Eh Up! PHILIP KISZELY presents the case for the MACC LADS
Massaging the figures for miraculous dole queue shrinkage is nothing new. Civil servants and ministers routinely sit around Whitehall offices, staring at the ceiling, scratching their arses, and dreaming up the latest scam. Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative administration were particularly innovative in this respect, conceiving as they did the Enterprise Allowance Scheme. This little piece of nonsense, designed to help promote the low level entrepreneurship of local bands and the like, would provide layabouts like my good self with a whole lovely tenner over and above their ordinary giro handout. Not surprisingly, word of this good news spread among aspiring and itinerant musicians like a dose of the clap at a Club 18-30 holiday destination, and talentless morons galore would clamber eagerly for their ten extra beer tokens. The problem was that, by the time I submitted my hastily scribbled application, they’d tighten procedure considerably. Who do I blame? Why the Macc Lads, of course.
Macclesfield’s naughtiest had set up their own record label, Hectic House, and recorded most of their first album, Beer & Sex & Chips ”Ën’ Gravy, courtesy of the Iron Lady’s splendid entrepreneurial incentive. When the powers that be actually saw (not to mention heard) the monster they’d spawned, they withdrew their support pronto and reconsidered the whole terrible business. Catastrophic news, it has to be said, for shiftless jokers like me. It didn’t matter a jot to the Macc Lads, though; they were already up and running, and despite being banned from practically every gig venue in the country at one time or another, they managed to churn out obscenity after obscenity with impressive efficiency over the decade or so that they were together. During this time I had little or no interest in them; occasionally I’d smirk at a neatly punned new album title ”â From Beer To Eternity, The Beer Necessities, Alehouse Rock ”â but that was about as far as it went.
Cut to 1993. I was heroically failing in the music industry ”â as sure a way as any I know to shelf-stacking at Tesco or an arts lectureship in a Russell Group university. One day at our rehearsal rooms in Manchester I ran into a lovely bloke called Charlie. He was the drummer in the Sandmen, a local indie band who never amounted to much and have long since languished in obscurity. Previously, though, Charlie had enjoyed notoriety as Chorley the Hord, drummer par excellence of the Macc Lads. He was anxious to keep this alter ego under wraps, scared stiff that his PC social worker fiancÃÂ© would find out the truth about his squalid past in Macclesfield (now there’s a time bomb ticking under a marriage, if ever there was one”Â¦) Anyway, we exchanged one or two pleasantries, and I reflected on how polite and shy he was. But yet again, that was that as far as the Macc Lads was concerned. My life took a turn away from music and it would be years before I would properly give them the time of day.
When that did eventually happen, it did so in Huddersfield. It was a miserable winter afternoon and I was poncing around the independent record shop there, killing time before hoofing it over to the National Media Museum in Bradford where I was slated to host a special screening of Raging Bull. I saw Beer & Sex & Chips ”Ën’ Gravy on the CD stacks, and as I hadn’t heard the damn thing for decades, I bought it on impulse. That evening, as I stood in front of a packed house and waxed lyrical about New Hollywood, Scorsese, the art of film, and so on and so forth, I took minor delight in the knowledge that I had the CD in my possession, squatting right there in my brief case all full of sin and impudence. I was the oldest naughty school boy in town. All I need is a well-thumbed copy of Razzle to keep it company, I remember thinking, and it’d be just like being 14 again.
When I actually got round to listening Beer & Sex & Chips ”Ën’ Gravy a week or so later, one thing became apparent very quickly: despite all appearances to the contrary, the Macc Lads were really very talented indeed. Yes, the subject matter of gross sexism may very quickly get too much to stomach, but I think there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye. No, really; bear with me. I’m serious.
The material isn’t delivered straight, of course ”â you’d have to be a prize knob to think that the band really believed you could ”Ëcure’ homosexuality with a large portion of chips ”Ën’ gravy, for example ”â and men are lampooned just as much as gays, women, and erm”Â¦ Port Vale supporters. Much more so, in fact ”â it is, after all, about sending up a particular kind of northern man.
There’s much of the Paul Calf about the comic creation that is Muttley McLadd (real name Tristan O’ Neill), and the same can be said for the Beater, Stez, and rest of the cast of comedy characters. And that’s the point, isn’t it? It’s comedy; it’s parody. Just because the material is set to music doesn’t automatically mean the words must come from the heart. With gags and characterisation distance is always the key, and that’s as true of the Macc Lads as it is of Alan Partridge or the more recent comedy gem Curb Your Enthusiasm. And when they did get it right, the delivery was impeccable and the material was laugh-out-loud funny. In ”ËCharlotte’, a grotesque and particularly revolting parody of a love song, this little couplet had me in stitches:
”ËI ended up at her place/And I waded through the johnnies/She put another notch on the bedstead/WHILE I WATCHED THE TWO RONNIES!!!!!’
But there’s much more to it than just taking the piss. The whole concept was funny to me because it spoke so truthfully of working class life in grim northern towns during the 80s. The binge-drink rush of Friday and Saturday nights, the mating rituals in the pubs and the clubs, and most of all, the kebab house at the end of the night, all had an innate, if somewhat dark and gallows, hilarity. The Macc Lads are the only popular music group ever to capture perfectly that manifestation of northern working class culture. I know; I was there.
”ËEighteen pints of Boddington’s every Friday night/ Eighteen pints of Boddinton’s then we’re outside for a fight.’
What the Macc Lads did, then ”â a unique achievement ”â was to create a whole comedy world that represented a heightened observation of northern working class hedonism. The catchy songs that were populated by a gallery of grotesques ”â male as well as female ”â were uncanny in their observation. Uncle Nobby, Cheeky Monkey, Sweaty Beatty, Slimy Git – these characters would appear and re-appear, so the albums were almost like soap operas. The only real difference between Muttley and Arthur Seaton, angry young man protagonist of British new wave cinema classic Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, is that he’s just funnier.
Of course, you might disagree completely. In that case, we can easily establish who’s in the right by the fairest and most tried and tested of methods: a kebab eating contest.