What happens when urban development corporations inexplicably decide to make terrible pop music?

"You've never been shopping as it should be/Until you've been to Central Milton Keynes!" Image: Wikimedia Commons/Prioryman

Development corporations have been, for good or ill, a big part of the growth and regeneration of UK urban areas and new towns in the late 20th century (and beyond): many areas had their fortunes turned around, if not necessarily for the original inhabitants, and they’ve given us some bizarre non-places like Canary Wharf and Milton Keynes.

But we also have to development corporations to thank for some absolutely brilliant (not absolutely brilliant) pop music!

Energy In Northampton

Back in 1980, someone at Northampton Development Corporation’s marketing department was struggling to work out how to they could get the message out the world that Northampton was now The Place To Be. Presumably this person then sustained some sort of head injury and decided to recruit the lady who sang on Video Killed The Radio Star to record a song about aliens.

The result, Energy In Northampton, tells the beautiful story of a lost starship fleeing a 'neutron war', its crew seeking somewhere to start a new life: luckily their scanners light up and direct them towards… NORTHAMPTON, a town of energy, a town where they could be free! Indeed.

"Calling planet earth! Calling planet earth! Stop beaming this song into space!"

The host of the promotional video that accompanied the song theorises that the aliens were mainly attracted by the lager produced by the local Carlsberg brewery, just another absolutely brilliant thing brough to you by the Northampton Development Corporation.

"A love affair with Northampton is a journey into space." Is it? Is it, indeed. Image: This Is Of Interest.

Is the idea of lager-swilling aliens off-putting? Don’t worry, there’s a more down-to-earth track on the B-side, which economically uses exactly the same tune with different lyrics. It tells a love story for the ages, about how all the singer’s fantasies have come true since she met a guy from Northampton, which is only 60 miles by road or rail!

"I just can't wait to be in Northampton!"

But Northampton was not the only development corporation to release some plop pop.

We Are Teesside

In 1995 the Teesside Development Corporation made the questionable decision to celebrate its achievements by releasing “We Are Teesside”, a recording by New Ground, a group which apparently included members of Middlesbrough FC (the name presumably referencing their then brand new Riverside Stadium, built on Development Corporation land.)

The football team were relegated the following year, presumably as karmic punishment for their involvement.

“Teesside - we’re the future, we’re the pride!” boast the saccharine lyrics, before explaining that “the gift we leave behind is the promise of tomorrow for our children”. Also this bucket of vomit. The Teesside Development Corporation was disbanded three years later; a local MP later condemned it for “often inappropriate and threadbare development”, presumably referring to this musical tragedy.

You've Never Seen Anything Like It, Central Milton Keynes

Milton Keynes, the archetypal new town, had to get on the crap urban pop train as well. The opening of the town’s shopping centre, developed by Milton Keynes Development Corporation, was celebrated with a promotional silver flexi-disc. The song largely consists of ambiguously ambitious claims all the lines of: “You’ve never been anywhere like it, Central Milton Keynes!”

This was, inexplicably, written by the drummer from The Troggs.

“Sunny CMK! Wouldn’t mind staying all day!” sings a man who has presumably never been.


Come on modern day development corporations, raise your awful song game. Hey, London Legacy Development Corporation - we'll give you "If you need a lark/Head to the Olympic Park!" for free.

 
 
 
 

This app connects strangers in two cities across the world. But can it tackle urban loneliness?

New Delhi, in India, where many of Duet-App's users come from. Image: Ville Miettinen

“You can be lonely anywhere, but there is a particular flavour to the loneliness that comes from living in a city, surrounded by millions of people”. Olivia Laing, The Lonely City

Our relationship to where we live and the spaces we inhabit define who we are and how we feel. But how often do we articulate the emotional impact of this relationship, whether this be loneliness, frustration or even civic pride?

“When I moved to a new city, started living alone, wanted to drink less, stay indoors more, and when I realised that I cannot make any more best friends.”

A new social network, a simple app that connects two individuals from the UK and India, aims to counter some of these issues.  Over the course of a year connected pairs receive one question a day through the app and their responses are exchanged with each other. A simple interaction that gradually builds a series of one-on-one relationships and invites users to imagine, over time, the other person living their life.

Distant geographies are an implicit part of the experience, therefore many of the questions nudge users to explore correlations between their physical and emotional landscapes. The data shows us that many of the Duet-App users are located in populous urban cities like Delhi, Bangalore, Manchester, Leeds and London, places that can just as often discourage feelings of belonging and place-making as much as they foster them.

“I had thought I'd never be able to live here again. but here I am living again at home after almost a decade living elsewhere. Living in Mumbai is a contact sport, and I can't do without it's chaos and infectious energy.”

Mumbai, India. Image: Deepak Gupta

In general cities are getting bigger and spreading wider at the same time as our communications are increasingly being conducted online and via digital gateways.

There is a sense that much of our online personas project an idealised version of ourselves; we increasingly document and express our daily lives through a filter and we are not always comfortable with a spontaneous expression of ourselves. Duet-App seeks to foster alternative digital relationships that through their anonymity allow us to be more honest and free.

“I feel a lot of people assume that I always have a lot going on for me and everything's always happy and amazing. I wish they could appreciate... how much of my own anxiety I swim in every single day. I appear and behave “normal” on the outside, calm and composed but there are always storms going on in my head.”

In exploring the responses to the questions so far, those that often garner the most replies relate directly to how we feel about our personal position in the world around us. Often these questions act as provocations not only to share responses but to reflect and articulate our thoughts around how we feel about what we are doing in the here and now.

Manchester, another popular city for Duet-App users. Image: Julius 

“Sometimes I feel sad about it [getting old] because I saw how easy it would be to feel lonely, and the fact that the world is set up for able-bodied young people is a bit of a travesty.”

Although many social media platforms allow for distant engagement and access into the lives of others we are in the main still curating and choosing our friendship circles. Through Duet-App this is randomised (and anonymised) with the intention of bypassing the traditional mechanics of how we broker online relationships. While directly exploring the digital space as a place for intimacy.


“Where do you go for peace?

“Well the internet, really. I do some mindless browsing, peek into the fandoms, listen to a few songs. Calms me down.”

Snapshots into the lives of someone existing and playing out their lives remotely can highlight shared concerns that break down preconceptions of how life is lived by others. Prompted by the reflections of a stranger exposed to our lives, digital relationships can encourage us to address the physical space we inhabit and the effects that the cities we live out our lives in have on our own well being. 

Catherine Baxendale is director of Invisible Flock.

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