See those pictures of a cassette inlay on the right? Click on either one of those
and you'll (hopefully) hear the first comedy song I ever recorded. Or, at the very
least, the first one I ever remember recording. In the context of the tape, it's
a mere musical break in the middle of The Wepherds, an improvised piece of rubbish
about Shane Wepherd and his family which barely has an interesting thought in it,
never mind a joke. I've only just reacquired this tape after many, many years (thanks
to my brilliant friend Elton Townend Jones - formerly just 'Elton Townend') who was,
for a long time, the designated "keeper of the tapes". To understand that fully,
you'd have to read the section about The Situation, but I haven't written it yet.
So it'll have to go like this: from 1985 until some date in the 1990s we can't quite
agree on yet, Elton & I made tapes together, for fun. We collectively called ourselves
'The Situation'. Even though I have copies of some of them, Elton was always our
chief archivist and, since his situation was more stable than mine at the time, he
eventually became the guy responsible for looking after the tapes. Now, I'm only
saying this, partly to explain why there are references to "Situation: Hopeless"
(which was our original name before we streamlined it) on the cassette inlay, but
also to explain why I hadn't heard it for so long (perhaps twenty years or more).
Now, let's complicate it just a little further, just so I make sure I never get to
bed tonight. This tape wasn't made by The Situation, or by Situation: Hopeless, but
by me alone, before I'd even met Elton. But like a tape or two of his, when we got
our thing going and had our pretend label, we took 'finished' recordings of our own
and decided to include them under the Situation banner, so they became part of the
'official canon' if you like. So even though I made it on my own in 1983 and 1984,
it ended up in the official tape stock, and most of that had ended up in his Mum's
attic in Wisbech and, when I thought about this tape (which I sometimes did), I thought
I'd probably never see or hear it again.
But then I saw Elton just before Christmas, and he pulled it out of his bag and gave
it to me. I won't go into all the details why cos I'll be here forever but it was
a massive surprise and a pretty joyous one too. Not that I really wanted to listen
to The Wepherds - it really is deeply unfunny and ineptly made, and I already have
enough terrible old tapes of me improvising awful crap onto cassettes around that
time - ones which weren't for some reason deigned good enough to be part of the Situation
collection. I also have no interest in hearing The Five Doctor Spews, which I can
only imagine being the most horrendous thing anyone ever did in the name of entertainment.
I'll do it eventually, but it hasn't happened yet.
But halfway through the Wepherds, there's a musical interlude. In context, it's played
by the Flying Thickets (named after a capella group The Flying Pickets) and is nothing
to do with Scunthorpe or anyone called Bobby (the title's just an unglamorous play
on Frankie Goes to Hollywood, quite simply my favourite thing in 1984). But it is
about something - a man who's having a particularly unlucky day. And though it's
scrappy - even downright clumsy - in places, and some of the jokes are woeful (especially
the one about it being bad news that his son just came out and told him he was gay
- which I genuinely feel embarrassed about, even though I was only 12 when I wrote
it and just needed an easy rhyme). But the more I think about that, I still think
the more notable thing about it is that I'm obviously playing a character. Even now
in my mid-forties I don't have kids - I certainly didn't when I was 12. Which adds
another layer to this triple-tracked, a capella comedy song which I did NOT improvise
- it had well thought-out lyrics, even if most of them are crap. And the astonishing
thing is that, just putting that little bit of effort into it, stops it being a complete
Thing is, if you look around this site a bit, you'll notice that I managed to make
quite a name for myself a few years back for writing and, more importantly, performing
and recording, comedy songs. And from that has sprung a new career, in which I now
earn a living writing music for TV and film. And it's often occurred to me that it
all started with this song. I'd made a few attempts at writing comedy songs before
- see here for a dreadful example of one I gladly didn't commit to tape - but this
is the first one I actually recorded. With my own tune as well.
It may be unfunny, it may be childish, it may be badly produced, but it was my first
one - the acorn from which the rest of my career grew, and probably therefore one
of the most important things I've ever done in my life. Not that it should matter
so much to you, of course - but then again you'd only be here reading this if you're
either here by accident, here because someone told you it was the shittest thing
they've ever heard and you will laugh your nuts off at how bad it is, or because
you're interested in me as a case study in misplaced narcissism - or maybe you're
just interested in the development of an artist, how they begin, how they progress,
how they learn - that's certainly why I'm doing all this in the first place. Well,
that and misplaced narcissism.
Nah - the point isn't that this is great. It's not. Even if I was only 12, it's hardly
Mozart. But maybe he was a worse comedy songwriter than I imagine. And the most amazing
thing about this recording to me (excepting the gay joke, which I can forgive myself
for but I really wish I hadn't done - and the "sister's mouse" line at the end is
just abysmal) is that it isn't completely irredeemable. It's structurally sound,
it has meaning and purpose, it's well-performed in its own 'mad 12 year old' way.
And because it wasn't perfect, I tried it again and again, so now I can do stuff
like this, or this, or this, or this, and I still see room for improvement. So please
forgive me, just this once, for being just a little bit proud of this one. It's not
the best, but it was the first, and when your first isn't the worst (even if it threatens
to come close here and there), it makes you feel as though you chose the right life.
And I haven't always felt that way.
So thank you, Elton. Thanks for bringing this back to me. And thank you for The Situation
(which I probably won't write about for months or even years, but maybe one day...)
I wonder how different my life would have been if, that day in 1984, I just said
"Nah, I can't be bothered"?