Cold London Blues (CLB) is a blackly comic slice of pulp fiction (or Punk Fiction, if you fancy!) published by indie publisher Caffeine Nights Publishing. CLB is a follow up to my book Guns Of Brixton (GOB) – a violent gangster romp, a sweary Ealing Comedy. With GOB, I used the titles of Clash songs to – loosely!- frame the book.
Whereas GOB was a tad Mockney music hall in its approach, with CLB I wanted something more noir, more torch song, and so I used Vic Godard and Subway Sect songs in the same way. (I’d previously named a couple of characters after Vic. In my story The Last Laugh there’s a hit man known only as Godard and a bent copper called Vic Napper.)
The following scene features the murderous priest Father Tim Cook, who is going through a delayed mid-life crisis. He and his friend Gregor are on a pub crawl which takes them to a smokey, pokey bar full of sinners known as Noola’s Saloon.
Noola’s Saloon was even more crowded than the pub they’d just left but that certainly didn’t deter Father Tim and Gregor, who had decided they were on a drinking mission. As they shuffled through the door, the Wurlitzer jukebox burst to life and Howling Wolf snarled out ‘I Ain’t Superstitious.’
The pub was dimly lit and smoky, despite the fact that no one was smoking. Gregor found a small table near a disused cigarette machine and Tim went to the bar. A dishevelled and unshaven old soak, who seemed to be dressed like a private eye from some old black and white film, nestled on a bar stool, calmly contemplating the glass of whisky that was in front of him. The ice cubes seemed to shimmer, glimmer and glow in the wan light.
He looked up at Tim.
‘Twilight time,’ he said, his hangdog expression never changing.
‘Isn’t it always,’ said Tim.
The old soak nodded and went back to staring at his drink.
Tim briefly turned his gaze outside. The wet pavement reflected Noola’s Saloon’s flickering neon sign. Headlights cut through the heavy rain. He unsteadily shuffled up and leaned on the bar, plonking the sleeve of his jacket in a puddle of spilt lager.
After a while, he caught the eye of the barman , a grumpy-looking bloke with a pock-marked face and inky black quiff. He slowly put down his copy of National Geographic and Tim made the two finger gesture for two pints, making sure his hand was facing the right way.
The antique Wurlitzer Jukebox was playing Mel Torme’s version of ‘Gloomy Sunday’. Tim had always been a big fan of The Velvet Fog but the cacophonous voice of a fat bald bloke in a corduroy jacket boomed over the lush sounds.
‘Well, I’m certainly not a fan of the popcorn trash that the multiplex inflict upon us but at least Christopher Nolan treats Batman with the gravitas he deserves,’ said the bald, fat man.
A tall, twitchy man who was looming over him, almost spat his half pint of Guinness over his Armani shirt.
‘Gravitas!? It’s about a bloke who dresses up in a rubber bat suit to fight a baddy who dresses up like a clown. It’s not exactly Marcel bloody Proust, is it?’
‘Well some critics would argue that it’s a metaphor for …’
‘Critics! Jeez! Film critics! Have you ever been to the BFI?’
‘Of course. The recent Alain Resnais retrospective was …’
‘The British Film Institute is a very creepy place indeed, my friend. Creepy people, too. And the shite they spout. Like that crap about Dawn of The Dead being a satire of consumerism because the zombies go to a shopping centre. I mean, that’s one gag in the whole film! There’s also a scene where one of them gets decapitated by a helicopter blade. Is it a satire of air traffic control? Eh? I ask you?’
The bald man shuffled in his seat and wiped cappuccino froth from his top lip.
Father Tim, picked up two pints of Kronenburg from the bar and resisted the temptation to give both of the blokes a slap.
‘Wankers like that are what put me off going out for a drink in the West End these days,’ he said as he put the drinks on the table.
‘The city is riddled with them these days,’ said Gregor. ‘They’re like the clap. Even worse than northerners.’
‘I was in that poncy over-priced sandwich shop before I came here,’ said Tim, unsteadily sitting down. ‘Away in a Manger or whatever it’s called. Anyway, they were playing Nick Drake. ‘Fruit Tree’ to be precise.’
‘I like Nick Drake,’ said Gregor.
‘Now, don’t get me wrong, I like a bit of Nick myself but there were a couple of media wankers in there talking about his mum’s LP’
‘Nick Drake’s. Some sad bastard has put out a few songs she record in the olden days.’
‘Dunno. Never heard it. Anyway, these twats in the sandwich shop started prattling on about how Drake and his mother’s music was ‘quintessentially English’. I mean what the fuck’s that all about? Quintessentially posh sissy boy with a quintessentially stuck-up mother, I’ll give you that. Quintessentially poncy. It’s all that John Betjeman, cricket on the village green, Downtown Abbey, Latin quoting detective cobblers that they punt to the Septics because, well, Yanks are thick. And it has nothing to do with the life of a hairdresser from Wolverhampton or a bingo caller from Hull or the vast majority of English people. You know what I’m saying?’
‘Poshness. Poshnessabounds,’ slurred Gregor, sinking even lower in his seat. ‘This country is crippled by its class system.’
‘Exactly. Switch on the telly and it’s all Sherlock poncy Holmes or Dr poncy Who. This is the bullshit we have to put up with. Oxbridge twots and Oxbridge wannabees.’
‘We need another class war, that is what we need,’ said Gregor. He spilt a splash of lager on his shirt as he slurped it.
‘I blame America for it … well, I blame America for everything …The United States Of America is a cancer. A poisonous virus that has fatally infected its host,’ said Tim, reclining in the leather chair and waggling his outstretched fingers, trying to get the circulation back in them. He checked his reflection in the mirror. He wasn’t looking so good.
‘It’s like in those horror films, eh?’ he said. ‘They say you shouldn’t make your home on an Indian burial ground but when you think about it, the whole of the United States is a bleedin Indian burial ground. Think about it.’
As much as I liked The Clash and the Pistols, they were never one of MY bands. The Adverts, however, were very much my band. They were a great live band who released some great punk singles and a great debut LP. My Place was a change of pace, though. Moody and stripped down, it was pretty much ignored, unfortunately. The B-side – Back From The Dead– was co-written with The Doctors Of Madness’ Richard ‘Kid’ Strange and is also a lost gem.
The impact of the first couple of Subway Sect singles is well documented. The band’s move into swing also. The transition record is the classic ‘Stop That Girl’. But before that was Split Up the Money, a smart and catchy slice of kitchen sink crime fiction that acted as a taster for the forthcoming What’s The Matter Boy? LP.
Spizzoil were a glorious racket- all screeching, discordant guitar and,er, kazoo- I saw them live twice!- and Spizz’s second musical turn is well known due to the justly celebrated ‘Where’s Captain Kirk?’ but before that was an electro punk version of Roxy Music’s ‘Virginia Plain’. The song is actually the B-side of the infectious punk disco anthem Soldier, Soldier: ‘What’s Your Price?’
After Howard Devoto quit Buzzcocks he returned with a barnstorming single in Shot By Both Sides and Magazine’s debut LP is a classic. But Rhythm Of Cruelty – a sinister, sleazy slice of noir – crept out with little impact. Which is a pity, as it’s a belter.
Buzzcocks released a bunch of singles in 1978 and seemingly lost among them was this short, sharp slice of punk-pop. One minute and fifty seconds long. Until the razor cuts.