Category Archives: fashion

Music of the future

About twenty years ago there was a Radio 4 sketch show called Son of Cliché, scripted by the not-yet-celebrated Rob Grant and Dave Naylor. Nick Wilton was one of the regulars (what’s he doing these days, I wondered when I remembered this; the answer’s “panto, mainly“). The music was by Peter Brewis, including one of the funniest moments in musical comedy I’ve ever heard: the credits sung in the style of Bob Dylan, to the tune of “Knockin’ on Heaven’s door”, with each verse ending

“And the music was by – Peter Brewis,

Peter Brewis, Peter Brewis,

Peter Brewis, Peter Brewis…”



Well, I liked it.



There’s an interview with Peter Brewis in today’s Indie. It’s not the same one – this one’s a member of Field Music – but I do wonder if he’s any relation. Now, Field Music, although they’re quite young lads – this Peter Brewis would have been in nappies when the other one was doing his Dylan impression – make angular, jerkily melodic, thoughtful music, heavy on the keyboards and woodwinds. They’re so 1970s they ought to be on Caroline, in other words. They’re not alone, either. The Feeling are Pilot on a good day (or Supertramp on a bad one), and the Klaxons…

The Klaxons are a bit more complicated (not better, but more complicated). The Klaxons (or is it just Klaxons? I neither know nor care, actually) are ‘new rave’, apparently. Judging from the track “Atlantis to Interzone” (on the B-side of their single “Golden Skans”), ‘new rave’ essentially means ‘retro’; the track starts with whooping sirens and (I kid you not) a woman singing the words “Mu mu”. Then the bass kicks in. A couple of minutes later it kicks out again and the sound gets stroppy and punky, with a kind of 1979 art-school cockney vibe; my son pricked up his ears at this point and asked if it was Adam and the Ants. (He’s a fan of Adam and the Ants.) “Make it new” clearly isn’t an injunction that’s troubled the Klaxons greatly. “Golden Skans” itself takes me back to a period I’d completely forgotten: post-glam, pre-punk pop-rock. Think Graham Bonnet-era Rainbow, but without the metal cliches or the long hair, and with aspirations to make both three-minute singles and deeply meaningful albums. Think Argent earlier in the 1970s, or City Boy later on, or John Miles at a pinch. Punk cut a swathe through prog rock, but the pop-rock scene it destroyed. But it’s back in the hands of [the] Klaxons. I think they can keep it.



The Earlies, now – there’s a fine band. I’m listening to their new album The Enemy Chorus at the moment, and even though it’s only the first listen I can thoroughly recommend it. Most of the tracks have that “I’m going to like this later” itch to them, and a couple are instant synapse-flooding beauties. (Like a good strong cafe con leche, when it’s cold outside. With two sugars. Like that.)



But even their music has its 1970s and late-60s echoes. It’s stacked with them, to be honest – I’ve been reminded of Soft Machine, Robert Wyatt, Faust, Neu! and the Beatles, and several times of Family (someone in that band knows Music in a Doll’s House and Family Entertainment).

I’m not complaining about the Enemy Chorus – it’s a wonderful album. But still… it’d be nice to hear something that would pin my ears back the way punk did – and, for me personally, the way the Desperate Bicycles and Scritti Politti did. The Fugees did it; cLOUDDEAD did it (cLOUDDEAD were very punk). Since then, not so much.

I wonder what they’ll find to play at Noughties Nights.

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Still wearing flares

Do you have some jeans that you really love,
Ones that you feel so groovy in ?
You don’t even mind if they start to fray
That only makes them nicer still

I don’t have a lot in common with Donovan Leitch, but I can agree with him on this one. I wore the jeans that I really love last weekend, briefly – they were £5 from Dunne’s Stores and worth every penny – but I had to change out of them later; the fraying certainly makes them nicer still in my eyes, but it’s reached a point where few other people are likely to share this view.

In short, they’re now my decorating jeans. For wearing outside the house, they had to be replaced some time ago, even at the cost of another fiver. (It’s a good five years since I stopped paying proper money for jeans. Not having a permanent job will do that.) On that occasion Dunne’s Stores came up with a bit of a curate’s egg: a pair of jeans whose cloth is a pleasure to behold in both weight and texture, but whose cut features a high waist and what I believe professional tailors refer to as a huge baggy arse. I tried to persuade myself I’d get used to the style, but it was no good – I had to haul the waistband up to my navel, which left me feeling as if I was auditioning for the Drifters.

So it was back to the mostly-reliable Dunne’s Stores, where a “20% off” promotion gave me a third pair of jeans for a mere £3.20. (I know, but I wasn’t going to argue.) The cloth isn’t as nice this time round, but at least the waist is where it ought to be. The cut of this pair does have one disconcerting feature, though: the leg’s got a slight flare.

I haven’t worn flares since 1977. For the benefit of readers who don’t immediately understand that statement (I know that some will), 1977 was when everything changed: music changed (both what it sounded like and who could make it); politics changed (what mattered and who could say so); and, perhaps most enduringly, trousers changed. Robert Elms said once that punk was first and foremost a trouser revolution, and I have to admit that the slimy little soulboy has a point. I was wearing flares in 1972 (and the kids I looked up to were wearing big flares). I was wearing flares in 1975; at my sister’s wedding in that year I wore a brushed denim suit with aircraft-carrier lapels and, yes, big flares. I was forcibly reminded of that suit this summer – the evidence is preserved in my sister’s wedding photographs, a set of which we found when we were sorting out my mother’s things. (Not visible in the picture is a pair of fudge-brown platform shoes with chocolate-brown piping, of which I was enormously proud. Those were different times.)

Come 1977, I was still wearing flares – at least at the beginning of the year. And, if you were around at the time, so were you. The flares, the wide lapels, even the platform soles became mainstream after a while; the soberest ‘business suit’ would have broad lapels and a discreet flare. One of the less obvious changes made by punk was to banish the flare and return jacket lapels to their previous modest, Graham Parker-ish proportions. Punk, in short, didn’t just change what the kids wore; it changed what the next generation of kids wore, and even what the kids’ parents wore. By 1979, if you were wearing flares, you were by definition still wearing flares. It’s hard to imagine any subsequent wave of musical fashion – the cocktails and zoot suits of the early 1980s, say, or the tatty jeans and lumberjack shirts of grunge – having effects as far-reaching as this.

The 1970s, it seems to me, really were different times. Looking through my mother’s old photographs – and there were plenty of them; even the ones taken by my father go back to 1950 – I was suddenly struck by how different the clothes didn’t look. Show me a flared trouserleg and an acre of lapel, and I immediately know we’re in the early 1970s – but where were the blatantly obvious fashion statements which signalled the 1960s, the 1950s, even the 1980s? Before and after the 1970s, people just seemed to be wearing stuff.

There’s a school of fashion writing, associated in particular with men’s tailoring, which I find unutterably boring; I just don’t understand how Elms (among many others) can get excited about the presence of four cuff-buttons instead of three, or about a chalk stripe being 1/12th of an inch across instead of 1/16th. A set of those tiny differences adds up to a whole different style, I realise that – and consequently much of the history of fashion is ultimately about these tiny differences. I realise that, but it doesn’t move me. Why should I choose between white and pale blue when I’d rather choose turquoise? Why should I agonise over switching from dove-grey to battleship-grey, when I could be wearing jet black with a purple lining? And if I couldn’t, why not?

The history of counter-cultural fashion (hippie, punk, goth) is the history of sweeping challenges like these, just as the history of mainstream fashion isn’t. Perhaps what happened in the 1970s – something that may never have happened before or since – was that the boldness of a particular counter-cultural fashion went so unchallenged for so long that it actually permeated the mainstream. (It’s only a shame it had to be that particular fashion.)

Or perhaps I’m just more conscious of fashions that were around when I was a teenager.

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