Mar 11

HALE AND PACE – “The Stonk”

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#662, 23rd March 1991

When I tell people I’m doing this blog they usually ask me what my favourite ever number one is. I have a stock answer – “Come On Eileen” – which is true often enough to pass muster. They also sometimes ask me what the worst number one ever is. No shortage of candidates, here! We’ve seen some of them already: the mawkish horror of Saint Winifreds, the gross precocity of Little Jimmy, the pathological bonhomie of Mallett. But “The Stonk” holds a special dread for me – it’s the only number one whose badness induces a reflex physical response, a kind of skin-creeping sensation of shame and repulsion. In the age of the Internet, your disgust reflexes can harden pretty easily – I’ve seen goatse and tubgirl and met them with a jaded shrug, but something about this forgotten little record just gets me in the guts.

What’s odd is that I can’t predict when the flight reaction will kick in: sometimes it’s the rhythm track built on farts, sometimes I get as far as the “come quietly” joke. In between is a hellish obstacle course – the impressions section! The comical accents! The worn-out surrealism! The grim truth is that “The Stonk” achieves a critical mass of badness for me where elements which on paper don’t sound particularly awful jump out as infuriating simply because you’re too busy guarding yourself against the worse stuff. Just now I played it and felt myself crumple inside at the “stonky stonky / conky conky” backing vocals. The record’s gravity well of crapness is so powerful that I’ve for years assumed terrible jokes from other Comic Relief records – like Right Said Fred’s 1993 effort “Stick It Out” – were in fact in “The Stonk”.

Hale And Pace were an odd case, though. What was going on in British entertainment around this time – what had been for a while – was a sort of generational handover. You saw it gathering force at Radio 1, which instigated a rolling purge of the old guard (DLT, Blackburn) and replaced them with self-consciously edgier presenters from independent radio. And you saw it in comedy, where the “alternative”, Comedy Store crowd were fast becoming an establishment, shouldering aside a lot of the old school comedians. But what people forget in these stories of overthrow was that there was also a compromise phase – people carving out careers by dressing up the old orthodoxies in the trappings of the new, and often ending up more dislikeable than both. On radio the best example was Nicky Campbell – in his own mind a fearless investigative presenter and man of substance, in most other people’s an even smugger version of Simon Bates. And I think Hale And Pace fit into this transitional bracket too – they were ordinary blokes, ex-teacher mates who made each other laugh and turned it into a career, but they’d come up via the alternative circuit.

Problem was, they weren’t funny. This Wikipedia list of “recurring sketches” from one of their final series gives a flavour of them. “London cabbies / Waiter(s) with “black pepper” / Are you nervous… nervous now? / Curly and Nige (1) in the garage (2) at the DIY shop / American sheriff and his deputy / Rappers with baggy clothes / Yorkshiremen / Crime boss and his muscle / Two redheads who copy the end of what people say / Trainspotters / Elderly gentleman who can’t swear / Meditating man who wishes for things to happen”. Now, if you boil any sketch show down to its elements it’s not going to sound great but this comes across as a particularly bum-clenching experience, a mix of stereotypes, easy targets, and kneecapped running jokes. The overall impression is one of will-this-do laziness, pervasive mediocrity, like the first idea anyone had went into the script and there was an end to it.

And this is basically what I can hear in “The Stonk”, too. Hale And Pace are cut off from even the very mild daring of an evening show – the “microwave a pussycat” line here, which sticks right out, is a reference to their most notorious sketch. Instead they’re tasked with making something fun for all the family, and so they take the most basic, shopworn elements of British comedy – bum jokes, impressions, wacky juxtapositions, silly voices – and throw them together with nothing even approximating wit or skill. Brian May gives the track a raucous lift but can’t stop the pain. If you want a record which shows how exhausted, directionless, mirthless and desperate British pop culture – and, sod it, Britain – could seem in the Major years then you won’t find a better example than “The Stonk”.



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  1. 61
    Dan Worsley on 31 Mar 2011 #

    The world of pop can be more inter-connected than you might expect. You don’t need 6 degrees of seperation to get from ‘The Stonk’ (1) to ‘Pump Up The Volume’ (10). Hale and Pace were sampled on the bonus EP which came with Colourbox’s one and only album who of course formed the core of M/A/R/R/S.

  2. 62
    AndyPandy on 31 Mar 2011 #

    awful record from awful duo

  3. 63
    fivelongdays on 31 Mar 2011 #

    OK, I’ve heard it again – seen the video, too – and it gets a 2, possibly a three, on the grounds that HOLY CRAP IS THAT TONY IOMMI? SHHIIIIITTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTT! Also, there’s some nice guitar noises from Brian May.

    I’m feeling very generous today – this song really, really, really goes on for approximately 2mins30s too long. YES WE GET THE MESSAGE WE NEED TO STONK, THANK YOU AND GO AWAY.

  4. 64
    anto on 31 Mar 2011 #

    While it’s true that Hale and Pace seemed neither fish nor flesh in terms of the alternative/old school comedy split I would suggest their true niche was childish comedy made by grown-ups that actual children think it is grown up to laugh at. I can vouch for this and wheter we care to admit it or not Hale and Pace were virtually cult figures to kids in my age group in so much as their sketch show generally scheduled on Sunday evenings would be much talked about in the playground on Monday morning. Their humour might have been unsophisticated but it was the sorts of things kids betwixt primary and secondary school age find funny (bums, willies, crappy stereotypes, innuendos you didn’t quite understand). Of course by the time you were 14 you were embarrassed by your 11-year old self for watching it let alone laughing at it.
    Tom refers to Hale and Pace as ordinary blokes and that was indeed what made them curious. For all the scatalogical gags their whole two-grown-men-who-can’t-get-enough-of-each-other schtick seemed rather suburban. Rik Mayall might have come across as a fiendishly filthy older brother and the Mary Whitehouse Experience crew would remind you of student show-off neighbours but Hale and Pace appeared to be two Dads mucking about. Even their Christian names (Gareth and Norman)were almost defiantly quotidian. It’s that blank charisma which is apparent in The Stonk and that’s what make it the Comic Relief song that seems to most closely match the actual dreary experience of Red Nose day – Bank Managers performing silly dance routines, Newsreaders aping whatevers in the top 40 etc. Listening back to the record I was astonished for two reasons 1) It was even more shitty than I remembered it to be 2)I actually found myself laughing at it’s rankness so as it’s a comedy record that was mission inadvertently accomplished.

    I thought The Smile Song had been released seperately. I didn’t know it was the b side. Nice to see the co-writer of Rusholme Ruffians had a number one by default.

  5. 65
    IJGrieve on 31 Mar 2011 #

    Alright, I’m gonna put my head above the parapet.

    I actually like this song. The cerebral way the review and most of the commenters here approach this misses the point in my opinion. Sure, it’s no classic. It’s a very daft song with a raucous, fun sound and ridiculous lyrics. And, it fits so well with the idea of Red Nose Day, especially compared with the dull as ditchwater covers that we’ve had since the mid-90s.

    I admit, it could be that being born in 1983 this came along at just the right time, and I might not look back on it so positively had I been a bit older when it was #1 (or missed it entirely). Still, comparing this to ‘Grandma’ or ‘Star Trekkin’ it really doesn’t deserve a 1. So, for balance, I’m giving it 7.

  6. 66
    Russ L on 31 Mar 2011 #

    It might be worth noting that “stonking” is still an occasionally-used positive adjective here in the West Midlands. I have no idea whether or not it pre-dated this record.

    (Yes yes yes, cue “lol Birmingham” in the traditional and tedious fashion).

  7. 67
    heather on 31 Mar 2011 #

    Wow, and there was that really good patch of #1s to start the decade. Dear oh dear.

    I do like some comic songs and fun pop but… no. No and verily no again. On the other hand, it’s better than the recent trend of Sincere Covers for charidee records.

    (Did I hallucinate it or did anyone else catch George Michael’s ambient cover of ‘True Faith’ for Comic Relief?)

  8. 68
    swanstep on 31 Mar 2011 #

    This is new to me. There’s a place for this sort of stuff on The Wiggles (but with better lyrics about spaghetti, and the like). Like others above I guess I don’t find Stonk quite as skin-crawling as Bombularina, but it’s still an easy 1.

  9. 69
    Special Girl AKA on 31 Mar 2011 #

    My best friend at the time (Year 6, final year of primary school) was tone-deaf and could only sing one note; she also happened to be arrhythmic. Needless to say, this was a favourite of hers and, to make matters worse, every time I think of this song I cringe at her atonal, jerky, batshit rendering. (Which I think might, in fact, have been better than By Order of The Management’s version).

  10. 70
    23 Daves on 31 Mar 2011 #

    I’m happy to put my hand up and admit that I was one of those children who found Hale and Pace funny – and I think I continued to chuckle at their output far past the point where I should have done so (I’m sure I can remember chortling with my buddies in a Chemistry lesson aged 14 about the contents of the previous night’s show – and most especially Billy & Johnny and also those stoned rock stars they used to play). I’d really need to go to YouTube and have a serious Hale And Pace viewing session to decide whether any of their output stands up, but from memory I would place it a higher comedic level than Michael MacIntyre and Russell Howard. In other words, yes, they were middle-of-the-road comedy family-pleasers, but I don’t subscribe to the common view that seems to be forming in this thread that things were so much worse for this sort of thing “back then” in the Major years. In fact, there may be a case to be made for the fact that they possibly set the alternative-yet-not-alternative template which remains in place (and some media observers felt that the shift from ITV to BBC did the most to damage their careers, the BBC shoving them in all sorts of bizarre time slots).

    “The Stonk”, however, is unforgivable by anyone’s standards. Eesh.

  11. 71
    Mark G on 1 Apr 2011 #

    maybe so, but at the time there was better stuff around.

  12. 72
    vinylscot on 1 Apr 2011 #

    Comments on youtube suggest that the dodgy line at the end was spoken by Freddie Mercury (obviously, or at least probably, lifted from an interview). I suppose it’s possible through the Brian May connection.

    Can anyone confirm this?

  13. 73
    faulknmd on 1 Apr 2011 #

    “gravity well of crapness”. Poetry!

  14. 74
    pink champale on 1 Apr 2011 #

    russ @66 dispiriting to hear that professional brummies still say ‘stonkin’ (‘bostin’ too, presumably) but i’m pretty sure the term pre-dates hale and pace. the alternative, frankly, doesn’t bear thinking about.

  15. 75
    Kat but logged out innit on 1 Apr 2011 #

    Re: state of British comedy in the early 90s: I think at this point René had started pretending he was his own twin brother (also called René) and they’d ditched the Italian dude. What-a mistake-a to make-a etc

  16. 76
    Alex on 1 Apr 2011 #

    Oh God. I suspect that 11-year old me might have actually liked it.

  17. 77
    Russ L on 1 Apr 2011 #

    @74 Oh ‘professional brummies’ yes I see those poor dears how dispiriting. Lol Birmingham.

    Ordinary people from various parts of the West Midlands most definitely say “bostin'”. It’s a local term. You’ll find it far more often in the Black Country (where I’m from) than Birmingham, but they use it there too.

  18. 78
    thefatgit on 1 Apr 2011 #

    Reminds me of that Noddy Holder joke…

    Noddy walks into Burtons and browses the shelves. Just then a shop assistant comes by and asks, “Would you like a kipper tie, Sir?”
    Noddy responds, “Oh, yes. Milk and two sugars please.”

    Coat, etc.

  19. 79
    pink champale on 1 Apr 2011 #

    @77 fair enough, professional brummies is probably not quite right (and apart from carl chin i;m not sure there’s such a thing) but i’ve got a real (if totally irrational) aversion to stonkin/bostin and similar slightly cutesy regionalisms (see geordies going to see the latest tom cruise ‘fillum’) and can’t help but hear them as affectations, even where they’re completely natural. anyway, i spent the first twenty-odd years of my life in birmingham so i can lol it if i want!
    best brummie joke:
    Q: what’s the difference between a buffalo and a bison
    A you can’t wash your hands in a buffalo

  20. 80
    Kat but logged out innit on 1 Apr 2011 #

    In a sense there is no Brummie that is not Officer Crabtree.

  21. 81
    Russ L on 1 Apr 2011 #

    @79 – Fair enough also, sorry if I got a bit arsey. We all have our irrational likes and dislikes, I suppose. I myself tend to like the regional differences and tend to assume that the generic half-RP/half-Thames-estuary studenty accent that people tend to adopt when they lose their own is the affectation, but similarly I realise that this isn’t necessarily the case.

    “Bostin’” is a really useful term, though. It speaks of something somewhere between “awesome/awe-inspiring” and “of exceptional practical function” that I can’t really think of any direct synonyms for.

    If you’re from round here then you’ll know that “fillum” is an extremely common term hereabouts too, though (although more due to the large amount of Irish-descended folk rather than whatever reason there is for it in the top-right of the country).

  22. 82
    Chriddof on 1 Apr 2011 #

    Long time Popular lurker finally making a post here. I’ve been looking forward to Tom covering this single for a while now, as I just knew it would get a good slagging, and I was not disappointed. It really is a dismal pile of crap – yet at the time I bought wholesale into it, rather embarassingly.

    Comic Relief was a big thing at school, as we got to dick around for most of the day under the pretense of raising money for charity. And the actual TV telethon was, for the first few years, a genuine event – unpredictable at times and not that much like the horrid squawking shitfest that it would quickly devolve into. Of course, even then there were lots of crap bits – the forced sketches involving celebrities and newsreaders always grated, and made you wonder when Rowan Atkinson was going to pop up again.

    I can second the claim that Hale & Pace were massive amongst 11 year olds. I liked them, and so did all my friends. Though the weird thing about me liking Hale & Pace was at the same time I also liked a lot of other vastly superior acts – Fry & Laurie, Reeves & Mortimer, Monty Python. At school nobody seemed to like or mention Python that much (one of my friends thought it was “too weird”) and I don’t think anyone even ever mentioned Reeves & Mortimer, who made their first Comic Relief appearence in 1991, to a baffled and annoyed studio audience who didn’t get them.

    Back to the record – this was the third record I ever bought, IIRC. The very first was Doctorin’ The Tardis way back in 1988, then there was a big gap of about two years until I bought an MC Hammer album (on cassette) at Epsom Our Price, and then after this monstrosity there was another big gap of two years until I bought… In Utero by Nirvana.

    The only good thing about “The Stonk” is the appearence of The Mary Whitehouse Experience’s Rob Newman in the video. While David Baddiel does the aforementioned (and possibly piss-taking) knees-and-elbows dance, and Punt & Dennis semi-enthusiastically join in, there is an incredibly brief glimpse of Newman simply standing to the side – not dancing, not moving, and burying his face in his hands.

  23. 83
    George on 1 Apr 2011 #

    You can add me to the army of pre-teen kids back in the early 90’s who used to watch Hale and Pace on a Sunday evening. However, I can’t remember anything about this and can barely bring myself to listen frankly.

    Their stock was in decline long before the disastrous switch to the BBC – infact it’s now staggering to believe that their run on ITV lasted so long in the first place (see also Noel’s House Party on the BBC).

  24. 84
    Erithian on 2 Apr 2011 #

    Never in the comedy top drawer, and yes the record does go on a bit and the gags are lame. But I’d up the mark a bit for the music itself. Obviously the players involved – May, Taylor, Iommi, Cozy Powell, David Gilmour – could have done it in their sleep and possibly did, but if you zone out the gags it’s at least a competent workout. And I did crack a smile to “stonky stonky, nose on your conky” despite myself.

    Then again, was anything Hale and Pace did – and they did have their moments – as funny as picturing their brown-trousered reaction when word reached them that Reggie Kray didn’t find “The Management” sketches very funny?

    Oh, and I still maintain, despite its being dismissed by others on here, that “Newport State of Mind” is the best Comic Relief song in years and it’s a pity it couldn’t have been released officially.

    And “bostin’” – first encountered the word in the West Brom fanzine “Fingerpost” referring to a goal by cult hero Don Goodman.

  25. 85
    Ed on 3 Apr 2011 #

    @82 Epsom Our Price seems to loom very large in this blog. Isn’t there a regular commenter who used to work there, as well? It was my local record shop when I was growing up. I am pretty sure I bought the first Doors album there (sorry, Tom), and ‘White Light, White Heat’, both of which would have been about 15 years old by then. Probably ‘Rio’ for my sister, as well.

    So I am very pleased to see that on this evidence it was cooler than Rough Trade or Bleecker Bob’s.

  26. 86
    Ed on 3 Apr 2011 #

    *Uses search function*

    I see it was wichita lineman, and I have raised this point already. I have become a confused old man, clearly.

  27. 87
    ottersteve on 3 Apr 2011 #

    Yes Tom, surely you must agree that at least one upcoming No.1 WILL be receiving a score of less than 1 from you. Even on a scale of direness, I can think of a couple of songs on the way to your shell-like (soon) that are EVEN WORSE THAN THIS!

    It seems unfair that all the really bad songs in this collection are lumped together with the same score ie 1. Please choose just a couple from the “1 point” category and award them lower marks, just so’s we know which your least favorite No 1 hit is/are. – we really want to know which they would be!

  28. 88
    Alan on 3 Apr 2011 #

    of the records scoring 1 so far, half were from the 80s

  29. 89
    flahr on 3 Apr 2011 #

    And roughly the same statistic applies to the 10s as well. I guess adolescence meant everything was either THE BEST THING EVA or THE WORST THING EVA.

  30. 90
    wichita lineman on 3 Apr 2011 #

    Re 85: Yes Ed, it was me, I was there summer ’84 to Feb ’85, possibly sold a record to the infant Tom. And I used to play White Light White Heat just because I could, and just before closing time. I liked watching people browsing the racks as if everything was quite normal while I Heard Her Call My Name played in the background. Shortly after this it was a chart albums only policy (sad face).

    Lots of great regular customers. Mr Party Records was one.

    It was probably a lot more fun than Bleecker Bobs.

    Best Our Price moment – when I worked in the Cambridge branch and MICKY DOLENZ CAME IN!!!

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