29 April 2008
Year of release: 1966
Like any vain blogger, I regularly keep a beady eye on my statistics to work out what the hell people are "surfing in" for. It's telling. The vast majority of people, it seems, want to download Scott Walker's "'Til The Band Comes In", which should tell the music industry everything it needs to know about the demand for a reissue of that. Not far behind are a bunch of folk - normally from France, Japan and the Netherlands, it seems - keen to download some material by Jack which has never been deleted and was in fact recently remastered and reissued. Where do they think this place is, Pirate Bay or something?
A surprise new entry at number three, however, are a bunch of eager, keen googlists who are interested in the sixties Icelandic band Thor's Hammer, and in particular their Umbarumbamba film and EP. This is thanks to a very fleeting mention I made some time ago. No, I wasn't expecting this either, but perhaps it shouldn't be such a big surprise. When Rhino Records issued the "Nuggets II" boxset a number of years ago, the lead track from the EP "My Life" immediately caught the attention of a lot of people whose tastes veered towards the mod and garage end of sixties things. "My Life" is now a retro club favourite if you attend the right sort of nights, its 200mph urgency making it almost seem like something a modern mainstream garage band like The Hives might have come out with. Except, of course, the Hives don't have a drummer like Petur, whose jazz background lead him to produce high tempo work that would have left Keith Moon impressed if he'd ever actually heard it at the time.
The EP was recorded as a soundtrack for a short film of the same name made for Icelandic cinemas and television, which has never turned up on Youtube - although if anyone has it, I'd obviously be thrilled to see it. The other tracks are admittedly not as brilliant as the lead track, but still worthy of your earspace and indeed MP3 player space.
As for the history of the Thors, there's a full length mid-price CD out there on Big Beat called "From Keflavik with Love" (given that copies of Umbarumbamba have been known to go for a thousand pounds, guess where these MP3s were sourced from?) It contains the full story of the band and interviews with key members, documenting most of their recording career, and explaining their dalliances in studios in London, and how they acted as a backing band for many singers visiting Iceland from elsewhere (including Ray Davies, intriguingly). I won't summarise the full contents here and now, but it's noticeable that as soon as their drummer Petur leaves, there's a very large hole in their work. It's not that their later period material isn't likeable, but it's certainly some distance away from the explosive work they produced at their peak - which should put a smile on the chops of sticksmen (and stickswomen) everywhere who believe that their contributions aren't valued enough.
Here's to Thor's Hammer, anyway - proof there was musical life in Iceland way before Mezzoforte and the Sugarcubes.
27 April 2008
(SEPTEMBER 2012 NOTE: Sorry folks, after four-and-a-half years I've decided to let this file lapse and I won't be uploading it again anytime soon. Feel free to look at the "sleevenotes" below if you want, but please don't ask me to make this available again - it's not going to happen for the foreseeable future. Maybe, at some point in time when Spotify and its ilk get sophisticated enough and include enough goodies, we can look at creating a playlist of the songs, though...).
Welcome to the first compilation CD, “Wallpaper”, a lovely (even if I do say so myself) collection of non-American psychedelia.
An entire dissertation could be written about the music industry during the late sixties, but to summarise it briefly, it’s hard to understate just how chaotic and confused a lot of the major labels were at this time. A great many of the bands of the era freely admit they were often signed because the executives had little concept of which way the wind was blowing from one hour to the next. Having only just acclimatized themselves to the idea that “groups with guitars” were most definitely not “on their way out” in 1962, by late 1966 they suddenly had to get used to the fact that pop and rock music could include both music hall humour and pretentions towards high art as well. When you threw mind-expanding drugs into the mix, it was no wonder that the silver haired managers at Decca freely admitted to one artist that “if you throw enough mud at the wall, some of it will stick”. An interesting A&R policy which reveals more confusion than any sort of marketing-lead savvy.
That’s very fortunate for the consumer, however, and very lucky for blogs like this one, because while their eyes were off the ball, a lot of people had huge fun with the freedom they were afforded. Most of the acts included on “Wallpaper” never got to release a full length album, but instead stuck out a few singles that even now sound like imaginative and even perverse pop. At their best, they rank up there with some of the more popular works of the era, and if it hadn’t been for the market being utterly flooded with so much good material might have stood a chance. At their very worst, they’re still entertainingly absurd.
Whilst I’m not claiming any exclusivity with this compilation and freely admit it’s more of a primer for the curious than any sort of “unearthed rarities!” effort (I really don’t have the cash to buy that sort of stuff at auctions, I’m afraid, and there really can’t be much “unearthed” material left anyway) I hope you enjoy it and find something here which takes you by surprise – pleasantly or otherwise.
Tracklisting and notes:
1. The Easybeats – Peculiar Hole In The Sky (Parlophone – 1969)
They had a couple of hits in Britain as well as in their native Australia, not least with the well-acknowledged classic “Friday on my Mind”, but had a lot less joy with this heavily produced psychedelic effort, which might have sounded a wee bit dated by 1969.
2. The Smoke – Sydney Gill (Island – 1968)
Absolutely massive in Germany, the Smoke never managed to quite attract the same buzz in their native country. They reformed to release some glam rock styled efforts in the seventies.
3. The Nice – Diamond Hard Blue Apples of the Moon (Immediate – 1968)
The B-side of their anarchic version of Bernstein’s “America”, this is surprisingly straightforward in comparison, sounding for all the world like an obscure Super Furry Animals out-take.
4. Pregnant Insomnia – Wallpaper (Direction – 1967)
Utterly ridiculous love song to a particularly pleasing wallpaper design, this single is proof positive that out-on-a-limb surreal pop music was coming out of Ireland way before The Frank and Walters… released in December, this wasn't a festive hit.
5. The Tages – Fuzzy Patterns (Odeon – 1967)
The Tages have already had an entry on this blog, of course. By this release, they’d moved on from singing about pregnant teenage girls and instead turned their attention to fuzzy patterns that “make you distracted”. Good work, chaps.
6. Boeing Duveen and the Beautiful Soup – Jabberwock (Parlophone – 1968)
A Middle Earth club favourite which was regularly spun by John Peel, this wouldn’t have sounded horribly out of place on “Piper at the Gates of Dawn”. Boeing Duveen, incidentally, was a doctor by trade. Beee-waaare…
7. Peter Cook and Dudley Moore – Bedazzled (Decca – 1967)
aka Drimble Wedge and the Vegetations, Peter Cook’s band in the film “Bedazzled”. An excellent parody of the more way-out music of the period, this is still played in many psychedelic clubs to this day. Chris Morris has a way to go before his musical parodies achieve the same thing.
8. Caleb – Baby Your Phrasing Is Bad (Philips – 1967)
Caleb Quaye (Finlay’s father) managed to record this one-off single in between bits of session work. A heavily phased piece about poor pronunciation, clearly the record buying public didn’t feel as strongly about the topic as he did.
9. The Moles – We Are The Moles (Parlophone – 1968)
Aka Portsmouth-based two hit wonders Simon Dupree and The Big Sound. The Moles were the band in a psychedelic disguise, which probably inspired XTC to invent their alter-egos The Dukes of Stratosphear and record the psychedelic track “Mole From The Ministry” in 1985. Apparently Simon Dupree and co wanted the public to think this was the Beatles masquerading under another name, until Syd Barrett let the truth slip in an interview.
10. July – Friendly Man (Major Minor – 1969)
The band insist that this song isn’t about paedophelia, just about “an eccentric local man we used to know”. However, with lyrics like “friendly man, look but don’t touch” and “mothers say stay away far as you can, friend-er-lee man”, they were treading a fine line – so fine you can probably only see it under a microscope, in fact. If this were issued now, The Daily Mail would probably run a front page story about it.
11. Excelsior Spring – It (Instant – 1969)
Very obscure, short and sweet track. The band’s identity has never been established, but they’re definitely not Colin Moulding and XTC in their “Skylarking” phase, even if it does sound a tiny bit like it. This was issued on the Immediate subsidiary label Instant.
12. Arzachel – Garden of Earthly Delights (Evolution – 1969)
Absurd early Steve Hillage curio which is seemingly half baroque, half early Floyd spacerock.
13. Kes Wyndham – Broken Bicycle (Pye – 1971)
Flann O’Brien inspired folk track which, to be fair, isn’t particularly psychedelic, but certainly as unusual as much of the period’s work.
14. The Aerovons – World of You (Parlophone – 1969)
Brilliant piece of Abbey Road orchestral pop from a bunch of ex-pat teenage Americans who demanded to record their album in Britain to be near the Beatles and their production team. It does show – but the end result is impressive enough for all the obvious influences.
15. Nimrod – The Bird (Mercury – 1969)
The odd glimmer of glam rock shines through this track, although one of the members of Nimrod – Mick Jones- would bypass all that nonsense to become a member of Foreigner. The dolt.
16. The Peep Show – Mazy (Polydor – 1967)
A UFO club favourite, Mazy is a floaty and disorientating piece of half-asleep psychedelia. Stay off the Mandrax, kids. The Peep Show were from Birmingham and generally specialized in much more folky fare. This is the B-side of “Your Servant Stephen”, a track about an accidental pregnancy which was panned by Derek Jacobs on Juke Box Jury for its subject matter.
17. Apple – Buffalo Billy Can (Page One – 1968)
Brilliant psych pop track which sonically sits somewhere between Syd Barrett’s “Octopus” and The Pastels. Loose as hell, but continually interesting in a slightly fey way across its three minutes.
18. Kaleidoscope – Snapdragon (Fontana – 1969)
Huge things were expected of Kaleidoscope, so much that their record label let them record three albums, but it was all for nought. Plenty of other information is available elsewhere on the web, but enjoy this heavily swirling pop track whilst you’re reading it.
19. Sub – Ma Mari Huana (Rex – 1969)
A full on freak out from a very obscure Munich based band of whom little is known. Unless you can tell me, of course.
20. The Flies – House of Love (Decca – 1967)
The Flies threw objects at Pink Floyd at a Roundhouse gig for “selling out”, and were probably better known for that one act than any of their singles. “House of Love” is a spittle-ridden piece of moody mod-psychedelia with a neat groove which wouldn’t actually have sounded out of place at the height of the baggy movement. It’s also a damn sight more commercial than The Floyd’s material of the same period. The cads.
21. The Tickle – Good Evening (Regal Zonophone – 1968)
Effects-laden Beatlesey pop. This Hull band apparently all tried having blonde Boris Johnson haircuts at one early point in their careers, which may single handedly account for their lack of success.
22. Blossom Toes – Telegram Tuesday (Marmalade – 1967)
Not as funny as the Bonzo Dog Band when they were trying to be, but generally having the best tunes, The Blossom Toes were a fantastic music hall/ vaudeville-inspired psychedelic act who released one genuinely brilliant album in “We Are Ever So Clean”. Telegram Tuesday is taken from that album, and is a piece of joyous, chiming pop.
23. Jackpots – Jack in the Box (Sonet – 1969)
This almost sounds like Mika having an LSD moment in a recording studio. Brilliant. I’d always wondered what that might sound like, now you too can hear it without breaking the law and slipping something in his drink. This was a sizeable continental hit, but didn’t do the business in the UK.
24. Argosy – Imagine (DJM – 1969)
A pre-fame Elton John and Roger Hodgson out of Supertramp join forces with Caleb Quaye (see track 8) to produce a happy hippy tune. It’s rather laboured with its references to pixies and “corduroy toadstools” on the ceiling, but how often do you get the chance to hear Roger Hodgson sing about this sort of thing? Consider yourself treated. Or not, if you feel that way about it. Just don’t call it a “guilty pleasure”, for f__k’s sake.
25. Fruit Machine – The Wall (Spark – 1968)
A deeply world weary yet excellent piece of orchestral hippy pop. The Fruit Machine were a bunch of teenagers from London who put a few singles out (“worrying our parents”) before disappearing into the real world as adults.
26. The Pretty Things – Parachute (Columbia – 1969)
The title track of their follow-up album to “SF Sorrow is Born”, this is an oft-overlooked piece of tranquil Norman Smith produced psychedelia with a somewhat unexpected ending.
27. The Moles – We Are The Moles (Part Two) (Parlophone – 1968)
And we say “Goodnight Children Everywhere” as Simon Dupree and The Big Sound sing us to bed. Don’t forget to create some stoned applause on your way upstairs.
25 April 2008
Year of Release: 1992 and 1993
Label: Jimmy Kidd Records and Ultimate Records respectively
This may be the least imaginative entry I will ever make to this here blog, since this has already been discussed half-to-death on other sites all over the world wide web. That's for a particularly good reason, though, as "Geek Love" is a true gem of a single, good enough to win the Festive Fifty on John Peel's show in 1992, in fact.
Whilst John Peel and his listeners are known for championing a lot of material that never gets off the ground, it's extremely rare for a Festive Fifty winner to come out of the bag from an artist who then never receives even moderate chart success. This is precisely what happened here, though, and following the band's release of the record on their own label in '92, it was reissued in '93 by Ultimate Records with grand hopes - but no major action beyond one solitary showing on the Chart Show indie chart.
I'm prone to bragging that bands featured here also released a lot of other material which is "well worth checking out", but sadly in Bang Bang Machine's case I think it's fair to say that they peaked with this effort, and never quite recaptured the same glory again. Still, though, it's a peak most bands could only dream of reaching, and it deserves a damn sight more acclaim than a bunch of blogs on the Internet frothing about it. If I had to place money on one flop record from the nineties getting used on an advert or a television programme and then going on to sell stacks of units - this would be it. Enjoy. The full nine minute version can be found on one of those new-fangled YouTube not-videos below.
22 April 2008
Who: The Dave Howard Singers
What: Rock On
Where: Reckless Records, Soho (RIP)
Cost: 2 pounds
Whilst the Dave Howard Singers sounds like the name of a Sing Something Simple styled ensemble, the reality was actually somewhat more ridiculous. In their rawest form, the band were simply Toronto citizen Dave Howard, an Acetone keyboard (with effects pedals hooked up to it), and a drum machine. On many of the recordings, that was it – there was no attempt to beef up the sound with any other instrumentation at all. You think The White Stripes are stripped back? This is as stripped back as rock music gets.
What they lacked in instrumentation they certainly made up for in firepower, however, as the sheer industrial assault of many of their singles sounded like the noise of a full four piece band revving into the red – the groans, screeches and squeals of the keyboard were surprisingly gutsy, and Howard could howl for Canada. Whilst they did do occasional absurd diversions into Bacharach styled balladry, it was when they made a racket that they became most memorable.
“Rock On” does feature a proper drummer (Nick Smash) and is assuredly unforgettable, whatever your opinions on the quality of it may be. An eight minute screech through David Essex’s seventies hit, it apparently did not meet with the Gypsy man’s approval when he found out. It turns the pop oddness of the original into an incessant, primal rock and roll beast, at times recalling The Revolting Cocks’ cover versions in its style and intent.
The DHS (as they were often known) are an odd band in that they didn’t want for publicity, despite seemingly having become total unknowns now. Besides the usual reviews and interviews in the NME, Sounds and Melody Maker, they also gained a slot on The Tube, and several appearances on The Chart Show – appearances which, lest we forget, plenty of better known "indie" bands from around the same time were denied. At the height of their live activity they were even offered a gig at WOMAD as an example of talent from the frozen white north, and also a show at the Canadian High Commission, which apparently baffled and frightened many of the workers there with its sheer volume.
Whilst it wasn’t a hit, their follow up to “Rock On” was “Yon Yonson”, a nagging, deliberately repetitive and looping piece of work which only needed a few plays to seep into the public consciousness. At my school, nobody bought a copy, but almost everyone had heard it and commented on it with expressions of utter confusion. At times it felt like one the more familiar singles of the eighties never to break the Top 100.
Their existence almost feels like a peculiar dream – until very recently, there wasn’t even much evidence on the Internet of their career, but slowly the modern telecommunications beast is waking up and registering them on its radar. Last week, the Yon Yonson appearance on the Chart Show was uploaded to Youtube by somebody. A few months before that, Dave Howard launched a brilliantly designed nostalgia site for the band which really outlines their lunacy for all to see, showcasing their TV appearances, videos and press extracts (http://www.thedhs.com/home/index.html).
And do you know what? I was actually delighted to stumble upon “Rock On” in the reduced pile of Reckless Records. They (or he) may have worked within a very narrow template which couldn’t possibly have lasted for long before ceasing to become surprising or noteworthy, but it remains significantly more entertaining and interesting than the work of many of their indie peers from the same era. I mean, who exactly could not be entertained by a man screaming “I’m a plastic horse!” whilst riding around on a keyboard attached to a wheelchair? Very few people, that would be my "guestimate".
Here’s “Rock On”:
And also, to prove it wasn’t all some weird hallucination, here’s the July 1987 Chart Show indie chart with the “Yon Yonson” single given the rewind and play treatment.
21 April 2008
Year of Release: 1969
One of the many peculiarities of the international music industry is how enormous hit singles which clearly have "classic" written all over them in one territory can be forgotten flops in another. There are few more pronounced examples of this than the fate which befell Russell Morris' superb 1969 single "The Real Thing", which was the best selling single of that year in Australia, but failed to chart at all in the UK.
If "The Real Thing" had been recorded by Traffic or The Small Faces at their trippiest, it would probably be a Radio Two staple by now. We almost certainly wouldn't have the need to discuss it on this blog, and doubtless Mojo would bring it up every now and then as a fine example of the psychedelic period. Seemingly only two things stood in the way of it storming the charts - firstly, it was six minutes long in its full version (rather than the rudely truncated video above) which was a daring thing to do in the British market at the time. Anything longer than three and a half minutes struggled to get airplay on the radio.
Secondly, it was issued by Decca, a label which had almost entirely lost its way by this point and couldn't have promoted a new act if its life depended on it - which by the early seventies it did, since The Rolling Stones (their biggest selling band) upped sticks and left. Really, it didn't have a hope in hell of getting heard.
That's a real shame, because "The Real Thing" is stunning. Starting out acoustic and gentle, it builds and builds until it can go no further, turning into a pounding, demanding groove and eventually an instense, full throttle whirl of sound effects. It's been periodically used to soundtrack sports coverage in Australia, and Morris is still a popular draw on the live circuit over there nearly forty years on, having followed this up with a brace of other hits. In the UK, this was his solitary release.
Download the full-length version below, which really gives you the full impression of what we missed out on.
17 April 2008
Artist: The Medium
Single: Edward Never Lies
Year of Release: 1968
Before I begin, I have a confession to make – strictly speaking I’m cheating slightly here, since I’m pulling this track off the obscurities compilation “Circus Days Volume 3”. However…
Sometimes you stumble upon a single that’s so utterly absurd that writing about it or critiquing it in depth is a waste of time, and really you have to let people hear it for themselves and form their own judgements. “Edward Never Lies” genuinely is a rum piece of work. Lyrically, this appears to be about stealing a girl from a mentally ill man called Edward (“no need to thank me for I’m doing/ what I think is best”).
Not that the good lady in question seems run of the mill herself. Oh no, indeed not. It would seem that she will only see suitors by day because “she’s frightened of the dark” and insists her boyfriends buy her the newest and finest quality dresses to wear, seemingly at daily intervals. Edward, the dupe that he is, seems keen to help his friend/ girlfriend-thief here – he knows her size, you see, and he never fibs about these things. Angelic singing voices periodically chip in to remind us of this. Whilst I can’t speak for the accuracy of the lead singer’s statements, it does seem as if Edward is the only sensible one to me, almost an idiot savant character who is quite happy to try and extract himself from the whole horrible mess he’s got himself into.
Musically it’s simple and jaunty, and in place resembles John Entwhistle’s songwriting work with The Who. Apparently The Medium (so called because they believed they had a close touch with the spirit world) didn’t quite manage to get all the various parts laid down in the studio to schedule, so The Tremeloes finished this track off quickly before down time. This also means that somewhere on this single lie the talents of Chesney Hawkes’ father Len “Chip” Hawkes. I think we’ll close this entry on that thought.
16 April 2008
Who: Jimmy Little
What: Royal Telephone
Where: The Bazaar, Chapel Street, Melbourne
Next up, it’s a find in a bazaar in Melbourne which will doubtless cause numerous Australians (if indeed any are reading) to scratch their heads with confusion. Jimmy Little, after all, is a national hero, having been named as a “Living National Treasure” over there in 2004, almost at the exact point my greasy paws came across this single, in fact. Certainly, he’s one of the country’s few famous Aboriginals.
The simple fact remains that he’s never had any mainstream success in America or Britain, however, despite some attempts to launch himself into international consciousness with appearances in films. His numerous attempts at country pop, reggae, and middle-of-the-road ballads have usually barely been granted a release (if at all) outside of his native country. This is something of a pity, as his career has taken some particularly unexpected paths, culminating in cover versions of Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds and Go-Betweens songs by the nineties.
His biggest hit single by far, the cover of the obscure 1919 hymn “Royal Telephone” is still odd in its own particular conservative way. Musically there’s nothing especially challenging about this and it could almost have been released in the late fifties by Harry Belafonte, but lyrically it almost borders on Jimmy Webb territory. He makes the continual assertion “You can talk to Jesus on this Royal Telephone” throughout, adding “I can feel the current moving on the line”. Hmm. From this I can only deduce that he is singing about the universal power of prayer, the ability all religious folk have to access God on a spiritual telecommunications wavelength. I do like to imagine that he’s maybe singing joyfully about a very complicated telephone of the future, though, or an especially good ouijaboard. Or perhaps, like Andy Warhol, he simply believed he could communicate with God via any ordinary phone. It’s strangely much more fun to give this song alternative readings than it is to accept it for what it is. For instance, I have a slightly psychedelic reading of this disc which I doubt very much was ever intended. It’s so straight it’s peculiar.
If ever you’re in a major city in Australia, odds-on you’ll find a copy of this in a second hand store or charity shop somewhere. It was the sort of huge, middle-of-the-road number one hit thousands of people discarded once they threw their turntable out on to the pavement for “hard rubbish” day collection and upgraded to CDs. Over here, it’s extremely scarce, and almost unheard of.
Also, as an aside, his eerie, atmospheric version of the Go-Betweens “Cattle And Cane” quite possibly trumps the original, and is available on iTunes in the UK at least. Also, by recording Nick Cave songs, he was possibly eventually rather more on the side of Satan than God the Father - but that's another story.
14 April 2008
Year of Release: 1992
Whilst we were on the subject of arrogant, early nineties indie bands - which we were, remember? - it's worth pausing to have a solemn thought for Adorable, a band regularly touted as "The Next Big Thing of 1992!" by Alan McGee and at least one music journalist.
Sadly, it was not to be. Their mates Suede got all the attention instead, possibly not aided by the fact that they urged critics to "check Suede out" thereby deflecting all attention away from themselves in one misguided comradely act. By the end of their careers they were to be heard whining that they were the only act on Creation who didn't have a poster on the office walls. Their label in America, SBK, cared even less for their fate.
The song above, "Sunshine Smile", fared well in the indie charts and certainly deserved to crossover, seemingly embracing every single alternative guitar noise the early nineties had to offer, from Stone Roses chimes, to crunching grunge distortion, to fey, atmospheric shoegazey wispy sounds.
Cherry Red issued a "Best of Adorable" album entitled "Footnotes" back in January.
11 April 2008
Artist: Golden Section
Single: Young Mavericks/ Close Quarters/ Can’t See The Light
Year of issue: 1991
Given the proliferation of blogs focusing on lost indie gems from the early nineties (see the links to Box Set Go and Midway Still on the left, and then do a google search to find endless others) it’s slightly surprising that “Young Mavericks” doesn’t seem to have been given any attention anywhere yet. This received rave reviews in the weekly music press, to the extent that the NME saw fit to give them an interview in their “On” section and also listed the single in the end-of-year “On list” – meaning that they thought it was one of the best recordings by a new band in 1991.
The Roman Jugg produced “Young Mavericks” is indeed the kind of ditty which would have got music journalists very hot under the collar at the time. A storming, sneering song which namechecks Rimbaud and Baudelaire, it has Statement of Intent written all over it. Such pretentious arrogance on debut singles always got the press to prick up their ears, but that’s not all it has to offer – there’s an infectious energy on display too, and an urgent chorus (which admittedly takes rather too long to kick in). The drums pound, rattle and roll, the guitars feedback joyously, and the keyboard sounds as if it’s engaged in a battle with an irritated and writhing octopus. In short, it’s huge fun, and if the band had actually made it there’s no doubt it would have been the monstrous, firework display launching finale piece to their festival shows.
For all that, the sound here is most definitely in an early nineties Evening Session vein, and whilst there’s a certain sixties garage undertone to the whole thing, there’s little question there are elements of Jesus Jones and The Wonder Stuff in the mix as well. Depending upon your point of view, you will either find that charming or utterly irritating.
True to the final line on the A-side here, Golden Section did indeed “burn out”. Following this acclaimed single, they split up within a matter of months and with no public explanation. Some members splintered off to form The Earthtrippers (a band I know absolutely nothing about) whilst lead singer Paul Tunkin created retro mod band The Weekenders, who enjoyed a slightly higher profile. These days, he’s better known as the DJ at the legendary Blow Up club in London, and puts together the tracklistings for their compilation albums featuring obscure sixties library and lounge music. A man after Left and to the Back’s own heart, then.
Golden Section were also from Southend, a town I lived in for a number of years. I was possibly too young when they were at their peak to make accurate judgments, but the energy on this single does seem to sum up their live act. They were known for being one of the more full throttle bands in the region, and regularly played to packed and sweaty venues, also earning prestigious support slots in London with the likes of The Verve.
Of the B-sides, I’ve only included the slightly haunting, icy “Close Quarters” as part of the download, as “Can’t See The Light” is a wee bit too indie-pop-by-numbers for my liking – but if enough people want me to upload that one as well, then I will.
9 April 2008
Year of Release: 1988
Where: Reflex Records, Albert Road, Portsmouth
Now, there are two Graham Listers in this world I am aware of – one spells his first name with an ‘e’ on the end and co-wrote “Star Trekkin’” and “Arthur Daley” by The Firm, but predominantly works in the genre of country rock. The other is a comedy character created by Vic Reeves who is on concessionary benefits. Guess which one this record isn’t by (although you’d be correct in thinking that I bought it in the vague hope that it was some rare, undiscovered early Vic Reeves single)?
Before I begin my little critique of this novelty record, I feel duty-bound to emphasise the positive aspects of it. I get the distinct impression that a boardroom full of marketing executives really didn’t come up with the idea for this, and as such it has a certain naïve appeal. Well, let’s be honest, can you imagine Simon Cowell* coming up with the idea of producing a country rock tinged record about people getting pissed and going out on the pull in Spain? He would never sanction it. I’m no expert myself, but the guesstimate I would give as to how many people that combination would appeal to is approximately fifty. There are no all-night line dancing parties on the Costa Del Sol. I’ve looked online and checked.
Really though, that’s as far as I’m prepared to go with my praise. This record is breathtakingly, gobsmackingly, teethgrittingly, cat-murderingly f__king irritating. I say this as somebody who actually thought “Star Trekkin’” was quite amusing before it got overplayed, and felt that “Arthur Daley” was charming enough in its own way – but if I was planning to become a fan of Mr Lister, he let me down here. This is an incessantly chirpy bug-eyed monster of a single, combining what sound like the worst aspects of a Billy Ray Cyrus disc with cockney lyrics about holiday romance, “chatting up birds”, having “summertime fun”, and (obviously) fish and chips. The funniest line is “Si Si Senorita, Monty Pyfon is me bruvva-in-law”, but by the time the record gets to that point you feel like shattering the pissing thing. It Is Utter Guff, but it’s so unspeakably bad it’s actually a small achievement. It feels like he’s designed this deliberately as some kind of finely tuned sonic weapon. Not only do you hate the thing, but one play of it and you find it lodged in your brain, immovably, for the next week.
Grahame Lister (pictured above, LOOK AT HIM SNIGGERING) is a respected country musician in his native Australia, and I know for a fact he doesn’t usually produce music of this foul nature. His partner in crime here, Brian O’Shaughnessy, has produced Primal Scream, Saint Etienne, Denim, and Misty’s Big Adventure, and as such is automatically elevated into my own personal rock and roll producers hall of fame. The pair of them, however, should at least be given a mild ticking off for this. Whenever I’m asked to name my least favourite song of all time, it’s always somewhere near the top of my list – and if only I'd strode past the bargain section of the second hand record store on that fateful day, I may have remained utterly ignorant of its existence. The fact this never made its way on to the summer Radio One playlist is also proof that there may well be a deity of some kind looking after the human race.
(*That said, early on in his career Simon Cowell was daft enough to dress up in a dog costume to promote a record he’d released of canines tunefully barking. That would be a prime candidate for inclusion on this blog were it not for the fact that the thing miraculously scraped into the top 40 – so perhaps he’s not so daft after all).
7 April 2008
Year of Release: 1983
Of course, Karl Hyde out of Underworld would probably love us to forget that he was ever in a crimp-haired, futuristic synth-pop outfit called Freur, but rather unfortunately for him the modern Internet allows us to conclusively prove his past.
Not that (dubious hairstyles aside) he really has much to be ashamed of. "Doot Doot" is the kind of atmospheric, marginally eerie, subtly catchy synth-driven thing that could always be found hovering somewhere outside or around the Top 40 in the early part of the eighties. The track evolves gradually into the big instrumental hook at the end, which is actually rather pleasing in an epic sort of way. Nice. The only major criticism which can be made of this venture is the fact that the band decided to represent their name on the sleeve and record label as a giant squiggle, an attempt to invent band names of the future that really didn't meet with any success (unless your name was Prince).
Karl would of course go on to much better things, but I don't really think this is juvenalia to stay awake at night worrying about.
5 April 2008
Single: Anniversary of Love/ So Many Times
Year of Issue: 1967
During the period Procol Harum’s “Whiter Shade of Pale” cast its foggy veil over the charts, a lot of people could have been forgiven for thinking that not only had the band had the first of many number ones, but that also they’d created a new “sound”. The church organ noises, surreal lyrics, soulful vocals, and classical pretentions were quite an original cocktail at the time.
In the wake of that disc emerged numerous artists with their own particular take on poetic organ driven balladry, among them Rupert’s People, Felius Andromeda, The Jason Crest (who will almost certainly get a blog entry of their own at some point), and to a certain extent Shy Limbs (no, I’m not making this up). The fact that none of these bands have an entry in the Guinness Book of British Hit Singles probably has everything to do with why nobody coined a genre name for this particular type of noise. Why bother, when you could barely fill a C60 blank cassette with examples, and nobody was buying them, and most of the bands were dropped by their labels after a couple of singles? It would seem that “Whiter Shade of Pale” had tickled everyone’s curiosity enough, and they really didn’t need to purchase any similar items. Even Procol Harum’s career shifted into the cult fringes quite quickly, and those follow up number ones never did materialize.
Whilst I’d hate to lump Sussex University students-come-Decca signings Ice in with the other Procol wannabes, there’s little question that they’d paid some attention to their recordings. Their debut single “Anniversary of Love” follows a similar pattern, an organ riff dominating the track, and some very chilled out vocals coming forth from the lead singer. Whilst it’s often sniffed at as being the poorer of the band’s two singles, I happen to think it’s actually a marvelous piece of work. It’s certainly more “pop” than “psychedelic”, but it’s astonishingly catchy, with some carefully constructed eerie backing vocals, and a brilliant organ break in the middle. It also doesn’t fade out, instead coming to a genuinely effective harmonic peak, the sort that makes you want to return the needle to the run-in groove again. Its flop status is quite inexplicable, but then it did have a lot of competition at the time.
Single: Ice Man/ Whisper Her Name (Maria Lane)
Year of Issue: 1968
Next year’s follow up “Ice Man” is a wee bit more underground than its older brother, stylistically bearing a slight resemblance to a Rick Wright penned sixties Pink Floyd track. Interesting echoing stellar guitar noises start to come into play, and the track is much more subtle, more dependant upon atmosphere to pull it through. It’s a chiming, captivating wintry soundscape in places, although the fact it wasn’t a hit is perhaps less of a surprise – it has all the feel of a strong album track rather than an attention-grabbing 45. Its B-side “Whisper Her Name (Maria Lane)” is another strong and interesting ballad, although not quite up there with its predecessor.
I’ve put both the A and B sides up for download below, although they can also be found on the compilation “Ice Man” which rounds up just about everything the band ever did whilst they were in a recording studio, including radio sessions.
And no, I don’t own either of the singles on original vinyl. Copies are scarce, and they cost a small fortune to buy – but not without reason.
As a footnote, I suppose I should add that eventually a Procol-ish ditty did end up back in the top 40 again, we just had to wait a couple of decades for it. In my opinion at least, Crowded House's "Don't Dream It's Over" fits the bill perfectly.
3 April 2008
What: The Lover Speaks: “No More I Love Yous”
Year of Release: 1986
Where: House of Rhythm, Walthamstow (don’t look for it, it’s not there anymore)
I suppose there’s one thing I should make clear from the offset here, and that is I am not a fan of Annie Lennox. Oh, I know she has rabid fans who believe she is the female David Bowie, the queen of all divas, the first powerful woman in eighties music… but all I can hear is a very cold, alienating (if strong) voice singing along to some rather bland material. Let’s not get started on her videos or television appearances, either – her spookfaced expressions and odd arm-waving gestures seemed like antiquated throwbacks to the likes of Toyah and Hazel O’Connor by the time the late eighties kicked in. Both should consider suing for a part of her small fortune.
I was strangely surprised in the early nineties to find myself enjoying a record of hers, then. “No More I Love Yous” seemed to have more of a sense of the ridiculous about it than her other material – it seemed playful and adventurous, as well as occasionally hinting at darker depths. The odd, slightly child-like “dibby dibby dib dib dib” backing vocals were perplexing and quite unlike anything else on the radio at that point. It took me at least six months to get around to realizing that actually, it was a cover version of an obscure old flop from the previous decade. Ah well.
It took me another decade again to even chance upon the original single for sale for 50p in a slightly run-down second hand record store in Walthamstow. Feeling I couldn’t really go wrong for the price of a Mars bar, I took it to the counter and bought it home to hear it in its original glory, and I initially found it incredibly amusing. This record is so bombastic, so ludicrously over the top (more so even than the cover version) that at first it seems almost indecent, as if one shouldn’t be listening. The vocals holler, bellow, wail and sob for your attention, all in that soulful mid-eighties baritone that so many vocalists of this era favoured. The drums pound and crash, the guitar does its obligatory solo at the end, and the whole thing is a veritable Laurence Olivier of a disc. The lyrics add to the effect, with over-the-top Shelley-esque observations. “I used to have demons in my room at night/ Desire! Despair! Desire! So many monsters!” sobs the singer.
For all that, though, it’s such an eccentric record, even within the very straight pop structure it inhabits, that it’s actually really likeable. There’s a slickness to the entire thing that firmly datestamps it in the mid-eighties, but it’s slightly too bizarre to file next to Living in a Box or Johnny Hates Jazz. Pretentious it may be, but given that pretence is a duty of a lot of great pop music or entertainment, it shouldn’t be given a hard time for that alone. There’s a lot of imagination going on here, and you’d be hard pressed to find a similar sounding record in the same period.
It wasn’t a hit, of course (I wouldn’t be writing about it if it were), peaking at number 58 in the charts, although they were signed to Dangerous Dave Stewart’s publishing company, so I’m sure there was a tiny bit of nepotism going on with Lennox’s cover. All concerned can be forgiven. It’s the sort of record which sums up what the mid-eighties would have sounded like if the more extreme elements of New Romanticism had come to their conclusion. Instead, we were treated to a lot of slick pseudo-soul in the mainstream, and it became one of the more boring periods for pop music in living memory. A shame, but I’m sure The Lover Speaks eventually got a nice fat royalty cheque for this one, so justice came their way in their end.
Altogether now – “Dibby dibby dib dib dib/ Oh-oh….”
1 April 2008
Year of issue: 1967
She's Having a Baby now/ Well, that's the way it often goes...
The Tages were, of course, huge stars in their native Sweden and indeed reasonably well known in the sixties throughout Scandinavia as a whole, but the cheeky mod heart throbs never did do the business back in the UK. Perhaps this single might have been a hit had it not been banned by the BBC for making teenage girls having babies its central subject matter. Auntie Beeb was not quite ready for the discussion of such things on the airwaves, least of all to jolly pop tunes. The jokey "Band trash their equipment" video clip above appears to have little to do with the song's subject matter.
Since this debacle they've become slightly better known outside of their home country for appearing on the Nuggets II box set with the likeable, Beach Boys-esque "I Read You Like An Open Book".
Now, if somebody can upload the 15 minute film clip of Icelandic mod band Thor's Hammer doing the Umbarumbamba EP from start to finish, I can presumably die happy...