reworking the London Bridge Is Falling Down theme. Newtrament was part of early hip hop Notting Hill/Ladbroke Grove b-boy pioneers Krew, along with Dizzy Heights. And this still sounds fantastic ...
Thursday, 22 October 2009
"And London Bridge is falling down but I still love this town. From the Tower to the Underground ..." sings the bard of Brixton on Big Audio Dynamite's London Bridge. Mick Jones introduces the theme of London Bridge falling down, alluding to the nursery rhyme kids all over the world learn almost by osmosis. It's a theme that also popped up in another scene from Lucy in London where apparently Lucille Ball and Anthony Newley were seen along by the river singing the nursery rhyme in a round with Pop Goes The Weasel. But can I find footage of this anywhere? Pah. And they say you can find anything on the 'net. So we'll have to console ourselves with ...
Wednesday, 21 October 2009
"And London Bridge is in the wrong place ..." The one that's in Arizona? The current London Bridge which was built in the early '70s? I suspect that line in Animals That Swim's London Bridge refers to Rennie's 19th century construction which I believe was built a little way upstream from where the old medieval bridge stood. I have to confess to being a relatively recent convert to the delights of Animals That Swim (thanks Alistair!). I completely missed them in the 1990s. There were many groups I studiously ignored in the 1990s. But I wasn't even aware Animals That Swim existed. My loss. They made some fantastic recordings, and there was a pungent London flavour to their work. The Tindersticks, on the other hand, was one of the groups I consciously avoided. My loss?
Tuesday, 20 October 2009
"I stood alone beneath the dark and cloudy sky, and watched the river as it gently flowed on by. I saw my life unfold before me. It looked so sad and oh so lonely ..." Then suddenly on London Bridge Cilla Black fell on love, and she is now bemoaning the fact that London Bridge's been taken away. That's a reference to the bridge sinking beneath the weight of traffic and being dismantled and sold off to some businessman in Arizona in 1968. This London Bridge is a fantastic 1969 number written for Cilla by Clive Westlake, and 'er Bobby whom she married that year. Wasn't it the recording of Cilla's Work Is A Four Letter Word that split up The Smiths? Nice one. Personally I've never forgiven Cilla for when I was taken to see her at a very early age in panto (Aladdin, I think, with Roger Whittaker perhaps) and she came out on stage to say Liverpool were beating West Ham. How to endear yourself to a London audience in one easy lesson. That might have been about the same time this was recorded ...
Monday, 19 October 2009
"To the north there lies the Temple and the Tower. The drudgeries and sanctuaries of power. I looked along the river to the shores of Silvertown. Putting up castles. What are they tearing down?" Blackfriars Bridge by The Men They Couldn't Hang starts with the bard starting out one spring morning for Blackfriars Bridge to watch the tide come in. It seems like one of those fascination/repulsion moments. Awe at what has been achieved, perhaps. Horror at the cost of achieving it. It's a theme continued on Rain, Steam and Speed where some would praise Brunel but others would damn him to hell for the human price paid in making his dreams come to life.
Sunday, 18 October 2009
"St Paul's and I and the secretaries' lunchtime ..." Haircut 100 was always a great London group. The mix of suburban south London jazz funk and bohemian '60s/Postcard stylings hidden beneath goofy grins. Nick Heyward would go on to record some gorgeous London songs on his own. Traffic In Fleet Street is one of my particular favourite London themed songs, while the more prosaic titled London is just as lovely with its references to The Clash, The Jam, and his hometown hero Bowie. And possibly an oblique tip of the hat to Muriel Spark's A Far Cry From Kensington?
Saturday, 17 October 2009
"London has been called the city of encounters; it is more than that, it is the city of resurrections ..." On the liner notes for the Strange Geometry set The Clintele use this quote from Arthur Machen. Over recent years The Clientele has been one of the brightest spots musically, and they've contributed some wonderful sense of London songs. St Paul's Beneath A Sinking Sky is an early example of the group's work, but shows even then they had that certain something about them. St Paul's is my favourite London landmark, and while entry is no longer free you can sneak into services and experience something special no matter what your religious views. It's got a sense of history too that building ...
Friday, 16 October 2009
"I bet the world is a different place on EC4 ..." The Flys' EC4 is a neat anti-media manipulation number. The EC (Eastern Central) postcode sequence covers what is known as the City of London. The EC4 area itself covers St Paul's, Blackfriars, the legal area of Temple, and Fleet Street, which was at the time of The Flys' song still the heart of newspaper land and where the views of the nation were supposedly shaped. The Flys are best known for Love And A Molotov Cocktail, one of the greatest singles of the punk era. One of the greatest singles of any era. EC4 is available on a great, expanded edition of the Waikiki Beach Refugees LP. It originally appeared as a b-side to Fun City ...
Thursday, 15 October 2009
"He's taken a flat in Smithfields now. Where refrigerated lorries unload dead cows ..." In Momus' My Pervert Doppelganger he has a bit of bother with an imposter who sets himself up in a pad 'round Smithfield way, by the famous meat market, and indulges in a bit of identity theft. Taken from the Ping Pong set which Momus himself styled as futuristic vaudeville, it's genuinely amusing for some of the right reasons which may not always be the case with the man's work. It's also probably the only song that mentions Squarepusher and green tea in the same line. Sticking with the City references, Shoesize of the Angel from the same set has Momus accidentally missing someone on Threadneedle Street.
Wednesday, 14 October 2009
"I recall crossing Newbury Street. Cutting corners and keeping everyone sweet ..." Right at the start of this project La Belle Dame Dusty 7s suggested Surf by Roddy Frame as one of the most Londonish records around. Quite right too. And Roddy's Crossing Newbury Street is a lovely Londonish song with a present and the past pleasantly disarranged theme. Though it remains unclear what Roddy was doing in the City. He does, however, have some previous when it comes to London related numbers, and this is a great one for howling along to when it comes on the radio ... Sing Michael sing.
Tuesday, 13 October 2009
"The perverse possibilities of the Barbican. You could be invisible here. You can get a notion of floating above the city ..." The first time I visited the Barbican Centre in London, soon after it opened when it seemed wonderfully exotic, I remember getting hopelessly lost trying to follow the yellow lines along its walkways. So it always seemed appropriate that The Lines had a song called Barbican. It's easy to forget the song would have predated the Centre itself, so I'm guessing there's more of a nod towards the area's residential towers, and the perverse possibilities Saint Etienne refer to. The Etienne had a themed LP set around Turnpike House, a short walk from the Barbican, from which comes their greatest London song. No namedropping as per some of their more arch ways. Just a real sense of the city ...
Monday, 12 October 2009
"Up and down the London Wall. In the shadow of Guildhall. To the dear old lady of Threadneedle Street ..." Mike Proctor's Mr Commuter is a late '60s psychedelic dancefloor gem poking fun at the City clones, working their lives away, for what? Some neat City references too, and a mention of Luncheon Vouchers to jog our memories. Arranged and conducted by Len Beadle, I believe, says he trying to sound knowledgeable. Who could be the Len Beadle who co-wrote Beryl Marsden's What's She Got, another mod dancer. This selection comes courtesy of Andy Lewis, who will know a lot more about these things.
Sunday, 11 October 2009
"Join the legions of the rich. And the world will be ours. There is only one thing on earth worth dying for. Oh profit is the only thing worth dying for ..." Malcolm Eden of McCarthy's words to And Tomorrow The Stock Exchange Will Be The Human Race are a clever rewrite of The Internationale from a capitalist perspective. I wonder if anyone has dared take it at face value. Neo-conservatives aren't great at irony after all. On the same LP this came from (Banking, Violence & the Inner Life Today) McCarthy tackled a similar theme on The Drinking Song of the Merchant Bankers. I wonder if 20 years on Malcolm has allowed himself a wry smile about the lines: "Let's live for the day and let's not sweat. It's not time to commit suicide yet. Now what possibly could go wrong? What possibly could go wrong?" Quite. More cocktails here barmaid ...
Saturday, 10 October 2009
"My job is a cook and I do the books. I turn thieves into lords and kings into crooks ..." Of course villains come in all shapes and guises. The Wolfhounds' Charterhouse at the time of its release seemed to summon up the spirit of Ebeneezer Scrooge working his way up the ladder, creating mischief and misery with a stroke of a pen and a double entry here and there in the name of creative accounting. Now of course the financial follies of the City's financial zone have been exposed and we are paying the penalties for their incompetence and Charterhouse takes on new significance. "I just do my job". Ah the age old justification. Unlike the money men The Wolfhounds' work and Callahan's words improve with age.
Friday, 9 October 2009
"East End will rise for the '60s and the spices ..." Ah the eternal fascination of the Kray Twins. Organised crime and vicarious glamour. A code of honour and a reign of terror. Brushing shoulders with celebrities and wiping out gangland enemies. East End fights and West End lights. The legends linger. The Mo-Dettes' Kray Twins is one take on the theme. But Renegade Soundwave's debut outing Kray Twins is the one that captures the brothers' mesmeric malevolence. There was always something splendidly sinister about RSW, and a sense that they wouldn't be against a bit of skulduggery. "I'm much obliged boys ..." Remember Probably A Robbery?
Thursday, 8 October 2009
"Now rest in peace your weary soul Isambard Kingdom Brunel ..." IKB (RIP) by Frank Tovey is a work of genius that tells the tale of a chance encounter with the ghost of the great engineer out by the Westway and takes us via IKB's Kensal Green grave to the docks on the Isle of Dogs and the launch of the Leviathan or the Great Eastern and the initial trials and tribulations that beset that great liner and thus contributed to the great man's death at a horribly young age. The narator takes the opportunity to set the tormented Brunel's mind at ease by explaining the eventual spectacular success of the steamship. While Brunel is recognised as one of the greatest Britons for his amazing achievements, people today seem to dream more about being celebrities and entrepeneurs than engineers and inventors. Frank Tovey too was a great man, perhaps better known in his Fad Gadget guise as a post-punk electronica pioneer. But at the other end of the '80s he made a series of brilliant LPs in more of a folk tradition under his real name which feature some of the best ever London songs, including Bridge Street Shuffle ...
Wednesday, 7 October 2009
"You call yourself Brans(t)on but I know Brans(t)on's a pickle with no place on my plate ..." Surprisingly surveys still show some choose Richard Branson as the figure they most aspire to be like. And, in fairness, he has left his mark on London life, through Virgin Records and indeed there was a time back there (1980ish) when the Virgin shops along Oxford Street were far more interesting than the Rough Trade shop out west. Then there was The Venue and Heaven. But not everyone who has worked with or for the Virgin empire has been impressed with the way it operates. For example, the great Prince Far-I did not have fond memories of his time as part of the Virgin reggae imprint Front Line, and as part of Singers & Players recorded Virgin, setting himself up as a scathing prosecutor, and condemning the Branson approach to business. The track appeared in 1982 on a 10" as part of the On-U disco plates series.
Tuesday, 6 October 2009
"And even though it's underhand Christine Keeler has got it planned. Christine Keeler understands ..." The Glaxo Babies' Christine Keeler pays tribute to one of the enduring figures of London legend. Play thought association with Christine's name and you'll come up with the Profumo Affair, Soho hospitality, Lewis Morley's photograph and that chair. But for the Glaxo Babies the appeal was the way for all the firebrands and revolutionaries that have passed through London it's Christine the showgirl that has succeeded in bringing down a Conservative government. So it's only right she has been celebrated in song by the greats such as Phil Ochs, Kinks, Skatalites, as well as in Nothing's Been Proved, the collaboration between Dusty Springfield and the Pet Shop Boys, which was the theme to the 1989 film Scandal in which Joanne Whalley memorably starred as Christine.
Monday, 5 October 2009
"Fog matters to you and me, but it can't touch Sherlock Holmes. Dogs bark and he knows their breed. And knows where they went last night. Knows their masters too ..." The most famous London literary creation has to be Sherlock Holmes. There must surely be scores and scores of tourists that go on a pilgrimage to Baker Street to pay homage to the greatest ever detective. I have to confess to being a real Holmes buff, though stop short of adopting a derstalker like the Downliners Sect. There oddly seems to be a dearth of songs about the great man, but you can't beat Sparks'. The Dirtbombs do a fine cover though. So, here's Sparks and Sherlock Holmes ...
Sunday, 4 October 2009
"There's a man who walks the streets of London late at night. With a little black bag that's oh-so-tight ..." Ah we're going to go all touristy on you now. The eternal fascination people have with the darker sides of London history. Paying good money to go on walks around London's east end following the footsteps of the infamous Jack The Ripper. Odd. Jack has been mentioned in song by a variety of folks, from Morrissey to Motorhead to LL Cool J to Nick Cave. But Screaming Lord Sutch made a bit of a career out of old Jack. This clip is a glorious Scopitone, which is where life really does get interesting. Scopitones were pop films made for early video jukebox type things, and YouTube is a treasure trove of wonderfully weird Scopitones, as is the excellent Bedazzled! blog. Far more fun than traipsing 'round the east end's dark alleyways.
Saturday, 3 October 2009
" A thousand lags were cursing. And a banging on the doors. But Evans couldn't hear them. He was deaf forever more ..." Everyone knows the name of Ewan MacColl but he is not that often heard. His songs are known by millions, but when was the last time you heard him sing? His ballad Go Down Ye Murderers sung here with Peggy Seeger is as chilling as the more famous film about the same story, 10 Rillington Place. MacColl's song tells the tale of Timothy Evans, who in 1950 was hanged for the murder of his infant daughter in Notting Hill. It became a celebrated cause, and was one of the miscarriages of justice that contributed to the abandonment of the death penalty. Evans was granted a posthumous pardon when it emerged serial killer John Christie was guilty of the crime.
Friday, 2 October 2009
"London bouncers love their power. Turn a good evening really sour." London Bouncers by !Action Pact! captured something of the moment. That is all the violence at punk gigs was not solely among the audience. Tales are rife about the unacceptable behaviour of bouncers at the time. And as !Action Pact! point out, London bouncers were responsible for the death of Henry Bowles at a gig in King's Cross in October 1977. Things have moved on, of course, and there is much tighter regulation. At the time of recording this track some of !Action Pact! were ridiculously young, but singer George Cheex was a real star. There were moments when they deserved both their exclamation marks.
Thursday, 1 October 2009
"You do the work. They get the loot. The men with the smiles and the three-piece suits ..." Look at any local paper in London and there will be any number of local campaigns on the go. Save this emergency unit. Save that day centre. Stop that school being closed. Fight those supermarket plans. But how many of these campaigns get captured in song. Crisis' No Town Hall is an exception from 1979. The fight locally was to stop plans to move Southwark town hall in Peckham at a ridiculous cost when money would be better spent on local housing. "We want homes, homes for all ..." Look too deeply into the story of Crisis and you'll get embroiled in the whys-and-wherefores of extreme politics and be none the wiser. This was a fantastic single though. And a major issue locally at the time, with questions in Parliament and the works.