Release Date: Feb 96
Chart Position: 13
If you wanted to rip off a TV show back in the day, you put firemen in it. Fireman Sam was Postman Pat with firemen in it. Gladiators was It’s A Knockout with a part-time fireman in it (Saracen). And London’s Burning was Casualty and/or The Bill with firemen in it. What with regular appearances on Record Breakers and You Bet! as well, firemen were rarely off our screens in the early 90s. The nation’s parks resounded with plaintive meowing as the saviours of tree-bound kittens neglected their sacred rescuing duty. Entire streets burned to ashes while the nation’s brigades tried to shave the last few seconds off their pole-sliding You Bet! party piece.
Enter John Alford. A lifelong devotee of Burning Spear and Black Uhuru, Alford had been looking for an opportunity to bring uncompromising rasta vibrations to the British public and fill every home with righteous Jah energy. Sensing that London’s Burning was the perfect firefighting-based vehicle to catapult him to stardom, he got himself a part (playing a fireman) and let the people’s insatiable appetite for fire safety in previously successful formats do its work. His name established, he sought out fellow natty dreads Mike Stock and Matt Aitken to produce the album that would cement his legacy. Its name: “John Alford”. The first single: Smoke Gets In Your Eyes. Get it? Smoke, you see. Firemen.
It’s easy to mock, isn’t it. John is of course not an actual vibrating rastaman. And this isn’t the best, or even the second best musical spin-off from an 80s/90s fireman-based TV ripoff. The second best was my brother’s Gladiators: The Music tape featuring Green Jelly and EMF. The best was NOT Shadow’s recording of “War! What Is It Good For”, but the Fireman Sam: The Music tape that kept us entertained on successive family holidays – this was admittedly light on neggae, but “Sarah and James” and “Elvis Cooks The Lunch” were stone cold bangers that more than made up for it.
But on the other hand, for a lightweight teen-marketed pop single, this isn’t 100% terrible. It’s way above Adam Rickitt or Craig McLachlan. Looking back, one of the neggae era’s key discoveries may have been that a reggae-lite backing (with the greatest respect to the badman MC in the background, this is clearly reggae-lite) makes a forgiving vehicle for a rookie singer from TV land. Sean Maguire (who makes a comatose cameo in this video, lying in the bath) had pioneered the formula in 1994 with Take This Time, Sid Owen would of course go on to profit from it, and it would eventually find its true purpose in crowning our current Colossus Of Light Entertainment, Olly Murs. His Please Don’t Let Me Go is an unqualified delight that might not have existed if it hadn’t been for Alford’s work here.
Taking that account, I will say that John does an OK job. His “oh-oooohh” bits are pretty convincing. The song is soppy and has been done better but his voice is pleasant enough. The video is kind of fun what with the sax in the bed and the pristine undies and the Maradona bit with the loo roll. What it really needs is neggae’s 50s-ballad specialist Bitty McLean – in his alchemical hands it could have been something special. But failing that, it’s not an actively offensive listen.
Score: 4 out of 10
Did this really happen? Or have I just blanked all recollection of this from my mind? John Alford riding the crest of fame and fortune ploughs into the neg top 90 with an ironic tune about smoke getting in his eyes. I think he and his management had more health issues than that, I reckon that they might have smoke inhalation resulting in short term brain damage. This can’t have been thought through whilst being in sound body and mind can it? Now having said that the tune is actually not that bad, and if any of the big boys had knocked this out we might have been raving about it, but they didn’t and its been delivered by nobodies favourite Firefighter at Blue Watch, Billy Ray.
Billy Ray was the rogue who played by his own rules and was never shy in challenging his superior officers at the station about life at the Watch and working conditions. Basically he had a massive case of small mans syndrome that really annoyed him when it came to fire hose holding and pointing training and the water pressure carried him up in the air like in a cartoon, the bants monsters at the Watch never let him live that down. His argumentative approach I fear may have hampered his career opportunities, but did see him get promoted to mess manager in series 6 taking over from Bayleaf who was carving out a far more conventional career path for himself. But being mess manager did not live up to everything Billy Ray had expected and he was soon bad to his old tricks of answering back and annoying Sicknote and the other higher ranking officers resulting in an overall unhappy camp at Blackwall. It all got too much for everyone and eventually Billy Ray decided to up sticks and leave for Spain with his stripper girlfriend, presumably to start up a successful three track solo career in pop music.
So this was his first effort which peaked at no 13 in the UK charts, and believe it or not his second effort ‘Blue Moon’ managed to make it to no 9. This offering tells a likeable tale of John being in a club and staring a girl out that he has spotted in the distance. After making her and her friends uncomfortable enough to leave he continues to ogle her in a somewhat threatening manner as she leaves. I think it was supposed to look romantic, but the production guys have misjudged it and made it all quite sinister. It then cuts to him being at home either getting ready to go out or having just got up in the morning (I can’t quite work it out). The punch line of the tale being that the doorbell goes and we expect it to be the girl that he creeped out at the club, but instead it is his grandmother / elderly next door neighbor who makes a move on him! I clearly lost what it was all about, but it looks pretty weird. As I have said the track is not a disaster, it’s got nice development and has a strong and catching tune complimented by some toasting in the bridges, but the delivery is at best average. Not the most memorable moment of the neg blog so far, but always nice to see a familiar face from Sunday night TV.
5/10 from me!
You young’uns wouldn’t know this, but in the 90s, actors from your favourite film and TV shows regularly released songs that sold in large numbers. Here’s a few I can remember, there are loads though:
Of course it doesn’t happen these days, which is a shame as I reckon Cumberbatch and Freeman could be the Simon and Garfunkel for the Hench generation. It does mean however, that the world is saved from some quite woeful music, none worse exemplified by John Alford.
Cheeky Chappie Alford for me is the prime example of Neggae jumping the shark. Soap stars and pop music has never been a good thing. Name me one, go on. You can’t. Jumped up Karaoke entrants treating the top 40 like a Sunday night down their local. And Alford capitalized on the fad. It’s a shame is musical preferences were clearly of the Neggae bent.
You can tell from the get-go that we are in trouble. Although there is a distinct reggae groove with the beats on 2/4 – everything about it sounds so plastic and in\authentic. It’s the Neggae equivalent of a Yates Wine Bar or O’Neills (which incidentally sit 10 yards from each other in Woking town centre – in an area of the town that has recently been christened Claimant Benefits corner due to the steady day time drinking club that reside there.
There are two reasons why it sounds so awful – Mike Stock and Matt Aitken. Sensing there was cash to be made from the Neggae cow, these two vultures swooped in for their pound of flesh, and delivered the first of several killer 1996 blows to this once beautiful creature.
John Alford Poundland crooning can’t save this dead horse – maybe if they’d chosen a reggae standard he’d have a chance. But they haven’t – they’ve versioned Smoke Gets in Your Eyes -the 50s easy listening standard from the Platters because they knew Mums and nans would lap it up. And they did, for shame.
This is the end, my one true friend, the end. 0/10
This week marks a historical week for Neggae, we’re down to single figures with reviews left to do. I’m slightly concerned that I only have 9 weeks’ worth of making Jonny’s life a misery. I’m not sure what I’m going to do after the nine weeks is up, I’m going to have to start a bullying campaign on his social media sites. The track we’re reviewing today is from crack thespian John Alford, the great white hope of Neggae but unfortunately as you’ll find out his career ended in ignominy much like his counterpart in the Heavyweight Boxing division, Tommy Morrison. Alford had a serious grounding in showbiz having played Robbie, a Scouser’s sidekick in ‘Grange Hill’ (more of which later) before progressing onto heavy hitting Sunday night drama ‘London’s Burning’. The opening credits of which always inspire a sinking feeling for me as it was generally the point of no return regarding doing my homework so I knew I was in for it on the Monday.
Undoubtedly buoyed by their previous successes with Australian soap actors SAW decided to take it to the street and unleash Alford’s heavy hitting, uncompromising reggae on an unsuspecting British public. Just as it seemed his career was set for a stratospheric meteoric rise he hit the self-destruct button. It seems he got a bit greedy and started knocking out bugle to supplement his lifestyle, unfortunately for him the tabloid press got wind of his reputation as the Marquis of Mozam and set out to expose the Chief of chisel. If John had heeded the ‘don’t get high on your own supply’ rule of dealing he might have thought there was something a little suspicious about a Qatari prince flying into England to specifically buy gear off him but like many others he was completely taken in and became another victim of the infamous tabloid sting merchant, the fake sheikh.
Enough of this sad riches to rags story, I’ll get on with the review. The intro cleverly references his TV career with an uncredited toaster declaring ‘Hear them say New York City’s well hot, but London’s Burning’. Then some frankly woeful synth strings kick in as John starts singing the famous show tune. The production meanders on throughout in this pretty mundane style, with the odd refrain from the unknown toaster and the odd bit of backing vocals. At one point someone has a shit stab at a sax break which adds nothing to the song. Alford’s vocals aren’t terrible but they’re very karaoke, which describes this whole song really, the whole thing sounds cheap. If it ever appeared in the poundland chart of woe you’d have to say it would be overpriced.
The video starts off with John awaking after a heavy night on the nosebag. He then goes to his bathroom to discover a corpse in his bath, wait a minute, it’s his old Grange Hill school mate Ziggy Greaves. Unfortunately it doesn’t look like John was knocking out the cleanest of woof and whatever he’s cut it with has caused Ziggy to do a ‘Danny Kendall’, as you can see by the clip both parties were first on the scene here, coincidence? I think not. The video plays out with John, Ziggy and a couple of others having a night out at a pony looking club interspersed with shots of John doing kick ups with toilet roll. John has been eyeing up a young lady for most of the night but not had the guts to speak to her. He eventually plucks up the courage but is too late as she’s just leaving, still he manages to pass on his details so it’s not a complete loss. The next day he’s poncing about in front of the mirror, ignoring the dead scouser in his bath, when there’s a knock at the door. His heart leaps as he scrambles into his clothes and answers the door expecting to welcome the girl he left his details with. He gets a bit of a shock as the big end reveal is the old woman he grabbed hold of later on in the kebab house on the way home, by this time he’d done so much whanger he’d completely forgotten about it in the morning. The whole sorry tale slams home the point he should have listened to his previous classmates and ‘Just said no’.
This really is a pile of steaming dog shit – 1/10
NEGGAE SCORE: 2.5