15 July 2018

Rudy Grant - Space Oddity/ Every Step I Made

Reggae cover of David Bowie's classic. It works slightly better than you'd suppose.

Label: Ensign
Year of Release: 1981

It never ceases to amaze me how many unexpected and ambitious reggae cover versions there are out there. Some work, whereas others set their sights high and miss by miles.

In 1981, Eddy Grant's brother Rudy, not content with stopping at one or two singles, decided to recording an album of covers which contained some unusual but generally workable choices, such as John Lennon's "Woman", Simon and Garfunkel's "Sound of Silence", and Stevie Wonder's "Lately". All of these attempts hang together well, and in the case of the Simon and Garfunkel classic, amazingly so.

This, however, is on dangerous territory. While the original version of "Space Oddity" may have a catchy melody at its centre, it's filled with odd fits and starts and instrumental diversions - which is what elevated the song above the mere 'novelty' tag some felt keen to give it during its initial chart run. It's an enormously sprawling, filmic sounding track with each flourish adding drama to the lyrical storyline. As such, it's a very tricky song to tack a steady reggae beat on to, and the way Rudy sidesteps this is quite interesting.

11 July 2018

Tom Watt - Subterranean Homesick Blues/ Guess I Had Too Much To Drink Last Night

Lofty out of Eastenders covers Bob Dylan. No, really. 

Label: Watt The Duck
Year of Release: 1986

It sometimes felt as if the Beeb had something written into everyone's "Eastenders" contracts suggesting that if asked, they were legally bound to release a single. Michelle Gayle, Nick Berry, Martine McCutcheon and Anita Dobson were the biggest chart-botherers of the cast, but in addition to those, Sid Owen (aka "Ricky"),  Sean Maguire, Letita Dean, Paul Medford and Sophie Lawrence all had cracks at the Top 40 to varying degrees of success. 

Besides the obvious examples above, there are a few peculiar outliers. Peter Dean's "Can't Get A Ticket (For The World Cup)" single is a howler I'm sure the actor is glad has been largely forgotten, and Tommy Eytle - who played Gramps - put out a Christmas reggae tune called "A Christmas Tree From Norway" which seemed to escape everyone's attention even at the time.

This, though, takes the last custard cream from Dot's biscuit barrel. Tom Watt, who played the put-upon character Lofty, was never actually asked to release a single by a proper record label. Instead, he allowed some musician friends of his to talk him into paying for a recording session and releasing a record himself on his own label. Presumably they anticipated a minor hit and a pleasant amount of royalties trickling their way. 

8 July 2018

The Impossibles - The Drum/ Our Love Is God

Fantastic baggy(ish) cover of the 1974 Slapp Happy tune (clumsy typo on the label though, Fontana).

Label: Fontana 
Year of Release: 1991

There were numerous cultural parallels between the late sixties and the 1989-91 period, which barely need emphasising - the "Second Summer Of Love" tag felt slightly like a lazy media invention to enable Mums and Dads to get a better grip on what was going on (and Danny Wilson to release snarky records on the topic) but nonetheless was more accurate than usual. Besides that, plenty of acts during the period were not ashamed to cover some of the hairier moments of rock's past. 

It didn't always pay off, though, as evidenced here. This cover of Slapp Happy's "The Drum" fell into complete obscurity at the time. I used to see copies of it in the reduced box at my local record store, and was intrigued by the fact that the long-haired woman pictured on the sleeve looked uncannily like someone who used to attend my local indie nightclub week in, week out. Was it her band?

Apparently not. It transpired that The Impossibles were actually from Edinburgh, and revolved around the nucleus of the duo Lucy Dallas and Mags Grundy. In one of their very few press interviews, they self-deprecatingly suggested that the only reason they managed to get signed to Fontana was because they were fanzine editors who had built up an enormous array of music industry contacts as a result. It seems as though they were being needlessly modest - their debut single was a likeable piece of jangly indie-pop produced by Kevin Shields, but the second release "Delphis" went one better, being a scintillating piece of ambient yet funky electro-psychdelia which glided gracefully through the clouds of the cold, dark winter of 1991, noticed only by the most eagle-eyed of spotters. 

4 July 2018

Reupload - Hard Horse - Let It Ride/ Hang Old Freddy

Hard-hitting slice of seventies pop/rock, not far off Calum Bryce's "Lovemaker" in feel

Label: D'Art
Year of Release: 1971

Back in the eighties and nineties psych/ mod record collectors and DJs were horribly picky about seventies singles, leaving many perfectly good bits of beaty or freaky goodness rotting in the remainder bins.  "If it wasn't issued between 1962 - 1969," seemed to be the thinking, "then it probably isn't worth anyone's while".

Most of us have wised up since, realising that while very few examples of pure psych or mod records were issued after the sixties, discs did slide out which kept some of the influences bubbling underneath.  Take this single, for example - beneath the hollered, gravelly, country rock vocals lies an insistent and nagging beat and riff which is stylistically not far off a recognised classic like Calum Bryce's "Lovemaker" and maybe closer still to some of Tom Jones's more dance floor friendly outings.

1 July 2018

Arthur's Mother - On The Dole/ Butterfly

Joyous folk-rock A-side backed by slightly psychedelic flip

Label: Polydor
Year of Release: 1971

John Bryant has featured on this blog a number of times, and perhaps unsurprisingly so. Despite his rather hitless career from the mid-sixties onwards, he nonetheless released a constant stream of singles throughout that decade and the seventies. None of these records really improved his fortunes any, and his resilience is certainly something to be admired.

This track was given not one but two releases by Polydor, this being the first outing under the group name of Arthur's Mother. While it seems doubtful that this was much of a proper, touring band, the line-up apparently consisted of Bryant on vocals and guitar with Arthur Kitchener on keyboards, Graham Deakin on drums, and Mike Wedgewood on brace. On its second issue, the group name was dropped and the single was credited to Bryant alone.