5 March 2012

Duke Baysee - Do You Love Me?


Label: Double Dekker
Year of Release: 1994


Readers, I very seldom use "Left and to the Back" as a personal blog where I reminisce about my own days of yore. There's absolutely nothing wrong with mp3 blogs with the personal touch, of course, and if you scroll down the side bar to your left you'll find links to plenty which do occasionally invite their regular visitors into their own world. It's just I rarely feel I have interesting stories to tell - most of these tracks are so obscure that they won't have soundtracked a collective social experience for me at all.

Duke Baysee, on the other hand, is a bizarre case to say the least. For some years, he was actually my late night conductor on the number 38 bus through London, reeling off tickets and taking fares from the often drunken public. While most conductors bore the slurring sideswipes of many an aggressive half-cut human with brave faces, Baysee took matters one stage further. He would dance, skip and shimmy around the vehicle, whilst occasionally singing or honking and wailing blues riffs on his harmonica. With a co-ordination I envied, he used to race up and down the stairs in a manner which would have seen me falling flat on my face (especially after a few beers) singing whatever song took his fancy. His attitude usually brought enormous cheer to a route which wasn't a trouble-free one to say the least, trawling as it did through some of the roughest areas of London. Whilst he later claimed to start singing and prancing around on the job as a way of "pissing miserable passengers off", it did seem to actually diffuse situations - I observed his fellow conductors in the same area getting far more abuse than he was ever on the receiving end of. His off-the-wall personality saw him through.

How the word got out about Baysee isn't made clear, but in the nineties both the Radio One DJ Gary Davies and the pop mogul Simon Cowell became interested in this rather absurd London figure, and he was offered a record deal. A round of press interviews followed where he revealed that he had been badly assaulted in the course of his duties twice (and incidentally, given that I've witnessed assaults on buses in the same area if not the same route, I don't think that this claim is a piece of Cowell encouraged exaggeration) and had only originally become a conductor when his own picture framing business went bankrupt. Left with a job he couldn't abide (claiming it felt "close to begging") working with difficult members of the public, he began trying to make the best of a bad situation, which clearly led to welcome if perhaps unexpected music industry interest.

His subsequent pop career was unfortunately not a major success (bar one big Japanese hit) but his work was successful enough that his name still feels naggingly familiar to chart-watchers ("Sugar Sugar" climbed to number 30 in 1994) without them necessarily being able to immediately place why. This follow up, a spirited cover of the sixties classic "Do You Love Me?", has a bundle of energy and cheer about it, and is perhaps actually his better single, but it hovered outside the top 40 before naffing off forever. It's true to say that in typical Cowell fashion there's nothing about the record which screams "Classic Pop", but Baysee's character hasn't been smoothed over or shaved away here. If anything, he's the record's centrepiece, a London eccentric being given a lot of room to smear his goodwill across a commercial pop song. If you ever met him, it seems completely appropriate.

Once his career faded away, Baysee returned to his old job, riding bus routes through London collecting fares, singing and playing his harmonica. As for me, by 2004 I knew that I would be leaving Britain to live in Australia, probably on a temporary basis, but possibly permanently. On one of my last nights out in the capital I rode the bus and there was Baysee, riffing away whilst taking fares. As I alighted the Routemaster on what I thought may be one of my last journeys, he began playing "Killing Me Softly" on his harmonica - it was a very late and still night, and I could hear him playing the tune as the bus rode off into the distance, fading away slowly as I began the walk towards my front door. It was such an eerie moment that I made a note of it in my diary, and wondered to myself if there would be other characters like him outside London.

As it turned out, I only resided in Australia for a year, but by the time I returned to London the Routemaster buses had been decommissioned in favour of driver-only services, and gone too was Duke Baysee. There were rumours that he had tried to relaunch his pop career to what I can only assume was general disinterest, and what became of him after that is something of a mystery. Part of me hopes that he's found another role where he can cheerfully assault the public with his songs and banter, and that he's not locked away in some anonymous office back-room somewhere - unless, of course, that's what he wants. But I'll always remember him as being a unique character, a charismatic individual who stamped his personality on his job so hugely that my wife and I referred to his service as "the Baysee Bus", and considered getting him as our conductor as being the perfect finish to a good night out.

As for the "Happy Busman" by The Frank And Walters - forget it, lads. In London we had someone far, far better.

Tracklisting:
1. Do You Love Me?
2. Do you Love Me? (Shake It Mix)
3. Do you Love Me? (Jungle Crazy Mix)
4. Preservation Dub


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