Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Fairies in Rock Music - City Hobgoblins

A number of Fall songs deal with the subject of folklore, at least implicitly. An admitted fan of science fiction and horror literature, singer Mark E Smith also strikes me as knowing his Boggarts from his Bugganes. H P Lovecraft and Aleistair Crowley are influences MES returns to time and again for subject matter, and he also claims to possess a degree of precognitive ability, having "anticipated" such events as the newsworthiness of Terry Waite (just prior to his kidnapping in Beirut) and the IRA bombing of Manchester's Arndale Centre.

As usual I will plant my flag in the sceptical camp over such matters - I think if you comment regularly enough and abstractly enough on popular culture you're bound to look as if you've predicted something with eerie accuracy every now and then. Even so the Terry Waite thing strikes me as impressive.

City Hobgoblins is the B-side of the Fall's classic 1980 single "How I Wrote Elastic Man".

Tap, tap, tap, tap
You think it's the pipes
But who turns on the lights?
Our city hobgoblins
Ubu le Roi is a home hobgoblin
And at nights all ready
Our city hobgoblins
Infest my home at night
They are not alright
Ten times my age
One-tenth my height
Our city hobgoblins
Buzz of the all-night mill
Ah but evil
Emanates from old green glades
Pretentious eh?
Our city hobgoblins
They'll get yer
So Queen Victoria
Is a large black slug in Piccadilly, Manchester
Our city hobgoblins
And they say
We cannot walk the floor at night in peace
At night in peace

As with most Fall lyrics the meaning of the song is highly abstracted and contains a number of bewildering and probably entirely tangential asides. There is a theme to the song though, it apparently refers to a gang of street toughs who plagued the area of Collyhurst, an inner-city area of Manchester, about 1 mile from the City. I once read an interview with Morrissey were he talked about how the song referred to "the Collyhurst Perries", who all seemed to be somewhat diminutive as a result of breeding or poor nourishment. The Perry Boys website gives some further information.

The Perry Boys wore many Mod styles, but it was the Fred Perry logo that eventually provided a brand with which to label them. People feared Perries, but they were a rare sight in the mid-70s, favouring night-life over day, Soul over Glam-Rock and music over football. Despite the obscurity, they were feared as nasty lads, very insular and ready to strike at anyone who looked at them, full stop. They were the Perry Boys. They knew who they were, even if you didn't. They proved to be a prototype for much that evolved after and their offspring, the Boys, declared undying war on the Merseyside Scallies.

So really, with typical precognition, Mark E Smith turned his attention to the malign phenomenon of chavs some twenty years before the mainstream media caught up with the idea.

Identifying people from "another tribe" as maliciously inhuman and/or supernatural is something that has probably gone on for all of history. Often because of a technological or military imbalance (think of the Aztecs viewing Spanish Conquistadors as gods, or the Huns seen as "a scourge of God") or just to demonise invaders, opponents or immigrants.

City Hobgoblins is not the only Fall song to deal with gangs of yobs and the supernatural, Squid Law (sometimes known as Squid Lord) seems to be an invocation to Cthulhuesque god-monsters to do away with a particular gang who seem to have caused Mark E Smith some grief.

Good man, lend a hand
Help me to deal with some scum
Who are only in their late teens
But I hate their existence
They think 3 on 1
A normal thing
Network 7 encouraged them
But tonight they picked the wrong man

Squid Lord
His intelligence

Number One squat with grey turnup jeans
Stuck up white hairstyle
Obviously sheep shag mill town
Squid lord revenge
Just his intelligence vast

The second one is a streak of piss
Leave me alone with him
His blindness will be fun
But it won't make a difference

Squid Lord
His intelligence

The third one stood behind
Held my arms
But in the hospital
His bed will be in a draught
A geriatric germ-well
I curse his family and wish them poor
But he'll have time to dwell
On squid revenge, cooped-up
In 3 months of pure Hell

Squid Lord
His tentacles

Good man, lend a hand
Help me clear this mess
Give me back the law it took from my life
Give me back the pride of my class
This scum are just a morass

Squid Lord
His intelligence

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