13. Maybe It’s because I’m an Irish Londoner – Biblecode Sundays
This is a great London song for those of us who grew up in London with Irish parents, or those who have moved from Ireland to London. It celebrates both London and Irish culture. This song was released in 2007 by the Celtic Rock band The BibleCode Sundays. They are still together today and still play live around London. If you get the chance, you should go see them or their lead singer from the time this was released, Ronan MacManus. They both do great sets of rock/folk/Irish songs in pubs and small clubs. In terms of local live gigs in London, it is hard to get better than Ronan or the Biblecodes.
This was originally a track on the 1968 album “Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake”. The song was released as a single in April that year without the band’s knowledge and reached No.2 in the UK singles chart. They weren’t happy with its’ release, because they felt that many other tracks on the album better represented their musical direction, they were trying to ditch their pop image. The success of the song eventually led to Marriott leaving the band. He formed the rockier sounding Humble Pie with Peter Frampton. Frampton was another ’60s pop star looking to present a “heavier” sound in the 1970s, having had hits with “The Herd” and voted “The face of 1968” by the teen magazine “Rave. The band thought “Afterglow” would be the lead single, but although it is a good song in its own right, you can’t imagine that it would have been the big hit that Lazy Sunday was.
“Gor Blimey, ‘ello Mrs. Jones – How’s yer Bert’s lumbago” Steve Marriott sings in a cod cockney accent. In 1960 he played the Artful Dodger in Lionel Bart’s “Oliver!” and this east end music hall delivery harks back to that. The song was recorded as a jokey album track, but it has clever lyrics, a unique delivery, and it remains a London psychedelic era pop classic.
Cover versions include the Toy Dolls (remember the punk “Nellie the Elephant”?) on their cleverly titled CD “Orcastrated”. The Libertines used to include a version in their live set. I feel like I can hear echoes of this son in Blur’s “Parklife” too.
Vossi Bop was released in April 2019 entering the UK chart at No.1 and spending two weeks there. Stormzy is a London grime artist, and his lyrics and performances often talk about living and growing up in South London. This song references UK and London politics and the line “tell ’em this is London City, we the hottest in the world”. The video has him rapping outside the bank of England and on Westminster Bridge. Idris Elba appears (briefly) in the video just after Stormzy name checks him.
10 Take Me Back to London – Ed Sheeran ft Stormzy
Take Me Back to London was released in August 2019 and spent five weeks at the top of the UK chart that summer. This was the 2nd grime track to reach No.1 (after Vossi Bop) although, to be fair, this is a very poppy version of grime. Ed Sheeran does have form working with grime artists, there were many on “No.5 Collaborations Project”. This track is from “No.6 Collaborations Project” and it is basically saying that “no town does it quite like my home, so take me back to London” Although Sheeran grew up outside London, he began his career here, gigging and sofa surfing. This is a witty take on grime, they both brag about how great they are, with talk of their BRITS and headlining Glastonbury, instead of Courvoisier and Champagne, they rap “give me a packet of crisps with my pint”. There are two other rappers on this track (Aitch and Jaykae), and they take the mick out of Sheeran’s more MOR audience “Tell Mumsie I’m on a track with Ed”.
I attended amongst a group of 10 people, some of us remembered the original album fondly, a couple had read the H. G. Wells book, and a couple had no knowledge of the story. The entry point is a 19th Century tavern, where you can have a drink while you await your fellow travelers. The parties set off in groups of around 15. and you begin by sitting in a small cinema where hologram images set the scene for the story.
You are then brought to a planetarium, and each of you gets an individual telescope, through which you can study the solar system. Through these telescopes, you can see strange substances gathering on Mars’ surface. Your professor reassures you that “The chances of anything coming from Mars are a million to one…”and then we are off into the adventure. Before long, our professor is cinders, and we are led from pillar to post by various soldiers and civilians, helping us to avoid the destruction around us, caused by the Martians.
Eventually we arrive at a dock, where we are shown into boats and virtual reality headsets recreate our journey to London, in the hope of escaping the devastation. Virtual reality has come a long way in the last couple of years and these sections work fantastically well, helped by the rocking motion of the boats and the wind in our face at various points of the scene. Having escaped from the river, we are led to another tavern where we can have another drink (or not) while we wait for our rescuers to bring us on the next section of our adventure.
The second half of the show involves lots more VR, including hiding in a church confessional box and a trip in a hot air balloon. If you remember the album, you will recognize these parts of the storyline, as it does stick quite close to the story on the album. Before you know it, you are deposited back in the tavern for the obligatory photo opportunity and a debrief. The show lasts a bit over two hours and the time flew by. We all thoroughly enjoyed it, whether we were aware of the story or not. There were a few genuinely jumpy moments, and the music was good. I have to say that I was disappointed that they cut the Phil Lynott, Julie Covington duet (however, I was the only one of our party who remembered the track…) but the VR and how immersive it was really made up for it.
By the way, we weren’t allowed to take photos inside, so the ones included are stock ones that I found on the internet. If anyone would like to claim them or wish for attribution, please leave a note in the comments and I will remove or comply as you wish. The venue is Leadenhall Street, quite near to Bank Station, in the city. All in all, it was an excellent evening and Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds is a great addition to the list of things to do in London.
“I never thought it would happen, with me and the girl from Clapham” begins the 1979 story song from Squeeze. It’s named after a 1960s kitchen sink drama directed by Ken Loach and although the story is not quite the same one, it has many of the same elements. Lean lyrics and no chorus, it succinctly tells a life story in 3 minutes and 10 seconds.
Released as a single, on purple vinyl in 1979, it made No2 in the UK charts – being kept from the No1 by Tubeway Army’s “Are Friends Electric”. The song has a London sensibility, Up the Junction is slang for in trouble and it namechecks Clapham’s windy common. Written by Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford, who were the main songwriters in the band, Jools Holland was the keyboard player in Squeeze when the song was released. They wrote the story of the other person in the song “the girl from Clapham” 20 years later in “A Moving Story”
There haven’t been too many covers for a song that sold over half a million copies in the UK. Travis put it on the B side of a single, The View put it on the B side of Superstar Tradesman and Lily Allen does it live occasionally. My favourite cover is by The Hotrats, a side project of the band Supergrass, who change it up, but manage to keep the sadness of the story.
Ralph McTell is a well-respected song writer, Streets of London is his most famous song by some margin, although “Clare to Here” which he wrote in 1963, is well known in Ireland. Streets of London is a good example of the 60/70s folk revival, and I am led to believe that it is taught as poetry in some German schools, it is also one of the most covered songs in the world. One of my favorite versions is by Sinead O’Connor, the sweetness of her voice highlights the sadness of the lyrics.
In 2017, it was released as a charity single as a duet with Ralph McTell and Annie Lennox with the proceeds going to Crisis, the homeless charity. The Anti-Nowhere League did a punk version in 1982, it sounds like it should be terrible, but it actually works surprisingly well as an angry punk song, with a “London Bridge is Falling Down” intro.
Written in 1939 and released as part of the London show “New Faces” in 1940. It was first sung by Judy Campbell (the mother of Jane Birkin, famous for singing the very French song “Je t’aime” in the late sixties) in that show. It was immediately popular, and Vera Lynn had recorded before the end of the year. Frank Sinatra’s version is probably the most well-known, reaching No. 2 in the U.S. charts.
It has been covered by so many artists that it is hard to pick favourites, Glenn Miller, Nat King Cole, Michael Bublé, and Rod Stewart to name just a few. The Stéphane Grapelli and Yehudi Menuhin version is really good. Manhattan Transfer’s cover won a Grammy. The New Vaudeville Band did a distinctive version in the mid ’60s, and Ian Hunter (remember him from Mott The Hoople and Ziggy Stardust?), includes a version on his live sets.
It also features in many films and TV shows. Robert Lindsay sings it as the theme tune to the series “Nightingales”. Tori Amos sings it in the credits of Terry Patchett’s “Good Omens”. David Mitchell even sings it to Olivia Coleman in “Peep Show” Berkeley Square is a square in Mayfair, surrounded by smart terraced houses. Many of the earliest British Prime Ministers had their private residences there. It is a grassed square containing 18th Century Plane trees and there was a “coming out ball” (for debs, not as we know the term now!) held here, under a marquee, every year.
Baker Street is really a song about wishing to get out of London, but it still evokes the feel of the city in the late 1970’s. The sax break gives the intro a lonely, big city vibe and then the lyrics are a longing to escape to a nostalgic countryside that only exists in songs or people’s dreams. It was apparently written when he had already moved out of London and only visited to see lawyers, while he was negotiating his way out of Stealers Wheel contract, so you can understand why he didn’t see London is the happiest of lights. However, despite this, the final verse is positive “The sun is shining, it’s a new morning” and it sounds like he makes it out.
Released in 1978, it was a huge hit around the world. No. 1 in Australia, Canada, South Africa. No. 2 for 6 weeks in the US and No. 3 here in the UK. There have been many cover versions – in fact Undercover in arguably had a bigger hit in the UK with the song, reaching No. 2 in 1992, although to be fair it not a version that you hear often now, unlike the original.
Gerry Rafferty had hits in Stealers Wheel – “Stuck in the middle with you” is a great ’70s song. He was also in a duo with Billy Connolly called The Humblebums, very folky. The Foo Fighters used to do a cover of Baker Street at their live gigs and, of course, it is the song Lisa from The Simpsons used to learn the saxophone
It is remarkable how similar the sax solo sounds on this 1968 song by Steve Marcus, I suspect it would have ended in a courtroom had we been in these more litigious days. For all that, Half a Heart is a good song in its own right, very different in tone and I would probably never have heard it, if not for Baker Street.
All in all, a worthy addition to The London Playlist, if you have any suggestions for songs that you believe should be added please let me know in the comments.
Released in 1967, based on memories of his time in St Thomas’ hospital when he was 13. It went to No.2 in the British charts and was their biggest hit. Rumors at the time that “Terry and Julie” were Terence Stamp and Julie London who were London’s hip celebrities at the time, but Ray Davies has denied this. It was never a hit in the US, but it is listed at No.14 in the Rolling Stone’s greatest songs of all time. There have been some great covers, including one by another brilliant London band, The Jam. Peter Gabriel also did a very good version.
Ronnie Scott’s has been at the heart of the London Jazz scene for over 60 years. It opened in 1959 and has hosted many of the world’s most famous musicians in that time and continues to do so now. During the week they host shows in the late afternoon and evening, staying open until 3am. However, on Sundays they have and afternoon session between noon and 4pm, they serve brunch, and they have a live band playing between 1pm and 3pm.
This session is usually relaxed swing, and they serve a lunch menu – what better way to spend a chilled Sunday afternoon. If you wish to eat there is an extra charge, but the food is good quality, and the service was fast and unobtrusive on the day we were there. Once you have bought your seat ticket there is no pressure to buy either food or alcohol, the waiters refill your glasses with still water through the show.
On the Sunday I went, the music was of the highest quality, a set of Wayne Shorter songs, from his time with the Miles Davis band. Every seat in the intimate venue has a good view of the stage and the sound quality is what you would expect from one of the most famous jazz clubs in the world. The décor is dark, and the lights are low, the whole place is geared to showing off the band on stage to their best effect.
The sunshine is a shock when you leave at 4pm but it is a very pleasant way to spend a Sunday afternoon!