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?

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)

They Can Do Magic


I’ve been playing this song a lot lately. I’ve known it since it was a hit in 1973 so it’s far from being a new record to me but I heard it again recently and was suddenly struck by what an utterly great pop-soul record it was, with a sunny and breezy charm that’s quite, well, magic. Music is funny like that sometimes, one minute a record is like wallpaper — always there but not really noticed — the next you see it’s beauty with new eyes (or ears in this case).

And what a great name for a band Limmie & The Family Cookin’ is. They were formed in Ohio by Limmie Snell and his sisters Martha and Jimmie — the latter of whom is the sweet voice on this — who never had any hits at home but scored three in the UK of which “Magic” was the first and biggest.

Not sure if a song that got to #3 in the charts can qualify as a “lost” classic but I think this is one of those records that only people of a certain age know, and for some of us perfectly captures Radio One in the 1970s.

Download: You Can Do Magic – Limmie & The Family Cookin’ (mp3)

Something for the Weekend



The usual divide in my school between the soul boys, the reggae kids, the pop fans, and the punks mostly dissolved when it came to Lover’s Rock. Everyone seemed to like it because it was melodic and soulful but also had the street cred of reggae. And girls loved it too, which was another reason for boys to like it.

All of which made the magnificent “Silly Games” about the most popular and loved record ever in my school and estate because it’s probably the best Lover’s Rock record ever made.

Something for the Weekend



I know Bruce isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but there might be something wrong with you if this record doesn’t make you want to tear your clothes off and sing along at the top of your lungs — preferably while standing under a corner street light at night in the rain.

Posted in honour of the USA qualifying from the Group of Death to make the next round of the World Cup. There’s something wrong with the natural order of the universe when America is better at football than England.

The Glam Olympics


Ladies and gentlemen, Alvin Stardust as Discobolus.

Download: Red Dress – Alvin Stardust (mp3)

Something for the Weekend



Hello, it’s me. Todd Rundgren from the planet Xenon.

Be Very Afraid


They really did try their best to scare the shit out of us kids in the 1970s. If we weren’t being warned about getting locked in old fridges, drowned in dirty canals, crushed by farm machinery, blinded by fireworks, or catching Rabies, we were being told not to talk to strangers.

That last one seemed to be the most deathly important of all — for reasons we didn’t quite understand as kids – and clearly no expense was spared in the making of “Never Go With Strangers” a 1971 film that was shown in schools. It’s an epic of the scary safety film genre complete with animation, special effects, and a huge cast of creepy-looking men.



Though it is a well-meaning attempt to talk to young children about a difficult subject, some of the script is almost surreally funny (even in context) with lines like “People like this might be a bit odd in the head”, “That’s a lovely cape you’re wearing” and “There’s not even a baby donkey in the field” — personally I’d have run a mile if some strange man had complimented my cape and offered to show me a baby donkey.

With all these apparent dangers you’d think we lived in a state of perpetual terror locked in our bedrooms, but like most parents my mother let us go out on our own unsupervised and out of contact with her from quite a young age (no cell phones then either of course). I don’t know when or why that changed but you couldn’t make “Never Go With Strangers” in the same way now because those kids wouldn’t be out on their own. One very sad statistic in this article is that in 1971 80% of 9-year-olds in the UK walked to school alone, by 1990 that number had dropped to only 9% and now it’s even lower, despite there being no rise in the number of child abductions — though you wouldn’t know that from the pitchfork-waving hysteria about paedos, predators, and kiddie-fiddlers in the British tabloid press these days. Even the smiling old man who winked at you in the street when you were a kid would be suspect now.

Despite my mother’s apparently laissez faire attitude to our safety she still had her moments of terror. I can vividly remember an instance of her “losing” me for a few minutes in a crowd of shoppers on Kensington High Street one Saturday afternoon, and the panicky, tearfully relieved tone in her voice when she found me made it clear how awful those few minutes must have been for her (a feeling I know myself now with my own kids.) Then she spanked me and said “DON’T EVER DO THAT AGAIN!!!” — that’s 70s parenting for you.

Download: Fear Of The World – ABC (mp3)

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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