13 December 2009

Vic Reeves - Abide With Me

Vic Reeves - Abide With Me

Label: Sense/ Island
Year of Release: 1991

Vic Reeves needs no introduction to UK readers, and I really can't be bothered to give him a detailed one for the benefit of overseas types. His comedy career has never really travelled successfully beyond these Isles, and isn't especially easy to explain to native newcomers, much less people with cultural barriers to contend with. Journalists tend to get around the problem by firing the words "surreal", "slapstick", "music hall", "dada", "Gilbert" and "George" around a bit in the hope it does the work justice, but in truth, it seldom does.

As somebody who had previously had a failed career as a lead singer for a variety of experimental and post-punk bands who never quite elevated themselves beyond the bottom of the bill in various small pub venues, let alone got a record contract, it shouldn't have been too surprising that Vic Reeves signed with Island when his career as a comedian took off. He had already been singing ironic cover versions (or were they?) of songs by The Smiths and Bryan Ferry in the "Vic Reeves Big Night Out" series, and the label must have been hoping for a pleasing Christmas stocking filler in 1991, perhaps consisting of similar material.

What we got was actually a very sympathetically produced comedy album in "I Will Cure You", which combined a number of party-pleasers with some oddball tunes of the man's own making, not least my personal favourite "Summer of '75" which combined rustic folk charm with crude Shane McGowanisms. "Abide With Me" featured on the album, but was a peculiar item, being neither funny nor frothy. The hymn itself was written by Henry Francis Lyte in 1847 as he lay dying from tuberculosis, and has since become something of a funeral standard, meaning that the associations many listeners have of it are not necessarily pleasant ones.

Uproar commenced from certain religious types in the UK when the track was then issued as dance remix single. "This is like dancing on people's graves!" shouted one Reverend, and a largely-forgotten campaign began to get the BBC to ban the record. Whilst the BBC never did officially ban it, I can't recall hearing it on the radio much during Christmas 1991, and Reeves was thwarted in his frankly bizarre attempt to get the number one spot that year, making do with the paltry number 47 instead.

The song itself is actually quite enjoyable with its vocoder declarations of "Abide With Me!", its sampled and treated choir noises, and Vic's rather too spirited vocals, not to mention the groovy house piano noises The Grid layered on to the single. It does somehow manage to over-ride its slightly morbid tone and become a winter solstice disco number rather than a pean to death, but it has to be said that of all the ideas Vic Reeves ever came out with, this surely has to be one of the oddest. That Island thought it might be a hit is odder still. When Lyte lay dying in his bed, his last thought surely can't have been "And when I die, at least my song will be immortalised by a surreal Northern comedian in the next century".

You can view the video here, and download the single by clicking on this link.

1. Abide With Me (12" Version)
2. Abide With Me (Holy Dub)
3. Black Night (Full Length 7")
4. Abide With Me (Acapella)

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