13 October 2019

F.R. David - Symphonie (EP)

F.R. David explodes all over the blog for you

Label: Polydor
Year of Release: 1967

Outside of France, the singer F.R. David - born Robert Fitoussi - is mainly remembered for one thing; his global hit "Words". Its ringing, chiming and despairing melodies about his emotional constipation seemed to appeal to all the women of the world who liked to think that beneath their man's stony exterior lay hidden affections and depths. Perhaps along the way, it attracted the men that applied to as well. On first release, I must admit I found it somewhat wet and irritating, but in my old age I've developed a sneaking affection for "Words".

The problem with having one large hit is inevitably it overshadows the rest of your career - how many times have we heard that before? - and in F.R. David's case, that's particularly unfortunate. He's a much more interesting performer and songwriter than he's been given credit for in the UK, having somewhat credible sixties origins. He began his career in 1965 as a member of the garage band Les Trefles who changed their name to Les Boots after one EP. Success was not forthcoming, so he split to go solo and initially issued this, which was pretty wigged out by the usual standards of French pop.

Track one "Symphonie" is the tune to pay attention to. Riddled with meandering orchestral arrangements, David's falsetto trilling and accompanied with a somewhat psychedelic promotional video which seemingly references Synesthesia, it's French chanson pop with a microdose of LSD. Like many French releases of the period, you can tell the production and arrangements are hemming in the potential wildness of the track - the stench of freshly laundered recording studio lab coats and conductor's bow ties never feels far away - but it's a fascinating piece of work from an unlikely source.

Track two is a cover version of "Strawberry Fields Forever" which reduces the grandness of The Beatles original vision to a melancholy, reflective ballad. It's not the worst version of the song I've heard, but it lacks a real point. The cover version of "Knight In Rusty Armour" and the likeable "Rien De Plus" on the flipside are more interesting.

9 October 2019

Phil Brady & The Ranchers - Exeter By-Pass/ Papa

Scouse country stalwart's solitary Pye release

Label: Pye
Year of Release: 1970

Imagine, just as the Merseybeat scene really began to get swinging, having the sheer misfortune but pure artistic honesty to be fronting a country group in Liverpool. More unscrupulous folk would have dropped the cowboy hat in a jiffy in favour of a Beatle haircut and some copped Motown rhythms, but Phil Brady carried on as he started in 1962 - performing and releasing a series of anglicised country songs, indifferent to the trends around him.

In spite of - or perhaps because of - this singular vision, he began to build a strong live following in the North West of England, which caused the Cavern Club to offer him the chance to release the novelty track "An American Sailor at the Cavern" on their own record label. Sadly, the Cavern's financial demise occurred at almost exactly the same time this record was pressed up, and as a result very few copies made it into the shops. If you spot a copy, snap it up - it's one of the rarest singles of the period, and certainly one of the most unusual Cavern souvenirs.

His other releases are more commonly chanced upon, especially his LPs which were at one point a fairly regular sight in the record sections of department stores in particular. This release for Pye, however, marks his last release on 45, and is a charming, warm and mellow lovelorn contemplation of the Exeter By-pass of all things. You won't hear that in Nashville. In this instance, Brady clearly had the courage to drop distinctly English images into a country track, and it pays off in a way it simply wouldn't if he'd copied from the same rulebook as numerous plastic anglo-cowboys and played the broken hearted, troubled but rugged man from a place he'd yet to visit. "Exeter By-Pass" is equal parts English rain and Southern Comfort (though what an appalling drink that would make in reality).

6 October 2019

Reupload - Hackensack - Moving On/ River Boat

Seering, high-paced and relentless rocker from 70s circuit faves

Label: Island
Year of Release: 1972

In the late sixties and early seventies, music began to be appraised by certain selective punters not just by how melodic or innovative it was, but how loud and heavy, especially in the live environment. Bands began to obtain huge amplifiers and stacks affordably, and thus acts such as Blue Cheer described themselves as being capable of turning the air to cheese with their sheer racket. Presumably nobody asked for a refund when the venue around them didn't transform miraculously into rich Brie.

Hackensack were renowned for being one of Britain's heaviest blues rock bands in the early seventies, and became quite a draw on the live circuit, chalking up 270 gigs - but naturally, their high voltage and volume attacks failed to cross over into record shop sales. 1974's Polydor released album "Up The Hard Way" was cultishly successful, but not enough to convince anyone that they had a reasonable commercial proposition on their hands, though it has since become a highly collectible item. Thus Hackensack were kicked back on to the small venue circuit before giving it all up, an unissued live album apparently languishing in the Pye vaults.

This is their solitary single, and consists of two quite different halves. The A-side "Moving On" chugs along and swings merrily, and actually has an almost glam rock chorus which sounds like it might have been borrowed from Iron Virgin or one of the many flop tinseltowners of the day. It's perfectly good, but it's the B-side that really shows what Hackensack were capable of. "River Boat" is an absolute dumb-ass assault, riddled with a primal, almost garage rock riff which needles away throughout. Vocals scream, cymbals crash, and the whole thing is a fine example of how the 60s punk tradition naturally morphed into Serious Rock in the early seventies. So downright distorted and compressed is the track that I had to have three goes of ripping it from vinyl before getting the right volume control - it sends all the needles flying into the red even at low recording volumes. I still can't decide if I over or under did it.

2 October 2019

Bear George - Bear Rap/ Bear Behind

For sweet music... murder the bear

Label: Cambra
Year of Release: 1983

Hofmeister. I bet the mention of that reasonably priced tinned lager brought back some memories for you, eh readers? Only instead of the Proustian rush of delicious "hops" suddenly appearing on your tongue, I expect you probably remember the mystery of cleaning out your fridge and finding a stray can of it at the very back. Perhaps you recall thinking: "How did that get there? Who bought that shit? Was it Rob? Has that been around since last year's party?" before concluding "Well, I'll drink it if it's a Sunday night, all the off licences are shut and I'm desperate, I suppose..." (repeat the cycle again in another nine months time, or sooner depending on your fridge hygiene schedule. My approach is admittedly lax).

I've never met anybody in my life who claimed that Hofmeister was their favourite lager. It generally sat perched among the other weak, pissy budget beers like Skol in the supermarket, and as such was only attractive if you were broke and desperate. The last time I purchased a tin during a rather desperate penny-pinching period, I concluded that if somebody had replaced my lager with some fizzy mineral water topped up with a small drop of amber food colouring, I'd have been none the wiser. I probably would have got just as drunk too. Hofmeister was probably a fair accompaniment to a vindaloo which had fried your tastebuds so much you could no longer recognise what you were drinking, but that's it.

Contrary to popular belief, it also wasn't a German beer, but was brewed by Scottish Courage. Faced with the challenge of trying to make a truly rubbish product appealing to young, gullible drinkers everywhere, Courage did what companies have done for longyears and hired an advertising company to blow their conceptual fairydust on it. Enter John Webster, who had previously directed the Cresta, Smash and Sugar Puffs adverts. In this case he seemingly took some cues from the Honey Monster success and shot the adventures of a woodland bear who had gained a sniff of Hofmeister beer and decided to live a more urban lifestyle as a result.

George The Bear was a strange amalgamation of various aspects of geezer-ish early eighties culture. With a voice like Mike Reid, the jacket of a darts player, the swagger of a wide boy, a pork-pie hat like Mickey Pearce and the casual attire of a football fan dressed up for a night out in the clubs, he ticked all the boxes likely to appeal to men who secretly wanted to be more funny, cocky, confident and impressive than they really were. Adolescents, in other words.

The adverts were a screaming success and enabled Hofmeister to retain its popularity into the nineties, though concerns were eventually raised about the bear's appeal to people well beneath the legal drinking age, and the adverts were eventually banned. As the years moved on, the British palate for beer also became more sophisticated, and even the skintest boozers slyly u-turned on their following of the bear, moving on to richer, stronger lagers instead. It was subsequently discontinued in 2003.

29 September 2019

Crazy Paving - Anytime Sunshine/ Sweet Brandy

Another burst of sunshine from songwriter Pete Shelley

Label: MCA
Year of Release: 1970

Right back at the start of the year we took a dip into the pre-Alvin Stardust world of seventies songwriter Peter Shelley. "Paper Chase" was probably released far too late to pick up anyone's psychedelic pop pocket money, and as such came nowhere near to charting, but gave a good impression of Shelley's enviable pop songwriting chops. 

Later on in the same year, "Anytime Sunshine" was handed to the group Sir Percy Quintet, who had previously issued a 45 on MCA entitled "She's Such A Good Looking Girl". On this occasion, they for undisclosed reasons opted to go under the name of Crazy Paving, and showed that Shelley had more tricks up his sleeve. Breezy pop like this was everywhere in 1970, but in terms of style, "Anytime Sunshine" is the full 50mph open-top rush down a country A-road, like The Love Affair with less adolescent pounding and pleading and more adult aspirations. Airy strings meet euphoric vocals, and a day out in bright sunshine with a partner in fashionable sunglasses is yours for free for the three minutes it plays.

The B-side, on the other hand, is a lost swinger which I'm surprised hasn't made its way into any mod DJ playlists yet. Repetitive, insistent and jam-orientated, very much like the "Turkey" flip to "Paper Chase", it nonetheless chugs and grooves in such an insistent way that you too will succumb to its boozy charms. It's like "Mony Mony" for people who crave sugary liquor.