20 September 2017

Rosetta Hightower - The Walls Fell Down/ Captain's Army



Label: Philips
Year of Release: 1973

Now here's an obscurity. Rosetta Hightower was an American singer of some renown in the early sixties who hit big in the USA with the girl group The Orlons. Her solo career was perhaps less eventful, however, with numerous respected and beautiful sounding singles emerging - not least her fantastic cover of "Big Bird", of which I've been seeking out a copy for years - but very few crossing over to the mainstream.

This cover of The Bee Gees "The Walls Fell Down" is one example of a single so scarce that it almost never turns up for sale. It is, as you would expect, a soulful and gospel styled take on the Gibbs at their most melodramatic. Rosetta pours all her efforts into it and makes it sound as if it was always meant to sound this way, with a production and arrangement so lavish that it's almost a little bit frightening. 

Rosetta's recording career ploughed well into the eighties, and she based herself in England following her marriage to the musician Ian Green. She also delivered numerous notable session performances, not least singing backing vocals on John Lennon's "Power To The People". 

Sadly, she passed away in Clapham in 2014, aged seventy years of age. 


16 September 2017

Reupload - Gaslight - Move/ And So To Sleep



Label: Jayboy
Year of Release: 1969

An odd and slightly mysterious one, this. "Move" has been picking up some attention lately as an otherwise largely ignored psychedelic obscurity.  Not without reason - this is slippery smooth psych, complete with close harmonies, grooving electric organ work, heavy basslines and slow dance floor beats. The chorus reverts to UK Beat type, urging us to "jump and shout" and momentarily disturbs the mood, but otherwise this slides along beautifully.  It's not wildly dissimilar to the work of The Dragons, another band who were utterly ignored at the same time the scented hippy candles were getting snuffed out but recently had their material issued on Ninja Tunes.  

Gaslight seem to have released this single then disappeared without trace, giving us absolutely no clues as to who they were or what else they did.  There is some speculation online that they may be another band signed to Jay Boy or their controlling label President operating under a pseudonym, but there are no clear indications.  Whatever the facts, their approach was largely wasted on the British public by 1969, and as everyone began to pick up their hard rock, blues and prog albums, there wasn't time for this kind of technicolour dancefloor action.  A shame - if it had been issued a couple of years before, "Move" may have made a much more significant impression, but even then I can't help but feel that this is a subtle little record which might not have ever had a chance of bashing its way through the radio to encourage the public to buy it in vast quantities.  Still, we can enjoy it now. Move, readers, and get yourself together. 


14 September 2017

Ann C Sheridan - I Want You (She's So Heavy)/ I'll Be Gone



Label: Bradleys
Year of Release: 1976

You know how you all love Beatles cover versions? And you know how it's always the most unexpected covers that seem to turn up, for inexplicable reasons? Well, here's something for your lugholes - a disco cover version of the epic, sprawling piece of "Abbey Road" bluesiness "I Want You (She's So Heavy)". 

Obviously, it doesn't incorporate the "She's So Heavy!" elements of the track, where The Beatles guitars collectively explore doomy, descending chord patterns. That's too much for the average dancefloor to handle. Rather, it discofies the more sensual "I Want You" elements of the track, with the vocalist Ann C Sheridan purring sexily as the disco beats pulse behind her. 

It's an interesting experiment, but not one that quite comes off. The track never manages to find new or exciting places to go, and by lopping off the only melodic variant in the entire Beatles song, it restricts itself to being a piece of fairly minimal disco boogie. This might be fine on the dancefloor with the one you love or lust after, but it doesn't quite work at home.

Ann C Sheridan was actually the French singer Ann Calvert operating under another name. This track did manage to pick up some cult popularity in mainland Europe.


10 September 2017

Anton - Shot Down In Action/ Mine All Mine



Label: Spark
Year of Release: 1975

It really does seem as if the vast majority of Spark's output throughout the sixties and seventies sold a few hundred copies (if, in some cases, even that) before being melted down. Their catalogue is littered with surprisingly good little singles which are astonishingly difficult to track down copies of now, and here's another example.

"Shot Down In Action" is a piece of dramatic seventies glam pop with a pounding intro, chiming piano lines, and an excess of drama. It's strident, catchy, flamboyant and has a surprisingly ambitious arrangement for a song of its type - this is no bonehead cruncher. If it's guilty of anything at all, it's perhaps being a little bit past its sell-by date by 1975, just as the spotlights were starting to dim on anything with a vaguely glam sound.

The flip "Mine All Mine" is a rather bland Barry Blue penned ballad, and not worth getting fussed about.

Anton appears to have been Anton Johnson, a man who later issued a cover of the deathless "Hey Baby" on Laser Records in 1980, though he failed to find the success with it that DJ Otzi later achieved. If anyone has any additional information, please let me know.


6 September 2017

Mr Joe English - Lay Lady Lay/ Two Minute Warning



Label: Fontana
Year of Release: 1969

Now here's a bit of an interesting find - an obscure and, so far as I can tell, almost completely ignored soul cover of a Bob Dylan track. This version of "Lay Lady Lay" is mellow, atmospheric, and filled to the brim with basslines so fat you could fill a jar with the drippings from them. With a relaxed, smoky vibe around it which almost recalls the pace and atmosphere of Dusty Springfield's "Son of A Preacher Man", Mr English's voice is expressive and takes the song to new and blissful places - in all, a cover worth looking out for.

The B-side has picked up a few fans online already, but also remains obscure. "Two Minute Silence" sounds like a bit of a funky studio jam, but definitely shows what English and his studio guests were capable of as soon as some energy was injected into proceedings. 

I have absolutely no idea who Joe English was. A man of that name turned up in Paul McCartney's Wings as their drummer, obviously, but this almost certainly isn't the same person. Nor is it the J English who turned up on Count Shelly records in 1973, who was Junior English, aka reggae performer Errol English, operating under another name. 

If anyone has any clues, please let me know. This is a lovely little single, and one of those moments where I've found myself wishing I had more material by the artist to investigate.



3 September 2017

Reupload(s) - The Bats - Listen To My Heart/ Stop Don't Do It/ Hard To Get Up In The Morning



Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1966


"Northern Soul", like Catholicism, is one of the hardest concepts to define, forever snaking its way out of your grip just as soon as you believe you've got the whole affair firmly nailed. Rather as the Vatican appear to sit and reinterpret matters now and then, so too do the divine faithful at the Soul Weekenders up and down the country, leading to some rather rum records landing on official (and unofficial, disputed) discographies. Is Count Five's "Psychotic Reaction" a Northern Soul record, for example? Not by my estimation it isn't, but that doesn't seem to have prevented some people from taking that line in the seventies (I have a bootleg repressing of the disc on the "Sound of Soul" label).

Nestling neatly on the Decca compilation "Northern Soul Scene" is a single by this South African band, The Bats (they're not Irish as the liner notes state). It only fits the genre due to its pounding, jogging rhythms, chiming piano lines and finger pops, but whether we're arguing about its standing in the official list or not, it's still a damn fine track. Effervescent, insistent and absolutely loaded to the brim with hooks, it's hard to understand where the chorus starts and the verses begin - listening to this record would inspire movement in even the most dancefloor shy of humans. Sadly, I haven't been able to include a clip of it in full, but it's available to buy on iTunes if you're that way inclined.

Truth be told, the B-side "Stop Don't Do It" is pretty good in a mod-pop way as well, and it remains a massive mystery why this record didn't chart in the UK. It's pure, absolute pop, being neither ahead of its time in its stylings nor awkward, and the start of a career should have been assured for the band. Sadly, it was not to be.







Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1967


So sadly, then, by the tail end of 1967 the game was up, and "It's Hard To Get Up In The Morning" was their final UK single. This is an entirely different proposition and sounds rather like a slice of bouncy, McCartney inspired whimsy - sweet and pleasant enough, but hardly the barnstormer "Listen To My Heart" is, nor powerful enough to have stood a chance in the charts.

What became of The Bats when this failed to do the business isn't clear to me, but if anyone has any information, please come forward. They deserve masses of recognition for their one club classic at least.





1 September 2017

Avenue Mews Festival, Muswell Hill, 9th September

I'll be DJ'ing alongside the by now almost legendary London spinmaster John The Revelator at the forthcoming Avenue Mews Festival, N10 3NP on 9th September.

You can see all the details to the left of this text, but the festival takes place in a shopping mews in North London, and features open artist studios, live bands, independent stalls, street food, craft beer and essentially everything anyone within at least a five mile radius (and arguably beyond?) could possibly want.

It's a busy event, it's free, and it's usually a chance to see a side of the area that's not always upfront and on display.

Come along and say hello to me if you bump into me on your travels. I'll be by some vintage record decks pumping out some old sounds.

For those of you who do Facebook, the event invite is here

30 August 2017

Ultrafox - Nine By Nine/ Stomping At Decca



Label: Deram
Year of Release: 1971

When Deram first started up, it seemed like Decca's default subsidiary label for anything slightly underground, progressive, or folk orientated. This reputation has only been bolstered over the years by the "Deram Dayze" compilation, which features psychedelic pop meanderings from across the label's late sixties catalogue.

Deram never was solely a hairy, beardy sort of label, though, and also issued easy listening and novelty numbers such as the immortal, unforgettable Whistling Jack Smith's output. And then, in 1971, this "for Gruggy Woof Productions" (apparently) which is essentially a note-for-note cover of the John Dummer Band's violin led "Nine By Nine" piece from the previous year. 

"Nine By Nine" had been very popular in some other European countries, even reaching number one in France, but had failed to chart in the UK, instead selling slowly and steadily (second hand copies for around the £3-4 mark are still a relatively common sight). Its an eccentric song, sounding as if it belongs on an old shellac 78, or as backing music on an episode of "Jeeves and Wooster". 

It's not clear why this cover version was necessary, but Philips failing to properly anticipate an upsurge in demand for the original version was probably partly to blame. Whatever, they caught on eventually and re-released the original, but no version of this ever charted in the UK - not Ultrafox's, nor John Dummer's. And as for who Ultrafox were, your guess is as good as mine. And my guess would probably be "a group created for a one day studio booking solely with the task of recording this quickie cover, then never heard from again". 


27 August 2017

Tony - Jumping On/ The Purchase/ The Club






















Label: Garcia
Year of Release: 1996

I spent most of 1993-99 living in Portsmouth, for various reasons I will not trouble you good readers with. During that time, I stuck my amateur journalistic beak into the local music scene, and tried to champion local bands as much as I could.

Portsmouth was at that time a rather poorly served local music scene lacking in credibility among most record labels. Some of this was down to the usual incuriosity of A&R representatives about any group not based in a major city (and especially London) but another factor was also the slight "islander's mentality" that tended to dominate Portsea Island at the time. The so-called "island" may well have had two major roads running on to it, one of which crosses a narrow creek of water you could probably wade through on a good day, but most of the bands seemed not to be very thorough at arranging gigs for themselves even as far afield as Southampton, and usually hadn't networked much outside their home town. Long-established and polished bands would play endless gigs around a tight circle of venues such as the Wedgewood Rooms, The Air Balloon and other assorted pub backrooms while never forging any associations across the tiny divide.

Some made it beyond Portsdown Hills to moderate success. Cranes are probably the most obvious example, and in addition, Pete Voss of NME cover stars Campag Velocet got around the whole problem by seemingly barely ever gigging in Portsmouth at all and basing his musical career in London. Similarly, Luke Haines of The Auteurs had associations, but disowned the place as quickly as he could.

Beyond those folk, a whole brace of local heroes popped up on limited run local compilations and sampler CDs and tapes, and Tony (who frequently adopted a bastardised Sony logo for their gig posters) made a strong impression on me when I heard their track "Mule" on the local "Elastic Fiction" cassette. Simple yet angsty, mournful and powerfully performed, it sounded like the work of a band who were accomplished and on the cusp of greater things. A fellow local band watcher tipped them to be Portsmouth's next major label signing, "if they actually get their shit together".

It's not for me to say whether their shit was got together or not, but this is Tony's solitary single, a limited 500 run pressing on the obscure indie Garcia Records. It gives a flavour of what they were capable of. The title track "Jumping On" is a high-powered bitchfest about The Beatles "anthology" project of the time, and the "Free Is A Bird" and "Real Love" debacle in particular. The group stab accusing fingers in the direction of McCartney, essentially accusing him of grave robbery. "It takes a stick to break the stones/ so let's go jumping on his bones" they sneer, later adding "Call in the expertise/ of the Traveling Wilburys" in an attempt to wound his pride.

Of course, it's doubtful Macca ever heard the record, but it's particularly salty single with an abrasive edge, and a sound akin to the harder edges of Britpop. Over on the flip, "The Purchase" appears to be a regretful chugging lullaby to the joys of hiring prostitutes. All this points towards the fact that Tony weren't common-or-garden indie chancers, who were ten a penny by this point, and had some slightly unusual and bitter world views in their arsenal.

It all amounted to nothing, of course, and this is the only official product we have to remember them by. It's possible that by 1996, record labels were cooling to the idea of anything vaguely Britpop in its sound, and Tony did tend to fit that bill at this point. They may also not have had sturdy enough management or external support, but that's pure speculation on my part based on the fact that most Portsmouth bands didn't. Whatever the reasons, we've been left with a rather obscure mid-nineties indie single which fell between the cracks at a point where just about any noise of this nature was guaranteed at least some publicity. It's a peculiar situation indeed.





23 August 2017

Drill - Juliet/ Pretty Girl



Label: RCA
Year of Release: 1979

While punk and new wave were often at opposite ends of the spectrum from British psychedelia in 1967, there's a much bigger debate to be had about some of the unacknowledged similarities too. The underground press, counter-cultural activity and the whole idea of the "kids doing it for themselves" were germane to both movements, though eyewitness accounts from 1967 often tend to dismiss that era's anarchy with the simple phrase "A bunch of rich kids pissing around with their parent's money".

Another two things both eras have in common is the fact that bands emerged, released one single or a select clutch of a few singles, then disappeared again - and a great many of the members of the groups would go on to much bigger and better things elsewhere. Take Drill, for example. The Chas Chandler managed group are barely mentioned anywhere these days, but featured the bass player and songwriter Chris Constantinou, who later went on to work with Adam Ant, Anabella Lwin, and Guy Chambers. 

Frustratingly, the details of the rest of their personnel are hard to come by, but this single is a real curiosity. The punk lovesong on the A-side "Juliet" is perhaps not the strongest offering here, being a bit 'boil in the bag punk' in places - there are only so many signposted references to "rebels" with "rings in their noses" you can take before you sigh "Yeah, we get it lads, you're those punks we've heard so much about". 

The B-side "Pretty Girls", however, is where the band get to play with the full sonic palette and end up sounding slightly akin to an XTC-less Barry Andrews doing his best nods to Eno and Talking Heads. It's essentially very yobbish, jerky New Wave, and an experience worth having.

Now, if only I could find their single with a punk cover of Gordon Lightfoot's "If I Could Read Your Mind" on the A-side, my year will be complete. 

The whereabouts of the rest of the group is not known, but Chris remains very active and is presently bass player with The Wolfmen on bass and vocals, and the punk supergroup The Mutants. 


20 August 2017

Reupload - Count Prince Miller - Rupert The Bear/ When We Were Children




Label: Penny Farthing
Year of Release: 1972

Proof is right here, if we really needed it, that no cover version has ever been considered too absurd or too outlandish for a reggae artist. For this is indeed the children's TV theme given a decidedly mellow feel, with high-pitched, screeching (and I presume studio-treated?) vocals delivering the chorus. Whilst sixties psychedelia played with the idea of fairytales and backgarden creatures being drug-influenced, I'd almost be tempted to say that this tackles the subject of everyone's favourite Nutwood dwelling bear from a stoned perspective.

The B-side "When We Were Children" even continues the theme gamely, referring to the songs mothers sing to their offspring and the simplicity of those comforting times, which lyrically is very close to the same under-explored topic as Pink Floyd's "Matilda Mother". It didn't seem as if anyone in 1972 was really ready for toytown reggae or twee reggae, though, but the thought of a gang of menacing looking skinheads grooving on down to the "Rupert The Bear" theme tune is an enticing one.

Count Prince Miller had a cult reggae hit the previous year with "Mule Train Parts One and Two", but is perhaps better remembered in mainstream society for his role as Vince in the eighties sitcom "Desmond's". Both these performances outshine "Rupert The Bear", but it's a peculiar career blip and anomaly I couldn't resist uploading here.




16 August 2017

Grazina - Be My Baby/ I Ain't Gonna Knock On Your Door



Label: HMV
Year of Release: 1963

Grazina Frame may not be an instantly recognisable name to most record buyers, but nonetheless she loaned her voice to a number of high-profile films and projects. She was the dubbed singing voice of Carole Gray in the Cliff Richard film "The Young Ones", and then did the same job for Lauri Peters in "Summer Holiday".  Her parallel career as an actress also lead to roles in a number of British films.

While she did issue a brace of singles throughout the sixties, her chart career was non-existent despite her obvious talent. Her debut single "Lover Please Believe Me" is a Geoff Goddard penned melodramatic galloper, and was deeply unlucky not to have sold better (it's also staggering that Meek wasn't involved in the production of the record, since several of his stylistic tropes are apparent). From there, things didn't really get much better, with HMV issuing a series of flops with diminishing public interest.

"Be My Baby", however, was a somewhat crafty release on EMI's part, given that it was put out into the UK marketplace in September, ahead of The Ronette's October release date. This gave it a head start over the official product for listeners who really hadn't experienced the full scale of Spector's vision yet. Despite this, it wasn't a hit, and it's not difficult to understand why. Minus the wall of sound and those astonishing harmonies, the song really sounds somewhat pedestrian and skeletal, even when left in the hands of someone as capable as Grazina. With more thought and time put into the production, it's possible that everyone concerned might have been able to produce a fair facsimile of the original, but this is a simple, straightforward rendition which is hard to relate to.

The B-side "I Ain't Gonna Knock On Your Door" is likely to be of more interest to readers, being a chiming, pinging, and sprightly piece of summery girl-pop. It's not a lost A-side by any means, but it's genuinely charming and Grazina pitches the idea perfectly.

Sadly, I've only included an edit from "Be My Baby" here, since it remains commercially available and you can buy it in full online if you're that way inclined.



13 August 2017

Fable - A Girl Like You/ She Said Yes



Label: Penny Farthing
Year of Release: 1971

A few weeks back I mentioned this on the blog's Facebook Page as an example of a single I was desperately trying to find an affordable copy of. In the end, I paid rather more for this copy than I'd hoped to (£17 - ulp!) but I still consider it to be worth owning even at that price.

I had originally stumbled on it on YouTube and was immediately bowled over by the approach it had taken - while The Troggs original version of "A Girl Like You" had been scratchy, jagged and hormonal sounding, this cover replaced that abrasiveness with a slick but minimal arrangement, a thumping bass drum and rich bass guitar, and exotic, Nico-esque vocal lines. It has absolutely no right to work in that manner, but it does so marvellously, and the quality of the performance highlights the fact that Reg Presley probably wasn't the completely primitive garage songwriter everyone assumed him to be in 1966.

Fable were essentially members of Jason Cord's backing group The First Chapter attempting a breakaway slice of success of their own. Consisting of Paul Robbins on organ and guitar, Keith Tully on drums, Mac Bailey on guitar and Pete Bickley on bass, they added the glamorous Wolverhampton local hero Anna Terrana on lead vocals to complete the new Penny Farthing signed line-up. 

Anna Terrana had already had a fairly substantial career on the national gig circuit at this point, fronting Lady Jayne and the Royaltee (known as "Royalty" on their CBS recordings) and picking up praise and acclaim from the music press and Radio One DJs alike. You can read much more about her background on the Brumbeat website here, which goes into enormous depth.

Fable were, unfortunately, a fairly short-lived proposition by comparison, offering us only two 45s (this and the 1970 single "Minstrel Boy" which preceded it). Both sides of this single are marvellous. Even the flip, "She Said Yes", is a pretty piece of beaty, early seventies harmony pop.

If you want to listen to more of Anna Terrana's work, she appears to have her own Reverb Nation site here. You'd be well advised to listen to head over and get stuck in, as there are plenty of other gems to uncover.



9 August 2017

The Germz/ Lit Candle - No Easy Way Down/ Boy Girl Love



Label: Cotique
Year of Release: 1967 and 1969

This is becoming something of a sought-after record for 60s garage collectors, in whatever guise it takes. The Germz were formed from the remains of a New York band called Terry and the Pirates, and consisted of Wendy Hirsch on vocals, Marty Green on keyboards, Bob Tobin on lead guitar, Jefferson Travis on rhythm guitar, Doug Smith on bass and Shelly Unger on drums. After a spell of local popularity, in early 1967 they inked a deal with the Roulette subsidiary label Vertigo and headed off to record these two tracks at Miramound Studios. 

It's the B-side which tends to get all the attention in the present day, being a piece of quirky, organ-driven garage pop with the most warped and wobbly sounding clarion calls you'll have heard since The Human League's "(Keep Feeling) Fascination". Propulsive, bouyant, and charmingly (rather than ineptly) loose sounding, it's a strange and sharp sounding recording which nags away at you long after the needle has left the run-out groove behind.

Amidst the more recent fuss, though, the A-side seems to have been overlooked or even dismissed by some, which is a deep pity. The Goffin-King composition "No Easy Way Down" has subsequently been recorded by Dusty Springfield, Carole King herself, and Scott Walker (quite drearily, actually, on his under-achieving "Stretch" LP) among others, but so far as I can ascertain this was the first released version. This might appear to have been a risky or eccentric decision on the songwriting duo's part, but I suspect the fact that the drummer Shelly Ungan was Gerry Goffin's cousin might not be a complete coincidence. Nonetheless, it's a beautiful version of the track, with Wendy's vocals sounding so youthful, spirited, spontaneous and powerful that it's hard to believe that it took the producer George Goldner twenty takes before he was satisfied with her performance. Amazingly, what we can hear is in fact the result of numerous takes of her performance being spliced together.

The resulting single hit number 48 in the local New York charts and number 35 in the Boston charts before disappearing altogether. Internal politics at the record company between Roulette bigwig Morris Levy and George Goldner caused the single to be scrapped after only 2,000 copies were released on to the marketplace, after which it did a big sod off forever. Even the master tapes were apparently wiped.

"Yes," you may well ask, "but what on Earth do The Germz have to do with The Lit Candle, whose single is pictured above?"

That's a fair enough question, but one that apparently even the group can't really answer. The Lit Candle single was issued in 1969 and is completely the same two recordings. The group were not informed of its release or their enforced name change, and suspect some corporate dodginess was afoot. Taking a less cynical view, it's possible that the growing popularity of other recorded versions of "No Easy Way Down" caused Cotique Records to take an interest in the original version, and it's also possible that they thought The Germz was too much of a garagey sounding group name for either 1969 or such a majestic ballad. Unless someone who was behind the decision to release the record gets in touch, however, we will probably never know why this pressing actually exists.

Whatever the facts, The so-called Lit Candle's "version" appears to have fared even less well than the original release, and seems to be the more scarce of the two pressings as a result. The group were no longer an active concern anyway, having disbanded shortly after the failure of the Vertigo issue. Wendy Hirsch and Marty Green went on to get a job together as songwriters at Screen Gems/ Columbia. After that career path failed, it proved to be the end of their professional relationship, but not their personal one - they got married and had a family not long afterwards.

I gleaned a lot of the above material from a moving YouTube video put together in the style of "Pop Up Video" by Wendy's son Matt to celebrate her fiftieth birthday. If only every garage group left such a simple and easy trail of information behind themselves...



6 August 2017

Reupload - Tik and Tok - Summer In The City/ Crisis
























Label: Survival
Released: 1981

Readers of a certain vintage may have hazy memories of Tik and Tok, a robotic dance duo who appeared on all manner of television programmes in the early eighties.  Robotic dancing in the present day and age is popularly regarded to be the folly of Covent Garden street performers rather than cutting edge cabaret, but like mime, the Jim Rose Circus and puppets that emit cuss words, there was a brief point in time where it seemed an exotic and thoroughly modern affair.  Such things usually have a shelf-life of six months to a year before the allure fades and the talent becomes a gimmick, and so it proved with this duo, whose career high wasn't especially prolonged.

For a time, however, Tik and Tok were actually quite mainstream, popping up on Kenny Everett's television programmes and The Royal Variety Show, and supporting Gary Numan on tour (as well as being supported by a young Depeche Mode).  Until I stumbled across this record in the racks of "Music and Video Exchange", I had no memory of what they sounded like, and was expecting the kind of staccato, psuedo-futuristic and alienated fare we've already heard from The Techno Twins and Karel Fialka.  On the contrary, their cover of the Lovin' Spoonful's "Summer in the City" here is actually surprisingly upbeat and effective.  Taking the simplistic stomping rhythms of the original and highlighting them for robotic effect, it's a piece of electronic music that's dated amazingly well, sounding almost like a piece of noughties post-modern pastiche.   The original song is good enough to weather most changes to the original arrangement, but Tik and Tok manage to make it sound as if it always was a piece of eighties electro-pop right from the first hearing, which is actually an astonishing feat for a familiar, evergreen single.  I bought this half-expecting to burst out laughing on the first spin, only to find myself getting strangely into it and promptly putting it on my iPod playlist.

The B-side "Crisis" has aged well too, sounding inspired by Kraftwerk and German electronic pop, and featuring a strange and jarring piece of dialogue which is supposed to be one of the Kray Twins dialling a wrong number and getting through to the robo-duo's HQ.  Again, it manages to give the impression of Shoreditch and Hoxton circa 2005 rather than the Kenny Everett Video Show circa 1981, although whether that's innovative or a grave war crime depends upon your personal perspective.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Tik and Tok are still performing today, and apparently regularly appearing at Star Wars conventions thanks to their appearance in "Return of the Jedi".  It almost feels as if I should finish this blog entry on a sarcastic or ironical comment, but actually... why should I?  It would be far too lazy and far too easy, and unnecessary given the fact that I like this single.



3 August 2017

Conclusion Is - This Is Not My Country/ Angie And The Human Race



Label: Parlophone
Year of Release: 1970

It's very rare to find a popsike single that hasn't already been compiled on an LP entitled something like "The Afternoon Turquoise Crumpet and Butter Teashow", but I think I might just have managed it here. Sadly, though, I have close to sod-all information on the people responsible.

From what I can gather, the oddly named Conclusion Is were a studio based act who worked at Eden Studios, which was owned by Piers Ford-Crush and Philip Love. One of them, Ray Owen, was also a member of the rock group Ray Owen's Moon who recorded for Polydor, whereas David Early also worked with him on the novelty 1972 Supporter's United single "Up For The Cup" (which I've never heard or seen anywhere, but sounds curious).

The A-side "This Is Not My Country" is a piece of acceptable acoustically driven angst about being a refugee. The flip "Angie And The Human Race", on the other hand, is rather more popsike, consisting of discreet trumpet and organ lines and a gentle, bouncing psychedelic pop feel. My copy is a tiny bit scratchy, but those melodramatic toytown melodies seep through effectively. 

I have no idea what became of either musician, but this is the only record the pair had out under the name of "Conclusion Is". After both it and the Supporters United single flopped, it seems likely that Parlophone lost interest. 




30 July 2017

Hard Meat - Rain/ Burning Up Years



Label: Island
Year of Release: 1969

This is yet another one of my purchases from the vast, overflowing 45 collection of Robin Wills, and what an interesting one it is too. Hard Meat were a late sixties rock outfit consisting of two Brummie brothers, Michael and Steve Dolan, who were joined by Mick Carless on drums and other fellow travellers later on in their careers. Generally specialising in progressively leaning material, they're not a rich or fertile source for psychedelia.

Nonetheless, their debut single on Island was a cover of The Beatles "Rain" which predates the nineties trends for slow, stoner/ slacker rock by some margin. The band take the original song, tie it to their ankles and drag it across a swampy landscape. It's a lazy, hazy redraft of the track, and while at first there's a temptation to force the disc to spin at a slightly higher speed to bring it closer to the original beats per minute, eventually their sludgy vision starts to appeal. Those shimmering, clanging guitars soon win you over and cause you to flop back in your chair in blissful admiration. 

The B-side "Burning Up Years" reveals a more typical side of the group, being a six-minute melodramatic workout which takes the recorded grooves very close to the edge of the Island label. It has been compiled in other places and was covered by Kiwi psych-heads Human Instinct - take a listen on YouTube if you want to hear what the fuss might be about.

Hard Meat issued two LPs, neither of which featured "Rain". The first eponymously titled album emerged on Warner Brothers and is a cultishly popular hard rock effort which gets some denim-clad collectors hot under the collar. The second, "Through A Window", is more acoustically inclined and less frequently discussed.

Steve Dolan eventually moved on to Pete Sinfield's group Under The Sky, but very sadly passed away in May 2000. His brother Michael Dolan also eventually died on 2nd August 2014, meaning the pivotal members of the group are no longer with us. 

26 July 2017

Soul Agents - Don't Break It Up/ Gospel Train



Label: Pye
Year of Release: 1965

Not the original article, this one - as I keep on reminding you all, I'm not made of money - but a bootleg copy I picked up fairly recently. Still, it's a fine sounding bootleg and worth the fiver I paid for it. 

The Howard Blaikley penned A-side has been compiled to death and is available all over the place, but the mighty instrumental flip "Gospel Train" is slightly more elusive. "Don't Break It Up" is a hammond organ driven killer which can be heard on YouTube - filled with a raw, brittle energy and sounding for all the world as if it might be an American garage effort. 

The flip "Gospel Train" is a bit of a hidden gem as well, though. It's a swaggering, groovy instrumental with - once again - that sixties organ sound right at the forefront, and some fantastic, energetic, hyperactive drumming. A bit of a buried gem, in all.

The Soul Agents hailed from Southampton and had something of an ever-changing line-up. The cast list on this particular 45, though, was Roger Pope on drums, Don Shinn on organ, Ian Duck on guitar, Dave Glover on bass, and Pete Hunt on vocals. Roger Pope eventually upped sticks to join The Loot, Don Shinn joined Renaissance, and Ian Duck and Dave Glover joined Hookfoot. Pete Hunt, meanwhile, became a session drummer. 

23 July 2017

Reupload - Jamie Lyons Group - Gonna Have A Good Time/ Heart Full Of Soul II



Label: Laurie
Year of Release: 1968

To start with, a guilty confession - I didn't walk into a record shop and buy this one.  On the contrary, the esteemed blogger of seventies obscurities and member of The Barracudas Robin Wills sold me a copy on ebay.  Mp3 bloggers bumping into each other on ebay is more common than you'd suppose, actually, and probably not all that surprising given the sheer amount of flotsam and jetsam there is cluttering up our houses.

Jamie Lyons was the lead singer with the brilliant Ohio garage rock band The Music Explosion who had a sizeable hit Stateside (though not, bafflingly, in the UK) with "A Little Bit Of Soul".  This release was presumably intended to create a profile for him as a solo star, and with a Harry Vanda and George Young penned A-side he probably should have had this one in the bag.  Sadly, the single perhaps lacks the bite of a lot of their other compositions and also the Music Explosion's output - it's a strong enough song which could have used a little more wildness in the studio.  

The B-side, however, will definitely be of interest to mods who enjoy cool grooving, organ led instrumentals - "Heart Full O' Soul II" is a typical example of this fare and swings with pride and conviction.  Although almost all B-sides of this ilk were intended as throwaway items at the time, they're an utter boon to retro DJs in the present day, and this is a rather unlikely and unexpected source for one.  


19 July 2017

Pierre Cour - Letter To A Teenage Bride/ Love Letter



Label: Charisma
Year of Release: 1975

Oh dear. Readers, I try to be as generous and magnanimous as possible on this blog, frequently not bothering to upload or comment on crap records. There are plenty of other folk online who will happily lob their invective towards unsuccessful targets, some brilliantly, some just for cheap and easy laughs. Nobody really needs my added input, and anyway, there are far too many good records out there which have gone largely unheard. Sometimes, though, I encounter something so gobsmackingly awful that I almost feel I have to share it just as a discussion point - and this is one example of how even the most atrocious, inappropriate work can slip through the music industry net and into the world at large.

"Letter To A Teenage Bride" really is an example of a single that manages to get absolutely everything wrong. Sticking rigidly to a tedious orchestral melody that offers no melodic progression or surprises, it wouldn't even be passable as an instrumental. The whimpered female backing vocals of "Oh my Daddy! Oh Daddy, Oh Mama!" also repeat every five seconds and continue for the full four minutes of its playing time. In terms of songwriting alone, then, it's a deeply irritating dud.

That's not really my main area of concern, though. Throughout this track, Pierre Cour decides to rival Peter Wyngarde in the "bad taste lyrics" stakes, with a spoken word tale of how frustrated an older lover is by his teenage wife's demands to see her family. He implores her to understand how much fun they have together without the interference of these unwanted interlopers, chiding, snapping and sneering coldly as he does so. The record then steadily works itself to a dreadful climax (of more than one kind) with Cour making vocal demands about his conjugal rights, turning the track into some kind of sophisticated vintage wine drinker's take on The Specials' "The Boiler". 

Initially, it's tempting to be charitable and assume that Cour is trying to satirise the behaviour of grown adult men with teenage lovers, but if that's the case, it really isn't clear. All we hear about is the man's frustration with the girl's immaturity, with added hints of manipulation within the relationship. The arrangement appears to be suggesting we should side with him - the man is, after all, sophisticated and mature, whereas the girl is a constantly protesting, whining alarm call throughout without any character to speak of. At least with a song like "Come Outside", you had a sense that you knew both characters reasonably well by the time the needle left the groove. Here, the girl is just a prop for Cour's frustrated narrative.

And by God, his narrative is also poorly delivered. He can't speak fluent English, and his mutterings and murmurings slop and slick their way across the record incomprehensibly, being ponderously delivered and in places ridiculously over-acted. Even Tommy Wiseau would weep at his effort. The whole single is a total horrorshow, managing to be offensive, badly written and poorly delivered. It's utterly impossible to even pinpoint one area where it manages to get something right (it's particularly surprising that someone as skilled as Zack Laurence would be involved with this dreck). 

We've become fond of saying "the past was a foreign country" in the UK, using it to explain away the casual acceptance of all kinds of perverse (and criminal) behaviour. This isn't always true, though. In 1975, this single was apparently greeted with huge hostility by the women in the press department at Charisma Records, who refused to promote it. Faced with poor airplay and PR staff who weren't prepared to work on the single, Charisma allegedly ended up stuffing a large number of stock copies of this disc into a cupboard, never to see the light of day (though melting the lot down and recycling the vinyl towards a more worthwhile cause would have been a better response). The copy in my hand appears to be one that did manage to drift into the real world, purchased by me for the princely sum of 50p despite its scarcity. Some would argue that's at least fifty pence too much. 

Pierre Cour was a highly successful French songwriter who had penned numerous tracks for his country at Eurovision, and had embarked on a rewarding working partnership (for both parties) with Roger Whittaker by the seventies. His songs had also previously been recorded by many luminaries, such as Petula Clark, Nana Mouskouri, and Paul Mauriat. Why he needed to blot his copybook with this creepy mess is a good question, and one we will probably never get an answer to. 

Kenny Everett eventually span this on his radio show as an example of one of the worst records of all time, and that's a judgement I really don't have a quarrel with. The only thing I might debate is whether it should actually be named the worst record ever, not "one of" the worst. 

Sorry for the pops and crackles on the mp3s below, though to be perfectly honest they should be the least of your worries (and I doubt you'll want to listen to this more than once). 




16 July 2017

Autumn - Down Down Down/ October



Label: Pye
Year of Release: 1973

Autumn just about qualify as one hit wonders by the skins of their collective teeth. Their debut single "My Little Girl" was a Tony "I wonder how many hits you've had" Rivers composition which was a slab of highly effective retro sixties harmony pop. Nudging the Top 40 at number 37, it allowed them an appearance on "Top of the Pops" where they appeared wearing natty matching suits, deliberately looking like throwbacks to another era. Nostalgia certainly isn't what it used to be.

The band struggled to build on that modest success, however, and follow-up singles "Not The Way She Looks" and "Hazy Crazy Days" didn't chart, and nor did this, their last effort for Pye before being dropped. Of all their singles, "Down Down Down" is the oddest and the most unexpectedly raucous sounding, featuring the usual slick sounding harmony vocals meeting pounding rock noises, and a guitar instrumental break which somewhat unexpectedly combines the initial melody of "Layla" with "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye". There are lots of sudden hairpin bends in its arrangement, and as such, it ends up sounding more like a lost bit of Pye popsike from 1968 or 1969 than its 1973 release date would suggest (if you suspend disbelief about the release date of "Layla", that is). Perhaps because of that, it's not overly surprising it wasn't a hit. It's short, sharp and ever-so-slightly on the wrong side of commercial (whatever the group's intentions). An LP was recorded by the group for release by Pye, but apparently never saw the light of day. 

The band consisted of Keith Parsons on lead vocals and guitar, Dave Charlwood on drums, John Court on guitar, Peter Cramer on bass and backing vocals, and Ron Shaughnessy on guitar and backing vocals. I'm not too sure what the group ended up doing after this single, but I can rather sadly confirm that Ron and Keith have since passed away.

The "Alshire USA Production" credit appears on all their singles, incidentally, and is something of a mystery. Alshire were a budget label in the USA whose works could generally be found lingering in the wire racks in supermarkets, usually consisting of rush-recorded soundalike compilations and easy listening cash-ins, such as "Tribute To Jimi Hendrix" by The Purple Fox or "Award Winning Scores From The Silver Screen" by 101 Strings (a less typical and more inexplicable example would be The Animated Egg's eponymously titled LP). It's not clear to me how Autumn ended up associated with the label, unless they were signed up to do some harmony pop work for a cheapo LP and found that one of their recorded tracks took off in its own right in the UK. I'd be very grateful if somebody could clear this puzzle up, as the standard biographies of the band online and offline make no mention of the US deal. 


13 July 2017

Sally Sagoe - A Little Bit Of Love/ Stop



Label: Dart
Year of Release: 1975

If you're a skint DJ (or just a tightarse like me) and desperate to impress your next audience with a new Northern Soul spin they might not have heard before, your options are beginning to get rather limited. By the time you hit a certain price threshold, you're firmly in the realm of rapidly diminishing returns - and there are some real cash-in stinkers from the mid-seventies waiting out there to trap the unwary.

This, then, is a pleasant surprise and one that can occasionally be spotted in thrift stores for a mere 50p (it does happen). While Van McCoy's songwriting involvement should hint towards the fact that this isn't an "authentic" Northern record, it sounds as close as damnit to the real deal to be worth it. Smooth and swaggering and yet filled with all the euphoric, emotional peaks you'd expect, this is a beautiful slice of danceable poptimism. Normally when modern seventies producers tried to emulate these sounds, they ended up with a product which whiffed more of sausage rolls and ale from the local Working Man's Club than talcum powdered dancefloors - some of the cash-ins on Spark and Pye are testimony to that. Sally Sagoe is a classy performer, though, and sells the song incredibly well. It sounds confident and urban as a result.

Even the B-side "Stop" has its fans, though there's no question to me that it sounds less accomplished and slightly more rushed than the plug side. 

Unfortunately, Sally Sagoe didn't have any hits during her singing career, and eventually had more luck as an actress, earning a fairly long-standing role in "Eastenders" as Hannah Carpenter in 1985, then eventually as Mrs Jackson in the children's TV series "The Tomorrow People". 



9 July 2017

Reupload - Perfect People - House In The Country/ Polyanna


Label: MCA
Year of Release: 1969

It's tempting to think that absolutely every last half-good drop of British popsike is in wider distribution now, but as this particular disc proves, there are still lesser known surprises out there.  The official A-side to this record ("House In The Country") has already been compiled on "Piccadilly Sunshine" and is available on iTunes and Amazon and no doubt other commercial sites besides, so I'm not going to trouble myself too much with the contents of that one beyond providing you all with an edited 45 second clip of its charms.

The B-side "Polyanna", on the other hand, would have been a more logical choice, and it's somewhat surprising it was overlooked.  The simplistic but frankly bizarre lyrics appear to be exhorting a young lady not to commit suicide by throwing herself into a river, but this is pure rainbow-coloured sixties pop in all other respects.  Basslines swoop and plunge majestically in a manner Macca would respect,  the horn section kicks into the chorus giddily imitating the vertigo of a high bridge over a river, and the whole thing has a merry urgency about it and enough hooks to drag in even the biggest popsike cynic.  The vocals are perhaps slightly too gruff to truly compliment the contents of the rest of the song, but this is a fine piece of work otherwise - and when you spot Mike Leander's name in the credits, it becomes clear why.  Whilst he later became widely known for introducing Gary Glitter to success, in truth the Walthamstow born Leander had cut his teeth as an incredibly skilled arranger long before, working to brilliant effect on excellent records by David McWilliams, Ben E King, The Rolling Stones and Colin Blunstone before this one.  He also arranged The Beatles "She's Leaving Home" while George Martin was unwell, putting him in the unique position of being the only other arranger to work with them.

"Polyanna" isn't a lost classic to file next to the Fabs, but it's potent sixties pop which deserves a lot more attention than it's received so far. "House In The Country", on the other hand, seems to be a Manfred Mann off cut (penned by Hugg, Man and Hugg) which is merely OK-ish - twee, chipper and pleasant, the kind of fare you'd find halfway through the sixth volume of "Circus Days".

As for who Perfect People are, my guess is that they were a studio group rather than a "proper" live gigging band, but if anyone knows differently, please do get in touch.