Anita Harris and her marvellous juicy melons
Actress and singer Anita Harris made an extraordinary recording début with her first album, the juicy fruit-themed greengrocer’s delight that is Somebody’s In My Orchard.
Somebody’s In My Orchard,
There is something so wonderfully British about innuendo. It never ceases to amaze me what strange unusual things can be wrought with the English language and its seemingly innocent words. There can be few languages where such a large number of words can be subtly and deliberately misconstrued in order to sound rude. Within reason and with a little bit of effort, I’m confident that almost any word in English used out context, can sound suggestive and provoke much stifled giggling. In fact I’m perfect willing to give it a go if there’s a research grant on offer. Most British TV sitcoms and comedy routines have been built around this simple but wonderful premise. Within all those wonderful misconstrued words what can be more suggestive than fruit?
Maybe the instinct to find fruit suggestive is a primeval instinct, dating back to the dawn of Biblical time and the pivotal moment that Eve in her garden offered Adam a nibble of her ripe juicy apple (snigger). Even today, the urge to wander around a grocer’s shop sniggering at suggestive looking fruits and making remarks about the relative size of melons remains strong.
This peculiarly British madness rubs off on visitors as well. Madonna during her stay in the UK was introduced to fruit innuendo by her then husband Guy Ritchie. Ever the chirpy cockney barrow boy, Guy would plead with Madge to keep her ‘raspberries’ covered up. Raspberry ripple being rhyming slang for nipple for all those people less cockney than Lord Guy, 13th Duke of Ritchie. Madonna of course paid no heed to Guy’s urgings and kept on whipping out her raspberries for all to see, whether they wanted to or not. To this day she still confidently exposes her now considerably over ripened and shrivelled fruits at the slightest provocation. All of which goes to prove something I suppose.
Now, if there is anything I love as much as a juicy over-ripe innuendo, it’s a concept album with a completely bonkers premise, as my review of Kenneth Connor’s Elizabethan frippery will confer. And as concept albums go it doesn’t get much more bonkers than Somebody’s In My Orchard by Anita Harris, an album that combines fruity innuendos galore with some quite mad jazz tinged interpretations of popular modern songs.
From the first fecund warble of the title piece Somebody’s In My Orchard, Anita is off, chucking around casual innuendos like a drunken confetti magnate at the wedding of his only daughter. When Floyd Huddleston wrote the track Somebody’s In My Orchard he was most likely completely unaware of the innuendo potential. He was after all American, and therefore probably blissfully ignorant of any double meaning. In the hands of his singer wife Nancy Adams (Maid Marian in the Disney version of Robin Hood in case you’re interested) the song was a fairly innocuous 1964 single and did little to trouble the charts. But in the hands of Ms Harris, the song is a glorious ribald romp through a world of sniggering and snorting.
Anita suffers a lot during the song, complaining at various times that some unseen and unknown miscreant is by turns ‘looking at all my walnuts’, ‘picking at my plum tree’, shaking her ‘peach tree’ and infiltrating her vineyard with a view to stealing her ‘juicy grapes’. If that’s not enough to get the average person chuckling like a lunatic then I don’t know what is. And it doesn’t end there, no sir…
Track two, Watermelon Man, is a lugubrious chugging tour de force that swaggers and sways with a confident jazzy bravado, but it’s the fruity innuendo that earns the song its appeal. Anita’s breathy assertions about who has the ‘best watermelons in the land’ are priceless. Even if it is a watermelon man who has the best, and not Anita, just to hear her sing it is a joy. And sing she does, note perfect in fact.
After the third track, the stripped down and subtly orchestrated Cherry Ripe, in which Anita implores people to ‘come and buy my sweet little cherries’ the album does calm down a bit on the innuendo front, but gets no less odd for that. Anita’s version of the enduring Frank Loesser children’s classic Inch Worm is a case in point. An odd novelty number to begin with when sung by Danny Kaye in the musical Hans Christian Andersen, with Anita and her jazz orchestra it becomes quite insane.
Inch Worm is morphed into a bizarre nightmarish vision, direct from the ‘underground worm country’ apparently. Introduced by then-RADA student Trevor Adams (who went on to star in Fawlty Towers and The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin) as the eponymous Inch Worm, we meet his far out friends; namely the profoundly Scouse Beetle (see what they did there?), his female love interest Ant, and his inexplicably Afro-Caribbean drinking buddy Frog. Anita then forgets all of this nonsense and proceeds to sing the song as if she is on a different record entirely, if not a different planet.
The maddest moment though isn’t even that song. That honour is saved for Oranges and Lemons a track that owes little to the nursery rhyme of the same name. Berating the record buyers in a grating cockney accent that would make even the dolphin-voiced Barbara Windsor wince, Anita laments that “I can’t shift my oranges and lemons” before launching into a swiftly recited bebop grocery list. She riffs away merrily, recounting how her only friends in the world are an odd assortment of fruit. Ah the concept of the concept album, how wonderfully insanely brilliant.
Anita Harris did not originally intend to be a singer. As a young child she had wanted to be a dancer and travelled to the US to train. It was only on her return to the UK that she tried her hand at singing. Anita was still just 19 when she released her first single I Haven’t Got You in 1961, recorded with John Barry and His Orchestra. Further singles followed in 1964, and over the next few years Anita built up a reputation as a great live performer culminating in an eight month season starring at the London Palladium. It was after that success that she finally made it into a studio to record Somebody’s In My Orchard, her first studio album. And what a corker it was too.
Somebody’s In My Orchard is at times smoky moody whispered jazz, at other times mad crazy brass infused bebop. It is an incredible début record for a young artist to create and there are hidden depths lurking all over the tracks, like fruit I suppose, just waiting to be discovered. It’s hard to pluck just one juicy ripe melon from Anita’s verdant patch (snigger), as all of the songs on here are gems. Some are laid back, some more manic and up tempo, some have talking worms on, and I love them all. Let’s go then for Oranges and Lemons, for on this most fruity of records this track must have the most fruit references crammed into it like an overstocked grocer’s barrow. And there is that mad cockney accent to enjoy as well.