12 July 2015

The Adventures Of Mr Bloe (71-75 New Oxford and the Avenue Cash-in Conspiracy)

Label: DJM
Year of Release: 1971

"Groovin' With Mr Bloe" is one of the seventies more unlikely UK hits (a cover version sourced from the B-side to Wind's "Make Believe") . Consisting of a thudding great dancefloor beat acting as the backdrop to some mournful harmonica playing, it's one part unsubtle groover, another part "Last of the Summer Wine" incidental music. 

And maybe that's not particularly surprising. Some sources list Harry Pitch as the harmonica player on the number two smash, others Ian Duck (who definitely did appear on "Top of the Pops" to promote the record). If Pitch was indeed the man honking and wailing away in the studio for this disc, then he also did numerous other pieces of top-flight harmonica session work, including the theme and soundtrack to everyone's barely tolerated piece of Sunday early evening situation comedy. 

After "Groovin'…" fell out of the charts, DJM did what most record companies opt to do in such circumstances and tried to keep the b(r)and name alive. A follow-up "Curried Soul" was issued, but failed to chart, and "71-75 New Oxford" (named after the London 71-75 New Oxford Street base of DJM, now home to a hairdressers and a sandwich shop) was the last 45rpm hurrah. Elton John penned it and performed on both sides, and it's actually a beauty - more strident and Stevie Wonder inspired than "Groovin'" was and horrendously catchy to boot. Shoot me if you must, but I actually think this is the best single to come out under the Mr Bloe moniker, and it deserved to be a hit. The fact remains, though, that it always was going to be tough to sustain a band based largely on harmonica instrumentals, and the project had "probable one hit wonder" stamped all over it from the get-go.

Still, of all the Elton John obscurities there are in the world, this is the one I would argue is the most surprisingly under-referenced and also the most highly enjoyable.

But the Mr Bloe cash cow didn't stop there, as you'll see if you scroll down past the sound files…

Label: Avenue
Year of Release: 1971

Budget sound-a-like label Avenue were quick to cash in on Mr Bloe mania with a six-track EP of harmonica based ditties, including "Groovin'". But here's the interesting part - whereas Avenue generally employed session men to replicate the noises as closely as possible, here they appeared to have taken on Harry Pitch, the gentlemen often credited as the 'original' Mr Bloe.

If this is actually correct, it must surely be the only example of a session performer fronting both the original record and the budget sound-a-like version. Pitch has his cake and eats it too, with five extra original new tracks to add to the tally. None are especially notable and some are even slow and sad atmosphere pieces, though some, such as "Blowin' With Mr Pitch", almost capture the in-studio zest of the original. 

One thing's for sure - we'll probably never see harmonica instrumentals nearly top the British charts again, and Mr. Bloe seems like a very peculiar anomaly these days, albeit one it's cheering to remember  actually happened.

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