Tuesday, 20 June 2017

STADIA: RAMON SANCHEZ PIZJUAN AND BENITO VILLAMARIN, SEVILLE





The Estadio de La Cartuja, on the north-western fringes of Seville, presents a forlorn spectacle. It was built specifically for the 1999 World Championships in Athletics, but with also the Olympics in mind. Twice, in 2004 and 2008, the International Olympic Committee rejected Seville's bid for the games outright. Since then, La Cartuja has had to satisfy itself with hosting: the Copa del Rey (twice); the 2003 UEFA Cup Final (Porto 3-2 Celtic); the 2004 and 2011 Davis Cups; the Spanish national football team, but only in exhibition matches; various musical artistes (AC/DC among them).
Why so forlorn? Despite supporting a fairly attractive pleated polycarbonate roof, the external structure is rudimentary, resembling the sort of faceless hotel you might find to the side of a motorway or nearby an airport. Its peripheral location supplements this impression, lost on the outskirts of town overlooking the arid banks of the Guadalquivir River. Wisely, both Seville’s resident football teams, Sevilla FC and Real Betis Balompié, have resisted any temptation to take up residence, possibly to the chagrin of the Sociedad Estadio Olimpico de Sevilla. Whilst the stadium represents an exemplary athletics venue – albeit an architecturally predictable one – it is not conducive to generating the sort of atmosphere one expects at a football match (ask your nearest West Ham United supporter if you do not comprehend why). In any case, Sevilla FC and Real Betis Balompié have good enough stadia of their own.




Sevilla FC is the city’s dominant club yet it has the smaller ground. Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán can house 42,500 spectators, which is 10,000 less than its southern neighbour but ample enough for an attendance that averages out at just over 30,000. When the stadium opened in 1958 it actually had room enough for 53,000, despite the fact that the second tier lay incomplete: the budget overran and Seville had to content itself with a single circumambient tier and two anfiteatros overlooking each touchline. When in 1974 the second tier was finally made continuous, the capacity peaked at an impressive 70,000. This was in the days when most spectators watched the game on their feet.
Further improvements were made in preparation for the 1982 World Cup. Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán was to host two games: a first round match between Brazil and the Soviet Union, and a semi-final, which would see West Germany pitched against France. Seating was installed, not throughout but in enough places to temporarily reduce the capacity to 66,000 (the original capacity was reinstated soon after). Floodlights were fixed upon gantries at various points along the top tier’s brim, and one of the anfiteatros became a tribuna by way of a roof being put over it. (As far as I can tell, the only difference between an ‘anfiteatro’ and a ‘tribuna’ is the presence of seats and protection from the elements). Supported by 18 pairs of steel struts, the roof appears to balance precariously above the tribuna, its curved edge mirroring the mild arc of the terracing beneath. In profile these supporting trusses resemble Vorticist giraffes thrusting their necks forward towards the pitch, tails extended backwards over the retaining wall. The roofing itself is almost incidental, an ethereal presence that one could imagine being blown away in the wind. The protruding supporting wall, bearing the back legs of those Vorticist giraffes, mimics the general exterior, save for a huge mosaic occupying the central three bays of the facade. This impressive mural depicts Sevilla FC’s crest flanked by those of 60 other clubs that have at one time or another played here. The stadium’s appellation is writ large across the top.
Designed by the same architect responsible for Real Madrid’s Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, the construction itself is typical of many Spanish stadia built from the 1950s through to the 1980s: Athletic Madrid’s Vicente Calderón, the Estadio Martínez Valero in Elche, Malaga’s Estadio La Rosaleda, Barcelona’s Camp Nou. The common denominator is a reinforced concrete framework upon which the terraces are supported. (The apogee of this way of building may find its representation in Mexico City’s imposing Estadio Azteca.)
As at Estadio de Mestalla in Valencia – another football ground not too dissimilar – Seville has recently embarked on a programme of refurbishment; in lieu of building a new ground elsewhere they have settled on tarting the old one up. The approach is roughly the same in either case: painting the concrete black and covering much of it with aluminium meshing. Valencia has filled in the gaps between pillar and beam with rectangular sheets of perforated metal. At Seville they have enshrouded three quarters of the ground in a metal exoskeleton from which they’ve hung overlapping metal panels parallel to the camber of the supporting stanchions, rather like the armour of an armadillo. The ground floor remains as it was but has been re-rendered to effect a smoother, cleaner finish, and painted red. Both clubs have also suspended huge PVC banners at various junctures: graphics depicting their star players, crowd scenes, and the holding aloft of trophies. This is more prevalent at the Estadio de Mestalla, possibly because Valencia has won more trophies.
Sevilla’s renovations are the more successful. Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán’s fabric remains much the same since it was redeveloped prior to the World Cup in 1982. The metal cladding, the new stucco, the all-red seats – even those PVC banners, mercifully restricted to the exterior of the tribuna – are subtle enough not to detract from the uniformity of the two tiers, the grace of the cantilevered roof and the splendour of the mosaic. It is an edifice in thrall to its cohesion, in sympathy with the environment, appropriate for the climate. One hopes Sevilla FC continues to see it this way.




Estadio Benito Villamarin used to be known as Estadio Heliópolis but actually began life as the Estadio de la Exposición, built as it was for the Ibero-American trade fair of 1929. Initially, Real Betis played there only occasionally but decided to take up semi-permanent residence after winning their first – and only – championship in 1936. The Spanish Civil War then followed.
            Such peculiar beginnings explain why Heliópolis looked apart from most other Spanish stadia. It took the form of four separate, whitewashed concrete open-air stands designed in a vaguely neoclassical vernacular with a nod towards Moorish Revival – this was Spain after all. In 1958 the north and sounds ends, behind the goals, were replaced with more substantial structures, and floodlights were installed in 1959. Soon after, the stadium was purchased outright and renamed Estadio Benito Villamarin in honour of the chairman who facilitated its acquisition.
            The seventies saw various adaptations including the filling in of the corners, further augmentation of those north and south ends, and the addition of a massive slab of a second tier above the western tribuna, replete with cantilevered roof and alternating blocks of white and green seats (the colours and pattern of Real Betis’s shirts). The eastern tribuna was expanded backward in 1981 and another cantilevered roof built over it – albeit a more rudimentary iteration than the one gracing the stand opposite.
            Whether the Estadio Benito Villamarin would have been selected as a venue for the 1982 FIFA World Cup had it not undergone such substantial restoration is hard to say. That the Spanish football authority elected to utilise no less than 17 different grounds throughout the course of tournament – a number unsurpassed to this day – suggests maybe so; far smaller stadia hosted matches. In any case, a new amphitheatre was slipped in between the lower and upper tiers of the west stand, increasing capacity and allowing space for the sort of media facilities required for reporting on World Cup football.
            One would think that for a club of Real Betis’s inconsistent stature the ground as it then was would have sufficed. New owner Ruiz de Lopera begged to differ and in 1998 the north and eastern portions of the ground were torn down and a continuous three-tiered structure erected in their place. The idea was to rebuild the southern terrace in the same fashion, but contractual disputes resulted in the work being postponed indefinitely. Not until the summer of 2016 would the funds finally be in place to begin to finish the job.




Although still incomplete, Estadio Benito Villamarin is looking good. The three tiers that now wrap around the northern, eastern and southern sectors are not conjoined with those on the western side. Why would they be: the top two tiers of the western tribuna were built upon the old Heliópolis and follow its shallower rake, whereas the three tiers now surrounding it have been built more steeply. Nor has any attempt been made to ape the exterior of the western tribuna: despite the generally good condition of the supporting concrete stanchions, the structure shows its age. Moreover, three floors of offices and amenities have over time been untidily shoehorned in between said stanchions.
For the new build, the need for indoor space has been anticipated. The second tier is enveloped in a skirt of concrete parallelogram-shaped panels, each one punctuated with four triangular shaped apertures – hypotenuse facing upward, right angle pointing down. An imbricative belt of concrete signifies the rim of the second tier’s reverse, whilst also acting as a concourse at the rear of the third tier, whose exposed form tilts overheard. The patina is a raw shade of grey. It is left to the surrounding palm trees to provide colour. The interior has been subjected, via the medium of chairs, to alternating horizontal stripes of green and white, in contrast to the vertical streaks covering the old tribuna.
The result is a Modernist take on the Neo-Mudéjar style that flourished in Spain in the late 19th Century: geometric shapes repeating, Moorish gestures; gentle curves, functionalism. Given Sevilla’s Berber heritage this seems entirely appropriate, and is almost certainly intended. It should be appreciated that an effort has been made, having been obliged to work with concrete, to try and make something half interesting out of it; moreover, that in an era of decorative façades, the original concept for stadium has endured, rather than being lost beneath swathes of revisionist ornamentation.
One pauses for thought. Could it be that the 1990s saw Modernism’s last hurrah, before Postmodernism finally overwhelmed it and gave way to more indulgent, Deconstructivist architectural forms? Consider the tube stations built for the extension of London’s Jubilee Line – Canary Wharf tube station in particular, opened in 1999. Gare de Lyon-Saint Exupéry connecting Lyon to Paris and Marsille: opened 1994. Bari’s Stadio San Nicola, built just in time for the 1990 Wolrd Cup. The Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Niterói, designed by Oscar Niemeyer: completed 1996.
It’s hard to say. Cologne’s excellent RheinEnergie Stadion – effectively rebuilt for the 2006 World Cup – leaves its concrete endoskeleton on display in much the same way of those old Spanish stadia built from the 1950s through to the 1980s. Meanwhile, Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium is structurally the same thing as Estadio Benito Villamarin, just with glass panelled sections, daft murals draped over the exposed concrete sections, and a snazzy roof – all the consequence of a much bigger budget. There’s the crux – bigger budgets. And yet both Seville’s resident football teams have stadiums that retain a sense of history, of purpose, and identity, whilst offering architectural subtleties that need not be bought.


Tuesday, 30 May 2017

LINER NOTES: THE LADIES OF VARADES [2000]





  1. Zambezi – The Fun Company
  2. Rocks Off – Rolling Stones
  3. Transamazonica – Antonio Adolfo & A Brazuca
  4. Golden Gaze – Ian Brown
  5. Night Over Manaus – Boozoo Bajou
  6. Ponteio – Quarteto Novo
  7. Ali Baba – John Holt
  8. Untouchable Sound – Make Up
  9. D.C.B.A.-25 – Jefferson Airplane
  10. Sagittarius Black – Timothy McNealy
  11. 90% of Me is You – Gwen McCrae
  12. Blips, Drips and Strips – Stereolab
  13. Ain’t it Funky Now – Grant Green
  14. Queen St. Gang – Arzachel
  15. Soul Power – Lil Ray & The Fantastic Four
  16. Hercules – Aaron Neville
  17. Holy Are You – The Electric Prunes
  18. Loving Cup – Rolling Stones
  19. Every Baby Cries the Same – Make Up
  20. Outer Bongolia  – Stereolab
  21. White Light/White Heat – Velvet Underground

I had become acquainted with the guy who owned a pager in 1996 whilst living on Hanworth Road. As well as having a common interest in Word War 2 and its associated hardware, we shared a fondness for a certain kind of jazz. I established this whilst browsing through his record collection and finding a copy of London Jazz Classics (which includes Atlas by The Robin Jones Seven and Ta Caliente by Patsy Gallant, both of which appear on the notional compilation I imagined putting together in 1993). Another indicator was the fact that he headed a Latin jazz-funk outfit called The Multi Headed Vibe Set, who played in and around our college.
            The guy who owned a pager no longer owned a pager, he possessed a mobile phone. For a while we worked together at the Excelsior Hotel near Heathrow Airport, getting drunk on ‘whiskey shots’ at the end of 12 hour shifts – bottles of Budweiser we’d intermittently top up with scotch whenever our manager’s back was turned. We might then head back to his flat, on the border between Hounslow and Isleworth, and listen to the jazz, funk, ska and reggae tunes he was accumulating on Minidisc. It was the ease with which he put together such compilations that would eventually persuade me to invest in the format.
            The guy who now owned a mobile phone introduced me to something else that was to play a pivotal role in the development of ‘my sound’. In Chinatown, on Newport Place below what was then the King’s Head, was the Dive Bar. In this old cellar, every Saturday the Trojan Sound System selector Earl Gateshead used to play a mixture of deep funk, soul, ska, rocksteady and Latin jazz. Birthdays were celebrated at the Dive Bar, and friends visiting London were taken there. An old lady worked behind the bar, a friendly face who remembered what you drank. It made a nice change from the more regular haunts  Brentford (White Horse, Coach & Horses), Isleworth (Town Wharf, London Apprentice), Hounslow (Shannons, The Rifleman) – and might sometimes be followed with a night out at 'Blow Up' at The Wag or Wardour street.
It was a good time to be buying vinyl. Independent records labels were compiling all sorts of obscura. Intoxica on Portobello Road was my record shop of choice and pretty much every visit would invite a purchase: Keb Darge’s Legendary Deep Funk; Blue Note compilations like Blue Brazil and Blue Break Beats; Broasted or Fried and Version Excursion on Harmless Records; Battle for the Planet of the Breaks courtesy of Escape the Breaks Records; All Back to Mine on Regal; older stuff too, like Hottest Hits Volume 3 on Treasure Isle – a portent of music to come.
            Around the same time I made the not insignificant decision to finally acquaint myself with the ‘golden age’ of the Rolling Stones and took myself to a second-hand record shop in Twickenham intent on picking up one of the four albums that comprised the canon. I came away with Exile on Main Street, aware of its reputation but oblivious to its content. I was taken by surprise, very pleasantly so; compared to other Stones’ works it seemed almost lo-fi. Despite this, to this day I cannot fathom how Rocks Off – the opening track – isn’t regarded in the same vein as (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction or Get Off of My Cloud, or that Loving Cup isn’t held in the same esteem as Wild Horses or Honky Tonk Women. Other tracks on the album are less catchy but just as impressive. I bought into it totally – the production, the variety of musical styles, the artwork, the fact this was the Stones’ only double album, what they were wearing at the time, that it was recorded on the French Riviera.

Earl Gateshead at The Dive Bar


The Ladies of Varades gets its name from the former commune in the Loire-Atlantique department of Western France where a group of us hired a gite for a week. We pronounced ‘Varades’ to rhyme with ‘ladies’, which gave rise to the title of my compilation, although I very much doubt this is the correct pronunciation. We referred to the nearby town of Ancenis as ‘Ant nest’ – went to an outdoor music festival there and behaved like buffoons. The rest of the holiday was spent having barbecues, taking trips to la supermarché, lolling about in the sun, engaging in pitched water battles, and drinking bottled beer and plastic flagons of red wine.
Zambezi by The Fun Company, Soul Power by Lil Ray & The Fantastic Four and Sagittarius Black by Timothy McNealy are all taken from Keb Darge’s Legendary Deep Funk, an excellent compendium of mostly instrumental funk and soul. Transamazonica is a quirky organ-driven bossa nova number featuring the sounds of macaws and monkeys. It's lifted from Blue Brazil Vol. 2, by far the best of a series of three.
Ian Brown’s early solo material is hard to pin down, and surprisingly good, but works well as bridge across to Boozoo Bajou’s downtempo Night Over Manaus, which is essentially chill-out music released before the term became ubiquitous. Quarteto Novo offer jazzier Latin vibes. Ali Baba has become something of a reggae classic over the years but, rightly or wrongly, I thought it rather obscure back in 2000 if only because of difficulty I had finding a copy on vinyl (Hottest Hits Volume 3 also hosts the excellent John Holt tune Stealing Stealing and Joya Landis’s equally impressive Moonlight Lover).
Although they presented a more ‘garage-rock’ sort of sound, I could sense in Make Up the same sort of cool abandon I was getting from Exile-era Stones, less the drug induced decadence. Ian Svenonius’s hair augmented the impression. Although the Make Up were current (only just: the band dissolved the same year with band members Ian Svenonius and Michell Mae moving on to form Weird War) I still felt they were mining something distinctively retrospective, and assuredly not in keeping with current trends. Because of this – and despite the abrupt change in tempo – following up Untouchable Sound with Jefferson Airplane’s D.C.B.A.-25 works better than one might expect.
Sagittarius Black and then 90% of Me is You, they complement each other perfectly: slinky, early-seventies soul of the sort Earl Gateshead might have played down the Dive Bar. Introducing Stereolab at this juncture is a risk, but the repetitious rhythmic nature of their music sets us up nicely for the jazz-funk groove of Grant Green’s cover of James Brown’s Ain’t it Funky Now.
Queens St. Gang by Arzachel is a rather odd number. How to describe it? Psychedelic progressive rock might do. There’s certainly something of the Electric Prunes about Arzachel, but I resist diving straight into their epic Holy are You – it would have been too much – and instead exploit the bluesy organ and flute riff of Soul Power and the deep soul of Aaron Neville to bridge across to the Prunes’ psychedelic opus. In my world, Hercules by Aaron Neville dated back to 1993 (earlier in fact, because it’s all over the Southern Comfort remix of the Young MC rap tune I Come Off, which was a favourite of mine back in 1990). Because it did not feature on any compilations of mine back then, its inclusion was permitted now. Like John Holt’s Ali Baba, it’s a song that gets around in way it never used to – retro-classics that over time have been commodified to play in bars to a clientele that know nothing of them.
The Electric Prunes are probably better known for the psychedelic garage rock of tunes like I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night). Come their third album, the group had been coerced into working with classically trained composer and arranger David Axelrod whose vision was far more ambitious than their own. In fact, by the time of their the fourth album, Release of an Oath, the original line up had departed, to be replaced with session players, effectively leaving Axelrod in complete control. This was psychedelic rock of a very different kind. The garage elements completely gone and lavish string arrangements put in their place, it becomes the climax of this compilation.
Or does it?
Mick Jagger is an under-rated lyricist. I don’t actually hold song lyrics in the high regard that some people do; they are beholden to the meter of their host and should behave accordingly. Mick Jagger understands this, which is why he can write lyrics like this:

I'm the man who walks the hillside in the sweet summer sun.
I'm the man that brings you roses when you ain't got none.

Notice how he’s the man who walks the hillside yet the same man that brings you roses. This is the correct emphasis, but many lyricists would have missed it – they would’ve used ‘who’ for both lines. Also observe the double negative in ‘ain’t got none’, which is a perfectly acceptable idiom within the vernacular of the blues but would be wholly inappropriate if Jagger was writing for the page; lyrics are written to be sung, not read or spoken.
More Make Up, then the endlessly repetitive groove of the Stereolab’s Outer Bongolia. We finish with the Velvet Underground White Light/White Heat, but it was never my intent. The fact is this compilation began life as a tape: it was compiled prior to me buying a minidisc player. The original cassette actually had the Velvet Underground’s Sister Ray tacked on the end of side one; I figured that if any of these tunes could tolerate truncation it was this one. Moreover, the tapes I used were 90 minutes long, whereas the minidiscs I bought were between 74 and 80. For this reason, as well as replacing Sister Ray with White Light/White Heat, Transamazonica and Outer Bongolia were excised from the minidisc version on account of them being the next longest tracks on the compilation. What’s more, Ian Brown’s Golden Gaze didn’t feature at all because I was unable to get hold of a copy in time to include it on the original compilation. We’d listened a lot to the album Golden Greats at the gite in France, so when it came to recompiling the playlist on my laptop I restored/inserted any tunes that I perceived to be intrinsically connected to the memories I had of that year.


The White Horse, Brentford.


Saturday, 1 April 2017

STADIA: LOFTUS ROAD AND KENILWORTH ROAD


A chair was hurled against the window, which quivered on impact. The line of policeman stood outside The Green did not see fit to enter the pub and merely held formation, censureless.
Certain fans of Plymouth Argyle Football Club had chosen to drink there on account of the name The Green reflecting the colour of the shirts that Plymouth Argyle play in. The Green had been invaded by The Green Army. We drank our pints swiftly, for although we too were supporters of Plymouth Argyle, the launching of furniture towards plate glass was not something that particularly interested us. Moreover, the group of people from whence the chair had emanated were surely capable of lobbing chairs in other directions too. In spite of our shared desire to see Plymouth Argyle defeat Queens Park Rangers, the sort of mind that sees fit to toss around furnishings in confined spaces does not tend to discriminate.

Loftus Road in Shepherd’s Bush is a favourite stadium of mine. Unfortunately, the locality has rather a harsh reputation. The gloomy West 12 shopping precinct might have something to do with it, and the West Cross Route is grimmer still. Embedded betwixt Hammersmith, Acton, White City, Notting Hill and Kensington, Shepherd’s Bush can feel squeezed. Shepherd’s Bush Green itself, at its centre, is airy and arboreal, and much of the surrounding housing dates back to the late 19th century – Victorian terraces mainly, which is no bad thing. Still, the environment at Loftus Road is a physical hindrance, prohibiting expansion and limiting development.
Practically speaking, Loftus Road reached its extremity when QPR concurrently rebuilt the School End and Loftus Road stands in 1980 and ’81 respectively. Loftus Road backs onto terraced housing, whilst the School End overlooks a school – Jack Tizard School precisely. Built in 1972, the Ellerslie Road Stand, on Ellerslie Road, is encumbered with similarly residential concerns. Finally, The South Africa Road Stand (1968/69) is hampered by both its namesake and the four storey structure that has been tacked on its rear, as functional in its appearance as its purpose dictates – office space.
The overall impression is of rectangular cuboids and of the colour blue. The ground is almost as straightforward as this crude reduction suggests. The South Africa Road Stand is its centre piece: a tidy two-tiered structure with a single row of executive boxes in between and an outward appearance that belies its age. It is of ‘post and beam’ construction, but the posts – one at each end and two equidistantly between – are relatively unobtrusive. The Ellerslie Road Stand opposite is similarly supported but offers just one tier. It is the least remarkable stand of the four but by no means unattractive. The School End and Loftus Road are virtually identical and also the most interesting. They comprise of two tightly packed overhung tiers almost running the width of the entire ground. Their roofs converge with those of the South Africa and Ellerslie Road stands, not seamlessly but coherently enough to present the stadium as a single entity. That the fasciae are all painted the same shade of blue augments this impression. The stadium is completely enclosed, and the boundary between the stands and the pitch is contiguous. Incidental features include a video screen mounted above the School End, a television gantry suspended below the roof of the Ellerslie Road Stand, and four elegantly slim floodlight pylons emanating from behind the School and Loftus Road ends.
Problem: a limited capacity of 18,439. For the last forty odd years Queens Park Rangers have oscillated consistently between the top two strata of the English football league. Currently competing in the second, they’re averaging an attendance of between 14 and 15,000. If they were to be promoted, this capacity would be found wanting. It is reasonable, then, that QPR are examining the possibility of relocating to Old Oak Common with the intention of building a new ground with room enough for 40,000 fans. This sort of thing takes time. Should QPR face relegation, rather than promotion, these plans will more than likely be shelved. In such an event, their fans can console themselves with their continued residency at Loftus Road.



Pilgrim Pete at Loftus Road


The football hooligan is afflicted with what could be described as ‘combat envy’ – a sort of collective guilt for having not fought in the Second World War. Aware of the horrors that became his ancestors, the hooligan wishes to atone in some way, but not to the extent that he’ll join the actual army and put himself in any substantive danger. The sacrificial element of partaking in combat does not interest him. He considers only his reputation: that people might think he somehow isn’t up to the job of his forebears, that he’s not ‘hard’ enough.
However, the thug does not aspire towards meting out random acts of violence upon disinterested parties. Instead, the mob – or ‘firm’ in football parlance – will simultaneously seek out pitched battles with complicit rival factions whilst also engaging the local constabulary with impertinent acts of antagonism. Indeed, if the police presence is significant enough, or sufficiently equipped, the respective firms may enter into coalition and direct their aggression solely towards the state apparatus. In this sense, the thug supporter sees himself more as some sort of fifth columnist. The role being played is not one of an occupying force – even when brawling at home – but of insurgent, guerrilla, or terrorist.
One should appreciate that the British police officer is not a gendarme: his or her role is primarily that of keeper of the peace. This plays perfectly into the deranged fantasy of the yob. As tensions rise, it can be imagined that the uniformed police are in fact infantry – a modern day Wehrmacht – whereas the firm is some sort of people’s army fighting against the odds, in civvies (but completely free from the threat of long term incarceration – or ‘disappearing’). If in Britain there existed something approximating Italy’s Carabinieri, these naive re-enactments would take on a much darker and improbable dimension. When the Metropolitan Police (Waffen-SS) are involved, they sometimes do. Yet this is no incitement to riot, merely an opportunity for the deconstructed idiot to exhibit in front of his mates, cosy up to a horse and protest innocence when the mounted police officer tells him in no uncertain terms to back off. Then, as the fans are marshalled to the ground as a collective, the mob will sing about how they’ll never capitulate to the IRA – official, provisional, continuity, or otherwise.

Kenilworth Road is as confined as Loftus Road, but with added eccentricities. Comprised of five separate stands, the shape delineated is actually of an irregular hexagon. The A505 (Hatters Way) and the Luton to Dunstable Busway interrupts the Man Stand at an acute angle and the crooked David Preece Stand fills in the gap awkwardly. It has the appearance of a diminutive two-tiered structure that’s been bent in the middle and had the lower tier removed (to provide access). It holds 711 spectators.
The Bobbers Stand is odder still, comprised of what passes for executive boxes. Whose idea was this? It was never a very big stand on account of the housing behind, although it used to accommodate 1,539 seated supporters. I have not been able to find out how many it seats now, but it can’t be much more than a few hundred.
The Oak Road Stand (capacity: 1,800), and the strangeness doesn’t let up. Its roof, pitched, is comprised of three staggered sections that rise in height to meet the Main Stand to its right. The entrance occupies what at one point must have been the ground floors of two neighbouring terraced houses, yet the top floors, and the front doors leading to them, remain intact. Once the fan has passed under these tenements they must climb a set of stairs that offer an intimate view of the terraced gardens either side. (Loftus Road’s surroundings appear boundless by comparison.)
Then there’s the Main Stand, which isn’t without eccentricity either. It appears at first glance fairly cohesive, but not only does it have to put up with the David Preece Stand’s clumsy incursion on its territory, three floodlight pylons blight the lower terrace. These aren’t the spindly stanchions incorporated so successfully at Loftus Road, but more substantial latticed steel affairs. The club’s offices and utilities and the Nick Owen and Eric Morecambe suites are built on the back.
Finally, there’s the Kenilworth Stand, which has a flat roof, 3,229 seats, no significant visual encumbrances and room enough for a carpark out the front.


Kenilworth Road, looking from the Oak Road End

The stadiums of early antiquity were nothing more than acclivities with the ground levelled before them. These grassy verges were later fashioned into actual terraces, but they were still built upon naturally sloping land – there was no exterior to speak of. Practically speaking, it was the Romans who built the first freestanding amphitheatres, radically changing how these structures presented themselves. From possessing just one functional aspect, the stadium now possessed three: the façade, the interior, and the cavea.
This multi-dimensional perspective does not normally apply. Where form follows function, a building’s relationship with itself is more usually binary, symbiotic. Its innards cater to its functionality – a place to sleep, eat, work, etc. – and the external walls are present by default, to bear the roof and to demarcate the territory. The same cannot be said of the stadium where the inside is outside too, because what goes on inside is taking place outside. Its exterior then is continuous: it can be interpreted as both its inward and outward appearance. In its rawest form, what might be referred to as the stadium’s walls are in fact the underside of the cavea: they are not designed to protect this exposed internality but to physically uphold it. (Where an actual interior is present it is subservient to the building as a whole, providing toilets, ticket offices, changing rooms, and other extraneous utilities. In this respect, the stadium is comparable to the railway station.)
Unlike those early auditoriums of antiquity (or even some of the Soviet ‘superbowls’ that were dug into the earth after the Second World War: Warsaw’s 10th-Anniversary Stadium; the Kirov Stadium in St Petersburg) Loftus and Kenilworth Road are freestanding structures. Except, so hemmed in are they, if you tore their floodlights down you might struggle to find them. There are no boulevards, concourses, squares, parks, or any other types of open space, from which to view these buildings as independent structures. But where one can ascertain an external presence at QPR – if you look for it – it’s a real struggle at Luton. From Ivy, Beech and Clifton roads, one encounters fragments of breeze blocked walls and corrugated steel, random brickwork and wooden doors, peeling paint and corroded air-conditioning units. For all the onlooker knows, they’ve come up against something like an industrial estate, or the back-end of a bingo hall.
I do not mean to disparage Kenilworth Road. A football ground can live with a shabby exterior, the atmosphere within unaffected; who is to say that a stadium’s aesthetic appeal rests upon the ability to perceive it from a variety of angles. I suppose the problem for many of these smaller grounds is the uncertain choices that their clubs face: to move on, redevelop, or settle for what they’ve got. And if move on, then where to?


Friday, 3 March 2017

LINER NOTES: HOUNSLOW TO BRENTFORD [1997-2000]





  1. Me and the Black and White Dream – The Orchids
  2. The Stars of Track and Field – Belle and Sebastian
  3. On the Way – The Pastels
  4. Diagonals – Stereolab
  5. Give Away None of My Love – Otis Redding
  6. Down Down Down – The Chiffons
  7. Slipped, Tripped and Fell in Love – Clarence Carter
  8. I Want You – Bob Dylan
  9. See Emily Play – Pink Floyd
  10. Coz I Luv You – Slade
  11. Plan B – Dexy’s Midnight Runners
  12. A Wave Crashed on Rocks – Felt
  13. A Living Ken and Barbie – The Orchids
  14. Sexy Boy – Air
  15. Revolution 909 – Daft Punk
  16. Body Movin' (Album Version) – Beastie Boys
  17. Help the Aged – Pulp
  18. (Tonight) Are You Trying to Fall in Love Again – Tindersticks
  19. Color Madre – Delta
  20. Fan Mail – Blondie
  21. High Street Love – The Dylan Rabbit
  22. Boys Better – The Dandy Warhols
  23. Folk Jam – Pavement
  24. Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem) – Jay-Z
  25. Murmur One – Add N to (X)
  26. Jump n’ Shout – Basement Jaxx
  27. Dusted – Leftfield
  28. Magnetizing – Handsome Boy Modeling School 
  29. Over – Portishead
  30. Grass Skirt and Fruit Hat – Them
  31. Kontakte – Les Rythmes Digitales

The tapes did not survive the migration to MiniDisc. Did they in fact exist? I certainly recall listening to Stereolab within the context of a broader compilation – on the train down to Plymouth precisely – but the memory of what else remains elusive.
Music was in a bad state. The Britpop scene had given way to whole host of average-at-best guitar bands, including, but not limited to: Mansun, Marion, Placebo, Texas, Kula Shaker, Hurricane #1, Heavy Stereo, Catatonia, Dodgy, 60 Ft. Dolls, Space, Symposium, The Seahorses, Theaudience, and most of the bands that featured at some time or another on Chris Evans’s despicable vanity project TFI Friday. Groups like the Stereophonics and Travis were the next big thing. All The Verve’s singles now incorporated strings. The kids were going mad for the novelty dance act that was Fatboy Slim. OK Computer was being held up as a work of genius. Tony Blair had recently taken office.
Stereolab’s Dots and Loops and Illumination by The Pastels – both released in September 1997 – offered succour. So did Belle and Sebastian’s If You’re Feeling Sinister, released in November 1996, which the guy with the indie tapes recommended. Dots and Loops was Stereolab’s most successful album to date, both commercially (sitting at no. 19 in the album charts for a whole week!) and critically. As is the story of their life, The Pastels’ album passed by pretty much unnoticed. Yet Belle and Sebastian had managed a breakthrough of sorts. The sports student I was now living with was strangely taken with them, perhaps on account of their song The Stars of Track and Field, which concerned itself with the physical allure of athletes.
Belle and Sebastian’s Stuart Murdoch has expressed publicly an admiration for the band Felt. If asked, I would expect he would say similarly nice things about Sarah Records’ band The Orchids. I bought two of The Orchids’ albums – Unholy Soul and Striving for the Lazy Perfection – second-hand, on vinyl, in relatively quick succession. It’s possible that I actually purchased Unholy Soul whilst living at Bulstrode Avenue. What’s more, indie tapes guy had it on cassette and we used to listen to it at Hanworth Road. As such, it is Striving for the Lazy Perfection that aligns itself in my mind with Penderel Road, the song A Living Ken and Barbie in particular.


11 Penderel Road, Hounslow.

1997-98: 11 Penderel Road, Hounslow, my fifth residence in as many years, not too dissimilar in size, shape and general state to 23 Carrington Avenue. It is an untidy and slightly squalid abode. After a fruitless search for a two-bedroom flat, myself and the friend who passed out in Debenhams have moved in with two undomesticated first-year students. Much time spent playing Super Mario Kart on the SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System) ensues. Glenryck Pilchards in Tomato Sauce replaces Heinz Baked Beans with Pork Sausages as my go-to brunch.
The nearest pub is the rather grim The Warren on Hanworth Road (now a Tesco Express). It’s worth making the longer walk to The Pickled Newt on Staines Road (also deceased) if only because they have a free jukebox stocked with half decent tunes – for example, Coz I Love You by Slade. The Chariot has closed but will re-open as Shannon’s, which as the name suggests will be an ‘Irish’ pub. The Noble Half is also suffering a period of transition. To compensate, and buoyed by our younger housemates’ enthusiasm, we drink more often in Isleworth (The Town Wharf), Twickenham (The Cabbage Patch, The George), and Richmond (The Princes Head, The Bull & Bush).
Although I am still in touch with both the indie tapes guy and the chap who introduced me to Sarah Records, actual contact is sporadic. We don’t have email addresses and nor do we have mobile phones: they exist but are perceived as an extravagance, a luxury item. I know someone who owns a pager but for many of us the landline is our only means of communication. (Pager guy will actually prove to be a very positive source of musical inspiration – but not yet.)
Presently, I’ve been thinking about soul music and 1960s girl groups: Otis Redding, The Ronettes, The Shangri-Las. My lady friend takes note and buys for my birthday That’s Soul Volume 2 – an Atlantic Soul compilation – and Sweet Talkin’ Guy by The Chiffons.
At some juncture I’ve purchased a tatty copy of Relics by Pink Floyd but I couldn’t swear when it was. It’s possible that it has not actually happened yet, that it will occur at some unspecified time in the future. I’m not a massive Pink Floyd fan but I like Syd Barrett, and See Emily Play and Arnold Layne are missing from my collection.
On leaving Penderal Road I shall enter what will retrospectively be known as my ‘nomadic phase’. I spend much of this time at my lady friend’s house on Isle of Dogs. I stay for a week with my parents in Plymouth. I regularly sleep on the couch at Bulstrode Avenue and also at the Debenhams and Stars of Track and Field guys’ new pad in Isleworth, which they share with the fellow who owned the SNES. I visit my old cohabitant from Brighton who has now moved back there after a rough time of it in Tottenham; it is here that I make an association with the Bob Dylan’s track I Want You, either by way of the album Blonde on Blonde or some greatest hits compendium.


Rotterdam, February 2000.

1998-99: A time of transition, between jobs and different modes of living, from working the late-shift at the Excelsior Hotel outside Heathrow Airport to taking on more regular hours at an establishment within walking distance of my flat in Brentford. New local pubs to familiarise myself with: The Griffin, The White Horse, The Waterman’s Arms. Perhaps it was these more conducive circumstances that encouraged me once again to take seriously the putting together of compilations.
From Body Movin' onward this playlist is almost completely fabricated. The Beastie Boys, Daft Punk and Air do genuinely remind me of the Isle of Dogs but the rest of it is guesswork. I certainly did listen to Pulp, Pavement, Tindersticks and Delta but it’s highly unlikely I listened to them in the order presented. I’d purchased Blondie’s Plastic Letters from the Pannier Market, Plymouth, in about 1995 with the intention of giving it to someone else, but never got around to it. For some reason it had great appeal in 1999. Similarly, I had access to ...The Dandy Warhols Come Down on its release in 1997, but only really took to it during my time in Brentford. I don’t know what inspired me to get into Add N to (X), but I do know that Basement Jaxx and Leftfield were getting airplay on the radio station we tuned into where I worked.
I became acquainted with the last two tracks – Kontakte by Les Rhym Digitales and Grass Skirt and Fruit Hat by Them – in the year 2000. The former was introduced to me by my brother when I visited him in Rotterdam in February. I bought the latter on a whim after I heard it playing in Rough Trade in Kingston. I have included them on this transitional compilation because I did not include them on the playlist I put together later that summer. Yet they evoke strongly the memory I have of living in Brentford in and around that time and deserve representation.
What changed was this: come at some point in the year 2000 I purchased a MiniDisc player. Thereafter, every playlist remains largely faithful to its original incarnation (allowing for the ‘bonus tracks' I’ve tacked on retrospectively, freed from the limitations imposed by the Minidisc’s 80 minutes format). If you were to go to the effort of compiling any one of my playlists then I’d hope you wouldn’t bother with this one. For starters, its artificial nature probably hampers its flow. More importantly, it is clear to me now looking back that it wasn’t only my circumstances that were subject to change but my taste also. I was in a state of flux, disillusioned with indie music and with only a passing interest in electronica.
            But who would even know? It has never been my intention to chronicle music that was being made at the time, but to merely collate what I listened to at various stages of my life. That late 1997 through to early 2000 saw my enthusiasm for the playlist presumably wane is neither here nor there. Hounslow to Brentford is a collection of songs just like any other, and how it works as a playlist is largely a matter of taste.
Nonetheless, as an act of creation it is impaired. I obliged myself to work with whatever fragmentary memories I have of these two and a half years and took it from there. Moreover, it spans too long a period of time in my life to be in any way coherent to my own ears, so I how can I expect it to cohere to anyone else’s?



Somewhere in Brentford

Friday, 3 February 2017

STADIA: ESTADIO DE MESTALLA, VALENCIA




The fad in England for fabricating stadiums from scratch is relatively new. Take the Premier League. Villa Park, Anfield, Goodison Park, White Hart Lane, Old Trafford, Selhurst Park, Stamford Bridge, Vicarage Road and St James's Park have all evolved over time, unbeholden to any overarching scheme or long-term vision. Like Theseus's proverbial ship, they have mutated, in fits and starts, and resemble little their nascent self. (At Old Trafford they have aspired to create the illusion of architectural forethought, but those horribly disjointed corner sections fool no-one.) Conversely, the Emirates Stadium, Britannia Stadium, King Power Stadium, KC Stadium, Liberty Stadium, St. Mary’s Stadium, Stadium of Light, Riverside Stadium and the Olympic Stadium are all ‘new builds’. That’s a lot stadium, constructed to replace grounds that were deemed variously to be too small, too old, too awkward, too dangerous, too uncomfortable or too ugly – and irredeemably so. Unfortunately, from an architectural perspective many of them can be found wanting. Much of them look like they have been assembled by the same firm that knocked up your local supermarket (and may well have been).
            It is a matter of cost and spatial constraint. The clubs that have developed their existing homes remain where they are. Those that have built new stadiums have done so out of town, or – particularly in London where out of town can manifest itself as somewhere else entirely – on derelict land, probably at greater cost. Indeed, out-of-town developments appear to be all the rage, again echoing the sort of cheap and prefabricated buildings that are more usually built on the fringes of towns and cities – supermarkets, factories, storage facilities, head offices.
            Other stadiums are neither raised to the ground nor replaced stand by stand but built upon and expanded upward and outward. This has certainly happened at Old Trafford, and it is happening currently at the City of Manchester Stadium (albeit upon a stadium purpose built in the first instance but now regarded as lacking capacity). This approach has precedence elsewhere, particularly in European countries lining the Mediterranean: the San Siro in Milan; Bologna’s Stadio Renato Dall'Ara; the Stade Vélodrome in Marseille (hard to tell since they wacked a roof on it); the now demolished Estádio das Antas in Porto which was extended downward to increase capacity; Barcelona’s Nou Camp, the Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid, and stadiums in Spain generally; as well as the Philips Stadion in Eindhoven, where the effect is reminiscent of that at Old Trafford.




With a capacity of 55,000, the Valencia C.F.’s Mestalla Stadium is the fifth largest stadium in Spain. Like many Spanish stadia, it comprises of a rectangular concrete bowl with rounded corners, and a roof covering what might be reasonably described as its ‘grandstand’. The lower tier is continuous, the second tier not. The second tier of the grandstand recedes backward and upward to expose much of the tier that lies beneath (the Tribuna Baja) and therefore stands taller than the second tier sections overseeing the goal-lines (the north and south ends), but not the portion of the second tier facing it (the east side of the ground), which rises to approximately the same height.
This is how the stadium sat up until the year 1997. The logical thing then would have been to extend the north and south tiers backward so that they lined up with the already augmented east stand. Instead, a disjointed third tier was added following the existing edges of the north, east and south stands, thus replicating the irregularity that existed prior to expansion; it appears as if the third tier of the east stand has been cut away and moved diagonally backward by 15-odd rows. With just the two tiers and a shallower rake, the grandstand now rests subjacent to its immediate surroundings, yet a flimsy, brown corrugated roof detracts from the fact. Moreover, this shabby (cantilevered) canopy serves to improve upon its environment. Resting upon a dense trellis of metal, it is hard to make out exactly how it is supported – the two glass fronted pavilions (or ‘radio cabins’ as Inglis refers to them) that sit either side of the top tier look to have nothing to do with it.
Until relatively recently, the seating used to be mostly a tasteful shade of blue (the lower tier’s seats were white) which contrasted well with the brown of the roof (pale blue and rusty brown are quite complementary). These have since been replaced with predominantly orange ones: the grandstand is completely orange, the rest a mixture of orange and white, save for black chairs forming the image of a giant bat stretched over the three tiers of the Mestella’s east side. The exterior of the stadium has been given a similar treatment: the breezeblock walls and concrete lattice structure are painted black; the underside of the balconies and metal gates orange; the railings lining said balconies white, as are the those within the ground itself, of which there are many, especially among the seats of the very steeply raked third tier.
The Mestella is an exercise in the economy of space. It’s also in thrall to the concrete that forms it, and probably why it’s been painted so exhaustively. Trees line its perimeter, roads run around it, and residential blocks sit opposite. It could not feasibly be made any bigger. But it is a wonderful stadium. The lack of space must make for a delightfully claustrophobic – and intimidating – atmosphere, especially after dark.
In 2007, Valencia C.F. began work on the ‘Nou Mestella’ but it was abandoned soon after the financial collapse of 2008. It’s getting to the stage, apparently, where the structure may be unsalvageable: the concrete skeleton has been left exposed to the elements for too long. This new ground is/was intended to hold 61,500 spectators – just 6,500 more than the present stadium. One wonders whether it was ever really worth pursuing.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

LINER NOTES: BULLY FOR BULSTRODE [1996/97]





  1. Airbag – Radiohead
  2. One of These Things First – Nick Drake
  3. God Only Knows – Beach Boys
  4. Beauty No.3 - Catchers
  5. Gentle Tuesday – Primal Scream
  6. ABBA on the Jukebox – Trembling Blue Stars
  7. Come to Me – Bjork
  8. Picnic by the Motorway – Suede
  9. Travelling Light – Tindersticks
  10. Mile End – Pulp
  11. Father to a Sister of Thought – Pavement
  12. I Stopped Dancing – Marion
  13. Afrodisiac – Powder
  14. Storm Injector – Tiger
  15. Richard III – Supergrass
  16. That’s All You Need – The Faces
  17. Movin’ On – Blur
  18. Bitter Sweet Symphony – The Verve
  19. She's a Rainbow – Rolling Stones
  20. Ooh La La – The Faces
  21. Happiness is a Warm Gun – The Beatles
  22. The Passenger – Iggy Pop
  23. Bad Behaviour – Super Furry Animals
  24. Piku – Chemical Brothers
  25. Napalm Brain/Scatter Brain – DJ Shadow
  26. No Awareness – Dr Octagon
  27. Revenge of the Prophet (Part 5) – Jeru the Damaja

It is not necessary for a playlist to draw from current music chronologically. Take Bully for Bulstrode: Radiohead’s OK Computer was released in June 1997 yet its opening track is also Bully for Bulstrode’s opening track, a compilation intended to reflect what I was listening to from August 1996 through to August 1997. Blur’s Movin On is taken from Blur’s eponymously titled album, which was released in February 1997, but I’ve included it as track 17. Tiger’s massively underrated album We are Puppets went on sale in November 1996. Suede’s Coming Up was issued in September of the same year. And so on. Chronology does not determine the listing, the tenor of the individual tracks does. Then there are the older songs to consider – stuff released decades earlier. I’m not even sure when it was I actually committed this itinerary to tape but it could have quite feasibly been as late as 1998.
         In any case, these are the tunes I was listening to while living at 215 Bulstrode Avenue, probably the longest residential road I’ve ever lived upon. Ours was the house second along from its western approach. It took about 10 minutes to walk the street’s length, towards Hounslow Central tube station. In the other direction was Hounslow West, which was (and still is) pretty bleak. Its meagre high street was populated with fast food establishments and betting shops mostly. In amongst them could be found a Morrison’s supermarket, Boots Chemist, Iceland, Blockbuster Video and maybe a carpet shop. The only pub was the truly awful Earl Haig (flat roofed), which my lady friend and I would dive into whilst we waited for the guys at Pizza Hut to prepare our food. There was an off-license that I can only assume offered some sort of deal on a four-pack of lager because I’d happily walk the extra 500 metres to Hounslow West rather than buy my beer from the newsagent opposite the Windsor Castle.
Our house backed onto the Piccadilly Line which in turn abutted onto Lampton Park, which was bigger than Inwood Park  but with a similar sort of feel: not unpleasant in itself but displaying signs of licentious activity. Post-university tension… I was still a student on account of changing courses at the end of my second year, but the people I was living with had graduated and were now working: the guy who passed out in Debenhams, a drummer who worked at HMV, and a girl the Hanworth crew used to refer to as No Eyes on account of the fact that when she laughed you couldn’t really see her eyes (both had previously shared a house with my lady friend, just across the road from us). A slightly more tempered lifestyle came to pass: a cleaner, tidier living environment, and a garden worth actually spending time in. The Windsor Castle was our local – not a bad pub – but we’d still venture into Hounslow, to The Chariot, The Noble Half or The Rifleman. The Bulstrode was just at the end of the road but it was never much of an evening type of boozer – more a quick pint on a Saturday afternoon type of place.
Epic walks to catch the tube into London, keeping in touch with the Hounslow diaspora. My former cohabitant from Brighton was now living in Tottenham, going slightly mad endlessly watching Apocalypse Now, listening to The Doors and trying to make movies. The guy with the tapes was residing in Islington with a trendier set (in his eyes at least). The friend who used to beat me at snooker had moved back up to Batley, from whence he had first came. The chap who introduced me to Sarah Records was holed up somewhere in Hounslow with the girl I used to have a thing with whilst living on Carrington Avenue.
We watched a lot of television. For breakfast/lunch (I could only afford to eat twice a day) the fried egg sandwiches I’d pretty much lived off for the previous two years were replaced with baked beans and pork sausages on toast. I drank slightly less.


A visit from the friend who used to beat me at snooker, in his Mini.

OK Computer is an overrated album. It is not as good as Radiohead’s second album – The Bends, which is also overrated in some quarters – but it is still a good album. Radiohead make good albums and sometimes great songs but I don’t think they have recorded an album that could be described as great, in the way that Forever Changes or Pet Sounds are, or even the way The Verve’s A Northern Soul almost is. Never mind, very few albums are actually great. But everything about Airbag is just wonderful – the bass line, the off-the-beat drums, the shrill guitars, the vocals, the lyrics, the sentiment.
A dumped crate of records outside of 129 Bulstrode Avenue is an unspoken edict to help yourself. I was running late on my way into to London to meet my lady friend, probably to drink In The Crown on Brewer Street, but paused to look anyway. I came away with Bryter Layter by Nick Drake, who I’d heard was supposed to be rather good and was prepared to stand the inconvenience of carrying the album around with me for the rest of the evening in order to find out.
          The Beach Boys, Beauty No.3 by Catchers, Gentle Tuesday by Primal Scream, ABBA on the Jukebox by Trembling Blue Stars – all this was the work of the guy who got me into Sarah Records and The Pastels and Love.
Bjork almost passed me by. I had liked her first and second singles very much – Human Behaviour and Venus as a Boy – but it took a long time for the album to find its way into my possession. The drummer who worked at HMV had a copy, and so lent it to me.
I’d always felt ambivalent towards Suede but was quite keen on their third album, Coming Up. It struck me as less histrionic and more concise than their previous efforts. I’d also begun to find humour in singer Brett Anderson’s lyrics, and new keyboardist Neil Codling had good hair.
The Tindersticks’ eponymously titled second album wasn’t as good as their eponymously titled first but wasn’t as far off as the chap who got me into Sarah Records liked to make out. Travelling Light wasn’t the best song on it, but the guy who passed out in Debenhams really liked it, so it ended up on Bully for Bulstrode as a tribute to him.
Mile End was on the soundtrack to Trainspotting, a movie that has become synonymous with Britpop, and was as good as anything off of Pulp’s previous album.
Pavement. As with The Fall, The Sounds of Baden Pearce could very well have included many songs by the band Pavement, with three albums to pick from: Slanted and Enchanted; Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain; and the compilation of EP tracks and singles Westing (By Musket and Sextant). Pavement’s third album proper, Wowee Zowee, was released in April 1995 but had again passed me by. The drummer who worked at HMV had a recording of it, which he lent to me.
  I Stopped Dancing by Marion and Afrodisiac by Powder were included because I now had access to a video player and could watch my recorded copy of 'Britpop Now', originally broadcast 16/08/1995, at will. They are very good tunes by very average bands who none the less exuded a darker aesthetic than many of their Britpop-by-numbers contemporaries.
Tiger was a marvellous band, possibly ahead of the curve, maybe behind it, depending on your perspective. Unfortunately for them enthusiasm for Oasis was at an all-time high: they’d played Knebworth that August dressed up as the Happy Mondays and the record buying public was in no mood for a band that appeared to take sartorial inspiration from 1980s comedy-drama Auf Wiedersehen, Pet.
Supergrass had effected an about face. Despite the inclusion of the catchy She’s so Loose on Carrington Classics, I’d written them off as just another Britpop also-ran. Their second album In It for the Money was far ‘heavier’ than their first but still didn’t take itself too seriously. They’d also managed to adapt their image without resorting to either the laddish baggyisms of Oasis or the teenage skateboarder chic that Blur had resorted to. [With specific regard to Blur, their fifth album was supposedly a reaction to their fourth, a conscious rejection of the populism they’d embraced and an attempt to reclaim the noisier ground of their youth (as ‘Seymour’ if you need proof).]
You couldn’t help but be taken with The Verve’s Bitter Sweet Symphony. Unfortunately, the album that followed was effectively an Ashcroft solo effort very much found wanting. Turned out ‘Mad Richard’ wasn’t so mad after all and the jittery, wiry ragged character of a Storm in Heaven and A Northern Soul was jettisoned and a groomed, smart-coat wearing balladeer materialised in his place. Nick McCabe’s guitar must have gently wept.
I wasn’t done with the sixties, hadn’t even scratched much past the surface. The White Album had established itself as the preeminent Beatles’ record in my collection, and the chap who introduced me to Sarah Records now introduced me to The Faces. I picked up the Rolling Stones compilation Through the Past, Darkly (Big Hits Vol.2) on one of my excursions down to Plymouth.
Super Furry Animals because they made a loud noise. The Chemical Brothers because some of this big beat stuff was all right really, and Fatboy Slim left me cold.
In the spring of 1996 I went through a phase of listening to the Beastie Boys’ albums Ill Communication and Check Your Head on a very regular basis. I was also exposed to Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), which seemed to me an improvement upon the product offered by Snoop Doggy Dog, Dr Dre, Notorious B.I.G. and the like (although, in truth, I wasn’t concentrating very hard). At any rate, my fondness for the genre was stirred. It took a while for me to do much about it but by the end of the year I had acquired Wrath of the Math by Jeru the Damaja, Dr. Octagon's debut album (the Mo' Wax edition), and Entroducing by DJ Shadow, which I'd been introduced to in the Embassy Rooms in Islington whilst drinking with the guy with the tapes, on a Sunday, wearing my uncle’s old Ron Hill anorak.


The Rifleman, Hounslow