The place The Troggs had for me in the 60s and Sweet in the early 70s was taken by Marillion in the early 80s.
Marillion have been forever tagged with the Prog Rock label and while their first songs â especially the 17 minute long Grendel and most of the debut album Script For a Jesterâs Tear – fit that bill (which was why I got into them in the first place) by the time of Fugazi they had mainly moved on to a more guitar based rock sound.
Their initial success, though, shows that Prog wasn’t as moribund a genre as its detractors would have had it.
I think I first saw them on television on The Oxford Road Show (who remembers that!) when this was one of the songs they played. Despite it being from Fugazi there is still a hint of Prog and echoes of Genesis.
This clip, though, is from Top of the Pops. Check out Fish – with hair!
You may have noticed on the clip from 1975 of The Sweetâs Action I posted a week or so back that at no 27 on the charts that week was a duo called Windsor Davies and Don Estelle.
The song concerned was Whispering Grass and since the act featured someone dressed up as a sergeant-major and a diminutive soldier in a solar topee it would seem to be one of the unlikelier hits of that – or any – year. The song, though, reached number one and stemmed of course from a TV show; the sitcom, It Ainât Half Hot, Mum. Unlike Dadâs Army, with whom it shared the writing team of Jimmy Perry and David Croft, It Ainât Half Hot, Mum does not benefit from constant repeats but mention it to anyone who watched British television in the 1970s and theyâll be able to reel off the charactersâ names instantly (or the major ones anyway.)
The show featured:-
Bearer Rangi Ram
Gunner (later Bombardier) Beaumont, aka Gloria.
Sergeant-major Williams, âShuuuuut Uuuuup!â
Gunner Parkin, aka Parky. (“Youâve a fine pair of shoulders there, boy. Show âem off. Show âem off.â)
Mr Lah-di-dah Gunner Graham, aka Paderewski.
Gunner Sugden, aka Lofty.
Char Wallah Mohammed.
Punkah Wallah Rumzan.
Gunner Mackintosh, aka Atlas.
Gunner Clark, aka Nobby.
Gunner Evans, aka Nosher.
And from the first few series, Bombardier Solomons, aka Solly.
It Ainât Half Hot, Mum was an ensemble comedy on the usual Perry and Croft lines (not only Dadâs Army but also Hi-de-Hi and You Rang MâLord; Croft also co-wrote âAllo âAllo) and featured the (mis)adventures of a Royal Artillery Concert Party in the Far East during the Second World War.
The casting of Michael Bates as Rangi was criticised even at the time as people felt an Indian actor would have been more appropriate. Yet Michael Bates was born in India – and spoke Hindi before he learned English â and was well versed in Indian culture. The paucity of Indian actors in Britain at the time is shown by the few who regularly turn up in bit parts: some actors playing several different characters over the showâs eight series.
That the show has not been repeated ad nauseam in the way that Dadâs Army has is perhaps due to the fact that it is now held to be racist, or at least non-pc. Indeed even as late as April of this year BBC bosses have decided that the show will never be re-run for that reason. Yet given its setting (Deolali, India, 1945, and later up the jungle in Burma) racist language or attitudes are hardly to be wondered at.
The 1940s were not pc. The Raj was not pc. Quite how this supposedly excessive racism can be squared with the fact that the British are uniformly ineffectual – the officers are idiots, the concert performers woeful except for the singing of Gunner Sugden, the sergeant-major is a bit thick and continually frustrated in his efforts to make his charges soldierly – while the Indians, especially Rangi and the Punkah Wallah, who has perhaps the best lines in the show (most contributed by Dino Shafeek who played the Char Wallah) are obviously more intelligent and frequently get the better of their colonial masters, is difficult to fathom.
An irony here is that one of the original performers of Whispering Grass was the group The Inkspots whose name is itself arguably racist from todayâs perspective.
Another factor in the long, and now seemingly permanent, absence of the series from the small screen may be that sergeant-major Williams frequently refers to the concert party under his charge as ânancy boysâ or âpoofs,â mouthing this last in the closing sequence and, from series 3 on, even in the opening titles. Again, a sergeant-major in 1945 would undoubtedly have done this. To represent it is only being true to the historical record.
Confession time. The good lady and I ordered the full series set of DVDs of It Ainât Half Hot, Mum as a Christmas present to ourselves and are steadily working our way through it. Weâve reached series 6. I have to say itâs still funny.
If you want to check them out various excerpts from the show are available on You Tube.
Anyway, here are the said Windsor Davies and Don Estelle from the Christmas Top of the Pops of 1975, introduced by Noel Edmunds again.
This is a piece of Top of the Pops nostalgia also featuring an extremely young looking Noel Edmonds, from the time when The Sweet had moved away from targetting the young teenage market and started to write their own A-sides.
If The Troggs were my musical vice of the 1960s the band which took that role in the 1970s was The Sweet.
Their early hits were mostly rubbish created by the songwriters Chinn and Chapman (who also were responsible for the band Mud and wrote for Suzi Quatro among others) but The Sweet began to hit their stride when they moved away from directly appealing to the young “teenybopper” market in 1973 with the harder edged Blockbuster which started off their biggest run of chart success.
Examination of their B-sides – which they wrote themselves, and leaned toward heavy rock - reveals more than a degree of casual sexism: a feature mostly absent in the bands they aspired to emulate.
Some sources have it that lead singer Brian Connolly was related to the actor who played Taggart, Mark McManus. As Wiki says that Connolly was fostered this would not quite be the case.
The Six Teens was the most lyrically interesting of their big 1973/4 hits, referencing the disturbances of 1968, but it was the start of their popular decline.