‘Record Collector’ features editor, Mark Paytress unearths three unique songs recorded in honour of PETER WYNGARDE…
In recent years, PETER WYNGARDE’s profile has received a dramatic boost, climaxing in the availability – of much of his work on DVD – including ‘Department S’ and ‘Jason King’ – two series which seem to improve with age.
But few are aware that some of the earliest recognition of this revival of fortunes came via an obscure pop group who sung PETER’s praises on no less than three tracks on their obscure ‘Give Us A Light You Bastard’ album (sometimes known as ‘Off The Top of Our Heads’).
This record, which exists on a handful of test-pressings, is yet to emerge on the commercial market. Indeed, even tapes of its contents are preciously guarded, so I was pleased to receive a copy several months after the album was recorded – back in April 1990, during three days in the wake of legendary Hollywood actress, Greta Garbo.
If you can imagine the comfortable and uplifting music of Ray Coniff filtered through the crazed eyes of a social outcast like Charles Manson, you’ll begin to understand the Breadwinner world-view. Unconventional (but not forcedly so) and endearingly melodic, the bands album is a remarkable example of how of our eras best music still manages to elude the prying eyes of the mass media. I spoke to the somewhat reticent ex-band members to find out a little more about their fascination with PETER WYNGARDE.
“I was still in short trousers when Jason King was on TV,” says ‘Big’ Bob McGrath, the groups percussionist and singer/composer of the reggae-influenced ‘If Wyngarde Was A Woman’.
“I knew nothing about his wonderful LP until, believe it or not, I found a copy – weather-beaten but still playable, under a bush in the New Forrest. It was a revelation. I sang in several punk bands, but we’d never have been able to get away with a song like ‘Rape’, even in those days. As I’m sure most WYNGARDE fans appreciate, it’s totally bloody mad!”
Playing it to his friends, McGrath and his mates in Dogloo Art Group eventually wrote to PETER via his agent, and received some answers to a questionnaire that they intended to publish in their ‘One More War’ fanzine’.
“I have to say that he was a bit bemused by our line of questioning,” says Breadwinner’s Morris De Cony. “But his replies were delivered with all the wit and understated cool that one would expect. We weren’t disappointed, not until Dogloo got banned from performing in our local town and we decided to shelve the magazine. Our approach to the arts has always been irreverent and controversial, and when the local council read the synopsis of our performance, which included an exhibit of ‘The Human Prune’ (where one band member sits in a bath all day, and is rushed on the stage in the evening covered in wrinkles), they pulled the show. Instead, the musical wing of Dogloo, Breadwinner, set about making a record”.
The three PETER-related tunes on ‘Give Us A Light…’ were composed in the irreverent style pioneered by WYNGARDE on his own album. ‘Because he’s a Sex God par excellence, we just had to write a song that dealt with that, but from a different perspective. So I came up with the idea of ‘If Wyngarde Was a Woman’, says McGrath. ‘The rest of the band loved it. It was in the true Dogloo spirit, and suitably Wyngardeian, too. We had great hopes for it; Morris was forever harping on about us doing a ‘Top of the Pops’, all decked out in Jason King-style, perhaps with PETER doing a little cameo walk-on. For all I know, he probably still harbours such a dream, the fool!”
‘If Wyngarde Was a Woman’, which opens with a cheesy drum beat, is the aural equivalent of an exquisite piece of porcelain in Harrods; part reggae, part Latin amore – it’s the perfect accompaniment to one of Seňor King’s most exotic assignments.
On a seagulls wings I fly
with Pete up to the sky
Please don’t ask me why
oh, if WYNGARDE was a woman
And the chorus is a hoot, too:
‘If WYNGARDE was a woman
I’d sail the seven seas
to buy her jewels and spices
And other sexy treats.
You can almost hear Jason’s flares flapping with delight.
“We were all concerned that a woman’s touch was also needed,” says the band’s chanteuse – the stunning Fay Allright, who wrote ‘Hey There, Petter (sic) Wyngarde’, the second of the PETER trilogy on the album.
“I wrote it with two things in mind: ‘Le Petomane’, the film starring Leonard Rossiter which detailed the career of the French bloke who used to fart for a living. And the constant playing of PETER’s album which I fell in love with. Set to a canter reminiscent of the ‘Telstar’ man, Joe Meek. ‘Hey There, Petter Wyngarde’ was a solo effort that defies easy description.
“I don’t care much for trends in popular music,” says Fay. “I work on the basis of what interests me at any particular time, and my WYNGARDE obsession was reaching a peak when I wrote that song. I knew no record label was going to touch us; after all, everything was rave music, the grunge style was coming in and I knew we’d be impossible to market in that climate. So I found a mad violinist, double-tracked my voice, and did what I thought suited the mood best. I’m still very proud of that song.”
Best of all, perhaps, is ‘Jason Kinky Winky’, midway through the second side of the album. As DJ, Steve Wright could, with a few plays, transform this frivolous piece of country-tinged MOR into an overnight classic. Featuring the harmonising voices of De Cony and Allright, ‘Jason Kinky Winky’ is all your wildest Stereolab and St Etienne fantasies come true. It’s the kind of track, like, ‘The Birdy Song’ which immediately implants itself into your memory – just one hearing and you’ll never be able to forget it! Morris even turned in a Rockabilly-style solo.
“I always imagine Jason King as a Teddy Boy grown up,” says De Cony, “which is why we decided to add the James Burton touch. The impassioned WYNGARDE fan will detect several references to his album littered throughout the lyrics: ‘Billy Sexy Hippie’ gets a name check, and the pay-off line, ‘Gas gets rid of all the stinky’, is a direct steal from the WYNGARDE album”.
Sadly there are no plans to make the Breadwinner album more freely accessible: “I see
myself as one of life’s customers,” says Mr Rubbish – the pseudonymous fourth member of the Breadwinner set-up, “and I prefer to buy records than to make them. I really couldn’t give a toss about the album, quite frankly. It was only the continual badgering of Morris, and the promise of lots of free cider at the recording sessions that tempted me and Big Bob into the studio in the first place.
“We had a saying in Dogloo: ‘Art for art’s sake’, and I’d much rather stick to that than be tempted by big money offerings from corporate record companies. We aspire to nothing but pure indulgence; intoxicated on homemade wine, and our fantasies.
“If the record ever came out properly, I’d be most unhappy though, of course, I’d love PETER to be aware of our continual devotion to his life and work”.
As if to prove his distance from the record-producing world, Mr Rubbish has since handed over the master tapes of the album to me – a copy of which was sent to Hellfire Club president, Tina Hopkins.
Respecting the wishes of the Breadwinner collective, I’ve decided not to actively court the record companies. However, if there was a way in which the three WYNGARDE-related could be combined into a tribute disc, I see no barriers involved. All those who’ve heard the songs in question have emerged punch-drunk and in a state of disbelief. Breadwinner have managed to sustain a Jason King sensibility decades after he left our screens. And as the quest for Exotica – records that stand far removed from rocks’ interminable trajectory has shown, there is a demand for music that slips between the net of courting fashion. Hopefully, on the back of this, this trio of WYNGARDE-inspired tributes will see the light of day officially. We’ll keep you posted.
 Burton’s distinctive guitar playing can be heard on the early Ricky Nelson singles, as well as later Elvis Presley recordings.
The Hellfire Club: The OFFICIAL PETER WYNGARDE Appreciation Society: https://www.facebook.com/groups/813997125389790/