The Showbiz XI was set up in 1957 and over the years raised a lot money for good causes, arranging football matches, fundraising dinners, charity auctions and so on throughout Britain.
Unfortunately – because they were led by Conrad - these so-called celebs (and we really are scraping the bottom of the barrel: the two albums issued feature such ‘major stars’ as Steve ‘I’m Going to Spain’ Bent and actor Tony ‘Get Some In’ Selby) also decided that one way to raise money for their chosen charities was to issue a brace of albums: several tracks from which I present for you today.
As essential Footie fanzine When Saturday Comes put it (when writing about the Showbiz XI in 2008): ‘by the 1950s, with variety dying… the world of entertainment was being rapidly transformed by the twin forces of television and rock’n’roll and those two worlds collided to produce a charity football phenomenon.
‘Started in a coffee bar in Soho by disc jockey and song plugger Jimmy Henney and Cliff Richard’s manager Franklyn Boyd, it was primarily an outlet for young musicians and actors to indulge themselves in a game that many of them might well have taken up professionally, had not the stage and screen claimed them. Early line-ups included Sean Connery, Tommy Steele, Jimmy Tarbuck, Tony Newley, Lonnie Donegan, Des O’Connor and Patrick McGoohan, who was a rugged centre-half, plus various theatrical agents, managers and hangers-on. Although the team often trained at Highbury, ex-professional players featured rarely: only Billy Wright and Wally Barnes, a former Arsenal wing-half then working as a commentator, were ever-present.
‘One among the pioneers was a svelte, good-looking young rock-star-cum-male-model, Jess Conrad. Unlike Steele, Connery and many of the others, Conrad boasted no athletic ability whatsoever. But he had a dream. “I went in goal because, when I was younger, a Russian goalkeeper, Lev Yashin, caught my imagination. The pictures of him were so reminiscent of Batman sweeping through the air, and he was dressed all in black.” The fact that Conrad couldn’t actually kick a ball mattered little. For the next 40 years, Jess would earn quite a reputation as a shot-stopper, bravely diving in and risking his heavily insured teeth at the same time. Jess would ultimately captain, manage and organise the Showbiz XI. He also designed the logos, sourced the sponsors, negotiated with the FA, and packed the hampers as the various eclectic teams travelled by coach, train and plane to the four corners of the UK and beyond. When he was making movies, it was written into his contract that, every Saturday, wherever he was, he would be flown back to London to play.’
Apparently in May 1957 singer Alma Cogan kicked off a Showbiz XI game at West Ham in front of a crowd of 23,000 football fans. Injury forced Conrad to quit in the 1980s and today, as the Showbiz XI president, he confines his role to introducing the team before the game and promoting their work through his website.
There were two Showbiz XI albums, one EP and a 7” single (highlighting the dubious talents of young actor Gary Kielty and Grange Hill’s Zammo Maguire) – all issued between 1989 and 1990 on the short-lived Showbiz Records of Bognor Regis – and all are thoroughly dreadful. The front sleeve of the two albums and the EP show the same shot of Jess in football gear (with an after-the-fact Addidas logo added) heroically ‘saving a goal but musically scoring an own goal in the process’ as blogger David Noades put it when posting tracks form the two albums on WFMU. His leaden, tuneless singing would be bad enough if it were not for the awful material: Jesus The Messiah is so terrible even Pat Boone would have refused it; Soccer Superstar, sung by Jess and Tanya Tenola, is so dull doctors could proscribe it as a cure for insomnia, and Black Stockings - an ode to women in uniform – is a lumpen embarrassment.
So here, for your enjoyment, is a taste of the Showbiz XI: Jess singing Black Stockings, Tony Selby and his ode to Canada and the Showbiz XI ensemble 'singing' John Wayne, American. If you want to hear more of this awful rubbish please check out WFMU.