The Inspiration: “I Can’t Git A Nice Loaf A’ Bread”
by The Singing Postman
It’s often the case with these Frozen veg episodes that a spur of the moment choice of some favourite remembered song leads to a deeper appreciation of the subject. It’s also true that surprisingly often serendipity strikes and brings everything together to make it look like all of this chaos has some sort of plan behind it. That’s certainly the case for this episode. The subject is “I Can’t Git A Nice Loaf A’ Bread” by The Singing Postman.
My first encounter with the music of the Singing Postman was thanks to My Mate Bob – the original Boy. We go back to University days where I remember him going on about sticking his hand in a pot of cold tea and following the binder round. The pot of cold tea line was a revelation to me. I loved the observation of reality. I loved the detail. I loved the almost throwaway nature of the line. I loved the rarity – knowing that no-one else would have that line in a song.
Update: Turns out it’s more likely to be a bottle of cold tea. Bob’s Mum used to talk about about all the men drinking bottles of cold tea in the fields at harvest time.
The Singing Postman
Allan Smethurst, The Singing Postman, was a singer, songwriter, postman, and lyrical giant. He taught himself to play the guitar and wrote songs about North Norfolk life. He appeared on local radio after sending a demo tape to local seed magnate and radio show presenter Ralph Tuck who subsequently set up a recording company to produce a 4-song Singing Postman EP. 100 copies were pressed initially but it went on to sell 10,000 in four months. The Singing Postman became a national celebrity and was signed by the Parlophone record label – a label well known for another less popular signing – The Beatles.
“Hev Yew Gotta Loight, Boy?” was released and reached number 7 in the national charts. The Singing Postman toured, made TV appearances and was awarded the Ivor Novello Award for best novelty song in 1966. He recorded 80 songs in all but celebrity took it’s toll. He increasingly suffered from stage fright and started to drink to cope with the nerves. Arthritis hampered his ability to play the guitar and his time in the spotlight was all too brief.
If you’ve only ever heard “Hev Yew Gotta Loight, Boy?” or the Ovaltine advert from a few years back, The Singing Postman might come across as a comedic character singing novelty songs about trivial subjects but there is hidden depth. He paints a romantic picture of rural life with keenly observed satirical details. Comic aspects and nostalgia are balanced by a vein of gentle melancholy which runs through his songs. Beguiling simplicity disguises deep issues.
I Can’t Git A Nice Loaf A’ Bread
I selected “I Can’t Git A Nice Loaf A’ Bread” for this episode because I couldn’t find “Followin’ Th’ Binder Round” anywhere. “I Can’t Git A Nice Loaf A’ Bread” is a eulogy to loaf quality of yesteryear and commentary on modern-day mass production which often seems to sacrifice taste and texture at the altar of production convenience and long shelf life. I used to work in an industrial bakery and have seen first hand the production of textureless foam loaves which are stale by the time they get into the shops. Bread quality is still an issue today but, happily, recent years have seen an upsurge in demand for high quality food, including the daily bread. The Singing Postman would have been pleased.
I finally found “Followin’ Th’ Binder Round” on th’ net and was able to use that as the basis of my take. Serendipity struck when I found a promotional film from 1967 which introduces The Singing Postman and includes a video for “I Can’t Git A Nice Loaf A’ Bread” so that tied everything together nicely. Look at the keen gaze of our hero in the scenes in the pub in the video. Behind the glasses are the eyes of a hawk, taking in all the details.
Here’s to Allan Smethurst, singer, songwriter, observer, satirist, romantic.
The Parsnip’s Take
I originally intended to write a simple song with just vocals and guitar and no frequencies above 5kHz to be faithful to the original. Identifying a seemingly trivial but deep subject that would provide fodder for comedy and melancholy in equal measure proved troublesome. It was with some relief, therefore, that I found “Followin’ Th’ Binder Round” and was able to use original vocals. The Plan B idea was a wistful but plodding dance track. A tribute to The Singing Postman. This one’s also dedicated to my mate Bob. “Are yew alright, Bor?”
Boom! We’re off. Summer breeze. The sound of distant traffic. Someone on the bongos.
Ticking of insects in the hot sun. The Singing Postman appears. “Sticking m’ hand in a pot of cold tea…”. Slicing and dicing, EQ and noise gating minimize the bleed of the guitar sound from the original track.
The kick drum arrives, establishing the plodding beat.
The pulsing pad kicks in. Airy clouds in a blue sky. The chorus repeats.
Three chords on the piano from the local boozer. A wistful phrase. Gently melancholic, it repeats in various forms throughout. The walking bass line plods on with the drums…followin’ th’ binder round.
Layered gated synths add a bit of interest. Various arpeggiations and pulsing pads pop in and out to maintain the movement.
Drop to the next verse. Keep it simple. Highlight the postman. Class issues with the old squire.
The pads layer up during the next verse.
The chorus sees the introduction of the lead synth with a wobbly siren solo. New, full fat arpeggiation backs it up and full bass and drums underpin the whole. The chorus then drops to the arpeggiator alone. Some nice sound and movement on it’s own there.
We drop further to a simple guitar style arpeggiation for the next verses “Old tommy…”. The summer breeze pads move in but everything is kept low key because…wait for it…
Bass, drums and rhythmic pads jump back in for the chorus.
The lead synth comes back. It’s high time for a crescendo.
The lead is joined by it’s twin, picking out a similar phrase further up the scale. Arpeggiation aplenty tickles the sides.
A swoosh heralds the big brother lead synth doing it’s own thing with a lower voice. The multi-layered goodness swirls about like swifts in the summer sky.
The pub piano drops in at the back. This is the summit.
Leads drop out. Arps drop out.
The airy clouds pad pulses away for a couple of bars.
We’re left with the piano and the summer breeze on the corn. The sun sets. The Postman departs. The pub beckons.
Frosty 1973’s Take
As you may have noticed this episode became an even more long-winded exercise than usual. That, I’m afraid, is entirely my fault. My contribution emerged through a long and winding evolution that even Paul McCartney would have had difficulty documenting in the form of song.
My first thoughts involved a simple song with simple instrumentation. Maybe even one instrument. My money was on the Indian Harmonium I’d purchased a while back for the live performance of a freshly written Staffordshire folk song. I hit on the idea of featuring the Cappucino early on. Growing up in Stoke-on-Trent I had no experience of Italian coffee until I went to work abroad in the late 90s. At that time in Stuttgart the Cappuccino was big news and I witnessed many a discussion amongst Italian and Spanish colleagues about the merits of and the etiquette surrounding the consumption of said beverage.
The next step was to find some food to go with the coffee. I did try a line inspired by the frequenters of Manchester’s health food cooperative, The Eigth Day, but the the line, “I Can’t Get No Decent Goji Berries” just didn’t seem to have the same impact.
I quickly abandoned that idea when a new image popped into my head as I was sitting in the bar of Mancunian artisan coffee roasters, ManCoCo. It was the image of a man sitting down and considering life, the universe and everything over a specially roasted Manchester blend capuccino. Obviously,given the song title, the character in the song would have to be passing through an area solely populated by inferior coffee shops such as Costa or, for some, Greggs but sadly there are many areas like this across the British Isles.
This gave me an extremely wide brief! The next thing I did was search for audio samples I could use within the song. I found the following snippets:
- Richard Dawkins Teaching Evolution to Religious Students
- The Lord’s Prayer (spoken in Modern English)
- Gyati Mantra [different version]
These expressions of a search for some kind of truth about existence were selected completely at random so my sincere apologies go out to all those not included.
I then had the unenviable challenge of trying to link a line about not being able to purchase an adequate coffee to the deep and meaningful samples at the end of the song! Wow… At this point I tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade myself of the relative merits of Goji Berries. It was too late.
The lyrics developed from using a technique favoured by Genesis vocalist Phil Collins. Ever since the 80’s he’s told anyone that would listen about how he’d sing any old random nonsense and then try to identify the words that emerge, massaging them into some kind of usable form without worrying too much about the meaning. This technique resulted in such lyrical masterpieces as his solo effort, “Sussudio”. Collins discusses this technique in great depth with US TV host, David Letterman in the video below (about 8 minutes in):
The themes emerging from my limited vocal acrobatics ranged from Second World War to ‘The War on Terror’ combined with some totally incomprehensible stuff about being connected and the sun (not the newspaper). If I was doing this professionally then it’s at this point I’d be saying something like:
“I don’t like to make my lyrics too specific. I like to leave the meaning open to the interpretation of the listener.”
Personally I don’t really mind lyrics that sound atmospheric but don’t actually mean very much. Jon Anderson was always brilliant on that front. The music you hear above also took a circuitous route to it’s current form involving amongst other things hard disk failure. I’m relatively happy with bits of the finished article but it’s a shame it only owes one phrase to the singing postman. He has a fasicinating story and a unique style.