Jake Thackray, all is not lost

Jake Thackray, who I first encountered singing wickedly-funny songs on 1960s and 70s magazine shows like Braden’s Week and That’s Life, was often (says Wikipedia) described as ‘a north-country Noel Coward’, which rather irks me.

It seems to imply that the best that could be said of a songwriter born in Kirkstall, Leeds, was that he could be compared to a songwriter born in Teddington, London, and that northern songwriters are a kind of sub-group, outside the mainstream, although the sub-group also includes Lennon and McCartney, Jarvis Cocker and Morrissey (the last two, incidentally, are Thackray admirers) .

Thackray placed himself in the French chansonnier tradition, although there is perhaps something Northern English about his combination of wild verbal inventiveness and lugubrious delivery; I’m thinking Les Dawson rather than Noel Coward.

Although he was briefly overwhelmed by the punk insurrection and his playful use of sexual stereotypes (like lustful landladies and mouthy women) may have offended the sensitive, he’s never really been away and now he’s making a comeback.

On November 9 there will be an official launch for The Lost Will and Testament of Jake Thackray, an album of unpublished or long-overlooked songs, many of unearthed from the BBC archives. There will be live performances of some of the songs and talks by John Watterson and Paul Thompson, who, in the form of the Jake Thackray Project, have acted as keepers of the songwriter’s flame.

The launch is from 7-9pm in the Circle Bar of the Leeds City Varieties. Thackray himself performed at the Varieties and the bar is so full of theatrical memories that it would probably smell of greasepaint if hadn’t been done up a few years ago. The event, supported by the Leeds musical charity Cloth Cat, is free.

The title of the new album is a play on the title song of Thackray’s first LP, The Last Will and Testament of Jake Thackray, released in 1967. Although his own death, from heart failure and alcoholism in 2002, aged 64, was sad, the song calls on mourners to eat, dance and drink and not to bother with too much tear-shedding (‘Death where is thy victory? Grave where is thy sting,/ When I snuff it bury me quickly, then let the carousels begin’). I’ve made a space for it on my crematorium playlist.

alcoholism in 2002, aged 64, was sad, the song calls on mourners to eat, dance and drink and not to bother with too much tear-shedding (‘Death where is thy victory? Grave where is thy sting,/ When I snuff it bury me quickly, then let the carousels begin’). I’ve made a space for it on my crematorium playlist.


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