The Humblebums: Brace for the Obscure (60s rock)! — August 19, 2022

THE GREATEST SONGS OF THE 1960s THAT NO ONE HAS EVER HEARD

556) The Humblebums — “Rick Rack”*

A beguiling and unforgettable song by Gerry Rafferty from his Humblebum days that seems informed by his relationship with his abusive father. Alan Murray says that “[w]hen Gerry Rafferty [joined the Humblebums,] . . the songwriting and music leaps to another level. Rick Rack [is] truly memorable”. (https://www.livingtradition.co.uk/webrevs/tecd400.htm)

Stewart Mason notes regarding the album from which the song is drawn:

Rafferty . . . turned the duo’s original trad folk aesthetic into a prettier, poppier sound. . . . That dichotomy continues throughout, with Rafferty’s unapologetically pop songs and Connolly’s folk- and blues-based tunes alternating. Truthfully, Rafferty’s songs are better, with their lightly psychedelic arrangements suiting his whimsical lyrics. . . . [His] six songs . . . are uniformly excellent . . . .

https://www.allmusic.com/album/humblebums-mw0000852108

And Dangerous Minds adds:

The New Humblebums . . . began to achieve far greater success with their mix of Rafferty’s plaintive vocals and melodies and Connolly’s upbeat tunes and fine guitar playing. That same year, the duo released their first record together and band’s second album, The New Humblebums. The album was a major-hit in Glasgow and was well-received nationally. . . .

https://dangerousminds.net/comments/when_gerry_rafferty_and_billy_connolly_were_the_humblebums

Steve Huey provides some history of the clan:

Scottish folk outfit the Humblebums aren’t perhaps as well known as their two main individual members: Gerry Rafferty, who later scored hits with Stealers Wheel and as a solo artist, and Billy Connolly, who left music to become an internationally successful stand-up comedian. Conolly actually founded the group in 1965, along with guitarist Tam Harvey; both had been regulars on the Glasgow folk circuit . . . . The duo quickly became a popular attraction in Glasgow’s folk clubs, particularly as Connolly honed his humorous between-song patter . . . . After a few years of local celebrity, the Humblebums recorded their debut album . . . split between traditional folk songs and Connolly originals. Not long after[,] . . budding singer/songwriter . . . Rafferty approached the duo after one of their gigs for feedback on his original songs. He wound up being invited to join . . . . Rafferty’s songs soon took a prominent place in their repertoire, which led to friction with Tam Harvey; he departed around half a year [later]. Toward the end of 1969, [Rafferty and Connolly] entered the studio together and cut the second Humblebums LP . . . . With Rafferty’s pop instincts, the Humblebums grew more popular on the live circuit than ever, and they recorded another album in a similar vein . . . . However, there was growing dissension . . . Rafferty’s material had a more serious bent than Connolly’s lighthearted, dryly witty offerings, and Connelly’s comedy bits were taking up a large portion of the Humblebums’ stage show, to the point where Rafferty wanted him to cut the comedy altogether. . . . [T]he Humblebums broke up in 1971. Rafferty moved on to Stealers Wheel, best known for their hit “Stuck in the Middle With You,” and later went solo, scoring a huge hit with “Baker Street.” Connolly . . . in a few short years became one of the most popular comedians not only in Scotland, but the whole U.K. . . .

https://www.allmusic.com/artist/humblebums-mn0000766545

Michael Gray talks of Rafferty’s childhood:

Rafferty was born in Paisley, near Glasgow, an unwanted third son. His father, Joseph, was an Irish-born miner. His mother . . . dragged young Gerry round the streets on Saturday nights so that they would not be at home when his father came back drunk. They would wait outside, in all weathers, until he had fallen asleep, to avoid a beating. “If it wasn’t for you, I’d leave,” Mary told Gerry. Joseph died in 1963, when Gerry was 16. That year, Gerry left St Mirin’s academy and worked in a butcher’s shop and at the tax office. At weekends, he and a schoolfriend, Joe Egan [with whom he later formed Stealers Wheel] played in a local group, the Mavericks. . . . after Gerry’s song Benjamin Day failed as a Mavericks single, Gerry and Egan quit the group and Gerry joined Connolly’s outfit, the Humblebums . . . .

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2011/jan/04/gerry-rafferty-obituary

And Seamus Dubhghaill adds:

Inspired by his Scottish mother, who teaches him both Irish and Scottish folk songs, and the music of Bob Dylan and the Beatles, he starts writing his own material. . . . In the mid-1960s Rafferty earns money busking on the London Underground. In 1966 he meets fellow musician Joe Egan and they are both members of the pop band the Fifth Column.

https://seamusdubhghaill.com/tag/the-humblebums/

“Rick rack, rickety rack, see the train go along the track. When I grow up, I want to be an engine driver. But if I can’t be that, I’ll be a deep sea diver. My father says that I must always work on the land. And I never disagreed when I’d see him lift his hand. Mother thinks that I should be a carpenter to trade. That I could fill my house with the things that I had made. Rick rack, rickety rack, see the train go along the track. When I grow up I want to be an engine driver. But if I can’t be that, I’ll be a deep sea diver. I look at the skies, see the birds that can fly, and I feel like crying. Like a bird on the tree, I just want to free, so I’ll keep on trying. Rick rack, rickety rack, see the train go along the track. When I grow up, I want to be an engine driver. But if I can’t be that, I’ll be a deep sea diver. My brother says that I must pay attention at the school. Because I’ve never won a prize, he thinks that I’m a fool. Teacher always asks me why I look so far away. It’s just that I find nothing in the words he has to say. Rick rack, rickety rack, I’m leaving home and I’m never coming back. I’m on my way to be an engine driver. But if I can’t be that, I’ll be a deep sea diver.”

* Rick rack is braided trimming in a zigzag pattern, used as decoration on clothes.

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