Article as appears in Shindig! magazine.
Claggers – Chumley’s Laughing Gear
(DJM, UK, 1971)
What happens when studio professionals team up in their spare time to write, play, engineer and produce their own album?
You get everything – except, crucially, star quality. But make no mistake, this music truly shines.
Whereas Caleb Quaye formed Hookfoot with the DJM musicians that played on Elton John’s early recrods, the guys who operated the tape machines, twiddled the knobs and ran the Elton operation formed Claggers.
Edgware Spur Road School friends Clive Franks, Stuart Epps and Jeff Titmus had started at DJM by consecutively replacing each other as tea boys. But by the time Kaplan Kaye joined as a dub-cutter for promotional records, the tio had advanced to engineering and production. Since they had keys to the studio, they went in on weekends to mess around with the instruments, and sometimes record stuff. One day, Dick James issued a memo calling them into the office. Dick said he’d headr they’d been using the studio unauthorised. “We thought we were going to be fired,” remembers Stuart.
But Dick wanted to have a listen. Kaplan ran and fetched a tape with his ‘Train Song’. Dick liked what he heard, and to everyone’s utter disbelief, said, “Let’s release it.”
“That’s what Dick James was like, he was an amazing guy,” says Stuart. “He was always up for an idea”.
Just as Elton John had been signed back in 1967 after being found using the recording studio without permission, Dick now signed them. But they needed a name. When Caleb was guesting on the recordings he suffered from haemorrhoids, which he called “clagnuts”. They simply appreviated that to Claggers.
“Now we set about recording in a more structured way,” says Kaplan. He bought in ‘Oh My Life’ while courting Dick’s secretary, and the hooky ‘All The Way Down’ which was covered by Mike Batt. Stuart contributed a groovy cowboy tale ‘Eric Is Calling’ and dynamic closer ‘The Finisher’.
Other tracks like the titular opener ‘Chumley’s Laughing Gear’ came about in the studio. Chumley was a character in one of Clive’s schoolbooks, and Caleb used to say “Get your laughing gear around this!”, roughly meaning “Suck on that!” so they nonsensically combined the phrases.
However, the Elton John rocket was taking off and the Claggers were part of the machine. After a couple of singles, including a non-album coupling of ‘Someone’ (another Kaplan love song to Dick’s secretary who he was now marrying) with Stuart’s brooding ‘Umber Rag, their side project fell by the wayside.
The Claggers weren’t really a band, and never toured or otherwise tried to sell their album. As a result, it’s hard to find today, but you really should try.