Saint Etienne’s Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs will be in store at Rough Trade East to discuss their new Ace Records compilation “English Weather”. Bob and Pete will be signing copies of the compilation after the Q&A.
FREE ENTRY. 6.30pm Doors // 7.00pm On-stage // 7.45pm Signing.
Bob Stanley And Pete Wiggs Present English Weather
The autumnal sound of Britain at the turn of the seventies, looking out through wet window panes to a new decade with a mixture of melancholy and optimism for what might come next. With the Beatles gone and the pound sinking, a new and distinctive sound emerges, led by flutes and mellotrons.
One day last autumn I was working in Newcastle. With an afternoon to kill, I did what I usually do with a couple of spare hours in an unfamiliar town - I sought out a record shop. It would at least protect me from the rain, which was getting steadily heavier.
The lad behind the counter pulled out T2's “It'll All Work Out In Boomland” and stuck it on the Hacker turntable. The sound was warm but slightly awkward, slashing guitars that recalled 1966 and frenetic drums hemmed in by warm brass, minor chords, and the kind of hazy nonchalant English vocals reminiscent of Caravan, or More-era Pink Floyd; not an easy listen, but absorbing. I told him, 'I like the sound of this'. Then he revealed albums by the Parlour Band, Aardvark and Spring. All of them were melodic, melancholy, with jazz and folk touches and the same similar shrug of resignation, their collars turned to the wind of 1970 and the end of the aquarian dream.
Enveloped in this post-psychedelic cocoon, sheltering from the rain, these records made a lot of sense together. I had childhood flashbacks of cafes with steamed-up windows, occupied by workmen in donkey jackets; hippies and bikers on Box Hill; odd music on Radio 1 on a Sunday afternoon that had a sense of serious intent but without knowing what for.
While America may have licked its wounds at the turn of the seventies by turning to singer-songwriters, purveyors of homilies like “teach your children well”, Britain wasn't so ready to give up the trappings of psychedelia. And while the UK counterculture may have shed its “faith in something bigger”, it wasn't about to chuck out the mellotron. This is how the day after the sixties felt: damp, fuzzy-headed, neither optimistic nor pessimistic but more than a little lost. British bands would mirror the ennui of the new decade with a new kind of music.
Any song on this collection could have been on the soundtrack of Bronco Bullfrog, Barney Platts-Mills' film about bored youth trying to get its kicks in crumbling 1970 East London; each of them could have been the title song for the same director's Private Road, with its young couple holed up in a country cottage, directionless, travelling without a destination. The post-psychedelic, pre-progressive age was brief, but rarely has contemporary music summed up a sense of place and time so perfectly. Some of these songs pre-date and post-date this era but all of them share an atmosphere.
English Weather was also the name of a record shop I loved when I first moved to London, out in Crouch End which, back in the mid-eighties, was deep bedsitter land. The shop was run by Dark Star magazine's Steve Burgess – a major influence on my tastes and my writing, Steve put me onto records like Mellow Candle's “Swaddling Songs”, Fairfield Parlour's “From Home To Home”, and the now-venerated Spring album: “It may look like prog”, he said of Spring, sensing my scepticism at the peak of prog's unfashionability, “but it's beautiful”. He was right. I hope he'd have liked this selection.