Derek & Clive – Masters of Filth

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Had you have worked as a roadie for any of the big rock groups of the 1970s, chances are you would have heard a lot of dirty stories and filthy language. This is only to be expected, this is rock and roll after all and there is nothing unusual about that. In fact, the only unusual thing was that rather than telling the dirty stories and using the filthy language themselves, the rock and roll bands were all listening to Peter Cook and Dudley Moore do it for them.

In 1973, During a long New York run of “Good Evening” (their very successful two man show), Peter Cook and Dudley Moore decided to try and alleviate the boredom by hiring out a recording studio in New York, getting drunk and recording what happened. What happened was to go down in the annals of recording history and be passed from one schoolboy to another under the desk for decades to come.

This was the birth of Derek and Clive.

The first Derek and Clive recording was split into two sessions, one was in a recording studio and the other was live at a Greenwich Village club, before a small audience of invited friends. These sessions were unlike what was to follow as they mostly included sketches and ideas that had long been conceived as Pete and Dud but never performed. These sessions were never intended to be released, they were just recorded exercises in tackling boredom.

As Peter Cook himself said later, “Once I have got through the tension and excitement of the first night and the brief elation or despair that comes from reading the critical reaction, acting just becomes another job. This brings me to why we went to Electric Ladyland studios, armed with several bottles of wine, just to see what happened if we talked with no prior ideas into two microphones. What emerged on the whole was a shower of filth, with no socially redeeming or artistic value. We heard it back the next day and found it to be funny, but on the other hand, we had no idea what to do with it. What we did, was very practical, i.e. nothing”.

In the end, Cook and Moore passed the tapes to Christopher Blackwell, head of Island records, who was also none the wiser as to what do with them so the whole thing was put to one side.

Continuing their tour of the U.S. Cook and Moore began to bump into rock groups such as The Rolling Stones, The Who and Led Zeppelin who all had obtained “pirate” copies of the New York tapes from Christopher Blackwell. The tapes had become cult listening on the tours and had made them all roll around their tour buses laughing. Within the year, bootleg copies of Derek and Clive had come to be sold via small ads in magazines.

After a while it became apparent that everyone was making money out of Derek and Clive, apart from Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. So, in 1976, three years after they were recorded in New York, Island records released Derek and Clive (live) and it sold like hot cakes. For an obscure cult record, it did big numbers in both Britain and the U.S. with over 50,000 copies sold in the first few weeks and twice that overall.

Peter Cook later commented on who Derek and Clive were, “over the course of the interviews we have gradually put together a composite of what Derek and Clive are: they are probably both mechanics, strongly Tory, like a drink, are embarrassed by women, like football and think the whole world’s gone fucking mad. Life ended for them with the ‘Big Bopper’. They don’t like poufs or having to pay taxes when the country goes down the toilet. They’ve never heard of The Tattler but would prefer it to The Socialist Worker. On the other hand if the Socialist Worker offered ‘reddies’ instead of a cheque from the Tatler they’d probably settle for the untaxable cash. There are a lot of Derek and Clives about”.

The album kicked off with the classic “Worst job I’ve ever had sketch” in which Clive (Cook), described the unenviable job he once had of removing lobsters from Jayne Mansfield’s bum. Which was an idea Cook been labouring with for well over a decade (its inspiration being a newspaper report about Jayne Mansfield becoming shipwrecked dressed only in a bikini).

This sketch was a perfect way to start Derek and Clive as you begin to see who out of the double act is the natural writer, and who is the natural performer. With many Derek and Clive sketches, Cook would dream up some incredible scenario and plaster the walls in filth, while Moore would merely offer an extension on the idea that would invariably be a poor relation and, more often than not, pull the legs out from under the table. Where as previously their comedy partnership was one based on an even keel, now, Cook would lead the way and boss the sessions and Moore would ultimately fall into the role of the straight man, which he never wanted to be.

The album continues along these lines, with filthy flights of fancy and a feeling of structure to go with it (Top Rank, This Bloke came up to me, Squatter and The Ant). There were also the live performed sketches, such as the wonderful “Just one of those songs”, an impassioned plea for songs about a certain kind of love that nearly blows the audience out of the room and “Blind” a tremendous joke about braille that you don’t see coming.

There is also a couple of Dudley Moore piano pieces that tickle the funny bone such as “Jump” and “Bo Duddley” (a recycled piece from an old Cooke and Moore TV series).

Compared to what was to come, Derek and Clive (live) feels like an innocent album and certainly like the pair are working on an even level. The vibe that goes with this album is certainly one of fun and games, recorded for their own amusement. However, with commercial success, a follow up was only natural.

In 1977, the duo released the second album entitled, “Come Again – Further ejaculations from Derek and Clive”. It was recorded in one day with little to no preparation and it is noticeable. There are no real sketches as such, just drunken rambles and ideas that are never really fully explored. The notable exceptions being “Joan Crawford”, “How’s Your Mother”, “Parking Offence” and “Back of the Cab”. The lack of structure is telling and you do get the feeling that when it was recorded there was more attention paid to the drinking and less to the material.

The third and final album “Ad Nauseam” followed in 1978. What started off as a further Derek and Clive album in intent, ended up being a recording of a partnership in trouble with Cook taking frustrations out on Moore during many of the sketches.

As an album it is much better than “Come Again” and contains some classic sketches (including the pre-prepared “Horse Racing” sketch) such as the hilarious twenty three minute discussion about having “The Horn” with Cook wishing that he had killed loads of people so that Lord Longford would visit him in prison as he gave him the “fuckin’ ‘orn”. “Celebrity Suicide” is also another classic sketch in which Cook talks about fictional game shows that he would like to go on (some of which would perhaps get commissioned today) such as the aforementioned “Celebrity Suicide”, “Celebrity Saviour” and “Blow your tits up”. “Sir” is a playful swipe at Cook’s public school days and then there is the deliciously satirical “The Critics”, in which Cook and Moore pretend they play critics who praise playwrights such as Pinter for the use of bad language and chastise Cook and Moore for doing the same.

Ad Nauseam carries an awkward weight with an undercurrent of unpleasantness running throughout. Cook comes across mostly as unpleasant and a bit of a bully towards Moore. In fact, without Moore’s knowledge (or consent), Cook had invited a camera crew in for the second day of recording and the film that materialised from this session was later released as “Derek and Clive Get The Horn”, the viewing of which is depressing at best and unpleasant at worst.

Like “Let it Be” before it it only really serves as evidence of a creative team that were at breaking point. The only conclusion you can draw from it is that Cook could be a very sadistic drunk and that Dudley Moore really didn’t want to be there (he did not show up for the third day of recording).

It was released fifteen years later on video.

The partnership ended after that session and Dudley Moore went to the U.S. and became a huge star. Peter Cook, for the most part, stayed in the U.K. and carried on being amazing (apart from appearing in Supergirl) and inspiring the next generation of comedians.

Derek and Clive, if anything, was a manifestation of Cook’s boredom and genius. On the one hand he created these wild scenarios and situations with the greatest of ease and on the other he was simply wasting time and winding down a partnership.

“He probably wanted to shock people – and he did” Dudley Moore later reflected, “There’s no doubt he shocked me and that was, it seemed, his main source of pleasure”.

The only thing that ever occurs to me when I hear Derek and Clive is: who else ever made the word “cunt” sound poetic?

Thank you Derek and Clive.

Originally posted 2013-01-31 10:37:30. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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