68. Odds Boddikins

Posted on 18/09/2017

68. Odds Boddikins

This refers to two very odd singers: John Otway and Hubert Felix Thiefaine. English and French and both pretty strange. Otway is in his mid 60’s now but was very odd when I knew of him in Oxford in the 1970’s. He made his name on TV singing a song about being Free, which was a suitable punk topic in the mid 70’s. Its not a great song, but quite wierd:

 

John and his friend Wild Willie Barrett on guitar. Its pretty gormless but quite sweet.

Hubert is very french and not big on humour. That is to say is is not a clown like Otway, who enjoys sending himself up. Thiefaine would probably not enjoy being sent up. He is a bit older than Otway: nearly 70. He is a lot more literate than Otway and has a penchant for long song titles. I have avoided them here in the interests of depicting the two singers succinctly.

This song is a dream about childhood but its theme is the jolly one of the ‘alleys of the dead’. It makes quite a charming video though.

We used to walk down to the farm at sunset
To pick up the milk
With our tinplate cans
In the smell of July’s evenings
We were at the age of marmalades
Marbles and treasure islands
And we used to pick blackberries
Below in the alley of the dead
 
We were told that Barberousse
Had his garrison here
And that in this piece of country land
He had defeated dragons
We were the age of our cracks
And we were conquistadors
We used to dig up helmets and femurs
Below in the alley of the dead
In the alley of the dead
————————————- 
Would that the falls remain
When chimes the time of our craziness
I have kind of a tenor bell echoing
At the steeple of my nostalgia
Children are picking helichrysums
Chrysanthemums, buttercups
Bereavements comes by dozens
Below in the alley of the dead
In the alley of the dead
In the alley of the dead
I have cut quite a few verses out, as he does let himself go a bit, and you can get the feel of it from only a verse or two.
A different aspect of Hubert can be seen from this live performance. It shows the wild adulation that this fairly austere looking man can attract. You can see why they are enthusiastic: its a bawdy song. It is interesting to see his interaction with members of his band and the audience. He does not have a big star presence at all: and seeks a low profile. Not like Otway, who would like a higher profile!

 

She was going down the mountain
On a trolley loaded with straw
On a trolley loaded with hay
The jointcutter’s daughter
The jointcutter’s daughter
 
She was going down the mountain
While singing a bawdy song
A schoolboy’s song
The jointcutter’s daughter
The jointcutter’s daughter
 
But we were five unemployed guys
Mourning over our misfortune
Thinking we’d sure like to bang
The jointcutter’s daughter
The jointcutter’s daughter
 
She was going down the mountain
But now she sees us near the (city) walls
And says to us: hello you people!
The jointcutter’s daughter
The jointcutter’s daughter
 
And now she takes us by the hip
And takes us on her straw
She does to us the zeppelin trick
The jointcutter’s daughter
The jointcutter’s daughter
 
So we were five unemployed guys
Having a good piece of fun
A good piece of “tagada tsoin-tsoin”
The jointcutter’s daughter
The jointcutter’s daughter
 
When we were done with it
She made us smoke from her straw
Holy god it was for sure
The jointcutter’s daughter
The jointcutter’s daughter
 
No way to look now for a job
We were pedalling in the clouds
Among little rabbits
The jointcutter’s daughter
The jointcutter’s daughter
 
She was going down the mountain
On a trolley loaded with straw
On a trolley loaded with hay
The jointcutter’s daughter
The jointcutter’s daughter
I‘ve put the whole of the (translated) lyric for this one as its rather amusing. And as you can see Hubert was conducting his audience and all the motley crew of his musicians onstage. 

The John Otway song below is the very well worn House of the Rising Sun: unlike Thiefian Otway has not written many songs that have an impact, so he relies a bit more on secondary sources. This performance shows, though, that his followers are just as devoted as Thiefaine’s. He assembed nearly a 1,000 of them and gets them to sing most of the words. it produces an unusual and very cheerful effect.

As you can see there is a tinge of madness about Otway, where the equivalent for Thiefaine is his ‘otherness’ in spite of being an obviously cheerful performer. But they both inspire enormous loyalty in their fans. Its delightful to see the faces of the Otway fans shining with joy as they belt out the words and then cheer themselves for doing so! The Thiefaine fans are just as keen but less visible and confine themselves to rather simpler words.

Otway is like a less luminous Syd Barrett (founder of Pink Floyd) and I’m not sure what Thiefaine is a less lumous version of. I love Alain Bashung, but he sang much more directly to his audience than Thiefaine does. Both Otway and Thiefaine deserve more prominence than they usually get!

 

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3BwOyVIlupg

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