Reviews

Jake ThackrayJake Thackray
DVD: Jake Thackray And Songs
Label: BBC
Tracks: 30 + 8 Bonus
Website: http://www.jakethackray.com

I think it's fair to say I was never Jake Thackray's biggest fan. By the time I first became aware of him in the late 1980s his approach was already starting to feel somewhat anachronistic. My cultural upbringing - catching the arse-end of the punk movement; learning to appreciate (though never fully embracing) the alternative comedy boom; fully immersing myself in the necessary tropes of mid-80s post-punk/indie (the bad haircut; the dodgy cardie; the righteous indignation!) - had taught me to be suspicious of anything with even the faintest whiff of the establishment about it. Thackray seemed to fall squarely into this category, especially given that it was his comic songs that I first encountered - I probably thought of him as a musical version of that 70s TV comedy graveyard The Comedians. He had, after all, featured regularly on That's Life, which placed him on a par with the likes of Pam Ayres and Doc Cox (aka the excruciating Ivor Biggun!). Hardly the types to spearhead the cultural revolution!

It soon became clear there was something different about Jake however, and although I never fully immersed myself in his world, I certainly came to appreciate his particular mix of humour and pathos. There was - and still is - much to appreciate about Jake, as this DVD of his 1981 BBC TV series will attest. With 30 complete performances filmed in front of modest-sized audiences (plus bonus performances from series guests Pete Scott, Alex Glasgow and Ralph McTell) this collection could rightfully be considered the ultimate greatest hits collection. It represents perhaps his artistic peak and his last great hurrah - he would rarely work in TV again, increasingly withdrew himself from live performance from the late-1980s and would die virtually penniless in 2002.

The blurb accompanying the DVD would have us believe Jake was a nervous live performer, and there is some evidence of this in his occasionally bumbled spoken introductions, but the confidence and coolness with which he approaches the songs themselves gives the lie to that description. The songs are clever, wordy and often surreal and he approaches them here with a confidence and audacity that never runs over into arrogance but indicates that he is fully aware of their deftness. He moves with little fuss from, say, the insightful yet foul-mouthed The Bull to the daftly surreal Sister Josephine to the deeply poignant The Remembrance but the shifts in mood never jar.

The DVD is released by arrangement with the BBC through The Jake Thackray Project, a collective of fans working to promote awareness of Jake's work and arrange for its release. It's a labour of love and clocks in at over two hours (more if you include the guest performers) so might best be experienced in instalments. The material has been a target for the project for over a decade and as you might imagine given it's source, the sound and picture quality are excellent throughout. My only issue with the entire package is the somewhat dull sleeve artwork featuring a less than flattering still from the series, but this is a minor gripe.

Having only encountered Jake's music sporadically over the last couple of decades I wondered how I would feel listening to something like On Again! On Again! after all these years. If elements of Jake's approach already felt outmoded by the 1980s was there still a place for such apparently self-satisfied sexism - however cleverly expressed - in a post-feminist 21st century cultural landscape? My 1980s self might have tutted in only partially-feigned scorn but the truth is that like much of the content here, it is funny, clever and irreverent and surely only the terminally prudish could possibly be offended? I'd like to think my 1980s self would have agreed.

Kev Boyd