Wild In The Streets

I never had a bike when I was a kid, I always assumed it was because my mother couldn’t afford to buy me one (get your violins out) but I asked her about it recently and she told me it was because she was worried about my safety and didn’t want me racing around the London streets on one. Nice to know she cared, though I don’t know what she thought I was doing in the summer holidays when she was out at work but I certainly wasn’t safely at home playing Ker-Plunk.

I actually didn’t need a bike of my own to risk life and limb on the road when I had plenty of mates who did and were only too willing to give me lift on theirs, either perched on the handlebars or the back seat. My mum would have had kittens if she’d seen me squeezed onto the back of my cousin Martin’s Chopper bike, facing backwards and legs akimbo, while he peddled wobbly along major traffic death traps like Hammersmith Broadway and Fulham Palace Road, narrowly avoiding cars and buses left and right. Needless to say we didn’t wear helmets or any kind of safety gear (had that stuff even been invented in the 1970s, and if it had would we have worn it?) but when you’re a kid you think you’re indestructible and just bounce from one scrape to another without a second thought with your elbows and knees permanently covered in grazes and scabs.

London was literally our playground back then and we’d go all over the city on our own, all we needed were some bikes or a 25p all-day Red Rover ticket for the bus. The idea of a gang of grubby little boys tearing around London all sounds a bit “Lord Of The Flies” compared to how children are raised these days when “responsible” parents aren’t supposed to let their children out without an armour of protective padding and a grown-up to hold their hand (if they go anywhere at all that is) as the news would have you believe there’s a bogeyman lurking around every corner and behind every hedge. Obviously my mum did care about our safety (or she would have bought me a bike!) but there was a level of trust that seems to have gone now, not just trust in us, but trust in the outside world not to do anything to us. Not that I didn’t get into trouble, there was a fair bit of window-smashing and shoplifting mixed in with all our innocent tearaway fun, but nothing really serious — I never stabbed anyone for their mobile phone — and what’s childhood without scabby knees and the occasional talking to from a Copper?

I do have a bike now, my wife bought me one a few years ago (one of the best presents I’ve ever got) and when I take it out now I’m too chicken to ride on busy roads and get nervous when a car goes by me, but I still don’t wear a helmet and when I go fast on it I get the same sense of happy freedom I had when I was a scruffy young tyke bombing around London on the back of my cousin’s bike. Only now I’ve finally got my own.

Download: Bike – Pink Floyd (mp3)
Download: My White Bicycle – Tomorrow (mp3)


Something for the weekend

I used to have a regular feature on my old blog called “Boogie Friday” and I’ve been trying to stay away from the soul and dance music end of things here because, well, you know, been there and done that. But the weather has been so lovely this week I’m feeling a spring in my loafers and want to knock the maudlin nostalgia on the head for a day and DANCE.

These are all English records anyway, so I’m still on message. I did post “London Town” on my old blog many moons ago but it’s worth a second go.

Download: London Town – Light of The World (mp3)
Download: British Hustle – Hi-Tension (mp3)
Download: The Crunch – Rah Band (mp3)
Download: Intuition – Linx (mp3)

The X Factor

The first X-film I ever saw at the pictures was “Midnight Express” which I managed to blag my way in to at the tender age of 16, two years before I was legally allowed to. That might not sound like much of an achievement but I was young-looking for my age (still am!) and had failed to get into X- and even AA-rated films before. I’d just started going to pubs by then and never had any problems being served but getting into an adult film seemed like a much more difficult proposition; a pint of lager was one thing but at an X-film there was sex, violence, nudity (lots and lots of that in the 70s, everyone got their kit off in films back then) and all sorts of mysterious grown-up stuff so attempting to bluff the old lady in the ticket booth of your local Odeon or ABC was as nerve-wracking as trying to buy a dirty magazine at the corner shop. And it almost always was an older person selling tickets at the pictures back then, not the spotty teens they have these days who would probably let a coach load of Boy Scouts in to see “I Spit On Your Grave.”

So it was with a huge sense of relief that I settled into my seat at the Odeon Kensington High Street knowing that I was in and no one was coming to chuck me out. Even more so because I’d gone to see it with the beautiful Jackie Bolton, the curly-haired temptress I had an unrequited schoolboy crush on. Though sadly it wasn’t a date, she was with a group of her mates and had asked me along as a “friend” — that dreaded word — but still, can you imagine the humiliation if I’d been turned away for being too young right in front of Jackie Bolton? I wouldn’t have been able to show my face in public ever again.

“Midnight Express” had plenty of the “grown-up stuff”: boobs, bums, masturbation, sadism, drugs, homo-eroticism, and lots of gory violence, though I was less shocked by all that as I was uncomfortable to be watching Brad Davis have a wank while I was sitting next to Jackie Bolton. I liked it a lot at the time but I think the older, more sophisticated me wouldn’t be as impressed, director Alan Parker and scriptwriter Oliver Stone both tend to be as subtle as a knee in the balls and I’ve feeling if I was to see it now I’d find it all a bit sensationalist and lurid — like a beautifully photographed exploitation flick.

The soundtrack by Giorgio Moroder still sounds great though and supposedly was the first electronic score to win an Oscar. We used to play the soundtrack album a lot when I was working at WH Smith and every time we did someone would ask us what it was and buy a copy (Jeff Wayne’s “War of The Worlds” opus had the same effect.) Apparently Alan Parker gave Moroder the job after hearing “I Feel Love” and the 8-minute “Chase” has a similar throbbing EuroDisco beat and is something of an early Techno classic (I think Daft Punk covered it at some point) while the main theme is slower and more squelchy, though I can’t ever hear those bouncing “boom-boom-boom” synth drums without thinking of “Ring My Bell”

Download: Chase – Giorgio Moroder (mp3)
Download: (Theme from) Midnight Express – Giorgio Moroder (mp3)
Buy: “Midnight Express: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack” (album)

Wilde Thing

The French called Kim Wilde the “Brigitte Bardot of rock” and I guess they should know — about Brigitte Bardot that is, not rock music. But while she had the pouty, bee-sting lips and heavy-lidded, smouldering eyes of a French sex kitten she didn’t have the same sense of volatile emotional danger about her, the feeling that any minute she’s going to explode in a fit of l’amour fou and start throwing plates at you, stub a Gitanes out on your hand, or throw herself off a bridge in passionate despair over some love affair gone wrong. Kim always seemed too sensible, too English for all that, and instead of some sleazy svengali Roger Vadim-type manipulating her behind the scenes her records were written and produced by her brother and her dad. All of which which made her a nice, girl-next-door (if you were really lucky) sort of sex symbol — more Smash Hits than French Vogue. I was never moved to put a poster of her on my bedroom wall though, I preferred the more ooh la la allure of the real Bardot (though at the time I think I had a Marilyn Monroe poster on the wall) but there was no denying she was extremely fanciable, it was like having our very own Debbie Harry — but one who liked a nice cup of tea.

Oh, and her records weren’t all that bad either, this is from her terrific debut album.

Download: Our Town – Kim Wilde (mp3)

The Glow of Love

When this record was a hit in the summer of 1983 I was deeply in love with my first serious girlfriend and it’s the perfect song for the blissful glow of first love, just the thing for putting on a mixtape for that special lady. So now you’d expect me to say that when I hear this the whole thing comes back to me in a Proustian rush of warm nostalgia, its summery innocence and tender heart invoking sweet memories of holding hands in the park, that hesitant first kiss, walking her home in the evenings, and those never-ending telephone conversations.

But the truth is the record that really reminds me of her is the first Orange Juice album but this is such a gorgeous, gorgeous track I almost want it to be the one that brings it all back, because if you weren’t in love in the summer of 1983 this would have made you want to be.

Download: The First Picture of You (extended version) – The Lotus Eaters (mp3)

As an added bonus, here’s the rather lovely video too:

Is she really going out with him?

Have you ever had a mate you secretly thought was a bit of a twat who always seemed to do incredibly well with the opposite sex? In fact, the better he did the more you hated him because it just showed up how pathetic your own sex life was. He’d turn up at parties or the pub with some gorgeous bird in tow and you’d couldn’t understand why she couldn’t see how annoying he was. She seemed like a nice, intelligent girl but you’d start to think there must be something wrong with her if she liked him. Your female friends would assure you it wasn’t true that girls preferred going out with arseholes and liked nice guys really but the evidence you saw with your own eyes was that you were single while blokes you knew to be dickheads seemed to be beating them off with a stick.

Download: What I Like Most About You Is Your Girlfriend – The Special AKA (mp3)

This is such a terrific single it’s a real shame it wasn’t a hit. From The Specials great final album “In The Studio” which they released under their original name and sadly flopped too, I’m not sure it’s even available on CD these days.

Yes, I know Terence Stamp (pictured above in case you didn’t know) is a good-looking chap and probably a nice bloke to boot, but next to the un-Godly beauty of Jean Shrimpton anyone would look like a bit of a shifty meathead. The fact that he dated her makes me not sure whether I should admire the bastard or hate him.

My Mother’s Records

As I’ve noted before, I grew up in a Sinatra-loving household, both my parents worshipped the ground he walked on and to this day I can’t see a Capitol Records label or one of those Reprise Records labels with Sinatra’s photo on it without picturing it on the turntable of our old mono Bush record player.

My mother’s favourite Frank Sinatra record has always been the slinky “Witchcraft” while I’m of the rather cliched and uninteresting opinion that “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” is his the best thing he ever did. But just because it’s the conventional view doesn’t mean it’s wrong, I think it’s one of the greatest recordings of 20th century popular music.

So you’d think I wouldn’t be inclined to like The Four Seasons smooth, easy listening version of the song from 1966 but it’s a record that my mother played to death when I was a kid which gives me a certain rose-tinted view of it and how do you separate pop records from your memories of them? Impossible I think (there’s a post idea right there). It lacks the passion and hunger of Sinatra’s version and takes a rather more dreamy approach but I still think it’s very pretty with a sweet arrangement full of strings and bells, and I love the big drum break after the pause at the end.

Download: I’ve Got You Under My Skin – The Four Seasons (mp3)

The Iron Nanny

“I think they were absolute fucking scum — especially Thatcher, who I think should be shot as a traitor to the people. I still think that, and nothing will ever change my opinion. We’re still feeling the effects of what they did to the country now, and probably always will: the whole breakdown of communities, trade unions, the working class — the dismantling of lots of things.”
Paul Weller, 2008

Until George W. Bush came along I never thought I could hate a politician as much as I did Maggie Thatcher. All the things I complain about on this blog that depress me about modern England can be traced back to her doorstep in one way or another and we’d be here all day if I went through the litany of her crimes but Mr. Weller’s quote above pretty much sums up my feelings in his usual blunt style. Maggie was the stern Nanny/Headmistress who told us we’d all been bad children in the 60s and 70s and we had to take our medicine no matter how bad it tasted or she’d send us all to bed without any supper — or throw us out of work. Your average English Public Schoolboy gets turned on by that sort of cold-shower discipline which explains why so many chinless wonders loved her, it’s just a pity the rest of us had to take the medicine too. Maggie wanted to re-make Britain and she did, but to do that she had to tear it apart.

As a 20-something student you’d expect I’d be politically involved but it could be a depressing experience in the 80s. I voted for Ken Livingston, Michael Foot, Neil Kinnock and she won every time — though with Ken it wasn’t at the ballot box, she just abolished the GLC instead. I went on marches to save the GLC, in support of the Miners Union and CND, I joined the Labour Party and even took part in demonstrations and a sit-in to save my own college from being merged with another one in the next town, all to no avail. She always won — apart from the Poll Tax of course, I missed that little riot though.

But her biggest victory is everywhere you look in Britain today. It was a bit of cliche on the Left in the 1980s that she wanted to turn the country into the 51st State of America (though that was mostly a joke about her sucking up to Ronald Reagan) but that’s basically what happened, she turned the country over to the free market and big corporations who now dominate the landscape both metaphorically and literally. The rich got a lot richer and everyone else had their jobs, traditions and communities traded away for the price of 24/7 shopping in bland town centres dominated by a few big chains and an entire industry devoted to the worship of wealthy celebrities. The country has become just as soulless, vulgar and status-obssessed as America at its worst. Even sadder, the process has continued and been even worse under a bloody Labour government. Well, she did say there was no alternative.

Though I would like to thank her for all the wonderful music she inspired, without her we wouldn’t have these records (and many, many, many more). Maybe she wasn’t that bad after all. Actually, she was.

Download: Blue – Fine Young Cannibals (mp3)
Download: Homebreakers – The Style Council (mp3)
Download: Shipbuilding – Robert Wyatt (mp3)
Download: Talkin’ Blues (Story of The Blues Pt. 2) – The Mighty Wah! (mp3)
Download: Strike – The Enemy Within (mp3)