Hare lips can kiss, or so they say...
April 15, 2005 4:03 AM   Subscribe

Jake Thackray doesn't have a lot of fans but the fans that he does have are loyal and devoted.

A dominant inspiration to the modern English Chanton music scene, from the end of the sixties until the early eighties, Jake was never off the television as resident troubadour on shows like the Braden Beat, and That's Life A schoolteacher and a devout Roman Catholic, his songs express an openness and tolerance for dissident sexualities that is rarely associated with modern Christianity. [more]
posted by PeterMcDermott (29 comments total)
There are those who would argue that Jake has a misogynistic streak , though I believe that if you take his ouvre as a whole into account, the exact opposite is true -- though modern sensibilities make some of his lyrics seem a trifle gauche -- many of his greatest songs being composed precisely at the time that Women's Liberation was starting to appear on the political stage. However, even if Jake were to be found guilty as charged on these counts, his best songs reflect a tenderness and a passion that can make you feel the guy deserves a little latitude for his more dubious sentiments.

Unfortunately, Jake never fitted easily into any of the popular genres. Too commercial to be a folk singer, too electric, too jazzy, too pop. And he was never cool enough to be genre-busting. For a couple of decades, he was just that old geezer on the sort of TV programmes that your old mum liked to watch.

But many of us always had a sneaking admiration for the cleverness of his lyrics, and the wonderful timbre of his distinctive Yorkshire voice, even if we'd never dream of buying one of his records, and hadn't heard his voice since he dropped off the TV in the early eighties.

Apparently, Jake quit the business while he was pretty much at the height of his career. He seems to have thought that being a performing monkey is no career for a grown man to have. And a couple of years ago, he died -- poor, but leaving behind a wonderful but underappreciated legacy of songs and performances.

Like everyone else, I'd forgotten about Jake Thackray, until a couple of weeks ago, when a friend dropped me off a copy of one of his CD's and it hasn't been out of the CD tray since.

Unfortunately, it's very difficult to convey much about a musician without being able to link to samples of his music, but there really isn't very much out there. But if you read the introduction to the book of his lyrics, at the bottom of the page you'll find links to I stayed off work today and Jake Thackray's Last Will and Testament.

posted by PeterMcDermott at 4:16 AM on April 15, 2005

Damn. The last URL is malformed as well. I do hate it when people throw up a box to insert your URL into, but they've already stuck the http:// bit in there to get you started.

If you're copying and pasting, you've already got that. If you aren't, how much time is it saving?

Anyway, the last URL should be Jake Thackray's Last Will and Testament
posted by PeterMcDermott at 4:47 AM on April 15, 2005

PeterMcDermot meets MeFi, bad first impression, many years to compensate.

I suggest flowers, chocolate and... oh! Mood music!
posted by NinjaPirate at 5:10 AM on April 15, 2005

Other than the 'more inside,' this is a great post. I'm glad I can hear this guy; he certainly has a unique style. Damn catchy stuff.
posted by adzm at 5:20 AM on April 15, 2005

I do hate it when people throw up a box to insert your URL into, but they've already stuck the http:// bit in there to get you started.

When the link dialog is displayed the http:// is already selected, so if you have a full url in your clipboard just post and it will be replaced leaving you with the correct url. If you are typing the url it helps to have the http:// present saving you the bother of typing it. Where is the problem?

I generally have sympathy for first time posters who mess up, but you there is so much wrong with your post.
posted by kenaman at 5:24 AM on April 15, 2005

who has time to read all that? Is it about music?
posted by bonaldi at 5:26 AM on April 15, 2005

Bah, pay them no mind, PeterMcDermott. Excellent post, fixed my Friday morning. What a fascinating man. It isn't often you find musicians who create catchy tunes *I managed to...ahem...find a few of them* and are, at the same time, reasonably intelligent human beings. Strike that, reasonably well-spoken human beings. Tells a damn fine yarn.

That said, you really should invest in the *more inside* tage. MusicFilter haters will be all over you like bugs on Linux.
Oh yes. I went there.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 5:42 AM on April 15, 2005

It's a shame that most of the focus is on the style and not the substance, because, as like Baby_Balrog says, this is good stuff. I vaguely remember Thackray. Cheers on a good first post, PeterMcDermott. How did your friend come across him, I wonder? (I always have to know the backstory...)
posted by iconomy at 6:00 AM on April 15, 2005

Baby_Balrog; "like bugs on Linux"...?? Explain, please. At least you can find out about bugs on Linux, and they have a good chance of being fixed quickly. Unlike the other guys.
posted by scruss at 6:23 AM on April 15, 2005

I'm trying to put vector linux on a dell laptop (celeron 600mhz, 128meg ram blah blah 2001) and the damned thing keeps destabilizing or something. I've tried every version I could get my hands on. I'm this close, this close I tell you, to illegally downloading Windows ME.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 6:51 AM on April 15, 2005

Thackray does look like an interesting guy, and generally a good post, but frankly, all the chatter from PeterMcDermott is a little excessive even for More Inside. Obviously you're not gonna make the take-up-the-front-page-of-Mefi-with-eight-paragraphs mistake again, but in the future you also might want to either boil your post (including More Inside) down to a more manageable three or four paragraphs, or omit some of your own opinions about him. If you feel strongly about some aspect of the subject you can add it in later comments as the discussion develops. Good luck!
posted by soyjoy at 7:06 AM on April 15, 2005

jake thackray is so playful with english - he's really inspired by george brassens. I feel like you can just read his lyrics and love him just as much as with listening to his music.
I think he has one of my favorite first lines in any song "I love a good bum on a lady, it really makes my day"
posted by klik99 at 7:09 AM on April 15, 2005

Thackray was highly-regarded by me and my wordplay-loving classmates when I was at school in the seventies. This one was always a favourite of mine, although without that distinctive, dry delivery you don't get the full effect, of course.

Thanks for reminding me of one of the more obscure favourites of my youth.
posted by Decani at 7:19 AM on April 15, 2005

They have this thing called metatalk now. Might want to look into it.
posted by delmoi at 7:21 AM on April 15, 2005


OK, thanks for the tips. I'll happily concede that verbosity is one of my many failings, but the truth is that I actually *don't* feel that strongly about any of these things -- I just wanted to
convey some of the complexity of the man and how they relate to his relative obscurity.

Anyway, I only need telling once..


Re: the backstory. My friend was just browsing in HMV and came across one of his CD's for a fiver. A few weeks later, he was around at my house, lending me his copy of Deep in a Dream (anyone read it?) and we got to talking about his wife. He asked me if I was familiar with Thackray, because he felt the song On again! On again! was a perfect account of his relationship. with her.

I should say that I don't really enjoy most music posts on MeFi either, but I thought Thackray was a good subject for discussion because he's so politically incorrect, and yet so profoundly humane, and both at the same time.

On Again! On Again! illustrates that tendency pretty well, in my view.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 7:23 AM on April 15, 2005

What's a "dissident sexuality"? That's a new one.
posted by fungible at 7:56 AM on April 15, 2005

To use more inside you simply state more inside and make the rest of your post it's first comment.
posted by xammerboy at 7:59 AM on April 15, 2005

I can't stand Jake Thackray. Can't stand him. That droning Yorkshire accent (and typical Yorkshire arrogance), that self-satisfied little-England mentality, and above all, that furtive, sniggering attitude to sex.

Talk of his 'openness and tolerance for dissident sexualities' completely misses the point. This is the world of the comic seaside postcard, a world of sexual stereotypes where all young men are horny, all young women are raving nymphos, and all middle-aged women are ugly sex-starved old hags. As for homosexuality, it doesn't exist at all. There is a long tradition of camp double-entendre in English comic songs (the marvellous Douglas Byng, for example), but you won't find any of that in Thackray, who is about as un-camp as any singer could possibly be. Listening to Byng, one has the sense of a performer completely at ease with his own sexuality. Not so with Thackray. I daresay Thackray would have claimed to be tapping into a popular foik tradition of earthy English humour -- but it doesn't sound that way to me. His songs have a guilty fascination with sex which I don't find funny at all.

Having said that, there is one exception: Thackray's best-known song, Sister Josephine, which soars off into a world of gloriously surreal fantasy. Too bad he never managed to pull off the same trick again.
posted by verstegan at 8:14 AM on April 15, 2005

Very good, incredibly informative post!--just needed a bit of conciseness and the [more inside].
posted by Shane at 8:44 AM on April 15, 2005

My dad (a Yorkshireman) used to play his records for me when I was a kid... that probably explains a lot, actually.
posted by krunk at 8:54 AM on April 15, 2005

I'm grateful for this link---I heard about Jake Thackery from reading fellow Scottsman Nick (Momus) Curry's website, but it's been difficult finding info about him.
posted by mert at 9:13 AM on April 15, 2005

Dissident sexuality: I thought the meaning was pretty obvious. If you know what dissident means, you just apply that meaning to people's sexual behaviour.

Ergo: dissident sexuality = a refusal to have your desires governed by other people's sexual norms.

I'll admit that I'm stretching the term somewhat by seeking to apply it to Thackray's characters. Today, adultery and promiscuity aren't regarded as any big deal. Even right-wing moralists like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly appear to think nothing of dumping their wives while they are dying of cancer, or sexually harrassing their junior employees, but I strongly suspect that in the early sixties in the North Riding of Yorkshire, attitudes to such matters were very different.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:53 AM on April 15, 2005

verstegan writes "typical Yorkshire arrogance"

What would you know, you're not even from Yorkshire.

A jest, a foolish jest.
posted by asok at 10:13 AM on April 15, 2005

verstegan: I know where you're coming from but I think you're being more than a little unfair. You don't like Thackray: fine, but I do think most of your criticisms are too broad-crush and don't bear fair analysis.

If you were to lambast the likes of the "Carry On" movies or - even worse - Benny Hill (why is that puerile, wit-free anus so popular in America, anyway?) for displaying a "furtive, sniggering attitude to sex." I'd be right with you. But Thackray wrote about a lot more than sex (as a quick trawl through some of the links will remind you) and his dry wit and pithy use of words and images was several layers of subtlety beyond the seaside postcard. Watching his demeanour and facial expressions during performance makes it very clear that his tongue was well-and-truly lodged in his cheek.

And as Yorkshire accents go, his was a rather gentle one.
posted by Decani at 10:50 AM on April 15, 2005

Umm... "broad-brush", even. Dammit.
posted by Decani at 10:50 AM on April 15, 2005

Guilty of 'broad-brush criticisms' .. oh, the humiliation. How will I ever be able to hold up my head on Metafilter again? I guess I'll just have to learn from you, Decani, with your subtle and nuanced criticisms of the Catholic church.

Of course I was being provocative in my earlier comments. But I do dislike Thackray's songs, and I thought it would be interesting (well, interesting for me, anyway) to try and analyse the reasons for my dislike. Most of the time I have a deep affection for offbeat English eccentricity. But I find Thackray only slightly less unbearable than the sound of fingernails dragging on a blackboard.

I've looked at some of the lyrics again, and they still strike me as a gallery of sexual stereotypes. The henpecked husband, the nagging wife, the sex-mad spinster, the fanatical feminist .. they're all there. And there is nothing remotely 'dissident' about any of this. As I said before, it's the world of the smutty seaside postcard, safe, predictable, and highly conservative.

Orwell famously argued that the seaside postcards were subversive, a 'chorus of raspberries' pricking the pretensions of high culture. I'm not so sure about that. Douglas Byng in drag singing 'I'm One of the Queens of England' in a high-camp falsetto .. now, that's subversive. But Jake Thackray singing 'I love a good bum on a lady' is about as subversive as Samantha Fox. No wonder he found a slot on That's Life, the very model of middlebrow, sideways-look-at-life, ever-so-slightly-saucy-but-fun-for-all-the-family light entertainment.

But hey, I'm just laying my own prejudices on the table. If other people find Thackray amusing, that's fine by me. (And thanks to PeterMcDermott for a thought-provoking post; the first of many, I hope.)
posted by verstegan at 4:16 PM on April 15, 2005

here's a tender eulogy of Thackray by Momus
posted by Kattullus at 11:58 AM on April 16, 2005

verstegan: I see that you have restated your position without actually addressing my criticisms of it. Thanks for that insight into your personality. Also, if you have issues with my criticisms of the Catholic church - which I can, and most assuredly will defend with all the rigour you can tolerate and possibly a fair measure you can't - please spell them out rather than being lazily and non-specifically dismissive of them. I don't appreciate that. No sir. Not even slightly.

Idle query: are you a Monkeyfilterer, by any chance?
posted by Decani at 8:39 PM on April 19, 2005

I'm sorry, Decani, I didn't realise you felt so strongly. I hereby withdraw all my disrespectful remarks about the music of Jake Thackray -- with apologies for the frivolous and irreverent tone of my earlier comments, which I now realise was totally inappropriate. In future I will try not to let my sense of humour get the better of me.
posted by verstegan at 8:34 AM on April 20, 2005

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