13 April 2011
Paul Nicholas - Lamplighter
Year of Release: 1976 (recorded 1971)
In a nineties interview, Jarvis Cocker once said that whilst he was high on drugs, he began to believe that he was in fact Paul Nicholas, the curly haired, lovable rogue of "Just Good Friends" fame. He made it sound as if the entire experience was an appalling one, a bad trip from hell, but in fact this record proves that a way-out Nicholas may not be such a terrible thing after all.
For the benefit of overseas readers, "Just Good Friends" was a sit-com following the adventures of Nicholas' character Vince Pinner, a plastic cigarette smoking, softly spoken lothario whose catchphrase to his unfortunate girlfriend Penny was a slightly wounded and unimaginative "Sorry, Pen" (hers, for the record, was "You're a rat, Vince" which isn't much better). However, long before that sit-com he had a varied career in film and theatre, a string of tepid pop hits in the seventies, and in the sixties had worked with Screaming Lord Sutch and the Savages, Pete Townshend (covering his song "Join My Gang") and even David Bowie, who wrote "Over The Wall We Go" for him. For somebody who is best remembered as a rather middle-of-the-road figure, Paul Nicholas actually has a CV many credible rock stars would give their eye teeth for.
Despite even this, "Lamplighter" is still a surprise and also something of a mystery. Recorded in 1971 but finally appearing in 1976 as the B-side to the dreadful hit single "Reggae Like It Used To Be", it's filled to the brim with shimmering Eastern-sounding guitar lines, stripped to the bone, threadbare drum patterns, howling, almost Iggy-ish vocals, and nonsensical lyrics, like a particularly perverse White Stripes joke. You can easily imagine Nicholas wearing leather trousers whilst performing the track, perhaps beckoning to a lady in the front row. It sounds like a sixties nugget, but was recorded both too late and by the wrong person, and has remained largely ignored until quite recently.
Record dealers are getting wise to the contents of this track these days, and frequently pricing it up at £5 or over as a "psychedelic oddity" despite the dodgy A side, but there are still cheap copies about - I saw one for 50p in a well-known second hand store chain quite recently, so you should keep an eye open for it and grab one if ever you get the chance. It's both a talking point and actually a genuinely good track.
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