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Song of the day – 337: Au Pairs

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The second in the mini-series inspired by the drawings of French illustrator Vincent Vanoli.

Today, it’s the slightly odd choice of ‘Unfinished Business’ from the debut album Playing With A Different Sex by early 80s Birmingham agit-popsters, the Au Pairs. I say slightly odd because, much as I love this album, this is not the first song I’d have gone for. The brittle ‘It’s Obvious’ maybe, or the unrelenting focus of ‘Headache For Michelle’ with its shards of Gang Of Four guitar, and funky bass. ‘Dear John’, sure: the sardonic ‘Love Song’ or absolutely vivid ‘We’re So Cool’ with its in-the-face lyrics of sexual equality and permissiveness. But no. Our man has opted for ‘Unfinished Business’, a love song that could be taken as female empowering or unrequited depending on your take, a love song that feels weirdly vulnerable among the other more assured Au Pairs songs. Maybe that’s why he chose it?

As Vincent literally puts it, “It is only with a bit of luck I can get a bit of romance/I am your little sloppy affair”.

I can’t actually find a video, or link, for this song – so here’s the fantastically self-assured and quite sarcastic ‘We’re So Cool’ instead.

My early 20s were ruined by bands like the Au Pairs. I don’t mean that to sound too negative, but the band probably never intended for wet-behind-the-ears wannabe activists like myself to take their lyrics so literally. Maybe they did? It was all about the slogan, and hum of feedback. I was tormented by sexual ambivalence, torn by self-doubt. My inadequacies weren’t helped by the Au Pairs being so upfront and undeniably ‘cool’ in their approach to gender relations (and racism, etc). They knew all. I knew nothing. So I listened and tried to learn. It was OK to be a man, long as you understood it was OK to be a woman. “You’re equal but different.” It was OK to sleep around, long as you were upfront about it. It wasn’t OK to try to ‘own’ or ‘possess’. Or maybe it was? Dating was too complicated: all I wanted was … reassurance. It wasn’t until a decade later that I understood that reassurance comes about from belonging to the right cliques. I don’t mean that to sound too negative.

Au Pairs music was fantastic. Folk talk of Delta 5 now, and rightly so: but they never had the chutzpah live. Au Pairs were inspirational in their self-belief. They blasted everything before them: they put those guitars of Gang Of Four to great use. You could dance. You could punch the air. You could go home after one of their London Lyceum shows and sob, shaking, into your beer that you were a complete heel. Maybe it was the ICA? A band to welcome in the new decade to, them and The Redskins and the rest of the post-Specials politicised breed: Bangs alive, but it made you feel someone was on your side. I started an anarchist collective when I was at college: one bloke turned up to the first meeting, and we disbanded shortly after. A few girls slept over in my New Cross Gate squat – because I lived in a New Cross Gate squat. Of course we kept our clothes on.

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