not a member? click here to sign up
The 'shop steward
Cornershop have re-opened for business with a little help from Noel Gallagher and none at all from the BBC. Stuart Clark finds Tjinder Singh is less than miffed
Stuart Clark, 19 Apr 2002
Bastards, bastards, bastards. Sorry, I’m just railing against BBC Radio 1 for refusing to playlist the Cornershop single, ‘Lessons Learned From Rocky I to Rocky III’, and thusly depriving the world of the best number one since, well, ‘Brimful Of Asha’.
The person who appears least concerned by this scandalous state of affairs is ‘shop steward Tjinder Singh.
“You obviously need to sell a certain number of records to function, but we’re not the sort of band that needs to be on Top Of The Pops to feel validated,” he says in a drawl that’s not so much lazy as narcoleptic. “Getting to number one didn’t magically make us a better band. It made us a wealthier one, but that’s never been our primary concern.”
While 99.9% of artists would be lying through their teeth if they said that, there’s a genuine sense of Singh and Ben Ayers walking away from pop stardom after their chart-topping exploits of 1998. Commercial sense may have called for an album full of ‘Asha’ clones, but Cornershop sense meant reverting to their Clinton alias and making a record, Disco And The Halfway To Discontent, that was willfully out-of-synch with current trends.
“Stepping back wasn’t an option, it was a necessity,” Singh reveals. “I was fatigued – not from having a number one, but from doing what I’d been doing before that for six years. I needed to stay at home for a while and be normal.”
He shakes his head dismissively when I describe the new Cornershop album, Handcream For A Generation, as “a fresh start”.
“It’s just carrying on from the first EP we ever did, which had three songs that tried to go in different directions. By the third EP we’d moved into technology, so there’s always been a sense of us and the music evolving. From using Jon Savage in ‘93 to Dan The Automator in ‘95, we’ve a decade of smart moves behind us.”
There’s no “Featuring Filthy Rich Rock Stars” sticker on the cover, but peruse the credits and you’ll find that Handcream… includes contributions from Messrs. N. Gallagher and P. McGuigan.
“We’ve known Noel since the Woman’s Gotta Have It album when he came on board and did ‘Jullander Shere’. I sent him a demo of ‘Spectral Morning’ – which was 40 minutes long and that because my tape had run out – and he got straight back on saying, ‘When do you want me?’ It’s the song he most likes to listen to while washing the dishes, apparently!
“Not all of what he likes is what I like, or vice versa. Our common interests at the moment would be White Stripes and The Moldy Peaches. Guigsy’s tastes would, I suppose, be a little more eclectic and in tune with mine. We got to know him when we toured with Oasis and meet up every two or three months to talk music – or bollocks sometimes! Neither of them wanted paying, which speaks volumes about where they’re coming from.”
Singh may spurn superstar DJs like the rest of us spurn rabid dogs, but he’s not adverse to banging out the odd choon on white – “I’ve done quite a few of those, yes” – and hunting down the latest must-have bootleg.
“You know The Strokes vs. Cristina Agueilera one?”
“That was done by Keith from Headbutt who, in 1993, was the mastermind behind our first and only tribute band, The Cricklewood Cornershop. It’s nice to see people like him and Hideous Wheel Invention manipulating the industry and making it interesting again.
“I wouldn’t class myself as a vinyl junkie, but I do like being able to smell a record and look at the label. There’s an intrigue there that you don’t get with CDs.”
Has he heard anything odder than the bloke in filthy white t-shirt/East 17 interface, ‘Stay Another WK’?
“I don’t think I’ve heard anything odder than Andrew WK,” Singh deadpans. “Is he being serious or perpetrating some sort of elaborate joke?”
Even less popular in the Singh household are So Solid Crew.
“I can’t understand the words. So Solid are talking about a lot of things but saying zero. I can’t even hear the violence they’re supposed to be promoting. I’m much more enthused by The Streets who are Kool Keith with a Birmingham ethic.”
Praise indeed. Talking of legendary figures, Handcream… opens with a rousing salvo from ’60s soul god Otis Clay.
“The last track on the Clinton album was called ‘Welcome To Tokyo Otis Clay’, and our friends in New York knew somebody who knew him, so we were hooked up. He never attained the same status as Al Green or James Brown, but is every bit as good and highly thought of in those circles. There’s a Japanese live album of his which is genius, and having him guest on ours is a huge honour.”