Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Gnome Thoughts ... 37 (Over the Wall We Go)


There hasn't been much to add to this series of posts about Bowie's early influences lately, but idly looking through post 16, about the original version of My Old Man's a Dustman (you can read it here), I suddenly remembered where I'd heard the term "nana" used on a record before, namely a composition by one ... David Bowie.

Stands back in amazement, as Eddie Large (ne McGinnis) used to say. Actually, the version I heard, on BBC Radio 2's Sounds of the Sixties a while back, was actually by Oscar (aka Paul Nicholas), embedded below, alongside what sounds like a pretty rough demo version by Bowie.

The arrangement on the Paul Nicholas recording is brassy and bouncy, calling to mind Quincy Jones's This is the Self Preservation Society, though I'm not sure, and can't be bothered to check, which came first..

While it would be a cheap gag to describe the "Oscar" version as winning, there is one detail which I can't resist pointing out as further evidence of what can only be termed intertwangularity in these posts. There is a direct  quotation from Spike Milligan's Wormwood Scrubs Tango produced by George Martin: we hear a prisoner who is desperately attempting to file the bars exhort the musicians, who've suddenly stopped: "Keep it up lads - another chorus and we're out."

Trouble is, that explicit invitation to compare this song with the material Martin produced for Peter Sellers or Spike Milligan in the fifites does show up the limitations of Master Jones's composition.


Wormwood Scrubs Tango (link at the end of this post) remains enjoyable because it tells a story economically; Bowie shoves in every cliche in the book and the thing is overloaded. The Laughing Gnome is a masterpiece of concision in comparison.

Thinking about influences, we can hear the Newley voice, but I think the George Martin comedy record era is perhaps most significant. Is Alan Klein a consideration here? Not sure; though there may perhaps be echoes of the boasts of that master criminal-in-waiting Herbie Shadbolt (Marty Wilde's character in What a Crazy World). But as with the Martin productions Alan Klein knows how to tell a story much more succinctly (think Striped Purple Shirt, for example).

Anyway, if you are new to the series and desirous of reading more of the Gnome Thoughts ... series about Master Jones's musical influences, click here for a guide to all 37 posts, taking in Alan Klein, Anthony Newley, Myles Rudge and Ted Dicks and the aforementioned George Martin, the film Violent Playground, Ray Winstone, Ray Davies and the Kinks, Lonnie Donegan, JP Long and - oh, all sorts. Paddy Roberts, too.

And I should be able to add more information about Alan Klein's career soon, so watch this space ...

Oscar (Paul Nicholas) version of Over the Wall We Go:



Bowie demo (?) version:




Post about the song in the highly recommended song-by-song Bowie blog Pushing Ahead of the Dame here.

Lyrics to Over the Wall on Teenage Wildlife website here

Embedded youtube clip of Wormwood Scrubs Tango in Gnome Thoughts ... 15 here.

Postscript: It's not much to leave to posterity, perhaps, but the above detail about the Oscar version quoting from Wormwood Scrubs Tango is now enshrined in the book version of the Pushing Ahead of the Dame blog, entitled Rebel Rebel, and now available. Alan Klein is also given several mentions. The author is Chris O'Leary.

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