I have to admit that I liked this song but did not even think about the lyrics until I saw the video. I think the basic themes of this are the “Great and Secret Show” that is going on all around us. The everyday tragedies that you hear about in passing or read in the papers and the stories behind them that you never get to know. I also think this is about the discrepancy between the idealized London and the reality of its lower-class inhabitants. It is obviously about addiction and it’s ties to the poor.
The main refrain is about Sheila who goes out with Stella (Stella Artois – the beer) which she dumps on her boyfriend as he is breaking up with her. She stumbles to the river and either accidentally drowned or killed herself. She screams “London!” as she is going down, as if she blames the city itself for all the misfortunes that befell her there. I’m a little perplexed by the last 2 lines of the refrain but believe “…the carpet weren’t rolled out” refers to the red carpet rolled out for royalty amidst fanfare. While their every movement is heralded and their feet walk on red velvet, Sheila dies with no witnesses and no one knowing her name… just another poor commoner gone.
The use of the poem “The is a lament on Sheila’s passing and how the places they went in London will remind him of her. I think it is also a way of stating the wide gap between the experience of rich and poor people in that city, between the lower-class, cockney-speaking English and the ‘proper’ English. In the poem, Bentjemen is listing places like churches and tea houses that will remind him of his love. These are obviously places the people in these lyrics would not be going. The “heavens what a noise….” part reiterates that difference between Cockney and “proper” English speech and behavior. Amorist” by John Bentjemen
We are introduced to a cast of tragic characters here besides the alcoholic and troubled Sheila. Jack becomes a heroin dealer to make up for a bad childhood. Sam, who I believe was one of Jack’s customers, takes off with Jack’s girlfriend and gets her pregnant. Either Sam or Jack’s ex, Lisa, ends up dying from a heroin overdose. Sam got into the life for the glamor of it but ends up being driven around by his daughters to buy dope, fighting in bars, bedding only ugly girls, etc. He wants to be original and ends up being like all the other gang-member wannabes. He is gunned down and killed. Georgina is abused all her life. When her abusive father dies of alcoholism, she finds herself unfit or unable to deal with life and kills herself with an overdose out of despair.
Such a happy sounding song for such tales. The people in this tale mostly suffer at the hands of poverty and eventually for what they do to deal with being brought up poor. Dealing drugs, addiction/alcoholism, suicide, etc. Sheila was probably the most capable out of all these people in that she could fake not being lower-class (“Her lingo went from the cockney to the gringo”). Despite this, end the end she succumbed to “death by misadventure” due to drunkenness and her roots took her down despite higher ambitions.
Most of this is my interpretation and how I envision things. Some of it is from the song’s Wikipedia page – the Jamie T Sheila Wikipedia page