Peter Culley, who will be DJing at The Candhar tomorrow, has posted his playlist. At Number 12, Humble Pie’s “Beckton Dumps”.
The author of “Beckton Dumps” was born and raised not far from Beckton, in Manor Park, North East London. The Beckton Steve Marriott knew was home to Europe’s largest gasworks, as well as the town’s other major industry, sewage treatment. When the UK switched from town gas to natural gas in 1969, the gasworks closed, leaving thousands unemployed (and sewage the main employer).
The hero of Marriott’s song is the singer himself, a rock star living in a 16th-century house in Essex, on the other side of London. Like Proust, he spends his days at home, servicing his routines, distracted by his past.
Well what does it take / To make a jelly roll? / Who can you sell?
When Marriott was young, his father sold jellied eels, pies and mash from a kiosk outside a pub. The reverie occurs at the bridge, enhanced by a change in the song’s sonic texture (in the vocal, the instrumentation and the room in which he is singing). After eight bars, our hero returns to reality.
Drowning! / Now warn ya! / I'll be right back! / I won't go there!
Marriott yearns for his childhood, only to recoil from it just as quick. Culley, who has spent most of his life in the country, yearns for a city he barely lived in, a city he both craves and loathes. Marriot’s situation is common amongst his contemporaries. Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson describes a similar state in “Back To The Family” (1969), a place he longs to return to (“I’m going back to the family / ‘cos I’ve had about all I can take”), but one that is no better than the one he is living in.
Baudelaire once wrote “It always seems to me that I should be happy anywhere but where I am.” Although written in 1869, this for me is one of the great lines of the twentieth century, one that continues to have resonance today. The challenge is to understand this feeling, come to terms with it, and not take it out on others.
I can't seem to open my eyes
But I must get out of this bed
'Cause the phone keeps ringing downstairs
And I know that this ain't no place for a sleepy head
I go down to my chest
Put on my old string vest
Swing it on baby
Well I feel like I'm in need
So I go back up for a smoke
And then I slip back in my easy chair
Then I give my lucky dog a stroke
Well he just gives me a wink
And I know what that mean now
Well it mean that I need to put on his lead
If I don't want a mess on my cheap pan
'Cause I know I can trust him
To grab the fuzz if they bust in
Get him boy! Oh! yer!
Well what does it take
To make a jelly roll?
Who can you sell?
When I wake up to a grey day
How do I slip away so easily?
Well I feel too old to get a hair cut
And I ain't had a shave in months
Now when I don't go out
I keep my door shut
And I get on back to good old Beckton Dumps
Now warn ya!
I'll be right back!
I won't go there!