Revisit the culturally significant moment Cornershop covered The Beatles song ‘Norwegian Wood’
Given the current climate, the idea of visiting a small venue and being surrounded by like-minded people preparing to see a live concert remains somewhat of a distant dream. Instead, we are handed the opportunity to step back in time, explore the archives and find a sonic fix in a nostalgic realm.
Here, we look at Cornershop, a band who found themselves swept up in the boom of Britpop but went about their business in a totally unique manner. While the UK became infatuated with the perceived rivalry of Blur and Oasis, a band formed in the early 1990s were offering an alternative with their deeply considered approach to music.
For Cornershop, their aims and ambitions went far beyond the music alone. Even the band name, which originated from a racist stereotype referring to British Asians often owning corner shops, offered a deeper understanding of their approach. The band, not content with making music to satisfy the masses, relentlessly pushed their message with prolific effect. Cornershop, whether they knew it at the time or not, represented a huge Indian population of England and, in achieving mainstream success, the band maintained their commitment. If their devotion ever looked in doubt, then the decision making around their debut release, the In The Days of Ford Cortina EP, established their efforts. Unrelenting in their focus of not allowing systematic racism to pass, Cornershop pressed their first record onto ‘curry-coloured vinyl’ in a direct fuck you to racist tropes.
With Tjinder Singh as the band’s leader, the clear creative path they would take to success was established. With a fusion of Indian music and indie rock, Cornershop hit the big time with the release of their most famous song ‘Brimful of Asha’, a track which would appear on their critically-acclaimed album When I Was Born for the 7th Time. Singer Tjinder Singh, when discussing the creation of their hit record, described it as a “very intense” period for the group. “There was a lot of smoking going on, it was a very relaxed time, and very enjoyable all the way through,” he added. “At the end, our engineer had to go for medical assistance. He got freaked out. He smoked so much and then he stopped and he went loopy. He was on medication. His body couldn’t take it.”
While there is an element of notoriety around its creation, the album signified a major leap for the band. Featuring collaborations with the likes of Allen Ginsberg, Paula Frazer and Justin Warfield, Cornershop were also able to receive the green light from Yoko Ono and Paul McCartney to include their very special cover of The Beatles song ‘Norwegian Wood’. However, as is typical of the band, the message was key. Continuing the method that had gained them success to this point, Cornershop blended a quintessential piece of British cultural history but did so with respect to the Indian culture, recording their effort in the Punjabi language.
The song, originally released in 1965 as part of The Beatles’ album Rubber Soul, is arguably the most iconic moment for George Harrison and his relationship to Indian culture. Harrison is widely credited as being a major figure in the broadening of Indian instrumentation to an international level, his admiration and borderline obsession with classical Indian music led to his use of the sitar in ‘Norwegian Wood’. With it, Indian sounds and the popularity of Ravi Shankar were propelled in Western culture. The song, likely to have had a major impact on Tjinder Singh and his Cornershop bandmates, offered a full-circle moment as they began life in the fast lane.
While the message of Cornershop began in a subtle fashion, even at the height of their fame the band was able to successfully incorporate the cultural significance of their creative vision and here, on a mind-bending psychedelic rendition of The Beatles, they completed their mission.