I became a fan of the cartoonist's art fairly early on, principally through being introduced to the writings of James Thurber and finding that I enjoyed his captioned drawings almost as much as I did the text. In our local library his books were kept in the 'Literature', section for some reason, as were collections of Ronald Searle drawings, which I really admired and the works of one Gerard Hoffnung, whose line wasn't quite in the Searle class but whose subject matter was music. I soon became the owner of a number of his books and my particular favourite cartoon was of an organist observing in his mirror that he was about to be overtaken by a car. Imagine my delight then when I discovered that the man made music as well as drawing it. His 'Interplanetary Music Festivals' were wonderfully funny and eccentric, as well as being extremely musical. He was able to persuade a great many serious musicians and composers to contribute to these affairs. Alas, I can find no footage of the original concerts on the web, but here is a more modern performance of 'Grand Grand Overture' by Malcolm Arnold, which may give you some idea. This was originally written for a Hoffnung concert. I heard some of these on the radio and others on that reel to reel recorder that had also introduced me to Tom Lehrer and Victor Borge (see yesterday's posting). Alas, Hoffnung lived a very short life and no sooner had I discovered his work than he was gone. He died of a cerebral haemorrhage in 1959, aged just 34.
A few years later, when I was working in record shop in Southall (see Indian Summer), I first came across P.D.Q.Bach. He has been described as "...the last of Johan Sebastien Bach's twenty-odd children, and certainly the oddest.") In fact this fictitious member of the Bach family is the creation of one Peter Schickele, whose name I first came across on a Joan Baez LP, for which he had provided some string arrangements. I've long since forgotten the Baez album but P.D.Q. Bach remains a firm favourite to this day. There is, I'm happy to say, a great deal of material out there on the net, and many of the albums are a available in CD form. Here is a sample - 'The Hindenburg Concerto'. I also recommend a visit to the Peter Schikele/P.D.Q. Bach website.
Around 1965 I became aware of an outfit called The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. I read of their doings and was much intrigued, but it wasn't until 1967 that their first album - 'Gorilla' - was released and I got a flavour of the inspired lunacy of this wonderful unit. I subsequently bought all their albums as they were released and was lucky enough to see them live on their farewell tour in, I think, 1970. Those last few gigs are generally considered to be amongst the best that they ever did. I can remember being almost helpless with laughter by the end of the evening, Profoundly happy that I had seen such a thing and profoundly sad that I would not see such a thing again, Needless to say, a small part of my mind stayed vigilant and made notes...some of their style was due to show up in the Jugular Vein stage act in the very near future. Here is a taste of their surreal splendor, a TV performance of 'Canyons of your Mind'.
Along the way their have been people who wrote and performed songs that made one laugh - such as Jeremy Taylor and Leon Rosselson, but they were not exclusively humourists, and the musical content in both cases was not in the same class as the lyrics. Never the less they produced some good stuff, frequently with a strong political edge and their respective web sites are well worth a visit.
Randy Newman is in a league of his own. He writes great tunes and superb lyrics. His arrangements are brilliant. He makes you laugh and he makes you cry, frequently at the same time. I have followed his career with enthusiasm since hearing his second album in 1970. I was so bowled over by his song writing that I felt that their was no point in me trying to write any more because he was doing everything that I had ever tried to do and unlike me, succeeding at it. I can't recommend him highly enough. Here's a clip of a live performance of 'Christmas in Capetown'. If you are familiar with the recorded original then you will realise that all the elements of the instrumental arrangements are there in his solo piano part. It's a very good example of him climbing into another mind and writing a song from that mind's perspective. He's not a prolific songwriter just eleven new albums of songs since 1968 but the quality rarely falters and the good news is that their is a new album, entitled 'Harps and Angels' is due for release in August. It includes a song called 'A Few Words in Defence of Our Country' which demonstrates that, if possible, he's sharper than ever. Roll on August!