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Dec 19

GARETH GATES ft THE KUMARS – “Spirit In The Sky”

Popular13 comments • 1,538 views

#950, 22nd March 2003

This is Comic Relief getting back to its roots – a familiar song, disrupted by the comic turn. I never watched the Kumars, and the clips I looked at for research don’t make me feel I missed too much – a take on the fake chat show subgenre, cosy enough to be long-running (i.e., it didn’t make idiots of its guests). This single mirrors the set-up – Gareth is the bemused outsider, Sanjeev the earnest wannabe, the rest of the family scuppering his plans and his “big sitar solo” in their bustling eagerness to get involved. And the cast get stuck in to the concept with professional gusto. Fun is being had, though perhaps not by you.

There’s an idea of sorts under all the japery, though. “Spirit In The Sky” isn’t just a familiar cross-generational knees-up, it sits next to “My Sweet Lord” as an artifact of the hippie trail era, gospel reframed for a post-Beatles world of more diffuse – and fashionable – spirituality. That world and its music drew in practise on a hodge-podge of lifts from Indian, Tibetan, Japanese and other traditions – there’s no sitar solo on the original “Spirit In The Sky” but there very easily could have been. So this single is an immigrant family mucking in with (and commenting on) a song born out of a Western fashion for Eastern mysticism.

It feels like a situation the Meera Syal and Sanjeev Bhaskar of the Goodness Gracious Me days might have worked a sketch out of. Here, it resolves into a bunch of weedy gags along the lines of “Got to have a friend in Jesus!”/“And Krishna!”. And if the record doesn’t make anything special of its guest stars, it can’t do much with its featured artist either. The set-up needs a slicker or more image-conscious pop star to work off – being youthfully out of his depth was all Gareth Gates did anyway. Still, “Spirit In The Sky” did its job, of being mildly entertaining, bought, and forgotten. By this point if you were expecting the Comic Relief single to be funny, the joke was very much on you.

3

Comments

  1. 1
    Billy Hicks on 17 Dec 2019 #

    This technically counts as the first number 1 single I ever “bought”, but I’d been recording music channel videos on tape since 1999 and downloading mp3s since around the end of ’02, so this was really a token gesture so 14-year-old me could say I’d donated to Comic Relief. I had to get my parents to buy it for me (at the long-gone Virgin Megastore in Brent Cross) as I was far too embarrassed to be seen holding onto a Gareth Gates song. It briefly made a resurgence a few years later when I got my first iPod and needed some tracks to fill it up, but it didn’t last – 3’s about right.

    The Kumars was a pretty enjoyable show, it was filmed down the road from my house in Wembley so there were various NW London jokes about the local area I appreciated. My one and only contribution to the Radio Times letters page was complimenting the series a couple years before this, which as a geeky pre-teen felt quite cool to be published.

  2. 2
    Lee Saunders on 17 Dec 2019 #

    I’d say this easily ranks as one of the most bizarre sabotages of a young pop career possibly ever. How did Gareth ever expect to get taken seriously after this? And so he wasn’t. By the time he returned at the end of the year with – bizarrely still – a double album, which included this with Kumars bits intact, his best days were behind him. This is a comedy sketch, where the pop star is constantly being upstaged by those cracking jokes between. Not much replay value, certainly not by November. As for Will, well…

    Its a strangely assembled package. See the sleeves of the two CD singles… on one of them (pictured here) Gareth doesn’t even appear, because this is a comedy record, and on the other – which looks bizarrely like a concurrent BBC One promo – he’s all that appears, because this is a Gareth Gates record. On neither do “special guests the Kumars” appear pictured, despite them dominating the record. It feels such a slapdash, perhaps even rushed project. And at least the Young Ones and Cliff made sense if you’d seen the show – there’s seemingly no logic to this collaboration, that pretends it isn’t a collaboration, other than the amusement of seeing two successes in their field coming together for CR. No surprise to me then that, from the next Comic Relief onward, the ‘song’ record and the ‘comedy’ record would be separate.

    Or maybe the overarching influence was the rise of British South-Asian pop. I’m thinking of the nationwide rebranding of the BBC Asian Network and Panjabi MC’s stunning Mundian to Bach Ke, which upon reaching #5 in January 2003 became the UK’s first Punjabi-language hit. A few months after Spirit in the Sky, another bhangra house top 10 hit arrived with Husan by Bhangra Knights. By the end of the summer there was a TV-advertised compilation from Telstar TV, Bombay Mix, which reached #12 on the compilation chart. Perhaps Spirit in the Sky was a deliberate and unfortunate catching of this wave, exploiting it for novelty – put one of the biggest pop stars around with a sitar. This makes me like it even less.

    But what makes me like it at all – well, not so much like it as much not hate it – is, besides the nostalgia value, namely that it is so bizarre, which at least makes it a somewhat compelling listen even if it is a ‘car crash can’t look away’ scenario. Unless I’m forgetting something I’d have to go back as far as Pump Up the Bitter for as crassly assembled a top 20 comedy record as this one. Also, better than Kula Shaker.

    3

    (2003 Comic Relief was the first one I remember, seeing as it was my first year of school (it was either 2003 or 05 that I had some dye put in my hair, for the only time ever). What I did not cotton on with at the time was that this was a Comic Relief record, but then I was 5 so didn’t make the distinction between novelty pop and other pop, just fun pop and serious pop, probably).

  3. 3
    James BC on 17 Dec 2019 #

    It’s a shame this is so bad, since the song itself is great and more or less worthy of being one of a very few to top the chart in three different versions. (There’s also Unchained Melody – more Gates – and probably some other charity favourites, but not many more.)

    I suppose we should be grateful that the other two weren’t Norman Greenbaum ft. Dad’s Army and Doctor and the Medics vs Last Of The Summer Wine.

  4. 4
    Sausagebrain on 17 Dec 2019 #

    Oh well. At least this is better than ‘The Stonk’ .

  5. 5
    ThePensmith on 17 Dec 2019 #

    It’s worth pointing out that when we next get to discuss – well, two – Comic Relief singles the dynamics had changed again. So this was one last hurrah for this kind of record for them anyhow. I remember watching The Kumars on Friday nights when I was a teenager. It was a unique take on the chat show format with a comedic angle for it’s time. That said I loved Sanjeev Bhaskar and Meera Syal in Goodness Gracious Me far more, in particular the ‘Going for an English’ sketch. We can only imagine indeed what a GGM take on ‘Spirit In The Sky’ would have sounded like. This is also, predictably, Gareth’s final meeting point with Popular. He was still the teen girl’s dream at this point, but only just.

    The Katie Price debacle I mentioned on the entry for ‘Anyone of Us’ was in its full and ugly throes in the tabloids a few months after this single. This combined with much cooler contemporary poster boys coming through – Justin Timberlake, Busted, hell even Blazin’ Squad, who had a sort of Gareth lookalike in their number with Kenzie, albeit with more JD Sports garb – were rapidly making him look like yesterday’s model. Coupled with the fact he had gone for that weird mullety hairdo that suddenly became all the rage in the early-mid 00s did him no favours. He’d obviously not learned from Jason Donovan that, like his curtains, his spikes made him stand out (even if he’d nicked it off Scott Robinson from Five, I would argue).

    His second album ‘Go Your Own Way’ released that September was a wildly ambitious attempt at a double album, split into two discs ‘Night’ representing his move to a more grown up, sexier sound, and ‘Day’ concentrating exclusively on the sort of material people more readily associated with him. He overestimated his audience greatly, who could probably have settled quite happily for one album mixing the two styles each. Whilst the first single, a pithy sub-George Michael cast off called ‘Sunshine’ was a top 3 hit, it was out the top 40 in very short order, and not even an obvious retread on old ground with ‘Say It Isn’t So’ (top 5 that December) could stop his sales going down the swanee. He literally descended from the top of the pile to the bottom with almost the same merciless swiftness that Hear’Say had had.

    He wasn’t properly dropped from BMG – which had been merged with Sony by the time they did – until early 2006, though he did Emma Bunton’s trick of turning to his management company 19’s in-house record label for his actually quite good third album, ‘Pictures of the Other Side’, in 2007, which he worked on with Martin Terefe, better known now for his unbunnied work with KT Tunstall and James Morrison. He also retrained as a qualified speech therapist on the McGuire programme for those with a stammer like himself, showing that at least something positive came out of his success, however briefly and brightly it burned for was. For ‘Spirit In The Sky’, I shall settle on a 4. Not the best, but not the absolute worst considering which charity record we’re under two Popular years away from discussing.

    #2 watch – J.Lo’s so so and somewhat unseasonal collaboration with LL Cool J, ‘All I Have’ on its first week, given it’s wintry, Christmas themed video that sat at odds with its springtime release. Mis-Teeq with the still excellent ‘Scandalous’ launching their second album ‘Eye Candy’ on its second week. Shame we don’t get to discuss it as it’s one of theirs and StarGate’s finest pre-2007 bunnied Barbadian moments. Just two more top 20 hits awaited them before they split following the collapse of their label Telstar in 2004.

  6. 6
    lonepilgrim on 18 Dec 2019 #

    a waste of everyone’s talents – even Gareth’s – it makes a good song sound dreary. I avoid charidee TV so I’m glad this passed me by at the time

  7. 7
    AMZ1981 on 18 Dec 2019 #

    There’s nothing much to dissect here really. For what it is it’s actually passable – a pop/ comedy mash up to raise money for charity that did its job and was quite reasonably disposable afterwards.

    It’s worth noting that this was the first comedy Comic Relief song since Right Said Fred’s Stick It Out in 2003 and, as they were a comedy act in the first place, disregarding them takes us back to The Stonk two years before. That said Comic Relief had actually used the format for a handful of non telathon year records (Mr Bean and Smear Campaign, Pet Shop Boys’ Absolutely Fabulous).

    There are two wider points of interest. One is the poster boy from a flagship ITV show fronting what is ultimately a BBC campaign. The second is the strangely prescient last line. `Is Will Young available?`

  8. 8
    Purple K on 18 Dec 2019 #

    Ugh, I cringe looking back as this was my first real big pop star crush (I was 14/15, don’t judge me!), but to follow on from #5’s point, I did grow out of that phase shortly after that double album came out. I don’t know why, I think there was a part of me who realised “yeah, I don’t like these songs” and I moved on.

    Also re: #5, I heard “Scandalous” for the first time in years in a shop last month and I was pleasantly surprised by how well it stands up.

  9. 9
    ThePensmith on 18 Dec 2019 #

    #8 – it’s true of much of Mis-Teeq’s material, but particularly that single how well it’s held up. I’m surprised for her all ubiquity on Britain’s Got Talent and other ventures that Alesha Dixon hasn’t yet been tempted back for a reunion.

    There’s certainly a nostalgia for UK garage at the moment with DJ Spoony’s recent ‘Garage Classical’ album which basically took the same principle Pete Tong did with his ‘Classic House’ albums and shows by doing orchestral reimaginings of ‘Flowers’, ’21 Seconds’, ‘Movin’ Too Fast’ etc.

  10. 10
    Tom on 18 Dec 2019 #

    When Less Popular does the 00s I hope one of my patrons nominates Mis-Teeq, it’s a shame they never had a #1 and lord knows “Scandalous” was more interesting than this tripe.

  11. 11
    flahr on 18 Dec 2019 #

    I was 10 and still not really into pop, but we definitely bought this – my sister liked Gareth Gates and I liked comedy songs so this was fun for the whole family. It might have been my first exposure to the idea that you could turn a real song into a comedy song by talking over it, which must have had the same Situationist appeal as MST3K and the like.

    Someone (not me) just put this on over the office stereo and I will cop to “it’s who you know” raising a smile.

  12. 12
    Edward Still on 19 Dec 2019 #

    Scandalous was absolutely fantastic. So so so fantastic you might say.

    Had Alesha’s solo career been based around her uniquely gravelly MC-ing,instead of her rather more milquetoast singing it might have proved a bit more noteworthy. An opportunity lost I feel.

  13. 13
    PapaT on 20 Dec 2019 #

    I was a bit baffled when they revived The Kumars about 5 years ago; it was a fun show but a prime example of something which seemed to have completely left the public consciousness the second it ended.

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