This week Britain has been hot, hotter than it’s been for a long time. We don’t know whether to be excited or scared, the weather forecasters are putting a brave face on it but also, we are beginning to realise that Global warming might actually be happening no matter how many plastic bottles we put in the recycling bin.
And Boris Johnson is our new prime minister; its like the very gates of hell have been opened!
It’s tempting to want to return to a simpler time where temperatures were manageable, we still had an ozone layer and you could take your girl out in the ford Cortina, sink a few pints of Watney’s and drive back without the nanny state raising an eyebrow . (talking of which I’d had enough advice about sunscreen and staying hydrated by the end of May).
The summer of 1970 belonged to Mungo Jerry. ‘In the Summertime’ was about the only record on the radio for months. The good time jug band feel was at odds with the band’s inception. An early gig had been with anarchic proto punks The Social Deviants and a breakthrough festival gig saw them sharing the billing with Black Sabbath and the Grateful Dead.
But the early 70’s were like that, on one hand the bands had got heavier but there was also space for goodtime skiffle like Lindisfarne and McGuiness-Flint. The Beatles were gone, we were in uncharted territory.
The really notable thing about Mungo Jerry was not the music but the appearance of main man, composer, guitarist, harp and kazoo player and singer Ray Dorset. Dorset possessed a formidable afro but also the best mutton chop sideburns ever seen on Top of the Pops (and there was plenty of competition in the early 70’s). Lets face it, no one was too worried about who was playing double bass, Dorset was Mungo Jerry, in fact at one point his band tried to replace him which must be one of the most deluded group decisions ever. Management sidedwith Dorset and from that point him and the band were the same.
The band’s website, yes, they are still a concern today, features an iconic graphic of Dorset, he’s 73 now, I suspect he has changed a bit but Jerry/Dorset are still a brand after all these years.
Subsequent records tended to rock out a bit more, in fact at one-point Dorset was in Kathmandu who worked with Peter Green during his wilderness years. But it was ‘In the Summertime’ that we will remember them for. Superficially it’s a simple blues sequence with lyrics essentially about taking a girl out ’in the summertime’. Somehow it captured the public consciousness, I’m not really interested in sales but believe me, it sold a lot, I mean really loads and loads.
Dig a bit deeper there’s some interesting elements to the song. It sounds like the bass is played by a jug, this was popular in the ‘rent bands’ of the 20’s and 30’s where groups of ‘musicians’would gather to have a party to pay the rent. Blowing across the top of the jug was a cheap substitute for a proper bass. There is also some vocal percussion on display, an early British appearance of beatboxing. Similarly remarkable is Dorset’s voice, its not impossible to conclude that his success would pave the way for us accepting the bleatings of Marc Bolan in a few months’ time.
So, to wrap it up here are some Mungo Jerry/ Ray Dorset fun facts
The band got their name from TS Elliot’s book of practical cats
In the Summertime was such a shock hit that Dorset had to ask for time off from his factory job to appear on Top of The Pops
The ‘have a drink have a drive’ line was used in a drink drive advert.
Fans include Tom Yorke of Radiohead
In the Summertime was originally an early Maxi Single
Dorset wrote ‘Feels like I’m in Love’ for Elvis but it was a big hit for Kelly Marie in 1980
Dorset is a freemason who has suffered irritable bowel syndrome for 45 years (the two things are not necessarily related)
Here’s the song