Music: Pop: As if by magic the shopkeepers appeared

It could be a pop fairy tale. Cornershop's "Brimful of Asha", their effortlessly infectious three-chord jewel, rises without trace to sink the Titanic pomp of Celine Dion and go straight to Number One. Except that it isn't true. Cornershop have been plugging away since 1992, first as agit-pop angry young men, publicly burning images of Morrissey for his alleged flirtation with neo-Nazism.

Back in 1992, musicianship (dirty word) took second place to er... revolutionary use ie the music was provocative without actually being pleasing to the ear. By January of the following year, this paper wrote that the band were "refreshingly inept on their instruments", but a year later condemned them as having stage "absence rather than presence". Or perhaps, as Gary Walker, head of their label (Wiiija Records) puts it: "Yes their first record overreached their abilities, but they had a lot of ideas. Far more than most debut albums.

But at least they scraped together enough money to get by? Times were so hard for the Anglo-Asian combo that only the lead singer and song-writer, Tjinder Singh was a full- time member, while the others held down day jobs.

But was it a global lack of

interest, or a typical case of parochialism? The British music industry is unlike its US cousins in that it always expects immediate results. "Bands are propelled to the charts after a couple of gigs," says Walker, "rather than maturing, getting where they want to be." By 1995, with the release of Woman's Gotta Have It, and a US deal with David Byrne's Luaka Bop label, critics everywhere else picked up on the music's confidence and its success in fusing musical styles - for example, bhangra, the Velvet Underground and the Rolling Stones in the mantra-like drone of "6am Jullandar Shere", sung in Punjabi.

So their (half) Asian background has been a defining factor, or even a stumbling block to success? "Obviously there is racism in the industry," says Singh. "There is resistance to anyone who is different." But their finest riposte, in the face of the prejudice, and to those who have criticised them for blurring the distinction between eclectic and derivative, is their Punjabi translation of Lennon and McCartney's "Norwegian Wood". The closing track on their new album, it claims back Oriental themes borrowed (pilfered wholesale) since the late Sixties.

What was the secret of eventual success? The critics raved about their latest album release, When I Was Born for the Seventh Time. "It was a similar situation with Pulp," says Walker. "What they were doing artistically eventually gelled with the public." (Helped in no small part by a supporting slot on stage with the cut- -and-pasters of rock's back catalogue, Oasis - that plus an adrenaline-pumped big-beat remix by the producer of the moment, Norman Cook; and a soundtrack role on a Caffrey's ad can't have done any harm either.)

But are their lyrics still suffused with political venom? "We don't care about no government warnings" is a gentle allusion to radical times past, but when it comes to, say, "everybody needs a bosom"...

Pardon? "Everybody needs a bosom for a pillow..."

Very Nineties. Very the personal is the political. Maybe, but doesn't it make you want to grin like a little kid?

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