26 September 2021

Punch - Ballad Of The Good Luck Charm/ On The Gang

BBC Documentary stars with sole 45

Label: Bus Stop
Year of Release: 1976

Most of the one single wonders we feature on "Left and to the Back" leave behind virtually no trail whatsoever and I'm occasionally left to try and pull the pieces together over the course of weeks, months or even (in some cases) years. Thank God for Punch then, who left a BBC documentary behind to inform us all. Seldom are things ever that easy. 

In 1976, BBC North decided to film a documentary about life on the road for the group as they wheeled around the working man's and variety club circuit. During the sixties and seventies, being a reasonably popular club band could be a perfectly acceptable way of cutting a living as a musician and might even see you getting promoted to the cruise ships or, in the more talented and lucky cases, genuine mainstream stardom. While it was never a credible route to success and the music press were often very sniffy about the circuit, keeping a drunken club crowd satisfied in a rough town on a Friday night required entertainment chops and versatility most of the more fashionable acts didn't have. Just ask Pink Floyd how they fared in Hull on a Friday night in the sixties. 

"Punch On The Road" is actually an astonishing historical document of a bygone scene and era. It doesn't pretend to be glamorous and shows the roadie-less group ruining their backs lugging their own gear around, driving their own van, and turning up to play seedy looking pebble-dashed establishments under iron coloured skies. Inside these unpromising exteriors lay either enthusiastic crowds letting their hair down, or a small gaggle of moody middle aged pint sippers staring through the musicians, gently passing time with a mild interest. It underlines the economic and practical realities of being a live musician during that period - at one point, the group reveal they've written their own songs but a working man's club crowd come to hear songs they know, not new material. Their time to unveil these would have to wait until they reached the next rung on the ladder.

Sadly for Punch, the next step up was to go into the studio to record this Mitch Murray and Peter Callender composition "Ballad Of The Good Luck Charm", so record buying punters never did get to hear their work. In the documentary, the group show themselves to be highly professional vocal harmony singers as well as strong musicians, but the former doesn't really get much of an outing on this single. It's a jaunty, quirky tune with marching rhythms and an ambitious arrangement, skidding all over the road stylistically speaking, sounding in places like Sparks, in other parts like Paper Lace, then other areas like a country rock band moonlighting as a glam era pop act. It's interesting to say the least, but sounds more like a strong album track than a band's debut single, and for that reason alone it's not surprising it sold poorly. 

The group tackle a complicated and ever-shifting melody with aplomb, though, showing that all those years ploughing around the circuit have clearly paid off. Besides the documentary it is, to the best of my knowledge, the only recorded evidence of their work. 

The determination and doggedness on display in the documentary is at times both endearing and achingly sad from a 2021 perspective. I knew very well the group weren't going to make it before the show had even begun, but their zealous grafting made me rush over to various discogs sites to cross my fingers and hope against hope they did at least manage one very minor hit I might have missed. Sadly though, the realities of showbusiness are laid bare here and the most they offered the world was a damn good time in a North Eastern seaside town which, let's be honest, is more than most of us have ever achieved. 

It almost goes without saying, but if you used to be in Punch please do leave a comment or drop me a line. I'd love to know what you did next. I'm lead to understand that the group continued gigging for a few more years after this single failed, but eventually moved on to other things; I hope some of those things involved a continued attachment to the live circuit. 

As for "Ballad Of The Good Luck Charm", it eventually turned up again as the A-side to one of the actor Larry Hagman's singles. Eesh. 

If the previews below aren't working properly, go right to the source


rntcj said...


Thanx for this one. A "new" artist = "new" hears here. Recognize relation to Paper Lace including US historical reference. Always thought Paper Lace was a US band while growing up & listening to them on 1050 CHUM-AM in Toronto.

Ciao! For now.

Arthur Nibble said...

I watched the documentary and then found myself viewing a similar one (but three times the length) about pre-hit Kursaal Flyers. A bygone age indeed.

23 Daves said...

I haven't watched the Kursaal Flyers one yet, but need to do so due to local connections I have. Thanks for the reminder!

Anonymous said...

the night Billy was reborn in Chicago