There’s A Lot Of Nice Places To See Out There

Stepping backwards in time from yesterday’s Balearic Charlatans remix to a song from Liverpool in 1986 that found its way into DJ Alfredo’s record box in Ibiza and the terrace at the Cafe del Mar with his guiding philosophy of ‘if it sounds good, play it’. Driving Away From Home (Jim’s Tune) was a single from It’s Immaterial, a Liverpool band with a Mancunian at the helm (John Campbell) and Henry Priestman of The Christians involved on keyboards. The song is perfect mid-80s synth-pop with acoustic guitars and a semi- spoken vocal, not a million miles from the Pet Shop Boys. Driving Away From Home was a UK hit (number 18) and popped up on adverts and compilations and TV shows but don’t let that take anything away from it.

One of my favourite aspects of the song is the attempt to write a British road trip song, something that on the face of it is an American thing. ‘Why don’t we cross the city limit, and head on down the M62, it’s only thirty nine miles and forty five minutes to Manchester’ John says, and goes on to tell the driver ‘all you’ve got to do is put your foot hard down to the floor, we can call on people I know in Newcastle or maybe in Glasgow’. See also Billy Bragg’s A13 (Trunk Road To The Sea).

Driving Away From Home (Wicked Weather For Walking)


It’s Wrong To Wish On Space Hardware

Billy Bragg’s A New England, thirty years old right now, is one of the great lyrics of the latter part of the Twentieth Century. I know, a ridiculous claim, but there you go. The first verse has that almost nonsensical opening couplet about being 21 when he wrote the song but 22 now and the girls he knew at school who have already outpaced him age-wise and growing up-wise followed by the one half-rhyming pedestal and the pill. After the chorus ‘I don’t want to change the world, I’m not looking for a new England, just looking for another girl’- there’s the brilliant verse combining the Cold War space race, shooting stars, wishing and unrequited love which is pure post-punk poetry…

I saw two shooting stars last night
I wished on them but they were only satellites
Is it wrong to wish on space hardware
I wish, I wish, I wish you’d care

The sparseness of Billy’s rapidly strummed electric guitar adds to the early 80s lonesomeness. It may not be his best song but I don’t think he’s ever written a better lyric. He may have matched it but he’s not bettered it.

Kirsty MacColl’s cover version, below, is different- not better, not worse, different. Fuller, with a biggish pop production by husband Steve Lillywhite and two additional verses written for her by Billy. Number 7 in the pop charts in 1984.

A New England

There Will Be A Reckoning

Billy Bragg’s album of this year (Tooth And Nail) has some good songs on it- this is one of them- and has some of the political bite and ire of his former work.

There Will Be A Reckoning

There’s something about the album as a whole that doesn’t quite work for me- a bit too one paced, a bit too samey. Maybe that’s just down to me and a lack of concentration over full albums nowadays, especially ones that don’t have too much sonic variety. But then not every lp can or should have dub, krautrock and free jazz spilling into it’s grooves can it?

Every Time I Switched On The Radio There Was Somebody Else Singing A Song About The Two Of Us

I think Billy Bragg has noted this himself and most Bragg fans too but his back catalogue contains more love songs than political songs, but still he is labelled as a political artist. This song, Walk Away Renee from the mid 80s, is one of his best loved love songs- originally by 60s group The Left Banke, Bragg cajoled tour mate Johnny Marr into playing the guitar and then wrote new lyrics for it, and performed them spoken word style. And what a set of lyrics they are, skewering the rush of  young love and the turmoil of break up.

‘She said it was just a figment of speech
And I said ‘No, you mean figure’
And she said ‘No, figment’
Because she could never imagine it happening
But it did’

Then we get Billy playing the shy boy, which works in terms of getting her attention, but when she speaks to him the first time he gets a nosebleed and ‘she guessed the rest’. The pair go out, get the ferry and when no one collects their fares Billy knows this will be something special- a free ride signifying the blossoming of love and then the radio keeps playing songs about him and her. Like it does. He compares the start of a love affair to a fairground ride, scary and a rush and wanting it to never stop- which is a cliche, and we know it’s a cliche and Billy knows it as well. One of those cliches people falling in love use. Meanwhile Johnny picks away gently and unobtrusively.

Of course it goes wrong as these often things do- she starts seeing someone else. He sees her in the car park with Mr Potato Head (pre-Toy Story this). Car parks -ordinary, prosaic places where nothing happens and where things go wrong in people’s lives. Potato Head puts his coat around her shoulders. Later that night Billy can’t get them out of his head…

‘…I thought about the two of them together
Until the bathwater went cold around me
I thought about her eyes and the curve of her breasts
And about the point where their bodies meet.’

Torment in a rented flat. Head going round and round. Stupid Mr Potato Head and his coat, and them… at it. Sometime later he confronts her- it doesn’t go well, and Billy chucks in another great one liner about being the most ‘illegible batchelor in town’ and she laughs at him and we laugh with him. And then suddenly, as the loss of love builds and jealousy and heartbreak are about to consume him, everything changes, love and infatuation die; Billy plays his trump card lyrically, and the fire burning in him is doused by a massive bucket of cold water…

‘And then one day it happened
She cut her hair and I stopped loving her’

Truly top stuff. I heard it again recently out of nowhere and it was as good as the first time even though I knew what was coming.

Walk Away Renee

Mother Russia

To Pussy Riot from Billy Bragg

!No Pasaran!

I started May by wittering on about a Spanish Civil War themed mix tape and which songs might go onto it. Thanks to everyone who made suggestions about other songs- Drew, Davy H, Helen and Suggestedformaturereaders. Thus, I can start June with a better, more expansive Spanish Civil War mixtape.

Durutti Column- Sketch For Summer
Manic Street Preachers- If You Tolerate This Then Your Children Will Be Next
The Clash- Spanish Bombs
The Pogues- Lorca’s Noveno
Billy Bragg- Jarama Valley (available here from The International Brigades website)
Leonard Cohen- Take This Waltz (based on Lorca’s words)
O’Luge and Kornertrone Allstars- Spanish Bombs (cover of The Clash song)
Christy Moore- Viva La Quinta Brigada
The Stone Roses- Guernica
Maxine Peake and Urban Roots- speech by Dolores Ibarruri (aka La Pasionaria, from the Billy Bragg cd linked above)

Can we make a case for Jonathan Richman’s Pablo Picasso on the grounds that Picasso painted Guernica? Reckon so.

Viva La Quinta Brigada

The photo of the militiawoman in heels with a pistol was taken by Gerda Taro, Robert Capo’s partner. Between them they covered the war and helped invent photo journalism. Gerda was killed during the war, run over by a tank accidentally. Stunning picture isn’t?

The Poor Take Courage, You Rich Take Care

I was using this song the other day in a work-based capacity (yep, I played it to some twelve and thirteen year olds)- Billy Bragg’s The World Turned Upside Down (sometimes known as The Digger’s Song). The lyrics were written by Leon Rosselson and Billy released it in 1985. The music alone is stirring enough, Billy’s palm muted guitar punctuated by urgent, staccato, metallic stabs. The Diggers were a radical 17th century group, the first Communists arguably, who claimed the earth as ‘a common treasury’, pressed for economic equality and led by Gerrard Winstanley put their money where their mouths were and began to cultivate common land. The Diggers made the point that the common people of England had been robbed of their birthrights since the Norman Conquest and exploited by the ruling class. The government and local landowners between them, back up by the threat and use of the army, crushed them and by 1651 most Digger colonies had vanished.

In 1649 to St. George’s Hill
A ragged band they called the Diggers came to show the peoples’ will
They defied the landlords They defied the laws
They were the dispossessed reclaiming what was theirs
We come in peace they said to dig and sow
We come to work the lands in common and to make the waste grounds grow
This Earth divided we will make whole so it will be a common treasury for all

The sin of property we do disdain
No man has any right to buy and sell the Earth for private gain
By theft and murder they took the land
Now everywhere the walls spring up at their command
They make the laws to chain us well
The clergy dazzle us with heaven or they damn us into hell
We will not worship the God they serve
The God of greed who feed the rich while poor men starve
We work we eat together, we need no swords
We will not bow to the masters or pay rent to the lords
We are free men, though we are poor
You Diggers all stand up for glory stand up now

From the men of property the orders came
They sent the hired men and troopers to wipe out the Diggers claim
Tear down their cottages, destroy their corn
They were dispersed but still the vision lingers on
You poor take courage you rich take care
This Earth was made a common treasury for everyone to share
All things in common, all people one
We come in peace the orders came to cut them down

All of which seems to strike quite a few chords at the moment, what with the Occupy protests, rightful disgust at our banking system and successive governments failure to control or regulate it, student protests, kettling and pepper spraying policemen and so on. On top of this, I and millions of others, are on strike today. I’m not saying it’s the same to argue that withdrawing our labour for a day in protest at changes to our pensions is the same as what The Diggers were trying to achieve or that we are ‘the disposed reclaiming what is ours’ but… these things are all in the ether at the moment. There are people at my place of work who are going in to work, under the guise of ‘I can’t afford to lose a day’s pay’ or to impress management. Wrong headed I think. I may even go on a march. ET’s always wanted to go on a demo and as her school’s closed we may as well. See you down the front. Must remember to take a lemon with me.