The very helpful and encouraging Spitting Image people (especially Bill Dare and Giles Pilbrow) eventually encouraged me to contact NewsRevue, primarily because my songs tended to be very topical, whereas Spitting Image tended not to do topical musical numbers. I was not only encouraged but also rather chuffed to see a W2 address for the Canal Cafe Theatre. Within walking distance seemed convenient enough for me.
At NewsRevue my correspondence found a welcoming John Random inviting me to a writers’ meeting on 2 April 1992, which will be the day I first met several “friends of decades” and the first time saw NewsRevue. A young Jacquie Somerville was directing that run, much to the chagrin of the regular writers, as she was primarily using material from her own troupe, which I believe included Reece Shearsmith, together with material written by her pal Andrew Whelan. But John told me at that writers’ meeting that he was due to take over as director of the next run shortly.
I hope to write up that early journey from juvenilia towards NewsRevue via Spitting Image more fully at some stage; there is quite a fat file of my correspondence and early efforts.
On the morning of 21 April 1992, the radio news was full of the Robert Alton Harris (no relation) execution/stay of execution saga in California. The old Al Jolson song “California Here I Come” popped into my head. The following lyrics almost wrote themselves.
There was no YouTube or e-mail with attachments in those days. I must have spooled a copy of the Jolson verse/chorus from my trusty reel-to-reel onto a cassette. The WP file of the lyrics is time stamped 08:12. I think I heard the news that execution had been stayed on the Today programme shortly after 8:00 (just after midnight California time), so I concluded the lyric with a stay of execution and dropped a package off by hand at the Canal Cafe Theatre on my way to work.
By the time I got home from work that day, Robert Alton Harris had been executed. I wasn’t sure what that existential change to the ending would do for the fate of my topical song, but of course in the hands of seasoned topical satirists like John Random and Chris Stanton, such last minute tweaks are merely par for the course.
So, when I went to the writers meeting on 23 April, I was thrilled to see my little song on the running order for that week’s show. I was even more thrilled to see my song performed. It turned out, of course, to be the first of many.
I seem to recall a slightly gruesome yet somehow amusing “snuffed” head gesture by Chris Stanton to conclude the song appropriately, despite the lyric. I cannot remember who else was in that cast; John Random will no doubt remember; he remembers most everything. Ian Angus Wilkie I think… But enough of my 2016 waffle, here is the full extract of the lyrics of my debut NewsRevue song from 1992:
♬ CALIFORNIA HERE I GO ♬
(To the tune of “California Here I Come” – but strictly no blackface when performing this please)
When the calls for death start growing,
And guillotines are starting to fall;
That’s when I am westward going,
To the place that kills ’em best of all.
California, I’ve been blue,
I’ve not seen death since ’62;
I can’t wait ’till blood starts flowing,
Even now I’m starting to call:
California here I go,
See the Nightmare on Death Row;
Where killing, is thrilling, oohh what a gas,
San Quentin, is rentin’, programmes, seats and opera glass.
The show’s soon startin’, don’t be late,
Watch the bad guy meet his fate,
In a snuff movie by the State,
California here I go.
CHORUS 2 (More slowly – different singer?)
California, here I go – yeh,
Back and forth along death row;
You oughta, try slaughter by electric chair,
Say hello to gallows, gassing folks is not quite fair.
The execution will be late,
It’s been stayed, you’ll have to wait,
For murder sanctioned by the State,
California, here I go.