Friday, 4 March 2016

Put a 'Wur' After 'W'

I don’t really know what to make of this – it smacks of novelty release, yet I can’t really see the market it was aiming for. What it actually is is a desperate stab at chart success from a singer and songwriter who had been treading the boards for over a decade and who, frankly, should have known better.

Cresceno, by Hazel Gummage, was written by Manfred Mann singer Mike D’abo, and originally recorded (as Love is Like a Crescendo) by Cliff Richard in 1969, although it remained unreleased until 2008.

Backed with Get Back to the Country, Hazel Gummidge is actually Bristol-born singer and songwriter Aj Webber. Born in December 1948, she started playing guitar in local folk clubs around the age of 13, becoming one of the residents at the Bristol Troubadour. Webber then turned professional, working the cabaret circuit under her given name Adrienne. As Melody Maker put it: ‘she has the abilty to perform, entertain, captivate and ‘win’ audiences’, and she would go on to work with artists such as Paul Simon, Crosby, Stills, Nash And Young, Gordon Lightfoot and the Everly Brothers.

She played regular dates at the Marquee in London and worked with acts as diverse as Cockney Rebel, Kraftwerk and Frank Zappa: Aj opened for The Eagles at the height of their fame in Europe. Her first album – Aj Webber (aka Rhyme and Time) - included guest artists such as Albert Lee, Gerry Conway and Michael D’Abo, the author of Crescendo.

This single, issued the year before her debut album in 1975, drew heavily on Aj’s West Country accent for ‘comedic’ effect, on novelist Barbara Euphan Todd’s beloved scarecrow character Worzel Gummidge and on Aj’s homophonic connection to Adge Cutler and the Wurzels: she picked up her nickname – employed, she told the News of the World, because there was a stripper working in Bristol called Adrienne and her gigs were starting to attract the wrong crowd – as Cutler and Webber were both part of Bristol’s then rather expansive folk scene. Worzel Gummidge first appeared in print in 1938, but reached a much wider audience in the mid 70s, thanks to several of the stories being adapted or the popular BBC kid’s show Jackanory. Although the sleeve looks as if she is aping Jon Pertwee, who played Gummidge on TV from 1979-1981, Cresceno appeared four years before the former Doctor Who donned his thinking head.

Releasing four albums over her career, Aj Webber also made appearances on television programmes as diverse as The Cliff Richard Show and The Old Grey Whistle Test, and for a number of years worked as a DJ for radio stations GWR and BFBS. Now living in France and planning a new album, during the mid-80s she took a break from music to raise a family, but continued to write songs. Many of these songs appeared on her last album of original material Running Out Of Sky.


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