In common with a great many Bristolians, I’ve probably tended to underestimate, if not dismiss outright, the so-called Funnyman of Folk, Fred Wedlock. But age is a funny thing, and I am no longer immune to the charms of folk music. Even so-called comedy folk music. Sure, Fred Wedlock’s no Jake Thackray. Who is? Not even Jake Thackray. But a recent, absent-minded search on You Tube threw up this surprisingly good rendition of the old Spanish Civil war tune, Si Me Quieres Escribir, sung in Spanish but with an unmistakeable Bristolian twang to it.
Si Me Quieres Escribir comes from the first Fred Wedlock EP, recorded way back in the 1960s, before the appearances on Tiswas and the entirely understandable confusion with Mike Harding, another unfunny folker. The EP , on Bristol label Saydisc, was called Volume 1 but is often referred to as Silbury Hill after the first track, which concerns an encounter between the Devil (“Old Nick”) and a shepherd on the titular mound near Avebury, in Wiltshire, the tallest man-made hill in Europe and similar in size to the smaller pyramids at Giza. David Beames has a similarly unpleasant encounter with an army deserter near Silbury Hill in my favourite Bristol movie, Radio On, and there’s an excellent monograph by Adam Thorpe called On Silbury Hill, which combines autobiography, archaeology and ancient history to great effect, much as I try to do in this blog, albeit he places more emphasis on Stone Age Man and less on the great heavy rock bands of the 1970s. It’s a small distinction, but an important one.
Saydisc label boss Gef Lucena said that Fred was “very good at traditional songs but he went more for the belly laughs.” When playing live, he would, every three songs, “work in a funny one.” By the time of his first album, in AD 1971, the humorous side was well to the fore. In the meantime, he had trained as a teacher at Redland College, where my uncle Dave lectured, and started working at the Troubadour club in Clifton as both performer and compere. It also turns out that Fred & his wife Sue celebrated their Wedlock at the much-missed Danish House on Whiteladies Rd, just down the road from Dawson’s toy shop. His widow Sue recalls that they had “a very informal reception… instead of a wedding cake they made us a horn of plenty made out of pastry and chocolates and filled with all kinds of goodies.” Me, I always looked forward to visiting the Danish House as a child (and adolescent) because it was the only time I got to eat Black Forest Gateau, giving the lie to the myth that Black Forest Gateau was everywhere in the ‘70s. It certainly wasn’t on our school dinner menu: I had to wait for my birthday, or the victory of the miners over Ted Heath, to celebrate at the Danish House with my fix of Black Forest Gateau from the extensive sweet trolley. They also did open sandwiches! What mysterious creatures they were: sandwiches, only open! Half the amount of bread for double the price!
What else? Well, Fred played a minstrel in HTV’s Arthur of the Britons in 1973, but you can’t help feeling he was overshadowed by Neil Innes’ minstrel in Monty Python & the Holy Grail. Then there were the appearances on Tiswas, where he – in common with everyone else – fell victim to the Phantom Fan Flinger (what, no Black Forest Gateau?) the rightly-forgotten Good Neighbour Show and, in a late thespian flourish, A.C.H. Smith’s marvellous theatrical homage to Bristol dock workers, Up The Feeder, Down the ‘Mouth. He may also have inspired Laura Lee’s feminist soul anthem, Wedlock is a Padlock, on Holland-Dozier-Holland’s mighty Invictus label, if I’m not mistaken, but then again, perhaps he didn’t, and perhaps it isn’t. Top tune nonetheless, and only one of many great performances by Ms Lee. Over to Dai the Llama now, who hasn’t contributed much to this blog lately…
Dai the Llama says “Wedlock is a padlock? Sure ting, hermanos y hermanas. In Spanish-speaking countries we even refer to husbands and wives as esposos i.e. handcuffs. And you wonder why I never tied the knot! Knots, handcuffs, the cream from a Black Forest Gateau…. I feel a Judas Priest song coming on!”