Disc 1 (Hounslow)
1. Me and the Black and White Dream – The Orchids
2. The Stars of Track and Field – Belle and Sebastian
3. On the Way – The Pastels
4. Diagonals – Stereolab
5. Give Away None of My Love – Otis Redding
6. Down Down Down – The Chiffons
7. Slipped, Tripped and Fell in Love – Clarence Carter
8. Funky Nassau Part 1 – The Beginning of the End
9. I Want You – Bob Dylan
10. See Emily Play – Pink Floyd
11. Coz I Luv You – Slade
12. Tell Me When My Light Turns Green – Dexy’s Midnight Runners
13. A Wave Crashed on Rocks – Felt
14. Songs for Children – Belle and Sebastian
15. A Living Ken and Barbie – The Orchids
16. Sexy Boy – Air
17. Revolution 909 – Daft Punk
18. Body Movin’ (Album Version) – Beastie Boys
1997-98: 11 Penderel Road, Hounslow, my fifth residence in as many years, not too dissimilar in size, shape and general state to 23 Carrington Avenue, an untidy and slightly squalid abode. After a fruitless search for a two-bedroom flat, my Cornish friend and I have moved in with two undomesticated first-year students. It’s a regression of sorts, and I will spend too much of my time playing Super Mario Kart on the SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System) with our near acquaintances. Glenryck Pilchards in Tomato Sauce replaces Heinz Baked Beans with Pork Sausages as my go-to brunch, which is no bad thing.
The nearest pub is the rather grim The Warren on Hanworth Road (now a Tesco Express). It’s worth making the longer walk to the Pickled Newt on Staines Road (also deceased) if only because they have a free jukebox stacked with half decent tunes. The Chariot has closed but will re-open as Shannon’s, which as the name suggests will be an ‘Irish’ pub. The Noble Half is also suffering a period of transition. To compensate, and buoyed by our younger housemates’ enthusiasm, we drink more often in Isleworth (The Town Wharf), Twickenham (The Cabbage Patch, The George), and Richmond (The Prince's Head, The Bull & Bush).
Although I am still in touch with both the indie tapes guy and the chap who introduced me to Sarah Records, actual contact is sporadic. We don’t have email addresses and nor do we have mobile phones: they exist but are perceived as an extravagance, a luxury item. I know someone who owns a pager, but for many of us the landline is our only means of communication. (Pager guy will actually prove to be a very positive source of musical inspiration – but not yet.)
The tapes did not survive the migration to MiniDisc. Did they ever exist? I certainly recall listening to Stereolab within the context of a broader compilation – on the train down to Plymouth precisely – but my memory of what else was on that cassette is patchy.
Contemporary music was in a bad state. The Britpop scene had given way to whole host of average-at-best guitar bands, including, but not limited to: Mansun, Marion, Placebo, Texas, Kula Shaker, Hurricane #1, Heavy Stereo, Catatonia, Dodgy, 60 Ft. Dolls, Space, Symposium, The Seahorses, Theaudience, and most of the bands that featured at some time or another on Chris Evans’s despicable vanity project TFI Friday. Groups like the Stereophonics and Travis were the next big thing. All The Verve’s latest singles incorporated strings. The kids were going mad for the novelty dance act that was Fatboy Slim. OK Computer was being held up as a work of genius. Tony Blair had recently taken office.
Stereolab’s Dots and Loops and Illumination by The Pastels – both released in September 1997 – offered succour. So did Belle and Sebastian’s If You’re Feeling Sinister, released in November 1996, which the guy with the indie tapes recommended to me. Dots and Loops was Stereolab’s most successful album to date, both commercially (sitting at no. 19 in the album charts for a whole week!) and critically. As is the story of their life, The Pastels’ album passed by almost unnoticed. Yet Belle and Sebastian had managed a breakthrough of sorts. The sports student I was now living with was strangely taken with them, perhaps on account of their song The Stars of Track and Field, which concerned itself with the physical allure of athletes. In July and October of the same year, Belle and Sebastian released two EPs: Lazy Line Painter Jane and 3.. 6.. 9 Seconds of Light. I acquired both, the latter being the unlisted source of Songs for Children.
I’d been contemplating soul music and 1960s girl groups: Otis Redding, The Ronettes, The Shangri-Las, stuff like that. My lady friend somehow picked up on this and for Christmas presented me with That’s Soul Volume 2 – an Atlantic Soul compilation – and Sweet Talkin’ Guy by The Chiffons. I played these records a lot, and whatever tape I put together back then would be bound to reflect this. Tracks 5 through to 8 are the most likely to have appeared on such a compilation.
On leaving Penderel Road I entered what I refer to now as my ‘nomadic phase’. I spent much of this period at my lady friend’s house on Isle of Dogs. Besides that, I stayed for a week with my parents in Plymouth, slept on the couch from time to time at Bulstrode Avenue, and spent nights here and there at the new house of the Cornish friend who stacked it in Debenhams and guy who liked The Stars of Track and Field, which they shared with the fellow who owned the SNES. I also visited the former cohabitant from Brighton, who had moved back there after a rough time of it in Tottenham. It was here that I made an association with the Bob Dylan tune I Want You, either by way of the album Blonde on Blonde or some greatest hits compendium.
At some juncture I purchased a tatty copy of Relics by Pink Floyd, but I couldn’t swear when it was. It could have been before, during, or shortly after my residence at Penderel Road, but it was no earlier than 1997 and no later than 1999. I’m not much of a Pink Floyd fan but I am of Syd Barrett, and See Emily Play and Arnold Layne were missing from my collection.
I’m not really a fan of Slade either but there’s something rather rousing about Coz I Luv You. Oasis’s cover of Cum on Feel the Noize a few years earlier had made it perfectly acceptable to like Slade, despite their preposterous appearance. Judging by the age of the clientele who drank in The Pickled Newt, this would have had no bearing on its inclusion on their jukebox. Actually, in 1971, before Coz I Luv You was released, Slade looked vaguely presentable and were still relatively unknown. The tune went straight to number 1 and a lucrative career in glam rock beckoned.
It was the guy who introduced me to Sarah Records who introduced me to Dexy’s Midnight Runners. I’d heard of them, of course, but it hadn’t occurred to me that they were worth listening to – too many bad memories of Come On Eileen being played down Ritzy’s nightclub. I think it was the album Too-Rye-Ay he initially pushed my way – he’d rant on about this amazing tune called Plan B. I preferred Let’s Make this Precious but he was right about Dexy’s being something special. Ultimately, it was their first album, Searching for the Young Soul Rebels, I listened to more, so in reconstructing the past I’ve opted for Tell Me When My Light Turns Green.
Belle and Sebastian’s Stuart Murdoch has expressed publicly an admiration for the band Felt. If asked, I would expect he would say similarly nice things about Sarah Records’ band The Orchids. I bought two of The Orchids’ albums – Unholy Soul and Striving for the Lazy Perfection – second-hand, on vinyl, in relatively quick succession. It’s possible that I actually purchased Unholy Soul whilst living at Bulstrode Avenue. What’s more, indie tapes guy had it on cassette and we used to listen to it at Hanworth Road. As such, it is Striving for the Lazy Perfection that aligns itself in my mind with Penderel Road, the song A Living Ken and Barbie in particular.
Regarding Felt, the chap who introduced me to Sarah Records loaned me the compilation Bubblegum Perfume and the LP The Pictorial Jackson Review. Over time, these records have merged in my mind and it took a lot of digging around to establish the name of the tune I wanted to include on this compendium. All I had in to go on was a rough memory of the line, “I'm not your Jesus, so will you get off my cross.” It was enough, but very few Felt albums are available commercially and are rare and expensive bought secondhand, so I had to download A Wave Crashed on Rocks off the internet.
The last three tracks are all evocative of the house my lady friend shared on the Isle of Dogs with a girl with whom she used to go to school. Daft Punk even reminds me of helping to paint their living room, which is appropriate because the album in question is called Homework. I had to rely on my lady friend for all of this – these were some of my poorest times – and I think she also paid for us to watch the Beastie Boys play at the Brixton Academy in June 1998, accompanied by our friend No Eyes, which is something that would have bowled over my 13 year old self.
Disc 2 (Brentford)
19. Help the Aged – Pulp
20. (Tonight) Are You Trying to Fall in Love Again – Tindersticks
21. Color Madre – Delta
22. Fan Mail – Blondie
23. Wild Wild Life – Talking Heads
24. Slapstick Girl – The Dylan Rabbit
25. High Street Love – The Dylan Rabbit
26. Boys Better – The Dandy Warhols
27. Folk Jam – Pavement
28. Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem) – Jay-Z
29. Murmur One – Add N to (X)
30. Jump n’ Shout – Basement Jaxx
31. Dusted – Leftfield
32. Magnetizing – Handsome Boy Modeling School
33. Over – Portishead
34. Grass Skirt and Fruit Hat – Them
35. Kontakte – Les Rythmes Digitales
1998-99: My lady-friend has secured a job in Northfields, which lies in the centre of a triangle – like a Masonic eye – that can be drawn between Hanwell, Ealing and Brentford. We are to move in together and shall occupy a small flat in a housing block located directly behind Griffin Park football stadium in Brentford.
Brentford is a strange place, its high street marginally less depressing than Hounslow West's. The only emporium of note is the furniture store P Goddard & Sons on the corner of the High Street opposite The Beehive pub. Aside from that, there are a few cafes and restaurants, a pharmacy, a couple of hardware stores and not much else. (Talk of regeneration is ongoing to this day.) There are however many pubs, although the standard varies considerably. The Griffin, The White Horse and The Waterman’s Arms become semi-regular haunts, but we avoid The Royal Oak, The New Inn and The Bricklayer’s Arms.
I am working in ‘Conference and Banqueting’ with the friend who passed out in Debenhams, at the hotel I occasionally worked at whilst living on Penderel Road. We are employed on zero-hour contracts, which means we can take Fridays off whenever the fancy takes us. We are able to justify this because it’s not unusual to accrue 40 hours from Monday to Thursday. As Christmas nears, we’ll often find ourselves working in excess of 50 hours a week. Occasionally the system will backfire and there won’t be enough work to satisfy an eight hour shift. We invariably clock on at 15:00 so whenever this happens there’s normally enough time for a few drinks in The Three Magpies across the road, or in the hotel bar – Delaney’s – before heading home.
The White Horse, Brentford
Part 2 of this playlist is a complete fabrication. I certainly did listen to Pulp, Pavement, Tindersticks and Delta but not on the same tape. Other components were acquired many years earlier. I’d purchased Blondie’s Plastic Letters from Pymouth's Pannier Market in 1995 with the intention of giving it to the girl who was a massive Blondie fan, but never got around to it. For some reason, it had great appeal in 1999. Similarly, I had access to ...The Dandy Warhols Come Down on its release in 1997, but only really took to it during my time in Brentford. The Talking Heads' tune was taken from their album True Stories, which was derived from the film of the same name, written and directed by David Byrne. I'm fairly sure I bought it from a stall in Spitalfields Market in the company of the guy with the indie tapes, who was living in Whitechapel at the time, but I couldn’t say exactly when.
The content thereafter is more rooted to the time this compendium is supposed to represent. I don’t know what inspired me to get into Add N to (X), but I do know that Leftfield and Basement Jaxx were getting airplay on the radio, and that I have a copy of Dusted on 12”. I became acquainted with the last two tracks – Kontakte by Les Rythmes Digitales and Grass Skirt and Fruit Hat by Them – in the year 2000. The former was introduced to me by my brother when I visited him in Rotterdam in February. I bought the latter on a whim after I heard it playing in Rough Trade in Kingston. I have included them on this transitional compilation because I did not include them on the playlist I put together later that summer. Yet they evoke strongly the memory I have of living in Brentford and deserve representation.
Pondering Blondie with the former cohabitant from Brighton
Towards the end of the year 2000, I ditched the tapes and converted to MiniDisc. Thereafter, every playlist remains largely faithful to its original incarnation (allowing for the ‘bonus tracks’ I’ve tacked on retrospectively, freed from the limitations imposed by the MiniDisc’s 80 minutes format). If you were to go to the effort of compiling any one of my playlists then I’d hope you wouldn’t bother with this one. For starters, its artificial nature probably hampers its flow. More importantly, it is clear to me now looking back that it wasn’t only my circumstances that were subject to change but my taste also. I was in a state of flux, disillusioned with indie music and with only a passing interest in electronica.
But who would even know? It has never been my intention to chronicle music that was being made at the time but to merely collate what I listened to at various stages of my life. That late 1997 through to early 2000 saw my enthusiasm for the playlist presumably wane is neither here nor there; Hounslow to Brentford is a collection of songs just like any other, and how it works as a playlist is largely a matter of taste.
Nonetheless, as an act of creation it is impaired. I obliged myself to work with whatever fragmentary memories I have of these two and a half years and took it from there. Moreover, it spans too long a period of time in my life to be in any way intelligible to my own ears, so I how can I expect it to cohere to anyone else’s?