Friday, 27 August 2010

Scaffold: Live In 1968


The Spring of 1968,
and Scaffold are the bridge from Pop, into poetry.
They have records in the charts, and Roger McGough
is part of the era’s biggest-selling poetry anthology.
A combination worth investigating… surely?

Scaffold. Think about it. The last UK hanging took place in 1964, although capital punishment stayed on the statute book until 16 December 1969, when Home Secretary James Callaghan finally deleted it. The Scaffold was the instrument of execution involved. So, choosing to perform as Scaffold is pretty much radically bad-taste. As confrontational as transsexual Punk-Rocker W/Jayne County calling his/her band the Electric Chairs. Even though the edginess, for McGough, McGear and Gorman, seldom strays beyond their group-name. Back then I can’t say I gave the name much consideration. It was just Scaffold, that trio of fun Liverpudlian humorists. We’d seen them on TV doing catchy schoolboy ditty “Thank U Very Much” in their matching white vaudeville suits. For radio airplay it even gushes ‘thank you very much for playing this record’. How cheekily neat is that? The hits provide a connection to a wider audience. To, for example, me. It makes them a malleable part of quirky-Pop. Stand-up comedians with an ear for a good tune. Poets with a smart line in patter. A Pop group with arty aspirations. We know McGear is really McCartney. And that McGough is a poet. But poems are pretentious stuff with intimations of fey effeminacy. You gotta be careful not to let your guard down. Poufs read poems. Not regular blokes. As Eric Burdon says, working class youth ‘feel more pain but laugh much louder’. Arty stuff is not for the likes of thee and me. Don’t get above yourself. But I buy the book anyway, ‘The Mersey Sound’ (Penguin Modern Poets No.10, 1967), so becoming one of its quarter-of-a-million sales, helping to make it the biggest poetry anthology of the age. If the book were a 45rpm record, sales like that would buy it into the Top Ten.

Poetry is weird stuff. A landscape without maps. Dust-dry boring. But with intriguing intimations that there’s something in there that might just be good. And worth finding… if only you can figure out the right way in. McGough is one way in. This early-spring night Scaffold is on at the red-brick University annexe off Cottingham’s King Street. A short stroll there, past the Village Green and the ‘Tiger’ pub. My girlfriend at the time is dismayed as we walk into the venue to find there’s no chairs, instead you squat cross-legged on the parquet floor, although someone’s thoughtfully provided coloured scatter-cushions. Soon, after a pause of shuffling and small-talk, they’re collectively lining up to do “2-Day’s Monday”, just the three of them, no backing musicians or elaborate props, McGear opening with a dumb-and-dumber voice, ‘Monday is washing day’. And it was. In the kind of terraced houses you see in ‘Coronation Street’ or ‘Bread’, back then, without techno-appliance, the household wash takes all day, and backyards balloon with billowing pegged-out bed-linen and intimidating items of otherwise-concealed feminine underwear. There’s a scene in ‘Get Carter’ in which a fleeing Michael Caine accelerates his getaway car down a back-alley where drooping washlines are strung out flagging across the street side-to-side. It was like that on washing-day Mondays. The other days of the week duly follow – Tuesday is soup, Wednesday is roasta beef, Thursday is shepherd’s pie, Friday is fish, Saturday is payday, before, with hushed mock-reverence and hands steepled in prayer, it’s ‘Sunday is church’. For some, it still was. Each Scaffold takes a verse before building the chorus-harmony repetitions together. Part kids-chant, part-folksong, it was wholly Liverpool. ‘Is everybody happy? You bet your life we are’. On stage, every now and then McGear betrays something of his genetic McCartney link, without the fab chipmunk cuteness. Although all three sing, write and share a scouse wit, within their conjunction of talents it’s fair to hazard that McGear has the voice, McGough the words, and Gorman the comedy. A possible contender for the Goodies, the prematurely folliclely-challenged John Gorman occupies the oddly-shaped centre-space. ‘NME’ journalist Roy Hollingworth once claimed he had the face of ‘an amiable cod’, hastily adding ‘amiable, intelligent, cod’. And the gormful John contributes his ‘Father John’ spoof preaching monologue, as later he would embody the stage-persona of McGough’s ‘PC Plod’.

McGough is clean-shaven, open-neck shirt, but with glasses to denote a certain schoolteacherly intellect. Now he’s doing “Goodbat Nightman”, a poem, but one full of comfortingly familiar iconography and Pop-culture references. Oddly, all three ‘Mersey Sound’ poets write Batman poems… actually, it’s absurd to suggest there were just three poets writing on Merseyside. There weren’t. But just as Brian Epstein signed the Beatles, Gerry Marsden and Billy J Kramer, and they became the face of the 1963 Mersey Beat Boom, so Penguin signed Adrian Henri, Roger McGough and Brian Patten, and they became the three ‘Mersey Poets’. And each of them write ‘Batman’ poems. In an era of enlightened atheism it’s no longer authentically possible to appeal to the spiritual yearnings of a William Blake, so in moments of anguish where do you direct your deepest existential angst? DC & Marvel superheroes provide the ideal contemporary stand-in. The Adam West TV-series was a tongue-in-cheek cult trend. The comicbook strips were being plundered by Pop Art from Roy Liechtenstein to Peter Blake. It provides a bridge, a conduit to audience-recognition. It ticks all the boxes. So can their ‘Batman’ poems be used as poetic litmus to compare and contrast their strengths and credibilities? Patten constructs a melancholy elegy to the ‘lost celluloid companions’ he’d left behind beyond the event-horizon of adolescence. Adrian Henri’s more muscular invocation ironically urges the caped crusader to ‘help us out in Vietnam… help us bomb the jungle towns, spreading pain and death around’. While Roger McGough’s offers an appealingly amusing word-game about batjamas, batwater-bottles, batbeds with battresses. It closes ‘Batman and Robin are saying their prayers’. And this night, and pretty much every night he reads it, it works perfectly. Then “Let Me Die A Youngman’s Death” is a more considered ‘hope I die before I get old’ meditation on the prospect of physical ageing, voicing a desire to grow old disgracefully and be ‘mown down by a bright red sports car on my way home from an allnight party’ at 73, or cut up by my mistress ‘catching me in bed with her daughter’ aged 104, she throws away ‘every piece but one’, leaving us to snigger-guess which part of the diced poet she chooses to keep.

For McGough, coming here tonight is something of a slight return. It was at Hull University he took his French and Geography BA, then he taught here for three years. It was only when he returned from east coast back to west-coast Liverpool in the early sixties that it began. By colliding with Adrian Henri and fifteen-year-old Brian Patten at Liverpool L8’s ‘Streats Coffee Bar’ in 1961. A meeting that eventually resulted in their breakthrough three-handed anthology. But first, in 1962 McGough appeared in the Merseyside Arts Festival as part of ‘The Liverpool Oat-Lady All-Electric Show’, with Post Office engineer and sometime comedy actor John Gorman, and Michael ‘Blank’. Being step-brother to the famous Paul presents problems as well as opportunities. To conceal, or to exploit? McGear’s first published photo – in ‘Mersey Beat’, credits him as ‘Francis Michael’. In 1963, after an Edinburgh Festival stint, the by-then performing trio graduate onto Granada-TV’s weekly magazine programme ‘Gazette’ for a six-month run and they turn pro. It’s only now that Mike became ‘McGear’, playing on the Liverpool ‘it’s the gear’ slang. But “Thank U Very Much” provides the first hit. The story goes that Mike was phoning Paul to say ‘thank you very much’ for the gift of the Nikon camera, and the phrase velcro’d in his head. Adding thanks for the Sunday joint, our national beverage, the union jack, the ‘Sunday Times’, the birds and bees, our gracious Team... and the Aintree Iron. Then “1-2-3” – with trendy sitar on the record, is lyrically simpler on the ‘one two, buckle my shoe’ nursery-rhyme construction, although Paul would soon use the same device for “All Together Now” on the ‘Yellow Submarine’ soundtrack.

Although George Melly saw their ‘satirico-Pop’ taking in ‘verbal and visual sniping at the establishment’, Scaffold was seldom heavy arts. Sure, the first side of their ‘L The P’ (1969) album is catchy tunes, but flip it over to the ‘Humour & Poetry’ side and there’s stronger performance material skirting vaguely naughty bits while taking in politics and sacrilege (‘blasphemy, blas-for-you, blas-for-everyone’ as Eddie Izzard phrases it!), with satire on race and TV quiz shows. To McGough ‘we didn’t see it as high art or low art, they were just what we did’, they being the songs. Yes, that sentence doesn’t quite hang together, but you get the drift? To Gorman, ‘we simply wish to express our art-form in direct contact with the audience’. So they form a self-contained three-man alternative cabaret. With an across-the-boards appeal frequently likened – by those who could remember, to the Alberts, the London group formed by Tony and Douglas Gray, and favoured by the likes of Peter Cooke and Spike Milligan. But Scaffold’s appeal goes way-further, it goes national with “Lily The Pink”, a million-seller no.1 throughout December 1968. Essentially, it’s a music hall novelty song about the miraculous and most efficacious ‘medicinal compound’ which enables Ebenezer to become ‘emperor of Rome’, gives Mr Frears with the sticky-out ears the ability to fly, cures Robert Tony’s anorexia to the extent that they have to ‘move him round on wheels’, and sex-changes Jennifer Eccles so that the girl from the Hollies hit-song can ‘join in all their games’. But everyone knew it, everyone liked it. So, if Scaffold were not exactly hip-credible, they were impossible to dislike, and were still very much part of the UFO ‘Liverpool Love Festival’ with Adrian Henri, Mike Evans and Andy Roberts, 23 June 1967. For the future – in the early seventies, all three Scaffolds became part of the Grimms, while also diversifying into solo work. They continued as stage and club performers, while also maintaining disparate individual careers. The final Scaffold gig was April Fools Day 1977 at the Royal Albert Hotel – although they reunited for a Granada-TV ‘What’s On’ for the tenth anniversary of “Lily The Pink”. And reconvened for a celebration of the ailing Adrian Henri at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall (21 March 2000)… But all of that still lay in the future when I saw Scaffold at the red-brick University annexe off King Street. It wound up a fun evening, with the added frisson of that fugitive ingredient ‘culture’. Emboldened, I next bought ‘Penguin Modern Poets no.5’ – Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gregory Corso, and Allen Ginsberg, and things were never quite the same again. So, I guess, thank you very much, for playing that Cottingham gig in 1968, thank you very much, thank you very very very much…


Roger McGough (born 9 November 1937 in Litherland),
John Gorman (4 January 1937)
Mike McGear (7 January 1944)

6 May 1966 – “2-Days Monday” c/w “3 Blind Jellyfish” (Parlophone R5443) Prod: George Martin
2 Dec 1966 – “Goodbat Nightman” c/w “Long Strong Black Pudding” (Parlophone R5548) Prod: John Burgess. ‘Another Batman send-up and rather funny’ says the ‘Record Mirror’ reviewer
4 Nov 1967 – “Thank U Very Much” c/w “Ide B The First” (Parlophone R5643) Prod: Tony Palmer. Reaches no.4
15 Mar 1968 – “Do You Remember?” c/w “Carry On Krow” (Parlophone R5679) Prod: Norrie Paramor. Reaches no.34
14 Jun 1968 – “1-2-3” c/w “Today” (Parlophone R5703)
18 Oct 1968 – “Lily The Pink” c/w “Buttons Of Your Mind” (Parlophone R5734). Produced by Norrie Paramor, engineered by Peter Brown. Andy Roberts guitar on ‘B’-side. Reaches no.1
Jun 1969 – “Charity Bubbles” c/w “Goose” (Parlophone R5784)
Oct 1969 – “Gin Gan Goolie” c/w “Liver Birds” (Parlophone R5812) Reaches no.38
Jun 1970 – “All The Way Up” c/w “Please Sorry” (Parlophone R5847) theme from the movie
Oct 1970 – “Bus Dreams” c/w “If I Could Start All Over Again” (Parlophone R5866)
Oct 1971 – “Do The Albert” c/w “Commercial Break” (Parlophone R5922)
Nov 1973 – “Lily The Pink” c/w “Thank U Very Much” + “Do You Remember?” (EMI2085)
May 1974 – “Liverpool Lou” c/w “Ten Years After On Strawberry Jam” (Warner Bros K16400) Prod: Paul McCartney. Reaches no.7
Dec 1974 – “Mummy Won’t Be Home For Christmas” c/w “The Wind Is Blowing” (Warner Bros K16488)
Mar 1975 – “Leaving of Liverpool” c/w “Pack Of Cards” (Warner Bros K16521)
Oct 1976 – “Wouldn’t It Be Funny If You Didn’t Have A Nose” c/w “Mr. Noselighter” (Bronze BRO33) ‘larf? I nearly puked’ says the ‘NME’ single review
Apr 1977 – “How D’You Do” c/w “Paper Underpants” (Bronze BRO39)
Oct 1977 – “Lily The Pink” c/w “Thank U Very Much” + “Do You Remember?” + “Gin Gan Goolie” (EMI2690)


Apr 1972 – “Woman” c/w “Kill” (Island WIP6131)
Sep 1974 – “Leave It” c/w “Sweet Baby” (Warner Bros K16446) Reaches no.36
Feb 1975 – “Sea Breezes” (Bryan Ferry song) c/w “Giving Grease a Ride” (Warner Bros K16520)
Jul 1975 – “Dance the Do” c/w “Norton” (Warner Bros K16573)
Nov 1975 – “Simply Love You” c/w “What Do We Really Know” (Warner Bros K16658)
Jun 1976 – “Do Nothing All Day” c/w “A to Z” (EMI2485)
May 1980 – “All The Whales In The Ocean” c/w “I Juz Want What You Got - Money!” (Carrere CAR144)
Jul 1981 – “No Lar Di Dar (Is Lady Di)” c/w “God Bless Our Gracious Queen” (Conn CONN29781)


May 1968 – ‘MCGOUGH AND MCGEAR’ (Parlophone PMC/PCS7047, reissued as EMI CDP7-91877-2 in April 1989), does not feature John Gorman, but lists Graham Nash, Dave Mason, Zoot Money & Andy Roberts. Recorded and promoted as an Apple project, was issued too early for the label itself
Jul 1968 – ‘THE SCAFFOLD’ (Parlophone PMC/PCS7051), reissued in 2006 as ‘LIVE AT THE QUEEN ELIZABETH HALL 1968’ (Él ACMEM63CD), includes “2-Days Monday”, “Virginity” and closes with “Thank U Very Much” + McGough poems “Poem For National LSD Week” & “Let Me Die A Youngman’s Death”
May 1969 – ‘L THE P’ (Parlophone PMC/PCS7077) recorded at EMI 12 January 1969, Prod: Norrie Paramor with Music: Side 1, Humour & Poetry Side 2
May 1973 – ‘FRESH LIVER’ (Island ILPS9234) Prod: Tom Newman, with Andy Roberts, Neil Innes, Zoot Money, Gerry Conway, Doris Troy
Feb 1975 – ‘SOLD OUT’ (Warner Bros K56067) with Zoot Money, Lol Crème, Ollie Halsall, Frank Rocotti
Oct 1982 – ‘THE SCAFFOLD SINGLES A'S AND B'S’ (See For Miles CM114), 22-tracks from EMI & Warner Bros
Feb 1992 – ‘THE BEST OF THE EMI YEARS: THE SCAFFOLD, THE SONGS’ (EMI CDP7 985022), 20-track compilation
Feb 1998 – ‘THE VERY BEST OF THE SCAFFOLD’ (Wise Buy WB885572), 12-tracks from EMI & Warner Bros
Aug 1998 – ‘THE SCAFFOLD AT ABBEY ROAD, 1966-1971’ (EMI 7243-496435-2-9), containing 26 EMI tracks, including 8 previously unreleased
Mar 2002 – ‘THANK U VERY MUCH: THE VERY BEST OF THE SCAFFOLD’ (EMI Gold 7243-5-38474-2-5), contains 26 digitally remastered EMI and Warner Bros tracks
Feb 2008 – ‘LIVERPOOL: THE No.1’s ALBUM’ (EMI 50999-5-19522-2-8), multi-artist album, including one newly-recorded track by Scaffold


Apr 1972 – ‘WOMAN’ (Island ILPS9191) with Mike in Nuns cowl on cover, reissued Edsel EDCD507, Feb., 1997 with four short tracks omitted
Sep 1974 – ‘MCGEAR’ (Warner Bros K56051, reissued See For Miles SEECD339, Apr 1992 with two additional tracks) features Paul & Linda McCartney, Denny Laine, Gerry Conway, Jimmy McCullough, Danny Seiwell. Single “Givin’ Grease A Ride” is co-written & produced by Paul
Dec 1996 – ‘A COLLECTION OF SONGS FOR THE YOUNG HOMELESS OF MERSEYSIDE’ (Merseyside Accommodation Project) anthology with one newly-recorded Mike McCartney track


1977 – ‘GO MAN’ (This Record Co Ltd DJF20491)


1978 – ‘SUMMER WITH MONIKA’ (Island ILPS9551, reissued 1997 on Edel EDCD508) with cover art by Peter Blake, and musicians Andy Roberts, Zoot Money, Dave Olney, Pat Donaldson


AnthonyH said...

mcgough and mcgear also features Jimi Hendrix on one track (possibly two)

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