Single of the week

Gurney Slade (Max Harris)

The name Max Harris many will not have heard of, but his music you will. He was a composer, pianist and arranger and was most famous for composing and recording his television theme tunes, the most popular being the outro theme to Porridge which was one of the first sitcoms not to have an intro theme.

Max was born into a Jewish family in Bournemouth in 1918 and would have celebrated his 100th birthday this September, but sadly died in March 2004. His father, who was a tailor realised his son’s musical potential and so arranged for him to have private tuition up to the advanced grade at the Royal Academy of Music. After a while and in order to meet the fees, Max would give piano lessons himself.

His first professional jobs were in dance bands, the first being Lew Foster and the second Stan Atkins. He was a captain in the RASC during the Second World War and served in the Middle East. After the war, he played for Ronnie Monro’s band and then worked several cruises on the Mauretania. He made his first radio appearance on the BBC’s Jazz Club in 1950 and played keyboards as well as writing arrangements for Cyril Stapleton’s Show Band, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and Dick Haymes when they were visiting the UK. A fellow arranger and conductor, Tony Osborne, recalls, “We worked on a lot of commercials together in the 1950s, and he was 100 per cent reliable. In 1961 he was asked by the bandleader Ted Heath to cover a record I had made for Parlophone, Man from Madrid, his version came out of Decca and, when I heard it by chance on the radio, I didn’t know whether I was listening to him or me. He had been asked to copy the record and that’s exactly what he did. He was a very accomplished composer and arranger, and a very good pianist. Of course he worked on the popular side for the money, but we all do that. I had the feeling that he would like to have remained a jazzer. When he was recording with Yehudi Menuhin and Stéphane Grappelli, he felt at the top of his profession. He knew then that he was playing with the champions.”

In 1960 he got to work with an up and coming Anthony Newley on his experimental ITV comedy series The Strange World of Gurney Slade, which was scheduled for peak time on Saturday evenings. But nobody laughed; the reaction to the first episode was so extreme that it was rescheduled for 11pm in subsequent weeks. The public loved Max Harris’ theme music, however, which was a modern jazz recording in the style of Dave Brubeck. It was odd series but strangely addictive which involved Newley speaking his mind out loud, but with very little actual dialogue. One particular episode showed him spending the whole time walking a vacuum clear around the streets. I said it was strange and so does the title!

The theme, which reached number 11 in the UK chart, was not only used as the theme at the start and finish of the show, but on numerous occasions as incidental music during usually to compensate for the lack of dialogue. It won him Max an Ivor Novello award, but his subsequent singles Pancho and Wheels were not hits, but he did secure another Ivor Novello for Bombay Duck, his theme for the television series Kipling, in 1964.

Max worked on numerous radio comedy shows including Round the Horne (with Kenneth Horne) and Stop Messing About (with Kenneth Williams). In 1969 he scored the controversial film Baby Love, starring Keith Barron as a doctor in love with a schoolgirl from the slums played by Linda Hayden. As the 1970s dawned, it became fashionable to manipulate the success of some television comedy series’ by making feature-length films and one of Max’s early ones was to arrange and conduct the score for the very successful film On the Buses in 1971.

As well as composing the aforementioned Porridge theme – note the Slade connection as it was the name of the Prison – he worked with Ronnie Barker again when he played the old-fashioned shopkeeper, Arkwright, in Open All Hours. He also wrote the music for the dramas Doomwatch, Horseman Riding By and Poldark.

In 1972 Max had the chance to work with the violinists Yehudi Menuhin and Stéphane Grappelli on what was to become a series of very successful albums and the following year he recorded Mister Jelly with the New Red Hot Peppers which was a tribute album to his favourite pianist, Jelly Roll Morton. In the same year, he composed and conducted the score for Carry on England.

In the mid-eighties he wrote and conducted the music for Dreamchild, a highly rated film written by Dennis Potter and one of his last works was the theme tune The Attractive Young Rabbi which was a comedy trilogy which aired on BBC Radio Four between 1999 and 2002.

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Come Outside (Mike Sarne feat Wendy Richard)

The charts have always reflected what’s popular and obviously that in itself has changed a number of times a number of times over the decades. During the last 15 years or so, the majority of the music that makes up the chart is dance based, but years ago there was disco, rock, glam, punk, prog-rock and, especially in the seventies, novelty. Many novelty songs have made the chart, but few have topped it. Obvious ones in the seventies would be Ernie, The Streak, D.I.V.O.R.C.E and, in the eighties you had Shaddup you Face, The Chicken Song and Star Trekkin’, then in the nineties there was Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini, The Stonk and Mr Blobby and in the sixties you had My Old Man’s A Dustman, Lily The Pink and, this week’s choice, Come Outside.

The song was written by Charles Blackwell, an English record producer and songwriter who taught himself to play the piano and write his own arrangements. He started working as an arranger with record producer Joe Meek at the age of 18 and is credited with having worked on the songs Johnny Remember Me, What’s New Pussycat, Release Me, Hold Me and Kathy Kirby’s Secret Love among many others. He was much in-demand and got to build a list of musicians he regularly recorded with including Billy Fury, Paul Anka, Lulu, Shirley Bassey, Dionne Warwick and Gene Pitney.

The song was recorded by Mike Sarne, was a bit part actor who appeared in The Guns Of Navarone could sing as well and it was he who suggested to Blackwell about writing a wry song about teenage romance. Blackwell liked the idea and came up with Come Outside. Sarne’s part was sung but it also contained some backchat dialogue from a youthful Wendy Richard. “She was a model in those days,” said Mike Sarne, “absolutely beautiful with a great figure, and a really typical cockney.” But how come she was chosen to partner Sarne on the track? At the time, Richard was a secretary for the music producer and record label owner Robert Stigwood and, “From her desk, Wendy started lobbing sardonic comments in her native Cockney,” Stigwood said, “and I had the notion of including them on the record, making it a duet.” Blackwell was against this but Stigwood overruled him.

Richard’s part suited the song as Sarne spends the whole song trying to chat her up in a nightclub and Wendy continually turning down his advances with regular cockney offerings of ‘get lost’ and ‘shove it, but who eventually gives in after Sarne convinces her that there’s a lovely moon out there and she relents and says, ‘Oh alright, but not for too long’, Sarne following it charmingly with ‘While we got time for a bit of slap and tickle’ to which Wendy replies, ‘I’ll slap and tickle you in a minute’. They eventually get close enough as Wendy says, ‘You don’t ‘arf need a shave’. Richard later revealed that she was paid a mere £15 for that one appearance.

Sarne followed it with the carbon copy, Will I What? this time with Billie Davis, who had a top 10 hit with Tell Him in 1963. That same year Sarne recorded the original version of Just like Eddie which was, soon after, a hit for Heinz. Sarne’s third single, Just for Kicks, was banned by the BBC for encouraging reckless driving. “I don’t think people understood that these records were satire, but there you go. I rather resented being a gimmicky singer with a cockney accent and I tried to change it, but with no success,” Sarne revealed.

The advent of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones made life difficult for the existing stars. Mike Sarne: “We used to dress in shiny suits and we wore stage makeup like actors. I was on tour with The Rolling Stones and Brian Jones thought you should wear what you wore in the street. He thought we were ponces and what we were doing was against his rhythm and blues ethic. I felt like a real phony – and The Rolling Stones had 4,000 screaming girls in the audience to make their point.”

As journalist, author and radio presenter Spencer Leigh pointed out, don’t feel sorry for Mike Sarne; he had a short, torrid affair with Brigitte Bardot when they made the film, Two Weeks in September in 1966. He has had an erratic career as a film director, making one of the cinema’s greatest turkeys, Myra Breckinridge (1970) with Mae West and Raquel Welch. “Actually,” says Mike, “there was a really good review in The Times. I suppose the critic lost his job.”

In 1986 Mike Berry and Wendy Richard, both from the cast of Are You Being Served?, updated Come Outside with references to medallion men.

Sarne returned to acting and was seen in Minder, The Bill, Moonlighting, Howard’s Way and Jonathan Creek among others. In 2012 he appeared as Father Mabeuf in the film version of Les Misérables. He is nearly 78 and still makes the occasional TV appearances.

In the 1990s Charles Blackwell co-wrote songs for David Hasselhoff which were hits in Europe and in more recent years he was commissioned by the European Parliament to orchestrate and conduct the Anthem of Europe (Ode to Joy by Beethoven) with a 70-man orchestra, for a new recording that is played at every parliamentary sitting.

Wendy Richard found even more fame as Pauline Fowler in Eastenders right from episode one in 1985 until the character’s death in 2006. Three years later Wendy died of breast cancer aged just 65.

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Smithers-Jones (The Jam)

Back in the sixties and seventies, when you left school those who weren’t massively educated either followed in the family business or took a job with a big industry company; gas, water, transport etc and were generally guaranteed a job for life. That almost certainly does not happen anymore and now looking less likely than ever as the big corporates talk about employing robots to do your everyday jobs. The city gent image of that long-forgotten era, with the men in their pin-stripe suits, bowler hats and umbrellas inspired a song which ended up as a B side, but its sentiment is probably more poignant now than it was back then.

The song is Smithers-Jones, a track recorded by The Jam which ended up on the B-side of their 1979, number 17 hit, When You’re Young. Like the Beatles whose almost entire hit singles catalogue were written by Lennon & McCartney, except From Something which was written by George Harrison, 16 of the the Jam’s 18 hits were written by lead singer and guitarist Paul Weller. David Watts, written by Ray Davies, and News of the World written by the band’s bass player, Bruce Foxton, were the only exceptions.

Bruce also wrote Smithers-Jones and said of it in an interview with Pennyblack Music, “Yeah, Smithers Jones was, and is, especially heartfelt. You still do get loads of people who give their lives to the job and then once they are past their sell-by date loyalty doesn’t matter. That is what happened to my Dad and hence that is how Smithers Jones came about. There is a lot of anger there in that song.”

It’s a shame there weren’t more Foxton-penned songs, he’d written two tracks that appeared on the 1977 album This Is The Modern World and one track on The Gift from 1982, Vic Coppersmith-Heaven, the Jam’s producer gave this explanation in an interview with Richard Buskin, “There were some Bruce songs that [manager and Paul’s father] John Weller was trying to convince me to include, but it was less about whose song than it was about the concept of the album. We were all very involved with the production at that stage, and we worked together pretty much as a four-piece in terms of choosing the songs. Smithers-Jones worked because it was fresh, it was new and it was interesting to have a different kind of arrangement.” The version that appeared as the flip side to When You’re Young was a band arrangement and, in my opinion the better version, but for the 1979 album Setting Sons it was a re-worked as a much more orchestral version. Vic continued, “We transposed rhythms from the original band arrangement to the violin score. It was a very good song. Paul’s music virtually conceptualised the Jam at that point.”

Setting Sons was originally supposed to be a concept album about three young school friends who, a few years after leaving school, were reunited and learned of the directions their individual careers paths had taken but it didn’t work out that way because their record label were rushing them to get the album finished. “Polydor wanted Setting Sons released in time for the band’s next tour, which had already been fixed,” Vic recalled, “so we were locked into that kind of pattern where Paul had to disappear and write the songs, and then we had to get together to record the album and finish it in time for it to be cut to vinyl, released and promoted – with the videos all shot – before the tour began. I, for one, felt enormously pressurised, but the whole project was also getting very exciting, especially with tracks like Eton Rifles taking off and leaping into the charts.”

The story of Smithers-Jones basically tells the story of a typical commuter travelling from Woking to London packing, like sardines, into a busy train and how he is loyal and reliable to the company, but one day he turns up and a colleague tells him that the boss wants to see him alone, you know that sinking feeling and so, indeed, the boss in that initial friendly way tell him ‘Come in Smithers, old boy take a seat, take the weight off your feet, I’ve some news to tell you there’s no longer a position for you,’ and ends the conversation quite bluntly with ‘sorry Smithers-Jones’. Smithers returns home now uncertain of his future but seemingly decides to put his feet up and go into early retirement probably thinking, to his chagrin, that ‘the only one smilin’ is the sun-tanned boss’.

The Jam called it a day in 1982 and Weller went straight on to form the Style Council who, like the Jam, also had 18 hit singles before Weller disbanded them and launched a solo career in 1991. The Jam’s drummer, Rick Buckler, formed a new band called Time UK and had one minor hit called The Cabaret in 1983. In the mid-nineties he left the music industry to set up an antique furniture restoration business but returned in 2005 with a new band called The Gift, named after the Jam album and in 2013 moved into music management. As for Foxton, he had three hit singles in 1983/84, the most successful one being Freak which reached number 23. To his other credits, he discovered the Vapours whose big hit was Turning Japanese in 1980 and then, in the mid-eighties, joined Irish band Stiff Little Fingers.

In the early 2010s, after many years of Hostility with Weller, he attended John Weller’s funeral and then played bass on a couple of tracks on Paul’s 2010 album Waking Up the Nation, later the same year he joined Weller on stage at the Royal Albert Hall – their first appearance together in over 28 years.

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Rip It Up (Orange Juice)

Do you know which pop star had the title chieftain of the Helmsdale Highland Games bestowed upon him in 2010? Well is was the lead singer of eighties Glaswegian pop band Orange Juice, it came several years after his grandfather had received the same. “I had to wear the full Highland kit, the kilt and the sporran although I wasn’t too sure about the sporran,” recalled Edwyn Collins. Of their nine UK hit singles, by far their best known song was the top 10 hit Rip It Up and that’s what we’ll explore this week.

Orange Juice were originally formed by Glasgow-born singer Collins in 1976 and originally called The Nu-Sonics which was taken from a cheap guitar brand, guitarist James Kirk and drummer Stephen Daly were both members of the Machetes and joined Collins a few months later when they signed a deal with Postcard records which was owned by Alan Horne. Aztec Camera, the Go-Betweens and Josef K were also signed to the label and the label became known as ‘The Sound of Young Scotland.’ The line-up was completed when former Go-Between Dave McClymont joined and they changed their name to Orange Juice in 1979.

Their first hit single came in November 1981 when a cover of Al Green’s L.O.V.E…Love, scraped into the chart at number 65. The next three hits in 1982, Felicity, Two Hearts Together and I Can’t Help Myself all failed to make the top 40 but then came Rip It Up which came with a new sound to the previous hits and were very guitar based, but Rip It Up was more funky and used a Nile Rodgers/Chic type synthesised bassline. The Buzzcocks had released their Spiral Scratch EP in 1977 and that was a big influence on Collins. The EP featured a track called Boredom which became a favourite hence its mention in the last verse, so much so that it even uses a tiny section of guitar riff from the song. It also introduced the Rowland TB – 303 synth, which later became a big part of the acid house scene in the late eighties. Backing vocals on the song were provided by Collins’ one-time school chum Paul Collins who later fronted his own band Bourgie Bourgie. The saxophone was played by Dick Morrissey, one half of the duo Morrissey Mullen who will be remembered in the pop world for providing the theme to the film Bladerunner. Just ahead of recording, Daly was replaced by Zeke Manyika who came from Zimbabwe, “I got out of Rhodesia (former name of Zimbabwe) because my parents had friends in Scotland,” Zeke explained, “They said go to Glasgow because it’s a nice place as far as race in concerned. I came over to study, but thought ‘I want rock ‘n’ roll man, not this studying thing. I’m glad I did because Rhodesia was really repressive.”

The New Musical Express did not give Orange Juice favourable reviews, one said, ‘Orange Juice are a minor group trying hard to be bigger and more significant than they really ought to be.’ It upset Collins who recalled in 2013, “When Rip It Up got slagged off by the NME, I would refuse to go on the tour bus because I was depressed! You can laugh about it now, but back then it was life and death.”

By 1985 the band had split and Collins was thinking about a solo career, he hired a new manager, Grace Maxwell who later became his wife. He released two solo singles in 1987 which were produced by Robin Guthrie of the Cocteau Twins, but failed to impress the public. In the mid-nineties Collins built his own recording studio and recorded the album Gorgeous George. In 1994 he had the biggest song of his life when he released the Expressly EP with the lead track being A Girl Like You. The track, which samples the drum track from Len Barry’s 1965 hit 1-2-3, was the closest thing to a Northern Soul sound in years and was featured in comedy-drama film Empire Records. As an EP track is failed to make the top but in June 1995 it was re-issued as a single and reached number four.

Talking of life and death, as Collins was earlier, in February 2005 he nearly died after he collapsed at his home in north London. He was rushed to hospital and was diagnosed with a brain haemorrhage. Five days later he suffered as second and underwent a high-risk operation. At the time The Guardian reported, ‘The neurosurgeons succeeded, only for him to then contract MRSA, which meant the titanium plate they’d inserted in his skull had to be first removed then restored.’ It was six months before he was finally discharged. In 2007 Collins said in an interview, “I was dead and I was resurrected.”

In 2009, he recorded a number of interviews on various radio stations including one with Jeff Lloyd on Absolute Radio which was filmed and you could see the change in Collins. His hair was thinning and his speech was slow but was in good spirits and was looking forward to returning to music. He did so in 2010 with the released of Losing Sleep which was produced by Sebastian Lewsley who explained in an interview how the recording process went, “We did each song in a day and a day consists of about four hours. So there’s a real expediency about how it’s recorded. The whole attitude of the album is just doing that. Not indulging anyone. Not having any band sitting round for days and days. Everyone involved looked quite petrified but they did it.

So many have recognised his bravery, in 2009 he received the Ivor’s Inspiration Award in recognition of his struggle after the brain haemorrhage and the following year received an honorary Master’s Degree from the Buckinghamshire New University, in recognition of his ‘strong influences and contribution to the national and international music industry over the last three decades’.

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Pandora’s Box (OMD)

Lulu, Brooksie and Scrubbie are three rather unusual nicknames for which the 1930s actress Louise Brooks was known. She was a fascinating character and an air of mystic surrounded her sexuality which she seems to encourage. She had a number of relationships with both men and woman, the most famous bring Charlie Chaplin. She starred in over 20 films between 1925 and 1938 of which one of them inspired a hit single from 1991.

Louise, who was born in Kansas in 1906, had a bit of a tough childhood because her father, a lawyer, spent more time with his business than he did with her and her mother, a pianist called Myra, apparently once said, “squalling brats she produced could take care of themselves.” In 1915, when Louise was nine, she was sexually abused by a neighbour and even when she told her mother, many years later, her mother said she probably brought upon herself. She began her career as a dancer in 1922 with the Denishawn modern dance company in Los Angeles.

Her first major film role came in 1925 where she played a moll in The Street of Forgotten Men and many films followed over the next few years, but, arguably, she’ll be best remembered for her role as Lulu in the 1929 film Pandora’s Box and it was this film that inspired this week’s single.

Pandora’s Box was a 1991 top 10 hit by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, a new wave band who first opened their chart career in 1980. Often cited as a duo of vocalist and bass guitarist Andy McCluskey and vocalist and keyboard player Paul Humphreys but throughout the eighties they had Martin Cooper as their wind instrument player and occasional keyboard player and Malcolm Holmes as their drummer. They had a brief sabbatical in 1990 and by 1991 the line-up was McCluskey, Nigel Ipinson and Phil Coxon as keyboard players and Abe Juckes on drums.

Pandora’s Box, which had the subtitle It’s a Long, Long Way on the American release was taken from the album Sugar Tax and, and Andy McCluskey explained , “Pandora’s Box was inspired by the silent film star Louise Brooks and the song is named after her most famous film which was directed by the German film-maker G.W. Pabst. The plot revolves around a femme fatale played by Brooks and actually incorporates two stories originally written for the stage, Pandora’s Box and The Earth Spirit.”

The accompanying video is in black and white and features both Brooks and McCluskey. According to the missive at the start of the video, it explains that the original film was banned by Hitler who described it as ‘Degenerate art’, it goes on to say that ‘all the scenes of Louise Brooks in the video are from the original film’. It’s also one of those songs where the title does not appear in the lyrics.

Brooks, who in 1995, was listed at number 44 on Empire magazine’s 100 Sexiest Stars in film history retired after her final film, Overland Stage Raiders in 1938 after which she went on to write many witty and clever stories on the film industry. She also opened a dance studio in Beverly Hills but due to scandalous stories surrounding her business partner it failed. In 1932 she filed for bankruptcy and began dancing in nightclubs to earn some money, but by 1940 she’d had enough and boarded a train bound for Kansas and left Hollywood behind. She remained comfortable for the rest of her life because, according to IMDB, she was briefly the mistress of CBS founder William Paley, who secretly provided her with a yearly pension for the rest of her life.

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark called in a day in the summer of 1996, but McCluskey carried on because in 1998 he founded the Liverpool group Atomic Kitten and co-wrote six of their hits including the chart-topping Whole Again. He later worked with the Lightning Seeds and Gary Barlow for which the pair wrote the song Thrill Me which featured in the 2016 Eddie the Eagle and was performed by McCluskey.

In 2006 McCluskey reformed OMD with Humphreys, Cooper and Stuart Kershaw on drums. He explained the reason for the reformation was because his kids had never seen him on stage and it was their encouragement that inspired him to do it. He was divorced in 2011 and his American wife moved back to the States with the children.

As for Louise Brooks, well as the video says, ‘she valued her integrity more than her success and she paid the price for her independent spirit. Her career was brief but brilliant. She died in Rochester, New York 8th august 1985, alone. She was 78.

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