The Stick Thing and Other Instruments

OneManBandMusical instruments were expensive in the 70,s relatively speaking. I wore out a guitar catalogue just gazing at the impossibly expensive instruments for hours on end. A cheap electric guitar could set you back £70 in the days when I hadn’t even started earning 30p an hour. My dad, ever keen to save a few pence ,decided we could make an electric guitar. We never finished it of course, the body weighed a ton and as the neck proved too difficult to construct he took the neck off a cheap and useless acoustic which was woefully adequate. I was over 30 before I owned an electric instrument.

For financial reasons alone I was always interested in what might be called novelty instruments In the days before sampling, new sounds were a novelty and the we loved a bit of novelty between strikes and power cuts.

With the Beatles out of the way music was up for grabs, it might go in any direction, it might implode or just give up, bear in mind we had had only had 15 years of ‘pop’ and we still weren’t sure it was going to hang around.So every sound that was new potentially signposted the future of popular music.

On of the big hits with a novelty sound was Lieutenant Pigeon’s ‘Mouldy Old Dough’. Here was a group with a name that was hard to spell with a twin piano attack and a 60 year old band member. The thing that grabbed me however was the ‘penny whistle’ which pianist Robert Woodward would whip out to provide a bit of relief from the plonking pianos and growling drummers.

Just prior to glam Lieutenant Pigeon used the familiar to sound quite futuristic, a bit like some of Joe Meek’s work in the 60’s. Of course they were just a group of lad’s form Coventry (and their mum) who got lucky, they scraped another hit before we tired of them and they sloped off to earn a crust round the working men’s clubs. Their legacy lived on with me as I bought a penny whistle, not quite a penny but certainly in my price range. I learned to play the theme from the ‘Mouldy Old Dough’ and moved onto something a bit more rock.

Another exotic sound from 1972 came from Chicory Tip. Like all the other bands at the time they were 60’s survivors, in this instance  from Maidstone Kent, who had been around for the last five years trying to make a living from the music business. Amazingly their big hit ‘Son of My Father’ was written by non other than Giorgio Moroder which is probably why it features an early sighting of the Moog Synthesiser. It sounds great although to this day I still don’t know most of the lyrics to the song.

The band recorded in this commercial vein for a while but apparently at their dark hearts they were rockers who rather fancied themselves as Deep Purple. As we already had Deep Purple we didn’t want another one but the band did manage to record ‘The Future is Past’ before the public totally lost interest and they were forced to dust off the Moog to preserve their ever diminishing returns.

For strange instruments you couldn’t beat Terry Dactyl and the Dinosaurs who hit the ‘big’ time with ‘Seaside Shuffle’ another 1972 hit (what was going on!) which always conjurers up pictures of grey seas and fish and chips despite the Cajun shuffle. Terry Dactyl was a cover name for Brett Marvin and the Thunderbolts, famous for having Jona Lewie (!?!?!?) and being quite a well respected blues/jug band on the London circuit.

In this clip though they hit the jackpot,mandolin,accordion,washboard,bass drum,euphonium and beer bottle stick thing, the blueprint for Mumford and Sons !

Finally though it wasn’t just 60’s chancers who had an eye for the unusual. Here is the Who, guess the year, you might as well because I cant be bothered to look it up

Here Townsend proves he’s in charge by taking the harmonica off Daltrey who is demoted to Jews Harp, or Jaws Harp if you’re worried that might be a bit racist. I was really impressed by the J harp (as we’ll call it) and on the strength of this performance purchased one myself. The trouble was no one knew how to play it and as ‘Join Together’ wasnt a massive hit there was not much chance to learn from Daltrey as one appearance of Top of the Pops seemed to be it.The consequence of this was I spent a lot of time with the instrument vibrating painfully against my teeth. When I did discover the correct method of playing I found I was getting very dizzy and therefore didnt stick with an instrument that made me permanently nauseous. Amazing despite it’s great sound the J Harp never bothered the charts again

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