Sunday, October 30, 2011

John's Children: Lift Up Your Skirt And Get Banned

JOHN'S CHILDREN-Desdemona/Remember Thomas A Beckett Germany Polydor 59 104 1967

Today's topic is one of the most famous John's Children tracks, not necessarily their best, but it's well known because it marks the debut of their newly recruited guitarist Marc Bolan and because it contained a line which allegedly incurred some wrath from the BBC (though I honestly find it hard to believe the Beeb would be so troubled by a band so obscure). Who knows, maybe this was more P.R. from their manager Simon Napier Bell who freely admitted to encouraging their outlandishness!

"Desdemona" was never one of my favorites by the band until I became a T Rex fan.  I think it's down to Bolan's warbling "Desdemona" backing vocal that always rubbed me the wrong way till I got used to his elfin warbling.  The number is pretty mundane in itself in musical delivery other than a freaky interlude where Bolan can be heard coaxing some feedback in the middle, what's most interesting are Bolan's quasi beatnik lyrics which I find quite cool. And then of course there's the "offensive" line "lift up your skirt and speak/fly" line which I don't perceive as anything sexual just good old witchy/proto hippie gobbledygook.

I prefer the flip side, "Remember Thomas A. Beckett".  It's full of silly crash bang wallop drumming and some off kilter backing harmonies.  It is purported that the band used the funds gained in royalties from "Smashed Blocked" in The States to buy a club in Leatherhead, Surrey called The Bluesette which they renamed "The Thomas A. Beckett", whether this was more the productive yarn spinning on their then manager Simon Napier Bell, I'll never know but it sounds impressive!  To me the lyrics speak of necrophilia ("won't your blues eyes ever shine?  Whys your hand cold all the time ?") and murders ("you're running, I'll follow, you're screaming, I'll catch you, and chop you in pieces...").  Thomas A. Beckett of course was a historical figure, (not to be confused Thomas Beckett with the Archbishop of Cantebury, murdered on Henry VIII's order in 1170) who was , for a time, Australia's chief justice in the late 19th/early 20th Century.  Strange lads those John's Children, one wonders what Andy Ellison and John Hewlett had in mind when they wrote it!!

Recently Acid Jazz unearthed an "alternate" version of "Desdemona" that featured on their "Rare Mod Volume Three" CD that contained the line "why do you have to lie?" in place of "lift up your skirt and speak/fly", showing that despite all pretensions of rebellion John's children were not above conformity if need be................

Both tracks are available on a variety of John's Children CD compilations ("The Complete John's Children" and "Smashed Blocked"), which are all sadly, out of print. What the fuck is up with that?!

Hear "Desdemona":

Hear "Remember Thomas A. Beckett":

The MEGA rare U.K. picture sleeve.


Peter said...

"Remember Thomas A. Beckett" sounds a bit like a cross between Small Faces and the Stooges. It's good, although I probably prefer "Desdemona".

Their stuff is quite hard to get, although I think some of their songs are on John Peel's Perfumed Garden comps.

I've heard that two surviving members of John's Children did a comeback gig in London earlier on this year. Eyewitnesses described the gig as a bit of a disaster. I can't say i'm surprised, really.

Simon said...

Desdemona is a great single. The Jam covered it in the early 80s live, but I don't think any recordings of them doing it are available.

Wilthomer said...

I'd read that Simon too, but I'm always curious if it's true as Weller slagged the band off pretty heavily in the 60's chapter he wrote for a book in 1981 called "Cool Cats 25 Years Of Rock N' Roll Style".

Unknown said...

Nice article.
Have to say, however, that you have a very poor grasp of English history.

Thomas A Becket WAS murdered in Canterbury cathedral.This was done under the orders of Henry II, more than three hundred years before Henry the eighth's birth!

And Thomas a Becket and Thomas Becket are one and the same.

It might be wise to read Roy Strong's 'The Story Of Britain.'

I think Desdemona was a good record. There is revolution on its tongue.