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Apr 14

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

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#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. 61
    Mark G on 30 Apr 2014 #

    No, because that would set off two bunnys.

  2. 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).

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 65
    Mark G on 1 May 2014 #

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

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 69
    isigfethera on 12 Oct 2014 #

    I really love this song! This is the first year that I really started listening to the charts (over in Australia), since I’d just started high school and discovered the radio Top 40 countdown. I don’t know that it ever got to number one here, but it still got played. I don’t think they really played the original in Australia, but I know the remix and it’s just so joyful. My memory is of walking back from school at the start of the summer holidays, listening to it. It was something that would just make me happy when I heard it then, and it still does now.

  9. 70
    Chinny Reckon on 15 Nov 2014 #

    @66 Iconoclast- Spoken like someone who knows absolutely nothing about dance music, all that’s missing is your prehistoric opinion (which you no doubt hold) that electronic music isn’t ‘real music’ because it doesn’t generally employ real instruments.

    If you think everyone who likes this kind of music is on drugs, I suggest you get your nose out of the Daily Mail, do you honestly think this got to number one on the basis of pilled up kids running down to Woolworths or something? Proper ‘druggy’ dance music does not get into the Top 40, never mind get to number one. And make no mistake, the only reason the original dirge and the entire release didn’t sink without trace was because Norman Cook remixed it.

  10. 71
    iconoclast on 15 Nov 2014 #

    @70: De gustibus non disputandum est.

  11. 72
    Chinny Reckon on 16 Nov 2014 #

    @71 Do you mean ‘De gustibus non est disputandum? Or is there a joke hidden here somewhere?

  12. 73
    thefatgit on 16 Nov 2014 #

    “Romanes eunt domus????”

  13. 74
    sukro sukras sukrat on 16 Nov 2014 #

    cicero sic in at

  14. 75
    enitharmon on 16 Nov 2014 #

    durex
    durex
    duricem
    duricis
    durici
    durice
    durices
    durices
    durices
    duricium
    duricibus
    duricibus

  15. 76
    Kinitawowi on 16 Nov 2014 #

    Quidquid latine dictum sit altum videtur.

  16. 77
    Chelovek na lune on 16 Nov 2014 #

    NON. SUM. DIGNUS.

  17. 78
    Kinitawowi on 17 Nov 2014 #

    Caecilius est in horto.

  18. 79
    swanstep on 17 Nov 2014 #

    Groot sum.

  19. 80
    iconoclast on 17 Nov 2014 #

    et mihi dico: dive! quid feci?

  20. 81
    chelovek na lune on 17 Nov 2014 #

    Qui Bono? (Who IS he?)

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