Tea and Orangutans

It all started with a Coke commercial.I don’t normally keep up with new bands and new songs these days.  But occasionally, a TV commercial will play some music that I like.  Then I’ll go to the google and find out what it is and who created it.A few years back there was a Coke advert which showcased this really fun, peppy music.  It was a genre I’d never heard of before; electro swing.  They take old school jazz and swing music, and remix it with a dance beat.  It’s the only music I mow the lawn to anymore.In the process of learning about and listening to electro swing, I made a musical discovery that has become very important to me and very close to my heart.  It’s an odd little British category from a strange, tea-drenched musical corner called Chap Hop.  It’s rap but written and performed by eccentric British gentlemen.Chap Hop is what might happen if Steampunk and Gilbert and Sullivan’s modern major general had a loony love child.

It’s witty, smart and catchy as all get out.

And Professor Elemental is both the Shakespeare and Lawrence Olivier of this genre.  I could tell you about him, but he tells it so much better than I ever could.From the biography he wrote of himself on the Tea Sea Record Shop website:

“Professor Elemental was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. It was removed by doctors soon afterwards and remains in the British Museum of the Unpleasant to this very day.  Raised under the watchful eye of his overprotective mother, fed on a diet of pureed swan and old-fashioned British madness, he soon grew into one of the least respected and most ridiculed Professors to ever be turned away from every London society.  He enjoys dissection, gin and shrieking with maniacal giggles at inopportune moments.”

There are two additional facts you should know.1.) He has an orangutan butler named Geoffrey.

2.) Since I discovered him, we have had a minor correspondence, and he has very kindly agreed to an email interview of ten questions.

10 Questions for Professor Elemental

1.)  Who makes for a better butler—a mercurial orangutan, or a unicorn with working thumbs?Ah, to me questions like this are the very essence of scientific enquiry. That’s how I ended up with my flock of vampire kittens and the goat with all those extra knees. Usually the simplest way is to create both creatures and then have them fight to the death. It’s still the method used to settle scientific debate in 90% of British laboratories.

2.) Please describe your perfect day.I am very much a believer that any day can be perfect if you have enough caffeine, cake and access to potentially dangerous equipment. For me, a day answering the questions of a mysterious yet alluring American journalist is about as good as it gets {debbie here: He means me!}.

3.) Where is the British Museum of the Unpleasant located, and what are its operating hours?It’s located just outside Rhyl in Wales, the only surviving business on the once thriving seafront. It opens for exactly one afternoon a year and if you are still inside when the doors shut, you will have to wait the full year to be released.4.) If I were to ask the Queen, “Professor Elemental?” what might she say?

Ah. I’d rather you didn’t mention me to her, if it’s all the same to you. After that unpleasant business last year with the airship filled with geese and the subsequent fire at Balmoral castle, I’m still not entirely sure she has forgiven me. Let that be a warning to your readers, if you are planning a show for the Queen, always make sure your geese are wearing flameproof smocks. Or better yet, avoid using fire and geese altogether.

5.) Who’s more entertaining, Meghan Markle, or unfortunate American stereotype come to life, paterfamilias Thomas?Gosh, I have a soft spot for both of them really. They represent both sides of the American dream- that one day you could get famous for doing something you love and marry a prince, or alternatively that you could get famous for just being awful.

6.) Is Sunday roast similar to our American Sunday dinner?  And do you eat the exact same meal of beef, roasties, Yorkshire pudding and Brussel Sprouts each week?  Do you get tired of it?  What happens if you eat something else?Every single Sunday is Thanksgiving to us. EVERY SUNDAY. Yes we vary the meat, whether roast chicken, lamb, beef or badger, but the basics remain the same. We never tire of it. Never. Basically, we don’t like change in Britain and fear things we don’t understand. That’s why we only got the internet last month and still watch comedy programmes from the 1970s every Christmas day.

7.) Is spotted dick funny to Brits too?  Or is it in actuality a giant practical joke designed by the UK to wind up (mess with) the world?

treats

Horrifyingly, they’re all real…

I have no idea what you mean madam. It’s a great family tradition that after a roast dinner, we would sit around as a family; Mother tucking into a steaming spotted dick, Father getting his hands on a juicy plum duff and the rest of the family munching down on a packet of Dorset nobs.  Happy innocent fun for all!

8.) Who are some musical heroes and inspirations?  Do you agree with the statement, “DJ Jazzy Jeff is an international treasure”?I listen to all of the American rap, well apart from all that mumbling nonsense. Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince were my gateway into the world of Hip Hop and I love everyone from Pete Rock to Joey Bada$$, from De La Soul to Black Thought. There are a few chaps over here that your readers should check out too. Have a look for Dr Syntax, Dizraeli, Ocean Wisdom and Longusto for a slice of British Hip Hop pie.

9.) What the award’s dinner like for 2012 Greatest Living Eccentric & Most Eccentric Artist from The British Eccentric Club?Exactly as you’d hope, but more so. It took place in a grand British club in Mayfair and featured some of the most beautifully odd people you have ever met in your life. The whole thing was a wonderful window into a whole other world. I rather liked it.

10.) What year is it where you live?

The same year as the Carry On Films, Wallace and Gromit cartoons and The Wind in the Willows. Or thereabouts.

Next time, please join me for a second set of ten questions answered by the man who invented and portrays Professor Elemental, Paul Alborough.

In the meantime, you can check out Prof’s Youtube channel, and his website.

Thanks for your time.100% Umbrage Free

10 Questions for Paul Alborough

Last week Professor Elemental, pride of the British musical genre, chap hop, answered questions about himself, his inspirations, and his artistic community.

Paul Alborough, with what looks suspiciously like chicken and waffles.  And a Corona…

This week, the man who invented and portrays the professor, Paul Alborough, has kindly agreed to answer a new set of questions that range from Weird Al Yankovic to Brexit.1.) The first song of yours I ever heard was, “All in Together”.  Would you mind talking about it?

I’ve always loved Hip Hop that conveys a positive message and I wanted to write a song that was specifically aimed at my sort of tribe. Nerds, the worriers, the people who have doubts about themselves- it was a song to say ‘It’s alright. Nobody has an idea what we’re doing and it’s fine if you don’t too. You’re lovely just as you are.’2.) Do you care to speak about Brexit, and do you believe Europe and nations to the west *ahem, ahem* have demonstrated what others have categorized as a romance with the far right, and a flirtation with fascism?

I think it’s a genuinely terrifying time for politics on the world stage. The ideas themselves are awful, but hardly new. It’s the way that they can be given a platform and legitimized by uncaring technology giants like youtube and facebook that is undermining democracy worldwide. I’ve seen how Brexit has divided this country and it’s not very nice. These days you are either a limp wristed lefty snowflake communist or a nazi with a hammer, there’s no middle ground and I miss that.

The actual song is much, much creepier.

3.) Your song “Animals in Ice Cream” is the macabre, bewildering confession of an ice cream vendor with a twist.  Why, and what, and really, why?  Satirical, I hope (…and pray)?

I’m glad you asked me about that one. It came from a late night argument about whether you could ‘write a song about anything’. Someone said, ‘well you couldn’t rap about sticking animals in ice cream, you weirdo’ and off I went. Once I had taken a turn down that particularly strange avenue, it opened up the possibility of creating something as unusual as the Professor Elemental character.

4.) How do you feel about our nations’ shared obsession with celebrity and social media’s pervasive, all-encompassing frenzy?  Without sounding like a Whitehall wanker or a DC crook can you speak to the dual nature of both the better angels and the malevolent depths of human nature on display for consumption every day?

I read “The Reluctant Dragon” to my kids the other night. It was first published in 1898 and features villagers fawning and obsessing over a visiting knight, then making up ‘fake news’ to provoke a fight. I found that both comforting and slightly saddening at once.Watching the likes of Trump or Farrage break the delicate strands of civility that hold our society together means that we have to be much more outspoken in our positivity. We need to straddle that fine line between standing up for what we believe in and not stooping to the level of the opposition.

On the other hand, I am a great believer that people, as a whole, are generally good and that better instincts will eventually prevail.If the idea of an increasingly divided world seems overwhelming, then I take the opinion that you should try to help the people around you: do good deeds for strangers, say nice things to people you respect on the internet, volunteer with people who need it. You might not be able to change the whole world, but you can change your world.

5.) “The Rain (featuring Sabira Jade)” on the album Odd Beast from the Menagerie is an amazing, moving, catchy piece of music, about austerity, and the lengthening of the divide between rich and poor.  Can you speak about the talent involved, and the message?That was my favourite song on our last ‘Menagerie’ album (a non-professor hip hop group featuring Dr Syntax, Nick Maxwell and Tom Caruana). Austerity did untold damage to the most vulnerable people in our society- hundreds of libraries closed, benefits to the disabled were savagely cut, school budgets were cut to the bone. Sadly, that divide grows ever wider too, I was just with a friend who works with young people and a teenager client of his killed himself after counselling sessions were cut. The human cost of all this is terrifying.  Political Hip Hop might not change things in and of itself, but it can take a snapshot of where we are and how we got here.6.) Famousbirthdays.com calls Professor Elemental a comical musician, similar to Weird Al Yankovic.  Although I’m a Weird Al fan, I take extreme umbrage to this description on your behalf.  Prof is a creation of Shakespearian complexity and is the W. C. Handy of chap hop.  Please speak of the creation process, and tell our readers whether you harbor any amount of umbrage on your own behalf?I am completely umbrage-free. Like most creative people who manage to make a living out of it, I am incredibly lucky. The Professor came on the scene just as Steampunk was taking off, without Steampunk, there’s no way this would have been a career.  Thanks for the nice compliments, if anything the Professor owes an awful lot to comedy archetypes before him from Chuck Jone’s Daffy Duck to Toad of Toad Hall. There’s a lot of Vivian Stanshall in there too.

7.) Speaking of the dawn of the Professor; how barmy did people think you were after his debut?I was just starting to lose my way as a middle aged, white, middle class rapper. I continually made bad choices in front of a regular rap crowd (wearing an easter bonnet or doing a show in drag) The Professor took me away from the over-serious UK rap scene towards a tribe of like-minded weirdos to party with.

8.) What do Americans get wrong about Brits?

British people are incapable of paying genuine compliments. The more we like someone, the more we are horrible to them. I think that sometimes this can be misunderstood, and Americans think we are not very nice people when they meet us.

Maybe that’s just me though.9.) What do Brits get wrong about Americans?

I think Brits still carry around that slight arrogance that come with having once been an Empire. We can unconsciously assume a bit of a superior attitude in America, not realizing that most Americans just think of us a delightful novelty toy town with good cake. If they think of us at all.10.) Might you share one piece of advice for Donald Trump, and one for Elizabeth Windsor?

I couldn’t give advice to the Queen, I doubt she’d listen to me any way. I quite like the royal family, but I wouldn’t mind it if they connected to the country a bit more. Here’s hoping that nice Meghan will help with some of that.

Oh God…

To Trump I just say Stop. Everything you’re doing, just stop it. Now.

Thanks to Paul Alborough, Professor Elemental, and you, Gentle Reader, for your time.

 

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