Monday, 30 November 2009

19. Let's Push Things Forward, The Streets (2002)

A kitchen in Dalston that we'd painted yellow, a dodgy CD player gathering dust, and the skinny half of the pair of us flailing around between the spaghetti bolognese he'd take four hours to cook, and a sink full of dishes – my skinny boy with sideburns and a Seventies shirt, a ladle in one hand, a tea-towel in the other. When anybody mentions The Streets, l hear the opening horns of this song, and the years peel away. I'm taken back to Barry, the 26-year-old boyfriend of 24-year-old me, and the flat that we shared on the dark side of town.

We thought Ridley Road was wonderful. We lived in Regal House, a white and blue building that would've looked spick and span if was on a sunny riviera, had been rubbed free of griminess, and had a view of bobbing fishing boats rather than the North London Line. But it was ours, it was cheap to rent, and we loved it. We loved the noise of the stalls on our street and the cheap food we would buy from them; the calypso that would soar from the food vans and record shops; the buildings we'd see rising up from the gloom of the city, including the Gherkin transforming from a root to a rocket; and even the rumble of the nuclear train every night at 10.30, drowning out the telly with its rattle and hum. We also loved the way the empty marketplace looked at night-time, a forbidding, shadowy avenue strung with tiny, glowing lights. For some reason, It made me think of Spaghetti Westerns, and I would often stride through it, in the dark, on my own, pretending I was Clint Eastwood (Good God, I was braver then). Although I'd have a Mr Bagels' veggie special between my teeth at that time, probably, instead of a toothpick or a sexy cigar.

Original Pirate Material was an album that we couldn't stop playing over that perfect year. It whirred as we painted our new home in all sorts of silly colours, and it entertained the mice that we hadn't known about just as much as us. It was also a great place for parties, and the best that we held there was on that New Years' Eve. The fancy dress theme, as these parties always had then, was the album sleeve. I went as the girl on Saint Etienne's Foxbase Alpha – my sign immaculate in red and black fit tip, before my rosé bloody ruined it – while Barry, a fan of The Wedding Present, went as George Best. There were two Live Through Thisses, two Parallel Lines (one male Blondie, one female), a couple as the White Stripes, an Aladdin Sane who fell asleep and smudged her zig-zag, a Meat Is Murder who kept looking at someone she shouldn't have, a Wish You Were Here who filled the flat with orange tissue paper, an inventive Sticky Fingers – with a literal large carrot down his trousers – and a blonde female friend transformed into Craig David with a goatee, headphones and beanie.

The costumes I remember most fondly, however, were the Original Pirate Materials. Guy in a t-shirt covered with yellow neon stickers – a lit-up block of flats disguised as a real human boy – and Lucy walking around in a big cardboard box, windows drawn on her sides, a pirate hat on her head, a peacock on her shoulder. I remember Guy drawing a scary rabbit in one window, and Lucy tapping her fag on him, before everything got a little hazy. Apart from us all flailing around to Let's Push Things Forward, half-drunk, half-asleep, without a care in the world.


  1. Ahhhh Jude this one really touches a nerve. A good nerve, mind. Though I like 'Original Pirate Material', only four songs on it *really* mean something to me: Weak Become Heroes, It's Too Late, Has It Come To This and THIS one. I'll tell the story some other time of seeing The Streets live on a sparkling winter night in Amsterdam in 2002, ripped to the gills on a combination of the best that ancient shamans and modern scientists had to offer... but THIS song - this was the sound of my shabby, seedy southeast london pub DJ sessions turning fantastic every Saturday night, circa the middle of this decade, circa midnight. If I played this song, I knew the night was going well and that the alcoholic Irish landlord was going to let things degenerate until everyone was dancing on the tables to 'Hey Mickey' and 'Infiltrate 202' and 'Everywhere' and 'Energy Flash' and 'Sweet Child O Mine' at 3am. Because this was the song from which you can go in any direction. There is practically no record you can't play after this: it is the DJ's universal connector. It is the sound of drunken late night possibilities, and decades colliding as the alcoholic slippage really sets in. So, as a wise man once said, let's put on our Classics and we'll have a little dance shall we?

  2. I had a fond memory of Original Pirate Material as it was the only album I wrote a lengthy feature for, as opposed to a routine album review. Luckily it got published and compiled with other people's pieces in a book form. That book is a travelogue, i reckon my editor's mistaken "The Streets" as just the streets.

  3. Living in Dalston right now, lovely to read your post .)

  4. I was approaching my A-Levels when this came out, I vaguely remember 'Turn The Page' from the previous year but this was a revelation like I'm sure it was to others. I'm far too young to have listened to Tricky, Portishead or Massive Attack when they were contemporary even more so for The Specials. I didn't so much dislike the majority of US rap it just didn't speak to me much and still doesn't. This however, this one was different. Those one liners as funny as quickly scatter out as those in The Thick Of It and one of several windows into listening to uncharted territory. It was from this starting point I'd first hear Dizzee Rascal, Run The Road, Burial and now to someone who regular tracks the releases by Guido, Zomby, Mount Kimbie, Joy Orbinson etc.

    Like the man said, "This ain't a track it's a movement"

  5. From somewhere hidden that night has just come flooding back in all its hazy glory (there was a siege going on round the corner!) Your writing is always so spot-on and evocative. I feel sentimental. Thank you x