1 April 2009
The Singing Postman - Third Delivery (EP)
Year of Release: 1966
1. Wass The Bottum Dropped Owt?
2. Oi Wear Horned Rimmed Glasses
3. Oi Can't Git a Noice Loaf a Bread
4. Yew Can't Keep Liven in the Past
Allan Smethurst the Singing Postman truly is the rum truffle in pop's big luxury box of chocolates. When entering into a career in the music industry very few performers bother to dress up in their dayjob clothes, preferring instead to have an alien allure. Smethurst, however, was extraordinary in his ordinariness, making a feature out of both his job, his features, and his thick Norfolk accent.
After recording a few songs and releasing a hundred of them locally as the "First Delivery" EP, Parlophone began to get excited by the endless radio spots he was being offered and snapped up the rights to the songs. Following this, it all went slightly absurd for the unlikely star - appearances on the Des O'Connor programme followed, and his catchphrases began to catch on throughout schoolyards and workplaces. His touring work meant that his postman days were over, but nonetheless Royal Mail allowed him to keep the uniform for his live shows (unflinchingly generous for an organisation which these days appears to think little of fining its customers for its own mistakes - sorry for the digression, but I've been on the phone to them for a lot of today).
I've scoured over many novelty acts since writing this blog, and the tale is normally reasonably cheerful. The act has one hit, rides the wave for all its worth and presumably bungs a bit of spare money into a tax-exempt account, then the people involved return to their dayjobs with endless stories to tell about their fluke Top of the Pops appearance, the time they met Elton John, and how nothing prepares one for the shock of children's Saturday morning television programmes. I envy most novelty acts more than I (for example) envy Amy Winehouse. A nice little fluke hit seems like the pop equivalent of a gap year, rather than the miserable, self-obsessed goldfish bowl existence bona-fide stars opt for.
Allan Smethurst is most definitely the exception to the rule, though. He hated live performances and was utterly mortified by the endless over-enthusiastic attention he received from strangers. Eventually, he turned to alcohol to give him enough Dutch courage to take the stage, then became a full-blown alcoholic. As his novelty status faded away and he became a forgotten figure, his addiction caused violent rows with his mother, and he eventually checked into a Salvation Army hostel in Grimsby in 1980 where he remained until he died twenty years later.
Smethurst is obviously a difficult character to make a case for. As much as I'd love to say that his work shows raw genius, and that hidden behind the Norfolk vowels and quirky sideways looks at smalltown life lay a dark side, it has to be said that what he produced was very light and breezy. The recordings on this EP are utterly innocent and behind the times even for 1966, and the fifties-styled postcard picture sleeve says everything that needs to be said about the contents. This was the kind of entertainment which remained throughout that manic decade but seldom gets written about. From the early days of beat right through to the first rumblings of metal and prog in 1969, light entertainers with a certain charm and a marginally unusual way of looking at the world cluttered the radio dial and variety shows.
Where Smethurst differed from most was in his truly rudimentary singing and technique, his plinking and plonking playing and frequently out-of-tune vocals predating anti-folk by a fair few decades. The sleevenotes to this record boast that he "bases his singing sentiments on simplicity and sense, and while other folk-style artists may hog the headlines, Allan contributes easily as much in a more definite and genuine way to the balladry of our time". I wouldn't go that far, but in the slightly scratchy recordings here, there's something quite uniquely honest going on, and when you hear the weary paean to nostalgia that is "Yew Can't Keep Liven in the Past", you may be forced to realise that Smethurst just wasn't made for his times. The situations he sung about were already beginning to seem like quaint relics. Putting a character like this into the mainstream could only have ended in tears - or perhaps people who base their music careers on their dayjobs create some kind of bad karma when they give up the dayjob itself.
So as not to end this blog entry on too sour a note, shortly before he died Smethurst had cause to smile when Rolf Harris (who covered his "Have Yew Got a Loight, Boy?") visited his hostel to say hello. Despite his refusal to enter the pop music game ever again, his thrilled reaction to the hairy Australian's entrance showed that he was clearly proud of what he did manage to put out, and also who admired it.
Download the EP here
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