Something for the Weekend



Cher, Bing Crosby, Queen, Lulu. David Bowie could sing duets and make records with anyone yet still keep his artistic credibility. Truly, the man’s coolness is bulletproof.

BONUS: There’s something truly surreal about seeing Bowie on American light entertainment television. Here he is bringing da funk — and some cool dance moves — to Dinah Shore.

My Mother’s Records


Not being in the mood for anything new I re-read Jonathan Coe’s nostalgic novel The Rotters Club on holiday the other week. The book is set in Birmingham in the 1970s and one of the major events in it is the horrific bombings at the Mulberry Bush and Tavern In The Town pubs in the city which killed 21 people on one night in November 1974.

Two characters in the story are in the latter pub that fateful night and one detail Coe adds is that the last song playing on the jukebox of the Tavern In The Town right before the bomb went off was “I Get A Kick Out Of You” by Gary Shearston. I can only assume Coe made that up because I can find no reference to it anywhere else, but it’s perfectly feasible as the record was a big hit at the time, getting to No.7 in the charts the month before the bombings.

Though she already had a version of the song by Frank Sinatra my mother bought the record because she loved Shearston’s lazy, laconic take on it — complete with an acoustic guitar intro stolen from “My Sweet Lord” — which really brought out the urbane ennui of Cole Porter’s lyrics. Despite his Ferry-esque croon, Shearston (who died last year) was actually an Australian folk singer and this was a one-off novelty hit that he recorded for a lark. Part of the success of such an old-timey record was probably due to the 1970s nostalgia vogue when even Laurel & Hardy and Glenn Miller got in the charts.

This is one of the records that most reminds me of my mother so I was a little bothered by Coe placing it in the terrible context of the Birmingham pub bombings, as if he was messing with my own memories. But one of the book’s strengths is that Coe avoids the superficial, I Love The Seventies! version of the decade — nothing but flares, Glam Rock, and big sideburns — which a more obvious signifier of the era like Bowie or T. Rex would have been. Going with a forgotten one-hit wonder — and slightly cheesy one at that — can tell you more about the actual, ordinary reality of the 1970s than “Starman” does.

Download: I Get A Kick Out Of You – Gary Shearston (mp3)

PS: How nice looking was the Charisma Records label?

New Monday



Searching around music sites for new sounds can be a bit daunting because there’s so much out there and it’s often pot luck that I find anything I like. I only clicked on this video because the song was called “Archie, Marry Me” which sounded fun and I’m really glad I did as this is terrific.

Alvvays are a Canadian band who play sunny, jingle-jangle indiepop that might not sound very original but they do it very well. Their debut album is out now and has nine tracks of similarly wonderful C-86 goodness.

Something for the Weekend



Discovering a Pauline Murray clip I haven’t seen before always makes my day. Finding one where she’s singing the gorgeous, ethereal “Dream Sequence” is even more of a treat. One of the great singles of the post-punk era I think.

Off The Shelves


The Saturday job I had in the record department of the Putney WH Smith in the late 70s might not have been as hip as working at Rough Trade or Groove Records, but the guy who ran the department was a serious music geek as were the kids I worked with and we stocked plenty of Post-Punk and Indie records, and had a good section of 12″ singles. There were three independent record shops on Putney High Street at the time (three!) and we considered them our competition, not Woolies or Boot’s.

The naff brown blazers and ties we had to wear didn’t make us look very cool but if you came into the store on a Saturday you’d be just as likely to hear The Jam or Joy Division playing than Neil Diamond or ABBA, much to the annoyance of the store manager. One time he came over when we were playing Gary Numan’s The Pleasure Principle album and said “Take this off and play something more popular!” to which one of the kids snarkily replied “Actually, it’s Number One at the moment.” First time I ever heard Unknown Pleasures was while working there.

But Smiths were still a “respectable” High Street chain better known for selling books and stationery than edgy records. One Saturday in 1979 a letter arrived from corporate HQ in Swindon telling us to remove from the racks all copies of the debut albums by Public Image and Stiff Little Fingers as the company would no longer be selling them — in other words, they were being banned.


The letter never gave any reason (it may have actually been two separate letters at different times, my memory is hazy on that point) but it wasn’t hard to figure out why they considered SLF’s Inflammable Material so controversial with it’s abrasive songs about the Northern Ireland conflict. We were a little puzzled about the Public Image album, but decided that it was down to the “sacrilegious” song “Religion” which would probably still ruffle a few feathers today.

The strange thing was that both albums had been out for a while, the Public Image album was nearly a year old, so this was a case of shutting the barn door after the horse had bolted. I can only imagine that the old duffers who ran Smiths were a bit slow on the uptake, or maybe they’d had a few Mr. Angry letters from outraged customers — I once had a woman return a Billy Connolly album to the store complaining that one of the sketches on it was “blasphemous”. The Stiff Little Fingers ban was obviously blatant political censorship though, the Chairman of Smiths at the time was a chap called Sir Charles Hugh Willis Troughton and with a name like that you can imagine what his political sympathies were. He probably went to public school with half the Thatcher cabinet.

I don’t remember any of this being in the news back then, not even the music press who you think would be outraged at the establishment once again banning rock records, but the whole event seemed to be unnoticed except for those of us who worked at Smiths.

Smiths doesn’t sell music anymore (neither does any other High Street store) and now John Lydon does butter commercials while Stiff Little Fingers are on the punk nostalgia circuit. But there was a time when they were considered an affront to the decent law-abiding citizens who popped into Smiths to get their TV Times and the latest Barry Manilow album. You can’t say this about a lot of music from back then, but these records do still sound confrontational. Still worth banning, really.

Download: Religion II – Public Image Limited (mp3)
Download: Suspect Device – Stiff Little Fingers (mp3)

Something for the Weekend



One of those songs you can hear a million times but never fails to be less than glorious. Who among us doesn’t still love to sing the “Space travel is in my blood” bit?

This is a rather scorching live version too.

My Summer House


Back (sadly) from our holidays in Rhode Island. Had a great time, though as you can see from the above photo, the wife had to go catch our dinner every night.

Seized by a bout of nostalgia for late-90s club music I took on the trip the CD Beach House, one of the many, many Hed Kandi compilations I bought back then — just looking at the distinctive sleeves they had sends me back in time.

The first track on the album is “Music and Wine” by Blue 6 which originally came out on Naked Music, another label I bought a lot of back then with equally distinctive sleeves. Naked specialized in smooth and soulful dance music and “Music and Wine” is one of the most sublime, summery House records you’ll ever hear. It was my favourite single of 1999 and still sounds wonderful.

Download: Music & Wine (Original Funkaphonic Vocal) – Blue 6 (mp3)

Give me a few days to get back up to speed here.

Off for a bit


By the time you read this post I shall be on my holidays, sitting on a beach in Rhode Island, getting some sun and reading my own Beezer Summer Special.

Back next week at some point. With a tan, hopefully.

Download: Here Comes The Sun – Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel (mp3)

Photo: Holborn Oasis Open Air Swimming Pool, London 1956.

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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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