This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to… Kitchens of Distinction October 20, 2012Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to....
A very welcome guest post in this slot from Damian O’Broin
I spent the summer of 1990 – and the one before it – working on building sites in London. There were twelve of us living in a two bedroom house – in West Kensington of all places (although it was closer to Shepherd’s Bush and Hammersmith than anywhere genuinely posh). The salubrious location came about becaue the house belonged to a friend of my uncle. It had started out as six of us, but gradually grew: a few other mates from college arrived over, a couple of their brothers and two Cork guys who I was working with who had to vacate their squat on the King’s Road in a bit of a hurry.
(Helping them clear out the squat was, er, memorable. Four of us, fresh from the building site, combats covered in cement and muck, emerging from Sloane Square tube station and into a fancy building on the King’s Road. Leaving half an hour later with black bin bags and a large dollop of nervousness. How we weren’t stopped I don’t know.)
We were Labourers, Chamber Maids, Bar Men. And then there was my mate Anto who had somehow landed a job in an office. He didn’t have to trek home on the tube covered in muck. He didn’t have to get up at the crack of dawn. And he didn’t have to pretend to be sweeping up the same patch of concrete everytime the foreman wandered past.
At 20 years of age, music was my obsession. Well, along with pretentious European literary fiction. Obviously.
My Saturday afternoons were spent scouring the shelves of the Rough Trade shop in Covent Garden – Primal Scream, Happy Mondays even old Beatles and Stones records were all picked up that summer.
And every week I’d pour over the listings in NME and the free sheets looking for gigs. We’d left Dublin thinking we’d be catching a different band every week. Surely all the coolest bands would be playing in London? Nope. It seems that the British Indie scene took the Summer of 1990 off. In the end I made it to just two gigs. One day of the Reading Festival where I managed to cram in Buzzcocks, Inspiral Carpets, Wedding Present, Ride and Billy Bragg. (who, a couple of weeks after Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait, played a blistering, reworded version of The Island of No Return)
And then the Kitchens of Distinction, on a Summer’s night at a little place called The Venue.
The Venue was in New Cross, which was pretty much the complete opposite end of London to us. I remember almost nothing about the gig itself. I do remember trooping around the roads of New Cross looking for The Venue. And I remember dancing to Sympathy for the Devil and Fool’s Gold at the club after the gig. It’s strange the details you remember. I think it was a good gig. I have no idea how we all got home.
I’ve a clutch of Kitchens vinyl on my shelf. A couple of albums and a few EPs. And there they’re rested, largely untouched, for the last decade or more. They kind of got lost in the move to digital music. They’re not a band with any sort of presence, long split up, little public profile and only ever a modest following. And, crucially, perhaps, not a band many of my friends cared about.
Although this was clearly a positive when I was 20 – as it demonstrated how cool and trendy I was, in an ‘I heard Arcade Fire before you’ kinda way – it meant there was no peer group to sustain that interest as the years moved on. After their second album, Strange Free World, I drifted away.
So they remained ignored in my music collection until a couple of months ago. And then for some reason, they sprang to mind, and I decided to download some of their tracks from iTunes. So they’re back in my head and back in my heart.
How have they aged? Not badly at all.
“Prize” for instance, remains a great song with it’s evocation of lust, betrayal and drunken rows. And a killer bass intro.
Lust was one of the big attractions of Kitchens of Distinction. There’s a rawness about the depictions of desire in the songs which was hugely appealing – and daring – to me as a teenager, as I grappled with my own early encounters of such things. Even the title of their first album, Love Is Hell, seems calculated to appeal to angsty, Smiths-loving students as I was then.
And then there was the fact that their lead singer, Patrick Fitzgerald, was openly gay. Here was a man, singing songs of love and sex about other men. It may seem unremarkable now, but in the late 80s this was dangerous stuff. It felt part of a great wave battering down the prejudices and pieties of the time.
There was politics as well. “Margaret’s Injection” on the Elephantine EP, with it’s imagining of Thatcher’s execution (Margaret, it’s time for your injection / should I fetch a priest and gun), joins Elvis Costello’s “Tramp the Dirt Down” as one of the most graphically anti-Thatcher songs of the time.
Twenty years on, “Prize”, “4 Men” and “The 3rd Time We Opened The Capsule” all still sound great. Some of the others I can take or leave, but sure that’s always the way isn’t it?
The Third Time We Opened the Capsule