Absolutely! Pete Baikie interview
Musical wizard Parsley gets together with Absolutely's Pete Baikie to talk about the old days...
Before we begin, it might be worth mentioning that Parsley, a familiar and welcome voice at Den Of Geek, recorded the single White Horses with Absolutely's Morwenna Banks in 1995, and is an old friend of the cast. Hence the very relaxed tone of this...well, reunion with Absolutely's musical maestro, Pete Baikie...
Do you want comedy questions or sensible questions?
Ok, so my comedy question was : do you think that watching 'Absolutely', with people doing surreal and ridiculous things with Scottish accents, prepared us for Gordon Brown's premiereship?
Wahey! That's a good one! Gordon Brown, really. Gordon Brown, he's a character. He'd probably be a 'Calum Gilhooley' wouldn't he? If you thought of all the characters in Absolutely.
Yeah, cos he won't shut up, and he's saying stupid things over and over again.
Well, exactly, and he's also got that stolid...dourness.[laughs] I feel sorry for Gordon…and I feel sorry for Calum Gilhooley. Everything's going wrong.
Yeah, I feel quite sorry for us.
Yeah, exactly. I suppose Calum's the one though, isn't he? He's not Mr. Nice. I suppose he could be a bit like Brucie in Stoneybridge as well. Like the head of some Council. Yes, a combo between Brucie and Calum. So the answer to your question, and a very fine comedy question, is yes.
Excellent, well fine comedy answer that was. That's the end of the comedy questions. So what have you been doing since 1998 when we last met ? What have you been up to? I see you've been at the Edinburgh Festival again.
Yeah, that was weird. Since Abso, been working with Vic & Bob a lot. That was really good fun. I did the theme for Shooting Stars, and then worked with them on a series of their sketch shows. They did a very dodgy BBC1 prime time thing called 'Families at War' which was really peculiar. But that was very exciting. I love them. They are very, very, very, very, very, very silly. Working with them was quite extraordinary. I would go round to Vic's house and he'd sort of say 'I wanna write a song about a Hoover. You got any Hoover tunes?' [laughs] That was brilliant.
Working a lot with fellow Absolutely John Sparkes. We've done about 80 shows for ITV Wales, and they're too peculiar to ever get shown on the mainstream. We've sort of tried to pitch them to ITV, but that wasn't going to happen in the world of 'Duty Free' and other hilarious ITV sitcoms, although they are changing a bit. That was, and still is, peculiar. We're about to start another show actually. Travelogue meets 'Who Do We Think We Are', and John's playing this character who's kind of like an Australian Borat. Trying to make sense of the UK, sort of thing. And Squawkie-talkie. Remember that? Comedy nature show that went gloriously fizzled out after 6 episodes on Channel 4. That was a comedy nature programme, and that was what got us into working with what we were doing in Wales. It's gone really well. I mean John's world-famous...in Wales [laughs]. They keep on giving us Welsh Baftas, not very good that much, but very nice to get. He's like Michael Palin, basically now. He's started doing more serious programmes, travelling round Wales, drinking in pubs and stuff like that. But the main thing has been 'Barry Welsh is coming' which ran for about 7 series and took up 7 years of our lives.
7 good years? Are you happy about that?
Yeah! What was interesting about going back and doing the box set was that we did the commentary, and there's no sort of surviving tapes, and the company that were doing it said 'could you do some extras?' So we did the commentaries, and we got pissed that night, then I came home, and I've got lots of old archive footage of us doing the Fringe when we were kids and all that sort of stuff. So I started putting together the extras. Then I went to interview some people and it all kind of mushroomed. So there's an extra DVD of 5 and a half hours of weird extras that were only shot on my camcorder, which is basically us interviewing each other.
Yeah! But going back you realise...I don't know, obviously I'm getting very deep here...how weirdly accidental everything is. Individually we would never have ended up in this world, and we've all kind of stayed there doing various things. Apart from all that sort of stuff I've been doing dodgy theme tunes for people like the Two Fat Ladies, and things like that, which is, again, really good fun.
Are you doing any performing now? The Hairstyles were a fantastic band. Do you ever do anything with them again?
No, that sort of stopped in 1990...they're on the extras actually.
No I haven't done anything like that for years. You get out and play. I have vague ideas and never do anything about them.
So if I invite you, say I'm gonna have a big party, tell me how much you want, cos I want the Hairstyles to play, would you do it?
Oh, bloody hell, yes!
Alright! Oh, cool! Well that's the party then, cool!
Yeah, or we could come up and do 3 songs with your band.
That would also be fantastic!
Yeah, yeah, well I don't know where they all are now...
Well we do Stingray, so Gordon could get up and do Stingray with us.
Gordon's brilliant at Stingray. How d'you do it? Have you got samples and everything?
No, we kind of fluff it when it does the strings. We don't do that.
[simulates Stingray descending strings sound]
Yeah, I stroke the Hammond from top to bottom, and that's my simulation.
We just cheated. We sampled that bit.
That worked really well.
That was great.
That was such a fantastic show.
Such a weird song though. I mean the chords are mad.
It's sort of an epic, isn't it?
[sings Stingray verse melody] Barry Gray, what a genius that man is.
I was gonna ask you about people you thought were geniuses. I've assumed you think Barry Gray's a genius, but I wondered what you thought about Edwin Astley, John Barry, or...
All of them are fantastic. Edwin Astley - absolutely amazing. Laurie Johnson - have you heard some of Laurie Johnson's stuff? Like his suite?
I think he did almost Laurie Johnson's version of the 4 seasons. He's done all these weird suites that came out on Pye. But they're all fantastic. You know. Edwin Astley is kind of underrated. I don't know if any of his music ever came out. There's loads of Laurie Johnson stuff.
There's a double CD now of his Secret Agent (which is Danger Man) music and Saint music. They're kind of like longer versions of stuff that appears in the show.
Did he do Randall & Hopkirk?
Cos the Randall & Hopkirk music is outstanding. They all were and are my heroes. The advent of ITV4 is just ridiculous because it's just very dangerous to look at the television! You get Randall & Hopkirk on at 11 o'clock in the morning. It's fantastic.
So what about contemporary people? Cos I think of your work and I think of - I don't know if you know these guys - Steve Brown, Phil Pope, Mitch Benn...
Yeah, the sort of comedy music people. Yes, they're all extremely good. I don't know what Phil Pope is up to. Steve Brown...
He does the house band for Harry Hill at the moment.
Oh does he? Oh good. And Roland, you know, Mr. Rivron. Still prancing away. Yeah, our paths don't cross really. The guy that I work most with is a guy called Willie Dowling. Have you come across Willie?
I've heard the name.
Willie did the music for all the Armstrong & Miller stuff. And he was in a band called the Honeycrack. Me and him have worked together doing stuff like - what's the name - that mad animation which was fantastic but it kind of disappeared without trace.
I remember leaving you a message flattering your Stressed Eric music. I was saying 'that was really stressful' and I was thinking 'is that actually a complement or an insult?'
[laughs] Well I'll take it as a complement. I Am Not An Animal was the show. Have you ever come across that? I worked with Willie on that. Willie is extraordinary. He's more of a sort of muso than anthology music. As far as all the other comedy musos, the other guys are...do you know Richie Webb?
Yep. Really good.
He did that Head thing on ITV. Hedonism. No, not hedonism. What's it called? Head cases or something. Sunday night animation. Richie Webb's really good. Fine gentleman. I worked with him a bit. Yeah, our paths don't really cross. I did some stuff for Backer & Evans - they're the guys that work with Mitchell & Webb. Bleak Expectations is one of the radio shows they did. They've just done a fantastic radio pilot. They did it last night, with David Soul. David Soul! He's brilliant!
Yes, still keeping the finger in, as we say. It's really good.
We've managed to get one album out with Adventures of Parsley, but there wasn't interest in the other 2 albums that we had recorded. But now that they can be done as downloads it's not going to cost a penny to release them, so there's more interest in our back catalogue. Is any of your stuff ever gonna be available as downloads for us? It's so easy now, you've got to do it!
I should try and meet you and do the technical thing. The interesting thing about the whole DVD thing is that it started as a fan thing because a guy called Absolutely Andy runs a website, and he's been petitioning Channel 4 for years to get it out on DVD. He started chasing eBay, cos Andy found out there were VHSs going for forty quid. So cos of this guy Andy, this whole thing happened. Cos we then went to Channel 4, got the rights back off them. We just expected to put it out and it would be all quiet and miserable, but it's kind of gone ballistic, so we should think about things like downloads.
What about The Preventers? Have you got the rights to that?
Well that's ITV. I don't know if we've got the rights to it. But that was mental. You've got a copy of it, haven't you?
Yeah, I remember how mental it was.
Yeah! We did this launch thing the other night cos it was the release date. It wasn't a launch. It was basically just meet in a pub and get pissed. And the people from Freemantle were there and they were saying 'have you got any other stuff?' and after about the twelfth pint we came up with the idea of doing Absolutely Everything Else, which would be other bits and bobs. But I dunno. They're quite surprised, I think, at the level of interest.
Well the thing I would like to see, if I can lobby on my own account, is that a lot of these new things that are coming out have a soundtrack album with them. I don't know if you've seen the Ipcress File special box set has the book, the film, the widescreen version of the film, a whole load of extras with Michael Caine, and the soundtrack album.
And a soundtrack album of your music to go with this would be fantastic.
Yeah, well, I don't know what your Adventures of Parsley album sounds like, but all the stuff from the late eighties sounds so tinny. I suppose it's not quite John Barry, but it would be interesting.
Well it could be tweaked, or you could re-record it with the London Symphony Orchestra.
Exactly! Speaking of which, I went to see Lalo Schifrin recently. He was playing with the London Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican.
I meant to get to that and I forgot to book it up.
It was absolutely amazing. He's very elderly now. He was sitting by the piano and he gave himself the first few bars to get himself on to the conductor's podium and it was kind of touch & go every time and that added an extra frisson. But he was very, very funny, and he did the whole of Dirty Harry.
Fantastic. I saw Jerry Goldsmith do his stuff there. That was absolutely amazing. Even now the hairs on my arms have just gone up, just at the thought of it.
I went to see Morricone do his suite to a full arena suite. I saw him at the Hammersmith Odeon, which is a weird place, with a hundred million piece orchestra, hundred piece choir, the Crouch End choir. It was great. His stuff's just fantastic. Ok, we'll sort it out. We'll get the LSO.
Maybe you can do the first half and I'll do the second.
Oh wow, now you're talking! Did you see the KPM All Stars when they did Meltdown ?
No I missed that.
That was absolutely fantastic, but they did a 'question & answer' afterwards, and my question was 'what would your tips to people starting to make music be?' and they all clammed up totally. It was obvious that they don't want anyone else making music because the more it's down to them, the more money they're going to make ! So I thought I'd try you with the same question. What's your tip for people that want to make music like you make ?
Like I make, or just generally?
I'd like to make music like you make, but you can say generally if you like.
The only reason I got into it was we were performing and doing it. After we did the music for our stuff then I got other gigs. So it's kind of associating yourself with performing actually. That's what I say: get out there and perform. If it's any good or interesting or whatever. I'm recording my mates. My mates have all got kids and they're all forming bands, and I'm recording all these kids. It's fantastic.
Have you got any tips ? Who should I be looking out for ?
There's a band I did on Saturday actually called Corora. Great. It's kind of like mad Radiohead. Very strange.
Didn't Morwenna [Banks] do some recording ? I've got this memory, and I don't know if I imagined it, that I was driving her down to do a photo shoot for the single and she played me a tape of quite serious stuff she was doing. And I was a bit shocked, cos I wasn't used to her being serious.
Well I did stuff with her.
So that could still come out, could it ?
I don't know if it's still around. Yeah it was weird. There is stuff lying around. Initially we did a separate theme tune for every show. The idea was that every show would be different. So it was like the same theme tune only revisited a thousand different ways. I was looking around for them. That's at the end of one of the extras. But doing the extras was really interesting.
But tips, yeah: don't sit in your bedsit. Well sit in your bedsit, make music and get it out.
You wrote one of the songs, well I'm assuming it's you cos it's in Absolutely, about the students doing that student gig.
Oh, the systems analysts?
Yeah. That to me says 'Oh God, I wish I'd never done bands. I'm so embarrassed now.'
What - the systems analysts? I used to play in a band with a guitarist and he was involved in all that stuff and he [laughs] he'd come to the gig and he'd throw off his suit and put on his sensible sweater, and he was a rock star. That was good fun actually, that one.
That absolutely sticks in my mind at moments of extreme embarrassment.
Oh I'm sorry, that's terrible. You're much more of a systems analyst. You've got the gear.
The other thing that Morwenna told me about was some sort of hotel that you used to go to, to write the episodes, that you went to at least once. Does that hotel still exist, and can Absolutely fans go on pilgrimages?
Well no. What we used to do is that at the start of every series we would go away and get pissed and try and come up with ideas, and then we'd go away and try and write them up. But we always used to go to a different place. Went down to Dorset. They were just drinking haunts. Stoneybridge - there is a place called Stoneybridge. I think it's in the Shetlands actually. It's not the place that we based Stoneybridge on at all. But apparently people have been going to Stoneybridge and been very disappointed, because people don't speak like that. Pilgrimages to Glasgow, cos we're going up to Glasgow on Friday. Basically we're quite surprised at the level of interest. It's very nice.
I don't think you should be surprised because everyone knew it was the best thing on Channel 4.
You'll be surprised when you see it. It takes longer. One of our sketches was about 9 minutes long. It's quite timeless actually. Most of it.
To be honest - you tell me how it was for you - but that was the problem with Jack's [Jack Docherty] show, that it had to be time-full, it had to be current.
The chat show ?
That was very difficult for him. It was all very jolly for about 3 months, but because Channel 5 had shit reception the advertisers started pulling out, the levels of guests went right down, cos he was interviewing great performers.
David Bowie was on, wasn't he?
Yeah. Really interesting stuff, and then the bottom fell out and it just became soap stars.
Just became a launch pad for Graham Norton's career.
Yeah, exactly, and they lost the will to live, doing it five days a week.
I think that's the point, that your comedy is timeless, so it shouldn't be put in that time box world. I was taping them relentlessly at first, but of course I lost the will to live later after Graham Norton. Cool, so it's a party in Stoneybridge with The Hairstyles?
Yeah, ok. I'll check with the rest of them, and the Adventures of Parsley, and we can get Morwenna up to sing White Horses.
Fantastic. Sounds great. Thanks very much.