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Dennis Waterman – The original Sweeneybopper

Dennis Waterman has enjoyed a long career in British light entertainment, starting as a child star in the 1960s…

Dennis Waterman - Waterman

Dennis Waterman – Waterman

Dennis Waterman,
Waterman,
DJM Records DJF 20513,
1977

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Yes, thanks to the efforts of the comedy series Little Britain, if anyone knows anything about Dennis Waterman’s recording career it is that he will “write the theme tune, sing the theme tune” of any TV programme he is contracted to appear in. Dennis has indeed made a bit of a habit out of singing theme tunes, with his latest show New Tricks taking the total so far to four. His biggest musical success to date, the 1980 Top Ten single release of the Minder theme tune I Could Be So Good for You, started the trend, but was, in what was probably a huge blow to Dennis’s laddish ego, in fact written by his second wife Patricia Maynard. The continued royalty payments for the track must offer her some consolation to compensate for the trauma of being married to Dennis Waterman.

Dennis Waterman had enjoyed a recording career before Arthur Daley gave him a hand in achieving chart success though. His first album, the bizarrely titled 1976 album Down Wind Of Angels, and the eponymous 1977 follow up Waterman were both released at the height of Sweeney-mania.  The series started in 1975 and ran for four series, also inspiring two spin-off feature films. John Thaw and Dennis Waterman played tough guy cops Regan and Carter and had great fun driving as recklessly as they could around West London in their brown Ford Granada, beating up criminals, knocking back whisky  and firmly telling anyone who annoyed them to “shut it”. Dennis was the younger of the two leads and successfully combined the tough no-nonsense villain bashing skills that endeared him to the nation’s men, with a certain roughly-hewn Clapham charm that made him a housewives’ dreamy heart-throb.

The album Waterman certainly played on that rough and ready charm and the cover seems to offer something for both Dennis’s male and female fans. With his shirt fashionably undone, cigarettes jauntily popped in the top pocket, denim jeans and dark moody expression he is the epitome of rough 1970s female desire. For the blokes, there is the suggestion that the photographer has concealed himself in a bush to snap a photo of Dennis, after spying our hero snoring away in a public park, sleeping off a marathon drinking session , the sunglasses hiding the grim evidence of yet another colossal whisky induced hangover. As one of the tracks on side two of the album would put it, he is a ‘Cockney Cowboy’, resting in the midday sun, about to spring into action and either kick some villainous rogue in the groin or lure some unsuspecting suburban housewife away from her Mr Sheen and her dusting for an afternoon of frantic love-making on her MFI sofa. Probably invalidating its generous two year warranty in the process.

The album is an interesting artefact, without in all honesty being that good. It is a moment in time captured, a late 1970s mélange of rock, blues, jazz and sentimental balladry. Dennis is a fairly accomplished singer when he respects his limitations, his disco warblings on Something Called Love are delivered in an odd disinterested monotone and if he hits a single note on Growin’ Old, then it was probably entirely by accident.

Waterman starts somewhat inauspiciously with If I Ever, allowing a drunken sounding Dennis to rattle off a slightly out-of-tune pub rock anthem. After that it sort of settles down into the formula of gravel-throated lovelorn ballads interspersed with growly rockier numbers such as Louise, Take My Love and tracks about the butch delight of cigarettes and whisky such as Smokie Joe. Again, perfectly capturing the interest of both Dennis’s  male and female fans! Other tracks such as Yesterday’s Papers and Cockney Cowboy make the mistake of straying from Den’s familiar cockney homeland to go all American, with a faltering accent and references to trash etc. Yesterday’s Papers is possibly the most annoying song on the album, strange shifts in tempo played over a tale of a ‘country boy’, presumably not from Clapham, who drinks sherry in bus stations and sleeps in newspapers. I think he is then imprisoned, the reason why not being entirely clear to either me or Dennis.

The really interesting thing about the album though, other than the fact that yes, Dennis wrote and sang all the songs on side two of the album, is the backing band assembled to provide the music for our denim-clad, medallion-wearing, pin-up boy.  Drums and guitars are sourced from none other than rock legends The Shadows, in the shape of Brian Bennett and guitar demigod Hank Marvin. Keyboardist Graham Todd, another long time Cliff Richard collaborator, does his ivory tinkling things. Also on guitar is respected session musician Alan Parker, famous for playing the Top of the Pops theme tune Whole Lotta Love as well as performing on Donovan’s Hurdy Gurdy Man, No Regrets by the Walker Brothers and on David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs LP. Hank is further helped out on guitar by Terry Britten, the writer of Sir Cliff’s multi-million selling Devil Woman as well as the bombastic Tina Turner pomp-rock anthems What’s Love Got to Do With It and We Don’t Need Another Hero. Backing vocals come from Vicky Brown, former wife of British rocker Joe Brown, and on bass is none other than Les Hurdle. It may be that Les is not as well known as the other distinguished musicians on Waterman, but he is surely guaranteed an exalted seat  in the great rock Valhalla for having played bass in Mike Batt’s chart-topping Wombles project, under the pseudonym of Tomsk Womble.

What a collection of musical personnel, and what an album. Another Bowie connection is provided by Dennis’s cover of It Ain’t Easy, a song written and first recorded by Ron Davies but made famous by David Bowie’s cover version on the 1972 album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. So to play us out, here is Dennis Waterman not writing, but most definitely singing the song:

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