Wednesday, 18 July 2012

London Calling. In nine parts. Parts seven to nine

7. London calling, see we ain't got no swing
'Cept for the ring of that truncheon thing

Awkward English but a good rhyme — and image of swinging, ringing truncheons. An apt metaphor for London in 1979. Three examples . . .

a) On Monday, April 23 (St George's Day, Shakespeare's birthday), at an Anti-Nazi League demonstration in Southall (west London suburb, capital of south Asian Europe) Blair Peach (New Zealander, Trotskyist, former president of the National Union of Teachers) died from blows inflicted by the SPG (Metropolitan Police's Special Patrol Group, neo-military, armed with baseball bats, crowbars and sledgehammers) .

b) On Friday May 4, Margaret Thatcher was elected. Her first cabinet meeting agreed spending cuts of £4 billion and set in train the sale of nationalised industries. Income tax was cut by 3p. Council house sales began. (Also, exchange controls were lifted: for the first time since Hitler invaded Poland, UK residents were free to take as much money as they liked out of the country.)

c) On September 11, one of Thatcher's senior ministers, Jim Prior told journalist Hugo Young: 'We are sober people who can see real collapse staring this country in the face.' 

8. The ice age is coming, the sun is zooming in
Engines stop running and the wheat is growing thin

It’s true that apocalypse was in the air. See above. (Coppola’s Apocalypse Now arrived in time for Christmas.) And that oil prices doubled over the course of the year.

Joe Strummer, June 1979, NME interview: 'There's only 10,000 days of oil left. It's finite.' That's, roughly, twenty-seven years and four months. Say, mid-to-late November 2006.

7. Nuclear error, but I have no fear
London is drowning
And I live by the river . . .

The reference to a nuclear error is to the US where Three Mile Island nuclear power plant sprang a leak. Apocalyptic as the idea that London was drowning might sound, catastrophic flood was a real threat in 1979. Hence the defining major public building project of the period: the Thames Barrier, a dozen or so miles downstream on the far side of the city, that had been under construction since 1974 and wouldn't be finished for another five years.

So, all in all, a song for its times? Whether it’s one for our times, though, is a different matter.

Suitable for a British Airways promo? Well, actually, yes. Anyone who comes to London expecting Beefeaters etc already knows what they’re in for. But this taps another market. I guess it’s aimed to attract the kind of people who were drawn to New York by the lure of the Velvet Underground’s drug anthem Waiting For The Man. People like me, that is. Still, I’m not sure that’s the biggest of markets . . .

Some fun? Dolly Parton undergoes sex change

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