Where is Mike Alway now? His work is surely not done. While Alway’s away, there are always reminders of his enduring presence in the pop marketplace when doing the rounds locally, with the inevitable copies on the shelves of Poundland or the charity shops of a Hives CD or perhaps Cosmic Rough Riders’ Enjoy The Melodic Sunshine, from the time when Mike’s distinctively garish él graphics were used for Alan McGee’s Poptones label.
Mike’s projects in the 1990s and beyond, post-él, were many and varied, taking in songs for children and songs for the jet set, If ..., Reverie, Sound of Chartreuse, liaisons with labels like Siesta, Mushroom Pillow, Elefant, Polystar and in particular Cornelius’ Trattoria. And then in 2004 or so él itself was recalled to life, becoming a bespoke salvage operation, which if one were to use Venn diagrams could be shown to overlap a little with the activities of labels like Rev-ola, Trunk, Soul Jazz, Crippled Dick Hot Wax, Marina, Jazzman, and so on.
Cherry Red, almost inevitably, sponsored the renewed burst of él activity, and Mike and whoever was working with him went in ferociously for releasing salvaged sounds which supposedly shaped the original él aesthetic, and if they didn’t it was still a good line to use. The releases came thick and fast, usually with the distinctive él graphic design, often replacing original artwork oddly.
Among the essential titles Mike made available were ones by Gary McFarland, Gábor Szabó, Cal Tjader, Ennio Morricone, Edda Dell'Orso, Piero Piccioni, King’s Singers, Jeanne Moreau, Juliette Greco, Blossom Dearie, Jackie Trent, Rita Lee, Rogério Duprat, Sylvia Telles, Nara Leão, Quarteto Em Cy, Ravi Shankar, Michel Legrand, Russ Garcia, Miklós Rózsa, John Cage, Erik Satie, Edgar Varèse, Hi-Lo’s, Roy Budd, Dave Pell Singers, and many more.
The last él title that registered here was a pairing of the heroic Bobby Scott’s Joyful Noises and Bobby’s compositions for Larry Elgart’s themed set The City. That was in 2015, and one cannot be sure that Mike Alway was still involved at this stage, or whether he had grown bored and wandered off to tackle something less predictable, or simply been escorted off the premises as he was when él was young, and the label ended up incongruously putting out Felt’s Me And A Monkey On The Moon as part of some odd marriage of convenience.
After his departure from él Mike re-emerged as a keen grassroots football fan, and one of the enduring images of him would be coming out of the Sportspages shop on the Charing Cross Road with a plastic bag, dressed in a suit more appropriate for a film of Under The Volcano, and wandering up Old Compton Street to Patisserie Valerie, to sit languidly over a coffee and cake, perusing his purchases of lower league team fanzines. It is a snapshot seemingly wonderfully at odds with the idea of the sensitive aesthete in charge of él, but those contradictions were part of the fun of it.
Mike even got involved in the Exotica label, compiling LPs of odd football-themed songs, and he made a short film with Douglas Hart about the Brazilian team at the 1970 World Cup, with music by Primal Scream rather than Depth Charge, which was shown on the BBC in 1994 as part of a night of football related programmes. This would, presumably, have been made around the same time that Douglas directed the promotional video to go with Vic Godard’s ‘Won’t Turn Back’ single on Postcard.
Actually, there was probably plenty of football chat back in the heyday of él as in real life Louis Philippe is better known for playing the part of Philippe Auclair, a respected journalist and biographer of Eric Cantona and Thierry Henry. There was a time when Philippe would regularly pop up on BBC Radio 5 live talking about the prospects of a French team in the Champions League and which young players to watch out for and whether it was likely they would move to the urbane Arsenal or the vulgar Man Utd. Part of the fun of that would be to yell at the radio that they should at least acknowledge that this cultured pundit had at one time written such beautiful songs as ‘Sleep Angry Beauty’ and the ‘Ballad of Sophie Scholl’.
It seems somehow unlikely that the friendship between Philippe and Jonathan Coe is based on a shared love of football, and there is incredibly little sport in his novels, but Jonathan has mentioned that his beloved grandfather introduced him to J.L. Carr’s magnificent How Steeple Sinderby Wanderers Won The FA Cup. Each to their own: Jonathan’s hero David Nobbs rarely mentioned music but he was great on football, with Reggie Perrin and the rise of Climthorpe Albion, and Gordon Coppinger and the fall of Climthorpe United and their taciturn Bulgarian striker Raduslav Bogoff.
There is plenty of football in Jonathan’s biography of B.S. Johnson, who was a keen Chelsea fan. The maths might not really work out, but it is fun to imagine Johnson on the terraces at Stamford Bridge standing near to some local lads from round his way who would later call themselves Subway Sect. B.S. worked often as a football correspondent, though this was not without its difficulties and dramas. The book features a particularly vivid account Johnson wrote about the 1966 World Cup Final, which is wonderfully thrilling and reflects the way people really were moved by the way the tournament and the final itself developed.
And included in the Poundland favourite Well Done God! Selected Prose and Drama of B.S. Johnson is a previously unpublished piece from February 1966 for a World Cup-themed edition of the Sunday Times magazine. In this largely autobiographical article Johnson is characteristically prickly, and there is a delightfully defensive dismissal of any idea that he is “following the fashionable interest intellectuals now have in soccer ... in my case what amounts to a love of football came years before I was elevated to the rank of intellectual”.
There is also a classic B.S. scathing attack on the way football was being written about: “There is no valid reason why the sports pages should be any less well written than the rest of a newspaper: but all of them noticeably are. One of the chief reasons for this is the heresy believed in by even the posh papers as well: that because a man played a game well, he must therefore be able to write about it equally outstandingly. Nothing could be less true: the evidence is that few of them can write at all, let alone professionally, and one of the sadder sights of the press box is one of these players of yesterday haltingly speaking his thoughts to a young lad who puts them into English for him.”