Cornershop is a seven piece pop/rock group that combines elements of traditional Punjabi music with modern pop, rock, and hip-hop elements to create a sound that is unique to say the least. They are perhaps best known for their most recent album, 1997's When I Was Born For The 7th Time, and the single from it, Brimful of Asha, which was a number one hit in the UK in 1998.
The band's frontman is lead vocalist Tjinder Singh. Also in the group is his brother Avtar Singh (on a part time basis), Wallis Healey on guitar, Anthony Saffery on keyboards and sitar, Ben Ayres on tamboura, Nick Simms on drums and Pete Hall on percussion. One could say that the eighth member of Cornershop is the studio, because their music often incorporates sampling and many other studio tricks.
The band formed in 1992 in Lancashire by a group of people who shared an interest in the work of William Morris, who advocated using creative tactics such as poetry, music, and crafts to bring about change in the world socially and aesthetically. The group called themselves Cornershop in response to the Singh's difficulties in constantly living with and confronting Asian stereotypes in England. The band's name comes from the stereotype that all Indians in England have their own corner shop.
The group played their first gig on September 11, 1992, in Harlow. The band's musical mastery was extremely slight, even then, and what followed was a passionate, yet extremely poorly played set. Someone from Wiiija Records was there and somehow saw through the musical ineptness, and signed the band to a record deal. The group appeared on BBC Radio with John Peel, who pronounced them one of the few bright spots in a dull year in British music (remember, this was right before the birth and onslaught of Britpop). The group also gained attention by almost flaunting their lack of musicianship, going so far as to insult Morrissey and burn his photo onstage and in a public demonstration outside of EMI headquarters.
Cornershop released their first single in early 1993, entitled In The Days of Ford Contina. It consisted of four tracks and was named single of the week by Melody Maker. It was classic Cornershop, but with a much rougher edge: it mixed flutes and sitars with hard rock and tape looping experiments, but in an almost amateurish fashion.
Their second release, the EP Lock Stock & Double Barrel, came out in May 1993 and featured the minor hit England's Dreaming, an enjoyable track and probably the first recorded evidence of some of the amazing stuff the group would record in just a few years. After this EP, the band toured substantially throughout the rest of 1993, traveling around Europe in an ice cream van because it was the cheapest transportation they could find.
Their next EP came out in early 1994. Readers' Wives finally demonstrated that the group had learned to somewhat harness the power of sampling, and marked further development in their sound. Mid-1994 saw their first album, Hold On It Hurts and the first example of consistent quality in their music. The tracks Counteraction and You Always Said My Language Would Get Me In Trouble were among the best ones, but the true standout was 6 AM Jullandar Shere, an excellent laid-back song that really showed off the power of well-executed Punjabi vocals mixed with eastern instruments in an overall western sound, a theme the group would revisit later. Also appearing is the track We're In Yr Corner, which would appear on the groundbreaking When I Was Born For The 7th Time and provides on that album a good indication of their earlier sound.
The group at this point was gradually learning more and more about the entire music making process. Hold On It Hurts was entirely self-produced and featured artwork done by the group. Unfortunately, the album was largely unsuccessful in the UK, so the band toured again, preparing stuff for their next album. Interestingly, though, this album became quite popular among the riot grrl movement popular at the time in the United States.
That album, Woman's Gotta Have It, is Cornershop's figurative Rubber Soul. This is the disc where they came of age; while there are still a few aimless tracks like Roof Rack and Wog, some of the tracks here are positively breathtaking, like the amazing redone 6 AM Jullandar Shere and its partner, 7:20 AM Jullandar Shere, My Dancing Days Are Done, and Camp Orange. The genius was beginning to shine through, and they started to get some real attention in the UK, the US, and Europe. By the end of the year, it received some nominations for album of the year and had been released in the UK, the US, and most of Europe, bringing the group a good deal of widespread success in the underground.
In 1996, while preparing for their third album, the group founded a side project, Clinton, which focuses on dance music. The project has released three albums to date, which are of interest to anyone who enjoys Cornershop. The end of the year saw the release of a single, Butter The Soul, which hinted at what was to come much like Paperback Writer hinted at the future of The Beatles at the start of 1966.
In 1997, the group released their masterpiece; if Woman's Gotta Have It was their Rubber Soul, this was their Revolver. When I Was Born For The 7th Time was released to huge amounts of critical acclaim, even winning Spin's album of the year award in the same year that Radiohead's OK Computer was released. It spawned the hit single Brimful of Asha and Sleep on the Left Side, but this was really a fifteen track masterpiece, featuring an appropriate Punjabi cover of The Beatles' Norwegian Wood, a poetry reading from Allan Ginsburg, and an incredible amount of musical creativity.
The group toured with Oasis throughout 1998, but the big news of the year was the fact that the single Brimful of Asha (at least, a Norman Cook remix of it) topped the UK charts in February, their first and thus far only chart topper.
Since then, the group has been dormant, releasing two albums with the Clinton project and preparing for their next album, which is expected in 2002. Will this be their Sgt. Pepper? I, for one, can't wait to find out.