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)

Four Eyes


I have terrible eyesight. Without glasses or contacts the whole world is a blur to me, I couldn’t recognize my own kids from five feet away. I started wearing glasses when I was about seven years old, initially just for reading and seeing the blackboard at school, but by the time I was in my teens I needed them all the time.

Being a teenager is hard enough without that additional handicap, and in those days glasses weren’t the slightest bit cool or fashionable if you were young. Kids who wore them were called Four Eyes, Specky, Brains, Joe 90, and usually got beaten up and had their lunch money stolen. They marked you as a weedy, swotty bookworm invisible to the opposite sex. Glasses had the power to turn Superman into the boring sad sack Clark Kent, and if you wanted to make even  the volcanically-hot Valerie Leon look undesirable the first thing you did was stick a pair of specs on her.

I wore National Health glasses for a long time which didn’t help my image, their choices were pretty basic and limited. I spent most of my teens in their black frame ones and switched to the round wireframes in my early 20s which was an improvement because they had a John Lennon cachet about them. But I never stopped feeling like I was being punished for something that wasn’t my fault — bad eyesight.


Besides Lennon, other bespectacled pop stars like Buddy Holly, Elton John, and Elvis Costello were hardly aspirational figures when it came to style or attracting the ladies. The first one of my generation to make glasses cool was Morrissey who wore the same NHS frames I had in my teens but I never looked as good as him in them. He didn’t actually need them but, like his fake hearing aid, wore them as a visual statement that he stood with the loners and losers, the awkward and introverted. 

I got contact lenses after leaving college and I can still remember how strange it felt to see my face clearly in a mirror without it having glasses on it, I almost didn’t recognize myself. The world was suddenly sharper and clearer without a sheet of glass (or plastic) between me and it, the general effect was like switching to a HD television and not realizing until then how shit the picture you’d been watching before was.

Contacts were very expensive back then (you had to get them insured) but so worth it. Friends were amazed by how different I looked, an uncle said to me in surprise at a family party “You’re a good-looking boy, Lee!” as if I’d been this specky ogre before. I didn’t suddenly turn into Tom Jones and have girls throwing their knickers at me on the Tube, but I did feel more confident, more like the me I was supposed to be be without those bloody things on my face. I still wear contacts but now my eyes are so bad I need reading glasses on top of them too, basically I’m back to where I was when I was seven.

Now my daughter needs glasses for school and there isn’t anything like the same stigma attached to them — her frames are certainly more stylish than mine were at her age. These days glasses are so hip and looking bookish is so cool that they’re worn by even more people who don’t need them — people I would like to smack around the head. Don’t these posers know how much some of us have suffered because of our poor eyesight and would give anything NOT to have to wear them?

Here’s the Jackson Five pissing all over Jackson Brown’s original.

Download: Doctor My Eyes – The Jackson Five (mp3)

The Speed of Pop


The movie American Grafitti, an ode to teenage life in 1962, was released in 1973 only 11 years after the year it is so nostalgic about. But even though it was such a short space of time it looked like a different world and sounded like it too, the gulf between Chuck Berry and David Bowie was just enormous — and you could say roughly the same about a movie made in 1983 about music in 1972. Today the equivalent would be a movie set in 2004 that got all misty-eyed about listening to “Hey Ya!” and “Milkshake” on an iPod Mini. While I’m sure there are people with reasons to be nostalgic for that time and those records, the musical gulf between then and now doesn’t seem nearly so wide. They certainly don’t sound over a decade old, a time-span which used to be an eternity in pop music years.

So is pop music not changing as fast as it used to, or am I just a clueless and out-of-touch old fart?

The 1960s were obviously a time of rapid upheaval, but the following 20-plus years didn’t exactly stand still either, giving us (off the top of my head) Prog, Metal, Reggae, Glam, Disco, Punk, Post-Punk, Hip-Hop, Synthpop, Shoegaze, Techno, and House. Pop used to change clothes as often as Cher playing a show in Vegas but I just don’t hear that quick turnover of ideas and styles anymore.

If I’m not imagining things and there is a notable down-shifting now, it could be due to music-biz economics and the internet. Downloading and streaming has destroyed the old business model and bands make more money from concerts than records now, so they spend longer on tour and try to milk an album as much as possible before moving on to the next one.

It used to be standard for an act to put out an album every year – or even two a year in some cases — but now two years is the minimum a major artist takes between long-players, often longer. Coldplay have made six albums in 15 years, if The Beatles had put them out at that rate Rubber Soul would have been released in 1978. The lifecycle of pop has gone from being like a Mayfly — cramming a lot into a very short time — to more like an elephant. 

I loves me some Charli, Taylor, and even Miley, so I don’t have a huge beef with modern mainstream pop. But I do want pop music to be constantly zooming forward and discarding old ideas the way it used to. Maybe I should just be grateful that Coldplay have only made six albums.

Download: We Live So Fast (Extended Mix) – Heaven 17 (mp3)

Kids Today


When you get older it’s common to start thinking that modern pop music is rubbish and the younger generation are more stupid, superficial, and self-absorbed than you were at their age.

I try to avoid doing that because I know every generation thinks the ones after it likes crap music and are a sign that the world is going to hell.

But has the thought ever crossed your mind that for once, maybe, it could be true?

Download: Blank Generation – Richard Hell & The Voidoids

Every Day Is Record Store Day


Saturday was Record Store Day — Record Shop Day if you’re a Brit — and I had become very cynical about the whole event, thinking it had gone from being a well-meaning attempt to promote record buying in actual bricks-and-mortar shops, to a crazy gold rush for overpriced RSD “exclusives” by desperate anoraks with more money than sense and speculators who would put them on eBay for even more inflated prices (sometimes before the actual day).

Judging by some comments on Twitter that morning I wasn’t the only one who felt this way


I’ve only once been to a record shop on RSD and that wasn’t intentional. I popped into my local record emporium one Saturday without realizing what day it was and found the place mobbed. Getting more people into record shops is a noble pursuit but all I thought was “Where the hell are you people every other day of the year?”

So I was smugly disdaining the whole event and had no intention going anywhere near a record shop that day. But then someone tweeted this picture which took the snark right out of my sails


See how happy she looks? Remember that feeling? Seeing this young lady with her special One Direction RSD release reminded me of how chuffed I would be when I got a new Jam single in a picture sleeve, and made me realize that this is what the day should be about. Forget about old farts shelling out a week’s rent on ancient artifacts like Springsteen rarities, REM live sets, and Nirvana 45s; Record Store Day should get younger kids into shops by offering more releases by new pop acts — One Direction, Miley, Kanye West, Rhianna — in cool picture sleeves, coloured vinyl, and all those gimmicks that got us to spend our pocket money in our youth.


RSD turns record shops into museums with expensive gift shops and I’ve no interest in vinyl being a rare and pricey commodity for the 40+ set. But if RSD can get youngsters like that girl to discover the magic of buying a physical record in a shop (even better: on the day of release) in some cool format instead of a cold mp3 download on her phone, then maybe there will be a future for this record shop culture we love.

I still wouldn’t be caught dead in a record shop on that day though.

Download: EMI (Unlimited Edition) – Sex Pistols (mp3)

UPDATE: The 10 Most Expensive Record Store Day ’14 Flips On Ebay

Resistance is Futile


A while ago I wrote that sitting on the bus surrounded by people with smartphones made me feel like I was living in the future. But after a while I’d also started to feel more like the last survivor at the end of a zombie movie; the one person still uninfected by a virus that had swept through humanity causing its victims to constantly stare at their phone and be unable to function when they weren’t connected to the collective.

Then the wife got me an iPhone for Christmas.

Not a big deal I know, millions of people have iPhones, but I’d been proudly and defiantly sticking with my old gas-powered cell in a fit of old-school, anti-modern world rebellion. But the phone was dying and, like an unreliable old friend who never returns your calls because he doesn’t hear them in the first place, it had to go.

Now my new phone sits there beside me with it’s perfect round corners and smooth surfaces, its siren voice urging me to swipe it’s screen, gently tap it’s buttons with my fingertips, and lose myself in the soothing, all-enveloping digital world. It even got me to join that Twitter thing — follow me here!. Soon I shall be a multi-platform brand.

Download: The Lonely Crowd – The Special AKA (mp3)

Back in The Day


I always get a little annoyed when I hear kids use the phrase “back in the day” when referring to the past. I’ve heard it used in so many contexts that apparently all of human history more than, say, 10 years ago — the 1980s, the 1960s, World War II, the 19th century, the Renaissance, and probably even the invention of fire — took place in some vague time called “the day” as if it’s all just one big mass of old stuff (and there’s so much of it!) More accurately, what it really means is “before I was born when movies were in black and white, had terrible special effects, and you couldn’t watch them on your phone”. I mean, OMG WTF? Right?

I know kids are supposed to be annoying, but would it kill them to at least make a stab at the decade, or even the century? Or am I just peeved that my own youth was apparently so long ago it doesn’t even merit the naming of a decade anymore, but just happened “back in the day”? Probably. Little bastards.

This record is from so far back in the day I wasn’t even born when it came out.

Download: Johnny Remember Me – John Leyton (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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