Something for the weekend

Watching this I keep thinking that surely at some point the Top of The Pops cameraman will move way and focus on someone else. But no, he stays right where he is for the whole song with the camera ending up almost inside her top. The screen goes black for a second at one point which may have been caused by the cameraman fighting off the floor manager who was desperately trying to get him to zoom out. This might be the real reason “Sugar Sugar” got to Number One.


An Ideal for Dying

In 24 Hour Party People one of the running jokes was that designer Peter Saville was always late getting jobs finished (eg: delivering the invites for The Hacienda’s opening party on the night itself) so there’s something nicely fitting about it taking him three years to do Tony Wilson’s headstone. And what a beautiful thing it is.

You can see it at Manchester’s Southern Cemetery.

A Certain Ratio were also treated as a bit of a joke in the movie (though not as much as poor Vini Reilly) but I loved them and think this might be my favourite record ever released on Factory.

Download: Flight — A Certain Ratio

(Story and picture via Creative Review)

Every picture tells a story

If you have a copy of the terrific photo book London Through A Lens turn to page 199 where you’ll find the above picture titled “Roll’s-Royce at the Hilton” taken in 1965 with a caption that describes it as “the perfect image of urban glamour and sophistication in 1960s London”. Which it is, but besides being a great photo what makes it special to me (and gave me quite a nice surprise when I first looked through the book) is that the man in the top hat is my grandfather.

He was a doorman at The Hilton (and then The Dorchester) in the 60s and 70s and I imagine that working the door at such a swanky, jet-setter hotel during the height of Swinging London he must have seen and met a lot of the beautiful people of the era. Unfortunately I don’t have any stories about that or if I did I’ve forgotten them, and back then I wouldn’t have cared anyway unless he told me Captain Scarlet had stayed the night. That salute he’s giving reminds me that another thing I never knew much about was his military service. I knew he’d been in the Navy on a submarine during WWII (which seems to have been about the toughest job a sailor could have ) but his generation never talked about that and, to be honest, my generation never asked either. Besides I reckon he’d rather play golf than talk about that stuff anyway, the only hint that he might have had another, more serious, life in the past was the faded tattoos of anchors on his forearms. But I never could quite square those and what they implied with the warm, happy man who used to give me 50p to wash his Ford Capri at the weekends.

As is often the case by the time I was old enough to think that maybe my grandad did have some interesting stories to tell he had passed away, having a heart attack while playing golf in the early 80s. At least he went doing something he loved and it gives me a real happy feeling to see him immortalized in such a great book — as part of London’s history too.

Download: A Salty Dog — Procol Harum

On His Way To A Better Place

Don’t know how I didn’t hear about this before but, man, I’m gutted to find out that General Johnson died last week. Chairmen of The Board were one the great soul bands of the 70s and one of the most underrated (as was their label Invictus with that crisp soul-funk sound they had) and where would Kevin Rowland be without Johnson’s pleading voice and that brrrrrrrrrrrppppp sound he made?

Only one song I can post today.

Download: I’m On My Way To A Better Place — Chairmen of The Board

Pop Saints

With Davy and Simon both swooning over Saint Etienne this past week I figured it was about time I put in my tuppence-ha’penny worth. Though I’ve posted a lot of St. Et tunes here in the past I’ve never actually written anything specifically about them which is a real oversight on my part because in many ways they are the musical patron saints of this blog. Years before the phrase “Cool Britannia” was scribbled on a vodka-stained napkin by some marketing executive in a Soho bar and our past was sold back to us as a Union Jack-draped cartoon, Saint Etienne were rummaging around the (at the time) forgotten dusty corners of the English Pop Culture Shop for music, words, and samples to cut-and-paste together into records that sounded like love letters to England — or more specifically, London — and also the life-affirming magic of pop music itself. But Saint Etienne aren’t The Village Green Preservation Society, despite their magpie-like sampling of the past their music is as much about now as it is then. To them, London — and pop music — isn’t a museum but a forward-moving constantly-changing experience soundtracked by House, electronica, dub, folk, and film music, often all on the same album.

A group as conceptual and knowing as them could end up sounding better in theory than in practice — a concept album about a council estate? — but Saint Etienne also make incredibly poptastic records and been doing so for nearly 20 years now, something I wouldn’t have put money on when I bought Foxbase Alpha back in 1991. What I think makes them a truly great band (in a mold that seems to have been broken now) is that their best moments are often to be found on b-sides, EPs, and even fan-club only releases, which makes compilations of unreleased and single-only tracks like You Need A Mess Of Help To Stand Alone, Interlude, and Continental (which until last year was an expensive Japan-only release) all well worth splashing the cash on to hear gems like these.

Download: Sushi Rider — Saint Etienne
Download: Sometimes In Winter — Saint Etienne
Download: Hit The Brakes — Saint Etienne

I can’t think of any other band that has tucked away so many goodies on flip-sides and other hard-to-find places (and that includes The Smiths) and it’s this attention to details like b-sides that makes them so damn loveable, they appreciate the nerdy joys of pop fandom and the power that music has to enhance and romanticize our lives. To my mind they are the best English pop group of the past twenty years and anyone who disagrees I will see outside afterwards.

Sounds Like Home

I’ve been having a lovely old time exploring and listening to the British Library’s wonderful UK Sound Map, a huge online archive of ambient recordings made all over the country.

They range from the sublime…

…to the (slightly) ridiculous…

…to the Larkin-esque…

and the Morrissey-esque.

This one gives me my own personal Proustian rush.

Being a sentimental old expat I’ve found it quite a wistful experience at times and it’s pleasing to know there are British people out there who think that things like “a lonely office” and “a damp Friday afternoon” are worth recording because they are part of the nation’s character. What a miserable bunch we are.

In the same spirit, some songs that also wistfully evoke places and things.

Download: Walking In The Park — The Clientele
Download: Swallow Song — Vashti Bunyan
Download: Coney Island— Van Morrison

The Power of London

I went to art college in Kent and one of the greatest pleasures of taking the train back to London at the weekend was the moment right before the train crossed the Thames on its way into Victoria Station and on the right would appear the imposing edifice of Battersea Power Station looming over you like some giant machine. Once I saw it I knew it would be only a few minutes before I would be back among the sights, sounds, crowds, and buzz of London. As a result I came to think of it as a symbol of “home”, a signpost that marked the line between the backward small-town atmosphere I was leaving behind and the cosmopolitan energy of the greatest city in the world — it was as if the building itself was saying “welcome back”.

Which is why it’s so depressing to see the state it’s in today. It hasn’t been used as a power station since the early 80s when the last of it’s generators were shut down, leaving it a silent relic of the dirty energy past, and sadly these new photographs by Peter Dazeley are a dismal reminder of how it’s been slowly falling apart since then. Several redevelopment schemes have been tried and failed to make new use of the building, including a theme park plan that died through lack of money after they had already taken the roof off, leaving it an open shell exposed to the elements, it’s walls crumbling and it’s magnificent machines rusting. As a result it’s been named one of the world’s 100 most endangered sites which is a bit bloody embarrassing for a country that’s supposed to love its heritage so much.

When you consider what was done with Bankside Power Station and the fact that London has been a buzzing hive of expensive new construction for the past couple of decades, it’s skyline constantly shifting and changing, it’s even more monumentally depressing and farcical that so far no one has been able to save a building which is just as much an icon of the city as St. Paul’s or Big Ben. There’s yet another plan in the works but I wouldn’t be surprised if the whole thing falls down first.

Download: Electricity — Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark