27 February 2012
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's 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.
23 February 2012
Year of Release: 1968
Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers were club circuit regulars and occasional stars of the Hit Parade in Britain throughout most of the sixties. Whilst (somewhat surprisingly) most of their singles flopped, the hits "One Way Love" and "Got To Get You Into My Life" were big enough to create a reputation for the act which remains rather high. Combining some unexpectedly authentic and barely diluted soul sounds with just a dash of mod pop, their recordings are all worth checking out.
Less well recorded is what happened to the act after Cliff Bennett left the band (or was 'booted out' depending upon which story you believe) to form Toe Fat. Logically enough, they decided to continue as the plain old Rebel Rousers, and whilst Bennett's vocals are much missed on this single, the other elements remain intact. Both sides are equally strong, brittle and blaring pieces of brightly coloured pop created with the dancefloor in mind, and that the record wasn't a hit probably had more to do with the trends of the time than anything else - this sort of thing was incredibly passe by 1968, and Bennett's instincts to get a bit more sophisticated with Toe Fat seem, in this respect at least, less misguided than they may first appear. Still, the flip "As I Look" was later compiled as part of the "Chocolate Soup for Diabetics" series, and remains a favourite among retro DJs across the UK, regularly filling floors at mod nights. The copy I have is clearly a rather amateurishly produced bootleg made for the benefit of such wheel-of-steel spinners (I've never seen an original copy for sale anywhere) but it plays brilliantly despite the murky looking label.
The Rebel Rousers ran their course not long after this release, but two members Chas Hodges and David Peacock would have many more adventures together as the well-known (in Britain at least) cockney duo Chas and Dave, even utilising the services of Rebel Rousers drummer Mick Burt in the process. Prior to that, of course, Chas Hodges was a member of the unfairly overlooked seventies rockers Heads Hands & Feet who we have covered in some depth elsewhere on this blog.
As for Cliff Bennett, he became a shipping magnate in the seventies, but by the eighties could be persuaded to tour with a reformed Rebel Rousers on the nostalgia circuit. And there you have it - the circle is complete.
20 February 2012
Year of Release: 1985
Library music is such a bottomless pit of source material that whole blogs have been set up to try and document as much of it as possible. By its very nature, the most successful pieces of licensed library music are probably more familiar to members of the public than most moderate chart hits - I'd be willing to stake my month's earnings on more people in Britain being familiar with "Chicken Man" by Alan Hawkshaw in its guise as the "Grange Hill" theme than Kelly Clarkson's latest single. When it gets used by a programme with a long run, library music establishes itself at the core of the public's consciousness as earworms, mobile phone ring tones and the sound of television repeats.
Then there's the lesser heard material which still got used in a more inaccessible way and has a cult underground following as a result - largely testcard music. Some of the easy listening output produced for the benefit of the terrifying BBC girl-with-clown has resulted in CD compilations, whereas the less frequently mentioned material which caused excitement for eighties kids was the odd disco/ electronic material used by the forward-thinking Channel Four at that time, which I've already waffled on about at length.
So far as I'm aware (although I'd be happy to be proven wrong) this "Video Explosion" album was something of a flop in library music terms. If any of these tracks were used in the production of a programme, film or radio show, I don't remember ever hearing them. However, any number of these pieces sound as if they could have been favoured by Channel Four (although they weren't) and certainly the year of production fits. The LP comes with the subheading "Compelling, positive use of live instruments, emulators and synthesisers", and that's what you get - thirteen tracks of people piddling around with electronic noises. When it works at its best, it actually comes close to China Records era Art of Noise tracks, most notably on tracks like "Colorfonia". When it fails, it's probably because the blander tracks were supposed to be used as a soundtrack rather than a solo listening exercise - but anyone with even half an interest in eighties synthetic library music is going to want to snap this one up (and I realise that by saying this I've probably lost the interest of at least 98% of my readers, but you know the drill... normal service will be resumed shortly).
As for the Bruton Music company, unbelievably it was purchased by Michael Jackson (the King of Pop rather than the TV mogul) in 1982, although he sold it on again to Zomba Music in 1985. Rumours abound that he was impressed by the label's output and even listened to it for pleasure, and if that's true, consider me floored.
1. Welcome In (Happy, positive)
2. Cleansweep (Propulsive and refreshing)
3. Fantasy 1 (Compelling with contemporary rhythm)
4. Fantasy 2 (Without rhythm)
5. Portals of Power 1 (Exultant build)
6. Portals of Power 2 (Without rhythm)
7. Greenpeace (Gentle motion)
8. Colorfonia (Melodic electro vocal with unusual effective percussion)
9. Whats in Store (Interesting soundbed with movement)
10. Keep Fit (Dance rhythm with unusual instruments)
11. Voice Over (Midpace soundbed)
12. Brass Panorama (Prestigious clarion theme with cutting points)
13. Bright Eyes (Positive, uplifting)
Download it Here
16 February 2012
Label: Major Minor
Year of Release: 1969
We're back in the land of the sixties studio-created group, folks, although the background information given about this bunch at the time was perhaps more imaginative than usual. After they were put together by Jerry Kasenetz and Jeff Katz of Super K Productions in the USA, they were promoted in Cash Box magazine as being a group of Welsh coal miners. A wide variety of musicians passed through their ranks, including Kevin Godley of future stars 10cc, although it should be noted that he definitely does not appear anywhere on this recording.
The name of Crazy Elephant was really sustained by the minor transatlantic hit "Gimme Gimme Good Lovin'", which hit number 12 in both the USA and the UK in 1969. Once that had produced a few pounds and dollars, the British label Major Minor and the American label Bell kept the records coming in the hope that use of the name would produce another chartbuster. Naturally, this single failed utterly (reaching number 104 in the USA and not even registering in the UK charts) but there's perhaps no good reason why it should have done. "Sunshine Red Wine" is no less pounding and insistent than "Gimme Gimme", and in fact even has a blasting horn section which Rocket From The Crypt would have been pleased to have appearing on one of their records. Crazy Elephant may have been ostensibly regarded as a "bubblegum" group, but there's a roughness to this track which moves it far away from the likes of "Simon Says". Raw blue-eyed soul vocals combine with pounding rhythms to create something which sounded like the natural continuation of the American garage scene, with some of the imperfections scraped away.
After their final single "Landrover" failed in 1970, the name fell into disuse and has, to the best of my knowledge, never been revived.
13 February 2012
Year of Release: 1975
Sometimes records which can only technically be described as flops have a peculiar form of ubiquity minor hit singles would kill for. Take this particular funk and disco example - back in its day it was a club dancefloor favourite, being played at both discotheques and Northern Soul nights (although it was a reluctant presence at the latter if rumour is to be believed, spun only by DJs who were worried they'd be missing out on a crossover hit). Played to the death as a hypnotic mover, it may not have worried the Sunday chart rundown, but it certainly lives on in the minds of many clubbers.
Its cult status and popularity ensured that it remained lodged in the brain of all artists and DJs with a respect for the history of Dance music, and that a huge whopping sample from it eventually crash-landed into the middle of "Theme From S'Express" to become one of the track's most recognisable hooks shouldn't have been a surprise. There again, it always was a bloody obvious choice - for as much as this filled floors in Blackpool, it also had a peculiar, exotic groove which made it sound vaguely psychedelic, and thus ripe for late eighties Rave plundering. S'Express in particular made a virtue out of everything which was simultaneously wiggy and clubby, and the record could only have been a shoe-in for Mark Moore's sound.
Crystal Grass also covered Jorge Ben Jor's "Taj Mahal", and it's likely to have been this discoified version of the Brazilian pop track which caused Rod Stewart's drunken ears to start flapping - for the chorus eventually "accidentally" found its way into "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy", with much litigation following. Crystal Grass's place in the pop firmament is therefore assured without even having one hit single to their names.
9 February 2012
Year of Release: 1986
It's a well-known fact to any indie aficionado that 1986 was a year where endless singles in childishly designed sleeves suddenly fell into branches of small independent record stores. The accepted wisdom was that the contents of each would be either be naive approximations of The Smiths performed on Argos guitars, or deeply fragmented, barking mad experimental discs.
The truth in fact frequently differs, and whilst The Smiths had gained affections amongst a certain kind of British musician, and there were also a few eccentrics out there who suddenly had the easy means to distribute their wares, there were also plenty of bands heavily tuned in to the alternative rock being dispensed by the Paisley Underground and the Bunnymen, Julian Cope, REM, The Cure et al. Plenty of them also had bugger all money, so chose to stick their recordings out in decidedly handmade sleeves. That all of them seem to have fallen by the wayside when it comes to blogs and websites examining this sort of thing has more to do with the fickle finger of fashion than much else (unless their records came out on Creation Records, in which case all seems to be forgiven).
So then - The Doctor's Children seemingly hailed from South London, and appeared to be taking a strident, melodic Bunny kind of path as opposed to the Smithsian one which supposedly dominated at the time. This record is filled with punchy guitar noises and droning organs which recall the more melancholic end of sixties pop. Whilst there's nothing truly outstanding going on across the four tracks here, fans of independent music from that era might do well to lend their ears to this - not only was it produced by John Leckie, three years shy of discovering the Stone Roses, it also has a certain clean, carefree drive that has all but disappeared from alternative rock in the decades since. Almost all the tracks contain clear, ringing chords and hollered vocals - the high point for me is the chiming Autumnal moodiness of "Blessed is the Man".
The Internet is rather shy about providing much more information about the band, and all I can really glean from the limited scraps available is that Sounds magazine rated them highly and predicted they would conquer all before them (which obviously never happened), that somebody financed an American tour for them (so they did better than a lot of other UK indie acts of the same period who were not granted permits), and that they released an album called "King Buffalo". That's it. If anybody has anything more, they know what to do.
According to the sleeve, the band's line up consisted of:
Paul Smith - Guitar, vocals
Matthew Woodman - Organ, Piano
Dave Ramsey - Bass
Rowland Howarth - Drums
1. Rose Cottage
2. Me, September 24th 1983
3. Blessed is the Man
4. When I Was Young
This blog entry was originally uploaded in September 2009, and lo and behold, the band actually did get in touch with me for once. They informed me that Paul Smith went on to front King Buffalo and Helter Skelter, Matt Woodman sang on the Mother Earth album "The Further Adventures of Mother Earth", and Doctors Children eventually acquired a drummer called Fabian Jolivet who sounded like a colourful character ("He carried a knife in his back pocket").
Rowland Howarth claims to have left the band due to 'religious and football differences' and says that Go! Discs were discussing whether to sign Doctor's Children or The Housemartins, and obviously signed the latter. He presently plays folk clubs, is a worship leader, and last saw Matthew Woodman when he 'gave me a thing for bleeding radiators'.
If only all bands could be as forthcoming with information as this lot, rather than hiding away like the enigmas they so frequently seem to want to be...
Download it here
6 February 2012
Year of Release: 1967
Yet another band whose identity and history has remained a mystery to me, which is a pity as "The Astor Disaster" is a fine piece of baroque harmony pop with pitch black humour attached. Dealing with the ordeals of a gentleman known as Theodore, the record trills along merrily whilst outlining his flawed suicide attempt from the upper storeys of the Astor hotel. Rather than being allowed to jump to his death, the sorry individual is instead noticed by so many members of the general public it instead becomes a spectator sport.
"The chestnut man is marching down to make a sale or two/ followed by the ice cream vendor" the band sing happily as the twee pinging of the ice cream van becomes audible. A combination of popsike and satire, it's hard to think of any notable equivalents in this genre, although it could be argued that the Bonzo Dog Band came close on a few occasions.
Whilst a merry track about a failed suicide might have been a huge novelty hit, the public seemed to give it a rather cold reception in the USA and it appears not to have charted nationally. MGM then chanced their arm with a UK release - where the track was known as "Theodore", presumably to prevent confusion amongst British people about what the "Astor" actually was - but it was equally unsuccessful on these shores. The band seemingly sank into obscurity thereafter, but in recent weeks I have managed to find a full page Cashbox advert for the record being sold on ebay, which at least gives us an idea of what they looked like. I also wonder if the grave and dramatic tone the copywriter came up with really gave everyone an accurate idea of the flavour of the record. Tsk. Record companies, eh?
2 February 2012
Year of Release: 1969
It's a bit difficult to know quite what to write about this one. As we all know, the sixties and seventies were shot though with session groups creating singles in the hope of scoring a hit. If the track stormed the charts, inevitably a touring group would then be created, some follow-ups, an album, and before too long everyone would be behaving as if they'd formed in the usual way. If it flopped, however, then follow-ups were unlikely, the band name got abandoned, and that remained the end of that.
Red Alligator are one such example of the latter phenomenon. Put together by producer Miki Dallon, who had previously had success working with The Sorrows, they seem to have been forgotten about within weeks of it becoming apparent that this single wasn't going to do the business. Sadly, the A-side "Real Cool" is a bit too scratched to upload here, but the flip "Slow Down" is something a few mod DJs have picked up on recently as being a bit of a mover - it's all slick grooves and mellow vocals, sounding like something straight outta cafe culture. You know a band means business when they hum on their records and you can visualise the Fonz clicking his fingers in your mind's eye.
Whatever the quality of their work, there is nothing left to be said about the band. It would be interesting to have some information about who the other members were and what else they went on to do - glam rock and pop, I'd be willing to warrant - but in the absence of that, all we have is the noise they created. And it's pretty good in itself, you know.
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