Monday, March 21, 2005

Lady Sovereign "Random" (Casual London): Blak Twang "The Rotton Club" (Black Magic): West Ham, Chas n' Dave and an FA Cup Semi Final (various august venues)

Michael Howard is sinking further into the gutter than I'd have dared imagine. The non-sequiturs in his "thinking" are glaring enough, but this hardly matters when the newspapers blow every issue into a headline to be writ large, non-negotiable, never challenged. In 2005 the lazy stereotyping of travellers is bad enough, but coupled with vague promises to torpedo the Human Rights Act, it takes the breath away. Even with Thatcher and Tebbit pulling the strings in the 80s, there'd have been some baulking at an open crusade against alternative lifestyles, especially with a recognised ethnic grouping bearing the brunt of his tirade. How is criminalising gypsy camps going to assist with the problem of finding sites for travellers to live on ? How can you trespass on your own property anyway ? Is there nothing this guy won't do to try and rake up the prospect of an ugly, trench warfare election where both parties compete for the lowest common denom ? Don't answer.

Oh yes, the blog. The week began by splashing out £2.99 on Lady Sov's "Random", she of course being the petite rhymer outta Chalk Hill whose "Ch-Ching" made for an out-of-body grime experience when it came out on 12" last year. Whereas Kano's breakthrough single seemed to betray the drudgery of major label influence a little, Sovereign's (despite being released under the auspices of the evil Island empire) remains utterly untarnished by concessions to the mainstream: a ludicrous, booming garage loop, engagingly daft lyrics (though "whine like a gypsy" is unfortunate in the context of the last para), in a song cheerfully bereft of traditional structure which instead starts, stops and occasionally wanders into a more punter-friendly chorus, all punctuated by Lady S either shouting, singing or chatting back to the listener with casual abandon. The remix, featuring Riko rapping live from HMP Brixton, is musically less daring but Riko's lo-fi rhyming, down one of the worst telephone lines ever, helps bring it to the boil. All in all, much much better than I feared, and I am genuinely shocked that it seems not to have gone Top 40 this week. Still, I'm sure when she does fall off big style (can you get the kind of coverage she's pulling in London-centric style mags and stay fully on top of the underground game ?), that will be remedied. Sigh.

As one career starts, another moves into its middle age. SE8's Blak Twang aka Tony Rotton has just released his fourth album and... it's pretty good, if no cigar. Eschewing the unrestrained high-octane shoutfests of last album "Kik Off", "The Rotton Club" calms things down for an accessible, thoughtful set, the quality of which is uneven not because of his rapping, which is indefatigable and defiant throughout, but because of the wide variety of musical styles he uses: the best tunes for my money being "Beef Stop" with its soulful, dub underlay; "Soldier" with its lean bass and 70s brass, and the very stripped-down, almost grimy "Where Lions Roam". While some of Twang's topics are maybe less defensible than others (the congestion charge, traffic wardens and petrol prices all get a kicking, whilst he is keen to point out that men should drive and women wash up(!)), he hits the big issues very hard. The self-explanatory "Stop n' Search"; the commendably altruistic sex education single "GCSE"; "My World", a textbook knockdown of the government ministers who flagellated So Solid for society's ills when BT shared a sofa with them on "This Morning", and "Prayer 4 The Dying", a powerful statement of desperation, just as "Fearless" was all those years ago. Likeable and intelligent then - IT CAN BE DONE.

After those diversions to London's West and South, everything got a bit more Cockney.

Firstly, I went to Upton Park of a cool evening and watched West Ham gallantly foil themselves in front of 26,000: their dominance over Crewe was absolute, but that didn't make the latter's last-minute equaliser any less predictable. Always nice to go for a pint on Green Street though.

Secondly, I went to the 100 Club. Now, I have had the privilege of seeing some amazing bands in my time: from Public Enemy to Morrissey, Bo Diddley through to the Mary Chain, the Wu Tang Clan to Extreme Noise Terror. And Chas n' Dave, even at £18 on the door, hold their own in such company. Looking barely older than they did when having a string of top ten hits in the late 70s and early 80s, they pumped out goodtime tunes with the same joy as that other power trio, Milky Wimpshake (never forget that Chas n' Dave are really a three-piece, thanks to uncredited sticksman Mick, the Jam Master Jay of pub rock, having kept them in time for 30 years), but with grand piano instead of guitar. They know exactly what they're doing: holding the audience in the palm of their hand (and, I am relieved to say, refraining from any of that party medley stuff they used to have to do to pay the rent). They start with "Gertcha", end with "Ain't No Pleasing You" - the greatest song ever to peak one place off the top - and encore with "Rabbit" (superbly, the second rendition of that tune tonight: recalling when the Mary Chain opened for the Sugarcubes with their own signature piece, "Just Like Honey" twice in a row...) and of course there's space too for the likes of "Mustn't Grumble" and "London Girls" (one of the tunes that Tori Amos covered recently, of course: but then you can hardly go wrong when your opening lines are "Some people sing about Deutsche girls / And girls from California / They might be all right for a night all right / But don't trust them I warn ya"). It only really falls down with the wack-lustre "Beer Belly" (a dedication to the blokes, following "Rabbit"'s dedication to the ladies): oh, and the fact that, as per an apparent policy decision, there is no sign of any of their Cup Final tunes - these are also, bizarrely, expunged from their greatest hits. But there's enough to leave you in no doubt that these pioneers of musical evolution and experimentation invented hip-hop (tonight, Dave just out-MCs Chas in the battle of the beards and shades); punk (the anarchy and thrust of their defining "Sideboard Song" surely recalling their protegees, the Pistols at this same venue, with the cartoon proto-Sid Vicious violence of "Wallop!" being another highlight), funk (Dave slapping his four-string to Mick's shuffling rhythms in a way that would paint Mark King green with envy) and dub (that blissed-out green baize tribute, "Snooker Loopy", being given an unlikely but v. welcome echo-bass treatement). And remember - with a 3xCD compilation coming out soon - and an appearance at Glastonbury this year (I kid you not - now that will sock it to muppets like Razorlight) - there will be no excuse for you not to investigate the CnD legacy further. BTW, Mick is 67.

Thirdly, it was time to hit Dagenham East for the FA Cup semi-final: Bristol Rovers v Charlton. The fact this was fourth plays first in the Premiership tells you we are talking women's football, but I have to say that I have rarely got as good value at a game of footy as with the £3 it cost to see Charlton sneak a tense, increasingly dramatic tie 1-0 (with the winning goal being a bundled calamity of errors that wouldn't have been out of place at Plough Lane circa 1990). There is something indefinably, inexplicably, inevitably great about people playing the game *BECAUSE THEY WANT TO!* in modest, sympathetic surroundings, with an attentive and actually interested audience, away from the ludicrous trappings of the (male) premiership, with its glam teen-oriented marketing and vacuous, blinged-up, testosterone-fuelled tearaways ploughing cars drunkenly through the English countryside en route to gang-%&£ing 15 year olds while praised to the hilt by the same commentators and "fans" who lay into referees and each other with unbending boneheadedness and pepper phone-ins with lazy cliches, hackneyed negativity and tired synonyms for "disgraceful". If it takes the women's game to restore my faith in football - and it might yet - I'll gladly go for that.

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