As a tiny street-corner pub The Greys has a good reputation for live music, and was the ideal place for Hank Wangford to launch the most recent leg of his ‘No Hall Too Small’ tour. It was convenient as well because his stage partner for this tour, Brad Breath, lives near Preston Park here in Brighton in a recently built Eco-home annoyingly invisible from the road. Brad is possibly better known as Andy Roberts, and apart from previously playing with Hank some 30 years ago he has also supported Rolf Harris at Glastonbury and even played with the incredible Bonzo Dog Band.
I’d never seen Hank Wangford before, though I recalled hearing a funny Country and Western song of his many years ago, and knew he was promoted as the singing gynaecologist. He still is a doctor specialising in sexual medicine, and has spent much time in Romania training staff and helping establish clinics where contraception advice is available.
We had been discussing what we knew of Hank when he came into the bar and one of our group asked him, “To save me looking it up on Wikipedia, what’s your real name?”. Hank replied, “You’ll have to look it up on Wikipedia”. But I can save you the trouble, he is Dr Sam Hutt.
After a little tuning up Hank and Brad donned battered cowboy hats and set out on a series of sad songs, described by Hank as “a glimpse of gloom” and “an evening on the dark side”, starting with:
‘You’ve already put big old tears in my eyes, must you throw dirt in my face.’
The audience had a smattering of the sort of C&W fans who dress for the occasion – matching his and her red satin cowboy shirts – but none could match Hank himself. His battered hat was contasted by black satin, beautifully pleated and pressed Gaucho pants, though his colourful shirt (partially clad women dancing with skeletons) seemed to stray from the C&W theme. If anyone could justify it I’m sure he could, after all he once made a programme for the BBC which argued that C&W music started with the Mongolian hordes.
The set contained songs by some of the greats of Country and Western music:
“Johnny Ray – a short, skinny, deaf bisexual wearing orange pancake”; “George Jones – the Ray Charles of country music; drank his spleen away” and “Ernest Tubb -made a career of singing in E – and flat”
as well as many Wangford originals, or as Hank said, “that I wrote out of my own brain”.
Brad sang several songs and contributed to the banter, but his real role was to provide excellent guitar, ukulele and Appalachian dulcimer playing. Hank wasn’t bad, but as Brad said, “Hank will be playing ukulele in this number, and will be demonstrating techniques from his book, ‘Play the ukulele the Wangford way – Volume 1: the right hand'”.
After an hour we’d sung ourselves thirsty, joining in many choruses, so after ‘There stands the glass’ – a song about alcoholism and depression – we had an intermission to refill our glasses.
This link will take you to that song, courtesy of Fred Pipes: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YK0wpQbvd7U&feature=related
The second hour flew past, the songs got gloomier (“This one’s industrial strength gloom”), and Hank’s left wing politics came through with stories about singing to support the miners, and a song about Bill Pickett – possibly the greatest cowboy ever – who never made it to Hollywood like his friend Tom Mix because he was black.
They finished the set by singing a song they used to perform together some 30 years earlier in which they were ‘Jogging for Jesus’ and not skatin’ for Satan. Hank described the method of presentation of this song as ‘testiculating’, which he defined as “waving your arms about and talking a lot of bollocks”.
The Travel pages of the Guardian just two days earlier had a piece by Hank which revealed he is currently working on a book about touring small venues- I hope we pleased him and he gives The Greys, and his Brighton audience, a complimentary report.