Archive for the ‘stand up’ Tag
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.
Laugh With Les,
BBC REB 346,
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.
The Jim Davidson Album
West Five Records WEF1
Studious music fans and professional critics alike, both seem to enjoy compiling lists in an attempt to identify the ‘best’ record of all time. They feel that they are somehow able to order all the music ever released into neat little top tens and top one hundreds, sorting and critiquing in an endless pursuit of some absolute and definitive ‘best’. Fashions and trends play their part in these ‘best of’ lists. Some bands will be flavour of the month and feature highly in one reckoning, only to disappear completely from the next tally. Other bands seem to be hardy perennials in these sorts of charts. The likes of The Beatles and The Beach Boys seem to be regular contenders for best album, while modern bands like Radiohead often hover around the upper reaches of the charts, battling away with the venerable musicians of yesteryear.
When in some future end of year poll all the arguing is done, all the votes cast and added up once again, the only certainty is that no one will be any nearer deciding what is the ‘best’ album of all time. It is a highly subjective matter. It is possible for anyone to say what their favourite album is and to back it up with some cogent and persuasive arguments. That may not satisfy some people who feel that there should be an absolutely definitive best record, backed up perhaps by complex mathematical algorithms that prove its worthiness to eight decimal places. Well, I am not sure if I will be able to help anyone seeking perfection, but I believe that I can contribute to the great rumbling debate by revealing to the world the worst record ever committed to vinyl. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you, The Jim Davidson Album.
Again, I suppose it comes back to things such as taste and highly personal likes and dislikes. One person’s favourite record may leave someone else cold. That aside, The Jim Davidson Album is officially the worst record I have ever and will ever listen to. I am happy that I have listened to it though, and even happier that I own a copy. Everything I buy, listen to, download, overhear in a taxi, or hum along to in a department store, will, after listening to The Jim Davidson Album be enjoyable on some level. Actually possessing the album is a sort of relief, for I can buy any tatty piece of vinyl lurking in a dusty neglected bin tucked away in some grubby back street charity shop, safe in the knowledge that it will always, without fail, be an improvement on The Jim Davidson Album.
So what is it that makes The Jim Davidson Album quite so bad? What is it that makes this the definitive worst record ever, the anti-Pet Sounds for masochistic lovers of bad music. I am tempted to say everything. I wouldn’t be far wrong. Let’s start with Jimbo himself. Born in 1953 in Blackheath, South London, the wife-bothering, booze-loving, sweary, misogynistic, racist, opinionated, Thatcher-worshipping, egomaniacal stand-up comedian Jim Davidson is not to everyone’s taste. In between long periods of obscurity, usually spent making obscure foul-mouthed live videos in Dartford while drinking heavily, getting married and or divorcing, Jim occasionally enjoys short periods of mass appeal, fronting shows like The Generation Game or Big Break.
For the most part though he is a disagreeable little twonk. That aside, Jim Davidson could, I suppose, still have delivered a perfectly listenable album. Many of his equally disagreeable contemporaries managed to turn in a perfectly acceptable light entertainment album, the late great Bernard Manning for instance. But not Jim. Oh no.
Despite acting from an early age and appearing in Ralph Reader’s famous Gang Show, Jim Davidson is one of the most tuneless soporific singers I have ever heard. He drones his way through the first side of the record, singing through his adenoids in a way that only a former amateur drummer could. He sounds like an even more monotone Rex Harrison as he talks over a cheap and nasty sounding mass of tinkling keyboards and electronic drums beats. A duet with Dianne Lee of Peters and Lee fame is a rare highlight, while a maudlin acoustic performance with Richard Digance of his song Washer Woman, is inexplicably covered with a swampy mess of electronic pan pipes. Even that first side of the album isn’t enough to make it a bad record. It’s not very good, it’s awash with Jim’s horrible nasal singing but it’s almost bearable in a painful sort of way. However…
Side two of The Jim Davidson Album is where he really goes for it, this is where a record which is merely bad leaps free from the herd and scampers madly up the country lane to the village of Much Awful on the Wold, frothing and snarling and biting and kicking as it goes. We start bizarrely with an Aubrey Hopwood lullaby segueing into the ELO tracks Prologue and Twilight from their strange sci-fi concept album Time. I have no idea why. Then comes an excruciating version of Mike Sarne’s novelty hit Come Outside with Jim playing both the male and female parts. This track is a hideous exercise in self-love that will make your toes curl but more is to come. Tell Laura I Love Her is murdered in typical Davidson fashion and then murdered even further by a woefully unfunny monologue where the hero of the song (revealed to be from Smethwick for no readily apparent reason) attempts to gain entry into heaven. And then comes Jim’s finest, ie worst, moment. The song Dolly Parton.
Starting in ‘hilarious’ fashion with a gospel choir made up of Jim’s patented black voice that isn’t at all offensive, he then sings a song which struggles to even make it to single entendre. Yes it’s a hymn to the size of Dolly Parton’s breasts. If I was Dolly, I would have used the royalties from The Bodyguard soundtrack to have Jim Davidson hunted down and killed. She chose to open a theme park instead. Each to their own. After another pointless cover, this time California Man by The Move, the album comes grinding to an ear-shattering, mind-bending but more than welcome end, with a desperate to be loved Richard Digance inspired song glorifying The Sun newspaper. Tack on one last piece of nonsense with a cover of the Strawbs left-wing baiting Part of the Union and you have the perfect album for opinionated right-wing, low brow morons everywhere. It probably sold well in Woolwich but this album is a hideous waste of atoms.
So there you are, I have listened to this album so that you don’t have to. It is truly the worse album ever made, but as I said before, things can only get better after listening to it. It’s like sitting in a bat-infested cave for a month eating nothing but woodlice and dung. Afterwards, as you walk out blinking in the sun’s warm rays, everything will seem beautiful, fresh and melodious by comparison. It is only through suffering that we can appreciate the small wonderful pleasures that life can offer.
Here is Jim indulging his auto-erotic fantasies with Come Outside. If you don’t love him, the strange antagonistic old scrote can always go love himself. My betting is he frequently does:
Jim Davidson, probably playing near you in a venue you thought had closed down years ago: