Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Gnome Thoughts ... 5 (What a Crazy, Violent Playground)

Have just found details of the 1975 Stratford East revival of What a Crazy World in which Ray Winstone (not playing the lead) made his debut. Seems like his real-life father had a touch of the Harry H Corbett character about him, as he was so unimpressed with his son's performance he advised him to "Give it up, while you're ahead".

The songlist below is taken from a theatre programme reproduced on the Ray Winstone  tribute website, copperlilly, here. Interesting to see that numbers which  were written for the film like Independence, have been retained - in fact, Winstone's character, Chas, is one of the singers.

There's a grandfather who either didn't make it to the film or was added for the revival, with a solo song, Nostalgia Sandwiches, ditto a number given to Alf's mother to sing, He's Not a Bad Boy Really, another song for Herbie and his hoodlum friends including Winstone's Chas, Eggs, Beans and Chips, and a song for factory workers entitled Ain't It Good to Be Alive which I presume is intended ironically. Were these numbers reinstated for the stage revival or did Klein rework the musical in the seventeis? Or what? Hard to find much online.

For purposes of comparison, the tracklisting for the 2001 CD of the film:
1. What A Crazy World (We're Living In) - Joe Brown
2. A Lay-Abouts Lament - Marty Wilde Joe Brown
3. I Sure Know A Lot About Love - Micheal Goodman
4. Bruvvers - Grazina Frame Joe Brown Michael Goodman
5. Oh What A Family - Marty Wilde
6. Alfred Hitchins - Susan Maughan
7. Sally Ann - Joe Brown And The Bruvvers
8. Wasn't It A Handsome Punch-Up - Joe Brown Marty Wilde
9. Please Give Me A Chance - Susan Maughan
10. Independence - Joe Brown Marty Wilde And The Bruvvers
11. I Feel The Same Way Too - Susan Maughan Joe Brown
12. Just You Wait And See - Joe Brown
13. Things We Never Had - Harry H Corbett
14. What A Crazy World (Reprise) - Harry Corbett
15. What A Crazy World (Live) - Joe Brown
16. Sally Ann - Freddie And The Dreamers
17. Camptown Races - Freddie And The Dreamers
18. Short Shorts - Freddie And The Dreamers
Thinking over my viewing of the film last night, there are subtle differences between the studio recordings on the so-called soundtrack album and the songs as heard on the film. Though acknowledging now that they were "good songs for the day," Joe Brown (back to Spencer Leigh's book again) has said "I hated getting Cockney songs to sing. I wanted to sing rock'n'roll." And listening to the album, you can definitely hear what one can only term a certain amount of rocking-up in the backing. Discreetly done, but sounding distinctly more "with-it", as Hubert Gregg might have put it, than the actual film arrangements.

What I am going to suggest would carry more authority had I actually heard Klein's solo album yet. I freely admit haven't, but regarding the CD issue of At Least Its British, which includes some singles not on the original LP, some critics have suggested a contempt for rock'n'roll: if Klein is employing the form, in other words, he is doing so merely in order to send it up.

Joe Brown, a professional guitarist before he was a vocalist, and with experience of backing rock'n'roll greats like Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent, is in love with the form, pure and simple: you only have to click on the youtube clip with Jools Holland in an earlier entry in this series. According to David Buckley's biography, Tony Visconti, Bowie's producer-to-be, and manager Ken Pitt never really got on. forcing Bowie, according to Visconti, to become
A nervous go-between trying to find some common ground we could all discuss.
This seems to have been a mixture of jealousy over Bowie's growing friendship with Visconti, and a culture clash: Pitt was, Bowie told his new friend, "an old-fashioned theatrical-type manager who wasn't really into rock", so this new relationship placed Bowie
at the interface of the "straight" and "cool" worlds, both of which had their charms for a man as into Art Deco as the Fugs.
The actual soundtrack for the film of What a Crazy World, as opposed to the issued album, is much more about music hall rhythms than the crazy rhythms that make you want to rip up cinema seats, and if the critical comment I have read about Klein's own recordings is correct, then it makes sense that Pitt managed Klein and the younger Bowie, both of whom kept a wary distance from straight rock'n'roll. In fact, to return to the CD, the only number which sounds sort of straight rock'n'roll, or the nearest thing to it, was a) cut from the film - unless my DVD is incomplete - and b) given to the youngest cast member, Alf's kid brother: shades of Newley talking dismissively about the American idols who hadn't been potty-trained.

And when it comes to contempt for rock'n'roll, it may be worth citing the South African but English-sounding Paddy Roberts. Would Bowie have heard him? Like Newley, there is no attempt to be American, which may have appealed, although I suspect he would have sounded old-fashioned even in the fifties. His most famous ditty, The Ballad of Bethnal Green, is a cod folk ballad which has the rock'n'roll generation -the Alfs and Herbies of this Crazy World - as its target:
I'll tell a tale of a jealous male
And a maid of sweet sixteen.
She was blonde and dumb and she lived with her mum
On the fringe of Bethnal Green.
She worked all week for a rich old Greek For her dad was on the dole.
And her one delight was a Friday night When she had a little rock 'n' roll
[...] Then one fine day in the month of May
She found her big romance -
He was dark and sleek with a scar on his cheek
And a pair of drainpipe pants.
And she thought: "With you I could be so true
Through all the years to come" -
For she loved the gay, abandoned way
He chewed his chewing gum.
To be fair to Roberts, that isn't his best work. Far better is I Love Mary, a tale of a difficult choice between his shy blue-eyed love and a "blowsy old trout" with other attractions:
But she's twice as rich as Croesus, sleeps in golden fleeces
And when I see the dough, my principles go to pi-pi-pieces
You can read the whole lyric on the excellen mudcat site here. (Don't worry, it's a folk song forum, with lots of threads exploring variant lyrics, not one of those sites with pop-ups about mobile phones.) Musically, Roberts is in that small-group late night cabaret/revue bag, very lightly jazzy and very much part of its time, which is the late fifties and early sixties. Find more about him here - I think these are the actual notes for a CD reissue of two vinyl albums on Must Close Saturday Records, though I reproduce the World of ... LP above as that's how I first came across him.

Yes, World of..., the same series in which Bowie's early recordings and a few Visconti tracks were repackaged. And it may not be a mere coincidence. In those CD sleevenotes the writer says that Roberts' success as a solo performer (like Klein he also wrote some pop hits for other people), came about by being in the right place at the right time. Decca had had success with Songs by Tom Lehrer and were looking for something else; Roberts had written folk parodies for his own amusement, although his target was actually another Joan Littlewood production, the Lionel Bart-penned Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'be, but depicting an East End similar to that shown in What a Crazy World. The writer also mentions the sendups of Benjamin Britten and Peter Peter's rarified brand of folk music in Beyond the Fringe and even Anthony Newley's reworkings of Strawberry Fair, etc.

So by being in the right place at the right time - or respnding to something in the air, and Things ran forever in the West End, so would have been hard to miss - Roberts got himself a substantial career. But the sleevenote writer, though sympathetic to Roberts, nevertheless talks about hs "fighting a rearguard action through humour, trying to hold back the inevitable, by satirising the new social trends." Early Bowie numbers such as Join the Gang seem not dissimilar.

In addition to his own gently satirical songs, there was, as already mentioned his notional rock'n'roll music for Basil Dearden's Violent Playground (screenplay by James Kennaway). This plays over the credits (above, in the only clip which seems available on youtube) and and the scene in which McCallum and his pals obscurely threaten lawman Stanley Baker: not with knives and fisticuffs but by the simple device of surrendering absolutely to the hypnotic effect of the devil's music.

There, in a single scene, you have rock'n'roll from a terrified adult perspective: the boys do nothing, beyond swaying a little; maybe they're even so stoned (metaphorically speaking) by the music that they're incapable of violence, but that makes it more disturbing, somehow. Throughout that scene they are, to Baker's Juvenile Liaison Officer, an alien tribe, wholly unknowable, not the kind of loveable artful dodgers you can at least get some kind of a handle on. No cuff on the ear will team these demons in waiting.

The music in Violent Playground may be a corny, adult's-ear version of rock'n'roll but is it too fanciful to suggest that the use to which it is put in the film is something which might have struck a chord in the young David Jones (as he probably still was then)? The film came out in 1959 and was on TV at some point in the early 60s, as a glimpse of it (not that scene) haunted for years afterwards.

Or could one go further and imagine Pitt and Bowie in the cinema, perhaps enticed by a poster like the above  - let's say the film was revived to cash in on McCallum's TV success in The Man From Uncle - both staring fixedly at the screen as Baker confronts McCallum in his home, the music playing, McCallum swaying, the two viewers seeing entirely different things?

Read the contemporary newspaper article from which the above image is taken here. Read more about Violent Playground in an earlier blog entry here. As Violent Playground involves a school siege, it's possible it  may not be released on DVD in the near future.

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