Monday, July 23, 2007

John Shuttleworth's Condiments

"Do you mind if I eat a potato while we talk," says Graham Fellows, or was it John Shuttleworth?

The Sheffield-born writer and comedian (that's Fellows) slips in and out of comic character (that's Shuttleworth) as we speak about their (that's the two of them) new show which explores – Jamie Oliver-like – food politics in the era of globalised production, right?

"Well, that's a bit of a red herring really, like all Shuttleworth shows," says Fellows, somewhat contradictorily. "Although, there are songs about food…like I Can't Go Back to Savoury Now, about the problem of having started your pudding when you find there's more of the first course left…"

Fellows had his first taste of fame many years ago in the punk era when, as a drama student in Manchester, he wrote and released the single, Jilted John. "I wanted to make fun of punk, so I got somebody to tune a guitar to a chord and I just put my finger up and down the neck and made a song."

The song – with its timeless choral chant, "Gordon is a moron" – became a top five hit. "It seems it's more popular than ever now, what with Gordon Brown being Prime Minister. They asked me to record a new version. But that would be a political statement…" And it might lead, as the original did, to a reply song.

In the 1980s, Fellows created the character he has performed ever since, John Shuttleworth, a laconic, unflappable Northerner, deeply susceptible to diversion into the minutiae of life. (This was, comedy historians will note, years before the advent of Johnny Vegas' pottery teacher character.)

"It started as a joke for a friend of mine who worked in music publishing and who got demo tapes from guys like John, with rubbish songs who thought they could become stars."

A Shuttleworth show, then, features plenty of songs of possibly dubious worth: "John's songs are masquerading as crap songs, but are actually quite good, whereas most songs are the opposite…"

It is a formula which has found a regular home in perhaps one of the most unexpected places to find a laconic Northern singer songwriter with a Yamaha organ: BBC Radio 4, where Shuttleworth character has frequently had series.

"He thinks of it as a cultural desert, there on the snooty channel. He's always wishing he could be on hospital radio. At least there he'd probably be broadcasting to somebody he knew…"

* John Shuttleworth plays Budlight Revue, Iveagh Gardens, Sunday 29 July. Full festival details on http://www.budlightrevue.com

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