An album of new recordings of long lost songs by the late, great Jake Thackray. It is a historic release for any admirer of Thackray’s work, and the most significant addition to the writer’s catalogue for over a decade. Most of the album’s fifteen songs have never been released in any format before. Many have lain, forgotten, in the BBC archives for decades; some have not been heard for half a century.
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Leeds-born Jake Thackray (1938-2002) is increasingly recognised as being one of the greatest English songwriters of the twentieth century, a unique talent, whose songs are full of poetry, wit, irreverence and humanity. He became known to millions through his regular appearances in the 1960s and 1970s on programmes such as Braden’s Week and That’s Life. During his career he performed over 1000 times on television and radio, performed for the royal family and toured the world. His distinctive appearance, deadpan delivery, talent for storytelling, clever wordplay, occasional, artful use of vulgarity and surreal imagination delighted many viewers and outraged some. Since his death in obscurity there has been growing recognition of his genius and a resurgence of interest in his work. His admirers include Jarvis Cocker, Alex Turner, Don Black, Thea Gilmore, Cerys Matthews, Benjamin Clementine and Neil Gaiman. (The Arctic Monkeys’ Cornerstone was influenced by Thackray’s writing and its video pays a visual homage: compare it with Thackray’s Lah Di Dah video on YouTube. Alex Turner talks about Thackray’s influence here).
Between 1967 and 1981 Jake released only four studio and two live LPs. Most of the songs on these albums were re-released in 2005 on an excellent CD box set, Jake in a Box. However, a number of songs of real quality were never officially recorded and have remained unavailable. Until now.
John has recorded unreleased songs from across two decades of Jake’s writing. They take a wide variety of approaches: comic songs from Braden’s Week (The Ferry Boat, When Lucy Comes), topical ‘point numbers’ about items in the news (The Municipal Workers’ Strike and the startlingly direct and political God Bless America) and songs written as jokes for family and friends (e.g. the surreal Our Dog and Tortoise, two children’s songs such as only Jake could have written). You will also find here serious, mature masterpieces from later in Jake’s career, the songs of a true Yorkshire chansonnier, bearing the influence of his hero, the legendary French singer, Georges Brassens. The Bull is a brilliant, ballsy (literally!) attack on hierarchies, celebrity culture and pomposity. The Cenotaph and The Remembrance are astonishing and profound anti-war songs, and Side by Side, focusing on the tribal barriers people erect, could scarcely be more serious or relevant. Also included are what may be the last song Jake wrote (The Berm House – an eco-friendly love song), and a legendary, unfinished song (Kinnell), reconstructed from Jake’s manuscript. For Kinnell and several other songs, where only the lyrics survived in the BBC archive, the words have been set to new melodies by Paul Thompson, and these have attracted high praise from those who knew Jake and his work.
John Watterson is the UK’s leading performer of Jake’s songs. As Fake Thackray he has toured with Fairport Convention and performed at Latitude, Cropredy and the Edinburgh Fringe Festivals. He has also played for Jake’s family. He has appeared many times on radio, including Radio 4’s Great Lives and Radio 3’s The Verb, and is researching a biography of Jake. It was in the course of his research that John realised the quality and quantity of unreleased songs and, at the suggestion of Jake’s long-time friend, Ralph McTell, started recording sessions. These recordings are the result. The project has the full support of Jake’s family.
The album title and cover design (by Guardian illustrator Jamie Lenman) both reference Jake’s song and 1967 album, The Last Will and Testament of Jake Thackray. The album booklet includes previously unpublished photographs of Jake by Tish Murtha.
‘It’s wonderful to hear songs by the inimitable Jake Thackray we simply hadn’t known about, and to hear them so close to how he might have performed them…’
‘John Watterson’s obvious joy in performing Jake’s wonderful songs has inspired him to record these Thackray gems, many of which are receiving their first ever release. My dear friend Jake was a modest and shy man, but I think he would be quietly grinning in approval.
John’s collaborator, Paul Thompson, has immersed himself so deeply in Jake’s musicality that the new tunes he has written for some of the songs sound as if they were composed by the man himself.
Jake lives again through this album, which is a wonderful contribution to the canon of a unique and sadly missed artist.’
Victor Lewis-Smith (Producer, ‘Jake on the Box’ BBC 4)
‘Wonderful stuff, bringing some of Jake’s long-forgotten gems back to life. Brilliantly performed songs, with uncannily precise enunciation, and accurately capturing the unique Thackray guitar style. If Jake was right, and there really is an afterlife, he’ll undoubtedly be looking down and giving his gruff approval.’
The Municipal Workers’ Strike
When Lucy Comes
Side by Side
The Berm House
One of Them
God Bless America
John Watterson (voice), Paul Thompson (guitar), Will Thompson (producer).
Design by Jamie Lenman.