Saturday, November 16, 2013

Song of the day

"Marathon", by The Cleaners From Venus.

In the years 1979 to 1981, by which time I was seriously absorbing music from outside the mainstream, it was compulsory for every album coming out of England to contain at least one song that referenced the bourgeoisie. Of course, I had no idea who or what the bourgeoisie was, but attentive reading of the NME gave me an understanding that they, along with Margaret Thatcher, were the hated enemy.

We didn't have much exposure to the Class Struggle at Fish Creek, but watching the Ken Loach documentary "The Spirit of '45" a couple of weeks ago gave me a real sense of why it was a struggle worth fighting for, how it was won, by the Attlee/Bevin Labour government, after the Second World War, and how that victory was stripped away 35 years later under Thatcher. (And yes, I am aware that Loach's film was telling one side of the story, and that an equally cogent, well-constructed narrative could be told from the other side of the barricades; and I am also aware that Britain in the 1970s couldn't be said to have been any sort of Workers' Paradise; but I know where my own sympathies lie.)

"Marathon", by The Cleaners From Venus, was one bourgeoisie-referencing song that got away. Mainly because The Cleaners were one band that got away. Not just from me, I suspect. The Cleaners were the archetypal bedroom band. They put out hand-painted limited-run cassette releases. (This was surely an influence on the likes of Calvin Johnson and The Cannanes, and so in a real sense my world would not have existed without them.) In the beginning, whence this song springs, they were Martin Newell and Lol Elliott. Newell, with and without Elliott, released album after album (he is still doing it) of perfectly crafted English pop songs, psychedelia-tinged but laced with the acrid aftertaste of punk.

Last year Captured Tracks embarked on a Cleaners From Venus reissue campaign, and you can now access facsimiles of the first six albums plus a collection of "outtakes" (hard to know what that even means in this context, as their tapes were never really "available", at least in any quantity, in the first place). It is some of the best music you have never heard. If you could imagine a band with the songwriting genius of XTC combined with the aural aesthetic of Swell Maps you are not far off the mark.

They never sought success, but perhaps, at this late date, success may have found them. Here's hoping.