Tuesday, 31 May 2011

We Are The Biscuit Factory Rappers/Known On The Block As Da Chigley Packaz...

And from The Magic Roundabout and all of its associated not-about-drugs-ery, we move on with an equal lack of linkage with hallucinogen ingestion to one of the other iconic television animations of the 'swinging' sixties. Well, technically, four of the other iconic animations of the 'swinging' sixties, if we're being strictly accurate about it. If ever there was a legitimate rival claimant to Gerry Anderson's rarely-disputed title of Supreme Balding Overlord Of Small-Screen Puppetry That Dominated Sixties Television (And Beyond), it was Gordon Murray, who between 1966 and 1976 was responsible for four - yes, four, you did read that right, and we'll be finding out just that unexpectedly numerically-expanded total was arrived at in due course (and that's where the story starts to get really peculiar) - charming stop-motion serials set in stylised mouthless-puppet-populated sociologically-idealised depicitions of British residential community life. Although one of them wasn't actually made in the 'swinging' sixties. And it wasn't - apparently - set in Britain either, nor even the sixties, 'swinging' or otherwise. But we really are getting ahead of ourselves there. What would Chippy Minton say??

Not much, probably, as he didn't have a mouth. Nor, more to the point, was he actually a resident of Chigley. Well, yes, he did make a guest appearance in more than one episode of it, but again we're getting ahead of ourselves there, even if he wouldn't have much to say about that himself. But he liked his job as a carpenter, and there was nothing he'd rather be, and he'd had his tools for many long years and they were all good friends to him, and a joke about He's Gone by Suede that would take too long to explain, so he probably wouldn't really begrudge us talking about his non-parent series. Not least because there's plenty more to come about his parent series in but a couple of chapters' time.

First broadcast in 1969, Chigley was the third in this none-more-sixties series (which, in an even more obscure joke that would take too long to explain, would technically make it Nightmares In Wonderland, though for very good reasons that will later become very much apparent that title should realistically belong to one of the earlier instalments... but, again, more on that later). Thematically described as being located 'Near Camberwick Green, Trumptonshire', Chigley was a subdivision of the fictional county which was given over to ultra-modernist light industry (a world away from the deceptively nearby ruralist-pluralist backdrop of mills and vintage cars that we'll be delving into in a future instalment), boasting an impressive high-tech biscuit factory and fully functional wharf alongside a smaller pottery business, and all of it overseen by Lord Belborough, the eccentric toff resident of the capacious and opulent Winkstead Hall who owned his own private steam railway and regularly played his barrel organ for the nifty footwork-related edification of the biscuit factory workers (yes, alright, this isn't Don't Scare The Robin Carmody Hare. you know).

For reasons that are not altogether clear, Chigley is the 'forgotten' entry in Gordon Murray's excursions into small-screen utopian cultural harmonia (though not quite as forgotten as the fourth one, and in a nifty bit of postmodernist audience interactivity, see if you can remember the name of it before we actually get to it). Perhaps, though this is pure speculation here, partly due to the fact that it guest-stars a large number of characters from the two earlier series while introducing some slightly less memorable ones of its own (Lord Belborough notwithstanding), and also perhaps partly due to the BBC dropping it from their repeat schedules for a couple of years in the seventies. And yet, ironically, it also boasts one of the most widely-remembered elements of all of the combined series, namely Lord Belborough's jaunty song about how time flies by when he's the driver of a train, riding on the footplate there and back again as he raced to ensure some ingredients got to the biscuit factory in time for them to, erm, make another batch of biscuits. And there's a special prize of Being Completely Ignored for the first person to mention Half Man Half Biscuit's terminally unamusing 'tee hee, they were all on drugs!!' rewrite of it. Trumpton Riots was funny, though.

And yet for some odd reason it isn't that well-remembered effort that forms the Magic Roundabout-accompanying second half of track four of Music From BBC Children's Programmes, but something from elsewhere in the programme. And what's more, it's presented in a fashion that would leave even DJ Kool Herc mouth-agape at the turntable-spinnin' skills on display.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Lazy Day, Lazy Day, Lazy Day For You And Me (NO DUNCAN THE DRAGONS)

Something that's become puzzlingly obvious during the course of this convoluted narrative is that whenever there's a post with a title in French, it generates a smaller than usual flurry of interest, then is seemingly ignored for a couple of days, until the weekend when - for some unexplainable reason - it suddenly goes bananas and the 'views' count rockets into the high hundreds. It's ironic, then, that most of these posts (apart from the one about Blue Peter and left brain/right brain psychometrics, but then that didn't exactly score too highly on the view-o-meter anyway, which probably says a lot about Blue Peter though less than it says about this increasingly tedious diversion into French Lieutenant's Woman-esque postmodernist commentary on the mechanics of, ahem, 'storytelling') have been about The Magic Roundabout, which provided regular weekday entertainment in its pre-news timeslot before disappearing entirely for the duration of the weekend.

But let's not start shouting up to Philip Martin for the next page of the script just yet. Back to The Magic Roundabout, and more specifically the theme music as heard on Music From BBC Children's Programmes. This was, you'll doubtless be unsurprised to hear, the previously much-discussed short sped-up instrumental version as also heard on the BBC's redubs of the series, and indeed on the earlier BBC Records And Tapes story album from whence this was presumably re-edited (though stranger substitutions have happened, and indeed will happen as we move on through the tracklisting... but all in good time). And this short sped-up version, as will have been all too obvious from the last couple of posts (even the bits in French), is deeply entrenched in that sub-psychedelic retro-nirvana higher state of Barnaby-skewed consciousness that had been so keenly sought from Music From BBC Children's Programmes.

True, the theme from The Magic Roundabout is hardly a serious challenger to the I Am Best At Being UK Psych Hurrah title jointly held by The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, Ogden's Nut Gone Flake, Odessey And Oracle and Would You Believe? (oh, alright, or bloody Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band... can we move on now please?), and indeed it may last little more than thirty seconds, but within those little more than thirty seconds - helped in no small part by the trebly and audio-strobing sound quality - there is an entire quasi-hallucinogenic lost world of gaudy crudely-animated entertainment and black and white Radio Times pages. It's a very different kind of psychedelia to that usually ascribed to The Magic Roundabout by tedious drug bores insisting that it's all a drugs analogy about about drugs (drugs), and this ability to tap into 'the past' of popular culture (a phenomenon that itself, ironically, is also becoming a thing of 'the past' thanks to pop-cultural artefacts of yore actually tending to be available these days rather than hovering on the haziest fringes of the collective memory) is, well, exactly what it was hoped that Music From BBC Children's Programmes might possess.

And how are we scoring on the putative, fictional and not entirely logically applicable Sort Of Chart Rundown Thing-O-Meter Of Just How Pan-Cultural Retro-Symbiotic Music From BBC Children's Programmes Actually Is, then? Well, Mary Mungo & Mindfulness-Pickers, what we have so far is roughly half of the tracks hitting the desired Professor Jordan's Magic Soundshow-esque mark, a couple more sort of but not quite doing so, and one not doing so at all, even if it did inadvertently give rise to a bizarre freak incident of 'trending'. It's all starting to resemble a Derek Griffiths-slanted take on Tinkerbell's Fairydust, the fabled elaborately-named UK Psych band who recorded the awe-inspiring singles 2010 and Lazy Day (b/w, coincidentally enough, In My Magic Garden) and an unreleased album, which was the stuff of minor musical holy grail-related speculative music press agogness until it actually eventually was released, and turned out to be a collection of nice-enough-but-nowhere-near-as-good-as-the-singles harmony pop covers. Mind you, it did have a naked fairy on the cover, which at least holds slightly more visual appeal than those loathesome youngsters from the cover of Music From BBC Children's Programmes.

But, as was last mentioned several millennia and a lot of references to France Gall ago, The Magic Roundabout was merely the first half of the fourth track of Music From BBC Children's Programmes, and if it had acted as a sort of retronostalgic knight in shining armour galloping up to smite Blue Peter, then the cavalry were also about to appear on the horizon, riding on the footplate there and back again...

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Tous Les Garçons Et Les Filles (Avec Les Chevilles Sur Leurs Nez)

If you've ever heard the original French theme music from The Magic Roundabout, or rather Le Manège Enchanté (which, as we've already heard, and will soon hear again, is more or less the same thing but with some subtle yet significant differences), you'll know that, much like the show itself, it's broadly similar to the version you're familiar with, but at the same time subtly yet significantly different. It's built around the same chords and melody but is performed at a much slower pace, and is bolstered by some very sixties organ work and an arrangement not unlike that of a Francoise Hardy record. At one point it even had lyrics, sung as a duet between Margote and Pere Pivoine (or Florence and Mr. Rusty in 'old money'), which basically just do little apart from describe how a roundabout habitually turns round but at least sound nice and exotic in the original French. Later on, for some reason, the producers saw fit to replace it with Pollux (or 'Dougal' in old money) singing a bland song with a peg on his nose about how he was "friend of all adults and children", apparently, and which sounds about as far removed from a Françoise Hardy record as you're liable to get. Even if she was to stick a peg on her nose.

Over here on the BBC, the earliest Eric Thompson-redubbed instalments did indeed use an instrumental version of the original theme, but eschewed the delights of hastily penning some mechanic rotation-centric lyrics for Sandie Shaw (though someone at EMI's cheapo imprint Music For Pleasure later did write some, albeit not for Sandie Shaw, and yes they're every bit as unimaginative as you're probably imagining, but that's another story), in favour of swapping it for a manically sped-up reworking that sounded like it was being played on a steam-driven barrel organ held together with springs and on the verge of exploding; the only resemblance this would bear to a Françoise Hardy record would be if you were to play one at 16rpm while throwing your record player down the stairs.

This would stay in place for the entirety of its run (and indeed for the later Nigel Planer-dubbed Channel 4 remounting, albeit horribly compressed and with some nasty synth bass added, but that's another story... and one that we won't even be going near frankly), and that was pretty much it as far as music for The Magic Roundabout (as opposed to Le Manège Enchanté) went. While the original versions featured dozens of admittedly rather inconsequential songs, as evidenced by those featured in the big-screen spinoff Dougal And The Blue Cat (where they came accompanied by all manner of choreographed hoo-hah so there was pretty much no option but to leave them in place), Thompson preferred to leave the 'clean' instrumentals on the undubbed film prints simply as vocal-free backing music, and get on with the more serious business of wisecracking about mouthy plants forming unions. Though he did once see fit to incorporate a self-recorded approximation of Dylan and Brian jamming an instrumental cover of Rainy Day Women #12 & 35. No, really.

How and why said worryingly haphazard 'everybody take cover!!' arrangement came to be used for the BBC redubs in place of the original themes, and indeed from whence it came in the first place, are questions to which there seems to be no straightforward answer. There's not even an easily identifiable artist credit, more a logic bomb-esque confusion of series creators and music publishers and what appears to be some initials too, so it's not so much a research dead-end as something that gives you a headache just by looking at it. But used it was, at the start and end (and sometimes in the middle) of close to four hundred editions of The Magic Roundabout, so small wonder that it's come to be so firmly embedded in the national subconscious, and indeed so powerfully evocative of a surreal pyschedelic mindset that all of those tedious rumours about it being 'about drugs' could only hope to even begin to hint at.

And here it was, at the start of the fourth track of Music From BBC Children's Programmes, poised ready to evoke that selfsame surreal psychedelic mindset without the aid of psychotropic substances or a peg on Mireille Mathieu's nose (or Marianne Faithfull in 'old money'). But would it work? And, more to the point, what made up the remainder of that fourth track?

Sunday, 8 May 2011

And The Ones That Florence Gives You Don't Do Anything At All

Let's get the tedious bit out of the way, then. The Magic Roundabout, so conventional 'wisdom' has it, was at best the acid-frazzled creation of someone who had imbibed far too many hallucinogens and 'seen' the hat-sporting pink cows lurking on the periphery of human sensory awareness, and at worst crafty pro-drug propaganda for the under-fives with Dougal cast as a sugarcube-scoffing acid visionary, Dylan as a weed-smoking layabout, Mr Rusty as a cart-toting pusher in the mould of Bubbles from The Wire, the Roundabout itself as a giant mushroom, and Ermintrude/Brian/Zebedee/The Train/Delete Where Ohhangonaminute somehow representing 'speed', however that works exactly. And if you play the theme music backwards, it says 'DINNERS' HAS BEEN DEAD FOR AGES HONESTLY. Notice how this perfect fit analysis invariably omits Mr McHenry, Florence, Paul, Basil and Rosalie, not to mention Penelope The Spider and Tweet & Tweet Tweet.

Notice also, more importantly, that there is absolutely no truth in this nonsense whatsoever, and no amount of nudging and winking from third-rate standups nor indeed bare-faced insistence from 'talking heads' on clip shows (both of which, funnily enough, our old pal Ricky Hervaid is guilty of) will ever make it so. If you were alighting on these pages hoping for some zany lolz about how they must all have been on those crazy drugs!1, then please go elsewhere and take that bloody Half Man Half Biscuit song with you. Anyway, we've already sort of been through this once with all that stuff about Jonathan Cohen playing Don't Fight It Feel It on the Bontempi organ or whatever it was. And now, you'll doubtless be delighted to hear, that's the tedious bit out of the way. The bit about Bubbles was quite good though.

Meanwhile, what all this sub-Slater From Dazed & Confused rumourmongering annoyingly obscures is that, well, there's no getting away from the fact that The Magic Roundabout really did chime with the times. Like all of the best 'accidental psychedelia', from Colour My World by Petula Clark and The Great Jelly Of London to The BBC Schools Diamond and Bedazzled, it was made in all 'straight'-ness but still allowed itself to be influenced by the fashion, design and style of the day, and as such ended up more effective in its kaleidoscopic otherworldliness than many more humourless and contrived attemps at 'being psychedelic'; this was even more true of the Thompson-reworked version, which was far from averse to throwing in chortling references to countercultural totems. And it had across-the-board appeal too, drawing in as many appreciative adult viewers who understood the idiosyncracies of Thompson's wit as target audience members fresh from taking their Pelham Puppets Dougal for a 'walk'.

More to the point, it found itself unexpectedly chiming with the times in the early nineties too. Not only were Channel 4 screening some previously unseen episodes with writing and narrating dutes taken on by Nigel Planer (who also produced a bonkers spoof Dispatches-style documentary ridiculing the more outlandish theories that have grown up around the show), but it had also been adopted on a more iconographic face value by the post-Acid House 'rave' generation (who, let's face it, were so blatant in their 'E'-centric hallucinogen propaganda that they didn't need to look for any 'hidden' messages anywhere else), not just as fashion-appropriate t-shirt fodder but also in musical terms, with no less than three superb examples of neo-psychedelia - Too Much Fun by The Chillin' Krew, Summers Magic by Mark Summers, and Everlasting Day by, erm, Magik Roundabout (who also apparently did a cover of The Porpoise Song that nobody seems to have heard) - either making lyrical references to or sampling the theme music of The Magic Roundabout.

But could it chime with the times a third time? Was that all-too-familiar eighteen-note refrain what was needed to forge a psychotropic pathway to Cheggers Plays Zen and obliterate all memory of bloody Barnacle Bill...? Get cranking that handle, Pere Pivoine...

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

BOIING! Time For Not Bed

This Drum And Fife mystery clearly isn't going to get resolved any time soon, which is all the more unfortunate for anyone who was hoping to eventually find an answer on here, as we're not going to be spending any more time than we have to on Blue Peter. Instead, it's time to move on to track four of Music From BBC Children's Programmes, and a show that is probably going to end up being discussed in such depth and from so many different angles that it'll leave you feeling like the coverage of John Noakes and company was almost insultingly fleeting.

It's been a bit of a journey of musical mixed fortunes through Music From BBC Children's Programmes thus far, remaining resolutely rooted in the shallow end of the hoped-for psychedelic blast of retro-iconographic pre-school far-outness, with only the Play Away team and their bubblegum pop funkateering really coming up with the hypothetical goods. Throughout all of this, you may just have ever so slightly noticed, there have been constant and hopeful references to various other shows, and one in particular, that would more closely fit the hypothetical bill and blast all thoughts of that jolly stylised sailing ship out of the water in a shockwave of primarily-coloured stop-motion puppetry and badly aligned end credit slides. But as Barnaby has yet to put in an appearance (his true followers still believe he will make himself manifest and wreak havoc with the forces of creation, though they've probably been taking the opening titles of Once Upon A Time... Man a little too literally), it's time to turn instead to the show that played Chemical World to his For Tomorrow.

You may remember, if you've a long memory and infinite patience for wading through base insults directed at Blue Peter, that a couple of posts back mention was made of an ancient BBC continuity slide, with much cheerleading in the general direction of its left hand side. If you're somewhat slightly baffled by the idea of someone supporting the left hand side and left hand side only of a continuity slide, then you'll have to go back and read the post (it's called Bleu, Bleu, L'amour Est Bleu (Surtout En Regardent Pierre Bleu) and is linked to somewhere in the continuity-slide-counteracting vicinity of the bottom right corner of this post, probably), but suffice it to say that it was something to do with the fact that all of the Children's BBC character iconography most in tune with our purported cause were to be found on the left (yes, alright, this isn't Robin Carmody's Got Talent, you know). One of these was a certain moustachioed jack-in-a-box on a spring, and thankfully there's no need to refer to a thirty-years-plus-out-of-date schedule that's probably tainted by We Are The Champions anyway (and, come to think of it, has nothing to do with the tracklisting of Music From BBC Children's Programmes, so it wouldn't be any use anyway) to find out that, coming up next, it's The Magic Roundabout.

The Magic Roundabout, as doubtless most people reading this were aware already, began in France in 1963, where it was known as Le Manège Enchanté. However, when the BBC bought the series for transmission in 1965, they decided not to go for direct translations of the original scripts (which had a more simplistic and educational quality that was sort of lost in, um, translation), and instead roped in Play School presenter, absurdist, jazz enthusiast and all round Father Of Emma Eric Thompson to make up his own storylines and characters based on what he thought was happening onscreen. The result was a surreal and dryly humorous exercise in Zen-based storytelling set to distinctively offbeat visuals, which remained lodged in a pre-news slot at the tail-end of the BBC's children's schedules right up to the end of the seventies, and infamously found as much favour with adult viewers as it did with its target audience; sometimes with good reason, sometimes with decidedly less than good reason, but we'll get round to all that in due course. More to the point it was, in its own unselfconscious way, about as psychedelic as the BBC's children's programming ever got (discounting Zokko! as a 'bad trip'), though again this was much misunderstood and again we'll be coming back to that in due course.

For the moment, all you need to know is that The Magic Roundabout was, give or take the occasional power struggle with the more anarcho-radicalist Barnaby and the odd bit of Mr. Benn, the high watermark of exactly the sort of subcultural mindset that I was hoping to unlock within Music From BBC Children's Programmes' grooves. And its theme music was up next.