Archive for the ‘Manchester’ Tag

Harry H Corbett – A broken glass half full

As the TV series Steptoe And Son drew to a close, Harry H Corbett sought to release his debut solo album, a collection of traditional British folk songs and music hall tunes.

Harry H Corbett - Only Authorised Employees To Break Bottles

Harry H Corbett – Only Authorised Employees To Break Bottles

Harry H Corbett,
Only Authorised Employees To Break Bottles,
Ra Records RALP 6022,
1974

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First broadcast as a pilot episode in January 1962 as part of the BBC’s Comedy Playhouse, the TV series Steptoe And Son was an unlikely but immensely popular hit. Should anyone need reminding, it was set in a dilapidated and decrepit junkyard and featured a father and son who loathed and mistrusted each other. The series ran for twelve years, with a five year break between the black and white and colour episodes, finally ending on Boxing Day 1974 with a Christmas special. Spawning a number of vinyl albums, radio episodes, foreign adaptations, live shows, tours, and two big screen spin-off films, by rights the two stars of the show Wilfrid Brambell and Harry H Corbett could have (and should have) cashed in on their enormous fame and mass appeal when the series came to an end. If Harry H Corbett for example, had wanted to release a novelty single or two, or maybe a full album of daft comedy songs, then I’m sure that no-one would have blamed him. I’m equally sure that there would have been a record buying public eagerly waiting to receive such comedic recordings. Harry though was a man with strong convictions, and he clearly wanted to take his career in a different direction.

Harry H Corbett was no stranger to comedy records. At the beginning of Steptoe-mania in 1962, he had released the suitably rag and bone themed up tempo single Junk Shop. Wilfrid Brambell’s own much more maudlin but similarly themed effort Secondhand ‎followed in 1963. Wilfrid Brambell seemed content with his sole foray into a recording studio, but Harry H Corbett certainly wasn’t daunted and released a number of other novelty singles during the ‘60s. While none of those records would trouble the charts (something of a running theme around here) the two stars of the hit sitcom would have better luck as part of a double act. The single Steptoe & Son At Buckingham Palace was a live recording of their 1963 Royal Variety Performance, released as a fund raiser for the Variety Artistes’ Benevolent Fund. Reaching number 25 in the charts over Christmas 1963, it was also released in Australia and New Zealand, helping to build the sitcom’s popularity outside of the UK. Over this period two Steptoe And Son soundtrack albums also made the charts, with 1963’s Steptoe And Son LP reaching an impressive number 4.

Way before all of this mass adulation and chart success, Harry H Corbett was but a jobbing suburban repertory company actor. Born in 1925 in Burma where his father was a sergeant in the Colonial defence forces, the young Harry was sent back to England aged only 18 months after his mother died of dysentery. Initially he lived with his aunt in Ardwick, Manchester, and then later in Wythenshawe on what was then the largest council housing estate in Europe. After serving with (and later deserting from) the Royal Navy during the Second World War, Harry returned to Manchester where in 1948 after a series of menial jobs he gave into his childhood dreams and joined the Chorlton Repertory Company.

In 1951 a production of Ewan MacColl’s play Uranium 235 saw the much more radical Theatre Workshop share the same theatre as Harry’s Chorlton Rep. It was one of the workshop’s members, David Scase, who persuaded Harry to turn away from the safe world of rep and take a chance with the various militant communists and left wing actors that made up The Theatre Workshop. Formed in post-war Manchester by Joan Littlewood and Ewan MacColl, both veterans of previous radical left wing theatrical ventures, the company saw drama as a means of communicating their fanatic revolutionary fervour to the masses. Soon after Harry joined the resolutely northern troubadours though, the chance came for the Workshop to secure a lease on the Theatre Royal Stratford East in London. Joan Littlewood seized the opportunity and took the company south to fight her insurrectionary battles with the West End elite, while Ewan MacColl left to concentrate on his career as a folk singer. Harry went to London and The Theatre Royal, a place where he and many others would make their names with Joan Littlewood and the plays staged in her legendary personal East End fiefdom. Absent though he was, departed Workshop member Ewan MacColl would also have a lasting influence on the career of Harry H Corbett.

Collaborating with folk song collector and performer AL Lloyd, Ewan MacColl released a 1955 album The Singing Sailor on the Topic label. Although Lloyd and MacColl (and even the concertina player Alf Edwards) were credited on the sleeve, Harry H Corbett’s then not particularly famous name was omitted. But there he was, lurking away on side two of the album, holding his own with the two giants of the contemporary folk scene. Even though most shanty songs are largely a series of gruff salty bellows followed by an even gruffer saltier shout by way of a response, Harry’s lone track Blow the Man Down was a competent enough example of the genre to earn a place on the record, as well as on several reissues and compilations of the MacColl and Lloyd sessions over the years. So, to return to the narrative began much earlier, it would seem that some twenty years after this record, Harry H Corbett reflected on his brief but satisfying career as a folk singer and felt the need to revisit his early triumphs. Rather than release yet another novelty record on the pop charts at the very height of his fame, he would instead return to the world of sea songs and folk, with a bit of vintage music hall thrown in for good measure.

The only problem with a much-loved popular comedian wanting to record an album of traditional folk songs and obscure music hall numbers, is of course that no major record company would ever see anything remotely commercial in such a venture and want to be responsible for releasing it. Had Harry returned to singing silly songs about second hand furniture or battered bric-a-brac, then I’m sure he could have found some outlet for his muse, but folk songs were a different prospect. Hence why Harry instead found a home on the obscure Torquay based label Ra Records. Owned and run by Tony Waldron, with a roster of artists including local football clubs, brass bands, holiday camp entertainers, and most importantly many Devon based folk acts, it was a perfect fit. There were no marketing departments to please, no publicity budgets, no targets to meet, just an enthusiastic record label owner hobnobbing with a TV star, producing a great album and having a whale of a time in the process.

Backed by Ra Records regulars Faraway Folk, everyone does seem to have a jolly time. The album kicks off with the title track Only Authorised Employees To Break Bottles which is the only original track on the disc, written by Harry H Corbett and Tony Waldron. This is the nearest the record ever gets to downright comedy nonsense, narrating an unlikely tale of an unemployed Corbett being told by the labour exchange to grab his tennis racquet and head down to Hackney. Naturally assuming he is to be employed as a pro tennis player, which I’m sure must happen all the time, his overhead lobbing skills are instead needed to smash glass down at the bottle works. Again, I’m sure that must have happened all the time back in the 1970s. It’s a jaunty novelty number and Harry is at his most Steptoe-like as he tells the story. The only downside is the rather annoying chorus which is repeated over and over again. It goes something along the lines of, “cringle ingle bingle bong, ingle bingle bangle bong”. I hope I spelled that correctly. After you’ve heard it shouted once over the jarring sound effects of breaking glass you’ve probably heard more than enough.

From the world of traditional folk there are tracks such as The Fillin’ Knife, a song adapted by Dominic and Brendan Behan from the Irish street ballad Hand Me Down Me Petticoat. Where the original deals with a woman in a Magdalene Laundry bewailing her lost soldier love, the newer version is more concerned with the more mundane travails of a jobbing painter. Side one is also home to the Jacobite anthem Johnny Cope, which celebrates a rare victory for the Stuart supporters at the 1745 Battle of Prestonpans. Side two sees more traditional folk in the form of the Liverpudlian maritime favourite Maggie May, and the Cornish miners’ ballad The Sweet Nightingale. On the shanty Captain Kydd Harry eschews all maritime heaving and toiling and instead delivers the song as an extended Robert Newton style piratical audition piece, snorting, snarling and growling away over nautical sound effects of waves and seagulls. One can almost see his wooden leg pacing the poop deck and catch a faint whiff of stale herring and tar in the air.

The music hall is well represented too with tracks such as the cockney anthem Your Baby Has Gone Down The Plughole. Most memorably recorded by Cream on their album Disraeli Gears, the song has long been a warning not to wash skinny babies in sinks, and also to the dangers of mind altering drugs and how their misuse can lead to drummers taking lead vocals on rock albums. Household Remedies is another music hall tune written by Harry Randall and Edgar Bateman, which became a popular hit in Dorset for no readily apparent reason. Originally entitled It’s A Wonder I’m Alive To Tell The Tale, the song’s message of unlikely cures for toothache, bile and boils is brought alive by Harry in his lively jaunty version.

Cushy Butterfield, the Geordie music hall classic is also there, written by George Riley who is most famous for his Blaydon Races. The album finishes with the comic masterpiece The Night I First Played My Macbeth, originally written by William Hargreaves in 1922 and made famous on the music hall stages by Billy Merson. Harry acquits himself well on this old favourite with his stentorian Shakespearean monologue, puffed full of starchy pretensions, delivered in spite of various heckles and asides from other characters, all of course played by Harry.

All well and good, but the truly unique appeal of this album is that Harry H Corbett chose to deliver all of these songs, traditional and music hall alike, in the regional accent from whichever part of the British Isles they originated. So Johnny Cope is blessed with a Scottish accent, Household Remedies with a West Country burr, and Fillin’ Knife with an authentic Irish brogue. Most work quite well but the Geordie accent on Cushy Butterfield seems to wander around the far north east of Burma as opposed to Tyneside, while the cover of Irish broadside Jack Of All Trades is inexplicably covered in a Caribbean accent over a calypso rhythm. Which is just wrong on so very many levels.

Where the accents work, they work very well but not all hit their mark. Only Authorised Employees To Break Bottles was a brave attempt by an established star to experiment musically and to try something different to what was expected of him. Harry and the Faraway Folk toured the album around the UK with some success and I can only wonder what audiences must have made of Harry’s various accents. On the off chance that the tour took him to Birmingham, here is Harry H Corbett singing I Can’t Find Brumagem, a lament for a lost West Midlands buried under various Bullrings and Spaghetti Junctions:

 

 

 

Les Dawson – The Manchester school of philosophy

The comedian Les Dawson excelled as a stand-up and as an actor. What is often overlooked is his whimsical mastery over the English language.

Les Dawson - Laugh With Les

Les Dawson – Laugh With Les

Les Dawson,
Laugh With Les,
BBC REB 346,
1979

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To celebrate Les Dawson solely as a reliable and rapid deliverer of crude mother-in-law jokes, is to do him a great disservice. True, he delivered many a gag about his wife over the years, as well as her supposedly gorgon-like mother, but Les Dawson had many other comedic talents that are underappreciated. There was the character actor who brought to life scripts and plays by the likes of Galton and Simpson, Roberto Cossa and Alan Plater. There was the comedian equally at home in TV sketch shows as he was performing stand-up late into the night at a boisterous working men’s club. There was the consummate quiz show host ever so slightly at odds with the lavish television sets, forging a rare intimacy with contestants and audience alike. And then there was the writer and novelist, the constructor of intricate fanciful prose as whimsical, rich and playful as anything ever heard on a comedy stage.

In his 1985 autobiography A Clown Too Many, Les Dawson describes Collyhurst, the Manchester suburb where he was born back in 1931. The words that he uses, the turns of phrase he conjures, and the images he conveys emerge every bit as vivid and evocative as an LS Lowry street scene. The grimy dark streets wreathed in smoke are a world full of, “teeming running fighting children, never pausing for breath as they dart down drain-blocked alleyways…” The poetic turns of phrase and literary leanings of Les Dawson find full reign in that description, inspired by his hard upbringing, thwarted ambition and multifarious struggles. Time and again, that same mastery over words would appear in his comedy.

The various working class areas of Manchester where Les’s family lived over the years did not provide the sort of environment that would normally encourage any intellectual leanings or idle comic musings. Career aspirations for Les and his neighbours did not extend much beyond ‘learning a trade’ or if really lucky, securing a steady job in a shop or an office. A mediocre student at best, Les Dawson left school at the age of 14 and embarked on the first of many ill-suited jobs in the drapery department of the Co-Op Manchester. He would go on to be an equally inept electrician, newspaper reporter, dishwasher and door-to-door salesman.

It is perhaps only the fact that Les Dawson proved so utterly hopeless at every single trade and profession he attempted to make a living from, that the British public were able to eventually enjoy his comedic output. Les’s breakthrough into comedy was driven by a fierce and relentless ambition. Not the sort of ambition that propels someone to instant overnight fame and stardom, but rather an obdurate sense of determination that allowed him to take risks, suffer multiple failures and setbacks, until success eventually came.

Les’s narrow horizons were expanded and ambitions first stirred during his National Service in post-war Germany. While no better at being a soldier than he was an electrician, and equally as dangerous to those around him, Les found that his piano playing abilities were enough to keep him ingratiated with his comrades. They also kept him out of military jail on a constant litany of charges caused by his unfailing ineptitude. After his spell in Germany, demobbed and back in Manchester, it was not long before Les felt the urge to try his luck on the continent again and decamped aboard to try his luck in Paris. Piano playing in brothels did not prove lucrative enough to sustain his dreams of living a bohemian aesthete’s life on the banks of the Seine and he returned once again to Manchester.

One further trip away from Manchester might have proved enough to squash most aspiring showbiz ambitions. An unexpected and potentially lucrative offer to work with celebrated comedian Max Wall in London proved a false start as Wall became embroiled in an extra-marital affair which saw his career stall amid the prudish atmosphere of 1950’s England. And so, with his big break gone, Les Dawson returned to Manchester, and became resigned to his familiar world of vacuum cleaner selling and occasional gigs on the Northern club circuit.

Les Dawson developed his act gradually over the years mixing his piano playing skills with comedy until, in 1964 and at the insistence of his wife he took the decision to apply for Opportunity Knocks, then the biggest TV talent show of the day. Les would go on to win the studio vote with his own unique blend of self-deprecation, world weary cynicism and earthy Northern humour, an act honed in the many years playing desperate soul-destroying gigs across the UK. That successful TV debut earned Les appearances on the televisual spectacular Blackpool Night Out. Performing an act forged in adversity and hardship made him stand out amongst the usual polished slick cabaret acts of the time, and in 1969 Les Dawson earned his first headlining TV show, Sez Les. He was at last a success, after only 38 years of toil! Les Dawson was rarely off the TV screens from 1969 until his untimely death in 1993, earning a place in the nation’s heart that few comedians can aspire to.

Les’s first vinyl album, An Evening With Les Dawson , was released in 1976. Recorded both in Manchester and London, the record was a mixture of live sketches featuring his by now well-known and established TV comedy characters, as well as two novelty songs recorded in the studio. When Dawson left Yorkshire TV to make programmes for the BBC in 1978, it consolidated Les’s reputation and produced his second album in 1979.

Gathering material from his BBC Radio 2 series Listen To Les as well as the BBC One TV series The Dawson Watch, that 1979 record Laugh With Les contains many wonderful examples of what made Les Dawson an enduring and cherished comedy star. The tracks are split into ‘dissertations’ (that is to say convoluted rambling jokes), long musings on various topics, as well as tracks performed with Roy Barraclough, with the two comics in character as the gossiping housewives, Cissie and Ada.

The first dissertation delivered is The Barnsley Dracula, a rambling yarn that tells of Yorkshire’s very own vampire, a certain Albert Shufflebotham killed by a consignment of silver tipped tripe only to be raised from the dead and married off to a pub landlady. Other dissertations deal with alien invasions and a continental coach holiday on a decrepit bus powered by ‘swamp gas and bat droppings’. These long discourses allow Les to give full flight to his fancy and absurd imagination and are sprinkled with wonderful turns of phrase.

For all the killer one-liners, fanciful monologues and brilliant wordplay, it is the Cissie and Ada routines that are the undoubted highlights. Ada, played by Les is a lusty dreamer, thwarted in love and ambition, her speech peppered with malapropisms and innuendo. Cissie, played by Roy Barraclough, is her slightly more well-to-do friend, pretentious and with an affected air of refinement and superiority. Both are united in their love of gossip nattering and intrigue, and no topic is off limits as they discuss, love, money, robust Canadian soldiers, infirmity and scandal.

Cissie and Ada are easy to picture sipping tea in their garish frocks and curlers, putting the world to rights over a macaroon while engaging in the sort of philosophical symposia that Plato could only dream of. Here then to play us out are the erudite and learned logicians of Lancashire, Cissie and Ada, discussing how best to make ends meet. Their own ends, one hopes.

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!

Bernard Manning Sings Shocker!

Bernard Manning - My Kind of Music

Bernard Manning – My Kind of Music

My Kind of Music
Bernard Manning
Warwick Records WW 5011
1975

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There’s no way of avoiding it really, so you know what, I won’t even try. Bernard Manning was a big fat objectionable racist. So phew, there, that’s that done and out of the way. Bernard Manning was also, as Jonathan Margolis points out in his 1996 biography, ‘offensive, distasteful, insulting, obscene, coarse and vulgar’. And that in a nutshell was the key to his success.

Bernard was an old fashioned portly northern club comic, already anachronistic and in his early 40s when the 1971 ITV series The Comedians catapulted him to national success and widespread public acclaim. He seized the opportunities that the show presented and by 1974 was already swanking around Manchester in a Rolls-Royce complete with personalised number plates (BJM 1 naturally).

And yet that was really the end of Bernard’s comedy career on television. He went on to host The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club, an on-screen recreation of a northern club complete with scampi and beer and variety acts, a series which allowed Bernard to indulge his passion for singing easy listening classics in the company of Matt Munro.

Too rude and obnoxious ever to carve out a mainstream TV career, Bernard capitalised on his reputation and his bad-boy image, allowing  his lack of exposure to become his selling point. To experience the full onslaught of Bernard Manning would have meant travelling to see him or purchasing his merchandise. Bernard became a very rich man from his exploits on the live scene, packing out theatres and clubs all over the UK (and unbelievably Las Vegas) while all the time running his own ‘World Famous’ Embassy Club in Manchester with his son. He also made a good living from the usual video and album spin offs. Bernard apparently sold 800,000 records in his career and as he himself said, “nobody’s getting their money back.”

TV didn’t really know what to do with Bernard Manning. His popularity with his core audience never really abated and his steadfast refusal to temper his act or tackle less risqué material meant that Bernard Manning remained almost unbroadcastable until the end of his life. He flitted in and out of the TV schedules in small uncomfortable shows that attempted to accommodate his bigotry and spite. For about the last ten years of his life he seemed to appear in endless documentaries which allowed him to sit an armchair in his voluminous underpants. Nice work if you can get it I suppose, but Bernard Manning’s glorious heyday remained the 1970s, a less enlightened time politically perhaps but a great time to be a foul-mouthed northern club comic.

He wasn’t always an anarchic opinionated offensive comedian though. When Bernard Manning finished his National Service in 1950 at the age of 21, he was determined to become a singer. While his ambitions played out he supplemented his income by joining his father in the family greengrocery business. A keen Sinatra fan, Bernard’s first paid gig was at the annual St Clare’s Catholic School dance, for which he was paid a whole £2. Within a year he was appearing at the Oldham Empire billed as ‘Britain’s Newest Singing Thrill’ and receiving a much more wholesome £14 a gig. Inevitably London soon came calling and Bernard relocated to the capital to sing with the Oscar Rabin Band, one of the top musical acts of the time.

Bernard’s first big chance at national stardom was finished before it began though. Due to broadcast on the Light Programme in 1952, the show was cancelled due to the death of George VI.  London didn’t agree with the delicate tripe-eating constitution of the resolutely northern singer and travelling back to Manchester each  week to court his young fiancée Vera soon took its toll. By the end of 1952 a homesick Bernard returned to Manchester for good, his big break was over and his rare chance to become a nationally acclaimed singer was now gone.  He returned to the northern clubs scene, compering in seedy wrestling clubs when he could have been headlining at the Palladium. However, the energetic cut and thrust of compering in such an environment instead was the making of the myth that is Bernard Manning. It allowed him to develop his gritty patter and his hard-edged confrontational comic skills and ultimately become a full-time comedian. The rest as they say is history. History and infamy. And vulgarity.

His 1975 Warwick Records debut My Kind of Music sees Bernard return to the sort of easy-crooning ballads and standards that influenced his early forays into singing. His vocals are strong and boom out pleasingly behind the strings and carefully arranged harmonies of the Mike Sammes singers. Some songs work and some don’t. When no great demands are made of Bernard then he is a perfectly adequate club singer that certainly wouldn’t curdle your lukewarm pint of Lees bitter or cause the chicken in a basket to shrivel. The problem is that when Bernard has to switch down a notch, the subtlety just simply isn’t there. Trying to imagine Bernard Manning being intimate, caring, lovelorn and sincere is hard. And he can’t really pull it off, the voice is grainy and menacing rather than loving. In fact let’s imagine no more.  Here to play us out is Lord Bernard Manning with the 1913 McCarthy and Monaco number You Made Me Love You. Given that the famously blacked-up Al Jolson first popularised the song, it’s perhaps fitting that Bernard tackled it…

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