The Bright Side of Life


The world is such a depressing place at the moment. Terrorism, mass shootings, beloved music icons dying, and politics on both sides of the Atlantic becoming a fucked-up mix of circus clown show and Nuremberg rally.

Being English I’m normally a gloomy, glass-half-empty pessimist but I find that having kids is the antidote to that. Sorry if this is a naff greetings card sentiment, but having them in your life (when they’re not complaining anyway) makes the world seem not entirely shitty. Booze helps too.

And music of course. Think I may have posted it before years ago but, what the hell, it’s one of the best extended mixes I have.

Download: I Could Be Happy (12″ mix) – Altered Images (mp3)

The Class Struggle


I used to belong to a Facebook group called “I Grew Up In Fulham” through which I reconnected with some old school friends, heard news about others, and even learned a few things about the history of my old manor. Most of the group were old-school, white working-class people, and sadly — with some decent exceptions — the majority of them were rabidly right-wing, nationalistic, immigrant-haters. I tried to argue with them and their bullshit for a while but eventually gave up and left the group because I got sick of seeing their nasty xenophobia in my Facebook feed. On top of that none of them could spell and I was almost as offended by their illiteracy as I was the racism.

There are stupid bigots in every walk of life but these were people who had grown up in the same neighborhoods and gone to the same schools as me, and I felt like an alien amongst them. I’m under no illusions about the British working classes being a bunch of bleeding heart liberals — I know they’d vote to bring back hanging tomorrow if they could — but it was a profoundly depressing experience that made me feel even further disconnected from my roots. I hated thinking “Thank God I got away from you people” because I’m proud that I grew up working class.

I was thinking about that experience when I read the article How I Became Middle Class by Lynsey Hanley in The Guardian the other week which is about the anxiety and identity crisis that can come with upward mobility. Like me, Hanley grew up on a council estate and went to a shitty comprehensive school, but managed to go to college and now has a thoroughly middle-class life with a job in a creative, middle-class profession — a writer in her case — so I related to a lot of it.

Hanley writes about feeling isolated growing up because she was interested in learning and not into doing the same things her friends were and, while I wouldn’t say I ever felt lonely, I know what she means. I was hardly a swot as a kid, but at my school anyone who was the slightest bit academic or read books for pleasure was seen as a teacher’s pet, bully-fodder, and probably a bit gay. Few boys stayed on for the Sixth Form and only two of us took A-Level English. They weren’t any help with my career either, I got into art school under my own steam two years after I left school. During that two-year gap I worked at a t-shirt printing factory where all the workers read The Sun at lunchtime while I had The Guardian which got me a few funny looks and comments. Over the years I’ve had temp jobs as a dishwasher, cleaner, and hotel porter and it was always the same: I was the smartypants who didn’t fit in there, even though my upbringing was the same as the other workers.

I never had any Billy Liar dreams of escaping my background but that’s what art school amounted to. Four years in that environment — and meeting a lot of other kids like myself — can make it very hard to really go “home” again. You still love your family and the friends you had before, but you’ve been shown this other world where you can be more truly yourself (I wonder if my Dad felt the same when he went from being a cab driver to stage manager at the National Theatre). Plus you now have a profession which pays enough money to buy yourself the life your new pretensions require.

But I don’t entirely belong here either because you can take the boy out of the council estate but never really take the council estate out of the boy. We’re not well-off by any means but make just about enough to send our kids to a private school for a few years (but not enough to keep them there longer) which I was often conflicted about. Hanging around with some of the richer parents would make me feel like a class traitor and I’d have to fight the urge to go all Class War on their BMWs. The smug assumptions of the liberal middle classes — and often total lack of experience with people who think differently — can be really annoying too, and make me want say something reactionary just to pop their cozy little bubble. And I love good food but there’s often this common voice in my head sneering that most middle-class lifestyle trappings like fancy coffee, craft beer, and artisnal tomatoes are all just overpriced, poncey bollocks. I may have gone from Carling Black Label to Côtes du Rhône, and tins of Heinz Ravioli to organic pasta from Whole Foods, but my favourite food is still sausages with HP Sauce.

Download: Ambition – Subway Sect (mp3)

New Monday



I bought tickets to see Angel Olsen in September and this stunning teaser of a track from her upcoming new album has me quite giddy with anticipation. Hope she wears the wig.

Something for The Weekend



I don’t know why Van Morrison is such an old misery guts who never smiles. If I made records as great as this I’d be grinning like an idiot all the time.

Coals To Newcastle


It took a while for us Brits to make soul and dance music as good as the Americans. Our efforts were decent but, from Dusty Springfield’s Motown-esque pop to early Britfunk like Hi-Tension and Linx, often suffered from thin production and lacked the warmth and oomph of our Yankee cousins.

As a consequence British soul music didn’t cut the mustard across the Atlantic and the acts which did make it were white and made their records over there. It wasn’t until 1982 that Londoner Junior Giscombe’s debut single “Mama Used To Say” became the first record by a black British soul artist to be a major success on the American R&B charts. In addition to that barrier-breaking he was also the first black Brit to appear on “Soul Train” which is a real badge of honor. 

We hadn’t completely cracked the code though. To become an R&B smash in the States the single still needed the help of a punchier American remix which beefed up the original. But we must have learned something because after that America opened its hearts and charts to other Brit soul acts Loose Ends, Sade, and Soul II Soul.

My copy of the single is a 12″ white label promo, bought in a record store I used to frequent which had a lot of review and promo copies of records probably offloaded by music journalists for booze and drug money. It has a sticker on it that says “Special New Mix” which is different to the others I’ve heard so I’ve no idea if it was ever a commercial release.

Download: Mama Used To Say (Special New Mix) – Junior (mp3)

Bigger Than Life


If you weren’t around when the late, and very great Muhammad Ali was in his pomp in the 60s and 70s you probably can’t imagine how famous and iconic he was, especially for a boxer. I mean, who the fuck even knows who the heavyweight champion is these days?

But everyone knew who Ali was, for a while he was the most famous man in the world and probably deserved to be. Not just for his incredible float-like-a-butterfly boxing talent, it was also his outsize personality, his gift of the gab (he turned trash talking into poetry), his refusal to fight in the Vietnam War (which cost him several of his prime fighting years), and as a symbol of black pride as potent as Martin Luther King or James Brown. He was as dazzling outside the ring as he was in it.



Us kids knew nothing about Vietnam, Islam, or Black Power, we just thought of him like he was a superhero. When he fought Joe Frazier in 1971 everyone in my school wanted Ali to win and I got into a playground fight with another kid because I said I wanted Frazier. Not that I was some huge Joe Frazier fan or even knew anything about boxing, I was just being a contrarian prick by going against popular choice. I still do that.

Even though I was right — Frazier won — being against Ali now feels like being anti-life, and joy, and even history — because of course he came back and beat Frazier in their next two fights.

Download: The Greatest – Cat Power (mp3)

New Friday



Can’t think of a better way to finish the week with the new single from the wonderful Roísín Murphy. After taking a eight-year break before her album Hairless Toys last year she seems to be on a roll with a new one in the works already.

Roísín directed the video herself which is one of the most amazing and creative I’ve seen for a long time. Oh baby, you are so talented.

New Thursday Afternoon


Fans of Beth Orton should find a lot to like in the music of Missouri singer-songwriter Rae Fitzgerald. Her new album Popular Songs for Wholesome Families adds electronic touches to her intimate, folky sound to make what I’ve seen described as ‘dream-folk’ (better than ‘folktronica’ I suppose).

The album is out tomorrow, self-released through her Bandcamp page (or stream it here) and it’s a really great record that deserves to be heard in the wider world.

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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