20 November 2019

Mojo Hannah - Six Days On The Road (LP) (including St. Jeremy)

Ex-Sweet man Mick Stewart's stomping Southern bar-room boogie boys 

Label: Kingdom
Year of Release: 1973

Mojo Hannah first came to my attention when a few months back, somebody wised me up to their hypnotic and delightful 1973 single "St. Jeremy". Sounding for all the world like a probable hit, "St. Jeremy" contains earthy early seventies rock grit in its fingernails but also the flamboyant sounds of a Cockney Rebel-esque fiddle and a pounding, repetitive and very vaguely artrock structure. It sounds like something you'd expect from some artschool glam rockers.

Hold that thought for a second, because Mojo Hannah were actually formed by ex-Sweet boy Mick Stewart, who was with that group for a mere year between 1969-70. On the other hand, don't don a pair of silver platform boots and put away all the breakables just yet. Far from being a stomping record filled with rockers about teenage rebellion and ballrooms being somehow "blitzed", or even a stylistic follow-on from The Sweet's earliest bubblegum days, the Hannahs largely produce a solid approximation of Southern country-rock across both sides of this LP.

"Six Days On The Road" is largely straight-ahead bar-room country rock, with plenty of squeaking cattle gut and songs about living one's life as a somewhat raucous individual. For fans of that genre, especially those who like it raw, unpolished and untroubled by slick production, there's lots to love here - the group sound as if they're on stage in front of you pounding their way through a series of songs which will probably mention Louisiana or the Mississippi Delta any second.

For my tastes, they're at their most interesting when they get into a stoned, hypnotic groove, and "St. Jeremy" is the absolute ace in the pack from that point of view - I was originally going to buy the single, until realising that I could obtain a copy of the whole album cheaper - and "Cajun Girl" isn't half bad either, with a gorgeous electric piano line combining with a repetitive beat and some beautiful close vocal harmonies from the boys. Excerpts from both tracks can be found behind the link, but don't necessarily treat them as entirely representative of the rest of the album.

17 November 2019

Reupload - The London Boys - Eyes of Kazan/ All My Life

Excellent McCartney-esque popsike song by John Carter, strangely unreleased in the UK

Label: BASF
Year of Release: 1971

There are, to the best of my knowledge, two bands with the "London Boys" moniker. One seemed to be a project of the jobbing songwriter (and Flowerpot Men member) John Carter. The other was an eighties Eurodisco act with flashy dance moves who somehow ended up doing backing vocals to charged political pop on Microdisney records (apparently angrily suggesting to Cathal Coughlan that he was sick in the head before they sang backing vocals to lines such as "There's nothing wrong with the young would-be rich/ that a headful of lead would not cure"). It shouldn't be too tricky to work out which one this is.

"Eyes of Kazan" is an odd release for two reasons. Firstly, it's a slice of psychedelic pop which was issued in 1971, long after most record buyers had shown any signs of caring about this kind of thing. It was also released in Germany only, failing to reach the shops in any other European markets (including the UK). I can only speculate as to why this was - it's possible that it was an old John Carter composition which had been gathering dust which BASF were persuaded to issue, but the (slightly cack-handed) stereo mix suggests to me that it's more likely to be a seventies recording.

It's actually pretty good as well. There's a copped Beach Boys bass riff (from "You're So Good To Me") and a thumping, stoned McCartneyesque feel to the whole thing, and while it lacks the necessary hooks to truly sound like a hit, it's neatly persuasive and proof positive that when digging the record racks for psychedelic pop, one needn't stop at 1969. There are other gems to be found beyond that end-date.

14 November 2019

Mike Wade - On The Make

Completely unreleased song by Scott Walker-esque crooner

Label: [acetate]
Year of Release: [n/a]

Acetates, particularly ones of unreleased songs, spark huge excitement in me. It doesn't necessarily matter if the song isn't a lost gem - I've been getting my knees dirty digging in plastic crates for long enough now to know that's a very rare occurrence - it's just interesting to get hold of a polished recording which never made it past the private studio pressing stage. If a record that only sold fifty copies is scarce, then an acetate which was only shared among a handful of people is always going to feel a bit like a "precious thing" to a record collector.

The trouble is, acetates usually aren't very cheap either, and if I'm being honest, they tend not to overly enthuse "Left and to the Back" readers, who perhaps sense that if it wasn't good enough to make it into record shops, it's probably not worth clicking to investigate further. If I'm being fair, that's not usually an unreasonable assumption. "So what have we here?" you may well ask while stroking your chins, and let me tell you...

Mike Wade was one of many theatrical, big-voiced male solo singers in the sixties, who issued one 45 on Beacon ("Lovers", backed with the danceable "Two Three Four") and two on Polydor ("Happiness" and "Lovin' You Lovin' Me"). With a singing style which does seem rather reminiscent of Scott Walker at times, he nonetheless failed to take the kind of creative risks our dearly departed friend did - there were to be no songs about death or Stalin, nor meat punched for its percussive qualities round at Mike's house.

As Scott became ever more introspective and experimental, perhaps record label bosses saw Mike Wade as being somebody who could be wheeled into his place. That really wasn't to be, though - all his singles sold poorly, and it's very tricky to track down any of them now. Scott's, on the other hand, have been reissued time and time over.

13 November 2019

Our Shop Is Still Online

You may remember me saying a few months back that "Left and to the Back" now had a shop selling all manner of rare, sought-after and unusual 45s.

Well, it's still there, and I'm trying to add records to it every weekend, though the more in-demand ones tend to sell quickly, so it's best to log on and check regularly. Postage is secure and cheap, my feedback has been good (so far) and there's a strong chance you might find something for sale that tickles your fancy.

Log in, and keep revisiting, and don't be afraid to ask if you've got any questions.

[The next blog update will be taking place tomorrow morning, by the way].

10 November 2019

The Squeal Band - Pour on Stardust/ Trailer Park Heaven

Call Jeremy Clarkson and the Top Gear boys! They'll lap up this driving prog.

Label: President
Year of Release: 1977

I admit I bought this single at a fairly low price because I saw the year of release, the group's name and the rather glammish A-side song title and assumed I might be getting some late period tinsel rock here. As commonly occurs when these kinds of assumptions are made, that wasn't what I heard when the needle hit the groove - both sides here are the work of skilled musicians showing off their chops very flamboyantly. Part Steely Dan, part Allman Brothers in their "Jessica" prime, it's hooky pop with lots of twiddly bits attached.

The A-side "Pour On Stardust" focuses on the hard knock life of a group attempting to impress management and record labels, who are urging them to "pour on stardust". It sounds very much like a satirical snipe at glam rock and plastic music industry mechanisations rather than the full-on stomp-a-thon I was hoping for, but there's no denying that the chirpy chorus with its painted-on smile is pretty poppy for a group of this nature.

The flip is more satisfying. "Trailer Park Heaven" is a cascade of warbling analogue keyboards and frantic fretboard activity, and it's concise prog rock at its fidgety best. If Yes or ELP had managed to create songs this detailed and kept them at a punchy three-and-a-half minutes, I might have had more interest in them. 

6 November 2019

The Kadettes - Fireball XL5/ Mission Impossible

An eighties synth-pop cover of a children's sci-fi show - just what the future ordered

Label: Blank
Year of Release: 1982

Back in their days as a relatively unknown live outfit, XTC used to try to excite provincial crowds who were unfamiliar with their material with unexpected covers. "All Along The Watchtower" made it on to their debut LP "White Music". Their peppy cover of "Fireball XL5", on the other hand, went nowhere, languishing in the vaults until their "Coat of Many Cupboards" box set unveiled it in 2002 (mixing it together with a pretty mean dub version). While the band weren't happy with the studio version, it's possible they also sensed it might be a bit too gimmicky for an up-and-coming group during those somewhat judgemental times.

A few years later, this little 45 was released by the rather anonymous Kadettes, and placed the tune in the rightful lap of a studio project who were unafraid of the project's novelty value. The early eighties were surely the right time to revamp the track as well. Barry Andrews' squeaky keyboards on XTC's version made it seem like sixties pastiche, whereas this remodels the track as a piece of sleek, futuristic disco - or at least, it sounded pretty damn modern at the time.

Regrettably, the flip "Mission Impossible" isn't actually a synthpop cover of the theme from that programme - though I'm not too sure how that would have worked. It's an original composition which  is perfectly listenable but overshadowed by the ginormous hooks on offer over on the A-side.

3 November 2019

Reupload - Jimmy Gordon - Test Pattern/ 1980

Two fuzzy garage instros from the creator of cult classic "Buzzzzzz"

Label: Challenge
Year of Release: 1967

Jimmy Gordon's 1963 surf instrumental "Buzzzzzz" is one of the more sought-after records of its genre, having an absolute overload of fuzz guitar and riff-ridden drama. Much bootlegged and compiled and blogged since, not much more needs to be added about its existence.

The 1967 follow-up single "Test Pattern/ 1980", on the other hand, has been given shorter shrift. As a sucker for all things remotely whiffing of television testcards, the track's title sucked me in. Rather than featuring a sinister screeching noise throughout its duration, or any reference to nervous girls with chalky fingers playing noughts and crosses with evil clowns, it's yet another instrumental with a twangy, fuzzy edge to it. By 1967 this surely felt slightly like old hat and its failure to hit the charts won't have been a surprise, though it has worked its way on to a compilation for psychedelic instrumentals since. So perhaps not...

The flip "1980" has more of a mellow, jazzy vibe to it, but pretty much stays true to the formula. Both sides are worth your time, with neither one really having the edge over the other in terms of quality.

30 October 2019

The Giant Jellybean Copout - Awake In A Dream

Bizarrely named studio bunch worshipping at the feet of Brian Wilson

Label: Poppy
Year of Release: 1968

While Brian Wilson's talent caused jaws to drop globally when "Pet Sounds" was closely followed by "Good Vibrations", it left the groups who admired him most somewhat snookered. Those who loved The Beatles could put their own spin on the moptop sound without seeming like total clones (though admittedly The Knickerbockers seemed happy to ape their style with very few embellishments). The Beach Boys, though? How can you sound like a 'psychedelic barbershop quartet', as Hendrix put it, in your own way? Wilson not only developed but essentially owned that template.

This is exactly where the ridiculously named Giant Jellybean Copout came unstuck. "Awake In A Dream" is essentially The Beach Boys during their "Good Vibrations"/ "Smile" phase on a much lower budget. It's a very astute imitation, to be fair, and the tremendously psychedelic "lucid dreaming" lyrics and perfect close harmony vocals combine with a meandering structure to create something that must have been a satisfying listen for Wilson fans hungry for the delayed "Smile" LP.

As the group's name might suggest, there's more than a bit of sickly sweet bubblegum running through the core of this record too, but it's syrupy pop with a rather confusing and conflicting aftertaste. 

The main man behind this group was Jim Ryan of The Critters, who is probably best known in the UK for his minor hit "Younger Girl". It's a thing of pure sunshine loveliness which probably doesn't get played much these days due to the fact the lyrics seem slightly paedo-friendly if you're the cynical type. If you hear it as what I suspect it's supposed to be, though - a dreamy song for teenagers about the girl two forms below - it's a thing of beauty. 

Ryan eventually went on to become Carly Simon's touring guitarist, before becoming a studio based session musician. 

27 October 2019

Magnet - Something To Remember Me By/ Everything

Final offering from an under-discussed supergroup

Label: CBS
Year of Release: 1970

The name Magnet is probably familiar to readers who like to delve deep into compilations of sixties obscurities - their debut B-side "Mr. Guy Fawkes" found its way on to both the "We Can Fly" and "Electric Asylum" series.

You could argue that they should be better known than that, however. Consisting of Mick Cox (ex-Them and Eire Apparent) on lead guitar, Keith Evans (ex-Downliners Sect) on bass, Eddie Middleton (ex-Pendulum) on drums and Tony Kelly on guitar and vocals (who, for his part, played with Don Partridge) they were like a supergroup consisting of members of cult sixties combos. Enough to moisten the palms of collectors everywhere, you'd have thought. 

If "Mr. Guy Fawkes" displayed a certain amount of psychedelic whimsy, the A-side showed where the group were really at. "Let Me Stay" is a long, drawn-out rocker which has more in common with Joe Cocker or heavy west coast rock than toytown. 

"Something To Remember Me By" continues in that ilk, but is a sharper, more commercial number, filled with riffs Free or The Ides Of March wouldn't have said no to and a tight, propulsive drive. Had "The Old Grey Whistle Test" been running in 1970, it seems safe to say the group would have been featured.

24 October 2019

The Look - Drumming Up Love/ Testing Times

Final 80s single from under-rated foursome

Label: Towerbell
Year of Release: 1983

The Look have been treated somewhat shabbily over the years. Their name tends to prompt the reflex response of "Eighties one-hit wonders!", and among the most discerning - or perhaps I should say snobbish - punters there's also a tendency to regard them as plastic mod revivalists.

First things first. "I Am The Beat" may have been their only significant hit ("Feeding Time" nudged number 50), but what a hit. Powered by that stomach punch of a drumbeat and one of the sharpest, simplest and catchiest organ riffs of the era, it's far stronger than the efforts of many of the New Wave groups and sixties revivalists they were occasionally compared to. As unashamed crowd pleasers go, it's up there with "Mony Mony" and "Brown Sugar" to my ears, only I tend to actually want to hear "I Am The Beat" more often.

Formerly known as The Kreed, The Ely group were initially signed to MCA in 1980 on a dubious "suck it and see" deal where the label pushed out a single or two to see how they fared, before deciding whether they were prepared to make a longer-term commitment. This wasn't uncommon practice at the time, and usually didn't bode well for a group - if the label lacked enough faith to commit to even one album, it was usually a sign that the band in question were not held in particularly strong esteem in the A&R department, and could find themselves pushed to one side in favour of other acts with bigger money and longer term plans behind them.

So it seemed for The Look at the time. Radio One fairly quickly picked up on the single, but MCA didn't begin to push the record hard until Simon Bates directly named the Managing Director live on air and told him to "get your finger out and promote this record - we're playing it up here and you've got a hit on your hands" (who would have thought Batesy could be so masterly and forceful about the fate of a new band?). It finally entered the Top 40 in the harsh January of 1981, and had risen to the number 6 spot by the end of the month, causing the group to begin to make regular appearances on the likes of "Top of the Pops", "Cheggars Plays Pop" and "Tiswas", lead singer Jonny Whetstone's mulleted, pleased-as-punch face peering through television screens the length and breadth of the land.

Further singles from the group resulted in greatly diminishing returns, however. Descriptions of the period would seem to suggest that MCA mishandled the act, resulting in some rush-recorded but actually rather under-rated singles and an "over-produced" LP ("The Look") which was released long after the momentum of "I Am The Beat" had passed. By 1982, a mere year after scoring a top ten hit, they had been dropped by the label and - despite being a popular draw on the UK gig circuit -struggled to get any interest from the other majors.

Enter the PRT affiliated independent label Towerbell in 1983, home to hit-makers Joe Fagin, Natasha (of "Iko Iko" fame), Nils Lofgren and Shirley Bassey - possibly not the most credible outfit to be associated with, but a reasonable port in a storm. "Drumming Up Love" was the only single to be released from that relationship, and it's a sturdy offering in itself. Filled with the group's usual barnstorming riffs and hooks, it even displays a rawness and energy somewhat lacking in a few of their MCA releases, almost as if the lower budget did them all good.

Sadly, the record sold disappointingly, and the group were offered no further opportunities from the label. The band have claimed that they went to the offices for a meeting only to find the premises "boarded up", which is interesting as while Towerbell definitely did cease trading in 1986, that's some time after this single's failure and presumably long after The Look originally split. We can only assume that Towerbell moved premises and failed to pick up the option to release any more of the band's work in the process, leaving the bemused group "waiting in reception" as they say in the music biz, only in a most chilly, unusual and undignified way.

20 October 2019

Reupload - The Pickwicks - Little By Little/ I Took My Baby Home

Period costume wearing beat group with two spiky, garagey efforts

Label: Warner Bros
Year of Release: 1965

Consisting of Alan Gee on guitar, Malcolm Jenkins on drums, Tony Martin on bass and Johnny Miles on lead guitar and vocals, Coventry's The Pickwicks were one of many sixties beat groups who utilised costumes on stage to strike an eccentric presence. Donning top hats, period costumes and pulling pompous faces, their inventive use of clobber got them noticed, but ultimately didn't score them a hit. Two Decca singles, "Apple Blossom Time" and "You're Old Enough To Be In Love" didn't chart, and this, their final hurrah on Warner Brothers, was equally luckless.

The A-side "Little by Little" is an incredibly minimal, almost garagey effort which isn't so spiky as to be uncommercial, but certainly isn't populist enough to break through. Nonetheless, its insistent keyboard riff and simmering attitude is enticing.

Of far more interest to most readers, I suspect, will be the flip, the Ray Davies composition "I Took My Baby Home". Clattering and crashing into the tune with aplomb, it's a lovely and uplifting two minutes. 

16 October 2019

Candy Choir - Those Bootleggin' Prohibition Days/ Love Me Princess

Last gasp for Kent harmony pop stalwarts

Label: MAM
Year of Release: 1971

When "I'm A Hog For You" by Erkey Grant and The Eerwigs re-emerged on the Rubble compilation series, there was some confusion about who the oddly named combo were. Well, The Eerwigs were this Kent combo under an early name, and after that wiggy R&B number failed to tickle the public's fancy, they morphed into Candy Choir (after a brief spell as Plus Four - God, this business is confusing sometimes). 

Their sixties bread and butter mainly stemmed from acting as Crispian St. Peter's backing group, but their ambitions clearly lay in striking out as a popular force in their own right. Ostensibly a pop group despite their promising sounding popsike styled name, their debut 45 for CBS "Children and Flowers" showcased their tight vocal harmonies and intricate arrangements, but didn't sell well. Nor did their second outing for that label, "Alexander's Rag Time Band", and by 1970 they had been dropped on to Polydor for two further singles, "Why Do You Cry My Love" and "Magical Spiel" (with Barry Ryan) neither of which improved their standing.

This one-off 45 on MAM was their last hurrah, and as ever showcases their marvellous harmony sound but wastes it somewhat on a novelty A-side. "Those Bootleggin' Prohibition Days" is somewhat in keeping with the ironic period pastiches which began to drip out of the early seventies, but is charming without being particularly memorable. For a better track which is much more in keeping with the group's style, the flipside "Love Me Princess" is more worthy of a spin - romantic and mushy but so beautifully performed you'll forgive them any cliches.

13 October 2019

F.R. David - Symphonie (EP)

F.R. David explodes all over the blog for you

Label: Polydor
Year of Release: 1967

Outside of France, the singer F.R. David - born Robert Fitoussi - is mainly remembered for one thing; his global hit "Words". Its ringing, chiming and despairing melodies about his emotional constipation seemed to appeal to all the women of the world who liked to think that beneath their man's stony exterior lay hidden affections and depths. Perhaps along the way, it attracted the men that applied to as well. On first release, I must admit I found it somewhat wet and irritating, but in my old age I've developed a sneaking affection for "Words".

The problem with having one large hit is inevitably it overshadows the rest of your career - how many times have we heard that before? - and in F.R. David's case, that's particularly unfortunate. He's a much more interesting performer and songwriter than he's been given credit for in the UK, having somewhat credible sixties origins. He began his career in 1965 as a member of the garage band Les Trefles who changed their name to Les Boots after one EP. Success was not forthcoming, so he split to go solo and initially issued this, which was pretty wigged out by the usual standards of French pop.

Track one "Symphonie" is the tune to pay attention to. Riddled with meandering orchestral arrangements, David's falsetto trilling and accompanied with a somewhat psychedelic promotional video which seemingly references Synesthesia, it's French chanson pop with a microdose of LSD. Like many French releases of the period, you can tell the production and arrangements are hemming in the potential wildness of the track - the stench of freshly laundered recording studio lab coats and conductor's bow ties never feels far away - but it's a fascinating piece of work from an unlikely source.

Track two is a cover version of "Strawberry Fields Forever" which reduces the grandness of The Beatles original vision to a melancholy, reflective ballad. It's not the worst version of the song I've heard, but it lacks a real point. The cover version of "Knight In Rusty Armour" and the likeable "Rien De Plus" on the flipside are more interesting.

9 October 2019

Phil Brady & The Ranchers - Exeter By-Pass/ Papa

Scouse country stalwart's solitary Pye release

Label: Pye
Year of Release: 1970

Imagine, just as the Merseybeat scene really began to get swinging, having the sheer misfortune but pure artistic honesty to be fronting a country group in Liverpool. More unscrupulous folk would have dropped the cowboy hat in a jiffy in favour of a Beatle haircut and some copped Motown rhythms, but Phil Brady carried on as he started in 1962 - performing and releasing a series of anglicised country songs, indifferent to the trends around him.

In spite of - or perhaps because of - this singular vision, he began to build a strong live following in the North West of England, which caused the Cavern Club to offer him the chance to release the novelty track "An American Sailor at the Cavern" on their own record label. Sadly, the Cavern's financial demise occurred at almost exactly the same time this record was pressed up, and as a result very few copies made it into the shops. If you spot a copy, snap it up - it's one of the rarest singles of the period, and certainly one of the most unusual Cavern souvenirs.

His other releases are more commonly chanced upon, especially his LPs which were at one point a fairly regular sight in the record sections of department stores in particular. This release for Pye, however, marks his last release on 45, and is a charming, warm and mellow lovelorn contemplation of the Exeter By-pass of all things. You won't hear that in Nashville. In this instance, Brady clearly had the courage to drop distinctly English images into a country track, and it pays off in a way it simply wouldn't if he'd copied from the same rulebook as numerous plastic anglo-cowboys and played the broken hearted, troubled but rugged man from a place he'd yet to visit. "Exeter By-Pass" is equal parts English rain and Southern Comfort (though what an appalling drink that would make in reality).

6 October 2019

Reupload - Hackensack - Moving On/ River Boat

Seering, high-paced and relentless rocker from 70s circuit faves

Label: Island
Year of Release: 1972

In the late sixties and early seventies, music began to be appraised by certain selective punters not just by how melodic or innovative it was, but how loud and heavy, especially in the live environment. Bands began to obtain huge amplifiers and stacks affordably, and thus acts such as Blue Cheer described themselves as being capable of turning the air to cheese with their sheer racket. Presumably nobody asked for a refund when the venue around them didn't transform miraculously into rich Brie.

Hackensack were renowned for being one of Britain's heaviest blues rock bands in the early seventies, and became quite a draw on the live circuit, chalking up 270 gigs - but naturally, their high voltage and volume attacks failed to cross over into record shop sales. 1974's Polydor released album "Up The Hard Way" was cultishly successful, but not enough to convince anyone that they had a reasonable commercial proposition on their hands, though it has since become a highly collectible item. Thus Hackensack were kicked back on to the small venue circuit before giving it all up, an unissued live album apparently languishing in the Pye vaults.

This is their solitary single, and consists of two quite different halves. The A-side "Moving On" chugs along and swings merrily, and actually has an almost glam rock chorus which sounds like it might have been borrowed from Iron Virgin or one of the many flop tinseltowners of the day. It's perfectly good, but it's the B-side that really shows what Hackensack were capable of. "River Boat" is an absolute dumb-ass assault, riddled with a primal, almost garage rock riff which needles away throughout. Vocals scream, cymbals crash, and the whole thing is a fine example of how the 60s punk tradition naturally morphed into Serious Rock in the early seventies. So downright distorted and compressed is the track that I had to have three goes of ripping it from vinyl before getting the right volume control - it sends all the needles flying into the red even at low recording volumes. I still can't decide if I over or under did it.

2 October 2019

Bear George - Bear Rap/ Bear Behind

For sweet music... murder the bear

Label: Cambra
Year of Release: 1983

Hofmeister. I bet the mention of that reasonably priced tinned lager brought back some memories for you, eh readers? Only instead of the Proustian rush of delicious "hops" suddenly appearing on your tongue, I expect you probably remember the mystery of cleaning out your fridge and finding a stray can of it at the very back. Perhaps you recall thinking: "How did that get there? Who bought that shit? Was it Rob? Has that been around since last year's party?" before concluding "Well, I'll drink it if it's a Sunday night, all the off licences are shut and I'm desperate, I suppose..." (repeat the cycle again in another nine months time, or sooner depending on your fridge hygiene schedule. My approach is admittedly lax).

I've never met anybody in my life who claimed that Hofmeister was their favourite lager. It generally sat perched among the other weak, pissy budget beers like Skol in the supermarket, and as such was only attractive if you were broke and desperate. The last time I purchased a tin during a rather desperate penny-pinching period, I concluded that if somebody had replaced my lager with some fizzy mineral water topped up with a small drop of amber food colouring, I'd have been none the wiser. I probably would have got just as drunk too. Hofmeister was probably a fair accompaniment to a vindaloo which had fried your tastebuds so much you could no longer recognise what you were drinking, but that's it.

Contrary to popular belief, it also wasn't a German beer, but was brewed by Scottish Courage. Faced with the challenge of trying to make a truly rubbish product appealing to young, gullible drinkers everywhere, Courage did what companies have done for longyears and hired an advertising company to blow their conceptual fairydust on it. Enter John Webster, who had previously directed the Cresta, Smash and Sugar Puffs adverts. In this case he seemingly took some cues from the Honey Monster success and shot the adventures of a woodland bear who had gained a sniff of Hofmeister beer and decided to live a more urban lifestyle as a result.

George The Bear was a strange amalgamation of various aspects of geezer-ish early eighties culture. With a voice like Mike Reid, the jacket of a darts player, the swagger of a wide boy, a pork-pie hat like Mickey Pearce and the casual attire of a football fan dressed up for a night out in the clubs, he ticked all the boxes likely to appeal to men who secretly wanted to be more funny, cocky, confident and impressive than they really were. Adolescents, in other words.

The adverts were a screaming success and enabled Hofmeister to retain its popularity into the nineties, though concerns were eventually raised about the bear's appeal to people well beneath the legal drinking age, and the adverts were eventually banned. As the years moved on, the British palate for beer also became more sophisticated, and even the skintest boozers slyly u-turned on their following of the bear, moving on to richer, stronger lagers instead. It was subsequently discontinued in 2003.

29 September 2019

Crazy Paving - Anytime Sunshine/ Sweet Brandy

Another burst of sunshine from songwriter Pete Shelley

Label: MCA
Year of Release: 1970

Right back at the start of the year we took a dip into the pre-Alvin Stardust world of seventies songwriter Peter Shelley. "Paper Chase" was probably released far too late to pick up anyone's psychedelic pop pocket money, and as such came nowhere near to charting, but gave a good impression of Shelley's enviable pop songwriting chops. 

Later on in the same year, "Anytime Sunshine" was handed to the group Sir Percy Quintet, who had previously issued a 45 on MCA entitled "She's Such A Good Looking Girl". On this occasion, they for undisclosed reasons opted to go under the name of Crazy Paving, and showed that Shelley had more tricks up his sleeve. Breezy pop like this was everywhere in 1970, but in terms of style, "Anytime Sunshine" is the full 50mph open-top rush down a country A-road, like The Love Affair with less adolescent pounding and pleading and more adult aspirations. Airy strings meet euphoric vocals, and a day out in bright sunshine with a partner in fashionable sunglasses is yours for free for the three minutes it plays.

The B-side, on the other hand, is a lost swinger which I'm surprised hasn't made its way into any mod DJ playlists yet. Repetitive, insistent and jam-orientated, very much like the "Turkey" flip to "Paper Chase", it nonetheless chugs and grooves in such an insistent way that you too will succumb to its boozy charms. It's like "Mony Mony" for people who crave sugary liquor. 

25 September 2019

Wendy Peters - Morning Dew/ I Don't Understand

Another top notch cover of the apocalyptic folk song

Label: Saga Opp
Year of Release: 1968

For a song that has - to the best of my knowledge - never actually been a hit in the UK, Bonnie Dobson's "Morning Dew" has seriously done the recording session rounds over the years. Covered by the likes of the Grateful Dead, Lulu, Jeff Beck, Tim Rose, Nazareth, Clannad, Devo, Robert Plant, Lee Hazlewood and Episode Six (and no, that's not a complete list either) the eerie, sinister, non-specific apocalypse outlined in the song has captured the imagination of many musicians. The foreboding line "What they were saying all these years has come true" is a fantastic, skewering lyrical hook which sums up humanity's tendency to assume things will sort themselves out in the end, until the very moment that they don't, and the situation is too late to resolve.

It can't hurt that the song is almost impossible to mess up, either. Simple, direct and powerful, all it needs is an expressive vocalist and a reasonable arrangement to work. Most listeners regard Tim Rose's version as the definitive one, but for my taste Episode Six's take is an undersung piece of brilliance, being filled to the brim with melodrama and mystery.  

Wendy Peter's version here is probably one of the more obscure efforts, but doesn't mess with the palette too much. Her voice rings loud, sharp and clear and the arrangement takes its cues from Rose's. The fact that it was released on Saga, a small budget label, inevitably means that the production sounds a little bit brittle at times, but at no point does that subtract from the song's power.

The B-side "I Don't Understand" shows a punchy girl-pop side to Peters' abilities too, kicking and stomping its way through two minutes of a relationship tantrum. 

22 September 2019

Reupload - Sunchariot - Firewater/ The Only Girl I Knew

Rocking take on the plight of Native Americans, co-written by Monty Python songwriter Dave Howman

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1973

A trend has emerged in recent years for compiling psychedelic pop and rock obscurities from the early seventies on to CD compilations. Now that the sixties era seems to have been largely hoovered clean, obscure quirky rock and art pop with psychedelic influences from the next decade is gaining popularity. Sunchariot seem to have escaped a place on one of these albums so far, but there's no good reason for that.

Take "Firewater" for example. It's a truly berserk piece of rock music about the plight of the Native American, filled to the brim with hollering noises, dramatic tribal vocals and an urgent instrumental break. There are shades of stomping glam about this, but nothing dominant in that sense. For the most part, it sounds like the work of a proper rock band swimming around in a period concept for all it's worth (and indeed, the seventies was awash with these ideas. Hard to know who started it, but I suspect Jeff Lynne got the ball rolling with the Idle Race's "Days Of Broken Arrows", and finished it with ELO's "Wild West Hero" - but perhaps that's too simplistic an overview).

At least one member of Sunchariot went on to far more successful ventures. Dave Howman (whose name appears to have been spelt "Hawman" on the credits here) went on to co-write songs for - among other people -  Monty Python, including "Brian" in the "Life Of Brian" and "Every Sperm Is Sacred" in "The Meaning Of Life". He's a multiple BAFTA nominated songwriter who continues to create soundtrack work and play with his band The Ruthless Brothers.

19 September 2019

Tony Hatch and the Cherry Children - Yoko/ Bahama Sound

There's no-one quite like Yoko/ And I know you will agree...

Label: Pye
Year of Release: 1970

If popular perception is to be believed - and, in fact, if John Lennon himself is to be believed - Yoko Ono did not enjoy a particularly warm welcome in the UK after she met Beatle John. Indeed, that refrigerated reception dipped down further to chest freezer levels when she allegedly "broke up The Beatles" (who seemed to be doing an excellent job of drifting off in separate directions without her alleged influence anyway).

The fact this single exists is more than surprising, then - rather, it's outright shocking. Surely, a novelty single filled with children merrily chirping their love and happiness for Yoko would have stood absolutely no chance of being a hit? Most Beatles fans, who would have been the core target market, wouldn't have cared for it, and Yoko Ono's own fans - at this point, either modern art enthusiasts or some of the hairier lovers of her peace protests and avant-garde pieces of "difficult listening" on Lennon flipsides - weren't going to buy a novelty record inspired by her. It sank into oblivion, and it's hard to understand how anyone thought it would do anything else. 

Musically, it's a sweet little concoction which is too innocent lyrically and well-arranged to be irritating, and while you probably won't rush to put it on your digital playlist, it's a fun few minutes. I'm glad it exists, and I only hope Yoko Ono heard it and it raised a smile with her too.

14 September 2019

King Koss - Spinning Wheel/ Louisiana

Sweaty pub soul take on the much-covered Blood Sweat and Tears tune - gritty and good

Label: Polydor
Year of Release: 1969

I've lost count of how many covers of "Spinning Wheel" there have been now. Blood Sweat and Tears may have written it and birthed it, but it was subsequently taken on by artists as diverse as Peggy Lee, Sammy Davis Jr, James Brown and Nancy Wilson and, perhaps most notoriously, was butchered by reggae duo Mel and Dave so badly that Kenny Everett gave it a placing on his "World's Worst Records" compilation. Beyond that, it's appearance in adverts and samples has also been apparent.

Chalk one more up on the list, then, because this single by the mysterious King Koss also aims its eyes on the spinning wheel prize. It's actually pretty damn good, managing to transplant the feel of a sweaty, swinging basement dwelling blue-eyed soul group to vinyl without losing any of the rawness.  I haven't DJ'ed in a couple of years now, but if I was asked I might take a chance on this at the right moment - the song is familiar enough to get people on the floor, but the pounding urgency of this version would also probably keep most of them there.

This was King Koss's only single, and we must file him next to numerous strange and (these days) faceless one-off Polydor releases which were licensed from independent companies. Had it been a hit, no doubt he would have been drilled into doing the necessary broadcasting and press publicity to make more of a name for himself, but this clearly didn't sell enough copies to get him beyond passing mentions. If you know who he was, drop us a line.

11 September 2019

U.S.A.U.K. - Illinois/ Heads You Win

Mysterious 70s pop-rock outfit with presumably Transatlantic membership

Label: MAM
Year of Release: 1977

God help me, it's one of those dastardly cases of a band name I can't find in any reference book which is also more or less impossible to Google. Not only does "U.S.A.U.K." mainly call up examples of trade deals and companies with Transatlantic headquarters on everyone's favourite search engine, the group made the A-sides of their only two singles about popular areas of the US. The follow-up to "Illinois" was "California Bound", causing the group to get further hidden among business websites.

You can't kick a group for not predicting the future well enough, though, and I'm forced to conclude that this band's debut single is a pretty good slice of pop-rock boogie. It's not impossible to imagine it being produced in a pub rock style by Nick "Basher" Lowe, but instead the group went for a slicker production and ended up with this - a halfway house between Camden boozers and West Coast snazz.

The B-side "Heads You Win" is even more polished, owing a minor debt to Steely Dan. It would probably have caused a toothy grin to slide all over Whispering Bob Harris' visage at the time. 

8 September 2019

Reupload - J.A. Freedman - Love Got A Mind Of Its Own/ When You Walked Out Of My Life

Obscure 60s singer-songwriter with hugely under-appreciated release

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1969

A more recent enthusiastic addition to the list of records known only as "popsike", "Love Got A Mind Of Its Own" is a peculiar yet lovely piece of singer-songcraft to be filed alongside Bill Fay or Nick Garrie. Thudding but minimal basslines connect with a meandering and loping ballad and some powerful vocals, and the effect of the whole is actually pretty marvellous. 

However, it's the A-side that really got all the publicity at the time - naturally. "When You Walked Out Of My Life" was the winning entry representing Great Britain at the International Grand Prix RTL Music Competition in 1969, organised by Radio Luxembourg. It's not a patch on its flip, unfortunately, being pretty standard run-of-the-mill balladry, but its not without its fans online.

J.A. Freedman, aka Jules Freedman, issued an album through Decca in the same year entitled "My Name is J.A. Freedman… I Also Sing" which is now often cited as one of the scarcest sixties LPs in that label's catalogue. Featuring top session workers Herbie Flowers, Kenny Clare and Don Lusher, it's apparently hit-and-miss but the hits - such as "Love Got A Mind…" - are strong enough for it to finally see some belated acclaim falling its way and the asking price rising drastically.

4 September 2019

Chamber Pop Ensemble - Walk Away Renee/ 59th Street Bridge Song

Two obscure and prim, buttoned-up takes on American sixties pop

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1968

Back in 1968, the producer Irving Martin had the brainwave of gathering a collection of current tunes noted for their "strong melodic content" and arranging them for a small chamber orchestra. Among the sounds he singled out for attention were the likes of "Reach Out I'll Be There", "Up Up And Away" and "You've Lost That Loving Feeling", all of which seem like good choices. Also selected were "Satisfaction" and "I Was Kasier Bill's Batman" which, for different reasons, beg a few questions.

The LP slipped out that year without much press or public attention, presumably attracting neither the pop kids nor their easy listening Mums and Dads when I suspect it was meant to pull in both. More unexpected still was the solitary single launched from the platter, this sweet and subdued take on "Walk Away Renee" - a song so choicely and gently arranged in the first place you have to wonder if it ever needed this treatment.