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Saturday, 31 December 2011

'Things I know now that I didn’t know then', part 154

In the dual time zone of 1976 /2011, Johnny Mathis has recently knocked Showaddywaddy’s ‘Under the Moon of Love’ from the top of the charts.

Mathis had a distinctive crooning style (said to be based on the desire, during his formative years, to emulate his favourite female vocalists) and his song was an obvious candidate for the Christmas number one; hell, it even had a schmaltzy spoken part designed to bring a tear to your glass eye. It would have been hard to compete against something that seasonal (not to mention well-executed) and poor old Showaddywaddy capitulated after three weeks at the top. Although they were denied the glory of being crowned Kings of the Christmas countdown, they are worth more than a passing mention because, now that the concept of ‘shame’ has largely disappeared from the showbiz lexicon, it’s difficult to think of a modern-day equivalent of Showaddywaddy.

Hailing from Leicester, a city that has never really been acknowledged as one of Britain’s rock and roll capitals, this phalanx of pretend Teddy Boys occupied a special place in my teenage consciousness. When I was at school, they were the sheer, living embodiment of naff. In fact, the style police would have considered ‘naff’ a disgracefully lenient judgement on their schtick, because Showaddywaddy were the colossi of anti-cool; they were as far from the concept of ‘cool’ as it was possible to get. Like a massive black hole in the distant galaxy of Ultra-Naff Major, they exerted a gravitational pull so powerful that the slightest exposure to their work had the potential to suck you down into unimaginable depths of oblivion, shame and ostracism.

Their nickname among the cognoscenti was Sho-fannypaddy. The alliterative word play around their name, the inferred link between their musical prowess and menstrual discharge was not, whichever way you might try to spin it, much of a compliment. To admit to admiring their music might have impressed people, but only in the same way that talking to yourself on the bus would have impressed people. There was a bloke in my class who admitted to liking them and, rather than take this at face value, even the kindest among us interpreted this predilection as an embarrassing lapse in taste, never to be mentioned in polite company. Harsher critics considered it a symptom of his simple-mindedness.

Now that I’m middle-aged and more or less impervious to the whims of fashion, Showaddywaddy look like they would be a good night out. Their material was a tad lightweight, but that’s a charge you could level at most pop acts. They had a dress code, but still allowed individual characters to express a little bit of personality. Best of all, they had an engaging front man in Dave Bartram. He sported one of those big, sexy mouths that would lead you to think that he must have been at least a distant cousin of the Tyler showbiz clan. His movements were just graceful enough to be ‘pop star’ appropriate, without appearing to be too posy or contrived. If you’d like to see a visual demonstration of ‘posy and contrived’, look up Rod Stewart performing ‘The Killing of Georgie’ on Top of the Pops. To say that Rod camped it up outrageously would be something of an understatement.

Bartram had a certain easy charm with the camera and was also comfortable enough to get in among the audience when the mood was right. He looked like a bloke who just happened to be a singer in a band and it’s really hard not to like him, even if you’re thinking that the whole Teddy Boy look is just so déclassé. And remember that, in 1976, the members of Showaddywaddy were aping a look that had been dead for the best part of twenty years. To a teenager, that seemed like the most hideous crime imaginable, but Dave Bartram and Showaddywaddy didn’t seem to mind. They just looked like they were enjoying themselves and trying to entertain people.

I wish I’d been simple-minded enough to have known that at the time.

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