In 1982, John O’Connor and Grahame Lister, as The Firm, wrote Arthur Daley (E’s Alright), a song paying homage to the lovable rogue Arthur Daley from TV’s Minder, played by George Cole. The song went to number 14, after which The Firm seemingly disappeared. The follow-ups, Cash In Hand and Bravo Costa Brave failed to connect. Five years later, they returned with another novelty song, Star Trekkin’.
The song had its origins amongst a group of people known as The Sealed Knot, who held weekend jamborees recreating English Civil War battles. Part of the entertainment was to gather around the campfire at night and sing songs. One of the favourites was a parody of I Am The Music Man from the sixties musical The Music Man, recast as I am the Star Trek Man featuring the five ‘spoken’ lines used in Star Trekkin’, ie. ‘It’s life Jim, but not as we know it’, ‘There’s Klingons on the starboard bow’ etc. Grahame heard folk singer Chris Steinhauer perform a version of the song one evening at a local folk club and was struck by its good humour. Grahame asked Chris to record his version onto cassette, which he then took to his writing partner John O’Connor.
John, a guitarist who had worked with Steeleye Span in the Seventies and Bucks Fizz in the Eighties, owned Bark Studio in Walthamstow, London, and the two of them began playing around with the idea. They decided to abandon the Music Man parody, write a new melody and chorus, and use the tongue-twisting, ever-increasing tempo format pioneered by Rolf Harris with his tune The Court of King Caractacus. Rory Kehoe, a member of The Sealed Knot, was eventually identified as the author of the five ‘spoken’ lines, and duly credited as co-writer. The Firm were never a proper gigging band but for the recording of Star Trekkin’, Bill Martin played keyboards, Dev Douglas voiced Spock, John provided the voice of Kirk and McCoy, studio engineer Brian O’Shaughnessy was Scotty, Grahame’s wife Kathy and Karen Turney were the female backing singers with Grahame and Dev supplying the male backing voices. John’s wife Shelley was the distinctive voice of Lt. Uhuru. Shelley, a native Californian, was at first embarrassed about her singing and didn’t want her vocal used, but was eventually persuaded otherwise by John and Grahame. Fortunately so, for Shelley’s ‘Klingons on the starboard bow’ contribution turned out to be the most memorable and most quoted part of the record.
They had trouble getting the record released, as John explained: “We approached a few record companies who said, ‘You must be joking, we’re not going to release this as a single!’ But we believed in it so much that we started our own label Bark, named after my studio, pressed 500 copies and sent them to radio stations in England. Then, suddenly everything went haywire.”
“It started selling fast and we knew it was going to be a hit, but John and I decided not to do personal TV appearances – we were a bunch of balding thirty-something’s and we figured us doing Top Of The Pops would kill the whole fun element of the thing stone dead! So we decided to do a claymation / cartoon type video as the song’s image. We approached the Spitting Image team among others, but all the quotes were far too expensive and most required months of preparation time, whereas we had exactly one week to have it ready for Top of the Pops,” remembers Grahame. “So we gave the project to a group of young art school graduates called The Film Garage who performed miracles with potato heads, stick-on mouths, cardboard cut-outs and a minimal budget, finishing the video with just hours to spare.”
The Firm’s follow-up, Superheroes, duly bombed, and John soon moved to America where he pursued a successful career as an acoustic guitarist specialising in new-age music recording under the name EKO. He also wrote the incidental music for the Channel 4 series King of the Hill. Grahame still lives in Essex, still writes and records original songs, and performs in his home town of Brentwood with his band Roots Revue. Addition he is a tennis coach at Billericay Lawn Tennis Club.
In the early Eighties, he’d written and recorded a solo acapella doo-wop single called Automobile released under the name of The Stick Shifts which was later used as the basis of a Lurpak butter commercial.