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Hilda Hits It Big 2/28/21


I guess I sound like a broken record by now, but let me start by repeating the fact that everything is connected somehow, at least inside my head. When Captain Tom died this month it got me thinking about him and his hit rendition of The Song That Must Not Be Named, and his record of being the oldest person to ever have a #1 hit song. Which, in turn, got me thinking about the oldest female to ever have been part of a #1 song. We have to go quite a ways back for this one. For some of you, this will be a blast from the past. For those of you too young to remember it, you are in for a real treat.


In the early 60’s two friends, Rob Woodward and Nigel Fletcher, got together to write and play their own music. They eventually enlisted a couple of friends to join in to create a band. They called their band Stavely Makepeace and, though Woodward and Fletcher have written a book, I haven’t read it yet, so don’t ask me where that name comes from or what it means. With no better options, they began using Woodward’s mom’s living room as their rehearsal hall and studio, which must have been fun for the neighbors, considering it was a semi-detached house. By the middle of 1969 they had released their first single: (I Wanna Love You Like a) Mad Dog.

Now, if you’re hoping this story will be about the song (I Wanna Love You Like a) Mad Dog, you’re going to be a little disappointed, or maybe hugely disappointed, depending on how much you wanted to know about (I Wanna Love You Like a) Mad Dog. Perhaps not surprisingly, (I Wanna Love You Like a) Mad Dog was not a huge hit. Don't bother listening to it. It's really awful. But after a couple of people left the band and they added new bass player Steve Johnson, they released another record which did make a small splash in the music world, and a pretty large splash in my world. The song was called Edna. Not quite Ednold, but close enough that by just adding a couple of letters onto the end, Edna becomes Ednold, which is why, over the years, it has become kind of like my own personal theme song. I'm in the habit of singing it every morning and there's nothing quite like it to get the day off to a good start. I've never been quite able to accurately imitate Rob Woodward's warbling falsetto, but I like to think the effort is appreciated by the rest of the family. If you have trouble jumping out of bed each morning ready to tackle what the day has in store, you might want to think about incorporating it into your daily routine too. As a song, Edna was hard to categorize. Two parts honky-tonk, 2 parts dixieland, and one part boogie-woogie with a dash of yodeling for good measure. It sounds like something that may have been big in the 30’s or the 20’s, or maybe you could have heard it in an old wild west saloon somewhere. It’s hard to pin down exactly what it is and put a label on it, but it’s awesome, especially the video with a couple of flappers dancing to it, one of which just might be my own grandma, though I’m not sure. Check it out and I’m sure you’ll agree. But this story isn't about Edna, either, so lets move on.

Though Edna was only a minor hit, it was successful enough that Woodward and Fletcher decided to spend some time on a side project recording similar songs. And this is where things get really good. Rob Woodward’s mom, whose living room had become Staveley Makepeace’s studio, was a piano teacher. She used to sit in on some of the sessions and sometimes did more than just sit and listen. So when the boys started their new project they asked if she would like to be part of the band. And that’s how Hilda Woodward became a full member of the band Lieutenant Pigeon.


The Stavely Makepeace boys kept that band going while simultaneously performing as Lieutenant Pigeon. As with Stavely Makepeace, I don’t know where the name Lieutenant Pigeon comes from or what it’s supposed to mean. Hopefully someday I’ll have that information and be able to provide an update for you. The same people were in both bands with the exception that Hilda was not a part of Staveley Makepeace, so she must have felt pretty good in 1972 when a Lieutenant Pigeon song completely blew away anything that had ever been put out by Stavely Makepeace. In that year they released the smash hit “Mouldy Old Dough”, which stayed at the top of the chart for 4 straight weeks.


Like Edna, Mouldy Old Dough is an oddly constructed tune. With both Rob and his mom banging out their respective piano parts, interspersed with Rob’s tin whistle solos sounding like something out of the revolutionary war, and Fletcher adding vocals that seem to be coming from a drunken pirate, Mouldy Old Dough was an unlikely hit. Rob wrote the words to the tune and when Nigel asked him what they meant he said he had no idea. But you have to give it to Lieutenant Pigeon. They weren’t trying to be the next Beatles, or David Bowie, or Donnie Osmond, or Led Zeppelin. They stuck to their own style of music, what they called the "scrap iron sound", and made it to the top.


And Hilda was right there with them. As a 58 year old at the time, she still holds the record for the oldest female to have a song at the top of the charts. As a kid I thought she was about 90, and even watching the video now she looks older than she was. And it’s got to be one of the strangest videos ever. There she is, dressed like she just stopped in on her way to a funeral, in a black dress and her grey hair in a bun, while the bassist, Steve, is in his psychedelic bell bottoms and star-spangled platform boots trying hard to look like he’s really rocking out to a song that wasn’t made for that. Meanwhile, Rob is facing his mom at his own piano, looking comparatively normal in what look to be his pajamas, and Nigel sports his goofy grin on the drums and adds his drunken pirate voice once in a while. It’s totally weird but also a lot of fun, and though it’s hard to hear it now and think that it was ever a #1 song, it does make me miss the days when a song like that could be a big hit. It's sad that my own children had to grow up in a world where Mouldy Old Dough would never have received any attention at all.

Nigel, Rob, Steve and Hilda - Lt. Pigeon

Those days are long gone, as is Hilda. She died of pneumonia in 1999 at the age of 85. Reportedly her last words to son Rob were "Mouldy Old Dough - I was the oldest one in the group" which, if true, is a little strange but shows how much she valued being a part of that success. She had lived another 27 years after her big hit and, if you’d have asked me at the time, I would have told you that wasn’t possible. How could someone so incredibly ancient possibly live another 27 years? Well, I hope you can ask me that same question about 27 years from now.


Rob and Nigel kept both of their bands going off and on for many years and sporadically released other records, but nothing they did after that ever came close to the success of Mouldy Old Dough. But if you want to hear more of their music there’s a lot of it out there on the internet. I can’t say I like all of it but when I’m in the mood for something completely different I’m thankful that Hilda and the boys gave us that option.


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gilromastew
gilromastew
Feb 28, 2021

It almost sounds as though you don't remember that you...the Great Ednold....sat in front of the Ashley Court TV watching "Top of the Pops" as Hilda and the Lt. played "Mouldy Old Dough" for a studio full of screaming teenagers. You, Ednold, were a very active part of that history.....one of the original Mouldy Old Fans. Thanks for resurrecting that bit of history.

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