Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?! – Tjinder Singh, Cornershop

In Does Rock 'N' Roll Kill Braincells?!, we quiz a grizzled artist on their own career to see how much they can remember – and find out if the booze, loud music and/or tour sweeties has knocked the knowledge out of them. This week: Cornershop frontman Tjinder Singh.

1: In 2002, which Guinness World Record did Cornershop try to break?

“Longest mix? It was one song going on for 24 hours. Someone from the Guinness World Records came down and oversaw it. I was watching people on social media saying they’d listened to it in the morning and they’d finished work and were now listening to it at night.”

CORRECT. It was for longest ever remix with a continuously mixed and constantly changing version of the track ‘Spectral Mornings’, which features Noel Gallagher on guitar. What are your favourite memories of Oasis?

“It was exciting to tour big auditoriums in America with them. Both groups got on well – so much so that we had [former Oasis bassist] Guigsy play bass on ‘Lessons Learned from Rocky I to Rocky III’ and Noel play guitar on ‘Spectral Mornings’. For the recording, he came and did a few hours of working stuff out, which was nice of him – he could have just done two minutes and thought: ‘Sod that, I’m off ‘. We ended up with so much guitar, it lent itself to a 24-hour mix. One of the reasons why Noel and Liam liked Cornershop was because they both heard ‘ 6am Jullandar Shere’ in different rooms at a hotel, and Noel phoned up Liam who said: ‘Yeah, I’m watching it now!’. It shook them. ‘Spectral Mornings’ was a very ‘Jullander Shere’ thing – which is why Noel was happy to do it. It’s quite a brave thing for a white chap to do – a lot of people would say: ‘What the fuck are you singing about?!’”

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2: Name the three tracks on your pre-Cornershop band General Havoc’s 1991 ‘Fast Jaspal’ EP.

“Good God! Uh – I think ‘Moonshine’ was on there. (Laughs) ‘Vacuum Cleaner’? ‘She’s Another One Of Them Aliens’?”

WRONG. ‘Moonshine’ and ‘Vacuum Cleaner’ are indeed on there, but the final track is ‘Another Cup Of Tea Arch Deacon?’

“Well, we’d just stopped living with a vicar in a rather grand house – maybe that inspired it. Did he ever hear it? No. We kept him away from such ungodly things!”

3: There’s a famous press photo of Cornershop setting fire to pictures of a Morrissey poster outside his record label EMI’s London offices in 1992. What slogan is shown on the t-shirt drummer David Chambers is wearing?

“That’s simple – Token Honky.”

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CORRECT.

“That picture hasn’t gone away, so that’s easy to remember. We’re proud of that time. A lot of people can now simply point to one of Morrissey‘s t-shirts to point out racism, but at the time we put together different lyrics: the use of the union jack, his use of Richard Allen imagery, his dubiousness in certain interviews and the inability – or lack of want – to talk about the situation. Nowadays, it’s out in the open, so we’re proud we addressed it.”

“He thought he was Oscar Wilde, and he wasn’t. He was just a bit wild. With people like that, all bets are off, especially when they go off to America and start talking about what’s happening in England. It’s the same as John Lydon going to America and promoting Brexit, and a great example of how people you thought at one stage were very worthy and progressive can so quickly become exactly what they were fighting against.”

“We got a hard time for that from the press and individuals who thought he could do wrong. But at the time, we were part of a label (Huggy) that was seen mostly for the riot grrrl scene. We were honoury riot grrrls even though we were all male [and received support from there]. We felt like it was the ’70s – except the punks were now riot grrrls and the reggae people were now us. It was different sections of the community coming together because we had similar oppression.”

“The right wing is being allowed to express itself a lot more than would have happened in the past. The Conservatives have become the extreme, so that’s why things are looking not as open as they were in the early ’90s.”

1998 – Cornershop, 'Brimful of Asha':
David Chambers (centre) in one of his ‘Token Honky’ T-shirts. CREDIT: Getty

4: What film were you once asked to play an Egyptologist in who dies a horrible death in?

“Oh yes – The Mummy.

CORRECT. The 1999 action film starring Brendan Fraser.

“I was asked to play it which was nice, and quite funny, but I didn’t want to go to Morocco where it was filming and I’d never acted before – so I slipped death!”

5: What is the name of the fictional band that appears in the animated ‘Double Denim’ video?

“Ooh! I should know because it’s taken from one of the lyrics… but I can’t remember.”

WRONG. It’s Heavy Duty.

“Yeah! One of the lyrics! Artist Ian Viggars has just done a new video for us – which is why I can’t recall it because I’m concentrating on the new stuff.”

Talking of cartoon bands, Cornershop worked with producer Dan the Automator for your side project Clinton, years before Gorillaz

“Everyone knows Gorillaz ripped off what we were doing as Clinton off. It’s as simple as that. We were the first to use Dan the Automator in the UK in ’95, and we used him again in ’97. There’s not many months go by when people don’t remind us of that! But that’s a good thing – imitation is the highest form of flattery.”

6: You wrote ‘Demon is a Monster’ as the theme tune for which podcast?

Remainiacs.”

CORRECT.

“I probably spent more time being the anti-Brexit person than I did writing our latest album [‘England is a Garden‘] because it’s so big. When Cornershop started out, our first album ‘Hold On It Hurts’ didn’t do very well – we had to go to Europe to survive, and we know the problems of touring as a live band without free movement. But we were anti-Brexit before Brexit was even there – Enoch Powell [Conservative MP infamous for his 1968 ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech] was Brexit: Part One and now we’ve got Brexit 2.0. Over the years, we’ve done songs like ‘Roof Rack‘ which mentions Enoch Powell and ‘Staging The Plaguing Of The Raised Platform‘, which iterates to people like [Donald] Trump and idiots like [Boris] Johnson. Our remit as a group is to kick shit up, and Brexit shows it hasn’t finished.”

“I did an Austrian interview where someone said, bizarrely, that heavy metal was the catalyst for Brexit – which I can’t accept, It’s austerity. I was born in the Black Country and lived and studied in Preston for a while; you saw both towns rise and get city status in the ’90s but the jobs are not there and scapegoats are. And Labour has been pitiful as an opposition – if they continue with any semblance of the way they’ve acted in the last few years, there’s no need for them. Austerity has led for the need for people to blame. Once the Europeans have gone, those people will have carte blanche – to use an operative word – to look for other scapegoats here.”

7: Which two bands did members of Cornershop perform ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ between on a Channel 4 celebration of John Lennon in 2000?

“Ooh, well I was in the audience – it was Ben [Ayres, guitarist] and Anthony [Saffery, guitarist/keyboardist] who did that [with Noel Gallagher and Johnny Marr]. I’m never gonna get this! Ronnie Wood was there – he might be one.”

WRONG. It was between the Stereophonics‘ Kelly Jones and Jools Holland covering ‘Revolution’ and a Paul Weller rendition of ‘Instant Karma’.

“I would never have got that!”

You also famously recorded ‘Norwegian Wood‘ in Punjabi. Ever meet a Beatle?

“No, we’ve never met a Beatle – though we met Sean Lennon who was nice with us. We don’t want to meet heroes like that any more in case we’re disappointed, because we met Lou Reed once and he was a despicable character. He was arrogant, pompous and through-and-through horrible.”

The Beatles‘ friend, beat poet Allen Ginsberg, appears on your 1997 ‘When I Was Born for the 7th Time’ album track ‘When the Light Appears Boy‘…

David Byrne was there. We recorded it in his kitchen. Even on our first gig, we had [Ginsberg’s poem] ‘Howl’ playing before we came on. Ginsberg was lovely and very accommodating. He’d seen the poem as a song in the past, and was happy to recite it – I recorded it on cassette to get the same feel as ‘Howl’. His partner [Peter Orlovsky] came to see us the next day, and said Allen was a bit frail. We were the last group to record with him. A few months after, he passed away from cancer.”

8: Can you name any of the other artists or bands who played Top of the Pops when you appeared on 27 February 1998 to perform ‘Brimful of Asha’?

“Well, the problem is, we did two recordings at the same time. We saw Chas & Dave as we were coming in, getting out of their Mini. But no, I can’t – we were either in our dressing room or recording the footage.”

WRONG. You could have had: Another Level, Shania Twain, Rest Assured, or Will Mellor.

“No, I can’t remember seeing any of those acts! ‘Brimful of Asha’ was a song a lot of people loved – whether they were builders or architects – and that’s a lovely feeling. When it went to number one, nothing big happened – we didn’t go and buy a swimming pool or anything like that.”

9: What number did ‘England’s Dreaming’ reach in John Peel’s 1993 Festive Fifty?

“Oh my gosh, I cannot remember. 49?”

WRONG. It was 17.

“Excellent! I just guessed the safe bet at 49 (Laughs). When the original ‘Brimful…’ became the Festive Fifty number one, that was a treasure to us. We loved John Peel and were lucky to meet him a few times, and record a few sessions, and he was always lovely with us. He was there as early as our third ever show, in Camden. Tom Ravenscroft [Radio DJ and son of John Peel] was at at that gig too – he also DJ-ed at a few of our shows. John Peel was the A&R for Radio 1, who explored all the unlistenable dance, reggae and indie music, and siphoned them off to other shows on the station. When he died, the whole station changed – there was no-one with that much about them to carry on his legacy.”

10: What’s lesson 1 and 3 in ‘Lessons Learned From Rocky I to Rocky III’?

“I think 3 is to ignore 4 – Rocky 4. ‘Cos we’ve not played for a long time, I can’t remember the lyrics! (Laughs)”

WRONG. Lesson 3 is indeed ‘to ignore 4’. Lesson 1 is ‘the A&R’s are in it to the hips’.

“I should have know that. ‘Cos they still are! I’ve always liked numbers in songs, and it was very much anti-music industry. There are some early videos of ours that I really hate – like the Jullander Shere promo – but I really like the ‘Lessons Learned From Rocky I to Rocky III; one, which was filmed in South Africa.”

The verdict: 4/10

“That’s disappointing! (Laughs) I thought I did better than that!”

‘England is a Garden’ is out now. 

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