Sunday, 29 July 2012

apolla: (Fleeen)
I was going to make this post about a certain Irish Guitarist, but then tonight BBC Four showed a documentary about Kenneth Williams and I changed my mind.

I loved the Carry On movies as a kid. They were just so silly and naughty without being so explicit that it was unsettling. Kenneth Williams was so snooty and repressed, and Sid James was so common and lecherous in contrast.

Later, I realised that there was so much more to Williams than that, in ways good and bad. I discovered how repressed he truly was, what an unpleasant fellow he could be, how incredibly intelligent, erudite and well-read he was. And yes, tragic.

Then I discovered Rambling Syd Rumpo. It was a moment in which my loves of language, folk music and comedy smashed together into something quite brilliant. Written for Round the Horne by Barry Took and Marty Feldman (comedy writers par excellence both), the songs of Rambling Syd are smart parodies of existing folk tunes which twist the pedestrian English language into fantastic innuendo.

That these were being performed at a time when homosexuality was illegal in England gives some of the tunes a very real sense of naughtiness in the same way the Round The Horne characters' Julian & Sandy (Hugh Paddick and again, Kenneth Williams) used the then-secretive gay slang Polari. It's funny if you don't quite get all the jokes. It's hilarious if you do.

Rambling Syd Rumpo is a fantastic character and most of the songs are tremendous. This is my favourite:

"The Ballad of the Woggler's Moulie" - Rambling Syd Rumpo (Kenneth Williams) - 1967.

What I love most about this song is how much it's mocking the homosexuality laws themselves. 1967 is usually cited as when being gay stopped being illegal, but even a cursory glance shows the change in law was limited and did not even scratch the surface of decades' worth of stigmatisation.

The language is gorgeous. What the hell is a cordwangler or a moulie? It doesn't matter. Ken's performance gives you a bloody good idea of what they might be. The performance is what makes it. Williams knew words and how to wring out what he wanted from them. It's why he was such a master on Just a Minute and why Syd is so funny. He elevated the silliness to sublime.

I love good comedy records. Peter Sellers, Derek and Clive. Kenny Everett. The Rutles. Tom Lehrer. They combine comedy and music in different ways, sometimes subtle and sometimes not. Rambling Syd isn't subtle, but it isn't a frying pan to the head either. The songs might not seem clever but oh, they are.

Part 12 - Chas and Dave - "Rabbit"
Part 11 - The Beatles - "I'm Happy Just To Dance With You"
Part 10 - Duke Ellington - "The Mooche"
Part 9 - The Doors - "Who Do You Love?" featuring Albert King
Part 8 - Queen - "These Are The Days Of Our Lives"
Part 7 - Thin Lizzy - "Don't Believe A Word"
Part 6 - The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band - "Monster Mash"
Part 5 - Craig Ferguson - "Doctor Who Cold Opening"
Part 4 - The Bees - "Who Cares What The Question Is?"
Part 3 - Marvin Gaye - "Got To Give It Up"
Part 2 - The Dubliners - "Octopus Jig"
Part 1 - The Allman Brothers Band - "Statesboro Blues"


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