262. The Scaffold – Lily the Pink (1968)

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Just prior to Christmas 1968, a case with tragic similarities to the murder of James Bulger in 1993 came to a close with the sentencing of 11-year-old girl Mary Bell from Newcastle upon Tyne on 17 December. In May and July that year she had murdered two young boys, one with her friend Norma Bell, who was acquitted. Bell recieved a life sentence for manslaughter. She was initially sent to the same secure unit as Jon Venables, one of Bulger’s killers. Bell was released in 1980 into anonymity.

It’s a sad irony that the number 1 of the time, and eventual Christmas number 1, was a children’s song. Lily the Pink, by Scouse comedy, poetry and music act the Scaffold, was the first novelty song to become Christmas number 1, but as detailed in Every Christmas Number 1, it was certainly not the last instance of this very British phenomenon.

The Scaffold began with the friendship of entertainer John Gorman, and musical performer Mike McCartney (younger brother of Paul). Together with poets Roger McCough and Adrian Henri they formed the revue known as the Liverpool One Fat Lady All Electric Show back in 1962.

By 1964 Henri had left and they had become the Scaffold. As they rose in popularity, McCartney changed his stage name to Mike McGear, to avoid accusations of using his brother’s name to become famous during Beatlemania. However, considering the rise in popularity of anything from Liverpool, it’s fair to say the link won’t have harmed the trio.

In 1966 they signed to Parlophone (label of the Beatles) and released their debut single 2 Days Monday, but it was their third 7″, Thank U Very Much, that first troubled the top ten. Its popularity endured into the 1980s thanks to a long-running adveritsing campaign by Cadbury’s Roses, usually at Christmas.

McGough and McGear released an eponymous album without Gorman, featuring cameos from Jimi Hendrix, Mitch Mitchell, Paul McCartney and Graham Nash, in May 1968. The Scaffold’s eponymous debut LP was released only two months later and was a live recording of mostly McGough’s poetry and McGear and Gorman’s sketches. And then came Lily the Pink.

The 1968 Christmas number 1’s origins lay in a drinking song called The Ballad of Lydia Pinkham. Pinkham was a real person, and in the 19th century she invented and marketed a herbal-alcoholic women’s tonic for menstrual and menopausal issues. She was ridiculed at the time, but the drink still exists in an altered form to this day. Versions of the ballad were doing the rounds as far back as World War 1, with lyrics poking fun at Pinkham’s drink and its alleged uses.

The Scaffold’s version had completely rewritten lyrics by McGough, Gorman and McGear, adding a cast of unusual characters to make it more child-friendly, and also in-keeping with psychedelia, with the tune sounding reminscent of the Victorian music hall. The characters they described were largely in-jokes – ‘Mr Frears has sticky out ears’ refers to Stephen Frears, who had once worked with the trio and is now one of the most highly regarded film directors in the UK. ‘Jennifer Eccles had terrible freckles’ came from the song Jennifer Eccles by the Hollies.

Speaking of which, Graham Nash provided backing vocals, along with Elton John (still Reg Dwight at the time) and Tim Rice, and that’s Jack Bruce from Cream on bass.

I remember Lily the Pink from childhood, and I enjoyed it back then. It’s bloody irritating now, though, and the in-jokes, probably only funny to the Scaffold and a few others at the time, are not funny at all now. The chorus will, sadly, stay with you forever. And ever. And then just when you think Lily has died and gone to heaven, she comes back to haunt you forevermore. The bit where the chorus comes back after she’s died is good fun though, I’ll give them that. Incidentally, it was produced by Norrie Paramor, formerly responsible for Cliff Richard and Frank Ifield. This was his 27th, and (I think) final number 1.

In 1969 the Scaffold recorded their memorable theme tune to Carla Lane’s long-running BBC sitcom The Liver Birds. The following year they were given their own children’s series, Score with the Scaffold. With the advent of decimalisation, the trio were responsible for providing tunes for a series of five-minute programmes to explain how the system would work. That same year, they teamed up with collaborator Andy Roberts (I’ve had a drink with Roberts, and he’s a bloody nice bloke with some great stories, he’s also in one of my favourite sketches of all time, here.) Vivian Stanshall and Neil Innes of the defunct Bonzo Dog Band and various waifs and strays to form Grimms.

As Grimms toured up and down the country the Scaffold continued. They had their first hit since Lily the Pink with Liverpool Lou, recorded with Wings, in 1974. Although there may have been tension after McGear left Grimms due to a bust-up with Brian Patten, the Scaffold parted amicably in 1977, although there have been brief reunions here and there since.

Following a few more singles in the early 80s, McGear retired from music, reverted to his family name and became a photographer and author. Gorman was a regular on Tiswas and the adult version OTT until the early 80s, when he moved into theatre. McGough has remained in the public eye, and is considered a national treasure thanks to his children’s poetry.

After three weeks at number 1, Lily the Pink was overtaken by the Marmalade’s cover of the Beatles’ Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, but only a week later it returned to the top of the hit parade again for a further week.

On its last day, 14 January, Sir Matt Busby, legendary manager of Manchester United FC for 24 years, through good times and tragic times, announced his retirement.

1968 had been a particularly unusual and random year for number 1s. The decade was nearly over, and by the time we get to the end of 1969, the Beatles and Rolling Stones will have had their last number 1s.

Written by: John Gorman, Mike McGear & Roger McGough

Producer: Norrie Paramor

Weeks at number 1: 4 (11-31 December 1968, 8-14 January 1969)

Births:

Race car driver Phil Andrews – 20 December
Scottish field hockey player Pauline Robertson – 28 December
Author David Mitchell – 12 January
Scottish snooker player Stephen Hendry – 13 January 

Deaths:

Welsh poet David James Jones – 14 December
Athlete Albert Hill – 8 January
Writer Richmal Crompton – 11 January 

243. Love Affair – Everlasting Love (1968)

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On 4 February, 96 Indians and Pakistanis arrived in Britain from Kenya. By this date, 1,500 Asians had arrived in the country from Kenya, where draconian immigration laws had been forcing them out. Two days later the Winter Olympics began in Grenoble, France. Great Britain and Northern Ireland were rubbish, and didn’t win a single medal.

Enjoying a fortnight at number 1 were London-based pop and soul quintet Love Affair with their slick, anthemic Everlasting Love. Singer Steve Ellis (barely 16), keyboardist Morgan Fisher, guitarist Rex Brayley, bassist Mick Jackson and drummer Maurice Bacon formed the group, originally the Soul Survivors in 1966.

Impressive live shows led to Decca Records signing them that year. However, their first and last single for the label, a cover of She Smiled Sweetly by the Rolling Stones, was a flop. Around this time, Fisher left briefly to be replaced by the perfectly named Lynton Guest.

They then signed with CBS Records, and had their first stab at recording Everlasting Love, with Muff Winwood of Spencer Davis Group producing. This song was written by Buzz Cason, better known to the music world as rock’n’roll singer Garry Miles, and country singer-songwriter Mac Gayden. Soul singer Robert Knight originally made it a hit in the US, but when it was offered to Marmalade, they rejected it. They were to have a number 1 in 1969 with their cover of Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.

The version that Love Affair made didn’t meet the approval of their new label, and so the released version only actually features Ellis on vocals, with the rest of the band replaced by session musicians. The rhythm section featured Russ Stableford on bass and the number 1 session legend Clem Cattini behind the drum kit. The trio were bolstered by strings, brass, flutes and female backing singers (one of which may or may not have been future number 1 star Kiki Dee). This arrangement came from Keith Mansfield, later the man behind the theme to BBC’s Grandstand. Production came from Mike Smith, making this two concurrent number 1s in a row for him after the success of Georgie Fame’s The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde.

Everlasting Love is an effervescent blast of slick 60s pop, and it’s not hard to see why it’s endured over the years. Smith and Mansfield crafted a sophisticated sound that puts it above lots of pop of the era. Ellis’s vocal is great – despite his age, that boy had soul, much like his contemporaries Steve Winwood and Steve Marriott. It’s the rhythm section that really shines though, particularly Stableford, whose bass pulsates throughout, and it’s a wonder that his break in the intro hasn’t been sampled by now.

It’s a weird one though – as much as I can admire this single, I don’t love it, and everything tells me I should. It ticks all the right boxes, but I feel something is missing. Yet I can’t put my finger on what it is. Such is the subjectivity of taste, I guess. Click above and you can see the promo video the band put out, featuring Love Affair performing in front of posters of Mick Jagger and Jimi Hendrix, and dancing from the archetypal 60s blonde model and another girl, dancing strangely and dressed a bit like a clown in John Lennon-style shades.

There was some controversy when it was discovered that Love Affair didn’t perform on the single, which seems a little unfair to me. Plenty of bands I’ve reviewed on this blog used session musicians, even culturally significant ones such as the Byrds on Mr Tambourine Man.

It didn’t seem to damage the band at first though, with the next few singles reaching the top ten too, namely Rainbow Valley and A Day Without Love. But they stuck too rigidly to the template of their biggest hit, and grew wary of having become teen idols when they wanted to be considered serious soul musicians. They also continued using other musicians on their A-sides, which won’t have helped. The true band only got a say in the B-sides.

Debut album The Everlasting Love Affair, with Fisher back in the band, also featured mostly session musicians. Despite their singles success, the album flopped, and in 1968, that was the wrong way round to go about things.

By the end of 1969, an increasingly frustrated Love Affair tried to change the template with the single Baby I Know, but it didn’t chart. That December, Ellis left the group to go solo. He recorded with Zoot Money as Ellis, sang with Widowmaker and released an album under his own name in 1978, but none of this made much of a mark.

Love Affair soldiered on as LA for a few years, taking a more progressive rock direction with new vocalist August Eadon. In 1971 their second album New Day did so badly they were dropped by their label. Fisher eventually ended up in Mott the Hoople, and Love Affair returned several times, but without any original members, for cabaret shows.

Love Affair’s Everlasting Love became popular once more when it featured in the romantic comedy sequel Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason in 2004, where an inferior version by Jamie Cullum also featured on the soundtrack and over the closing credits.

Written by: Buzz Cason & Mac Gayden

Producers: Mike Smith & Keith Mansfield

Weeks at number 1: 2 (31 January-13 February)

Deaths:

Welsh journalist Gomer Berry, 1st Viscount Kemsley – 6 February