Monday, March 2, 2009

The Tenpole Tudor Age

Over the last couple of decades I’ve kept a keen eye out for various artists compilation CDs and box sets, with a view to finding those, sometimes elusive, tracks from bygone eras, that I hadn’t previously acquired in digital format. Of course with compilations of this nature there are often those hidden bonuses, tracks that I may not have been actively searching for, but which are welcome additions nevertheless. One such ‘bonus’ track that I came across on an 80s CD box set, was ‘Swords Of A Thousand Men’, by oddball punk/ roots-rock outfit, Tenpole Tudor. The punk and new wave movements threw up some wild and wacky acts, and Tenpole Tudor rate among the zaniest.

The origins of Tenpole Tudor can be traced back to Elizabethan times, that’s of the II variety, with the band forming in a little thatch roofed hut during 1974. A former child actor, Edward Tudor-Pole, announced himself the lead singer (and occasional saxophonist), and he was joined by guitarist Bob Kingston, bassist Dick Crippen (very highwayman like), and drummer Gary Long. The quartet played local pub and club circuits for several years, combining a mixture of punk, roots-rock, and British dancehall music, into an act that gained them a solid following around the traps, as much for their madcap onstage antics as their music.

In 1978 Tudor-Pole (under the alias of Eddie Tenpole) combined the experienced gained from his childhood acting exploits, with his current duties as a slightly off-key rock singer, and made an appearance in the Sex Pistols’ rockumentary film ‘The Great Rock ‘N’ Roll Swindle’. The film was shot during the first half of 1978, following singer Johnny Rotten’s departure from the band, but prior to their eventual split. The film didn’t receive a formal theatrical release until May 1980, but a soundtrack album was released in February of 1979. Johnny Rotten (John Lydon) refused to actively participate in either project, so the remaining Sex Pistols had to make do with a few demo tracks, and hooked in Edward Tudor-Pole to provide lead vocals on two album tracks. ‘Who Killed Bambi’ was released as a single, a murder mystery, and a Greenpeace campaign in April 1979. Actually it was a AA side single with ‘Silly Things’ by the Sex Pistols. Either way ‘Who Killed Bambi’ introduced the name Edward Tudor-Pole (well Eddie Tenpole) to the British charts, and peaked at #6. The old Bill Haley and His Comets classic ‘Rock Around The Clock’ also charted officially in Britain as a single (#21), backed by ‘The Great Rock ‘N’ Roll Swindle’, on which Tudor-Pole screamed his lungs out alongside Steve Jones and Paul Cook. Tudor-Pole was mooted as a possible replacement for Johnny Rotten, had the Sex Pistols not completely imploded soon after.

Although the Sex Pistols themselves had faded into rock and roll folklore by the time ‘The Great Rock ‘N’ Roll Swindle’ premiered in 1980, Edward Tudor-Pole (now going by the name Eddie Tudorpole), and his band Tenpole Tudor, had signed with the maverick label, Stiff Records, and were working on their debut album. Dave Robinson and Jake Rivera’s brainchild provided a label stable for numerous British based pub rock acts, among them Jona Lewie, Lene Lovich, Nick Lowe, The Sports (see previous posts), and Dr. Feelgood (see future post). They weren’t afraid to take a chance on acts that were a bit left of centre, but musically sound, and were seen as a champion of both post-punk and new wave movements. Tenpole Tudor were arguably on the, let’s say odder, end of the spectrum on the Stiff Records roster, but it was all part of their idiosyncratic charm. They had released the single ‘Real Fun’ on the independent Korova label earlier in 1980, but their debut for Stiff Records arrived in October 1980, via the single ‘Three Bells In A Row’. The album ‘Eddie, Old Bob, Dick & Garry’ was released shortly after, but lacking a hit single, it initially failed to attract any attention.

The album managed to capture much of the raw energy and chaos that defined Tenpole Tudor’s live shows. None of the band members could really hold a tune, but that didn’t matter. What they lacked in singing ability, Tenpole Tudor more than made up for in their rock and roll vitality. Their songs more often than not featured infectious hooks and rousing choruses, none more so than their next single ‘Swords Of A Thousand Men’. The song was a literal post-punk call to arms, and made its initial incursion into British chart territory during April of ‘81. Over the next couple of months ‘Swords Of A Thousand Men’ cut a swath through its competition, eventually setting up camp at #6 mid year. Not unlike Adam and The Ants (see Feb. post), the lads from Tenpole Tudor adopted a historical bent to augment their post-punk identities. The medieval theme ran rampant throughout the music video to their anthemic ‘Swords Of A Thousand Men’, not to mention their live shows, though I’m not so sure that as many teenagers would have adopted the chain-mail look, as had become modern day dandy highwaymen. ‘Swords Of A Thousand Men’ also became Tenpole Tudor’s only invasion of the Australian charts (#48). Sales of the album ‘Eddie, Old Bob, Dick & Garry’ (UK#44) surged on the popularity of ‘Swords Of A Thousand Men’, and the third single ‘Wunderbar’ (UK#16) continued Tenpole Tudor’s rousing brand of rock and roll clatter.

Late in 1981 Tenpole Tudor, now with guitarist Munch Universe within their ranks, marched out of the castle gates, proudly holding aloft their sophomore album. If their first album had been a stirring, punk edged call to pub-rock arms, then their follow up, ‘Let The Four Winds Blow’, witnessed Tenpole Tudor attempting to annex musical territory that was just a little beyond their capacity to master. Elements of funk, music hall, pop, and country were worked into the formula, but on ‘Let The Four Winds Blow’, Tenpole Tudor arguably lost focus on doing what they did best, playing riotous rock and roll, and as a consequence they mustered less bluster in their performance. The bizarre ‘Throwing My Baby Out With The Bath Water’ only crawled to #49 on the U.K. charts, but the follow up title track single missed altogether.

After the becalming effect of ‘Let The Four Winds Blow’, it was evident the Tenpole Tudor’s jovial jaunt was over. In 1982 Edward Tudor-Pole disbanded the original line-up of the band, who continued to play together under the name the Tudors. The Tudors released a solitary single on Stiff in 1983, titled ‘Tied Up With Lou Cool’, but soon after the Tudor dynasty came to an end. Edward Tudor-Pole formed a new version of Tenpole Tudor, but they too only released one single ‘The Hayrick Song’ in 1983, prior to Tudor-Pole parting ways with Stiff Records. He turned to working with jazz and swing bands for a while, and over time returned to his first love of acting. Over the ensuing two decades, Tudor-Pole has assembled a number of makeshift line-ups for Tenpole Tudor shows, but aside from his acting, has focused on his solo live act, ‘One Man Stadium Show’.

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