Carry On stalwart Kenneth Connor felt moved to address the evils of 20th century living via the means of a Tudor-themed pop album.
Kenneth Connor with Glennis Beresford,
Much Ado About Love,
Avenue Recordings AVE 085,
As the 1970s began the Carry Ons were facing a dilemma. The departure of Jim Dale had left a large gap in the regular cast and the series desperately needed a new juvenile romantic lead, a charming yet gormless foil who could chase the young dolly birds with conviction and break some female hearts at the box office. Roy Castle had gamely filled the role in Up the Khyber, whilst the cutting of most of his scenes in Camping meant that Julian Holloway missed his chance to apply for the position permanently. So who did the producers turn to in their hour of need? Why Terry Scott and Kenneth Cope of course, those two crazy young bachelors about town, who with a bit of make-up and a fancy wig could very well have passed for carefree young men in their early to mid forties. Watch out ladies!
So, in 1971, with the Carry Ons looking somewhat tired and out of step with the wild permissive world that the series had helped to usher in, who amongst the cast of regulars would be the first to release a cutting edge pop record exactly in tune with the sentiments of society at large? Why that whacky Kenneth Connor of course! Having taken a few years away from the series to star in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (consequently missing about fifty Carry On films in the interim) Connor was now very much back in the Carry On fold, and obviously looking to compete with his fellow young roués Cope and Scott for the forthcoming romantic leads. But what collection of music would best make his case for youthful credibility? Connor’s pop years were behind him, his days as a star of West End music a thing of the past, Glam metal would have meant wearing impractical high heel platform shoes, so why not prog rock? Why not indeed…
Preceding Rick Wakeman’s Tudor-inspired four disc prog-classic The Six Wives of Henry VIII by some two years, Kenneth’s Much Ado About Love is a bona fide prog rock concept album that by rights should have launched him into the world of stadium rock and a sold out eighteen month tour with Emerson Lake and Palmer as support. I think possibly the only problem with Kenneth Connor’s seminal prog concept album is that as concepts go, it’s all a bit silly. Admittedly not something that usually stopped prog records becoming best sellers, but this is a bit sillier even than Yes’s sprawling Tales from Topographic Oceans.
Side one of the album features Kenneth singing a succession of lusty ballads from the age of Queen Elizabeth I, whilst side 2 features Kenneth singing a succession of slightly less lusty ballads from the age of Elizabeth II. Kenneth’s conjecture (and he does elaborate about it at great length in between tracks) is that the first Elizabethan age was a happy carefree time where all was well with the world, whilst the second Elizabethan age is a benighted epoch, where love has become cynical and clinical. Sadly he undermines his case by extolling the blissful virtues of the Tudor period with a succession of vulgar madrigals featuring a cast of bawdy knights who merrily rape, debauch and make off with an astonishing number of pure young maidens. But all in good fun according to Kenneth. The hideous corruption of the modern age is (equally bizarrely) illustrated with some choice Lennon and McCartney tracks and the Frank Loesser number Baby It’s Cold Outside. Which does leave me wondering whether Kenneth Connor may have been a prog genius or just a bit barking. I suspect the latter.
The stand out track depends really on what you want from your prog / comedy crossover classic. If it’s a Tudor period piece about gang rape and murder and loose morals and a hey nonny no, then pretty much all of side one is yours to enjoy. If you prefer the gentler Beatles classics of the modern age then it’s side two all the way. I would hate for marriages to be broken up and friendships to come to blows over which side of the record is played at social gatherings, so I would volunteer that the standout track Come Shack Up With Me is an adequate compromise for the essential party soundtrack. Kenneth Connor, obviously tiring of all things modern by this stage, poured all of his vitriol and contempt for the modern world into this two and a half minutes of ranting and bitterness. Detailing how the modern predilection for cider inevitably leads to promiscuity, heroin abuse and death in a squalid derelict squat, it is a cheering ditty that probably more than any track meant that this would be Kenneth Connor’s last solo album.
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