Single of the week

Right Said Fred (Bernard Cribbins)

This week’s Single of the Week is by a legend. I first remember him in 1970 shouting out “Oakworth” in the classic film The Railway Children where he played Albert Perks the station porter but little did I know then that eight or nine years previous he’d been a pop star. Younger readers will probably only know him from his role as Wilfred Mott – Doctor Who’s sidekick in the 2007 Christmas special Voyage of the Damned. Unless you’re an avid fan, you may not know that Bernard appeared as Doctor Who’s companion, Tom Campbell in Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. in 1966. Before all, that he in the UK singles alongside Nat ‘King’ Cole, Ray Charles, Elvis Presley, Helen Shapiro and Brenda Lee in 1962.

Bernard was born in Oldham, Lancashire in 1928 (he will be 90 at the end of this year) and his career began in 1956 at the Arts Theatre in London where he played the (twin brothers) two Dromio’s in Shakespeare’s A Comedy of Errors. Soon after he appeared in another show which got his singing career started, in an interview with Jon Dennis at The Guardian, Bernard recalled, “The origins of my recording career go back to a revue show in 1961 or 62, something like that, called And Another Thing. We had a very nice cast of young up-and-comings, like Joyce and Lionel Blair, and some very good writers, including Barry Cryer – he wrote some of the sketches. I had two numbers in it, and one was called Folksong. George Martin, who was then head of A&R at Parlophone, and had made records with Charlie Drake and Peter Sellers, came to see the show with a view to recording it.” George then signed Bernard to the Parlophone record label.

The lyricist Myles Rudge and the composer Ted Dicks were both working on the show And Another Thing and decided to write song lyrics and together came up with The Hole In The Ground which they gave to Bernard who duly recorded it and took it to number nine in 1962 giving him his first UK hit. Bernard said, “When Hole in the Ground went to No 1 (sic), EMI said ‘More, please!’ Then Right Said Fred happened and because I’m a non-singer, to suddenly find myself in the charts was fabulous.”

Right Said Fred in its two minutes and 16 second entirety tells the story of two hapless removal men trying to shift a heavy object upstairs. At no point in the song is it mentioned what the item is, but it was so heavy that ‘After strainin’, heavin’ and complainin” they were getting nowhere and then deciding to ‘take off all the handles and the things wot held the candles’ one would have to assume it’s a piano. Well it was because it was inspired by the problems Ted Dicks experienced getting some workmen to move a piano. Bernard recalled, “Ted Dicks was living on the second or third floor somewhere, and he moved to a basement flat in Islington. He’d ordered a grand piano from Harrods. He said to the removal men ‘It’s just down these stairs.’ ‘Oh, I don’t think so.’ ‘OK, what’ll we do?’ So they took it all to pieces and that became the lyrics from Myles Rudge.”

The vision of the song is so clear, Charlie has an idea that the only way to get the piano in was to remove the ceiling and lower it in with a rope, but being a bit heavy-handed with the crowbar it became like a Laurel and Hardy sketch and the ceiling caved it and Charlie ended up with ‘half a ton of rubble’ on his bald head. It’s got that ‘typical’ workman attitude, if it doesn’t come easy, stop and have a cup of tea.

Then it came to the recording, “I recorded it at Abbey Road, at number three studio,” Bernard said, “it was like a little concert hall. This was just before the Beatles got in there – we warmed it up for them! When I arrived there were about 12 or 13 musicians. I sang it live with them. We did a couple of takes, and that was it. Then George worked on it with his sound effects, like running up a ladder and so on. George used a lot of the techniques he went on to use on the Beatles’ records. He used a lot of lovely little noises.”

Bernard’s third and final hit, Gossip Calypso was written by the actor Trevor Peacock, who is best remembered for his roles in The Vicar of Dibley, Eastenders, My Family and Between the Lines which stalled at number 25. Bernard, however also recorded an album which contained I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face and a faithful version of When I’m 64.

The only other hit that Ted Dicks and Miles Rudge wrote was the novelty song A Windmill in Old Amsterdam, a hit for Ronnie Hilton in 1965. It seems a lot of songs they wrote were regular favourites on Junior Choice which would have kept the royalties rolling in. They also wrote the theme to Carry on Screaming in 1966 and the following year worked material for Kenneth Williams for his album On Pleasure Bent. A Windmill in Old Amsterdam won an Ivor Novello Award for the Year’s Outstanding Novelty Composition.

Rudge died in October 2007 aged 81 and Dicks, who also composed the theme to the television programme Catweazle, died in January 2012 aged 83.

In 1991 Right Said Fred cropped up again, this time as the name of a group. “I don’t think Right Said Fred had permission to use the title,” Bernard offered, “but they were quite a good group. Quite camp! I met them and did a song for Comic Relief with them, Stick It Out.” (Check out the video)

For another generation, Bernard will always be remember as the narrator of The Wombles and a story teller on Jackanory which was a 15-minute children’s TV series that ran from 1965 until March 1996. It featured many celebrities reading stories, a huge list which includes Clement Freud, Sheila Hancock, Penelope Keith, Tom Baker, Richard Briers, Angus Deaton, Judi Dench, Lenny Henry, John Hurt, Jeremy Irons, Arthur Lowe Spike Milligan, Willie Rushton, Kenneth Williams, Victoria Wood and a whole heap more, but it’s Bernard who holds the record for the most appearances, 111 in total.

In 2011 he was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List for his services to drama and three years later he received the J.M. Barrie award for his lasting contribution to children’s arts.

Bernard is still popping up in various television shows and live appearances, I remember seeing him in May 2015 when he gave a reading at VE Day 70: A Party to Remember in Horse Guards Parade.

On a BBC London show in 2016 listeners were asked to ring in with their favourite comedy tracks and Right Said Fred was voted the favourite. “It’s become a little classic. It’s a real joy,” said Bernard “Long-range applause, I call it.” Anyway, time for another cup of tea after all, Charlie and Fred had six of them in two minutes and 16 seconds.

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Paper Planes (Hoseah Partsch)

In this 21st century of reality talent shows, not a huge number of the winners sustain a long and healthy career, but fair play to the ones who do. One of the fairest of the show would probably have to be The Voice with its ‘blind’ audition idea thus not judging on what someone looks like.

The Voice was created by the Dutch television producer, John de Mol, the man who also created Big Brother. A program director of a TV station, who was a fan of the X-Factor, asked John if he could create something bigger and better than the X-Factor and so, basing it on an existing show called The Voice of Holland created The Voice. It was first aired locally in 2010 and the following year was sold to over 50 countries around the world. In the UK the first series was aired in March 2012 and there have been six winner so far. This week I focus on the 2017 runner-up of the Australian series.

Since the series began down under the judges have included Joel Madden, Kylie Minogue, Keith Urban, Ricky Martin, will.i.am, Ronan Keating and Jessie J. The 2017 panel was made up Seal, Delta Goodrem, Kelly Rowland and Boy George who all turned their chairs when Hoseah Partsch amazed every one of them with his passionate rendition of Ariana Grande’s Almost Is Never Enough, but it was the latter who turned his chair first and it was his team who he joined. Hoseah worked with his mentor as part of Team George until, on the final, he was narrowly beaten by 20-year-old Judah Kelly.

Hoseah was born in Auckland, New Zealand, and had a tough upbringing, yet he remains so positive. He moved to Australia in 2011 and is one of four children who grew up in a one-bedroom apartment which he shared with his siblings. “Growing up was very rough and so tough,” he explained in an interview the Daily Telegraph, “it’s emotional just thinking about it.” He lived with his mother, Queenie, and his grandparents too and describing his mother as his best friend and hero, he dedicated many of his performances on the show to her. He also revealed that for most of his life he’d been wearing second-hand clothes, but all the while never lost sight of the fact he wanted to be a musician.

He was humbled by the admiration he has received, “For someone like Boy George, an international music icon, to have faith in a kid from Auckland, that meant everything to me,” he said. His first thoughts when applying to the show was, that if he got on, was to help his struggling family out financially, before making a name for himself. “I want to inspire other kids, whether you’re poor or not, you have to follow your dream,” he told the Telegraph.

Paper Planes, which opens with the lines, ‘I’m like a paper plane that’s caught in winds that change, I’ve never sailed so high your love will be my lullaby’ sounds like it would have been written by someone who has had a struggle and indeed it was, but it was not written by the person who had struggled, in this case Hoseah and his tough upbringing. His story did inspire the songwriters Dennis Dowlut and Maxwell Bistrup, “It’s a song that was written about the journey to reaching your full potential and finding one’s purpose,” Dennis explains. The next line lets you see that, ‘I’m like a paper plane, can’t be afraid of heights, don’t know how far I’ll fly just keep me in your heavenly sights’ and Dennis continued, “I felt a connection with Hoseah’s story and shared it with Max. The song came together very quickly.” What was Hoseah’s initial thoughts? “I fell in love with it straightaway, when I first heard it, it feels like something that I would have written myself. It talks about my life and things that I’m going through today. I’ve been blessed, and I feel like I’m flying. I’m extremely excited about everything that’s coming up. I can’t wait.”

He said a long time ago, and continues to say, that he wasn’t complaining about his hardships, but actually to give hope and prove to other people, in a similar predicament, that anything is possible. If they have a dream or goal in life, follow it and believe in it and you’ve got a good chance of achieving it.

Partsch is still only 18 and still has his studies to complete, “I have two terms left, I cannot wait. My friends have been messaging me 24/7 then after school music will be my day job,” he told Vents magazine. Partsch received a phone call at home from George asking him if would join him on the Australian leg of the tour in December (2017). “I’m incredibly nervous, but mostly I’m just excited,” Partsch revealed, “This is Culture Club! And I’m the support act for them! It’s a huge thing for me and honestly, I can’t wait. I can’t wait to smash it. I can’t wait to play a show that people will remember me by.” Boy George, his mentor, added, “I’m delighted to welcome him to the Culture Club tour.”

Partsch is eternally grateful to George saying, “He is an amazing person. I took everything he said to me on board. The main thing he taught me was to believe in myself. I’m a person who has a lot of self-doubt but he told me that if I believed in myself I could do whatever I wanted to do. He also taught me to have fun and enjoy every performance.”

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Psychotic Reaction (Count Five)

By the mid-nineties the UK music scene was very dance orientated (it was either that or Britpop) and one of the sub-genres was garage, but that term wasn’t new. Very much like the phrase, R&B it had a completely different meaning back in the sixties. Garage, then, was used to describe music that had quite rocky with fuzzy guitars and an element of distortion. The lyrics were usually a bit psychedelic and occasionally aggressive but not in a punk way and was extremely popular in America in the late sixties. It’s believed the term derived from bands, often professional, rehearsing in garages and helped give it its raw sound. One such band was the short-lived act Count Five who swiftly arrived on the scene in 1966 and disappeared just as quickly.

They were formed in San Jose, California in 1964 and comprised Kenn Ellner (lead vocals), John Byrne (rhythm guitar), John Michalski (lead guitar), Roy Chaney (bass) and Craig Atkinson (drums) and who were all rock ‘n’ roll fans. “I grew up with the Beatles, I wanted to be a musician and I emulated the Beatles,” Byrne, who was actually born in Dublin, recalled. Michalski added, “We had San Jose wrapped up! Everybody was our fan and we got along with the kids really well, so we had a good following.”

In an interview with Devorah Ostrov, Ellner said, “I started with music when I was real young. I used to sing quite a bit. When I was around 10 or 11-years-old I would listen to KLIV, they used to have a contest called Name It and Claim It so I used to listen with my ear to the radio, and I’d win almost every record that came on the air! Michalski explained how he got into music, “I used to listen to a lot of the Ventures. I picked up an acoustic guitar and just went by ear. I kept listening to the radio, trying to pick up everything people were playing, that’s how I got going.” It was Byrne who came up with the group’s name, “We were thinking of band names like the Dave Clark Five, and all the other Fives – and I just said Count Five and we stuck with it.” Ellner added, “It was never The Count Five, we wanted the double entendre. You could count one, two, three, four, five; or it could be like Count Dracula. The Dracula association continued as an early publicity photo showed the group dressed in ankle-length black capes, but why that gimmick? “That was mine and Sean’s idea,” admitted Ellner, “we came up with the capes and ruffled shirts. It just fit, as we thought that capes went with Counts.” The trouble is the costumes caused the band to start sweating so they could only wear them for about 10 minutes then off they came.

Psychotic Reaction was one of the few songs that was written by the members and became a crowd favourite. So what’s it about, “It was a drug idea, although we were not into drugs,” revealed Byrne “but we were looking at what was going on around us and we could see that kind of music could sell. Although I don’t want to say that we were trying to cash in on the drug thing, we thought it was interesting. We felt the song, we believed in it.” And the title? Ellner explained, “Sean was in a psychology class with a friend of Butch’s named Ron Lamb and they were talking about emotional problems, like neurotic and psychotic reactions, and Ron said, ‘God, that’s a great name for a song!’ Sean agreed, ‘You know, you’re right!’ I had just got my first harmonica and we were jamming, and we got into the part of the song that goes da da da da da… That’s how the whole thing got started. Then Sean wrote the lyrics to it.”

The group were managed by Ellner’s father and he certainly kept them in line and made sure that when they were in the public eye they were on their best behaviour. But they really had a good time as the drummer recalled, “That was probably the most fun of anything, the camaraderie we had with the other groups. We got along real well with the Syndicate of Sound. It just seemed that anybody had music in common with was pretty easy to get along with.”

They toured the US and at one stage were supported by The Doors. Michalski recalled, “I remember the first time I met Jim Morrison, he said, ‘The only difference between my group and your group is that you’ve got a hit record.’ He had mustard all over his face from eating a hot dog! He was a pretty sloppy guy.” During their live sets they did a number of cover version of British songs because they liked the ‘English’ sound. Byrne said, “At the time, we did more Yardbirds’ covers than we did The Who. The only reason the Who songs appear on the album is because we did them a little better than we did the Yardbirds’, at least as far as the record company was concerned. Truth is, we did neither of them very good. Their one and only album, also called Psychotic Reaction, was released in 1966, it contained 11 songs including two Who covers, Out in the Street and My Generation.

By 1968, Count Five was drifting apart. Byrne said, “Our record company didn’t promote us after Psychotic Reaction but the dollars started rolling in for those guys and they wanted to keep them. They didn’t put the money into producing or promoting us. Michalski and Chaney were the first to leave. They were replaced for some local shows by two members from the Syndicate of Sound, but by the end of the year the band had broken up. Atkinson added “It’s kind of tough when your first record is a hit and you can’t do it again. I think it would have been better if we had cut a couple of flops and then had a hit. We weren’t ready for it; it seemed too easy. When we couldn’t do it again and again, it got kind of frustrating.” Michalski said, “We were all 19, and at that time when you were 19, you were drafted. Butch enlisted because he wanted to be a pilot. Sean wasn’t a citizen yet, so he didn’t have to worry and Kenn had a bad back. Roy got out of it. But it took me four years to beat it.”

Atkinson passed away on 13th October 1998 and Byrne died in December 2008 from cirrhosis of the liver. In 2006 Count Five was one of the first bands inducted into the San Jose Rock Hall of Fame, so they certainly made their mark.

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The Way It Is (Bruce Hornsby & The Range)

When certain songs arrive on the scene it’s very often quickly established what the song’s content is about especially if it’s of a sensitive or delicate nature. When Luka by Suzanne Vega came along we all knew it was about child abuse, when Phil Collins brought out Another Day in Paradise we knew it was about homelessness and when Bruce Hornsby & the Range told us about The Way Is It were learned that it was about unemployment, but in actual fact there’s more to it than that.

It’s highly unlikely that if anyone asked you to name the group who were made up of George Marinelli, Joe Puerta, David Mansfield and John Molo you wouldn’t know. Well, it’s The Range, Bruce Hornsby’s backing group which he formed in 1984. Bruce, who was born in Virginia in 1954, learned piano by ear as a kid by copying songs from the records he was listening to. “I really got interested because I loved the Joe Cocker records with Leon Russell on them which led me to the later Leon Russell solo records,” he told Lydia Hutchinson. Elton John’s first few records I loved. Obviously they were very piano-oriented records with Leon and Elton, and it made me want to play along with them. So I started fooling around on our piano that we had at home, just got into it by ear and gradually got more serious about it later.” He went on to study music at the University of Richmond, the Berklee College of Music and the University of Miami eventually graduating in 1977.

The Way It Is looks at the Civil Rights Movement in America as referred to by the line ‘The law passed in ’64’ and that was the law which was supposed to put a stop to public discrimination. It was quite political which is not something you would expect from a man born in Virginia, Bruce explained in an interview with NME, “My mother came from the New England area, and she was a little more enlightened about racial subjects than a lot of people in the South. So I had a different attitude to a lot of my friends whose parents were more conservative. When I was brought up, the vibe I got of Martin Luther King in my town was that he was a real evil man – just the vibe in the air, that he was terrible. And if you grow up in that environment you can’t help but be affected by it a little bit. Luckily, I came from a family that guarded us against that conservatism, but sure, I grew up in the thick of all that bad feeling.”

It’s not typical of a Bruce Hornsby track. For a start there is no chorus, no really catchy hooks, Bruce even said at the time, “I don’t think it’s commercial enough.” He told Steve Pond of Rolling Stone magazine, “I like to go for a sort of anthemic thing, a big chorus, but this is a very even-running song. It doesn’t reach the highs and lows that I think of as desirable, almost, in songwriting.” He’s often been sceptical about his own music and who it appeals to saying, in an interview with Keyboard magazine, “I didn’t think the music I was making would interest any major labels. It was just piano, bass, drums a little synth pad and vocals so I didn’t think it was your typical radio formula and I still don’t. I see it as a novelty record,” he continued “There are things that set it apart. I feel the same way about Sultans of Swing by Dire Straits, it goes down easy and isn’t that what a lot of pop is about? But at the same time, it’s a completely different sound than you’d heard. Even the big piano guys like Elton and Billy Joel, they didn’t really solo like that. A pleasing sound with solos.”

Hornsby explained more of the song’s lyrics ‘Some things will never change’ is a statement of resignation, but the most important line in that song is the one that comes after that: ‘But don’t you believe ’em’ so I’ve always been about being strong when resignation is a possibility. Trying to pull up from that and have a positive outlook so that things can change.

One person who was a real fan was Don Henley and began writing with him, Bruce explained how it happened, “He called me up in 1987 right around then and asked me to write with him. I was really flattered by it, and I loved his solo work especially. I thought Boys of Summer was just great and Dirty Laundry too. So I was instantly in for this, and he was the first ‘big shot’ who called me to write. So he came over to my house, and we sort of instantly became friends, and I gave him this track that I’d had lying around. I’d written a song with this music but I didn’t think it was great, so I gave him the track and it seemed to spark something in him right away. He left the house and he was listening to the cassette in the car and I think he called me down the road.” That song was The End of the Innocence which Bruce also plays piano on. Bruce said, “It’s that outside collaboration that I’m the most proud of.”

The Way It Is reached number one in the USA and number 15 in the UK, but was brought to a new audience in 1999 when 2Pac samples the piano on his number three hit Changes.

In 2007, Hornsby collaborated with country singer Ricky Skaggs and recorded a bluegrass album called Ricky Skaggs & Bruce Hornsby, it was well received and led to them going out on some tour dates.

Since 2000, Bruce’s backing group has been the Noisemakers who have released six albums the latest being Rehab Reunion in 2016.

He has two sons, Russell and Keith, who are both named after two of Bruce’s favourite musicians, Leon Russell and the jazz and classical music pianist Keith Jarrett.

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Why Can’t We Be Lovers (Holland-Dozier featuring Lamont Dozier)

Songwriting duos, especially in the sixties, were very common and very successful, Lennon & McCartney, Goffin and King, Bacharach and David etc, but songwriting trios are a rarer breed, the Bee Gees would be an obvious thought and in the eighties and nineties Stock, Aitken and Waterman but this week I look at Holland-Dozier-Holland, but more as an artist than as songwriters.

In 1954, Lamont Dozier, who was just 13 when he broke into the music scene, formed a group called The Romeos and released an R&B track called Fine Fine Baby, when they disbanded he joined a doo-wop group called the Voicemasters who, in 1962, landed a contract with Motown with Dozier also being signed as a producer. Eddie Holland had already been working with the label’s founder, Berry Gordy before its formation and Berry teamed them together along with Eddie’s brother Brian and they became the backbone of Motown’s lyrical output until 1968. Their first UK success was with Where Did Our Love Go for the Supremes and they wrote hits for Marvin Gaye, the Isley Brothers, Martha Reeves & the Vandellas and the Four Tops among many others. One of the label’s most distinctive intros was I Can’t Help Myself, Dozier explain how he came up with it, “I was considered the ideas man. I had a bassline for the song and that phrase ‘Sugar pie, honey bunch’ was something my grandfather used to say when I was a kid, and it just stayed with me and went in the song. Lots of childhood memories came back to me and I started using them as song titles.”

In 1967 there was a major dispute between the trio and Gordy over royalties and money generally and so the following year they quit the label and formed their own labels Invictus and Hot Wax, the former being more successful in the UK and the latter in the US. Motown sued the trio for breach of contract over their names being on the label and the trio counter-sued. They began using pseudonyms and it took 10 years until the case was finally settled.

The trio’s biggest success was in 1970 when Freda Payne took their song Band of Gold to number one. The other charting act on their label was Chairmen of the Board who notched up 10 hit singles. In 1972 they released the single Why Can’t We Be Lovers which was actually bizarrely credited as Holland-Dozier featuring Lamont Dozier. It failed to make the Billboard Hot 100 but did reach a respectable number nine on the R&B chart, in the UK it got to number 29.

It’s the ultimate song of a broken down relationship although no obvious reasons are given, but, as is so often the case, the man can’t accept the fact that his woman has moved on. Lyrics like ‘Girl, you’re the habit I can’t break, I’d fall apart if you weren’t there when I awake’ are very moving, but it doesn’t change her mind.

Dozier parted company with the Holland brothers in the mid-seventies, and moved to California where he embarked on a solo career, in America he made the top 20 with Trying to Hold to My Woman and also recorded the original version of Going Back To My Roots which was a major hit for Odyssey in 1981. He also wrote or co-wrote Sixteen (Musical Youth), Invisible (Alison Moyet), Infidelity (Simply Red), Sold (Boy George) but his biggest success came in 1988 when he teamed up with Phil Collins where the pair wrote Two Hearts and Loco In Acapulco which were both featured in the film Buster. It additionally earned the duo a Grammy, a Brit award, a Golden Globe, an Oscar nomination and an Ivor Novello Award.

In 1990, as Holland-Dozier-Holland they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2009 the trio reunited for a one-off occasion to compose music for the scores of the musical production of The First Wives Club. It contained over 20 new songs and was turned into a TV film in 2016.

Lamont Dozier has also taught a course of popular music at the University of Southern California.

It’s not often songwriters get mentioned in lyrics of songs but in 1986 Billy Bragg recorded the song Levi Stubbs’ Tears, Stubbs, for those who don’t know, was the lead singer of the Four Tops and Holland, Dozier and Holland, along with two other Motown staff, Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, all get a mention.

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