Alan Dearling muses on yet another wonderful, oddball, unique performer from the UK’s creative underbelly
“When I was young and naïve and I was 56 …”
Mik Artistik’s Ego Trip on the BBC at Glasto 2019: Described as many punters as, “Punk as f**k.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u4Udgb5XudA
He’s perhaps Leeds’ finest musical-artist based in Armley. Actually, he hails from Longford in Ireland where his parents still reside. Jonny Flockton is the regular guitarist in the Ego Trip, usually alongside a bassist.
He reminds me a lot of Birmingham’s John Dowie, another ‘outsider’ punk-comedian-poet-muso. Here’s ‘British Tourist’ from 1978:
John’s another natural eccentric, full of black humour, and Bacup (a village with which offers the “lifestyle of a stone.” It’s quite close to my home in Todmorden):
John Dowie: ‘I’m here to entertain you, Bacup & I’m dead’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wrq0KHszojo
Meanwhile, following his gut instincts, Mik…shares his joyous stories of his life…the excitement and danger of it all…He says: “…it’s stuff from inside me that’s just all coming out now…and, acres of art…all round the corner…very reasonable…you can write a comment on the wall.”
Who is Mik Artistik?: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0MffpXspSuc
‘Sweet Leaf of the North’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TXe4tQMUVCA
Here you’ll find him rummaging through the skip and finding ‘The Folk songs of Morley’, or, maybe not…
‘Bryan Ferry’s Greatest Hits’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hua3H59gK1w
I learned about this geezer, Mik, from my new mate, gas-engineer supremo, Zaal. He told me: “…this guy’s like Frank Zappa…a people’s poet…Iggy Pop raved about him at Glastonbury.”
In fact, Iggy Pop chose the song ‘Sweet Leaf of the North’ as his number one song of the last decade on American radio station NPR, and played tracks from Mik on a BBC Radio 6 program he hosted.
Essentially, Mik is a raconteur, a story-teller, artist – another fine British Griot… To find out what he and the Ego Trip are up to during and after the Covid restrictions, check out: https://www.mikartistik.com/news
Other musical eccentrics and oddballs…
It got me thinking about the range of other eccentric musicians, poets, story-tellers (some who also work as comedians), who I’ve seen live and/or bumped into, during a lifetime or two of gigs, festivals and pubs. They all deserve in-depth articles, and I may well get round to producing some, but for the present-time, here’s a sampler. Until I started to scribble down a bit of a ‘list’ – I hadn’t realised that it’s almost entirely male dominated. But, I hope it will still provide you with some dark amusement. (Apologies to those of you who love the ones I’ve missed out like Fred Wedlock, Jake Thackery, Pam Ayres, Lol Coxhill, Mike Harding – and actually probably the best known of them all, Billy Connolly who was originally in the Humblebums).
Ivor Cutler, much-beloved by John Peel, was a Scottish eccentric with the most amazing voice and sometimes a harmonium. Outrageous and fun. I first saw him on tour at my uni in Canterbury in about 1971. Mister Cutler to you! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Z6gzzoiQbE
Kate Tempest is a singular performing artist who is equally hard to put in a pigeon hole. A poet, playwright and sometimes, musician. Tempest likes to be referred to as ‘they/their’ when talking about their music, rap, hip-hop and other music genres. Here’s ‘Ketamine for breakfast’ with electronica backing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fq5JIEq-XPY
Wild Man Fischer, American street-person, performer and sometimes dangerous-to-know, as Frank Zappa found out to his cost when he began to manage him for his Bizarre label. Deranged and certifiably bonkers. I love this guy! “Don’t be a singer…doo doo, doo doo.”
Michael Marra, aka The Bard of Dundee. Incomparable and sadly missed. Theatrical and charismatic.
Here he is with Patti Smith:
Jackie Leven gained fame as the singer with post-punk band, Doll by Doll, but settled into Scottish (and European) notoriety as a hard-drinking, musical story-teller, folk-singer and writer of fine songs.
‘Standing in another man’s rain’, 2007 in Hamburg: https://americana-uk.com/jackie-leven-standing-in-another-mans-rain
Jon Isherwood (I think he may also have composed some songs for Kenneth Williams)
I first saw Jon performing with Pat Nelson at the Ashley House Folk Club in Bognor Regis in about 1967. They’d travelled over from their homes in Southsea and Portsmouth. Here’s a slice of classical Spanish guitar with added phallic symbolism, à la his infamous ‘Cucumber Song’, imagine Spike Milligan with a long green thing to play with: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-7vUTLRkt1w
Lord Buckley died in 1960, but was celebrated during the 1960s on a couple of early stoner ‘sampler’ vinyl albums of underground music and more from the US of A. The New York Times called him, “…an unlikely persona … part English royalty, part Dizzy Gillespie.”
This is my favourite – the sound effects and ‘voices’ are phenomenal: The Train: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t3vbxeBvaU0
Adge Cutler and the Wurzels
Adge (actually another ‘Alan’, was oft-known as the ‘Bard of Avonmouth). I saw him with his cider-apple fuelled Wurzels in the 1960s and bought his ‘Live at the Royal Oak at Nailsea’ album. He was very agricultural in both his humour and songs – which were ribald, but kind of authentic rural ‘sing-alongs’. He was only 42 when he died in a car crash in 1974. It’s reckoned that he first performed ‘Drink up Thy Zyder’ in 1958 at Liverpool’s famous Cavern Club – a few years before the Beatles! A Pathe News item about cider-making and Adge:
‘I wish I were back on the farm’ from 1967: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tO2fMr87TLI
Attila the Stockbroker http://www.attilathestockbroker.com/
Like many other creators, Attila has been badly hit by the Covid ban on live performances. He was due to go out on a 40th year anniversary tour in 2020. He’s a one-man DiY phenomena – medieval punk poet, social commentator and muso with band, Barnstormer 1649, raconteur, legend, champion of the underdogs.
Co-incidentally, he was born in the same West Sussex village, Southwick, as I was, but a few years later! And, like me 1969-72, attended the University of Kent, Darwin College 1975-78. wEiRd…
John Cooper Clarke (still going strong: http://johncooperclarke.com/ )
Self-styled, Dr John, the People’s Poet. Very much a cultural commentator, finding the absurd in the every-day. He’s achieved further fame through collaborations with Plan B and the Arctic Monkeys, who put his poem, ‘I Wanna be Yours’ to music which went global.
His own favourite poem, as featured during the credits of the ‘Sopranos’, ‘Evidently Chicken Town’. Does he ever use swear words? As he says, “…not allowed to do this on live TV in Britain anymore”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DXPnmBIIvbg
I was at the Isle of Wight festies in 1969 and 1970. I already knew about the wacky, controversial, Tiny Tim and his encyclopaedic knowledge of vaudeville and music hall songs. So, this performance was not a surprise. But, perhaps the audience’s willingness to join in, might have been…
‘There’ll always be an England’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zpxx-jSS3JQ
‘Love Ship’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r46tRnzaBFY