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Apr 14

CORNERSHOP – “Brimful Of Asha (Norman Cook Remix)”

Popular68 comments • 4,021 views

#785, 28th February 1998

asha In the mid 90s, if you were looking for alternatives to Britpop’s domination of the media you’d find fertile pickings – so fertile, in fact, that it turned into a whole line of attack. Take Britpop’s nostalgic, ironised relationship with the country’s pop past, and contrast it with trip-hop, or drum’n’bass, and their rapid innovation and pace of change. To make the argument even more enticing, Britpop stars were mostly white, while black and Asian British musicians played huge roles in the scenes held up against them. Nostalgic white past versus thrilling multi-cultural futurism: it was an almost irresistible frame.

But it was also too simplistic. One of the things the analysis left out – because Britpop left it out – was the heritage of immigrant communities within Britain – which ran back well beyond the cultural memory of Swinging London. Nostalgia could be a poison, but it could also lead to splendid, resonant music, so why impose conceptual limits on who gets to make that music? Black and Asian Britons had a 60s and a 70s here too. Fight the past with the future, by all means, but other pasts, and other nostalgias, were available, and could be just as vital. “Brimful Of Asha” proved it.

Cornershop came out of an angry, forgotten moment just before Britpop hit. They were Riot Grrrl fellow travellers with a taste for barbed theatre about ‘Britishness’ and the perceptions of where Asians fitted – the name, the “curry-coloured” vinyl, the righteous incineration of Morrissey photos. “Get on the streets and fight! The powers that be” shouted their clattery debut “England’s Dreaming”, whose video showed plenty of Union Jacks – and their scummier wavers.

But the music didn’t catch up to the rhetoric, and I doubt I gave them much of a chance, at least compared to thrilling Wiija labelmates Huggy Bear or the catchier political pop of Chumbawamba. And – as if it needs saying – they seemed as likely to get to Number One as any band in the habit of releasing split singles with Blood Sausage would be. Even less likely, you would say, than a Housemartins bassist becoming the hottest ticket in British dance music.

Some might argue – especially as Norman Cook himself has jokingly conceded it – that Fatboy Slim ruined “Brimful Of Asha”. It’s certainly true that the bits he slices out are some of the song’s most beautiful and important. Gone is the recital of Indian and other touchstones – “Solid State Radio – 45!” and all that – which adds so much texture and emotional weight to “Brimful”. It’s one of the great pop lists, like Kevin Rowland’s furious count-off of Irish writers in “Dance Stance”, or Daft Punk’s tribute to house pioneers on “Teachers”, a personal testament to how culture builds you. Gone also are the gorgeous bloom of strings that ends the song so perfectly.

These are harsh losses, particularly as it’s so easy to imagine Cook fitting them into the single mix – he’d only have to ditch a half dozen “bosoms”. But he keeps a lot of the parts of “Brimful” that matter, and his central idea – speeding it up – is a brilliant one. Cornershop are often a leisurely band – Tjinder Singh is particularly good at setting up friendly, fuzzy, loping grooves to build his ideas around – but sped up, the riff of “Brimful Of Asha” reveals itself as one of the era’s sharpest, a piece of propulsive mod swagger. It’s half-pilfered off “Sweet Jane”, but that had always been part of the point – rock belongs to Cornershop just like any other music they use.

But while it’s mostly a Cornershop record, “Brimful Of Asha” is recognisably a Fatboy Slim track too. Cook had a wonderful streak of remixes and original tracks around this time – this, “The Rockefeller Skank”, “Michael Jackson”, his mix of Wildchild’s “Renegade Master” – almost all of which used the same trick. They’re fast, goofily repetitive, breakbeat-driven dance records, then instead of dropping the beat out for the breakdown, they start cutting it up faster and faster, bringing the track to a delirious head so the drop back into the chorus is a different kind of release. It’s magnificently crass and it works almost every time. On “Brimful” he uses the “bosom for a pillow” line as the repeating core, then works the cut-up trick on “and dancing – and dancing – and dancing” – and it’s a wonderful, surging moment. With that and the amped-up riff, Cook gives back as much as he takes away: this and the original are two brilliant singles, not one spoiled.

What’s more, they’re two brilliant singles with the same emotional centre. “Brimful Of Asha” is one of those occasional number ones about how glorious and liberating music is. “Dancing Queen” is another, so is “Come On Eileen” Unlike those records, “Brimful” was not originally about dancing – it was about music and film not just as communal escape but communal resistance. An unbreakable thread linked the band of 1997 to the band of 1993. “We don’t care about no government warnings, about the promotion of the simple life or the dams they are building”, to quote the record’s most resonant, compact line, one the remix shrewdly keeps. But any song about that can be very easily diverted to dancing, which has a long, intimate relationship with community and resistance.

In either of its versions, “Brimful Of Asha” is wise, exciting pop: in one version slightly more wise, in the other slightly more exciting. It remains an inspiration. I’m writing this in April 2014: two months into what I grimly suspect might be years of Britpop retrospection. England, once again, is looking backwards. But just as then, that’s too simple a diagnosis. There’s no shame in looking backwards, the past is full of treasure – the key is not to hoard it but to use it, to come back out of the past and share what you find. That’s what Cornershop did, building a fragment of their heritage into a part of everyone’s – stepping forward at the dying days of Britpop to show what nostalgia was good for.

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Comments

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  1. 51
    Tommy Mack on 29 Apr 2014 #

    I am appalled that Now 87 is the current Now: triple the last now that I bought (on vynil, rather pretentiously – with ten tracks a side, it sounded fuck awful, though it (Now 29) remains one of the best nows: Shampoo, General Levi, Blur, Oasis, Reel2Real, Corona, 2 Unlimited, Sparks and loads I can’t remember right now.)

    Also just remembered: ant man b used to cover BfoA in rehearsals (rehearsals were all we had in 1998 – more exciting things will develop!) – at that stage, we’d do anything that was easy to play really! (Bflat – F -Eflat if you’re interested…)

  2. 52
    wichitalineman on 29 Apr 2014 #

    Re 49: I might be able to help you there as I have a few spares. Unless you’re after the crazy-price early ones. I’ve got vinyl from 1-10, CDs from 11 onwards (somehow numerically satisfying).

  3. 53
    Kinitawowi on 29 Apr 2014 #

    Yep, it’s mainly the crazy-price early CDs I’m missing. 1 on vinyl and CD (25th anniversary rerelease), 2 on vinyl, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9 and 10 on tape (I think it’s those – I know I’m missing one of the tapes, anyway, but they’re all in a box somewhere right this second), and 12, 13 and 15-87 on CD. (And 20 on vinyl, because I misread the auction.) CD 14 is on its way, and I’ll be after 10 on CD (didn’t realise it was available as a double when I bought the tape at a market in Manchester – 4, 8 and 9 are all single CDs).

    eBay’s crazy-prices aren’t actually that crazy right now. Now! 10 is on a Buy It Now for £24.99 as I type – when I first started the collection you wouldn’t have got much change from triple that. Part of the problem is that you can never really tell just how legit some of those CDs are – doubtless there’s people making a mint out of fake copies.

    The scariest crazy-price CD I still want is James’ One Man Clapping. Somebody’s after £79 for that on vinyl, the loon.

  4. 54
    swanstep on 29 Apr 2014 #

    @wichita, 45. Surely someone must have got a hit in the ’60s with ‘Rock (a) my soul in the bosom of Abraham’. The only trace of one that a quick google search reveals is Peter, Paul, and Mary taking it all the way to #93 in the US, but it seems unlikely that that’s it…

  5. 55
    Garry on 30 Apr 2014 #

    #43 Only two of those tracks are on my car mix (ie usb stick on random) – BofA (but the original version) and Chumbawumba’s Amnesia.

    Let Me Entertain You is one of those tracks I’ve always associated with the gym, hearing it blare out of aerobics classes. We Will Rock You was another. Robbie was common gym fodder at the Millennial turn.

  6. 56
    Rory on 30 Apr 2014 #

    My contribution to “Brimful of Asha” lore is that the extended version of the Norman Cook remix is on the Australian compilation Meaty, Beaty, Big & Bouncy!”, which I enjoyed at the time. In fact it’s the only CD I own with BoA in any form. I was never moved to investigate the parent album, nor anything else by Cornershop, and for the life of me can’t now think why. I later got into Black Star Liner, who were associated with them, but even that didn’t trigger a revisiting of Cornershop. I guess for a Britpop and big beat fan there was so much other good stuff to explore that I never got round to it.

    I wonder if Cook’s influence was part of it. There will be a better chance to talk about Fatbunny Slim, but I was oddly reluctant to get into his stuff at the time; some sort of misguided reaction to its ubiquity. In hindsight, I really should have, because this remix reminds me a lot of Mint Royale, another of my late-’90s favourites; in fact this track is about the best representation on Popular of a lot of music I loved in 1998-2000.

    The original feels a little languid to me after being used to hearing the remix, but I like the roll-call of record labels (preserved on the extended remix). Apart from the speeding up, my favourite feature of the remix is that Cook’s interpolated Bollywood sounds are cut short every time, leaving the listener to fill in the gaps; it’s a neat trick.

    I was going to give this a 7 on the basis that although it’s clearly a superior track it wasn’t part of my core listening then and isn’t now; but I suspect that’s about to change. 8.

  7. 57
    leveret on 30 Apr 2014 #

    The languidity of the original, as well as its minimalism, is where its appeal lies for me. Compared with, say, the last-but-one Oasis entry, which layers blaring guitar upon blaring guitar, the unhurried, unfussy arrangement is really refreshing. Some of the Britpop-era indie(ish) bands and their producers could’ve taken some lessons from BFOA as to how to use string sections as well; sparingly and in a way complementary to the arrangement, rather than layering them on to add boil-in-the-bag gravitas to their latest workmanlike anthemic ballad.

    I do rather like the remix too though, enough to buy it at the time – shockingly, I think this is the only UK number one single I’ve ever bought (other than as part of an album or compilation).

  8. 58
    Mark M on 30 Apr 2014 #

    Re56: Black Star Liner! Blimey! I had completely forgotten them – led by ubiquitous/legendary Leeds music scene character Choque Hosein. They were alright, I now half-remember.

  9. 59
    ciaran on 30 Apr 2014 #

    I expected this to get at least a 7.As I was scrolling down the review I was thinking we might have a 10 on our hands. I would have given an 8 going into this but it’s hard to argue with Tom’s 9.

    I hadn’t heard either in a long time up until this week. Back in 1998 it was always refreshing to hear the original as it was overshadowed by the remix. Now though I enjoy the original less than I did. The intro sounds a bit like ‘You Ain’t seen Nothing Yet’ to my surprise. Still it would worth at least a 6. I was a bigger fan of ‘Sleep on the Left side’.Comparisons to Super Furry Animals have been made but it also has a They Might Be Giants quirky vibe to it.

    It’s strange that Norman Cook picked up on it but like he did with ‘Dub Be Good To Me’ in 1990 but BFOA really comes to life with the remix. Overexposed in late 90s no doubt but now it’s terrific again.

    If I was to choose I would prefer White Town but it’s a similar in a way to the M/A/R/R/S or S’Express debate of the late 80′s. Lots of enjoyment to be had from both.I still find hard to believe that there hasn’t been more Asian fronted pop in the charts (gigantic 2012 bunny aside!).

    Norman Cook really bossed 1998 though. Renegade Master was a great start to the year and as noted ‘The Rockafeller Skank’ was glorious. I loved Freak Power’s ‘No Way’ but that one has been forgotten about. I’d agree with Tom’s opinion on Gangster Trippin-not Cook’s finest hour.

  10. 60
    AMZ1981 on 30 Apr 2014 #

    Has anybody noted above that this kickstarts a trilogy of number ones where (in slightly different ways) the producer is significant?

  11. 61
    Mark G on 30 Apr 2014 #

    No, because that would set off two bunnys.

  12. 62
    Steve Mannion on 30 Apr 2014 #

    Re ‘Gangster Trippin’ the big sample is from a Dust Junkys tune which vocalist MC Tunes only last year won a legal battle over for royalties. Tunes has been in the grown up music news recently due to his second LP ‘Damaged By Stereo’ from 1991 finally being given a release (on Hooky’s label…hmm, good luck all involved). I personally visit the MC Tunes Wikipedia page regularly just in order to check where he lives (see ‘extensive’ Personal Life section).

  13. 63
    Mark M on 30 Apr 2014 #

    Spent the afternoon listening to Cornershop & The Double O Groove Of, the 2011 album they made with Bubbley Kaur, a previously unrecorded singer recommended – or so the story has it – by a cabbie. All her lyrics (I think) are in Punjabi, and Tjinder doesn’t do any of the vocals. I hadn’t heard it before but so far, I really like it.

  14. 64
    speedwell54 on 30 Apr 2014 #

    I no longer have the book, but Stuart Maconie in “The People’s Songs” quotes from a Robin Cook speech from the period. The then foreign secretary was talking optimistically about the multicultural society and chicken tikka the indian dish being adopted over here, and our preference of meat with gravy and adding the masala sauce. It was about Britain absorbing and adapting external influences. I can’t remember exactly all the points but essentially Maconie was drawing a parallel with the merging of different cultural musical styles from Cornershop and Norman Cook.

    I did have the parent album “When I Was Born” but don’t really remember it at all. ”Handcream for a Generation” a few years later has some great tracks Heavy Soup, Staging, and Lessons Learnt. After a Kate Bush break came “Judy Sucks a Lemon for Breakfast” imo another fine album which features a cover of The Mighty Quinn.

    Vague memory – did the video get banned in some countries due to the frequency of the group’s name and song title featuring?

    8 for me.

  15. 65
    Mark G on 1 May 2014 #

    Yes, it appeared on-screen so often some thought it was subliminal advertising.

  16. 66
    iconoclast on 4 May 2014 #

    Cornershop very rarely crossed my consciousness at the time; the first time I heard of them was a mention in the NME circa 1993 lauding a list of bands who were “seething with a level of political activism not seen since the late seventies”, or something like that. Not living in NME-land, this meant nothing to me.

    Anyway, this is a classic example of the strange and often misguided belief that a song can be improved in some way by “remixing” it and adding “beats”. The original is an idiosyncratic, charming, engaging, and quirky record whose cultural significance has already been expressed by others far better than I could. The remix is a cluttered and overfussy mess which, characteristically, destroys most of this seemingly for no other reason than to make it “danceable” and thus presumably comprehensible to Ecstasy-addled brains. An easy EIGHT for the original, FOUR for the remix.

  17. 68
    Alex on 9 May 2014 #

    I never liked the original; a bit twee and annoying. This was a lot of fun, but IIRC it didn’t take long to play it to death.

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