24 July 2016

Reupload - Wishful Thinking - Turning Round/ VIP

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1966

Generally speaking, Wishful Thinking have been a rather ignored group in the UK by aficionados of all things beat and psych until very recently.  This is a bizarre state of affairs given that they issued a string of singles on Decca in the sixties and eventually hit the big time on the continent in the seventies - or at least the charts - with their somewhat dramatic single entitled "Hiroshima", the lyrical contents of which I hopefully don't have to spell out.

Under the wing of yer man from The Shadows Tony Meehan their singles tended to involve Four Seasons and Beach Boys-esque harmony pop, and that's typified by the A-side on offer here which is a fair enough stab at that style, but pretty inessential.  Of far more interest is the scuzzy, buzzing garage pop of the B-side "VIP" which incorporates distortion, dumb riffs, thumping drums and demanding and aggressive vocals about the importance of one's other half.  "Stand right back she's a VIP!" the group demand like close harmonising thugs, "A VIP to me!" That's the way you treat a lady.  It's delightful stuff, the kind of knuckle-dragging sixties pop which tended to be more ubiquitous in the USA than on British shores, and it's a surprise this one has been relatively ignored - stylistically, it would sit neatly alongside Richard and The Young Lion's "Open Up Your Door", although admittedly it fails to quite scale the heights of that record.

Whilst the mention of their name is likely to cause blank expressions on the faces of their homeland dwellers, Wishful Thinking are still cultishly popular in Germany.  Of the original members Roy Daniels (vocals), Terry New (lead guitar), Roger Charles (bass) and Brian Allen (drums), sadly only Roy and Roger are still alive, but it's apparently not unknown for them to promote their work abroad where it's more appreciated.  A new album "Believing In Dreams" was even issued abroad in 2009. I doubt "VIP" features much in their workload, but it really should.

Of equal interest to me is a version of The Beach Boys "Vegetables" they apparently recorded for Decca in 1968 - if anyone has heard this, I'd be very interested to know quite how it turned out.  

20 July 2016

Two Dollar Question - Aunt Matilda's Double Yummy Blow Your Mind Out Brownies/ Cincinnati Love Song

Label: Intrepid
Year of Release: 1969

"Admit it, Dave, you bought this single purely because you liked the title, didn't you?"
"What do you mean 'admit it'? I would happily volunteer that information without inquisition or any sense of shame".

Sadly, as much as I'd love to say that "Aunt Matilda's Double Yummy Blow Your Mind Out Brownies" is a piece of rambling psychedelia about "special cakes" with tons of phasing and an improvised instrumental break, it's not. It's actually a piece of chirpy bubblegum which might be totally lyrically innocent. Although as the singer chirps "It's a magical place where the rabbits go/ It's a wonderland where the flowers gro-oo-wow-ow!" I somehow doubt it. Though the more I think about it, those could also be the opening lines to any number of children's TV shows from the seventies and eighties. 

And who was the man peddling this cod-psychedelic filth to our kids? Why, none other than The Archies session lead singer and future Barry Manilow producer Ron Dante. This fact seems horribly obvious the second it's revealed to you, and you have to admit he had an ideal singing voice for this kind of thing - irrepressibly gleeful and cartoonish, turning what could have been something quite irritating into a track that's difficult to not like. In fact, the whole thing is a huge sugar high (rather than any other kind of high) with its rapid tempo and stuttering electric organs.

Dante is still active to this day, releasing records and performing live, and doubtless creaming off all kinds of excellent record royalties. 

The song's authors Vance and Pockriss were also behind hundreds of songs throughout the period, including their most famous effort "Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini". 

17 July 2016

Margo - The Spark That Lights The Flame/ Left Over Love

Label: Deram
Year of Release: 1969

It's a little known and unexpected fact, but Irish showband performer Margo is something of a Northern Soul sensation. Her career started off in County Down in the group Margo and The Marvettes, whose single "When Love Slips Away" eventually became a treasured spin on the soul circuit. This is somewhat unsurprising, as the track has all the ingredients necessary and sounds positively American in every aspect of its delivery.

That this 1969 solo single of hers should be overlooked is actually more baffling. "The Spark That Lights The Flame" is a really underexposed gem, and should actually have been a shoe-in for Decca and Deram's somewhat uneven "Northern Soul" CD compilation. It outclasses a lot of the other more absurd choices on that LP, sounding for all the world like a lost Motown track, but perhaps lacking the directness of much of that work, meandering and moping around all over the show. A beautifully complex arrangement compliments a effective, sharp, pleading chorus and it's a lovely, brooding three minutes. Margo herself performs superbly, selling the track with all her might, never under or over playing her lines. 

Margo, with or without her Marvettes, didn't manage to score any hits in her career, unfortunately - though 1981's "Behind The Footlights" was a minor success in Ireland - but was an ever-present force on the club circuit until 1980, usually touring with her husband Trevor Burns in the duo Take Two. 

She remains periodically active to this day, and a brief documentary about her early career is available online, featuring tons of period Super 8 footage. How often do I get to say that? Never, that's how often.

13 July 2016

Monsoon - Tomorrow Never Knows/ Indian Princess

Label: Mobile Suit Corporation
Year of Release: 1982

Back in the early nineties, we were all told that the sudden deluge of pop stars from Asian backgrounds was an entirely new phenomenon. While it's true to say that the sudden arrival of Cornershop, Apache Indian and Asian Dub Foundation felt like a huge sea change, successful Asian influenced pop, performed by someone from that background, was actually nothing new. Sheila Chandra of Monsoon (previously an actress on "Grange Hill") had actually already broken down the barriers in the early eighties, a fact which seemed to have become largely forgotten.

The first single "Ever So Lonely" was released on the minor Indipop label initially, and was a surprise number twelve hit when it was reissued through Phonogram in 1982. It was a seriously unusual record in a year where the British charts seemed to have their arms wide open for the unexpected. Propelled along by a hypnotic rhythm and Indian melodies - albeit Indian melodies performed by Western musicians - it was almost like a slice of late sixties psychedelia being given a rather more authentic Eastern edge.

Follow-up "Shakti (The Meaning Of Within)" only just missed out on a Top 40 place, and was followed up with this, a Beatles cover. One has to wonder whose idea it was, but the finger of suspicion points at the record company. "Tomorrow Never Knows" is a Beatles track which has never been improved upon or really developed across the various cover versions its spawned (Danielle Dax, Brian Eno, Junior Parker, and er, sixties flop act Mirage have all had a stab at it). The original was a staggeringly forward-thinking piece of work with its studio effects and astoundingly persuasive drumming, to the extent that I actually believe the stories about nineties club DJs spinning it and being asked by their Ravy Davy punters "What was that wicked tune?!" It's the sound of The Beatles hive mind using the studio in the ways that sample-heads and drum loop fanatics would later rediscover. All the subsequent covers of it have actually been somewhat reductive - taking the frenzied activity of the original and simplifying it to something calmer, taking it away from peculiar proto-techno/big beat and into the psychedelic chill-out room. And I've never been wholly convinced by that approach, unfortunately. Half of its appeal lies in its mania.

Still, Monsoon's cover of this has a feel and attitude of its own, and is far from the worst example. It's probably most notable for also featuring Bill Nelson, David Balfe out of Teardrop Explodes on keyboards, and Merrick out of Adam and the Ants. Chandra's vocals are wonderful as ever, and drop a large dollop of innocence into the mix. None of this was enough to turn it into a hit, though, and at this point the tide went out on Monsoon's success.

Much more interesting to me is the B-side "Indian Princess", a mournful sitar and tabla infused ballad  with tinkling piano lines which is genuinely touching. I can't see the single having been more successful if the sides had been swapped, but it's a shame the track had to be buried nonetheless.

Following the release of their LP "Third Eye" in 1983, Monsoon quietly disappeared. Sheila Chandra wandered off to have a hugely acclaimed solo career which included numerous releases on Peter Gabriel's Real World label, until her work was rudely cut short by the development of Burning Mouth Syndrome in 2010. This medical condition has rendered her mute, and therefore unable to continue performing or recording - obviously we can only hope for some sort of recovery very soon.

10 July 2016

Oo Bang Jiggly Jang - The Hanging Tree/ 1000 Leagues

Label: President
Year of Release: 1971

If you saw this record in the racks of your local second-hand record store, it's possible you'd look at the band's name, then casually dismiss it as some obscure bubblegum record and walk away. What a terrible error that would be, though - for, in a true lesson of never judging a book by its cover (or a band by their ridiculous name) "The Hanging Tree" is a actually a brilliant piece of atmospheric, epic folk rock. 

Taking the usual anthemic folk route - much beloved by the Fleet Foxes among many others - of describing a long-forgotten tragedy involving death and destruction and turning it into a howling, close harmony campfire sing-a-long, "The Hanging Tree" is a shocking omission from the list of late sixties and early seventies collectibles. Even the great bible on such matters, "The Tapestry of Delights", fails to list the band. Still, copies do appear to be relatively thin on the ground, and to make up for years of being ignored the track was recently compiled on to the "Mixed Up Minds" series of compilations. This means it's now commercially available on iTunes and Amazon and therefore outside our remit, but I've included a brief excerpt below for you to get a feel of the track - though the edit does no justice to the swelling, expanding arrangement. Go and buy it - it's worth your time and money, and sounds absurdly current for a flop track from 1971... although this may be indicative of how musical trends tend to cycle, rather than proving that Oo Bang Jiggly Jang were prophets without honour. 

The flipside "1000 Leagues" is less interesting, being a straightforward acoustic track, but still showcases a band who were far more able than a great deal of the folkies who had piles of low-selling vinyl released around this period. So who were they and what became of them? I'm guessing the songwriting credits for J. Roper and P. Bramall refer to members of the band - but searching for other work by those two isn't getting me any further. It seems as if this may have been their only vinyl outing. If anyone knows who they might be, please let me know. On the basis of this one single, it seems an enormous pity they weren't given other chances.