29 March 2015

Blossom Dearie - Discover Who I Am/ The Music Played

Label: Fontana
Year of Release: 1968

Blossom Dearie was a hugely respected jazz singer and pianist from New York who never really broke through to mainstream success either at home or in the UK, though she did have a hit in France with her version of "Lullaby of Birdland". Very much a musician's musician and friendly with the likes of Scott Walker, her club stints in London, France and the USA were all highly acclaimed and her back catalogue is impressively deep.

This B-side is, if I'm not mistaken, an absurd curveball in her catalogue, being a piece of reflective, gentle and almost psychedelic pop. Without wishing to make obvious comparisons within her social circle, there are shades of Scott about it, from the arrangements through to the considered, introspective lyrics. It swells, fades and swells again, relaxing in its own melancholia and never reaching for an obvious hook. That may turn some listeners off, but for people who like their pop to be subtle and considered, it's an absolute plus - it's a track to wallow in rather than ride or cling to.

So who was the mysterious "Wollawitch" (suspiciously aligned to Blossom Dearie Music Ltd) who wrote this? I can find no other songwriting credits listing the name online, which either means it was a one-off contribution from a hopeful Dearie decided to devote a B-side to, or someone adopting a pseudonym, perhaps even Dearie herself. I smell a rat here, and I'd be interested to know if anyone has any answers.

Sadly, Dearie passed away in 2009 after a long illness, so we may never quite know the truth.

(Except, lo and behold, within minutes of me posting this Sean Bright came up with the answer in the comments below. Blimey!)

25 March 2015

Reupload - Patterson's People - Shake Hands With The Devil/ Deadly Nightshade

Label: Mercury
Year of Release: 1966

"I just come up from Hades/ To mingle all among you ladies/ Shake hands with the devil..."

There's an attention grabbing first line for a single if ever I've heard one. By 1966 the music buying public had already been treated to a wide variety of artistes using diabolical imagery to turn heads, so this single won't have been anything new - but I'd be willing to bet that it still upset some folks in certain quarters.

There again, perhaps it was actually just largely ignored by the radio DJs for other reasons, but I find that staggeringly hard to believe for a single so good. "Shake Hands With The Devil" is a piece of mod soul which seems from the very first play as if you've known it all your life - and whilst this may be because it falls back on a few cliched riffs here and there (the "Mustang Sally" descend, for example) it also swings thrillingly. The organ screeches, the vocalists scream, whilst beneath a steady, nagging rhythm maintains law and order. It's the kind of raw and dancefloor friendly sound you'd expect from a single emerging from the USA at this time, but amazingly Patterson's People actually stemmed from the incredibly dull Aylesbury, whose only real claim to fame to this day is being Bill Drummond's retirement town.

The B-side "Deadly Nightshade" has been given rather more attention by compilers of sixties rarities compilations over the last ten years or so, which is baffling as it doesn't sound like anything particularly special to me. It does admittedly have a slightly more psychedelic sound, however, which may add to its appeal to collectors of that genre.

As for Patterson's People, this was their only single. If anyone saw them play at the time or knows what became of them, please feel free to enlighten me and the other readers - certainly, of the British acts I've heard doing material of this style from this period, this record makes them sound like they would have been a very convincing live proposition.

Sorry for the pops and crackles at the start of "Shake Hands With The Devil", by the way. They do clear up after the first few seconds.

(This blog entry was originally uploaded in February 2012. Since then, we've found out that the group contained David Wenden among their personnel, who eventually moved to South Africa to continue as a folk musician, sadly passing away in 1980 at the age of 37. Other members included Patsy Archer and brother Art Archer, with Jim Alabaster on bass guitar. Regretfully, Art Archer also died in Aylesbury in 1988). 

22 March 2015

Juan and Junior - The Chase/ Nothing

Label: CBS
Year of Release: 1967

Anyone who enjoys rummaging around boot sales and second hand stores for largely unheard sixties records could do worse than pick up some sounds from continental Europe. The British charts unfairly locked out all manner of brilliant overseas artists, and even when a band like Los Bravos did break through with a single like "Black Is Black", the rest of their output was cruelly and unjustly ignored ("Bring A Little Lovin'" in particular sounds as if it should be have been a huge top three hit).

Juan and Junior are another case in point. Both were ex-members of the rather good Spanish beat combo Los Brincos, and while that group did enjoy some success in their home country, they had even more chart hits and plaudits in their reduced duo form. One single of theirs, AnduriƱa, was so admired by Pablo Picasso that it moved him to contribute an etching to use on their record sleeve.

Both went to Britain for an extended trip in 1967 to record some tracks in English and aim to break one of the more unforgiving markets. Naturally, they failed miserably. Their two singles "The Chase" and "To Girls" were not hits, and CBS had no interest in trying further. A pity, as "The Chase" in particular demonstrates songwriting suss and a buoyant, brassy, confident delivery. Its pure pop to its bones, but so bursting with cheer and sunshine that it's impossible not to be impressed. Far better than a great many of the frankly awful UK acts CBS were chancing recording budgets on at this stage, one can only conclude that Juan and Junior were cursed by the fact that they had no real time to develop a big enough fanbase over here to push the single over the red line and into the charts.

In any case, the pair would split in 1968 after a disagreement caused by Junior attempting a vocal retake of Juan's work while he was out of the studio. Hissy fits were thrown, solo careers beckoned, and Britain would never really see either artist again individually or otherwise.

19 March 2015

Paul Jones - Pretty Vacant/ Sheena Is A Punk Rocker

Label: RSO
Year of Release: 1978

Piss-taking pop parodies have always had a place in musical history. Joke easy-listening/ classical interpretations of hard-edged, sneering rock and roll have existed for just as long as mirth-making aggressive versions of traditionally innocent tracks. Every Oasis has had their Mike Flowers, and every innocent children's show its Dickies. We've found examples of the phenomenon on this blog dating as far back as the early sixties, and I wouldn't be at all surprised to see the practice surviving another fifty years. The very best and very worst jokes are always deathless.

Ex-Manfred Mann member Paul Jones's cover of the Sex Pistols "Pretty Vacant" is, however, so rich in detail that it's one of the most careful jokes ever. With the orchestra whirling into action for the intro, to the smooth, gentle bass sounds throughout, right down to Jones's weary mid-Atlantic vocals (more Jack Jones than Paul Jones, in fact) it finds fluffy levels of detail in the spikiness of the original you'd never have suspected were there. In this sense, what was doubtless supposed to be a very cheeky stab at the Pistols becomes a peculiar compliment - you suddenly appreciate the band's songwriting chops more than you perhaps previously did (not that I ever needed much convincing).

As if to highlight this, the B-side "Sheena Is A Punk Rocker" - flipped to be the A-side on some versions of this single - is altogether less interesting, causing Jones and Tim Rice on production duties to pull humour from as sarcastic a delivery of the lyrics as feasibly possible.

Portsmouth's finest son Paul Jones is no stranger to this blog, of course - we've already referred to him once when writing about the amazing 60s B-side "The Dog Presides".

17 March 2015

Emerging #2 - Lusts, Swim Deep and CuT

Welcome to March's round-up of the most interesting new(ish) bands to catch my ears. 

First off the bat are Lusts, an outfit led by Leicester brothers Andy and James Stone. Debut single "Temptation", out now on 1965 Records, is that very rare thing - a track that looks to the past for inspiration, gripping hold on to doomy guitars, eighties synths and post punk vocals, but still ends up sounding strangely of the moment. Insistent and catchy but with an icy, eerie undertow, "Temptation" is one of the most encouraging debuts I've heard so far this year, and we can only hope they've got more goodness up their sleeves.

Birmingham's Swim Deep, on the other hand, have already had one Top 20 LP out on Sony and can probably only be deemed a "new act" if we're being exceptionally liberal with the definition. Still though, while their earliest releases have done very little at all to impress me, new single "To My Brother" is an entirely different concoction, filled with old-school Acid House Roland squelches and an euphoric chorus which practically commands all listeners to raise their hands in the air without directly saying so. Delicate guitar riffs (and some monstrously buzzing ones) jockey for space with old-school grooves, and it is - to my immense shock and surprise - like a rallying cry for the indie-dance revival. This could happily sit on side two of "Happy Daze - Volume One" or Telstar's "Rave" compilation and nobody would be any the wiser.

For all the obvious retro-leanings, though, it's a staggeringly good single, and one capable of a far broader appeal than most of the music I've heard this month. They won't win any awards for breaking new ground, but "To My Brother" is proof positive that they can write songs which sound like indie club classics, albeit ones from a previous decade in another dimension.

Self-styled space-punks CuT from London, however, produce a monumental piece of modern psychedelia with "Time Traveller", which with its phasing, disconnected echoing vocals and soaring guitar lines resembles the best work of the greatest English sixties one-single wonders. Looking like a bunch of acid-addled bikers, there's also a rough dirtiness to their sound here which stops them from sounding too tripped out - and indeed, for possessing a group image that looks almost exactly as you'd expect, they deserve some respect.

It will be interesting to see if their music makes further inroads in 2015, or if they just end up on page 48 of Shindig magazine... though the vaguely psychy leanings of all the groups on offer in "Emerging" this month perhaps points towards something in the water supply.