Drink up thy Zider

Thursday, 23 February 2012
My friend, colleague and partner-in-musical-crime, Oliver, reminds me that while searching for hidden meanings in Wurzel songs, I have thus far neglected what the group are perhaps best known for - cider.

The Holy Trinity of Cider: Thatchers, Roger Wilkins and  Hecks.
In Nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritius  Sancti. Amen.
I am attempting to put this right over the next few entries, were we dig deep into the holy trinity of Drink up thy zider, Drink drink thy zider up, and I'll never get a scrumpy 'ere.

Drink up thy Zider was the song that launched the Wurzels to fame in 1966, when it stormed the charts and nestled at number 45 for a number of weeks - mostly on the strength of the single's B-side, Twice Daily, deemed too saucy for the airwaves by the Beeb. Drink up thy Zider appeared on the 1967 LP Adge Cutler And The Wurzels, nestling alongside Pill Pill, The Champion Dung Spreader and When the Common Market Comes to Stanton Drew. 


Our song's hero is George, presumably a farmer, muckspreader - or just someone who likes to walk around covered in dung and wearing gaters, while quaffing a jug or two of scumpy and revelling in his drunken behaviour. The song itself is a cheerful number, with an unbeat tempo and a sing-along-wave-your-glasses-around chorus, and a clever way of warning in the links between binge-drinking, obesity and sexual importance.

..sorry. Impotence.

Hint for ladies: If he's having problems in that department, prop it up with a
couple of lollipop sticks and have a good old laugh. 
Drink up thy zider George, pass us round the jug
Drink up thy zider George, thy garden's well nigh dug
There's dung all o'er thy tater's, and half way up thy gater's
And there's still more zider in the jug

He doesn't look THAT jolly. More...like he's brewing a  fart.
So, here's George. Celebrating the end of a hard working day with his mates down the pub - because obviously drinking home, alone would make him an alcoholic, and that's not very funny at all. George has dug up his garden, spread muck on his potatoes - and in the process, all over himself, and all is right with the world. So off we pop, down the pub to blow off some steam after a very successful night. George is perhaps one of many of us who has come to associate the taste of alcohol with the smug satisfaction of achievement, a job well done, and that warm, fuzzy feeling you get from being one of the gang. Good ol'd George. Drink up, lad.


Drink up thy zider, drink up thy zider
For tonight we'll merry be
We'll knock the milkmaids over and roll 'em in the clover
The corns half cut and so are we

Mmmm. Classy.
Hello. What? This is the grand plan? Get smashed, hunt down a few milkmaids and have your wicked way with them? You're drinking cider, not Stella, for goodness sake. These are simpler times, not the times of Bacardi Breezers and stumbling out of nightclubs with your chicken fillets clutched in one hand, your hair extensions in another and a Daily Mail photographer waiting to snap a photograph of you as the definition of all that is wrong with the world.

On top that, those milkmaids really should be getting to bed - they've got an early start in the morning. It's not like those cows will milk themselves.

Drink up thy zider George, thee's been going far
Drink up thy zider George, thee's getting quite a star
Thy cheeks are getting redder, from charterhouse to cheddar
And there's still more zider in the jar

Oh, yes. Here we go. Bit of peer pressure. "Nah, I really should go." "Oh, c'mon mate. What difference is one more gonna make?" and the next thing you know you've gone from a nice cosy pub to a terrible nightclub, paying a tenner for a luke-warm bottle of Becks and getting punched in the chops for staring at the bouncer's girlfriends boobies.

Not a good look. For anyone. 
The effects of the alcohol is already having an affect on poor old George - his cheeks are red, and..he's apparently putting on an alarming amount of weight - not a beer belly as much as a cider...er.. smile? All unfocused eyes and a nose that's starting to look like a tomato that's been left out in the sun too long. Along with his buzz, he's experienced that temporary high that a bit of dutch courage can give him. He's awesome. He can take on the world. He's a cool, funny guy. Everyone loves him. He's a star. And just think how much better he'll feel if he keeps drinking! Brilliant!

Chorus goes here.

Drink up thy zider George, get up off the mat
Drink up thy zider George, put on thy gurt big hat
We're going to Ballyverney, to see my brother Ernie
And there's still more zider in the vat

If the Hoff can't make it cool, you know it sucks. 
Whoops. There goes George. Slipping gently off his stool, under the table to the sticky floor, where he can lie amongst a tangle of his friends feet and giggle hysterically. The cider is flowing, and the big ideas are coming. "Ohmigod, right. We should totally open our own pub. At the flat. And invite all our friends. It'll be brilliant!"

"I've never had a battered Mars bar."
"Are you..are you serious."
"Totally. Never!"
"This is a trave- ..traj- ..that's really bad. We're going to get one. Right now."
"Now. 'Ere, Dave. Dave! 'e's never 'ad a battered Mars bar!"

So, poor old George is retrieved from the floor, his hat put upon his head, and off he's dragged to Balamory to hang out with Miss Hoolie, PC Plum and Archie and sing about their pro-

Lets go here!
..er..maybe not.

But still. Lets go visit Ernie! In Ireland! At 2.37am! That's the best idea EVER! Forget the milkmaids! They have milkmaids in Ireland right? And Ernie's got this huge house and it's been ages since he's seen me, and his wife's sister is a bit of a hotty and...I bet she's got loads of hot mates.

Chorus, yo.

Drink up thy zider George, get it off thy chest
Drink up thy zider George, it's time we had a rest
There's nothing like more zider to make thy smile grow wider
And there's still more zider in the west

You know how at the end of every party there's a girl in tears, being comforted by her friend? Well, there's also a guy with his shirt off, wearing only one trainer, telling some guy he's just met that he's NEVER liked you, but never had the guts to say it before, and why don't they take this outside?

Hawt man on man action

C'mon George, he ain't worf it.
Leave it George, just forget him. Come have another drink.

Bouncers wading in with a wary eye, crowds of drinkers parting like the Red Sea before Moses, eager to see blood spilled, or at least a little drama.

And he's out.

Whatever. It's a stupid nightclub, anyway. And they could totally have taken the bouncer if they wanted to, but they didn't want to. He wasn't worth it. Right?

Let's go to the Kebabby, right, George?

No-one has ever eaten a kebab sober. Fact. 
Throw up on the pavement shortly afterwards? Maybe spend the night in a bush and wake up covered in your own vomit, with your wallet missing, one shoe on, a black eye you have no memory of getting, and your head feeling like it's been ran over by a naked rugby team.

Why naked? I don't know.

Do the walk of shame, eyed by strangers who pass you, stinking of stomach acid and garlic, wearing what looks like Big Soup down your chest.

And not a milkmaid in sight.

Binge drinking is no laughing matter, George. And your friends are jerks.

Sing the chorus again. Twice. But really quiet, because otherwise George's head will explode.

The Shepton Mallet Matador

Friday, 17 February 2012
ZOMG. Zombieblog. Back from the dead, rising stinking from a muddy grave.

Alright. So. Been a while. A busy summer, festivals, life, personal criseseses and a few bits and pieces sort of got in the way of me writing here. Sorry.

But when I came back today.. well...there's over 2,000 hits.

It's pretty amazing. But..seriously.

What is WRONG with you people?

You either like the Wurzels as much as I do, which..obviously isn't beyond the realms of possibility as they are the best band who ever graced the planet, or you're into reading the deluded wafflings of someone who has a little too much time on her hands.

So..which is it? Leave a note, do.

Anyway. Now I've insulted you all, time to crack on.

Today's song, scientifically selected by a long and laborious process too complicated to mention is...

Fanfare please...

The Shepton Mallet Matador.

Wot no matadors?
Another one of Adge's, this was originally recorded at the Royal Oak in 1967 and appeared on the Adge Cutler Family Album. It was re-recorded in 1975, and a video was filmed, which featured the Wurzels dressed up as Matadors and dancing around the Market Cross in Shepton Mallet. Sadly, I have never seen this video, although after typing that, I can't TELL you how much I want to. The track was re-re-recorded in 2004 and appeared on A Taste of the West, because, well, if something is this much fun, why not record three different versions of it?

Adge's family album. And some pigs. And some Wurzels.
The song is a rather sweet little tale - a farmhand called Jacko who nipped off to Spain for a summer holiday and came back forever changed. Aaah, you know the types. You see them in the pub, skin the colour of mahogany, straw donkey tucked under one arm and ordering jugs of sangria and tapas from the bemused and impatient barman.

Tapas. And the point of this is...?
But, as we are increasingly learning with Wurzels songs, behind the jolly facade is a story of an overworked man suffering a complete mental collapse. It bravely tackles the stigma surrounding mental illness in rural areas, and a lack of provision for those who suffer.

Let's go in a little deeper, shall we?

Now Jacko was so happy, just workin' on the farm,
With the cows and the chickens, he couldn't do no harm.
For years and years he worked and he scraped and he saved,
To take one day the holiday he craved.
But now he'll never be the same again,
Since he took that holiday in Spain....

A Wur- ..uh, an actual farmer, apparently. 
So, here we have it. Jacko, our protagonist. Hard-working, but apparently not high-earning. A lifetime of supermarkets driving prices down, rising veterinary bills, subsidies running out and attemps at diversification simply to stay afloat and provide for himself. As a farmer, he's battling recession, falling incomes, foot and mouth disease and declining prices for agricultural commodities. He's up against a succession of problems including BSE, swine fever, bovine tuberculosis and foot and mouth hampering the industries ability to export with consequent pressure on prices, which have dropped by 40% in recent years alone.

No wonder the poor guy needed a break.

But poor Jacko. Those long hours. Those years without any down time, scrimping and saving every penny have clearly taken a toll. While sunning himself on the beaches of Malaga or Benidorm, something in his brain just..pops.

You're looking for a topless sunbather in this photo, aren't you? Dirty boy.
Sing-along for the chorus, folks.

Oh-ho, make way for that Timsbury torero,

..wait. What? Timsbury? That's bloody 13 miles away from Shepton Mallet.

View Larger Map

Olé for that Somerset senor!
He's a real West Country Caballero,
The Shepton Mallet Matador!

Remember that chorus. It comes up a lot.

Now the boys in the village all think it's very queer,
The way that Jacko drinks wine instead of beer;
And they say he swapped his favourite cider jar
For a bottle of sherry and a thirty-bob guitar!

So here's Jacko. Back home in the mud and sludge and grey skies of Shepton Mallet, a place best known for it's beautiful Market Cross, being the place where Babycham was born and the fact that it's residents spent much of the 18th century rioting, for one reason or another.

The first signs of his fractured mind are already beginning to show - wine instead of beer, well, ok. Probably not that big a clue, plenty of men of a certain age suddenly make the switch from Hobgoblin and Carling to a lovely Vega Sicilia and talking about "good acidity that blends well with the tannins", whatever that's supposed to mean.
Yes. It's..definitely wine. Red wine, in fact.
As well as his drinking preferences changing, he's also picked up a guitar. Not the end of the world if you're a teenager, probably, but if you haven't touched a guitar much before the age of thirty, and then suddenly do..it sort of screams 'mid-life crisis'. Does Jacko feel his life has passed him by? Is he looking desperately to do all those things he missed out on in his youth, while he was mucking out cows and wringing the necks of chickens?

It's possible.

His friends reaction?
"Very queer."

Nice one, "friends".

Chorus goes here.

Now the pigs and chickens are diggin' up the dirt,
When Jacko comes wavin' his old red flannel shirt;
And he's always chasin' round the old red cow,
'Cos he thinks that he's a real bullfighter now!

Ah. Alright. So now Jacko, was previously reasonably well-adjusted farmer who has spent much of his life doing normal farmer-y things. Now, all of a sudden he's standing in his fields waving a red shirt around and trying to coax the animals into a bullfight - even going as far as to chase around after a cow. Which, by the way, isn't the same as a bull.

For the love of.. look. Do you SEE horns on my head? I'm a cow. Now go away.
Clearly, this is not the behaviour of a normal person. Even the most liberal of us would probably have problems classing this as the behaviour of a sane man. Perhaps he's had enough - perhaps he's going for suicide by cow. Perhaps he genuinely believes himself to be toreador. Perhaps someone needs to get him to his GP pronto, and get some drugs into the poor guy.

All stand for the chorus.

Now on the farm when you hear hoots and howls,
It's Jacko playin' Flamenco with the fowls
And every time he clicks those castanets,
Instead of eggs, the hens lay omelettes!

An omelette. Looking like something you'd find on the pavement outside your local 'spoons on a Friday night.
Is our Jacko displaying hitherto unknown traits of being a lay psychologist? Pretty much everyone has heard of Pavlov, that Russian guy who liked to make dogs dribble by ringing bells at them and not feeding them. Sounds as if, in his (apparently brilliant) madness, Jacko has taken it upon himself to train his chickens to lay when he clicks a pair of castanets.

..except they're not laying eggs. They're laying omelettes. Which are, by the way, disgusting things. All rubbery and floppy and eggy. Vile.

Presuming that they aren't actually laying omelettes, which would take some doing (unless the chickens are roosting above frying pans on a hotplate, and have also been taught how to lay peppers and mushrooms. Or, I suppose Jacko could have genetically modified the hens so they were able to lay a number of traditional omelette fillings, such as ham, cheese, onions, prawns and herbs, by cross-breeding the chickens with mutant strains of cows, fish and plants in a secret laboratory in hi- .. Alright, look, the omelette is definitely a metaphor, ok?), I'm guessing this means the eggs the chicks are laying are abnormal.

Abnormal eggs: The Phantom Menace
Why would a hen lay an abnormal egg?

Well, according to a website I just looked at, problems with eggs can be caused by anything from sudden shocks to the hens to illness, malnutrition, infection diseases and a lack of vaccination. So while Jacko's busy trying to goad his cow into a fight, he's neglecting his hens. Let's hope someones got the RSPCA on speed dial.

Heeere's the chorus. Twice.

Now the farmer's missus went wild with delight
When Jacko serenaded her last night,
And the farmer stopped him singin' Ceilito Lindo
With a bucket of summat he threw from a bedroom window!

And here's Jacko, roaming the streets in the middle of the night, trespassing on other people's homes and making a clearly inappropriate play for a married woman.

Dressed as a matador.

While singing a 19th century Mexican love song. Clearly he's not only suffering from some extreme identity issues, his musical history knowledge isn't that great, either.

In her home.

In the middle of the night.

While her husband is in bed.

With her.

She might've gone wild with delight, but if the only thing that Jacko got out of that was a 'bucket of summat', he was a lucky man. Most farmers have guns, for goodness sake.

Bucket of summat. Still preferable to a shotgun to the face, though.
There is, of course, an alternative theory that this entire last verse is a metaphor - the farmers missus representing women in general, expected by society to be receptive to any and all approaches by men. The farmer represents society as a whole, who, confronted by someone clearly in need of assistance, unwell and acting inappropriately feels the need to..well..throw things at him, mock him - fearful and aware of it's own fragile sanity.

And rather than face the sickness in our own society, we throw both metaphorical, and literal - crap at it, and hope it'll just go away.

Ladies and gentlemen, to play us out as you digest the majesty of this blog entry, I give you...

The Shepton Mallet Matador

Don't tell I, tell 'ee.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Broken Britain is a phrase that gets bandied around a fair bit. It's not as catchy as Cool Britannia, which turns up every few years when a couple of blokes with guitars have somehow managed to make it big in the states. As far as I can tell, Broken Britain (tm) is all about teen pregnancy, gangs of rampaging youths on council estates, people living off benefits and thieves stealing from the pockets of dying people.

Few people are aware that it's concept was created by Adge Cutler, written as far back as 1968 and appearing on an LP called Don't Tell I, Tell 'ee. (Do you see what they did there?) The LP also featured classics including My Threshing Machine, Drink up Thy Zider and Chitterling.

Zummerzets' answer to 'N Sync
On the surface, a faintly amusing song about a man who doesn't want to be troubled with the problems of others. But delving a little deeper into the lyrics reveals a darker tale on how failing standards of education in rural areas, absent fathers, ignorance and how it has led to the dumbing down of a society that is fast losing its way.

Let's take a look, shall we?

Never been to School, I’ve never been to college/Rather be dead than stuff me ‘ead with a load of useless knowledge/I never couldn’t see, no point ‘n history/Well  I  wer’nt  there, so I don’t care, so don’t tell I tell 'ee

So here we have a young man failed by the educational system. Rising tuition fees and cuts in government funding have lead to the education system failing him. He saw school as worthless, the lessons as pointless and dropped out of the system, preferring to educate himself at the School of Life instead.

Don’t tell I, tell 'ee, thats my philosophy/ When folks do cuss and make a fuss, don’t tell I, tell 'ee.

Budge up a bit, dear. We can get another 15 pupils in there.
But this young man, /could/ have been saved. He knows the word philosophy, for goodness sake. He's smart. A caring teacher could have reached him, perhaps recognised a learning disorder - ADHD perhaps?  But the teacher - who no doubt has a class of 40 pupils crammed into a classroom meant for 20 - was too rushed, too harrassed, spread too thinly over his charges. The young man slips through the net, stripped of a bright future and left to take on menial, low-paid jobs as a result. He could have been a doctor, a scientist. He could have worked on drugs to fight cancer, written the greatest novel of this century...all that potential..wasted.

But by dropping out of school, he missed out on perhaps the best part of education - sex education lessons. Remember giggling at condoms? Comparing the dutch cap to a Kelloggs poppa? Staring at the coil with horror and blushing your way through the science teacher saying things like 'testicles' and 'vulva?' That's what school days are all about, yo.

Snrk. Ovaries.
Young Sarah Jones one day, got in the family way/Her father come wi a gert big gun, said 'ee, you’ll have to pay.

Oh dear. A local girl has got herself knocked up, and our working-class hero is prime suspect. Threatened with violence, our man makes an undignified escape with the help of a handy tree.

He chased I up a tree, I ‘ollered, leave I be/I 'appen to know, twer old Ted Snow, so don’t blame I blame 'ee.

So, not only has the education system failed our unnamed protagonist, but also Sarah Jones, and, potentially Ted Snow as well. A lack of education has these children copulating like rabbits. But it's easy to lame the blame at the feet of the teachers who failed to prepare them properly - but where were the parents? Why didn't they step in to ensure their children remained in education, or at the very least, take them to one side and say 'if you're going to use it, wrap it up, son?' Too busy working the farm, most likely? And why? The failure of an urban-oriented government to recognise the scale of the economic disaster plaguing agriculture, unpopular European regulations, the marked rise in rural transportation costs, and being priced out of the market by supermarkets, forcing them to work longer hours just to make ends meet.

A political statement. A /tasty/ political statement.
I took a ride one night, A PC hove inside/He made it up because I’d got no brakes, no bell, no light/I’ll fling the book at 'ee/That copper said with glee/I said sling all you like/It’s your dads bike, So don’t tell I tell 'ee

Why was he taking a ride on a bike? Government cutbacks in rural areas have seen bus timetables slashed, leaving those without cars stranded in villages with little more than a population of 16 sheep, a postbox and a boarded up pub. Our hero is forced to take his life in his hands traversing narrow, unlit country lanes on a borrowed bike, and consequently finds himself on the wrong side of the law because of it. Rising petrol costs and a looming oil crisis mean many people in rural locations can no longer afford to run cars and are frequently forced to shell out for a taxi, or hope a passing good Samaritan can run them into the nearest town for supplies.
For those who live in rural areas, this is what a bus looks like.

I got a lift to town, from good old farmer Brown/In a ten ton truck with a load of muck, when he set us down/A drink we did agree, it would be good for we/The bar Rose/ She held her nose, I said don’t smell - I smell 'ee

And so our working class hero, who could have written a novel, or studied at Cambridge turns to alcohol, turning his back on faith as he ponders his life - the cycle that has begun with him, could move onto his children and he works long hours in menial jobs to provide for his family, thus neglecting his children, who will be reliant on a failing educational system to help them find their place in the world.

The vicar came along he said you know ‘tis wrong/You gets tied on a Friday night I answered 'ere, Ale’s strong/Now Parson you’ll agree/The lord created me/An I’m afraid/ 'tis how I’m made/so don’t tell I tell 'ee

Because, of course, the man cannot see his own failings. This isn't his fault. It's the educational system, it's a fragile economy, it's God's - easier to be ignorant, easier to blame someone else for your failings than face up to them, and try and change them.

Got God?

But don't tell I, tell 'ee.

Combine Harvester

Friday, 20 May 2011
It's been a little while - sorry, I'm terribly busy, don'tyerknow? - but after the giddy heights of Sunny Weston-Super-Mare, we're back to the more traditional rural settings, in a touching song about love, giant bits of farmyard equipment and devices used to open doors.

Looking good, boys.
The Combine Harvester - better know as 'Combine aarrrvester' - appears on the album The Finest 'Arvest Of Adge Cutler and The Wurzels and is a reworking of Brand New Key and spent two weeks at number one, and 13 weeks in the UK chart. It also featured a Top of the Pops appearance which saw the boys sat on a tractor (pft, city folk..), and performing 'live' in front of a studio audience (note the guy on the french horn not blowing into it, Tommy twiddling around on his accordion but never squeezing the thing, and poor Pete developing a twitch in his eye). Lovely.

The was also reworked into a 2001 dance number, which is actually surprisingly good.

Cause I've got a bran' new combine harvester and I'll give you the key/Come on now let's get together in perfect harmony/I've got twenty acres, and you've got forty-three/Now I've got a bran' new combine harvester and I'll give you the key.

Ah, the traditional key-giving ceremony. For the initiated, harvesting is when crops are cut and gathered, and back in the good old days, it was a huge event. Farmers used to gather their friends and family for something of a get together, all working hard in the fields to gather the crops and prepare them for sale. Harvest timing is a critical decision, carefully balancing the likely weather conditions with the degree of crop maturity in order to guarantee the best yield.

Harvest, old-school stylee.
The timing of a harvest was a test of knowledge and wisdom, of knowing the land, planning ahead, and ensuring the prosperity of the farm for the coming year.

..a time so important that it was often used as a way of proving virility, and suitability as a husband. Although invention now means that the work of dozens of eligible men can now be carried out by a single combine harvester, the ceremony is still widely practiced today in parts of Somerset, and tends to attract something of a crowd.

Similar to how a peacock will show off it's feathers in the hope of attracting a mate, farmers used to take handfuls of crops, fashioning them into head-dresses and displays in order to attract females, as part of a complicated Somerset mating ritual. Those with the biggest crops proved themselves the strongest, the most knowledgeable, the most likely to provide for a child, and offer security and wealth.

Yes, very nice. But I'm trying to watch Eastenders.
But of course, there are those females who would be more interested in more artistic designs, seeking a mate who displayed an inventive, artistic side.

Like all mating rituals, the female is, at first, required to ignore the pursuit of the suitor:

I drove my tractor through your 'aystack last night/I threw me pitchfork at your dog to be quiet/Now somethin's tellin me that you'm avoidin' me/Come on now darlin', you got something I need

But once he has her interest, the male will approach cautiously, offering the things he believes will make him appear more attractive to her - loyalty, the chance to swell the gene-pool, declarations of love.

A man built for speed, undoubtedly.
I'll stick by you I'll give you all that you need/We'll have twins and triplets, I'm a man built for speed/And you know I love ya darlin' so give me your hand...

But of course, the motives are not always so clear cut:

But the thing I want the most is all they acres of land!

Because while the female hopes for security, companionship and the possibility of children, the male may simply be seeking to expand his own empire.

For seven long years I've been alone in this place/Pigs sleep in the kitchen, it's a proper disgrace/Now if I cleaned it up would ya change yer mind/I'll give up drinkin scrumpy and that lager n' lime

Quite why anyone would want a man who drinks lager n' lime is beyond me, but still. The male is prepared to clean up his abode in order to make it more appealing to the female. Naturally, the moment she has taken him as her mate, it will be dirty socks all over the floor, late-nights on the XBox and high-fiving his friends while burping. As with any mating ritual, the Ceremony of the Key is a smokescreen.

I'll /totally/ clean it up. Promise.

Were'nt we grand couple at that last Wurzel dance?/I wore bran' new gators and me cor-de-roy pants/In your new Sunday dress with yer perfume smellin grand/We had our photos took of us holdin hands

Best dress, new shoes...ah, our ancient country ways don't seem so funny now, do they?

Now I've got a bran' new combine harvester and I'll give you the key/Now that we'm both past our fifties, I think that you and me/Should stop this gallivanting and will you marry me/'Cause I've got a bran' new combine harvester and I'll give you the key

And thus, the ceremony is complete. In recent times, the male presents his female with the key to his heavy agricultural machinery, while in past times she would curl her fingers around his mighty tool. The couple hiccup off into the sunset, dancing through the fields to their families, where their betrothal will be celebrated.

And the happy couple will live together, happy ever after.

Ahhhhh, you're a fine lookin woman and I can't wait to get me hands on yer land.

...or do they?

Sunny Weston-Super-Mare

Wednesday, 27 April 2011
London has Margate, and Bristol has Weston-super-Mare, a Victorian seaside resort that still brings in high-profile tourists, including Rich and Eddie from Bottom who famously holidayed there.

Richie:  Weston-super-mare, eh? Weston-super-mare.  [forearm gesture]
Eddie:   No, you've lost me there.
Richie:  Come on... Weston-super-ma-a-a-are!  [forearm gesture, pelvic thrust]  Hey, I'll tell you what me old pal, I had some bloody narrow squeaks in Weston-super-mare.

In 1988 the Wurzels released ‘Sunny Weston-Super-Mare’ as a vinyl single on the ‘Far End’ record label. The title track was written and arranged by Pete Budd and it was produced as a promotional item for the Weston-Super-Mare tourist board - not that Weston needs any promotion, of course.

The tune was taken from a little-known German folk song (‘Das Humbta Tatara’) It came in a picture sleeve showing a cartoon seaside scene with donkeys on the beach, sandcastles and the pier. The reverse of the sleeve has the lyrics to the song – allowing fans to sing along as they listened to the instrumental version of the song which appeared on the ‘b' side. A sort of fore-runner to Karaoke, but better, since the Wurzels are involved, and therefore it is awesome.

But while on the surface, this is a song about a lovely seaside resort full of fish n' chips, piers, buckets, spades and arcades, as with all Wurzel songs there is a deeper meaning behind the lyrics, highlighting the plight of Britain's hard-working farmers, and the pressures facing the industry. As always, the lyrics are as relevant today as they were then.

Farming is srs bsns.

So, let's take a closer look, shall we?

I packed me bags and left the farm/I packed it up for sure/I swore I’d never drive/A tractor anymore.

If you're not from a rural area, it's doubtful you've ever looked a farmer in the face. Farms are huge parcels of land that have generally been in families for generation after generation. There is huge pressure on those families to keep the farms in the family - no-one wants to be the one who breaks hundreds of years of family history and many young people are find themselves pressured into a career, and taking on the huge responsibility of running and owning the land, while secretly harbouring desires to open up a shop selling jewelery made out of macaroni and beads to people with more money than sense.

Why not accessorise with something that could also be your lunch?
But those who are strong enough to turn their backs on the family farm often find themselves shunned, or held in contempt:

Old Mother said ”Thee’se must be mad”/As I walked out the door/And Father shouted – “Lazy lout!/Don’t come back no more”.

In this song, our brave individual has successfully ignored family pressure, turned his back on farmer and headed:

Off to sunny Weston-Super-Mare, Super-Mare, Super-Mare/I’m off to sunny Weston-Super-Mare/They say you’ll always find a welcome way down there.

Sunny Weston-Super-Mare
Our brave hero arrives at his chosen location, musing on what he's left behind and still struggling to justify his decision to walk away from farming. Studies have shown that many farmers who give up their farms fear losing power, control and their identities.

A typical West Country farmer
A farmer’s life is very good/As people often say/Lots of clean fresh air/And cider every day

And yet, he knows farming isn't for him:

But when the harvest time comes around/The sun it dries your lips/I’d sooner lay upon the beach/And eat me fish and chips.

Mmm. Yummy.
Having wrestled with his conscious a little further, the former-farmer's resolve strengthens and he begins to compare his knew life, with what he has left behind - the hard life of the farmer in a role he has never wanted.

I’d longed to walk a golden beach/Where shady palm trees grow/Forget that muckin’ out/And no more fields to mow

..clearly, the long hours working in the field and the stress of his decision has affected his mind, as Weston-super-Mare is not particularly well-known for it's shady palm trees, nor it's golden beach, as much as it's pier and grey water.
Palm trees and golden sands at Weston
The icy cold at winter time/That makes you freeze and shake/I’ve left it all behind me/I’ve really made the break.

Ah, thankfully, the breakdown is only temporary, as he compares his new life to winter on the farm. When temperatures are dipping into the minuses, the last place you want to be is outdoors. And farmers are outdoors pretty much /all/ of the time, chasing animals and crops around a field, driving tractors and...ploughing and things. Probably. Look, I'm not a farmer, ok?

Another typical West Country farmer
If paradise is half as nice/Then, this is where I’ll stay/The farmyard’s far away/From this lovely sandy bay.
I’ll walk along the promenade/Forget that country lane/Just write and tell the folks back home/I won’t be back again.

Ah, and there we go. The last doubt is finally cast from his mind, as head held high, our hero heads into the future. He knows what his decision will cost him, that he will most likely be excommunicated from his family, written out of the will and forever spoken about in hushed tones by the family who do dare to acknowledge he was once a part of his family.

For our hero however, the future is as exciting, bright and vibrant as the night-life in sunny Weston-super-Mare.
The future's bright. The future's Weston.

Virtute et Industrial

Friday, 8 April 2011
Alright. I'll admit it. Some of these entries are written with my tongue stuffed rather firmly up against my cheek. I was fully intending to do the same with this one. But I can't.

Me, with my tongue in my cheek. Honest.
Virtute at Industrial is, frankly, a work of genius. The song, written by Adge, pays tribute - well, sort of - to Bristol, the biggest city in the South West. The song made it's first appearance on 1966 LP (remember those?) Adge Cutler at the Wurzels. It takes its title from the motto of the City of Bristol - Virtute Et Industria, or virtue and industry. Why the additional 'L'? I have no idea.

Clearly thinking they were onto a good thing - and they were, The Wurzels re-recorded this song for their 2004 A Taste of the West album, although it was titled Virtuet Industrial. Either because we can't spell down in Zummerzet, or because they wanted to draw on people's presuppositions that people in Zummerzet don't know Latin. (As Pete says in the intro, "It's all Greek to I..")

Based in fact, yo.
As much as I want to try and convince everyone it's actually about Zen and the art of City Maintenance, the fact is that this is a social commentary up there with the words of Billy Bragg, Bob Dylan and..ugh, U2, I suppose. But WAY less annoying than U2.

Anyway. The first thing about this song is that it's REALLY, REALLY long. 12 verses, in fact. And it's clearly a fond look at Bristol and it's people, but without the rose-tinted specs so often seen in songs about forgetfully leaving your heart in one city or another, cities that never sleep, or it being a helluva place. Rose-coloured glasses and Wurzel shirts just don't go, I guess.

So we begin with:

Oh, we be Bristol kiddies/We comes from Bristol City/Where all the blokes is handsome/And all the birds is pretty/Weem proud of our 'ome town/It never gets we down/and we got a little motto/What we sing up Bedminster Down

And then of course, we come to a sort of chorus, which basically just involves singing Virtute et Industria and then something funny, after it.

Verse two play homage to Bristol City and Rovers, those two great titans, locked in an eternal Montague/Capulet style feud, but while kicking balls around a field.

It's not until the third verse that the song takes a bit of a sideways step into more serious issues.

Praise the City Fathers/'Cos they know what they'n doin'/Don't listen to they moaners/Who says weem going' to ruin

Ah, yes. They Moaners (tm). The bread and butter of local newspapers - as much as Angry from Manchester managed to keep Points of View on TV for about 400-odd years, They Moaners (tm) have been helping  reporters to fill pages by raising those little issues that councils like to sweep under the rug, like cutting funding to just about everything, making some rather interesting decisions and not following procedures terribly well.

It's free to go in!
They talks of Portbury/But I aint kiddin' thee/Who wants docks/When all the locks/On the lavatories be free?

Because, yes. Who needs jobs? Who needs training? Why does a city need to recalls it's industrial heritage? Look! Look at our toilets! You don't have to pay to use them!

Long live all the brewers/Build more pubs and bettin' shops/Don't waste the cash on sewers/Virtute et Industrial/Lets have another drink/Virtute et Industrial/An' never mind the stink

Now a major tourist attraction!
Sewers? Pft. No need for infrastructure. Let's just rush through some more pubs to keep the locals happy and maybe they won't notice the overflowing manholes and leaking pipes all over the place. Actually, to give the city council their dues, during the 1970s they did start to improve the city's sewers - although, with the Current Financial Climate (tm), who knows what the future holds?

Oh we be livin' well/Bad times is in the distance/We lives it up like hell/On National Assistance/It tain't that we do shirk/To do a bit of work/But if you coulst live without it/Well, who'd be such a berk?

Dear Sir. This sums up everything that is wrong with today's broken Britain. Clearly the person writing this is a single mother on benefits, and probably an immigrant. Oh, if only Diana was alive... Yours sincerely, Daily Mail Reader.

This would never have happened on my watch, sonny.
OK, there's another verse about a church with a steeple that's most likely a reference to people living in glass houses not throwing stones, and then a verse which will ring true to anyone who ever tried to get out of Bristol on a Friday night.

Let progress be our watch word/Hooray for all the planners/They keeps the traffic flowing/And never minds the tanners/From Lulsgate thees could tear/To Paris, now by air/But the buses down Old Market/Is enough to make thee swear

What's the phrase? Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose? And if anything, with local councils bringing the axe down on just about everything they can at the moment, this line's probably as relevant today as it was however-many years ago.

We've got a little bit about the Severn Bridge in the next verse, leading us on to:

Yeah, that's just super. Big fan.

With one way streets and flyovers/We knows which way ween facing/Has you seen our brand new bridge/Down at Cumberland Basin?/The cars go by like thunder/Up and round and under/Just where they goes/No bugger knows/And t'aint no bleedin' wonder

I could get lost in a square room. I have no sense of direction and I still rather proud that I'm capable of turning up at the correct house each night. It's not surprising that I got stuck in the Bristol one-way system once. I think I was there for about four hours and ended up halfway to Weston before I was able to find somewhere to turn around. I feel Adge's pain.

Our town will last for ever/If we can't build the Concorde/We'll buy 'n on the never/Virtute et Industrial/Who got ten million quid/Virtute et Industrial/well, ther thee bist then kid

Ah Concorde. Super. Throughout the 1960s and 1970's the British Government happily threw more money than the third world debt (probably) at Bristol, in the hope of building the world's first supersonic plane. It probably seemed like a good idea at the time.

Total development costs – more than £1,100 million. Operating costs – more than 2½ times as much as modern subsonic jets. The sonic boom, which over sparsely populated Cornwall produced compensation of £4 per mile on test runs; added to its dubious impact on the stratosphere. Concorde is just about the largest single waste of men and resources that capitalism has yet discovered. Woohoo!

This, or....


The best of British luck/To the Mayor and Corporation/They just come back from France/A credit to the Nation/Now, mind you keep it dark/But they reckon the old Town Clerk/Bought back they Follies Bergeres/In exchange for Ashton Park

..to be fair, that's not a bad swap, really.

Virtute et Industrial/Up the Downs on Sundays/We spent the rent on Saturdays/Down Nelson Street on Mondays/Virtute et Industrial/May Bristol never fail/Virtute et Industrial/Till weem all out Arno's Vale

A translation, for the non-native speakers:

  • The Downs - a huge open area near Clifton
  • Nelson Street - where the old Labour Exchange/Job Centre/Whatever they're called now used to be.
  • Arno's Vale - another area of Bristol near Brislington. Which just happens to have a huge cemetery.

So, basically: "We love our city, but the people running it don't know jack."

Kinda hard to be a smart-arse on this one, considering the times we live in. I promise to be glibber next time.


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