Like a hip hop Tony Robinson, Ed Martin is scouring the charity shops of St Andrews for musical artefacts, appropriating the taste of a previous generation and giving new life to the albums that we would all be worse off for having lost.
The Streets – Original Pirate Material (2002)
£1.50 at Cancer Research UK
The first album I’ve unearthed is the single album which punctuated the tobacco dusted coffee tables of ravers for a decade. Mike Skinner’s début as The Streets has become iconic; from the clipper brand lighter emblazoned with their name, to the insanely quotable couplets which just don’t stop hitting the mark. To use his own words, he “speaks in communications in bold type”. You’d be hard pressed to found a more universally-liked début in music. It is only this album which could be one of Danny Brown’s favourites, whilst also being described by my dad as ‘actually good‘.
Despite his own admission that he’s not that good of a rapper, Skinner is possibly the closest the UK has come, bar Dizzee Rascal, to a real hip-hop star. He uses the quality of his UK Garage-based production as his soapbox to give us his world view, accurately and insightfully describing the lives of those around him. The culture he describes is the the one which is becoming dominant in our times: the culture of hedonism, drugs and alcohol, dance music, lads’ holidays, and kebabs.
It seems slightly bizarre that 12 years later his words still seem so relevant, as well as his songs still being able to set a club alight. It is almost as if a knowledge of The Streets has become a pre-requisite for being part of club culture. The album romanticises the condition of ravers as much as they criticise them, capturing both the highs that drugs can elevate people to, and the sadness and violence which surround the culture. Where ‘Geezers Need Excitement‘ captures the bravado of young males,
‘By now you want to leather this twat
And forever your gonna regret that, your choice of path
So mash his head up and your girls now fed up
But stop to think and it’s never gonna be the Jackie Chan scene it could have been to end up’
‘It’s Too Late‘ captures the vulnerability in the same men:
‘She’d walked away, too little too late
I step up the pace, walk past the gates, rain runs over my face
Spirit falls from grace
I purchase a hazy escape at the alcohol place in the chase’
And yet neither of these songs are the best of the album, such is it’s depth of quality.
His simple and direct style allows for him to have a real direct link with his listeners. This, twinned with his skilled use of orchestral samples, can make many of his songs hugely personal to the listeners. Skinner deals in real relatable emotion, not distancing clichés. He is also a master of songwriting craft, portraying the physical manifestations of emotions rather than trying to explain the emotions themselves. The effect of this is to force the listener into empathy, refusing to allow them to glaze over the concepts and making them engage with them instead. His songs make you recall your own break-ups, your own moments of ecstasy, and are so much more immediate as a result.
I could never accurately portray the skill in lyricism which Skinner possesses, and it’s as a producer which he is held in even higher regard. I am so glad I rediscovered this album, and I feel it is in some way important for everyone to hear; it captures the lives of modern British humanity in a way which I have never seen achieved.
In short, what I’m trying to say is Original Pirate Material has a huge amount of depth, whilst still being filled with club anthems. It turned Skinner into an, albeit reluctant, icon. I know that I’ll still be quoting it on my deathbed. And to agree with his own boast in ‘Let’s Push Things Forward‘:
I excel in both content and deliverance
So let’s put on our classics and we’ll have a little dance, shall we?
…And it was only £1.50, so pretty good value all in all.
Words: Ed Martin