Release Date: Oct 95
Chart Position: 14
Camden Town is effectively Suggs’ loveletter to his old stomping ground, an affectionate ode to the streets where he are the Nutty Boys grew up and cut their teeth. Take note, this is not about London per se– but specifically NW1. Madness were famously travel-shy, failing to capitalize on their National fame in the early 80s by missing tour after tour. A fondness for the plethora of North London boozers, caffs, the green stuff and lie-ins were the general reasons cited. As manager Dave Robinson cited in the excellent “If it Aint Stiff” BBC4 docco, “Madness didn’t want to leave Camden Town” LET ALONE THE BIG SMOKE.
So its no surprise Suggs felt the borough should be committed to vinyl – but is it any good? Yes, it is actually. It’s no Boombastic, but it doesn’t deserve some of the scorn that I’m sure the other Elders will heap on it. Suggs turned in some stinkers during the fag-end years of Neggae don’t get me wrong, but (just like the place itself) Camden Town is not without its charms.
Seeing instantly recognizable 90s London filmed over a reggae soundtrack gave me a pang of nostalgia for the Opening Credits of Desmonds. Don’t Scratch My Sofa. F*ck me what a tune. Like Free Nelson Mandela but with added record scratches. But instead of young, beautiful, black urbanites we have Suggs doing his drunken-tiptoeing-to-bed-so-I-don’t-wake-the-missus dance – endearing when he was 19 but less so with a middle-aged derby. Fair play to the video producers for shelling out on a trip to JA though – I reckon this video alone cost more than all of Bitty MaClean’s put together.
As for the song – well it the Theme tune to Coco pops isn’t it? Have a listen.
That or Um Bungo.
I’ve always been partial to both of these ditties, but I’ve never felt the urge to base a pop song around it. That said, Noel Gallagher launched his career off the back of an Old Coke jingle – so maybe they’re on to something. Maybe in 20 years time I should dine off that Reisen song. Might get a number one out of it. Although by then I imagine pop music will be reduced 6 second Vine holograms consumed by domestic help drones scanning a barcode directly into humans eyes. Actually I’m not going to bother. Can’t be f*cked with it.
Back to the here and now –the production is what truly saves this. Sly and Robbie, the Leiber and Stoller of Neggae, craft a gorgeous low slung groove that covers all of the imperfections listed above. Echoed drum breaks, punchy keys, heavy horns – it’s a delight. I’d quite like to hear a dub version of it actually. with Finley Quaye on vox. And at least Suggs is mullering his own record, and not murdering the Beatles or Simon and Garfunkels.
Score: 6/10 – well done Suggs.
Here’s Suggs again, and once again I dread to think what the others are writing. Sometimes it seems I’m the only person in the world who looks back fondly on the Suggs’s 90s solo work, and that includes the nutty man himself: in his recent autobiography he dedicates a princely one paragraph to it, almost all of which is taken up with that anecdote everyone already knows about Chris Eubank introducing Cecilia on Top of the Pops. If on the other hand you want to know what happened when Suggs went cycling around Italy with Clive Langer, you’ll be delighted to find an entire chapter on the topic. Basically nothing is the answer, by the way.
But on I press: no amount of apathy from the man himself, or antipathy from everyone else, is going to dampen my enthusiasm. Camden Town is a perfect example of what’s great about the The Lone Ranger album: a relaxed groove backing some twinkly, off-beat lyrics, this time about Suggs’s home part of London, Camden. Suggs does a good job of capturing the buzz of the place, wide-eyed visitors trying to take everything in at once, with a subtle frisson of menace in the “tourists sing” and trombone bit in the middle, plus the drunkenness and petty crime chucked in among the multicultural vibrancy. Sly and Robbie’s production is key once again – Suggs wears it so lightly that you’d hardly guess he’s working with two of the all-time greats, but their quality does take the song up a notch.
I’m not ever so keen on the sax solo, but I’d say it’s outweighed by the valiant attempt to shoot a proper neggae video (beach dancing, larking about, sand, horns etc) on a budget of £1.75. All in all a likeable effort.
Score: 7 out of 10 – might have been more if he’d specified which exit of the underground to meet at.
Suggs, I find your music boring and about as inspirational as a toasted parsnip and mayonnaise sarnie. If you’re into that you may very well enjoy Suggs and Camden Town. I however, am not.
What did I learn from this song? Apparently Camden is a very diverse place that has a lot going on. Excellent. But having to listen to Suggs and his monotone voice for however long this song goes on is is Johnny-Gill-esque. It is painful and it irks me.
Dont get me wrong.
It has some positives.
Not many but some.
There’s some nice neggae beats, drum and horn background bits and pieces throughout. I liked that. But…
The video is annoying.
Suggs prancing around does my head in. I’ve watched this 4 times in a row trying to come up with something constructive to write but can’t. Sorry.
I wish this week’s challenge was to write a twitter style review and keep it under 140. It would’ve gone something like this:
Score: Suggs, Camden Town #cack #fellasleep #2/10
- Screech in Saved by the Bell
- Jar Jar Binks in the Star Wars prequel debacle
- Ross in the latter stages of the Friends saga
- Suggs in the mid 1990’s UK Neggae scene
What do these all of these characters have in common? They became irrelevant add ins to what were otherwise important social and cultural movements.
Suggs has started to ruin it for everyone with his jokey dim-witted approach. I got Madness (I think?) and although I was not their biggest fan, I did understand the relevance of their music, but Suggs on his own has contributed very little. Nothing of any importance anyway.
‘In Camden Town, I’ll meet you by the underground’ – Is that really what you have just offered up? Twat!
Score: Not wasting any more time with this. Go away Suggs!! 1/10
Suggs makes an unwelcome return to the hot 90 this week with his ode to Camden Town; I’m going to try to be objective about this entry as I think I managed to get rid of my vitriol in his last appearance. Being of an impressionable age during the Britpop era I spent quite a lot of time in Camden as a yout’ myself and can’t help thinking Suggs is somewhat overegging the romanticism of the place, I’ll go into details later.
I like the start to this song, it’s a proper neggae intro with the classic drum roll start and jaunty bassline that sounds like it could have sound tracked a cartoon. Obviously Suggs is still singing so this puts a bit of dampener on it but the horns are nice as well. Not so sure about the synth that’s introduced for the chorus but must admit the guitar break in there is nice and evokes memories of Siouxsie and the Banshees covering ‘Dear Prudence’. There’s a tribute to ‘Ghost Town’ later on with the vocals but I could do without his spoken refrains, it’s all bit like the elder Kevin doing voice overs in the ‘Wonder Years’, in case you were wondering Winnie Cooper turned out to be decent. The song meanders on in this manner and you know what? It’s ok, there are still a few ‘Stoppit and Tidy Up’ style noises but they’ve not been done to death.
Lyrically I have to take issue with this song with the main objection being this
‘In Camden Town I’ll meet you by the underground’
Don’t do that, you’ll just get hassled up by teenage drug dealers and end up getting skanked by buying a piece of bark for £10 under the misapprehension it’s a bit of solid, happened to a friend of a friend of mine and wasn’t me, no sireee, nothing to do with me, honest guv. After this frankly shocking piece of advice he follows it up by advocating the use of drug paraphernalia
‘There’s tapas, fracas, alcohol, tobaccos
Bongs, bongo bingo, Portuguese maracas’
Which is all very well, but this is simply a gateway to buying a load of Yellow Submarine legal highs at ‘Herman’s Head Shop’ asking the shop assistant how many you should take to get really f*cked and then thinking ‘I’m an experienced psychonaut who’s been on many missions of spiritual and physical ecstasy, I will take double the maximum recommended dose, like I do with Night Nurse’. Apparently this can then lead to nearly passing out on a crowded tube then thinking you’re better so going for a pint to level you out but then realising you’re not that much better as the pint comes straight back up into the pint glass. Don’t be pithy about these things Suggs, it’s a serious matter.
Suggs has also ignored one of my biggest gripes about Camden or more specifically promoters who hold events there and the lack of information they give out. Picture the scene, you’re in the World’s End pub enjoying a few pre club Lowenbraus and testing out the night’s Mick Mills, you have a full on gag whilst dropping the first one so you know you’re in for a good night. The pub starts calling last orders at around 11 so you move on to the Underworld for London’s Premier Britpop night. Paying your money in a state of delirium you start to sense something’s a bit wrong but can’t quite put your finger on it. You advance down the corridor and the music sounds a bit different making you think ‘Blimey, Kula Shaker’s new one sounds a bit heavy’. The doors to the main venue open and you find yourself surrounded by people wearing black make up adorned in ‘Cradle of Filth’ t-shirts, bedecked in a vintage Brazil football t-shirt, combats and a blue corduroy jacket with the Jamiroquai logo as the zip pull it’s fair to say you’re standing out as the twat who didn’t know the night had changed. Unperturbed by this experience you return to Camden a few weeks later to go to the mod night ‘Blow Up’ which is located in the upstairs of the Laurel Tree pub. You pay your money at the door getting some strange looks form the person collecting it, as you turn the corner of the staircase you’re confronted with a crowd of burly ageing skinheads in bomber jackets as yes, ‘Blow Up’ has changed dates and you’re at a skinhead revival night with the whole scene resembling a sevs prison gym. The night out culminates with you sitting in a lounge in Hounslow at 6am whilst vomiting into a saucepan due to ingesting too much cheap speed whilst an ex con tells you he wishes you could have been in Feltham Young Offenders with him as ‘it was a right laugh and you’d have loved it in there’. Suggs had the chance to stop future generations making these mistakes and I feel his carefree attitude has meant him missing a chance to give back to society.
The video starts off with Suggs doing his ‘hilarious’ berking about shtick round Camden, he then gets the tube to Jamaica. This is again irresponsible as London Underground staff are going to have to deal with American tourists asking them which line they need to get to Jamaica. A good job Bob Crow’s not about to see this as it would drive him to a state of apoplexy. The rest of the video is Suggs basically lording up on a Tropical beach somewhere which to me seems a bit hypocritical when the whole song is singing the praises of Camden. If the lyrics were ‘Camden Town, its ok I suppose but I’d much rather be in the Caribbean’ then this would be forgivable.
Score: I’ll give this 3/10, its no ‘Waterloo Sunset’
NEGGAE SCORE: 3.8