Friday, July 06, 2007

They called him Good Time George

I don't go in for many obituaries on Washed and Ready to Eat, as death is usually sad and my aim is to bring a little smile to my readers' faces every day. The passing of musician and author George Melly, however, does deserve some comment.

I saw Melly perform live with his Feetwarmers backing band a few times over the years and the playful mix of trad jazz, blues, camp and joie de vivre always made for a fun evening out. The bisexual singer's arrival on stage was heralded by his signature tune "Good Time George" and the lyric set the tone for the entertainment that was to follow: "Hey mama, hold on to your man, 'cos my equipment's on the AC/DC plan..."

Many of the old standards he liked to perform - from artists such as 1920s blues singer Bessie Smith - were based on double entendre. Songs that spring to mind include "Right key, wrong keyhole" and another number about a hot dog man, which left little to the imagination. "You want a big one? Is that what you said? I got a dog that's gonna fill your bread..."

Sex and music weren't the only themes in Melly's life though. He was an intelligent raconteur and expert in art history - particularly the surrealist movement. And in that respect he seems very much to belong to a bygone era. How many talented musicians today - even with a public school education tucked in their back pocket - can also claim to be a lecturer, critic and author of books such as A Tribe of One: Great Naive and Primitive Painters of the British Isles?

Melly refused treatment for lung cancer and sang on stage until he was 80. If there's an equivalent of Ronnie Scott's beyond the Pearly Gates, let's hope he's still finding a way of having a good time.

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