Friday, 8 April 2016

Thick, Thick Thick up to Here

Credited as Freddy Davis on the disc’s label (the spelling of his Christian name appears to have been interchangeable for a number of years), Freddie ‘Parrotface’ Davies was born into a showbiz family – he’s the grandson of music hall comedian Jack Herbert – in Brixton in 1937 (not his son, as Wikipedia would have you believe).

Evacuated during the war, he ended up in Salford (now part of Greater Manchester), where his passion for comedy and theatre began. From the age of four he was taken to watch his grandfather and other acts from the wings of the Salford Hippodrome, and after he was demobbed from National Service in 1958 he became a Butlins Redcoat, working alongside fellow comedians Dave Allen and Jimmy Tarbuck. By the time Freddie left Butlins to be a full time comic – at one point becoming a member of a sub-Beyond the Fringe quartet that also featured TV legend Johnny Ball – he had already started to fashion his stage alter ego Samuel Tweet, or Parrotface, and an appearance on TV talent show Opportunity Knocks shot Freddie/Freddy to fame.

‘That Opportunity Knocks appearance in 1964, which happened entirely by chance, started everything for me,’ Freddie told The Independent’s Martin Kelner in 1995. ‘I was dying on my arse in Dunoon, where I was supposed to spend the summer, so I escaped from that to the Candlelight Club, Oldham. As it happens, that was dead handy for Opportunity Knocks, which I stepped into when someone dropped out.

‘I remember I turned up there at the last minute with my own music and they said, “These are tatty music-hall arrangements.” I said, “What do you want? I'm a tatty music-hall comic!”’

Over the years he has appeared in over 500 TV and radio productions shows, more recently as a ‘straight’ actor in drama series including Casualty, Heartbeat, Band of Gold, Harbour Lights, and in the films Funny Bones and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. His autobiography Funny Bones: My life in Comedy was published in 2014, coinciding with the fiftieth anniversary of his debut appearance on Opportunity Knocks.

Unsurprisingly, on several occasions Freddie was offered the chance to make a record. He made albums of children’s stories, and in the 1970s had a major hit in Brazil with a dreadful slice of cheese written by Last of the Summer Wine’s Bill Owen, but it all began in 1966 with the novelty 45 Santa Face is Bringing me a Budgie, for HMV. He followed this with a brace of singles for the Major Minor label, Semolina/I Want me Seed and the two cuts you find here today – Cynthia Crisp and its flip (the A side, bizarrely) Sentimental Songs. As you can no doubt ascertain from these titles, the discs he cut made good use of the staples from his stage act, his long-running budgie joke and his heavy lisp (produced for comic effect only: I cannot imagine the PC brigade would put up with someone taking the rise out of a speech impediment these days). I Want me Seed and Sentimental Songs were both written by Tommy Scott, previously featured on this blog for contributing the English lyrics to the infamous Equipe 84 single Auschwitz.    

It’s a shame that Cynthia Crisp is played for laughs, as it has a nice, chuggy baroque pop beat: I’d love to hear an instrumental version of this, or perhaps a Eurovision take on it with new lyrics (or even just without the stupid raspberry blowing). It could have been something quite special. Unfortunately it’s not: we end up with this ridiculous and annoying novelty instead. Unsurprisingly, Cynthia Crisp/Sentimental Songs did not trouble the charts. Major Minor later released an EP coupling both 45s together. That too sank without a trace.


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