Cornershop return with a new album England Is A Garden, their 10th, just ahead of the band’s 30th anniversary of existence, and four years since their last record, Hold On It’s Easy.
The duo, Tjinder Singh and Ben Ayers, shot to prominence and the top of the UK singles chart with Norman ‘Fatboy Slim‘ Cook’s remix of Brimful Of Asha back in 1997, with the parent album breaking into the Top 20. Their career beyond it has been an exercise in sporadic and eclectic curiosity.
For Cornershop’s This Music Made Me, Ben Ayers dived into his musical history to find the albums that have influenced him most…
Otis Redding – Otis Blue/Otis Redding Sings Soul
My uncle introduced me to the Otis Blue album in the early ’80s, and I’ll forever be grateful to him for that. It’s majestic, every track is a winner. Backed up by Booker T & The MGs, the playing is extraordinarily tight throughout and Otis is on tip top form vocally. Apparently, incredibly, it was recorded over a 24 hour period – with a break in the middle for the backing band to go and play a local gig.
This record made a massive impression on me. The emotion that Otis gets into these songs is breath-taking. He was clearly a driven, hard-working man. I love the story about how he was first signed, that he turned up at a session as a driver and found the opportunity to try out a song in front of Stax co-founder Jim Stewart and performed These Arms Of Mine – soon released as his first single as it completely knocked everybody out. Even now, decades later Otis Blue is an album I never tire of, its quality throughout is incredible and its effect remains the same. I don’t think it’s possible to not be impressed by Otis Redding’s performance on this record. He gave everything.
Years ago I had the opportunity to visit Fame studio in Muscle Shoals with Dylan LeBlanc who grew up hanging out there as a kid (his dad played there as a session man) and it blew my mind that they still had original Otis Redding master tapes there on the shelves in a little cupboard room!
Dizzy Gillespie – Dizzy On The French Riviera
A friend at secondary school gave me a cassette which had this album on one side, and Drum Suite by Art Blakey on the other. Both albums fascinated me. I’d play them again and again and lock into different elements each time.
I absolutely love the feel of Dizzy On The French Riviera, it’s arranged by Lalo Schifrin and produced by Quincy Jones which probably explains a lot! It starts with the sound of waves lapping on a shore and children playing on a beach, and then the music comes in, and it’s so relaxed and tight both at the same time it’s extraordinary. It really represents the feeling of summer to me.
There’s also a great Bossa Nova influence on the album with some of the song choices and percussion which led me onto discover Astrid Gilberto, Antonio Carlos Jobim and the soundtrack to Black Orpheus an album my dad talked about in reverential terms.
Pussy Galore – Sugar Shit Sharp
I first heard this album during the embryonic years of Cornershop, whilst living in Preston (Lancashire) and I couldn’t believe the messy, raucous power of it. The attitude too. It was almost like the Rolling Stones at their most potent but also demented and it made total sense to me when Pussy Galore issued a bootleg LP cover of the entire Exile On Main Street album.
We were inspired by the use of metal attachments on drummer Bob Bert’s kit on this record, to the extent that our original drummer had an old metal lawnmower grass collector attached to his kit which he would whack to get an abrasive percussive sound in the very early days.
Later, for a time in the US, our booking agent was the wonderful, eccentric Bob Lawton and his wife was Julia Cafritz from Pussy Galore, so we got to meet her, which was a real honour.
Bob Dylan – John Wesley Harding
I loved the early Bob Dylan albums as a teenager, songs like Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carrol and Masters Of War fascinated me especially, and Love Minus Zero/No Limit, but when I heard the John Wesley Harding album it completely blew me away, it was as if he’d made exactly the record I wanted to hear at that point.
It amazed me that it was such an accessible album too with incredible melodies, lyrics and such memorable songs. It’s another record that constantly intrigues me and one I never ever get bored of, even though I’ve heard it probably a thousand times!
I love the sleeve too, with Bob stood next to two Bengali musicians and a carpenter.
Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers – Rockin’ & Romance
I heard the track My Jeans from this album played by Andy Kershaw whilst sitting in for John Peel on the Peel Show one night in late May 1985 while I was listening in to tape a session by Ivor Cutler! But it was My Jeans that I found myself rewinding and playing time and time again, I loved the simplicity and effectiveness of the track, the ’50s rockin’ element, the catchiness and the brilliant, funny lyrics. I thought it was the best thing I’d heard in years.
So I ordered the album from my local record shop and when I finally got to listen to the full album, I was astonished to discover the whole record was just as good, if not even better! It not only features a song about Vincent Van Gogh but also one about UFOs but another I’m Just Beginning To Live which is probably the most optimistic, upbeat song ever recorded in my opinion. In fact, Jonathan’s Modern Lovers single The Morning Of Our Lives has also been a long term favourite of both Tjinder and me and that’s up there too in terms of wild, inspirational and also moving, optimism!
I’m surprised I haven’t worn out my copy of this album. I’m pretty sure at one point I was banned from playing it at home due to too many repeated plays… a couple of years after buying the album I was lucky enough to come across Jonathan playing a set in a small tent at Glastonbury acoustically, completely randomly, unscheduled and it remains one of the most special gigs I’ve ever witnessed.
Swell Maps – A Trip To Marineville
I love the Swell Maps. And this album always sounds so exciting. It’s wildly experimental whilst at the same time it sounds like it’s about to fall apart. Hearing them and this album for the first time in a bathroom on cassette at my girlfriend’s student house in East Sheen inspired me so much.
Sadly Swell Maps didn’t last long enough as a group for me to catch them live, but I went to see Nikki Sudden perform solo many times in the late ’80s and I bought all his albums.
Oh yeah and Swell Maps single Let’s Build A Car is one of my favourite singles of all time. It sounds ridiculously powerful and unique and has the wildest groove.
Tappa Zukie – MPLA
Tjinder first got me into Tappa Zukie. I love his voice and the militant passionate vocals on his records. I love the heartfelt politics on tracks like New Star too. Tappa Zukie records from this era demand your attention.
The title track M.P.L.A. is one I used to play every single time I DJ’d. It’s super heavy duty. It should have a heaviness warning on it. Arguably the best bassline ever recorded. The sound of this track on 7” is phenomenal, it jumps out the speakers and wacks you about the head and takes out your stomach.
I’d say Tappa, up until the early ’80s anyway, tended to hit the jackpot every time in terms of making great tracks.
Dennis Coffey & The Detroit Guitar Orchestra – Evolution
Nick Edwards our sleeve designer of the last 25 years first introduced me to the magic of Dennis Coffey. This album is utterly incredible. Funk (the good kind) of the highest order, with breaks and grooves all over the shop. It’s quite something, and then to cap it all, the sleevenotes tell you that all the parts, the horns style riffs, etc are all played on Guitar, it’s literally a Guitar Orchestra! It’s an album like no other. It also has a pretty special sleeve.
I later found out that Dennis Coffey played on so many great soul records too as a member of the legendary funk brothers, including dozens of Motown tracks as well as Freda Payne’s Band Of Gold! When we were touring across the States with Cornershop frequently in the ’90s we’d spend a lot of time searching for records in each city and I’d always be on the look out for some Coffey, he was one of the bench marks.
I remember finding a couple of records I’d never seen before and asking the record company if they could post a box of records home to me, but unfortunately they never made it, the box never arrived, and I often now think of that box of lost records when I think of Dennis Coffey.
Love – Forever Changes
There must have been something unprecedented happening in the solar system for Arthur Lee and the rest of Love to make this album, it’s such a perfect masterpiece. It’s just majestic from start to end.
I used to get lost in this record for months on end, especially when back home from long tours with Cornershop. Immediately after a long tour would be an odd time, of readjustment mentally and this record always helped make it easier. It’s a fascinating, unique record. I love the feeling of optimism that’s tangible within it too. It’s also in places completely euphoric, which is a rare thing to successfully capture on record.
I was lucky enough to see Arthur Lee perform most of the album live with horns and strings at the Scala about 15 years ago thanks to James Endeacott who had a spare ticket and it was spine tingling. Our sound man / tour manager Simon also told us he’d once tour managed Arthur Lee, and at the end of the tour Arthur gave him his orange tinted sunglasses and said to him “Have these, they’ll help you see things differently”. I really like that.
The Ultramagnetic MCs – Critical Beatdown
I’ve read that The Ultramagnetic MCs’ intent was to be a cutting-edge hip-hop group in terms of their lyrics and beats. I reckon they achieved this mission right away with this, their debut album.
It’s an absolute classic, and it led me onto a love of Kool Keith’s later albums including the Dr Octagon album he made with Dan The Automator, which in turn led to Dan The Automator sitting around my kitchen table in Tooting in the mid ’90s with Tjinder and me, discussing records, sampling and beats prior to us working with him on a few tracks for our When I Was Born For The 7th Time album.
Kool Keith’s lyricism and voice are so unique and compelling and I love his fascination with scientific and science fiction terms and imagery. On this album he’s in full effect alongside the legendary Ced-Gee, Moe Love and TR Love. I have to mention the cover too. It’s rare for a group to look quite that good.
Cornershop’s album England Is A Garden is out through Ample Play on 6 March 2020. Tour dates and further information can be found at cornershop.com