Ring In The New

The most memorable recent New Year’s Eve I had was in 1999 which I spent in New York City and asked my wife to marry me the moment the clock struck 12:00 to usher in the new millennium. Probably my favourite ever in London was in 1992 the last time myself and all my college friends were together in the same place and found ourselves in the tiny, members-only Troy Club (sadly now closed) standing on the tables drunkenly singing along to Frank Sinatra songs playing on the jukebox until the early hours of the next morning. But not all New Year’s Eve rose to the level of stories to tell the grandchildren, when I was a young nightclubber in London that night was both the most anticipated and most stressful of the year. The pressure to be having the greatest time of your life (champagne bottle in one hand, kissable girl in the other) when the clock struck 12:00 was enormous and usually disappointed. After several years I got fed up with the hassle of paying an arm and a leg to get into a packed, six-deep-at-the-bar club (and one time being kept waiting in the queue outside until 11:55) and the older you get the desire to chase that moment becomes less and less important anyway, by then you’ve had plenty of other “moments” to cherish in nightclubs on other nights.

So now I’m an old fart I’ll be spending it on the couch getting cozy with the missus, chances are we won’t manage to stay awake until midnight either. But I’m not dead yet and to prove it here are some actual new (new!) records I enjoyed in 2008. For some reason 3/4 of them seem to be by rather fetching young ladies.

Merry New Year everyone.

Download: Jack Killed Mom – Jenny Lewis (mp3)
Buy: “Acid Tongue” (album)
Download: Wreckless Love – Alicia Keys (mp3)
Buy: “As I Am” (album)
Download: Graveyard Girl – M83 (mp3)
Buy: “Saturdays=Youth” (album)
Download: I Thought I Saw Your Face Today – She & Him (mp3)
Buy: “Volume One” (album)


Home thoughts from abroad

The vast sea of cranes that is still dotting the London skyline after what must be a decade-long new construction frenzy made me wonder if the city will ever be “finished” or if it would forever be growing and changing like some mutant, shape-shifting beast.

Then it occurred to me that was probably just what your average Londoner felt during Victorian times: “All this bloody building work going on all the time, are they ever going to be finished with their new bridges and tunnels and train stations and museums and statues?”

But will the Gherkin still be there 150 years from now?

Download: This Is Tomorrow – Bryan Ferry (mp3)

Home for the Hols

I’m flying off to London today for a weeks holiday so there won’t be any new posts until after the festive season. It’ll be the first time I’ve been “home” for Christmas in probably 10 years so I’m looking forward to it more than usual for the obvious reasons: Seeing the family, cozy pubs, turkey and roast tatties (they don’t have those for Christmas in the States), mince pies, the Queen on the telly, the tree in Trafalgar Square. If you avoid Oxford Street the city is a lovely place to be this time of year.

So have a very merry Christmas everyone. I’ll see you on the other side of it.

Download: Driving Home For Christmas – Saint Etienne (mp3)

Sweet Home Suburbia

“Do you know the road I live in—Ellesmere Road, West Bletchley? Even if you don’t, you know fifty others exactly like it. You know how these streets fester all over the inner-outer suburbs. Always the same. Long, long rows of little semi-detached houses—the numbers in Ellesmere Road run to 212 and ours is 191—as much alike as council houses and generally uglier. The stucco front, the creosoted gate, the privet hedge, the green front door. The Laurels, the Myrtles, the Hawthorns, Mon Abri, Mon Repos, Belle Vue. At perhaps one house in fifty some anti-social type who’ll probably end in the workhouse has painted his front door blue instead of green.”
George Orwell
Coming Up For Air (1939)

Most of my family originally come from London but I have aunties and uncles who long ago moved out to the leafy suburban outskirts of the city to places like Purley and Crawley where they had children, played golf, drank sherry and led nice middle-class lives. When I visited them as a kid I think I felt a little jealous of my cousins living in these large semi-detached houses with big back gardens only a short bike ride away from actual countryside (this was in the 1970s, I imagine the “countryside” is a lot further away now). Compared to our poky little council flat it seemed that they led an idyllic life like something out of a Ladybird book, where it was always sunny, there was a new car in the driveway and two parents at home, a cheery mum who baked pies and a solid, cardigan-wearing dad who did something in accounting.

But this feeling probably had more to do with my personal family circumstances than any actual reality, after all I was the one who lived in London and inevitably my sense of city superiority took hold so by my late teens I regarded my suburban cousins as rather boring and backward people whose lives I wouldn’t swap with for all the tea in Croydon.

Being a city boy who has an existential crisis if he lives too far from tall concrete buildings I obviously have my prejudices, but that’s nothing compared to the good kicking the suburbs have always gotten in popular culture over the years; the list of novels, movies, plays and television shows damning them as awful, soul-crushing dead zones is as long as Orwell’s Ellesmere Road. This is true in every country that has suburbs but it’s in pop music that the English have really staked a claim to the subject. I’ve not done an in-depth survey or anything but there could be more English pop songs about suburbs and suburbanites than there are about almost any other subject (apart from L.O.V.E of course), and with few exceptions these songs portray the suburbs as the dull home to either angry, uptight reactionaries or sad, downtrodden cogs in the capitalist machine — usually with both hiding all sorts of sordid and kinky goings-on behind their net curtains of their mock-Tudor homes.

So why the fixation with these places? It’s not the garden gnomes and shag carpets they’re objecting to, the suburbs stand for bourgeois conformity and all the conservative values of tradition and respectability that rebellious, modern, pink-haired pop music is supposed to be against. And it’s often in the suburbs that these values, for lack of anything better to do, curdle and turn sour into reactionary xenophobia, empty materialism and dull philistinism which makes them a nice easy target for any aspiring pop poet who thinks he has something to say about England and the English. Plus, the essential fact about the suburbs is that they’re boring and what says more about England than the bleak nothingness of a rainy Sunday afternoon in a town where the major cultural attraction is the local concrete shopping precinct? That’s half of Morrissey’s songbook right there.

Download: 7:10 From Suburbia – Jackie Trent (mp3)
Download: The Sound of The Suburbs – The Members (mp3)
Download: Semi-Detached Suburban Mr James – Manfred Mann (mp3)
Download: Smithers-Jones (orchestra version) – The Jam (mp3)
Download: 10:15 Saturday Night – The Cure (mp3)
Download: Respectable Street – XTC (mp3)

Of all these songs only “7:10 From Suburbia” has what I would call a sunny disposition, the rest tell rather miserable stories, and while “10:15 Saturday Night” isn’t directly about the suburbs the song just reeks of whiny suburban ennui. Where else would Saturday night be thought of as boring but the suburbs? Robert Smith, of course, comes from Crawley — the same place as my Auntie Molly — so he would know.

Time for bed

And yet another piece of my childhood has gone, British children’s telly genius Oliver Postgate has died. I don’t have time to write much else but these clips are tribute enough.

This record has nothing to do with Postgate but seems to fit in with the general feel of charming English oddness that all his shows had.

Download: Teddy Bear’s Picnic – Piggleswick Folk (mp3)

Buried Treasure

As you can imagine coming back to work after a whole week off means I have a mountain of shit to deal with and a looming deadline next week so the pages and pages of new posts I’ve started writing will have to wait even longer to be finished. I’m going to call myself a Slow Blogger from now on, it sounds so much better than “lazy bastard”.

While I was at home last week I did some digging around in the neglected corners of my record collection and pulled out some albums I probably haven’t played in over 20 years, specifically the sort of gloomy post-punk I used to listen to when I was a tortured teen and these days wouldn’t play when the wife and kid were in the house. In the process I rediscovered a few real gems of album tracks I’d forgotten all about. Why, I almost felt 18 again, but without the black clothes and severe haircut.

Download: Paradise Place – Siouxsie and The Banshees (mp3)
Buy: Kaleidoscope (album)
Download: Lucinda – A Certain Ratio (mp3)
Buy: Sextet (album)
Download: Carnival (Shelter In A Suitcase) – Simple Minds (mp3)
Buy: Reel to Real Cacophony (album)

Lucky Dip

Download: Is That All There Is? – Cristina (mp3)

(One of the great, long-lost singles of 1980, and in this case I mean literally long-lost. “Is That All There Is?” was written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller in 1968 (and was a big hit for Peggy Lee) but when they heard how Cristina had “updated” their lyrics with decadent references to drugs and violence they were so vexed they sued her record label and made them take it off the market, so you couldn’t buy a copy of it for nearly twenty five years. It was finally reissued on a Cristina CD a few years ago but that’s been deleted too now so it’s lost again, only to be found for a very pretty penny. Luckily I bought a copy of the 12″ when it came out, it might turn out to be a better investment than my retirement account is these days.)