Brian and Michael's Kevin Parrott on Matchstalk Men 'anthem'

Brian and Michael performing Matchstalk Men and Matchstalk Cats and Dogs on Top of the Pops in 1978

On 8 April 1978, Brian and Michael hit the top of the charts with their one hit, Matchstalk Men and Matchstalk Cats and Dogs.

As a result, Kevin Parrott has spent 35 years living the "life of Brian", thanks to his involvement in what has become one of music's most enduring one-hit wonders.

Start Quote

We were fast asleep in a small hotel on chart day morning after a late night out, when the hotel owner banged on the door and shouted 'Get up, you guys are bloody number one'”

End Quote Kevin Parrott

Kevin picked up the moniker of Brian when Michael Coleman split with his singing partner Brian Burke and asked his old friend, who was playing in another band at the time, to become his musical other half.

The split came after the first round of records had been pressed, so it was too late for a name change, ensuring that Kevin had to endure a plethora of radio interviews explaining how he was not called Brian.

Ahead of an anniversary show he says he does not mind it too much in hindsight, particularly as the song nearly never made it out at all.

"I sent out cassettes to most of the major labels, including the one I was on with my band, Oscar.

"I only remember getting a response from Phillips Records - the guy said, 'come on, it isn't very strong is it? We're passing'.

"The following day, Pye Records called to say they would release it and were convinced that it would be number one."

'Catchy tune'

He says he was not quite as confident about hitting the top spot, but had loved the song ever since he first heard it.

"Mick played me Lowry's Song, as it was then, in my kitchen in the spring of 1977.

Brian and Michael... and Kevin

Kevin Parrott and Michael Coleman in 1978
  • Michael Coleman and Kevin Parrott played together first in The Big Sound in the 1960s
  • Kevin played with Oscar for 10 years and produced Brian and Michael before leaving rock to take over as the 'new Brian' in November 1977
  • Fellow one-hit wonders St Winifred's Choir provided backing vocals on Matchstalk Men, which won Michael an Ivor Novello Award for songwriting
  • Michael had several hits as a songwriter, including the 1986 hit for Claire and Friends, It's 'Orrible Being in Love (When You're 8½), which was also produced by Kevin

"The song made an instant impression because of his outstanding lyric, catchy tune and the chorus hook.

"It was originally faster and more strident than people know now, and was verse chorus, verse chorus, verse chorus.

"I used to stay awake at night thinking how I could break it up - hence the brass link between verses one and two, and the chorus not coming in until after that second verse."

Even with the changes and Pye's backing though, the song was not an instant hit.

Originally released in November 1977, it slowly gathered support, rising to the top ten by Easter 1978. Kevin says what happened next is etched on his mind.

"The record dropped from three to four at Easter week and we thought we'd done OK at that, but Pye were convinced the sales figures were skewed due to the holidays.

"The following week, Mick and me were in London to do the Palladium.

"We were fast asleep in a small hotel on chart day morning after a late night out, when the hotel owner banged on the door and shouted 'Get up, you guys are bloody number one'.

"We thought he was having us on and went back to sleep."

He says the next few weeks were "all a bit of a daze, as we were selling 60,000 a day".

'Too folky'

With such sales, it is hard to work out why Brian and Michael never had another hit. For Kevin, the reason lies somewhere between image problems and record choices.

Brian and Michael in 2013 Kevin says the song gets the pair hugs from "large ladies and men with tattoos and tears in their eyes"

"Perhaps our image was a bit too folky," he says.

"The day before our first Top Of The Pops, Mick and me went shopping in Manchester to buy waistcoats and granddad shirts for the appearance.

"I had been in a rock band - perhaps I should have stuck with the tight jeans, knee-high leather boots and even longer hair.

"Mick consistently wrote great songs, but the follow-up Pye chose, Evensong, wasn't one of his. It should have been Mam When's Me Dad Coming Home, which was the third release.

"However, we did what we did and have always been grateful for the success we had and the pleasure the song has given to so many people."

The song continues to give that pleasure. More than three decades on, Kevin says whenever the pair play Matchstalk Men "we never fail to be moved by the reaction we get".

"There'll be people standing on tables waiving their arms or we'll be hugged by large ladies and men with tattoos and tears in their eyes who tell us how it connects them with family memories.

"It's become some sort of anthem, even with young people.

"I guess that at the time it was a song loved by the whole family, and the generations have since grown up with it and passed it on."

Brian & Michael and The Matchstalk Men play The King's Arms in Salford on Saturday 1 June.

BBC Manchester

Weather

Manchester

11 °C 4 °C

Features

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.