An energetic musical journey into funk, tap-dancing, piano playing and some very bad impressions with the octogenarian king of British light entertainment.
The Musical Side of Brucie,
PYE Records NSPL 18405,
If it feels like Bruce Forsyth has been on television forever, it’s because he has. Well almost. He made his first appearance on the BBC in 1939 on a Jasmine Bligh hosted talent show, sneaking in just before all television was suspended for the duration of the Second World War. The fact that television sets at this time were rare and coverage was sporadic across the country wouldn’t have stopped Brucie performing. I get the feeling that he would put on a full song and dance routine if he caught a glimpse of a CCTV camera out of the corner of his eye.
It’s not been a smooth cruise over those seventy plus years. Like many other performers, Bruce Forsyth has endured a few ups and downs over the years and though he can still expect a prime-time TV slot there have been times when he has been distinctly out of favour. It was during one of those lulls in his career that the publishing house Macmillan decided to bring out Brucie’s autobiography, seeing to it that they paid a large advance to secure the story of a man who was a television legend in his heyday.
The book was first published in 2001 and as befits a man of Bruce Forsyth’s stature, a great many hardback books were printed. Sadly for Macmillan it was extremely bad timing, as Brucie was experiencing one of those dips in his career and was not appearing on the television at the time. His attempts at reviving his career with a nostalgic series that harked back to his golden years, Tonight at the London Palladium, had been cancelled after one short run and he had not much to do all day but play golf and drink gin. Probably with Jimmy Tarbuck.
So the warehouses full of thick heavy copies of Brucie’s autobiography, lavishly bound and edited and all paid for up-front, sat around gathering dust and costing Macmillan money. The fickle British public resolutely refused to buy the life story of someone whose best days were seemingly behind him and Macmillan in a panic cut their loses, making staff redundant and disposing of millions of copies of Brucie’s autobiography, setting them ablaze in huge wicker effigies of his head. All of which they probably regretted when two years after publication, Bruce stormed back into TV viewers’ living rooms courtesy of a guest presenter spot on Have I Got News For You.
Clearly Bruce Forsyth wasn’t dead, incapable of presenting a TV show or washed up. The British public took a renewed interest in his unique skills (a little bit too late to save Macmillan’s finances) and in 2004 Brucie was rewarded with a presenter role that was ideally suited to his talents, Strictly Come Dancing. He was prime time again, bullying contestants, forgetting his lines and showing off like the boy star he once was way back in the dawn of TV history. He has hardly been off the small screen since and clearly relishes every moment.
This 1973 album is from another one of those many turning points in Bruce Forsyth’s life. His apogee of TV fame presenting Sunday Night at the London Palladium had passed and after many years attempting to forge a stage career as a one-man British rat pack he was handed a rather slapdash game-show which saw contestants make idiots of themselves every Saturday evening. The show was of course The Generation Game and with his wise guidance, along with bullying of contestants and ogling of glamorous hostesses, Brucie was back in the hearts of the nation where he dearly wanted to be.
The Musical Side of Brucie is pitched as a not too gentle reminder to his new TV audience that Bruce Forsyth was a multi-talented performer, an all-round entertainer and not just a wearer of terrible suits and ill-fitting toupees who presented a cheesy game show and chased his dolly bird co-hosts like many a randy old man before him. No, for Brucie could sing, dance and play piano, and on this album he does all three.
On Misty Bruce plays a competent piano tribute to Erroll Garner, tinkling away in a cheerful part-improvised jazz medley. He also tackles the piano on Theme from Peyton Place – another lounge piano workout that for some inexplicable reason mixes up the themes from TV series Peyton Place and Coronation Street like a minicab driver unsure of the directions to either address. It is authentically lounge though and Brucie plays it in the manner of a true lounge pianist. The sort of gig where everyone is drinking mind-numbing cocktails and nibbling salty nuts and not really caring either way what the pianist plays.
The tap dancing comes on the big album show-stopper, You Made Me So Very Happy, an almost ten minute long sprawling epic of orchestral egotistical madness, that screams ‘look at me, look what I can DO!’ It is an open love letter to the sort of person Brucie always wanted to be in his heart, the huge cabaret acts that would debauch their way through Las Vegas, the likes of Dino, Frankie, Tony and Sammy – none of whom would probably ever deign to present Play Your Cards Right even if ITV sent a car to pick them up.
A cross between grovelling obsequiousness and blunt unsubtle impressions that probably would have earned a physical going over from Frank’s ‘special’ friends if he had ever heard it, the track also includes a tap dance sequence. Only someone like Brucie could be self-assured and over-confident enough to tap dance on a record. Rather like a ventriloquist, it’s not ideal for an album, and does really need to be seen to be appreciated. Otherwise it could be a sound technician banging on a desk with a couple of spoons. It ends with Bruce’s three catchphrases just in case the listener forgets who he is in this transitional phase of his career.
The track I have chosen to share with you all is again not the obvious choice, namely the execrable self-mockery of Chin Up, an obvious attempt at a novelty hit if ever I saw one. Taken from the 1973 film Charlotte’s Web, it is daft in the extreme and is just the sort of thing which tended to top the charts in the 1970s, but it is still annoying. So, instead I have chosen the track Lucretia Mac Evil. It is a wonderful bit of grandiose up-tempo organ-led funk, bonkers, band-standing and about as mad, dark and jazzy as Bruce Forsyth ever got. Didn’t he do well!