Video clips from other shows and sources - photos are from this gig!
It was July 2007: just a normal Friday morning, driving to work, radio on and tuned to the local station, when the DJ announced something about a 'chippy tea' song, before playing something not normally heard on a breakfast radio show: folk music! This particular piece of folk was modern, however – a song all about the joys of consuming a good old-fashioned takeaway from the chip shop and a resolute slap in the face for the killjoys who seek to enforce the 'five-a-day' mantra. Intrigued, I had to find out who these geniuses were and whether they had any more songs. A quick search found the MySpace page for The Lancashire Hotpots (for it was they) and they did indeed have more songs on there. Their gimmick was to dress as stereotypical Lancastrian working men, complete with flat caps and neckerchiefs, while singing humorous folk songs about modern life.
As they put it: “21st Century Folk, for 21st century folk!”
All it took was two songs ('Chippy Tea' and 'He's Turned Emo') to have me in stitches and immediately proclaim these guys as my new favourite band!
Before long I was heading up and down the highways of Lancashire seeking out where they were playing, on one memorable occasion seeing them twice in the space of one day (!) and buying anything with their name on it – CDs, T-shirts, even a live DVD filmed at the Citadel in their home town of St. Helens. There have been numerous gigs since then too, and their following has grown to the point where they can now play larger places within Lancashire, like 53 Degrees in Preston, and actually venture outside the county palatine, to (gasp) Yorkshire and even (gulp!) London!
They could be forgiven for thinking an act like that would only last one or two years at the most, yet in 2011 and with four studio albums and a live CD under their belts and braces, their popularity is, if anything, increasing. This gig was intended to be their Christmas special, originally scheduled for December it was postponed owing to the weather. So it was that at the end of February the Hotpots and their Hotpotters reconvened at Preston for the rescheduled gig, with the guys promising to play Christmas songs anyway!
Before all that though, we had the Re-Entrants. Two intimidating-looking 'follically challenged' guys in identical black T-shirts and canvas trousers, both looking like they should be on the door rather than on the stage, until they picked up their instruments for their short set. Two little ukuleles! What followed was a remarkable display – the Re-Entrants play covers of popular songs from a wide variety of genres, arranged for ukulele but aiming to recreate as closely as possible (within the limitation of the instruments) the original arrangement. That included 'guitar solos' whenever a rock song was played! The sight of two burly blokes on ukuleles camping it up one minute (when playing 'Poker Face' and not gender-flipping the lyrics!) then throwing shapes like a Heavy Metal guitar hero for the rock songs like 'Ace of Spades' and 'Highway To Hell' was, frankly ludicrous. It was also wonderful! They mixed it up, playing Spandau Ballet's 'Gold' and then doing a full, complete version of 'Sweet Child of Mine' with both solos faithfully recreated, before performing 'Pinball Wizard' and 'Live and Let Die' with incredible accuracy.
Although it might put you in mind of Hayseed Dixie (who do similarly re-arranged covers of classic rock songs) remember, this is just two blokes. To play these songs as faithfully as they do on just two ukuleles takes incredible talent, although they do ham it up they really are fantastic players. Highly recommended – if they're coming anywhere near you go and see them.
A short interlude followed, with 'voiceover man' Peter Dickson's booming tones coming over the PA, sending up both the Hotpots and himself with amusing one-liners in between some utterly dreadful tunes (think 'Agadoo'!) on the tape before the Hotpots came on, to the strains of Erasure
(“I left the real tape in the car!” - Dickie Ticker)
This time round the guys were accompanied by the 'Lancashire Hotpipes' – a horn section dressed in the waistcoats and flat caps – but even with seven on the stage, it looked spacious up there. Kenny Body's drum kit seemed miles back! Sadly for the blokes in the crowd, there were no Lancashire Hotpants (their occasional group of girl dancers wearing tabards and stockings) this time, but the guys soon hit their stride opening with their song all about the simple pleasures of a cup of tea, 'Mek Us A Brew'. From there on in it was the usual Hotpots tomfoolery, costume changes including lead singer Bernard Thresher dressing as a pantomime pirate for 'Cinema Smugglers' (all about defying the high prices for sweets at the pictures by sneaking in your own!), the whole group donning hi-viz jackets and shades for 'Lancashire DJ' – then encouraging congas and hokey-cokeys in the crowd (!)
We even got the band's Robbie Williams pastiche all about Bernard's supposed fling with 'The Girl From Bargain Booze' as well as plenty of favourites off their four albums to date. It wasn't until the main set ended with 'Chippy Tea' that they did any Christmas stuff, coming back in for the encore in Santa hats that lit up to play 'Carry You Home' (the only song of theirs that isn't a parody of something or other) and 'Christmas in Lancashire'. The encore was rounded off with 'Hardcore Quornography', their Chuck Berry-style number where Bernard complains at being forced to turn vegetarian by his wife, the formidable 'Jean', then finally 'Shopmobility Scooter', as ever, segueing into 'Hey Jean' – any resemblance to a well-known song from a very famous pop group also hailing from Lancashire is coincidental (!)
So that should have been the last gig of 2010 for the Hotpots instead of the first of 2011, but nobody present minded. No real surprises for anyone who has seen the guys before (and especially not for someone who's seen them as often as I have!) but you know what you're getting with Bernard, Dickie, Billy, Bob and Kenny – a good laugh and a singalong! It did start to venture more toward rock as the set progressed though, Kenny's drumming was decidedly hard (maybe it was because he was set so far back!) and the sound from my position was dominated by Bob's bass. You don't see too many folk groups give their numbers the Big Rock Ending either, but these guys are fond of it!
The Hotpots are actually in the middle of recording their next album so fingers crossed by the time I see them again there'll be some new songs to enjoy. Provided they can 'keep it real' and find more inspiration from everyday life in Lancashire, that will be something to look forward to!