Hard-to-find, Kraut-y

Culture Club

Corner Shop
  • a small shop selling groceries and general goods in a mainly residential area.
Proper noun
British Asian
  • a small , bona fide one-hit wonder pop group who release consistently brilliant Eastern-flavoured lo-fi indie-pop records with a side order of pakora and funk.

Cornershop have, believe it or not, been a going for concern for over 20 years. Formed by mainstays Tjinder Singh and Ben Ayers in 1991, they are a multi-cultural collective. This is reflected in the music they make – two-thirds Asian-fragranced and one-third steeped in Western indie rock convention.

I remember reading about them in Melody Maker when the band were pictured burning an image of Morrissey (bottom image), who at the time was flirting with the wrong side of the Right and as a result had everyone and anyone with half an ounce of decency calling him a racist. I bought their first single, In The Days Of Ford Cortina, pressed on 7 inches of beige, curry-coloured vinyl and was in truth disappointed in their seemingly rudderless and meandering grasp of melody and tunefulness. Things picked up with debut album Hold On It Hurts, and by the time they had recorded the 6am Jullandar Shere single, well, the band had truly hit their stride.

If the Velvet Underground had travelled further than the Lower East Side, or Can stepped out beyond East Germany, they might’ve come up with something as one-chord groovy as. …Jullandar Shere. Droney and druggy and dipped in reverb, it‘s a cracker. Rather than the Velvets preferred method of ear-splitting feedback accompanied by rudimentary drummer, or the meandering mumbled mumbo-jumbo that passes for a vocal track on many a Can record, Cornershop employ their own hotchpotch of tablas, tambours, sitars and guitars to create a monster that builds and builds and goes on and on for ever. Noel Gallagher, no stranger himself to a bit of pop-psych and a whistleable tune, liked it so much he took Cornershop along on one of Oasis’ many troubled US Tours.

Creeping ever more into the mainstream, their big ker-ching moment came after Norman Cook remixed Brimful of Asha. The original single was taken from their most popular album, When I Was Born For The 7th Time (a big favourite round here when released). A mid-paced 3 chord strumalong, Brimful Of Asha is Tjinder’s ‘We Are Not Worthy‘ gesture to his musical heroes, specifically those of Asha Bhosle, an Indian ‘playback’ singer who sang the songs that many a Bollywood starlet would lip-synch to in the movies. If you listen closely, you’ll hear fellow playback superstars Lata Mangeshkar (Asha’s big sister) and Mohammad Rafi also being mentioned. Eagle-eared listeners might also spot references to Trojan Records and Marc Bolan. A terrific wee record, with its ‘everybody needs a bosom for a pillow‘ refrain, it barely scraped the charts and dropped into insignificance, until the Fatboy himself got involved.  Norman Cook turned Asha into a brilliant big beat boutique of a record, all gargantuan drums, sped-up vocals and those incessant wee Fatboy keyboard stabs that you could argue are, by now, his trademark. This version of Brimful Of Asha went all the way to the toppermost of the poppermost, proof (if it was still needed) that in the mid 90s, everything Norman Cook touched turned to gold (literally, in Cornershop ‘s case – 400,000+ sales of Asha and counting).

Since then, Cornershop’s career has maintained a healthy, if marginal appeal. Favourite recent-ish track Double Decker Eyelashes reminds me somewhat bizzarely of the incidental music to Gregory’s Girl. It’s got that mid 70s jazzy, library music backing so beloved of Bill Forsyth in all of those brilliant films of his.  And this year’s Urban Turban LP gathered together a series of low-key singles releases, including What Did The Hippy Have In His Bag?, a stupidly fruggable track that De La Soul might’ve done on another day. Flirting between Casio-flavoured hippity hoppity indie and 3 chord groovy shuffle-alongs, with a beat here and a bang(hra) there, they  come across like the Asian half-cousin of Gorillaz. Yer actual cornershop to Damon’s global-straddling Wal-Mart, if you will. Cornershop may never grace the charts again in quite the same manner as they once did. But then, what guitar bands do in this day and age of gurning, desperate idiots from the telly?

Singed by Singh

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