Everybody needs to smile. Everybody needs to have fun. Everybody needs to know that one person who can just cheer you up – especially in this day and age when the pressures of life seem to conspire to make everything seem like seven shades of shit. Yeah, the news is full of stories of the developing mental health crisis in this country – hell, I’ve even found that my own mental health has hit crisis points in the last ten years. Life seems to be filling up with fifty shades of shit (oh, lovely pun on a literary reference there dear book nerds).
If you’ve ever watched the amazing David Fincher film “Fight Club”, you will know about the importance of going to your happy place during times of stress. Captain Sensible’s cover version of the “South Pacific” musical number, “Happy Talk”, certainly ranks as one of my happy places. It is not a deep political statement of discontent with the world he did those later in his solo career, and certainly as one of the founders member of punk upstarts The Damned. No, it is not a piece of deep psychological self-analysis. It does not give any deep and meaningful insight into the spiritual answers to the great question of life, the universe and everything (42! Remember?). It does not grace us with metaphysical answers that will help us to move onto the next evolutionary plane of existence. So what is it? Well, maybe it is perhaps simply one of the happiest pieces of super light pop bullshit ever to grace the music charts, and I love it.
The story of the Captain’s pop career is an interesting one – if you get a chance to watch the recently released film about The Damned (called “Don’t You Wish We Were Dead”, which you can get now from all good retail outlets blah blah blah etc.) you will get to understand how the decisions surrounding dear old Captain becoming a pop juggernaut reached long into the history of his former band-mates.
Captain Sensible had written a few tunes which were rejected by the band, so he decided to take them and record them for himself. Once the album was recorded, the record company requested something that would make an obvious single – for some reason, he decided that a upbeat joyous pop version of the old “South Pacific” (written by Rogers and Hammerstein) show-tune would be the perfect solution to his problem. Naturally, I hear you say with raised eyebrows.
Happy talkin’, talkin Happy talk
Talk about things you’d like to do
You’ve got to have a dream
If you don’t have a dream
How you gonna have a dream come true
“Happy Talk” is a show-tune taken from the 1949 musical “South Pacific” (created by Rodgers and Hammerstein, who had already had a record of hit Broadway musical things to “Oklahoma!” and “Carousel”) that tells the stories of a group of American naval soldiers who are posted in the South Pacific islands during the Second World War. The song is performed by a character who is called Bloody Mary, who sings it to the American lieutenant Joe Cable about having a happy life, after the American starts to have a romance with her daughter, Liat.
It is not what you would expect as a debut solo single from the unhinged ex-bassist now lead guitarist with one of the three core original UK punk bands, The Damned – yeah, the ones that are always forgotten as people keep blathering on about The Sex Pistols and The Clash.
So, as a result of his solo success, the good Captain was kicked out of the band (or, according to some, decided to leave as it was felt it was best for the band not much chance of really getting to the bottom of this mystery as I’m pretty certain that everybody is likely to remember it slightly differently) that he had loved and dedicated his life to, and embarked upon a short lived career as a mainstream pop-star. It was a glorious sight to see Cap bringing his Tiswas brand of child-friendly anarchy to the masses who actually genuinely seemed happy to see this affable buffoon enjoy his five minutes of fame.
The Damned, minus the Cap, went onto would be their most successful commercial time following the release of the goth directed album “Phantasmagoria”, featuring the hit singles “Grimly Fiendsih”, “The Shadow of Love” and “Is It A Dream?”. Their commercial high point would be a cover version of “Eloise” which was the first single to be taken off the following album, “Anything”, which sadly failed to hit the same level of commercial success as “Phantasmagoria”. Life likes to give with one hand and then kick you in the balls with another – apologies for messing up my metaphors there.
Whilst things seemed to be looking good for The Damned after a long period of being overlooked as punk’s “almost men”, life was slowly heading the opposite way for dear old relaibly loony Captain Sensible. He managed to maintain his status as a loopy pop star for a short time: behold the loopy joy of his follow-up single that took a friendly swipe at fellow pop-wonder and equal ex-punk rocker Adam Ant.
This is “Wot”:
Hopefully you will have noticed the contribution of another set of unique and interesting female backing vocalists, as previously discussed when I wrote a blog post about Paul Young’s Christmas epic of love redeeming the poor and huddles masses (thanks to the planet raping conglomerate corperations), “Love of The Common People”. Paul had his Fabulously Wealthy Tarts. Cap had his Dolly Mixtures.
However, without a shadow of a doubt, whilst “Happy Talk” never fails to put a smile on my face, it is his Falkland War inspired anti-war song that is possibly his best and cleverest moment, and is quite possibly the most catchy anti-war song that I can remember coming out of the 1980s. This is not Robert Wyatt emoting over “Shipbuilding” (even though that is another incredibly moving song about the impact of the Falklands conflict) – this is a pop broadside and ’tis brilliant.
These moments of pure unadulterated Sensible madness always brought joy to my life, even when reading the lyrics made it clear that the subject matter of the song was in no way a laughing matter. Her’s more lyrics to “Happy Talk” that were not written by Cap – so I’m not entirely sure why I’m bleeding well posting them – or is that the punk thing to do?
Talk about the moon floating in the sky
Looking like a lily on a lake
Talk about the bird learning how to fly
Making all the music he can make
So there is a good ending to this story – after spending many years in the wilderness enjoyed by ex-punk musicians, Captain Sensible eventually re-joined The Damned who had also fallen on tough times following the commercial failure of the “Anything” album. There was a significant falling out with original member Rat Scabies which continues to this very day – apparently, during the premier of the documentary about the band, Captain Sensible disrupted the film screening whenever Rat was putting his side of the story, by shouting abuse at the screen and even throwing his popcorn at Rat’s face on the screen – ah, that must have been interesting for the collected Damned fans in the audience. Rat Scabies now tours with the other original member of The Damned, original guitarist Brian James, in response to the official incarnation of the band playing original punk album “Damned Damned Damned” in full.
The Damned has undertaken a critical and commercial rebirth that has seen them gigs consistently and release new albums ever few years – releasing “Grave Disorder” in 2001, and then “So, Who’s Paranoid” in 2008. The band are currently planning to record a new album, raising funds through PledgeMusic to enable them to record it entirely independently of any record company, working with uber producer Tony Visconti.
During recent Damned or solo gigs, Captain Sensible would sometimes play “Happy Talk” either to laugh at himself, or to enable the audience to engage in a spectacular moment of community whilst also taking the piss out of everybody involved.
The version below is taken from a Captain Sensible solo gig:
Sometimes, this type of song is called a “guilty pleasure” – otherwise, the type of song that people generally acknowledge as being crap but is enjoyed despite it. I don’t like this term – you are giving your taste away to others who are somehow in a position of greater taste or musical authority whenever you do this. Fuck the entire concept of a guilty pleasure. I don’t hold “Happy Talk” in any way as a guilty pleasure because I never feel guilty about listening to it. I love it.
I hope you will find it in your heart to love it too.