The eighties were a bad time for hair, there you go, I’ve said it. Philip Oakey sported an outrageous, off-kilter flick. Something so bad he doesn’t even have hair now. Toyah wore something you were more likely to clean the toilet with. She was one of the lucky ones, looking at her now. Nick Beggs, bassist with Kajagoogoo, sported something you might see at Crufts. I’m pleased to say he has now grown that look out and I won’t even go into my own coiffured insecurities during the decade!
Having been in the music business for around 40 years, Beggs and Kajagoogoo had their first brush with success in the early 80s, after which he went on to work with musicians far and wide, from Gary Numan, Alphaville, Belinda Carlisle, Steve Hackett and Emma Bunton to name just a few and credited as not only a bass player but a musician familiar with the Chapman Stick. The Chapman Stick is an instrument designed by Emmett Chapman in the early 1970s to play basslines, melody lines, chords or textures and was designed as a fully polyphonic chordal instrument that can cover several musical parts simultaneously. To watch a musician familiar with the Stick is mesmerising and perhaps more common in today’s scene than you might think.
You may ask, why have I concentrated so much on the Chapman Stick? Well at the time Nick started playing the instrument, he was one of only a few conversant. Now, of course, you can hear its capabilities on many artists’ work and where you hear what sounds like a chorus pedal being applied, it could well be the Stick instead. Beggs is someone who can be viewed as an expert and his abilities have been called on by many to enhance their sound, the work we can listen to here is Nick’s own interpretation. On Words Fail Me, 2 further rereleases are included; 2004’s The Maverick Helmsman and 2002’s Stick Insect. These are long since deleted albums and now fetching a pretty sum in their own right, if you can track down a copy.
Words Fail Me is an 8 track album, made up entirely of cover versions and did I mention is an entirely instrumental affair? Oh well, it is, but with the one overriding element, that you find Nick adding his virtuosity to those pieces of music. First is Elton John‘s ‘Blue Eyes‘, an introduction to an album that goes some way to easing the pressure of a hard day, and nothing really changes the further into the album you go. Second, up is ‘Portrait Of Tracey‘ a number I would hazard a guess is a favorite of Beggs, as this piece of music was composed by fellow bassist & jazz man Jaco Pastorius. Played with Stick by Beggs, and although not entirely different from Pastorius’ original, is certainly added to. ‘Midnight Cowboy‘ was a 1969 film starring Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman and here, on the 3rd track, we find the theme tune, reworked (almost) to great effect. ‘Katerina‘, the 4th number is a piece of music first recorded by the late Perry Como and a version which, I have to be honest, falls short of its original. Como’s version possessed the life and character of the singer; that’s sadly not conveyed here.
Bringing in music now with a more modern take, next up we find Beggs reworking Japan‘s 1983 classic, ‘Night Porter‘, one that was ripe for this kind of version, and without lyrical content, surprisingly, doesn’t appear to be found lacking. To follow we find a piece of spirited Italian folk music ‘Tarantella‘, reworked and with what I can almost hear is a practice piece, where a now master performs a piece of music that was once found so hard to learn. But it could just be a tune that Beggs found lingering one morning, an earworm if you may, who am I to say? Almost leaving the album now, we find ourselves at a fitting close, as ‘Sheep May Safely Graze‘, a beautiful reworking of this classic piece of traditional music, composed by Johann Sebastian Bach and added to, by this composer, ripe as you lay your head down to sleep. But hold on, don’t close the day quite so soon, as we have ‘The Rainbow Connection‘ to close the album and to end on a chuckle, and there is no better place to be. You may be familiar with this piece of music, but unable to recall its origin? Taken from the 1979 film, this was then given words and sung by a frog! That frog was in fact, Kermit and the film The Muppet Movie, and one that is now 40 itself.
I have to give Nick Beggs credit in picking some of the most unusual pieces of music, that find themselves sitting shoulder to shoulder on a collection I should imagine has been released to satisfy fans, in that the earlier albums have also found themselves here. Whether this is the case or not, Words Fail Me is itself an interesting collection of songs, that provided me with further reading and by doing so worked their way up the ladder. As a collection though and as an album, I would have to rate ‘Stick Insect‘ my favoured piece of listening, but one I found this afternoon on Amazon for £100(!), so thank you Cherry Red for your foresight.