Monday, April 21, 2014

Georges, Formby and Harrison

As you may already know, British Pathé has made an archive of 85,000 films available through YouTube. I’m not sure how I found my way to this one. From 1940, it’s George Formby singing one of his signature songs, “The Window Cleaner”:

Did you notice what was going on in the first two seconds? Those are the ukulele chords at the end of The Beatles’ “Free as a Bird,” played a half-step down. That tag also appears at the end of the Formby favorite “Mr. Wu’s a Window Cleaner Now” (in the proper key of D: B♭7, A7, D). I knew that the end of “Free as a Bird” was a tip of the hat to Formby, but I didn’t know that the hat fit so perfectly.

It’s not a Formby sample at the end of “Free as a Bird”; by all accounts, it’s another George, Harrison, Formby fan and devoted ukuleleist, who plays those chords. According to the George Formby Appreciation Society, the man on stage at the end of the “Free as a Bird” video is Formbyite Alan Randall.

And as every Beatles fan should already know, the voice at the end of “Free as a Bird” that sounds as if it’s saying “Made by John Lennon” is John’s voice in reverse, speaking the Formby catchphrase “Turned out nice again.” That phrase is the title of a Formby film. And “It’s Turned Out Nice Again” is a Formby song.

Here’s a page with a link to George Harrison playing and singing a Formby song. And here’s George at home, playing Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz’s “A Shine on Your Shoes,” ending with the tag. And here’s a clip of George and Jeff Lynne on banjo-ukes. The tag’s at 2:54.

I love the Internets.

[“Mr. Wu’s a Window Cleaner Now” is not nearly as offensive as I had feared. But proceed at your own risk. How do I know that the George-at-home clip is in fact George? The footage is included in an iPad app about his guitars. At iTunes, the clip is visible at the top of the Video Vault screenshot.]

comments: 2

Fresca said...

I only recently discovered Formby--he's a treat.
I like knowing the Beatles tie-in--thanks!

My young friend Marz has been listening to old country music recently, and the other day I overheard a country version of "Act Naturally."

"That's a cover of a Beatles song," I informed this young person who does not care much about the Beatles.

"No!" she informed me right back. "This is a Buck Owens song that the Beatles covered."

Well, now I know.

Michael Leddy said...

Wow — at one point I knew that. The lyric sounds so Ringo.