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The Living Tradition Interview

Roaring Jelly Return - as Oily Fish!

Article by Adam Conway, first published in Living Tradition magazine, issue 76, 2007

A career break of 20 years is a long time in any business. In music - professional suicide, you'd think. But Derek and Clive are indeed back after two decades. We're not talking about the foul-mouthed alter egos of Pete and Dud, but Derek Pearce and Clive Harvey of the legendary acoustic comedy trio Roaring Jelly. Via an estimated 1500 gigs back in the 70s and 80s, Jelly carved a niche, on the folk scene and beyond, specializing in their own unique brand of comic songs ranging from the quirky to the bizarre. They became hugely popular on the folk club and festival scene. Many clubs, particularly in their original Midlands stomping ground, reported them as a regular 'standing room only' act, and in a 1980 nationwide poll of club organisers Roaring Jelly emerged as the top-pulling band. They got into radio and TV, even landing their own BBC Christmas special, appeared on Tiswas, and were asked to write music for several TV and radio programmes. The Guinness Who's Who of Folk Music described them as "pioneers of alternative comedy before the term became fashionable".

I ask the obvious question: Why on earth, at the height of your popularity in the mid-80s, did you split up?

“Needed a bit of a rest,” quips Clive. “We weren't earning a fortune. To make a living we had to do lots of gigs and lots of travelling, all over Britain and sometimes abroad. Glad we did it - we had a lot of fun and I'm proud of what we achieved - but it plays havoc with family life and it was bloody hard work! You can't do it forever.”

Derek continues, “Besides, I had severe hearing problems and it got to the stage where I was relying on visual cues. When Clive's right arm stopped strumming, I knew we'd got to the end of the song. You think I'm kidding, but it was almost that bad. I'm still pretty deaf but hearing aids are much better now. I don't have to watch Clive so much,” he laughs, “which is a great relief!” Still joking at his own expense, Derek enthuses about the opportunity to contribute to "Living Conditions" magazine and talk about life on the road - the "passive obesity" syndrome of pubs, clubs, motorway services and Little Chefs.

“Not ‘Conditions’, mate - ‘Traditions'”, Clive helps out.

“Ah, fine,” says Derek, “Nothing more traditional than humour.”

The next obvious question is why have they got back together now? “We stayed good mates while we were off doing our own things,” says Clive, “but had no thoughts of working together. Then a couple of years ago Derek and I got together again and started writing new material. Not sure why, just felt like it. Then we needed an outlet, and we couldn't think of a better one than ourselves. Revive the band? Derek says I had the idea first but I swear he did.” There was already renewed interest in Roaring Jelly through the re-release of Valerie Wilkins, on the ADA compilation Nowt So Funny As Folk. The song picked up quite a bit of airplay and was in fact the most requested track of 2004 on Mike Harding's BBC Radio 2 show.

So why The Omega 3?

“Roaring Jelly is a great name for a band,” continues Clive, “so great that there are now loads of bands call Roaring Jelly - two in the USA alone and another, we think, in Scotland. So we decided to choose a new name. We're into healthy eating these days, oily fish and all that, so The Omega 3 seemed appropriate. Some people - including our new record company! - think we're mad to ditch the name Roaring Jelly. Maybe we are, but maybe that's why we can write mad songs.” “And,” adds Derek, “we've got lots of new mad songs and a new mad bass player, so although it's still mad it's not quite the same band.”

Clive and Derek both live in the London area now, whilst original bass man Mick Hennessy is still in Derbyshire, and thus geographically challenged. A new bass player was required. Enter the mysterious Da'aboth. Martial arts master and spiritual healer, Derek's friend Da'aboth also happened to be a bass guitarist. He completed the new line-up and at the end of 2006 The Omega 3 started gigging.

~ " 800 people in the Ham Marquee, baying for more, felt very good! " ~

Appearances at theatres, arts centres, village halls and folk clubs have all been enthusiastically received. Lawrence Heath, who gave the band an early gig at the Electric Theatre, Guildford, said, “The chemistry is still there. So's the humour, but backed up with a good deal of musicality. The new material stands up very well amongst the old Jelly numbers - just as strong, if not stronger than the old stuff.”

“We've also really enjoyed the festivals,” says Derek. The Festival of the Peak in June marked a successful return to their former home county of Derbyshire, whilst Sidmouth, almost exactly 20 years on from Jelly's last performance there, was, adds Clive, “Amazing. 800 people in the Ham Marquee, baying for more, felt very good!”

The band's fast-growing reputation should be dealt no harm at all by the recent release of their first album ‘Essential Batty Acids’, on the ADA label. There are thirteen new songs plus a modern re-working of old Jelly favourite ‘Christmas In Australia’. Musically there's lots of variety, the writing is witty, and the range of subject matter is vast, from banjos to unexpected pregnancy, sado-masochism to deafness, menopause to rug sales. The album is typically British eccentric daftness at its best.

A visit to the band’s website will reveal that next week, apparently, is Banjo Awareness Week. Batty indeed.

©Adam Conway 2007

Da'aboth gets oogly-boogly with intruders. Photo by Penny Rowling 2006
Clive Harvey on Last Minute Musicians