Sleeve Notes (EMI/Columbia)
After the first "Braden's Week" we all retired to a BBC Hospitality room where Jake refused a drink, then decided he might have a small whisky. During the next half-hour he drank six large whiskies, but refused a seventh because he wanted to get to a pub before it closed. On another night after the show he asked me if it would be all right to bring a couple of his mates to the hospitality room. I had no say in the matter, but I told him "of course", and eighteen of them turned up.
Jake appears to be very shy, but I suspect it's an act. I think, rather, that he is wary of people who inhabit the Southern Counties and that, rather than show bis dislike, he pretends to be shy.
Writing a new song each week isn't easy, and Jake usually selects a subject by Tuesday. Our designer, Don Giles., spends several days arranging a suitable set for a song about an old lady who lived in a room above a rural post-office. On Saturday afternoon Jake wanders in with a look of abject apology. The song hadn't worked out to his satisfaction, so he's written instead a number about a trendy girl who lives in sin in Swiss Cottage. It's a mark of the quality of Jake Thackray that Don Giles happily goes to work improvising a new set which will be seen on the air in a matter of hours.
We know for a fact that Jake is an acquired taste. When our series commenced late in 1968 letters poured in demanding his instant dismissal. Now most of them ask for an autograph, a photograph and, occasionally, an assignation. Perhaps the greatest tribute to Jake's staying power is that a number of the people who first wrote in to complain about him wrote again to say they'd changed their minds.
I understand the confusion. When you first hear him Jake seems to remind you of several other singers. You try to put him in the North Country niche, but he won't fit, because there are bits of Noel Coward in the wit of the lyrics, and even in the clipping of his syllables. Sometimes he seems to swallow words as if he didn't care whether you heard them or not … but he knows what he's doing … all the time. Jake is a North Country boy all eight, and an ex-rugby league player at that … but with a religious background, an education that made him an English teacher, a love of music, and four years of Continental living. Some people find his looks faintly sinister, but those are people who haven't seen him smile.
I've concluded that the time it takes you to appreciate Jake Thackray is not a measure of him, but of you. In fact, he's a satirist with both bite and compassion. There aren't very many of them around.
Sleeve Notes (Philips)
Jake Thackray is like a wise, young owl perched on a gnarled satiric limb. He stares out at a world that is more than slightly cockeyed and he couldn't be happier at the sight. Because the things he witnesses are the subjects of his wicked, impudent, often devastating songs. If everything were in perfect order, he'd be at a total loss for material. He could still teach school, and visit pubs and go for walks along the British North Country where he was born.
But he wouldn't be a featured performer on the BBC's "Braden's Week" program, where he composes a song every week, usually just a few hours before showtime, according to Bernard Braden. He would not have become a popular British entertainer. Record producer Norman Newell would not have called him "a genius." Nor would he have made his debut on a refreshing, offbeat Philips album titled "The Last Will and Testament of Jake Thackray" that introduced him to quite a few people on this side of the Atlantic.
Finally, still assuming that this could be the best of all possible worlds, Jake Thackray would not have selected fourteen more ditties from his overflowing songbook, to make this wry and amusing album.
"Country Girl" is a little slice of bucolic life. The bizarre Thackray backgrounds are exposed in "Family Tree" and may explain why Jake is like he is today. Then again, maybe not. "Sophie" plumbs the mystery of a mistress and "Worried Brown Eyes" is the story of a young lady that unfolds in the letters column of a weekly magazine. "On The Shelf" is what would have happened Noel Coward had written "Eleanor Rigby." And "Salivation Army Girl" scrapes at the veneer of a lady who may not be as altruistic as she seems. "The Blacksmith and The Toffee-Maker" is probably as cynical a love story as you're likely to hear.
Side Two begins with "The Hole," a nonsense-type, song-story that may remind you of that hit of long ago, "The Thing." "Caroline Diggeby-Pratte" dissects a spoiled, social and thoroughly vacuous young lady. "Grandad" is a less-than-tender ode to a departed relative. Romance among the older set is recounted in "Mrs. Murphy." And several thoroughly despicable characters are celebrated in "One-eyed Isaac." "Nurse" is a dialogue between amorous patient and resisting angel of mercy. And "The Castleford Ladies Magic Circle" discusses witchcraft, sex worship and other unlikely past times of the geritol set.
Yes, happily for all of us, the world is still as confused and confusing as ever. And Jake Thackray, by commenting on it, taking it to task, shining a light in its dark corners, is rapidly making his progress along the path to stardom. And keeping us very amused while he's at it.