93. Adam Faith – What Do You Want? (1959)

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December 1959: the decade is drawing to a close, but before it does, two shipping disasters take place within three days of each other in Scotland. At Duncansby Head on 6 December, a severe gale causes Aberdeen trawler George Robb to run aground, killing all 12 crew members. Two days later at Broughty Ferry, the lifeboat Mona capsized, and all eight crew members were lost at sea.

The same week, a new British star was born when Adam Faith went to number 1 for the first time with What Do You Want?. He was to remain one of the biggest UK pop singers of the next five years, and the song also helped producer John Barry make his name.

Faith was born Terence Nelhams-Wright in Acton in June 1940. Despite his rather posh-sounding real name, he grew up in a council house in a working-class area. After leaving school he became an odd-job boy for a silk-screen printers. By 1957 he was working as a film cutter and hoping to make his way into acting. Like so many others, he loved skiffle, and sang with and managed the Worried Men. Faith made his television debut with the group on the BBC’s Six-Five Special. Series producer Jack Good was impressed and with his help, Adam Faith was born and began recording with HMV. However, Faith got nowhere and by 1959 he was working as a film cutter once more. Faith had got to know John Barry, leader of the John Barry Seven, when they appeared in a stage show of Six-Five Special, and suggested Faith audition for new BBC music show Drumbeat. Faith was growing in popularity and recorded for several different labels but was yet to make an impact on the charts. However, he still held ambitions to also be an actor, and after having lessons he won a part in forthcoming rock’n’roll movie Beat Girl (1960). As Barry was working so closely with Faith, the film company asked him to write the score, and there began John Barry’s long, highly-successful career in film soundtrack scores, writing the themes from Jaws and the James Bond films, among so many others.

Faith signed to EMI’s Parlophone, then primarily a label for comedy acts such as the Goons. While working on Drumbeat, he and Barry got to know singer Johnny Worth, who was a member of vocal quartet the Raindrops. Worth aspired to be a songwriter and Faith and Barry saw potential in his song What Do You Want? Worth was worried about his contract stipulations and so adopted the pseudonym Les Vandyke for his writing credit.

What Do You Want? is Britain’s answer to Buddy Holly’s It Doesn’t Matter Anymore. John Burgess’s production of John Barry’s pizzicato string arrangement closely matches Holly’s song, and is by far the best thing about this short but sweet slice of pop (at only 1 minute and 38 seconds long, it’s still the shortest ever UK number 1). It introduces Faith as a cheeky cockney version of Buddy Holly, who is lovelorn and dying to know what it will take to get his girl’s love. Unfortunately Faith’s vocals are far too similar to the recently deceased singer, and although back then it seemed perfectly acceptable for British singers to mimic their US influences, today his hiccuping sounds a bit embarrassing, as does his over-the-top ‘baby’. But it’s over in a flash and the strings stay with you afterwards, and in 1959 this will have all sounded pretty impressive and an exciting signpost to where British pop might end up in the forthcoming decade.

What Do You Want? narrowly missed out on the Christmas number 1 spot. In its third and final week at the top it shared the position with Emile Ford and the Checkmates’ similarly-titled What Do You Want to Make Those Eyes at Me For?, which overtook Faith on Christmas Day. Nonetheless, Faith would be a familiar UK chart presence for the next few years.

Written by: Les Vandyke

Producer: John Burgess

Weeks at number 1: 3 (4 -24 December)

Births:

Fashion designer Jasper Conran – 12 December 

Deaths:

Painter Stanley Spencer – 14 December 

77. Lord Rockingham’s XI – Hoots Mon (1958)

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On 13 September 1958, Oh Boy!, the first all-music show for teenagers began on ITV. Producer Jack Good had previously worked on the BBC’s Six-Five Special, but had wanted to make it music-only. When the BBC declined, he resigned. The show featured top stars and future hit-makers, including Cliff Richard, Shirley Bassey, Conway Twitty and Billy Fury. The show’s house-band were Lord Rockingham’s XI, a group of session musicians led by Harry Robinson, who had also worked on Six-Five Special. Other notable members included Benny Green on saxophone (he later became a Radio 2 presenter) and Hammond organ player Cherry Rainer.

In addition to backing artists on the show, they began recording novelty instrumentals for Decca. First single Fried Onions didn’t chart, but Robinson was on to a winner when he decided they should record a jazz-rock’n’roll hybrid version of traditional Scottish song The Hundred Pipers. The lyrics were ditched and replaced with four terrible over-the-top Scottish dialect outbursts, namely, ‘Och aye’, ‘Hoots mon’, ‘There’s a moose loose aboot this hoose’ and ‘It’s a braw, bricht, moonlicht nicht’. As Robinson was Scottish he decided he should be the one to perform these, risking inciting hatred from his fellow countrymen. All in all, it sounds like a terrible idea, doesn’t it?

It wasn’t. Hoots Mon is an excellent novelty single and I love the fact something like this was once able to make it number 1. The band are having a whale of a time, and it’s infectious, you really can’t help but enjoy it too. It’s also surprisingly heavy sounding for its time. Apparently, the engineer wasn’t happy with the bass and wanted the band to re-record it. Record buyers with lightweight needles even complained that the vinyl would jump, and it became banned in some factories as workers couldn’t stand the noise. It would have made a great Christmas number 1 and nearly was, but Conway Twitty’s It’s Only Make Believe overtook it after three weeks at the top.

Oh Boy! was replaced in 1959 by another Good project, Boy Meets Girls. Lord Rockingham’s XI hadn’t been able to maintain their fame, and also had to settle out of court with the real Lord Rockingham (hang on, there’s a real Lord Rockingham?), so they disbanded at the same time. Robinson moved into arranging and conducting songs for musicals, and subsequently became a noteworthy string arranger for several folk artists of the late 1960s. In particular, his work on Nick Drake’s River Man is sublime and sometimes I think it might be the best use of strings I’ve ever heard in a ‘pop’ song.

I first heard Hoots Mon, like lots of 50s and 60s songs, in an advert. Maynard’s Wine Gums used it in 1993 and rewrote the most famous line, coming up with ‘There’s juice loose aboot this hoose’. A mad caricature of a Scotsman manically chews sweets while items around the house come to life courtesy of Aardman Animations (incidentally, this very track was number 1 when Nick Park was born. Clearly, it was meant to be). If only all adverts were as ridiculous and fun as this. I hope Robinson enjoyed this remake. Sadly he passed away in 1996.

One of my favourite groups of all time, the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, reformed in 2006 for an amazing anniversary gig at the London Astoria. One of the live highlights of my life, they decided to carry on for a while, and released an album, Pour l’amour des Chiens in 2007. It was patchy, but one of the highlights was Hawkeye the Gnu (get it?) a reworked version of Hoots Mon, featuring vocals from Stephen Fry. An inspired decision, and I’m only surprised the band never recorded it in their original incarnation.

While Hoots Mon was riding high, The British Electronic Computer Exhibition, the world’s first of its kind, was held at Earl’s Court in London. It ran from 28 November to 4 December. On 30 November, viewers of Armchair Theatre were left puzzled when actor Gareth Jones disappeared inbetween scenes during the play Underground. The drama was broadcast live, and Jones had suffered a fatal heart attack. Bizarrely, his character was supposed to suffer one later in the programme. The rest of the cast were forced to improvise an ending, which I imagine was a bit of a mess. As winter began, the country’s first motorway, the Preston Bypass, was opened by Prime Minister Harold Macmillan on 5 December.

Written and produced by: Harry Robinson 

Weeks at number 1: 3 (28 November-18 December)

Births:

Animator Nick Park – 6 December

Deaths:

Actor Gareth Jones – 30 November