Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Executioner's Songs: The Wurzels - Live at the Ipswich Beer Festival

It's not often I feel the urge to write gig reviews. I did a couple for Wire magazine a few years back. However, when Richard called me to say The Wurzels were playing at the Ipswich Beer Festival, I couldn't really say no. Ironically this was just after I had written my essay on Kensington, in which I boldly stated that "certitude is the concrete engagement with life".  I had resolved to live with reality as it actually is, rather than a fantasy projection of some infinitely glamorous other existence. So I really perceived Richard's invite as a message from the Gods, much like Crowley felt compelled to treat every action as significant following his reception of "The Book Of The Law".

The first thing to say about The Wurzels is that they have that cheerful look of the ruddy faced rustic Satanist. I suppose this has its archetype in the look of Charles Grey and the activities of Fred West. The highlight of the set for me is their take on "Una Paloma Blanca" ("Iam a cider drinker"). "Una Paloma Blanca" was a hit for celebrity pederast Jonathan King. It was also famously the song played in the prison van that took Gary Gilmore to be executed.

During the set, lead singer Tommy Banner strips down to a brown thong. He turns around and gyrates his  - doubtless heavily flagellated during scrumpy libated rites -  posterior to the audience. It's an act of transgression that puts me in mind of the performance of Eugene Robinson of Jazz Metal outfit Oxbow. I can imagine "I've got a brand new combine harvester" chortling from a transistor radio on the patio of 25 Cromwell Road during the shimmering heatwave of 1976.

In fact there is a link between The Wurzels and Fred West. The Wurzels covered the disco classic "Go West" by The Village People.  When West committed suicide visiting football fans would taunt teams in Devon and Avon by singing "Go West"... 

The Wurzels are not so much saucy as  pan-erotic; the kind of people that would engage in romantic liaisons with farm machinery. If love between farmer and tractor seems absurd, then I would point the reader to the following case of autoerotic death detailed in The Journal of Forensic Sciences:

"A 42 year-old Asian man was found hanging by the neck, suspended by a rope attached to the raised shovel of a John Deere Model JD410, diesel powered, backhoe tractor...The decedent was suspended in a semi-sitting position by a cloth safety harness strap wrapped around his neck and clipped to a rope that was hooked to the raised shovel of the backhoe tractor. A towel was between the loose fitting strap and the victim's neck. A long piece of plastic pipe was connected on one end by conduit tape to the hydraulic control lever of the shovel in the operator's compartment of the tractor. A broom stick was taped to the other end of the pipe and was partially under the decedent's buttocks. The hydraulic shovel could be easily raised or lowered by slight pressure applied to the broomstick. The decedent was fully clothed, and his genitals were not exposed. No pornographic materials, women's clothing items, or mirrors were at the scene...He had no known psychiatric illness.
Determination of autoerotic death was made from decedent history and circumstantial indicators. The victim kept a journal of love poetry dedicated to his tractor that he had named "Stone," outlining his desire for them to "soar high" together. The victim was unmarried and lived with his parents on their farm. He also had a reasonable expectation of privacy for an extended period, as he engaged in this behavior in the late evening down by the barn. Cause of death was determined to be accidental autoerotic asphyxiation with carbon monoxide intoxication as a contributor. [1]

Towards the end of the set, The Wurzels cover "Ruby Ruby" by the The Kaiser Chiefs. It's a frighteningly easy mutation, replacing the chorus with "Oooarrr oooarr ay". Indeed I can't help thinking that the pork pie hat,  turned up jeans and suit jacket look of The Kaiser Chiefs is an updated version of the country bumpkin stylings of  The Wurzels. Perhaps The Wurzels are The Kaiser Chiefs', cider drinking, combine harvester mating, rural uncles?

1] Dietz, P.E., & O'Halloran, Ronald,"Autoerotic Fatalities with Power Hydraulics", Journal of Forensic Sciences, No. 2, March 1993, pp. 359-364)


Wayne Kasper said...

I recall a mechanised, pre-recorded life-size version of the Wurzels 'performing' at a Blackpool arcade one rainy day in the late 70s (they were only 'programmed' to sing their two hits). Very disturbing - it reminded me of The Abominable Dr. Phibes' robot jazz band.

Christopher Josiffe said...

Back in the 1970s I saw the Wurzels perform in Fulham's Bishop's Park, where Patrick Troughton's priest met his sorry fate (tumbling spire) in The Omen,and where (some say) Jill Dando' assassin disposed of the murder weapon. I remember being thrilled at seeing real live musical stars perform in the flesh (I was yet to see Ian Dury, Hawkwind, The Birthday Party et al) such that I demanded the Wurzels' autographs.