Archive for the ‘Scotland’ Tag

Molly Weir – The Barefoot Contessa of the Clyde

Molly Weir’s many volumes of autobiography inspired this sentimental record of Glaswegian poems and monologues.

molly-weir

Molly Weir,
Down Memory Lane,
Scotia SCO 1976,
1976

——————————

I love a good rowdy autobiography, the sort of picaresque tale written by a mad elderly and drunken actor, one keen to settle old scores and relate coarse scurrilous tales of misdeeds and misadventures. I love the stories of wives mislaid, fellow thespians punched, audiences abused, cars crashed, directors bullied and film studios burnt down. A life of drunkenness and debauched excess usually means that the precise details are vague and timelines hazy at best, but it’s still an exhilarating ride. And then there is Molly Weir.

I have great affection for Molly Weir but her strict religious upbringing in the teetotal Order of Rechabites means that while mad tales of dissolution and decadence are thin on the ground, her autobiographies are full of the sort of intricate attention to minute details spread over many decades that only a truly sober person dedicated to a life of temperance could ever hope to record. This sobriety means that Molly Weir can remember the details of every meal she ate, the itinerary of every cycling holiday she took, and still recall the precise colour of a fruit bowl picked up at the 1948 Ideal Home Exhibition (ruby-red in case you were wondering). All of which explains why Molly Weir’s autobiographies run to a massive and lengthy eight volumes.

When she wasn’t organising the shrubs in her garden, visiting the Ideal Home Exhibition with Tommy Handley or judging cheese eating competitions with Compton Mackenzie, Molly Weir did manage to keep herself busy with work over the years. Born in 1904 in Springburn, Glasgow, Molly Weir trained initially as a shorthand typist in a solicitor’s office. Taking part in amateur dramatics during her spare time, Molly won a local talent contest that led to her being picked to appear on the BBC radio show Who’s Here.

Broadcast live from the 1938 Empire Exhibition in Glasgow’s Bellahouston Park, Molly’s ability to perform impressions and sing were impressive enough and went down well, but there are not many people who have found lasting fame by demonstrating their shorthand note taking skills on a live radio show. Such was the trust that the BBC’s audience had in the corporation back then, no one thought to question that a singing Glaswegian typist could take dictation at an impressive 300 words per minute without actually seeing the proof. That momentous taste of fame was enough to make Molly Weir determined to pursue a showbiz career rather than a secretarial one.

Roles in Scottish radio serials followed with wee Molly cornering the market in playing wee Scots lasses such as wee Teenie in Down At The Mains and wee Ivy McTweed in Helen Pryde’s The McFlannels. Emboldened by these successes she would in 1947 graduate to playing wee Tattie Mackintosh, bringing her wee Scots charm to national attention on the biggest radio show of the day, Tommy Handley’s ITMA.

From then until her death in 2004 Molly Weir remained busy, making her mark in each passing decade. From ITMA she moved on to play housekeeper Aggie in Life With The Lyons on radio and TV in the 1950s, followed by her wonderful portrayal of Hazel McWitch in Rentaghost in the 1980s, and of course her lucrative role as a cleanliness obsessed housewife in the Flash adverts that ran throughout the 1970s. Numerous films and TV roles, usually playing wee Scots lasses also helped fill her time.

Apart from an extremely obscure record Aggie Who Feeds The Lyons released during her time on Life With The Lyons, it took Molly Weir until 1976 to make her mark on vinyl. The album, unlike her previous single release, is spoken word only and as the title suggests includes material of an extremely sentimental nature. As the Scottish writer and journalist Cliff Hanley notes on the sleeve, nostalgia in Glasgow is ‘practically a staple industry’. It’s hard to see why anyone would willingly reminisce about 1930s Glasgow and grow misty-eyed and sentimental at the lack of food, money, jobs and basic sanitation, but Molly Weir certainly does, and then some.

Released at the height of her fame as an autobiographical chronicler of Glasgow life, the ballads, poems and monologues chosen reflect very much the time and places that Molly Weir was writing about. As her first volume of autobiography released in 1970 puts it, Shoes Were For Sunday and on this album there are very few children who are not running barefoot through the dirt and poverty of depression-era Scotland. But like Monty Python’s Yorkshiremen they were happy, not despite all the poverty, but because of the poverty.

As well as being unashamedly nostalgic and achingly sentimental, the album is also unashamedly Scottish. As a child born in England of Scottish ancestry, I take a certain pride in being able to understand both The Broons and Oor Wullie without too much trouble, but the thick layers of Glaswegian dialect heaped upon this particular piece of vinyl would defeat all but the most ardent and ancient of Scottish nationalists. Take for instance the opening track The Glasgow I Used To Know by songwriter Adam McNaughtan. I defy anyone under the age of 110 without a Scots dictionary to hand to make any sense or reason out of these lines:

“Oh, where is the wean that once played in the street,
Wi’a jorrie, a peerie, a gird wi’a cleet?
Can he still cadge a hadgie or dreep aff a dike,
Or is writing on walls noo the wan game he likes?
Can he tell Chickie Mellie frae Hunch Cuddy Hunch?”

Indeed… Tales of poverty, rheumatic old ladies, street games, rent collectors, tenements, sweet shops, trams and chippies abound throughout the first side of the album. The heights of mawkish sentimentality are reached on The Balloon, a tale of a burst balloon which Molly performs as a weepy shrill schoolchild in a tone which must surely have inspired the work of The Krankies. The Clyde, from a poem by Claude Currie, comes as a welcome respite from the urban grime of Glasgow, detailing as it does a paddle steamer ride down the Clyde towards Bute, complete with picnic baskets and yet more sentimentality.

The second side of the record takes a less saccharine and less backward-looking turn and comes as something of a relief after all the glorification of squalor present on the first side. Oor Stair tells of Jenny McGee a woman ostracised for her habits who it turns out is being honoured by the Queen, while the track Kate tells of a prophecy fulfilled by a marriage. Bobby & Mike takes a humorous look at those other favourite Glaswegian pastimes, religious bigotry and football violence, and to round things off, there is Ballad Of The Deluge, a Scottish version of the Biblical flood written by the poet WD Cocker.

Molly Weir never made another record but she continued working for nearly thirty years after this LP was released, delighting audiences with her deft and delicate comic performances, her affectionate sentimental autobiographies, and of course with her wonderful tales of poverty and the distinct lack of footwear in Scotland.

Assuming that people don’t need any more poverty or misery in their already miserable lives, here to finish is Molly recounting the tale of the Glaswegian Noah as only she could.

Billy Connolly – The joys of copping yer whack

Poised on the brink of superstardom, Billy Connolly released his 1974 album Cop Yer Whack For This to an eager and appreciative audience.

Billy Connolly - Cop Yer Whack For This

Billy Connolly – Cop Yer Whack For This

Billy Connolly,
Cop Yer Whack For This
Polydor 2383 310,
1974

——————————

If there is one thing everybody knows about the pre-fame Billy Connolly, it is that he was once a welder in a Glaswegian shipyard. By Connolly’s own admission, those five years spent serving his apprenticeship at Stephen & Sons, did precious little to develop either his comedic or musical ability. Although to be fair, they also did very little to develop his ship-building ability. Today those years spent on the banks of the Clyde represent only a brief fleeting moment in his life. Since then, Connolly has spent fifty glorious years as a comedian, actor, musician, legendary wit and Weegie raconteur.

Remarkably, there was life for Billy Connolly even before his stint in the shipyards. Born in 1942 in Anderston on the north bank of the Clyde, Connolly left school aged 15 in 1957 and took his first job delivering books for John Smith’s academic bookshop in Glasgow. The following year he swapped books for bread, delivering orders for Bilsland’s Bakery. Billy quit the delivery jobs in 1960 and with a clutch of engineering certificates somehow obtained from his otherwise unproductive school years, joined the shipyards as an apprentice welder.

During his time at the shipyards Connolly remained restless and unfulfilled. A stint in the Territorial Army first gave him the taste for performing, singing songs and playing his banjo to amuse his part-time comrades in arms. By 1964 Connolly and his banjo had become a regular on the Glaswegian folk music scene, playing venues such as the Atlantic Folk Club in Clydebank, and the Scotia Bar on Stockwell Street. Around this time, Connolly formed his first band, the wonderfully named Skillet-Lickers, followed by the equally wonderfully named Acme Brush Company.

In 1965, after completing his shipyard apprenticeship, Billy travelled to Biafra in Southern Nigeria where he worked building oil rigs, afterwards travelling to Jersey where he worked on the construction of a power station. Arriving back in Glasgow with money in his pocket he took the brave decision to walk out of the shipyards for good and follow a musical career. Connolly formed The Humblebums with guitarist Tam Harvey and set about cementing his place on the local music scene. After a gig in Paisley the pair were pestered by a young guitarist who insisted on showing them some songs he had written. The duo expected little but indulged the earnest musician. The young man was Gerry Rafferty and Connolly and Harvey were both immediately impressed by the brilliance of his abilities. Rafferty joined the band there and then.

Such was Rafferty’s brilliance that Tam Harvey, unable to keep up with the increased professionalism in The Humblebums and unwilling to follow the direction they were heading, soon left. Rafferty and Connolly recorded their debut album in 1969 for Transatlantic Records, initially as The New Humblebums in deference to the departed Harvey. Soon though it was Connolly who was beginning to feel the pressure of performing professionally in a group containing the brilliant singer/songwriter Rafferty. While Rafferty took time to perfect his lyrics and melodies on stage, Billy found himself compensating by filling in the space between songs with ‘funnies’. His rambling yarns and inimitable humorous tales of urban life were soon the highlights of his stage appearances. Billy’s skills were clearly leading him from playing second billing as a musician and towards top billing as a comedian. In 1971, after the third Humblebums album, Billy Connolly once again took his banjo and walked out of steady employment towards an uncertain future.

After a debut comedy show in Musselburgh, Connolly wisely decided to leave folk music behind for good and embarked on a second apprenticeship, this time gigging through the working men’s clubs of Northern England before taking up residency once again in Glasgow. Connolly’s fame spread and it was not long before Transatlantic Records saw a chance to capitalise on the appeal of the comedian they had once had under contract as a folk singer. Recorded live at Glasgow’s City Hall, Billy’s debut solo album Live was released in 1972 and proved popular enough to earn an immediate follow up.

Billy Connolly’s second LP Solo Concert was released in 1974 and was an audacious and entirely untypical comedy album. Recorded live at The Tudor Hotel, Airdrie, rather than the conventional two sided gag-heavy comedy album put out by most other comedians Solo Concert was a rambling double album that featured coarse Glaswegian language, lengthy vulgar anecdotes as well as sizeable amounts of blasphemy thanks to Billy’s notorious Crucifixion sketch. It was also, again untypically for a comedy record, a monster hit, spending 33 weeks in the UK album charts and reaching number eight. A change to a major label soon came and Polydor helped to maintain the upwards trajectory of Billy’s ever increasing popularity with 1974’s Cop Yer Whack For This.

After a bout of heckler bating to quell the querulous rabble gathered in the King’s Theatre, Glasgow, the album starts in a very Glaswegian tone with Three Men From Carntyne. Written by the Fife folk singer John Watt, the song warrants some ad-libbed audio subtitles from Connolly for the record buying public as the three titular men ‘went to join the parish’, or sign on the dole. It soon settles down into a simple guitar led stomp through East Glasgow life, before a slight punchline is delivered. It is though a joyous journey.

Billy Connolly’s act at the time is well represented by the ensuing album. There is for instance, the rambling stand up material represented by Lucky Uncle Freddie (a suitably daft tale of a war hero), Tam The Bam (about STD clinics and fearful teenage groping) and What’s In A Name (a wonderfully painted and fully realised picture of oddly named children frolicking in the idyllic picturesque highways and byways of Govan and Partick).

There are also fairly standard stand-up jokes such as Funny Thing Religion which tells of a Jew wandering through Ulster and which throws in a fairly usual Irish gag into the bargain. Billy also delivers sketches such as Late Call in which he preaches a spoof religious sermon, attempting to explain the mysteries of life in terms of ashtrays and sardines before recalling his inadvertent encounters with eager ladies of the night in Glasgow’s Blythswood Square.

Traces too can still be found of Billy Connolly’s folk roots. On Cripple Creek he plucks his banjo competently through the traditional Appalachian folk tune. It is a serious and sustained piece of musical virtuosity that seems lost amid so much comedy. The same could be said for Sergeant, Where’s Mine? This sober reflection on a squaddie’s bleak experiences in Ulster, contrasted with the glamorous promises of the recruiting office, is a fair reflection of the kind of protest music that Connolly specialised in back in the Glasgow folk scene of the ‘60s.

The best track is saved for last though. These days Billy Connolly’s novelty banana boots are an exhibit in Glasgow’s People’s Palace museum. Back in 1974 they were just another stage prop. As explained in the track Scottish Highland National Dress, wellington boots were an essential piece of all year round fashion for the inhabitants of Partick. It is therefore only right that one of Glasgow’s finest comedians celebrates the sartorial history of his home city in the exuberant singalong that is The Welly Boot Song:

The official Billy Connolly website:
http://www.billyconnolly.com/

Have you ever felt a little Krankie?

Glaswegian husband and wife comedy duo The Krankies are now famous mainly for falling off props and for their sexual escapades. It was all so different back in 1981.

The Krankies - It’s Fan-Dabi-Dozi!

The Krankies – It’s Fan-Dabi-Dozi!

The Krankies,
It’s Fan-Dabi-Dozi!,
RCA NL70494,
1981

——————————

When the comedy duo The Krankies came out as being swingers in 2011, the world, or at least the dwindling part of it that reads British newspapers, was shocked. That anybody had been even the slightest bit shocked in the first place was a trick worthy of the greatest of magicians. Whether by distraction, sleight of hand or by hiding their sexual proclivities in plain sight, The Krankies had deceived a nation for over forty years.

Who would have suspected a happily married couple in their late 60s? A slightly unconventional couple admittedly. A couple in which the wife regularly dressed up as a ten-year-old schoolboy in order to annoy her daddy (played in this scenario by her husband). Who could possibly have ever suspected anything untoward in that relationship? Who indeed. The whole stage act of The Krankies was founded on a premise so mad and improbable, that no-one suspected a thing. It is also equally possible that many people had suspected everything all along, but were too horrified to give full reign to their imagination. To imagine the Krankies making love, with other people participating, is a single step too far into a world of horror and madness. The writhing tentacles of Cthulhu have nothing on that insanity inducing image.

Janette and Ian Tough (aka The Krankies) met in Glasgow at the city’s Pavilion Theatre in 1965, the same venue which in 2004 would see Janette cheat death after plummeting from the top of a massive ten feet tall beanstalk during panto season.  The production back in 1965 was Babes in the Wood and Janette was making her panto début after giving up a career as a shorthand typist (with the emphasis obviously on the short). Ian was an electrician at the theatre, desperately trying to be discovered and be given a break on stage, 42nd Street style. Sadly no-one was horrifically injured at short notice, so Ian instead turned his attention to Janette who was playing one of the Babes. The two hit it off and formed a song and dance act almost immediately, performing backstage at the panto, probably much to the annoyance of everyone.

Once the panto finished, the duo then unleashed their song and dance act on the world, playing the club circuit in Scotland and Northern England. After two years they married and relocated to England, a location more central to the heartland of the clubs. Like many a song and dance act before and since, comedy and banter soon became an integral part of the act and later, more important than even the singing and dancing. When their big break came, the song and dance act was forgotten and it was all about the comedy.

Following an appearance on The Royal Variety Show in 1978, The Krankies were hot property. A 1976 album, Two Sides of The Krankies, exists to demonstrate what the act was prior to this pivotal moment. The A-side is a record of The Krankies club act featuring ‘The Little Boy Routine’. Ian dominates the B-side with well-executed baritone recordings of traditional Scottish ballads, interrupted only by Janette singing ballads in the style of a chipmunk high on helium and unrefined cane sugar. The little boy routine came to dominate the act of course, a wee 4 ½ feet tall monster in a school cap was born, and poor Ian probably never got to sing a rousing Scottish anthem ever again.

By 1981, The Krankies were mainstays of the Stu Francis era Crackerjack, the act from the club circuit being sanitised and re-packaged for children. The appeal was obvious; Jimmy was a cheeky, irreverent and naughty little boy that said and did the things that children would only dare to. The fact that Jimmy was a 35-year-old housewife and his long-suffering father was actually Wee Jimmy’s husband seemed largely irrelevant. Children seemed prepared to forgive the deception and parents were frankly too baffled to know if they objected or not. In 1982 LWT granted the duo their own children’s TV series The Krankies Klub. The BBC tempted them over in 1985 with a tiny wee bag of money to front The Krankies Elektronik Komik, which after mutating into Krankies Television would run until 1991.

The album It’s Fan-Dabi-Dozi! was released in 1981, just as Krankies-mania was talking hold of the UK. There’s no surer way to achieve sudden massive popularity than by having a ridiculous catchphrase, the more inane and unfathomable the better. And as idiotic catchphrases go ‘fan-dabi-dozi’ is one of the best. It by turns means absolutely nothing, grates on the nerves, is instantly memorable and can be uttered by everyone from schoolchildren to the elderly and insane.

Building an entire record around one annoying catchphrase is not an enterprise to be taken lightly. The job on this album went to Scottish jazz musician Pete Kerr, long-serving clarinettist with the Clyde Valley Stompers and prolific record producer for anyone with a clan tartan and half a tune to their name. While many more serious producers would have been fazed when confronted by Ian and Janette Tough, Pete’s experience recording with the likes of Andy Stewart, Jimmy Shand and the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards must have cushioned the blow somewhat. He fashioned a contemporary sounding record, writing lyrics for most of the songs, arranging a pumping glam disco backing for the demented jocular shriekings of Wee Jimmy, and crafting some clever silly novelty songs into the bargain.

There were a large number of singles culled from the album, much like Michael Jackson’s Thriller, except with an even shriller, scarier looking man-child lead singer.  Although unlike Thriller there was not a sole charting entry to speak of. In 1981, before RCA snapped them up for their major label début, The Krankies released Fan-Dabi-Dozi as a single with Wee Jimmy Krankie as a b-side. The aforementioned Pete Kerr wrote and produced Fan-Dabi-Dozi which has a definite disco Wombles-glam stomp about it. The lyrics are shamelessly culled from nursery rhymes and peppered with some appallingly bad jokes courtesy of The Krankies. Wee Jimmy Krankie is a manifesto from the demonic, diminutive imp himself, and is a record of a happy carefree time when corporal punishment ruled in school. A time when canes and the occasional hefty clout achieved what understanding, love, prescription drugs and counselling largely fail to do these days.

We’re Going To Spain enjoyed two separate single releases; first in 1981 as the b-side for Jimmy’s Gang and subsequently as an a-side in its own right. The concept of Jimmy’s Gang actually existed, a fan club for the miniature mite being launched on Crackerjack as a means for misbehaving, annoying children everywhere to join in a mass movement, with the reward of free badges for their unquestioning subservience. The song sounds much like a Nazi rally would if the Bay City Rollers had been around in Nuremberg at the time and were off their heads on speed. It’s a treasure alright.

We’re Going To Spain is a holiday novelty hit that sadly never became a hit. Twice. When it first appeared, We’re Going To Spain was a catchy well-constructed holiday novelty song, capitalising on the fortuitous rhyme of ‘Spain’ with ‘on an aeroplane’. It grated certainly, but no more than many other holiday songs that became hits. On its re-release as an a-side in 1982 it became, thanks to Scotland’s qualification for the World Cup Finals in Spain, a well-constructed football song that grated a lot less than many other football songs and which also failed to chart. This despite the genius of Pete Kerr and The Krankies upping their game by rhyming ‘holiday’ with ‘Sandy’ (the official SFA mascot) as well as ‘plane’ and ‘Spain’ with ‘play the game’.

Despite being the Scottish FA’s official single for the tournament and a positive advert for the power of rhyming dictionaries, John Gordon-Sinclair had the hit with the much dourer and frankly less enjoyable We Have a Dream. Thankfully, team Scotland no longer qualifies for international football tournaments, so such terrible novelty song dilemmas will not arise in the future.

To play us out, I present The Krankie Rock, the b-side of yet another failed single. The a-side Hubba Dubba Dooby is a competent piece of pounding rock that might have graced the output of any number of 70s glam bands. Only the odd jungle noises, high pitched trilling and bad jokes give away the fact that it was recorded by The Krankies rather than Mud or The Sweet.

The Krankie Rock is a competent novelty song that incorporates improbable dance moves and the line, “rock it to me Jimmy”. How it failed to be a hit is a mystery. Like Jailhouse Rock for impressionable under 10s everywhere here is The Krankie Rock:

The official site of The Krankies – swinging from a festive beanstalk somewhere near you:
http://www.krankies.com

%d bloggers like this: