Yesterday the awesomely talented Owen Jones, author of Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class came to speak at Kentish Town Labour Party. I’ve seen him speak before and I wasn’t disappointed this time.
However, I’m not going to write about Owen or class quite yet. Instead I’m going to talk about Flowered Up, a pop band from the late 80s/early 90s who crashed and burned in a remarkably short space of time. Unlike a lot of pop stars who talk the working class talk (hello John Lennon, Mick Jagger, Damon Albarn etc etc), Flowered Up were the real deal, hailing from the tough estates of Kings Cross. They were marketed as a kind of ‘Norf Lahdan’ version of Manchester’s Happy Mondays, who ruled the student discos of my youth with such treats as this:
Got to love the Mondays, headed up by ex-postie Shaun Ryder, who famously boasted in interviews that he used to steal from women’s handbags using his toes. The mind boggles.
Anyway. Back to Flowered Up. I was reminded about them earlier today during an email chat with a chap called Mike who wants to make a film with Owen Jones. He’s a friend of my husband’s and we’d last chatted back in about 2008/9 about Flowered Up, my obsession of the moment. I was thinking of making an independent film about the band and started trying to track them down. The band’s guitarist Joe Maher (brother of front man Liam Maher) is still on my Facebook friends list. When we chatted, he seemed a lovely guy, with family living round the corner from me in Kentish Town. Unfortunately I never got my act together to meet him – I was heavily pregnant with child no 2, and even more unfortunately, Liam died later that year.
Just as the Mondays had Bez, an ecstasy-fuelled nutter whose ‘freaky dancin’ became a legend, Flowered Up had the equally unusual Barry Mooncult, who danced around on stage in a latex costume shaped like a flower.
Here’s the band performing It’s On:
Every time I watch this I try and work out exactly where it’s shot – as I know it’s in spitting distance of my home. I like to try and imagine what’s happened to the kids in the video – are they still living locally? Do I know any of them? Are their kids at school with my kids? I like the fact that the video is unpretentious and shot in a council estate – not for ‘arty’ reasons but because that’s where the band came from.
Although I am an effete, over-educated middle class ponce, I like the fact that the band are not a manufactured product, but emerged in a relatively unpolished form from a working class community. They just are what they are.
Maybe now it’s time to bring in Owen’s talk – held across the road from the pub where I was supposed to meet Joe from Flowered Up (but never got round to it.) Owen’s thesis is that very few of us identify as working class, as being working class is seen as a sign of failure. As Tony Blair said: “We’re all middle class now”; in other words, no one really wants to talk about class, or why it is that some people have so much more than others. The popular narrative has been that if you don’t have much, it’s because you somehow don’t deserve much – you are a ‘scrounger’ or a ‘loser’ or a ‘chav’. Would a modern audience have much time for Flowered Up – or would we find them just a bit too ‘common’ for our tastes? We might tolerate them if they turned themselves into clowns like the ridiculous N-Dubz, also from the council estates of North London, but could we cope with an act like this that obviously did what they felt like, not because it would look good on a reality TV show?
All the ‘cool’ bands these days seem incredibly middle class (or even posh); the days when you could jump from a council estate in Kings Cross to the top of the charts (and be credible) seem to be long gone. Maybe it’s because the music industry just doesn’t have the cash to take a chance in a world where no one pays for music any more – why risk everything on a gang of dodgy geezers from the flats when you can hedge your bets on a group of fresh faced chaps from the Home Counties?
Back to Flowered Up.
Despite the fact that they were hyped beyond belief, their album Life with Brian was a bit of a damp squib. They were written off as an embarrassment. But even though the album didn’t set the charts on fire, Flowered Up went on to release the truly incredible Weekender in 1992. Although I was far too uncool to be part of the ‘rave scene’ myself in the early 90s, I love this record so much. It’s up there with Kate Bush, Ken Livingstone, Marc Bolan, strong tea, seaside towns, Pink Floyd, Morrissey, London buses and Ally Pally. It’s one of my favourite things.
Here’s part 2 – it really is an epic
The video – by the super-talented Wiz – tells the story of the classic ‘working class’ hero. Dull job Monday to Friday, then a weekend of unbridled hedonism. It’s the story of Saturday Night Fever without the naff white trouser suits.
The music video is a masterpiece and has been compared to the films of Shane Meadows (also a favourite). It is both a hymn to hedonism – presented as the perfect antidote to a dreary life – and a critique – ie what do you get at the end? It’s both a period piece and a cultural icon for anyone approaching middle age.
The hedonism of Weekender reflects the hedonism of the band, who fell out not long after the release of their iconic track. Their keyboard player went on to have some success with mid-90s act Republica, Liam descended into hardcore addiction and Joe became a painter and decorator. I never quite got to the bottom of what became of Barry Mooncult….
If anyone out there can tell me, I’d love to know.
And if anyone wants to help me make a film about Flowered Up, I still think the story’s worth telling.