Cornershop

Interview: Cornershop

Published on June 28th, 2011 | Jonny Abrams

Their effortless melding of genres, their musical globalism, their sunny melodies, their intelligent and unforced good humour, their colourful back story of Morrissey-baiting and spoon-fearing: when you think about it, Cornershop are obvious critical darlings.

Rocksucker cannot claim to buck the trend on this one; we bloody loves ’em.In the eyes of the many, Cornershop will always be the one-hit wonders responsible for 1997 number 1 single ‘Brimful of Asha’ (lest they forget, it was Norman ‘Fatboy Slim’ Cook’s remix which took it to the top, back when that actually meant something) but, for those who hadn’t already been lulled in by the majestic ‘6am Jullandar Shere‘ from second album Woman’s Gotta Have It, ‘Brimful of Asha’ proved to be merely a gateway into a big ol’ melting pot of wonderful.

That was certainly the case for this writer, only a schoolboy at the time, who was mesmerized by the sprawling, lyrical, funky loveliness of parent album When I Was Born for the 7th Time.

Thrust so suddenly into the limelight by this unexpected success, the natural next move for Tjinder Singh and Ben Ayres was to release an album of politically motivated digi-funk under the moniker Clinton in 1999, the third track of which [‘Buttoned Down Disco’] wound up lending its name to a still-popular club night with a residency at Camden Town’s renowned Koko venue.

The next Cornershop album proper, the again-brilliantly-titled Handcream for a Generation, should by all rights have scored a big fat hit for Messrs Singh and Ayres but flew distressingly under the radar for those like us who believe that a good-time rock and roll single titled ‘Lessons Learned from Rocky I to Rocky III’ (“lesson three is to ignore four”, don’t you know?) should top the charts in every country for at least a year.

Coming in a different set of colours to When I Was Born… yet still every bit as eclectic and inventive, Handcream… reinforced Cornershop’s not unenviable position of being adored by all who came into contact with them but its songs seemed to hold so much for so many that it was mildly gutting not to see it receive the widespread attention that it merited.

2004 saw the release of ‘Top Knot’, a delicious collaboration with previously unrecorded Punjabi folk singer Bubbley Kaur and one that legendary Radio 1 DJ John Peel took to heart shortly before he passed away.

Five years then elapsed before Cornershop re-emerged with Judy Sucks A Lemon For Breakfast, a comeback album so brimming with sweetness and optimism that it belied its titular citrus fruit in pretty much every way imaginable.As fans braced themselves for another long wait, Cornershop (Rocksucker refuses to break up the repetition by referring to them as “the ‘Shop” or some such nonsense) released an EP entitled The Battle of New Orleans last year and then popped up a few months ago with Cornershop and the Double ‘O’ Groove Of (released on the band’s own label Ample Play), a full album’s worth of material featuring the honeyed tones of Bubbley Kaur.

It’s all fantastic fare but this intro is long enough already without rolling out yet more superlatives; just check it out for yourself, for goodness’ sake. We’ll start you off with ‘Topknot’ so you have an idea of just how gorgeous Cornershop and the Double ‘O’ Groove Of actually is…

Clearly dizzied by this flurry of activity, Cornershop recently unveiled The Singhles Club (see what they did there?), explained thusly on cornershop.com:

Most are collaborations with friends & foes alike, helping bridge a gap between the variety of the Cornershop back catalogue and its biblical passages.

A total of 6 Songs will be individually available at a pace of about one a month as part of The Singhles Club subscription, which is simply £6 for 6 tracks via cornershop.com (and each track will come with a very special printable artwork & digital popadom*), each delivered to your inbox.

Rocksucker has taken them up on this splendid offer and as a result has thus far been treated to the twin delights of ‘Non-Stop Radio’ (feat. Celeste) and ‘What Did the Hippie Have in His Bag?’.

With our love of Cornershop threatening to spiral out of control, we fired over some questions to Tjinder Singh, presumably unaware of the gargantuan intro that would precede our simple Q&A format (we didn’t plan it that way, honest)…

Are you pleased with the reception that …Double O Groove… has received? It’s been widely praised; is Bubbley in danger of becoming a bit of a star?

Very pleased with the reception, but it’s even better than usual as it’s our own label and has continued apace since its release. Bubbley was always a star but it is rather great that other people are taking to her so readily.

Who did/played what on the album? Obviously Bubbley is singing but how were the arrangements and instruments divvied up between you and Ben? Were the vocal melodies composed by Bubbley?

I came up with the music tracks, sometimes before hearing her vocals and melodies, all of which she brought along, sometimes without changes to them. James Milne played bass on most tracks, Ben and I played guitar and keyboard, and then we went through a stage of other musicians coming in and putting on clarinet etc.

To Rocksucker’s ears, ‘The Biro Pen’ has a bit of an Os Mutantes/tropicalia sound (as opposed to Bubbley’s Chas & Dave comparison!). Was this an influence or are we way off on this one?

Well we do love Os Mutantes and that’s actually why I love Izzy Lindqwister (Parisian based Swedish superstar) so much. Whether it was an influence, I wouldn’t be able to say completely; as I said, sometimes the music came before but, as it crams in so much and grabs your curlies, it may well have been.

Your albums are renowned for their eclecticism. Does it annoy you when critics bang on about ‘focus’ as if it was a quality to which all good music should aspire? It certainly annoys us…

The focus comes when people listen to the one after another, which has led us to carry on for so long, but you can’t get annoyed when people know not what rot they are spanking.

Which of your albums involved the biggest workload? If Rocksucker was to guess, we’d say Handcream For A Generation

It was Handcream, as I thought there was so much to prove. It is my most favoured album after Judy Sucks A Lemon For Breakfast, before which Handcream had gone into hell to get some people out.

Any ideas yet as to what your next album might be like? Please tell us we won’t have to wait seven years this time!

That’s very kind of you and we hope not to disappoint, or dissipate, but even we would like to know. It’s been started but that doesn’t tell us too much yet.

You have consistently fantastic song titles. Do you ever conceive them prior to writing the music and/or lyrics?

Again thanks, that’s very good of you. All of the songs and music are done so higgledy piggledy that horse carts do sometimes come before cart horses.

Will you be putting out anything else on your Ample Play label other than your own music?

Yes we plan to be putting out a few albums by artists in USA, Japan and England this summer. We’ve always wanted to do that and it’s nice for us to be in a position to do it.

How did you come about to working with Dan the Automator on When I Was Born…?

We were the first UK group to work with Dan: that was for a remix of our off-shoot Clinton on the track SuperLoose. We dug the Dr Octagon production so we approached him.  It was strange walking around London with him on a Sunday, even stranger to be hearing outtakes of Octagon and other Kool Keith tracks on my Walkman while walking around India.

Are you still making money off ‘Brimful of Asha’? Have you ever felt haunted by that song, in a Radiohead-‘Creep’/Supergrass-‘Alright’/Blur-‘Country House’ sort of way?

Our whole back catalogue makes money for us, but yes it does well. It is a curse and burden, and is played all the time all the world round. We can only hope that it’s a gateway to other tracks and albums of ours (not Radiohead’s of course, for that would be silly).

Any recommendations for up-and-coming artists?

The Paperhead, The Multi-Coloured Green Beans, Pin Point, Casa Del Mirto & Izzy Lindqwister.

Tjinder, thank you.

Cornershop and the Double ‘O’ Groove Of is out now on Ample Play records. For more information – and to sign up for The Singhles Club – please visit cornershop.com

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About the Author

Editor of Rocksucker and the website's founder, Jonny is passionate about the music he listens to, both good and bad, as well as interviewing his favourite musicians.