No X-mas for John Quays

Lyrics

(1)

The X in X-Mas is a substitute crucifix for Christ (2)
A-one, A-two, A-one, two, three, four
No Christmas for John Quays
No Christmas for John Quays
No Christmas for John Quays
No Christmas for John Quays  (3)

The powders reach you
And the powders teach you
When you find they can't reach you  (4)
There is no Christmas for junkies

He thinks he is
More interesting
Than the world
But buying cigs
Puts him in a whirl

A packet of three-five fives
Five hundred and fifty five  (5)
A packet of those over there
And 20 special offer cigars
And 20 special offer cigars

Found talking to the cigarette machine...

Into nicotinic acid
Good King Wenceslas looked out
Silly bugger, he fell out  (6)

He spits in the sky
It falls in his eye (7)
And then he gets to sit in
Talking to his kitten

And talking about Frankie Lymon

Tell me why is it so?
Tell me why is it so? (8)

Out of his face with The Idle Race (9)
Out of the room with his tune

Although the skins are thin
He knows its up to him
To go out or stay in

I'll stay in
I'll stay in
I'll stay in 
I'll stay in

You
Me
X-Mas
X-Mas

Well the powders reach you
And the powders teach you
When they find that they can't reach you

There is no Christmas for John Quays

No girls
No curls
Just the traffic passing by
Bye bye bye bye bye bye bye
Bye bye bye
Bye bye bye

One, Two, Three, Four
No Christmas for John Quays
No Christmas for John Quays
No Christmas for John Quays
No Christmas for John Quays

Notes

1. The name of the title character is seemingly a pun on "junkies" (see note 3 below). In his book The Fallen, Dave Simpson talks with a woman who had been close to the Fall at the time, and who reveals that John Quays was an actual person (and, conveniently enough, a junkie, or at least a heavy drug user). The implication in the book is that "John Quays" was/is his actual name, but this is never confirmed and seems less than certain to me. On the other hand, former (briefly) Fall member and Una Baines associate Jonnie Brown was reportedly convinced the song was about him.

The redoubtable dannyno, of the Fall online forum fame, did a little digging around, as is his wont:

But worth noting that Dave Simpson says "The John Quays character is certainly a play on words" - i.e. he doesn't believe that there was anybody actually called "John Quays", even if there was someone who was the subject of the song.

[Bzfgt: it is, however, possible that there was a John Quays who contributed the name, and a different person, a junkie, whom the song is about: (or John Key; see below).]

Also for what it is worth, I've tried an English/Welsh births records search from 1916 and nobody whatsoever was born after that date with the name "John Quays".

That does not eliminate someone from Scotland or indeed anywhere else, and it does not eliminate anyone called "John Quay" or "John Key" or whatever, or someone who changed their name. Or indeed mistranscriptions of the original records.

But - with all the above caution taken into account - it would seem that nobody was born, after 1916, with the name John Quays anywhere in England or Wales.

According to Alan, "I can vouch that John Key does indeed exist - I've been for a drink with him - Mark just changed the spelling. Apparently he went out with Mark's sister for a while, which Mark didn't approve of and so wrote a song attacking him."

This of course may be a mistaken belief--the song may not be an attack on, or about, John Key at all, even if he inspired the name. 

"The Junky's Christmas," a story by William S. Burroughs, was published in 1989 but probably written in the 1950s. However, nothing I have found leads me to believe MES could have known about it. 

According to Duncan "There's another version where he sings "Up in her room there's a cloud of smoke" a couple of times. This is a quote from "Up in her room" by The Seeds." 

^

2. X, which looks like a cross lying on its side and leaning away from the viewer, has been used as a symbol for Christ since at least the 11th century, standing for the Greek letter Chi (the initial letter in Christos).  

^

3. MES does not enunciate the 's' the first three times, so it sounds like "No Christmas for junkie." However, it may also be "No Christmas for John Key," i.e. he could be lapsing into the original name that inspired at least the title, if not the song (see note 1, particularly Alan's testimony). Or, he may just be swallowing the 's' (although it doesn't sound like it).

^

 

4. From "Black Skinned Blue Eyed Boy" by the Equals (1970):

Cool is school
But the teachers beat ya
When they see
That they can't reach ya

^



Read more:  The Equals - Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys Lyrics | MetroLyrics

5. State Express 555 is a British cigarette.  

^

6. A reference, of course, to the popular Christmas carol "Good King Wenceslas," which begins: "Good King Wenceslas looked out on the feast of Stephen." Wenceslas (actually a Bohemian Duke, Wenceslaus) was a 10th-century saint and martyr. Otto I, founder of the Holy Roman Empire, posthumously conferred kingship on the late Duke.   

The rendition MES has here is in fact a traditional children's parody of the carol. Here is one version:

Good King Wenceslas looked out
Of his bedroom winder
Silly bugger he fell out
On a red hot cinder
Brightly shone his bum that night
Though the frost was cruel
Till the doctor came in sight
Riding on a mule
Good King Wenceslas drove out
In his Austin Seven
He bumped into a trolley bus
And now he's up in heaven

There are versions around the internet with other verses, but you get the idea.

Danny brought this to my attention, and he has located one version in Frank Rutherford's 1971 book, All the Way to Pennywell: Children's Rhymes of the North-East.

^

7. This line appears in "People Grudgeful" by Sir Gibbs (one of two songs that form the basis of the Fall's "Why Are People Grudgeful?"), and in "Jim Screechey" by Big Youth ("You spit in the sky, it fall in your eye").  MES also seems to quote Big Youth on "Get A Hotel" and "City Hobgoblins." The origin ultimately seems to be the Jamaican proverb which, in patois, runs "Pit inna de sky, it fall inna yuh y'eye."

^

8. Frankie Lymon was the lead singer of the Teenagers, whose "Why Do Fools Fall in Love?" (which contains the line "Tell me why, tell me why") went to number one in the UK in 1956. In 1968, Lymon died of a heroin overdose at the age of 25.  

^

9. The Idle Race were a British band in the late 60s and early 70s that featured future ELO mastermind Jeff Lynne. The Fall covered the Lynne-penned "Birthday" in the 1990s (with Lucy Rimmer on lead vocals).  

^

Comments (31)

Colin
  • 1. Colin | 25/12/2013
Lyrically, he's saying "junkies", not "John Quays". MES titled it "John Quays" as a goofy little play on words.
bzfgt
  • 2. bzfgt | 15/02/2014
That might be, but how can you tell for sure?
dannyno
  • 3. dannyno | 22/04/2014
The lyrics here are not quite right.

He quite clearly sings that the "powders reach you" and "teach you", and that verse appears twice.

Wenceslas "last looked out", not "he looked out".

I hear "out of the room with this tune", not "his tune"/

And there's a missing powders verse after the "you, me, Xmas, Xmas" verse.

Here's what I hear (I know you won't want to repeat all the repeated lines):

The x in Xmas is a substitute crucifix for Christ

One, two, one, two, three, four
No Christmas for John Quays
No Christmas for John Quays
No Christmas for John Quays
No Christmas for John Quays

Well, the powders reach you and the powders teach you
And when you find they can't reach you
There is no Christmas for John Quays

He thinks he is more interesting than the world
But buying cigs puts him in a whirl

A packet of three five fives
555
A packet of those over there
And twenty special offer cigars
And twenty special offer cigars

Found talking to the cigarette machine
Into nicotinic acid
Good King Wenceslas last looked out
Silly bugger, he fell out

He spits in the sky
It falls in his eye
And then he gets to sit in
Talking to his kitten

And talking about Frankie Lymon

Tell me why is it so?
Tell me why is it so?

Out of his face with The Idle Race
Out of the room with this tune

Although the skins are thin
He knows it's up to him
To go out or stay in

Oh, I'll stay in
I'll stay in
I'll stay in
I'll stay in
I'll stay in

You, me, Xmas, Xmas

Well the powders reach you, and the powders teach you
And when you find that they can't reach you
There is no Christmas for John Quays

No girls
No curls
Just the traffic passing by
Bye bye bye bye bye bye bye
Bye bye bye
Bye bye bye

One, two, three, four

No Xmas for John Quays
No Xmas for John Quays
No Xmas for John Quays
No Xmas for John Quays
dannyno
  • 4. dannyno | 22/04/2014
The line,

"Good King Wenceslas last looked out
Silly bugger, he fell out"

is a traditional parody.

It is recorded, for example, in Frank Rutherford's 1971 book, "All the Way to Pennywell: Children's Rhymes of the North-East" (University of Durham Institute of Education):

"Good king Wence'las last looked out
Of his bedroom winder
Silly bugger, he fell out
On a red hot cinder"

and so on.
bzfgt
  • 5. bzfgt | 23/04/2014
I never listen to this song because I don't like it, but I saw your corrections and listened to it and put things right. If I missed anything you think is important let me know, I didn't check it all against yours but it looks about the same. I took Colin's advice and made it "junkie(s)" since that sounds pretty much right although I'm not sure if the move is warranted, and there's no lyrics book version of this.

Excellent find with the King Wenceslas stuff.
dannyno
  • 6. dannyno | 24/04/2014
Much improved.

However:

You're missing the "one, two, three, four after "substitute crucifix for Christ".

"But buying cigs", not "And buying cigs".

"Good King Wenceslaus last looked out", not "Good King Wenceslaus looked out"

:-)
steve hamilton
  • 7. steve hamilton | 24/04/2014
Listen again Dan, there's no "last" in the Wenceslas line - it's the last syllable of his name (which traditionally I think doesn't have a U in it either).
dannyno
  • 8. dannyno | 25/04/2014
Good heavens, you're right!
dannyno
  • 9. dannyno | 25/04/2014
I now have the "All the Way to Pennywell" in front of me. If anyone is checking, the quote I gave is on p.113, alongside some other versions. The bit I quoted is all that is given for that version, and it is attributed to "Boy, 10, Chester-le-Street, 1967".

So it's at least as old as that.
dannyno
  • 10. dannyno | 25/04/2014
Jim Screechey, by the way, is also sometimes titled Jim Squashey (for example, on the Big Youth album "Natty Cultural Dread").
bzfgt
  • 11. bzfgt | 13/05/2014
Shit, I don't know how I missed that stuff, I actually listened to the crappy song. I am not checking to make sure you're right, I don't want to listen to it again!
bzfgt
  • 12. bzfgt | 13/05/2014
OK, I actually did listen to it (not that bad, really) and this is now all what I hear, and very close to what you here. I fixed the spelling, Steve--it's "Wenceslas" for the hymn, and "Wenceslaus" for the historical figure.
Tom
  • 13. Tom | 05/05/2015
Never read Junkies into it and seems so obvious now, not sure he isn't singing John Quays some of the time though.
Accent sometimes needs attention listening to MES.
One thing...
I always heard 20 special offer stickers not cigars. That would have been more familiar at the time, you didn't get huge disparity in cigarette prices and the cheap deal was usually a discount sticker on a pack rather than a supposed inferior brand like now. Brand was just preference then apart from a few premium choices. Stickers also fits better on a packet of 20 cigs rather than cigars, you didn't get 20 cigars.
Listening now I actually hear 20 special offer stickers followed by 20 special offer cigars: so go with the whirl of indecision taking him from his 555s through, whatever, on to the cheap deal brand then the alliteration of stickers and cigars lead him to end up with asking for that as well.
On the totals turns version where he rants at the band, he substitutes the special offer...for 20 Number 6 for a headache x2. Players No 6 were a harsh smoke that would give you pain choking if not headache if puffed through a pack.
Cheers
Duncan
  • 14. Duncan | 14/09/2015
There's another version (on Totale's Turns?) where he sings "Up in her room there's a cloud of smoke" a couple of times. This is a quote from "Up in her room" by The Seeds.
Zack
  • 15. Zack | 30/12/2016
On Live 1977, MES prefaces "Frightened" with "We are Frightened 'cause it's Christmas. Santa never comes for junkies," which suggests that the lyrics for "No Xmas" may have been percolating at the time of this recording (December 23, 1977).
Martin
  • 16. Martin | 20/03/2017
Wontonton on The Fall Online:

"The story of 'No Xmas For John Quays' is really good."

"I'll post 'No Xmas For John Quays' if more Blue Orchids' 10"s sell! It's funny, that one."

Anyone who hadn't read the whole thread might think it was Martin Bramah himself posting, given the sales push for Blue Orchids. However:

"I am not Martin Bramah,"

I don't think I'm being overly curious when I ask myself just who wontonton is and what connection he has to Blue Orchids (all the threads he's started are about that band/Martin Bramah) and what other knowledge he has about early Fall in general. When we go down the whole song interpretation debate (see "Mother-Sister") I think that it's important to know who exactly is claiming what and why. But maybe I shouldn't be so nosy!
bzfgt
  • 17. bzfgt (link) | 23/03/2017
Yours ain't the only mind the question has crossed.
Alan
  • 18. Alan | 09/12/2017
I can vouch that John Keys does indeed exist - I've been for a drink with him - Mark just changed the spelling. Apparently he went out with Mark's sister for a while, which Mark didn't approve of and so wrote a song attacking him.
dannyno
  • 19. dannyno | 10/12/2017
Yeah, there's a picture of him on the FOF somewhere. He definitely exists. But when you say, Alan, that "apparently" he went out with Mark's sister, and the song is an attack on him, do you mean that John Keys said that this was the case? And did he say that because Mark or Mark's sister had told him so?

I ask the question not because the idea the song is based on Keys is implausible - it's very plausible - but because I think it's good to understand what the evidential basis of comments is.

The other question is whether Keys was in fact a junkie. This question has two angles. One is that in fact the song lyrics are not very specific when it comes to describing junkie behaviour - apart from the "powders reach you" bit. The portrait is not in fact wholly focussed on the junkie thing - there's more there about buying cigarettes. So that leads me to wonder whether in writing a song based on a real character, and attacking him, MES enjoyed the Keys/Quays pun and so generalised the lyric to have a broader meaning. You take my point? Keys could be the original lyrical target without the song being about him specifically as a junkie or accusing him of that.
bzfgt
  • 20. bzfgt (link) | 16/12/2017
Dan, I was just about to post the same thing, more or less, and then decided to read your comment to see if you made the point--it hadn't occurred to me until reading Alan's comment that John Keys/Quays may not have been a junkie at all, but that the whole thing was inspired by the name, ie. MES decided to create a fictional character OR to talk about a real character who is not John Keys, and gave him that name because it's the perfect name for a junkie.
bzfgt
  • 21. bzfgt (link) | 16/12/2017
Oh, yeah, I see you're actually making a different point now that I read it slowly. But it's also possible that all Keys contributed is the name, is it not?
bzfgt
  • 22. bzfgt (link) | 16/12/2017
This is not to question the veracity of Alan's account. One possible scenario:

MES decides to write a song about Nigel Blackwood (isn't every third Englishman named that?). Blackwood is a junkie. MES is also struck by the fact that John Keys's name is pronounced close to the same as "junkies," or exactly the same depending on your accent. So MES decides to use a version of John Keys's name as the name in the song of Blackwood.
bzfgt
  • 23. bzfgt (link) | 16/12/2017
Then, Keys hears it and says "Blimey! 'John Quays' my ass, he's attacking me, John Keys, for going out with his sister!" All very plausible (along with several other things that are equally plausible based on the information we have).
bzfgt
  • 24. bzfgt (link) | 16/12/2017
Your point is also taken that the character in the song may not be a junkie, although this is less likely. But we leave that possibility open more than other sites, since we don't take the spelling in the lyrics (as opposed to the title) to be "junkies." Now I have to check if there's a version in the lyrics books...that would settle that one. You'll know the answer, if you don't already, by the spelling in the lyrics above in 7 minutes.
bzfgt
  • 25. bzfgt (link) | 16/12/2017
No, damn it:

1. I DO have "junkie" in the lyrics, and;
2. As was pointed out pretty decisively last week, the lyrics book will not settle anything, since at least some of them are third party transcriptions!
bzfgt
  • 26. bzfgt (link) | 16/12/2017
OK, no lyrics book version anyway. So, a question:

SHOULD I have "junkies" in the lyrics? Is that too much of a commitment? After all, the title is "No X-Mas For John Quays," and it's as likely as anything else that that is what he in fact says, isn't it?

Right now I'm changing it to "John Quays" with a note, but I will listen to arguments as to why i must restore "junkies/junkie." It seems to me now that this transcription is as much an interpretation as a transcription, is it not?

Is there some sort of evidence beyond the aural that it's "junkie"?
bzfgt
  • 27. bzfgt (link) | 16/12/2017
Yes some times through he doesn't enunciate the 's' but I don't find that dispositive.
bzfgt
  • 28. bzfgt (link) | 16/12/2017
Oh, sorry, the "John Quays/Keys was not a junkie" theory is already bruited by Simpson as noted in note 1, so that's already in play. Sorry, I haven't looked at the notes in a while now.
bzfgt
  • 29. bzfgt (link) | 16/12/2017
I think my solution above is as good as can be done now. I put "John Quays" as the text, and a note suggesting it may be "junkie" and recognizing that he does not always enunciate the 's.'

Alan: did you leave this encounter certain that his name is not "John Key"? That would be another wrinkle, it would make "junkies" slightly less likely, and the idea that the song is indeed about him slightly more likely, I think.
dannyno
  • 30. dannyno | 16/12/2017
Assuming we're talking about the same person, then he was a member of The Teardrops and called "John Key". No "s".
bzfgt
  • 31. bzfgt (link) | 16/12/2017
OK, Alan, I changed your testimony in note 1 to "John Key," let me know if this is wrong and you're sure of the 's.'

Just to reiterate, it's possible that:

1. John Key was a junkie and the inspiration for the song;
2. John Key was not a junkie but was the inspiration for the song, which is a bit of mischief which
a. may or may not be due to his dating MES's sister;
3. John Key was the inspiration for the song's title, but not its content;
a. it's about another junkie but uses JK's name
b. it's a fictional character
c. it's a composite character, of which
i. one of the models is John Key
ii. is modeled after two or more people, neither of whom are John Key
4. John Key has nothing to do with the song, but he thinks he does.

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