Monday, 31 May 2010

La Fille de Londres

"Un chinois est sorti de l'ombre. Un chinois a regardé Londres. Sa casquette était de marine. Ornée d'une ancre coralline. Devant la porte de Charlie. A Pennyfields j'lui ai souri. Dans le silence de la nuit. En murmurant je lui ai dit ..." sings Juliette Greco in her version of La Fille de Londres. Ah Juliette Greco. I think now of Alfie and Robert Wyatt's song Old Europe. I think of Richard Barnes' Mods! where I first saw the name Juliette Greco. And I think of Juliette dismissing Malcolm McLaren with the line: ‘I have had the greatest poets in France write for me, and you are asking me to sing this!’ And how delighted he would have been to have her slam down the score. Among the poets whose words Juliette has sung is Mac Orlan who wrote La Fille de Londres (with its nice reference to Pennyfields down near the old West India Docks). One of the famous interpretations of that song is by Germaine Montero. I believe a collection of Mac Orlan songs sung by Germaine was a particular favourite of Guy Debord and his circle in the '50s. Start putting all this together and you can understand why Malcolm as a London boy was so enchanted by Paris ...

Sunday, 30 May 2010

L'Inconnue de Londres

"La chambre était au paradis. D'un vieil hôtel à luminaire. Où l'on cultive la chimère. En y mettant un peu le prix ..." sings Léo Ferré during his early composition L'Inconnue de Londres, which if you'll excuse my schoolboy French translates as the lost of London. I have a growing fascination for French chanson, particularly the chansons réalistes about which Kenneth Rexroth wrote so vividly in 1969. And if my poor grasp of the French language inhibits an ability to understand, then at least the sound and feel and flow of the words overwhelms the senses and maybe more is left to the imagination. Ever since discovering the work of Léo Ferré as part of the whole May 1968 thing I have become a huge fan. The works I came across first, Amour Anarchie, La Solitude and Chante L'Ete '68, have become massive favourites. And if these reflect a man in his 50s being influenced in turn by the new sounds and spirit of the age then there is a lesson there for us all. Some of the arrangements are exquisite, like say Sinatra's Watertown. He sums up that whole wonderful mix of elements and contradictions that the French are so great at: communist, romantic, anarchist, poet, rogue ...

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Initials BB

"Une nuit que j'etais a me morfondre dans quelque pub anglais du coeur de Londres parcourant L'Amour Monstre de Pauwels me vint une vision dans l'eau de Seltz ..." recounts Serge Gainsbourg at the start of his wonderful Initials BB. Happens to me all the time. There is a case to be made for more London songs to be delivered in anything but the local vernacular. After all a song starting: "One night as I was sitting moping in some pub in the centre of London reading a bit of Louis Pauwels I saw a vision in my tonic water ..." just doesn't have quite the same charm does it? Initials BB like several of Serge's greatest moments was recorded in London, where he worked with some of the great arrangers like Arthur Greenslade and David Whitaker. He also recorded his big hit with Jane Birkin in London. Indeed one of the tracks from that LP, Le Canari Est Sur Le Balcon, is set in London. I have to confess I nearly overlooked Initials BB as a London song, but since the mid-'90s re-serge-ence of interest in the great man's works they have become so familiar you almost don't notice the words for the sound they make - if that makes sense. Was it more fun when we had to scratch around for bits of Serge? Perhaps. But the joy of finding clips about the creation of Initials BB is still something wonderful. This is the second part ..."Here we go mate ..."

Friday, 28 May 2010

Night in London

Night in London is a 1967 Bollywood crime caper starring Biswajeet and the beautiful actress Mala Sinha. The soundtrack features the popular singers Mohammed Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar. The music is composed by Laxmikant Pyarelal. And there are plenty of people who know more about such things. But the fantastic title track of Night in London qualifies perfectly as a London song. The opening sequence it features in is suitably extravagant and delightfully illogical. And the film features a gorgeous poignant jazzy beat ballad called O My Love which has some nice London settings and some sharp schmutter ...

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Mr Dante Fontana

"Get your bowler hat at Lock. Look around you. See who is around you. Get that hat at Lock. Buy your style of shoe at Lobb. It's the done thing. Stroll and walk around in shoes from Mr Lobb. Your umbrella straight from Brigg. Never never trust the weather ever. Get your brolly from Brigg. Then you'll find at Fortnum & Mason a beautiful red carnation. A moment of sweet fascination will linger with you. From Dunhill a pipe for the manly type. Get your ties each day the Piccadilly way. Gentlemen everything is just okay ..." Towards the end of the number Mr Dante Fontana the singer Lydia McDonald outlines how to get the perfect English gentleman look. Astonishingly 45 years on those establishments are still there in central London. The song itself comes from the 1966 film Fumo Di Londra, a vehicle for Alberto Sordi. Significantly the soundtrack was by Piero Piccioni, one of those Italian composers whose work became astonishingly hip and ridiculously sought after at the turn of the millennium. The film was a light comedy based around the Anglophile Sordi's quest to become the quintessential English gent but he gets caught up in the new swingin' London. There's the inevitable night club 'happening' scene, actually out at Eel Pie. Most of the vocals are provided by Lydia, the Cinecitta muse, but the great Julie Rogers (a Bermondsey girl) is featured too. The fascinating thing about the Italian soundtracks is that the music is extraordinarily addictive, without needing to see the films, and there is a temptation to become totally immersed in these sounds. There's a distinct similarity to the Bollywood soundtracks of the same era in that respect ...

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

London Rain

"The rain of London pimples/The ebony street with white/And the neon lamps of London/
Stain the canals of night/And the park becomes a jungle/In the alchemy of night ..." That's how Louis MacNeice's poem London Rain begins. There's a lovely bit in Arnold Wesker's East End trilogy where the young romantic revolutionary recites a few lines of MacNeice's and his mum says something along the lines of aww that's nice why don't you write poetry like that more often? Jah Wobble set London Rain to music on his collection The Celtic Poets. Jean-Pierre Rasle plays the pipes on this track and the words are read by The Dubliners' Ronnie Drew in that remarkable, distinctive voice. This is not the only occasion when Wobble has provided us with musical settings of poetic works. He recorded a set inspired by Blake's verse, which appropriately featured an adaptation of the poem London from Songs of Experience. Back in 1969 Allen Ginsberg recorded poems from Songs Of Innocence and Songs Of Experience, including London sung in his unique way, with musical contributions from some of the greats like Don Cherry, Elvin Jones, and Bob Dorough. A more recent and very lovely interpretation is by Paul Howard and Jo Clack ...

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

The Aspidistra Flies

"All the rain in this town. And still the sky is blue. St James's Square is teeming with doves. And that sunset they flew across the darkening city. To an attic room for two. All the umbrellas in London. Couldn't hide my love for you ..." sings Torquil Campbell in Stars' The Aspidistra Flies which I assume refers to the Magnetic Fields' song. Intentionally or not the song makes me think of Helena Bonham Carter in Wings Of A Dove and Keep The Aspidistra Flying. Or should that be makes me think of Henry James and George Orwell? Stars are Canadian but there was another pop pretender called Torquil once upon a time. '80s underground hopefuls Reserve were fronted by one Torquil MacLeod, and they were briefly recording artists on the splendid Sombrero label. Reserve's flexi favourite The Sun Slid Down Behind The Tower was itself a London song. Other Sombrero scenesters included the Siddeleys and Bob. Vintage guitars, Oxfam suits and sweet smelling hair wax a gogo ...

Monday, 24 May 2010

Swinging London - pt 2

"Planets crash, the world goes nova. Sun explodes, all goes black. You went off swinging London and forgot to come back ..." I bet if all the artists featured as part of this project were given the task of writing a swinging London related song we would have a pretty amazing range of themes. One we do have is the Magnetic Fields' Swinging London. Stephin Merritt and the Magnetic Fields are undoubtedly underground pop heroes, though it wasn't until the release of 69 Love Songs that I was even aware of their existence. Interestingly for such a prolific pop classicist Merritt, despite his way with words and melodies, has not become a major contributor to the great American songbook. Perhaps no one has had the wit to capitalise on his songwriting skills. So, for example, no one has had a massive hit with All The Umbrellas In London. Now what does that tell us about the world we live in?

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Swinging London - pt 1

"There are people out there who make me sick. People out there who I haven't got time for. People out there who think they're it. People out there who I wouldn't want to die for ..." Punk contenders London appropriately had a great song called Swinging London which is about anything but that. Nevertheless it is one of the great London songs of the punk era. Their front man was one Riff Regan who under his real name of Miles Tredinnick would become a script writer for Frankie Howerd and Birds Of A Feather. London (the group) had the unique selling point of being managed by swingin' '60s legend Simon Napier-Bell whose assistant had stumbled across the group playing in the Rochester Castle, in Stoke Newington. Interesting the way the old '60s pop moguls dabbled in punk, like Mickie Most hooking up with The Vibrators on RAK briefly which even saw them appearing on the TV pop show with Chris Spedding performing Pogo Dancing. Napier-Bell's previous charges included the Yardbirds and John's Children ...

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Swingin' London Scene

"Five o'clock on a Sunday morning. Sleeping city grey and still. Even the early milkman's yawning ..." A number written by one John Britten (and certainly not the Subway Sect/Orange Juice one) First Impression's Swingin' London Scene pops up on a glorious round-up on the valuable RPM label of what it calls "the accidental genius of Saga Records 1968-1970". Saga was a budget label that a little late in the day decided to cash-in shamelesly on the Swingin' London pop scene. As is so often the way with these things it just so happens that some of the material it 'processed' was as good as anything else on the market. First Impression's Swingin' London Scene also appears on an excellent Spiral London-themed mix called Teatime At The Circus which I'm very grateful to Nick Hamilton (who produced the excellent London-themed Lost Steps show on Resonance FM)for pointing out. The mix itself features a number of London songs I certainly wasn't aware of, and I will resist the urge to pinch them. Another thing I particularly like about mass produced cash-ins is that they often go off at odd tangents which purists would never countenance. So, for example,I love Swingin' London numbers where things aren't quite what they seem. A modern variation on that theme would be the Noonday Underground, named after the archetypal Tom Wolfe mod essay, and yet their London. Well ...

Friday, 21 May 2010

Sunday Afternoon in Belgrave Square

"With my friends surrounding me I should smile most happily but I'd rather spend my afternoons with you ..." sings Trevor Billmuss at the end of his gorgeous song Sunday Afternoon In Belgrave Square, which came out on the b-side of a 1970 single on Charisma, and has since turned up on the Fading Yellow series of rare psych/sunshine pop sounds. There was an LP too, but that's pretty elusive. Would love to hear it though. There's the famous '60s quote from, I think Roger Daltrey (or was it Pete Townsend?) about becoming famous and buying a flat in Belgravia and spitting out of the window any time you wanna just to annoy the Conservative geezers. Punk group The Depressions borrowed the line for their Family Planning single which had the familiar punk refrain of dad's in the pub, sister's in the club, and so on. Fantastic flipside though, called Living On Dreams, which had this real '60s blue-eyed soul growl to it. The Pretty Things were notoriously based in Belgravia too, and famously used their address, 13 Chester Street, as the title of one of their tracks. What a fantastic group the Pretty Things were ...

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Percy From Pimlico

"No doubt to see me you'd think I am a millionaire by the clothes I wear. Think that I ride around in my carriage and pair round Leicester Square to make folks stare. I've got no 'oof but I always play spoof. I'm a rickity rackity bloke. I'm as happy as the Prince of Wales although I'm stony broke ..." sings Tom Leamore in his music hall classic Percy From Pimlico about a cove wot's "a slasher, a dasher, the up-to-date masher." It's another of the numbers Ian Whitcomb includes on his Titanic Tunes set, and covers familiar themes of the chap with nothing creating an illusion to the contrary. The roots of modernism? This recording of Leamore was made in the '30s when there was a brief revival of interest in music hall and variety which resulted in electric recordings of a number of original artists who had been stars pre-WW1. I like it for the use of the word masher, which is a piece of slang that's long gone referring to a fop that acts the part of a lady killer. Talking of fops, many years on David Devant & His Spirit Wife would claim we've all been to Pimlico, and that it's the kind of place lovers like to go. Well, certainly the Ealing Comedy Passport To Pimlico is the kind of plucky Londoner against the establishment story we've all been part of in our dreams ...

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

London At Night

"In the markets of Soho to the far less exotic and more patriotic restraints of Pimlico ..." Noel Coward's London Pride is rightly one of the Capital's anthems, but it is by no means the great man's only song about the City. There is, for example, London At Night from his 1954 musical After The Ball, which was based on Lady Windermere's Fan. On paper the idea of Coward combining with Wilde is one to savour, but it's not everyone's favourite. Nevertheless London At Night is a wonderful number, and it's interesting to see Coward succumb to the London song writing temptation to take the listener on a whirlwind random tour of the town. I suppose there is a certain irony in the fact that Noel Coward is best remembered by some for his role as Mr Bridger in The Italian Job. It was something special though. As is of course the song London Pride. And the next time someone mentions the 'special relationship' to you then think of this amazing piece of film footage ...

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Clunk Click

"We be all the King's Men. Minds of Jack The Ripper to the strokes of Big Ben. When we hear the tones we be breaking bones. Roaming through the gas lit alleyways of bloodstained cobblestones with the groans of Mr Hyde howling at the moon we be lunar like the tide ..." Ah The Brotherhood's Clunk Click captures better than any other track the dark heart of London past Peter Ackroyd also conjures up perfectly in novels like Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem, The Lambs of London and The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein. The Brotherhood's Elementalz is one of the great lost masterpieces of UK hip hop. It has the distinct advantage of being produced by Trevor 'The Underdog' Jackson and features some of the most individualistic UK rap full stop. To give a flavour of how the outfit was out of step one track's entitled Punk Funk at a time when no one was listening (1996). The Brotherhood was from north west London and the city was quite a feature in its work ...

Monday, 17 May 2010

Big Ben

"On Sunday nothing opens late. The clock across the river chimes. Towers above the bridge we crossed were bound for better times ..." Nick Drake's At The Chime of the City Clock is one of the songs most often suggested for inclusion in this project. It's referenced in Roddy Frame's Big Ben, one of the highlights of the great man's Surf set. "At my best I believe in love. I can't conceive there's only sky above ..." I love those lines. It's a gloriously sentimental song. Speaking of which Big Ben is a sort of symbol for London, and so it's the perfect imagery for Vera Lynn to use when singing When You Hear Big Ben, You're Home Again. The great bell of the clock tower at the north end of the Palace of Westminster is, of course, known all over the world just like Vera Lynn, the forces' sweetheart from East Ham. Less well known is the fact that visits to the clock tower are free for UK citizens and can be arranged through the local MP. It's your democratic right but there'll be a waiting list ...

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Public Servant

"Public servant number one. Sits in Whitehall. Is waited on. Do they know something we don't know? Public servant number two. Sits in Whitehall with nothing to do. Do they know something we don't know? Chief of Staff in a big black car. Buying arms for his jungle war. Does he know something that we don't know ..." sings the inimitable Charlie Harper at the start of the UK Subs' Public Servant, a great track from their second LP Brand New Age. Charlie is a London institution held in far higher regard than the heart of the Civil Service he sings about. It really is scary the role played by the higher echelons of the Civil Service in controlling this country and shaping what the Government of the day thinks is its policy. Of all the songs that make passing reference to Whitehall the most powerful and poignant has to be the Style Council's Homebreakers. Mick Talbot's vocals capture the vulnerability of the vengeful perfectly ...

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Green Park

"It didn't last long. In seconds this moment had gone. It happened in Green Park ..." claims Anthony Adverse in her song Green Park. Oh I know the feeling only too well. This 'legendary b-side' was written by our old friend Louis Philippe, as was the Red Shoes suite of songs which features another fantastic Anthony Adverse London song, London My Town, which sounds rather wonderfully like the blueprint for Saint Etienne or Noonday Underground. It should perhaps be mentioned in passing that Anthony Adverse also recorded one of my favourite Vic Godard covers (T.R.O.U.B.L.E). The Anthony Adverse character was one of Mike Alway's fantasy pop figures on the wonderful el label and it's all there - the Powell/Pressburger references, the bossa inflections, the brassy '60s swing. I rather liked the fact that I didn't have a clue about who Anthony Adverse really was. Then, damn the internet, I found some snippets of information suggesting she was Julia Gilbert who had been in underground pop greats Five Or Six and who went on to become a script writer for EastEnders with a father who might have been Head of BBC Light Entertainment during one of its golden ages. Even Mr Alway couldn't have made that one up.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Klub Londinium 20-30

“The sunglass stands of Via Buckingham. People came to join the organised dancing. So we made a Klub. Made it all up ...” Klub Londinium 20-30 is a track from the final Sudden Sway record, Ko-Opera, released on Rough Trade in 1990. Sudden Sway’s story is the great untold pop adventure. Throughout the 1980s they were the ultimate pop strategists playing with formats and processes, all the while creating sounds several light years ahead of the pack. If you’re not familiar with their work follow the clues on the web to their Peel sessions, the Spacemate game, the To You With ReGard 12”, Traffic Tax Scheme, the Sing Song exercise and, my personal favourite, the ’76 Kids Forever pop opera. Ko-Opera is in some ways their ‘straight’ record, though musically it was a blueprint for the ‘90s to come. Similarly, well before the likes of Iain Sinclair were the toast of the town, to complement Ko-Opera there were special themed Klub Londinium walks around the Capital. To my eternal shame I didn’t take part, though I do seem to remember seeing people pick up headsets at the Rough Trade shop in Covent Garden. This is borrowed from an account posted online, with thanks and apologies to the author Ken C: “Klub Londinium was the best thing they ever did. It was an exercise in psychogeography in which you walked the city in someone else’s shoes. Having completed a personality assessment questionnaire, you were assigned to a tour for a quite different personality. They decided I was an Outsider, so sent me on the Hedonist tour. The cassette contained two voices; one giving directions and factual, historical information about London; the other representing the interior monologue of the ‘raver’ driving himself to despair in pursuit of the good time that must be going on somewhere else. The tour began at Charing Cross station and led through Soho and Mayfair, describing this history of the Crystal Rooms in Leicester Square, the location of the first strip show in London, Sheeky’s restaurant, the location of private gambling clubs, 18th century brothels, and much else. A tremendous amount of research must have gone into the tours. I bought the tapes for the other tours: the ‘Mystic’ personality (a satire on new-age nonsense the led around Regents Park and up Parliament Hill); Materialist (through the City, St Katherine’s Dock and the yuppie housing in Docklands, ending in Tobacco Dock) and, the best I think, the Outsider tour, an eternal wanderer’s search for a home, through Spitalfields and Brick Lane, ending at the Geffrye Museum. The degree of synchronisation between the taped speech in your head and what you saw in front of you was often uncanny; graffiti on the walls was read to you as you passed; an electronic tone representing the onset of a migraine kicked in as you emerged from the shadow of a building into the sunshine; the sound of footsteps following you as you walked through a long tunnel in a dodgy part of Shoreditch.” The same internet posting refers to an earlier Sudden Sway installation at ICA in The Mall, and a clip of the group performing its Human Jukebox featured on the Old Grey Whistle Test ...

Thursday, 13 May 2010

The Changing of the Guard

"The Changing of the Guard is part of our tradition but now we find it's been applied to us ..." mourns The Marquis of Kensington as he feels the gentry is up against it in swingin' England. If his Changing of The Guard has a touch of the Noel Coward sings The Kinks about it then that'll be because their manager Robert Wace was on vocals. The Marquis of Kensington was a studio project featuring Wace with the great Mike Leander. This song was featured in Peter Whitehead's 1967 documentary Tonite Let's All Make Love In London, and was a hit on the continent. As Wace wanted to keep a low profile they got a young art student to do the TV appearances. Another single, Sister Marie, had a great mod instrumental, Flash, on the flip which was covered in Italy and became a hit for the equally aristocratic Duke of Burlington.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

I Dig Everything

"Ain't had a job for a year or more. And I don't own a thing. Everything's fine and I dig everything. I feed the lions in Trafalgar Square and I dig everything ..." You could make up a nice little mix of David Bowie's London songs from the 1960s if you were that way inclined. Certainly our Dave's London Boys has been one of the most frequently suggested songs for this project. Rather brilliantly right at the offset Andy Hitchcock of the Socialist Leisure Party nominated I Dig Everything. Rob Symmons of the magnificent Fallen Leaves proposed London Bye Ta Ta. Bob Stanley has made a case for Can't Help Thinking About Me. And soul spinner supreme Jo Wallace trumped us all with Did You Ever Have A Dream? with its mention of Penge out there in deepest Shena Mackay territory. Oddly no one suggested Memories of a Free Festival . Stranger still none of Bowie's London songs seemed to feature in the fantastic Ken Pitt film, but you do get a nice shot of Mr Fish in Clifford Street here ...

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

I Live in Trafalgar Square

“My last ‘digs’ were on the Embankment. The third seat from Waterloo Bridge! But the cooking and, oh!, the attendance, didn’t happen to suit me so well. So I ordered my man to pack up and look out for another hotel ...” sings the splendid Ian Whitcomb on his interpretation of the old Music Hall classic I Live In Trafalgar Square which has the lovely subtitle of The Optimistic Outcast. It comes from Ian’s CD/Songbook Titanic Tunes where he recreates an impromptu ‘knees-up’ that took place in the steerage lounge of the doomed ship on the evening before the disaster. An American vaudeville act returning home, the Musical Murrays, was playing a mix of ragtime and music hall numbers they’d fallen in love with while in the UK. The audience would have been largely Eastern European immigrants whirling around the dancefloor. Ian takes on the role of Mr Mortimer St John of Mornington Crescent, “a delineator of high-class ballads, tragedian and dramatic monologist”, who may just have helped out with a spot of singing on the night, displaying an unexpectedly authentic Cockney tone at times. It’s great stuff, and a treasure chest of London songs. Proceedings end with Ian performing Albert Chevalier’s A Fallen Star which includes the lines: “I do not wish to gas. I merely state in self-defence the denizens of New Cut thought my Hamlet was immense”. Of course US audiences thought Ian was immense too ...

Monday, 10 May 2010

This Is Charing Cross

"This is Charing Cross; It is midnight; There is a great crowd. And no light— A great crowd, all black, that hardly whispers aloud. Surely, that is a dead woman—a dead mother! She has a dead face; She is dressed all in black; She wanders to the book-stall and back, At the back of the crowd; And back again and again back, She sways and wanders. This is Charing Cross; It is one o’clock. There is still a great cloud, and very little light; Immense shafts of shadows over the black crowd That hardly whispers aloud…. And now!… That is another dead mother, And there is another and another and another…. And little children, all in black, All with dead faces, waiting in all the waiting-places, Wandering from the doors of the waiting-room In the dim gloom. These are the women of Flanders: They await the lost. They await the lost that shall never leave the dock; They await the lost that shall never again come by the train To the embraces of all these women with dead faces; They await the lost who lie dead in trench and barrier and fosse, In the dark of the night. This is Charing Cross; it is past one of the clock; There is very little light. There is so much pain." This is the fifth part of the poem Antwerp by Ford Madox Hueffer (Ford), which The Wraiths have set to music as This Is Charing Cross. It is a haunting poem about (Ford's) WW1 experiences which T.S. Eliot famously described as “the only good poem I have met with on the subject of the war.” Pretty daft quote that actually. The Valleys by Electrelane which uses words from Siegfried Sassoon's A Letter Home disproves that for starters. The Wraiths specialise in setting poetry to music, exceptionally beautiful music for which the words chamber folk seem ridiculously inadequate, and I am eternally grateful (yet again) to Daniel for suggesting this number be included, thus triggering a love of The Wraiths' work. Serves me right for not taking notice of him earlier. Interestingly Daniel has geographical links to both The Wraiths (Bristol) and Ford Madox Ford (Merton). The Wraiths have a fantastic new (second) collection out, Welcome, Stranger, To This Place, which continues the challenge of combining poems and music in a way that is exquisite and very moving. Coincidentally Ford Madox Ford's The Soul of London, which some argue is the best book about the Capital and I wouldn't necessarily diagree, is now available as a print-on-demand paperback. I'm not sure I like what that says about publishing today no matter how much I love the book ...

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Rose Ann of Charing Cross

"There by my lonely bed, a lovely angel stopped and said: 'That's only thunder overhead' And that's how we met. Rose Ann of Charing Cross, the rose you gave me never died. Rose Ann of Charing Cross, it knows one day you'll be my bride. And it will live till then, until that happy moment when I know our paths will cross at Charing Cross again, Rose Ann ..." sing the Four Vagabonds in exquisite harmony on their 1943 hit Rose Ann of Charing Cross. It's an interesting one this, as most of the popular songs of WW2 on the face of it have nothing to do with the war itself. But this is a number seemingly about a wounded soldier who falls in love with a nurse while laid up in Charing Cross Hospital. The Four Vagabonds had the hit, but plenty of others have sung it including Frank Sinatra. It was written by the American team of Kermit Goell and Mabel Wayne, which perhaps is why the location is a little eyebrow-raising and doesn't bear too close an analysis. Mind you, this was well before the hospital moved way out west. The Four Vagabonds have been cited as pioneers of r 'n' b vocal stylings, and it's easy to make the link to the doo wop boom. Listening to the group's wartime tribute to Rosie the Riveter it's easy to make links to Billy Stewart and General Johnson ...

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Rosemary McLaren of the Strand

"Miss Rosemary McLaren is a lady of renown. Like a piano she is upright and grand. She spends her daily hours selling flowers by the bunch at a pitch situated on the Strand ..." In which Richard Digance declares his love for the flower seller Rosemary McLaren of the Strand during one of his lovely early sentimental folk/vaudeville numbers. London, of course, has its famous flower sellers, from Eliza Doolittle to the Great Train Robber Buster Edwards who had a stall for years outside Waterloo station. The Strand also has its place in pop history, from Let's All Go Down The Strand to Do The Strand. And then there's Bob Dylan and Don't Look Back where he's filming the infamous promo for Subterranean Homesick Blues behind the Savoy. But this particular Richard Digance number makes me think of one of Bob's old comrades, namely one of my all-time favourite fighters Phil Ochs and his own Flower Lady. Here's a toast to those that are gone ...

Friday, 7 May 2010

We All Went To Leicester Square

"One night as I strolled up the West I met this millionaire Smith beside myself. Smith said 'where are you going to?' I said 'I'll go anywhere along with you'. 'Where shall we go?' said Baron Rothschild. Then as I pulled me fourpence ha'penny out. 'Then' I shouted out with glee 'if you're leaving it to me let's go somewhere where there are no girls about' ..." So We All Went To Leicester Square sings George Formby Snr. Oh yes before there was the cheeky chappie with the ukelele his father was a great star on London's Music Hall stages. Sometimes he'd play the provincial fool for the partisan Cockneys. In our favourite book, Sweet Saturday Night, Colin MacInnes describes how "George wore a miniscule bowler, a jacket too tight, pants too baggy, large unlaced boots, a scarf that dangled between his legs, and gloves whose fingers were larger than his own. One of his comic effects, as he ambled about the stage, was the hacking cough that doubled him up in paroxysms of anguish - and his audience in paroxysms of mirth. He was in fact tubercular, and the cough was genuine and killed him after surviving World War 1." The cough can be heard to great effect on his recording of Looking For Mugs In The Strand where he turns the tables and gets one over on Londoners ...

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Jeffrey Goes To Leicester Square

"Bright city woman, walking down Leicester Square everyday. Gonna get a piece of my mind. You think you're not a piece of my kind. Ev'rywhere the people looking. Why don't you get up and sing?" suggests Ian Anderson in the early Jethro Tull number Jeffrey Goes To Leicester Square. It's odd. For a long time the Tull was a bit of a guilty pleasure. I was really fond of some of their early works and thought they were lovely movers. Then I began to notice some of the hip hop headz were coming out as fans and I read a piece where Nick Cave was enthusing about the group and I thought hmmm well it's not just me then. And I really am a soft touch for a bit of flute in my pop music. Anyway, Mr Anderson seemed to like writing about the character Jeffrey in his songs. Like this one which they got to perform on the Rolling Stones' Rock 'n' Roll Circus in 1968 which has a real Beefheart and the Magic Band feel to it. Fantastic stuff ...

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Undercover Anarchist

"Leicester Square under siege ..." What a line. You can just see that on an apocalyptic Evening Standard headline. Any cultural commentator that gets all snooty about UK hip hop should be forced to listen to Undercover Anarchist, a single by Silver Bullet at the end of the ‘80s. Silver Bullet was a particular favourite of John Peel, a big champion of UK hip hop in his way. The Silver Bullet tracks he played would explode out of the radio like Suspect Device or Oh Bondage Up Yours had once blasted the listener out of slumbering comfortableness. Unlike oh so many many performers that appeared often enough on the John Peel radio show the transition from small independent to major recording conglomerate in the case of Silver Bullet resulted in a record that was even more ridiculously raw. In the case of UK hip hop as in the days of post-punk this would be nothing short of a miracle. The one and only Silver Bullet LP, Bring Down The Walls – No Limit Squad Returns, came out on Parlophone in 1991. It now goes for silly money as befits its status as a bona fide ferocious UK hip hop masterpiece, which nevertheless far too few folks are fervent about. Silver Bullet’s performance throughout Bring Down The Walls is astonishingly angry, and convincingly so. 20 Seconds To Comply. Undercover Anarchist. Bring Forth The Guillotine. Legions of the Damned. Silver Bullet’s songs still strike like situationist slogans. If the lyrics themselves are like rapid fire accusations, apocalyptic attacks and cut-up manifestos then the rage itself seems scattergun too. I hate everything ...

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

The Soul of England

"Moonhop! Come to London town. Skinhead, beware, beware. Then all their friend say a black man hell is a white man heaven, and a white man hell is a black man heaven. PEACE on Earth, goodwill to all mankind. Reggae, bring unity, between black and white ..." This is a slight deviation, but as it follows on from a B.A.D. track I hope Mick Jones and Don Letts will approve. One of the few delights of the modern world is being to fish around on YouTube and enjoy the treasures shared by people who have taken the time and trouble to share their loves. Combining the search for London related songs with a passion for old ska, rocksteady and reggae tunes I often came across the name of OldWah, a gentleman and a scholar who has posted many ridiculously rare and wonderful old reggae recordings. Well, I'm delighted to say he has put together a lovely mix for The London Nobody Sings of skinhead era sounds with a Capital conection. It is going to be hard to resist drawing comparisions between ye olde cockney knees-up and the moonstomping knees up by the hip one time ... "Do it mate ..."

Dragon Town

"At this corner we must part. Say goodnight where Soho starts. In the Lido people stare. Pretending I don`t care. Thrown a menu I can`t read. What number do you need?
Fortunes told and fire crack ..." In which it's Friday night and our hero Mick Jones and the B.A.D. boys venture out to Dragon Town or if you like Chinatown in Soho for something to eat. I like the passing reference to the Lido, the Chinese restaurant in Gerrard Street which is like Mick Jones a bit of a London institution. Of course our hero has a bit of previous when it comes to this part of London. The old Clash number The Prisoner mentions the Charing Cross Road, and a rather earlier B.A.D. song Sightsee M.C! with the familiar credits of Strummer-Jones also refers to Chinatown. All together now:"We got plenty of '60s slums. They say she jumped from floor 21. It's empty now but it blocks out the sun. Used to be the shape of things to come ..."

Monday, 3 May 2010

Give Me The Moon Over London

"Just give me the moon over London. Let me have a dream or two. Perambulating with Daisy down Shaftesbury Avenue ..." Performed by Carroll Gibbons and the Savoy Orpheans, Give Me The Moon Over London is a number I believe that was written for the 1946 revue The Night And The Laughter by Jason Matthews and Terry Shand. Carroll Gibbons was an American who moved to England and from the early 1930s he was bandleader of the Savoy Orpheans, one of the most famous of the British dance orchestras and the one closely associated with the Savoy Hotel. It was Dennis Potter's Pennies From Heaven that revived interest in the '30s dance sounds, and a couple of Carroll Gibbons' performances are featured on the soundtrack. The story goes that at the start of WW2 Gibbons was on holiday back home in the States but he hotfooted it back to London where he did his bit to keep up morale and rally the troops in some of the more exclusive places. One of the homegrown dance band leaders, Stamford Hill's Harry Roy and his boys were captured for posterity doin' their bit ...

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Denmark Street

"Down the way from the Tottenham Court Road. Just round the corner from old Soho. There’s a place where the publishers go. If you don't know which way to go, just open your ears and follow your nose. 'Cos the street is shakin' from the tapping of toes. You can hear that music play anytime on any day. Every rhythm, every way ..." sings Ray Davies at the start of Denmark Street, from The Kinks' Lola vs The Powerman set, one of their criminally under-celebrated '70s collections. I'm sure there are many reasons for it but Ray's songs from that time were often about the pop process. Denmark Street in many ways was central to the old pop industry as the UK's tin pan alley, home to many publishers and haunt of many more aspiring songwriters, singers and musicians. This Pathe-News film from 1951 captures the spirit of the street nicely through a rather rose-coloured lens, but I like this period where things are almost caught in limbo between the dance bands and rock 'n' roll.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

West End Pad

"I've tried a West End pad and a classic car, my favourite drink in my favourite bar, a few close friends and a movie star ..." sings hard-to-please Cathy Dennis on her hit West End Pad. I'm no expert on her work but I do find Cathy is one of the more fascinating figures in the pop world. And I suspect if Paul Morley were to write his Words And Music now he would focus rather more on Cathy - perhaps as some long lost twin of Davy Henderson - for following up Can't Get You Out Of My Head with Toxic and I Kissed A Girl. She's certainly retained more mystery than say the Xenomania folk. I do find the whole songwriting craft thing intriguing. A lot of my favourites have struggled to write songs for people apart from themselves. Paul Weller and Saint Etienne, for example. But Cathy is this incredibly successful writer with a gift for creating songs for the performer, you sense, whatever the market. And she's withdrawn from being a commodity herself, not releasing a record since the Am I The Kinda Girl set which West End Pad came from. That record itself is intriguing for the presence of Ray Davies and Andy Partridge, which at the height of the Britpop thang was a neat piece of one-upmanship.