5 August 2020

Danny McCulloch - Blackbird/ Time of Man

"Waiter! Waiter! There's an animal in my soup!"
"No sir, you are mistaken, that's not an animal, it's Danny McCulloch who used to be in The Animals..."

Label: Capitol
Year of Release: 1969

Having been ignobly sacked from The Animals by Eric Burdon in 1968, Vic Briggs and Danny McCulloch picked themselves up, dusted themselves down, and set about working on a new project. McCulloch was quickly offered a solo deal by the American label Capitol, and Briggs sat contentedly in the production booth overseeing what would become the "Wings Of A Man" LP.

Despite its sumptuous psychedelic packaging and a relatively keen promotional push, that album has become somewhat lost at sea since its 1969 release. Never officially reissued on CD nor mentioned much in the adult rock press, it's been allowed to become an obscure Animals related curio which despite its scarcity can still be picked up for reasonable sums of money. 

Neither side of this 45 was included in the tracklisting, and it looks as if Capitol were keen to go for the old trick of using a Lennon and McCartney cover to ease McCulloch's passage to fame as a solo artist. This version of "Blackbird" latches itself firmly on to the struggle inherent in the lyrics, transforming the song from a delicate, finger-picked, country-boy ballad into cry of desperation. McCulloch wouldn't be the last person to attempt this - as we documented on here back in 2018, The Symbols also latched on to the undercurrent of black civil rights messages in the track and gospelised the song in 1971. However, rather like that version, this also sold poorly.

Following the failure of this single and "Wings Of A Man", McCulloch released one further American only 45 ("Hope") then finally slipped out the ecstatic mescaline inspired "Colour Of The Sunset" for the Australian Festival label in 1970, which was promptly picked up by Pye International in the UK but - perhaps due to its subject matter - sold poorly.

2 August 2020

Frugal Sound - All Strung Out/ Miss Mary

Popsike collides with harmony folk and everything comes up roses

Label: RCA
Year of Release: 1968

Frugal Sound were Hampstead folkies who had a fruitful career on the live circuit but, in common with many British acts from that genre, didn't really have a career that translated into heavy vinyl sales. 

We briefly touched upon their excellent cover of The Beatles "Norwegian Wood" ten years ago on this blog, but this single demonstrates their evolution into folk-rock artists and shows how effective they were at translating their sound and ideas. By this point, the group consisted of Brian Stein on guitar and vocals, Rosalind Rankin on vocals and flute, Mick Berg on guitar and organ, Chris Johnstone on bass,  and Tony Hart (not that one!) on drums, which filled out their sound from the stripped-back London basement folk sound into something fuller and potentially more commercial.

This single demonstrates excellently how successful that move was creatively, even if it didn't bring the group further success. If the A-side "All Strung Out" is a good approximation of the West Coast harmony pop sound - and God knows plenty of British folk groups had a crack at that - the group-penned B-side always gives me the biggest thrills, sounding so popsike it's astonishing it wasn't compiled long ago. It focuses on the wearisome life of a floaty, dreamy lady who is "happier to sit and think than face reality", perhaps an early example of the flower-power dream turning sour. It deserved better than to be left lingering on a flipside, with its frilly harpsichord styled keyboard lines and warm harmonies creating something rich, full and intricate.

29 July 2020

Offered With Very Little Comment #8 - The Hood/ Jimmy Wilson/ Laughing Jack/ Peppi/ Les Reed

Five 45s long waiting for their moment on the blog

It's time again for me to flick through my vinyl to-do pile and upload a bunch of tunes which may or may not be of interest to readers - but to be honest, I couldn't think of much to say about.

Finding material for "Left and to the Back" is not an exact science, and frequently involves me returning from the record shop (or Discogs or eBay) with a lot of flotsam and jetsam. Some of this material is so uninteresting I never even get around to digitising it, while other bits are perfectly good but hard to get much interesting information about.

So then, behind the link please find five more 45s which have been gathering dust next to my record player for months now, waiting for the moment when I finally realised that the lead singer behind one of them was actually a future actress on Eastenders, or used to play bass for Joe Brown's backing band, or... I don't know, anything.

Feel free to fill in any blanks in the comments. If the previews don't seem to be working properly, go right to the file source to download them from there.

26 July 2020

Reupload - Prowler - Pale Green (Hmmmm)/ Vauxhall Driving Man/ Starbuck - Do You Like Boys

None-more-seventies stranger danger 45 and camp glam rock about "mean aggressive bears"

Label: Parlophone
Year of Release: 1972

Mandrake Paddle Steamer's "Strange Walking Man" is one of the more widely compiled psychedelic singles of the sixties, and something of a collector's dream. Operating in a similar sonic space as the most woozy and uncertain sounding post-Barrett Pink Floyd tunes of the period, its exposure perhaps suffered due to it being released in 1969, long after the sun set on LSD-tinged pop.

Mandrake remained skint and struggling around the London gig circuit for some time after the single flopped. Their principle songwriters, Martin Briley and Brian Engel, do not remember the period fondly - somewhat ignobly for an underground circuit figure, Martin Briley remained living at home with his parents. When it became apparent that the group didn't have a viable future, Brian packed his bags first, and Briley followed a year later. 

Martin Briley quickly managed to land a job as a songwriter at George Martin's newly created Air Studios empire, and finding working by himself less successful than the collaborative work he had attempted with Engel before, he got on the blower to his old Mandrake mucker and the pair reunited again.

Scores of songs resulted from this, many of which have been compiled on the RPM Records CD "Between The Sea and The Sky". This, however, was the only single. "Pale Green Vauxhall Driving Man" is arguably one of the more deliberately oily, creepy pieces of work to slip out during the seventies, an era which contained plenty of competition. A slinking, swaggering guitar riff backs the story of a middle-aged pervert attempting to pick up very youthful women (how young? We're not told) in his Vauxhall vehicle, where he then attempts to drug them with "sticky brandy balls". 

To the credit of both Briley and Engel, the track doesn't attempt to remark upon the man in an approving way, stating quite clearly "I'm that nasty, shifty kind/ That greasy nineteen-fifties kind", making it closer to a piece of Lou Reed observational work than a Rolling Stones piece of glorification on the virtues of sleaziness. However, it's a distinctly unconventional subject matter backed with some absolutely killer songwriting - that winding guitar riff and the anthemic chorus are truly brilliant pieces of work.
Sadly, the pair ran into issues with the track almost immediately with the BBC, apparently not due to the subject matter so much as the "commercial placement" in the track, by mentioning the Vauxhall make of cars. The track was hastily redubbed to include a Moog humming noise over the offending "Vauxhall" line, rendering the lyrics a bit mangled, and also somewhat strangely ignoring the fact that "Vauxhall" is still clearly audible outside of the chorus. The title was also changed to the baffling "Pale Green (Hmmmm) Driving Man". What a peculiar situation. Suffice to say, the BBC still wouldn't play the track, and it flopped.

Both the A and the B side are compiled on the aforementioned "Between The Sea and The Sky" album, and I'd recommend you head off to your nearest online audio store to buy "Pale Green..." at least. The flip, "Jaywick Cowboy", is somewhat messy and less deserving of your attention. I've included sound samples below, but the A-side is readily available in full on YouTube.

For the next part of the Engel/ Briley story, please scroll past the soundfiles.

Label: Bradleys
Year of Release: 1973

Despite recording swathes of material for Air, only "Pale Green..." managed to get granted a release. The pair were on the Spark label for one LP under the name Liverpool Echo, and the pair's next dose of fortune would come courtesy of those Tin Pan Alley stalwarts Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley, who needed musicians to get involved in a glam rock project they had on the go.

Rumours have circulated the internet for some time that Starbuck (not to be confused with the identially named USA band) were a studio-based creation, but in fact both Briley and Engel toured with a full group, and they were a "functioning unit" on the British circuit. Three singles were issued by the band, "Wouldn't You Like It?" (on RCA), followed by "Do You Like Boys" and "Heart Throb" on Bradleys. Absolutely all of these are worth tracking down as supremely underrated pieces of glam, but "Do You Like Boys" is truly the jewel in their crown. 

Taking a camp and distinctly Bowie arrangement, the title of the song pulls no punches and the lyrics inevitably do exactly what you'd expect. Subtle references to homosexuality were common enough during this period, with androgynous looking aliens putting their arms around Mick Ronson on "Top of the Pops" being just about acceptable, but "Boys" is a total hammer blow. "Oh, do you LIKE boys?" Starbuck sing pleadingly, like Brett Anderson out of Suede pouting on the back of a pantomime horse, later going on to be more specific - "Do you really long to touch their hair?/ do you go for a mean, aggressive Bear?"

Howard and Blaikley really pushed their luck to the max here, and did so in a popular culture which apparently (according to gay singer-songwriter John Howard, who claims the BBC blacklisted him) was deeply uncomfortable with overt, unquestionable, non-comedic references to homosexuality. Starbuck, however, got utterly behind the material live, despite apparently being straight. They were once booked to play at a skinhead club at Chatham in possibly one of the more baffling decisions a promoter has ever made, and took the stage with full make-up, performing with the campery pushed up to the max. Amazingly, no violent incidents were recorded.

22 July 2020

The Sun Set - Easy Baby/ You Can Ride My Rainbow

British sunshine folk pop goodness

Label: Polydor
Year of Release: 1967

Yet another one to chalk up on the long list of "bloody obscure sixties Polydor singles which seemed to sell in the dozens rather than the thousands". Prior to having more significant success with The Bee Gees and Slade, the German label really did seem to limp along in the UK initially, releasing flop after flop.

Little is known about The Sun Set here, but this is a lovely single, with its top side being full to the brim with harmonies and sunshine. It's not a million miles away from something the Mamas and the Papas might have attempted at around the same time, with a tranquil, laidback and lovelorn feel. Slide on those harmonies towards the coast with a new love at your side, and you'll be as happy as Larry's even more optimistic and wealthier younger brother.

The B-side "You Can Ride My Rainbow", on the other hand, gets much closer to what I can only assume are the group's origins. This is pure folk with some devilishly accomplished guitar finger picking, and the only thing that makes it feel slightly iffy is the slight Rod, Jane and Freddyness of it all. To be fair to The Sun Set, though, Rod Jane and Freddy hadn't been invented as a children's folk combo yet, and if anything we can only really blame them for perhaps being ahead of their time in that respect.