The Notsensibles were five young Burnley lads, innocent in the world of politics, when in 1979 they recorded their song ‘I’m in love with Margaret Thatcher’. When Britain’s first lady Prime Minister died this year they found fame when an anti-Thatcher brigade backed ‘Ding Dong the Witch is Dead’ which went straight into the charts. It was a song from the 1939 film the ‘Wizard of Oz’ starring Judy Garland. Thatcherites believing the Notsensibles song was a tribute to the late Baroness started their own campaign to get the Burnley punk band’s record into the charts.
Here Roger Rawlinson, a member of the group, tells their story:- The Notsensibles recorded the Margaret Thatcher song in 1979 with a small independent record label and had 1,000 records produced for the sum of £600.
The band scraped the money together by pooling what was left from our gigs, and by borrowing from various friends and parents. It was the true punk rock spirit, far removed from some of our more illustrious peers who were signed to major record labels. It was around the same time as the 1979 General Election when the song was conceived and not intended to be a tribute or anything at all to do with Margaret Thatcher. Simply the band was messing about with a three chord riff, which had a catchy melody line, and the words ‘I’m in love with Margaret Thatcher’ just seemed to fit. We didn’t really know that much about Margaret Thatcher at the time except that she was in the news hoping to be elected Prime Minister and had been the Education Secretary in a previous government. While in that office she had put up the school leaving age causing some of us to be stuck at school an extra year longer than we wanted and had stopped free milk for schoolchildren. It was just a name to fit with the melody line, until we thought of something better. We added the Margaret Thatcher is so sexy verse (even though she obviously wasn’t), and the original line went on to say “I blush when she’s on telly, because I think she fancies me”. It was only when we changed “blush” to “I go red” that Bingo…we realised that was it’ and 34 years later fuelled the debate of – “do they, or don’t they, really love her?”
Back in 1979 drummer Kev Hemmingway trawled around various record shops and distribution outlets in London with two suitcases of records, trying to persuade music shops to stock or take them off our hands. We ended up selling the records for less than it cost us to produce them.
Then John Peel picked up on the song and began playing it on his Radio One show. Suddenly demand exceeded supply. The original 1000 sold out, and the band scrambled around to get more copies pressed, eventually doing so on our own Snotty Snail label. The song went on to sell approx 20,000 copies and reached No 2 in the independent charts, only being kept off the top spot by Joy Division’s ‘Love Will Tear us apart’. Our Margaret Thatcher song proved a rousing finale at gigs, but never once were we accused by anyone of being Tories or Thatcherites and even the most anti-Thatcher people would happily join in the chorus. The song did prove a bit of a millstone around the band’s neck as it overshadowed other more catchy songs of ours, such as ‘I Thought You Were Dead” and “The Telephone Rings Again’. The Notsensibles eventually split in 1982 and that was it or so we thought and ‘I’m in love with Margaret Thatcher’ would be consigned to a period of punk rock history.
As the years passed with the younger generation wondering what punk had been all about, the original punks, now with children, began reminiscing about that great punk era of the 70’s. The Notsensibles got back together and joined in the punk revival circuit. The band was contacted and asked to licence the Margaret Thatcher song to appear in the 2011 film ‘The Iron Lady’ starring Meryl Streep. A short section of our song was seen against a backdrop of riots and disturbances and flying pickets.
Meryl Streep won awards and the film was described as one of her best perfomances.
The anti-Thatcher campaigners had been ready to go since 2007 with ‘Ding Dong the Witch is Dead’ and activists were primed to buy as many copies as possible as soon as Mrs T’s death was announced. On Monday April 8th when it was announced Lady Thatcher had died their campaign was launched. This put our song into the mainstream when a group of staunch Thatcherites launched a campaign to get our song to number one in the charts and stop ‘Ding Dong the Witch is Dead’ from being the top selling song in the week of her funeral.
The shock horror that this song could be number one was big news in the media and on Friday April 12th the tables began to turn. We launched our own publicity campaign as the song had been recently rereleased and available as a download. Sales began picking up, but then things went into overdrive. It was then when the Facebook campaign was launched by the group of staunch Thatcherites to get our song to number one. Within hours the group had 2,000 members on Facebook with former Corby MP Louise Mensch asking people to buy as many downloads as possible She encouraged members to send them as gifts to friends and even send copies to prominent anti-Thatcherites such as Tony Benn and George Galloway.
Next thing the Notsensibles were all over the national news. A hastily arranged live interview on Sky TV news put the band in the spotlight and became an internet sensation as the lads wound up the interviewer. The song had gone from number 191 in the download charts to number six in the space of a day, and we were wondering could it really happen Our record was being mentioned
on TV news bulletins throughout the world.
Unfortunately download sales only count as a small percentage of the total sales when totting up for the national charts and as the record wasn’t freely available in most record stores it became obvious that it wasn’t going to make number one.
The Ding Dongers stepped up their campaign and at the last minute the Thatcherite Facebook group threw their support behind the Number 2 record ‘Need U’ by Duke Dumont. That record eventually won the day and ‘Ding Dong’ was beaten, but Notsensibles managed to creep into the national charts at number 35 and the song was played on the Radio One chart countdown.
It was incredible really that 34 years on from humping records around in suitcases when nobody was interested in buying them, yet in 2013 people werebuying 10 downloads at a time just at the push of a button, even though they had no intention of listening to our song. It certainly was another record for the Notsensibles, a name we called ourselves when one of our parents called the music ‘not sensible’.