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Graham Fellows: Completely Out of Character – mac, Birmingham

Reviewer: John Kennedy

Graham Fellows’ best-loved alter-ego ‘domestic philosopher’ John Shuttleworth, the Sheffield based aspirational local radio DJ/singer-songwriter, occupies the greyer frequency on the OCD spectrum. His cult status as an astute chronicler of life’s vicissitudes reached its zenith with the inspired refrain ‘Two margarines on the go/It’s a nightmare scenario.’

Sung to a Yamaha keyboard, this kitchen-based perishable goods hiatus exemplifies his genius for exquisite mundanity. He’s a troubadour of trivia, the ambassador of the banal – and near-perfect comedy platinum with it. His Punk-lite parody anthem for a gloomed youth as Jilted John charted to Number 4 in 1978 climaxing with the now legendary chorus, Gordon is a moron’. Neverthelessthese convoluted smart-assonance rhyme schemes and crow-bar subtle scansions can at times give way to Everyman ballads of piercing, vulnerable pathos. There are other moments of flakey, shaky uncertainty with the show’s structure still bedding in. Organic rather than dynamic, the gently paced mood is more one of an excess of Werthers’ Originals causing a sugar rush to the head.

Tonight’s show ruminates among pastures old and new reviving his poly-mirth song and character talents being part career retrospection, part candid, autobiographical confessional. Fellows, slightly self-conscious, has his new tour nerves salved by the sober interjections of John Shuttleworth’s ‘benign presence’. Occasionally, there’s a contribution from the abrasive Brian Appleton – The crushingly unsuccessful Selly Oak musicologist’, ’Soon in to the set ‘Gordon is a moron’ gets a crowd-chanting call out. We learn that a star-struck Jilted John once snogged Debbie Harry on a photoshoot and that after therapy for depression he bombed in an interview to be an Express Dairies milkman because he overplayed his mission to ‘reach out in to the community.’

These anecdotes and fragments of innocence and inexperience are bookended with song vignettes of poignant sincerity. The prosaic becomes poetic, bitter/sweet symphonies of lives just blessed ordinary. Whilst he salutes Margaret Thatcher’s Enterprise Allowance that funded the blossoming of John Shuttleworth’s stage career he’s minded to avoid being boring by changing his shirt during the interval. Mellow, ghost nuances of the obtuse ramblings of Vivian Stanshall, Ivor Cutler and Jake Thackray fuse with Fellows’ salute to the compelling lyrical narratives of Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook’s songwriting. His long-ago visit to Paul McCartney’s dad’s house was somewhat deflated when Linda didn’t offer him any sausages. Fellows concedes he is long since resigned to the fact that he must play the songwriter foil to the Shuttleworth construct but nevertheless he has a new album to promote. If it features the achingly bowel-troubling Morrissey parody My Turn To Be Poorly. Life, for once has some sense of meaning – perhaps this time he won’t follow-up the hit single with a Christmas-time themed song about mice breeding. Intimate and sincere, engaging with broken-heart on tear-stained sleeved honesty, Coronation Street’s inability to recognise his method approach to being Gail Tilsley’s suitor never soured his pursuit of artistic integrity. His recording studio in the Orkneys is immediately available at very competitive rates.

Reviewed on 4 February 2018 and on tour | Image: Contributed

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One Comment

  1. Few in life are lucky to ever do a job which matches one’s aspirations. Instead we try and express as much of our individuality and creativity as we are able within the constraints of the roles we are given. Equally, for those with intelligence and individuality it is almost impossible to bend ourselves to ‘play the game’ and do what it takes to rise to the ‘top.’ After Graham Fellow’s 40 years career in show business, he has, I think taken the brave and inspirational move to step out in front of his characters and alto egos and talk honestly about himself and his life. Having seen his show at The Junction, Cambridge last Monday evening, and listened to his new album ‘Weird Town’, to me his uniqueness and talent as a singer/song writer shines through and we should applaud this. I don’t want to wave goodbye to the likes of Jilted John and John Shuttleworth, but I hope they give Graham Fellows the space and support he deserves to write and sing about his life and the things that are important to him.

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