Feeling My Age

Getting older has its drawbacks – but it's a lot better than the alternative.

Stricty For Grown-Ups album by Paddy Roberts

“Vulgar” was Dad’s favourite adjective to describe everything he disliked about popular culture. The only music heard in our home during the first five years of my life came from Bach, nursery rhymes, or The Scottish Students Song Book (of which more another time).

Then in 1955 Dad’s fastidious cultural regime was shattered by the brash and unashamed vulgarity of Bill Haley’s Rock Around The Clock – brought into the house on a 78rpm disc by my my older brother. It stuck up two fingers at everything that Dad held dear and was followed in due course by the likes of Tommy Steele and Dave Brubeck in his son’s record collection.

But for vulgarity nothing could beat the  Paddy Robberts album “Strictly For Grown-Ups” – which my brother bought as printed sheet music and quickly mastered at the piano. These were satrical folk song parodies of one kind or another. The Ballad Of Bethnal Green made fun of both contemporary youth culture and the working classes – and won an Ivor Novello Award as Best Novelty Song Of The Year. The shortest song in the album was also the nastiest:

Now when she was young she was pretty
And nobody called her a cow
Her face was just like a lily
Take a look at the bloody thing now
(“A Short Song” by Paddy Roberts)

Although Roberts later released a barrel-scraping album of playground standards called “Songs For Gay Dogs” the word was meant in the earlier sense of “fast” or “risqué”. There was nothing gay in the modern sense about Paddy – his song Lavender Cowboy poked gentle fun at both macho Western movies and effeminate gay men:

He’d round up the cattle a-ridin’ side-saddle
Because he preferred it that way…
(“Lavender Cowboy” by Paddy Roberts)

I have to admit the whole family, me included, found it hilarious at the time.
The best biog of Paddy Roberts I could find is on the Scratchy Buckles blog – much more rounded and well-written than his Wikipedia entry.

It was enlightening to find out that “Strictly For Grown-Ups” was specificially commissioned by Decca Records to cash in on the late 50s success of Tom Lehrer.  Also that despite his cut-glass accent Paddy Roberts was actually South African – and enjoyed a successful career writing commercial pop songs, with not one but five Ivor Novello Awards under his belt.

Named after the homosexual superstar who wrote “Gay’s The Word“…

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