Jul 08

BRIAN AND MICHAEL – “Matchstalk Men And Matchstalk Cats And Dogs”

FT + Popular80 comments • 8,265 views

#421, 8th April 1978

If Don McLean’s “Vincent” presents the romantic case against critical neglect, “Matchstalk Men” is its populist inverse. Instead of the complacent mass refusing to see genius through Van Gogh’s pain, here we have the snooty establishment admitting – too late! – that the Northern folk who adored L.S.Lowry were onto something. Brian and Michael score the win on solid pop grounds – their tune is better and their production is hotter. Well, Colliery Brass Bands are always hot in my world.

But then I’m one of the Southern jessies who’s consuming this record as a neat little capsule of Northern-ness – much like a Lowry painting. Brian and Michael are smarter than McLean, too – they’re sharp on exactly why Lowry gained recognition (“come on down and wear the old cloth cap”!) and you might generously say that they leave open the question of the point at which pride turns into pandering.

I associate this song not so much with Lowry’s art as with the hand-drawn history lessons Blue Peter used to provide – little motion comics of Marie Antoinette or Louis Pasteur. I can’t remember whether there was one on Lowry, but if not this record pretty much provides it as it holds your hand through its mildly didactic, wholly sentimental lesson: the “factory gates”/”pearly Gates” switch is a clunker whatever your regionality. The song goes on too long and the kids’ choir doing their ally-ally-o routine is a step way too far. But for all that this is only a bad record, not a terrible one.



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  1. 51
    Billy Smart on 29 Jul 2008 #

    ‘Five Minutes’ – God, that’s one of the few songs about violence that actually really does sound frightening (like ‘Gimmie Shelter’); “They CAME ON a Saturday NIGHT!! They KILLED HIS DOG!! And they RAPED HIS WIFE!!” Annoyingly omitted from both Stranglers Greatest Hits albums that I’ve got.

  2. 52
    Mark G on 29 Jul 2008 #

    t’was a cat.

    Also, disavows a racist reaction.

  3. 53
    DJ Punctum on 29 Jul 2008 #

    Based on Straw Dogs IIRC.

  4. 54
    mike on 29 Jul 2008 #

    The Stranglers’ “Five Minutes” was reviewed on Tony Blackburn’s excruciating National Pop Panel phone-in feature.

    “It’s got a good beat to it!”, chirped the caller.

    “Yeah, but banging your head against a wall has got a ‘good beat’ to it”, retorted Blackburn, witheringly.

    I have no idea why I remember these things.

  5. 55
    DJ Punctum on 29 Jul 2008 #

    Itching to reproduce some choice quotes from Blackburn’s three-year stewardship of the Sunday Top 40 show but since the best ones are SB-tempting I’ll save those for later except for his venerable “That was Public Image Ltd. And now, some music.”

  6. 56
    mike on 29 Jul 2008 #

    Or, as the Boomtown Rats’ “Looking After Number One” clattered to its climax:

    Geldof (feverishly): “I’m gonna be like, I’m gonna be like, I’M GONNA BE LIKE ME!

    [one second of dead air]

    Blackburn (witheringly): “Oh.”

  7. 57
    Mark G on 29 Jul 2008 #

    I was on that “Tony Blackburn’s National Pop Panel”…

    I got “Forever Autumn” and “Northern Lights” to review.

    So, I get very unexcited about two singles that are neither good or bad.

    And I get, in return, a badge. And a photo, maybe, I can’t remember. And, no records. Heck, I’d always get records when I did Radio 210 stuff!

  8. 58
    Conrad on 29 Jul 2008 #

    Thanks everyone for the Tom Browne recollections and anecdotes. He sounds like a top man. Love CCS’s Brother as well.

    I have a far clearer recall of the Blackburn era.

    (as Dollar’s Love’s Gotta Hold Of Me fades out)
    Blackburn: “That was beautiful…and so am I”!

  9. 59
    Mark G on 29 Jul 2008 #

    CCS’ “Tap turns on the water” was the intro music for Tom Browne’s chart rundown.

  10. 60
    Mark G on 29 Jul 2008 #

    From wiki…

    This would be the only show he ever presented on Radio 1, but he did present occasional music documentaries on the station, notably on Abba, Queen and the Stylistics, and he never showed any sign of crossing over to television, for example via Top of the Pops. His smooth style and Received Pronunciation voice (becoming more noticeable in later years; initially he had tried to sound more like a 1970s pop radio DJ) were unusual for Radio 1 even then, and would be utterly unthinkable now.

    After leaving Radio 1 he would broadcast for BBC Radio 2 in the early 1980s, provide the voiceover for many TV and radio adverts, and continue his acting career, notably appearing in Emmerdale Farm (as it was then called). He subsequently became a newsreader for BBC World television and then moved to Hong Kong, where he became a popular broadcaster on the British Armed Forces radio service in the final years of British rule. His final appearance on national BBC radio came at the very end of 1991, when he presented “The Million Selling Singles of the 60s and 70s” on BBC Radio 2, although he was a contributor to Radio 1’s “25 Years of the UK Top 40” which aired in September 1992.

    After the Hong Kong handover in 1997, he continued working in radio, as well as commercial voice over artist and freelance video presenter until 2005, thereafter retiring to live in Thailand with his Thai wife. He currently owns a farm where they grow rice and mushrooms with the mountains of North Central Thailand in the distance.

    Retrieved from “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Browne_%28broadcaster_and_actor%29”

  11. 61
    jeff w on 29 Jul 2008 #

    Tom Browne is indelibly inked on certain memories of my childhood, as I sure I’ve noted on other threads. By contrast I’d quite forgotten that Bates and Blackburn ever hosted the Sunday chart show. I think that says a lot.

  12. 62
    DJ Punctum on 30 Jul 2008 #

    I’m pretty sure that every week “Funkin’ For Jamaica” was on the chart Blackburn made a comment about how great it was that a former chart show presenter was now in the charts himself.

  13. 63
    Mark G on 30 Jul 2008 #

    yeah, too bad for Tony’s singles, it wasn’t him!

  14. 64
    DJ Punctum on 30 Jul 2008 #

    “Chop Chop” was ahead of its time.

  15. 65
    DJ Punctum on 30 Jul 2008 #

    AND written by Chinn and Chapman!

  16. 66
    mike on 30 Jul 2008 #

    Euros Childs (ex-Gorkys) has taken to covering “Chop Chop” on stage, although he introduces it as an old Sweet track. (Same song, though. And he does it rather well.)

  17. 67
    DJ Punctum on 30 Jul 2008 #

    A version does indeed appear on the first Sweet album.

  18. 68
    Chris Brown on 9 Aug 2008 #

    I can think of one ex Top 40 presenter who did go on to score a hit, but that’s way in the future and not totally bunny-proof.
    I always used to get this confused with ‘Pictures Of Matchstick Men’ by Status Quo.

  19. 69
    alephnaughtpix on 18 Aug 2008 #

    “I associate this song not so much with Lowry’s art as with the hand-drawn history lessons Blue Peter used to provide – little motion comics of Marie Antoinette or Louis Pasteur. I can’t remember whether there was one on Lowry”

    Not only was there one on Lowry, but it used a specially rerecorded and extended version of “Matchstik Men…” as a framing device. It wasn’t B&M singing it though- it was then presenter Mark Curry!

  20. 70
    Tom on 18 Aug 2008 #

    Blimey! Well, no wonder then :)

  21. 71
    AndyPandy on 11 Dec 2008 #

    OK although I can’t believe Im reviving this one…I think part of my problem with this record is akin to former smokers often being the biggest anti-smoking zealots. By that I mean I come from the London area but have spent a large part of my life up here (bang in the middle of the stereotypical (to Londoners)forever pre-1963 sepia-toned George Formbyesque north ie the Lancs/Yorks small former mill-town border)so am particularly sensitive to patronising London-centric ideas of Northern England (especially when done by Northerners themselves).

    Oh and then there’s my dislike of any ‘professional’regional “characters/characterisations- northerners/cockneys/from anywhere* – the idea of Chas and Dave doing something this sentimental probably including a bit about sharing some jellied eels with Reggie Kray, “who loved his old mum you know”, well minus 10 wouldnt be low enough!

    And finally my Lancastrian partner insists on having one of Lowry’s bloody pictures in pride of place in the main room.

    *except possibly those from the South West (eg the Wurzels)because,well you just can’t take them
    seriously can you?..only joking if there’s any carrot-crunchers oops I mean West Country types out there in Popular-land.

  22. 72

    We’re quite amazed that people have devoted so much time & space here, to discussing our song Matchstalk Men.
    It’s interesting to read some of the comments from our perspective as writer & producer respectively, 30 years after we made the record. It is often the case that those who have made negative comments about the song, change their minds once they understand what it’s really about, know more about us and what we’ve done and who we really are.
    Brian & Michael
    The Matchstalk Men
    Manchester England

  23. 73
    Erithian on 4 Mar 2009 #

    I think it’s safe to say, fellas, that we’re equally amazed – and chuffed – that you’ve come on here to comment! You thus join a very select bunch of performers, writers and producers of number one singles to have taken part in this project, and it’s good to have you on board. Feel free to comment on any other entries as well. (How did you come across the site – was it down to the Chris Evans interview?)

    As you may have gleaned if you read the entire thread, this was something of a formative number one for me. I was 15, growing up in Denton (a place you probably know fairly well) and starting to take an interest in Manchester’s political and cultural heritage as well as a family history that is situated (on my mum’s side at least) squarely amongst Salford’s smoky tops! So it was good to see a couple of local lads at the top of the chart – and of course the next two UK acts to have number ones, the Bee Gees and 10cc, had strong Manchester links too.

    It’d be good if you could stick around and tell us a bit about the experience of having a number one. How surprising was it to get there with a subject like Lowry? What’s it like to be associated with one song in particular when you’ve been working in music for years? Is “Matchstalk Men” still played at the Lowry arts centre, which must be particularly satisfying for you? What are your memories of TOTP, Swap Shop etc? Are the royalties still coming in?! And how did you get Lou Macari and Alex Stepney to promote a song about having a ruck on an away trip with United?

    And just in case you’re really an impostor pretending to be Brian and Michael (it does happen you know) – what’s the next line after “I couldn’t understand why/why my mama used to sit and cry”?

  24. 74

    Ah, fancy you knowing “My old Dad’s shoe”!
    The line you quote should be. “I just didn’t know why, why my mama used to sit & cry”
    Followed by of course, “And now I understand why, now that I’m a little bit older”.

    Brian & Michael

  25. 75
    steve on 30 Aug 2010 #

    “Mam, when’s me dad comin’ ‘ome” is a particular favourite of mine. I’m sure I remember it being performed on Crackerjack (CRACKERJACK!) or some such nonsense in the late seventies. Don’t think it really charted though. Shame. “I’d sit and wait on the garden gate…”

  26. 76
    Brendan on 24 Sep 2012 #

    This was the other number 1 my mum bought along with ‘Take a Chance On Me’ – I always hated the overt Manchester accents (though at least they were better than Jane Leeves ever managed) and the ‘It’s Grim Up North’ imagery and the overall sentimentality of it and the B-side ‘The Old Rocking Chair’ was little better in that respect. Otherwise, it’s a harmless tune so I’d give it 4.

  27. 77
    Weej on 7 Apr 2013 #

    The first Six pages of results for ‘matchstalk’ on google are all about this song or Brian & Michael (I stopped checking after six), and dictionary.com hasn’t heard of the word at all – http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/matchstalk?s=t&path=/

  28. 78

    Yes, it’s not in Chambers or the Shorter Oxford either, I just looked. Though Chambers veers American and the SO I have is my grandad’s and v ancient so wouldn’t necessarily include local variants.

    If B&M invented it, then that’s strong poetry and they did a good thing: matchstalk somehow suggests the men (and cats and dogs) are walking up and down (which they often are in Lowry’s pictures). However this good thing is undone a bit if the word is forever tied to the kinds of sentimentality and regional stereotyping that folks get right tetchy about.

  29. 79
    Mark M on 8 May 2013 #

    On tonight’s Great Artists In Their Own Words, Lowry himself definitely says ‘matchstick’, for what it is worth.

  30. 80
    cat 4 brother on 15 Jan 2015 #

    Thorn of Girl

    Superb data can be found on this online blogging site.

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