Big Break was a snooker themed quiz show hosted by Jim Davidson in the early '90s. My vague recollections of this programme basically revolve around Dennis Whatshisface wearing stupidly large glasses, Jim Davidson doing what he does, i.e. not too much, and certainly, the memorable theme song:
It's only a game so put up a real good fight I'm gonna be snookering you tonight!
Now it seemed to me that such a tune was clearly composed specifically for the show, but it's true origins are actually a lot more interesting. The tale involves Captains, ships, mythical creatures, losses, bankruptcies and, yes, a beaver.
I mentioned a few months ago that I had 'discovered' Captain Sensible. In my musical stream-of-consciousness fashion, I was interested by his choice to cover "Relax" as a B-Side, and once I heard it - a pretty close reading of the original, with some nice sampled movie/TV dialogue - I looked for a few more things he'd done. I came into singles around 1985, which was after his really big hits and TOTP moments, so I looked for his first couple of albums, then his third (Revolution Now, from 1987) and also found a couple of odds and ends. One was a Syd Barrett cover ("Octopus") for a MOJO CD, the other was called "The Snooker Song" and was indeed what I remembered as the aforementioned Big Break theme. Now it transpired that this paean to a very British sport was from an '80s musical production, The Hunting of the Snark.
Previously I had purchased a copy of the reissue of The Hunting of the Snark CD/DVD for 99 cents about three years ago, and sold it last year, unopened, to a fella in Australia for about $40. So other than knowing the soundtrack had some value, I knew little else about it. This week, I looked it up on Wikipedia and YouTube. Being a big Midge Ure and Ultravox fan back in the '80s I was surprised to learn that Midge played guitar - pretty well - during the live concert put on almost exactly thirty years ago, April Fool's Day, 1987. The more I read about the production, the more interesting it became.
The composer behind The Hunting of the Snark, Mike Batt, was someone I was familiar with, but only vaguely. I had posted one of his albums before, as a request, but had to re-read the post as I couldn't remember it at all. (Actually I re-read my blog quite a lot. it might sound a bit egotistical, but it is one of the reasons why I have felt encouraged lately to write and post more - so as a reader you can't have it both ways!) I've always been interested in the craft behind songwriting and Mike is one of the most engaging composers I've come across. For example, in a Guardian interview, he insists on referring to his production as The F*****g Hunting of the Snark, because the whole production was so beset with problems and critical reproach. The live concert - at the Royal Albert Hall, no less - cost nearly a million dollars to put on and Batt himself would have cancelled the whole thing if he had been able to. The soundtrack album had never seen a proper release and the label had gone bankrupt without fulfilling the promotion promises they had made. And as Snark was based on a Lewis Carroll nonsense poem in the first place, at least on paper it sounded bonkers. (His own liner notes on the album re-release are thoughtful and unusually revealing.)
Where else could you find - within the same one hour performance - Captain Sensible singing music hall, Julian Lennon in a chef's costume, luminaries such as John Hurt and Billy Connolly reciting verse, Mike Batt himself conducting and singing in a naval commander's uniform and US soul diva Deniece Williams dressed up like a beaver. Oh yeah, and flippin' Midge Ure playing blistering guitar solos - while wearing a blue cravat the size of Kensington. Maybe you should just watch it already.
I could also mention that Mike got his idea for the production while sailing around the world for two years on a steam boat, that he composed both "Bright Eyes" and "A Winter's Tale" - two songs guaranteed to get me blubbing like a baby - that he discovered Kate Melua and a bunch of other artists, and much more besides. But for now I'll just say that by his own admission, much of his lyrical work has expressed a yearning for change, to explore new places and possibilities, and his commercial success has been well-won.
Out in the deserts of darkness and dreams,
Out though the oceans of sadness we sailed. Venturing onwards through mystical scenes,
Blown on the whim of the wind that prevailed.
We had no reason to doubt the truth,
Driven by danger and discontent,
And the drums of youth.
Don't let the memory die, Childen of the sky, heroes of the sea.
And as your life passes by,
Remember how it feels to be Children Of The Sky (from "Children of the Sky")