50 years ago, a band from Liverpool held the Christmas No.1 spot in the UK – and no, it wasn’t The Beatles. The band was in fact The Scaffold and their song at the top of the charts in December 1968 was ‘Lily the Pink’.
When I was a kid I loved performing music and one of the first songs I learnt to play on the piano, apart from chopsticks, was ‘Lily the Pink’. The lyrics were bonkers but infectious and were great to sing along to; it was just a lovely piece of music to play.
“Mr. Freers, had sticky out ears
And it made him awful shy
And so they gave him medicinal compound
And now he's learning how to fly”
‘Lily the Pink’ was released in November 1968 and became No.1 in the ‘Hit Parade’, as my Dad would say, for the four weeks encompassing the Christmas holidays that year. It went on to sell over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc.
It sounds silly and made up, but the record was actually a modernisation of an old folk song called ‘The Ballad of Lydia Pinkham’, the lyrics celebrate the “medicinal compound” invented by Lily and chronicles the cures it has bought about.
If you listen closely you’ll be able to hear backing vocals by Graham Nash (the Hollies), Tim Rice and Elton John, and Jack Bruce (Cream) can be heard playing the bass guitar.
The Liverpool-based comedy trio consisted of talented artists John Gorman, Mike McGear and Roger McGough, who before The Scaffold were originally known as The Liverpool One Fat Lady All Electric Show. The “one fat lady” was taken from the bingo term for the number eight, as the performers mostly lived in the L8 district of Liverpool.
The Scaffold had several other hits during 1966-71, including ‘Thank U Very Much’ which reached No.4 and ‘Liverpool Lou’ which reached No.7, and are remembered for singing the theme tune to a very popular comedy programme of the time aired on BBC1, called The Liverbirds.
The band eventually merged with other bands, the Bonzo Dog Band and the Liverpool Scene and became known as ‘Grimms’ for two final concerts in 1971. After this the three Scaffold members continued successful careers in their own right, entertainer John Gorman had regular slots on children’s TV and Roger McGough CBE became one of the UK’s leading poets.
Many Beatles fans will know Mike McGear as Mike McCartney, younger brother of Beatle Paul McCartney. He attended Liverpool Institute two years behind his brother and post-Scaffold life became a highly respected photographer.
I’ve been lucky enough to meet Mike a number of times, once when he was addressing the worlds press ahead of the 2012 Olympics and was exhibiting a gallery of his photographs, including some of his brother. He made the comment “I’ve had a No.1 too you know!” and I honestly don’t think they believed him until Mike mentioned ‘Lily the Pink’, and everyone smiled… I was singing it for the rest of the day!
To learn more about Liverpool’s rich musical history, join me on a music-themed walking tour where I’ll be covering The Scaffold, the punk scene, Merseybeat, and of course, The Beatles.
Merry Christmas all.