The Charlton Mackrell Jug Band

Wednesday, 9 March 2011
I'm going to start with my current favourite Wurzel song - The Charlton Mackrell Jug band.

Written by the sadly-now-deceased Adge Cutler, it initially appeared on the 1968 album Cutler of the West.

On the surface, the song is a whimsicle number about the formation of a jug band and their trials and tribulations as they attempt to make a name for themselves.
Charlton Mackrell. Actually a real place.

However, digging a little deeper, it's clear this song is a vicious political commentary on a lack of funding and provision for musicians in rural areas. Poor Bernard Mace was forced to use a suitcase instead of a double bass, Amos Draper - who could have been a very talented musician has to be content with a comb and piece of paper, and the borderline alcoholic Arnold Slugg (who's alcoholism is bad that he's "barred from all the locals") bases his entire musical career on blowing into a jug. Only the song's narrator - clearly from a middle-class - family can afford a real instrument, and promptly - and egotistically - proclaims himself 'the star' on guitar, harmonica and vocals. Typical lead singer, seeking the spotlight and saving the best for himself.
Playing a traditional cider jug. This is NOT Arnold Slugg, as it's clearly an actual, real-life person in a lovely hat.

Now I always planned to make this band the very finest in the land,
So we had to hold auditions, for to find the best musicians,
Some who played, they made the grade, some they played like 'ell,
I picked the best in all the West, and yere's the personnel:
There's Bernard Mace on his old string bass made from a girt big packing-case,
Along with 'e goes Amos Draper, wizard of the comb and paper
Arnold Slugg loves the jug, barred from all the locals
And I'm a star on my guitar, harmonical and vocals!


Already something of a control freak - "I always planned to start a band/the very finest in the land" - the singer auditions people, seeking those he believes can help catapult him to the vacuous, heady heights of stardom - since apparently they didn't have reality TV shows in those days.


What was worse, and made us curse, was findin' somewhere to rehearse
Neither of the pubs would wear us, 'cos it seemed they couldn't bear us!
Folks all laughed, and called the staff, we took it on the chin -
We was always fond of the old duck pond, till they threw us in!
There was Bernard Mace, he sailed through space, followed by his old string bass, 
Amos Draper he did try to keep 'is roll of paper dry,
Arnold Slugg went "Glug, glug, glug" and very quickly sank,
And my gumboots were full o' newts when I reached the other bank!


The enterprise does not start well - in an all too common scene across the country, the band are unsupported and mocked by their community, culminating in a shocking mob attack which sees the aspiring band thrown into the duck pond, with Arnold Slugg narrowly escaping with his life ("Arnold Slugg went 'glug, glug, glug' and very quickly sank'). The villager's violent act also puts a protected species at risk, as the narrators boots are "full of newts" - a contravention of EU law, as well as the Wildlife and Countryside Act - when he makes his terrified escape from the pond.
Angry, from Charlton Mackrell.

Now we haven't been barred from the old churchyard; there one night we practised hard,
Every man was full of cider, doin' his best with "C C Rider"
Figure in white then come in sight, I thought we'd waked the dead,
But parson Skurt, in his nightshirt, said we'd waked 'e instead!
Then Bernard Mace, with his old string bass, said we better 'ad leave this place, 
Off he blew with Amos Draper, trailin' yards of toilet paper,
Arnold Slugg, with his two-gallon jug, for speed was not designed, 
I ran like a fox, but the parson's boxer followed I close behind!


However, undeterred, the band - now unable to find rehearsal place - no doubt due to government cuts and a lack of provision for the arts in rural areas - are forced to practice in a churchyard. Again, the group are chased away - this time by a vicar with a particularly vicious dog - ("I ran like a fox, with the parson's boxer following close behind.")


Then one day, old farmer Grey, come to me and this did say
All 'is beasts like music playin', and would we kindly serenade 'em?
Off we sped to the old cowshed, the cows they did adore us
They wagged their tails and banged their pails, and joined in every chorus!
Then Bernard Mace and the old string bass, a girt big jersey licked his face,
'Nother got attached to Amos Draper, chewed up 'alf his roll of paper,
Filled the jug of Arnold Slugg, 'is kindness to acknowledge,
And I got a kiss from a pretty young miss in the Agricultural College!


However, there is some hope for the group when they are approached by Farmer Grey, who has a proposition for them. Apparently he's an educated fellow and read of research carried out by psychologists at the University of Leicester, who found that each cow's milk yield rose by 3% (0.73 litres [1.54 pints]) a day when music was played to them. In what is clearly a metaphor of the music industry, the 'farmer' believes that he can exploit the band and ensure added profits from the herd - a rather obvious metaphor of popular music fans. ('cash cow' coincidence? I think not) and offers them rehearsal space in his cowshed.

Damn, I love this film.
So, in one week we quite uniquely topped the charts in the farmer's weekly,
Play your cows our rhythm and blues, you'll get three times more milk than usual,
We got plans, and lots of fans, no rivals do we fear -
'Cos every cow knows Mumma don't allow no jug band music in here!
Now Bernard Mace has a shirt of lace, and 'is hair completely 'ides his face,
So does that of Amos Draper, gets between 'is comb and paper,
Arnold Slugg 'as an empty jug, broke our mothers' hearts,
We look so queer in all this gear, since we 'it the charts!


Believing the farmer is doing them a favour, the band play and the 'farmer' begins to rake in a small fortune from the herd. Here the song takes a darker turn as they succumb to the trappings of fame - the 'herd' respond to the band and the music, and they begin to believe their own hype, falling into a murky word of groupies ("And I got a kiss from a pretty young miss at the agricultural college.."), fame and yes men.

Their ascent to fame is fast and violent - in the space of a week they top the charts (in The Farmer's Weekly) and spawn rivals within the industry. Although the band claim not to take them seriously (We've got plans, lots of barns/No rivals do we fear..") they are clearly not secure in their new-found fame and feel the need to take on an edgy, new image to keep themselves in the public eye.

Bernard Mace shows his lack of self-esteem by growing his hair and wearing an outrageous lace shirt - by keeping the attention on his clothing, it helps to keep his critics attention away from his appearance and musical talents. Amos Draper takes a similar approach, so driven by his need to create a physical barrier between himself and his audience that he adopts long hair, hanging in his face - despite the fact it detracts from his musical performance - ("Getting in between his comb and paper.")

The borderline alcoholic, Arnold Slugg, has embraced his addiction - even celebrating it with a pop art jug, estranged from their concerned families, the narrator cheerfully admits that they've "broke our mother's hearts."
"He used to be such a good boy, before he got involved with jug bands.."
Like anyone in the public eye, the band find themselves under relentless scrutiny - with questions raised over their sexuality and their physical appearance - ("We look so queer in all this gear/Since we hit the charts.") - with little attention on their performances or musical ability. The band become a commodity, a brand - surrounded by yes men and beginning to believe their own hype.

The 'farmer' has proven to be useful in connecting the musicians with the right resources and people for everyone to succeed - but he is ruthlessly all about the money.  While as long as the band enjoy success they will be worshipped, the moment their popularity wanes and the tide turns against them, they will be dropped by the farmer, left to fend for themselves and most likely end up being found dead in a hotel room, dressed in ladies underwear and with a piece of fruit stuffed into one orafice or the other.

A strong warning, indeed. This song is a statement no less eloquent than Lady Gaga's meat dress, or Prince turning up at an awards ceremony with 'Slave' written on his cheek in biro and trying to pretend he didn't miss out the 'V'.
"S-l-a-e... damn. No, it's ok. I'll put the V there. People will think it's artistic."
Ladies and Gentleman, I give you: The Charlton Mackrell Jug Band - a damning commentary on the lack of arts provision in rural areas, tickling the dark underbelly of violence in rural communities and a warning about the music industry and the effect it has on our young people and aspiring musicians.

Don't have nightmares.

I couldn't find the original version, but here's a passable cover , that I'm not allowed to embed here. Grrr.

2 comments:

Ixion's Disciple said...

A tragic tale of sex and jugs and rock and roll

The Blog said...

Oy.

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