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 ”Ëœn’ 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 ”“ From Beer To Eternity, The Beer Necessities, Alehouse Rock ”“ but that was about as far as it went.

Cut to 1993. I was heroically failing in the music industry ”“ 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 fiancé 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”¦) 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 ”Ëœn’ 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 ”Ëœn’ 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 ”“ you’d have to be a prize knob to think that the band really believed you could ”Ëœcure’ homosexuality with a large portion of chips ”Ëœn’ gravy, for example ”“ and men are lampooned just as much as gays, women, and erm”¦ Port Vale supporters. Much more so, in fact ”“ 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 ”ËœCharlotte’, a grotesque and particularly revolting parody of a love song, this little couplet had me in stitches:

”ËœI 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.

”ËœEighteen 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 ”“ a unique achievement ”“ 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 ”“ male as well as female ”“ 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.

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  1. A very interesting article.

    Growing up in an irrelevant part of Cheshire whose nearest town of note was Macclesfield, I had been proud and delighted to discover as a teenager that the almighty Joy Division had been partially born there. I was less enthralled by the fact that when I met people from other parts of the country, nobody seemed to mention this. They always mentioned The Macc Lads.

    I loved punk rock. I was a bored 80s nowhere-town teenager and resented the fact that I had been born a small number of years too late for the revolution. This was a punk band that were here and now, and from just down the road – this should have been the best thing ever… but I hated The Macc Lads. And it wasn’t, per se, because of the sexism and homophobia in their lyrics (I was a pretty right-on 80s teen, as many were); I was all too aware they were as much an invention as the silly names Tristan et al gave themselves. I hated them because they were King’s Macc boys sneering at working class culture.

    King’s was a fee-paying school, and in hideously conservative (with both a small and capital C) Cheshire there was, in my state comprehensive and others in the area, something of an aspiration amongst certain girls to bag themselves a King’s boy. They had money and they had their own cars. I was from a lower middle class background, but because in north Cheshire the culture was for anyone with enough money to take their kids out of the state education system a lot of my friends were working class. In my first week at sixth form college I hooked up with a cool punk lad, impressed by his Fall collection and Big Black T-shirt. I was slightly disappointed when he told me he had been to King’s, but he wasn’t like the stereotype. Unfortunately some of his mates were. They would bray and laugh at the poor and unemployed, safe in the knowledge that their parents’ company directorships would shield them from the Thatcherite fall-out that was eroding even our relatively comfortable part of the country. They were politely racist and less politely sexist and homophobic. On one night out in Manchester they joked about pissing on a homeless person and when my friend told them they were out of order they turned on him for going to “that scum college” and hanging out with “lefties”… like me. They loved The Macc Lads, people just like them laughing at those less fortunate or different and doing so by appropriating characters from their one-dimensional view of the working class. Most of the intelligent working class people I knew back then despised the band for the same reason.

    A quarter century later I am older and not as teeth-grindingly right-on; I’ve laughed at Paul Calf; I appreciate that a lot of the best observational comedy comes from the view of a culture from just outside it (and certainly in Macc the King’s boys would be drinking in the same pubs as the council estate kids); my horizons have broadened considerably and I’ve met plenty of working class people who thought the Macc Lads were hilarious; and I can see exactly where Philip Kiszely is coming from with this well-argued reappraisal. I am no longer ashamed to say that “No Sheep Til Buxton” is the funniest parodic song title ever. Still not sure I could actually listen to them, though, because in the back of my head I’ll always hear some braying friend of a long-lost friend pointing and laughing at “Giro day drinkers” enjoying their fortnightly escape before driving off home, probably over the limit, to his parents’ mansion.

    Unfortunately I am still too “leftie” (well, vegetarian) to accept the kebab challenge, but if you’re up for a chip butty bonanza…

    • Perfectly put as ever Cath, there’s so many contradictions but that’s what makes this interesting- the further twist is that if an American band had done the same they would be lauded as being genius…

    • Incorrect Cath in the 1970s when us guys were at King’s – it was a grammar school with only 1% fee-payers. Unless you played rugby and lived in Prestbury you were largely ignored by the Upper 5th. Intelligence and the ability to pass an 11+ does not make you wealthy or snobby…

  2. Hang on a minute…Muttley was called Tristan? So lets get this straight. Were there, or were there not a load of bloody fairies, in Buenos bloody Airies or not?

    I can’t stand being lied to. Next you’ll be telling me that Trapper has a Phd and wasn’t prone to self abuse.

  3. I’m from Macc and fuck all has changed. Friday/
    Saturday nights – still scrappin’ and boozin’ as per normal.

    BTW it’s not “Eighteen pints of Boddington\’s every Friday night/ Eighteen pints of Boddinton\’s then we\’re outside for a fight.”……’s TWENTY PINTS of Boddingtons…get it right you Southern ponce…

  4. At last. An incisive synopsis of a band that were all about taking the piss and having fun.

    The Macc Lads are not to be taken seriously; they’re a musical caricature of life in a working class town.

    I, for one, thought they were bloody brilliant and massively underestimated. And no, I’m not homophobic, racist or otherwise!

  5. Another interesting article here…

  6. PS I don’t know why Foz is calling anyone a southern ponce after going on about a typical night in Macclesfield. Macclesfield is one of the poshest towns in the country (inclusing the south east) they even had a rock solid Tory majority in 1997!That’s what made the whole Macc Lad thing crap posh kids in a posh town taking the piss out of the working class.


  8. I received a letter in November over an aleged bouncing cheque sent to Virgin Media by one Tristan O’ Neill. I was disappointed to find out that the Head of Financial Services in Leeds was not the singer/bass player with the Macc Lads!

  9. Both pieces of writing hit home for me. Thus capturing the ambivalence I’ve always felt regarding the Macc Lads. However neither mentioned the great saving grace of the band. The tunes and melodies were the equal of the most serious post punk bands. Though often disturbed by the subject matter and the degree of lost irony on their fans, I, for one, couldn’t resist the catchy uplifting bounce of the music. Easily as many classic melodies as the Buzzcocks or the Ramones. But the persistent focus must have been difficult to sustain. Paul Calf was indeed comedy genius but to be him every night? Tristan O’Neil suggests a certain class of origin. Made me wonder if the double barrel name of Stephen Yaxley-Lennon hides a similar comedic parody of a working class stereotypical racist.


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