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In 1965, together with Tam Harvey, Connolly started a group called the Humblebums. At their first gig, Connolly introduced them both to the audience by saying, "My name's Billy Connolly, and I'm humble. This is Tam Harvey, he's a bum." The band would later include Gerry Rafferty. Connolly sang, played banjo and guitar, and entertained the audience with his humorous introductions to the songs.
In his World Tour of Scotland, Connolly reveals that at a trailer show during the Edinburgh Festival, the Humblebums took to the stage just before the late Yehudi Menuhin.
The trio broke up in 1971, at which point Connolly went solo. His first solo album in 1972, Billy Connolly Live! on Transatlantic Records, features Connolly as a singer, songwriter, and musician.
His early albums were a mixture of comedy performances with comedic and serious musical interludes. Among his best known musical performances were "The Welly Boot Song", a comical ode to the working class which became his theme song for several years; "In the Brownies", a parody of the Village People classics "Y.M.C.A." and "In the Navy" (for which Connolly filmed a music video); "Two Little Boys in Blue", a tongue-in-cheek indictment of police brutality done to the tune of Rolf Harris' "Two Little Boys"; and the ballad "I Wish I Was in Glasgow" which Connolly would later perform on a guest appearance on the 1990s American sitcom Pearl (which starred Rhea Perlman). He also performed the occasional Humblebums-era song such as "Oh, No!" as well as straightforward covers such as a version of Dolly Parton's "Coat of Many Colors" which was included on his Riotous Assembly album.
In November 1975, his spoof of the Tammy Wynette song "D-I-V-O-R-C-E" had a one-week spell as the UK's No. 1 single. Wynette's original was about parents spelling out words of an impending marital split to avoid traumatizing their young child. Connolly's version "D.I.V.O.R.C.E.", on the other hand, played off of the fact that many dog owners use the same tactic when they do not wish their pet to become upset about an impending trip to the veterinarian. His song is about a couple whose marriage is ruined by a bad vet visit (spelling out "W.O.R.M." or "Q.U.A.R.A.N.T.I.N.E.", for example.)
His song "No Chance" was a parody of J.J. Barrie's "No Charge".
In 1985 he sang the theme song to Supergran, which was released as a single and in 1996 he performed a cover of Ralph McTell's In The Dreamtime as the theme to his World Tour of Australia. By the late 1980s, Connolly had all but dropped the music from his act, though he still records the occasional musical performance. In 1998 he covered The Beatles' "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite" on the George Martin tribute, In My Life and he also recorded a rewritten version of Alanis Morissette's "Hand in My Pocket" entitled "The Evil Scotsman". Most recently, he sang a song during the film Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events.
Connolly is among the artists featured on Banjoman, a tribute to American folk musician Derroll Adams, released in 2002. He plays one song, "The Rock".
It is as a stand-up comedian that Connolly is best known. His observational comedy is idiosyncratic and often off-the-cuff. He talks about himself, who he is, where he's been, what he thinks and how he reacts to the world around him. He has outraged audiences, critics and, of course, the media with his free use of the word "fuck". He has used masturbation, blasphemy, defecation, flatulence, sex, his father's illness and his aunts' cruelty to entertain. By exploring these subjects with humour, Connolly has done much to strip away the taboos surrounding them. Yet he does not tell jokes in the conventional way. At the end of a concert the audience can be convulsed with laughter but few can remember a specific "funny" line.
One of Connolly's most famous comedy skits is "The Crucifixion", an early 1970s recording in which he likens Christ's Last Supper to a drunken night out in Glasgow. The recording was banned by many radio stations at the time. Around this same time, a joke told during a television talk show appearance (about a murderer and his bike) became a sensation that, reportedly, people still remember three decades after the appearance. (A transcript of the complete joke can be found here).
Billy Connolly also performed a sketch broadcast on TV, when talking about national anthems, and comparing the UK's slow tune to the lively ones of many other nations, Billy suggested that it should be replaced by the theme tune to The Archers.
Connolly's style has changed over the years to be less controversial and more observational. Including topics such as himself aging, stories about where he has been and other aspects of his life. He also exclaims "Oh, I must tell you!" and vocalises whatever thought occurs to him. Another feature is his ability to break off onto a tangent mid-topic and return to it later -- sometimes as long as an hour later.
Connolly was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters degree by the University of Glasgow on 11 July, 2001. This particularly bemused his wife, who noted that she had studied for six years to obtain her Ph.D., whereas Billy merely had to turn up and collect his. 2003 saw him presented with a BAFTA Lifetime Achievement award and a CBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours List.
On 4 July 2006, Connolly was awarded an honorary doctorate by Glasgow's Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (RSAMD) for his service to performing arts .
* While being interviewed with his wife on the Irish Late Late Show, Connolly proved how easily he forgets many great lines that other comedians could only hope to think of. The presenter was trying to get Connolly to reproduce a funny line he had read in "Bravemouth" about Connolly knowing of an organism that lives on a human eyelid that has two penises. He asked Connolly "What was it called?" to which Connolly replied "Some latin name that I can't remember". His wife then interrupted "But the translation means lucky bastard, right", to which Connolly broke down in a fit of laughter. When he complemented his wife on the line, she had to remind him that it was his own original line which he had forgotten.
* Connolly is a lifelong supporter of Glasgow football team, Celtic, and is often seen at their home games.
* Connolly came second in The Glasgow Herald's poll, "The Most Scottish Person In The World". Number one was Wee Jimmy Krankie (see The Krankies), while third place went to Russ Abbott's impersonation of a Scotsman.
If It Wasnae For Your Wellies - Billy Connolly 0:00 / 2:38
Billy Connolly Track 1/1
by Billy Connolly
If it wisnae fur yer wellies
Wherewud you be?
You'd be in the hospital
Or in firmary
Cause you wid hive a dose o the flu
Or even plurasie
If it wissne fur yer feet in yer wellies!
Wellies they are wunderful
Wellies they are swell
They keep out the watter
And they keep in the smell.
When your sittin in a room
You cin always tell when some
B***r take aff thur wellies
When yr oout walking in the country with a bird
And your strolling about the fields
Like a farmers herd
And somebody shouts"Keep off The grass"
And you think how absurd
Squelch you find why all farmers wear wellies
Fishermen and firemen theres farmers and all
Theres men who're digging ditches
And working in the snow
This country would grind to a halt
And not a thing would grow
If it was nae for the workers and their wellies
Lyrics © O/B/O APRA/AMCOS
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