Sunday 21 February 2010

Underneath The Arches

"They're still underneath the arches so you said. Don't you shiver as the rain falls overhead. The chinless and the spineless grow more callous by the wineglass. A miserable device with an aftertaste of sugar and spice ..." sings the fine folk punk outfit God's Little Monkeys on Underneath The Arches where it seems to rail against cosy sentimentality and conscience easing. While there may be an absurd side to the 'down and out' wistfulness of Flanagan and Allen singing Underneath The Arches, with its celebration of camaraderie during the depresssion of the '30s, speak to anyone who lived in London during The Blitz and they will make a strong case for the way Flanagan and Allen kept morale up with their gentle humour at a time when whole rows of houses were disappearing. There is a school of thought that argues that as Bud Flanagan wrote Underneath The Arches while in Derby on tour he must have been referring to the Friar Gate railway bridge. But we're not 'aving that. Certainly later versions of the song refer explicitly to the Embankment, so it has to be the arches at Charing Cross. Anyway, Bud was from Whitechapel, born as Chaim Reuben Weintrop to parents who were Polish Jews. So why would he need to sing about people sleeping rough in Derby? He would have seen enough of that in London. There is a later Flanagan and Allen number called Where The Arches Used To Be, which has Bud and Chesney bemoaning the fact that they're building flats where they used to sleep, so they'll have to head west. In 1968 shortly before his death Bud recorded the vocals on the theme tune for the TV comedy series Dad's Army, a song every bit as familiar as the duo's signature tune. Around the same time another enduring duo Gilbert & George started doing their 'Singing Sculptures' where they would mime to a recording of Flanagan & Allen's Underneath The Arches for hours at a time ...

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