Tuesday, April 04, 2006
Get your kicks on Route 66... or else rock with me on the A23?
(from The Argus, Brighton - Saturday, September 6, 2003)
Lou Reed has done it for New York, Bruce Springsteen has done it for New Jersey and Ray Davies has done it for London.
All have immortalised their home territories in pop music, from Reed’s Greenwich Village bohemia to Springsteen’s desolate factories and docklands to the Kinks’s Carnaby Street dedicated followers of fashion.
Sussex has its share of rock’n’roll connections and not just as a comfy country retreat for wealthy megastars such as Sir Paul McCartney, Keith Richards and Brian Ferry.
Brighton has long been a hotbed of up-and-coming talent, as well as a favourite haunt for rockers - and, of course, mods, most famously portrayed in The Who’s film Quadrophenia.
But Worthing, Eastbourne and Shoreham will never evoke the same aura of rock history, glamour and edge as the likes of Detroit, Harlem and Seattle - or even Liverpool, London and “Madchester”.
So surely anyone hoping to compile an album of pop songs inspired by Sussex might struggle to fill even an EP?
Even without radio DJ Terry Garoghan’s Brighton-championing songs which, while popular with fans, fail to meet my criteria of troubling the Top 75.
Anyone who is not a pop music anorak may care to turn the page now.
But in the spirit of the king of home-taping obsessive featured in Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, a track listing for a notional Now That’s What I Call Sussex!-style album could look a little like this.
Every DIY rock compiler knows two of the most important elements to a proper mix tape is the title and the opening track.
Brighton Rock is an obvious name - and a predictable one.
Perhaps, with hat tipped to Ian Dury, Sussex And Drugs And Rock’N’Roll would suit instead.
And who better to usher the listener into this sonic tour of the South Coast than the unofficial king of Brighton and Hove, Fatboy Slim?
The Hove-living-and-loving DJ, real name Norman Cook, included the celebratory track YOU’RE NOT FROM BRIGHTON on his 1998 album, You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby.
The lyrics may not give Bob Dylan any sleepless nights, consisting merely of four phrases repeated: “Funk as we used to play”, “Said check baby, check baby, check one-two”, “Here we go, now here we go” and “You’re not from Brighton”.
But the sound, and the spirit suggested by that taunt to those unfortunate to be from elsewhere, would get things off to a flier.
Following one of Brighton’s trendiest stars would be a famous son of Sussex who hit the big time long before Norm was even crooning with The Housemartins.
Seventies star Leo Sayer was born in Shoreham and, according to his song writing partner David Courtney, the town was a key influence on his early material.
THE BELLS OF ST MARY’S, from his 1974 album Just A Boy, was inspired by the church in Shoreham and his experiences playing at a nearby folk club.
It includes the lyrics:
“He used to play mouth organ in a folk club they called the Lady Jane,
All the sounds as his friends and he would holler:
Songs of love and songs of pain…
And so he listens to the bells of St Mary’s and so their echo haunts him every day.”
Courtney said: “All Leo’s early stuff was written around here - Leo was a Shoreham boy and that really comes across, especially on Just A Boy.”
Before Leo launched his own singing career, he and Courtney wrote songs for Roger Daltrey’s solo LPs.
And no Brighton album would be complete without a contribution from the band he fronted, The Who, a key part of Brighton’s reputation as a Mecca for mods.
PINBALL WIZARD, from 1976, is a rare example, though, of a Who track that actually mentions Brighton:
“Ever since I was a young boy
I played the silver ball,
From Soho down to Brighton
I must have played them all.”
The kids pulling levers, pressing buttons and emptying their wallets in Brighton’s amusement arcades of today would probably better recognise the opening riff from ‘Let Me Entertain You’ by Robbie Williams.
But in the battle to get on this play list, Robbie loses out on two counts.
One, he has no Brighton connection.
And two, his riff-ripping-off song is quite frankly nowhere near as good. But you all knew that anyway...
Paul Weller, however, has plenty of connections to Brighton.
He has paid frequent visits, including his last gig with The Jam at the Brighton Centre in 1982.
However, it is to two more unlikely Sussex locations that he refers in SATURDAY’S KIDS, from the 1979 Jam album Setting Sons.
The song paints a picture of late-Seventies working-class youth culture.
The tone may seem sympathetic but their apparent lack of ambition is nailed in the lyric:
“Save up their money for a holiday
To Selsey Bill or Bracklesham Bay…”
Now Selsey Bill certainly isn’t very rock’n’roll.
But somehow it has managed to find its way into two notable pop songs.
Madness, contemporaries of The Jam, had a more familiar - and cheerier - hit with 1982’s DRIVING IN MY CAR, in which Suggs sings:
“I drove up to Muswell Hill,
I’ve even been to Selsey Bill.”
Well, good for him.
David Bowie may be one of the world’s biggest, most acclaimed stars but he is not universally popular down this way.
Worthing poet Shuna Shelley believes his 1977 single ‘Heroes’ plagiarises a poem called ‘The Heroes’ Epistle To Bowie’ she sent him in 1974.
Her poem included the lines:
“Well, we can be heroes
Just for our day
I, I will be king,
You will be my queen
And I wish,
I wish you could swim
Like the dolphins, like dolphins can swim”.
Bowie’s song includes the words:
“I, I will be king
And you, you will be queen.
We can beat them, just for one day.
I, I wish you could swim like the dolphins,
Like dolphins can swim.”
But Bowie, who denied the plagiarism claims, is included here for a different crime against Sussex - and against music itself.
His 1973 children’s song THE LAUGHING GNOME contains the lyrics:
“Well I gave him roasted toadstools and a glass of dandelion wine,
Then I put him on a train to Eastbourne.”
This namecheck, and the fact the town gave the world Toploader, are Eastbourne’s two claims to rock’n’roll fame - or, perhaps more accurately, infamy.
Suede front man Brett Anderson, an ardent Bowie acolyte, grew up in Lindfield, near Haywards Heath, but his band seemed to have a rather stronger fixation with Worthing.
Anderson once nominated the place as one of his favourite two in the world - along with London.
The seaside resort gets mentioned in THE NEXT LIFE, from Suede’s eponymous debut album in 1993:
“Stars in our car we can drive away from here,
Far away, so far away,
Down to Worthing and work there.”
The more geographically-ambitious track, Europe Is Our Playground, features the reference: “From Spain to Camber Sands”.
Like Selsey Bill, Camber Sands has two bites at the pop cherry, cropping up at the very start of PULLING MUSSELS FROM A SHELL by Squeeze in 1980:
“They do it down in Camber Sands,
They do it in Waikiki.”
You don’t often hear those two places mentioned in the same sentence.
Queen included a song called BRIGHTON ROCK on their 1974 album Sheer Heart Attack, telling of two lovers called Jimmy and Jenny who presumably meet in Brighton though it is not mentioned by name.
Another track called BRIGHTON ROCK featured as a B-side for Nineties Britpoppers Elastica, whose bassist Annie Holland came from Brighton.
“We were sauced right there on Brighton beach,
You a Goth and I was such a peach,
I sought to be the best at it,
PC Plod he still arrested it…
Your name is carved on my Brighton rock,
My name can be your mental block.”
It may be significant that singer Justine Frischmann - Anderson’s ex - reportedly began her romance with Damon Albarn when Blur performed at Brighton’s Zap Club.
Though it is admittedly difficult to imagine even the changeling Damon as a Goth, it must be granted.
The spirit of Brighton Rock - Graham Greene’s version - is summoned by Morrissey’s lovely NOW MY HEART IS FULL, from 1994’s Vauxhall And I LP.
In a lyric which appears a trawl of Moz obsessions and impressions, he name checks “Dallow, Spicer, Pinkie, Cubitt” - the hoodlums from Greene’s 1938 novel.
Indie pop intellectuals Black Box Recorder closed their 2000 album The Facts Of Life with with the elegiac GOODNIGHT KISS, which swoons:
“From Blackpool tower, to Brighton Pier,
Turn the lights off, we know there’s no one here -
Contuing the link between the two far-apart beach resorts beginning with B, The Beautiful South’s 1989 track ON BLACKPOOL claims:
“I wasn’t sure if it was Marx or Hitler that was in this year,
I hadn’t been to Brighton for a while so it wasn’t clear.
So imagine my surprise when I opened my eyes to find
It was the liberals who were hip to sloganeer.”
No prizes for guessing who turns up in SHERIFF FATMAN, Carter USM’s 1989 rant against ruthless slum landlords:
“Now he’s moving up on to second base
Between Nicholas Van Wotsisface.”
Equally splenetic is SO WHAT, recorded first by late-Seventies punks The Anti-Nowhere League and covered more recently - and improbably - by American heavy-rockers Metallica.
The song begins:
“Well, I’ve been to Hastings, and I’ve been to Brighton,
I’ve been to Eastbourne too.
So what? So what?
Who cares? Who cares what you do?
Yeah, who cares? Who cares?
About you, you, you, you, you?”
It then descends into a feast of filth hardly suitable for a family newspaper such as this - even if the album could claim perhaps some much-needed streetcred with one of Tipper Gore’s stickers warning of bad language herein….
For achieving the unlikely union of Metallica and Sussex, the cover version deserves its places and the album’s final say.
Now all we need is a record company willing to take Sussex And Drugs And Rock’n’Roll from the bedroom to the boardroom to a music store near you.
So, who wants it?
Don’t all rush at once…
Quite astonishingly - and depressingly - we somehow managed to put together a 'follow-up' album for an even more desperate follow-up feature a few months later: crowbarring in alternate versions of PINBALL WIZARD and SO WHAT by Elton John and The Anti-Nowhere League respectively; ONE WAY by The Levellers (it seems fairly clearly to be about their hometown of Brighton, without actually namechecking the place - good enough for me); MARIO'S CAFE by St Etienne (it may be about a diner in Camden but it does mention, er, Chris Eubank...); RUMBLE IN BRIGHTON by The Stray Cats; ROBOT HOLIDAY by The Spizzles ("No more work for one whole week, oil my joints so they don't squeak, I'm going to Brighton in the sun, I sit in deckchairs, have some fun" - amazing these boys aren't megastars by now, isn't it...?); Al Stewart's NOT THE ONE set in The Lanes, and also his MANUSCRIPT tripping to Worthing, where "it rained and rained" - yep, from my 18 months living there, that seems accurate...; the poignant WWI ballad MAGINOT WALTZ by the underrated Ralph McTell...
Oh, and one track I'm half-glad, half-somehow-sad never to have actually heard, only read of: the seminal I'M GOING TO BRIGHTON by those early-Eighties legends Renee and Renato.
If anyone does indeed have a copy... I'd advise you to keep it very, very and, indeed, very quiet...