“I could never live in London.” You hear that a lot from people who don’t live in London. I think I used to say it too. But then, shortly after I moved here, I realised that the London I didn’t want to live in was a conflation of Piccadilly Circus, Oxford Street and Trafalgar Square at rush hour. I imagined fumbling for my house keys while irate commuters yelled at me to get out of their way. No, I definitely couldn’t live there.
Then shortly after I moved here, I realised that it was no more tenable a position to hold than, say, never eating vegetables. London isn’t one place. It’s a hundred different places — all with their own character and concomitant character-types — lent a veneer of uniformity by… well, by what, exactly? A name? More than a name, I think the answer might lie in the London Underground map. If I close my eyes and imagine what the whole of London looks like, it’s Harry Beck’s iconic diagrammatic design that materialises before me.
Over the years, I’ve emerged into daylight at enough stations — driven and cycled past many more — to be able to describe the places behind the names. Southgate is a bustling post-war throwback, where mums flit from grocer to hardware store to post office, maybe stopping for a cup of tea at the Wimpy located opposite the art deco Tesla coil of Charles Holden’s circular ticket hall. Some, however, remain mysterious. After I misread it for the first time, Acton Town will always be Action Town to me. I never want to find out how much action really goes on there. I made that mistake with Hillingdon. Seduced by the shiny white steel construction of the tube station that sits on the side of the A40, I took the Metropolitan line westwards to see the English settlement tucked behind it. I wished I hadn’t bothered. It may have won the award for Underground Station Of The Year in 1994, but up close, the station was grotty and weatherbeaten. A bridge connecting it to the main town was unloved and unloveable — a functional satellite town with no clear sense of its own identity.
But as long as you don’t know London, you can imagine it. And the names of so many stations, exhort you to do just that. Burnt Oak. Chalfont & Latimer. Theydon Bois. Mudchute. Sitting on the interminable prong of Piccadilly Line that stretches out towards Heathrow, there’s not much else to do. That’s how I like to imagine Anglesey-raised Carwyn Ellis writing Turnham Green — the b-side to Colorama’s 2008 debut seven-inch Sound. Certainly, the name begs to be alchemised into a song. The question in this case, is what took someone so long to get around to it? How could the entire late 60s pass — an era which saw The Kinks, The Bee Gees, Syd Barrett, David Bowie, The Zombies and, of course, The Beatles looking at their metropolitan surroundings with dilated pupils — without someone noticing the lysergic ambiguities of a name like that? Ellis wasn’t quite the first (there’s a dreary Turnham Green by some long-forgotten indie plodders called The Perishers) but when you’re compiling your hypothetical tube stop pop comp it’s hard to think of a more perfect opener than this one, with its slow, sonic establishing shot of cymbal-scrapes and unresolved sitar noise.
This is soft psychedelia for wet, windless mornings measured out in waltz-time. Pastel-toned shades of The High Llamas abound in Ellis’s languorous delivery. Unlike Sean O’Hagan though, Ellis forsakes any audible debt to The Beach Boys in favour of something closer to home. Subconsciously, Ellis may have been aiming for a feel more akin to Donovan’s Sunny Goodge St. That would explain the woodwind and the sleepy syncopated brush-strokes. In Donovan’s 1965 song though, you’re propelled to the heart of the midnight circus: the “violent hash-smoker [shaking] the chocolate machine… smashing into neon streets”; “doll house rooms with coloured lights swingin’.” You can’t listen to Sunny Goodge St without getting nostalgic for a swinging London you were never old enough to experience.
Back in Zone 3, however, London’s swing is something more akin to the gentle sway of a suspended tyre in a deserted playground. “Any train is good for me,” sings Ellis in the manner of someone more preoccupied with getting warm than getting somewhere. Ultimately though, I suspect he didn’t dwell too long on the words. There’s nothing described by here that isn’t encapsulated by the leisurely flutter of flute and piano around an ascending chord sequence which apes the sensation of waiting for something, waiting for anything to happen.
Finally, all music gives way to a rolling stock rattle which, in turn, fades into the distance. Once the commuters have finished commuting, Turnham Green’s work is done. Peak hours only. Quiet, isn’t it? This is the sound of the suburbs.