There are at least five Badly Drawn Boys. There could be more. Five have made themselves known to me. So, I know that there at least five Badly Drawn Boys. Of course, it’s not uncommon for record companies to contain multitudes of their best-loved acts. The extent of promotion that is necessary nowadays would leave one version in a permanent state of creative exhaustion; unable to respond to the flighty muse on the unpredictable occasions when she lowers her gaze.
But Badly Drawn Boy is perhaps unique in this regard. All Five Badly Drawn Boys display different but vital aspects of the full Badly Drawn Boy essence. It’s not a case of the original, and four lesser doppelganger clones deployed sporadically for when the real one doesn’t have to speak or sing, or when he frankly just can’t be arsed (and let’s be honest, we all have days like those, don’t we?).
No, there are at least Five Badly Drawn Boys. And all are equally essential to us. I didn’t always appreciate this. But I do now.
I see him in the street near a railway station. He looks unassuming but immediately familiar. He catches me watching and drags a refrain out for far longer than the original song did. And I immediately feel the positivity radiating from him. Like all possibilities are suddenly landing at my feet. He’s enjoying the audience of one. The open guitar case in front of him has a few coins in it. I suspect he contributed most of them to encourage others. I take his picture and his downward glances confirm that there’s a price to pay. I applaud. I reach into a deep pocket and pull out a note. It’s a twenty.
‘Cheers, man. Any requests?’
Before I can respond, the busker poses like a professional. He pulls back his jacket to reveal a large YES written across the shirt underneath. He draws a finger under the word, underlining that there’s a hope left; that there’s a dream still in both our hearts. We’ve made a connection and it briefly occurs to me that perhaps he could be the musician behind the famous song.
In 2000, an LP rooted me to the spot. It’s potent mix of creativity, invention, harmony, melancholy, yearning, and experimental curiosity introduced a one-man Beatles (and one with all the slipshod ‘Ringo’ fillers absent.) ‘Put a little sunshine in your life,’ it encouraged. I did, and it made me feel better about myself.
‘There’s nothing you could never do to ever let me down,
And remember that I’ll always love you.’
The childhood trauma of a parent dying is a particularly difficult one to process. In my own case it lay submerged like an unexploded device on an ocean bed. These words found me at a time when that trauma seemed certain to resurface. The strange juxtaposition of these lyrics helped me to recall what I could of my mother in a positive light, whilst simultaneously acknowledging the things that we’d never do together; those things that she’d never see.
I’m not the first to find comfort in this music. Nick Hornby writes similarly about the lyrics in his book
’31 Songs.’ I – and Nick – certainly won’t be the last.
We are all survivors of our own decisions, relationships, good – and bad – fortunes. Acknowledging them has made this Badly Drawn Boy stronger and more human. It takes the suspension of the things we take for granted to re-evaluate our priorities.
‘Banana Skin Shoes’ testifies to admissions of guilt; and to lessons harshly learned. But the Survivor always faces forward, relentlessly optimistic in the face of sometimes inevitable defeat.
Occasionally, only very occasionally, all five Badly Drawn Boys coalesce and appear as one. I’ve seen this happen. I wasn’t alone. At least fifteen hundred other people witnessed it too. It happened in 2006, at the ABC in Glasgow. On stage – following a wistful appearance by Isobel Campbell – the Five Badly Drawn Boys assembled. They took it in turns to come to the fore that evening but make no mistake they were all there. Channelling the restless spirits of musical icons and heroes of the past and present into an affecting and beguiling example of what the very best music is capable of achieving.
There are Five Badly Drawn Boys. I’ve seen them separately, and on at least one occasion, all together.