Friday, 23 November 2007

Friday Grab Bag: In the Crowd Edition

And so last night to the Carling Academy, a nightclub on the Cowley Road, to see From the Jam, which I would describe as a Jam tribute band except for the fact that it actually contains two-thirds of that mod-revival band. Songwriter/singer/guitarist Paul Weller gave the reunion tour a miss.

Even so, it was a great night. The Jam's "All Mod Cons" was one of the
first albums I bought in my "new wave" phase in high school. Back in those pre-Internet days you often had to purchase a record based on how it looked. Did it look like the sort of band that would do hard-edged, '60s-influenced rock? Skinny ties were usually a good indicator, but you could be fooled. I remember being disappointed by a band called the Yachts, whose LP I bought at the Peaches in Rockville, Md.

"All Mod Cons" delivered, though. As I listened to it (and read the lyric sheet, one side decorated with an exploded view of a Vespa scooter) I wondered which person pictured on the album cover played which instrument. The drummer, Rick Buckler, was easy to pick out. I decided on him right away. (We drummers know these things.) But which one was Weller, the genius behind the music? I remember wanting it to be the nattily dressed fellow on the left, and not the sallow, sneering, spotty-faced fellow in the middle. Of course, the one in the middle was Weller and one look at the picture and you could predict who would be least likely to join a reunion tour 30 years after the photo was snapped.

But, still, a great show. Bassist Bruce Foxton may look uncomfortably like Barry Manilow these days, but he has more energy than anyone his age should have. They did a 90-minute set and never flagged. I was reminded what an English band the Jam were, in a tradition of English bands that has no equivalent in the United States. Not that I would expect an American band to sing about uniquely English things, just that I don't think many U.S. bands would have hits with songs created from the small domestic details of daily life. The Jam often did that, as the Kinks did before them and Squeeze did along with them. (The Beatles did it eventually, but only after they'd become global superstars.) Jam lyrics include nods to things like "cans of baked beans on toast" and "pots of Wall's ice cream." Lonely housewives hold "empty milk bottles" to their hearts. There are takeaway curries, Eton Rifles, Smithers-Jones.... Your typical American listener must have gone, "Huh?"

Then there's "Down in a Tube Station at Midnight," one of the most chilling songs I've ever heard and a perfect snapshot of a certain sort of Britain at a certain point in time. It was interesting hearing it live, standing towards the front of the crowd, not far from where some relatively mild slam dancing was going on (we're all in our 40s, after all). You're meant to sympathize with the protagonist in that song, the young husband set upon by right-wing thugs. But live, the heaving, sweating crowd seemed to thrill to the ultraviolence, taking special delight in shouting "He smelled of pubs, and Wormwood Scrubs...." Whose side were they on, I wondered.

BritNews Roundup
Are there still thugs on British trains? Why yes, according to this Daily Mail article on the dumbest muggers in Britain, teens who posed for the CCTV cameras after relieving their victim of his mobile phone and iPod. If you recognize them, please contact authorities.

Cor, blimey: A 102-year-old woman has stripped off her clothes to pose for a nude calendar that raises money for the village football club. If you've seen "The Full Monty" or "Calendar Girls" you know that the British love taking their clothes off.

Jellyfish have attacked a salmon farm off the coast of Northern Ireland, killing more than 100,000 fish. Of course, "attack" may be too strong a word. It sounds more like a crime of opportunity. Don't jellyfish just go where the current takes them, rather than say, "Okay, lads, let's go over there!"

I thought last week's story on a Scottish man convicted of having sex with his bicycle would close the door on intercourse with inanimate objects, but I had underestimated the kinkiness of the British populace. A London court heard evidence this week that a 24-year-old man broke into a park and attempted to have sex with a fence.

I may have been in England too long. The ironing board is starting to look pretty good to me.

Gargoyle of the Week

Not a gargoyle, but a stone carving nonetheless. It's Hercules, taken by My Lovely Wife while touring Burford Priory.

Have a great weekend and thanks for reading.


cktirumalai said...

I think of the English as a people quite keen on formality and tradition but underneath there is a strong current of anarchy which manifests itself in highly eccentric or outrageous comedy and in candidates who run for election mostly to provide diversion of at least a faintly lunatic kind. Perhaps the formality and anarchy are the two sides of the same coin.

suburbancorrespondent said...

And which side of the coin does "attempting to have sexual intercourse with inanimate objects" fall on? Just wondering.

And, really, the term "sexual intercourse with inanimate objects" makes no sense whatsoever. But I'd prefer to stop thinking about this.

I do remember listening to "Tube Station at Midnight" in my brother's room, during his New Wave phase - I don't think I understood the lyrics, though. I guess we had a record player up there, which would have been fairly technologically advanced for my family back in the seventies. I mean, we didn't even have a colored television set until I went to college. And, yes, we had to get up to change the channel.

mark from alexandria said...

As Petula Clark put it, "don't sleep in the subway, darlin'" Did any of us on this side of the Atlantic understand that at the time? Then again, the British have taken to the singer "Meatloaf" in a remarkable way. Are the baseball metaphors and Phil Rizzuto understood by them?

I do find the differing ways that Americans are depicted on British TV and British on American TV interesting.

Anonymous said...

What's sad about the From the Jam "comeback" is that at the time, the Jam's songs were really, really angry, and had truly pointed political messages about boredom, alienation, violence, and imperialism. But last night neither the band nor the audience cared about the politics. What made that even more sad was how relevant a lot of the old songs still are. "Little Boy Soldiers" was written before even the Falklands, but it could be about Iraq right now: "Think of Honor, Queen and Country..Shoot Shoot Shoot and Kill the Natives...God's on our side and so is Washington....Come on Outside/I'll sing you a Lullaby/How Goodness Prevailed/We killed and robbed/the f***ing Lot/but we don't feel bad/It was done beneath the Flag of Democracy..."

But, last night, none of any of that seemed to register. Like you say, just a Tribute Band. But, a great one...

John Kelly said...

Yes, it was interesting to hear the crowd at the Carling Academy chant "We are the mods, we are the mods, we are, we are, we are the mods." A group of people in 2007 chanting a line from a movie made in the 1980s about events in the 1960s. I don't think we were the mods.

Henry said...

Yeah, but "We are the balding, we are the balding, we are, we are, we are the balding, overweight, nostalgic middle-aged white men" wouldn't have sounded as good...

Anonymous said...

You're not going to tell us what your first Oxford Thanksgiving was like?

mark (not from alexandria) said...

I did not know they had Peaches in DC. They were based in Atlanta, I spent much of my early disposable income there -- my LPs are still stored in Peaches crates.

John Kelly said...

Yes, there was a Peaches in Rockville, on Nicholson Lane, I believe. I waited there overnight with my then-girlfriend Diane to buy tickets to the first Knack concert.

And I had another thought about From the Jam: Since the lead singer didn't write the songs, it's probably hard for him to invest them with the same passion as the Paul Weller.