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Lieutenant Pigeon

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A truly odd popular music ensemble for 1970s Britain, Lieutenant Pigeon enjoyed a fairly long and successful recording career with their offbeat, mostly instrumental music. Not exactly easy to categorize as rock, it's nonetheless hard to know what else to call their mix of martial percussion (similar to that heard in Napoleon XIV's infamous hit "They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Ha"), century-old sounding parlor music, and weird insertions of fifes, rickety pianos, and half-buried miscellaneous vocal growls. That their debut single made it all the way to number one in the U.K. is a testament to the British tolerance and indeed encouragement of eccentricity that could be cultivated nowhere else. The mainstays of Lieutenant Pigeon were Rob Woodward and Nigel Fletcher, both of whom had been playing in bands since the early '60s. Under the name Shel Naylor, Woodward had recorded a couple of singles for Decca in 1963-1964; one of those, "One Fine Day," was a Dave Davies composition that the Kinks never officially released. By the late '60s, the pair were making home recordings in the front room of the Coventry house of Woodward's mother, Hilda Woodward. Rob Woodward and Fletcher formed a band, Stavely Makepeace, which began releasing records in 1969. Lieutenant Pigeon was conceived of as sort of a novelty alter ego band of Stavely Makepeace, intended to emphasize humorous instrumental music. As further evidence that it was not as seriously aimed at the pop/rock market, Hilda Woodward, then in her late fifties, was added to the lineup on piano. The semi-joke became more successful than could have been reasonably anticipated though, when their first single, "Mouldy Old Dough," came out in 1972. A characteristically zany, unclassifiable bit of instrumental madness with Joe Meek-like wobbly piano and those unavoidable marching rhythms, it became number one in Belgium after it was used as a theme for a current affairs television show. By the end of the year it was number one in their native Britain as well. Lieutenant Pigeon had just one more big British hit, "Desperate Dan," which made the Top Twenty after its release at the end of 1972. They continued to grind out records for most of the rest of the 1970s though, getting a number two hit in Australia in 1974 with their version of "I'll Take You Home Again Kathleen." Woodward and Fletcher then established themselves as producers of jingles, voice-overs, and such for radio. They told their own story in their joint autobiography When Show Business is No Business, published in 2001. ~ Richie Unterberger

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