Tuesday, 28 June 2022

THE SARTORIAL ELEGANCE OF SERIE A: ASCOLI CALCIO 1898 - 1991-92

 





When the Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio (FIGC) set up the Terza Divisione in 1922, the commune of Ascoli Piceno didn’t have a team in it. Nor had they in the league that preceded it – the Promozione – which excluded clubs southeast of Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna. Then in 1923, the FICG established regional divisions in Lazio, Puglia, Marche and Campania. Marche and Campania had enough teams to justify the inclusion of two groups – same as the northern leagues. By 1926, Marche had just one, comprising Gruppo Sportivo Vis Pesaro, Vigor Senigallia, Unione Sportiva Sambenedettese, and Circolo Sportivo Vigor, who were from Ascoli Piceno.
Circolo Sportivo Vigor actually started off as Candido Augusto Vecchi in 1898, named in honour of a local Garibaldian colonel. Typically, football was not the association’s main concern, cycling was, and only friendly games against minor local teams were played. The change of name came about in 1905, for what Ascoli Calcio’s website mysteriously describes as ‘political reasons’.
It wasn’t until 1919 that football became the primary focus, and the Unione Sportiva Ascolana was the result. Their cause was helped further when the municipality elected to build a stadium. The Comunale dei Giardini was completed in 1926, the same year the club was granted entry into the Terza Divisione (Marche Section), having reverted to their previous designation. Circolo Sportivo Vigor subsequently came top of their group and so were promoted to the Seconda Divisione (Group South), which is where they stayed for next few seasons.
In 1929, they changed their name again, to Società Sportiva Ascoli, and won promotion into the Prima Divisione off the back of it. Unfortunately, due to the restructuring of the leagues, the Prima Divisione was the first division in name only and was in effect Italian football’s third tier. Divided into six interregional groups, the top two teams in the four Northern groups were then split across another two groups with the winner of each being allowed into Serie B. The same theory was applied to the two Southern groups, but with just one spot to play for.
Ascoli never made it beyond the preliminary stages before demoting itself in 1933, despite having just finished sixth in a group of fourteen. The following year they went bankrupt, which may explain the decision to voluntarily drop down a league. If that wasn’t bad enough, the club re-registered as Fascio Giovanile di Combattimento di Ascoli, albeit just for a season. The second division then became the first, so the first could become Serie C, and by 1938 Ascoli were competing in it.
We can only assume that throughout all of this Ascoli, under whichever guise, were wearing black and white striped shirts. ‘The social colours are black and white,’ is the only thing Ascoli’s website has to say on the subject, and there are photographs taken in the 1940s to corroborate this. In any case, after the end of the war Ascoli carried on where they’d left off, but struggled. In 1948 they were relegated to the Promozione, and in 1955 to the Promozione Regionale. To stop the rot, the club merged with the Società Sportiva Lillo Del Duca to become Associazione Sportiva Del Duca Ascoli. It seemed to do the trick, and by 1959 they were playing in group B of Serie C.
 
It would take just over a decade for Ascoli to finally make it into Serie B, and as soon as they did they changed their name to Ascoli Calcio 1898. These were the beginnings of the club’s glory years, when they punched above their weight (Ascoli Piceno is not a big place). In 1972-73 – their first season in Serie B – Ascoli came fourth, missing out on promotion by a single point. The next year they made sure of it, coming second, equal to the champions, Varese, on points, but not goal difference.
As debut seasons in Serie A go, 1974-75 wasn’t bad one. Ascoli placed 12th in what was at that time a 16-team league, and commissioned a new badge. Whereas their previous insignia had involved some sort of shield – split down the middle with black and white vertical stripes occupying one half, a rendering of a castle the other – this iteration was circular with ‘A.S. ASCOLI 1898’ written around its periphery. In 1976 they finished 14th and were relegated.
 

1974-75

Within a couple of years, Ascoli were back in Serie A, as winners of Serie B, wearing gear supplied by Admiral  the English firm’s naval trademark appended to the right side of the chest. The next season (still in Serie A) the club hooked up with Pouchain. What Pouchain did for Italian football is a subject in itself, revolutionising the very notion of what a football strip could be. Graphic designer Piero Gratton was the man responsible, and for Ascoli he got rid of the castle and replaced it with a cartoon woodpecker (the team’s nickname is I Picchi – 'The Woodpeckers'). Unfortunately, the partnership lasted just two years, whereupon Ascoli partnered up with the Italian jeans company POP84, who promptly ditched Gratton’s distinctive motif.
A contract with Adidas followed in 1984, and the introduction of another new badge. Set within a green, rectangular border with rounded corners, a woodpecker was depicted in profile with a modernist simplicity of which Gratton would surely have approved. On the downside, Adidas’s tenure would be marred by the presentation of the club’s commercial sponsors: first Olio San Giorgio, slapped across the chest like an afterthought, and then Norditalia, written in a jarringly Gothic script. Both versions were V-necked, neither had a collar.
After a brief sojourn in Serie B, Ascoli switched to Uhlsport. The shirt was all right, with a narrower stripe and a black collar, but was again let down by the sponsor: MICROMAX written in white on black in an indistinguishable font. Adidas returned in 1989 and used the same design as before, although the new sponsor, COCIF, was easier on the eye than the previous incumbents. Relegation ensued.




In 1991, after Walter Casagrande’s 22 goals helped secure another promotion, Ascoli Calcio signed up with Ennerre (NR). At once, industrial washing manufacturer IMESA climbed on board as commercial sponsor. Utilising the template Ennerre had provided for Napoli, Atalanta and Roma the previous season, the shirt suddenly looked the business. In IMESA, Ascoli at last had a typeface that worked: round, bold, uppercase, with a red dot where the horizontal bar of the letter 'A' would usually be. The collar was now white, as was the neckline, and stripes were of a satisfying gauge. Finally, Ennerre’s green logo complimented the green outline of Ascoli’s stylised badge, which they would soon relinquish.
Ascoli Calcio went straight back down but this time didn’t bounce straight back up. IMESA jumped ship, COCIF were reinstated, and in 1995 the club dropped down into Serie C wearing kit made by Admiral. The delineated woodpecker was wheeled out for the club's centenary in 1998, sewn onto the right sleeve, and was then gone again.

Monday, 31 January 2022

THE SARTORIAL ELEGANCE OF SERIE A: FIVE SHIRTS

 





Football shirts in the late 1990s described a sartorial nightmare, and this was as true in Italy as anywhere else. That grey and black horizontally striped 'third shirt' that Ronaldo wore for Inter. Juventus away, in which they won their last European Cup. Fiorentina jerseys sponsored by Nintendo, made by Fila. Parma in yellow and blue hoops. If they had fitted, that would have been something. Instead, they flapped about like an artisan’s smock.

One of the reasons for this was the rise of football as a global phenomenon, promulgated by the theatre of Italia 90. Hitherto, replica shirts had been aimed primarily at kids; hooligans didn’t tend to wear them for fear of attracting the wrong sort of attention. All of a sudden, football was cool, and the fashion at that time was for loose fitting clothes. Companies that had only a passing association with the game, such as Puma, Reebok and Nike, decided that they’d like a piece of the action, which obliged more established firms, such as Adidas, Diadora and Kappa, to adopt more adventurous strategies. Nothing wrong with this from a business point of view, but fashion is not the same thing as good taste. Ergo, as football became more popular, the shirts became more ostentatious.
Up until the early 1980s, they hadn’t been ostentatious enough. What changed was the introduction of polyester and the right for clubs to bear commercial sponsors. It is counter-intuitive that things like this could make a difference, but they did. Something else. Back then, club badges and manufacturers’ emblems were sewn on, rather than printed, dye-sublimated or ironed, which gave the shirts a tactility that belied their true value. As well as all that, they fitted properly, were invariably V-necked and flat-collared.
This is my conceit; let's consider the evidence.
 


INTERNAZIONALE, 1988-89




After Uhlsport took over from Le Coq Sportif in 1988, not much about Inter’s strip changed: the sponsor remained the same, the club’s crest, the number of vertical stripes. What did change – aside from the manufacturer’s insignia – was the textile: polyester in place of acrylic. It matters not that the season Inter wore this shirt they won Serie A, it stands on its own merits as one of the finest ever produced. The polyester shows off the shade of blue in a perfect light, and the gauge of the stripes is spot on. The uppercase font of the sponsor, MISURA, is a delight, as are the two red dots that form part of it. The collar is simple, sleek and in harmony with V-shaped neckline. Finally, Inter’s now defunct biscione ensign, with the gold star above, and Uhlsport’s logo, a black stylised letter U set against a white square with a red border. It was probably cheap to make but didn’t look it. How much of this was by design is another matter.
 
 
 
SAMPDORIA, 1988-90
 



Sampdoria’s shirt rarely fails to deliver, but Kappa’s effort towards the end of the 1980s is the best of the lot. (Ennerre’s wasn’t bad either.) Oddly, what sets it apart, aside from the sinuous neckline and collar, is the italicised typeface of the sponsor, ERG. Everything else about it is routine. It has to be because there’s so much going on: the red, white and black horizontal stripes, the stemma San Giorgio at its centre, the manufacturer’s trademark. Maybe this is why in 1981 Ennerre decided to move the club’s crest to the left sleeve – to tidy it up a bit. At any rate, in doing so they made room for the coccarda, reward for winning the Coppa Italia. Sampdoria lifted the trophy in 1988 and again in 1989, so this particular jersey was never without it. ASICS took over from Kappa in 1990 and barely changed a thing. They did, however, use a thinner material, which had the effect of altering the colour slightly, making it a touch lighter.
 

 
FIORENTINA, 1989-90
 



When a friend introduced me to the delights of 110 Goals Italia Style in 1989 (on VHS) it wasn’t immediately obvious just how good Fiorentina’s shirt actually was. This is because they were wearing it with purple shirts and white socks, which detracted from its magnificence. When we sat down to watch the sequel in 1990, it became apparent (about a quarter of the way into it, as Baggio curls a diagonal ball into the back of Ascoli’s net) that Fiorentina were now wearing white shorts with purple socks. As well as that, they were sponsored by local rag La Nazione, rather than non-alcoholic aperitif Crodino, whose yellow and white lettering was less conspicuous than Crodino’s yellow and red. The shirt itself, made by ABM, was micropatterned, employing subtle shifts within the texture of fabric to create a pattern out of ABM’s logo – a stylised ‘S’ for Sportivo. It had a ribbed collar, a V-neck and was of a moderately loose fit. The badge was the same that was reintroduced in 2021: a red fleur-de-lis appended to the letter ‘F’ set against a white circle with a purple border, far neater than the distended diamond-shaped crest Fiorentina used before and after. The following year, ABM reinstated the purple shorts and Roberto Baggio was sold to Juventus.
 


JUVENTUS, 1990-92




While AC Milan got to dress up in polyester as early as 1987, Juventus had to wait until 1988. Strange, considering that Kappa – the firm that issued both teams their kit – was a subsidiary of a larger firm called Maglificio Calzificio Torinese. The shirt in question, when it arrived, was sponsored by Ariston, the same company that had its name emblazoned upon the acrylic sarks Juventus wore the previous season. Then in 1989 Upim replaced Ariston, whose rounder font complimented the jersey’s simplicity. However, it still lacked something, which was colour. Juventus won the Coppa Italia in 1990, which provided it. Turns out they needn’t have bothered. Kappa, in a moment of genius, decided that their logo would now be coloured green. This seemingly innocuous detail meant that when the coccarda was removed in 1991, the shirt sustained its visual impact. In fact, it looked better without it, the green insignia on the right singularly complementing the two gold stars to the left. Danone succeeded Upim in ’92, and the svelte neckline and collar – the same that had graced the shirts of Sampdoria and Milan – were exchanged for something more substantial. Still a good effort, but the 1991-92 iteration takes the honours.
 


TORINO, 1992-93




By 1992-93, Italian football strips were on the slide, Umbro and Lotto being the main offenders. There were still some quality shirts knocking about – Brescia, Roma, Milan, Pescara, Juventus – but only one that really mattered: Torino’s. ABM were responsible, in a working relationship that stretched back to 1990. Nothing much changed throughout their three-year tenure, save for the sponsor in ‘91 (from Indesit to Beretta) and the introduction of polo-style neck opening in ’92. (ASICS did a similar thing with Sampdoria’s jersey the same year but couldn’t resist adding horizontal stripes beneath the placket. Less is always more.) Unlike with the shirts they’d supplied for clubs like Fiorentina, Pescara and Piacenza, ABM never embellished the fabric with their emblem. As a result, the deep burgundy really jumps out at you and contrasts nicely with the small amount of blue that features in Torino’s badge. It’s that collar that does it, though, and the sheer functionality of it.


If football tops like these were typical of the late 1990s, then they would be highly prized, the reason being that people of a certain age became fans of Italian football off the back of Gazzetta Football Italia, which ran from 1992 through to 2002
. It’s question of cognitive bias: not of objective value judgements but subjective realities based upon nostalgia and fond memories. Precedently, football shirts had been governed by practical necessity, and were all the better for it. Thereafter, they became fashion accessories, as preposterous now as flares, bubble perms or a particularly meaty pair of sideburns.


[For a more in-depth analysis of each of these five shirts, follow these five links: Inter, Sampdoria, Fiorentina, Juventus, Torino.]

Tuesday, 9 November 2021

LINER NOTES: THE UNLOCKDOWN TAPES [2021]

 
 




      1.   I Can’t Sleep – The La’s
      2.   What You Isn’t – The Brian Jonestown Massacre
      3.   Flat of Angles – The Fall
      4.   Sovereignty Flight – The Gories
      5.   Snowball – Devo
      6.   Cross Me Out – Sweeping Promises
      7.   The Crack – Goat Girl
      8.   Scratchcard Lanyard – Dry Cleaning
      9.   She Buys Herself Flowers – The Umbrellas
    10.   Heartlow – Jane Weaver
    11.   Je Suis Venu Te Dire Que Je M'en Vais – Serge Gainsbourg
    12.   No Cigarettes – Withered Hand
    13.   I Don’t Rate You – Sleaford Mods
    14.   Copyshop – Applescal
    15.   Abidjan – Ray Barretto
    16.   Music De Carnaval – Magdy El Hussainy
    17.   Change of Direction – Brian Bennett
    18.   Ellis Island – Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger & The Trinity
    19.   Hallogallo – Neu!
    20.   Yoga Town – Superstate (featuring Graham Coxon & Valentina Pappalardo)
    21.   Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah – The Wedding Present
    22.   Emotional Devotion Creator – Peel Dream Magazine
    23.   New Dawn – The Lovely Eggs
 
 
Not much separates patriotism from nationalism. As with the nationalist, the patriot will blindly extoll the virtues of being from a specific place, regardless of where that place is or what it’s actually like. Both will take pride in past glories, despite having made no contribution towards them. Each have the potential for atrocity, perpetrated in the name of the state they slavishly defer to, turning against those they hitherto considered benign. They may also celebrate the indigenous landscape while at the same time complaining about the weather and electing to holiday abroad. Both are articles of faith. I suppose the practical difference between them is that patriots don't make such a song and dance about it.
I’m not either of these things – certainly not under this current government – yet where football is concerned I am unable to shake off the fealty that I am supposed to hold for the territory in which I happened to have been born. I cannot bring myself to join in with the songs that often go along with it – demanding that a mystical deity save a marginally less mystical head of state; insisting that we, as a people, will never be enslaved; not surrendering to the IRA – but will rejoice when England score. I just can't help it.
I have rarely been compensated for my unwavering support but there have been moments, mostly in world cups. The European Championships have reaped fewer rewards. Only Euro ’96 offered anything like the exhilaration of reaching quarter finals of Mexico ’86 and the semi-finals of Italia ‘90, or even the second round of the 1998 tournament where England were unlucky to lose against Argentina (on penalties).
Then Euro 2020 happened.
 
Lockdown again but without the agreeable weather, the novelty of it or the social distancing; only in the heart of the West End is the situation manifestly apparent. Unlike in November – the lockdown that wasn’t much of a lockdown – I was put back on furlough. When the conditions allowed, I would go for long walks and longer bicycle rides, sit on Richmond Green drinking coffee, and visit my Cornish friend in Isleworth to listen to BBC Radio 6. This was how I came across 'I Can’t Sleep' by The La’s, played on 28 February by Amy Lamé. If she hadn’t told us otherwise, we might have mistaken it for a genuine slice of 1960s Merseybeat.
I also continued to trade records on eBay and Discogs. A mint copy of Revelation by The Brian Jonestown Massacre showed up, and so I bought it. Two of its tracks have already appeared on two of my compilations: 'Vad Hände Med Dem?' in 2015 and 'Nightbird' in 2016-17. We can now add 'What You Isn’t' in 2021.
This was in March. Before that, in January, I purchased Dragnet by The Fall. The reason I did not already have this record is because I assumed it to be in the same vein as the group's first – Live at the Witch Trials – which I’m not keen on. I was wrong. Dragnet is up there with The Fall’s best work, and it could be said that the lo-fi production, courtesy Grant Showbiz, was ahead of its time.
The equally lo-fi The Gories came later in May after ‘sceneinbetween’ (Sam Knee) posted something about them on Instagram. Again, if you didn’t know better you could be forgiven for assuming that what you were hearing was authentic 1960s garage-rock. 'Sovereignty Flight' was in fact released in 1989 on the album House Rockin. Back to January, and I took a punt on Hunger for a Way Out by Sweeping Promises after Monorail advertised its third pressing on Twitter. With a similarly raw feel, you can imagine these two bands playing on the same bill. I guess this is reason enough for having a presence on social media.
In December 2020, I sold my copy of Duty Now For The Future by Devo for £12. In April I paid £12.99 for the group’s third album, Freedom of Choice, which is the better record (albeit not as good as Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! or New Traditionalists). In 2021 Devo was nominated for inclusion in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame but didn’t make the cut. I’m not sure these things really matter.
Pubs shut, my lady friend and I resurrected our Friday night sessions listening to music and having a little drink. These simulacrums of an evening down the local boozer took place on our landing, sat at a table, using her iPad set to shuffle. That became our routine, but in February my lady friend played a couple of tunes she’d come across on YouTube. First up was something off of We're Gonna Miss You: An Aussie Tribute to Roky Erickson & The 13th Floor Elevators. I don’t even know what song it was, so you won’t find it here.
Up next was 'The Crack' by Goat Girl, who we’d seen play at the High Tide music festival in Twickenham, 2019. They were good live but I hadn’t liked them enough to buy any of their records. The Crack asked that I reconsider.
Finally, 'Scratchcard Lanyard' by Dry Cleaning. I’d heard their first single, 'Magic of Meghan', during the first lockdown and had been in two minds about it. No such hesitation the second time around. 'Scratchcard Lanyard' is one of those tunes I’ve tried not to play excessively, lest I grow tired of it. As it is, I can recite most of Florence Shaw’s fragmented lyrics, which is unusual as I don’t have a great memory for verse: 'It's a Tokyo bouncy ball, it's an Oslo bouncy ball, it's a Rio de Janeiro bouncy ball. Filter. I love these mighty oaks, don't you?' And listening back to it now, I should have persisted with 'Magic of Meghan'.
 

Covent Garden

The theme for Euro 2020, as it was resolutely called despite being put back to 2021, was bridges. That is what's supposed to be going on in the logo: the trophy, surrounded by fans, on a bridge. Each host city had its own version featuring a specific local bridge – Tower Bridge in London's case. Appropriately, but not deliberately, I too have used an image of a bridge on the ‘front cover’ of this year’s compendium: Westbourne Bridge, which traverses the railway lines that run out of Paddington, connecting Westbourne Terrace Road with Westbourne Terrace. I cycled there while on lockdown and liked the look of it.
Not to be confused with either the Australian jazz combo of the same name or American indie-rock group Umbrellas, The Umbrellas are from San Francisco and sound not unlike the British groups that fell under the umbrella – pun intended – of C86 and the associated scene. They look the part too. I’m not entirely happy with the transition between this song and the last, but I couldn't find a better combination, so we live with it.
'Heartlow' by Jane Weaver received much airplay during lockdown. I also heard it on the radio while driving from Plymouth to Dorchester in August, part of a six-day tour of the West Country to see friends and family, primates and tanks. The segue into 'Je Suis Venu Te Dire Que Je M'en Vais' is sudden and effective. I chanced upon this song in May, playing in Oliver Bonas in Kingston. I didn’t realise then it was Serge Gainsbourg, although it figured. 'I came to tell you that I'm going away,' sings Serge softly (in French) and about half way through the girl he’s telling this to starts weeping. It might be the best track on this compilation, and if that’s true then we must also give credit to the (mostly British) musicians that helped make it so: guitarist Alan Parker, bass player and founding member of Manfred Mann Dave Richmond, Australian percussionist Chris Karan, composer and keyboard player Alan Hawkshaw.
The previous December, the chap who introduced me to Sarah Records recommended 'No Cigarettes' by Withered Hand. I almost tacked it on to the end of that year’s playlist but thought better of it – too much time had passed. As you might expect from someone calling themselves Withered Hand – real name Dan Wilson – No Cigarettes is a sad sounding song, but not without humour.
Sleaford Mods for a third year in a row: 'I Don't Rate You' from the album Spare Ribs. Released in January, I had to wait until February before I could listen to it. My de facto brother-in-law, who bought it for me, had it sent to his own address instead of mine. It was worth the wait. On a related note, I finally got around to seeing Bunch of Kunst after it was made available on some viewing platform, which was also worth the wait.
A gloomy Friday evening spent listening to BBC Radio 6 with my Cornish friend. Tom Ravenscroft played something catchy but we weren’t sure what because the live feed on the screen wasn’t in sync. Retrospective analysis determined it was a track called 'Copyshop' by a Dutch artiste named Applescal. Pitchfork describes his work as springy tech house, but ambient techno might also do. I downloaded it from Bandcamp the following day.
There are two versions of the LP Hard Hands by Ray Barretto: an album released in 1968 and a compilation issued twenty years later. I purchased the latter in 2019 from Collector’s Record Centre in Kingston (now called Shak’s Stax of Wax) and ended up playing it a fair bit during lockdown. 'Abidjan' appears on both records, and it’s certainly the outstanding track on the edition I own. Ray Barreto was an exponent of boogaloo, a genre I’d flirted with around the turn of the century when I picked up a compilation entitled Broasted Or Fried: Latin Breakbeats, Basslines & Boogaloo, and I’d been meaning to check him out ever since I’d identified his track 'Ritmo Sabroso' which features in the film Mean Streets.
 



I cannot recall a wetter, colder month of May, a month that can usually be relied upon. By the time Euro 2020 had commenced the weather had picked up. I watched England’s opening game against Croatia on a large screen in a sweltering beer garden in New Malden, and came away feeling cautiously optimistic.
I was right to exercise caution. England were poor against Scotland and middling against the Czech Republic (I know because I was there). Then, as the weather again deteriorated, England’s form improved. They deserved their 2-0 victory over Germany, playing a more fluid game that was easier on the eye. In the quarter-finals, Ukraine were torn apart. Denmark proved to be formidable opponents and it wasn’t a game I much enjoyed. For once, it was the result that mattered, and England reached their first major tournament final in 45 years.
The best team won. England's performance was good but Italy's was comfortably better. Where Italy took one or two touches and kept the ball moving, England dithered, passing sideways and back. They had the chance to rectify this at half-time but didn’t, casting aspersions upon Gareth’s Southgate’s, apparently limited, tactical acumen. Why after scoring in the second minute did England seem incapable of hitting the Italians on the break? Why did Southgate wait until the 70th minute to make a substitution, and until the 99th to bring on Jack Grealish? Why did he not have his penalty takers in order? England had one shot on target – Luke Shaw’s goal – in the whole game, and only six in total. Italy managed 20, six of which were bang on.
If England had won on penalties, as opposed to nicking it in extra time, I’m not sure how I would have felt. Just as I’m not too bothered when England lose and deserve to, neither am I when they win and they don’t. So I didn’t feel too bad about it, but I might have had we fallen at the penultimate hurdle, against Denmark.
 
In September I travelled down to Brighton to meet up with the former cohabitant, who had moved back there after a two-year stint in Somerset. We arranged to meet in the Heart & Hand, one of my favourite Brighton pubs. It hadn’t changed much – same posters, same plump cat, same jukebox featuring ‘Version 1’ of 'It's all Over Now Baby Blue' by The Byrds (see The World'll be OK).
My train was delayed. Engineering works compounded by signal failures – par for the course. I had intended to do a sweep of the record shops in North Laine but only had time to visit Resident Music on Kensington Gardens. Fortuitous, because they were playing something interesting: 'Music De Carnaval' by an Egyptian chap by the name of Magdy El Hussainy, taken from a double-album compilation entitled Habibi Funk 015: An Eclectic Selection of Music from the Arab World, Part 2. I knew this because there was a sign that said ‘now playing’ with the record displayed beside it. Had there not been I would have been none the wiser and 'Music De Carnaval' wouldn’t have ended up on this playlist.
Gilles Peterson has an annoying habit of talking intermittently over the music he’s playing. He’s not the only DJ who does this, but his manner is particularly irritating. Just when you think he’s done, off he goes again, providing too much information. Still, he plays some decent stuff, and did so on 23 October. A tribute to Alan Hawkshaw, no less, who had recently passed away. Aside from his work with Serge Gainsbourg, Hawkshaw was a prolific session player, as well as a composer in his own right. You may have heard him without having heard of him, and what you may have heard will depend on what you’re into. For instance, if you like hip hop (or went clubbing at Blow Up in the mid-to-late ‘90s) then you will probably be familiar with 'Champ' by his band The Mohawks – or at least the bit of it that’s been sampled so extensively. If television is more your thing you’ll probably recognise 'Chicken Man', which was used as the theme tune for Grange Hill. Likewise the music for Channel 4 News and Countdown. Alan Hawkshaw also worked with The Shadows for a while, starting with their 1967 LP From Hank, Bruce, Brian and John, and he even toured with them. This is how he came to be involved with Brian Bennett’s 1969 solo album, Change of Direction, the title track of which Peterson played in homage to Hawkshaw’s talent.
I can’t remember how I discovered 'Ellis Island' by Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger & The Trinity but it might have been after listening to their cover of 'Light My Fire', which kicks off a compendium entitled Version Excursion, another record I revisited during lockdown. It could equally have been the video to 'Black Cat', which routinely does the rounds on social media. At any rate, I gave the album Streetnoise a listen, where the aforementioned cover of 'Light My Fire' derives from, and found 'Ellis Island'. Julie Driscoll takes a back seat on this one – it’s all about Auger’s keys.
 

Tank Museum, Dorset

Football attracts trouble in the way other sports typically don't. There's something about it that goes beyond the mere act of spectating. Consider that the Serb Volunteer Guard – a savage paramilitary organisation active throughout the Yugoslav Wars – was put together by members of Delije, the name adopted by hardcore supporters of Red Star Belgrade. Or that the National Front and the British Movement gained traction among English football hooligans in the late 1970s and early ‘80s, and that Scottish hooliganism is, or was, driven by sectarianism.
Yet beneath the surface there’s probably as much racial antipathy to be found at a rugby or cricket match or a round of golf. It's just that the people who gather to watch sports like these tend to be better off, and so they’re not in the business of finding scapegoats or venting spleen; they’ve too much to lose. Maybe that's what separates patriotism from nationalism. Might the patriot merely be a more well-off nationalist, and therefore less vociferous – has no need to be vociferous? It’s doubtful they will even think of themselves as racist, but as long as they think of themselves as exceptional then they kind of are.
 
In July I went to see The Lovely Eggs at The Garage, a gig that was supposed to have taken place in April 2020 but had been pushed back several times because of Covid. Live music isn’t just about the actual performance but the event as a whole: the physical location – Highbury in this instance – the pubs visited beforehand – The Lamb, The Hen & Chickens Theatre Bar – and the venue itself. As is customary, prior to The Lovely Eggs taking the stage, and after the support act, records were played – The Modern Lovers, Sleaford Mods, Neu!. The track by Neu! was 'Hallogallo', a tune I'd previously thought about including on one of my compilations. The reason I hadn’t is because it goes on a bit, but it sounded so good within this context that I resolved to make room for it now.
There’s a section of the A303 – a sort of proxy motorway for anyone travelling from the South East to the West Country –  that doubles up as the Amesbury Bypass. As you approach the turn-off into Amesbury proper, the road downgrades gradually to reveal Salisbury Plain. It was along this segment of road that I heard 'Yoga Town' by Superstate. Superstate is actually the name of a graphic novel and the ‘soundtrack’ Graham Coxon’s put together to accompany it. 'Superstate is a story of escape in a society where war rages between the forces of negativity and positivity, encouragement and discouragement. Where only the struggle from oppressions, chaos and brutality leads to the fragile road to freedom… to a planet called heaven.' I just liked the song.
The Wedding Present should think about re-releasing Watusi on vinyl. I wasn’t into them when it came out in 1994 so missed out. 'Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah' was the album’s lead single and utilises the A-B-A-B rhyming scheme with an enjambment at the end of the fourth line preceding the chorus: planned/and... coconut/but... get/yet... my heart says YEAH! There’s also a natty interchange in the chorus between D and Bm.
Eel Pie Records don’t have a ‘now playing’ sign in their shop, or if they do they rarely use it. Fortunately, when I went there in July I wasn’t in a rush to meet anybody and so asked them what was on. 'Agitprop Alterna' by Peel Dream Magazine. They reckoned it sounded like Stereolab, I thought more Yo La Tengo. You decide.
When I went to see The Lovely Eggs I’d already determined that this anthology would finish with 'New Dawn', just as it rounds off I Am Moron. The song terminates abruptly, as if the needle of the record player has become stuck, which doesn’t lend itself to placing it anywhere else.

[Listen to here.]

Saturday, 9 October 2021

THE SARTORIAL ELEGANCE OF SERIE A: PIACENZA CALCIO - 1990-92

 





Piacenza Football Club was formed in 1919, the result of a merger between two Piacentino clubs – Giovine Italia and Unione Football Club Piacenza – under the stewardship of an eighteen year-old student by the name of Giovanni Dosi. After registering with the Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio (FIGC), they were granted admittance into the 1919-20 La Promozione Emiliana, came out on top and were promoted into the Prima Categoria wearing red and white kit.
The Emilian section of the Prima Categoria was separated into two groups of five. Piacenza participated in Group A, drawn against Modena, Parma, Reggiana and Carpi, and finished third, which wasn’t enough to qualify for the next round. The following season the football federation split in two, with many of the smaller clubs remaining with the FIGC and the larger, more successful teams breaking away to form the Prima Divisione, overseen by the newly created Confederazione Calcistica Italiana (CCI). Piacenza won their three-team qualifying group, ahead of Parma and Mantovana, but came last in the regional finals behind SPAL, Virtus Bolognese and Parma.
The schism between the competing associations was resolved in 1922 by way of the Colombo Compromise, which had the effect of consigning Piacenza to a lower, second division – a sort of regional Serie B. Except there was no way out of it, although teams still faced the threat of relegation. It could be said, then, that the Charter of Viareggio in 1926 was of potential benefit for clubs stuck in the lower divisions. The idea behind the charter was to nationalise the sport (in the name of Fascism), meaning that the existing Northern and Southern leagues would be amalgamated. The restructured Divisione Nazionale comprised two leagues of ten, whereafter the top three teams in each would play against each other to determine the winner. All well and good but it had the effect of downgrading the division beneath: the Prima Divisione became the second tier and the Seconda Divisione (North and South) the third.
It’s doubtful that such machinations had any material effect on Piacenza’s fortunes. What did have an impact was the decision in 1928 to divide the Divisione Nazionale into Series A and B. In 1927-28, the club finished top of Group D of the Second Division (North) which would ordinarily would have seen them promoted into Italian football’s second tier, except the First Division – the second division in all but name – now became the third. Piacenza remained in the First Division up until 1935, at which point it was renamed Serie C.
Piacenza Calcio would have to wait a while before they could play legitimately in Serie B. I say legitimately because in the aftermath of World War II they briefly featured in a combined Serie B/C Alta Italia, a temporary solution in the face of logistical and bureaucratic restrictions on travel. By 1948-49 they were back in Serie C.
After a brief spell in Serie IV/D, Piacenza were promoted to Serie B in 1968-69, but were then relegated. I have read that in the 1960s Piacenza sometimes wore white shirts with a red sash but I can find no images to corroborate this. In any case, upon the club’s return to Serie B in 1974-75 they were wearing red shirts, white shorts and red socks.
 

1975-76

In 1983 a man by the name of Leonardo Garilli became Piacenza’s president. One of the first things this qualified mechanical engineer did, aside from implementing some sort of fiscal structure, was to commission a new badge. The graphic designer(s) responsible drew upon the province’s heraldry: a red shield encapsulating a silver square and a Roman ‘she-wolf’. The shield was discarded, the square rotated through 45 degrees, and the wolf’s head rendered with a simplicity worthy of Piero Gratton himself. It is used to this day.
The new emblem didn’t appear on Piacenza’s actual shirts until 1986, provided by a company named Dafra. The club immediately won promotion into Serie B as champions, Armando Madonna the star of the show. (A young Giuseppe Signori made 14 appearances, scored one goal.) NR then took over as technical supplier while Cassa Risparmio Piacenza continued as commercial sponsor, albeit with e Vigevano now appended to their name. Despite starting well, Piacenza ended their campaign in 13th place. The following year they were relegated, and ‘Beppe’ Signori was sold to Foggia for 1.5 billion lire.
After an indifferent season in 1989-90, Piacenza added a second Serie C (1) championship to its palmarès in 1990-91. They did this wearing clobber manufactured by Abbigliamento Sportivo (ABM) utilising the same template employed at Fiorentina, Salernitana, Palermo, Messina (but not Torino). Made from polyester and cotton, the jersey was micropatterned with ABM’s motif running in vertical lines. It had a collar, an elasticated V-neck and was loose-fitting, as most jerseys were during this period.
Piacenza bedded in. They took on loan the goalkeeper Davide Pinato from Atalanta and attacking midfielder Armando Madonna from Lazio, who had been sold to Atalanta in 1988 after his previous five-year stint with Piacenza. More significantly, the striker Antonio De Vitis signed from Udinese. They finished mid-table.
 



In 1992-93, Piacenza won promotion into Serie A. In the meantime, ABM had tinkered with the shirt, adding a pop-stud neck opening (used at Torino), a more abstract micropattern and a white collar. The club made a quick return to Serie B but an equally speedy return to Serie A, this time as champions. Moreover, Piacenza made it stick, spending five consecutive seasons in Italy’s preeminent division before again being relegated, by which time Lotto was supplying the gear.
Unfortunately, the club went bankrupt in 2012, re-established itself as Società Sportiva Dilettantistica Piacenza Calcio 1919 in 2013 (subsequently shortened to Piacenza Calcio 1919) and have only been able to make it back as far as Serie C.

Saturday, 4 September 2021

THE SARTORIAL ELEGANCE OF SERIE A: BRESCIA CALCIO - 1992-94

 





Brescia Calcio came about in 1911 after the coming together of the Società Ginnastica La Victoria Brescia and Unione Sportiva Bresciana e Gimnasium. They wore then orange and blue vertical stripes with black shorts, a fairly unusual combination in itself but not as distinctive as the white V set against a blue background that has typified the shirt since. Società Ginnastica La Victoria Brescia – who were themselves the result of a merger between Forti e Liberi and Club Sportivo Brixia – had played in blue jerseys with a white vertical line down the middle, which would suggest that Unione Sportiva Bresciana e Gimnasium may well have worn orange. (I cannot verify this.) At any rate, by 1915 Football Club Brescia, as they were now known, were playing in blue and white stripes in Group E of the Prima Categoria.
Despite the FIGC’s efforts to reinstall the single league format trialled in 1909-10, the sheer weight of numbers wanting to compete after the end of the First World War meant a return to the bloated format they’d been lumbered with before the conflict started. In the event, Brescia finished their preliminary round – Group A: Lombardy Section – in second place behind Inter, thus qualifying for the national semi-finals, finishing fifth in a pool of six. They did this wearing plain (savoy) blue.
It was in 1927 that Brescia came up with the distinguishing white V, or chevron, and did so in homage to the ‘Fathers of Peace’ (Voluntas Pace) who granted the team use their stadium (Stadio di Viale Piave) for a nominal fee. The intervening period had proved to be reasonably successful, so when the FIGC finally established Serie A as a singular league in 1929-30, the Biancazzurri were part of it. Moreover, they finished its inaugural season in ninth place, seven points clear of relegation.
 
In 1936 the club changed its name to Associazione Calcio Brescia and were subsequently relegated. After a brief stint in Serie C, Brescia made it into Serie A in 1943. The Second World War necessitated a temporary retreat to the multigroup set-up, lasting until 1946-47, whereupon the club was again demoted to Serie B. In between – 1940 to be precise – they’d reverted to wearing all blue. In 1948, Brescia inverted their colours – white shirt, blue shorts – but by the 1950s had effected an about-face.
In 1961 the chevron was reintroduced, and in 1965 Brescia were promoted into Serie A as champions. They managed three consecutive seasons in Italy’s top flight before being relegated, but bounced back the following year. For their return to Serie A, the jersey was altered once more, except this time the V was replaced with a diagonal white stripe, or sash. This configuration lasted as long as Brescia’s tenure in Serie A – just one term. Maybe sensing that this radical departure had brought the team bad luck, the chevron was hastily reinstated and would remain in place until 1974. Thereafter, the club experimented with a more diminutive V before reverting to plain blue in summer of ’76, the year they officially became Brescia Calcio.
 

1940-41

And that’s how things pretty much stayed until Uhlsport took over from Bontempi Sport in 1991-92, the season Brescia won Serie B under the guidance of Romanian coach Mircea Lucescu. In truth, Uhlsport’s first crack at the shirt wasn’t all that, the revived chevron obscured by the emblem of the club’s new sponsor, Credito Agrario Bresciano.
In 1992, no doubt under the direction of Lucescu, Brescia signed Florin Răducioiu from Verona, Ioan Sabău from Feyenoord, and the mercurial Gheorghe Hagi from real Madrid (never has the word 'mercurial' been more apt), although they also sold their top scorer, Maurizio Ganz, to Atalanta. At the same time, Uhlsport got their act together. The dark blue lozenge behind the sponsor’s initials was got rid of, revealing the chevron underneath. Where the ends of the white V had previously faded into blue towards the shoulder, they now remained constant. The club’s badge was no longer printed (dye-sublimated) but sewn on, as was the manufacturer’s own insignia. Finally, Uhlsport adopted a geometrically micropatterned fabric – also used for Verona and Cremonese – which gave the shirt a vivid sheen. The away version, in red, was equally lustrous.
Brescia lost their relegation playoff against Udinese and went straight back down, kept the same strip and went straight back up. This time around, ABM would provide the gear – not their best – but the result was the same, just more comprehensive. Brescia finished bottom of the table.
 



The club’s best years were ahead of them, courtesy of Roberto Baggio, wearing kits supplied by Garman, Umbro and Kappa, all of them hideous. Aside from the occasional foray into Serie A, Brescia have once again made Serie B their home, which isn’t a bad place to be, all things considered. Indeed, they have spent more seasons in Italian football’s second tier than any other team: 63 and counting.

Thursday, 29 July 2021

LINER NOTES: THE WONDERFUL AND FRIGHTENING WORLD OF THE FALL - VOLUME 3 [1990-94]







       1.     Sing! Harpy
       2.     I’m Frank
       3.     Black Monk Theme, Pt. 1
       4.     Arms Control Poseur [Album Version]
       5.     Hilary
       6.     The Littlest Rebel
       7.     Edinburgh Man
       8.     The Book of Lies
       9.     You Haven’t Found It Yet
       10.   The Mixer
       11.   Return
       12.   Time Enough at Last
       13.   Everything Hurtz
       14.   Immortality
       15.   Gentlemen’s Agreement
       16.   Ladybird (Green Grass)
       17.   Glam-Racket
       18.   Service
       19.   The League of Bald-Headed Men
       20.   15 Ways
       21.   The Reckoning
       22.   M5#1
       23.   You’re Not Up To Much
 
 
Whereas the line between the first two phases of The Fall are blurred – Perverted by Language, essentially – that which separates the second and third is more clearly demarcated, falling between I Am Kurious Oranj and Extricate. That said, Extricate is a transitional work, less repetitive than its forebears, yet not entirely indicative of the sound the group were about to embrace. It was also the first Fall album I listened to, and perhaps for this reason it’s one of my favourites.
 
It has been suggested that the reason the fiddle features as predominantly as it does on Extricate is because Smith’s now ex-wife Brix was shacked up with Brummie violinist and pseudo-boho Nigel Kennedy. Moreover, that many of the album's songs were about her, which Smith refuted. The most obvious example of this is the opening track, 'Sing! Harpy', which fades in to the sound of Kenny Brady's violin and contains lyrical references that point in that direction. The tune itself was written by original group member Martin Bramah, who had re-joined the group in Brix's absence. It was to be a temporary arrangement; on the Australian leg of the album’s subsequent tour, Bramah was sacked, along with keyboard player Marcia Schofield.
'Sing! Harpy' should have been a single, but 'I’m Frank' wouldn’t have been a bad choice either. Said to be Craig’s Scanlon’s tribute to Frank Zappa (I’m unqualified to comment) it’s a better song than is often given credit for. After that there’s 'Bill is Dead', which is more than likely autobiographical: an account of renewal in the wake of the trauma of death (of Smith’s father) and divorce (from Brix). Again, Smith denied all of this, which doesn’t mean it isn’t so. 'Black Monk Theme, Part 1' follows – more violins – and then 'Popcorn, Double Feature', which was released as a single but shouldn’t have been. Both are covers, of The Monks and The Searchers respectively. Side 2 is a little more hit and miss; 'Hilary' and 'The Littlest Rebel' are the highlights.
As with previous Fall albums, the cassette and CD included a number of tunes that didn’t feature on the record. The one that really should have is 'Arms Control Poseur', which originally appeared on the B-side of 'Popcorn, Double Feature'. The album version is superior, but you get both on the 2007 re-issue. Credited to Scanlon, Smith and Wolstencroft, according to Marcia Schofield it was one of the songs Bramah brought with him, as was 'Hilary' which is attributed solely to Smith.
 



After the dismissal of Bramah and Schofield, The Fall were operating as an unprecedented four-piece, comprising Smith, Scanlon, Hanley and Wolstencroft (with Dave Bush drafted in on auxiliary ‘electronics’). The album that followed – Shift-Work – is more upbeat than its predecessor, but not necessarily better for it. Again, the first side is the stronger. 'Idiot Joy Showland' is good, 'Pittsville Direkt' is good, 'Book of Lies' is very good, but best of all is 'Edinburgh Man', a song that may or may not recall fondly the milieu described in 'Bill is Dead'. The most interesting tracks, though, are found on the second side – the dance-tinged 'You Haven’t Found it Yet' and 'The Mixer' – and give a clearer indication of where The Fall was headed.
For Code: Selfish, Bush found himself promoted from electronics to keyboards & machines. The result is a harsher, noisier record and an underrated one. Indeed, its first side, on vinyl and cassette, might be one of The Fall’s very best. The opening tracks, 'Birmingham School of Business School' and 'Free Range', kick the doors down in very much the same way that 'Lay of the Land' and '2 x 4' do on The Wonderful and Frightening World Of... . 'Return' does a similar job to 'I'm Frank', but with more vigour. For 'Time Enough at Last', Scanlon digs out the guitar sound he employed on 'Wings', while Hanley’s bass borders on the sublime. 'Everything Hurtz' has swagger, and the sequencing on 'Immortality' rounds things off nicely.
The second side isn’t nearly as good. At just over six minutes, 'Two-Face!' outstays its welcome. 'Gentlemen’s Agreement', on the other hand, ranks alongside 'Bill is Dead', 'Edinburgh Man' and 'Disney’s Dream Debased' as one of The Fall’s most poignant moments. The less said about 'Crew Filth' the better.

On 19 October 1993, I attended my first ever Fall gig, a calamitous affair at the Kentish Town Forum, supported by a much heckled Ted Chippington. Set-list as follows:
 
Happy Holiday (instrumental) / M5 / Ladybird (Green Grass) / Idiot Joy Showland / Why Are People Grudgeful? / Glam Racket / I'm Going to Spain / Free Range / Lost in Music / Big New Prinz / A Past Gone Mad / Behind the Counter / Strychnine / War / Paranoia Man in Cheap Sh*t Room / High Tension Line / Deadbeat Descendant.
 
After keeping the crowd waiting for over an hour, Smith proceeded to fiddle with his band’s monitors, launch microphones in the direction of the sound engineers to the side of the stage, abort songs before they’d got going, and behave generally is if he’d rather be somewhere else (although to be fair the sound was a bit shoddy).
The Infotainment Scanreleased earlier that year, was and still is The Fall’s highest charting album. Yet of the five albums from this period, this is the one that has dated the most. The first four tracks are exempt: 'Ladybird (Green Grass)' and 'Glam Racket' must rank among the best tunes The Fall have produced; 'Lost in Music' and 'I’m Going to Spain' are covers, so sound quite unlike anything else. Thereafter, Dave Bush is let loose to do pretty much what he likes, creating a strange sort of alternative rock-techno hybrid in the process. It actually works quite well, if you don’t mind a bit of Italian-house mixed in with your Fall.
By the time I went to see The Fall again in January 1994, at the Brixton Fridge, I’d caught up. Here’s the set-list:
 
Happy Holiday / Return / M5 / I’m Going to Spain / 15 Ways / Free Range / Big New Prinz / The Mixer / The Reckoning / I’m Frank / Paranoia Man in Cheap Shit Room / Glam Racket / Hey! Student / A Past Gone Mad / Strychnine / Behind the Counter / Ladybird (Green Grass).

They were on excellent form that night. I distinctly recall hearing 'The Reckoning' and being blown away by it, even though it was completely new to me. It would materialise on the next album, Middle Class Revolt, which in many ways carried on where The Infotainment Scan left off. So too would 'Happy Holiday' and 'M5', yet these tunes were familiar because they’d already appeared on the Behind the Counter EP released in December ’93. And this is the problem with Middle Class Revolt. By the time it was released in May 1994, no less than six of its tracks – '15 Ways', 'Behind the Counter', 'War', 'M5', 'Hey! Student' and 'The $500 Bottle of Wine' – had surfaced in one form or another on the singles that preceded it. Not that this diminished the quality of the album in itself, but it did lessen its impact. 'You’re Not up too Much', which sounds a little out of place here, softened the blow.
 



And then came Cerebral Caustic, which I didn’t like very much, and instead of moving forward I continued to look back. I don’t rule out ever compiling a fourth chapter in this series, but it is unlikely that I will. It’s not so much that The Fall ceased to produce good music from around 1995 onwards, but rather that Smith’s schtick became repetitive and chaotic – stumbling over his words, sometimes growling, his voice shot.
It does not do to equate the genius of The Fall with the genius of Mark E Smith. They would have been nothing more than a curious, if compelling, phenomenon without a select group of musicians capable of realising the vision: Steve Hanley, Craig Scanlon, Marc Riley, Brix Smith-Start, Karl Burns, Paul Hanley, Martin Bramah, Simon Wolstencroft, maybe ‘he of classical training’ Simon Rogers. That’s half of it, and Smith’s idiomatic way with words is the other. That they coalesced in one band is almost unheard of.
What I think did it for me was the realisation that there would never be another 'Wings', 'Leave the Capitol', 'Athlete Cured', 'Dktr. Faustus'; tunes with a clear narrative and enunciated diction. Whether Smith chose to abandon these methods or just no longer possessed the vocal dexterity is moot. He – no, they – left quite enough to be getting on with, and we can be grateful for that.
 

[Listen to here.]