Tired of London? Far from it: Taylor Parkes wonders what's got into a lot of young boys' heads
Wednesday 08 June 1994
Very few of these bands come from London. Drawn to the city, Dick Whittington-style, they seem blind to anything that fails to tie in with the imaginary childhood fed by films, books and pop itself. Their London is stuffed with barrow boys, mini-skirted dolly birds, pub singalongs and big red buses.
Blur began as a half-baked, jangly guitar-pop band before donning 16-hole Doc Martens and singing about the Westway in exaggerated cockney accents (they are middle-class boys from Colchester).
Answering charges of being too referential and hung up on an impossible past, Blur are evasive: 'We're a Nineties band', said singer Damon Albarn, 'we're. . . Nineties eaters. Our audience have the same feelings about the Nineties as we do. There's a contradiction in using the past and rebelling against the future. There's a contradiction in what we are.'
Whatever, the album went straight in at number one.
Saint Etienne are pretty successful too (their LP, Tiger Bay, went into the top ten), but their take on London pop history is altogether more sophisticated. They'll sing about Archway and Kentish Town as readily as Ladbroke Grove or Trafalgar Square. Their videos and record sleeves are full of carefully-chosen images of London past and present.
The band's songwriters Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs aren't born-and-bred Londoners - rather, they hail from. . . Croydon.
'I used to buy Madness records, or old Kinks records', said Stanley, 'and I thought that all these places they were referring to in North London must be really exotic, because the only bit of London I ever saw as a kid was the A23 between Croydon and Vauxhall.
Me and Pete used to get on the number 68 bus to school, and on the front of the bus it said it was going to Chalk Farm. It was just the weirdest name for a place we'd ever heard. We never wanted to go to school, just stay on the bus and see Chalk Farm '
These people who hate London have normally come here, got themselves a bedsit in Finsbury Park or Seven Sisters and sat in it. Then they leave after six months saying London's a dump.'
'I remember as a kid thinking 'why is anybody living in Southend,' said singer Jake Shillingford, when they could be living in London? What's the point of living miles from one of the most brilliant cities in the world?'
However strongly one is drawn to this nouveau Swinging London foppery, its hard to deny that it's anachronistic beyond belief. The music hall pastiches of The Kinks, The Small Faces and The Who were a direct response to a period of genuine optimism about Britain in general, when London really was, culturally at least, the centre of the world.
For now, the startlingly innovative music of Bark Psychosis (residents of East Ham) explores that sense of alienation and dread all too familiar to modern-day Londoners.
Perhaps this music - fractious, techno-conscious, and desperately paranoid - says more about Nineties London than a hundred chunks chipped off the past onto which
neon-drunk is shakily stencilled: THE FUTURE.
SHORT HISTORY OF 'COCKNEY' POP
1 The Kinks
'Waterloo Sunset' (Pye 1967) The first great London pop song. Ray Davies locates the poetic in young lovers meeting on the South Bank.
2 The Small Faces
'Lazy Sunday' (Immediate 1967) Steve Marriott in cockney sparrow
persona explores the incongruity of the psychedelic experience in east London.
3 The Clash
'London's Burning' (CBS 1977) A hymn of hate to a city 'burning with boredom': 'Drive round the Westway on a Saturday night / what ? great traffic system, it's so bright.'
4 The Jam
'In The City' (Polydor 1977) Woking boy Paul Weller's awestruck ode to the Big City: 'In the city there's a thousand things faces all shining bright / and those golden faces are under twenty-five. . .'
'One Better Day' (Stiff 1984)
Madness - hailing from Camden Town and Muswell Hill - had no illusions about London life, but their songs had warmth drawn straight from the music hall.
6 The Band of Holy Joy
'When Stars Come Out To Play' (Flim Flam 1986) Almost entirely
forgotten band, squatting in south
London, wrote beautiful vignettes of lowlife, tinged with romance.
7 Saint Etienne
'London Belongs To Me' (Heavenly 1991) 'Take the tube to Camden Town / walk down Parkway and settle down / in the shade of a willow tree / summer hovering over me.' To those born in Croydon, this is what north London is really like.
8 Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine
'The Only Living Boy In New Cross' (Chrysalis 1992) Authentic Sarf Lahndan boys. Punular social realism: 'The comfort and the joy of feeling lost / with the only living boy in New Cross'.
9 My Life Story
'The Lady Is A Tramp' (Mother Tongue 1994) Belsize Park-based fops on a mission to become the Max
Miller of pop.
'Parklife' (Food, 1994) Essex-born art-school types with mock-cockney accents mix New Wave quirkiness with visions of council houses and computer games. The effect is half-satirical, half-poetic: 'l feed the pigeons, sometimes I feed the sparrows as well / it gives me a sense of enormous well being.'
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