Britain is great for many reasons: Parliamentary democracy, inventor of team sports, abolition of slavery, religious tolerance, war-like but fair-minded; these are sterling attributes. But that is not the subject of today's ramble through the back waters of my memory - no, today we're gonna talk about Britain and pop / rock music.
Any small land that produced - off the top of my head, it's not hard - The Beatles, The Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Elton John, Eric Clapton, Rod Stewart, The Sex Pistols, Duran Duran, Wham, The Smiths, The Stone Roses, Oasis, Coldplay can't be all bad (aside - are we shit now? Take That were all right but One Direction?)...
No other country except the USA - infinitely larger - can go toe-to-toe with us. (I haven't even mentioned my own musical career.) That's the embarrassment of riches we have here.
England : Stones, Beatles, Led Zep, Oasis, The Smiths, Lisa Stansfield (Rochdale reference)
Wales: Tom Jones, Stereophonics, Manic Street Preachers
Scotland: Teenage Fanclub, Del Amitri, The Lost Soul Band, Rod Stewart (by his own definition)
Northern Ireland: Van Morrison, The Undertones
All right. England and Scotland punch above their weight. Wales and Northern Ireland less so. I might return to this. Certainly an article on Jock Rock is overdue and why 'You Can't Win Them All Mum' is just about the best song you've never heard of ever...
But here are some great Brexit songs from lesser known bands, that sum up the UK for me:-
Sham 69 - If The Kids Are United
Any group who have a chorus, ‘We’re going down the pub!’ is both bold and just right. Sham 69 were, for about five minutes in the late 70’s, famous for their very English, very football terraces sing-a-long tunes. Hersham Boys, Hurry up Harry, and If The Kids are United. These may not be great art – I don’t think Jimmy Pursey ever intended them to be – but they do go for the balls like all the best songs. They represent an English white working class culture that is often ignored, often derided but still exists if you look for it. These guys manned the squares at Assaye and Waterloo, fought in the trenches and battled fascism saving Europe (not the EU) with their spirit, banter and patriotism.
The Kinks - Waterloo Sunset
Before Ray Davies tumbled up his own arse in the 70’s, he was a damn fine song-writer. Addressing English type subjects in See My Friends, Days, Dedicated Follower of Fashion, The Kinks were a very English band (once they’d got over playing souped up versions of Louie Louie). Stuff like The Village Green Preservation Society I can take or leave, but a song like Victoria will always be greeted with a smile. There’s a great line in it: “Land of Hope and Gloria, Land of my Victoria.” Doesn’t get much better than that! But for pop genius, observational subtlety, the summation of ordinary life, this story of young lovers meeting after work in London has to be top. Yes, Waterloo Sunset is that strange thing, a perfect pop song. From the distinctive guitar lick, to the plaintive but catchy melody to the ordinary but so special lyrics “Terry meets Julie every Friday at five o’clock.” A moment of sunshine on a cloudy day.
The La's - There She Goes
The gods offered Achilles the choice of a short and marvellous life or a long and boring one. Some shit like that anyway. He chose, of course, short and famous. Some rock god must have come down to Lee Mavers in Liverpool the 80’s and, after paying a quid to mind his car, offered young Lee the same bargain; one hit wonder or a long career of mediocrity. Luckily for us Lee chose, one hit wonder. The La’s There She Goes is a wonderful thing; the chiming Byrds like guitar@, the infectious tune, the ambiguous lyrics. This Scouse pop rings out - even thirty years later - as fresh as a 17-year boy pissed on cider in a room full of scantily clad girls. I love by the way, the setting of this song in the 90’s remake of the film Parent Trap as the American Lynsey Lohan is driven around the sights of London in a Rolls Royce. Clichéd perhaps but countries are defined in broad brush strokes, not detail. This song, complete with Lee Mavers, should have been played at 2012 Olympics.
Why is it that Britain is so good at this stuff? Why is it - after years of French bitching - not only does everyone at the Eurovision sing in English but the presenters now don't even bother with their home language anymore (let alone French). Possibly it's down to the (historically disputed) vote in the US after independence to vote for English as the official language and not German. Whatever; the talent of Beatles to write catchy songs, the Stones to write brilliant riffs and Led Zep to turn poor black blues into heavy rock gold - would have won out anyway.
We should celebrate our artists more. And we don't need the fucking EU to - as Pete says - 'Pick up our guitar and play, just like yesterday, and get on our knees and pray, WE DON'T GET FOOLED AGAIN.' (yes, spurious 1975 reference alert).