21 March 2019

Design - Willow Stream/ Coloured Mile



Harmony pop bordering on popsike. For fans of Tinkerbell's Fairydust, possibly.

Label: Epic (or CBS in the UK)
Year of Release: 1970

Design were a harmony pop outfit who issued a number of singles in the seventies to fairly limited success. The corridors and dressing rooms of light entertainment were filled to the brim with smiling boys and girls teaching the world to sing in those days, so the music business's perseverance was understandable, but it does have to be admitted that their later releases can only be described as 'well performed but typical of that fare'.

Their debut single "Willow Stream" has just enough popsike in its sound to appeal to collectors, though. If you're one of those people who looked at a rare copy of Tinkerbell's Fairydust's LP and actually considered buying it, you'll probably be happy to pick this up for the spare change in your pocket as well. It has a seventies pop bounce which definitely dates it stylistically outside the sixties, but the lyrics and harmonies still have one foot in the previous era. The B-side isn't bad either.

For unknown reasons, copies of this seem slightly easier to obtain in their US demo pressing, which clearly indicates some heavy optimism on behalf of Epic. Oddly, they later went on to promote "Coloured Mile" to the A-side of their next release, but that didn't perform any better.

17 March 2019

Quator - Spy Trap/ Playgirl



Funky, flutey theme tune grooves ahoy

Label: BBC
Year of Release: 1972

The early releases of BBC Records and Tapes are fascinating in that amidst the really obvious stuff such as the "Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads" single are theme tunes and soundtrack excerpts to long-wiped and forgotten series. "Spy Trap" is one such example. While the series, based on a shady MI5/ MI6 styled organisation called "The Department", was apparently popular through its 1972-75 run, it's never been repeated in recent years nor commercially released. 

A shame, because if its theme tune is anything to go by, this would have been wondrous. Sassy, fruity and decidedly flutey, "Spy Trap" is all darkness and mystery with a strange chugging Status Quo styled rhythmic underlay. The flipside "Playgirl" isn't too bad either, which will instantly bring to mind a backstreet heist. Give 'em hell, cops. 

This single is unusual in that it features the efforts of Brian Wade of the group Trane, who had already had one vaguely psychy single out on BBC thanks to their appearances in the then-popular radio soap "Waggoner's Walk". They would go on to release one more single on Penny Farthing in 1971 ("Still Burning Bright") before calling it quits.

13 March 2019

The Bye-Laws - Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye/ Come On Over To My Place



Another Irish Showband with two strong beat cover versions

Label: Pye
Year of Release: 1968

The Bye-Laws came from Ballyfermot in Dublin and were one of seemingly hundreds of bands who busied themselves on the showband circuit. While some of their compatriots and rivals were well received in small towns and at rural events, The Bye-Laws apparently had a strong "urban audience". 

Being a part of Ireland's "metropolitan elite" didn't mean they had any roughness or rawness to their sound, though, and they certainly weren't slashing their amp cones with razors or dropping acid. This really is beat music, pure and simple, with some strong vocals on top. The A side, a well-delivered cover of "Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye" with its steady beat, plucked guitar strings and harmony vocals, wouldn't have sounded out of place as a Beatles B-side back in their earliest days, but it's a little bit antiquated sounding for 1968. The flip is a jollier and more uptempo affair, though it's hard to make "Come On Over To Our Place" sound like a drag (very difficult not to sing "Hey you, we're having a Wimpy" to if you're a certain age, though).

The group consisted of Maurice Walsh on vocals, Jimmy Conway on lead guitar, Paul Holohan on bass, and Aidan Scannell on drums. Maurice ski-daddled off to join the group Purple Pussycat after this single, and their second effort "Run Baby Run" had Pat Morris on lead vocals instead. Neither 45 was a hit either in the UK or Ireland - some sources state that this effort sold well in their home country, but I can't find any chart data for it whatsoever, so at best it would have been a slow and steady seller over a long period of time.

10 March 2019

Reupload - The Londonairs - Dearest Emma/ Bugles a Go-Go



Withdrawn single from some men singing about how much they fancy Emma Peel off The Avengers. It's really not that racy though, readers...

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1966

From the fifties right through until the nineties, highly popular television shows tended to begat novelty singles dedicated to them, some official, many unofficial. In most cases, it's the unofficial ones that tend to be the most peculiar and therefore entertaining, albeit for all the wrong reasons. Tim Worthington has done a fine job of championing The Go Go's "I'm Gonna Spend My Christmas With A Dalek" for years now, a sixties cut whose idea of a dalek voice sounds more like Sir Patrick Moore doing an impersonation of a robot. Supremely ridiculous stuff.

"Dearest Emma" by The Londonairs isn't quite in that camp, but as a tribute to Emma Peel of "The Avengers" it is slightly and knowingly silly. "We love all your kinky clothes/ you dress fit to kill/ we'd fight for the right to be the guy with the bill" they chirp rather sinisterly. "We go pale at the things you do to red blooded men/ now that just ain't right to us/ But do it again-".

Right. Basically, this is the sound of a cabaret act singing about how they're tempted to have a fiddle around inside their trousers whenever "The Avengers" comes on the telly. Cut through to its core, and that's all this record is saying, complete with a Carnaby Street swing of a backing. If nothing else, you can surely admire its honesty. In the days before Twitter, some comfort could be drawn from the fact that at least you could get your messages of appreciation across to actresses you fancied via the recording studio.

6 March 2019

Heatwave - Sister Simon (Funny Man)/ Rastus Ravel (Is A Mean Old Man)



Bit of an unexpected mod-soul "dancer" on the flip of this pop single

Label: Penny Farthing
Year of Release: 1970

The "Left and to the Back" mailbag - or email account, to be less pretentious about it - received another surprise a couple of months ago, when Martin Samuel, the drummer (and occasional fire-eater) in sixties group Heatwave, got in touch about this single. 

Heatwave were formed in 1969 as soon as Samuel joined the pre-existing group The Moving Targets to become their new drummer. Otherwise consisting of John Fellows on bass and vocals, Terry Shea on rhythm guitar and vocals, and Richard Steen on lead guitar and vocals, they became renowned on the gig circuit for their strong vocal harmonies. Some plum support slots were gained, including ones with Consortium, Love Sculpture and Spooky Tooth.

Despite these successes, their agent John Edwards felt that they lacked a strong enough frontman, and  vocalist Peter Allatt was recruited. This period of their career lead to prominent radio sessions for Kenny Everett and DLT among others, and this single which was recorded in Pye Studios in 1970. The A-side is a chirpy pop tune which is naggingly catchy, but it's failure is probably explained by the fact that despite the hooks and the breezy arrangement, it arguably wouldn't have stood out enough among the pop pile of the day. 

The flipside is where the action really is. "Rastus Revel" was created around a funky riff Samuel helped to create, and has started to become acknowledged among retro DJs as the one to zoom in on. Wah-wah guitars combine with a slinky groove to create a cool, mean number. Rick Wakeman played piano on the recording and The Ladybirds (Maggie Stredder, Gloria George and Marian Davis) provided the sultry backing vocals.