Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Sweeping The Nation Covermount 14: It's A London Thing

So, that's the Beijing Olympics done. The world records and gold medallists are in the books, the imagery committed to video library, and the flags and the honours have been passed on for London 2012 after a closing ceremony demonstration of the country's legacy in pop (Jimmy Page, Leona Lewis), sport (David Beckham), nostalgic culture (a double decker bus) and comedy (Bori...come on, you could see that punchline coming, couldn't you? The Now Show, you know where to find us)

When better time - apart from in 2012, but we've got this together now - to pay tribute to the history of London as the muse for a whole host of songwriters - its areas, its riches, its deprivation, its Tube system, its party culture, its stay at home attitude. London has a place in popular music we reckon not even New York or Paris can match. It becomes part of band's stories but it makes its own mythologies. It creates genres and sounds that only really exist or thrive within its boundaries. There are songs here by lovers and haters, storytellers and detractors. A creative, financial and often psychological hub, the musical capital gains are endless, and here's 74 minutes or so of them.

It's A London Thing

Ian Dury - The Bus Driver's Prayer
Right, we'll try and get through these twenty without leaving in confusing syntax or horrible factual errors, unlike the last Covermount (we're not sure we'll ever let ourselves forget confusing Cath Carroll for Cathal Coughlan - they're not even the same gender!) It's not actually a Dury original - the writer is unknown but it's been around since the early 70s - but you can see how Dury, who slightly changed the words, would be attracted to a song that namechecks various stops in Greater London. Here he is doing it on So It Goes.

Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine - The Only Living Boy In New Cross
The clips on YouTube of Carter USM's 'final' (as in they're playing two more in November) gig last year made it seem more like Sodom & Gomorrah than a last hurrah for a band that slipped through the critical net and turned up on every other T-shirt in the early 90s. Rock-fisted as they were, we wouldn't mind an issues band like them now, this being equally about HIV paranoia and celebrating South London lowlifes.
From 1992 - The Love Album

Girls Aloud - Swinging London Town
This isn't issues led at all. In fact, it's a fairly open pisstake of ligging debutante partygoers who are always pictured pissed in expensive dresses in the celebrity magazines. You might like to stop for a moment here and consider the irony of Xenomania writing a song on that subject for the members of Girls Aloud to sing.
From Chemistry

Good Shoes - Morden
A band that got swept along on the south London straightforwardly rattling indie-rock 'thing' that got the Maccabees noticed, although before then they'd played at the Mystery Jets' Eel Pie Island hullaballoos. All the members are from the Borough of Merton locale, although title aside it could be about any average urban small town.
From Think Before You Speak

Blur - London Loves
Parklife, however, was as chirpy Cockerney as they come. Well, so cliche had it, the album's character sketches in retrospect being as paranoid and alienated from the party life as celebratory. This, as an example, is generally about empty lifestyles and the subject's ignorance of "the way people just fall apart".
From Parklife

Squeeze - Piccadilly
Difford and Tilbrook wrote a lot about London life and urbanity - certainly you can't imagine a lot of other places packing in those locales in 1982.
From East Side Story

Pulp - Mile End
Jarvis was living in London during Britpop and partaking well in the self-celebratory nature of the scene, as he would document in his comedown album This Is Hardcore. This came a couple of years before that, on the Trainspotting soundtrack, documenting the seedy underbelly of the area Cocker first moved to when coming down from Sheffield.
From Different Class Deluxe Edition

David Devant And His Spirit Wife - Pimlico
And then there's the vaudeville angle. We've discussed DDAHSW back on C97, since when The Vessel, who now appears to be referring to himself as David Devant in contravention of naming convention before (actually no he's not - see the comments), has formed Glam Chops with fan/kindred spirit Eddie Argos.

Elvis Costello - London's Brilliant Parade
Although occasionally referred to as a Liverpudlian Declan grew up in Twickenham and spent very little time in Birkenhead when the family moved there before going back south, working at the Elizabeth Arden factory and writing a song about the former Hoover factory in Perivale. Fair to say he wasn't impressed by its postcard image.
From Brutal Youth

Madness - Primrose Hill
Madness borrowed as much from music hall and Ray Davies as ska, and 1982's The Rise And Fall was their version of a concept album based on their childhoods. Being on the side of Regent's Park and next to Hampstead and Camden Town Primrose Hill's place in the band's psychogeography was assured.
From The Rise And Fall

Lord Kitchener - London Is The Place For Me
In 1948 the Empire Windrush arrived at Tilbury, Essex carrying nearly 5000 Jamaicans starting a new life abroad, marking the start of the modern era of multicultural relations. Among them were calypso musicians Lord Beginner and Lord Kitchener, born Aldwyn Roberts, who between them helped spread their indigenous music to Europe. This song gave its title to a series of Honest Jon's Records compilations of 1940s and 1950s calypso.
From London Is The Place For Me

Smiley Culture - Cockney Translation
The second generation of the Jamaican immigrants were exemplified by David Emmanuel, who would go on to break the top 20 with Police Officer but had earlier had a minor hit and Peel attention with this comparisons and confusions of East End and West Indian slang, one of Michael Rosen's Desert Island Discs and a song Simon Reynolds has argued facilitated the leaking of black terms into general East London slang.

Saint Etienne - London Belongs To Me
Regular Covermount contributors, Bob and Pete (and probably Sarah too, to be fair) have had a long affinity with the sociology and landscape of London, producing the films Finisterre and What Have You Done Today, Mervyn Day? This takes a different tack, documenting love in Camden Town while namechecking World Of Twist.
From Foxbase Alpha

Richard Thompson - Sights And Sounds Of London Town
Tales of prostitution, homelessness, drug dealing, Soho wheeler-dealing - the cheery stuff - from Thompson's 1999 early folk revival-themed album.
From Mock Tudor

Tori Amos - London Girls
Being the iconoclast, North Carolina born Amos has covered two Chas & Dave songs, on the B-side of her Caught A Lite Sneeze single. One was That's What I Like Mick, and is absurd. This is at least more universal in lyrical tone, despite references to a geezer and getting a round in.

Robyn Hitchcock - Trams Of Old London
Onto the Tube now, with the eccentric English songwriter's eccentric English songwriter imagining the journey of the ghost of a derelict tram.
From I Often Dream Of Trains

Elliott Smith - Waterloo Sunset (live)
Calexico - The Guns Of Brixton
Two of the most quintessentially London bands of them all, two of their most capital specific songs that every one of you will know, both subject to stripped back covers by Americans.

Hefner - The Greater London Radio
Obviously it's about love dashed on the rocks, but despite being from Essex and Kent Hefner were always metropolitan at heart. This is the next album due on Darren Hayman's extension and reissue series.
From We Love The City

Catatonia - Londinium
And eventually those who move to the city hoping the streets are paved with gold get fed up, or filled up, and decide to leave. Cerys Matthews' party lifestyle and attendant issues are well documented, but this was written by guitarist and Cerys' former paramour Mark Roberts and it was rumoured Cerys wasn't overly keen. Christ, she's not still dating Marc Bannerman, is she?
From Equally Cursed And Blessed


Tom said...

Great collection, and a fine tribute to our lovely city. Almost makes me happy to live here.

And then I remember Boris. We're doomed, doomed...

Anonymous said...

hey i'm sorry about the concrete and glass organisers bandying the name of devant about. i've asked them to change it to mr Solo as twas he they asked him to play.

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