Hello and welcome to another edition of the Vintage Media Millennial blog. Firstly, I wish you all a Happy New Year 2024! It has been a while since I wrote one of these, and I really should improve at being more consistent. In this post, I’d like to write about my first experience of a commercial music act in a live setting.
In the summer of 2000, I went on a holiday to Somerset. I was ten years old and saw a number of the sights that the area had to offer. Little did I know before setting off on the trip, that I would be seeing a local band that reached the number one position in the official music charts back in 1976! While staying at Breen Sands, we often checked out the evening entertainment the holiday park had to offer.
I recall attending several events including a children’s talent show, a Westlife tribute act and a comedian who also played George Formby songs on the banjolele. However, the one act I remember seeing, which turned into a personal milestone for me, was The Wurzels.
I must admit, I had no idea who this band were. Elder relatives were excited at the prospect of seeing this band, but I was none the wiser. They kept saying something about a Combine Harvester and singing a lot of things about Cider. There wasn’t portable internet in those days so I couldn’t exactly do a Google search. I walked into the venue that evening with very little expectations, and I walked out a fan.
The Wurzels had formed in 1966 as Adge Cutler and The Wurzels in their home county of Somerset. After Cutler died in a car accident in 1974, the band continued with a new lineup. They performed a type of music known locally as Scrumpy and Western, singing in their own accents. In 1976, they had some novelty hits with a reworking of Melanie’s Brand New Key, entitled Combine Harvester. They have recorded and toured ever since.
When I saw the band, the lineup consisted of Tommy Banner, Pete Budd, Dave Wintour and John Morgan; two of whom had been in the band during their peak commercial success. I could tell from the first note that these were accomplished musicians with a well-rehearsed act. They played a large selection of their hit songs, most of which were completely new to me. I remember the euphoric audience participation in songs such as I Am A Cider Drinker, Blackbird and Drink Up Thy Zider. Banner’s showmanship and witty retorts between each song helped to glue the set together. Budd made me laugh with his visual comedy but also impressed me with his accordion playing. I remember giggling at the insistence that Morgan the drummer was the oldest one in the land at 80 years old! It turned out he was much younger.
I feel I have to put this whole thing into context. The year 2000 was one where commercial Pop music at its height. The likes of S Club 7 and Steps were the high-charting acts of the day. I enjoyed some of the music that was of that moment, but I listened to a lot of 70s Rock. The Wurzels were a completely different universe for the most part to anything I had experienced before. I never knew a banjo and accordion could combine to make such a pleasing sound, or that songs about farm-related subjects could be serious earworms.
My favourite part of the set was hearing the band run through a roaring rendition of I Wish I Was Back on the Farm. Banner’s lead electric guitar part blew me away, and really set the song on fire. It leaned in a different direction to the rest of their set but was still unmistakably them. The song stayed in my head for years, even though I didn’t hear any recorded version until a decade later. I later discovered that George Formby had recorded a version during the height of his fame. Nothing, however, could match what I heard that night.
Luckily I’m able to look back on highlights of their performance due to a home movie that was taken that night. I remember watching it for the first time and being slightly disappointed that only a small part of Combine Harvester had been recorded, but the whole of Twice Daily was intact; The latter song being my least favourite in their set.
I got to meet The Wurzels after the show and speak to them. They asked me what football I supported, and I responded with Liverpool FC. I don’t remember anything else about this brief meeting. It was the first time I had ever spoken to any celebrity. I also got a signed photo, but it went missing many years ago. I remember seeing other kids getting one signed, who were probably as clueless as I was. One child noted that Budd was their favourite, a sign that their act had been engaging to all ages.
Looking back, I feel fortunate to have seen The Wurzels live at something of a renaissance period for them. They were, and are, still a cracking live band who knew how to work an audience. I may have seen them in a bar at a holiday park, but it is still one of the best gigs I’ve ever been to. I also feel thankful because it is one cherished memory that I hold of being with my close family at a much simpler time. To see the delight on my elder relatives’ faces, and understand a piece of where they had been was magical. Thank you to The Wurzels for that.
A year after I saw the Wurzels perform, they released a remixed version of Combine Harvester, which I bought. I loved how the song was brought bang up to date, and it still sounds good today! I have loosely followed their career since, with a fond appreciation for their true-to-themselves covers of modern hits. It was seeing them on the Never Mind the Buzzcocks special last year which reminded me of the above.