22 October 2014

The Monitors - Nobody Told Me

Label: Festival
Year of Release: 1981

The Monitors were fleeting sparks in the steelworks of Australian pop, and - so far as I can tell - didn't really manage to have any impact outside their home country. Formed as a studio ensemble in 1980 by session musicians Mark Moffatt and Terry McCarthy, they're most mentioned these days for their connections with the twin sister actresses Gayle and Gillian Blakeney who eventually joined the TV soap "Neighbours".

The concept was quite simple, and quite cynical if we're being critical. Neither Moffatt or McCarthy were particularly photo or telegenic, and the workaround for this in the band's videos and TV appearances was to involve the young sisters in a variety of ways. While they didn't sing on any of the records, the very young Blakeneys donned Kiss makeup and leapt around a lot for the debut single "Singin' In The 80s", which reached Number 16 on the Australian charts. Such was their visual impact at the time that some people began to believe that The Monitors were the Blakeneys group, rather than them simply being employed as a visual element.

They featured in a rather more subtle way in the video for the follow-up single "Nobody Told Me", which was less successful, peaking at a modest number 32. Unfair, since if you ask me "Nobody Told Me" is a far superior single, sounding incredibly of its time with the pulsing and squeaking synths and melodramatic vocals, but having such a killer hook in the fanfare of a chorus that it's irresistible. The nagging female backing vocals (performed by Kim Durant and mimed by the Blakeneys) are also enormously effective, and it's glorious pop music - Moroder tinged, melancholic and horribly addictive.

Hit-wise this was The Monitors last hurrah. Their album "Back From Their Recent Illness" failed to sell well, and Moffatt went on to work with numerous other bands (including The Saints and Mental As Anything) while McCarthy left the music industry to work in advertising. We all know what happened to the Blakeneys, on the other hand, who also turned up unexpectedly in the video for Pop Will Eat Itself's "RSVP" in 1993, again despite having nothing at all to do with the track. Mine is not to reason why, though as PWEI weren't very photo or telegenic either, you can't help but draw the same conclusions from that particular gatecrash.

Meanwhile, with the big beards and synth obsessions, maybe The Monitors would have been more at home in East London in the 2010s rather than Australia in the 80s. Life is cruel.

Afraid I haven't included the B-side "Wishful Thinking" here as its scratched to kingdom come. Suffice to say that it's a reflective Phil Collins styled mournful ballad sung over an electronic piano. You're missing nowt.

20 October 2014

Metamorphic Rock - The Chelsea Hotel

Hello everyone - I'm sorry to say that it looks as if the DJ element of this event tomorrow night has been cancelled due to unforeseen technical/ administrative circumstances.

The poetry will still be going ahead, and it's still well worth attending as an event in itself - but anyone expecting to turn up and find me on the decks will be disappointed. Apologies for any inconvenience caused.

Time to announce something I'm really looking forward to. On Tuesday 21st October, I'll be DJ'ing at the Metamorphic Rock event at the Huntingdon Gallery in Shoreditch. Part of the London/ New York Festival, this will be an exhibition and poetry reading thematically based on the Chelsea Hotel.

As well as poetry from a wide range of excellent talent - and more on that in a moment - there will also be an exhibition of classic rock photographs by the brilliant Bob Gruen, at one time John Lennon's personal photographer. Or, to go with the officially advertised line:

"Manhattan's famous Chelsea Hotel, one-time home to innumerable musical and literary icons, has been closed for refurbishment since 2011. But that won't stop the new generation of London-based poets taking up residence. Set to the backdrop of Bob Gruen's Rock Seen exhibition, they set out to re-imagine the establishment, room by room, according to their own stylistic predilections, and throw the doors open once again to Bowie, Cohen, Bukowski and all the rest."

There are some fantastic poets on the bill, all performing new work - these include Matthew Caley, Amy Key, James Trevelyan, Sophia Blackwell, John Clegg, Harry Man, Mark Waldron, John Canfield, Roddy Lumsden, Holly Hopkins, Jon Stone and Abigail Parry, with others to be announced at a later date.

And me? My DJ sets normally slip around between garage, mod rock, soul and funk, but I've got other ideas in mind this time and will try to keep things as on-topic and appropriate as possible. It's going to be a lot of fun.

£6 on the door. Here's the link to the Facebook event page. See you there.

18 October 2014

Barock and Roll Ensemble - Eine Kleine Beatlemusic

Label: HMV
Year of Release: 1965

While discussing Beatlemania in the mid to late sixties, numerous music critics made the point that their compositional technique was more advanced than that of most popsmiths, so advanced in fact it could perhaps be compared to the classical composers of yore. These theories were initially mocked by many, but so far as I can tell they were the first stirrings of the idea that rock music can and should be studied seriously, that this wasn't just a gimmicky youth fad we were observing. 

I can't find any trace of whether these ideas inspired the "Eine Kleine Beatlemusic" EP or not, but it's pretty safe to assume they must have done. The A-side is the key concern here, consisting of an Allegro, Minuet, Trio and Finale composed of elements of "She Loves You", "I'll Get You", "A Hard Day's Night", "I Want To Hold Your Hand", "Please Please Me" and "All My Loving". It's extremely well put together to the extent that each phrase and extract flows seamlessly into the next, creating a pocket Beatles symphony. While it's possible to sense the smell of extracted urine here, ironically the final product is a lot better than later "serious" attempts to create Beatles Medleys by the likes of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. "Eine Kleine Beatlemusik" (or "Eine Kleine Beatlemusic" depending on whether you believe the front or rear of the sleeve) isn't all pounding kettle drums and marching beats, there's clearly been enormous care put into the concept which isn't just anthemic melodies delivered in a predictably strident way.

The B-sides tracks are a bit of a gas too, at one point showing off what might happen if Wagner were played by a sixties pop group. Peter Sellers was there first with these kinds of jokes, as witnessed on the "Trumpet Volunteer", and the worst progressive rock bands were probably the last funny examples to bother the airwaves. But that was all a long way off at this point…

A1: Eine Kleine Beatle Musik
B1: Star of Eve Bossa Nova
B2: My Old Man's a Dutchman - Twist
B3: Tannhauser Lettered Rock

14 October 2014

Record Shopping In Japan

Hello folks. I'm a bit excited to say that I'll be taking a trip to Japan very soon, and inevitably one of the top questions on my list is: "Where are all the decent record shops?" (Note - I'll mostly be in Tokyo and Kyoto).

If you've any hints or tips, please feel free to leave a comment below. If I find anything interesting while I'm over there, it may very well end up on the blog - so it's worth your while mentioning. 

12 October 2014

The Fenmen - Rejected/ Girl Don't Bring Me Down

Label: CBS
Year of Release: 1966

The Fenmen were actual proper pop stars (loosely speaking) for awhile, acting as Bern Elliott's backing group for the 1963 hit single "Money". Having a chipper Merseybeat feel to their records (despite actually hailing from - wait for it - Kent) they sounded as if they could have been one of the upfront beat groups of the time, but "Money" aside, they didn't actually sell many records.

Bern Elliott eventually jumped ship to work with other musicians, leaving Alan Judge, John Povey, Wally Allen, and Eric Wilmer to their own devices. They opted to take a Californian turn with this record, doubtless feeling that having aped the Liverpool sound there was no reason why they couldn't also impersonate Brian Wilson and company. It's a convincing job, actually, albeit one which seems to lack enough of a powerful chorus, but there's no question that it's the sound of strong musicians with an admirable flexibility to their approach, able to harmonise and perform summery pop as well as tough R&B tracks.

After this failed, Allen and Povey moved on to join The Pretty Things, getting involved right at the point where their sound was about to undergo a huge evolution and playing on the legendary "SF Sorrow" album. Neither "Rejected" or "Girl Don't Bring Me Down" hint towards that much, but it's easy to understand how they might have been regarded as a good fit for the band's next phase.

The more eagle-eyed among you may have spotted from the label scans that this isn't an original copy of "Rejected" and looks suspiciously like a bootleg. You're right. It is. I wouldn't have put it high on the list of in-demand rarities crying out for a bootlegged 7" reissue, but what do I know?