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The Wurzels, Scrumpy and Western Music
Scrumpy and Mangel Wurzels
After more than 40 years, the Wurzels are still singing, still performing, and still drinking Scrumpy. Entertaining and delighting audiences with a uniquely English music genre called “Scrumpy and Western”
A few words of explanation are needed here.
The band has its roots in the Western part of England, the counties of Somerset and Devon in particular. This is England’s West Country with its own dialect, a place where people still “Thee and Thou” Such cities as Bristol and Bath are surrounded by lush and fertile countryside with agriculture playing an important role in the popular culture if not so much the economy. The favorite drink in the pubs is Scrumpy, this is a hard cider with no water, sugar or artificial preservatives added. It is made from crushed apples and can have an alcohol content of 15%, three times that of beer.
Another crop grown in those parts is the Mangel Wurzel. This is a root crop, a type of beet that is mainly used for animal feed, though some aficionados of heritage crops say it makes delicious eating for humans. The name Wurzel had come to mean a country bumpkin.
It is from this beautiful west countryside of Scrumpy and Wurzels that Adge Cutler came with his brand of music.
Adge Cutler and the Wurzels
Drink up thy Zyder
Alan John Cutler, nicknamed “Adge” because of his initials, lived in the north Somerset town of Nailsea. In his early years he worked as a road manager for Acker Bilk, in a Cider mill in Nailsea and he worked on building the power station at Trawsfynydd in North Wales. He also spent a year in Spain as a property agent. While there he grew to love the country and the Spanish way of life, becoming fluent in Spanish.
He had been writing and casually performing songs with a particularly local flavor and in 1966 he gathered a group of musicians together to form his backing group. They became known as “Adge Cutler and the Wurzels.”
In that same year they released their first record, “Drink up thy Zyder” An unashamedly West Country folk song that, like most of the songs to come, makes no apology for the local dialect, in fact their forms of speech are relished and celebrated. The song led to national fame for Adge and the Wurzels, reaching #45 in the UK charts. Even though the “B” side was banned by the BBC. Auntie Beeb, guardian of the nation’s morals felt the song was too raunchy. Filled with double entendre, it tells the story of a farm laborer who gets in a relationship with Lucy Bailey. ("She ups 'n slips, zummat rips, I went there Twice Daily!"). Lucy gets pregnant, there’s a shotgun wedding, with her father holding the shotgun. It all ends happily though, they spend 40 years together, have another 9 children and their love life never slows down ("Tho' I'm old and grey when I gets me way, I still go there Twice Daily").
Another example of Adge’s use of the local dialect is in the delightful song; "Thee's Gott'n where thee cassn't back'n hassn't" It tells of a young couple and the scrapes they get into in their new car. It takes place around Bristol except for one verse that is in Paris. The title of the song translates as "You've got it where you can't reverse it, haven't you?"
With Adge’s song writing talents, the zesty performances of the band and the novel nature of their music set to propel them into national fame, tragedy struck. On May 5th 1974, driving home alone from a Wurzels gig in Hereford, Adge fell asleep at the wheel. His car hit a rock on a roundabout near the SevernBridge, flipped over and Adge Cutler was killed.
The Morning Glory
The band decided to continue, renaming themselves “The Wurzels” They continued to sing Adge’s songs including the popular “One for the Morning Glory” A West Country folk song that many have come to mistakenly believe was written by Adge. He was an avid fan of Bristol City Football club and the song was re-written as “One for BristolCity” and is sung by the fans at every game.
Their music is very working class, filled with references to the life of the working man and the philosophy that you work hard, drink and sing in the company of friends and love passionately without Puritan constraint.
Top of the Pops 1976
In 1976 the band decided that if they were to break out onto the national scene they would have to do something more commercial but without losing their roots. The opportunity came with the hit by the American singer-songwriter Melanie, “Brand new key” also known as the Roller skate song. The song got to #6 in the UK charts. The words to Melanie’s song include;
"I got a brand new pair of roller skates / You got a brand new key / I think that we should get together and try them out you see / I been looking around awhile / You got something for me / Oh! I got a brand new pair of roller skates / You got a brand new key. / I ride my bike, I roller skate, don't drive no car / Don't go too fast, but I go pretty far / For somebody who don't drive / I been all around the world / Some people say I've done alright for a girl..."
The Wurzels decided to make it a little more agricultural and came up with “I got a brand new Combine harvester” The Wurzels had their first #1 hit.
Top of the Pops again
I am a Cider Drinker
This followed with a number of songs where they would take contemporary popular songs and give them “Scrumpy and Western” flavor. Another hit was their rendition of the song “Paloma Blanca” by the Dutch band The George Baker Selection with the words re-written as “I am a cider drinker”
“When the moon shines
On the cow shed
And we're rollin' in the hay
All the cows are out there grazing
And the milk is on its way.
I am a cider drinker
I drinks it all of the day
I am a cider drinker
It soothes all me troubles away
Oh arr oh arr aay
Oh arr oh arr aay.”
Albums include songs written by Adge as well as more recent compositions by the band. They continue to be favorites at such venues as the Glastonbury Folk Festival and can be sure to draw a crowd wherever they play. In more recent years the band has released a number of The band has changed lineup over the years but the spirit and downright fun is still there. The lads are getting on a bit, the drummer is said to be 81 this year, but they can bring the house down with their West Country Humor and song.
So let’s raise our glasses in memory of Adge Cutler, to the Wurzels and Scrumpy and Western music. May it live and be sung forever.