Something for the Weekend

Another record to file under “Bugger me, I’d forgotten all about this” — at least I had. Though the silly chorus gives it the whiff of the novelty one-hit wonder (which Sherbet were in the UK, huge in Australia though apparently) this is a terrific record, an almost perfect example of 70s radio pop. I can easily imagine it blasting from our little transistor radio during the summer holidays. Noel Edmonds probably loved it but don’t let that put you off.


Young, Gifted, and Black London

If you read the NME in the late 70s you’re probably familiar with the work of photographer Dennis Morris who, along with the likes of Pennie Smith and Anton Corbijn, took some of the most iconic pictures of the era — he also designed the famous tin-can packaging of Metal Box.

Morris was a black kid from Hackney which was something of a rarity in the world of pro photography at the time (being black that is, not coming from Hackney) and his personal work is collected in a new book called Growing Up Black which captures the lives of black people in London in the 1970s: the politics, the churches, the street life, and the sound systems.

It’s a bit pricey for my wallet (300 quid!) but there’s a nice gallery of photos from it here.

Download: Is It Because I’m Black? – Ken Boothe (mp3)

This is a fantastic cover of the Syl Johnson song which I think I prefer to the original, Ken Boothe’s vocal on it just kills me. From the album Darker Than Blue which is a must-have compilation if you likes the reggae music (and pretty bloody expensive now too it seems).

Scout’s Dishonour

I wasn’t much of a joiner when I was a kid (I’m still not), I was briefly in the Chess Club at school but only long enough to learn how to play the game, not long enough to get any good at it (still not either). Apart from that the only other organization I ever joined in my youth was the Boy Scouts and I didn’t stay long there either.

I started going to the 20th Fulham Boy Scout Troop (The Mohicans!) because two of my cousins went and they told me it was a good place to hang out in the evenings and there was a billiard table in the back room of the church hall which you could play on when Scouts were over. I was certainly more interested in that than I was in the whole camping and tying knots, Dyb Dyb Dyb, Bob-a-Job, helping-old-ladies-cross-the-street stuff, and during my time there I think I became a better billiard player than Scout.

I can’t remember how long I actually went but I never got to become a full-fledged, proper Boy Scout and wear the uniform (with the all-important Woggle) because shortly before I was due to go through the ceremony of swearing the Scout Promise (I think you had to do it on the Union Jack) and reciting the Scout Law my career there came to an end, and not because I was rubbish at Granny Knots.

There was a kid from my school in our Troop named Stephen Burgess who everyone called Stephen Birdshit (us crazy kids) and one night during some making-a-fire-with-two-sticks class or something I called him that quite loudly which caused the Troop Leader to take me aside and very sternly tell me to “go home and come back when you’ve learned to speak properly” — those exact words. So I left and still remember walking home in a huff thinking it was all a bit stupid and pathetic — I’d only said shit, I knew far worse words than that! — and there and then decided that Scouts wasn’t for me and I wasn’t going back. I was already a bit dubious about the whole promising to do my duty to God and the Queen bit anyway.

So I was basically kicked out of the Scouts for swearing, it might be the most punk rock thing I’ve ever done.

Download: The Boy Wonders – Aztec Camera (mp3)

Sorry, Smithers-Jones

I got laid off from my job last week which was a bit of a shock as I really didn’t see it coming. They used words like “restructuring” and “reorganization” which I guess is the corporate version of “It’s not you, it’s me”.

So I am now unemployed. On the plus side I should have more time for blogging.

Download: Smithers-Jones (Single Version) – The Jam (mp3)

Upwardly Mobile

Someone asks the question “How are British people taught to expect failure and disappointment?” and gets a lot of responses, including this rather pithy formulation:

“Many American kids are told that they might grow up to be the President. No English kid is told that he might grow up to be King”

This isn’t true of course, there are, oh, three English people who were told as kids that they might be King one day and their names are Charles, William, and Harry Windsor. But I assume it was meant to be a comment on the inherently undemocratic nature of the British Constitution (if we had one anyway) because they won’t get the job by working hard at school and going to a good University, it will be because hundreds of years ago one of their ancestors married or killed someone — or both. You don’t vote for Kings as Monty Python said in The Holy Grail, which is terrible and probably has no place in a modern democracy and all that. They do have nice costumes though.

But it got me wondering, why aren’t English kids told they could grow up to be Prime Minister one day? In my experience it’s not an ambition instilled in our kids the same way that “you could be President” is an almost cliched dream for Americans. I know our countries have different histories but it’s not as if being Prime Minister is an out-of-reach, pigs-might-fly ambition these days. We might have an Eton-educated toff in No. 10 at the moment but the other recent occupants — Blair, Major, and Thatcher (boo! hiss!) — were all from fairly middle-class backgrounds so it’s perfectly reasonable to think it possible that even a kid from a council estate could become PM if they were clever, driven, and power-mad enough.

So why not? I know us Brits are a glass-half-empty kind of people who think excessive ambition is a bit vulgar but I can’t imagine that in today’s more aspirational, fame-obsessed England old attitudes like “don’t get ideas above your station” and “know your place” have much currency — I would hope they’d been chucked in the rubbish bin along with the tugged forelock.

I could be wrong and English schools are now full of wannabe Blairs and Camerons which, on the one hand is a good thing (ambition!) but on the other hand, what sort of kid would want to be like those bastards? Maybe that’s the problem.

Download: Ambition – Subway Sect (mp3)