Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Pogues and London...Like Atlantis You Disappeared From View


Two further milestones of closure then in the past ten days upon an older and better London life. There has been news of the imminent end of Soho's legendary gay club Madame Jojos on Brewer Street and the death of The Small Faces' Hounslow-born keyboardist Ian McLagan from the greatest rock group to have come from the capital in the Sixties.

Was thinking about the band only last Sunday night when I was at a pub in Pimlico in South London where the group lived for a year at 22 Westmoreland Terrace from late 1965. In turn was walking around Soho yesterday and noted some seriously bland boutique developments around Great Windmill Street, Denman Street, Glasshouse Street and Ham Yard that made the head spin.

What would appear to have been the area's last working peep show also may well have shut up shop and I sense it will not be turned into a heritage museum for the industry. However one can still see a faux-peep show sign at the junction of Old Compton Street and Charing Cross Road as an entrance to a Mexican basement restaurant. How post-post-modern is that?

The broader satanification of London life into a city fundamentally distanced from a generic working population - by way of the blistering pus-filled macro-economics of financial plague death and as joyously sold to the world's investors by the Olympiad - has certainly altered life here to literal biochemical degrees now by way of the daily atmosphere of hopelessness and stasis. This fundamentally originating in both the Ponzi property greed and the amount of immoral spiv profit made out of thin air by so many smug wankers in the past ten years of national suicide. This twin phenomena mirroring how the job market has been defaced by industrial internship abuse in both the offering and the uptake alike. Remember that kids.

In such strained times it is interesting to recall how Britain's most famous festive pop song of the Seventies which will be heard in extremis over the next few weeks - Slade's Merry Xmas Everybody - was actually a tongue-in-cheek commentary on the sheer fucking misery of that strike, inflation, boot boy and terrorism-wracked UK decade. Conversely the best of all Christmas songs in popular culture remains of course The Pogue's Fairytale of New York with its unequivocally bleak, openly broken and mournfully Dickensian opening.

A significant percentage of The Pogues' original material over their five studio albums with Shane McGowan reference a lost or now utterly transfigured London - a London of dreams, struggle, light, shadows, nightmares and epiphany. The city is thus mentioned in the tracks Transmetropolitan, Dark Streets of London, Sea Shanty, Lullaby of London, The Old Main Drag, Misty Morning Albert Bridge, White City, London Girl, Rainy Night In Soho and London You're A Lady.

The lyrics of these songs incorporate references to areas as diverse as Kings Cross, Brixton, Leicester Square, Hammersmith, Camden, Somerstown, Soho, Euston, Pentonville, Tottenham Court Road and Surrey Docks. The track by The Pogues which I find the most moving and affectionate regarding times gone forever - not dissimilar indeed to The Jam's Boy About Town excursion around a now run-down second world Oxford Street - is White City.

This song - alike The Who's great lost 1968 single Dogs - is based around the world of greyhound racing at the White City Stadium which was built for the 1908 London Olympics. It  was also used as a speedway track and for one 1966 World Cup Finals fixture between Uruguay and France. A famous Kinks concert took place here in 1973 where an extremely overemotional Ray Davies announced his retirement and also a 1974 David Cassidy concert where a girl was crushed to death in a crowd surge. The West London location is close to Steptoe and Son's Oil Drum Lane and Wormwood Scrubs prison while the haunting Victorian Kensal Rise Cemetery lies further to the north east. White City Stadium closed in 1984 and was demolished the following year. Haringey Stadium also closed in 1987 though greyhound racing has continued in the capital at Crayford, Romford and Wimbledon.

The lyrics touch upon the glory years of the stadium's life as a centre for working class entertainment and it's fateful demise:

Here a tower of shining bright once stood gleaming in the night,
Where now there's just the rubble in the hole.
Where the Paddies and the Frogs came to gamble on the dogs,
Came to gamble on the dogs not long ago.
The torn up ticket stubs from 100,000 mugs,
Now washed away like dead dreams in the rain.
And the car parks going up and they're pulling down the pubs,
And it's just another bloody rainy day.

The song then notes how the stadium's 77-year presence upon the face of London has left no archeological trace like the legendary lost continent in the Atlantic depths around about the Azores. The greyhounds and the hare on the wire both now turned to ashes while bland BBC buildings full of overpaid and underworked lifers now stand on the site.

Indeed when one looks at vintage pictures from the British Fifties today there is indeed a pervading sense for so many of us that the streetscapes, the life dynamics, the folk culture and the very working people are all gone and gone for good. The world's once greatest city itself turned into a low-rent, phoney, sterile and fucking godless misery pit as another grey year fades out into shadowlands of stagnation, decay and lies.

The next 77 years of London life are certainly looking very very bright tonight.

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