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Artist Spotlight: Cornershop

Formed in 1991 by brothers Tjinder and Avtar Singh with their friends Ben Ayres and David Chambers, Cornershop fuses the music of India with British rock and pop as well as electronic dance music with an incomparable sense of humor.

Taking its name from a stereotype that Asians in Britain often own corner shops, the band (which is now led by Tjinder Singh and Ayres) first released several recordings in its native Britain but 1994’s Woman’s Gotta Have It and 1997’s When I Was Born For The 7th Time curried special favor in the United States. The latter found the band gaining radio play with “Brimful of Asha” and appeal thanks to guest appearances by singer Paula Frazer, and hip-hop musician Justin Warfield. The latter record also featured a version of the Beatles’ classic “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)” sung in Punjabi, a language spoken on the western India/eastern Pakistan border that features heavily in Cornershop’s music.

Cornershop reached its first career peak with 2002’s Handcream for a Generation, a brilliant and concise statement that featured the epic “Spectral Mornings,” and the typically humorous “Lessons Learned from Ricky I to Rocky III.” Noel Gallagher and Guigsy of Oasis lend a hand in the studio and the record received typically positive reviews. Behind the scenes, the group was undergoing turmoil which led to an extended hiatus that was broken in 2009 with the release of Judy Sucks a Lemon for Breakfast.

In 2011 Cornershop collaborated with vocalist Bubbley Kaur, a British housewife who sings in Punjabi, on the album Cornershop and the Double O’ Groove Of, following it with Urban Turban: The Singhles Club in 2012. This latest record features a series of guest artists including students at Castle Hill Primary who appear on the wonderfully memorable “What Did The Hippie Have In His Bag?”


Ten of the Best from Cornershop: 
1. “Brimful of Asha” from When I Was Born For The 7th Time: This almost impossibly infectious tune celebrates Indian film and the tradition of actors and actresses lip-synching in these performances. One of the more familiar vocalists heard in these films is Asha Bhosle, who has more than 10,000 performances to her credit.

2. “Born Disco, Died Heavy Metal” from Hold On, It Hurts: Appropriately chaotic, this 1994 track is one of the more promising from Hold On, It Hurts.

3. “6 A.M. Jullander Shere” from Woman’s Gotta Have It: The lead track from 1995’s Woman’s Gotta Have It (the name of a Bobby Womack album), this track is sung in Punjabi and is indicative of Cornershop’s ability to seamlessly blend Indian and British pop music.

4. “Sleep On The Left Side” from When I Was Born For The 7th Time: One might argue that Handcream for a Generation is Cornershop’s finest recorded hour to date. Still, When I Was Born For The 7th Time runs a close second and this track, which opens that album, is classic Cornershop through and through.

5. “Lessons Learned from Rock I to Rocky III” from Handcream for a Generation: A salute (?) to a film franchise that got out of hand or a hodge-podge of references to popular culture? You be the judge. The not safe work video celebrated 70s rock n’ roll excess as much as the song complete with stadium rock swagger–itself.

6. “Who Fingered Rock n’ Roll” from Judy Sucks a Lemon for Breakfast: This picks up where “Lessons Learned” left off, albeit seven years later. The band lost nothing in that time and, if anything, sounds more committed and cocksure.

7. “Topknot” from Cornershop and the Double O’ Groove Of with Bubbley Kaur: Vocalist Bubbley Kaur shines on this seamless blending of cultures that is said to have been a favorite of British radio icon John Peel.

8. “What Did The Hippie Have In His Bag?” from Urban Turban: The Singhles Club: Undeniably playful, the song finds Tjinder Singh joined by the children of Castle Hill Primary.

9. “Spectral Mornings” from Handcream for a Generation: The most epic of all Cornershop tracks–weighing in at over 14 minutes–the song also features Oasis man Noel Gallagher on guitar. It’s one of the best tracks on what–as mentioned above‹maybe Cornershop’s best release to date.

10. “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)” from When I Was Born For the 7th Time: Although this wasn’t the first rock track to incorporate sitar with pop music, its appearance on the 1965 Beatles’ album Rubber Soul has made it perhaps the most memorable–and visible of such songs to do so. Sung in Punjabi, the Cornershop version adds humbling–and beautiful–dimensions.

Jedd Beaudoin is host/producer of the nationally syndicated program Strange Currency. He has also served as an arts reporter, a producer of A Musical Life and a founding member of the KMUW Movie Club. As a music journalist, his work has appeared in Pop Matters, Vox, No Depression and Keyboard Magazine.