The Gargantuan Guide to Gasp! (2013) Part 1

Finally, the Playboys with Hunchbacks Complete Guide to Gasp!, the latest CD from Paul Vickers and Friends. More than anyone ever wanted to know. Due to the large track listing, our rambling, and all the goddang trivia, it will be in three parts. Shortly thereafter, we plan to have a look at the available work of Twonkey’s two main collaborators on this disc, Steven Vickers / Victor Pope and Pierre Chandeze / Carton Sonore.

Gasp!

Anyway, without further ado, a drum roll please for…

The Flying Tailor (with Grant Pringle)

A great album deserves a great opening. And it gets one. A collaboration with fellow ex-Replicant Grant Pringle, it’s a beautifully produced track about Franz Reichelt, a tailor who ‘invented’ a cloth parachute and tried it out by jumping off the Eiffel Tower in February 1912. And fell straight to his death. You can see the whole sad episode on his Wikipedia page. Anyway, Pringle and Vickers have redeemed him and made him fly at last, if only musically. It’s a stunning number, beautifully produced. The style and layered vocals make it sound like a Jeff Lynne production. The moment where the song strips down only to come back as Vickers sings ‘Let’s Make Wings’ a little out of tune is pure musical bliss. What an opening. And it isn’t even the best song on the album!

Trivia: This is the part where Playboys With Hunchbacks tells you what it all means. What are those mad references to oranges and marmalade all about? Erm… looks like we’ve fallen at the first hurdle. I’ve no idea. The following line, ‘Let’s make wings out of poly bins’, however, refers to Vickers and Pringle making their Flying Tailor prop for the Blue Cadabra show. Reichelt used  fabric, not binliner, for his home-made parachutes, not that it made much difference to the final result. Perhaps the oranges and marmalade are inside jokes between the creators. Twonkey originally changed the date of this tragedy in his pre-song story to 1915, I assumed for aesthetic reasons. But at the last Blue Cadabra gig, he corrected it to 1912. It’s important that the world knows this.

Blue Cadabra (with Dan Mutch)

It wouldn’t be a Paul Vickers album without at least one what-the-fuck moment. And you don’t have to wait long for it here. A weird musical collage, most of the lyrics are indecipherable. And it’s over before it has really begun.

Trivia: Despite appearing to partially name-check his 2013 show, I reckon this track could date back to his first, Twonkey’s Cottage, as that is the only one named in full. Unfortunately, I didn’t actually see the 2010 show. Not discovering Twonkey until a year later is something that will haunt me to my grave. And, with a bit of luck, beyond.

Grow Into Your Clogs (with Pierre Chandeze)

The return of the majestic Paul & Pierre. Four tracks, same as we got on the last album, although this time two are musical backing to Twonkey Tales, and the other two are proper songs. Not that you can complain – Pierre’s work is perfect as a backdrop for Twonkey’s surrealist ramblings. As is the case with many of these stories, it might be brief but covers a lot of ground. And by introducing us to Lilly Vumper, leads nicely into the next track.

Trivia: There may be a mistake in the recording. Fitz’s Uncle Sandworm appears to have a name change to Uncle Sandwich later in the track. Is this some Pulp Fiction style intentional ‘meta mistake’? Or just, you know, an error?

Lilly Vumper (with Steven Vickers)

A great, energetic song with a vocal which sounds like it was recorded as Vickers was running for a bus. He appears to be unsure of when to come in and it courts chaos throughout. Fabulous. It was one of four previously performed but unreleased tracks I really wanted to see on this CD. All appeared!

Trivia: The track was previously known as ‘Lilly Bumper’ and performed during Twonkey’s Kingdom the year before with a different back story. Involving knickers.

The Talking Oven (with Pierre Chandeze)

The second track with Pierre, and once again it’s a ‘Twonkey Tale’, not a song. But what a track! Detective Edward Mugs should get his own TV show. He kicks arse! Vickers’ gruff vocal performance is perfection personified and it’s both a little creepy and bloody funny. A spoken word classic.

Trivia: The backing track by Pierre Chandeze  was used for a performance of Paul’s ‘Knackered Old Twits, as read by comedian Arthur Smith on BBC Radio 4 Extra (broadcast 28/02/2014).

The Cat Shop Catastrophe (with Steven Vickers)

Despite Mr. Twonkey being a comedian and musician, I often have to tell folk that he doesn’t have a catalogue of ‘comedy songs’ like Weird Al Yankovic, even if his wit can be detected in most of them. Well, here’s the exception that proves the rule. Try listening to this without a smile on your face. Can’t be done. A comedic delight from start to finish, it’s about someone shopping for a cat purely to deal with his rodent problems. As you do. Another high energy home run from the Vickers brothers.

Trivia: Hmmm, a funny one this. I tried to do some digging, even asking Mr Twonkey outright about the genesis of this number. It’s from his 2010 Fringe show, Twonkey’s Cottage, apparently. But play it back to back with later track Charabang and it sounds like they’re variations of the same number. Both were produced a few years apart with different collaborators, so it’s just a co-incidence. Go on, play the first 15 seconds of each in succession and you’ll hear what I’m on about.

The Cockney Hungarian Ghetto (with Roger Simian)

God knows where the title came from, but this is a variation on an earlier piece, Dancing Jim, which was recorded in a high voice (here slowed right down) for the first ‘Twonkey’ album, Fucking Storys in 2010. It has since also appeared as text in its original form in the Itchy Grumble book. The story, about an elephant chimney sweep, is now a little wackier and put to musical backing for the first time. It works wonders with the new vocal and added sonic atmosphere. For me, it tops the original.

Trivia: Right. We can give you the lowdown on this one. Why the changes and the resurrection of Dancing Jim? At the Twonkey Variety Night in December 2011 (a fantastic night out – well worth travelling 400 miles for), Vickers debuted a new comedy routine in which he read out the original Dancing Jim. Then, as the gag went, he would read it again after it had been put through an internet translation engine into French. And then back again (and morph, and morph and forth). Great little comedy set-up, that. However, this is Paul Vickers we are talking about here. So he picks an esoteric piece from his Twonkey Tales back-catalogue, the aforementioned Dancing Jim, which was in kinda broken English to begin with. And the translated version? Not really that much different to the original. Therein, I think, lay the gag. Perhaps a little too out-there for your average audience. Not like that always stops him, but it didn’t make the cut into the actual show several months later. Anyway, he made a recording of the ‘translated’ version at some point, and this is it.

The Gooseberry Tree (with John Callaghan)

Twonkey’s 2013 show gets a choired-up theme tune with this great track. It references ‘Twonkey’s Empire’ which was the original working title of 2013’s Blue Cadabra. I’m no expert on recording techniques, but its hard to imagine they hired out Abbey Road and the BBC Symphony Choir to do it. I’m sure some kinda computer trickery was involved to create the sound of a choir, but it sounds wonderful. Despite the name change, this track still opened the shows in 2013.

Trivia: Twonkey’s collaborator on this track John Callaghan is in a musical duo called Eccentronic, who play the Fringe Festivals. His partner in the band was ‘working the door’ in Brighton for the Twonkey’s Kingdom gig I attended. I only remember this as when I bought some CDs, she said she’d once been in Dawn of the Replicants. Which she had. Anyway, there’s the connection. And according to Twonkey’s blog, Mr Callaghan will be back in 2014 with a spruced up version of 2011 classic Hot Beryl!

Coming in Part 2… Paul’s two cents on Scottish Independence, a theme song for this blog, and, quite simply, the best track of the decade so far.

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