Jake in a Box and on the Box

by Harry on September 29, 2006

If I have any regrets (apart from not having played enough cricket) among the biggest must be indolently passing up the opportunity to wander down the Iffley Road to watch Jake Thackray play in a pub sometime in the mid-1980’s. I still can’t imagine what I was thinking; the cover price was something like 2 quid, and it didn’t even require staying out late (something I was slightyl less averse to in those days anyway). Now the chance is gone forever. But a while ago Jake In a Box (UK) arrived. All four EMI albums, plus reams of extras (Live Performance (UK) is, I’m told, on its way). I’ve been playing it ever since.
(NB: bob mcmanus should be sure to read on)

According to Victor Lewis-Smith’s notes Jake was a life-long socialist. To be honest I’d assumed he was a one-nation Tory, and although its nice to know he was on the team, learning that he was makes no difference to the songs. My 5 year old knows Sister Josephine by heart (I’ve seen strangers raise their eyebrows on hearing a little girl singing:

No longer will her snores ring through the chapel during prayers
Nor her lustful moanings fill the stilly night
No more empty bottles of altar wine come clunking from her cell
No longer will the cloister toilet seat stand upright

to herself). But my favourite of all is Lah-Di-Dah. I don’t drink, we didn’t have a wedding, and I like some of my in-laws quite a bit, but if my wife outlives me I’d want it played at my funeral, and just for her. Its one of the truly great love songs, expressing just how much the lover is willing to go through in order to be married to his true love:

I’ll bill and coo
With your gruesome Aunty Susan
I’ll stay calm, I’ll play it cool;
I’ll let your tetchy uncles
Get my back up, cross my heart.
And I shan’t get shirty when they say I look peculiar.

As to the prospective mother-in-law:

And so I’ll smile and I’ll acquiesce
When she invites me to caress
Her scabby cat;
I’ll sit still while she knits
And witters, cross my heart,
And I shan’t lay a finger on the crabby old batface.

Now I see that Jake is to be on the box, for those lucky few of you who can get BBC4. Oct 6th, 9pm. Jake on the Box is a TV biography of the late great man, and will be followed by 30 minutes of concert footage.

(NB: this post is mainly for the excellent Bob McManus, who’s demonstrated his fine taste in music sufficiently often that I’d find it tragic if he never listened to the great JT)



bob mcmanus 09.29.06 at 10:10 am

Thank you for the kind words and the recommendation. I had not heard of Jake Thackray. I looked Thackray up on AMG and they surround him with stars. He looks to be to my taste.

America has a few such troubadours:David Ackles, Townes van Zandt, Leonard Cohen, Minnesota’s Peter Himmelman, John Hiatt, Tom Waits. Pete Seeger & Doc Watson. But I suspect we have too much money, too large a stage, too much energy, maybe not enough history. Maybe too many influences, like the blues. Socialism has never gotten a foothold here, compassion and humility are not our best developed virtues. We kill our poets.

There is Something about England, ya know. Something too big for such a small island, that overflows. I was going to link to something warmer & sunnier: “Streets of London” or “One of Those Days in England” or something by Ray Davies or Billy Bragg, but I gush huh.

Thank you.


Dave MB 09.29.06 at 10:40 am

I heard Jake at a Folk Club in Cambridge (UK) in 1982 — sorry to here he’s gone.


harry b 09.29.06 at 12:22 pm

Thanks for reading through bob — I’ve had this post more or less in mind for you ever since the 70s rock post I did, though I noted your tastes earlier than that. Of course, I had to get the CDs first. Jake is very wry, sometimes very rude, occasionally sentimental, but always, I find, delightful. I love all the Brits you cite there and previously, and some (Davies and Harper eg) are better at their best than jake was. But there is so little Thackray that falls much short of his best — almost every song on the collection is one I’m delighted to listen to.
Oh, and by admiring your musical taste I do not mean to be casting aspersions on your political orientation which I nearly always find just about right, too. (I know we disagree about things, but I, at least, always regard those as disagreements about details, the way we might, I don’t know, disagree about whether One of those days in England is better than When an Old Cricketer Leaves the Crease).

dave mb: he died a while ago, a few days before Joe Strummer, in fact, and if I believed in aan afterlife (which I don’t) I’d like to think of them writing together.


Melissa 09.29.06 at 9:48 pm

A small correction: Leonard Cohen is from Montreal. Very different from Mordechai Richler (who was precoccupied with it), but that Jewish, Anglo Montreal experience oozes through all the adult layers.


Ben 09.29.06 at 10:13 pm

I don’t really know what you’re talking about, but maybe my problem is being at Oxford 20 years too early…


Ben 09.29.06 at 10:14 pm

Or *late* even. You were early…

Assuming it’s the Iffley Rd I know.


harry b 09.29.06 at 10:26 pm

I shouldn’t mislead, ben. It is your Iffley Road, but I was never at Oxford. I spent my later secondary school years there (Peers in Littlemore, now in speical measures I understand, I left in 1981), and my mum continued to live there for many years afterwards (and my dad still does). So I would have wandered down the Iffley Road into, rather than out of, town.


Ben 09.30.06 at 1:53 pm

In, at – doesn’t always have to make a lot of difference. Still, it seems you have excuse to return if and when you like.

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