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Jake Thackray only released four full studio albums, though his career spanned across four decades. Despite only four albums, Jake had hundreds of songs as he toured the breadth of the country, mainly in small clubs. Jake can be compared to his hero, Georges Brassens, though he never received as much popularity as Georges had in France. His music style is very much in the French chanson style. In the 1950's,60's, 70's this style of music was extremely popular in France, though it never quite caught on in Britain as Beatles-mania hit popular music. Despite the French influences, Jake is quintessentially British and quintessentially Yorkshireman. This box-set is a collection of this long lost and almost forgotten gem of musical histories songs from 1967-1976. There are 98 songs in this box-set, spread across four CD's, containing all of his albums, making it a true treat for Jake fans and a great starting point for people curious about his music. Due to the sheer number of tracks, it would be silly of me to go through them one by one.
Hailing from Leeds, Jake went onto teach English in France after he graduated, thus the French influence on his music. He possesses a voice full of character, a deep baritone voice that sounds rather dismal. In fact, if one heard him in the background he wouldn't sound very upbeat at all. However, Jake's key skill was undoubtedly his sharp wit and use of words. Across this box-set there are songs full of laugh out loud moments, sung by Jake in his trademark deadpan nature. Taken from the first song of the box-set, "Lah Di Dah", a song for bridegrooms:
"I'll be nice to your mother, I'll come all over lah-di-dah,
Although she always gets up me nose, (I love you very much.)
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."
His songs vary in subjects, though all have an acute observational touch to them of humans and of society, using cleverly arranged stories that is as funny as they are poignant. It takes a special talent to combine humour with seriousness in such a way Jake did and with lyrics many people could still relate to today, it's a bit of a small mystery as to why he never reached more fame. The height of his fame came when he was writing songs each week for television on the weekly news and some of those songs are included on this box-set too. Despite topical to the time and context for which Jake wrote them, they stand the test of time wonderfully and could quite easily be applied to scenarios today. For instance, The Ladies Basic Freedom Polka is a take on ladies who used to pinch men's bottoms in the fight for equal rights for women. Jake writes about it in such a wonderfully humorous way that despite the fact I wasn't around when this was happening, I was laughing out loud throughout the song.
As well as his sharp wit, Jake was a superb guitar player. Playing live he had the characteristic stance of having his leg up on a bar stool or chair, which is the classic French chanson style. His huge hands managing to move around his nylon-stringed acoustic guitar with ease. On this box-set, you feel as if this is recorded totally naturally. There aren't any fancy effects, auto-tune and all the other gadgetry used today. Indeed, listen to any live performance of Jake and it sounds just like the albums because quite simply, he was such a flawlessly good guitar player and his voice is exceptionally consistent. In live performances, Jake was often accompanied by a double-bass player, of which is prominent on this box-set which go with the guitar and Jake's voice perfectly. As well as this, many tracks also have an orchestral feel to them. Jumble Sale for instance, features many strings which lifts the track to another level. However, also included in this box-set are alternate versions and a few demo's thrown in as well, as well as lots of previously unreleased tracks, including Jumble Sale of just Jake and his guitar, which gives the song another dimension. Those new to Jake will no doubt find most joy in the four albums included here, though those who like Jake will find plenty of previously unheard gems.
One track particularly relevant to today's society would be "Famous People", which could quite easily be applied to the celebrity culture of today with great satire. In similar vein, "The Kirkstall Road Girl" is a chirpy song full of wit about a girl from working-class background now trying to make her life in the "high class social world". Featuring a bright and intriguing arrangement that bounces the track along though in-keeping with Jake's deadpan voice, is one of the top tracks on this compilation that still feels to relevant today.
One of the stand out tracks of the previously unreleased tracks (featured across CD's 2, 3 and 4) would undoubtedly be "Isobel", which goes at a frantic pace where Jake is at his self-depreciating best.
"I used to think that logarithms were things that scuttled about in attics
And surds were little flowers with square roots.
What boots it?
Nobody else is loved so well by Isobel, by Isobel,
Oh, nobody else is loved so well by Isobel but me."
Isobel displays all of his wordplay into a wonderful love song full of laughs.
Jake has an extremely distinctive voice and a distinctive style, which therefore may mean some people can't get into his music but with this compilation, priced at £13.93 on amazon at time of writing, they can get their hands on a comprehensive collection of his songs at a very reasonable price. In a world of endless manufactured pop-stars with over-produced albums full of auto-tune, they all seem to merge into a large, grey, mush. Jake Thackray left us in 2002 but left us all with a large collection of songs that are just as charming, relevant and funny today as they were in 1967.
It's often said that if Jake was French he would be regarded as a legend in France but despite his passing in 2002, it isn't too late for his music to have a large affect on music in Britain too. Indeed, people ranging from Morrissey to Alex Turner have cited him as an influence and with this compilation you could discover this sadly under-appreciated figure of British music.
"When I snuff it bury me quickly, then let carousels begin -
But not a do with a few ham sandwiches, a sausage roll or two and "A small port wine, please".
Roll the carpet right back, get cracking with your old Gay Gordons
And your knees up, shake it up, live it up, sup it up, hell of a kind of a time.
And if the coppers come around, well, tell them the party's mine, boys."
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Lah Di Dah
2 Country Bus
5 Black Swan
6 Jumble Sale
7 Little Black Foal
8 Personal Column
11 Last Will And Testament Of Jake Thackray
12 Remember Bethlehem
14 La Di Da (Tra La La)
15 Le Cygne Noir
16 Country Girl
17 Family Tree
19 Worried Brown Eyes
20 On The Shelf
21 Salvation Army Girl
22 Blacksmith And The Toffee Maker
Disc #2 Tracklisting
2 Caroline Diggeby-Pratte
4 Mrs Murphy
5 One Eyed Isaac
7 Castleford Ladies Magic Circle
8 Leopold Alcocks
9 Policeman's Jig
11 Pass Milord The Rooster Juice
12 Vicar's Missus
13 Ladies Basic Freedom Polka
14 My Roly Poly Girl
15 My Pipe My Boots And My Lord
16 Kirkstall Road Girl
19 Bantam Cock
20 Fine Bay Pony
22 Girl With The Fragile Eyes
23 Go Little Swale
24 Jolly Captain
25 Isabel Makes Love Upon National Monuments
Disc #3 Tracklisting
1 Brother Gorilla
2 Girl In The Window
3 It Was Only A Gypsy
4 Old Molly Metcalfe
5 Sister Josephine
7 Country Boy
8 Country Boy
10 On Again On Again
11 To Do With You
12 Ballad Of Billy Kershaw
13 Rain On The Mountainside
15 I Stayed Off Work Today
17 Poor Sod
18 Hair Of The Widow Of Bridlington
19 Over To Isobel
22 Famous People
24 Family Grave
25 Little Thomas Haverly
Disc #4 Tracklisting
1 Little Black Foal
4 Jumble Sale
5 I've Been Left On The Shelf
6 Blacksmith And The Toffee Maker
8 Lah Di Dah
9 Country Bus
10 Family Tree
12 Last Will And Testament Of Jake Thackray
13 One Eyed Isaac
17 Salvation Army Girl
19 Slowly Our Eyes
21 Kirkstall Road Girl
24 Remember Bethlehem