During my eighteen month stint with The Vile Princes, I learned a shitload about mainstream songwriting. We were fronted by a daft apeth called Clarence Zephyr – (his real name were Norman Underwood). Clarence had spurned family’s drive-in optician business to follow the rocky road of rock. Daft bugger, were Clarence. He once claimed that he had invented crotchless y-fronts. Daft, daft lad Clarence.
The thing about Clarence was that he couldn’t half write a catchy tune. His lyrics were awful but he knew what his audience wanted. I joined the band when their original guitar player, Ziggy Insulin, died after bingeing on sherbet. They were already well established after the success of their self titled debut album. You will all probably remember their runaway hit, Tinkling the Pink. Bloody awful bass playin on it but the public loved it. It had that infectious chorus —
Like the way you wink,
When I’m tinkling the pink.
When you’re at the sink,
I’m tinkling the pink.
I could never bloody understand when those chicks come out protesting the song because they thought it were sexist.
We just finished touring the 2nd album, Up To The Hilt, and some bird wanted to interview us about the tour and new album. Clarence had a few ales in and he made that famous comment, “we’re bigger than Santa”. Pro-Christmas bloody extremists had a bloody field day. They were burning albums and issuing death threats. Clarence got right depressed over the whole thing and I thought he was going to break up the band. Even for a rock God like meself, I could tell when I was on to a good earner and I didn’t want to lose this one.
I went to his house and t’door was ajar. I went in and saw him bloody sprawled over the snooker table, surrounded by Babycham bottles – pissin’ lightweight. I got him sobered up a little and he started crying. ‘Grow a pair, ye thick git,’ says I to him. He kept saying he was ruined. ‘Nonsense’, said I. ‘all thee needs to do is write a pissin Christmas song and they’ll all love you again’.
He seemed to brighten up at the idea and two weeks later, he called the band together to play us his Christmas song. Bloody cracker it were too. So we started to rehearse and get the song tight so we could record it. The bass player needed to be chinned a few times, but we got the bloody thing down. We were in the studio recording within a week and it was mixed, engineered and finished a week after that. Clarence was like a new man. He called for all of those pro-Christmas activists to attend a private session to listen to his song.
We set up a small pub in Sheffield called The Fork and Duck. Those feminist chicks that hated him turned up too, with their bloody dungarees and mohair jumpers. The press were, of course, also invited.
It didn’t descend into fiasco straight away. In fact, it started quite brightly. We began to believe that Clarence still had a career ahead of him. It started out with some gentle sleigh bells and the chicks’ scowls seemed to soften. Clarence sat at the piano and began his intro and the scowls turned to looks of genuine warmth. When he started singing at almost a whisper, he had them in the palm of his hand.
The leaves upon the trees are stiff and still.
There’s snow upon the roof and the air is chilled.
The children wait for their bicycles,
All wrapped up from the icicles
And it’s cold, oh baby it’s co oh oh oh old…
I swear, those chicks in the front row had tears welling in their eyes at this point. Clarence had wanted to put the chorus straight in after the first verse but I told him to do the first on piano and then the band would come in for the second verse and then we’d hit the big chorus. So he rose from his piano stool, mike in hand and approached the front of the stage. The band kicked in and his voice soared, the chicks swooned and Clarence for a brief moment was loved again.
The lights upon the tree are glowing
The snow upon the drive is growing.
The little dogs seek the warmth of the fire,
And I cannot hide my desire
And it’s cold, oh baby it’s co oh oh oh old…
Those scowls had gradually softened and turned t’beaming smiles of glee but there was nothing gradual about the change from beaming smiles to fookin rage. Frankly, it surprises me to this day how Clarence actually got to the end of the chorus, what with the glasses that were being thrown at him and the barrage of camera flashes.
Baby, let me put it in you this Christmas.
My love wand is cold.
Baby, let put it in you this Christmas
In you this Christmas.
Let me fill your bu uns with my Christmas cream...
Well, I quickly made my exit from the venue and from the band. Clarence was finished. The Vile Princes were finished. Clarence later went on Dragon’s Den with his crotchless y-fronts idea and was sectioned shortly afterwards. Haven’t seen the guy since.
Christmas songs are all a load of ol rope but, if you need to write one to salvage your career. Please please be careful.
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