Aug 11

JIMMY NAIL – “Ain’t No Doubt”

FT + Popular99 comments • 8,110 views

#678, 18th July 1992

“Ain’t No Doubt” plants its emotional flag in territories claimed and mapped by Phil Collins – that master of gangrenous wrath and bitterness lurking below blokery’s rumpled jacket. It’s break-up pop of the shabbiest kind; lies, quarrels and wilful miscommunication played out raw in front of us. On TV Nail played hard bastards, for laughs or drama or both – some of the intrigue of his pop career must have been seeing a more sensitive element in him, but I doubt the straight-talking, bullshit-calling narrator of “Ain’t No Doubt” came as much of a shock to the fanbase.

What’s rather more surprising is the music. Most of Nail’s records were thoroughly trad: gruff, measured rock and soul stylings, workmanlike performances enlivened by the odd Knopfler guest-spot. “Ain’t No Doubt”, on the other hand, is a one-of-a-kind meeting of pub rock and swingbeat: ruminative, finger-pointing spoken passages broken up by a two-fisted funk chorus that lunges at you like a closing time drunk. It would be an odd record if anyone had recorded it, but this really isn’t the style you expect a 38-year-old TV star to pioneer.

Here’s the really strange thing: it kind of works. The lurching production is so awkward, its singer so ill-at-ease, it makes Nail’s spoken passages rawer – this is a man happy to humiliate himself if it gets the message about his partner’s perfidy across. Contrast his lumbering with the smooth replies from the ever-professional Sylvia Mason-James, quite at home in this setting: it’s as if Jimmy’s barged into the disco on a girls’ night out to shame his lady, and we’re onlookers peeping through our fingers.

It’s also an unintentionally funny record, of course, and probably the most imitated of the year. And in the end it’s not a thing you’d want to listen to much: I couldn’t stretch to calling it good. But it’s interestingly, admirably bad in a way most TV-star records aren’t.



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  1. 31
    Steve Mannion on 30 Aug 2011 #

    #27 Just remembered the other one – ‘Magic Style’ by The Badman.

  2. 32
    weej on 30 Aug 2011 #

    Much better than I remembered it being, it just seems to work – though the showboating in the last minute is perhaps a bit much. Still pretty funny, but not in a way that detracts from the song itself. Glad this got to number one and not Crocodile Shoes.
    Item of note: prominent appearance of a Mercury phonebox in the video – one of those things that just seemed to disappear one day in the mid 90s.

    And finally, Charly >>>>>> Trip to Trumpton >>>>> Sesame’s Treet > Roobarb And Custard, surely?

  3. 33
    Wheedly on 30 Aug 2011 #

    Re 16, I had a few listens to Just Another Day, and you’re right – it is an odd structure. I think that we’ve become used to songs being structured around progressions of a small number of chords, repeating in defined, frequent cycles, whereas Just Another Day is more slippery. How much of it is design and how much is happy chance only the writer can answer, but it does some cool things where chords that end a short section of the verse sequence get unexpectedly held a long time, and then the vocal begins a new phrase over that same chord, subverting the expectation that he’ll go back and repeat the phrase we’ve just heard. It never feels like anything overtly odd is going on (we’re always in 4/4, we’re always in the home key), but it definitely rewards close listening.
    It gives the impression that the verses are being made up on the spot, that they’re a spontaneous outburst of emotion, which is really appropriate to the song’s mood and subject matter. Clever stuff. Maybe the vocal ideas came first and the harmonic structure was filled in underneath? Whatever, it’s good stuff.
    As for Jimmy Nail? Punctum’s defense of it upthread was great, but the act of listening to it remains an unpleasant one. A three, for the concept if not the execution.

  4. 34
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 30 Aug 2011 #

    Surely another source of this specific sound (and concept) is the groove Chaz Jankel fashioned for the Blockheads: and with Dury (and Mike Skinner IMO) there’s the sheer incongruity of extremely non-American voice+accent versus translatlantic glide of sound… which not really so with Nail, who seems to downplay the Geordie when speaking and to banish it entirely when singing.

    On the strength of I’m not sure what, JN got a whole South Bank devoted to his renaissance-man panoply of talents.

  5. 35
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 30 Aug 2011 #

    oops sorry, the south bank was already mentioned and mocked

    odd claim in his wikipedia entry: “Jimmy Nail (born 16 March 1954) is an English singer-songwriter, actor and musician. He has starred in numerous roles on television since 1983. He is 97′ 3″ tall.”

  6. 36
    Steve Mannion on 30 Aug 2011 #

    Nail’s “Aw yeah” > the “aw yeah” sample fortunately by this point consigned to the dumper after severe over-use.

  7. 37
    wichita lineman on 30 Aug 2011 #

    Re 33: Thanks Wheedly. Chords subverting expectations, one of my favourite things in pop.

    Punctum, didn’t mean to state as fact that Sesame’s Treet was “dire”, of course, but at Kat and Pete B’s rave-pop night the other week it stood out as particularly weak. And it got played late in the proceedings – it’s direness cut through an alcoholic fug.

  8. 38
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 30 Aug 2011 #

    Wikipedia is a bit scant and I’m not quite ready to buy and read his autobiography A Northern Soul, but between the lines there seems to be a bit of a melancholy story here: Oz in Auf Wiedersehn Pet was actually his first significant acting role, and it looks a little as if he’s spent all the time since — including really not very much activity at all, on screen, stage or record — trying to shake off the cartoonish Newcastle identity that saddled him with.

  9. 39
    thefatgit on 30 Aug 2011 #

    #38 The pitfalls of type-casting I s’pose. Jimmy Nail, Clive Owen, Jason Statham… probably none of these will play King Lear or Richard III at RSC.

  10. 40
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 30 Aug 2011 #

    GONERIL: Sir, I love you more than words can wield the matter;
    Dearer than eye-sight, space, and liberty;
    Beyond what can be valued, rich or rare;
    No less than life, with grace, health, beauty, honour;
    As much as child e’er loved, or father found;
    A love that makes breath poor, and speech unable;
    Beyond all manner of so much I love you.

    LEAR: She’s lying!

    REGAN: Sir, I am made
    Of the self-same metal that my sister is,
    And prize me at her worth. In my true heart
    I find she names my very deed of love;
    Only she comes too short: that I profess
    Myself an enemy to all other joys,
    Which the most precious square of sense possesses;
    And find I am alone felicitate
    In your dear highness’ love.

    LEAR: She’s lying!

  11. 41
    punctum on 30 Aug 2011 #

    #33: Perhaps they played it at really low volume.

  12. 42
    AndyPandy on 30 Aug 2011 #

    25: there was one (around the ‘Charly’ time) which sampled a children’s nature programme from early/mid 70s the name of which has slipped my mind but everyone remembered it – and that tune unlike most of the rest was thought happening enough to get in the Steve Jackson evening show’s rave chart on Kiss FM at the time, then there were not very good minor pop crossover hits for heavily sampled themes from ‘Rainbow’ (always used to play that one in my local nightclub for some reason), ‘Banana Splits’,obviously loads of ‘Dr Who’ (theme and dalek sounds), a few ‘Star Treks’, ‘Blockbusters’ (‘Ivory’ by Skin Up)Mr Men’, ‘Black Beauty’,’Six Million Dollar Man’ (the ‘Mr Men’ and ‘Black Beauty’ records actually being worth good money now on the old skool hardcore scene!), seem to recall there was some ‘Captain Scarlet’s, ‘Joe 90’s and a ‘Pink Panther’ too…I should imagine there’s a few more to add to those too

    At the time wanted to do a ‘White Horses’ one think it could have been massive and think a ‘Tomorrow People’ one would have worked too

    25 Urban Hype put out some very good tracks (‘Teknologi’ ‘The Feeling’ etc) which are now quite sought after but I think they were compromised as an act not worth bothering with by many on the scene because of ‘Trumpton’. It might have been worth their while sticking out the other stuff under a different name.

  13. 43
    chelovek na lune on 30 Aug 2011 #

    Ah, not a sample, but a recreation of a (East German) kiddies’ programme theme, with new words in English, but “The Singing Ringing Tree” by the Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus from 1989 (I do have a bit of a thing for neo-folk I must admit) knocks all these wanna-be ravers sampling 70s programmes into a cocked hat. Although it’s not really a fair comparison – entirely different genres and purposes.. .

    That said, Steve Jackson’s programme (for all the immense amateurishness of its presentation) on Kiss FM introduced me to a lot of good stuff. Mr Kirk, do come down to the station house.

    Amazing to think (after all that happened since) what genuinely innovative, diverse, and worthwhile, ear-opening broadcasting Kiss put out in its first few years as a legal station. And how rapidly – and to what depths – it degenerated subsequently.

  14. 44
    thefatgit on 30 Aug 2011 #

    ^^ I agree. I used to tune into Kiss regularly, not only Steve Jackson, but also Colin Faver for the industrial stuff. Another source was Green Apple (a pirate based in West London), with a fledgling Ras Kwame spinning an eclectic mix of Hardcore and proto-Jungle.

  15. 45
    AndyPandy on 30 Aug 2011 #

    Kiss in the early days literally felt like a “legalised pirate” what with loads of hardcore/rave along with the soul and hiphop throughout the day, proper old skool soul, hiphop and jazz shows, Colins Dale and Faver. Even Judge Jules seemed good in those days.

    To think that as recently as about 1995 every weekday afternoon Pete Wardman would include a 20 minute ‘hardbag’ mix(basically what was becoming hardhouse and what he was playing at ‘Trade’ at the time)and no-one would bat an eyelid.

    I remember the first time Steve Jackson played ‘Mr Kirk’ (autumn 1990) and how it seemed like the total sound of tomorrow – like nothing else we’d ever heard before and how people kept talking for days about this mad tune he’d played – I don’t remember any other tune in all my years on the dance scene getting such a response with my crowd after one play. A sort of aural equivalent (amongst us anyway) to the response from the general public when Boy George first appeared on TOTP!

    Respect to Green Apple it always felt like it was my LOCAL pirate with it being out West rather than from North or South London.

  16. 46
    anto on 30 Aug 2011 #

    By the time he was in Spender Jimmy Nail was one of the easiest people on tv to imitate – simply standing looking out a window unsmiling and remarking ” ah can remem-bah when there were boots on da tyne ” to whoever was in earshot. Ain’t No Doubt is a real actors record in that a lot of it is a monologue. Musically it’s very 1992 and certainly has enough hooks to deserve a number 1. It’s palatable rather than especially great.

  17. 47
    Mark M on 30 Aug 2011 #

    Re 40: Genius!

    I quite like this – as the Lineman and others have said, the chorus is pretty horrible, but I like the verses. And as someone who is very fond of the first two Streets albums, there is a fair comparison in the willingness to engage constructively with cliche.

    It’s certainly a better mix of conversational vocals and soul-inflected singing than this .

  18. 48
    Kat but logged out innit on 30 Aug 2011 #

    #37 We only played Sesame’s Treet because the large group of randoms dancing requested it. I never liked it much, whereas Trip To Bleddy Trumpton was Actually Banging.

  19. 49
    George on 30 Aug 2011 #

    This has aged a damn sight better than Spender for sure.

  20. 50
    hardtogethits on 31 Aug 2011 #

    All interesting stuff about Ain’t No Doubt. I think punctum’s review makes all the key points, and I’m slightly concerned that having never previously heard it as a US army jogging chant, I’ll never again hear it as anything else. Also, my eyebrows raised at the thought that this appears to be – to a greater or lesser extent – something that many others had noticed. Silly me.

    Clearly, this is atypical of Jimmy Nail’s work. If his other records are poor, I’d agree it’s firstly because he takes himself (too) seriously (when his popularity emerged from humour); secondly, because he does so partiuclarly as a singer, and thirdly because his desire to take himself seriously as a singer has been indulged by others. As an actor, he got to sing in Auf Wiedersehen Pet, and someone (not necessarily Clement or La Frenais but it seems likely) must’ve seen this as a talent worth showcasing, perhaps even developing. Even the script lauded him (“How can someone so ugly make a nice noise like that?” “He must be miming?” “That lad’s wasted laying bricks!”). It was difficult to suspend disbelief and think that the characters were commenting on Oz the bricklayer for what may, in the plot, have been a surprisingly composed performance from their building-site mate – it seemed like they were being fed lines to promote Jimmy Nail, the actor, and his ability to sing. This indulgence begat Crocodile Shoes.

    Yet here, it’s really not the surprise-an-actor-can-sing that makes the record such a quirk. There’s a bit of singing in there, but it’s the gentle comedy and exquisite timing and delivery that separates this record from so many others. It sounds like the lyric could have been written by Clement and La Frenais, even down to the external reference to a song by another writer from Newcastle.

    Sorry (about all the brackets).

  21. 51
    swanstep on 31 Aug 2011 #

    The (rather good) backing track here is making my spidey-sense tingle. What is it reminding me of (perhaps esp. the on-the-beat high bowing string part)? The only things I’ve been able to think of are Simply Red’s Money’s too tight to mention and single-mixes of Madonna’s Keep it Together, e.g., here, but is there anything else?

    Oh and thanks to Marcello and others for talking up Avenue. I had St.E’s So Tough album on tape long ago but lost it and had quite forgotten about this track. It’s truly fab.

  22. 52
    Tim Byron on 31 Aug 2011 #

    I don’t have any conscious recollection of ‘Ain’t No Doubt’, watching it on YouTube, but it did somehow get to #5 here in Australia – his only hit here. My first thought hearing his voice in the verse was ‘West End Girls’. For some reason it evokes being on a international plane in 1991/1992 and listening to the inflight R&B channel over those headphones they give you with the funny prongs at the end. For me at the time, that R&B channel (full of songs that probably never made it to Australia) seemed like incredibly sophisticated music, the kind of thing that adults living in the city must be listening to!

    swanstep – as I was listening to the track on YouTube, I noticed Maxi Priest’s ‘Close To You’ in the suggestions box, and I’m not sure which came first, but perhaps that’s the one you’re thinking of? Same funk beat, same on-the-beat bowing, same tempo, same spoken word-ish intro…

  23. 53
    MarkG on 31 Aug 2011 #

    #50, what you say has the ring of truth (this episode came after “Love don’t live here” but before “Ain’t no doubt”), but then again it’s not so unusual for a bunch of brickies to find out that one of their number has an ‘uncommonly lovely’ singing voice. Of course, they’d all be saying “you shoud be on X-Factor mate” afterwards…

  24. 54
    glue_factory on 31 Aug 2011 #

    Re: 42 would that be K-Klass’ Wildlife, which sampled the theme from Wildtrack (which also, incongruously for any child of the 70s, turns up in the soundtrack to Midnight Cowboy) ?

  25. 55
    AndyPandy on 31 Aug 2011 #

    54: yes it was ‘Wildtrack’ and I’ve just checked the date and that would have been the tune – TBH I’d completely forgotten (never knew?) K Klass (North Wales’s only ever rave act?)had done anything before ‘Rhythm Is Mystery’.

  26. 56
    Jimmy the Swede on 31 Aug 2011 #

    #40 – The trouble is, Mark, Leah didn’t realise that they were both lying until it was far too bloody late. This boy’s a fool.

  27. 57
    Ed on 1 Sep 2011 #

    @44 and 45 In the summer of 1992, already a bit old for clubbing, I moved into a flat on the Goldhawk Road, and spinning the dial on the radio (in memory it was down the bottom end: near Radio 2?), I came across my first blast of hardcore. It was one of those literally jaw-dropping moments; I stood staring at the radio thinking “what the hell is this?” Sounds like it might have been Green Apple.

    Why the name? From Shepherd’s Bush Green? Living there always made me think of the famous bad advice for tourists: “Londoners’ favourite picnic spot is the leafy and charming Shepherd’s Bush Green”.

    On ‘Ain’t No Doubt’, lonepilgrim @1 Nails it. Not that that’s a bad thing, of course, for either Mike or Jimmy. The scenes from the break-up, with the bleak reported dialogue, point straight towards ‘Dry Your Eyes’.

    Skinner does pull it off with a shade more emotional and musical sophistication, I guess I would admit.

  28. 58
    enitharmon on 2 Sep 2011 #

    Number one at the time of the Great Open University Summer School Murder, an event whose profound long-term effects still afflict me.

    It was on the campus at York University on Saturday, 25 July. Wentworth College, to be precise. I was doing my A319 Literature in the Modern World module and had arrived early to check in, then went to my room and took a nap without locking my door. Later that evening we were all sitting in the bar when all those ion Wentworth were summoned to the hall. A Chief Inspector looking not unlike John Thaw was there to tell us (in the usual roundabout way) that a tutor had been found dead in her unlocked room (Wentworth A248 for the record) and we were all to be evacuated to another college while investigations proceeded. Only those with essential medications to collect were allowed to collect stuff from rooms under close escort. I was lucky, I pleaded that my contact lens solutions were essential medication and got away with it. Over the next couple of days we were all questioned one by one, and then we were offered post-trauma counselling followed by the right to go home with the full summer school credit. Nobody took up the offer, we all felt that clinging together was the best way to survive. Afterwards I don’t think I was the only one to suffer a collapse once I was home again a week later.

    The A319 tutor, Elizabeth Howe, had been the victim of a frenzied knife attack by a Technology Foundation Course student called Robin Pask. He was caught in the small hours of Sunday morning, wandering around the campus wearing Dr Howe’s swimming costume and covered in mud.

    The rest of the week was surreal. The most chilling part was the scheduled performance by a touring theatre group of a show about Brecht; when the the trench-coated actor came on at the start singing Die Moritat von Mackie Messer the chill in the stalls was palpable. All week the campus lake was being dredged for a weapon. The end-of-week entertainment was, not surprisingly, cancelled but a spate of macabre, course-related messages began appearing on the course bulletin board. “TED, YOUR DINNER IS IN THE OVEN. SYLVIA”.

    The case merited a couple of column inches in the press. A few weeks earlier one Rachel Nickell has been victim of a similar frenzied attack on Wimbledon Common, but clearly some murders (eg of a glamorous model) are more heinous than others (eg of a thirty-something academic). Mr Pask went for trial a year later but was found unfit to plead; another year later he was quietly sentenced to be detained at Her Majesty’s Pleasure (I’m sure Brenda enjoys his company). I was on the Senate sub-committee that expelled him from the University but in the circumstances was excused.

    I still shiver at the thought of this man running through the cporridors of Wentworth College looking for an unlocked door with somebody to kill behind it. It could have been me…

    Not surprisingly I have no recollection of Jimmy Nail’s oevre.

  29. 59
    Jimmy the Swede on 2 Sep 2011 #

    Christ, Rosie, how horrible. It’s clear that Pask did not target Dr Howe specifically but was just a fruit-loop out to stick it to anyone. This does indeed read like a “Morse” episode except that Colin Dexter’s muderer is infrequently a random nutter but is instead either an academic or some glamorous mature piece of skirt Morse has been trying to poke. If you would forgive the levity, I can well imagine you yourself being interviewed by Sergeant Lewis in your room on campus, whilst Morse confines himself to trawling York’s many pubs looking for clues. As you say, it’s very odd that this horrendous episode seemed to pass unnoticed.

  30. 60
    enitharmon on 5 Sep 2011 #

    I seem to have a real talent for killing a thread dead, don’t I?

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