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Sunday, 5 August 2012

Playing Devil's Advocate: In Praise Of Jilted John

Yes, I hear you....oh sweet irony and all that! Someone called Gordon actually writing a Blog in praise of Jilted John.
Well let me start by saying that I think Jilted John is one of the great Pop/Punk singles of all time and, even though it should have ruined my life and made my childhood Hell, it never really had the damaging effect you might think. You see I was lucky in that the record was released when we were all on our school Summer holidays, and by the time we all got back, given that most kids have goldfish-like memories, it took a few a days before some wag finally twigged and decided to berate me with the chorus of "Gordon is a moron". But the simple truth was that I loved the song and, had it had ANY other name in the infamous chant section, it would probably rank as one of my favourite records of all time.

To the uninitiated, Jilted John was the titular song by a character created by actor and comedy songwriter Graham Fellows who would later become more successful as Northern Philosopher/Club Entertainer John Shuttleworth. The song, whilst deliberately Punk-by-numbers, is delivered in a whiny, heartbroken Mancunian accent, detailing the break up of John and his girlfriend Julie, and her subsequent new love Gordon. The lyrics drip with bitter vexation as John reels of a string of insults at Julie and Gordon, but contain just enough pathos to prevent the song becoming mean. Any heartbroken teenager will identify immediately with the splenetic vitriol on display. Back in the day when people used to tape-record the Top 40 off the radio, we used to have a chart countdown that had Jilted John and 'Ever Fallen In Love With Someone....' by The Buzzcocks, and it's actually surprising how similar the two songs are; Punk riffing tunes imbued with bleaty Mancunian vocals.

The song got to Number 4 in the British charts in the Summer of 1978, and pretty much became a one-hit wonder. There was an album, 'True Love Stories', released as well, which I remember seeing once in the old John Menzies shop in Stirling, but that was pretty much it. I recall once on some Saturday morning kids TV show that a young lad calling in to the show won a record token. When asked what he was going to buy with the token he replied 'Jilted John'. That was the last time I ever heard of Jilted John for years, even though the single was occasionally played on nostalgia shows.
I always wondered about that album though and recently searched on the Internet to see if it was out there for downloading.
It was, and as I sat down to listen to what I imagined would be a whole album of Punkish broad comedy novelty, something strange occurred....the album was good, very good in fact, and nothing like what I was expecting....

'True Love Stories' is pretty much a concept album, detailing 'John's life from pre-pubescence, through school, through his first love with Karen (not Julie as in the single), his fist parties, and then the break-up with Karen and his subsequent decision to leave home and head to London.
Two things strike you right away; the lyrics are fantastic, and the music is not the second rate Punk gruel you might expect. No, the music and Graham ('John')'s vocals conjure up comparisons with 'Parklife'-era Blur, pre-fame Pulp, Robyn Hitchcock, Felt (particularly 'The Pictorial Jackson Review' album), The Cardiacs, and most evidently for me (at least), Deep Freeze Mice and their off-shoot band The Chrysanthemums. And because of Graham's deeply personal heart-on-sleeve lyrics, there are also traces of The Field Mice, and indeed almost all Sarah Records! From Jilted John?? Who on Earth would have thunk it? And, as I'm sure I don't have to point out, Graham's album predated most of those other artists mentioned by nearly a decade!! Is Graham Fellow's alter-ego THE great influence on British Indie Pop? It may seem, and probably IS unlikely, but who knows how many of those other artists mentioned may have bought 'True Love Sories' on the back of the single, only to have some musical Trojan horse bring a melange of melancholic ennui and angst-driven hubris draped in a curious Lounge-Pop sheen (Griff: You're not writing for the Guardian, you know!) into their lives!
Let me give you an example; take the song 'Shirley' which is one of the last songs on the album and sees John trying to hitch-hike to London and being picked up by an attractive older woman....can't you hear Blur, can't you hear The Cardiacs? If you say can't hear The Chrysanthemums I'll understand because I know they're a little obscure....

If you grew up in the 1970s or early 80s then the albums reference points add that little bit of extra Proustian flashback. Take 'I Was A Pre-Pubescent' in which Graham gives us a snapshot critique of John's early life from birth to school. This is a fabulous song delivered beautifully, which could sum up anyone's life in Northern Britain at that time....including your scribe (although I wasn't born in 1959 obviously!)....

'The Paperboy Song' sees John leave school and get a paper round to supplement his dole money. This is where he first meets Karen (a pivotal moment in his life, as it would be in any young lad's life) and the song ends with a bit of scene setting which runs through the album, but not enough to spoil the music....

'True Love' continues with the John knows he is in love and gushes forth all the platitudes that take over your mind when you meet that first 'one'. This song is almost pure Felt, from the strummed guitar, through the sparkling keyboard runs, down to Graham's over enunciated delivery. Believe me, all C-86 influenced Pop begins here....

In the end, Karen breaks up the relationship as I mentioned earlier, and heads off to London leaving a heartbroken John in her pursuit.
The hit single therefore would feel somewhat incongruous as it doesn't fit the musical palette, nor does his break up with Julie and her subsequent relationship with Gordon. And indeed, the single doesn't appear! But what does appear is an alternative (I believe earlier) take of the song which includes all the same lyrics and ad-libs, but which fits more with the album's feel. Personally though, I find this the most disappointing track on the album. See what you think....

So there you have it, a nice, odd little Pop album a million miles away from what you may have expected. I now wonder what that young lad who was going to buy the album with his record token thought about the album? Maybe he grew up to be Damon Albarn!

As with any successful 'novelty' record (as Jilted John was seen by many), there were attempts to cash in on the single's success. Graham Fellows himself followed the album with a couple of singles as Gordon The Moron, none of which did anything. One of those singles, 'Sold On You' is actually a lovely piece of dream-pop which unfortunately I can't find on Youtube, however it does appear on the album as an extra track.

The most blatant cash-in however, was a dreadful record called 'Gordon's Not A Moron' by Julie & Gordon. Set up as a direct response to Jilted John's hit, this unlovely piece of work features the most moronic (hah! Irony!) third rate Punk grinding over which 'Julie' and 'Gordon' deliver their own attack on John in the broadest Cockney accents imaginable. Now....wasn't the whole thing supposed to have occurred down Salford way? Are there many broad Cockneys in North Lancashire? Believe me, I am more offended by this tripe than anything Jilted John ever uttered!!

Graham Fellows never repeated Jilted John's chart success, but carved out a career as an actor, even appearing in Coronation Street, before creating the character John Shuttleworth and appearing with Vic & Bob, Harry Hill and regularly playing at the Edinburgh Festival and on TV.

In an interview with the NME once, before donning John Shuttleworth's garb, Graham Fellows spoke about Jilted John and claimed he had people called Gordon approaching him all the time, telling him he ruined their lives. Cryptically he left the statement hanging, without giving any hint or clue as to why he chose that particular name to berate.
Well....he may have ruined other Gordons lives, but his 'True Love Stories' album certainly has enriched mine!

'Ere we go, 2...3...4!


You can download the album 'True Love Stories' complete with bonus tracks here


  1. Excellent post about a great album. I met Gordon the Moron once, in Manchester in 1978 or 1979. He performed a short set as support to a band I knew at the time, at the original Factory Club. I can't remember much about him other than his distinctive dancing, as performed on TOTP.

    (I've still got my original copy of the LP and would be interested to hear the bonus cuts, but unfortunately the link doesn't work.)

    1. Hi, thanks for your kind remarks about my article on the excellent Jilted John album.

      I don't know what's up with the link as it works perfectly when you type the full address into the address bar.
      Here's the full address if you want to try it:!download|724p5|1211269509|Jilted_John.rar|74852|0|0