Jun 07

LIEUTENANT PIGEON – “Mouldy Old Dough”

FT + Popular53 comments • 10,164 views

#321, 14th October 1972


When I started Popular I wrote an introductory piece which nicked Raymond Williams’ ideas of emergent, dominant and residual trends, and argued that the charts were fascinating because they’re a quasi-artificial space in which all three can bump and boil. “Mouldy Old Dough” is residual in a cultural sense – it’s harking back to knees-up piano parties and the stomp and clap of pub music – but it also really sounds like residue. There’s something curdled about it, odd and off, like Winifred Atwell tunes left in the damp. This isn’t old music lovingly preserved and recreated, it’s old music stuffed in a boxroom or a cellar, left to rot and ferment until its queasy return. Its title is literal – the stuff of former pop gone bad.

So what was it doing at the top of the charts in 1972? I can make a guess as to the real reasons – the irresistible conceit of a mother and son band, the gleeful rhythmic attack and the way it plays off the plaintive woodwind melody, and of course that horrid arbitrary growl of a hook, the missing link between Steptoe and Johnny Rotten and just far enough back in the mix that it might be a tramp wandering into the recording studio (and the record being built around him, Gavin Bryars style!). There’s almost nothing like it, which can sometimes be a happy reason for a hit.

But novelty records are also when pop lets its guard down. The hits surrounding “Mouldy Old Dough” in the list of number ones might tell us something about how kids in the 70s – the ones who bought records at any rate – posed, loved, fought, crushed and dreamed. But this dredge through the silt and leaf litter of English pop seems to burrow into something broader and deeper: the decaying country itself, sinking into post-Imperial dementia, singing old songs to itself as the batteries run down and the lights go out.

That’s one story of 1970s Britain – shabby, backward-looking, falling to bits. It’s the version that post-Thatcher politicians have broadly endorsed, and not having been alive in 1972 it’s a version that’s coloured my impression of the period. From my childhood a few years later I remember – or I think I remember – that things were greyer and more ramshackle and washed-out then. For me “Mouldy Old Dough” is unshakeably evocative of this never-known time.



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  1. 31
    Waldo on 8 Jun 2007 #

    I would say that that was spot-on. Sounds like Stilgoe all over. Puerility was all.

  2. 32
    Rosie on 18 Jun 2007 #

    And off to Uni we go. For me this track has the whiff of spilled bad beer and dodgy pies in the Sphinx Bar of Liverpool Students Union – it was a fixture on the jukebox there.

    As for the early seventies – it’s not a time I remember as being particularly grey. I think the greyness of the time was a myth really – surely it was less grey than the austere fifties for those old enough top have lived through them. The pubs were certainly better then – I have very fond memories of the early weeks of 1972, with the miners’ strike and the power cuts in action, and spending candlelit evenings in the Waggoners pub at Ayot Green. In the early weeks of 1972 the Waggoners was still on the A1, on a bend of what was then still a single carriageway road, so that made coming and going in the pitch dark an interesting experience…

  3. 33
    Tom on 18 Jun 2007 #

    Hullo Rosie – good to have you back!

  4. 34
    pigwell on 23 Jun 2007 #

    err, I only came across your site because I was looking for cover versions of this (my favourite ever) song

    the whole of ’72 sounds like residue, ’72 is when our world began – the modern world started in 48, and was mainstream in the sixties, and then was gone – so much of the music of ’72 is inspired by the recognition that progress has ended even as change continues – no longer able to claim legitimacy by referring to the future, it dishonestly claims it by evoking the past

    Glitter/Leander’s referencing of Rock’n’Roll (in ’72) is the pivotal text here – the song sounds nothing like rock’n’roll even as it claims to be rock’n’roll – and there were many imitators, some of whom did sound like rock’n’roll

    the best illustration of the end of history in ’72 has to be that in 1969, 1969 was hot enough for the Stooges to release “1969”; by ’74 Sweet’s “Sixteens” refers back to ’69 as a lost past – and we think the cycle of fashion is rapid now

    five years, five years, eh

  5. 35
    Marcello Carlin on 24 Jun 2007 #

    define the “our” in “our world” plz.

  6. 36
    Lena on 25 Jun 2007 #

    Um, didn’t the ‘modern world’ start in 1977 like The Jam said?

  7. 37
    doofuus2003 on 3 Jul 2007 #

    Tom, I was alive and 17 when this was a hit, and to me it was (at the time & now) a complete irrelevance. I said something much the same in comments on Son of my father, and as with that one, to see such revisionism of their reputations 35 years later is a puzzle.
    On whether the early ’70s were gray, I think it depends on what your age was/what you were doing then; I had known no other time, and as a late teenager, leaving school and going to university, getting my first car (Triumph Herald, 40 quid) it seemed pretty good to me…

  8. 38
    Marcello Carlin on 3 Jul 2007 #

    Results 1 – 10 of about 1,140 for “other people having different opinions”. (0.38 seconds)

  9. 39
    Billy Smart on 2 Sep 2007 #

    In today’s Observer, we learn that Mouldy Old Dough was the tune to which Joe Royle’s Oldham Athletic FC ran out onto the pitch of Boundary Park in the late 80s and early 90’s. The practice stopped when they were promoted to the top division in 1991 – when the strident sound of ELP’s Fanfare for the Common Man was considered more appropriate.

  10. 40
    inakamono on 7 Mar 2010 #

    After spending a few months dipping in and out of this Popular project, loving the concept and enjoying the reviews and the discussion that ensues, I’ve decided there are a select few reviews that deserve a mark of 10 in their own right.

    “this dredge through the silt and leaf litter of English pop seems to burrow into something broader and deeper: the decaying country itself, sinking into post-Imperial dementia, singing old songs to itself as the batteries run down and the lights go out.”

    I’d have given “Mouldy Old Dough” an 8; but thanks to that sentence, I’ll boost it to 10.

  11. 41
    lord darlington on 17 Mar 2010 #

    Yes Marcello, they definitely recorded at least some of their stuff in Hilda’s ‘best’ room, where the piano remains even though she has now departed. As for surviving tv appearances, there is an episode of Shang A Lang from ’75 (I think but I’m sure Billy can trace it) on which they plug the current Pigeon single AND an album of train noises they’ve compiled for Argo. Being the avants they are, it’s an album of diesel engines rather than steam engines.

    Oh, and MOD is so a 10.

  12. 42
    thefatgit on 10 Nov 2011 #

    The One Show researchers crib off Popular Shock!:


    Everything stated in this piece can be gleaned from THIS VERY THREAD!

  13. 43
    punctum on 11 Nov 2011 #

    The parasitic BBC stealing other people’s ideas and thoughts and threatening us with fines or imprisonment if we don’t pay the robbers’ protection money – no surprises there. Privatise the fucker until it bleeds.

    Also, don’t agree to be interviewed by Chris Evans; he’ll only steal your words and pretend they are his own.

    Isn’t everything on here copyright, anyway?

  14. 44
    Jimmy the Swede on 11 Nov 2011 #

    You’re speaking to the converted, Marcello!

  15. 45
    punctum on 11 Nov 2011 #

    I didn’t watch that programme about whether it will snow in Britain this winter – peaktime BBC2 on Sunday; you used to get top-quality world cinema in that timeslot – but it wouldn’t surprise me if they’d cribbed their chat from various ILx threads NOT THAT I AM SAYING THEY DID (does that cover me?).

  16. 46
    pink champale on 11 Nov 2011 #

    so it’s LEFFtenant pigeon? i’ve spent 20 years thinking LOOtenant.

    er, not so sure the item was wholly cribbed from this threat – the actual blokes from lieutenant pigeon probably had other sources.
    and er, also very much not sure about the bbc points. there’s plenty of things you can criticise, precisely none of which would be made better by privatisation.

  17. 47
    thefatgit on 12 Nov 2011 #

    #46 Not really targeting Woodward and Fletcher here, but with the BBC’s vast resources available to The One Show, they could have presented something that DIDN’T sound like Marcello’s research notes. One glaring omission was maybe a comparison soundclip of Stavely Makepeace to accompany the stills of the band. Woodward and Fletcher’s contribution was valuable, of course, but my reaction when I clicked on this clip from my Recommendations list on YT was like “hang on, all this sounds WAY too familiar”.

  18. 48
    wichita lineman on 12 Nov 2011 #

    As far as I know, the last time Lieutenant Pigeon played Mouldy Old Dough live was at a Ken Livingstone campaign fundraiser at Hammersmith Working Men’s Club in 2004. They borrowed a keyboard from Harvey Williams of the Field Mice.

    Re 47: Or could have been ‘cribbed’ from the interview I did with Woodward and Fletcher for the Stavely Makepeace cds notes. Not cribbed at all, in other words, because that’s their story and anyone who interviews them will get a very similar tale.

    Or is there something of Marcello’s that I haven’t read?

    Either way, great to see LP on the telly again!

  19. 49
    Lena on 20 Dec 2012 #

    Waiting for the telephone: http://musicsoundsbetterwithtwo.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/how-dare-they-10cc-donna.html Thanks for reading, retweeting, etc. everyone!

  20. 50
    mapman132 on 2 Mar 2014 #

    #34 Well for me, “72 is when our world began” is quite literal: I was born then! Just after this vacated the #1 spot in fact. The 70’s talk in this thread is interesting because it seems to apply to America as well. Even as a small child of the time, I got the feeling that things were in decline and the world I knew (basically just Philadelphia and environs then) felt rather decrepit and past its prime. My ever-pessimistic parents probably didn’t help matters any. Then the 80’s came and things seemed to improve dramatically right on through the 90’s. The foreboding of the 70’s felt like an aberration of the past….

    Of course, then the century turned and now it looks like maybe the pessimists were right after all, although perhaps in a different way then they thought. But that seems a topic for another thread entirely.

    As for MOD, I’d have to say it’s quite awesome! Definitely agree with Tom’s 9/10. Never a hit in America as previously stated, and also I’m pretty sure it would never be a hit, even as a novelty, today. That’s not to say a similar-minded song fusing elements of the more recent past couldn’t be done. In fact, considering the retro 70’s-80’s influences in today’s pop, maybe it already has. So the question has to be, what is the 2010s equivalent of MOD?

  21. 51
    Phil on 2 Mar 2015 #

    I remember this well; I was firmly convinced it was the best record IN THE WORLD EVER for a good few weeks. I didn’t get it, though, as I hadn’t started buying singles at that stage (I remember thinking what do you actually do? what if you can’t find the record you want? what if they won’t serve you?…). The first single I ever bought was the Ying Tong Song, which I guess is me for you.

    But no, it wasn’t all that grim – and I think you’ve misread the punk origin myth a bit. It wasn’t that everything was grey & dreary, everyone was on strike all the time and nothing worked – that was the (proto-)Thatcherite narrative, as featured in a variety of hilarious Mike Yarwood impressions and Two Ronnies routines. It was that *they* – the older generation, the government, take your pick – were telling us that everything was fine, but we could see it was shit. Look at a song like “Career opportunities” – it’s actually about having opportunities (“Do you want to make tea at the BBC?”!) but demanding the right to refuse them all. There were stirrings of that nihilistic energy in glam rock, and rather more than stirrings in Mouldy Old Dough – a song which brings together a whole range of emblems of popular music (a pub piano, marching drums and a folk tin whistle) and makes them all sound like… well, mouldy old dough. It’s quite a radical little number.

  22. 52
    lonepilgrim on 15 Nov 2018 #

    Whereas Slade try their hardest to convince you that ‘We’re all crazee now’, this performance almost effortlessly embodies a peculiarly British melancholy madness that runs through Gormenghast, One Way Pendulum and The Goons. I can imagine it echoing faintly from a battered wireless down the decaying corridors of institutional corridors. Perfect for Brexit Britain

  23. 53
    Gareth Parker on 28 May 2021 #

    How do you rate this one? I can’t work out whether it’s brilliant or utter pants, so a 5/10 for me.

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