Jackie Balfour - Chip Pan Fire
"As I joined the welcome noise of the rest of the world"
Its not many CD press releases that include a long, affectionate letter from the Prime Minister. It's clear that the Right Honourable Gordon Brown has a special place in his heart for Jackie Balfour and you may well want to share a drink with the old bugger too after this. Taken aback when, aside from the odd touch of mournful yet playful piano in between tracks, I was hearing mere words and no music. Adjusting my ears I was more than pleasantly surprised to find, presented in all their beautiful barfly detail, narrative tales of boyhood to manhood from sunny Scotland.
The spoken word album has always been criminally underrated in the world of music reviews, where some say it doesn't belong alongside its more tuneful cousins. But as Jackie puts it himself during one reminiscence over musical supremacy, Frank Sinatra's voice is also a musical instrument while Jimi Hendrix's guitar is a "unique and authentic voice"..its all good.
The stories are relayed with a gentle sway of accent and fondness and are often very touching. The child looking for the 'grave-boy' to respectfully bury his pet rabbit and the old lady in Leslie who would "miss the wee boy who waves to me" are both genuine and sweet, but luckily do not impose a sentimental slush to the proceedings. The lion share of the wordage relates to incredibly normal, everyday experiences and though quaint in their own way, are chock full of humour, empathy and a spirit of rebellion.
Gathering pace as it runs through the story/piano interlude format, Jackie's tone becomes generally more aggressive but manages to keep the 'softly spoken uncle' persona albeit at a struggle. Turning nasty on his insufferable boss who pays the price for poking her big nose into his affairs with a torrent of abuse, Jackie's evil alter-ego kicks in to great effect. Receiving the sack is paltry punishment compared to the brutal canings received at school and he delivers a triumphant diatribe which is both inspiring and hilarious in equal measure. I quote: "This bitch here is an unbearable shit-head. She has obviously dazzled you but she makes me fucking sick and so do you..". Pure class.
Through earning a certificate for literary prowess at school to a depressingly banal but character-filled job at the Glenrodent Gazette, Jackie wittles the days away trying to add glamour and wit to less than exciting headlines of caber tossing and the chip pan fire that gives the album its title. "Who eats chips at 10 in the morning?" he asks displaying an innate sense of questioning the details of the mundane which is the underlying theme of the album.
The finest moment however is a recording of a story of true Britishness told to a German audience tacked to the end as a bonus. Annoyed by an amorous passenger on a train in Fife, Jackie invents a truly ridiculous tale of Sting's horrific death in a helicopter in Southampton to rouse him out of his actions. Spiraling wonderfully out of control after being overheard by the other passengers, it is a riotous, sweary joy.
Traditional but wicked. The Labour government has got something right for once..