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Pure, pure herringbone ...

Liquorice John and the Story about a Suit

Roland Clare

The sleeve of the Italian Liquorice John CD ascribes The Story about a Suite (thus spelt) to Brooker and Reid, and I'm choosing to believe that for the purposes of this article. Yet the insert has obvious inaccuracies elsewhere (not least, ascribing Joe Cocker's Just Like a Woman to Liquorice John Dead and the Rock and Roll Allstars) so it may well be that I am building this particular castle on sand. It may be an old Coasters number for all I know!

The main instrument on this peculiar track is BJ Wilson's drums, mixed well to the fore, inventive, understated, characteristic. Guitar, bass and sax (perhaps a squeak of organ now and then?) play the same one-chord four-note riff throughout the song: it rivals Well I (aka Count Your Blessings) as the most repetitive Procoloid music that has come to light.

Over this riffing Gary Brooker recites the words in two well-differentiated American voices, the gullible customer verging on falsetto, the devilish salesman deeper. If only the latter-day Brooker / Reid story-piece had been recited with as much feeling and humour!

I was shopping for a suit the other day and walked into the department store
Stepped in the elevator and told the girl, 'Dry Goods Floor.'

I got off; salesman come up to me and said, 'Now what can I do for you?'
I said, 'Well get in there and show me all them [sports clothes?] like you're supposed to.'

He said, 'Well come on in, buddy, and dig some of these fabrics we got laid out on the shelves.'
He said, 'Pick yourself out one, try it on, stand in the mirror and dig yourself.'

'Mm!' 'That suit's pure herringbone.'
'Mm! That's the suit I'd like to own.'

'Buddy, that suit is you!'
'Yeah, I believe it, too!'

'I see for the businessman you're featuring the natural shoulders that retail wholesale [indeed?]
It's go the custom cuffs and the [walkin' tall?].
': 'He said I'm going to let you have it at a steal:

For the playboy we have the latest in tweed with the cutaway flap on twice
It's a box-back two-button [waister mind?],
' and he said, 'Now ain't that nice?'

'Mmm ...' 'Them buttons are solid gold... .'
'You made a deal so... .'

'That collar's pure camel-hair:
Now you can't just put it right down on that chair.

Here a second sax dubs a solo over the top of the one-chord riff

'Now you go back there and get that paper and let me sign on the dotted line
And I'll make sure I get all my payments in right on time.

'Hey wait a minute buddy let me go back here and do a little checking on you.'
Then the man he came back and he say, 'I'm sorry my man but ... your credit ain't no good.'

'What do you mean?' 'Ain't this a shame?'
'Uh huh huh, my heart's in pain.

Pure, pure herring-bone!'
'That's the suit you'll never own!'

'Huh! Lord have mercy!'

The words share Reid's early infatuation with Americana: as well as the US inflections in the dialogue (Lord have mercy!) we have narrative touches like the transAtlantic 'elevator' for 'lift'. In the same way the dripping tap in Salad Days is called a 'faucet', another word no Brit would casually use.

The song's bad-luck scenario is shared with Lime Street Blues, Everything I Do Is Wrong, Seem To Have The Blues Most All The Time, and to an extent Something Following Me. Somehow the reversals-of-fortune in these early songs of daily life seem much more alarming than the out-and-out nightmares of A Christmas Camel or She Wandered Through the Garden Fence.

Story about a Suit also shares a sartorial dimension with Homburg (and, by extension, with Last Train to Niagara, which claims that 'you're going nowhere, if your shoes don't fit your hat'.) It may be tempting to see some connection here with Keith Reid's reported spell as a tailor's apprentice, but the specialist jargon is used only subversively (for example, 'herringbone' is a weave-pattern, not a fabric per se) and it's likely that the song primarily reflects a Mod-type dress-anxiety, rather than drawing on any particular 'inside knowledge'.  

More Liquorice John pages

Warning about copyright

Who really wrote it?

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