The other evening, completely out of the blue, I achieved closure on something that’s been bugging me for literally half my life.
Let me take you back 21 years to May 1993. There was all sorts of bizarre crap in the chart: a Runrig single, a live Dire Straits EP, a medley of songs from The Jungle Book. George Michael’s version of Somebody To Love – recorded with the remaining members of Queen at the Freddie Mercury tribute concert a full year earlier – had just slipped from the number 1 slot, a monument to how slowly things moved in those days; if the show had happened now the songs would have been up on iTunes within an hour of the concert finishing.
A bit further down the chart at number 27 was the new single by Saint Etienne. I’d been a fan for a year or so after falling for (a) their nostalgic-yet-futuristic blend of dance beats, unsettling retro samples and classic pop sensibilities and (b) their singer Sarah Cracknell. They’d had their biggest hit so far earlier in the year with You’re In A Bad Way and now here was their new single – a double A-side, in the death throws of the days when it was still possible to give equal significance to the two songs on either side of your flat black plastic thing. Think Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever, or We Can Work It Out/Day Tripper, or Mull Of Kintyre/Girls’ School… okay, maybe not that one. In this case, the top listed A-side was Hobart Paving, a pretty but slow burning ballad which, in all honesty, wasn’t shifting units in anything like the same way as the other side, Who Do You Think You Are.Although I had no memory of ever having heard the song before, I soon became aware that Who Do You Think You Are was a cover version. “It was a hit years ago for a group called Candlewick Green,” one wacky funster DJ informed us, “who you’ve almost certainly never heard of.” Ah, dear wacky funster DJ, how wrong you were. Unlike any other 21 year olds I knew at the time, I had not only heard of Candlewick Green, I had seen them live, bought one of their albums and even met one of the band. Not through any particular love of the band or their music, it should be said; they were doing summer season in Blackpool when I was on a family holiday there in 1980. It was agreed that we could go and see the show, partly because they were described to me as “a comedy band, a bit like the Barron Knights” and partly because their name sounded like “Camberwick Green” – if there had been bands whose names sounded like Trumpton or Chigley, I would probably have wanted to see them too.
I suppose Candlewick Green was my first “gig”, if you can call it that. It was more of a variety show with other acts – comedians and such, I don’t actually remember who was on the bill with them – and I’d seen several of those in previous years, starring such luminaries as Little & Large, Roger de Courcey and Nookie Bear, even the great Paul Daniels. Still, this was the first live show I’d seen where a musical group was the main act. It must have made an impression on me, because I badgered my grandad into buying me the Candlewick Green LP that was on sale in the foyer. Not only that, but the band’s lead singer Terry Webb was there signing them, so I went back to the hotel that night having been to my first “pop concert”, met the singer and got his autograph on a piece of memorabilia to be cherished and played repeatedly as a reminder of the evening. In fact it was played maybe three times, then Kings Of The Wild Frontier came out and it was left in the record box beside The Smurfs and several Top Of The Pops albums.
The LP languished in the dark recesses of my bedroom cupboard for thirteen years until the amazing revelation that Saint Etienne had covered a Candlewick Green song. Surely the original version of Who Do You Think You Are would be on there. They wouldn’t have sold me a record without their first, biggest and – let’s be frank – only hit on it, would they? For the first time in over a decade, I delved into the vinyl graveyard at the back of the cupboard and retrieved my copy of the ironically titled Making It. The cover picture, an awkwardly posed shot of the band in full flow on stage, was even grimmer than I remembered. I flipped the sleeve over. Terry Webb’s signature and dedication “To Steven, best wishes” was there. Who Do You Think You Are wasn’t.
Almost immediately I remembered why I’d only played the album a handful of times. If their live show had been “a bit like the Barron Knights”, it certainly didn’t survive the transition to vinyl; the track listing was easy listening hell. Miss You Nights, Annie’s Song, even bloody Cavatina. I gave The Shadows’ version of Cavatina a roasting in my Top Of The Pops blog a couple of weeks ago; I can’t imagine Candlewick Green’s version is any better. I don’t know for sure, because the record went straight back in the box and I consoled myself with the thought that Saint Etienne’s version of Who Do You Think You Are was probably miles better anyway.
Fast forward another 21 years and you’re back in the room. We’re in the future now, a wonderful future where millions of songs are available to listen to over the internet in exchange for no money whatsoever, but a bizarre future where you can’t stream anything by the Beatles but you can stream Candlewick Green’s version of Who Do You Think You Are. Putting my Spotify rant aside for another day, the original hit version of the song is pretty much how I’d imagined it these past two decades. Being so used to the Saint Etienne version, it’s a bit like a reverse cover version, the synths and dance beats replaced by piano, strings and a parping brass section that lifts the chorus out of cheesy 1970s cabaret into the realms of classic pop. Instead of having to dig around Spotify to hear it, it should be a regular on oldies stations, as familiar as Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Old Oak Tree or Is This The Way To Amarillo. Awkwardly, the rest of their What Kind Of Songs album shows why it isn’t – there are some good pop tunes on there but they alternate with turgid ballads, so every uplifting feelgood number is followed by a crashing buzzkill like a frilly-shirted, velvet-flared rollercoaster. And to add insult to injury, it turns out that Who Do You Think You Are wasn’t even Candlewick Green’s song to start with.
Digging a little further into Spotify, we find this: an almost identical version of the song by the band Jigsaw, best known for their 1975 hit Sky High. Written by Jigsaw’s Clive Scott and Des Dyer, Who Do You Think You Are first appeared on their 1974 album I’ve Seen The Film, I’ve Read The Book. Both bands were hilariously signed to the BASF label (a company famous in the UK only for making blank tapes, so it would be like being signed to Memorex or TDK) and Jigsaw kindly donated the song to Candlewick Green to give them a hit single after they won the TV talent show Opportunity Knocks. In the US yet another similar version of the song was a hit for Bo Donaldson & The Heywoods (they also hit there with a cover of Paper Lace’s Billy Don’t Be A Hero but we won’t go into that). Honestly, you wait two decades for an original version of Who Do You Think You Are and then three come along at once.
So, was it worth the wait? Well, yes. I still love the Saint Etienne version, but the original 1970s version is hugely enjoyable and an interesting complement, whoever’s singing it. My copy of Making It probably won’t be seeing a turntable anytime soon though.