At a time of year when we’re generally occupied with wrapping of a different sort, reader Tom Taylor writes with a little history and some exciting news:
What ho! fellow McGonagall fans of high and low degree
On the 3rd of April 1997, a number of journals including The Times and the Scottish Herald picked up a story from Associated Press that claimed “dim-witted” American rappers on the Santaphobia label had a huge hit rapping William McGonagall poems. While there is a grain of truth here, the piece had nevertheless been heavily salted with lazy journalism and urban myth. I can now reveal the naked truth as one of the dim wits who dared to tread on the memory of McGonagall.
The story starts in 1993 at the birth of the All New Lucky Boys, a musical collective that a few friends and I started in Huddersfield (the heart of hand loom weaving in England), bringing together members of several ‘bedroom’ or ‘doss’ bands. During one of the early recording sessions, we were at a loss for lyrical inspiration until salvation presented itself in the form of a semi-randomly chosen book; The Folio Society’s Poetic Gems. In William McGonagall we instantly recognised a fellow ‘unwitting’ genius and rapidly recorded The Tay Bridge Disaster and Oban. Completely untutored in the arts of rap and hip hop, it was a mistake to think that they would be anything other than a dog’s breakfast, but we lived in a throwaway culture and this was reflected in our DIY, ‘do it and ditch it’ ethos.
The notoriety of what became known as The William McGonagall Rapping Masterclass was thanks to the blossoming internet career of one of our number. He created a personal website which told of our bedroom recording projects and the Santaphobia “label” under which we made them available, and offered Rapping Masterclass free to anyone willing to send a blank tape and a return envelope. No one ever did that, but in 1997 the website was used as the basis of the mangled story that Associated Press put on the wires. The Times picked it up and additionally contacted an English professor at Chicago North Park University for comment. Other journalists contacted The WTMcG Appreciation Society who also seemed nonplussed but rather pleased and so the mythmaking continued. What is plain through all of this is that no one, not the AP, the various journalists or academics had ever heard any of the All New Lucky Boys music.
It has always been in the back of my mind to do more McGonagall raps and after 20 years, I’ve found the bottle to try it all again. Radio Bingo vs Mile High Henry presents their new collection “McGonagall: Poeticrap” free to anyone willing to send a return envelope. Poems include Sunlight Soap, A Tale of the Sea, The Famous Tay Whale, Saved by Music and others. Listen and discover the truth for yourselves.
Tom tells me he’s also setting up a more 21st century approach to sharing the fruits of his labours than sending cassette tapes through the mail. When I have more information, I’ll be sure to pass it on.