Kenneth Horne was an unassuming and dedicated businessman but also one of the biggest stars of radio.
Round The Horne,
Pye NPL 18291,
To reach the top in show business can often be a battle. Many ruthless determined people succeed and many of those who falter are cast by the wayside. Occasionally though, decent, modest and humble people can prosper without ever resorting to heartless scheming behaviour. One such person was Kenneth Horne. There were few performers as laid back and as casual about fame as him and his life of modesty, generosity and temperance should serve as an exemplary tale for any aspiring performer.
Kenneth Horne was born in 1907, the youngest son of the Reverend Charles Silvester Horne who like his father before him was a Congregationalist clergymen. Kenneth’s father led a very active life caring for his busy and impoverished parish in London’s inner city before leaving to become the Liberal MP for Ipswich. He died very young at the age of just 49 whilst on a lecture tour of Canada, leaving behind his wife and seven children.
At first, Kenneth Horne did not look like he would be anything other than a solid pillar of the community as his father and grandfather had been before him. After prep school his uncle Austin Pilkington, of the famous glass-making family, saw to it that Kenneth was offered a place at Magdalene College, Cambridge. His work soon suffered though as Horne became more interested in cricket, squash, golf rugby and athletics, rather than his academic studies. During this time he also became firm friends with tennis player and future Wimbledon finalist Bunny Austin, often playing doubles with him. While his sporting prowess was never in doubt, in 1927 after attending barely any lectures Kenneth Horne was sent down from Magdalene and forced out into the world of work.
The generous glass-making uncle Austin helped once again and recommended Kenneth to a friend of his who was a director in the Triplex Safety Glass Company and in 1927 that is where he started his career. There Kenneth Horne may well have remained for the rest of his life were it not for the Second World War dragging him away to serve his country. Kenneth volunteered for the RAF Volunteer reserve. Perhaps expecting a life of thrills and spills in the skies over Europe, Kenneth was instead posted to the RAF’s 911 Squadron, to experience life in a barrage balloon base in the glamourous fields of Sutton Coldfield.
In 1939, to combat the seemingly endless boredom, Kenneth helped stage a concert party at the base. That concert was watched by the BBC producer Bill McClurg who immediately engaged Kenneth and his troop to take part in a radio broadcast for BBC Birmingham, entitled ‘Ack-Ack Beer-Beer’ (service slang for Anti-Aircraft Balloon Barrage). Few who listened to that obscure broadcast could have had an inkling that broadcasting history was being made. In 1943, Horne was promoted to the rank of Wing Commander and posted to the Air Ministry in London. During his spare time he continued with his broadcasts, this time for the Overseas Recorded Broadcasting Service (ORBS) which produced shows for troops in the Middle East.
As luck would have it, the Lieutenant that Horne shared his ministry office with was Richard Murdoch, an established radio comedian who had formed a popular double act with Arthur Askey in the BBC show Band Waggon. With the vivid and fertile imagination of Horne and Murdoch their ORBS shows soon became much talked about, principally for their creation of the fictional airbase Much-Binding-in-the-Marsh. The comic conceit of an RAF station beset by red tape and complicated bureaucracy, resonated with troops everywhere and the show was soon taken up by the BBC where it was to become a firm favourite running from 1944 to 1954, via a brief stint on Radio Luxembourg.
Despite all his successes as a popular broadcaster of note, throughout all of his many successes and triumphs in front of the microphone, Kenneth Horne was content to continue with his career as a director of Triplex until 1956 when he left to join the toy company Chad Valley. Forced to retire from his boardroom positions in 1958 after suffering a stroke, Kenneth Horne concentrated full time on broadcasting, creating in the process classic radio shows that remain popular to this day.
His first project was Beyond Our Ken, scripted by Eric Merriman with the assistance of Barry Took for the first two series. Beyond Our Ken ran until 1964 when Eric Merriman made the decision to concentrate on television work. The BBC, understandably reluctant to lose one of its top shows, brought back Barry Took along with Marty Feldman and after a name change, Round The Horne was born.
More anarchic, revolutionary and subversive than its predecessor, Round The Horne built on the solid foundations of Beyond Our Ken, using the same cast and format but adding ever more grotesque and outrageous comedy into the mix. With the comic abilities and vocal talents of Kenneth Williams, Hugh Paddick, Betty Marsden, Bill Pertwee and announcer Douglas Smith, it might be expected that Kenneth Horne, the staid and diligent business executive might fade into the background. Horne though became the ringmaster of the crazy circus that revolved around his sober and subdued presence. It took a lot to control the manic impish mischief of Kenneth Williams but Horne certainly managed it. Only a master of deadpan could ever have appeared on equal terms with Williams and Paddick once they slipped so elegantly into the roles of Julian and Sandy.
Sadly Kenneth Horne was to die at the very height of his fame in 1969, when this record was released as a tribute to the genius of the man and his motley band of outlandish clowns. Made from clips taken from the third series first broadcast in 1967, all the vital ingredients of Round The Horne’s success are on display. Douglas Smith demonstrates his wonderfully intoned BBC announcer skills, Bill Pertwee’s Seamus Android interjects half-finished non-sequiturs still somehow infused with innuendo. Betty Marsden dispenses fashion tips as the velvet-tongued mellifluous columnist Daphne Whitethigh, as well as gushing breathlessly as Fiona, the love and inept theatrical muse of the equally deluded Charles played deftly by Hugh Paddick in that classic period piece Where No Hippos Fly.
Kenneth Williams makes an appearance as rustic folk singer Rambling Syd Rumpo, debuting his adaptation of Green Grows My Bogling Fork, as well as dominating the show with Hugh Paddick as the outrageous and ludicrously camp entrepreneurs Julian and Sandy. J Peasemold Gruntfuttock disgusts as only he can, the Oriental adventure mystery The Maltese Brass Monkey excites and delights, and Sidney Goosecreature battles with that fearless outlaw The Palone Ranger. In short, all the usual Round The Horne lunacy reigns; chaos, anarchy and innuendo are the order of the day, and there in the midst of all the chaos is Kenneth Horne, controlling and dominating all proceedings, anchored resolutely at the still point of the turning world.
Kenneth Horne was not indifferent to fame but he was that rare thing in showbiz, a genuinely talented man who was genuinely modest. His work in radio might have begun as little more than a casual side-line but it would become his main focus. Through his effortless skills he brought joy to millions and became a true master of the medium.
Despite leaving The Goon Show after just two series, Michael Bentine found many more outlets for his crazy sense of humour and ever active intellect.
It’s A Square World!,
Parlophone PMC 1179,
As anarchic and as offbeat as the ground-breaking The Goon Show was, for the decade it was broadcast it remained very much the creation and cherished troubled child of Spike Milligan. Despite various collaborating writers working on the show over the years, and sometimes despite even the absence of Milligan entirely, it was his anarchic vision, creative imagination and fierce determination that drove the show to succeed, to the detriment of his own mental and physical health.
The other Goons were never idle during this period of success though. Peter Sellers forged the foundations of a stellar movie career and Harry Secombe found his niche as a singer and performer of some note. The only Goon to have been frustrated by constraining his ambition and talents to fit in with the vision of Spike Milligan was Michael Bentine. After a mere two series of The Goon Show, Bentine left amid a fair amount of acrimony and more than a little press speculation about his motives and the possibility of his future career outside of the group. Fans need not have worried though, as over the years the singular talents of Michael Bentine found many unusual and creative outlets.
His background was certainly exotic and unusual. As if having a mother from Westcliff in Essex was not exceptional enough, having a father from Peru certainly was. Michael Bentine’s father Adan Bentin, was the son of a silver miner and former President-elect of Peru. Sent to England to study engineering Adan was refused permission to fight for Britain in the First World War, so instead used his engineering skills to develop aeronautical innovations of his own devising, and rather obliquely, to run a music school where he met his wife and Michael’s future mother Florence. After the war, Adam (as he was now known) was offered the chance to help build a new Peruvian air force. It was back in Peru that Michael was conceived and from where in 1922, his parents returned to England in an effort to make sure that their son would be born British, as is only right and proper.
Afflicted in his early childhood by a severe stammer it was not until Michael Bentine reached Eton that, with the help of a sympathetic master, he was able to start conquering his speaking difficulties. When the Second World War broke out Michael, like his father before him, was refused permission to serve in the RAF due to his Peruvian dual nationality. Jobs as a photo journalist, and a jobbing drummer followed before Bentine decided to capitalise on his new found confidence at public speaking, and try his hand at acting. It was in October 1942, during a production by Robert Atkins of The Merchant Of Venice, that the RAF finally decided it needed Michael’s services, seeing fit to arrest him without warning as a deserter. Despite the potential ignominy, Michael Bentine remained proud to be the only British serviceman to be arrested while wearing doublet and hose for over four hundred years.
After the war, during which he eventually managed to fly in a plane, Bentine like many of his contemporaries found gainful employment at London’s Windmill Theatre. Appearing on bills with Harry Secombe and his novelty shaving act, Bentine’s act was no less bizarre. Lectures were delivered in a non-existent language of his own peculiar devising, and various props such as a walking stick, a rubber chicken, a bow and arrow, and finally the back of a broken chair were all used in Michael’s idiosyncratic and inventive new brand of comedy.
That brand of innovation and love of a good prop remained evident in many of Michael Bentine’s successful TV series over the years. Props, models, outlandish stunts and clever visual effects played a large part in the popularity of the It’s a Square World TV show which ran from 1960-64, and became even more integral to the later Michael Bentine’s Potty Time which starred an army of small puppets (known as Potties) all voiced by the vocal skills of Michael.
Those same ingenious and inventive ideas are also present on the It’s a Square World album which was recorded in 1962. Aided by Parlophone’s resident wizard of sound George Martin, Bentine plays with technology, sound effects and soundscapes as easily as he played with visual imagery on television. Not simply a comedy album of material transferred from one medium to another, the record is a resourceful and innovative exercise in its own right, and one which takes full advantage of the medium. All voices are the creation of Michael Bentine, and other than the extremely valuable input of George Martin’s alchemy, the record is an extraordinary and masterful solo effort.
From the opening introduction, the possibilities of using sound for comedy are explored as Michael Bentine is unchained from his cell and dragged hesitantly before a microphone. The listener is then led on to the opening track of The Horse Show, complete with reverberating public address system and of course all the requisite sound effects of audience appreciation and snorting galloping horses. The plucky Brit who demolishes the course and smashes through the fences is praised while the crafty but highly competent Italian who glides gracefully over the jumps is treated with scorn and contemptible derision. As a piece of satire it is relevant today and still just as funny.
Some of Bentine’s other ideas which were no doubt satirical and highly imaginative back in 1962 sound highly prescient today. Take for instance the Ice Cream Commercial, one of many mock adverts which break up the longer sketches. The premise of having curry-flavoured ice cream was probably quite novel at the time. Nowadays it’s probably the proposed business model for a multitude of potential trendy hipster ice cream parlours. The Holiday Commercial with its proposal that tourists visit a coal mine is now, thanks to the death of the UK’s coal industry, another example of Michael Bentine’s comic yet prophetic prognostications coming true. Even if these days tourists do not have a ton or two of coke dumped on top of them as proposed in Bentine’s sketch.
Elsewhere on the record, there are more satirical masterpieces such as the exploration of the possibilities of Dingleweed as a commercial crop. A crop that is so pointless and purposeless that it is grown only in order to grow ever more dingleweed. There are also sketches that exist solely for amusement, such as Tower Of London in which elderly and confused Beefeaters exchange keys amidst much clanking and creaking of sound effects. The record also sees a Geneva Convention of nations speaking unto nation in various nonsensical Bentine languages, interrupted by a succession of misplaced phone calls all searching for a sultry siren named Gladys.
There are also sketches which play with the medium of broadcasting. Tracks such as The Shrdlu neatly parodies wildlife documentaries with their months devoted to recording pointless animals being attacked and eaten by other pointless animals, in this case the ravenous Prairie Kumquat.
Michael Bentine also collaborates with his TV show writing partner John Law on the quite brilliant Football Results which sees a sports announcer’s excitement rise as the possibility of a pools win appears. He is let down by the dismal efforts of Huddersfield and Barnsley, and soon returns to reality with an audible and gloomy acceptance of the fickle nature of fate. The track earned a deserved release as a single along with The Astronauts as a b-side. Equally inventive, the premise for this space age track sees a Russian lunar mission adopting ever more complicated composers’ names instead of the usual NATO phonetic alphabet. Complete with humming of arias and unsolicited interference from the Americans, Michael Bentine plays each part with gusto and perfect timing.
Michael Bentine is often overlooked when The Goons are discussed. His part in that particular anarchic ground-breaking show may have been small but it was vital. The forty years he spent working outside of the Goons were never idle though and were filled with incident and innovation. Whether Michael Bentine was dabbling in various aeronautical innovations, leading the first hovercraft expedition up the Amazon, investigating the paranormal, or creating fondly remembered TV series, he approached everything with absolute enthusiasm, imagination and passion.
Here then is the last moments of the not particularly missed Desert Shrdlu, a creature exceeded only in worthlessness and irrelevance by the Prairie Kumquat.
With the unlikely combination of budgies, bowler hats and an incurable speech impediment, Freddie Davies created his alter ego Samuel Tweet.
A Day In The Life Of Samuel Tweet,
Contour 2870 449,
Samuel Tweet was not born. Like some end of the pier comic Frankenstein, Freddie Davies would have to create him from discarded props and unwanted speech defects, gradually constructing Tweet until he was ready to be unleashed into the world, to wreak havoc and spray unsuspecting passers-by with litres of superfluous spittle. Containing the monster and killing him off would take a lot longer…
Freddie Davies though was born, in this case in 1937 in Brixton. It was not long before the outbreak of World War 2 saw Freddie evacuated away from South London in order to stay with relatives in Salford. He soon became a regular at the Salford Hippodrome, watching from the wings as his grandfather (the comedian Jack Herbert) performed his act. After leaving school and inspired to follow his own path in showbiz, Freddie took to performing in charity shows while working at the local Co-op. It wasn’t until after he finished his National Service in 1958 that Freddie finally resolved to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps and pursue a career as a comedian.
Freddie received sound counsel from no less than Des O’Connor, eaglery pouncing on him as Des exited from a stage door. Des’s advice was simple, and was the same advice as Max Bygraves had given Des some years before, namely become a Butlins Redcoat. So off Freddie went to Skegness, performing in weekly shows alongside fellow redcoat Dave Allen at the resort’s Gaiety Theatre. All well and good, but Freddie had set in motion a chain of events that would cause a monster to be created.
Outside of the weekly show, a Redcoat’s duty largely consisted of amusing the campers and falling in swimming pools. And as you can imagine, that duty is quite a strain after a while. The need to be funny all the time, spending every waking minute of the day as the epitome of hilarity, would tax some of the most adept and quick-witted of comedians. Freddie’s solution was simple, rather than rely on his wits, he would simply adopt a silly voice. A daft over-pronounced lisp solved all of his problems. Suddenly announcements for knobbly knees competitions or glamorous granny pageants could be delivered to crowds of suitably amused campers, doubled up with laughter at Freddie’s newly found speech impediment. What a simpler carefree age it must have been back then.
The next steps in Freddie’s gradual mutation into Samuel Tweet came in 1963 after his stint at Butlins and while he was trying to make a name for himself on the northern club circuit. After accidentally buying a homburg hat that was a few sizes too big, Freddie decided that he was best off keeping it and ramming it down over his ears. Cue further instant hilarity. The final jigsaw piece came when an unsuspecting heckler challenged Freddie to tell a joke about a budgerigar. By chance he knew one, and as the joke involved two voices, he reused the lisping idiot voice from his Butlins day. The combination of an oversized bowler hat, a ridiculous lisp and an obsession with budgies had finally resulted in the creation of Samuel Tweet. The following year in August 1964, an appearance on Opportunity Knocks exposed Samuel Tweet to the nation and suddenly Freddie ‘Parrotface’ Davies was a household name. Like Trill.
TV and radio work followed, including in 1968 his own radio show The Golden Parrot Club which saw Freddie and the BBC Northern Dance Orchestra hosting an hour of variety with aspiring comedians like Les Dawson and musical acts such The Wurzels or Clinton Ford. Later in 1974, Freddie earned his own TV show The Small World of Samuel Tweet. The plot was minimal and revolved around the business machinations of Freddie’s pet shop in the village of Chumpton Green, a settlement which owed its ancient feudal allegiance to the eponymous Lord Chumpton, played by Cardew Robinson. Needless to say a large number of parrots and budgies were involved. So popular was the series amongst children that a second series in 1975 was launched along with a novelty spinoff record.
For those of you unable or unwilling to remember what Samuel Tweet sounded like in his heyday, this LP is the perfect aide memoire. If you have been in therapy to try and forget, then it’s probably worth giving it a miss. The songs themselves are, it must always be remembered, aimed squarely at the children’s market, but even with that caveat they are exceedingly annoying. From the first track Keep Smiling onwards, Freddie is lisping and spraying saliva for all he is worth. The sentiments in Keep Smiling are admirable enough, encouraging children to keep grinning even if they are being smacked around. The song would be bearable if not for that lisp. Why Freddie why?
Even more unbearable is the lisp combined with deliberate mispronunciations as occurs on the last track on side one, Kindness To Animals. Again the sentiments are fine but Freddie’s insistence on pronouncing ‘animals’ as ‘aminals’ would make the most ardent vegan want to punch a hamster. The children’s chorus singing along with the Parrotfaced vocals don’t seem to have seen the script and insist not only on pronouncing every ‘s’ without a lisp, they also manage to pronounce ‘animals’ without sounding like they have suffered some terrible mass brain injury. The song clearly intends to teach children about animal care, and not about the joys of proper diction.
The album’s crowning glory is of course side two, the conceptual masterpiece that is A Day In The Life Of Samuel Tweet. Set initially at least in Freddie’s fictional Chumpton Green pet shop and featuring Damaris Hayman and Colin Edwyn from the TV series, the tale is a strange tale of parrots and drugged hallucinations, combining elements of The Wizard of Oz and Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake. Freddie is met and harassed by a Norfolk postman, Jock MacTavish (an angry Scottish policeman) and Mrs Higginbottom, a cleaner so posh you wonder who is dusting her Jacobean manor house while she is scraping layers of dried parrot guano and rat droppings off of Freddie’s floor.
Due to a state of advance dental decay caused by excessive consumption of dog treats (I might have made that up) Freddie has to be rushed to see his dentist Mr Oppenheimer, who is also, like many dentists, a mad German scientist. Mr Oppenheimer may be the same scientist who worked on the Manhattan project, he certainly sounds and behaves as if is suffering from advanced radiation sickness. Under sedation at the dentist and succumbing to the powerful anaesthesia, Freddie meets up with canine incarnations of his friends, all of whom are jolly racial and regional stereotypes ready to amuse with daft accents and unlikely cravings for sausages and a little amorous ‘woof and tickle’. Then just like Dorothy in Oz, Freddie manages to return, in this case by biting his dentist while in dog form. The dentist is then sensibly carried off for rabies shots. I hope at least some of that made sense, I gave it my best shot…
In the sleeve notes for his 1970 album Mr Parrot Face, Freddie Davies dropped some fairly unsubtle hints as to how he felt about his alter ego, Samuel Tweet. Comparing Tweet to Frankenstein’s monster and bemoaning the indestructibility of both creations, the frustration is palpable. It would take another ten years or so before Freddie Davies managed to finally and irrevocably kill off his monstrous avian obsessed creature by escaping to the relative safety of cruise ship cabaret, a floating sanctuary where no one on board had ever seen or heard of Samuel Tweet. A further career as a straight actor has brought some semblance of order and peace to Freddie Davies’ life, and he continues acting and performing to this day. Just don’t mention budgies.
If the horror films of Hammer and Universal teach anything though, it is that nothing as grotesque and as gruesome as Samuel Tweet can be relied on to stay dead forever. Let’s hope for the sake of humanity that he is safely spluttering away in some far off dimension under an irrevocable curse, never to return to trouble our world again. Keep smiling!
More Parrotfaced squawkings at Freddie’s official site:
Who would have expected an album recorded in a small Welsh rugby club would create a major superstar of 1970s comedy?
Live At Treorchy,
One Up OU 2033,
Nationalism can do odd things to people. I don’t feel there is anything intrinsically wrong with believing your nation to be a fairly decent place full of thoroughly decent people leading highly decent lives. That nation of yours is going to be there every time you gaze out of a window or open your door, so you might as well try and like it, or at least feign some sort of passing interest. It is though, a short step from believing your respective country to be the best and by far the most decent, to experiencing a strong desire to conquer the known world and subjugate all other nations until they reach your required state of taste and decency.
Along with wanting to vanquish all the people of the world, nationalism also seems to bring with it certain other odd desires that are not entirely natural. Take for instance the sudden urge to address huge baying crowds from a balcony. Or the need to adopt emblems and insignia, and to wear stylistically improbable items of clothing. With their crisp black shirts, natty armband accessories, leather jackets, polished metallic eagles and shiny knee-length boots, nationalists have always managed to look stylish and cut a certain dash while they attempt to vanquish their foes and crush the peoples of the world. Apart from Nicola Sturgeon of course, who manages to look like a school dinner lady all dressed up for a night at the bingo.
Striding about the stage of some random Welsh town hall, adorned from head to toe in red with matching scarf and hat, Max Boyce certainly looked the part of the ardent nationalist. Add into that equation an enormous rosette the size of a cart wheel and a giant leek that was taller than Max himself, and you have the living embodiment of Welsh nationalism and its greatest ever comedian. Even Hitler or Mussolini in their prime would have felt underdressed and a tad shabby watching Max Boyce in his prime.
It wasn’t always like this. The covers of Max Boyce’s first two albums In Session and The World Of Max Boyce, both first released in 1971, show him in his pre-giant leek days. His chunky knitwear adorned with hues of brown and beige, his hair long but tamed, Max looks every inch a jobbing folk singer. By 1974 when Live At Treorchy was released, Max Boyce’s amazing transformation from folk singer to the very personification of Welshness was well under way. Gone is the brown woollen uniform, replaced instead by the ubiquitous leek and Welsh rugby wear that he would make his own. The leek is just a regular vegetable at this stage, and Max’s hair is still un-permed, but the puckish grin shows that he is well on his way to becoming the most Welsh person to have ever walked the valleys or waved a daffodil in anger. With the exception of 1977’s The Road And The Miles…, which sees Max flirting with rock superstardom in denim flares and a shirt open to his navel, the red and white clad rugby obsessive was a look that would serve him well.
Much of the appeal at Live At Treorchy comes from the instant rapport between Max and his audience. Born in 1943 in the mining town of Glynneath, Max Boyce worked in the mines himself and his tales of hard toil and of the emotional release offered by rugby and beer come from the heart. There is no affectation or effort to ingratiate himself with his audience. It is simply a man at home in his surroundings and the response of an audience who recognize one of their own. The material and topics Max sings about are instantly familiar to his crowd.
Much of the material on Live At Treorchy makes reference to Welsh rugby, which enjoyed a period of exceptional skill and dominance during the 1970s. I could devote a doctoral thesis to investigating whether it was the dominance of Welsh rugby which gave rise to the mass appeal of Max Boyce or vice versa. Suffice to say, the album both begins and ends with rugby related comedy, with only a few non-rugby related songs included to prevent the audience from rising from their chairs in a frenzied state of nationalism and marching immediately on London to overthrow the government.
Opening track 9-3 tells for instance of the 1972 defeat of the mighty New Zealand All Blacks by the Carmarthenshire club side Llanelli. The match is still talked about and mythologised forty years on and the details are now a matter of sporting legend, but Max Boyce explores much more than just the minutiae of the match. He tells of the atmosphere that the match generated, the camaraderie and mass elation that the result provoked, and of the Felinfoel beer induced revelry that caused many a headache and absence from work the next day. And probably the day after that as well.
More rugby tales follow on The Scottish Trip which relates more about the experience of travelling to a match than it does about the enjoyment of watching the match itself. It is a tale of hard working men bonding on a rare day off, and also of the scarcity of toilets on the motorways of the early 1970s. A similar track Hymns And Arias finishes the album, telling this time of a trip to Twickenham, detailing the songs sung and the various ways the Welsh got one over on their English hosts. It is a rousing crowd pleaser on which to end the record, with the line ‘Wales defeated England’ inevitably earning the loudest, most raucous cheer of the night.
Less drunken tracks, such as The Outside-Half Factory, relate a tall yarn of Welsh rugby players being constructed deep below the ground, hidden from the scheming gaze of English rugby league scouts. There is also Asso Asso Yogoshi, a cheerful tale of glib casual racism blessed glossed over, that despite its obvious affection for the touring Japanese rugby side and their brave sporting spirit, is just the sort of song that gives the 1970s a bad name. Wales has yet to issue Japan a formal apology for the track…
Astonishingly though, there are songs which are not about rugby or annoying the English. The Ballad Of Morgan The Moon is a long rambling story/poem which tells about how the eponymous Welsh inventor made it to the surface of the moon in a coal powered rocket fashioned from an old winding-engine.
The non-rugby songs also showcase the serious side of Max Boyce. Duw It’s Hard is a reflective lament for the lost pit in Max’s home town of Glynneath which generates a moment of genuine pathos amidst all the musical merriment and rugger. Max is honest enough to acknowledge that life in the mines was tough and full of hardship, but the replacement of the pithead baths with a supermarket imbues the song with a reflective sadness at the inevitability of change and the loss of communities. Ten Thousand Instant Christians is another reflective number which marvels at the empty chapels dotted around Cardiff on the day of a rugby international, while inside the stadium hymns such as Calon Lân and Cwm Rhondda can be heard ringing out with such faith and devotion.
Did You Understand? is a track written about the 1972 colliery strike, the indifferent decision makers in power and how the nation’s sympathies with the striking miners faded over time. With its portentous piano chords playing over Max’s piercing vocal lament, it is a powerful moment of social commentary that reveals the folk club origins of much of Max Boyce’s act.
For all its parochial Welsh charm, Live At Treorchy achieved great success for Max Boyce outside of his own safe heartland of support. The blend of working class humour and gentle comedy saw the album sell by the thousands, spending 38 weeks in the charts and reaching number 21 in the run up to Christmas 1975. The follow up album We All Had Doctors’ Papers achieved even greater success becoming (so far) the only comedy album to have reached number one in the UK charts. Which, given the competition, is quite an achievement.
To end then, here is Duw It’s Hard, Max’s wistful farewell to the mining industry that made him and thousands like him into proud Welshmen.