St. Cecilia and an Elevated Chicken

Today is St. Cecilia’s day. She is the patron saint of music and musicians, so it seems an appropriate day for a composer to be born. I already knew that today is Benjamin Britten’s birthday, but Wikipedia informed me that, along with several other composers most of whom I’ve never heard of, it’s also the birthday of Wilhelm Friedemann Bach. Actually, it’s just gone midnight so all my references to “today” are actually yesterday at the time of publication and quite probably even longer ago by the time you read this; 22nd November in any case.

This particular member of the Bach dynasty was the eldest son of the illustrious Johann Sebastian, who as I’ve occasionally mentioned before, is my all time favourite composer (much easier to decide than trying to pick a favourite photographer, as I was discussing yesterday, though Beethoven would be a fairly close second and if my last.fm listening stats are a reasonable indicator, Benjamin Britten is in my top 10 classical composers – he’s currently in joint 13th place with Queen on my overall list of scrobbles per artist, but there are several other non-classical ones high in the list, though Bach and Beethoven are well ahead of the rest of the field). As with most of the other members of the family, Friedemann was apparently generally referred to by his second name even though there were not quite as many Wilhelms as Johanns among them. He was a fine composer (and also organist and improviser) in his own right, though somewhat overshadowed by his father and his younger brother Carl Phillipp Emanuel (who, I gather, was usually known by his second middle name). I’ve got a handful of works by Friedemann (as well as some by quite a few other Bachs and quite a few by Emanuel and especially Sebastian) and this evening I’ve been enjoying listening to one of his cantatas.

As well as learning this factoid about W. F. Bach’s birthday I learned another interesting fact that, while not directly related to St. Cecilia’s day, came about (my learning, that is, not the fact itself, as far as I’m aware) in a tangentially related way.

To follow the tangent from the point where it was connected with St. Cecilia (since, as every mathematician knows, a tangent to a circle – or for that matter any other curve – is a line that touches it at one point; or technically it can for some curves, though not for circles, be more than one point but to further explore that point would itself be to go off on a tangent, so I’ll refrain), I started by looking at the Wikipedia article on St. Cecilia and then found my way onto the related disambiguation page, which contained amongst other things a reference to a band called St. Cecelia (note the variant spelling) who, in 1971, had their only chart success with a song called “Leap Up and Down (Wave Your Knickers in the Air)”

This wasn’t a song I’d ever heard of previously and my curiosity got the better of me so I googled it and soon found a video (not, you may be relieved to know, one containing any footage of anyone actually performing the suggested actions). It didn’t strike me as being a particularly noteworthy song, though it was quite jolly and it vaguely reminded me of another song that I haven’t heard for years, namely the Chicken Song by Spitting Image. In fact, I did briefly wonder if the latter may have been a parody of the former.

Unlike the St Cecilia number, which had presumably already pretty much faded into obscurity by the time I was born a few years after it came out, the Chicken Song was released in my lifetime and at a point when I actually used to watch Top of the Pops at least semi-avidly. I can’t remember when I last listened to it, but it may well not have been in the current millenium. On listening back to it today (again, easy enough to find on YouTube), it didn’t take long to realise that, while sharing some stylistic similarities, the two songs are not particularly closely related and while I couldn’t rule out the possibility that the Chicken Song’s authors were aware of the St Cecilia song from about 15 years previously, it certainly doesn’t seem that they were directly inspired by it or deliberately (or even accidentally) ripping it off.

Speaking of the Chicken Song’s authors, this is the point where I made my exciting (to me, at least) discovery. For it turns out that the lyrics were written by Rob Grant and Doug Naylor, better known to me as the creators of Red Dwarf, which remains one of my favourite TV series (especially the early seasons, which first started to appear a couple of years after the Chicken Song). So now you know 🙂

That last sentence, incidentally, is a catchphrase of Cara Devine, the host of one of my favourite cocktail-related YouTube channels, but that’s not really even a tangent to the rest of my post!