Tough Choices


Graham Parker’s “You Can’t Be Too Strong” (from his classic 1979 album Squeezing Out Sparks) is a song about abortion which has been misinterpreted by some as pro-life because it has lines like “washed it away as if it wasn’t real” and a verse sung from the perspective of the embryo. But the only person vilified in the song is the man who got the girl pregnant and ran away from his responsibilities, leaving her with an awful choice to make. In 35 years of listening to it the only impression I got was that it was just a sad situation for all concerned. “You decide what’s wrong” he sings at the end of the chorus.

Rock songs like to deal with social and political issues in simple, singalong, punch-the-air cliches and you don’t often get a measured, nuanced take on a subject like this.

Download: You Can’t Be Too Strong – Graham Parker (mp3)

Something for the Weekend



Speaking of the macho posturing of rock music, this is pretty much the dictionary definition of it — even though they all look like girls with that hair.

For all their ludicrous faults, Led Zep did have a killer rhythm section. I can forgive them a lot for that.

An Expat Thanksgiving


It’s Thanksgiving here in American today. It took me years to get used to having a festive roast turkey dinner in November instead of December but now I like having the extra holiday which makes up for the fact that most Americans only get one day off for Christmas.

I will, however, never get used to the fact that they have their big holiday meal with mashed potatoes instead of roast. I love mash but I always associate it with after-school tea when I was a kid (usually with sausages or fish fingers), and it just doesn’t seem special enough to serve with a roast bird, stuffing, gravy etc. Times like this I think I will always be a stranger in this country no matter how long I live here.

Anyway, happy Thanksgiving to all my American readers. Why not give roast potatoes a try this year?

I posted this song before many years ago but it’s great enough for a repeat.

Download: Thank You – Pale Fountains (mp3)

Image: Freedom From Want by Norman Rockwell.

The Feminine Principle


A big part of post-punk philosophy was a rejection of the macho posturing of traditional rock music, with many bands disdaining masturbatory guitar solos and playing music that was more influenced by black rhythms because white rock was seen as conservative, sexist, and reactionary.

Another revolutionary thing about these groups was that many of them were either all-female or led by women. Some were more politically strident or musically radical than others, but bands like The Raincoats, The Slits, Delta 5, The Mo-Dettes, Marine Girls, and Essential Logic all challenged how rock music should both sound and look, and brought a feminist perspective to traditional rock song subjects like love and relationships.

Birmingham combo the Au Pairs were one of the most committed to that perspective, and though a co-ed band they were dominated by the striking voice and attitudes of Lesley Woods (the NME cover girl above) who, while not as well known as your Siouxsies, Traceys, and Paulines, really should be considered one of the great female icons of post-punk and one of its best singers.

In an era overflowing with classic debut albums the Au Pairs’ 1981 Playing With A Different Sex is one of the greatest, casting a savage eye on female sexuality, gender relations, and politics over some of the best post-punk-funk music ever made. There was a dryly sardonic edge to Woods’ voice that made her bitter pills easier to swallow and you could dance to it too, it’s like the funkiest lecture on feminism you’ll ever hear. Songs like “Come Again” are brutal but funny on the subject of sex, and with lyrics like “Do you like it like this?/Please, please me/Is your finger aching?” it’s not surprising it was banned by the BBC.

Download: Come Again — Au Pairs (mp3)
Download: It’s Obvious — Au Pairs (mp3)

The 1980 single “Diet” wasn’t on the album but I think it’s the best thing they did, a devastating little Play For Today of a song about Stepford housewives.

Download: Diet — Au Pairs (mp3)

Bonus clip: Here they are in action. Unfortunately the band broke up in 1983 after their second album and Woods eventually left the music scene to become a lawyer, though judging by this rare interview she seems to be trying a comeback.

Something for the Weekend



Magazine must be contenders for best assemblage of individual talent in one post-punk band, or band of any kind really.

Nice to see Annie Nightingale at the start there.

Making Plans For Crackerjack



Though it’s undeniably silly I hope that XTC were well chuffed with this. Getting played by John Peel or appearing on Top of The Pops are nothing compared to having your song performed on a great British television institution like Crackerjack. I would have retired happy after this.

A friend of a friend of mine worked on Crackerjack in the early 1980s and got a group of us tickets to see a show. We had a bloody marvelous time, Stu “Ooh, I could crush a grape!” Francis was the host then and Depeche Mode were on performing “Monument” (apparently, I’d forgotten). Every time we shouted CRACKERJACK! the Boy Scouts sitting in front us turned around and gave us funny looks as if they were thinking “What are these old people doing here?”

I still have the ticket.


We didn’t get Crackerjack pencils but the bloke we knew on the show got us copies of Depeche Mode’s A Broken Frame album signed by all the band. Like a fool I later gave mine away to my girlfriend, it wasn’t a great album but really wish I hadn’t done that now. Wonder if she still has it.

New Monday



I must admit I haven’t heard much by Geordie folk group The Unthanks since their amazing 2007 album The Bairns but after hearing this new single I might have to go back and check out their other records too. Though this is based on a traditional Dorset folk song, The Unthanks merge the sound of Olde England with Jazz flourishes, particularly the cool sound of Sketches of Spain-era Miles Davis, to create something quite beautiful and new.

Something for the Weekend



When “Gangsters” first came out The Specials (or The Special AKA as they were then) played at The Greyhound pub which was a small venue near us in Fulham. My sister asked me if I wanted to go and I said no for some reason. What a fucking idiot.

What’s it all about?

The sentimental musings of an ageing expat in words, music, and pictures. Mp3 files are up for a limited time so drink them while they're hot. Contact me: lee at londonlee dot com

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