By The Landlord
I remember regularly climbing those metal steps, stained rusty in the rain, weeds growing underneath, plastic rubbish blowing in the breeze, graffiti everywhere. Then, as I crossed over the railway, came the loud clatter of a train passing underneath. It wasn't a place where you'd want to look at someone the wrong way, or get trapped. This was 1970s Manchester – grim, grey and often angry, years before the advent of the Hacienda, "Madchester" and mostly in a trough between periods of footballing success. This crossing was on my route to junior school every morning (no such thing as the school run back then), but it was several years later that I realised it must have been the very iron bridge, on King's Road in Stretford, referred to by one Steven Patrick Morrissey in a famous Smiths song.
Did he really kiss anyone underneath it? I doubt it, though in his autobiography there is mention of a girl attempting a kiss him, and then punching him to the ground somewhere around there, perhaps near the local shops, apparently because he didn't respond to her with appropriate enthusiasm. Perhaps she wasn't quite his type. A bridge too far?
Where shall we go then. Everywhere? First up, here's a quick scattergun example from Johnny Cash:
Locations in songs can mean different things to people, but this week we're looking for very specific places, and the more obscure the better. So that discounts general mention of large well-known capital cities such as New York, Paris or London, but does include specific places or neighbourhoods within them. What makes something obscure or unknown? Well, that is something for you to decide. It could be under a station clock, inside a box, or under a bed or a town very far away that no one has heard of, until of course, it is mentioned by a successful song. So here's an example of a specific location in a well-known place. Here Smokie wants to meet at midnight, but where? I'm not sure I'll quite make it, Smokie. I might be washing my hair that night.
Seaside towns, particular the cold, wet, windy sort where the most comment sight is British white flesh, knotted hankies and candy floss, and the most regular sound is that of metal wire banging against a flag post, are precisely the kind of unglamorous places we're seeking out this week. The wonderful Half Man Half Biscuit, for example, have a veritable treasure box of specific geographical and cultural reference points, and I suspect might pin their tail on the this week's donkey in several places. They detail a place precisely like in one of their more recent songs about a disappointing two-week holiday, where we experience delights such as "hard-boiled eggs on a beach with a Blue Flag status", and "crazy golf with a Swedish couple we befriended". I've been there too. It is a massive letdown, but HMHB make give it upbeat pathos.
This is really the stuff of boring postcards, and the photographer Martin Parr. and there is a whole series of books on this very subject, so it's possible that boring and nowhere might gain extra points this week.
If you don't fancy that particular holiday location, or indeed the seaside at all, then perhaps you could go to this lovely town with Shannon, aka Marty Wilde. He's hoping the weather is fine, but I wouldn't bet on it, Marty. I have friends in Wales and we used to go there on holiday when I was a nipper. Did you drag Kim there? Take your cagoule, mate.
But if you definitely want a lovely time, perhaps go to Bangor with Fidder's Dram. When this song came out there was a bit of row in the press whether it was about Bangor in Wales or in Ireland:
Now, by contrast to this kind of masterpiece, what are we NOT looking for? Jennifer Lopez, admittedly a girl from Brooklyn made good, describes herself, "from the block" in a hit song, but that's the kind of nefarious reference point that we might avoid. Inevitably the broad appeal of commercial artists are deliberately unspecific, and designed to apply to the most buyers possible, located at nowhere other than the coffee table. Perhaps that's why the likes of Coldplay reach broadly for a Sky Full of Stars rather than Billericay.
Being specific of place, of course, doesn't stop you being universal, and within the prism, (or indeed prison) of a small town, human nature can be profoundly reflected. Home towns crop up regularly in song, and it is usual the one-horse town, the nowhere town, the town want to escape from or did flee, the town that holds dark secrets from the past, or the small but friendly town that shapes the background of the singer or of the song. Here then is a general song by XTC – The Everyday Story of SmallTown.
Small and obscure places need not be negative. Here then is positive look at a nice place tucked away, deep in some mountain cleavage. It is of course Dolly Parton's Tennessee home.
Two fellows who would undoubtedly fancied a visit to Dolly's lovely place are Rod Stewart and Ronnie Lane. Here the former, in a rather splendid performance, plays upright bass, while Ronnie sings. But which to which Richmond are they referring?
Finally, then, how obscure to you want to get? Well, I'm sure you can do better than this, but here's my attempt. It's Hazerswoude-Dorp. It's a 'Stupid Village", apparently, an area in the Dutch town of Alphen ann den Rijn. By one of the first Dutch punk bands, Ivy Green in 1977. Looks OK to me. It's got a nice windmill. That's my holiday booked.
This week's guru has recently returned from a plethora of far-flung places, and it gives me great pleasure to welcome back the top travelling man and the king of keys to the marvellous song vault. The magnificent Marconius now steps behind the Song Bar counter and pulls a few pints. He has even written his own travelogue, but before you look at that, get nominating, so he can create a playlist on your specific or obscure places by next Wednesday. Time will be called at some point on Monday. Cheers all. Let's go places.
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