11 July 2018

Tom Watt - Subterranean Homesick Blues/ Guess I Had Too Much To Drink Last Night

Lofty out of Eastenders covers Bob Dylan. No, really. 

Label: Watt The Duck
Year of Release: 1986

It sometimes felt as if the Beeb had something written into everyone's "Eastenders" contracts suggesting that if asked, they were legally bound to release a single. Michelle Gayle, Nick Berry, Martine McCutcheon and Anita Dobson were the biggest chart-botherers of the cast, but in addition to those, Sid Owen (aka "Ricky"),  Sean Maguire, Letita Dean, Paul Medford and Sophie Lawrence all had cracks at the Top 40 to varying degrees of success. 

Besides the obvious examples above, there are a few peculiar outliers. Peter Dean's "Can't Get A Ticket (For The World Cup)" single is a howler I'm sure the actor is glad has been largely forgotten, and Tommy Eytle - who played Gramps - put out a Christmas reggae tune called "A Christmas Tree From Norway" which seemed to escape everyone's attention even at the time.

This, though, takes the last custard cream from Dot's biscuit barrel. Tom Watt, who played the put-upon character Lofty, was never actually asked to release a single by a proper record label. Instead, he allowed some musician friends of his to talk him into paying for a recording session and releasing a record himself on his own label. Presumably they anticipated a minor hit and a pleasant amount of royalties trickling their way. 

For reasons known only to himself, Watt decided to take a chance on covering Bob Dylan's classic "Subterranean Homesick Blues", and the baffled bad reviews came flooding in. Smash Hits asked "Who could make a song by one of the most talented old hippies in existence sound like 'Rabbit' by Chas and Dave?" which is a slightly inaccurate assessment. I would put its repetitive, insistent synthetic pulse closer to Bill Wyman's "(Si Si) Je Suis Un Rock Star" myself, though that's possibly not much more of a compliment.

The fact that it's one of the most baffling Eastenders spin-off singles ever to be released is surely beyond dispute, though. It gives Dylan's original work a chattering, BA Robertson tinged New Wave pulse which was very dated indeed by 1986, making it sound slightly like the soundtrack to an advert for Harp lager. Watt appeared to want to put a sheen of alternative credibility on the whole affair, and arranged for a video to be shot featuring various members of The Fall (including Brix Smith - Mark E Smith is, unsurprisingly, absent) and New Order milling around ignoring him. Like the single itself, it's a simple piece of work whose oddness nonetheless sucks you in - Watt's dancing is certainly rather captivating in itself - but neither NME readers nor the soap-watching men and ladies on the Clapham Omnibus were impressed, and it was not a hit. 

While he still occasionally acts, Watt mostly works as a sports writer and presenter these days. A follow-up single or even LP is apparently not on the cards.


Billy Smart said...

Another 1986 single from an EastEnders cast member - https://www.discogs.com/Oscar-James-Love-Riding-High/master/516658

On 10 records! The sleeve on Discogs omits the promo sticker, “TWENTY ONE MILLION OF YOU KNOW THIS MAN”.

David Buckingham’s 1987 BFI monograph ‘Public Secrets: Eastenders & its Audience’ asserts that June Brown also released a single at this time, but I can't find any evidence for that.

23 Daves said...

Now you mention it, I have very vague memories of such a thing either existing or being proposed - but that's it. Perhaps if I go to a hypnotist they'll be able to dredge the repressed memory out of me, but beyond that, I can't find any evidence for a June Brown single existing either.

We've discussed Polly Perkins on the blog, who played Dot's sister in the soap for awhile (though her singles all emerged prior to her acting career in EastEnders rather than after it).

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