photographer Willy Russell

Jake Thackray (1938 - 2002)

"I love a good bum on a woman
It makes my day
To me it is palpable proof of God's existence
A posteriori"

Jake Thackray is the lost genius of British songwriting. Sometimes referred to as a North Country Noel Coward (although Jake disliked that description, calling it lazy journalism) his voice, once heard, is either loved or hated but never forgotten. His jazz inflected nylon strung guitar style is all his own, counterpointing impeccably the lyrical brilliance of his songs

And oh! the songs. Quintessentially English yet recogniseably in the French tradition of George Brassens, they are quirky, bawdy, intelligent, sometimes poignant, mostly funny - uproariously funny. 'The Jolly Captain', 'The Widow of Brid', 'The Blacksmith and the Toffeemaker', 'Isobel Makes Love Upon National Monuments', 'The Kiss', 'Castleford Ladies' Magic Circle' (Elizabeth Jones and Lily O'Grady/ And three or four more married ladies/ Are frantically dancing naked for Beelzebub) and many, many more - including what ought to be the mantra for all Civil Servants such as myself 'The Bull' (The bigger the Bull the slicker and thicker the bullshite falls)

Like many whom I hope to feature in these notes, Jake is recognisably his own man and an awkward one at that. He cannot possibly be mistaken for anyone else and expresses dissent simply by being unapologetically and uncompromisingly himself - and he writes approvingly of those who do likewise:-

"She bought a massive motorbike
She did, did the widow of Brid...
...And unrepenting, undeterred
She thundered off to cause a stir
In poor old bloody Scarborough
She did, did, did, did, did
Did the widow of Brid"

Like Dave Van Ronk Jake's genius lies in control, but in Jake's case it is lyrical control within the musical and comic structure of the songs: the precision of the use of words - 'interrupted' in 'On Again! On Again!, 'moustache' in 'It was only a Gypsy', 'leap-frog' in 'Castleford Ladies Magic Circle' - and the imagery - the upright cloister toilet seat in 'Sister Josephine', 'the house was full of clothes pegs' in 'It was only a Gypsy'. Of course if you don't know the songs the impact cannot be gleaned from these bare words alone and you'll think that I'm a blithering idiot (indeed you may think that anyway), but visiting Edmund Chattoe's page (link below) for the full texts will give more of an idea. Even better seek out the songs and have a listen.

And then there are the songs which go off into places where others fear to tread: aphrodisiacs for the decaying aristocracy ("Pass Milord the Rooster Juice") and the powers of sexual healing granted by a ploughman to his desperate paramours (where else could a hunchback get a cuddle...) :

Old Lothario and Casanova, mighty Don Juan
Those legendary goats of days of yore -
Billy was better, with his eyes closed, on one leg and look no hands !
(A trick which he could actually perform, by the way
Spectacular, but dodgy, so they say)
(The Ballad of Billy Kershaw)

Unlike DVR it is now difficult to get hold of Jake's material except in second hand shops and via the internet. EMI have a cd out usually referred to as the 'Ideal cd' or 'Lah Di Dah' which contains 22 of his songs, and subscribers to the Topica list referred to below will know that a limited edition cd of the remainder of his known recorded work was sold to members of that list in November 2002. That cd is now SOLD OUT; however if you subscribe to or keep an eye on the Topica list you will be kept up to date with any upcoming activities.

Jake's music, like that of Delia Derbyshire, is amply represented by unreleased material in the BBC archives and like Delia is likely to stay there for the time being. Having once approached the BBC to ask about the possibility of re-releasing Jake material and having been quoted their rates for doing so, I can understand why the music remains in the vaults. A bit of a pain really considering that, as a public corporation, their funding to record it in the first place came from the great UK public.

As I update this page, two days after Jake's death was announced, this site has seen the greatest number of hits in its brief history, almost exclusively due to searches for Jake on the major search engines. The obituaries (see my blog entry for 28 December 2002) have been heartfelt and condolences have been posted on line from folks whom I do not recognise as being part of the 'Topica' network. There appears, then, to be quite a large base of people who appreciate Jake's work. If you are among that number and have not had a look at Gordon's site linked to below, try it and see what you think: I quite like it, I quite like it.

More information on Jake is available, exhaustively, on Gordon Tennent's fine Jake site here

There is also a Topica discussion list for fans with a similar facility, featuring the same subscribers (!) on Yahoo Groups.

Please feel free to drop me a note.
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Version 2: posted 28 December 2002. minor update 15 April 2008