Balfe, Bothered and Bewildered was released on the Hawk label in 1974 and holds the distinction of being Ireland’s first original comedy record. It was written, produced and performed by Brendan Balfe with musical backing from The Greenbeats (“without whose valuable assistance the album would have been finished six weeks earlier”).
The sleevenotes carry some tributes from well-wishers:
“Mr Balfe is a talentless bore who loves the sound of his own voice”. – Mrs Balfe
“Great for dancing to!”. – Minister for Posts and Telegraphs
“They only had me ‘cos the budgie died”. – Mr Brendan Balfe
“At first it sounds strange, but oddly enough, the more you listen the more incomprehensible it becomes”. – Harold Wilson
The second track is called The Mystery Sound. It consists of a phone-in competition where you have to guess what the sound is. The prize is £750.73. Mrs Sarah Giftwrapper comes on the line. As an aside she mentions that her mother plays football with Punjab Rugby Club. Her suggestions – “Gay Byrne watching an elephant” and “A siamese kitten in a coalshed eating the remains of a tin of corned beef”. She doesn’t win. The prize rolls over until tomorrow, increasing to £750.74.
I Suppose and Ol’ Pal Music consist of hoary showband rock’n’roll and country stylings not unlike Hank Williams. Surprise, Surprise plays out like a This Is Your Life sketch. He was “born at an early age” and became a newspaper seller at the age of one. “Titantic sunk by an iceberg” he shouts. Is there no escape? We’re then introduced to a few demented characters such as his old tutor Heathcliff O’Reilly, an irate gouger called Arthur and Seán the oddball who likes bus timetables. Seán runs the Rasputin house for the demented at Ratlin Island. You can send them anything.
Donating is also the focus of Help The Needy, an agency that can be found in Donnybrook – “or else send me your home address”. Segued into this sketch is a Special Branch promo advertisement which promises “action, travel and adventure” by way of guarding the Argentine embassy and tapping phone calls (eerily pre-emptive). How do you sign up? Fill in the coupons in Woman’s Way (“It’s a man’s life in the Special Branch”).
Side 2 continues in the same vein. Liz is about the actress and her husbands with Brendan musing that “I’m certain that she’ll get around to me”. Oh Give All Ye Faithful ramps up the money-for-guilt stragegy with its focus on improving church collection takings, hosting a monster whist drive and relying on a crying baby to shame punters into giving more.
The album’s centerpiece is undoubted – the surreal Royal Visit (about 37 years too early) which encompasses a running commentary on chaos.
Sherry reception – Leinster House – whiskey distillers – Guinness – Iveagh House – Queen singing Long-Haired Lover From Liverpool accompanied by Bunratty Castle Singers – an insistence on detouring to Tallaght – Queen driving – Philip in the car with a pint – they crash – hijack a bus – three squad cars – Fishery Protection vessel fires a 21 gun salute – National Emergency declared – diplomatic relations broken off – they join the Garda Band in a dance – Queen strips off and climbs the GPO – get pelted with tomatoes and cabbage leaves from the locals – throws them back – tanks and armoured cars enter O’Connell Street.
Then, if that wasn’t enough, as part of the same track a kick-ass wah-wah guitar starts and it’s another advertising promo “The city of one minute beat”.
“I’m a traffic warden – join for action and excitement. Protect the free world against subversion. Application form in this week’s Sacred Heart Messenger. Join the fight against the motorists.
The remaining three numbers consist of:
– An Beagán Francais i.e. Je T’Aime in Irish complete with the requisite panting.
– Parliamo Piano Forte. Music for beginners – a piano tutor series. Distinguish the black ones from the white ones.
– The Set Of Drums. Demented and confused showband madness in Westmeath.
I’ve saved the best until last. Or in this case it’s the album’s opening track – Deteriorata. This is Brendan’s parody of National Lampoon’s Deteriorata (from their 1972 Radio Dinner LP) which pokes fun at Les Crane’s Desiderata (a US hit in 1971) itself inspired by Max Ehrmann’s 1927 prose poem Desiderata.
Confused? As Mr Balfe sings in the song’s closing seconds – “Just give up.”