12 September 2011

Fred Walking-Stick - Well I Ask YEW!

Label: Pye
Year of Release: 1961

There is a general belief that the Bonzo Dog Band were the first artists to parody the polite English absurdity of the old homegrown shellac sounds, and you can fully understand how that viewpoint has become the accepted one - there really wasn't anyone prior to the Bonzos who had any great commercial visibility taking on peculiar dance records like "I'm Gonna Bring A Watermelon To My Gal Tonight".

Here, however, is a very rare flop example of somebody not only doing a very neat parody of that era, but also beating the likes of Mike Flowers and Richard Cheese to the punch by a fair 35 years with an easy listening version of a rock and roll record. Eden Kane's "Well I Ask You" sounds rather ordinary and wet by modern standards, but at the time Kane's Elvis styled vocalising and swagger seemed rather daring and modern. What better way to deflate that unspeakable arrogance than with a polite English version, complete with lyrics referring to the lady's rejection as being "a beastly thing to do"? I can't think of one. "Naughty, naughty, naughty you", sings Fred with the minimum of emotion to the sound of a restrained and reedy brass section, and you can't help but think that whilst some of the humour within the grooves of this record has been lost by the present-day irrelevance of Eden Kane, the approach itself is actually the first vinyl instance of an ironic easy version of a rock song. There may be others - and I would be very interested to hear from somebody if there are - but the approach here proves that some jokes are older than you'd think.

The identity of Fred Walking-Stick is a complete mystery. Peter Sellers had apparently referred to Eden Kane as "Fred Walking-Stick" before this record came out, and this has led to some speculation that it may be him behind this record - but if so, that fact has bypassed numerous Sellers biographers, and above all else the disc fails to appear on his contractual home of Parlophone Records. It seems far more likely that Fred was a Sellers fan with a similar keen ear for the joy of musical parody. Had this record been a hit we might have heard more about the man behind the pseudonym. As an extremely obscure flop, however, it's likely to remain a riddle unless (or until) somebody comments to put me straight.

The B-side is a version of "Ain't She Sweet" by Brother Jim Walking-Stick, and no, I don't know who he is either.


Cedric Ambermere said...

Rather surprised that you don't draw the obvious (to me) comparison to the Temperance Seven, who were at the peak of their success (including a chart topper) around this time with a very similar sound -- although of course they tended to stick to songs of the era they were emulating rather than "backdating" modern hits like this one.

23 Daves said...

Damn it, you're absolutely right, Cedric. I'd somehow let the idea get into my head that the Temperance Seven's hits came along later than 1961, but that's completely incorrect.

Hopefully my point still stands about such artists backdating modern hits, however (and I'd be genuinely interested to hear more examples if it doesn't).

Anonymous said...

Definition of embarrassing; when you attempt to make a comment to a music blog post and Blogger attaches the identity of an account you used to use for an online RPG instead of your usual ID... "Cedric Ambermere" was me all along...

david said...

As this has just been played on Radio Two, just thought I'd add the fact that it was actually recorded by The Viscounts, one of whom went on to manage Tom Jones.

23 Daves said...

Brilliant! Thank you.

Good to hear that Radio Two are dipping into the odd oldies now and then, as well.