Tag Archives: music

Xerxes the viola – a music fact-chain

  • The theme music to “Eastenders” (a BBC soap opera on UK TV) is based on an old Hungarian folk song, “Barka macskák történik a sajt” which, literally translated, means “pussy cats are made of cheese”.
  • The famous BBC Maida Vale Studios were, until 1938, a Barnsley Corporation Slipper Baths. Arnold Pelmet (later Lord Pelmet, of Dado), anticipating the formation of the British Broadcasting Corporation by several decades, and the need for studios in Maida Vale by even longer, had the slipper baths dismantled and moved to London in 1887. Listeners to early BBC transmissions from the studios could often hear the splashing of dedicated bathers, who continued to make the journey from Yorkshire for their weekly ablutions, until the bathing areas were drained, following complaints from the BBC Symphony Orchestra.
  • George Orwell referred to Barnsley’s many slipper baths in his book, “The Road to Wigan Pier”. George Orwell (real name, Anthony Lynmouth Blair), wrote many songs, most of which were awful, although “Look out Mrs, I’ve got my clothes pegs!” enjoyed a brief popularity between the wars. George’s writing, however, inspired many songs, including “Sex Crime (1984)”, by the Eurythmics and “Aspidistras Can’t Really Fly”, by Non-existent But Spoilsports Nonetheless.
  • ‘Eurythmics’ is an anagram of “Cue my shirt”, the title of a popular radio programme, broadcast by the BBC during the Second World War. It starred Jimmy Clitheroe, as a seventy-three year-old schoolboy, whose shirt performed in amateur dramatic productions, in the fictitious village of Henley-on-Thames. Sadly, for those keen on developing the concept of fact-loops (see ‘Fact chain’ below), “Cue my shirt” wasn’t broadcast from the Maida Vale Studios.
  • The Dave Stewart, who recorded a cover version of the Lesley Gore hit, “It’s My Party” with Barbara Gaskin, is a completely different person to the Dave Stewart with the same name, who formed the Eurythmics with Scottish diva, Annie Lennox. The identical names came about as a result of a mix-up at an agency, which specialized in providing stage names for up and coming pop stars in the 1980s; Call yourself Dave Stewart Ltd. has since gone out of business. In an ironic coincidence, both Dave Stewarts were christened Max Xerxes.
  • ‘Xerxes’ is a good name for a viola.

Fact-chain:

A ‘fact-chain’ is a list of facts, each of which contains an element from the previous fact in the list, apart from the first fact, which, because it’s the first one, can’t have a preceding fact. Of course, you could say that each fact contains an element, which is featured in the following fact, but then you’d have a similar problem with the last fact in the list. One solution to this would be to ensure that the last fact in the list contains an element, which is featured in the first fact, but would that really be a ‘fact-chain’, or a ‘fact-loop’? Also, although the author isn’t aware of the term ‘fact-chain’ being used in this context before writing this post, it doesn’t necessarily follow that he is the originator of the term. Why have I switched to referring to myself in the third person?  Oh, I’ve stopped now.

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The birth of Scoffle

Scoffle started in mid 1950s London. Teenagers, as they were becoming known, were developing their own cultural identities through rock and roll music, dance and other ideas imported from their exotic and distant American cousins. Although it would be many years before the term ‘fast food’ found its way into popular parlance, the hamburger was already finding favour amongst the newly empowered Youth on both sides of the Atlantic. It was only a matter of time before a fusion of the terpsichorean and epicurean occurred.

The poor “washer-uppers” of London’s myriad cafes and coffee shops soon started using the implements of their trade, as substitutes for the unattainably expensive musical instruments used by the jazz and blues musicians, who influenced what was to become scoffle. In 1955 a down and out plongeur, named Terry Dagenham, assembled a band, which was to set the blueprint for all scoffle combos thereafter. Terry, who chose the stage name “Lenny”, was quick to see the musical possibilities of a piece of string stretched between two waitresses, and it is he who is credited with being the first to carry a rhythm by striking a steel draining board with a knickerbocker glory spoon.

Many other scoffle legends were to emerge over the next five years, including the incomparable Cheryl Croydon and her “Milk-shake Mamas”.  Cheryl and the girls will be remembered for the enigmatic “Two espressos after sunset”, the heart-rending “No starters for table nine” and the epic “Fifty covers before midnight”.

It is Lenny Dagenham however, who was the undisputed king of scoffle. He became as famous for his novelty songs (“Does your relish lose its flavour in the ice-box over night?” and “My old man’s a waiter”) as for his more serious compositions (“Rock Island Diner” and “Seven golden burger buns”).

Unfortunately, the scoffle boom was short-lived and, as the sixties started to swing and the British public started to develop more sophisticated tastes, eschewing the coffee bar for the Chinese restaurant, the hits even dried up for Lenny Dagenham. In 1961 Lenny teamed up with Cheryl Croydon for the innovative “Shake, rattle and spring roll”, featuring Cheryl on chopsticks, but it was not well received by scoffle purists and didn’t threaten the charts.

Scoffle was gone, but no forgotten. It is believed that, prior to forming the Beatles, John, Paul, George and Ringo had all played in scoffle bands – maybe – and scoffle continues to influence song-writers and musicians to this day – probably.

Lenny and Cheryl are no longer with us, but who can honestly say they can order a cup of tea and a slice of toast, at their local greasy spoon, without remembering them?