Archive for the ‘comedy records’ Tag
In the early 1980s an anarchic group of young comedians sought to change the world with violence, Marxism and quite a lot of swearing.
The Comic Strip,
The Comic Strip,
Springtime Records HA HA 6001,
Bowels aside, by and large there are no great ‘movements’ in comedy today. Today’s generation of comedians seem to be out only for themselves. As long as the country’s motorway service stations are supplied with a steady stream of hilarious CDs for sales reps to listen to, then all is well with the world and no great or establishment-challenging art has to take place. The career progression for aspiring young comedians these days is clear and easy to follow: start as a guest on a topical news quiz, chair a panel show, host an ironic gameshow, then look forward to your own regular night of compered variety fun on primetime TV and yet more DVDs for the service station racks. Along the way the venues get gradually larger, from dingy comedy clubs, via corn exchanges and provincial guildhalls, to arenas and finally stadiums. And then you’ve made it. Maybe go to America and annoy them for a bit, make a few appearances in a film few people will see, or just fill out an arena every couple of years if something in the local Ferrari dealership catches your eye.
There used to be some accepted wisdom that post-war comedy would always have groups of similarly minded individuals come along every so often. Groups who would radically change the scene they inherited and shake up notions of what comedy was meant to be. From the wartime anarchy of the Goons, through Beyond The Fringe, Monty Python, Not The Nine O’Clock News, and right on into the alternative comedy movement of the 1980s, there have always been groups of young talented people ready to evolve comedy, to react against social norms and perceived methods of working, to challenge, to dare, to experiment and rail against the madness of the modern world. Not now though. Now we have nothing. Just endless bloody panel shows and endless Russell bloody Howard. Future generations will pity us, they really will. Sadly though, we won’t even be able to take offence at their condescending patronizing pity, as we will be too sedated from the soporific effects of watching Russell Howard to even notice or care what is happening. Russell Howard. Russell Russell Howard…
The story of the young radicals who would become the Comic Strip began collectively around 1979, with a group of comedians performing in the newly opened Comedy Store in London. There, in shows compered by angry Scouse Marxist Alexei Sayle, established double acts such as The Outer Limits (Peter Richardson and Nigel Planer) and 20th Century Coyote (Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson) performed lively anarchic comedy that would soon come to be referred to as ‘alternative’. Alternative comedy as a concept and a term was invented by Tony Allen, also a regular at the Comedy Store, and came as a reaction against hackneyed gags that relied on stereotypically easy targets, those joke staples of established club comics such as ethnic minorities and mothers-in-law.
The prime mover behind the Comic Strip as a coherent group was Peter Richardson. Keen to stage a play, he found a cheap venue in the Raymond Revue Bar, a strip club that after it closed and was cleared of naked women and lecherous tourists, was suitably empty, cheap and in a prime Soho location. Soon the idea of the play was abandoned but Richardson recognised that the venue would make the ideal late night comedy venue. Luring his chums from the Comedy Store to perform at the venue, along with lugubrious stand up Arnold Brown and double act French and Saunders, the scene was set for a comedy revolution.
A lot happened very fast in the life of the collective Comic Strip regulars. Within a year of forming, a national and international tour had been mounted, followed by a TV special and the production of this vinyl artefact which all raised the group’s profile. By 1982, with the persistence and enthusiasm of Peter Richardson being the main driving force, both the BBC and the newly created Channel 4 had signed up the Comic Strip players in the shape of The Young Ones and The Comic Strip Presents…
With the faces and personalities now so familiar to comedy fans after almost forty years of exposure, it’s easy to forget just what an impact these comedians once made. The individual members of the Comic Strip are these days members of the establishment themselves. With respected bodies of work, and long critically acclaimed careers they seem somehow safe and reliable. It is easy to forget that they were once the outsiders and that their work was seen as subversive, corrupting and dangerous.
Alexei Sayle for instance is now only an occasional comedian. His career as a writer has largely taken over but anyone who needs to remind themselves why he was once so feared needs only to listen to his contributions to this record. Plucked straight from a live Soho performance in the Comic Strip with no studio finesse or post-production polish, Sayle’s contributions are visceral and raw. No effort is made to tone down his act and he, perhaps more than anyone else on this record, evokes what it must have been like to witness the arrogance and self-assurance of the Comic Strip in their prime.
Sayle in the album opener Introduction sets out his stall as an ‘alternative’ comedian from the off. Jokes referencing Marxism and Enver Hoxha sit alongside more traditional gags about beer and curry. A rudimentary ‘Ullo John! Gotta New Motor? (Sayle’s unlikely 1982 Top 15 hit) can be briefly heard towards the end of his set but his full album closer Stream Of Tastelessness has to be heard to be believed. Never mind comedians, there are few individuals lucky enough to live outside secure prison wings that could sustain such a level of insane invective, shouting, swearing and spittle for the full nine and a half minutes that Alexei Sayle does!
The other acts on the record also show glimpses of what they would go on to achieve. Nigel Planer debuts a prototype Young Ones creation on The Outer Limits track Neil At Wembley, complete with self-deprecating commentary, terrible maudlin material, and long tedious songs about depression. Elsewhere on Lenny Flowers, Planer and Richardson experiment with an extended narrative sketch about a heavy metal band reforming which must surely have inspired Edmondson’s later creation, the degenerate rockers Bad News. Performing aside, Peter Richardson’s other main contribution is showing his keenness for organising and structuring the anarchy around him. As well as producing the record, Richardson ropes in future creative partners Pete Richens and Ben Elton for script writing duties on the track Page 3 Girls.
In the performances of Adrian Edmondson and Rik Mayall it is immediately apparent that they are comfortable with their own brand of comedy, that now familiar blend of unbridled anarchy, social awkwardness and casual violence that would serve them well for the next thirty years of their career. Listening to Mayall recite his angry and very awful poetic verses on the two tracks devoted to Rik’s Poetry, it is clear that Rik, as with Planer’s Neil, is ready to step straight into his Young Ones role.
Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders too seem remarkably comfortable in their sole contribution to the album, Psychodrama. Adopting the personas of two vapid and health obsessed American tourists, their skill at accents and subtle observant acting stands out from the rest of the more brash confrontational comedy on offer. That’s not to say their routine lacks bite or ability to shock. As the two Americans descend into ever more spiteful competitiveness and mutual loathing, the piece doesn’t look quite so out of place.
Before DVDs, VHS, and even before TV executives began to notice them, The Comic Strip as an album was a calling card for a group who were determined to forge a new style of comedy. It was a clear and bold statement of intent from the outset that didn’t compromise or make any concessions to listeners’ sensibilities. The ripples that this album caused are still around today, from the many comedy clubs that have proliferated across the country, to any mainstream TV show that bills itself as somehow edgy or dark. That all these once daring, dangerous comedians are now respected documentary makers, presenters, novelists, film stars, and in some cases just plain dead, is not their fault. They were young and they tried to change the world and I applaud them for that. The fact the modern world is such a mess is Russell Howard’s fault, and I blame him entirely for that.
So to finish on a high, here is Rik Mayall, with help from Adrian Edmondson on toy gun, reminding us why they were so ruddy brilliant and dangerous in the first place:
With the unlikely combination of budgies, bowler hats and an incurable speech impediment, Freddie Davies created his alter ego Samuel Tweet.
A Day In The Life Of Samuel Tweet,
Contour 2870 449,
Samuel Tweet was not born. Like some end of the pier comic Frankenstein, Freddie Davies would have to create him from discarded props and unwanted speech defects, gradually constructing Tweet until he was ready to be unleashed into the world, to wreak havoc and spray unsuspecting passers-by with litres of superfluous spittle. Containing the monster and killing him off would take a lot longer…
Freddie Davies though was born, in this case in 1937 in Brixton. It was not long before the outbreak of World War 2 saw Freddie evacuated away from South London in order to stay with relatives in Salford. He soon became a regular at the Salford Hippodrome, watching from the wings as his grandfather (the comedian Jack Herbert) performed his act. After leaving school and inspired to follow his own path in showbiz, Freddie took to performing in charity shows while working at the local Co-op. It wasn’t until after he finished his National Service in 1958 that Freddie finally resolved to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps and pursue a career as a comedian.
Freddie received sound counsel from no less than Des O’Connor, eagerly pouncing on him as Des exited from a stage door. Des’s advice was simple, and was the same advice as Max Bygraves had given Des some years before, namely become a Butlins Redcoat. So off Freddie went to Skegness, performing in weekly shows alongside fellow redcoat Dave Allen at the resort’s Gaiety Theatre. All well and good, but Freddie had set in motion a chain of events that would cause a monster to be created.
Outside of the weekly show, a Redcoat’s duty largely consisted of amusing the campers and falling in swimming pools. And as you can imagine, that duty is quite a strain after a while. The need to be funny all the time, spending every waking minute of the day as the epitome of hilarity, would tax some of the most adept and quick-witted of comedians. Freddie’s solution was simple, rather than rely on his wits, he would simply adopt a silly voice. A daft over-pronounced lisp solved all of his problems. Suddenly announcements for knobbly knees competitions or glamorous granny pageants could be delivered to crowds of suitably amused campers, doubled up with laughter at Freddie’s newly found speech impediment. What a simpler carefree age it must have been back then.
The next steps in Freddie’s gradual mutation into Samuel Tweet came in 1963 after his stint at Butlins and while he was trying to make a name for himself on the northern club circuit. After accidentally buying a homburg hat that was a few sizes too big, Freddie decided that he was best off keeping it and ramming it down over his ears. Cue further instant hilarity. The final jigsaw piece came when an unsuspecting heckler challenged Freddie to tell a joke about a budgerigar. By chance he knew one, and as the joke involved two voices, he reused the lisping idiot voice from his Butlins day. The combination of an oversized bowler hat, a ridiculous lisp and an obsession with budgies had finally resulted in the creation of Samuel Tweet. The following year in August 1964, an appearance on Opportunity Knocks exposed Samuel Tweet to the nation and suddenly Freddie ‘Parrotface’ Davies was a household name. Like Trill.
TV and radio work followed, including in 1968 his own radio show The Golden Parrot Club which saw Freddie and the BBC Northern Dance Orchestra hosting an hour of variety with aspiring comedians like Les Dawson and musical acts such The Wurzels or Clinton Ford. Later in 1974, Freddie earned his own TV show The Small World of Samuel Tweet. The plot was minimal and revolved around the business machinations of Freddie’s pet shop in the village of Chumpton Green, a settlement which owed its ancient feudal allegiance to the eponymous Lord Chumpton, played by Cardew Robinson. Needless to say a large number of parrots and budgies were involved. So popular was the series amongst children that a second series in 1975 was launched along with a novelty spinoff record.
For those of you unable or unwilling to remember what Samuel Tweet sounded like in his heyday, this LP is the perfect aide memoire. If you have been in therapy to try and forget, then it’s probably worth giving it a miss. The songs themselves are, it must always be remembered, aimed squarely at the children’s market, but even with that caveat they are exceedingly annoying. From the first track Keep Smiling onwards, Freddie is lisping and spraying saliva for all he is worth. The sentiments in Keep Smiling are admirable enough, encouraging children to keep grinning even if they are being smacked around. The song would be bearable if not for that lisp. Why Freddie why?
Even more unbearable is the lisp combined with deliberate mispronunciations as occurs on the last track on side one, Kindness To Animals. Again the sentiments are fine but Freddie’s insistence on pronouncing ‘animals’ as ‘aminals’ would make the most ardent vegan want to punch a hamster. The children’s chorus singing along with the Parrotfaced vocals don’t seem to have seen the script and insist not only on pronouncing every ‘s’ without a lisp, they also manage to pronounce ‘animals’ without sounding like they have suffered some terrible mass brain injury. The song clearly intends to teach children about animal care, and not about the joys of proper diction.
The album’s crowning glory is of course side two, the conceptual masterpiece that is A Day In The Life Of Samuel Tweet. Set initially at least in Freddie’s fictional Chumpton Green pet shop and featuring Damaris Hayman and Colin Edwyn from the TV series, the tale is a strange tale of parrots and drugged hallucinations, combining elements of The Wizard of Oz and Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake. Freddie is met and harassed by a Norfolk postman, Jock MacTavish (an angry Scottish policeman) and Mrs Higginbottom, a cleaner so posh you wonder who is dusting her Jacobean manor house while she is scraping layers of dried parrot guano and rat droppings off of Freddie’s floor.
Due to a state of advance dental decay caused by excessive consumption of dog treats (I might have made that up) Freddie has to be rushed to see his dentist Mr Oppenheimer, who is also, like many dentists, a mad German scientist. Mr Oppenheimer may be the same scientist who worked on the Manhattan project, he certainly sounds and behaves as if is suffering from advanced radiation sickness. Under sedation at the dentist and succumbing to the powerful anaesthesia, Freddie meets up with canine incarnations of his friends, all of whom are jolly racial and regional stereotypes ready to amuse with daft accents and unlikely cravings for sausages and a little amorous ‘woof and tickle’. Then just like Dorothy in Oz, Freddie manages to return, in this case by biting his dentist while in dog form. The dentist is then sensibly carried off for rabies shots. I hope at least some of that made sense, I gave it my best shot…
In the sleeve notes for his 1970 album Mr Parrot Face, Freddie Davies dropped some fairly unsubtle hints as to how he felt about his alter ego, Samuel Tweet. Comparing Tweet to Frankenstein’s monster and bemoaning the indestructibility of both creations, the frustration is palpable. It would take another ten years or so before Freddie Davies managed to finally and irrevocably kill off his monstrous avian obsessed creature by escaping to the relative safety of cruise ship cabaret, a floating sanctuary where no one on board had ever seen or heard of Samuel Tweet. A further career as a straight actor has brought some semblance of order and peace to Freddie Davies’ life, and he continues acting and performing to this day. Just don’t mention budgies.
If the horror films of Hammer and Universal teach anything though, it is that nothing as grotesque and as gruesome as Samuel Tweet can be relied on to stay dead forever. Let’s hope for the sake of humanity that he is safely spluttering away in some far off dimension under an irrevocable curse, never to return to trouble our world again. Keep smiling!
More Parrotfaced squawkings at Freddie’s official site:
Who would have expected an album recorded in a small Welsh rugby club would create a major superstar of 1970s comedy?
Live At Treorchy,
One Up OU 2033,
Nationalism can do odd things to people. I don’t feel there is anything intrinsically wrong with believing your nation to be a fairly decent place full of thoroughly decent people leading highly decent lives. That nation of yours is going to be there every time you gaze out of a window or open your door, so you might as well try and like it, or at least feign some sort of passing interest. It is though, a short step from believing your respective country to be the best and by far the most decent, to experiencing a strong desire to conquer the known world and subjugate all other nations until they reach your required state of taste and decency.
Along with wanting to vanquish all the people of the world, nationalism also seems to bring with it certain other odd desires that are not entirely natural. Take for instance the sudden urge to address huge baying crowds from a balcony. Or the need to adopt emblems and insignia, and to wear stylistically improbable items of clothing. With their crisp black shirts, natty armband accessories, leather jackets, polished metallic eagles and shiny knee-length boots, nationalists have always managed to look stylish and cut a certain dash while they attempt to vanquish their foes and crush the peoples of the world. Apart from Nicola Sturgeon of course, who manages to look like a school dinner lady all dressed up for a night at the bingo.
Striding about the stage of some random Welsh town hall, adorned from head to toe in red with matching scarf and hat, Max Boyce certainly looked the part of the ardent nationalist. Add into that equation an enormous rosette the size of a cart wheel and a giant leek that was taller than Max himself, and you have the living embodiment of Welsh nationalism and its greatest ever comedian. Even Hitler or Mussolini in their prime would have felt underdressed and a tad shabby watching Max Boyce in his prime.
It wasn’t always like this. The covers of Max Boyce’s first two albums In Session and The World Of Max Boyce, both first released in 1971, show him in his pre-giant leek days. His chunky knitwear adorned with hues of brown and beige, his hair long but tamed, Max looks every inch a jobbing folk singer. By 1974 when Live At Treorchy was released, Max Boyce’s amazing transformation from folk singer to the very personification of Welshness was well under way. Gone is the brown woollen uniform, replaced instead by the ubiquitous leek and Welsh rugby wear that he would make his own. The leek is just a regular vegetable at this stage, and Max’s hair is still un-permed, but the puckish grin shows that he is well on his way to becoming the most Welsh person to have ever walked the valleys or waved a daffodil in anger. With the exception of 1977’s The Road And The Miles…, which sees Max flirting with rock superstardom in denim flares and a shirt open to his navel, the red and white clad rugby obsessive was a look that would serve him well.
Much of the appeal at Live At Treorchy comes from the instant rapport between Max and his audience. Born in 1943 in the mining town of Glynneath, Max Boyce worked in the mines himself and his tales of hard toil and of the emotional release offered by rugby and beer come from the heart. There is no affectation or effort to ingratiate himself with his audience. It is simply a man at home in his surroundings and the response of an audience who recognize one of their own. The material and topics Max sings about are instantly familiar to his crowd.
Much of the material on Live At Treorchy makes reference to Welsh rugby, which enjoyed a period of exceptional skill and dominance during the 1970s. I could devote a doctoral thesis to investigating whether it was the dominance of Welsh rugby which gave rise to the mass appeal of Max Boyce or vice versa. Suffice to say, the album both begins and ends with rugby related comedy, with only a few non-rugby related songs included to prevent the audience from rising from their chairs in a frenzied state of nationalism and marching immediately on London to overthrow the government.
Opening track 9-3 tells for instance of the 1972 defeat of the mighty New Zealand All Blacks by the Carmarthenshire club side Llanelli. The match is still talked about and mythologised forty years on and the details are now a matter of sporting legend, but Max Boyce explores much more than just the minutiae of the match. He tells of the atmosphere that the match generated, the camaraderie and mass elation that the result provoked, and of the Felinfoel beer induced revelry that caused many a headache and absence from work the next day. And probably the day after that as well.
More rugby tales follow on The Scottish Trip which relates more about the experience of travelling to a match than it does about the enjoyment of watching the match itself. It is a tale of hard working men bonding on a rare day off, and also of the scarcity of toilets on the motorways of the early 1970s. A similar track Hymns And Arias finishes the album, telling this time of a trip to Twickenham, detailing the songs sung and the various ways the Welsh got one over on their English hosts. It is a rousing crowd pleaser on which to end the record, with the line ‘Wales defeated England’ inevitably earning the loudest, most raucous cheer of the night.
Less drunken tracks, such as The Outside-Half Factory, relate a tall yarn of Welsh rugby players being constructed deep below the ground, hidden from the scheming gaze of English rugby league scouts. There is also Asso Asso Yogoshi, a cheerful tale of glib casual racism blessed glossed over, that despite its obvious affection for the touring Japanese rugby side and their brave sporting spirit, is just the sort of song that gives the 1970s a bad name. Wales has yet to issue Japan a formal apology for the track…
Astonishingly though, there are songs which are not about rugby or annoying the English. The Ballad Of Morgan The Moon is a long rambling story/poem which tells about how the eponymous Welsh inventor made it to the surface of the moon in a coal powered rocket fashioned from an old winding-engine.
The non-rugby songs also showcase the serious side of Max Boyce. Duw It’s Hard is a reflective lament for the lost pit in Max’s home town of Glynneath which generates a moment of genuine pathos amidst all the musical merriment and rugger. Max is honest enough to acknowledge that life in the mines was tough and full of hardship, but the replacement of the pithead baths with a supermarket imbues the song with a reflective sadness at the inevitability of change and the loss of communities. Ten Thousand Instant Christians is another reflective number which marvels at the empty chapels dotted around Cardiff on the day of a rugby international, while inside the stadium hymns such as Calon Lân and Cwm Rhondda can be heard ringing out with such faith and devotion.
Did You Understand? is a track written about the 1972 colliery strike, the indifferent decision makers in power and how the nation’s sympathies with the striking miners faded over time. With its portentous piano chords playing over Max’s piercing vocal lament, it is a powerful moment of social commentary that reveals the folk club origins of much of Max Boyce’s act.
For all its parochial Welsh charm, Live At Treorchy achieved great success for Max Boyce outside of his own safe heartland of support. The blend of working class humour and gentle comedy saw the album sell by the thousands, spending 38 weeks in the charts and reaching number 21 in the run up to Christmas 1975. The follow up album We All Had Doctors’ Papers achieved even greater success becoming (so far) the only comedy album to have reached number one in the UK charts. Which, given the competition, is quite an achievement.
To end then, here is Duw It’s Hard, Max’s wistful farewell to the mining industry that made him and thousands like him into proud Welshmen.
Clinton Ford’s love of a good song, his enthusiasm for reinterpreting old novelty numbers and his sheer natural exuberance are all evident on his 1960s albums.
Clinton The Clown,
Marble Arch MALS 1223,
In the 1960s, novelty songs and music hall numbers seemed to make perfect sense in that age of psychedelic experimentation and resolute British musicality that no longer felt the need to look to America for inspiration. Artists such as The Kinks and Pink Floyd crafted songs that could have transferred straight from some dingy East End musical hall, telling tales of cross dressing clothes thieves or of the need to preserve Village Greens. Equally, The Small Faces could employ the services of Stanley Unwin to narrate Happiness Stan’s hunt for the missing half of the moon. Bands could also cover songs of a much more ancient nature, with the likes of The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band and Bob Kerr’s Whoopee Band tracking down obscure sheet music and long-forgotten 78s for ideas.
In short, it was an opportune moment to be a lover of novelty songs and an aficionado of old music. And there were few musicians of this era who demonstrated their love of novelty numbers as much as Clinton Ford.
Born Ian Harrison in 1931 in Salford, Clinton learnt much from his musically inclined parents (his mother was a cinema pianist in the days before Clinton arrived). Called up for national service at the age of twenty, Clinton was posted to Vienna where he took to organising concert parties, often featuring himself as a headlining guitar act. During this period he also mingled with US servicemen and became a big fan of country music. After demob, young Ian Harrison as he still was, returned to the UK and signed on for a tour of duty with another famously strict and organised regiment with a reputation for nurturing showbiz talent, namely Butlins.
During his time as a Butlins redcoat at Pwllheli, trainee entertainer Ian Harrison formed the Backwoods Skiffle Group and deciding, quite rightly, that his given name lacked a certain dazzling pizazz, changed it to the much more theatrical Clinton Ford. After the end of the 1957 summer season, Ford bade farewell to knobbly knees contents and Hawaiian ballrooms and toured the variety halls before settling into a residency at Liverpool’s newly opened Cavern Club. With the popularity of skiffle soon on the wane, Clinton instead turned his hand to jazz, and formed the wonderfully named Merseysippi Jazz Band.
Signed up by Oriole Records in 1958, Clinton Ford’s first successful solo recording came a year later in October 1959 with Old Shep. Inspired by his love of country music to record the maudlin tale of a dead dog, the song was given a rock and roll makeover, a move which caused Clinton to disown the song and donate all royalties to The Battersea Dogs Home. Through time, he grew to detest the mawkish ballad even more, a fact which gleeful hecklers would remember for the rest of his career. Leaving deceased canines aside, Clinton Ford’s next chart entry was a much happier and far less mushy affair.
Fanlight Fanny provided Clinton Ford’s second chart hit in March 1962. The song written back in 1935 by George Formby, Harry Gifford & Fred E Cliff had enjoyed a successful release on 78 and also found its way into Formby’s 1939 film Trouble Brewing, along with an additional verse. The tale of a tawdry West End degenerate stuffed with booze and shoplifted goods, her bleary sights set on seeking a good time in the night spots of Soho, it was the perfect song to drag Clinton away from his attempts at country and rock and towards a genre that would stimulate and invigorate his recordings anew.
Fanlight Fanny inspired much of what followed in Clinton Ford’s career. An album simply entitled Clinton Ford was released hot on the heels of its success and was later re-released on Hallmark as Clinton Ford Sings Fanlight Fanny. Further recordings of novelty numbers and old music hall songs followed on albums such as The Melody Man and Oh! By Jingo, both released in 1963. In case the debt to Clinton’s breakthrough single wasn’t acknowledged enough, Oh! By Jingo also included the Wally Lindsay composition Fanlight Fanny’s Daughter, a track also released as a single.
1968’s release of Clinton The Clown (re-released in 1970 on the Marble Arch label) saw Clinton revisit his favourite Fanny yet again. Far from just simply going through the movements with an old favourite though, on Clinton The Clown he saw fit to give his Fanny a through makeover. This time rather than being Fanlight Fanny, the tarnished heroine is now elevated to the status of Fan-Dance Fanny, a renaming which does seem to make some sense and add even more seediness to the character of the decrepit night club sensation. The arrangement by George Chisholm is much tighter than his original 1962 attempt and dispenses with a lot of Clinton Ford’s bellowing of ‘Fanny’, which is perhaps a pity. The only lyrical change in the intervening six years is Fanny’s decision to wear dustbin lids on her chest rather than her earlier saucepan lids. Age can be cruel to even the frowsiest of frowsy old queens.
While mainly drawing on old songs, there are four newer numbers on the album. The fact that these contemporary covers are difficult to spot is a testament to the care and respect with which they were written. The first debut on the album is The Biggest Balalaika In the World, composed by young piano player and future EMI record producer Richard Smith. A tale of ‘Volga Olga’ and her prized collection of unlikely musical instruments including her much discussed maracas and of course the ‘biggest balalaika in the Balkans’. The innuendos are a treat and each is underlined by some frantic playing from George Chisholm and his band The Inmates.
The Biggest Balalaika In the World is a perfect suggestive accompaniment to another of the contemporary tunes, My Baby’s Wild About My Old Trombone, a track which celebrates an equally impressive instrument with similarly beguiling properties. Written by Johnny Stevens and arranged by George Chisholm, its inventory of daft innuendos sung by Clinton is interrupted by some splendidly energetic trombone blowing from George.
Other contemporary treats include The Old Fashioned Bustle My Grandmother Wore, even the title of which sounds like something from a lost Edwardian classic, and The Old Bazaar In Cairo. Both songs again fit perfectly into the mad world of ridiculous novelty songs, and both were written by Clinton Ford himself, The Old Bazaar In Cairo with the assistance of veteran comedian Charlie Chester.
The authentically ancient nonsense songs date way back to 1900 with the inclusion of Burlington Bertie, a music hall song composed by Harry B Norris and made famous by the male impersonators Vesta Tilley and Ella Shields. There are a number of novelty foxtrots included such as He Played his Ukulele as the Ship Went Down, a 1932 Arthur Le Clerq delight, and When It’s Night-Time In Italy, It’s Wednesday Over Here, a 1923 Lew Brown and James Kendis number updated by Clinton with Barbara Castle references, that is more full of gibberish and prattle than words which actually make sense.
Further treats include Leslie Sarony’s 1932 Rhymes, which offers enticingly unfinished lewd limericks for the smutty minded listener to complete. Sarony of course enjoyed another 60’s revival with the Bonzo’s treatment of his bouncy Jollity Farm. The Pig Got Up and Slowly Walked Away sees Clinton tackle a 1933 temperance song with lyrics by Benjamin Hapgood Burt. This inebriated ditty details Clinton’s efforts to befriend a disdainful condescending porker in his best drunken slur, with some fine intoxicated trombone accompaniment, once again courtesy of George Chisholm.
The Night I Appeared As Macbeth by William Hargreaves dates back to 1922 and was made popular by the music hall star Billy Merson. And finally there is Riley’s Cowshed a 1924 call and response frivolity extolling the delights of ‘Bandy Bertha’ from Stanley J Damerell & Robert Hargreaves that was covered later in the 60’s by none other than Adge Cutler and The Wurzels.
Clinton Ford continued performing into the 1980s before gradually retreating into retirement on the Isle of Man. His love of a good song, his enthusiasm for reinterpreting old novelty numbers and his sheer natural exuberance made him a popular live act, and all those traits are there to see on the albums he recorded at the height of his powers. What else can I finish with but the frowsy star of the record, the one and only faded delight that is Fanny!