27 September 2023

Mandarin Kraze - See You In September/ Susie


Future member of The Records with smooth harmony pop effort

Label: Spark
Year of Release: 1973

While the volume of press dedicated to them would barely outweigh a stray pigeon feather, Southend's Mandarin Kraze were a constant presence on the early seventies gig circuit, which empowered them enough to label hop from one vinyl home to the next. Their first single "How Long Does It Take To Explain" emerged on Carnaby in 1970, with the follow up "Blink Bonny Bluabara" landing on President in 1971 and this final effort creeping on to Spark in 1973.  Clearly the independent labels of the early seventies, such as they were, were willing to invest in the group even if the likes of EMI and Decca couldn't have given a toss.

Their records are quite hard to track down these days, though. The President and Carnaby discs have been on my wants list for awhile, not least for the flipside "Magazine Cottage" which is popsike to its bones.  It's a bit of a red herring, as the group generally specialised in gentle harmony pop, the kind of airy melodies which tended to litter the world of seventies light entertainment, but despite their obvious compatibility with the mainstream, the group and the pop charts never really met. 

"See You In September" is a cover of an oldie which seems to position them slightly towards the Bay City Rollers end of things, with cute teenage soda pop romance lyrics meeting teary-eyed delivery. The flip "Susie" is a much more interesting original and showcases the band's own potential much more convincingly. It's not a particularly progressive track, but it does at least feature some keen guitar work and more adventurous songwriting.

24 September 2023

Nancy Whiskey - Freight Train/The Game


Plaintive re-recording of huge fifties skiffle hit

Label: CBS
Year of Release: 1967

"Freight Train" was one of the few huge hits on the independent Oriole label in the fifties, hitting number five in 1957. It was also a bit of an anomaly in skiffle terms - its singer Nancy Whiskey was a Scottish folk singer on the Topic Records label rather than some kid bashing on a pot lid in a cafe in the West One area. Her collaboration with the Chas McDevitt skiffle group to produce a record was not necessarily a natural fit, and was one she needed to be persuaded to undertake; with a rootsy, authentic folk pedigree and a recording contract of her own, she was somewhat doubtful of the change of direction. In fact, by all accounts she didn't even like skiffle that much. 

She would stay with McDevitt's group for four more singles, including the minor hit "Green Back Dollar", before returning to her solo career. Oriole persisted with their hitmaker and a few other 45s did pop out with her name attached, with most returning to the folk idiom she appeared more comfortable with. When it became clear that her mainstream appeal had been lost, the label let her go and she re-emerged on Fontana for "Bowling Green" in 1965 and then seemed to revisit her glory days for this CBS release in 1967, a whole ten years after the song's original release.

This version tones down the steamy, woody rattle of the original version and replaces it with a simple yearning, strings and all. Perhaps CBS perceived that a radical reworking of "Freight Train" on its tenth anniversary would attract the public's interest, or perhaps this is the way Whiskey had always wanted it to sound - but whatever the truth, it was roundly ignored by a public who weren't really nostalgic for skiffle in 1967. While it was true to say that some old Teds wandered the streets bigging up the idea of a rock and roll revival, nobody was dreaming wistfully of those threadbare days when spoons and brooms could be used as musical instruments by ration-starved youths. 

Her self-penned flipside here is interesting, though, showing a writer and performer capable of producing complex and very contemporary material. "The Game" isn't a million miles away from one of Scott Walker's "Scott 3" era efforts - brief, stupendously arranged, mysterious and leaving you feeling slightly uneasy by the time it leaves it your life for the first time. 

21 September 2023

Reupload - 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.

17 September 2023

Warwick - Let's Get The Party Going/ How Does It Feel


Chinnichap tap into the Beach Boys sound and make it stomp

Label: RAK
Year of Release: 1975

By 1975, glam rock had entered into a period of decline. A couple of years previously radio and the listening public couldn't get enough of the crunching, stomping sounds, but the template was limited and leant itself poorly to progressive interpretations. The survivors of the genre were those who were always about far more than hard stomping heels and glitter from the WH Smith stationery department; the Roxys and the Bowies always had a flexibility and inventiveness which eluded the sweet old rock and rollers.

The net result of this is that quite a few solid glam records were issued in 1975 and 1976 which struggled to get a sniff of attention. This is without question one of them. Warwick were pulled together as a quick session group to record ex-Tangerine Peel member Warwick Rose's probable hit "Let's Get The Party Going", with Mike Chapman of Chinnichap productions (also an ex-member of the Peel) fronting the song and Nicky Chinn flying solo in the producer's chair. 

Tangerine Peel were one of those late sixties groups who released scores of records across multiple labels, all with a strong pop flavour, but none rewarding the labels who signed them with any hits. "Let's Get The Party Going" excels the quality of their output from that period by a country mile. If The Beach Boys had assembled in RAK studios to record a glam rock single, this is pretty much exactly what you would have got - thrilling close harmonies, and a Californian chorus doused in Party Seven lager and filled with thumping beats and sweet twanging guitar lines. 

13 September 2023

Two Much - Wonderland Of Love/ Mr Money

Male-female pop duo with their less sought-after 45 (sorry kids)

Label: Fontana
Year of Release: 1967

The sixties gobbed out obscure singers by the spittoon load, and the Middlesex based duo Two Much (where in Middlesex? Don't ask me, I'm telling you all I know) were another fairly mysterious pair in the barroom bucket. We know for a fact that they were Andrea and Steve Gerome, but whether they were brother and sister, or husband and wife, remains lost to the record company archives. 

Their second single "It's A Hip Hip Hippy World" is becoming increasingly sought after, though, with record collectors using the shorthand of "It's like Abba gone popsike" (which it is) to shift the single towards high prices. I've been after a copy at a reasonable price or ages and will continue to hunt high and low.

This was their debut 45, and is altogether more straightforward, zingy, stringy pop. "Wonderland of Love" actually sounds a little bit dated for 1967, too wholesome, toothy and cuddly for a world where Sonny and Cher were showbiz's King and Queen. It could just as easily have been released in 1962 without anyone noticing anything innovative and strange, so it's therefore not totally inexplicable that it failed during the summer of love. "Hip Hip Hippy World", on the other hand, would probably have fared better if it had slid out in 1967 and not 1968. Sometimes timing is everything.