Bringing you the hits from the year Davina McCall started matchmaking in Streetmate on Channel 4, the £2 coin first went into circulation and when Peugeot unveiled their 206 supermini car, this is The Story of Pop: 1998. This week: the story of how one remix catapulted an obscure indie band to huge success…
- Artist: Cornershop
- Song: Brimful Of Asha
- Released: 16/01/1998
- Writers / Producers: Tjinder Singh / Cornershop / Norman Cook
- Highest UK Chart Position: #1
- Weeks on Chart: 15
As the last glowing embers of Britpop started to gradually fade out over the course of 1998, it did lead to some brilliant moments that musically, might have otherwise not had their moment in the spotlight. Although this week’s featured act predated that particular movement altogether by some 10 years.
Formed out the ashes of The General Havoc, the band he was in whilst he was a student at Lancashire Polytechnic in Preston (now the University of Central Lancashire), Cornershop were fronted and founded in 1991 by Wolverhampton based singer, songwriter and guitarist Tjinder Singh, in a lineup that included his brother Avtar Singh on bass guitar and vocals, David Chambers on drums and Ben Ayres on guitar, keyboards and tamboura.
Taking their name after the common stereotype that British Asians owned corner shops, they were a band offering something different, combining the then prevalent styles of indie and alternative rock with influences from Indian music and electronica, with lyrics that had a strong social commentary.
Up to this point in their career, they were moderately well known in certain music circles from their first two studio albums released on Wiija, the independent label founded by staff at the Rough Trade record store in Notting Hill, London.
And that was still largely the case in September 1997, with the release of their third album, When I Was Born For The 7th Time. A record which, amongst other things, boasted a cover of The Beatles‘ “Norwegian Wood”, which no less than both Paul McCartney himself and Yoko Ono had given their seal of approval on.
It had been proceeded by the first single, “Brimful Of Asha”, a mellow, hypnotic but delightful tribute to Asha Bhosle, a famous Indian cinema playback singer who had been influential on Tjinder, and Trojan Records, the well known reggae and ska label, noted for it’s quirky chorus line “Everybody needs a bosom for a pillow”. On its first time out in August that same year, it was a minor success, just scraping into the top 60. But then not one, but two vital rolls of the dice occurred, that was to ensure the story didn’t end there.
Former member of The Housemartins and Beats International, Norman Cook – literally on the cusp of finding huge success in this year as Fatboy Slim – picked up the track and reworked it into an utterly addictive big beat banger. A white label of the remix then caught the attention of then Radio 1 DJ and tastemaker John Peel, who placed it at the top of the rundown on his legendary Festive 50 show that went out that Christmas.
It was this, combined with overwhelming public demand, that was enough to convince Wiija Records to grant an official re-release to the now remixed “Brimful Of Asha”. For a short but sweet time, Cornershop then went from being a best kept secret to one of the hottest bands around, as the reissued single rocketed straight in at number one, with first week sales of over 208,000 copies, eventually going onto sell enough to be one of the year’s top 20 best selling singles.
The When I Was Born For The 7th Time album eventually went gold for sales of over 100,000 copies off the back of the single’s success, whilst a second hit, “Sleep On The Left Side”, made the top 30 in May, after being patronised by another set of Radio 1 DJs, this time by Mark Radcliffe and Marc “Lard” Riley, as theme music on their weekday afternoon show.
“Brimful Of Asha” still works on so many levels; not only is it a great record, but sonically and historically, it’s a snapshot of multicultural Britain as it was at that time, making nods to the past without being derivative, and is a quirky melding of many styles of music and influences that Cornershop had no intentions to repeat in the same way – and indeed, never attempted to repeat – in their subsequent career. It’s perhaps why it’s still such a special track to listen to now.
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