17 November 2021

Maddy Prior - Stookie/ Incidental Music From Stookie


Steeleye Span member takes on theme tune for edgy children's drama

Label: Making Waves
Year of Release: 1985

Children's television often had an unexpected grit and edge in the seventies and eighties, from "Grange Hill" with its highly accurate portrayal of the average British comprehensive as a jungle, to the weird Celtic legend creepiness of "The Owl Service". Both those series are now the stuff of legend, and have a reputation as being unrepeatable as pre-watershed, post-school fare (note: I'm not actually sure whether this is or isn't the case, but feel free to have a debate in your own mind about it). 

"Stookie", however (named after the Glaswegian slang for a headbutt) seems to have fallen out of many people's memory banks despite its edginess, possibly because it only managed one series in 1985. Featuring David McKay playing the sauntering, leathered up, spiked collar wearing main character, it chronicled the complex moral dilemmas posed by a teenager's life on a rough Glasgow estate, run-ins with the police and criminals included. 

If this all sounds like a tad too bleak for afternoon weekday television and not at all the kind of thing we should have been serving up to junior Gen X'ers at the time - and I'm quite sure someone wrote in to complain precisely along those lines - "Stookie" himself was, despite his budget Billy Idol appearances, a measured sort who generally played fair in the longer run, even if you probably wouldn't have wanted to get on the wrong side of one of his football pitch tackles.

The logical choice for a theme tune singer for such a series would have been someone familiar with sharp, edgy riffs and spiky noises, perhaps one of the many Scottish underground groups doing the rounds at the time. Instead, folkie Maddy Prior got the job, an eccentric bit of hiring which could have been close to a disaster. Weirdly though, it makes complete sense, and almost certainly sounds less off-putting than The Jesus and Mary Chain squealing out of the telly at 4pm would have done.

Prior takes the familiar tactic of providing an outline sketch of the main character and his dilemmas in the lyrics (also adopted by "In Sickness And In Health" and the lesser-appreciated "Mickey Dunne" which has an entire bloody series worth of scenarios in its lyrics) thereby ensuring that anyone tuning in for the first time by the second or third programme already felt settled. "Black leather studded aggression with hours to fill", she sings, "no-one at home for me/ baked beans again for tea/ and school is a joke". This maudlin intro, which has more in common with Pulp's "Joyriders" than the a typical kid's TV theme, soon gives way to a triumphant chorus showing that despite his unpromising background Stookie is "the hero of the day". So that's OK then. 

It's also a long way from being a Steeleye Span styled track, with lots of precise eighties drum patterns and burping slap basslines dominating the proceedings. In fact, the "Incidental Music" B-side ups the ante further and introduces bits of boisterous chanting and the kind of rhythms the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu might have put on their own flipsides a couple of years later. Don't get too excited, though - nobody raps with a Glaswegian accent here.

The whole thing is enough of a success that the theme tune is probably more remembered than the drama and hijinks that occurred in the show itself, but it still didn't chart. Children's TV theme tunes generally didn't in the eighties, and even the rare exceptions that did - such as Billy Connelly's spirited theme to "Super Gran" - tended not to burst into the Top Ten, instead selling steadily over a long period of time. 

While this has inevitably become a somewhat overlooked and absurd entry in her discography, it certainly didn't harm Prior's career at all, and she remains a respected folk singer to this day, receiving an MBE for her services to the genre in 2001. As for Stookie himself, who knows, but the eighties tended not to be terribly kind to people from his background whatever their moral outlook or intentions, so let's keep our fingers crossed for the heroic fictional character.

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Arthur Nibble said...

Maddy Prior released a follow-up on Making Waves, whose final release appears to have been a single by fellow folkies Pentangle. Having written them and many other record companies an on-spec letter, as I was on the dole and wanted to get a job in record marketing, I got an interview with Making Waves, who managed one hit (a number 21 doowop cover of "Dancing In The Dark" by Big Daddy). Headquarters were in a second floor flat overlooking the Distict Line near Gunnersbury. The boss admitted he couldn't take me on 'yet' and would let me know if they had a vacancy. The label packed up the following year.

23 Daves said...

Interesting! Whenever I've looked up the addresses of some of these smaller labels on Google Maps - which isn't something I make a habit of doing, but curiosity sometimes gets the better of me if it seems like they were operating in a part of London I'm familiar with - it often looks as if they were ran out of a private dwelling. I did a Google Map search on Towerbell while researching an entry I was writing on The Look, and that just seemed to be a residential house.

As for Big Daddy, I remember there was a lot of hype about them at the time, but it all seemed to go quiet after that one hit.

Arthur Nibble said...

I see what you mean about Towerbell's headquarters! The Look were obviously fed up with their previous label, as (courtesy of 45cat) the run-off groove of "Tonight" questions why the band were with them - it says "YMCA?"

23 Daves said...

Ha! Yes... when your first single only starts to take off because a Radio One DJ (Simon Bates) actually nags the record label on-air to start marketing it properly, it's hardly the best of starts. I don't think they were ever a priority of MCA's.