Max Boyce – Know your arias from your elbow

Who would have expected an album recorded in a small Welsh rugby club would create a major superstar of 1970s comedy?

Max Boyce - Live At Treorchy

Max Boyce – Live At Treorchy

Max Boyce,
Live At Treorchy,
One Up OU 2033,
1974

——————————

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.

Tommy Trinder – You not so lucky people…

In 1959, after his stint hosting Sunday Night at the Palladium had finished, comedian Tommy Trinder bowed out with an album recorded in an Essex holiday camp.

Tommy Trinder - Tommy Trinder’s Party

Tommy Trinder – Tommy Trinder’s Party

Tommy Trinder,
Tommy Trinder’s Party,
Fontana TFL 5073,
1959
——————————

Parties. Brilliant aren’t they? If you host a party yourself you’ll be a bundle of nerves as you spend the three months beforehand organising everything with the precision and attention to detail of an army quartermaster preparing for an invasion of Russia. The event itself will pass in an anxious few hours while you fret and worry that your guests are having the very best time of their otherwise drab mundane lives. There will also be the worry that gatecrashers are going to inveigle their way in and steal your plates of canapés, and the all too real concern that a group of boozed up acquaintances will decide to use your priceless collection of Beswick figurines of animals dressed as rustic country folk in an impromptu game of skittles.

If you’re not the host of a party, then your worries are few by comparison. If you can cope with shame, ignominy and the enduring scorn of your peers, then the party is an ideal opportunity to lose friends and indulge your inner barbarian. After you have drunk a litre or four of spirits, thrown up over various pot plants, spiked the punch with dangerous hallucinogens and used a variety of precious vases as ashtrays, there remains not much else to do but fall asleep on the toilet or pass away the night face down in the host’s front garden. The choice is entirely yours.

Why anyone would want a detailed record of a party is beyond me. Imagine all the gruesome details of a terrible party you would rather forget, committed to posterity via the means of a vinyl record. Quite a thought isn’t it? Imagine then, if you can, a record of a particular awful party that you didn’t attend and would have turned down immediately on receipt of the invitation. Imagine listening to the sort of people you would despise on sight, debauching themselves drunkenly in some repugnant orgiastic mockery of a chimpanzee’s tea party. If for some reason that does appeal, then Tommy Trinder’s Party is the record for you. Just because you weren’t born in 1959 doesn’t mean you can’t relive a terrible party you would never have dreamed of attending.

Born in Streatham, South London, in 1909, Tommy Trinder had been an entertainer since leaving school. Early tours in revues led to stints in music halls and appearances on various national variety bills. With a face adorned by a jutting chin resembling the rear end of a dredger, and a toothy grin that could swallow lesser comedians whole, Tommy seemed an unlikely film star but in 1938 he starred in the first of many films, the low budget farce Almost a Honeymoon. It was during the Second World War that Trinder found true fame, making many appearances in shows entertaining the troops and starring in a succession of films made at London’s Ealing Studios. Trinder’s roles encompassed both serious roles as well as comic ones and by the end of the war he was, along with the likes of George Formby and Will Hay, one of the most loved and successful film stars of the day.

Tommy Trinder’s career wasn’t exactly in the doldrums when this record was released in 1959, but he had definitely reached his career peak. In 1958, Tommy Trinder had been replaced on Sunday Night at the Palladium by Bruce Forsyth. The handover had been somewhat acrimonious with Trinder convinced the younger presenter was stealing his act as well as his prestigious job hosting the popular variety show. Giving that Forsyth was (and remains) an irritable big chinned comic with a skill for adlibbing and bullying members of the public, it is easy to see how Trinder might have thought Forsyth was copying his act. On Forsyth’s Palladium debut, Trinder physically hindered Forsyth’s first foray onto the stage of the theatre as the two men shared the stage for the first and last time only, making it clear to the young usurper that he was not welcome and that the job was being taken from him under duress. The two did not even share a stage, or speak to each other, when years later they were cast together in a pantomime production of Aladdin. Forsyth was apparently so outraged at sharing the theatre with Trinder that before the pantomime had finished, he had paid off his manager (the notorious Miff Ferrie) at considerable expense and returned to a Trinder-free life of bliss and prime-time game shows.

After his Palladium stint had finished, Tommy Trinder moved on to star in his own BBC TV series, Trinder Box, which saw him host a variety show on a much smaller scale. It was Trinder’s one and only starring role in a TV series and after it ended he retreated from the limelight, leaving the world free for Bruce Forsyth to conquer in the name of light entertainment. Before Trinder did retire ungracefully into the chairmanship of Fulham FC, he did leave the world with one more curious artefact, the 1959 recording of Tommy Trinder’s Party. The record itself is a painful exercise in inanity, a mirthless, tuneless endurance test for audio masochists and people harbouring a grudge against their own ears. Tommy Trinder barges onto the stage of the Jolly Roger Bar at Butlin’s Holiday Camp in Clacton-on-Sea, intent on bullying everyone into having a good time whether they want to or not. Luckily, filled as they are with candy floss, cockles and gallons of cheap booze, most of the crowd do. In fact they give the impression that they would applaud a bare brick wall if Tommy Trinder berated them enough.

With a group of drunken backing musicians plucked from the dingy backroom of a down-at-heel Clacton pub, Tommy launches himself into the record with gusto, leading his baying audience into singing one half remembered song after another. I say backing musicians, but in fact the only instrument that can be heard over the general din and raucous musical wailing of the drunken holidaymakers is the drums, played with a glorious tub-thumping incompetence and gusto. Sounding at times like a small child running amok in a kitchenware shop, pots and pans and other random objects are upturned and walloped heartily to a rhythm existing only in the mind of the drummer and no one else.

Highlights are few and far between. Considering that Tommy Trinder was a comedian of some note, there is a marked lack of any sort of comedy on the record. Jokes are absent and what humour there is takes the form of ‘banter’ as Tommy abuses random audience members and harangues them to join in his gruesome singalong. The audience are very obliging and sing whatever Tommy orders them to. Mainly the material is the sort of pub standard normally played on an out of tune piano with a handful of keys missing by anyone able to hold a pint of gin in one hand and bang out Let’s All Go Down The Strand with the other, all without spilling a drop.

Sometimes, Tommy leads the audience out of their musical comfort zone. Tongue twisters dealing with Susie ‘sitting in a shoe shine shop’ are rattled off at great speed, an ‘around the UK’ medley of tunes is attempted, and Tommy even performs a mind reading card trick. A vinyl record is not the best medium to bear witness to magic tricks, even more so when the audience member plucked from the crowd is crippled with nerves and unable to utter a word. Tommy struggles on gamely and nags her into completing the trick before resuming the cacophonic caterwauling once again.

It’s quite a party. So in summary, parties are best avoided, especially if Tommy Trinder is hosting. Finding a highlight to play is difficult. Tommy’s tour of Britain medley is possibly it, though you would be forgiven for sending me abuse after listening to it. Please do try to be gentle. The album cover with Tommy and his massive teapot is one of the finest I’ve ever seen, so try and concentrate on that instead.

Billy Connolly – The joys of copping yer whack

Poised on the brink of superstardom, Billy Connolly released his 1974 album Cop Yer Whack For This to an eager and appreciative audience.

Billy Connolly - Cop Yer Whack For This

Billy Connolly – Cop Yer Whack For This

Billy Connolly,
Cop Yer Whack For This
Polydor 2383 310,
1974

——————————

If there is one thing everybody knows about the pre-fame Billy Connolly, it is that he was once a welder in a Glaswegian shipyard. By Connolly’s own admission, those five years spent serving his apprenticeship at Stephen & Sons, did precious little to develop either his comedic or musical ability. Although to be fair, they also did very little to develop his ship-building ability. Today those years spent on the banks of the Clyde represent only a brief fleeting moment in his life. Since then, Connolly has spent fifty glorious years as a comedian, actor, musician, legendary wit and Weegie raconteur.

Remarkably, there was life for Billy Connolly even before his stint in the shipyards. Born in 1942 in Anderston on the north bank of the Clyde, Connolly left school aged 15 in 1957 and took his first job delivering books for John Smith’s academic bookshop in Glasgow. The following year he swapped books for bread, delivering orders for Bilsland’s Bakery. Billy quit the delivery jobs in 1960 and with a clutch of engineering certificates somehow obtained from his otherwise unproductive school years, joined the shipyards as an apprentice welder.

During his time at the shipyards Connolly remained restless and unfulfilled. A stint in the Territorial Army first gave him the taste for performing, singing songs and playing his banjo to amuse his part-time comrades in arms. By 1964 Connolly and his banjo had become a regular on the Glaswegian folk music scene, playing venues such as the Atlantic Folk Club in Clydebank, and the Scotia Bar on Stockwell Street. Around this time, Connolly formed his first band, the wonderfully named Skillet-Lickers, followed by the equally wonderfully named Acme Brush Company.

In 1965, after completing his shipyard apprenticeship, Billy travelled to Biafra in Southern Nigeria where he worked building oil rigs, afterwards travelling to Jersey where he worked on the construction of a power station. Arriving back in Glasgow with money in his pocket he took the brave decision to walk out of the shipyards for good and follow a musical career. Connolly formed The Humblebums with guitarist Tam Harvey and set about cementing his place on the local music scene. After a gig in Paisley the pair were pestered by a young guitarist who insisted on showing them some songs he had written. The duo expected little but indulged the earnest musician. The young man was Gerry Rafferty and Connolly and Harvey were both immediately impressed by the brilliance of his abilities. Rafferty joined the band there and then.

Such was Rafferty’s brilliance that Tam Harvey, unable to keep up with the increased professionalism in The Humblebums and unwilling to follow the direction they were heading, soon left. Rafferty and Connolly recorded their debut album in 1969 for Transatlantic Records, initially as The New Humblebums in deference to the departed Harvey. Soon though it was Connolly who was beginning to feel the pressure of performing professionally in a group containing the brilliant singer/songwriter Rafferty. While Rafferty took time to perfect his lyrics and melodies on stage, Billy found himself compensating by filling in the space between songs with ‘funnies’. His rambling yarns and inimitable humorous tales of urban life were soon the highlights of his stage appearances. Billy’s skills were clearly leading him from playing second billing as a musician and towards top billing as a comedian. In 1971, after the third Humblebums album, Billy Connolly once again took his banjo and walked out of steady employment towards an uncertain future.

After a debut comedy show in Musselburgh, Connolly wisely decided to leave folk music behind for good and embarked on a second apprenticeship, this time gigging through the working men’s clubs of Northern England before taking up residency once again in Glasgow. Connolly’s fame spread and it was not long before Transatlantic Records saw a chance to capitalise on the appeal of the comedian they had once had under contract as a folk singer. Recorded live at Glasgow’s City Hall, Billy’s debut solo album Live was released in 1972 and proved popular enough to earn an immediate follow up.

Billy Connolly’s album second LP Solo Concert was released in 1974 and was an audacious and entirely untypical comedy album. Recorded live at The Tudor Hotel, Airdrie, rather than the conventional two sided gag-heavy comedy album put out by most other comedians Solo Concert was a rambling double album that featured coarse Glaswegian language, lengthy vulgar anecdotes as well as sizeable amounts of blasphemy thanks to Billy’s notorious Crucifixion sketch. It was also, again untypically for a comedy record, a monster hit, spending 33 weeks in the UK album charts and reaching number eight. A change to a major label soon came and Polydor helped to maintain the upwards trajectory of Billy’s ever increasing popularity with 1974’s Cop Yer Whack For This.

After a bout of heckler bating to quell the querulous rabble gathered in the King’s Theatre, Glasgow, the album starts in a very Glaswegian tone with Three Men From Carntyne. Written by the Fife folk singer John Watt, the song warrants some ad-libbed audio subtitles from Connolly for the record buying public as the three titular men ‘went to join the parish’, or sign on the dole. It soon settles down into a simple guitar led stomp through East Glasgow life, before a slight punchline is delivered. It is though a joyous journey.

Billy Connolly’s act at the time is well represented by the ensuing album. There is for instance, the rambling stand up material represented by Lucky Uncle Freddie (a suitably daft tale of a war hero), Tam The Bam (about STD clinics and fearful teenage groping) and What’s In A Name (a wonderfully painted and fully realised picture of oddly named children frolicking in the idyllic picturesque highways and byways of Govan and Partick).

There are also fairly standard stand-up jokes such as Funny Thing Religion which tells of a Jew wandering through Ulster and which throws in a fairly usual Irish gag into the bargain. Billy also delivers sketches such as Late Call in which he preaches a spoof religious sermon, attempting to explain the mysteries of life in terms of ashtrays and sardines before recalling his inadvertent encounters with eager ladies of the night in Glasgow’s Blythswood Square.

Traces too can still be found of Billy Connolly’s folk roots. On Cripple Creek he plucks his banjo competently through the traditional Appalachian folk tune. It is a serious and sustained piece of musical virtuosity that seems lost amid so much comedy. The same could be said for Sergeant, Where’s Mine? This sober reflection on a squaddie’s bleak experiences in Ulster, contrasted with the glamorous promises of the recruiting office, is a fair reflection of the kind of protest folk that Connolly specialised in back in the Glasgow folk scene of the ‘60s.

The best track is saved for last though. These days Billy Connolly’s novelty banana boots are an exhibit in Glasgow’s People’s Palace museum. Back in 1974 they were just a stage prop. As explained in the track Scottish Highland National Dress, wellington boots were an essential piece of all year round fashion for the inhabitants of Partick. It is therefore only right that one of Glasgow’s finest comedians celebrates the sartorial history of his home city in the exuberant singalong that is The Welly Boot Song:

The official Billy Connolly website:
http://www.billyconnolly.com/

Benny Hill – Hill’s thrills and bellylaughs

Before achieving global fame with his long-running Thames TV show, Benny Hill enjoyed a successful career as a writer and performer of comedy songs.

Benny Hill - Benny Hill Sings?

Benny Hill – Benny Hill Sings?

Benny Hill,
Benny Hill Sings?,
Pye NPL 18133,
1965

——————————

Before the comedy begins, it’s time for a little of yer actual erudition and education. It won’t last long so please try not to fidget and do feel free to take notes if you wish. Now then, in his definition of tragedy, this ancient Greek bloke Aristotle stated that the tragic protagonist should be renowned and prosperous, and that his fall should come about as the result, ‘not of vice, but of some great error or frailty in a character’. The tragic reversal of his fortunes (peripeteia for those of you still taking notes) should be brought about by a fatal flaw in character (hamartia), leading to self-destructive actions taken in blindness and ignorance. Did you get all that? Good, because that 2350 year old snippet of dramatic theory pretty much sums up how Benny Hill’s magnificent 50 year career ended so abruptly and tragically with his death in April 1992. See, now you’ve learnt something.

I’m sure that every comedy fan is well aware of the story that tells the decline and fall of Benny Hill. It is a story told many times, in various books, magazine articles and documentaries. Everyone knows the ending, as well as its pathos, tragedy and poignancy. They know too of the tale of a millionaire comedian feted by the world destined to die alone in front of a television set in an empty flat. But few know of the early days of Benny Hill, the successes that came before his fall from favour and the wonderful work he achieved. By the end of his career he may have been the stereotypical dirty old man relying on the recycling of elderly gags, but in his prime he had been creative, innovative and inventive.

That Benny Hill had been born at all was a matter of chance along with a fair amount of luck. In 1912, his father Alfred Hill had been lured away from a career as a circus performer and itinerant fairground worker to Southampton, tempted by the enticing prospect of a job serving aboard the Titanic. Thankfully for British comedy, that particular job offer fell through, and Alfred instead found employment in a medical supplies shop, Stanley & Co, that specialised in the discreet selling of condoms to the sailors and citizens of Southampton. Alfred Hill certainly didn’t seem to sample any of the wares he sold, as in 1921 a liaison with Benny’s mother Helen resulted in a pregnancy and a very hastily arranged wedding. Benny’s brother Leonard was born not long after, and in 1924, Benny arrived, initially billed as Alfred Hill Junior.

Abandoning a promising career in the milk delivery business, Alfie moved to London aged just sixteen to pursue a career in variety. That fledgling career was interrupted quite rudely by the Second World War, the long arm of the law eventually catching up with the now renamed Benny as he travelled from theatre to theatre, desperate to avoid the call up papers summoning him to join in the fun in Europe. Unlike so many of his showbiz contemporaries, Benny did not use the war to further his career in comedy, instead spending his time driving lorries very badly through France as the Allies advanced on Germany.

After the war, demobilized and back on the variety circuit looking for work, Benny formed a comedy partnership acting as straight man to the tiny cockney comic Reg Varney. The turning point in Benny’s career came after a disastrous audience reaction in 1951 while appearing at The Sunderland Empire with Varney in the (up until then!) successful revue Sky High. To say Benny’s contribution to the revue went badly would be an understatement. His material was dropped from the show, the double act with Varney was brought to an end and Benny Hill developed a fear of the stage that would last for the rest of his life. Crippled by the live audience’s disdainful and hostile reaction to his talents, Benny instead turned to the medium of television and it was in the safe sterile environment of the TV studio that he would create his most pioneering and enduringly funny work.

Benny Hill also created many gems in the recording studio as well. He had released a steady trickle of novelty songs from 1955’s single I Can’t Tell A Waltz From A Tango onwards. While Benny’s agent had tried to persuade EMI’s novelty specialist George Martin to take his client on, it was a link up with Tony Hatch at Pye that would start a secondary career for Benny as a recording artist. Their 1961 collaboration Pepys’ Diary (b/w Gather In The Mushrooms) saw Benny first enter the charts, with the record peaking at number 12. Another charting single Transistor Radio was released in May 1961, followed by The Piccolo Song in December. After The Harvest Of Love, released in 1963, Benny seemed content to leave his career as a vinyl star to concentrate on his preferred medium of television. Tony Hatch though had other ideas and used his persuasive powers to coax Benny into cutting his debut album for Pye in 1965.

Many of the songs on Benny Hill Sings? follow a fairly simple formula. The framework of the composition exists mainly as a means to air a collection of old music hall gags, polished and burnished with some fresh rhymes and a cheeky delivery by the roguish Benny. Old and corny the jokes may be, but the songs are beautifully arranged by Tony Hatch and deliver some clever pastiches in a range of styles that rival anything George Martin created in his comedy career. On songs such as Golden Days for instance, there is an authentic folk sound reminiscent of contemporary acts such as Peter, Paul and Mary. The song is faithfully realised and suitably wistful, but its sensible chorus comes sandwiched between verses crammed full of a stream of insults and sexism, delivered it has to be said, quite beautifully.

That formula of silly verses, quick-fire gags and sensible choruses held together by Tony Hatch’s carefully arranged music serve Benny well on most of the album’s tracks. The story-telling of his later hit Ernie is not much in evidence. Instead the songs are full of the arch stereotypes and seaside postcard grotesques seen so often in Benny’s television work. Opening track Moving On has a full range of bizarre women described by Benny on an authentic sounding sixties r&b track; landladies, rich widows, and tattooed ladies all earn a mention. The Egg Marketing Board Tango sees Benny assaulted by a girl’s father to the accompaniment of a well realised tango composition. The tracks Wild Women and Rose see more outlandish and monstrous women as former lovers of Benny. Rose offers a choice line, describing someone as being ‘slower than a midget trying to climb a barbed wire fence’. What a wonderfully vivid image!

Occasionally, Benny abandons the strict formula of setting gags to music. On tracks such as My Garden Of Love he allows full reign to his pun creation skills, conjuring up ever increasingly convoluted gardening puns. Gems such as ‘beet-root to me’ and ‘face the fuchsia all alone’ are just the tip of the wordplay iceberg. What A World lists some extreme ironies that put the rather lame efforts of Alanis Morissette to shame. Stories of sorts appear on tracks such The Old Fiddler which sees a decrepit violinist scrape his last, and Jose’s Cantina in which we follow Benny’s attempts at romance before he quite rightly gives up and goes back to his wife.

Benny Hill Sings? is a sophisticated and clever piece of comedy that delivers some superlative examples of comic songs. Sadly for such a well-fashioned piece of work, the album as well the two singles taken from it (My Garden Of Love and What A World) all failed to chart and would cause the productive partnership of Tony Hatch and Benny Hill come to an end. After a switch of record labels to Columbia, Benny would of course enjoy the hit of his life with 1971’s Christmas number one single, Ernie (The Fastest Milkman In The West), followed by his second LP which this time made the charts.

Long before Ernie arrived on his milk round though, Benny Hill demonstrated an absolute mastery of the art of comedy songs. Here is one of my favourites, The Andalucian Gypsies, an authentically Romany sounding tale of love, intrigue, and a woman so dreadful and shocking it looks like she was won in a raffle. Oh Benny, how we miss you and your tawdry smut.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 825 other followers

%d bloggers like this: