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  • Writer's pictureJO'B

The Songs That Saved My Life #11: Shaddap You Face by Joe Dolce Music Theatre

Updated: Mar 10

You always remember your first...

I started this series of blogs looking at the songs that shaped my music taste at the end of 2023. The first piece, a look back at Hold Me Now by Thompson Twins, alluded to not being ready to 'fess up to the first record I actually bought with my own money (see The Songs That Saved My Life #1: Hold Me Now - Thompson Twins). It's time to face the music (literally) and admit where my obsession started.

The urge to write this came from a drive back from Deal today, passing Dartford, my home town, as we headed back from a fab weekend. I was suddenly hurtled back to childhood and as I looked down at the bag of vinyl I had picked up at the marvellous Smugglers Records in Deal (Friendly Fires by Friendly Fires, People Who Aren't There Anymore - Future Islands and Good Time / Hard Time by Teleman), I thought my musical taste is pretty cool - but it wasn't always.

In February 1981, I bought my very first 7-inch single, Shaddap You Face by Joe Dolce Music Theatre. I loved it and was very proud that I knew all the words (I was 10, so you know, cut me some slack). I had to play it on my folks' stereo, a machine they had had since the sixties and was enormous. I had previously used it as a playset for my toy soldiers and Star Wars figures. Or I had used it to stack 7-inch singles and marvel as they would drop down and play so you could create your own rudimentary version of a playlist. God knows what damage this did to the vinyl, but I found this fascinating. But now, with Joe Dolce, I was using the stereo for its actual purpose - playing music.

It was in the lounge of my parents' house, so I was on show whenever I played it. Although I enjoy listening to music with friends (I am never happier than curating music when people come over for dinner), I do enjoy the solitary experience, my headphones locking out the world as I immerse myself in the album I am listening to.

In 1980, I was listening to my proud purchase with my parents. That would change when I started listening to music in earnest where the last thing I wanted was my parents joining in or singing along (and I use the word "singing" in its broadest sense).

More embarrassingly, I remember singing it at my Italian friends. I went to a Catholic primary school. In my memory at least, everyone was either Irish or Italian. I didn't really understand there were English people here until I went to secondary school (a Protestant Grammar School where Irish kids were very much the minority). I fear I sang Shaddap You Face to my school friends Giuseppe and Massimo, without thinking much about the fact this might have been offensive (it was 1981, again I was 10 - concepts of political correctness and wokeness were a long way from my mind).

But there was no meanness in this, I just liked the song and thought it was funny. It was no different to teasing my own folks about their Irish phraseology. And I don't think Giuseppe and Massimo were particularly offended - more bored of hearing it after a while.

It's not the most impressive start to music buying. I am always jealous when people reveal some super cool song as their first purchase. I tend to shy away from admitting my starting point, and focus on my first album (Into The Gap by Thompson Twins, which I still like now!). Shaddap You Face is of its time, but its memory is still amusing (though that's more laughing at my recollection of singing it with my late mum). The song went on to spawn multiple cover versions. Andrew Sachs released a version in the guise of his Fawlty Towers alter-ego, Manuel. EMF even released a version - unbelievable!

Joe is now based in Australia and is a prolifically published poet of some merit - who knew???

Fast forward 37 years. In 2018, I had to meet Midge Ure, former lead singer of Ultravox, who was speaking at a conference I was running. Ultravox's biggest hit, Vienna. was held off the number 1 spot by Joe and his novelty Music Theatre and terrible tune. Midge arrived early before he gave a brilliant speech to some 300 charity CEOs and directors about how Band Aid and Live Aid came about (it was excellent, there were a lot of tears). It's always good when your speakers are early as someone who has run a few conferences in his time. Rather than abandon him on his own, I sat with him, we drank coffee and chatted away (I did not need much persuading to do this - the chance to bore a real pop star about music comes up rarely). There wasn't much to talk about in terms of the event, so the conversation soon shifted to music - result.

I confessed I had been a fan in the 80s, but other bands had taken over my teenage obsessions. But then I went to see Ultravox on their reunion tour in 2010 and was blown away by how good they were. It was a clumsy compliment but Midge took it with good grace. We discussed the bands of that time and who was still playing and making great music now. We'd both seen Heaven 17 and thought they were excellent live, and agreed Simple Minds were killing it with their latest music. I was baffled that he had never seen Scritti Politti live (I hope you have now Midge - they are superb in concert!). I could have spent another few hours chatting to him about music.

The moment came though when I could no longer procrastinate and my Catholic need to confess took over. I sheepishly admitted to Midge that I was one of the miscreants that bought Shaddap You Face and thus part of the tasteless gang that robbed him and Ultravox of the number 1 single they deserved for Vienna. Again, he was full of good humour and grace and was very understanding. He should have given me penance (you can take the boy out of the Catholic Church, but you can't take the Catholic Church out of the boy), but I still felt better. My musical crime was confessed and I've made up for it by buying several Midge records since.

Shaddap You Face wasn't the best start, but it was a start and I think my choices got better (and I stand by my love for Marillion, no matter what anyone says). And any song that makes me smile and think of my mum can't be that bad...


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