Strip Teaser

When I was a kid there was a pub near us called The Salisbury Tavern (now a Tesco Express — sigh) that had a stripper one night a week. So on those nights me and my mates used to go down there and, if we stood on tip-toe, we could just see inside through the non-frosted bottom part of the window and get a cheap thrill. This was long before any of us had ever been close to a naked woman in real life (at least I hadn’t) so it was quite exciting and did all sorts of things to our pubescent hormones.

One time the stripper looked right at me and I dropped down shouting “SHE SAW ME! SHE SAW ME!” and we all scarpered, thinking that any second the landlord was going to come out and give us all a clip ’round the ear or call the police.

I assume pub strippers died out as a thing at some point in the 1980s which is probably a good thing — these days they wouldn’t go too well with your artisanal ciabatta sandwich and craft beer. The only other one I ever saw was at the Chelsea Drugstore one lunchtime early in that decade and I just remember it all being rather sordid and sad.

We couldn’t hear the music inside The Salisbury so I’ve no idea if any of the girls stripped to this record but I doubt it. Even by then it was seen as more of a comedy record that wasn’t at all “sexy”. I do love this though. It’s the musical equivalent of a Carry On or Benny Hill gag and it’s brassy, burlesque swing never fails to make me smile. There’s also something a little cheap-sounding about it which would make it perfect for a sad and dingy English boozer in the 70s.

Download: The Stripper – David Rose & His Orchestra (mp3)

Trivia: David Rose was Judy Garland’s first husband.


Tees Up

New t-shirt designs now on sale. These are a bit different than what I usually do but what the hell, they amused me when I thought of them so hopefully others will like them too. As always they are only $14 for a limited time so get ’em while they’re hot.

These designs are all mash-ups so here’s a mash-up record. There was a real vogue for this sort of thing in the early 2000s and this was one of the best.

Download: Work It Out With A Foxy Lady – Beyoncé v Jimi Hendrix (mp3)

All The Lonely People

It was the artist Edward Hopper‘s birthday last week, he died in 1967 so he wasn’t around to celebrate it. My first year at art college my tutor was a Conceptual artist of the kind who had declared painting dead in the 1970s, especially figurative, narrative painters like Hopper whose work was considered mere bourgeois decoration. Some of that attitude rubbed off on me and for a while I never saw Hopper’s paintings as much more than commercial illustration.

That changed when I saw his 1931 painting Hotel Room in the flesh at an exhibition and was quite blown away. For some reason I always assumed Hopper’s pictures were small, precise little things, but Hotel Room is about five feet square which isn’t quite Abstract Expressionist size but still big enough to lose yourself in. Stand close enough and it feels like you’re actually in that room. Beside the aching sadness of the picture I just love the simplicity of the composition, take the woman out and it’s close to being a flat abstract painting.

The other thing I realized was that, though his paintings are superficially attractive, they’re often as bleak as a late Rothko. He was a real master at capturing the loneliness of modern life and his most powerful images are the ones like Automat and New York Movie which capture solitary people in quiet moments of reflection. You can read a lot into what the people in these paintings are thinking but the overwhelming sense is one of melancholy. We’ve all seen these people on the bus or in a pub — staring out of windows, avoiding eye contact, wanting to be left alone — we’ve probably been them ourselves. I know I have.

Here’s some Northern Soul that’s almost as sublime as a Hopper canvas.

Download: Ask The Lonely – The Fantastics (mp3)

Back in Nagasaki

Malcolm McLaren’s wide-boy dilettante act led him to hype up and/or steal a variety of sounds and styles over the years — Punk, African drums, Hip Hop — but the most unlikely of them all was when he plundered the world of Opera for his 1984 album Fans.

Splicing electronic beats together with famous Opera tunes is an idea that should sound terrible in a naff “Hooked On Classics” way, but the old shyster just about made it work. The gorgeous single “Madame Butterfly” was especially successful, with McLaren narrating the voice of Lt. Pinkerton and the part of Cho-Cho San beautifully sung by both Debbie Cole and the soprano Betty Ann White.

FYI: This mix is 10-minutes long so it’s a big file.

Download: Madam Butterfly (On The Fly Mix) – Malcolm McLaren (mp3)

Photo: Devon Aoki by Nick Knight (for Alexander McQueen), 1997.

New Monday

Always great to have new music from Holychild. I remain baffled why they aren’t huge stars, especially when they make such bright and catchy pop music.

Oh well, it’s the world’s loss. This new single is another fab addition to their catalog and, as is often the case with Holychild, beneath the candy-coated surface there lurk some tough and cutting lyrics, this time about families.

Back To The Old House

For the first 10 years of my life my family lived in an old Victorian block of flats in Fulham called Humbolt Mansions. It was knocked down soon after we moved out and in the years since I don’t recall ever seeing a photo of the place and even internet searches yielded nothing — it was like the flats had been wiped from memory. Then recently I found these images at The London Picture Archive and had one of those “oh wow” moments that suddenly unlock your brain and bring the memories flooding back.

Though the building was solid in the way Victorian ones are, our flat was dingy and run down. There was a massive hole in our bathroom ceiling and one night a mouse fell out of it and landed on my mum when she was in the bath. There was also a small hole in the living room floor by the skirting board that a pet gerbil I had disappeared down and never came back. On the plus side it had a long, narrow hallway I could race my Hot Wheels cars down.

Though Fulham wasn’t exactly a dodgy part of London we were burgled twice. The first time I vividly remember coming home from school one day and walking up the stairs to find the glass in our front door had been smashed in. Luckily my Dad was with us (he was still living at home then) so he went inside first to make sure no one was still in there and called the police. They’d didn’t get much except our big old radio and all the money out of the gas meter. Not much consolation though, if you’ve ever been burgled you’ll know how strange it can make your own home feel.

When the building was demolished the entire street block was taken down with it which included an old disused library, a doctor’s surgery, and a junk shop called Abbot’s which we spent a lot of time in as kids. It was a little place piled high with all kinds of stuff and felt a bit like Aladdin’s cave to me — albeit a very musty and dusty one.

I can’t say I have a lot of happy memories of living there, besides the things mentioned above it’s where my parent’s marriage fell apart. I remember them arguing in the living room and crying because I had no clue what was going on and why they were shouting at each other. That’s the sort of thing that scars you for a long time. With my Dad gone my mother was left in a bad financial situation which cast a pall over a lot of our life there. The electricity was cut off at one point, and a creepy loan shark came around once a week to collect on the money my mum had borrowed. Happily, life improved a whole lot when we moved to a 1960s council flat that was brighter and cleaner and my sister and I got our own bedrooms.

45 years later and that whole block is just an empty patch of grass with nothing built on it despite being in what is now a very desirable part of London. Even after all this time I still look at this spot and think there’s something missing. It’s like a big hole where my childhood used to be.

Download: This Is The House (12″ Version) – Eurythmics (mp3)

Dodgy Boozers

The actor Eddie Marsan was recently the target of an angry mob on Twitter for saying that he preferred going to a dinner party than a pub. His reason being that he had bad memories of the local pubs where he grew up which were the aggressively masculine haunts of violent men who would get drunk and beat their wives and kids when they got home, so to him they always had that association. People ignored that he was talking about his own personal experience and accused him of spreading negative stereotypes about the working classes. Some even claimed that he was implying the middle class don’t commit domestic violence. Of course that isn’t what he was saying at all, but there are none so blind and self-righteous as a social media mob.

It occurred to me that these idiots with the pitchforks and axes must either have had very soft upbringings, or just be too young to remember when pubs weren’t clean, smoke-free, and family-friendly places where you could get a hand-crafted ciabatta sandwich. When I grew up a lot of them were fucking rough: Dingy, smoky, and unwelcoming, always ready with a dirty look — or worse — for anyone who didn’t “belong”. Every area had a “dodgy” boozer that you avoided because it had a reputation for violence (I knew several) but it could kick-off even in decent pubs. One time I was headbutted in a pub by a bloke who thought I was looking at his girlfriend. He nutted me so hard I went flying across the bar and, when I got back on my feet, the landlord kicked me out. I once saw an entire pub break out into a fight just like in a movie — glasses flying, mirrors smashed — and had to hide under a table. In some pubs if you accidentally spilled another man’s pint it was a relief if he didn’t go off on you.

There are still pub fights and men who hit their wives of course, but it’s no longer as overlooked or almost socially acceptable as it was. There used to be a feeling of “boys will be boys” and that men had the right to smack their wives about if they got out of line, or take a belt to their kids. I highly recommend this article about the violence that used to permeate everyday life.

Personally I liked the old pubs, even the dingy and smoky ones, but that’s because I’m a romantic about grubby old things and think there was more character to be found in them than the current, scrubbed-clean version. But many of them were awful places and I totally understand why someone else would have a problem with them and prefer a dinner party, and that has nothing to do with class. I love Twitter but those kind of pile-ons can make it a depressing place.

Download: Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting – Elton John (mp3)

Photo: Allison Arms, East Jarrow, 1978, by Vince Rea

Steve Strange

The great comic artist Steve Ditko died last week. Along with Stan Lee and Jack Kirby he was one of the principal architects of the Marvel universe, co-creating Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, and their cast of supporting characters.

Unlike Kirby’s square-jawed heroes, the characters Ditko drew looked like they needed a good meal and actually lived in our grubby little world. His Peter Parker was gawky and miserable, forever feeling beset by life — just like a real teenager — and the villains he fought were a gallery of grotesques: Doctor Octopus was chubby and wore glasses, The Sandman had a face like the back of a bus, and The Vulture looked like an evil grandad. They were mostly small-time losers who fell arse backwards into their superpowers. This was revolutionary stuff and his and Stan Lee’s most influential work, it certainly had a big impact on me as a kid.

While his Spider-Man was grounded in the real world, Doctor Strange wasn’t tethered to reality at all and Ditko came up with imagery that looked like he was tripping on some very good LSD — he wasn’t, Ditko was very conservative and hated the counterculture. Other, less-imaginative artists might have drawn the alternate dimensions the magician traveled in as shadowy, vague environments but Ditko created colorful, surrealistic worlds with crazy perspective where there was no up or down. Mind-blowing stuff.

Even more dazzling to me was his rendering of the character Eternity who, as the living embodiment of the universe, was almost literally an undrawable concept but he managed to give him form that was brilliantly original — the dude is a hole in reality in the shape of a man. These full-page panels of his battle with the dread Dormammu are just far fucking out, man.

Ditko produced a lot of great work both before and after Marvel but I haven’t got time or space to cover everything he did. This is a good overview of his entire career, including his controversial post-Marvel creations Mr A and The Question who were dour vigilantes given to making didactic speeches about free will based on the philosophy of Ayn Rand of which Ditko was a firm believer.

Even though he hadn’t produced any mainstream work in decades his death still felt like a big loss. With Kirby gone and Stan Lee seeming very frail we’re losing the Gods of the Marvel universe, one of the greatest feats of imagination of the 20th century and a huge part of my growing up, and it makes me very sad.

Download: Strange Magic – Electric Light Orchestra (mp3)