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This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to… Kitchens of Distinction October 20, 2012

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to....
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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?

Margaret’s Injection

Elephantine

The Third Time We Opened the Capsule

Prize

4 Men

Comments»

1. WorldbyStorm - October 20, 2012

A great great group. All their albums have something of interest on them and the first two are classics. Entirely underrated generally. My own Fitzgerald story isn’t to my credit. Years ago, probably around 2004 went to see Robyn Hitchcock at the Button Factory and arrived in time to hear the support. I was thinking that voice sounds familiar – for it was Fitzgerald. Anyhow, after the gig I got a chance to talk to him briefly and like the eejit I am I said next to nothing about his solo work and went on about KOD. I don’t think he was impressed – which is understandable. And the thing was the solo stuff was as good as KOD. I learned a lesson that day.

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2. sonofstan - October 20, 2012

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.

We played there once, and I remember driving around looking for it for ages. It felt like it was in the middle of a wasteland, – which is not to diss New Cross. However, years later, when I was staying in South London, I went for a stroll towards Greenwich and passed it – now closed – and it seemed quite normal and nothing like I remembered.

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EamonnCork - October 20, 2012

It wasn’t so much that New Cross was a wasteland but that it always seemed incredibly dark at night. Going from The Venue downhill to the Wishing Well sometimes felt like traipsing down a boreen.

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EamonnCork - October 20, 2012

Actually, come to think of it, the pub I’m on about wasn’t The Wishing Well but The Welcome Inn.

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3. EamonnCork - October 20, 2012

Good post.The Venue was a great spot which I went to many weekends between 1989-1992 because I was living just over the road in first Brixton and then Peckham and then New Cross itself on Jerningham Road.
It wasn’t a little place though, it was a huge barn of a spot which had originally been an Irish club called The Harp Club. In 1988 when it was still the Harp it had hosted some very full-on acid house nights. My abiding memory of the place is the strawberry smoke which would gust forth in huge quantities, the thorough search you got on the way in and the fact that they only served drink in plastic glasses. And that the club night afterwards was often better than the gigs. Though I saw rising indie hopefuls The Would Bes play very well there.
The Venue ended up being owned by the gang who owned The Swan in Stockwell, South London’s version of The National in Kilburn, and from 1990 onwards had more of an Irish orientation though it still leaned towards the rock side of things. I saw Paul Cleary and The Fleadh Cowboys there and also Dave Fanning DJing and being rather puzzled when people kept asking him to play The Wolfe Tones.
There were also several excellent pubs nearby, notably The Amersham Arms which ran acoustic gigs and where I saw Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick be brilliant, The Wishing Well, on the same street Clifton Rise as The Venue which was a Crusty hang-out, the Goldsmiths Tavern which had a fine indie night Totally Wired and was full of students from the art college of the same name and The Marquis of Granby, which was the home pub for the Sligo village where I come from and not trendy at all. But welcoming.
From a left wing point of view, Clifton Rise is also the place where in the mid seventies local residents and sundry left wing groups, IS and the IMG among them, assembled before The Battle Of Lewisham where they handed out a serious beating to both NF marchers and the police who were protecting them. The memories of that time were still remarkably current when I was in South London. New Cross was also where 13 young black people were killed after a house fire which police claimed was an accident but the local black community thought of as the massacre commemorated in this song.

The Crusty culture of London at the time is touchingly portrayed in a song by this band, massive at the time, largely forgotten now and not bad at all.

Clifton Rise is also the street where during The Blitz a local house painter was thrown from his ladder by a nearby explosion. He survived to become Max Bygraves. I don’t think I’ll put in a clip for him.

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Damian O'Broin (@damianobroin) - October 20, 2012

Some great stories of the Venue there Eamonn.

Carter USM had some great tunes all right, pity they came and went so quickly. Also a pity the changed from ‘Unstoppable Sex Machine’ to USM. I’m going to have to dig out my old Carter vinyl now as well..

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WorldbyStorm - October 20, 2012

I have the feeling I saw Wilko Johnson’s band there circa 1990 and the Wonderstuff the following year…. Good venue and very handy. I’d been in Denmark Hill for a good part of 91.

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EamonnCork - October 20, 2012

I lived on Bavent Road, a couple of hundred yards from Denmark Hill in 1989 and was still drinking back to drink in the area, Grove House Tavern, Sun and Doves, Plough, Joiners Arms, in 1991. Maybe we had a pint together Wbs.
I saw Wilko Johnson’s band in the Cricketers in Kennington which was a terrific spot to see legendary relics of time past, I saw Desmond Dekker and Geno Washington there too.
An odd thing is that before the current craze for retromania you could see all kinds of people who’d now be on the bill at Glastonbury or playing some big venue for a couple of quid in a pub. Bert Jansch and Davy Graham, deservedly lionised just before their deaths, you could see playing to a dozen people in a room over a pub in Clapham with a pass the jar at the end of the night and if you don’t have anything could you stay back and help us stack the chairs entrance fee.

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WorldbyStorm - October 20, 2012

That’s a coincidence, perhaps we did at that. A crowd of us rented a place in Langford Green. Drank regularly in the pub at the corner of Grove Lane and Champion Park (particularly on a Sunday morning for some reason!). And then there was the pub in the station. God bless your memory. I can’t remember any of the names now. But the brother lived in Kennington for a few years and I remember the Cricketers well. It’s so true, the stuff one could hear was amazing.

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EamonnCork - October 20, 2012

The pub in the railway station was The Phoenix and Firkin which sold lethal varieties of Real Ale and Scrumpy and was I think one of the very first micro brewery pubs. I think the other pub you’re on about is the George Canning which we used to go to from time to time because one of my girlfriend of the time’s fellow nursing students did shifts there as a barmaid. If you kept walking on towards Dulwich, you came to the Dulwich Hamlet pitch with its enormous stand from the days when the club was a great amateur powerhouse. Many’s the Saturday afternoon . . . ah, but now I’m getting nostalgic. I loved South London.

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WorldbyStorm - October 20, 2012

That’s right on both counts. It was one of the first micro-breweries. Good pints in there. Ah, a great spot South London. The atmosphere was great that neck of the woods. I’d lived in Shepherd’s Bush for a while before that and it wasn’t the same. A few years before that again I’d stayed in squats up in Stoke Newington and that was different again, better though by a long shot than Shepherd’s Bush.

A while back I checked it all out on Google St. View. The George Canning has gone iIRC. And I couldn’t tell re the Phoenix and Firkin. But really very little had changed in 20 odd years.

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sonofstan - October 20, 2012

I spent most of my London time in the ’80s in Hackney and thereabouts, but for about 6 months in ’03, I lived in Bermondsey, and got into the habit of working in the morning and walking around in the afternoons – before that, South London had been a few isolated destinations – venues mostly – but long walks gave me a full sense of how it all joined up. The long stretch on the river past Rotherhithe (surely one of the more evocative names in the language?) out to Deptford, through Blackheath and Greenwich, or else through Burdett Pk off the Old Kent
Road, through Peckham and onto Brixton…. Sometimes longer treks all the way to Dulwich and further, to the Horniman Museum in Forest Hill. It’s another world, compared to North London, and wonderfully strange.

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WorldbyStorm - October 20, 2012

My sense was that at the time there were much fewer Irish around there. Not that there were none but compared to north of the Thames less. Yeah, it’s got an amazing atmosphere. Your point re long walks rings a bell. Many’s the time I’d walk from drinks or a gig in Brixton down Coldharbour Lane, onto Denmark Hill Road, then all the way back to Grove Lane. Bloody freezing it was in winter… but great sights…

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4. CMK - October 20, 2012

Good choice. Had a KoD album back in the early 1990’s didn’t think much of it at the time. But downloaded ‘The Third Time We Opened the Capsule’ & ‘Drive That Fast’ recently and have been listening to them constantly since then. A very underrated band.

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5. anarchaeologist - October 20, 2012

This post has done me a huge service. I’ve a lot of this stuff on cassette mislabelled as The Family Cat… I wonder if I have Family Cat stuff somewhere misrepresenting itself as KoD…
Was never into sarf London though. East Ham, West Ham (Middle Ham?) in the mid ’80s were cultureless holes, but cheap cultureless holes. It was miles on the bike in and out of the hot spots of Camden, Kentish Town and Hammersmith but well worth it. Only crossed the river twice to see gigs if memory serves: one of Billy Childish’s bands on a freezing night in New Cross (was it the Venue?) and an open air thing one afternoon with Hawkwind and Dr and the Medics… I think the latter was a GLC anti-heroin festival or something. It’s funny though, there never seemed to be as much on as you’d have thought, coming from Dublin.

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sonofstan - October 21, 2012

Conjures up a nice image of you going along to The Family Cat’s 25th anniversary reunion tour in Whelan’s along with 30 die hard post-C86ers and bellowing out requests for KoD songs.

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6. Tomboktu - October 20, 2012

Dave Fanning DJing and being rather puzzled when people kept asking him to play The Wolfe Tones

What a wonderful image 🙂

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7. Tomboktu - October 21, 2012

Is there a Northern Irish accent on “Mainly Mornings”?

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8. Miguel Tea (@MiguelTea) - October 22, 2012

Damian. I actually have one of your Kitchens of Distinction 12″s – I think it’s the “3rd Time We Opened The Capsule”. I ended up with it and a couple of other albums when you & Ann split up about 20 years ago! I think you got all my early Frank & Walters EPs…..I actually mentioned a while on my band’s blog (http://aphroditelion.tumblr.com/post/28432178685/here-comes-everybody-the-story-of-the-pogues ).
Anyway I’ve never been in New Cross but do have good memories of seeing KOD in McGonagles in 1991 when Strange Free World was released. Even think Whipping Boy might have been the support. Kinda gave up on them after than when my musical tastes went more American but I did pick up the ‘Capsule – Best of’ on CD a few years back. Also felt Interpol and a few others owed them a debt but there you have.

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Damian O'Broin (@damianobroin) - October 24, 2012

So that’s where my copy of Candy Apple Grey is!

Good to hear from you Michael. Yes, I have those Frank and Walters EPs safely stored away. I think I might have ended up with a copy of Carter USM’s second album as well…

It’s funny, you’re to second person who’s mentioned the KOD/Whipping Boy gig to me this week. Sorry I missed that one.

Nice post on The Pogues/Nips by the way.

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9. ben - April 9, 2013

they were the greatest band to ever walk the earth….some guy on this blog said the “first two albums were great” or something – are you nuts!!!??? Yes they were great but the third album the death of cool is the lushest, densest, most literate, exhilarating and incredible record ive ever heard…….how they werent world famous i dont know – i thin its because the music is dense and passionate and vulnereable and almost too much for people somehow, to be honest the singer patrick was a very normal looking bloke and probably didnt have the photogenic qualities needed to make it in those days, the odd thing is that every gay person ive met seems pretty unimpressed by them but i think as a rule the sound appeals more to the straight community – its not a very ‘camp’ sound at all – in fact its a very forceful masculine sound and that appeals to people looking for something intense and moving..patricks solo stuff is ok but he sounds hollow without julians incredible soundscapes – it was the mix of his almosty orchestral backing undergirding patricks emotionally dramatic, cultured lyrics that pushed the expreicne of listening to the kod to the ultimate intensity – its a strong, deep injection – too much for some to bear but if you can bear it – its adoreable….

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10. Transpontine - January 12, 2014

Good stuff, hope you don’t mind but I’ve quoted a couple of your comments at my SE London blog Transpontine (http://transpont.blogspot.co.uk/2014/01/more-new-cross-venue-memories.html) , where you can find a lot more about the Venue/Harp Club and some of the other places you mention (follow links from that post). The place is still going but now exclusively with cover bands. I think the Wishing Well people mention was actually the Dewdrop, now closed. I assume the George Canning mentioned was the pub in Brixton on corner of Brixton Water Lane, still going strong as Hootananny.

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