The Babysitters

Local Cambridgeshire Artist
The Babysitters

Bar Hill singer-songwriter Sam Inglis, author of Teach Yourself Songwriting and leader of country-tinged rock band The Morning People, is, in my opinion, an undiscovered national treasure, not merely a local one. I won't embarrass him further, at this early stage, by praising him with superlatives which I really do think are merited (but you can read suchlike herehere, here and here, and even someone else's opinion here). So, anyway, it was a thrill for me to receive some private recordings of Sam's band of the 1990s, The Babysitters; it was even more exciting to hear their songs, and to appreciate gradually what a special band they were.

As always with Sam, it's the lyrics that are really special. The lyrics without the music are more individual than the music without the lyrics, although the music is definitely great pop, played with succinct rock gusto. Once the lyrics are in place in the listener's mind, it becomes evident how well the music enhances them, how well-crafted and enjoyable is the combination of words, music and performance. In fact much of the power of The Babysitters' music lies in Sam's inclination to go beyond the regular range of pop in his selection of themes and diction, while conforming to pop-rock structures that produce an energetic, catchy sound which one would expect to convey far less nuanced sentiments.

But if the range of subject matter stretches beyond familiar pop and rock territory, it moves out not to the obscure but, most often, to the realm of ordinary life. Not the 'real life' of Trainspotting or gangsta rap, but songs about raising babies, going for a walk on a Sunday, car trips to the sea, deciding to become a lawyer. Alternatively, the songs offer unusually sensible contemplations of subjects that come up in conversation from time to time (reincarnation, sharks), contemplations that refuse the predictable responses.

Formed in 1994, The Babysitters were Sam Inglis (electric guitar, lead vocals), Stephen Borrill (bass guitar), Philip Armit (drums; later replaced by Ben Taylor) and Bernard Leckie (keyboards; later replaced by Matt Carter). The group probably fit within the very broad genre of indie rock: at least they possess the common indie rejection of swagger, extravagance and studious experimentation. Slightly more specifically, their sound is perhaps akin to that of the more melodic end of the spectrum of New Wave: Elvis Costello And The Attractions, Squeeze, The Stranglers (although I prefer them to any New Wave band). And there's a touch of 1966 mod in there too.

In 1996 they released an EP, consisting of I Can See The Sea, Reincarnation and Amsterdam. Amsterdam is one of their greatest successes. Inglis employs the Randy Newman approach of recording an attitude without comment, with the narrator's attitude left for the listener to imagine: irony is surely suspected, but never explicit. (Similar strategies are employed in Walk and Law School.) In a typical Inglis twist, the narrator is merely a passenger in a train, sitting opposite a student extolling the virtues of the city:


You talked at length about English girls,

Their attitude to sex,

How they can't admit to themselves that they fancy you,

Because they're all repressed.

You want to go somewhere the girls are enlightened,

Where they relate to men without being frightened

Of masculinity

Or sheer virility,

Where they'll be queuing at your door,



While the refrain of I Can See The Sea might threaten to annoy after a while, the rest of the song pleasantly details the realities of a seaside trip:


We've got the windows down,

Driving around,

Insects in our hair.

The traffic's bad,

The beer's gone flat,

But I think we're nearly there,

Because I can see the sea,

And the sunlight on the waves,

And the blue flags flying in the breeze.


While Reincarnation rather meanly hopes that an unknown addressee will return as a worm, its gently sceptical exploration of the theme is quite delightful in the context of a lively pop tune:


Everybody who believes in it seems ordinary now,

But they were always special the last time they were around on Earth.

They were Oliver Cromwell, or some other head of state,

But no-one ever really wants to be made an invertebrate.

And when you are a worm you'll have to stay a worm,

Because worms cannot redeem their souls.

They can't perform actions of moral worth,

They can only swallow earth.


The other songs on the recording were recorded around 1999, but never released. They certainly should have been. Typically, Call On Me, a classic slice of smart infectious pop, has a familiar theme of a boy forlornly hoping some object of unrequited love will pay a visit, yet it is Inglis' excessive detailing of the attributes of the party that isn't which is the real focus:


I know it's only a Thursday,

Just one more piece of the year.

It's not Christmas, it's nobody's birthday,

And not much is happening here.

I won't tidy the kitchen,

And I won't bother to change,

But I have no prior engagements,

No plans to rearrange.


Walk is almost funny in its employment of some powerful rock to express its theme (with some strident electric guitar, and some nifty bass ambulation to mimic the activity):


Out in the four by four,

And back to Sunday lunch on walks.

The best ones are circular,

You get back where you've begun on walks.

Other people wave at us,

Because they're doing the same as us,

Going for a walk.


Baby speaks for itself:


Once, you were the one with a reputation,

Stuff your mum would not have believed.

Once, you had a topic of conversation,

Apart from crawling, nappies and teeth.

But now baby

Is lying there so smugly,

And baby

Is starting to get ugly,

Wrapped you round his finger,

Baby's taking over your life.


To think that we all started life as such culprits! Sharks, similarly, need no introduction from me:


Life is too complicated on dry land,

Sharks live a simple life that everyone can understand.


Some creatures live by stealing eggs from others' nests,

Some peck at whitened bones for scraps of rotting flesh.

Some live by sucking blood

And some by eating quiche

But sharks don't need an evolutionary niche.


For Sweet, Alexander Graham Bell was a hero. But for The Babysitters he's an arch-villain:


You made a prison, you source of pain,

You made a modern-day ball and chain.


Advances in communications technology have rendered the song a little dated. But do you know of any other pop songs that include the word ‘supposedly'?

Next, some pounding drums lead us into a potential eternal student's resolution to change direction:


Well academic life can be an entertaining game,

I've collected a full set of letters by my name,

I studied under genius, and I've tried to please,

Their reputation meant something, they make good referees.

Well Cambridge was so civilised, I could have stayed for years,

But my life-plan is bigger than postdoctoral careers,

I'm going to law school.


Again, the splendid incongruity of the subject for rock'n'roll adds a dimension. But on more straightforward terms it is still great rock'n'roll, nevertheless.

Ten Seconds Flat has a relatively conventional, though still neat, lyric. Lead by some swirling sixties organ sounds, it could have been a classic mod anthem.

So that was that, then. The Babysitters gigged intermittently into the new millennium, but are now definitely history, with no records released after the one EP. Their website is still extant; out of date, but full of Inglis wit, lyrics to four of the songs and an mp3 of Ten Seconds Flat. Sam has moved on, though, with solo performances and occasional appearances with The Morning People (most frequently at Octopus Ride, Sam's monthly club at The Globe Ale House on Cambridge's Hills Road). The People are even rumoured to be recording an album. If it appears on the market, I'll let you know. Meanwhile if I've made you rue having missed The Babysitters, I'm sorry. But I'd rather that than even less music fans knowing that such a great band ever existed at all.


Writer: Rychard Carrington