Like a slightly younger approximation of Hubert, son of Rawlin, Herbert Khaury was in his 30s and still unusual when he finally got noticed. The Bonzos supported Mr Khaury in 1968 at the Royal Albert Hall, and I have occasionally wondered since whether Viv Stanshall based Hubert either consciously or subconsciously on Herbert, or at least his alter-ego, Tiny Tim.
He certainly was unusual.
I first chanced upon him as the musical interlude on a popular game-show on British TV in about 1968, as he wandered through a mock up of an English Country Garden plinking his ukulele and singing “Tiptoe Thru The Tulips” in glorious black and white while my grandparents tapped their toes in time to my mother railing and seething against this assault on her sensitivities.
Rolling forward about a decade, I started going on the train to the first of the Brighton record fairs as soon as the Saturday job money started picking up, and I can remember quite clearly the one when I came home proudly bearing copies of An Evening with Wild Man Fischer, half-a-dozen Monkees albums, some really weird looking singles, a demo of ? and the Mysterians’ “96 Tears,” and a copy of God Bless Tiny Tim.
“The Other Side” is, though admittedly by a fairly short stretch, the oddest song on the album. I wasn’t expecting to find it on Youtube, and was completely unprepared for this live rendition.
That evening I took God Bless Tiny Tim around to my mate’s house, the mate in whose house I would be living in just a few months later, and we listened to it three or four times, we would enjoy it many more times in the years to come, and he was as excited as I was when a year or so later I chanced upon a copy of Tiny Tim’s Second Album, which is as enjoyable in its own way as its predecessor.
As punk was turning into new wave, and as new wave turned into new romanticism and it all mushed back into nasty early ’80s pop, the first two Tiny Tim albums provided regular welcome respite.
Even today I can listen to them and despite their obviously ’60s production they are so odd that they remain quite timeless. If Richard Perry hadn’t gone quite so heavy on the strings and Brian Wilson touches, they could have been recorded any time from about the 1920s to the day before yesterday. The humour is quite clearly as much intentional as unintentional, and unlike so many records made by artists considered mad, bad, or dangerous to know, they sound like the work of a man who not only knows roughly where he is and approximately where he’s going, but also one who is having an absolute whale of a time and wants to share it with anyone who will listen.
This ain’t Skip Spence, or Daniel Johnston, or Larry Fischer, or anyone else who left their mind someplace and never managed to remember where they left it again. This is as pure as Jonathan Richman at his most joyous and playful, like being on drugs without being on drugs. Pure entertainment that makes even the first two Monkees albums sound cynical.
In 1987, Brighton, from whence that copy of God Bless hailed, held its first festival. I would like to know what was going on inside the head of whoever suggested seeing if he was available, but I would gladly stand them a pint if I ever had the chance.
At that point I was living in Milton Keynes, but was drawn back home and a bit along the seafront by the prospect of seeing Tiny Tim live in a tent just outside the Brighton Dome. Not only that, but the prospect of being in the Great Man’s presence and watching him attempt to break the world non-stop singing record, as accredited by the Guinness Book of Records as then standing at about three-and-a-half hours, for at least that length of time was not going to be missed.
I drove down to collect my mate, and then over to Brighton, and we took our places in about the third row waiting for the fun to start. It was pretty full, not sold out, but a respectable audience. It was early autumn if I remember correctly, but a warm evening for the time of year. I had brought the covers of God Bless Tiny Tim and Tiny Tim’s Second Album with me just in case there was any chance of getting them signed, but wasn’t intending to do anything other than enjoy the show. Before it started I was rather surprised to bump into Sir Richard Attenborough on our way to the toilets, so the evening was already getting off to an interesting start.
It was about seven when the show started. Tiny Tim took the stage to rapturous applause, with a band of guys who were obviously pretty serious session musicians, and they started playing. He was in his mid-50s by then, but didn’t look a day older than he did on the album covers. It was as if time had been frozen.
They played, and they played, and they played. And Mr Tim sang, and he sang and he sang. Being an assault on the non-stop singing record, he sang without any breaks, there were no middle eights, no solos, just singing, and singing, and singing. He plunked along on his ukulele as he sang, pausing only to blow kisses to the audience in the teeny tiny gaps between lines, and kept it up for over four hours.
He had a reputation for knowing more songs than anyone else alive, and given that he only played a verse and a chorus of most before slipping seamlessly and occasionally breathlessly to the next, I am happy to believe it.
At precisely the point where he broke the record (previously held by himself) they struck up a joyful rendition of “Tiptoe Thru’ The Tulips,” at which point the audience leapt out of the rickety (and rather uncomfortable) wooden seats and partied like it was 1999, which it wouldn’t be for another 12 years, but that night we got there first. He kept going for about another 40 minutes, possibly longer, having delivered one of the most memorable and joyful sets I’ve ever enjoyed.
I still had those record sleeves under my arm, so when the set was over I decided to see if I could attract the attention of one of the roadies to see if I could get them backstage. I don’t remember what happened next, but the upshot was that we were told that if we wanted to hang around for a little while Mr Tim would be asked if he could spare us a moment. There was a TV crew setting up their equipment nearby for an interview with the great man, so we anticipated that he would come out, sign a couple of autographs and then we would be sent packing.
A few minutes later he appeared, beaming, he appeared to be even taller than he had looked on the stage, and practically filled the tent with geniality. He addressed everyone as “Mr” followed by their first name, bade us address him as Mr Tim, sat down with us and pored over the album covers, which he tried to sign with the biro I’d taken along and eventually managed to get it legible on the third attempt on God Bless, and first time on the inside of the gatefold of the second album.
The second album cover has a montage of photos of Mr Tim with his family, as a child and a young adult, and with his heroes on the gatefold inside. He practically squealed with delight looking at them, and told us that he hadn’t seen a copy of the record for many years – and thanked me for bringing it along! “Ah!” he sighed, in that gorgeous, smooth voice, “that’s me with Mr Rudy Vallee! Have you ever heard Rudy Vallee?” he asked. We confessed that we hadn’t, at which point he told us that Mr Rudy Vallee was his hero, that he had been so excited to meet him, and described in great detail how the photo of himself with Mr Rudy Vallee came to be taken.
After a few minutes a rather harrassed man came over and told him that the film crew were ready for him, and to our amazement he told the man that he could jolly well wait while he spoke with his friends. His wife came over to try to get him away, but he gleefully introduced us to her, described to us how they had met, and joined in the conversation. Eventually we took our leave and the film crew got their interview. I imagine that they were as charmed as we were, I can’t imagine even the most hardened cynical old hack failing to forgive him for being kept waiting. And wait they had to, while Mr Tim spent at least half an hour in conversation with two scruffy Brits he didn’t know from Adam.
We took our leave of him, shaking him again by the hand, and set off happily into the night.
Our eldest was born a year after Mr Tim passed on, and for his first Christmas I bought him a CD of Tiny Tim’s Christmas Album. Every year since I have insisted on playing it while we decorate the tree and put the decorations up, and every year Mrs H sits upstairs to get away from it. And every year I remember that night, and say to the kids “I met him, you know,” and they reply “yes, you tell us every year.”
He was, and remains, not only the nicest celebrity I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet, and one of the most charming people full stop. I was extremely sad when he died and e-mailed his widow, who wrote me a lovely email in return.
And now, because you’ve all been so sweet, here’s a little duet for you:
God bless Tiny Tim!