Copyright © 2005 Martin Newell
Pepys 0.1 Blogware © Steve Dix
And so I woke up in the early hours and after revisiting so intensely, a far off part of my musical past ( see earlier pages) I tried to do some kind of an audit of what I've learned far. With the release of the English Electric album-- however minor it may seem in the global scheme of things -- is a return to roots. A return to my roots. On the first count, because I have filled the album with three minute, verse-chorus songs, replete with jangly guitars and vocal harmonies. The songs have their ancestry in pretty much everything which I liked or admired as a kid listening to the radio in mid-'60s England. It's also a return to roots because of the pop-music-as-cottage-industry ideal, which Lol Elliott and I devised, thirty years ago. It was an idea that you could record your music at home in a shed, manufacture small quantities yourself and distribute and sell it yourself, however best you could. This would be a straight contract between musician and listener -- a notion with a purity second only to busking.:"We play, you hear, if you like, you buy.If you like but you have no money, we give it to you." This was tantamount to an acceptance that, we'd never be wealthy, we'd never be famous and that under all the conventional rules and definitions of showbiz and business, we'd never be successful.
Cottage industry was exactly what it was like in those early days of the Cleaners from Venus. You could actually come round to my door and buy a cassette. Our only media was the fanzines, run by similarly-minded people who made their own little mags, typed them out themselves, photostated and stapled them and then sold them at gigs or posted them. Long after punk had fled London, replaced by cocktail-sipping New Romantics and fashionable young things, here we were in the boondocks, still flying some tattered old anarchist flag. But there was an audience and it kept on growing slowly, long after I'd mothballed the Cleaners. Other people took up the baton which I'd dropped and ran with it. And then came the internet... Naturally, as with everything else in my life, I was slow to catch on.
Now this concept of 'roots' is most interesting. In the area of England in which I live, both in my own small town and in the larger town nearby, are many fine musicians of my own generation and of the sub-generation just below me. All through the winter and spring, in my own local pub, in fact came a succession of Friday night bands. The standard of playing was average to good, to exemplary, on certain occasions. Common fare was 1970s rock covers, blues and other roots forms.
Such players, are nearly all in their forties and fifties. Between them, they can play nearly anything. What most of them can't or won't do, is walk out on that shakey plank and play their own songs. Why not? I often wonder. But it can't be just because they fear that the Friday night public won't accept them. I also can't believe that none of them can write songs.
I do not dislike the Blues, soul, old money R&B, Celtic, or Reggae. In fact, I'm rather fond of them all. But they are not my roots. They may have been the roots of some of my old pop heroes. My roots, though, were in the yearning, jangling guitars which twinkled like stars in the northern sky. My roots were in the rainy streets and terraced houses of the monochrome 1960s England in which I grew up. I did not grow up on 42nd Street or Broadway. No old fellows in dungarees sat on porches picking lap-steels on any street where I lived. No swamp-beats or saxes leaked from cellars on humid summer nights, anywhere near where I went to school. I apologise...no...hold that: I make no apologies. I grew up in rainyday wistful England, among decaying leaves and nostalgia for that which hadn't even passed yet. I heard the songs from building site radios, whistling milkmen and boutiques which I wasn't even old enough to go into at the time. My roots, such as they were, are to be heard in the pop singles peppering the UK charts, roughly between 1964 and 1968. My roots are to be heard in John Barry, Edwin Astley and Ron Grainer compositions and numerous other long-defunct TV theme tunes or advertising jingles.
I do not play the blues, not because I can't do a passable imitation of white blues, but because for me, it is the musical equivalent of putting on a tweed suit and brown brogues, merely by virtue of the fact that I have passed the age of fifty. I do not want integrity, rootsiness and authenticity. I am not funky.. I have not been oppressed. So far as I know, no-one in my working class English family ever picked cotton or went to a segregated school. I cannot write about what I don't know about. I have to stick to what I know. Who, after all, would berate B.B King for sounding 'a bit samey' or always harping on about his own roots? Does anyone ever have a go at Planxty or the Dubliners for being too Irish? . I'm an old English bloke and I only know what I know. Lennon one said that "the blues was a chair and that The Beatles music was a kind of local Liverpool version of that chair.'" Mine isn't even a chair. It's a plank somewhere in the woods nailed between two tree stumps. But it's my plank. Is that okay, then?
So....English Electric, the new Cleaners from Venus album: We can sell all our downloads from here, thanks to Paul, Steve and the modern internet. We can even go to a small run of CDs in the next few weeks for those who don't like downloads. If we're very lucky, perhaps a few like-minded micro-labels such as Burger in America and one or two others worldwide, might licence small quantities for their own areas-- maybe, in Burger's case, vinyl and cassette formats. Who knows? We might pick up a little airplay from indie radio stations and mentions in a few specialist mags, or online mags. What we won't be doing is going on MySpace, Facebook, making a stupid video, or doing anything likely to catapult us into big-time Babylon. Not that there's much danger of that happening. I don't want our sales to be registered. I do not recognise The Charts. English Electric is a straight contract between listener and songsmith. Not selling out? No one has ever asked me to. And yet, I do know that whenever the business comes in the front door, the fun slips quietly out of the back door. And here, for the time being, we have it.