After Georges Brassens' song of friendship yesterday, let’s visit a Yorkshire-born chansonnier who was highly influenced by the Frenchman, as well as Jacques Brel andCharles Trenet but was admired by, and influenced many later artists including Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker, Momus, Ralph McTell, Morrissey, Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner, and the comedian singer-songwriters Jasper Carrott and Mike Harding. Superbly entertaining, witty and precise, he created four studio albums between 1967 and 1977 as well as a series of live albums. Yet he was also cruelly underrated in his lifetime, and his lack of commercial success contributed to his later alcoholism and death at the age of just 64 in 2002. If only he knew how much is work attracts continued love.
But let us admire his work in all its glory now. The Lodger, taken from a live album recorded at Queen Elizabeth Hall in London in 1970, typifies his style – a deftly dirty, bawdy tale, almost Chaucerian in nature, of a tenant in visited by his landlady’s three daughters who use him for sexual fun. Enjoying himself, but increasingly exhausted, the lodger’s sexual prowess is tested to its limits, until a twist in the end arrives when the landlady herself arrives by his bedside. Thackray’s crisp playing and sheer exuberance in pronouncing every syllable, he uses many phrases not normally found in lyrics (they are indeed “acrobatic and emphatically fine”). He humorously balances the various characters voices perspectives, using superb changes of pace and timing. A genius of wit, charm and guile.
I was amazed, and really rather tired;
I thought I'd given all that I could give.
A little kip was all that I desired,
But I'm British, so my upper lip was stiff.
She was chaotic, idiotic, quite exotic and ecstatic,
Acrobatic and emphatically fine.
All to no good, for when I could open my eyes, to my surprise
I found her mother looking into mine.
"Julie, go to bed!" Julie left the scene.
"Now listen, Ma," I said, "I know the old routine.
"I'll do what you like, but I shall be vexed
"And I'll bloody well go on strike if Grandma's next!"
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