15 December 2010

The Snowmen - Nik Nak Paddywack

Hello - if you're reading this because of an old episode of TOTP2, go here to read an update on who The Snowmen actually were (just don't shoot the messenger, that's all). 

Label: Priority
Year of Release: 1986

Stiff Records will probably be known by most music lovers for dropping Ian Dury, Madness and Elvis Costello on to a country that had until then failed to realise that it really needed such characters as its pop stars.  It will forever be remembered as a label that had a run of success which - Alvin Stardust and Tracy Ullman singles aside - wouldn't really have been predicted by most music industry insiders.  It's hard to imagine a successful label now being bankrolled by artists such as a thirtysomething man with polio inflicted disabilities, a bespectacled serious singer-songwriter with the first name Elvis, and a large gang of whacky but earthily intelligent lads running around like Gumby-esque idiots playing a ska derived racket.

Perhaps the fact that Stiff seemed to tap into the glory of unrestrained English eccentrics encouraged the owner Dave Robinson to dabble in some rather peculiar areas with slightly more mixed results.  Spoken about less frequently are the mysterious Snowmen, whose "Hokey Cokey" was a slightly surprising number 18 hit in 1981 (Slade had shamelessly tried their luck with the very same track two years before to be greeted with utter disinterest).  The 'band' - if it could really be described as such - was represented by four costumed gentlemen on "Top of the Pops" rather unable to do most of the gestures described in the song due to the restrictions of their outfits.  Or perhaps that was part of the joke.

At the time, rumours were rife that this was Ian Dury messing around, and whilst those have persisted to an extent, there is - as "Sweeping the Nation" blog mentioned some days ago - little evidence to suggest this is the case.  Given that Dury has now no longer been with us for some time, one would have hoped that if he had anything to do with the four Snowmen singles which were issued, we'd know something about it by now.  Jona Lewie was another rumoured contributor to the project, which seems more realistic.  Lewie wasn't above making novelty records, having issued "Seaside Shuffle" under the name Terry Dactyl and the Dinosaurs in the seventies, and the gruffness of the voice also isn't laughably far away from his normal vocal stylings.

The word "might" is key here, however, and the fact remains that for the last twenty-five years now we've been left in the dark about which Stiff employee - if any - was responsible for all this.  "Nik Nak Paddywack" was really their last hurrah, and by the time it came out Stiff had gone belly-up, leaving Priority Records to handle the issue, which failed to enter the Top 75.  All the familiar elements are intact, including the utterly inappropriate fifty-a-day child-stalker vocals, festive bells and chimes, and utter relentless stupidity.  It's not a record which deserves to be heard necessarily, and nor is it a record which should have charted, but it is a perplexing little piece of a puzzle.  Will the real Snowmen please stand up?  My money personally is on my chain-smoking, gruff voiced, Mark E Smith lookalike Chemistry teacher from school, but then it always was.


Mondo said...

Funnily enough I found my ol' copy of Hokey Cokey over the weekend. I remember whispers when it came out in 82 - about the single being a secret Ian Dury release. And there's something abut that ashtray vocal tone that keeps me convinced it's him.

23 Daves said...

I would love it to be Dury, but if so, I'd have to wonder if he'd have had the desire to keep the whole Snowmen project going (and secret) across several consecutive Christmas seasons.

It also wouldn't surprise me if Stiff started the Dury rumours in the first place. It sounds like the kind of thing they would do.

Real Gone said...

Thanks to this post, I spent the morning singing 'nick nack paddywack, give the dog a bone' in the style of Mike Patton, as featured on the self-titled Mr Bungle disc.

23 Daves said...

Simon Tyers of the excellent Sweeping the Nation blog got in touch with me on Twitter to say:

45cat entry lists writing credits as 'Kennedy, Kershaw, Portlock'
Kershaw is apparently Martin Kershaw, session guitarist on Dance Yourself Dizzy and Kung Fu Fighting among others.

Thanks for the information, Simon. You're officially more efficient at fact-digging than either me or TOTP2.

Anonymous said...

I was on this record aged 11. It was Martin Kershaw. He was the father of a friends friend. We went to London and recorded Mr Snowman and did a video for the Hokey Cokey that was played on Top of the Pops. My parents have the single and my Dad made a cassette tape recording of it for me lol. Good times. We were listed as the Brimpton Horrors which upset me as I was from Tadley.

Unknown said...

Wow thats really interesting. Are you therefore able to confirm the names of all the Snowmen?

robert grant said...

So are you able to name all the snowmen?

Anonymous said...

Listen to Roy Wood's voice in I Wish it Could be Xmas Every Day, the bit when he calls out to the children.....

Roy Wood, legendary recluse, prefers to be dressed up and anonymous yet also with a wacky sense of fun and named his band Wizard.