"Going To England" by The Cleaners From Venus
That's what all the best Pop Music is about.....escape. Escape from the drudgery of real life and the grind-to-five. Brain Eno once said that Pop Music allows us to create other worlds, and that's exactly what Martin Newell and Giles Smith did on their wonderful 1987 album 'Going To England' under the guise of The Cleaners From Venus.
"For the next 38 minutes you will be England" boasts the back sleeve....and we are!! But not contemporary England, nor even the England of 1987, but the England of Antonioni's 'Blow Up', of 'The Knack....And How To Get It', of 'Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush', of Biba, of Mary Quant...
Come on!! Jump aboard and we'll take a trip to a better place....a place we can escape!!
I can't recall how I stumbled upon The Cleaners From Venus but I am forever glad that I did. The CFV are the brainchild of Martin Newell who, on the back sleeve at least, looks like a cross between Withnail and Jerry Sadowitz. Thankfully he sings like neither! He also plays all the guitars and is helped out by Giles Smith who co-writes a couple of songs and plays all keyboards.
That's the introductions over....let's listen to the album....
The first three tracks of the album all feature girls names in the titles; 'Julie Profumo', 'Living With Victoria Grey' and 'Clara Bow'....all three are WONDERFUL. 'Julie Profumo' sets the tone of the album beautifully; chiming guitars, a driven rhythm and Martin's scene-setting lyrics "Cos this ain't the Sixties// and there's nothing to lose// and Julie Profumo is singing the blues". Oh, but it IS the Sixties surely!! Not the real, probably-quite-dull-really Sixties, but the Sixties from an Eighties rose-tinted nostalgic perspective. And then come's the beautiful refrain accentuating that this is all about escape, "And some day soon I will forget this junkyard// Take you with me if you're going that way// It's a changing world and let me tell you one thing// Time is wasting, shadows waiting...love will slip away". YEAH!!! I'm sold already.
I'm not sure if 'Victoria Grey' is a real person or not, but the dreampop backing that drapes around 'Living With Victoria Grey' brings her to vibrant life. It seems to be a song about a dalliance with a celebrity....not the 15-minutes-of-fame-nonsense celebrities we have today, but from a time when celebrities seemed to fall from Outer Space and were immediate royalty.
Clara Bow IS a real person of course, but back when I first bought this album I had no idea who she was...now she's one of my most cherished icons. The titular song reveals the desire to reach out to the unobtainable, "Clara Bow....I'd love to hear you talking//......but I can't". It may not actually be about Clara Bow of course, merely a metaphor for unrequited love....and it's all played out to gentle bossa-nova beat.
There are two other songs on Side One, but we'll come back to them shortly.
Side Two begins with the kind of faux-Sixties 'BIGPOP' that The Maisonettes and even The Style Council specialised in, complete with Blackpool Tower Ballroom keyboards; 'What's Going On In Your Heart' is like modern day Motown Miracles, whilst 'Girl On A Swing' contains one of the album's best lyrics, "I heard a whisper today// That the world would end on a weekday// Maybe we're free...to take a long weekend".
'A Mercury Girl' is a more gentler track, all tambourines and pianos before another highlight; a song that is SO 1960s it features a sample from a Beatles fan-club-only Christmas flexi, has Captain Sensible on lead guitar and is called 'Ilya Kuryakin Looked At Me'....as the song fades out John Lennon's dismembered voice bids us "Goodnight to ye's all and God bless ye's"....this would seem an appropriate place for the album to end, but there's one last track, 'You Must Be Out Of My Mind', a song that manages to be both trippy and poignant at the same time as it longs for a better world....like the past, or our melancholic image of the past.
So....a good album then? Well, yeah, it would be....if that were all there was to it....BUT, it becomes a BRILLIANT album because of the two songs I haven't mentioned yet...the two songs that round off Side One. If you've stuck with me this far then please keep reading as I'm about to go into PASSIONATE mode!!!
The final track on Side One would elevate this album to GENIUS status on it's own as I think it is ABSOLUTELY WONDROUS!!! The song is called 'Armistice Day' and is a deeply poignant track that recalls Private George from Blackadder Goes Forth and his sepia-hued tales of the Leapfrogging Tiddlywinkers From The Golden Summer of 1914. It's a song about the before and after of World War One, how a generation who basked in the wonders of the early 20th Century were sent off to mindless slaughter in a grotesque class war situation.
The song is very similar to The Revolving Paint Dream's 'In The Afternoon' which I've previously enthused over....the same beat, the same cyclical guitar pattern....you can actually sing 'In The Afternoon' over the top of it....but it's an equally astonishing song on it's own. Check these lyrics(my favourites on the album), "Sister mine// Some damson wine// Where the woods were white in Wintertime// Drink it down and remember how// You could not cry then, but can cry now// They have all gone away.....Armistice Day!!" Then comes the haunting "There is nothing that can make men happy like the sound of a cannon's roar// There is nothing that can make men happy like a war....LIKE A WAR!!" This song is just utterly magical, evoking a world where the ghosts of Wilfred Owen, Rupert Brooke and John McRae look back in anger, 'J'Accuse' style.
There are songs in my (admittedly vast) record collection that I love, there are songs that I cannot imagine life without, and then there are about 20 or so which transcend all platitudes and become part of my DNA....and the last song to be covered here is one of them. The song is called 'Follow The Plough' and maybe, to the casual or first-time listener, you hear nothing special about it...so let's go back in time and set it in some kind of context:
It was a Bank Holiday Monday in 1988 and I spent the entire day sitting in a girl's bedroom as we drunk ourselves IQ-less on cheap cider and Liebfraumilch(gird your stomach gentle reader!!). We played record after record after record; some oldie classics like Aretha, The Eagle's 'Desperado', 'Heart On My Sleeve' by Gallacher & Lyle(stop sniggering!!) plus modern day favourites like The Lilac Time, The House Of Love, Raymonde, The Shop Assistants etc. Every now and then I'd go back and put this track on....it's a song about deep infatuation, "When I came to meet you now// I followed you like a seagull follows the plough"....the lyrics cut deep as I was infatuated to the point of madness. I would have followed her EVERYWHERE!! The chiming guitar, the wordless backing vocals, the occasional strident chord....all combined to form the headiest of brews. And it doesn't let up, "You are before me// You are behind me// It was predestined that you would find me".
Listening to it now, I'm back in that bedroom, the chords swirling through the air like her intoxicating perfume, the vocals hanging like her cigarette smoke, the empty gnawing in my stomach...kiss me, for fuck's sake just KISS ME!!! The song becomes TOO personal, too painful....but that sweet pain, when unrequited love remains forever unrequited. Memories remain as hollow as the cold, greasy pizza boxes we used to soak up the alcohol....until this song is played and I can vividly recall the temperature in her room, the colour of her eyeshadow, the coarse, scratchy texture of her black cardigan....everything becomes alive again in the 3 minutes 43 seconds of this entrancing piece of music...........
You may think that this album is an odd choice to write about, but those last two songs mean this is an album I cannot live without. I don't play it often because it means too much....but when I do it becomes part of me...a part of my deepest memories, part of my beating heart.
Do you like music? Then you are of no use to me....music is not about 'like'....it is about LIFE, about LOVE, about PASSION...music is not about one thing....IT IS EVERYTHING!!
If you haven't understood anything I've just said, then you don't like music at all.
.....................Leave your soul at the door on the way out.
The gentleman in the picture that accompanies these tracks is Giles Smith.
You can hear 'Julie Profumo' at the Cleaners From Venus Myspace site here