28 June 2017

Claire - Mouth/ Hole In My Shoe


Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1973

The twilight years of Decca are a delight for obscure pop pickers. Once the label lost their distribution rights to RCA and The Rolling Stones jumped ship, they entered a long, slow death filled with increasingly desperate kicks against their inevitable demise. A quick visit to the marvellous 45cat site reveals that Decca's seventies catalogue was filled with one-record wonders, artists signed to the label who were presumably supposed to be new stars, but whose records are so scarce that they probably only sold a hundred or so copies nationally (if that) before being dropped. 

What must have been a rather grim time for employees at the label has ended up being an adventure for us, then, although not one with any obvious conclusions. Take this record, for example. I haven't the foggiest idea who Claire is, why she was so shy about revealing her surname, or what she went on to do. She certainly wasn't Claire of eighties "Claire and Friends" fame ("It's Orrible Being In Love When You're Eight and a Half") as she hadn't been born at this point. 

"Mouth" on side A is a twanging piece of Brit-country which is nicely performed and written, but nothing to get anyone particularly excited. It's the B-side, a cover of Traffic's psychedelic classic "Hole In My Shoe", that's most likely to tweak the interest of collectors. And it's... not quite what you'd expect, but an interesting take all the same. Removing all the psychedelic elements from the track, it instead pares it down to its root basics and adds a faint country tinge to the effort. It sounds cracked and rugged and as if Claire is singing about a trip she took the week before and hasn't quite recovered from yet. It's OK, darling, it was just some magic tablets you swallowed. There are no elephants or bubblegum trees here now, trust me. 



25 June 2017

Reupload - Brian Bennett - Chase Side Shoot Up/ Pegasus



Label: Fontana
Year of Release: 1974

The sheer versatility and experience in the line-up of The Shadows isn't really commented on often enough, people being more keen to focus on their most well-known and stylistically consistent work.  Sadly, ploughing through a bog-standard Shads hits list would ignore Marvin and Farrar's brilliant stabs at Crosby Stills and Nash styled pop in the seventies, Tony Meehan's endless production work, and drummer Brian Bennett's mind-bogglingly varied array of library music work which you'll almost certainly have heard before, whether you think you have or not.

Here is perhaps the most famous and immediately recognisable example.  "Chase Side Shoot Up" is best known as being the theme to the BBC golf coverage in Britain, where it's acted as the introduction to the swish and thwack of badly dressed men with golf clubs since 1980.  Its strange but effective mix of laidback beats combined with dramatic melodic flourishes probably made it a dead cert for the coverage as soon as the BBC Executives wrapped their ears around it, and its been stuck in people's brains in the UK ever since - another classic example of a record very few people bought enjoying a greater recognition factor (and probably more royalty pay-outs) than many hits.

As you'll gather from the date on the label, however, "Chase Side Shoot Up" had a history prior to the BBC taking a shine to it, and in fact its synthetic flourishes were originally enjoyed in nightclubs - and even apparently some Northern Soul nights [citation needed - ed] - in the mid-seventies.  It might seem absurd to imagine those "thumpa-thumpa-thumpa" drum noises being accompanied by genuine dancing rather than the gentle thud of the palm of your hand against the arm of the sofa, but that apparently was the case.  How widespread its club plays were is a difficult thing to ascertain, and any attempts to play it now (in Britain at least) would surely be greeted with bafflement and derision, but there was a time when the squealing synths on this seemed futuristic and dancefloor orientated rather than accepted as a background noise.  Viewed objectively as a piece of music rather than an iconic theme, it's perfectly good but stubbornly sticks to its central riff despite threatening to spin off into other interesting ambient areas at points - there's a vague whiff of missed opportunities here across the full three minutes. 

The flip "Pegasus" would perhaps go down better these days, being a beautifully drama-filled piece of electronic funk which brings to mind men rolling under cars, pistols at the ready for that inevitable high action crime scene in a seventies flick.  In fact, the Moog and tropical funk action here is so notable that numerous websites recommend this as a lost groove, and the demand for the record on ebay is possibly more driven by the B-side than the famous A-side these days. Not surprising - this is a marvellous bit of work which really deserved better than to sit on the back side of this single.  

Brian Bennett continues to produce library music and soundtracks, and has won three Ivor Novello awards for his work, which has included sophisticated and considered orchestral arrangements as well as catchy jingles.  Even his under-exposed library music work is highly sought after by collectors, with prices shooting up (if you'll pardon the pun) all the time.  


22 June 2017

Trifle - All Together Now/ Got My Thing



Label: United Artists
Year of Release: 1969

Another Beatles cover version to add to this blog's growing collection. There was no shortage of the things in the sixties, for sure, but surprisingly few of them hit the big time, although Marmalade's smash version of "Ob La Di Ob La Da" may not give that impression. 

The Mike Batt produced "All Together Now" is yet another single to add to the "as obscure as Beatles related records get" list. The catchy little ditty was pulled from the safety of the "Yellow Submarine" soundtrack by an enthusiastic Trifle, a band who had been formed from the ashes of sixties pop group George Bean and the Runners. It's not a particularly daring reinvention, and was clearly intended as a light, frothy chartbound sound, but sold incredibly poorly in the UK despite some critics noting its commercial promise. 

"Left and to the Back" readers are likely to be more interested in the flip, "Got My Thing", which has a spirited soul swing to it, and couldn't be less like the A-side. That's not too surprising. Trifle were usually a progressive group by nature, and following the flop performance of this single dashed off to sign a contract with Pye's progressive imprint Dawn, where they released the now very rare and sought after "First Meeting" LP. Their careers were rudely cut short not long afterwards by the tragic sudden death of their leader George Bean.

And meanwhile, if you really want to hear a truly odd cover of "All Together Now", look no further than German group Joy Unlimited who do the honours with style



20 June 2017

Earl Haig Jumble Sale - Sunday 25th June

Earl Haig Hall in Crouch End is having another vintage jumble sale on Sunday 25th June, and I'll be there with Jody "John The Revelator" Porter and Sean "Hey Kids Rock and Roll/ Time Tunnel" Bright spinning on the decks while you shop around.

Tell you what, the last time I Dj'd here back in May, the place had tons of cheap vinyl and CD stalls, selling lots of interesting records dirt cheaply, from garage rock to 50s novelty rock and roll to 80s LPs. Now, given that the stalls are booked up way in advance by people with various things to trade, I can't guarantee that it will be the same situation this time - but it's worth a look. And if all else fails, there's a very good Oxfam Book and Record store around the corner too.

The event runs from Noon - 5pm on Sunday 25th June, and you can find us at 18 Elder Avenue, London N8 9TH. The Facebook details are here. Come up and say hello. If people who read this blog don't turn up, I promise I will play my collection of Giorgio Moroder inspired, vocoder infested disco records. (Though I might do that anyway). 

18 June 2017

Angel Pie - Jake (LP)





















Label: Oxygen/ MCA
Proposed Year of Release: 1994

Back in January 1994, a basic four-track LP preview promo cassette with a cheaply printed text only inlay fell into my student inbox at university. Nothing unusual about that. I regularly wrote music reviews for the student newspaper, and while our readership was tiny, it still reached a local youth audience record labels were often keen to tap into, especially if our town was on a proposed tour map for any of the groups on their roster.

What was unusual was the fact that I hadn't heard of the group "Angel Pie" this cassette was promoting, who appeared to be a joint project between "dance diva" Marina Van Rooy and producer Mark Saunders with unknown others. Back in those days I was usually very quick to spot new acts, especially if they had signed a significant record deal, but this lot rang no bells at all. Not expecting much, and deeming them to be some kind of A&R rep's afterthought, I left the cassette on my "to do" pile for a couple of days before putting it in my cheap Saisho combi stereo and pressing play.

I loved what I heard immediately, from their previous 1993 single "Tin Foil Valley" (which I had neither heard nor heard of) and its cheery but jittery electronic fizz, to the other three tracks "She", "Tipsy Q Horses" and "Frozen Fling". All made me convinced I might have just been sent a demo preview of one of my favourite LPs of the year. "She", in particular, was a much-favoured play of mine throughout 1994, and I wrote about it in much more depth over here.

Problematically for the group, their first two singles "Tin Foil Valley" and "She" sold poorly, and MCA appeared to get the bum's rush after that and failed to issue more of their records, including the album. I waited for news of the LP's release, but none was forthcoming. MCA's press office only had the comment "Ooh, dunno about that one, I'm afraid" to offer. By the time 1995 rolled around, I'd given up all hope of ever hearing it.

Behold the brilliance of the Internet, then, because a week or so ago I was contacted by Dustin Rainwater who had read my blog entry about "She" and said that he had been sent an incomplete version of the album (with only two tracks missing rather than eight) a while ago. He asked if I would like a copy, and I fired off a positive response as soon as I had receipt of his email.

My first cautionary observation would be that I've actually waited to hear this LP for longer than I've waited for a third Stone Roses album to emerge. I've also gone from being a confused first year student at university to having a job in the civil service, so my "head" isn't in quite the same place, and nor, I suspect, is anyone else's. Blairism has come and gone in that time, babies born in 1994 have grown up and begun professional careers, and Coco Pops have changed their name to Coco Krispies and back again. It's been a long journey for us all.

"Jake" has to be put into some sort of context, then, and I suspect one of the reasons the four track demo made such an immediate impact on me was that, amidst of sea of dodgy grunge bands and industrial chancers, it actually harked back to the only recently dead indie-dance days. Marina Van Rooy's vocals are blissed and seductive, synths bubble and chime away optimistically, and guitars rumble and scrape away quite low in the mix, giving the tracks a slightly harder, more alternative edge.

"She" still sounds unspeakably wonderful, and remains one of my favourite singles of 1994. Pitched somewhere between the background ambient atmospherics of Depeche Mode's "Somebody", a psychedelically inclined easy listening track, Saint Etienne's "Avenue" and the forthcoming trip-hop explosion, it's almost impossibly rich with detail, an enchanted garden of a track.

Other tracks like the aforementioned "Tin Foil Valley" and "Tipsy Q Horses" echo the child-like, giddy optimism of the early nineties rave period, while marrying those ideas to twittering and atmospheric pop structures. Problematically, though, it makes "Jake" - or what we have of it so far - an easier piece of work to digest in bite-sized chunks rather than to listen to as a whole. With the exception of "She", it's one long breezy, sugary high. While Van Rooy's pie-eyed vocals and child-like cotton candy observations and dayglo nineties New Age ideas are charming at first, they steadily begin to pall when you're in their company for longer than twenty minutes. If the two missing tracks "Cactus Fruit" and "Set Yourself Free" are ambient interludes of some kind or slower numbers, that would make absolute sense and would break up the sherbet flavoured fizziness of this LP somewhat - but unless someone comes forward with those (and Dustin and I are very keen to hear them if you have them) we'll never know.

Still, "Jake" is definitely a good and often incredibly inventive and well-crafted LP which would have fared much better in the British music scene a couple of years before, and possibly in more capable hands than MCA's. I wouldn't hesitate to regard it as being a lost indie-dance gem in the same breath as numerous other lauded but badly selling records at the back end of that period, with the crucial difference being that it was never even released. It's a real privilege to finally hear most of it, and thanks so much for Dustin for making it available.

If you were involved in the "group" in any way and want me to remove this LP for free download, get in touch and let me know. More than that, however, if you have sound file copies of those missing tracks "Cactus Fruit" and "Set Yourself Free", please assuage my curiosity.

Dustin also sent me an unreleased Angel Pie track "Wendy House", which I've included in the download bundle. I'm not too sure what the intentions for this were, but I'm going to assume it was an unreleased B-side or demo for a planned piece of future work.

Download it here 

14 June 2017

Teddy Munro - Bayswater Bedsitter/ Get Out Of My Head



Label: Gemini
Year of Release: 1972

You may remember that way back in March 2016, I uploaded a folk track by The Academy called "Munching The Candy" with Polly Perkins on vocals. In that, I incorrectly assumed that the only other single she released afterwards was 1973's "Coochi Coo", but lo and behold, it would appear that she adopted the name Teddy Munro for this one single as well, which managed to slip under my radar.

"Bayswater Bedsitter" doesn't really have anything much in common with The Academy's output, being a leg-kicking piece of cabaret pop celebrating skint bohemia. Bayswater has historically always been a good region of London to seek out bedsits (or "studio flats" as they're now misleadingly called) but whereas in the sixties and seventies they were ideal accommodation for young creative types on a budget, these days you'd need a well-paid professional job to meet the monthly rent. Still, Polly takes us back to the old boho days with good effect, singing jazzily about tinned soup, Baby Belling ovens and cramped living spaces. It's enough to make you feel envious.

The flipside "Get Out Of My Head" is arguably stronger, being a soulful number about post-breakup obsession, which actually showcases Perkins' vocals to a more flattering degree. 

Following the failure of her musical career, Perkins turned her attention to acting instead and got much further, even appearing in "Eastenders" as Dot Cotton's sister between 2011-12. Chances are she's recognised much more for that these days than the string of obscure singles and LPs she left behind in the sixties and seventies. 


11 June 2017

Reupload - Meckenburg Zinc - Hard Working Woman/ I'd Like To Help You



Label: Orange
Year of Release: 1970

Another mystery to add to the "Left and to the Back" canon of mysteries, I'm afraid - nobody has the faintest clue who Meckenburg Zinc were, whether they were a gigging act, a studio aggregation, or perhaps a metalworks company indulging in a musical hobby (although the latter is obviously the 10,000-1 shot).

What we do know for sure is that John Carter co-wrote the A-side.  He was frequently associated with the Carter-Lewis songwriting duo whose credits took up large quantities of label space in the sixties with the likes of the Flowerpot Men and The Music Explosion, and Internet rumours suggest that he may have performed on the track as well.  Whatever the truth of the matter, "Hard Working Woman" is a neat slice of seventies pop which seems West Coast influenced in both its songwriting and performance, all close harmonies and chirpy arrangements.  It wasn't a hit, but copies of the disc have sold for $50 on ebay in the last few years which suggests a keen demand for the track.

As for the curiously designed Orange label, it was in fact a hitless and short-lived subsidiary of the Orange amplifier company.  So you've possibly come out of this blog entry learning something new at least.  


7 June 2017

Mystery Artist - Negotiations In Soho Square























Label: [none]
Year of Release: Unknown

We all love a mystery acetate, don't we, readers? Certainly, few things brighten my day up as much as a previously unheard recording pressed on to metal lacquer, but as you'll all have worked out by now, I don't get out of the house much.

This one has really thrown me, though. So far as I know, the only release the song "Negotiations In Soho Square" has ever had has been The Tremeloes version, which is a bright, bouncy and sparkly piece of guitar pop. While they wrote the song, I'm quite confident this acetate has nothing to do with them - it takes the tune and turns it into a a piece of brass-ridden, swinging, sweaty basement soul, sounding more like the work of someone like Cliff Bennett or Georgie Fame than anyone else (note - I'm not actually trying to definitively claim that it is).

Someone out there must know who was responsible for this. In the meantime, we can all enjoy its driving, smoky basement sound.

4 June 2017

Heavy Jelly - I Keep Singing That Same Old Song/ Blue



Label: Island
Year of Release: 1968

Well, this is bloody confusing. There were actually three groups called Heavy Jelly in this era. One bunch had Jackie Lomax and John Morshead in their line-up. The other were a mysterious set of coves who had one single out on Avco entitled "Humpty Dumpty". Then there's this bunch... who were originally the rather excellent Skip Bifferty but renamed themselves for this one 45 and an LP on Island. 

Skip Bifferty were from Newcastle and were originally managed by rock heavyweight Don Arden, and issued three marvellous singles (of which the highlights are the ace "On Love" and "Man In Black") and one long player, but despite constant evening airplay and acclaim for their frantic live shows, never broke through. "I Keep Singing That Same Old Song" was really their last hurrah, a fresh start with a new name (which was probably instigated to keep Arden off their backs, to be fair) and an unusual and risky gimmick. With an epic running time of 7:49 this was the longest single ever issued on seven inch single in the sixties, and made "Macarthur Park" seem like a concise ditty by comparison. The grooves on my copy are tighter than a gnat's chuff and run close to the label - hats off to the pressing plant for managing to handle this without making it sound like a complete mess. 

While it wasn't a hit in the UK, it did break through in other European countries, and has been compiled to death in the years since. If you do want to listen to it, there's a full YouTube video over yonder.

Less referenced since has been the B-side "Blue", which I actually prefer. Unlike the bloated top side which could do with having some fat trimmed off its edges, it has the usual conciseness and masterful energy of a Skip Bifferty single, albeit with a lot more bluesy rockiness in its mix. Once again, the group sound perfectly capable of reaching the by-then bourgeoning heavy rock crowd, but success never materialised, and they split not long after.