Another Friday night at the Caledonia, and another night of free live music you’d pay good money to hear elsewhere. This time it was Sidney Bailey’s No Good Punchin Clowns, who describe themselves as purveyors of ‘Antwacky Syncopation from Bootle to Toxteth and all stops along the 82 bus route’.
The Clowns’ repertoire is largely derived from that blend of jazz, country and blues from the 1930s, sometimes dubbed goodtime music, that sounds part Dixieland, part swing, and invariably features such eccentricities as a washboard, a ukulele, a kazoo and even one or more jugs (hence ‘jug-band music’). The Clowns substitute trumpet for the comb and paper of a kazoo, but will feature some jug-blowing at some point in the evening.
The band consists of: Sidney Bailey on washboard, jugs and vocals; Prospector Dave on guitar; Mr. Huff on double bass and ukulele; Sleepy Gonzalez on banjo and vocals; Mr Fox on trumpet; and Brother Bill playing National lap steel and banjo. On their Facebook page, the band describe their origins thus:
After a crap afternoon Busking we ended up in Peter Kavanaghs pub, where we ended up playing for 8 hours straight. We were asked back for the following Tuesday two weeks later we had acquired Brother Bill Steel Guitar and the fantastic Mr Fox on Trumpet. The rest is history!
You can’t help but smile, tap your feet and slap your thighs listening to The Clowns’ feelgood music. They are proficient instrumentalists, and draw on a variety of pre-war musical currents that shared a common liking for infectious rhythms, risqué lyrics and homemade instruments. They list their influences as: Washboard Rhythm Kings, Nat Gonella & His Georgians, Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, King Bennie Nawahi, Western Swing, Jug Bands, Washboard Bands, Hokum, pre-war Jazz, and Hawaiian Slack-Key music.
Here are a few snippets of Sidney Bailey’s No Good Punchin Clowns from YouTube. In this first clip they’re playing ‘You Rascal You’, composed by jug player, Clarence Williams, a talented composer in this musical field, who wrote or co-wrote dozens, of memorable songs like ‘Everybody Loves My Baby’, ‘West End Blues’, ‘Tain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do’, and ‘Baby Won’t You Please Come Home’, as well as organising scores of hot recordings issued under his name in the 1920s and ’30s.
In this clip, the Punchin Clowns are filmed performing in the derelict Odeon cinema in the Dingle, a 1930s art deco listed building. Before that it was the Dingle Picturedrome and looked like this:
It survived as a cinema until 1966, when it became a Top Rank Bingo Club. In 2004 it was acquired by a couple who wanted to create a community centre, but was extensively vandalised. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but inside is a different matter (there are photos of the interior here).
In 2009, members of POSTMUSIC began creating a documentary in the disused cinema, having cleaned up the areas that were usable and set up a studio. They invited musicians and bands to record a live session in one of the building’s many rotten rooms, corridors, roofs and balconies, as well as in the main theatre room itself. A DVD of the sessions is available. This is part of the performance by Sidney Bailey’s No Good Punchin Clowns:
There’s more music from Sidney Bailey’s No Good Punchin Clowns on their MySpace page.