This week’s theme is ‘London’. I felt pretty smug when I’d put these 4 songs together. It seemed to me like a perfect little slice of London spanning nearly 4 decades. I then realised quickly that the slice is from a London cake that was baked in my own oven of experience and decorated with the icing sugar of my circumstance, so is probably completely different to yours. However, I hope you will enjoy these 4 tunes in their sequence.
When I started to do some digging and I realised just how many musicians and bands originated in the UK’s capital it is actually quite overwhelming. Some of these origin claims of course could be argued. Do take the appropriate pinch of salt required to consume information from the gospel according to wikipedia – but here it is. There are many many others who didn’t make the list.
This journey starts in 1978. I was still dribbling down my face and wetting myself, so not much has changed in my world. However, I am reliably informed that the Jam were as raw and energetic as you would want them to be when they played live. I’ve been a fan of Paul Weller since I obtained a copied cassette of ‘Wildwood’ and then discovered the Jam shortly after, to great delight.
Now, Paul Weller was actually from Surrey rather than being a true Londoner, but ‘down on Platform 5, Guildford Station at 8am’, would probably not have had the same ring to it, even if the concept is equally intimidating for the average commuter. It’s easy to listen to the playful bouncing chorus baseline and the backing vocals of The Jam’s Down in the Tube Station at Midnight and forget that they are actually describing a fairly brutal mugging. Dear listener we are left to hope that the only terrible outcome of this whole incident is ‘flat wine’ and cold curry… A hint that the Weller household was perhaps better heeled than one would expect, if the only wine Paul knew of had bubbles in it..
The Clash followed 2 years later with The Guns of Brixton from the album Sandinista! Penned and sung by bassist Paul Simonon. (He’s the one smashing the bass guitar on that iconic album cover to London’s Calling) It was actually written prior to the riots that broke out in 1980, but clearly has musical and lyrical nods to the unrest and discontent due to ongoing recession and heavy-handed policing of the time. The iconic baseline’s reggae hook almost comes off to ska riff that Madness would be proud of, but credibility is maintained through punk guitar snarls. I think it shows the rough construction of foundations that start bringing London cultures together musically into a more defined sound. This is a bit of a vague theory but bear with me.
Fast forward 25 years to Bloc Party and Banquet from the brilliant album ‘Silent Alarm’ and see what has become of this cultural soup. Still the energy is there, the anger has maybe subsided or evolved but clearly the rhythm has its genetics in punk and reggae. Kele Okereke’s lyrics are actually about sex, but you could be forgiven for thinking he is describing social disharmony and street violence. All I can say is that he is probably better off out of that relationship…
This brings us to one of my favourite artists of the moment, Ghostpoet. I had to get a tune of his in and this is the perfect spot for X marks the Spot from the marvelous album ‘Shedding Skin’ . Obaro Ejimiwe claims his music is not of a particular genre, although people love to put a label on things. Even if it means building a new label out of some raggedy bits of others. The quote that follows is from the Independent and a piece of journalism that tries to identify Obaro’s sound:
[recent] LP ‘Shedding Skin’, the most forceful expression yet of his alternative strain of hip-hop, with its slurred vocals, soupy ambience and loose cross-pollination of influences, from electronica to folk and from Aphex Twin to Badly Drawn Boy.
I’m not sure that helps but I like ‘soupy ambience’ maybe that’s the label..
Music is also of a place and of a time. For Ghostpoet that place is London and the time is the twentytens. You can trace elements of rhythm, beats and lyrical intent from his songs back through all of the rich London pedigree you’ve heard here, and beyond. What an achievement to take all of the good bits of that prolific genealogy and navigate around the difficult branches of the family tree. Others have not been so successful… Enjoy..