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Little and Large – The punk rock years

The Manchester-based comedy duo Little and Large entertained the nation for many years with their impressions of Deputy Dawg – but they remained utterly bemused by punk.

Little and Large - Live at Abbey Road

Little and Large – Live at Abbey Road

Little and Large,
Live at Abbey Road,
EMI EMS 1003,
1981

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I think it’s fair to say that by 1981 the musical movement known as ‘punk’ was well and truly over. The 1970s had been a heady time and music had changed immeasurably within that most turbulent of decades. Glam, prog, heavy metal, disco and punk had all risen and fallen to various degrees by the end of 1979. By 1981, Sid Vicious was dead, The Sex Pistols had split up, The Clash were experimenting with reggae and rap and The Damned were laying the foundations of the Gothic movement. Charles and Di were compiling their wedding list while New Romantics across the country were causing shortages of hair spray, pirate costumes and shoulder pads.

Musically and culturally speaking, in 1981 punk had been and gone, but like snow that clings on stubbornly in hidden ditches for many weeks after everything else has melted away, there were places where punk refused to die. To this day for instance, a few tourist-friendly, local council appointed punks still wander the streets of Camden with their three-feet high Mohican haircuts posing for holiday snaps in return for loose change. Punk also remained alive and well, and living in the brains of two oddly shaped comedians from Manchester.

Syd Little and Eddie Large were those two comedians and their 1981 album Live at Abbey Road is like a grubby window into their brains. Brains which are like a museum that no-one has ever voluntarily visited except on a cut-price school trip or to take shelter from a sudden Bank Holiday rainstorm. The brains of Little and Large constitute a cavernous echoing place where curious voyeurs and students of history can see all of their thoughts on punk preserved forever in an empty, draughty museum of pointlessness.

For some reason, in the minds of Little and Large, even in 1981 punks are still sticking their fingers up at respectable showbiz entertainers and sneering at their lame comedy. And for some other equally unknown reason, punks are embodied in the unlikely form of Kate Bush and Adam Ant, two extremely un-punklike performers. To hear Little and Large debating whether those ‘punks’ Kate and Adam will still be remembered in thirty years’ time is to hear the clanking train of irony plummeting and crashing off of the tall viaduct of ill-informed stupidity.

In mitigation, and it is only slight mitigation, Syd Little and Eddie Large were immensely popular at one stage and the transitory young pop stars of the day must have seemed like dabbling amateurs to the two seasoned pros who had worked for twenty years on the comedy circuit to enjoy their moment of mass appeal.

Little and Large had started performing together in the early 1960s. Syd was a pub singer and Eddie a bar room habitué more intent on drinking heavily and misbehaving than pursuing a showbiz career.  Every pub has one; the annoying nuisance who needs to be the centre of attention, even if it’s for all the wrong reasons. Born Cyril Mead and Edward McGinnis, the duo changed their names to Little and Large very early on in their career as apparently ‘Mead and McGinnis’ sounded too much like a drinks order being announced rather than a stage act.

During a gig by Syd at Timperley Labour Club one night in 1962, the amp broke and urged on by Syd’s brother, Eddie first got up onto the stage to support Syd. Eddie’s support, such as it was, consisted largely of insulting Syd and poking fun at his bizarre appearance. Syd did not look or sound like a pop star but Eddie did look every inch a chubby Northern comic, and so a highly unlikely double act was born. Timperley Labour Club has since been demolished, as is only fitting. The houses on the site are probably still haunted by the spirit of Little and Large, the sound of phantom Deputy Dawg impressions echoing across the estate on dark wintery nights…

As can be gleaned from the duo’s adopted stage names, Syd was the little drainpipe-shaped one and Eddie was the large rotund one with a perm. Nothing about them was subtle and their comedy did not move on much from that 1962 gig. Even by 1981 the act still consisted largely of Eddie insulting Syd and chattering away inanely while Syd attempted to sing a song. This album is that act preserved for posterity. Like pickled walnuts, whether that act should have been preserved or not is another question.

Unlike ooh say Adam Ant or Kate Bush, two randomly selected artistes whose work hasn’t dated, this album has not dated well. In fact the record was probably dated the moment it came out. Through Eddie’s endless turgid babbling stream of impressions, the act makes reference to obscure adverts, dated TV shows, old films, children’s shows and other source material which was largely forgotten years before the album was even conceived.

The first side is mainly just inane banter. Endless inane banter. Impressions are heaped upon impressions; Deputy Dawg, Barbara Woodhouse, John Wayne, Jimmy Savile, Prince Charles, Jimmy Clitheroe, Deputy Dawg again, Eddie Waring and Cliff Richard are all channelled through Eddie like some mad seaside psychic hosting a séance of the still living. Syd manages a few snatched verses of a song here and there, and battles through to side two like a punch drunk boxer, reeling from the verbal assaults of Eddie Large.

Side two does actually have some music in between yet more musings on punk rock. There is a loose collection of their early singles, played to a live audience in the Abbey Road studios which actually doesn’t grate too much, but it is still very banter and impression heavy. Eddie’s ‘famous people starting their cars on a cold morning’ routine is the biggest comedy highlight, which is certainly saying something.

The album is a record of a live act in an unfamiliar setting. Neither truly live nor in front of a paying audience demanding to be entertained, the good-natured crowd gathered around them are largely the musicians, singers and engineers who made the record. It’s all very chummy and unchallenging.

With John Squire and Ian Brown now reconciled, The Stone Roses reunited and The Happy Mondays gigging again, the only great double acts from Manchester that still haven’t put their decades of bitterness and differences aside and reformed remain Morrissey and Marr. Oh and of course Little and Large. Time is running out for all of them, so let’s hope Morrissey and Marr, and Little and Large see sense and reconvene soon. Preferably as a four piece, Eddie probably does a hilarious Morrissey impression and I bet he knows exactly what Johnny Marr’s car sounds like on a cold morning.

So to play us out, here is Syd and Eddie’s hymn to Bridlington. Why a Yorkshire seaside resort needed a tribute from two Lancashire comedians I don’t know, but it serves as a neat counterpoint to Chas and Dave’s championing of Margate. The extolling of chips and sausages in the lyrics is made ever more poignant by the serious heart disease that both Little and Large suffered from in later years, but let’s cast that aside for now and roll up our trousers for a grand old jig on the beach. Hurrah!

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