As we come to the end of 2012, and prepare for all those ghastly Review of the Year TV-type shows that we seem to excel at here in the UK, there is no doubt that this year there will be more than the usual glad handing and chest-beating going on, following a year that we have constantly been told has been a re-affirmation, a re-awakening of British, and in particular English, and in particularly particular London, pride.
It’s been the year of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee, The Olympics and Para-Olympics, of the Queen jumping out of helicopters with James Bond (she didn’t, and he is a fictional character, stop making out it was amazing!), of Danny Boyle presenting England in an admittedly great, although slightly fanciful, opening ceremony, of unparalleled sporting success in mentioned Olympics and Para-Olympics and tennis, but not, as usual football (or Soccer for our USA friends). All this, our leaders and media would have us believe, has resulted in a glorious year - isn’t it great to be British again, see how our small island punches above its weight on a global scale and other such pronouncements.
Never mind that we have a slash and burn coalition government, attacking those who need support the most while protecting bankers and tax evading individuals and corporations, seeking to dismantle the cherished NHS, cutting budgets in education and social care, as well as the arts, whilst looking the other way as our cost of living spirals, along with the profits of the oil and energy companies, supermarkets and financial sector. The gap between rich and poor, haves and have-nots grows ever wider. But no matter, we’re all in this together, right?
So forgive me for not to buying into their message of hope and glory. Which, in a very roundabout way, brings me to the album London’s Calling. I can understand why there would be a desire to release such an album in this of all years, but amazed that it was funded by the Arts Council, the national arts organization who are also under attack by the government, as part of the Cultural Olympiad. London’s Calling was partly a celebration of that event, and of course other summer events taking place, but also a celebration of England’s diverse and multi-cultural communities who enrich the country in all manner of ways, an obvious one being music and culture and so the idea of combing the two to create this album was born.
My first gripe though, and I accept this may be perceived as a typically provincial viewpoint, is that London is by no means the only multi-cultural city in the UK. By dint of its title though, the album merely reinforces the view that there is only one city, one site, of multi-culturalism and music making practice, thereby completely bypassing the rest of the country and adding to the impression that if it ain’t from or about London, then it ain’t worth bothering with.
My second gripe is that after all that, it’s a rather patchy album. Taking songs that are explicitly about London, the compilers have sought out artists from across the multi-cultural spectrum, all of whom now reside in London, and asked them to re-interpret these songs. This has resulted in a rather hodge-podge selection of artists and songs, no Ian Dury, or The Jam, for example, and it’s a case of some work and others don’t.
Opener “London’s Calling” (of which there are two versions) by Transglobal Underground and featuring Afrikan Boy works brilliantly by turning the Clash’s version into a dubby, trippy track with a nice MC vocal overdub that you could see The Clash, or Don Letts perhaps, spinning at the 100 Club. But the similarly reggaefied version of Ralph McTell’s haunting folk lament ‘Streets of London” by the Soothsayers seems light and devoid of meaning and feeling that the original conveyed, and doesn’t work for me.
And then there is the utterly awful Ethiopian version of Lily Allen’s “LDN” by Krar Collective which is wrong on so many levels, but then thankfully the end of the album is rescued by an inspired version of Elvis Costello’s “I Don’t Want To Go Chelsea” recast as a flamenco song by Los Desterrados and a fantastic psychedelic Indian take of The Kinks “Itchycoo Park” by Lokkhi Terra.
It feels like the album has been thrown together without much thought to either the musicians used or the songs they’ve covered or to the sequencing of the album as a whole.
There is much to admire about London, it really is a truly global city and we should be thankful we have its magnificence on our doorsteps. But I can’t help feel that the rest of the country gets overlooked somewhat, and like this album, there is much more to England and its music than just London.
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