Starting in December 1958, Clinton appeared on the BBC programmes, ‘Guitar Club’, ‘Saturday Club’, ‘The Free And Easies’ (with Ted Ray) with a special ‘Saturday Club’ from the Royal Albert Hall on 30 January 1960. He received a five guinea fee for that, £3.9.0d for his train fare and £2.10.0d subsistence for one night. At this concert he picked up a tulip from the front of the stage and ate it. He told the audience that it was quite nice, rather like mustard and cress. This turned out to be another memorable gig as he was barracked while singing ‘Old Shep’. “I’ll finish this song if it kills me,” gasped Clinton. Some wag shouted, “It’s already killing us.”
‘Oh, By Jingo!’ was a cheerful song from the 1919 Broadway musical, ‘Linger Longer, Letty’ that had been performed by Danny Kaye, Spike Jones and Billy Cotton. When Clint sang this on ‘Easy Beat’ in January 1961, Brian Matthew decreed that he should sing an oldie a week. He was to do much more than that.
Clint had his second chart entry with ‘Too Many Beautiful Girls’. He recalls, “Reg Warburton found ‘Too Many Beautiful Girls’ for me. I said, ‘Let’s not mess around with funny little rock groups. Let’s get in a proper trad band and do it traddy. He said, ‘All right’ and we got Charlie Galbraith and the boys. The record had nothing to do with trad: it just had a trad lineup. Trad was a nice happy sound and it was different from constant rock’n’roll. It was a good thing, good for me anyway.”
In 1935 George Formby had had a big hit with ‘Fanlight Fanny’ and he had featured it in the northern comedy, ‘Trouble Brewing’ (1939). The song was about a striptease artist who had past her prime:
“She’s a peach but understand,
She’s called a peach because she’s always canned,
Fanlight Fanny, the frowsy nightclub queen.”
Enter Clinton Ford in 1962: “I loved George Formby’s songs such as ‘The Lancashire Toreador’ and ‘Why Don’t Women Like Me’. George sang ‘Fanlight Fanny’ in the 1939 film, ‘Trouble Brewing’. The publishers were so pleased when I recorded it that they gave me a quarter of the publishing, so every time it is on television, I get a few quid.” The song was written by Harry Gifford and Fred E. Cliffe but the credit on Clinton’s Oriole single reads Gissord, Cliffe, Formby and Ford. Clinton does make a few changes to the lyric: George sings ‘beer and stout’ and Clinton sings ‘gin and scotch’.
I asked Clint if he had ever met Formby: “No, but my wife Margaret was a dancer in one of his shows. His wife, Beryl, was a dragon and he used to give Margaret ten shillings to buy the girls some sweets, but he’d say, ‘Don’t tell Beryl.’”
This time Clinton was paired with a session band formed by George Chisholm. Although an excellent trombonist, Chisholm was known for tomfoolery via his appearances on ‘The Black And White Minstrel Show’. Geoorge Chisholm’s so called All Stars perfectly complemented Clinton’s comical vocal. ‘Fanlight Fanny’ almost made the Top 20 and was Clint’s most successful single. The B-side was Clinton’s own song, a country ballad called ‘Dreamy City Lullaby’: it’s an effective song in a well worn tradition.
The follow-up to ‘Fanlight Fanny’, again with George Chisholm’s All Stars, was more confusing than commercial. Clinton sang ‘What More Can I Say?’, a song associated with Flanagan and Allen, in a gentle romantic way and halfway through, the tempo was increased and it ended up with a full-blown jazzy ending. The B-side was the bluesy and reflective ‘Ever Since The Day You Left Town’, which is very well done with George Chisholm’s All Stars and is Clinton’s own song, to boot. It is one of Clint’s best songs: he was never quite distinctive enough as a songwriter and rather disappointingly, the current Denmark Street writers were rarely used. In particular, Lionel Bart could have come up with some memorable songs for Clinton.
The success of ‘Fanlight Fanny’ led to an album with George Chisholm, which featured old-time songs, none of which would be known to contemporary music fans. There were the lazy rhythms of ‘Sleepy Time Gal’, the romance of ‘What More Can I Say?’, but most of all, there were the comic songs. Clinton told of his love for a big woman in a Lu Watters speciality, ‘Huggin’ And A-Chalkin’’. Judging by the response this receives in concert, it should have been a single.
The singles, though, were all over the place – a minstrel song from 1902, ‘Under The Bamboo Tree’, which had been featured in the Judy Garland film, ‘Meet Me In St. Louis’, the catchy but dated ‘Opening Night In Loveland’ and the very lively ‘Popsy Wopsy’ as if performed in a circus: “I liked ‘Popsy Wopsy’,” says Clint, “I’d heard it by Noel Coward.”
Clinton was turning his back on contemporary trends, but he did revive Russ Hamilton’s ballad, ‘Rainbow’, which incorporates a very primitive and irritating echo. “It was a very pretty song,” says Clint, “and I really wanted to do it.” The B-side was the music hall song, ‘On Mother Kelly’s Doorstep’, later a hit for Danny LaRue.
Clinton was persuaded to record the sequel, ‘Fanlight Fanny’s Daughter’, and he admits, “‘Fanlight Fanny’s Daughter’ was a dreadful mistake. It was especially written as a follow-up and it was rubbish. I didn’t like it at all and I shouldn’t have done it.” The tune is similar to ‘Fanlight Fanny’ and there are some funny lines:
“When she dances, you can bet
She’ll show off her piroutette,
Fanlight Fanny’s daughter shows them how.”
Eventually, in 1962, Clint talked Oriole into making a country album, ‘Country Songs – Ancient And Modern’. The cover with Clinton holding a rifle alongside some bales of hay is surely what he was complaining about, but never mind. Clint was serious about presenting country music in the UK and although I would have preferred Nashville backing, the accompaniments by Frank Barber (orchestral) and Jack Fallon (small group with banjo and violin) are okay. He also overdoes the American accent, sounding like a male Dolly Parton on ‘The Richest Poor Boy’. Still, it does mean that it would pass for a US album at times.
The most intriguing track is ‘My Little Lady’ with some superb yodelling which Clint never repeated. “I did my first yodel in the break on a single of ‘I Cried A Tear’ and then I did this, which was the full Swiss job. We had Denny Wright on guitar who played with Lonnie Donegan. It wasn’t a bad record but I never did it on stage. Maybe I should have done as Frank Ifield was yodelling with great success a few years later. I did a bit of yodelling years later with ‘Ghost Riders in The Sky’ but that’s about it. I don’t think I could do it now.”
With a couple of exceptions (‘Keep On The Sunny Side’ and ‘Lonesome Whistle’), Clinton veered away from familiar material and they are mostly his selections. He was very fond of Bill Clifton’s ‘You Go To Your Church’, which, ironically, has even more meaning today.
“You go to your church and I’ll go to mine
But let’s walk along together.
Our heavenly father is the same,
So let’s walk along together.”
‘Charlie’s Shoes’, which was a close cousin to ‘Heartaches By The Number’, should have been tried as a single, but Clint was never concerned with big hits. As he said in 1967, “I’ve always been happiest as the kind of entertainer who closes the first half of a bill. I’ve always dreaded the idea of being a really big star. Once you’re at the top there’s only one way you can go. Down. So I’d rather not.”
That completes our look at Clint’s records for the small independent label, Oriole, and next month we’ll turn to his work for Columbia and Pye. We’ll also be looking at his brief time as one of Kenny Ball’s Jazzmen as well as delving into the BBC files.
PART 2- FINGER IN THE PYE
“They made me a present of Mornington Crescent,
They threw it a brick at a time.”
(‘The Night I Appeared As Macbeth’, Clinton Ford, 1968)
Despite a few minor hits for the Oriole label, Clinton Ford’s career in the early 60s was lacking direction. In retrospect, he should have formed his own band and carved his own career but he preferred to take work as and when it arose. In retrospect, maybe the Merseysippi Jazz Band should have gone professional but they always regarded their day jobs as more important. Clinton Ford: “I was at the Mardi Gras in Liverpool with the Merseys and Kenny Ball had seen me. I got a phone call asking me to join his band. I thought twice about it as I didn’t want to leave Liverpool at the time, but Jimmy Ireland, the owner of the Mardi Gras, talked me into it when I was drinking in the Press Club. He said, ‘You’ll never really make anything here but down there you’ll have an international audience.’”
So as Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen were enjoying their first successes, they had Clinton Ford with them on the road: “When I was with Kenny Ball, it was seven nights a week in different places and quite often I would sleep in the bandwagon. I’d wake up and think, ‘I’ll go and see Bob Barclay today’ thinking I was in Leeds, but I was in Birmingham. Sometimes you didn’t know where you were.”
Clinton made several appearances on the Light Programme’s ‘Easy Beat’ with Kenny Ball’s Jazzmen and his talent was soon appreciated: “We recorded ‘Easy Beat’ on a Wednesday and it would go out on Sunday morning. Learning new songs for ‘Easy Beat’ didn’t bother me at all. I am happy to learn a new song a day. I would still do it now if the occasion arose.” Various BBC recordings of Clinton with Kenny Ball’s Jazzmen still exist – there is ‘Get Out And Get Under’ and ‘Yaaka Hula Hickey Dula’ from ‘Easy Beat’ and ‘Fanlight Fanny’ and ‘Michael Finnegan’ from ‘Saturday Club’.
One of the problems was that Kenny Ball wanted to sing as much as Clinton, and after three months, things came to a head. “Kenny wanted me to play banjo as well, which I could do, but I didn’t want to take the banjo player’s job, who was a lovely chap. Kenny couldn’t afford to keep me after a while and so I went on my own. We were doing ‘Easy Beat’ on Sunday mornings and when I told Brian Matthew that I had been given the push and wouldn’t be on ‘Easy Beat’ anymore, he said, ‘Oh yes you will, because we will give you your own contract.’” Clinton’s contract provided him with 12 guineas an appearance: he was also booked as the singer and compére on ‘Get With It’ for 25 guineas. Good money for those days, and for doing something he enjoyed.
Clinton recalls a return visit to Liverpool: “I remember playing the Cavern with Acker Bilk in 1962 and the owner Ray McFall said that there was no great call for jazz anymore. ‘It’s all Beatles now,’ he said, and I said, ‘Who are the Beatles?’”
In April 1963, Clinton found out: “I had to follow the Beatles once. It was on ‘Easy Beat’ and I was singing with the Kenny Ball band. I used to finish the show every week in those days and we did it from the Playhouse Theatre on the Embankment in London. The place went wild for the Beatles, but they still listened to us.”
Despite the advent of the Beatles and the beat groups, Clinton received plenty of work. He made TV appearances on ‘Stars And Garters’, ‘The Good Old Days’ and ‘The Billy Cotton Band Show’, and he had his own series, ‘Clinton’s Cakewalk’, on the Light Programme. When Derek Taylor interviewed him for ‘Melody Maker’ in 1963, he kept repeating that he was tired. “Well, I was,” says Clint, “After I left Kenny Ball, I went on my own and did the driving and it knocked me out. I did a matinee in Margate and an evening show in Peterborough. Then I drove overnight to Aberystwyth and returned for rehearsals for ‘Stars And Garters’. I was dozing in lay-bys and waking up freezing.”
That helps to explain Clint’s song, ‘Take Care On The Road’: “I wrote ‘Take Care On The Road’ when I was in digs with the Liverpool comedian, Ray Fell. We both had the same model of car and he said to me one day, ‘Take care on the road, cheerio.’ It was a good title for a song but I don’t know why I made it so dreadful and miserable.”
Don Lydiatt, the clarinet player with the Merseysippis, recalls, “We’d been playing in Sheffield. Coming back, we were full of ale and it was misty. We stopped on top of the Snake Pass for a pee and there was a grass verge, grass moorland and a low wall which we climbed over and stood on the other side to relieve ourselves, but Clinton took an extra step forwards and we heard this howl. We couldn’t see a thing so we got some newspapers and lit them and dropped them down and we could see Clinton on a ledge. He had fallen 20 feet, but it was sloping so he had rolled down. Below him, it was a 100 foot drop into the canyon at the bottom. He started crawling up and we were leaning over to get him. He calls it the night the Merseys saved his life.”
Clinton Ford: “I remember that well. Nobby Baldwin was having a pee and he said to me, ‘I wouldn’t like to get lost out here’ and suddenly I was gone.”
Things certainly could go with a swing with Clinton. Frank Robinson: “We were playing at the students’ union one night and Clinton noticed a piece of rope that was dangling down backstage. He tied it into a hangman’s noose, stood on a chair and put it round his neck. The chair was just a frame and he was stood on the edge. I was telling him not to take any chances when he fell off and I had to catch him quickly.”
Meanwhile, back at the BBC. On 17 April 1963 a BBC manager Henry Straker was reported as being “considerably steamed up over the amount of clashing broadcasts which Clinton Ford is doing”. In that week, he was on ‘Easy Beat’ (Sunday), ‘Clinton’s Cakewalk’ (Wednesday), ‘20s To The Twist’ (Thursday) and back with ‘Easy Beat’ (Sunday). A round robin of BBC producers also reveals that Clint was working for ‘Showtime’, ‘Worker’s Playtime’, ‘The Beat Show’, ‘Sing It Again’ and ‘Pops for Everyone’. Patrick Newman, the Light Entertainment Booking Manager, responded to the criticism by admitting that “practically every producer in the Corporation is clamouring to book him.” No need for the word “practically”, it would seem.
Clint joined Columbia in 1963 and the records could be made with a much bigger budget than at Oriole. He kicked off with a fine revival of ‘A Beggar In Love’ but again the choice of singles was haphazard. The unluckiest moment came with ‘The Wedding’; “I had been given this new song, ‘The Wedding’, which Alyn Ainsworth arranged for me on the Light Programme. I loved the song and I asked for a copy of my broadcast to be sent to Norman Newell so he could record it with me. Trouble is, Julie Rogers got a copy too.” Julie’s version entered the charts in August 1964 and climbed to No.3. Clinton’s version came out at the same time and went nowhere.
For the first Columbia album, ‘The Melody Man’, Clinton was dressed in top hat, cane and tails for the cover. It was a collection of vintage songs and he told ‘Melody Maker, “I have a great affection for those old songs. In their own way they are little works of art – they have so much character, like old coins and furniture, and character seems to be lacking in most modern songs.” So much for Lennon and McCartney then.
One of the modern songs recorded for Columbia, although you mightn’t think so, was ‘The Old Bazaar In Cairo’, written with the comedian Charlie Chester, and released as a single: “It was Charlie’s song but it needed a better tune and a middle eight, which is what I did. He also wrote ‘The Pockets Of One Little Boy’. It’s a very pretty song about all the things you find in the pockets of a little boy. That should have been an A-side.”
There is a second album, ‘Listen To Us’ on which Clint poses with his Great Danes. Clint took the Great Danes to a show at Wellington Pier in Great Yarmouth with David Frost. Frost was visited by his girlfriend Janette Scott with her white poodles, and there was a tremendous ruckus with their various pets. ‘Listen To Us’ is a fine album with a full-throated version of ‘Prisoner Of Love’, the Kingston Trio’s ‘San Miguel’ sung in a Mexican accent, and a delightful ‘Oh, Johnny! Oh, Johnny! Oh!’.
Clinton Ford was a very popular attraction when he was on a summer season with Tommy Trinder: “Tommy Trinder said to me, ‘It’s a good house tonight, Clint. You’re a draw.’ ‘No, Tommy,’ I said, ‘you’re the draw.’ ‘That’s it,’ said Tommy, ‘We’re a pair of drawers.”
Also on the bill was the veteran Canadian entertainer, Hershel Henlere, and this anecdote from Clint is a gem: “You could never get the comedy pianist Herschel Henlere off stage. They would have to draw the curtains on him. Hersch was magic and yet he never looked like a matinee idol. He was a little squat chap with thinning hair. He was 86 when I worked with him and every night he would find out where the nucleus of the audience was from and he would say, ‘And the greatest entertainer I ever worked with was so-and-so’, and it would be somebody from that town and he would get a cheer. If he was in Preston, he would say, ‘The greatest entertainer I ever worked with was Leslie Stuart.’ He was coming past my dressing-room one night and I said, ‘Hersch, who was the greatest entertainer you ever worked with?’ and he said, without hesitation, ‘Jolson.’ I said, ‘Why?’ He said, ‘Sincerity. He would sing and the tears would roll down his face, and you could look at the audience and the tears would be rolling down their faces.’ He would say things to you like, ‘As I was saying to Scott Joplin one night…’ He’d played in a club on the opposite corner to Scott Joplin, but I never found out what he said to Scott Joplin.”
Every Christmas Clinton worked in pantomime. He recalls being in Bolton playing Widow Twanky in ‘Aladdin’: “I was doing it as a cross between Frank Randle and Old Mother Riley. The trick was to get me out of drag and into a suit as Clinton Ford. Abanazer said he would magic me out. He said, ‘I sentence you a fate worse than death – you will be Clinton Ford.’ I put on my grey suit and bow tie under my costume, and the costume had press studs at the back. There was a blackout, I undid the studs and went to the microphone singing ‘Oh! By Jingo’.”
Another time Clint was in panto with Jimmy Edwards in Southsea: “We were on orange boxes waiting to climb on the glittering staircase when Jimmy said to me, ‘Clint, I’m pissed.’ I said, ‘Jim, that’s nothing unusual.’ He said, ‘Yes, but this time I know I am. I usually leave myself in a little doubt.”
In 1966 Clinton was reunited with his Oriole producer, John Schroeder, at Pye’s new subsidiary, Piccadilly. Over the next five years, he made all manner of singles and albums. He started with Ray Davies’ ‘Dandy’ and then a country song ‘Run To The Door’. Clinton recalls, “John Schroeder said, ‘Let’s release ‘Dandy’ first and if it’s not in the charts in two weeks, we’ll release ‘Run To The Door’. It wasn’t, so John released ‘Run To The Door’ just as ‘Dandy’ was going in the charts and they spoilt each other’s sales. I really enjoyed doing ‘Run To The Door’ though: it was a beaty, meaty song and I loved that.”