Jake Thackray – a genius….. and a genealogist?

Having felt a little in need of cheering up recently and browsing the wonderful Spotify I quite randomly came across The Best of Jake Thackray. His biography describes him as a ‘singer-songwriter in the French tradition’ firmly rooted in the English countryside.  But that seems too mild a description for a poet who sang songs that are funny, sad, rude, irreverent and satirical. He poked fun at all that was self-righteous, self-important and hypocritical. The French influence is definitely there and his lugubrious expression has more than a suggestion of pavement cafes and Gauloises about it.

He was regularly on the TV as I was growing up in the 1970s and ’80s and a favourite of my parents who probably never listened too closely to some of his lyrics, as refamiliarising myself with them I can see they are frequently ‘near the knuckle’ for early evening slots.

Sister Josephine. Lah di Dah, The Country Bus – all suggest they may have done something to influence Neil Hannon’s wonderful Divine Comedy, a natural successor to Mr Thackray in using a deceptively simple, catchy melody to accompany biting and intelligent lyrics.

If you go to www.jakethackray.com you can find  a wealth of information about the man and his music, as well as download lyrics and guitar tabs for many of his songs. He was a genius and rather underrated. Why are we not still hearing him on the radio? Sadly he died in 2002, aged just 64, disillusioned with showbiz and recently declared bankrupt. I want to shout his name from the rooftops and make people listen again!

So because I am interested in and have written about family history quite regularly on this blog I thought I would share the song ‘Family Tree’ with you. Mr Thackray sings quite quickly so you might miss some of the words so I have copied them beneath this video, created by a complete stranger on Youtube. The family in the pictures mean nothing to me but it is a lovely tribute to the man.

I wish I had a boy scout that offered the Queen a Woodbine in my family tree….

Family Tree by Jake Thackray

Up my, my family tree
There hangs my curious pedigree,
My long, my lurid ancestry -
The prancing phantoms and ghosts
Of my rude forefathers.
Nevertheless, despite their sins,
Bless my kiths and bless my kins.
There they all perch to see
Up my, up my family tree.

Up my, my family tree,
No blue blood, no nobility;
No trace of aristocracy -
Except for Uncle Sebastian
Who once raped a duchess.
Nevertheless, despite their sins,
Bless my kiths and bless my kins.
There they perch for all to see
Up my, up my family tree.

We’ve no ancestral halls,
No haughty portraits on our walls;
No family monuments at all -
Unless it’s my cousin Sheila’s
Stupendous cleavage.
Nevertheless, despite their sins,
Bless my kiths and bless my kins.
There they perch for all to see
Up my, up my family tree.

My great-great-uncle Sam,
A very tranquil sort of man,
Could not afford his wife a pram -
He pushed his babies round the park
In a green wheelbarrow.
Nevertheless, despite their sins,
Bless my kiths and bless my kins.
There they perch for all to see
Up my, up my family tree.

My Uncle Will, my Auntie May
Were very much in love, so they
Got married after some delay -
They dressed their kids up in white
When they both went legal.
Nevertheless, despite their sins,
Bless my kiths and bless my kins.
There they perch for all to see
Up my, up my family tree.

When brother Richard was thirteen
He was a Boy Scout, keen and clean.
He got presented to the Queen -
And then he went and spoiled it all
When he offered her a Woodbine.
Nevertheless, despite their sins,
Bless my kiths and bless my kins.
There they perch for all to see
Up my, up my family tree.

Let this be understood,
That our family name is mud,
Our sheep are black our cheques are dud -
But we survive! We’re alive!
So it’s up with the Thackrays!
Nevertheless, despite their sins,
Bless my kiths and bless my kins.
There they perch for all to see
Up my, up my, up my, my family tree.

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4 Responses to Jake Thackray – a genius….. and a genealogist?

  1. Wonderful blog. I just came across it and am following it now. You’re my kind of blogger and I will enjoy looking through your older posts as well as looking forward to newer ones. Rock on, Suzie!

  2. Grace says:

    I’ve always loved Jake Thackray’s songs…partly because of his voice, and the way he almost spits out some of his words… and the alliterations…. his black humour … the funny stories & clever rhymes. Some of my favourites are Old Molly Metcalfe and Leopold Alcox. Now you have reminded me I will have to listen to them again!

  3. Clive says:

    I always remember Jake as coming over in a very angry manner when he played on Granada TV in the 70′s (Bill Grundy’s tea time news show). CBC radio Winnipeg recently played one of Jake’s songs as a request from a listener. I think his humour was probably lost on most of the non-brits in the audience however.
    Glad I found this blog as Family Tree is new to me (or long forgotten).

  4. the dotterel says:

    Excellent post, an excellent song and an excellent and underrated singer. I saw him live several times, including once (memorably) at the Bell Hotel in Driffield when the performance went on so long it ended – technically – as a lock-in. Unfortunately, the last time I saw him – not long before he died – the performance ended early after he forgot the words of another of his songs and he invited everyone to the bar to have a drink on him by way of compensation.

    The man was a genius. If this were France, he’d be a household name.

    But it isn’t. And he isn’t. And that’s a shame.

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