How a future comedy writer almost joined a famous rock group who forgot

Mark Kelly - at the time he almost joined the Nashville Teens

Yesterday, I was chatting again with comedy scriptwriter Mark Kelly about his upcoming play Stuart Leigh – The Stewart Lee Tribute Act.

We were in a cafe in London’s Soho. I was a little distracted from what Mark was saying by a transvestite eating spaghetti sitting at the table next to us dressed in a white mini-skirt with long thin pale legs, a long blonde wig and a tanned, thin, very gnarled brown face. It was like sitting opposite a young nymphette with a squashed version of comedian Sid James‘ face bursting out from under the shiny long blonde wig.

Then Mark un-distracted my attention back from the transvestite.

He was talking about what happened almost forty years ago:

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When I was a kid, I really liked the Nashville Teens’ song Tobacco Road and bought the follow-up Google Eye and liked all their singles. They were one of my favourite bands. Then, in the 1970s, when I’d learned to play guitar and I was playing with my own band, I saw this ad in the music press saying the Nashville Teens were looking for a rhythm guitarist. 

I knew things would be a bit different because, obviously, times had changed, but I quite fancied being in the Nashville Teens for a bit. I thought it would be great. They were playing at a club in Liverpool when I was back staying at my parents’ house and I got in touch with their management and said I was interested. 

I turned up at a nightclub I didn’t know in Liverpool and when I went in it was a real, literal chicken-in-the-basket place. I was shown to the dressing room and the only surviving original member was Ray Phillips. All the others were much younger. He asked me, “What songs do you like?” and I started naming all these B-sides. “It’d be great to do that,” I said, “and I really like that,” and he could not remember most of them.

“We don’t really do that any more,” he told me. 

“But this is a great song,” I told him.

“Well,” he said, “It’s not what people want.”

I was enthusing about these really obscure Nashville Teen songs which he could not remember despite having sung them. In the end, he looked a bit worried and said: “Well, I think you should just stay and watch what we do and, if you’re still interested, then give us a ring.”

So I just hung around the bar and, before the Nashville Teens went on stage, there was a comedian who was appalling. My memory is that he was racist, sexist, just dreadful. Then the Nashville Teens themselves came on and basically, Ray Phillips had changed into a big, blousey, ruffled white shirt and actually had a medallion hanging round his neck. 

They opened with an insipid cover version of the Rolling Stones’ Honky Tonk Women and it went downhill from there. They played Tobacco Road at the end and they played one other hit of theirs which the audience did not seem to recognise and which they did not play very well because its driving force had originally been their exceptionally good pianist; the new guy was playing the notes, but there was no passion there. At the end, I just left and never rang them again.

Of course, I should have anticipated this in advance. But what’s interesting is that, had they wanted me and had I joined, we would have been in the curious position that the person who was by far the youngest in the band was trying to do all these old songs and the person who actually sang them originally could not remember how they went.

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I have a feeling this is a somehow a parable for life but I just can’t put my finger on it.

Here are the original Nashville Teens singing Tobacco Road on American television…

1 Comment

Filed under Comedy, Music

One response to “How a future comedy writer almost joined a famous rock group who forgot

  1. Arthur Sharp

    I have just read your blog John, regarding the Nashville Teens. I loved your
    observation that there was no driving force, behind Tobacco Road without John Hawken, playing the piano. So true!
    Arthur Sharp (one of the original Nashville Teens).

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