Monday, May 17, 2010

Do the Freddie


I don't get nostalgic about pop music by and large. In fact I hate most of it.
Like the movies, pop music obviously goes into decline around the time of the Second World War, and the sound of Elvis Presley is the sound of nails being hammered into the genre's coffin. And don't get me started on the Beatles.
Actually do. When are people going to grow up and see these amateur twang merchants for what they are? They sounded bad enough at the time. Now they don't sound like anything at all; just a vaguely perceptible noise that seems to be coming through the wall from the house next door.
I left a comment on somebody's site a week or so back about the Marx Brothers' film Duck Soup, explaining that though it is one of my least favourite Marx films, it's still a Marx film, and therefore I still enjoy it more than almost anything else in the universe, just not as much as most other Marx films. And the guy said, yeah, it's like Beatles songs: you have to look a long time before you find a bad one.
Oh, I don't know. There's Yesterday, for example, and that one about needing love. (There's nothing you can do that can't be done... So true.) There were a dozen or so on Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band last time I heard it, including a real doozy called A Day in the Life. Still gives me a chuckle just thinking about it. Is John Lennon a genius? No. He's an ass. How profound are the lyrics to Eleanor Rigby? Answer: not at all. They're like a schoolboy wrote them.
Where was I going with this? Oh, yes. There are exceptions to every rule, and for some reason I must confess to an affection bordering on adoration for Freddie and the Dreamers. The late Freddie Garrity was one of the great oddballs of British culture, as well as one of its most refreshingly unpretentious. A friend of mine remembered his father, who worked with Freddie in the sixties, describing him as "an amiable former milkman from Manchester who couldn't quite believe the amount of sex he was suddenly getting." (One of the rules of being a pop star, I always think, is that you must never be pretentious, as you are making a great living doing one of the silliest, most trivial and least important things imaginable. Bob Dylan! Goodness me.)
Obviously, I love Freddie's stage presence, all that silly leaping around, and the man looks amazing with his big specs and curly hair: that much is obvious. But I also have a genuine affection for most of their songs. Some of the most interesting are to be found among their last, dating from that period of frantic activity when those big booby Beatles made pop even sillier by suddenly pretending to go all serious about it. Freddie and the boys obviously could never go po-facedly into the experimental age: their image forbade it. So instead, they briefly - all too briefly - took the Kinks route by way of Bonzos Avenue, and produced one of the greatest singles of all time: the fantastic Brown and Porters (Meat Exporters) Lorry, a song about which everything is perfect, from the title on.
Sadly, no film of them performing it seems to exist; it's odds-on they never got the chance to perform it again after the first recording. Their last single that had got anywhere near charting was Thou Shalt Not Steal, which reached the dizzy height of number 44 in 1965; Brown and Porters, in 1967, was their fifth in a row to not chart at all.
Freddie revived the Dreamers as a cabaret act in the nineties, though I'll bet nobody was shouting for Brown and Porters come encore time. I would have been, though. Now it's too late.
But here they all are again, with Garrity in exceptionally foolish form even by the man's own high standards, doing the Freddie in 1965. As well as great in itself, it's a lovely example of something you don't get with music acts on tv these days: the clearly audible sound of their feet banging on the stage.
Imagine no John Lennon. It's easy if you try.