1 May 2016

Reupload - Randy Sparks - Hazy Sunshine/ And I Love You

Label: MGM
Year of Release: 1971

Randy Sparks is a man whose career has been better appreciated in the USA than it has on European shores.  Back there, he had enormous success with his folk ensemble The New Christy Minstrels, a cheery bunch of rootsy individuals who epitomise the more commercial, rustic, family friendly, feel good nature of American folk alongside such other contenders as the Serendipity Singers (though in fairness, The New Christy Minstrels were somewhat more earnest).  Such was their commercial breakthrough in the early sixties that they have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  Top that, Nick Drake.

Sparks' solo career is spoken about less, but in fact some of the early seventies moments are rather hippy-ish in their feel and not at all unlikable.  "Hazy Sunshine" in particular sums up the mood of flower power a fair few years too late, but is still a pleasant and tranquil listen.  "Nothing is black, nothing is white... If you don't believe in grey, go away" he demands, before informing the listener that new times are a-dawning.  I seem to say this at least once a month on this blog, but had he issued this single a few years before its actual release date he might have been in with a shot at the Billboard Charts, but the fact remains that such references were beginning to seem a bit passé by the early seventies.  As it stands, what we're left with is a pleasant piece of memorabilia which does make the summer seem like an altogether better place to relax in.

I would like to apologise for the pops and clicks present in the mp3s below, but erasing them only had the effect of deadening the acoustic production of the songs on both sides - and on reflection, I decided that an undoctored version of the rather scuffed up single I had was the better option.

27 April 2016

Black Swan - Echoes and Rainbows/ Belong Belong

Label: Ember
Year of Release: 1971

Now here's a rum release. While Black Swan may seem like a group name, it would appear that this was entirely the work of Cherbourg born sixties star Billy Bridge, who enjoyed some minor success in France with tracks such as "Le Grand M". For the Black Swan project, he apparently played absolutely all the instruments himself with no input from other sources.

Unlike his early approximations of beat pop and Rock and Roll, however, Black Swan is essentially very organic late period psychedelia, and in the context of the material he was best known for is as unexpected as finding a Cliff Richard 45 with a heavy hippy feel. Actually recorded across the water in Britain, the A-side "Echoes and Rainbows" has a minimal trance-like insistence, complete with kazoo overload, whereas the flip "Belong Belong" is - illogically enough - much poppier, riddled with merry hooks akin to a slightly lighter version of Aphrodite's Child. In all, the two sides amount to a very hazy, dope-fuelled campfire listening experience.

A full album entitled "Da Ga De Li Da - Echoes and Rainbows" was issued in mainland Europe, but not (so far as I'm aware) the UK. It's been unavailable for some time since and, while it's getting picked up by a few psychedelic aficionados now, remains rather obscure. What became of Billy after this weird footnote in his solo career is not clear to me, but the Black Swan project was clearly a one-off never to be repeated.

Sadly, Billy passed away in Paris in November 1994.

Both sides of this single are available on iTunes as part of the "Ember Pop" compilation, but "Echoes and Rainbows" can be heard in full on YouTube. Very brief clips are also available below to give you a flavour of the single.

24 April 2016

The Changin' Times - Pied Piper/ Thank You Babe

Label: Philips
Year of Release (in the US): 1965

Now here's an odd find - a South African pressing of a low charting American garage single. The Changin' Times "Pied Piper" managed to climb into the lower reaches of the Billboard Top 100 on its release in 1965, but response to the record in the UK was downright indifferent on its issue here, and it took our native arrogant young gunslinger Crispian St. Peters to turn it into a monster top ten hit with a smoother, bouncier, and actually inferior version.

Maybe the original was just a bit too rough around the edges for British tastes at that time, but I think it's a thing of total wonder. From the incessant flute riff through to the raw and craggy Dylan-esque vocals, it's one of the finer pieces of pop to burst out of the naive nooks and crannies of American garage rock. Lyrically it's possible to view the disc as either being an approving nod to beatnik culture and the bourgeoning hippy movement, or an utter piss-take - my wife is utterly convinced that it's actually a fairly snarky piece of satire (the use of the phrase "so fall in line" perhaps being a criticism of the hero-worship the likes of Dylan received rather than being approving). Whatever your end conclusion, musically it's simple, sharp and delightful, and probably not seeking out underground credibility with its endless hooks.

The flip is even more raw than the A-side, throwing a rasping harmonica and spirited vocals against a thrown together minute-and-a-half ditty. It consists of the victory of youthful enthusiasm over ability and budget that so many garage records have in spades.

Despite initial appearances, though, The Changin' Times were actually songwriting duo Steve Duboff and Artie Kornfeld having a crack at fame in their own right. Besides penning "Pied Piper" they also created the original version of the "Nuggets 2" compiled garage classic "How Is The Air Up There?" Not for no reason does "Pied Piper" also have more than an inkling of pop songwriting suss about it - Kornfeld also penned the Jan and Dean classic "Dead Man's Curve", so had more than a slight notion about what he was doing.

Still, Kornfeld proved his hippy credentials by going on to become one of the main organisers of the Woodstock festival and also became a music industry "Mover n Shaker". Duboff, rather oddly, later became a video games designer though continued to write and produce music until he passed away in 2004.

"Pied Piper" was one of a brace of single The Changin' Times issued until 1968, when they finally called it a day. 

20 April 2016

The Cymbaline - Peanuts and Chewy Macs/ Found My Girl

Label: Mercury
Year of Release: 1967

It's a rare pleasure for me to introduce a band from my own home turf on "Left and to the Back". Ilford, by now a piece of East London Victorian suburbia spilling over into Essex, isn't a place where a great many pop stars have come from, unless we count Louise Wener, Jet Black, The Dooleys, Kathy Kirby, and er, Sean Maguire. Probably the place's greatest claim to rock fame is the fact that "Itchycoo Park" was written about a park in the area (and no Small Faces member can agree on which one, though Steve Marriott claimed it was Valentines Park, just round the corner from my abode, and the lyrics themselves point to this as being the most likely candidate).

The Cymbaline, consisting of Stuart Claver on vocals, John Hollis on guitar and vocals, Gerald Morris on bass, Anthony Mortlock on lead guitar and vocals and Philip Chesteron on drums, were apparently all Ilford boys and were an ever-present sight on the release schedules throughout the mid to late sixties. Kicking their careers off on Pye with "Please Little Girl" in 1965, they jumped to Mercury for their next release in the same year, then finally settled on Philips in 1967 until their demise in 1969. Seven singles were released throughout the whole period, and the group were clearly deemed bankable by a number of people at the time - but it all came to nought.

It's somewhat surprising under the circumstances. The lads were clearly able musicians, and vocally their record performances are actually of an extremely high quality. What stands out overwhelmingly across many of their 45s are the tight, precise and pretty vocal harmonies Mortlock, Hollis and Claver were capable of delivering, and Claver's lead vocals in particular strike out from your stereo convincingly. 

"Matrimonial Fears" is widely regarded to be their finest single, and found its way on to volume 4 of the Rubbles rarities series. However, the rest of their catalogue is by no means a total waste of time. "Peanuts and Chewy Macs", for example, is a sunshine-drenched piece of harmony pop which focuses on the activities of a slightly illicit market stall owner flogging tasty snacks to the public. It's as good as most of the harmony psych flops that came from the West Coast of the USA, and must have felt like a cheering listen leaking out of transistor radios in April 1967. Carefully arranged and with intricate arrangements, it's no lazy piece of work.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, after The Cymbaline dissolved Stuart Calver went on to do session vocal work for Roger Daltrey, Cockney Rebel and Linda Lewis. Chesterton later drummed for Marc Ellington, and the whereabouts of the others are unclear. 

17 April 2016

The Creation - Creation/ Shock Horror

Label: Creation
Year of Release: 1994

The Creation are usually one of the first groups on the lips of any connoisseur of sixties music if they're asked the question: "Which truly great British sixties bands fell by the wayside at the time?" 

In truth, they weren't total obscurities. They managed one very minor hit with "Painter Man", and another very near-hit with the big and beastly "Making Time". The former, somewhat absurdly, was later covered by Boney M, while the latter has become ubiquitous even in indie club land in the last twenty years - I was at an indie night in Ottawa ten years ago and heard the DJ play it to a huge dance floor response, and then again at a wedding elsewhere. It may have failed to crack the Top 40 in the UK, but it's since become regarded as a monstrous piece of mod pop as worthy of attention as anything The Who also produced at the time. The Germans were more accommodating in the sixties and found them a home in their charts - the British, for whatever reason, failed to see sense. 

The Creation's stock began to rise during the first wave of the sixties revival in the eighties, and only continued to gain momentum as the nineties set in. If evidence of this is needed, the fantastically chaotic and psychedelic "How Does It Feel To Feel" was covered by Ride and issued as an A side by them. 1994 obviously seemed like the perfect date for the original line-up to get back together and produce new material, and Alan McGee's Creation Records - themselves named after the band - seemed like the obvious home. They were placed in the studio with the label's legendary producer Joe Foster to produce a single also entitled "Creation", presumably with the idea that this three-way match between label, band and song title would be an interesting press story in itself.

What's astonishing about this record is that, unlike many comeback attempts by sixties groups, it sounds totally and utterly rooted in the decade it actually emerged in. The bleeding, compressed, treble-heavy production, attitude and energy sounds like 1994 Britpop as opposed to sixties mod rock. True, this isn't a tremendously large genre leap, but nonetheless the transition sounded surprising at the time and remains startling on relistening today. The A-side "Creation" in particular is a blistering piece of work, taking a simple riff and pushing it into the red. The track is seldom heard now, and probably doesn't stand up with the group's finest, but it's nonetheless worth your time. So many comebacks are riddled with embarrassment and misunderstanding present pop and rock trends - indeed, The Creation also had a crack in the eighties which is best ignored - but "Creation" and "Shock Horror" still don't sound especially distant. 

The Creation continue to tour and play today, but since the death of lead singer Kenny Pickett in 1997 they have been led by guitarist Eddie Phillips, who at present is the only remaining original member.