8 July 2020

Claire Hamill - First Night In New York/ Ultaviolet Light

70s singer songwriter stares down the eighties with a firm eye

Label: WEA
Year of Release: 1981

Claire Hamill's career has been a fascinating and varied one, but in terms of actual "units shifted" as they say in "the biz", way beneath everyone's expectations. Signing to Island in 1971 and being launched as the UK's answer to Joni Mitchell, she found critical acclaim and appreciation from her peers easy to come by, but mainstream success eluded her.

In 1975 she left Island and signed to Ray Davies' Konk label, who was unable to push her any further despite the period revealing beautiful, rich storytelling songs like "All The Cakes She Baked Him" which Davies himself would surely have been proud to write. A long gap then emerged before this, a 1981 comeback (or should that be "relaunch"?) single on the mighty WEA.

It marries her previous seventies singer-songwriter style (an accurate cliche, I'm afraid) to a more adult, eighties sheen. In the case of the A-side this brings her closer to the similar 'grown up' style artists like Carly Simon adopted as the new decade arrived, with "First Night In New York" having a sly sassiness about it, a Marhall Hain styled wink at the bright city lights.

The flipside "Ultraviolet Light", on the other hand, happily plays with Numan-esque synth soundscapes while funky guitars chikky-wah to their heart's content in the background. If this had been put out under a pseudonym, it would have been very easy to assume it had been created by an unknown synth-pop group. She's nothing if not versatile.

5 July 2020

Peter Janes - Emperors and Armies/ Go Home Ulla

Ex-Cat Stevens partner on an epic psychedelic folk trip

Label: CBS
Year of Release: 1967

Peter Janes may not seem like an immediately familiar folk name, but it could all have been so different. His career began in a duo with Cat Stevens, and had fate wriggled a different way, there's every possibility his harmonies could have intertwined with Stevens' melodies, propelling both of them to stardom as some kind of British answer to Simon and Garfunkel.

Sadly, for every person who has success there's usually a long list of could-have-beens left behind, who might have also become millionaires had they only stuck with the project - well, kinda. Naturally, it's never quite as simple as that. Winning formulas sometimes only emerge when elements have been removed from, rather than added to, the equation. We can speculate all we want, but Cat Stevens did more than many artists do for their ex-associates and continued to support his friend and ex-partner's career producing his records and playing on them, and presumably giving them the mightiest promotional push he could.

Janes (along with and independently of Stevens) played numerous gigs on the British sixties folk circuit, playing on the same bills and in the company of Paul Simon, Al Stewart and Sandy Denny, and "Emperors and Armies" gives an impression of just how powerful his work could be. Moody, despondent but still somehow strident and distinctly 1967 flavoured, it's a towering tune which sounds like a hit. Sadly, the era was littered with powerful songs, and this one seems to have become ignored despite CBS's obvious push - that picture sleeve, rare in the sixties, is proof that they were spending extra money on him.

The track was recorded at Olympic Studio in Barnes and featured a large menagerie of session musicians who, Janes felt, made the track feel somewhat over-produced, and the sessions were also poorly timed to coincide with a bout of tonsillitis; but whatever his original vision or his vocal weaknesses on the day, you'd have to be extraordinarily picky to find an awful lot of fault with this. If anything, the slightly chocolate box arrangements make it sound like a mid-winter anthem.

1 July 2020

Self Service - How Am I Spozed To/ Heavens Above!

Self-released swipe at New Wave success

Label: Racket
Year of Release: 1983

As I recently mentioned on Twitter, one of my money-draining habits is to take a punt on cheap self-released or vanity pressed records from eBay and Discogs users who offer "no extra postage for two additional records on any order". Usually, this results in me receiving some poorly pressed vinyl containing a tragic Totnes based singer-songwriter weeping into an electric piano about his many lost loves. Stick to playing background music in the nearest "high end" Indian restaurant, mate. Occasionally, though, the odd surprise gets netted.

While "How Am I Spozed To" is absolutely not a lost classic, it's a neatly phased bit of New Wave which chugs along propulsively, treading a well-worn hip disco groove but delivering a hook that remains in your brain for the rest of the day. It's definitely stylistically closer to the less credible end of things - think Boomtown Rats or BA Robertson rather than Blondie or Talking Heads - but manages to dodge the irritating attention-seeking of Robertson and the sub-Springsteen posturing of Geldof quite neatly. 

Please don't ask me who is responsible for this, though, because I haven't a clue. Clearly, we have to assume it's Peter David, as he's credited as the songwriter and producer on the label, but if he did anything besides this, I'm drawing a blank. There is an online estate agent in Halifax called Peter David who specialises in "Self Service" house sales, and while it would be hilarious and lovely if this turned out to be the same chap, it seems pretty damn unlikely he consistently used the "self service" moniker throughout the rest of his career. "Hey, I'm your estate agent, but you may remember me from a piece of vanity released vinyl I put out in 1983" doesn't seem like much of a selling point.

28 June 2020

Reupload - Kris Ife - Give and Take/ Sands of Time

Former Quiet Five hit-maker in less successful solo guise. A borderline case for the Northern Soul files, though.

Label: Music Factory
Year of Release: 1968

Pop music history is littered with people who were relatively successful for about six months before losing relevance. Often their career's decline from mid-table chart finishers to niche fanbase performers isn't too unkind - they might suffer the ignominy of the occasional "What Exactly Is Kate Nash Doing These Days?" styled article, but they're still able to maintain a gentle media presence.

Others just disappear from the gaze of the mainstream press without explanation. Kris Ife was one example - as a member of The Quiet Five in the mid-sixties, he managed a couple of well-received singles which just about charted, "When The Morning Sun Dries The Dew" and "Homeward Bound". When he jumped off that particular ship to forge a solo career, it would seem that record companies invested a great deal of faith in him building on those foundations - MGM financed three singles in total (including this one on their short-lived Music Factory subsidiary) and Parlophone two. United Artists gave him a third crack of the whip in the late seventies.

Despite the promise, as a solo performer he never really seemed to shift units, and by the mid-seventies his recorded output dried up. That's not to say that he didn't leave a very firm mark on music history in the process, mind - his version of "Hush" was popular in clubs and was the one that members of Deep Purple heard in a Manchester nightclub before deciding to record it themselves. Without him, maybe Kula Shaker would have been denied an extra top five hit... and far beyond "Hush", his Mark Wirtz produced single "Imagination" is one of the more unreasonably ignored bits of lost British psychedelia.

24 June 2020

Duffy - Running Away/ The Joker

Thumping cowbell dominated groover from Switzerland based rockers

Label: Chapter One
Year of Release: 1973

Life's unfair. When unknown British groups score hits in the USA, we always make a huge fuss about it, marvelling at their superhuman ability to get to number 25 in the Billboard 100. "Bring out your Union Jack flags, British rock is back on the map again!" journalists cry, while people in the streets of Idaho claim never to have heard of whoever the hell it is we're celebrating.

When British bands score success in mainland Europe, on the other hand, we tend not to care and it seldom wins extra headlines or favours. This is probably how Duffy only managed to get one single out in the UK despite scoring some minor success across the Common Market with "Rock Solid". 

There's no good reason for that, of course. Their sole UK 45, "Running Away", proves that Duffy were a powerful proposition, offering a thumping groover which owes as much to early seventies hard rock as it does the dominant rumble of glam. The flipside "The Joker" is even heavier and more impressive, moving into freak-rock territory with a pair of heavy hands.

The group consisted of Barry Coote on guitar, Joe Nason on keyboards, Stuart Reffold on lead vocals, Patrick Serjeant on bass and backing vocals, and Will Wright on drums. Reffold managed to put out a solo single in 1978 ("Kiss Your Lover Goodbye") and join groups such as Rock Island Live, Poker and The Fugitives, but apart from that, the group's activities as both musicians and a working group seemed to have petered out in all "territories" by the end of 1975.

21 June 2020

Greengage - 20 Flight Rock/ Don't Cry Little Girl

Under-the-radar Moog-infested glam rock

Label: Philips
Year of Release: 1975

Given the numerous CD compilations which have sought to hoover up the best glam rock offcuts of the seventies, it's surprising how many decent singles are still lying beneath the radar of even most collectors. Take this one, for example - it's a cover of Eddie Cochran's "20 Flight Rock" which rips the original out of the fifties and slams it nose-first into a Moog with loose greetings card glitter all over its keys. 

Clearly, Greengage were working to a successful formula here already, and they wouldn't be the first or last artists of the era to take a fifties rock and roll classic and paint it dayglo. It's an unfamiliar joy, though, and will have you stomping your feet around your boudoir and distressing your downstairs neighbours in no time. Those Moog screeches and whines only add to the sense of crunching anarchy and excitement.

Greengage consisted of Denny Brooks, Geoff J. Lord, Lee Stevens, Mike Brooks, Paul Haines and Phil Stonehouse, and managed to put out seven singles in the seventies, four on RCA and three on Philips. Despite the faith shown by both labels, they never managed to produce a hit, and as the eighties dawned only appeared on vinyl again through vanity pressings presumably intended for the cabaret and working man's club circuit. Judging from the noise on offer here, there's little doubt they'd have been in demand for knowing their way around a rocker, and the B-side hints at their abilities with starry-eyed weepies too, although it's a little bit too teenie in its tones for my taste.

17 June 2020

Larry Grayson - Shut That Door/ Slack Alice

Comedy catchphrase pop from British comedy giant

Label: York
Year of Release: 1972

While generalising about any art-form is a risky business, it's reasonably safe to say that comedy catchphrases usually serve two primary purposes - to either act as the pay-off line to a sketch or gag, one which the audience can usually sense is going to happen but are kept on tenterhooks finding out how, or as a unifying, call-and-response device to the audience (think Bruce Forsyth's "Nice to see you, to see you... nice!") Even in the hands of surrealists like Vic and Bob, catchphrases are normally inserted into the dialogue at the appropriate points rather than being disruptive, though the word "appropriate" often has an entirely different meaning in their world. 

Larry Grayson's random, irritated use of the phrase "Shut that door!" feels like a bit of an anomaly then, and one so absurd I find myself giggling just thinking about it. Frequently Grayson would be in the middle of a tall tale or a routine, when his brow would furrow, his lips would quiver and fall silent and he would suddenly blurt out the catchphrase in an aggravated fashion, occasionally followed by explanations such as "The draft in here is wicked!" before he picked up the threads of his routine again. It gave a lot away about his onstage character, this prissy, fussy man who was over-sensitive and irritated by mess, disagreeable temperatures, dust and dirt, but it otherwise often acted as an interruption and an unusual pause. It wasn't the only one in his routine, either, which was often littered with asides, pauses and diversions. He was clearly not afraid of possibly ruining the arc of any gag or tale he told. 

The catchphrase apparently originated from a live show he did at the New Pavilion Theatre at Redcar, where somebody had left a stage door wide open causing the cold sea air to blast across the stage (though alternative stories about its origins have also been told). The hilarity caused by this interjection clearly inspired him to work it into every show, where it remained even when he became a host of The Generation Game at the very peak of his career. It didn't really belong in the middle of a quiz show either, and it was no less incongruous being plonked slap at the start of the show's theme tune ("Shut that door and enjoy the Generation Game!" trilled the female singers) - but why mess with a formula that clearly worked? That idle stage-hand in Redcar can't possibly have known what a gift they gave Grayson by not doing their job properly.

Almost inevitably, there was also a "Shut That Door" single in 1972, which I present for your delight here. "Shut that door, shut that door, there's a terrible draft in here" sings Larry in his usual obsessive-compulsive manner, and the tune gayly swings along, tripping over numerous double-entendres on its way. It's everything you'd expect it to be, and further descriptions from me here aren't going to shed more light on his world. 

14 June 2020

Reupload - Something Pretty Beautiful - Something Pretty Beautiful (mini-LP)

Julian Cope's brother Joss with a compilation of his group's first two EPs

Label: Creation
Year of Release: 1990

People with famous relatives don't always have an easy ride.  A few years ago I wandered into a local charity shop and found a signed copy of Julian Lennon's debut album "Valotte" on sale for 25p.  You would have thought that an item once touched by the hands of John Lennon's son would be worth more than the price of a small child's lollipop, but don't look at me.  I don't make the rules of the marketplace up.

Something Pretty Beautiful were a band put together by Julian Cope's brother Joss, and in an utterly expected fashion failed to scale the career highs of everyone's favourite mic stand clamberer, despite producing some fine records.  They were snapped up fairly quickly by Alan MacGee and signed to Creation Records, who put out their debut EP "Freefall" in October 1989 to some critical interest but not a great deal of sales action.  The second EP "Freak Outburst" was scheduled for an April 1990 release, but amidst Creation's financial turmoil somehow didn't actually materialise, the label instead opting to cobble the tracks intended for that issue together with the songs from "Freefall" to create this mini-LP.

It's actually a refreshing listen, taking a hard edged indie guitar sound and marrying it with buoyant, summery, Byrdsian melodies.  "Expect A Miracle" in particular showcases the band's ability to create sharp, breezy and compelling pop songs with polite English vocals.  Not entirely unlike The Doctor's Children (who we examined a long time ago) Something Pretty Beautiful seemed to occupy a space favoured by the numerous psych-influenced independent guitar bands who littered the eighties, and perhaps their sound seemed rather stripped back and lo-fi against the bolder, funkier statements being made by bands such as The Stone Roses at the time.  Listening to them now in 2012, though, it's noticeable how invigorating their sound could be.

10 June 2020

Adam Surf & The Pebble Beach Band - Fun Fun Fun/ Blue Surf

Retro take on those Californian surfin' sounds which failed to get caught in the slipstream of The Beach Boys revival

Label: Paladin
Year of Release: 1976

1976 was an unexpectedly grand year for The Beach Boys. Prior to that point in the seventies, they had become reduced to almost a cult concern, releasing albums which charted modestly and produced no hit singles - all a far cry from their peak. When the compilation "Twenty Golden Greats" came out in '76, however, the public were clearly reminded of the power of their finest work, and a huge revival tour was created and new success "enjoyed".

Perhaps unsurprisingly, some record labels took a chance on Beach Boys soundalikes in the hope that their noise could be approximated to new success as well. It wasn't really until 1981 when Gidea Park finally charted with "Beach Boy Gold" that this paid off. Prior to that point, most attempts to ape the Wilson sound tended to fall on deaf ears in the UK.

This arguably unnecessary cover of "Fun Fun Fun" is an early example of the post-Golden Greats cod-Californian sound. It's a curiosity in that it does inflate and modernise the work somewhat, using more sophisticated seventies studio techniques and beefing up the tune slightly with more prominent guitars. This facelift clearly failed to connect with record buyers, however, and the single sold poorly. 

The flip "Blue Surf" is the group's own work and is a much more interesting parody of the original sound, although the bass backing vocals feel as if they've been accidentally dropped in from a Big Bopper tribute act in the next room.

7 June 2020

The Inquisitive People - Big White Chief/ Rhapsody Of Spring

One-off curio from Immigration Officers and would-be pop stars

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1967

Some records sold so poorly and received so little press attention that there are virtually no facts out there about the groups that recorded them. Sometimes, and more unusually, there's a little scrap of information sitting on the Internet confirming some basic details, but not the full picture, and certainly not any verifiable sources.

So, this is where I nervously announce that's where I stand with The Inquisitive People. So far as I'm aware, two of this four man group - namely Robbie Dunlop and Colin Birt - were HM Immigration Officers with a penchant for live performance in their spare time. Beyond the apparent existence of a signed copy of the record also offering the names "Jayce" and "Colin", I've no idea who the other two members were.

"Big White Chief" is a strange little record, wherein the group perform a minimal Hammond and Hazelwood number about racial equality. "He ain't gonna buckle to the big white chief/ no, he ain't gonna buckle anymore" they gently inform us as an orchestra builds and swells around them, and some bongos tap persuasively in the background. It's a gentle statement rather than a thundering lecture and sounds a bit naive from this distance, but it was undoubtedly well-meaning, and having made its point it finishes surprisingly quickly, shuffling over the hills and out of sight.

3 June 2020

Gimpo - Gimpo/ Version

KLF minder and roadie pushed into the spotlight

Label: Kalevala 
Year of Release: 1997

I've been slowly uploading Bill Drummond and Zodiac Mindwarp's Kalevala singles on to "Left and to the Back" over the last ten years or so for one simple reason - they've been given a place on here as and when I've found them at a price I don't find eye-watering. That has understandably taken quite a bit of time, as they're often flogged at unreasonable prices. 

A summary of the (limited) history of the label and its concept can be found here. If the idea was to unleash Z and Drummond's vision of how some fictional Finnish bands mentioned in the book "Bad Wisdom" sounded, however, this is probably the single which lets the fantasy down most. Gimpo, aka Alan Goodrick, was (and presumably occasionally still is) the KLF's roadie and minder, an ex-squaddie who is a well-known character to fans. He filmed the pair burning a million pounds, organises the regular 25 hour rally around the M25 (so he can find out where the road actually goes to) and generally emerges in the background at many of their events, sometimes piping up rather loudly. You can't disguise Gimpo as an undiscovered Finnish pop star - he's Gimpo. He's too loud to be mysterious, and his face doesn't fit into the theme of this series at all.

Nonetheless, we are where we are, and this is what we've got. "Gimpo" is a juddering piece of hard techno-rock using samples of the man talking about his exploits and escapades. "Gimpo Gimpo Gimpo!" voices roar in the foreground, like gowned cult members demanding the centre-stage return of their rightful leader. It's messy, noisy and chaotic, all hard edges and jagged pulses, but probably not the best KLF related record you'll ever hear. 

The not-at-all safe for work flipside is really a sweet and simple tale of Gimpo failing to score some crack off a Soho prostitute, in the man's own words, and is a salutary lesson for anyone who thinks "But she stole my drugs" is an adequate defence to offer a police constable for your irate actions. When the KLF burnt a million pounds, Gimpo claimed his mother was appalled, exclaiming "You hang around with people who do things like that?!" I can only wonder if she's heard this single. Probably not.

31 May 2020

Reupload - Starbreaker - The Sound Of Summer/ Arizona Lost and Gone

John Carter summons the summer with a brilliant pop clarion call

Label: Air
Year of Release: 1977

John Carter should need no introduction to most of you, and yet "should" is probably the operative word there. While I've no doubt that many "Left and to the Back" readers are aware of his songwriting efforts for projects and bands as varied as The Flowerpot Men, First Class, Manfred Mann, The Music Explosion and The Ivy League, not to mention the efforts released under his own name such as the truly mind-boggling piece of psychedelic pop "Laughing Man", plenty of others won't be.

For the benefit of the people who have yet to delve into his back catalogue, Carter was a songwriter who undoubtedly heard Brian Wilson's efforts from across the pond and immediately decided that this was the future of sophisticated popsmithery as the world knew it. Therefore, a huge rump of his output from The Ivy League in the sixties through to First Class in the seventies dedicated itself to sunny and yet frequently despondent or introspective pop songwriting. The Ivy League's superb "My World Fell Down", later covered by US group Sagittarius to greater recognition, is a fine example of his experiments with an Anglicised approximation of the California sound.  When First Class's "Beach Baby" was issued in the seventies in the USA, it climbed into the Top 5 and most North Americans blithely assumed that it was the work of a Californian group. Unbeknownst to them, Carter had merely penned the track from his East Sheen house with his wife Gillian Shakespeare and given it to a studio group.

27 May 2020

The Shouts - She Was My Baby/ That's The Way It's Gonna Be

Raucous early mod-pop in the house, on tiny 60s independent label. 

Label: React
Year of Release: 1964

I'm sure there's a fascinating story behind the tiny little React label, which managed only two releases (this and Tony Washington's "Crying Man", written about on the blog here). Without being able to find the details anywhere, I'd willingly bet money on it being a project begun by a young go-getter in the biz determined to strike out on their own, in the same manner as Joe Meek with Triumph - but its legacy would suggest it ran out of money or enthusiasm (or both) really sharply. Put simply, the majors dominated the early to mid sixties ruthlessly and independent labels were shoved off record store racks everywhere in favour of whatever the "big boys" wanted to push to the public.

The fact they were out-resourced is no indication of overall quality, though. "She Was My Baby" is a great little stomper which has a raunchiness and rawness a lot of their beat rivals lacked. This a party-stormer which wouldn't have been out of place on a regional American label, and really should have been a hit. The group consisted of Tim Bates on lead guitar and vocals, John Reece on bass and vocals, Jem Field on sax and vocals, Eric Baker on keyboards and Victor Clark on drums, came from Liverpool (citation needed -ed) and backed Gene Vincent on tour, backing him on the UK LP "Shakin' Up A Storm". 

They were even dropped on to the bottom of the bill of the "Big Beat Tour" of 1964 alongside The Honeycombs, The Puppets, The Beat Merchants, Daryl Quist,  Gene Vincent, The Applejacks, Lulu and Millie, but didn't get a page in the accompanying programme, meaning we're frustratingly lacking any clarity on the group's history. 

24 May 2020

The Pattersons - I Can Fly/ An Cailin Deas

Pretty, bewitching and wonderful popsike from unlikely Irish folk source

Label: CBS
Year of Release: 1970

It's probably surprising to nobody, but songs about flying were everywhere during the generally accepted(*) 1967-1970 peak of popsike, from George Harrison's attempt for The Beatles, to Windmill's "I Can Fly", to the Portebello Explosion's "We Can Fly", and on the list goes... as we well know, when reaching for the rhyming dictionary "fly" is very close to "high" indeed, and that was a sensation groups were keen to communicate at that time.

This single from Irish folkies The Pattersons has no relation to Windmill's single, though, and is actually a genuinely beautiful, intricate creation, brimming over with subtle wah-wah guitars, saxophones, strings and close harmonies across a blissful three minutes. Lyrically, it's disappointing and doesn't stray far from fairly standard Hallmark greetings card waffle about "peace on earth" and tranquility, but the song itself weaves its spell magnificently, sounding more like the work of the Mamas and the Papas at their finest. It's sumptuous, readers, and I'm really shocked its sat under the radar for so long - weren't we supposed to have picked this particular barrel dry long ago?

The Pattersons were a family group (initially Billy, Christine, Dorothy and Ronnie, until Christine bailed in 1969) from Letterkenny in County Donegal, who were big news in Ireland at that time having their own TV series in 1969, and even appeared on the "Morecambe and Wise" show in the UK. While their records sold well in Ireland, with their first single "I Don't Want To Be A Memory" climbing to number two in the Eire charts, their efforts are less commonly chanced upon in the UK - their label CBS released most of them there, but the British public weren't keen purchasers of most of their output.

20 May 2020

Sunny Daze - Gone Fishin'/ That Summer Feeling

Idle summer rinky-dink tootling from probable hairies

Label: Polydor
Year of Release: 1972

From its late sixties to early seventies output, the UK branch of Polydor is a fascinating label for the crate-digger. During that period it licensed a lot of product from independent production companies, meaning the catalogue is overflowing with odd one-off 45s filled with novelty pop, freakbeat and Soho club basement soul. Some of it is also frighteningly scarce these days, if frequently available for reasonable prices when it does show up.

Here's another obscure oddment to add to the list. "Gone Fishin'" had a long life prior to this recording, perhaps being most appreciated in its guise as a Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong duet. Oh, how we'd all love to live in Bing's world, where David Bowie is a neighbour and drops by for a Christmas chat and sing-song, and he's forever popping round Louis' house for a cup of coffee but Louis is always out with his rod. But I digress...

What we have here is a slightly more subdued, less showbiz cover of the song which brings a lazy hippy folkiness to the original concept. The arrangements are closer to a Kevin Ayers LP than Hollywood, and it's as tranquil as a quiet day on Wanstead Flats. The rinky-dink arrangement palls a little towards the end, but on the whole it's a charming bit of hippy trad-influenced pop.

17 May 2020

Reupload - The Creation - Creation/ Shock Horror

Nineties comeback single from legendary sixties group, on the legendary label named after them

Label: Creation
Year of Release: 1994

The Creation are usually one of the first groups on the lips of any connoisseur of sixties music if they're asked the question: "Which truly great British sixties bands fell by the wayside at the time?" 

In truth, they weren't total obscurities. They managed one very minor hit with "Painter Man", and another very near-hit with the big and beastly "Making Time". The former, somewhat absurdly, was later covered by Boney M, while the latter has become ubiquitous even in indie club land in the last twenty years - I was at an indie night in Ottawa ten years ago and heard the DJ play it to a huge dance floor response, and then again at a wedding elsewhere. It may have failed to crack the Top 40 in the UK, but it's since become regarded as a monstrous piece of mod pop as worthy of attention as anything The Who also produced at the time. The Germans were more accommodating in the sixties and found them a home in their charts; the British, for whatever reason, failed to see sense. 

The Creation's stock began to rise during the first wave of the sixties revival in the eighties, and only continued to gain momentum as the nineties set in. If evidence of this is needed, the fantastically chaotic and psychedelic "How Does It Feel To Feel" was covered by Ride and issued as an A side by them. Ride's parent label Creation was named after the band, and 1994 obviously seemed like the perfect date for the original line-up to get back together and produce new material, and get them on to the legendary label in question. They were placed in the studio with the label's legendary producer Joe Foster to produce a single also entitled "Creation", presumably with the idea that this three-way match between label, band and song title would be an interesting press story in itself.

13 May 2020

The Hobo Radio Company - Oh Oh Oh Oh Oh Oh Oh What A Drag/ It's Always Rubbish On The B Side

Laurie Anderson being parodied by an ex-Coronation Street actor - it could only happen in 1981

Label: Red Bus
Year of Release: 1981

It's 1981, I'm eight years old, and I'm listening to the chart run-down on my parent's cheap transistor radio in the dining room. The top ten so far has brought me climbers from Shakin' Stevens, who has become a familiar feature by now, Elvis Costello, who really isn't my bag but is a familiar sound to my very young ears, The Jam, who I loved, and Altered Images who I recognise as one of my cousin's favourite bands. 

This familiar, cosy, comfortable tea-time territory was then promptly shattered by Laurie Anderson's "O Superman", climbing sixteen places to the number two spot and clearly challenging Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin for next week's number one position (if I only I'd known that ex-members of Hatfield and the North being at number one was odd enough in itself). What I heard at that point wasn't recognisable as music to me, and felt both unnatural and slightly frightening. "Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!" droned a continuous keyboard note as if it was all some kind of joke at my expense, while Anderson delivered what sounded like a desperate prayer down a busted vocoder.

"Mum, why is this number two?" I demanded.
"Because enough people bought it," she explained. (We'd had these conversations before. "Why is Lena Martell number one when she isn't any good, Mum?", "Why aren't ELO number one when they've clearly made the best record?" and "Are The Jam allowed to just go straight in at number one?" are all questions she's been asked and weathered with patience, explaining to me each and every time that the charts reflected sales, and if more people bought any given record in any particular week, then it would chart at number one, irrespective of other factors such as where it was in the charts the week before and, most especially, whether I liked it or not).
"But Mum, who would want to listen to this? It's just the same note over and over!"
"Well, enough people obviously did like it," she replied.
"Did people buy it thinking it was the Superman theme tune or something? Do you think it's gone to number two by mistake? Will it go down the charts again next week if everyone takes their copies back to Woolworths?" 
I was getting angrier and angrier and needed reassurance that this injustice would be put right.

It wasn't just children who were perplexed and annoyed by the record, though. Adults were too. My Dad couldn't understand why anybody could be bothered with it, and DJs seemingly couldn't introduce it without mentioning how much it "divided opinion" in advance. In the years since my first hearing, I've grown to admire it but I'm actually still faintly afraid of the record; saying I "enjoy it" would be like claiming that I'm not still chilled to the bone by Anderson's murmurings of "Here come the planes", said in a threatening or foreboding rather than welcoming way, and of the tweeting birds amidst the electronic looping. Something in the single seems to be pointing with dread towards humankind's unhealthy relationship with mechanisation, and when planes finally smashed into the Twin Towers in 2001, "O Superman" was recalled by some listeners as a piece of prophecy. Well, they were American planes with American engines, after all.

In 1981, though, a lot of listeners reacted in a very hostile fashion to the single's unnatural place in the top three. Late night radio DJs such as John Peel had brought it to the attention of an enthusiastic niche audience who then bought it en masse, but most children, pensioners and Mums and Dads were just plain furious or confused. There had never been a major hit like this before, and there wouldn't be again.

In any other year, a record mocking or parodying Laurie Anderson really wouldn't have got further than the demo tape stage. Record companies would not have afforded the creators a contract. The weirdness of 1981 managed to afford ex-Coronation Street actor Chris Stanford - who had previously recorded a parody of Telly Savalas' version of "If" - the chance to get together with other musicians to take the song down a peg or two. 

10 May 2020

Threshold - Friday On My Mind/ Tomorrow's Sorrow

Strange, pulsing, doomy take on the The Easybeats classic

Label: Sol-doon
Year of Release: 1976

Rarely do I find myself writing about Portsmouth groups on this blog. Despite having spent most of the nineties living there and continually looking for excuses to feature Portsea Island combos, there are two insurmountable obstacles standing in my way - firstly, very few bands have ever got further than the demo tape stage, so didn't get to "immortalise their sound in wax" (I do have a few Pompey demos in an old shoebox somewhere, but no cassette tape player to convert them with). Secondly, the ones that did get around to releasing records were often somewhat pedestrian.

Let's all sing "Hallelujah" and telephone our Mums, then, because this one-off 45 from Pompey is actually both strange and worthy of inclusion here. The Easybeats' original version of "Friday On My Mind" is, of course, ideal source material, being a wondrous track in itself. The fact it peaked at number 6 on the UK charts is further proof that the British record buying public are not to be trusted; that slow, ticking desperate build up to the raging, ecstatic chorus is endlessly relatable. You can picture the big city lights and sounds and the rush of nightlife almost as soon as it kicks in, the song stretching itself to near snapping point on the line "I've got to get to night". Never has anyone articulated the end of the working week so brilliantly, not in the field of rock 45s anyway. Number 6? Number one for six weeks would have been a fairer finish point. 

This makes Threshold's approach to the track so unorthodox and strange. The ticking rhythms of the original are replaced with a doomy, almost post-punk pulsing rhythm (though punk was in its infancy in 1976 when this was released, and post-punk most certainly hadn't been thought of). The vocals sound aggrieved and despondent rather than ecstatic. The emotional emphasis seems to have been moved from the thrills of Friday to the other less positive lines instead - lines about "working for the rich man". These are some pissed-off, moody, heavy dudes channeling their grievances through someone else's pop song. The droning organ in the background seems to owe a debt to a mid-sixties garage sound, and the whole thing seeps with gothic atmospheres. You might disagree with me on its effectiveness, but there's no doubting it's a unique take.

6 May 2020

Young and Renshaw - High Flyin' Bird/ Driftwood

Future Sad Cafe star in early southern rock styled duo

Label: Bell
Year of Release: 1971

The sheer number of early seventies UK flops with a distinct southern USA twang to their sound suggests a lot of musicians and record labels backed the wrong horse. While it may have seemed as if that harmonica honking, swampy bluesy southern rock sound would be irresistible to the British and would sweep the charts quicker than you could say "Lynyrd Skynyrd", it wasn't such big news here. 

"High Flyin' Bird" is yet another piece of confident, stomping rock from a pair of British musicians who had already received quite a bit of airplay (but no sales) from their previous 45 "Way Up There". It has a shedload of attitude and lyrics which clearly ponder vast open plains and mountainous ranges, which is rather deceptive - neither (Paul) Young or (Frank) Renshaw would have had much experience of these things; coming from Manchester, it didn't really apply. That doesn't stop them from selling the idea with gusto, though, with the help of Mr Cook and Mr Greenaway in the producer's hot seat(s).

The pair released a further single ("Gonna See Delaney Again") and an album ("This Is Young and Renshaw") but packed it in shortly afterwards when neither sold well. For Chris Morris lookalike Paul Young, it ended up becoming a bit of a career footnote, as he shaved off his moustache and ended up fronting Sad Cafe, scoring a brace of hits in the UK in the process. Sadly, he passed away in 2000, leaving perhaps one of the biggest rock ballads of the seventies to remember him by - someone, somewhere is probably listening to "Every Day Hurts" on a commercial oldies station or on a late night taxi journey as we speak. His service in the supergroup Mike and The Mechanics has also left its own indelible ink stain on rock history. 

3 May 2020

Reupload - The Hinge - The Village Postman/ You'd Better Go Home

Popsike about rural posties - it was only a matter of time

Label: RCA
Year of Release: 1968

One more from the bottomless pit of popsike records about ordinary people in small towns or villages toiling away doing their day jobs. Grocer Jack in "Teenage Opera" might have started the ball rolling, but there are tons of others too - The Decision introduced us to "Constable Jones", Cyan to the sweetshop owner Toby, Bulldog Breed to the street corner newspaper salesman, Dr Marigold's Prescription to the nightwatchman... on and on the list goes.

"The Village Postman", far from being a tribute to The Singing Postman aka Allan Smethurst, is a jolly ditty about the trials, tribulations and light-hearted moments of being a hard-working postie close to retirement. "He has to work in all the weathers", the band inform us, in case we'd overlooked that aspect of the role. It bounces and chimes along nicely, the simplicity of the arrangement suiting the lyrical theme well.

The Hinge were a duo consisting of Gerry Levene and Chris Sedgewick. Levene was for some considerable time a legend on the Birmingham gig circuit, being frontman of hard-gigging beat group Gerry Levene and The Avengers - a band who once had Roy Wood in its ranks, before he departed to more fully realise his own ambitions. The Hinge came long after Levene's period with The Avengers drew to a close, and involved a significantly different sound for him, but sadly not one which paid greater commercial dividends.

29 April 2020

Philadelphia Brown - 1-2-3/ Philadelphia Rock

Glammish pop take on the soul classic by ex-Angel members

Label: Strawberry
Year of Release: 1975

Well, here's a strange flop from the barren pop wastelands of 1975. According to the ever-reliable Seventies Sevens website, Strawberry Records was a teen orientated label launched by the Vogue Choice management agency in August of that year, but only issued three singles, two of which were by this bunch.

Who were they and why we were only briefly subjected to their charms? That's where things get slightly confusing. Music Week at the time referred to them as an "unknown soul singer" rather than a fully fledged group, which would suggest that Strawberry's press department only did half a job of launching them, as all other sources clearly state they were a pop band. Despite these unnecessary red herrings, it looks reasonably certain that both the guitarist Bob Banasiak and the drummer Brian Johnson were both members, and given that both were previously also involved with the Cube Records signed Angel, it seems safe to assume that Philadelphia Brown were their next project following that group's split.

It's hard to mess up a song as strong as "1-2-3" and they don't, choosing instead to add a bit of teen stomp, sparkle and sunshine to the tracks rather more gritty origins. The repetitious nature of the song means that it doesn't carry quite so well as something slightly less dancefloor orientated, though, and I can't help but wonder if that's half the reason it flopped. Far more interesting to me is the dubby wah-wah instrumental version on the B-side which was probably tossed off in half-an-hour, but showcases the group's abilities in a way that at least makes your feet twitch. 

26 April 2020

Barry Reynolds - Outsiders Point Of View/ Hold Me Down

Strange analogue synth infested minimal pop from Marianne Faithfull and Grace Jones collaborator

Label: RAK
Year of Release: 1974

While his name probably isn't on the tip of everyone's tongue, Barry Reynolds was actually a big background player in the developments of seventies and eighties pop. He was the author of Marianne Faithfull's "Broken English" and the first person to record "I Scare Myself" (ahead of Thomas Dolby) and a session musician on numerous Island Records projects, most prominent among them Grace Jones's work. He has an enviable track record of involvement in projects which were either alarmingly hip or prescient.

Less discussed is his own solo career, which is somewhat surprising under the circumstances. His 1974 debut single "Outsiders Point Of View" still sounds a little bit unusual even from this vantage point. Starting with a sinister, wailing, despairing analogue synth, a rumble of acoustic bass, then building into wailing, soulful, falsetto vocals, it continually sounds on the brink of collapse before tipping itself right side up again. Those eccentric bended synth notes continually hint at the track's demise, making the single sound as if it's been left in the sun for too long. It's almost like Reynolds had heard "Ball of Confusion", "Rock On" and "Popcorn" and somehow meshed and melded those unlikely influences into the song's construction, then pre-empted My Bloody Valentine and Board of Canada's wobbling sound experiments too. Almost.

Naturally, the song isn't as challenging as that, and relies on a more traditional song structure and a confident swagger to pull it through to the finish line. As eccentric pop 45s go, though, this has been somewhat neglected since its release and deserves more hearings.

22 April 2020

Godfrey Winn - I Pass/ Love Shades

Actor and newspaper columnist makes bid for pop stardom

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1967

There really aren't a lot of pop records out there about fairness and common sense and gentlemanly values. To state the perfectly bleeding obvious, ever since rock decided to do its own brand of particular stuff around the clock, popular music has been primarily about romance or rebellion. Even if a performer or group are miffed off with the current state of society, this will normally be expressed as a call to arms rather than a series of gentle complaints sent to music. 

Godfrey Winn chose 1967 of all years to step forward and buck this dominant trend. He was a regular actor, who by this point had starred in "Billy Liar" (as a DJ) and "The Great St Trinian's Train Robbery", but he also earned a more regular living from being a newspaper columnist for the Daily Express. "I Pass" is essentially a middle-of-the-road column set to music wherein Winn waxes lyrically about good old-fashioned British values. While he does so, backing vocalists trill, coo and b'dum around him. "The fair way is called the square way!", "The gentle are called sentimental!" he complains in plummy tones. "The age of science sees no alliance between mind and soul!" It sounds like he's singing from his notebook of possible future column ideas.

It's a truly odd record which, if nothing else, goes to prove that most newspaper columnists have always been a sanctimonious and overly nostalgic bunch, and have never veered enormously from their handful of pet topics over the decades ("So what's the point of them?" you may well ask, and I'd be inclined to agree). The contents of this disc aren't particularly controversial, but could have been written by any greying hack at any point between hip and swinging 1967 and today. It doesn't matter whether you agree with what Winn is saying or not, it's still questionable whether the record needs to exist. It's like listening to some telephone hold music while your aged Auntie complains in the background about how rude people are in supermarkets nowadays.

19 April 2020

Reupload - Changin' Times - Pied Piper/ Thank You Babe

The original - and best - garage rock version of the Crispian St Peters hit

Label: Philips
Year of Release (in the US): 1965

Now here's an odd find - a South African pressing of a low charting American garage single. The Changin' Times "Pied Piper" managed to climb into the lower reaches of the Billboard Top 100 on its release in 1965, but response to the record in the UK was downright indifferent on its issue here, and it took our native arrogant young gunslinger Crispian St. Peters to turn it into a monster top ten hit with a smoother, bouncier, and actually inferior version.

Maybe the original was just a bit too rough around the edges for British tastes at that time, but I think it's a thing of total wonder. From the incessant flute riff through to the raw and craggy Dylan-esque vocals, it's one of the finer pieces of pop to burst out of the naive nooks and crannies of American garage rock. Lyrically it's possible to view the disc as either being an approving nod to beatnik culture and the bourgeoning hippy movement, or an utter piss-take - my wife is utterly convinced that it's actually a fairly snarky piece of satire (the use of the phrase "so fall in line" perhaps being a criticism of the hero-worship the likes of Dylan received rather than being approving). Whatever your end conclusion, musically it's simple, sharp and delightful, and probably not seeking out underground credibility with its endless hooks.

The flip is even more raw than the A-side, throwing a rasping harmonica and spirited vocals against a thrown together minute-and-a-half ditty. It consists of the victory of youthful enthusiasm over ability and budget that so many garage records have in spades.

15 April 2020

Whichwhat - In The Year 2525/ Parting

Pedestrian cover backed with a surprising kick of garage soul

Label: Beacon
Year of Release: 1969

Here we go again with a familiar old story - it looks as if this cover of Zager and Evans' hysterical doomfest "In The Year 2525" was released in an attempt to beat the original American performers to the UK charts. Mr Zager and Mr Evans didn't pop their heads above the magical Top 40 line until 9th August 1969, perhaps convincing Beacon Records that they had a chance at a free-run themselves with one of their own groups.

Of course, they didn't, and the very idea that the homespun efforts of the tiny label could have taken on the might of RCA was hugely optimistic. To make matters more difficult, this single also sounds like an unenthusiastic demo, a run-through of the track with no spin, punch or passion to speak of. If you walked into a London club with some sophisticated recording gear and taped a competent group doing a soundcheck with this song, chances are the end results wouldn't have been much different.

That's deeply regrettable, because tucked away on the flip-side here is a group composition which possibly hasn't seen enough daylight due to the track it's been coupled with. "Parting" is a soulful effort filled with honking brass, organ stabs, driving rhythms and agitated vocals which has led to some online comparisons to Dexys Midnight Runners - obviously it's not quite up there with the quality of the young soul rebels, but it's certainly an extremely early example of aggressive, adolescent pub rock moves combining with soul arrangements and structures. Only a certain lack of emphasis on the rhythm section in the production holds it back, but as the track was apparently recorded in someone's front room [citation needed], this is probably forgivable!