Saturday, 29 July 2017

LINER NOTES: COME ON LET'S GO [2002]





  1. Five Years – David Bowie
  2. Captain Easychord – Stereolab
  3. Hard to Explain – The Strokes
  4. Idioteque – Radiohead
  5. Baby it’s the Best – Weird War
  6. Fell in Love with a Girl – The White Stripes
  7. Have You Seen Her Face – The Byrds
  8. Late Night – Syd Barrett
  9. Walking with Thee – Clinic
  10. The Modern Age – The Strokes
  11. Sunshine Superman – Donovan
  12. Powder Blue – Elbow
  13. Too Real – Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
  14. It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue – 13th Floor Elevators
  15. Let it Run – Beachwood Sparks
  16. Come on Let’s Go – Broadcast
  17. Phantasies – Stephen Malkmus
  18. Dancing Days – Led Zeppelin
  19. Gimme Shelter – Rolling Stones
  20. I Forgot – The Moldy Peaches
  21. Redfuchsiatamborine&gravel – David Candy

August 2001, in the beer garden at The Milford Arms. The former cohabitant from Brighton is regaling us with tales of his recent adventures in the Orient. He tells of Dionysian revelry on Thai beaches, of sharing rooms with rats and lizards and oversized insects, and the expediency of travelling light. It sounds exciting and terrifying in equal measure. The former cohabitant from Brighton is not the first friend of ours to engage in adventures of this nature: No Eyes has done a bit of it, as has the girl who used to live with my lady-friend on the Isle of Dogs, and the brother of the guy who used to own a pager – who once threw mud at a cow – is constantly at it. Now, in our mid-twenties, there’s a sense that if any of us fancy a bit of this then we’d better get cracking.
Initially, I’m not very receptive to the idea but am gradually cajoled into it by my lady-friend, as is the guy who passed out in Debenhams – with far greater ease than I. The logistics of the whole operation are a mystery to me. It’s something to get my head around. In the meantime I will need to curb my spending. My lifestyle is by no means extravagant but I earn a mediocre wage and will need enough money to cover my airfare to wherever it is we end up going, living costs whilst away, and a reasonable amount of money to tide me over on my return. Right now, it doesn’t bear thinking about...
 My disposable income generally goes towards four things: drinking in pubs, eating out, buying records, and holidays (I am still in the habit of buying most of my clothing from charity shops). I am not prepared to forgo a social life for the next 12 months but am open to negotiation on the other points. I will sacrifice visiting curry houses and the acquisition of full-priced vinyl and instead satisfy myself with the occasional fry-up and buying second-hand records of limited value. A third gite camp is regrettably out of the question, although I will find the cash for a short weekend away in Amsterdam, with my friend who fainted in Debenhams, my lady-friend and the girl she lived with on the Isle of Dogs, and the guy who used to own a pager as well as his lady-friend.


 Trip to Amsterdam

Come on Let’s Go feels lost in a chasm between 2001's The Boys of Summer and 2003's Journey to the Center of the Mind. It is a transitional work, fairly narrow in its scope. Bear in mind the chronology. My previous two compendiums were compiled with consecutive French holidays in mind – they were to be symbolic of them – and consequently conform to an academic calendar. This means that Come on Let’s Go begins in September 2001. Moreover, it attempts to collate fragments of music deemed unsuitable for inclusion on the preceding playlist; I hadn’t wanted to subject my fellow French explorers to much indie music. As a result, there’s very little on Come on Let’s Go that was released in the year it purports to celebrate: only Weird War and Clinic fulfil this criterion.
There had already been signs that my enthusiasm for so-called ‘indie’ music was undergoing something of a revival. Perennial favourites Stereolab had pointed me in the direction Broadcast, Make Up ensured I’d buy into whatever Weird War had to offer, and the ongoing renaissance of the band Delta awakened me to alternative-country bands like Beachwood Sparks and The Tyde. (One of my favourite musical ‘memories’ is seeing Delta – in support of Beachwood Sparks at the 100 Club – paying homage to the then recently deceased George Harrison with a sublime rendition of what’s probably my favourite Beatles’ tune: If I Needed Someone.) Finally, Radiohead was beginning to justify the praise lavished upon them, with the release, in a very short space of time, of Kid A (October 2000) and Amnesiac (June 2001). The two albums resulted from the same recording sessions, in fact.


Trip to Plymouth

Many people are of the opinion that The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars is David Bowie’s finest work. I purchased copy, for next to nothing, to find out for myself. I had decided in advance that Five Years would feature on Come on Let’s Go after watching Bowie and his band performing it on The Old Grey Whistle Test. I concluded that although Ziggy Stardust might be Bowie’s most consistent work, it wasn’t his best. Five Years probably isn’t even my favourite song on the album – Moonage Daydream maybe is – but it does make for a good opening number in any context, so I ran with it.
            Readers of my previous liner notes should have observed a preponderance of tracks by ‘the groop’ Stereolab. I think I was introduced to them by the guy who used to own many tapes, but I can’t be sure. I do know that my first Stereolab purchase was the 10” EP Ping Pong, bought in the final month of my first year at university – July 1994. I’m by no means a completist when it comes to these things, but I own most of their studio albums, as well as one EP, a mini-LP, and a couple of compilations. Sound-Dust is Stereolab’s seventh album. I purchased it on vinyl – as I do with most of their work – one of only 1,800 copies pressed. Where I place a Stereolab tune on any playlist will depend on the tempo of the tune I want to place. Captain Easychord is quite an upbeat number, a perfect antidote to the funereal tenor of Five Years, and so it becomes the second track of the compilation.
             One cannot underestimate the impact The Strokes debut album Is This It, released July 2001, had on the musical landscape, capturing the hearts and minds of indie kids everywhere. It wasn’t just about the tunes, let alone the lyrical content, but also the band’s image. Indie music was going through one of its sartorially ‘safe’ phases – loose jeans, over-sized denim jackets, sensible shirts, graphic-printed T-shirts, trainers. The difference between this and what The Strokes wore is actually quite subtle: bootcut jeans were eschewed in favour of drainpipes; stout Nike trainers were swapped for svelte Converse All Stars; T-shirts became tight and open necked; shirts were bought second-hand and sometimes worn with a tie; leather jackets were pure vintage; hair was all over the place. Basically, they looked like Blondie did in the 1970s. It was almost a return to the early-to-mid 1990s – what could have happened to Britpop if Oasis hadn’t come along and made it all baggy. Bands like Travis, Stereophonics and Coldplay must have been all at sea.
            A year earlier and Radiohead might have been too. Fortunately for them they’d already managed to disassociate themselves from the dreariness of the post-Britpop scene and could therefore coexist alongside whatever the latest thing might be. They deserved to. Idioteque is an example of indie music transcending indie music and just being music – their best tune since Airbag – and I put together a Best of Radiohead playlist off the back of it.
            The first Weird War album is not their best (baby). We can forgive this on account of the fact that Weird War started life as a collaboration of sorts, featuring Neil Hagerty of Royal Trux, amongst others. I don’t think Ian Svenonius had fully defined his vision for the new band just yet – or maybe I was just upset about finding out about Make Up too late and bitter about the fact that I’d never get to see them play live. My mild disappointment was ameliorated by the discovery of the album Play Power by Svenonius’s alter-ego David Candy. “The best art attracts the best people, so I like to go see Suprematist artists like Kazimir Malevich or Vladimir Mayakovsky,” proclaims David Candy over the leisurely flamenco guitar of Redfuchsiatamborine&gravel. (This track didn’t fit on the original compilation, but it was listened to more than many of the tracks that did.)
The White Stripes released their third album, White Blood Cells, at almost precisely the same time as The Stokes did their first. Hence, both groups were seen as the vanguard of the post-punk revival. The White Stripes were informed as much by the blues as they were garage rock – it was their image and pared down sound that associated them – but it was obvious that both bands were offering something very different to the current trends.
When I raided my dad’s record collection for Stones’ records in 2001 I’d also grabbed a couple of Byrds’ albums: Mr. Tambourine Man and Younger than Yesterday. Aside from the contemporary groups bothering my turntable, I was slowly entering my second ‘60s period’, the first having occurred in and around 1995 (comprising the Rolling Stones, Love, The Beatles, Small Faces, the Blow Up soundtrack). Whilst I’d leant previously towards the more Mod-ish face of that decade, I was now gravitating towards its more psychedelic and rockier elements: golden-age era Stones, Jefferson Aeroplane, Syd Barrett, Donovan, The Monks, the 13th Floor Elevators. Despite David Crosby’s best efforts, which would eventually see him kicked out of the band, The Byrds probably fell somewhere in between. Ostensibly, Younger than Yesterday takes it lead from The Beatles’ albums Rubber Soul and Revolver. There are touches, though, that are very much The Byrds’ own: the Tijuana brass on So You Want to be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star, the country and western inflections of Time Between, Roger McGuinn’s atonal guitar riffs throughout. I considered kicking off Come On Let’s Go with So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star but settled instead for the Chris Hillman penned Have You Seen Her Face.
Syd Barrett presented another dilemma. I borrowed a copy of his debut solo album, The Madcap Laughs, from Hounslow Library and my instinct was to represent it with the penultimate song, If It’s in You. It’s a strange and at times amusing song, but Barrett’s strident vocal is indicative of his mental state. I’d recently both watched The Pink Floyd and Syd Barrett Story, a BBC documentary, and read his biography, Lost in the Woods, and had formed the opinion that Syd wasn’t quite as ‘mad’ as was often made out. If It’s in You suggested otherwise, and so Late Night made the cut in its place.
I think I came by Walking with Thee, by Liverpool band Clinic, after hearing it on the radio (we didn’t have internet in those days). Under normal circumstances I probably would have proceeded to buy Clinic’s album, but I was saving my pennies. Instead I bought the 7” single, so they got something out of me. It’s a fairly abrasive little number, but far more interesting than most of the music being made by their peers (The Coral, The Zutons, etc.).
In the absence of any jazz, funk or psychedelic opera, I was obliged to create tension by alternative means. To this end, I contrived to use the wigged out pseudo-psychedelic folk of Donovan to bridge across from the ersatz new-wave of The Modern Age by the Strokes to the alternative noise of Powder Blue by Elbow. (Sunshine Superman by Donovan is so emblematic of its era that I’m at a loss as to what to say about it. Rather than force the issue, I shan’t bother saying anything at all.) Before they were semi-famous, Elbow made pretty interesting music. I’d heard a particular song of theirs at a party, which turned out to be Any Day Now. This was before they’d released their debut album, Asleep in the Back. I assumed that what I’d heard was their new single, Powder Blue, and so bought that, and quickly realised it wasn’t. It would be many years later before I finally established the true identity of the song I heard at that party, but either track would have done in the circumstance, initiating a run of tunes that are fairly long, slow of pace, and lugubrious in mood. I’ve built an anti-climax, as opposed to an anticlimax.
Too Real (4 minutes and 55 seconds long) by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club calls to mind Spiritualized or Northern Soul era Verve. The 13th Floor Elevators cover of Dylan’s It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue comes in at 5 minutes 17 seconds – 1 minute and 5 seconds longer than the original. Let it Run by Beachwood Sparks lasts an epic 6 minutes 38 seconds, although its coda drags on for more than a minute and a half. By the time it’s over, at a mere 3 minutes and 17 seconds, the punchy Come on Let’s Go comes as something of a relief. You’d think it might jar but the late Trish Keenan’s soft vocals connect satisfyingly with the gentle harmonies of Beachwood Sparks.
Pavement’s dissolution appeared sudden, although their final album, Terror Twilight, felt laboured at times. Steve Malkmus didn’t hang about getting himself back in proverbial saddle: a mere two years passed before he released Stephen Malkmus, the same amount of time that separated the last three Pavement albums. It wasn’t a radical departure from his former band’s sound, but Malkmus seemed reinvigorated. The song where he imagines himself as Yul Brynner is particularly amusing.
 Led Zeppelin: file alongside Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd. Acts of this ilk weren’t considered especially cool amongst the lo-fi loving indie aficionados of the late 80/early 90s (Syd Barrett era Floyd excepting). Not that this would have bothered me much – it just meant I didn’t come across it. They guy who used to own a pager, on the other hand, had been exposed to Led Zeppelin from an early age and was aware there was much more to them than Stairway to Heaven, which is the mana to the muso. It was Led Zeppelin III that I feasted on initially, courtesy of Hounslow Library. Thereafter I found a cheap copy of Houses of the Holy on vinyl, which to this day is my favourite Led Zeppelin album. I still can’t stand Stairway to Heaven though.
I acquired in fairly quick succession Let it Bleed and Sticky Fingers, like I should have done the year before. I consider Let it Bleed to be the weakest of the four albums that comprise the Rolling Stones’ golden era, but Gimme Shelter exudes an apocalyptic finality that works well as a climax to any compilation. Ungoverned my Minidisc’s limited capacity, I’d have probably gone with Can’t You Hear Me Knocking off of Sticky Fingers (I love Wild Horses but it is too reminiscent of my time spent down The Chariot to be included here).
The Moldy Peaches were associated with The Strokes and The White Stripes. It was all about the timing – their sound wasn’t remotely similar to either. My lady-friend bought me their album for my birthday. If I’m honest, I wasn’t overly impressed, but I had two and half minutes to fill at the end of my compilation and I Forgot held a certain charm.


Trip to Brighton

There turned out to be many more curries – as well as games of badminton and squash (the latter with the guy who took a shine to The Stars of Track and Field), afternoons spent drinking in the Portobello Star, evenings at the Dive Bar and the 100 Club, the occasional gig (The Darkness, Delta, The Dylan Rabbit, Arthur Lee), long weekends in Brighton, Plymouth and Nottinghamshire, camping trips, and excursions to various football grounds in support of Plymouth Argyle’s successful push for promotion into the Second Division. How I ever afforded my five months of traveling must be a testament to a healthier economy, a strong pound and a more reasonable cost of living. I can barely conceive of it now but am glad I took the opportunity when it presented itself to me.


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.


Wednesday, 31 May 2017

LINER NOTES: THE BOYS OF SUMMER [2001]





  1. Speed of Life – David Bowie
  2. Use It Before You Lose It – Bobby Valentin
  3. Phoenix City – The Skatalites
  4. Woman of the Ghetto – Phyllis Dillon
  5. On the Road Again – Canned Heat
  6. I Hate You – The Monks
  7. Paint it Black – Rolling Stones
  8. Night and Day – The Maytals
  9. The Man Who Sold the World – David Bowie
  10. Household Names – Stereolab
  11. Conquistadors – Chico Hamilton
  12. Mizrab – Gabor Szabo
  13. Viva Tirado – El Chicano
  14. Eye of Danger – Michigan & Smiley
  15. Blackout – David Bowie
  16. Happiness – Teenage Fanclub
  17. The Prophet – Make Up
  18. Broasted or Fried – St. Vincent Latinaires
  19. Little Red Rooster – Rolling Stones

Our flat in Brentford was nice enough but short on space. My fainting friend was holed up in an even more diminutive tenement in Hounslow. We arrived at the conclusion that one-bedroom flats didn’t come cheap and, if the three of us shared, a two bedroom dwelling would afford us all a higher standard of living – which it did.
            Our new lodging – near Osterley but officially designated as Isleworth – was about 10 minutes’ walk away from the residence of the friend who used to own a pager – a wonderfully grotty apartment on London Road, spread across two floors, that some assumed was a squat. The nearest pub was The Milford Arms, a traditional type of boozer that should have made for a pleasing ‘local’. Unfortunately, it was run by a couple of idiots who favoured certain customers over others and treated the place like an extension of their living room. When this began to grate, we fell back on old favourites: The Rifleman, The Town Wharf, and The Royal Oak on Worton Road just opposite Mogden Sewage Works. We also knew people who’d recently moved to South Acton, which conferred upon us the opportunity to drink in Chiswick  at The George IV, The Duke of Sussex, The Rat and Parrot, and The Crown & Anchor (frequented for a while by ‘Ant and Dec’).
            We were socially more itinerant back then – wouldn’t think twice about starting off at The Rifleman in Hounslow only to then move on to Baroque in Ealing (Friday 26th January 2001), or having a few pints in Kingston before jumping on a train to Clapham Junction (Saturday 22nd September 2001). Midweek drinking was also the norm. I don’t mean to suggest that we lived dissolute lifestyles, merely that we were younger then and more carefree. Not that I held my health in complete contempt; I was playing football occasionally with my work colleagues, weekly games of badminton with the lady, and a second-hand bike allowed me to cycle to and from work. I was also eating well – maybe a little too well: trips to Bunny’s Tandoori, The Kyber Pass, Pizza Express and The Coffee Pot were regular events.


Hunky Dory

2000’s The Ladies of Varades and 2001’s The Boys of Summer must be seen as companion pieces. They follow similar musical themes, drawing upon jazz, funk, Latin vibes, reggae, soul, 60s rock and contemporary indie. They were also conceived of with the specific intent of being listened to whilst holidaying in the Loire Valley.
I generally start my compendiums with something very upbeat – Zambezi by The Fun Company in the case of The Ladies of Varades. With The Boys of Summer I’ve introduced with the brief oddity that is Speed of Life by David Bowie, a jolly but relaxed instrumental which also introduces the album it’s taken from – Low. However, I have very quickly followed this up with Use It Before You Lose It by Bobby Valentin, which is a very alive stab of boogaloo. The Latin music of North America and the Caribbean is different to the bossa nova, samba and Tropicália of Brazil, and this is a good example of how.
I’ll then lay off slightly – a touch of Jamaican ska is a safe bet – to the point of actually delivering something fairly mellow by about the fifth track in – Night Over Manaus on The Ladies of Varades and On the Road Again on The Boys of Summer – before winding it back up with tracks that are almost violent by contrast – Untouchable Sound by Make Up and I Hate You by The Monks respectively. (Taken from their seminal 1966 album Black Monk Time, I Hate You is a particularly spiteful barrage of fuzz-tone distortion and bitter incantation. The Fall covered it on their 1990 album Extricate, which is how I initially came to be aware of it. I bought Black Monk Time after I saw a copy hanging in the window of Intoxica Records on the Portobello Road on a Saturday.)
The strength of any compilation’s third quarter must be assured, and in this instance I’ve reverted to jazz to sustain the listener’s interest. Jazz has an epic quality that I think sets a compilation up nicely for its final run in. You can’t just drop it in willy nilly, and I’ll often use a Stereolab tune, with their often sophisticated rhythms, complex arrangements and fondness for vintage keys, to pave the way. Thereafter, Chico Hamilton’s Conquistors segues into the jazz-raga of Hungarian guitarist Gábor Szabó’s Mizrab. It’s a natural progression as Gábor plays guitar on both.
Believe me when I say that I’ve nothing against The Beatles, but consider this: August 1965 and Fab Four have just recorded Help!, their fifth studio album. The same year Chico Hamilton releases El Chico, his 23rd. I’m not going to argue that El Chico is a better album than Help! but it’s hard to make a case for, say, Ticket to Ride being anywhere near as sophisticated a piece of work as Conquistadors. Gábor Szabó’s guitar playing is far more accomplished than either Lennon’s or Harrison’s, not because he’s more talented necessarily but because jazz simply offers more room for manoeuvre. It’s not so much a case of which music is better but what’s more interesting. (Ironically, one of Gábor’s first releases as a band leader was a cover of Paul McCartney’s schmaltz-fest Yesterday. He makes a better fist of it too.)
It was Earl Gateshead who introduced me to El Chicano’s take on ‘jazz standard’ Viva Tirado, which they’d made their own. This Hammond driven salsa-jazz serves to ramp things up before Eye of Danger kicks in, a menacing slab of late 1970’s dancehall that needs to be kept apart from the more delicate intricacies offered by Gábor Szabó.


The guy who used to own a pager, Tours

We need to talk about David. Nobody had much to say about him at school or university. It was the guy with the tapes who finally broached the subject. His girlfriend had included Queen Bitch on a mixtape she sent him whilst we were living together on Hanworth Road. Having already established myself as a fellow Velvet Underground fan – Queen Bitch is Bowie’s homage to them – I took note, but not to the extent that I immediately did anything about it. I’m not sure what prompted me but at some point in the year 2000 I finally bought a second-hand copy of Hunky Dory. I’m assuming it was after July because nothing features of it on The Ladies of Varades, and I would have surely have included Andy Warhol given the opportunity. The timescale of my next Bowie purchase is identifiable. I purchased my copy of Low in Penzance, which dates it to the end of August bank holiday of that same year. I’d liked Hunky Dory but wasn’t dazzled by it; Low – the first side at least – really grabbed me. I was aware that Bowie had written Low on returning to Europe, in an effort to escape the ruinous, psychotic lifestyle that taken him over in Los Angeles, but wasn’t alive to what this had actually entailed (the album Station to Station points the way, should you wish to mount your own chronological campaign). I was taken with simplicity and oddness of some of the lyrics, the fragmentary nature of the songs’ structures, and the general mood of the thing – which was ‘low’. Bowie’s vocal delivery is measured, his timbre bordering on the melancholy. Conventional arrangements are dispensed with. In Sound and Vision the nearest thing approximating a chorus is heard just twice: once at the beginning of the song and again at the end, bookending what passes for a verse. Breaking Glass appears to be comprised of two verses and a single chorus – if that’s even semantically possible. In parallel to this, Bowie had ditched many or his sartorial eccentricities and taken to wearing plaid shirts, jeans and sensible shoes. His hair was still orange though.
By the time I’d begun compiling a playlist in readiness for a second gite-based holiday I’d added “Heroes” to my collection. The B-sides of both Low and “Heroes” are comprised largely of ambient instrumentals but, despite both albums forming part of Bowie’s ‘Berlin Trilogy’, their A-sides aren’t remotely similar. “Heroes” is louder, more aggressive, the tracks are longer and the lyrical content more verbose. Robert Fripp’s guitar is let loose all over it while Eno’s noodlings take a back seat. I’m not sure which album I prefer. I definitely find the second side of “Heroes” more stimulating than side two of Low but it is the first sides of both that hold all the aces. In this respect, side one of Low just about edges it on account of there being seven of them – ‘aces’ that is – to “Heroes”’ five.
Blackout succeeds Michigan & Smiley’s Eye of Danger because it is frantic and noisy enough to do so. It signals the beginning of the end – the last quarter. There’s also a third Bowie track on this playlist located smack bang in its middle: The Man Who Sold the World. Originally, Breaking Glass was there but I felt obliged to replace it with The Man Who Sold the World because everybody got quite into it on our trip to France (courtesy of the guy who used to own a pager). I committed this compilation straight to MiniDisc and it was a simple exercise to delete Breaking Glass, record The Man Who Sold the World and then ‘shuffle’ – MiniDisc parlance for rearrange – the running order.
Happiness by Teenage Fanclub could fairly be described as an uplifting track. It has proper singing on it, rather than shouting, screaming, grunting or whimpering. The same cannot be said of the The Prophet by Make Up. I’ve previously noted that the Make Up and the Stones shared a sort of muscular licentiousness – or at least their frontmen did – but this is only partly true. It is correct that Mick Jagger and Ian Svenonius, as well as having big hair, commit completely to their physical performance. However, where Jagger seeks to convey primitive urges, Svenonius brings humour. His shtick is tongue-in-cheek but played with enough conviction to make you think twice. It is not parody. It’s more like if a young Jonathan Meades had joined the Weather Underground and been possessed simultaneously by the spirits of James Brown and Prince, and it makes for an impressive spectacle.
The penultimate track, Broasted or Fried, comes from the same compilation as the second track, Use It Before You Lose, thus providing the compilation with a pleasing symmetry. Broasted or Fried is a monster of a tune, driving forward with an intense ferocity that feels conclusive.
In retrospect, it seems slightly odd that having discovered Exile on Main Street the previous year I didn’t push on and search out Beggars Banquet, Let it Bleed or Sticky Fingers. Instead, I mined my father’s record collection and came away with the Rolling Stones’ eponymously titled debut album and the compilation LP Big Hits (High Tide and Green Grass) – hence Paint it Black and hence Little Red Rooster. In hindsight, I can understand why I finished off The Boys of Summer with the latter, but I’m a little surprised I deigned to include the former. Paint it Black is a smashing tune, for sure, but I’d already spent my university years dipping in and out of the Rolling Stones’ greatest hits. I could have at least displayed a little imagination and opted for something like Lady Jane...
Why ‘The Boys of Summer’? It had been my intention to include the Don Henley song of the same name, but I never got around to it.


On the Great West Road


Sunday, 30 April 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, The Griffin), 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 Michelle 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 have of that year.


Trip to Cornwall.


Sunday, 5 March 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 Stand, the Bobbers Stand to the left.

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 such 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?