Some songs work and some songs don’t. That’s the great joy and mystery. When you hear a song on the radio you can’t always tell if you really like it until you’ve heard it a couple of times. And yet when you’re writing a song, you’re creating something from nothing. An instinctive impulse tells you whether you’re getting somewhere or not. But it’s only when the whole band are playing it that it really comes to life.
With ‘Baggy Trousers’ it was pretty instant. I’d had the idea after hearing Pink Floyd’s ‘Another Brick in the Wall’ with the line ‘Teacher, leave them kids alone.’ Roger Waters had obviously had a very different experience at school from me. For all the stupidity I showed at my school I always felt it was more like ‘Kids, leave them teachers alone…’
I was thinking about these things as I lay on the floor of my Lee’s flat in the Caledonian Road. We’d been up the Hope and he’d kindly let me kip at his. On the way back we spotted a scooter outside the swimming pool which had been there for some time. Thommo reckoned it was dumped. So we took it upon ourselves to rescue it and wheeled it round to the wasteland at the back of Lee’s flats. I’ve had my karmic comeuppance as a number of my scooters over the years have befallen the same fate. Lee and Deb had gone to bed and I was lying face-down on the floor in a sleeping bag, pad and pen in hand. I started writing a list of all the things I could remember about my days at Quintin Kynaston school. It wasn’t the easiest job at first, as I’d hardly been there for the last few years. But the memories began to trickle in. ‘Naughty boys in nasty schools…’ In a couple of hours I had the bulk of the verses done – all sorts of old nonsense that we used to get up to.
I hoped that at some point, a title and chorus would emerge. And they did. ‘Baggy Trousers’ just sounded like an unusual title; I couldn’t think of anything better. Although when the record came out, some thought I was referring to Dickensian work- house clothing, it was in fact a reference to them horrible great big trousers that were all the go in the seventies. Great flapping things they mistakenly called Oxford bags. With four-button waistbands and for some peculiar reason pockets down by the knees, the ensemble set off perfectly with a lovely pair of snub-nosed stack-heel shoes.
The chorus was a bit trickier, as I was trying to get across the craziness that occurred at school in the battle against boredom, but balanced with a certain sympathy for the beleaguered teachers.
By the morning it was done. Lee and Deb had gone to work and I realised I had no money to get home, which is why I’d kipped there in the first place. Thommo had two round biscuit tins on a shelf in the living room. One was full of mint-condition Blue Beat 45s, and the other full of twopence coins. I borrowed 12p, just enough for ten fags and my bus fare home.
I must pay him back one day.
I turned up at rehearsals with my new words. Chris had a bit of a tasty ska riff on the go, and the words just slotted in perfectly. The melody, if you can call it such, materialised spontaneously. Humphrey Ocean, a great painter and old pal of ours, who’d also played bass with Ian Dury’s first band, Kilburn & the High Roads, did a fantastic pencil illustration of the band standing outside Chalk Farm station for the cover, and a video was made at a school in Islip Street in Kentish Town. It’s the one in which Lee flew over our heads hanging from a crane while the rest of the band performed in the playground staring up at him. And into the bosom of the nation it disappeared, only to reappear some thirty years later.
That Close: Suggs is published by Quercus and available to buy on Hive by clicking here