Something for the Weekend

“Lovely” is the word that comes to mind watching this.

Un Film De Saint Etienne

Those loveable popsters Saint Etienne have become quite the movie producers in recent years, having made three films about London in collaboration with director Paul Kelly. They’re hard to come by in the States so I’ve only seen the first one Finisterre, an impressionistic tribute to the city which I highly recommend.

Their new one How We Used To Live uses old footage from the BFI Library to tell the story of London’s past during the ‘New Elizabethan’ age from the 1950s to the Thatcher era — a sort of prequel to Finisterre — and looks absolutely marvelous.

The film has been selected to be part of the London Film Festival and lucky Londoners (or anyone in town at the time) can get to see it next month. I’m sure I shall see it myself eventually if it ever makes its way to this side of the pond in some form or other.

I Love Your Live Action

I went to two concerts in three days last week, I don’t think I even did that at the height of my gig-going early 20s. The two shows and artists couldn’t have been more different, except that they were both fantastic. All the videos here were shot by my lovely wife at the actual shows.

First up on Thursday night was Father John Misty with his California-flavoured country-rock. The audience was all plaid shirts and beards, and for an encore the band did a cover of Canned Heat’s “On The Road Again” which should give you the general vibe. Old-timey dude rock can still be a wonderful thing with a band as tight and skilled as this lot were, and Father John (aka Josh Tillman) is a terrific front man, all slinky Jagger-esque moves and laconic stoner humour. Man has a hell of a voice too.

The next band we were seeing would have to be very good to top that show which made me a little nervous as the next band was Saint Etienne. Sorry, I mean OMFG SAINT ETIENNE!!!!!!

St. Et exist in an alternate pop universe from the very trad, dad Father John Misty, with the “band” being Pete and Bob standing behind a bank of synthesizers and Sarah Cracknell (swoon) vamping it up like the indie disco queen in her sparkly dress and feather boa — the only “real” instrument being the cowbell played by backing singer (and semi-legend) Debsey Wykes.

Whatever nerves I had evaporated a few seconds into the opening number “Lose That Girl”, and the wildly enthusiastic cheers and gleeful, arm-waving singing-along from the audience that greeted every number made me realize that the place was filled with people like me: fans from way back who have never had the chance to see them live before and were just beside themselves with joy that finally, here they were. I think Sarah and the band were pleasantly taken aback by the delirious noise and appeared quite chuffed by it — at one point I saw Bob exchange a sheepish grin with Debsey that seemed to be saying “Blimey!” It was a magical night for me too, I was smiling and dancing and singing the whole time.

With a set that included “Like A Motorway”, “You’re In A Bad Way”, “Only Love Can Break Your Heart”, “Nothing Can Stop Us Now” (the highlight for me), and “He’s On The Phone” we had plenty to go mental for. On the way there I joked to the wife that for me this was like seeing The Beatles which was obviously meant as jokey hyperbole, but by the end it didn’t seem that way.

(That isn’t me singing along very badly in the background of the Saint Etienne videos by the way.)

Golden tickets

I don’t have a bucket list of things to do before I die but if I did seeing Saint Etienne live would be on it — not very near the top but somewhere on it at least. They’re probably my favourite band of the last 20 years and I’ve never seen them. I moved to the States soon after their first album came out and on the very rare occasions they’ve toured over here since they’ve never come anywhere near where I was living. But now — hallelujah! — they’re playing Boston next month and I HAVE TICKETS!!!

They’d better be bloody good now after I’ve waited all these years.

North vs. Sarf

Though my childhood manor of Fulham is situated right on the north bank of the Thames, the river doesn’t cut the city exactly in half and if I had to choose between one of the two compass points I would consider myself a South Londoner — and a proud one at that. To my mind the only advantage North London has is more Tube stations and it acts as a rather good buffer zone between us and the rest of the country beyond Watford (only kidding. No I’m not. Yes I am).

The argument over which side of the city is better is a touchy subject for Londoners, even ones like me who haven’t lived there for 20 years, so in a recent Guardian interview with Saint Etienne this comment from Bob Stanley really ticked me off:

“South London’s not really London, is it?” Stanley says. “It’s just an endless suburb.”

Bob’s comment is doubly annoying because he’s from BLOODY CROYDON which makes him A PRETEND LONDONER, and just confirms my opinion that North London is full of poseurs who aren’t actually from the city. Methinks he needs to spend less time in trendy caffs in Kentish Town and get out a bit more.

Here’s a cracking number from South London’s Meesha Paris.

Download: South of The River – Mica Paris (mp3)

New Monday

Being rather big Saint Etienne fans around these parts (maybe you noticed) we’re well happy about the single “Tonight” — their first new record in seven years (what have they been doing?) — and the arrival of a new album “Words and Music by Saint Etienne” in May. It’s the sort of classy dancepop they do so well and a celebration of the joy of a night out in a great city. In this case the city being London of course.

Londoners watching the video can play a game of Spot The Location too. I was particularly happy to see the sign for Soho pizza joint Lorelai, one of my favourite “secret” places for cheap food in the West End. Not many gaffs like that left in Soho now, I still mourn the loss of The Pollo Bar.

Something for The Weekend

Haven’t had any Saint Etienne here for, oh, at least a couple of weeks. This was their first single (but you knew that) with a terrific video that screams “late 80s/early 90s London” to me with its collision of a trippy, happy Second Summer of Love vibe with twee Indie — not to mention the football shirts. It’s odd seeing Pete and Bob without Sarah Cracknell in front of them but that Moira Lambert was pretty cute too.

Pop Saints

With Davy and Simon both swooning over Saint Etienne this past week I figured it was about time I put in my tuppence-ha’penny worth. Though I’ve posted a lot of St. Et tunes here in the past I’ve never actually written anything specifically about them which is a real oversight on my part because in many ways they are the musical patron saints of this blog. Years before the phrase “Cool Britannia” was scribbled on a vodka-stained napkin by some marketing executive in a Soho bar and our past was sold back to us as a Union Jack-draped cartoon, Saint Etienne were rummaging around the (at the time) forgotten dusty corners of the English Pop Culture Shop for music, words, and samples to cut-and-paste together into records that sounded like love letters to England — or more specifically, London — and also the life-affirming magic of pop music itself. But Saint Etienne aren’t The Village Green Preservation Society, despite their magpie-like sampling of the past their music is as much about now as it is then. To them, London — and pop music — isn’t a museum but a forward-moving constantly-changing experience soundtracked by House, electronica, dub, folk, and film music, often all on the same album.

A group as conceptual and knowing as them could end up sounding better in theory than in practice — a concept album about a council estate? — but Saint Etienne also make incredibly poptastic records and been doing so for nearly 20 years now, something I wouldn’t have put money on when I bought Foxbase Alpha back in 1991. What I think makes them a truly great band (in a mold that seems to have been broken now) is that their best moments are often to be found on b-sides, EPs, and even fan-club only releases, which makes compilations of unreleased and single-only tracks like You Need A Mess Of Help To Stand Alone, Interlude, and Continental (which until last year was an expensive Japan-only release) all well worth splashing the cash on to hear gems like these.

Download: Sushi Rider — Saint Etienne
Download: Sometimes In Winter — Saint Etienne
Download: Hit The Brakes — Saint Etienne

I can’t think of any other band that has tucked away so many goodies on flip-sides and other hard-to-find places (and that includes The Smiths) and it’s this attention to details like b-sides that makes them so damn loveable, they appreciate the nerdy joys of pop fandom and the power that music has to enhance and romanticize our lives. To my mind they are the best English pop group of the past twenty years and anyone who disagrees I will see outside afterwards.

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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