15 December 2010
The Snowmen - Nik Nak Paddywack
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.
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