Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Beauty and the Beast: Cupid & Psyche 85 (1985) - Scritti Politti

Many from my generation will probably be wondering who the hell Scritti Politti is, let alone his lone hit album Cupid & Psyche 85, but let me start by saying that this is a dynamite record, especially since it is one predominantly recorded on a synthesizer - albeit a very state-of-the-art one for 1985! One thing is for certain, and that is that this would be one of those albums I would cart off to my desert island exile should I ever be consigned there. 
Let’s start with a bit of back story though. Scritti Politti is basically the pseudonym of Gramsci (Italian Marxist philosopher) obsessed student Green Gartside, a one time art student who formed the group whilst studying in Leeds. A minor indie hit, ‘Skank Bloc Bologna’ on the burgeoning lable ‘Rough Trade’ soon came to the band in the late 70s and spawned an early eighties release Songs to Remember (1981) which appealing to new wave fans of the time. Then nothing...

There was not a sausage or squeak from Scritti for four years until the album under review, by which time Gartside (on his tod) had joined forces with programmer David Gamson, harnessing the fresh pop licks of the the mid-80s and combining it the sensibilities of Electronica to make for a veritable aural feast! 

Ironically it was as student at Leeds that I discovered the magic of this album as, bored on a Sunday afternoon, I took it down from the music bank in the Edward Boyle Library and listened to it on one of the institution’s functional DVD players. Needless to say I wasn’t filled with confidence by the album cover nor much else I had read about the band but I was in an open frame of mind - after all had this fellow not also received his education from the same fine bastion of learning? I’m so glad I did, from the first echo-reverbed drum roll of ‘The Word Girl (Flesh & Blood)’ I was hooked!

Coupled with the very catchy keyboard and drum machine licks, Cupid & Psyche 85 captures Scritti Politti (Gartside) at his lyrical best, seeing him using bizarre word constructs and abstract metaphors to deliver a concept album examining the intricacies of romantic relationships: The love, lust, power, deception, corruption and lies. Even at the darkest moments the album is eminently danceable and I would defy any listener not to find at least one tune on this album that did not get their feet tapping to the Gartside grooves! 

Listening to songs such as ‘Small Talk’  and ‘Absolute’ make you think of a grooving dancefloor in another time with their catchy keyboard riffs and overdriven guitar hooks. But it is Gartside’s acerbic and incessant vocals that really cut through the sheen to make these as ironic as they are enjoyable. The former (Small Talk) is a biting critique about sharing relationship issues with other people, and it both is served and amusingly undermined by the upbeat backing music - much like Phil Collin’s 1982 track ‘I cannot believe it’s true’. 

There are two standout tracks which I will draw attention to. The first is ‘Perfect Way’, a song which should have been much more of a hit than it was - hey, Miles Davis liked it so much he covered it! Capturing Gartside at his most acerbic. Singing about the unreasonable nature of his partner and how he cannot meet their expectations, 'Perfect Way' has some of the finest lyric around: 

‘I took a day, check amendment, I took a liking to you
I took a page out of my rulebook for you. 
You wanna message a confession, you wanna martyr me too
You wanna margin of error for two...’

Just one example of why this is more than just a pleasant listen, it has a bit of profundity - not something you often find in blog!

The other great tune and a deserved hit is the dance classic ‘Wood Beez’, playing to Gartside’s love of word play. A straightforward love song set to a very funky, danceable riff and dynamic drum machines, this really does capture the 80s at its zenith! Produced by the legend that was the late Arif Mardin it’s a flawless track which lets Gartside’s idiosyncratic, trance-like vocals come to the fore. I would also recommend a look at the bizarre music video which couples with this song, a precursor for New Order’s ‘True Faith’ perhaps? 

I could wax every more lyrical with more pomposity, much the same way this album struts around the speakers like an musical peacock, but I tire of lavishing such rich praise and now merely urge you to purchase this fantastic album for your collection.......9/10! 

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Curry Night!

There are few funnier evenings than when you get some of your good mates together, cook up a curry, sink a few lagers and enjoy that banter which only rather immature fellows - of which I am one - think amusing! I used to watch Men Behaving Badly and think how fun their rather carefree life looked and, whilst I am not going to be building a sauna in my shed or drunkenly erecting a snooker table in a shopping precinct lift any time soon I think in my own special way that I can recreate something of that student dive feel with my curry and beer evenings.

I would be happy to entertain you should you be in the area, but let me just warn you that your drinking cap must be on and your capacity for crap conversation a very generous one!

Below I offer a simple recipe, but one which will certainly satisfy even the most boorish, booze-soaked friend...

My basic lamb curry

(A quick note from a former life!) You cannot survive working in Westminster if you don’t like eating curry, the political scene might as well be drenched in Madras sauce for the amount of times I went to the Indian Diner in Pimlico (incidently if you do find yourself at this establishment their sizzling garlic chili chicken is worth a try) after a day slogging it out in the corridors of power or latterly in Westminster Tower are innumerable. Once upon a time I happened to work for a larger-than-life Yorkshireman MP who, in his words, ‘loved a good curry’ and sparked in me a passion for the stuff that has lasted to this day.

Now, when I talk about curry, I don’t mean that very chi-chi stuff they serve at The Cinnamon Club, Mumtaz in Bradford or the like. I personally like the British interpretation of curry and sod the authenticity, sometimes the cheaper it is the better it turns out (although my time as a student in Leeds taught me that often this wasn’t the case). As my naysayers cackle and crow at my lack of sophistication, all I can say to them is tough titties, if you want the real mccoy then scout out another blog, the curry below - which is a lamb one - is one of my favourite dishes to make in my repertoire full of prep work and gentle cooking. I have adapted it from a fantastic recipe from Rick Stein, but cut the quantity of aromatics including my bette noire - cinnamon. It’s a real crowd pleaser and freezes really well for those times you come home from work on a winter’s night and curry’s the only thing that will fill that grumbling hole in your stomach.


Groundnut oil
400g neck fillets of lamb cubed
1 medium sized onion sliced
6 tomatoes quartered
3 cloves garlic smashed
Knob of fresh ginger
1-2 chillies sliced
handful of parsley and chives roughly chopped
2 handfuls of coriander chopped 
Mug of chicken/veal stock
Mug of plain yoghurt

For Curry Paste
2 tbsp medium curry powder
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp mild chili powder
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tbsp garam masala
1 tsp groundnut oil

  1. take a large saucepan, sweat onions in oil until soft and translucent, add curry paste, garlic ginger, chillies, chives and parsley mixing thoroughly until the curry powder is cooked off. 
  2. Add the lamb and cook for five minutes, then add the tomatoes and cook for a further ten minutes on a medium-low heat. 
  3. Add the stock and the yoghurt incorporating thoroughly, turn the heat low and cook uncovered for roughly 1hour until the sauce has thickened and the lamb is soft and tender. 
  4. transfer into a serving platter, scatter with plenty of fresh coriander, perhaps a dash more yoghurt in the centre. 
Serve with plenty of basmati rice, naans, chutneys and pickles.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Freedom Overspill: Episode #3

The plot is about to thicken for our daring duo when the mysterious and sinister presence of Niven arrives on the scene. To recap, Hall and Lomacks have been called to a massive house explosion in Wimbledon where a woman, by the name of Mrs Niven, is believed to have been killed. We join our daring duo as they try to make some sense of the whole situation...

Inside the pub, Lomacks brought over three pints of Youngs Special,  ‘Who said I would’ by Phil Collins played distantly in the background as the bar began to refill with those who had rushed out to see the commotion caused by the explosion. Lomacks was the first to break the ponderous silence that had engulfed the table. 
‘I Don’t like this at all boss, back in Leeds they’d serve these to you in proper mugs.’
‘Economics Lomacks’ his guvnor replied, ‘it’s simply economics, washing machine space, electricity bills, no lawsuits from someone assaulting with a heavy piece of glassware and all that.’
‘No respect for tradition, only under Thatcher!’ retorted the young upstart.
‘that’s as maybe, but save it for later, I want to hear what the constable has to say’ Hall turned to the slightly nervous policeman who was sitting with them. ‘Now son, what can you tell me about this Digby Niven?’
‘He’s a businessman, in the city, what you might call a ‘fat cat’. Made all his money in commodities and hasn’t look back. According to his neighbour he’s got fingers in a number of multi-national pies and has been recently brokering a number of deals in the Middle East’
‘Prime spot for investment sir. Studied it at University.’ Lomacks boasted. 
‘All very interesting… I’m looking forward to meeting this Mr Niven. His Wife?’ 
‘Society girl, socialite, spent much of her youth at country house and all the right parties. Family felt she married beneath her, Digby ain’t common but he’s certainly not landed gentry.’ the constable continued.
‘A proper Brideshead then?’
‘Shut up Lomacks!’ He was getting bored with his partner’s sarcastic interjections, he gestured to the constable, ‘Go on.’ The policeman nodded in thanks. 
‘Well sir, there’s not much else to tell other than what I already told you about the son and daughter.’
‘And the boyfriend?’
‘The boyfriend?’
‘of the daughter?’
‘Oh right, I didn’t catch his name, but apparently he’s in technology of some sort, but that’s all I really know.’
‘Don’t worry yourself about it, thank you constable, you’ve been very helpful. Now drink up that pint whilst it’s still warm.’

It was a couple of hours later and back at Police Station, Hall and Lomacks were sitting across from each other at their desks’
‘Nothing, not a fucking thing at that house and yet it was clearly a professional job.’ Said Hall, all his frustration coming to a head. 
‘Mrs Niven didn’t stand a chance...’ Lomacks lamented wistfully. 
‘No… poor woman.’
‘I didn’t know you to be so sentimental?’
‘it’s not that, it’s just I can’t imagine a worse way to die. Incidentally, has anyone been able to reach Mr Niven?’
‘Nothing Guv, I’ve been trying his office and his secretary says he hasn’t been back this afternoon. But she added this was nothing unusual if he had brokered a big deal in the morning and was out celebrating with his colleagues.’
‘Hmmm, it doesn’t add up. That secretary’s covering something. If your house was blown up, wife was killed and your kids were coming back to help mop up the debris you would surely have some concerns.’ Hall paused ‘…Anyway, we’ll pay him a visit in the morning. Go home and get some sleep Lomacks, I’ll tie it up here. Did you get that report in?’
‘Gift-wrapped and labelled.’
‘Good stuff Lomacks! Now get out of here. Anything planned this evening?’
‘Just taking Josie out, nice French place has opened up round the corner.’
‘Well, give her one from me… a kiss I mean.’
‘Will do Guv. See you in the morning.’
‘Bright and breezy.’ called Hall to his colleague as he passed through the door. 

The elusive Niven was sat at his desk in his City of London office, with a large glass of whisky in his hand. He was addressing another, well dressed fellow who was sat opposite and he was visibly angry. 
‘Jesus Codd! I told you to make it look good you fool! I’ve got tracks to cover, you arsehole!’ He screamed at the man. Codd - for that was the unfortunate mans name - went visibly white. 
‘But it went down just like you asked for, we got the guns out and killed the woman before we set the charges and then ka-boom!’
‘I suppose I cannot complain too much.’ Niven calmed a little, and was seemingly talking to himself,  ‘at least the cops will be busy investigating the death of my wife. I have an alibi, I was at the club, no phone allowed and all that…Sorry Codd, I just panicked.’
‘That’s your prerogative Mr Niven, now how about mine?’ Niven produced a Fendi briefcase, and flipped open the lock to reveal £250,000 in cash.
‘Here you are Codd, now I never want to see you again. Oh...’ he reached into his pocket and pulled out £50,000 in cash, ‘and here’s a tip to forget you ever saw me, should anyone ask you.’
‘You know how to do business Mr Niven, you’re an arsehole but you know how to do business.’
‘Thank you Codd, I’ll take that as a compliment, now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to mourn my wife’s departing.’
‘Nothing so sad as a death in the family.’
‘Indeed Codd, indeed…’

A few days later, at the Funeral of Mrs Valerie Niven, held at St Mary’s Church on Wimbledon Hill. The congregation were outside watching the body being interred. Niven has both his arms around his children. His son stoically watched whilst his daughter cried onto his shoulder. He looked drawn and haggard, a fantastic piece of acting, picked up from many years of high-stakes business negotiating. The vicar was still giving the ceremony when our two heroes turned up on the scene.
‘And we commit this body to the ground, Earth to Earth, Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust…’
‘Excuse me Mr. Niven, I know this is a bad time but could we ask a few questions?’ A red-eyed Niven turned to face the interlopers. 
‘Certainly detectives, If you will just give me a moment,’ he turned to his children, ‘You go along to the reception, I will catch you up.’ Hall gestured awkwardly to one side. 
‘Thank you Mr Niven, you don’t know how much we appreciate this and may I add how sorry we are for your loss.’
‘Thank you, but it is of little comfort. I just feel so guilty Detective…’
‘Hall, sir.’ 
‘Hall, yes... I feel so guilty because I was getting ready to leave her. I found out that she was having an affair with her tennis coach…but this, it comes as quite a shock to me.  I don’t think it would have happened had I spent a bit more time with her and understood her more. Now this, who would do such a thing? I know it was no accident.’
‘Really sir? And how do you know that?’
‘Well Mr Hall, you make a lot of enemies in my business and I’m sure you can guess that I’ve had to have dealings with some less than respectable clients over the years. It is not unknown for me to have received a death threat or two, but I never thought someone would go through with it. I’m afraid it was…was’ ever the thespian Niven dispensed with some crocodile tears. Hall looked slightly unnerved.
‘don’t worry about it now sir, go be with your children, would you mind coming into the station tomorrow and answering a few questions?’ Niven Sniffed into a handkerchief. 
‘Of course Detective Hall, anything I can do to help clear up this awful mess.’
‘Thank you sir, and once again, we are sorry for you loss.’
‘Until tomorrow?’
‘Until tomorrow.’ Said Hall shaking Niven by the hand on which he turned heel and walked back to his car with Lomacks.  Niven walked down to join his children who are waiting by his car, having decided to wait for their father before going to the reception. 
‘I don’t trust him one bit guv.’ said Lomack under his breath. 
‘That’s as maybe, but we can’t let him think that, he knows he had a Freudian slip when he surmised that his wife had been killed. We must tread carefully.’ 
‘Shall we call into the station, found if they’ve dug up anything on Niven’s client list, then we can go and take some statements from the Wimbledon locale?’
‘Sounds like a plan my friend. We can listen to this new cassette I brought on the way.’ Lomacks groaned.
‘Not more of that fusion jazz rubbish?’
‘No’ Hall puffed out his chest with visible pride, ‘it’s the new Genesis album, It’s cracking, I heard some of it on Simon Bates the other day.’
‘Invisible Touch? I bet it’s still shit.’
‘well I’ll let you be the judge, my car, my music. I put up with that awful Christopher Cross album when I was in your Punto the other day.

Join me next time for another thrilling instalment of Freedom Overspill...

Thursday, 7 February 2013

My very own ‘Moon Under Water’

George Orwell once wrote a brilliant essay about his perfect pub, full of Victorian fittings, porcelain tankards and an upstairs dining room servings British classics. Well I feel it is high time we kicked this old beast into the 21st Century and if I were to give my own take on the ideal pub it would go something like this...

For a start this would be a London pub, situated on the banks of the Thames, much like The White Swan in Twickenham or The Dove in Hammersmith, with a small garden on the banks of the Thames which would invariably flood in times of adverse weather or tidal inconvenience. In the spring a bitter festival might be held on that sodden lawn  and summer Barbecues, Pimms parties and would populate the parched turf. 

Concentrating on the building, it would be late Georgian/Regency - not in keeping with Orwell’s Victorian obsession - with lovely latticed windows, slightly warped from age. the walls, whitewashed every year, would have heard a few stories in their time from a few merry locals wending there way home. Heavy flagstone steps would lead up to the oaken door which creaks gently on the opening of both regular and stranger, from whence you are greeted by a few strange coves. Who are these fellows to you but faceless goons and one-time bar pundits who tell you about the quality of the pork scratching or the provenance of the beer you are supping from a brew tapped at Modwen’s Well? They are my regulars who come to the bar day in and day out to make merry at this very traditional pub. 

The floor would be of polished, herring-boned wooden tiles, leading up to a heavy oak bar populated by six sturdy stools topped with stuffed Kilim cushions. Light would pour through the large bay windows during the day and in the evening low lighting would add a convivial air to the place.

In the main area there would be no armchairs just squat stools topped with Kilim surrounding low tables where people could huddle in to wax lyrical about all manner of nonsense - as all great pubs should offer the freedom to do. In one corner would be a dart board and in another a traditional game (not-oft seen outside the pubs of East Sussex) called Toad in the Hole, there would be no fruit machine in sight. This is the first room and it is here we shall first concentrate our attention. 

The next thing that would strike the ears would be the earthly tones of murmuring conversations, non of that loutish shouting and crass language heard the length and breadth of every Wetherspoons up and down the land. Rather like the Sam Smith’s franchise there would be no music other than a live band every fortnight who played such diverse things as covers of ‘The Darts’ and ‘Squeeze’ and finished promptly at 23:30. 

We now approach a well stocked bar, including:
  • A few regular bitters: Youngs Special, Sambrooks Junction (the first two as an SW19 native), Black Sheep Ale, Old Peculier (As an alumnus of Leeds University) and Adnams Broadside (one of my favourite drops) as well as two guest ales.
  • Lager would be a couple of pilsners and sold as they do on the continent in presse and demi-presse measurement from glasses washed and doused in cold water in front of the customer and could be taken with shot or shot-less - There would be no bottles. 
  • Whisky: There would be one blended whisky (either J&B or Canadian Club) and a couple of changing single malts: one peaty and one smooth. 
  • Vodka: There would be Chase, Sipsmith (given the pub’s location in West London) and Grey Goose’s delicious Orange Vodka. 
  • Gin: This is an easy decisions as Sipsmith’s would have to feature in addition to Blackwoods 60% and Plymouth Naval Strength for the hardier customers. 
  • Rum: No white rum on the premises! This would be the reserve of golden rums like Angostura 8 year old, the peerless Diplomatico and Montecristo’s (as in the cigar) own offering. 
  • Brandy: Dare I say it, in addition to the vintage Armagnac there would be a bottle or two of 10 year old Vecchio Romagna a mild and eminently drinkable brandy. 
  • Eau de Vie: Some Gilbert Holl Eau de Vie as a fiery nightcap or a brisk kick start to the morning. 
  • Premium liqueurs and bitters: Cointreau, Aperol, Campari, Dubonnet, Drambuie, Cherry Brandy, Khalua, Gran Marnier, Kamm & Sons. 

Premium mixers and some well priced soft options would be also be available. Like any pub worth its salt there would be no wine on the menu, that, after all is what a wine bar is for. All drinks would be served in appropriate glassware including glass mugs for the ale! 

In terms of snacks there would be a very basic choice of Walker’s crisps: Ready Salted, Cheese & Onion and Salt & Vinegar. To keep them company there would be Bacon Fries, Mini Cheddars and KP salted peanuts. On the bar there would be a large, home-made pork pie from which customers could purchase a slice with a dab of grain mustard furthermore there would be: a bowl of cold sausages; a truckle of cheddar; a jar of gherkins and a jar of pickled onions again to be apportioned on purchase. This would be the only food available in the pub. 

Did I mention that no children are allowed in the bar? No? Well let me make it quite clear. In this pub of mine I have provided a family room with door leading from the bar but also a separate external entrance door so that drinkers at the bar are not disturbed as they sup their pints in peace by the kids. The family room would be well equipped with board games, card decks, story books and other such entertaining things - of course adults would come through to the bar to get theirs and their offspring’s drinks but that’s as far as it goes. Children could use the beer garden and as such there would be a swing set and a slide. 

Stringent, but a necessary rule to emphasise the purpose of the establishment as a place where ‘adults’ come to relax, escape and make merry. Moving to the garden, it would be surrounded by a large stone wall keeping the wind at bay. In the summer espaliered apple and pear trees would climb its height and length of the far wall. Other than that there would be a few benches, tables and the like for supping a light sunshine offering like Hopback’s Summer Lightning. It would not be an immodest garden and should have room for a sizeable ‘structure against’ the right hand wall - this would be the icing on the cake. 

‘The Smoker’s Shed’  a massive two-fingers to the smoking ban and might provide a haven in the cold for cigar and cigarette smokers alike - although I would prefer it were used by the former. Entry to this domain could be purchased for the price of a good cigar which would be provided on payment (£15-20) whence using a key card you at your liberty to use a snug room full of Chesterfields, Kilim rugs, an honesty bar (basic: brandy, whisky, gin, vodka and premium mixers) and a small hatch at wall adjoining the structure to the main pub where you ring through to purchase another cigar...

But sadly, the mists of my dreams clear and I am sitting in a dank pub in Covent Garden. It will never exist but the above, in short, would be my ‘Moon Under Water’, as naff as it sounds. I’d love to know what would make your perfect pub so please feel free to let me know your thoughts! 

Friday, 1 February 2013

She seems to have an...Invisible Touch (1986) - Genesis

What makes Genesis a great band? And more importantly what makes a guilty pleasure a guilty pleasure? Well, Invisible Touch answers all those questions in the first few stanzas of the title track with its clean, echoed vocals and sweeping pop riffs. Was this the same Genesis who had made the prog-classic Lambs Lie Down on Broadway but 12 years earlier, now a stadium pop act packing out Twickenham and Wembley Arenas? An alienated band who’s original fans had been bearded Tolkien readers, giving way to rolled up sleeves, slick haired yuppies who liked Miami Vice.

When all is said and done this is a great album made by a band at the top of their commercial peak. Let’s be serious, you are doing pretty well if you are topping the charts and packing the arenas, Phil and the gang were riding high on a mixture of the zeitgeist and a creative burst in their songwriting partnership. Genesis’s success hinged on the material written collectively by Banks, Rutherford and Collins and it is on this album that it truly shines. 

For me the title track is pretty throwaway, pleasant enough, musical sherbet that fizzes and melts as soon as it hits the ears. But things soon get seriously good with Phil’s almost follow-up to ‘Mama’ (not ‘In the air tonight’ and some might suggest), ‘Tonight, Tonight, Tonight’ starts peeling out across the speakers. A dark song about drug addiction with one of the catchiest choruses and some awesome playing from the lads this is definitely my favourite song from the album - even better it apparently features in a ruthlessly atmospheric episode of Magnum PI from the same era!

Next follows a song that takes me back to the holidays of my youth. ‘Land of Confusion’ was a real family favourite and obviously one for Michael Mann who used it in a gritty montage for the grand finale of Miami Vice. His setting might have had Crockett and Tubbs battling Colombian drug lords, mine was a gentler drive along the moist strata cliffs of the Lot-Garonne on a lazy August afternoon, the windows of the Saab down and noise of the cicadas just penetrating the backbeat of the drum machines. Of course, most will remember the tune for the fantastic Spitting Image video that went with it  - how 80s. It is a rollicking cut full of great hooks, some of Collins’s best vocals and some poignant (as poignant as Genesis could really get) lyrics. 

This was an era where artists put all their singles in a mad montage on the A-side of the album and ‘In Too Deep’ does not disappoint as a slow ballad, coming as it does after three more rock based tracks. This sugary piece used to sinister effect in American Psycho should not be written off lightly for it has a wonderfully romantic feel, hopefully not ruined by Bret Easton Ellis’s analysis of the song in the book. I am sure there were many hearts broken and won to this tune back in 1986/1987. 

‘Everything she does’ must have the most upbeat beginning I have ever heard to a song with a subject so dark, about a voyeur and a soft core porn star. The subject matter of 80s pop/rock tunes will never cease to amaze me! After that the album seems to get all a bit proggy to appeal to some of the old fanbase, but it just sounds a little dated as the technology doesn’t really suit the medium on the drudging ‘Domino’.

Thankfully there is one brilliant track on the second side, ‘Throwing it all away’ which makes up for it. A lilting, uplifting tune which warms the soul with its simplistic message. It has a very infectious guitar riff but even better it makes one of the best live tracks for Genesis as it encourages the audience to get involved. I am surprised though that Brett Easton Ellis didn’t think of this track as a useful comparison when Bateman was disposing of the bodies! 

The above should have been the last track but ‘The Brazilian’, a dull instrumental was tacked on the end for good measure... a shame, but who am I to question the wills of the holy triumpherate of musicians! 

Great album, need I say more: 8/10