Monday, 5 January 2015

the rise and fall of jake thackray

Not rock and roll to start the year but the story of a most unusual folk singer and songwriter who, thanks to a recent DVD taken from BBC archive footage, tells the story of Jake Thackray. (Last Octobers release "Jake Thackray And Songs"). Not that he was an obscure performer in the way Nick Drake had been in the era, by the late 1960's and next decade or so Thackray could be seen and heard on countless television and radio shows in the UK notching up some 1000 performances by the end of the 70's. His songs appealing to producers of weekly magazine and satirical shows thanks to his quick wit of being able to rapidly turn out topical and humorous songs.

An accomplished guitar player, and it was always a nylon stringed classical guitar, accompanied a voice with a broad Yorkshire accent that's maybe as tricky to pick at first as a country Texan drawl can be to the unfamiliar listener. His dead pan expression often with a slightly clipped delivery to his sweet and sour songs can be very sad or very defiant or very rude. He'll always say seriously before beginning one of those "This song is offensive".
The Thackray folk song was less protest, more defiant of popular taste. His early appearances on TV were greeted with howls of protest by some outraged viewers of conservative tastes who saw the songs as bawdy and promiscuous. Well it was the 60's and society had plenty of indignation about anything not fully laced up.
But after a few appearances many more had taken Thackray to their hearts and his songs could be heard consistently until the 80's when like many other songwriters of the previous 2 decades his popularity waned and slowly disappeared from view.
Along with bassist Alan Williams, guitarist John Etheridge (Soft Machine etc) was one of the few people that actually accompanied Thackray on a couple of gigs that also appear in the video "a great guy and much loved .. old school, very self deprecating, honest and full of integrity".

    His style of work was falling out of fashion: his literate, witty lyrics and tales of rural Yorkshire had little resonance in the punk and Thatcher years, folk audiences had lost interest in contemporary song, and in the days of alternative comedy his bawdy humour was deemed sexist and outdated.
He continued on in small pubs, always happier in more intimate surroundings even at his most popular, until plagued by a self-doubt and a breakdown in confidence he retired from performance in the early 90's and then in 2000 beset by health and financial problems he become an alcoholic and declared bankrupt. His inevitable end came just 2 years later.

Jake Thackray was one of the most unusual and original songwriters of his day, overlooked by many, misunderstood by some but to a sizeable following of his fans is nothing short of a legend. Which he would have derided.

    In an interview on the BBC's Culture Show (broadcast 8 August 2009), Alex Turner of Arctic Monkeys cited Thackray as an influence, and in another 2009 interview with XM Radio Turner cited Thackray when specifically discussing their song entitled "Cornerstone." Similarly the Courteeners' songwriter Liam Fray cites Thackray as influence on the group's MySpace page.
Here's an excellent video of him performing 'The Hair of the Widow of Bridlington' live at the Cambridge Folk Festival on the 9th of September 1981.
A story of a woman victimised for her simple pleasures.. as it were.