HIDDEN tracks

Music was Pete Paphides' first love. And at this rate, it will be his last.

Bagpuss

Tue, 1st January 2002


All the old crowd were there: Gabriel the toad; Madeleine the rag doll… Professor Yaffle sounded strangely Australian.”

What a fortnight for Lazarene comebacks. Two weeks ago in London, a total of 12,000 Brian Wilson fans finally saw Pet Sounds being played live for the first time. This afternoon at the Chequer Mead Arts Theatre, where the songs from childrens television series Bagpuss also received their first live airing, only 200 made it along. But for those of us who count Oliver Postgate's saggy old cloth cat among our first memories, the feeling of hearing dimly-remembered favourites like The Porcupine Song was no less epiphanic. All the old crowd were there: Gabriel the toad; Madeleine the rag doll. At least that's how they introduced themselves. Professor Yaffle sounded strangely Australian, and beside him someone who called herself 'Emily' – surely not the same Emily who seemed to spend all of 1974 bringing in curios for the inspection of Bagpuss? My, how she'd grown.


          But, then so had we all. Sandra Kerr and John Faulkner, proteges of Ewan MacColl's Critics Group, were established folk musicians when Bagpuss creator Oliver Postgate asked them play a rag doll and a toad. Quite what the famously austere McColl would have made of Kerr and her daughter Nancy (alas, not the real Emily) parading in mice heads for *Row Row Your Boat* is anyone's guess, especially when Faulkner followed with a decidedly unfolky blues coda. The children in attendance, many of whom may have never heard blues playing, absorbed it wholeheartedly, just like we did three decades ago. In fact, sometimes it was hard to tell which generation was getting the most out of this. On closer inspection, a nearby squeal as Nancy's recording partner James "Yaffle" Fagan sang *The Bony King Of Nowhere* came, not from the seven year-old in front of me – but from her father. Can mere nostalgia do this? Possibly, but even nostalgia needs something to grow from – and what shone through was the care taken by Kerr and Faulkner in adapting old folk tunes for Postgate's stories.

        

Indeed, transplanted from that shop window, you realise the degree to which they contributed to Bagpuss's otherworldly air. A case in point was Sandra Kerr's rendition of The Weaving Song – a song originally sung by weavers to help the hours go by. Even better was Faulkner's tale of Uncle Feedle who had to stuff his house full of cotton wool to make it stand up – 'with the furniture on the outside'. Augmented by the Balkan flourishes of Nancy Kerr's fiddle playing, even Feedle's interior decorating plight carried a certain melancholia. Not, I should add, that all the children wearing mouse ears, seemed to notice. Quite right too. And Bagpuss? Well, much like Brian Wilson two weeks ago, he sat on stage looking rather beleaguered by the whole thing. Inwardly though, he must surely have been proud to see how some dusty old songs were taken out of his shop and fixed up to look like new.