17 March 2024

The End


I was sifting through the "Left and to the Back" Facebook mail the other day, and was reminded that somebody once sent me a message with the subject line "Never Quit". They're not going to like this blog entry...

Because unfortunately, I am quitting. I have taken the decision to draw a line under this blog and there will be no further new entries. We'll come on to the reason why in a minute, but before that, let's get the practicalities out of the way, because in the months and years which follow that's going to matter to casual readers most.

The mp3s

I'm going to keep all the mp3s on this blog live until the end of June 2024, after which point my subscription to Box will be cancelled and they will be removed. If there's anything here you want but haven't got around to downloading yet, please do it as soon as possible, as it will evaporate after that point.

Still, this isn't necessarily the end of the world. If any of the music is currently unavailable on YouTube I'll probably upload it on my channel there in the not too distant future - so this isn't as drastic as it probably sounds on first reading. Nothing should be wiped completely from existence. 

After the end of June, the blog will exist in a mothballed state with all the writing, sleeve art and scans of record labels remaining available online but all sound files removed. No further updates to existing entries will be run beyond that point, so all very old entries declaring that "nobody knows who this band are" should obviously be treated with a pinch of salt. Share corrections in the comments for the benefit of other readers by all means, but I won't be acting on any of them. 

10 March 2024

Bandylegs - Silver Screen Queen/ Lonely Girl


Label: Pye
Year of Release: 1975

A huge number of metamorphoses occurred in the seventies as everyone jumped aboard the glam rock juggernaut. It saw everyone from old rock and rollers to balladeers to Denmark Street desk jobbers suddenly wearing make up and trilling and pouting to a trucker's beat. As such, very few stylistic jumps from the period are especially surprising, but nonetheless, the one this group took at the tail end of their first lifespan is quite breathtaking - and not at all glam.

Bandylegs were from Birmingham and consisted of Derek Arnold on bass, Geoff Nicholls on keyboards, Malcolm Cope on drums, Mick  Hopkins on guitar and Mike Taylor on vocals. Mike Taylor will be familiar to a number of readers of this blog as the singer for The Lemon Tree who released a psychedelic pop masterpiece in "William Chalker's Time Machine". This record really doesn't match up to that dayglo performance, and nor should we really expect it to given that it was released in 1975. Instead, the Bandylegs ensemble ooo-weee-oooo their way through a piece of fifties fantasy, singing about the good old silver screen. Its melodies feel replete with soda pops, ice cream and tootsie rolls which surely can't have been very prevalent in Birmingham in the mid-70s, but the band do a fair job of giving you the impression that it's all they've known.

The next steps the group took, however, were alarming. One reason this single has become relatively collectible since is that the group eventually morphed into the Heavy Metal band Quartz, who issued several albums between 1977 - 1983. To be fair to them, the break wasn't entirely sudden - their final single as Bandylegs, "Bet You Can't Dance", has a glam rock fuzz in its grooves, and acts as a reasonable bridge between their middle-of-the-road leanings and the future. By the time their debut single as Quartz emerged, under the name "Street Fighting Lady", it's safe to say they had changed from delicate pop caterpillars to heavy hawk moths. 

3 March 2024

The Bunch - Red Rover Red Rover/ Happy Like This


Label: Beacon
Year of Release: 1969

"Happy sounds are really happening and Red Rover Red Rover is right in today's idiom, a stomping "bubblegum" number with driving bassline and a catchy sing-a-long chorus.

Of course, the heart of the "bubblegum movement" is in New York and that's where The Bunch come from.

They're a talented foursome who generate a great feel both on record and in live performance. Discovered in their home city by the forward-thinking Sire Records company, this lively group are sure to win a powerful British following too with this strong chart challenge".

Thus spake Beacon Records on their press release for this 45, but can you spot the deliberate mistakes, readers? Firstly, there was never really a "bubblegum movement" as such, with neither kids storming city hall demanding more frothy pop discs, or groups of teenagers swanning around the town centre dressed up as members of The Archies. 

Secondly, there was to be no strong chart challenge either here in the UK or the USA for this one. In fact, Beacon getting their mitts on it is a bit of a mystery - they certainly weren't picking up a track with a proven success rate, so we can only assume they bought the rights for it cheaply, crossed their fingers and hoped it would take off here as an exotic and of-the-moment North American disc. 

Thirdly, even if it had been a chartbound sound Stateside, Sire Records weren't directly responsible - rather, the track saw its release on the Candy Floss label across the pond, and far apart from that, the group weren't actually called The Bunch in America but The Puddle. It's not altogether clear why Beacon changed their name for the British market, especially as there was already a group called The Bunch operating here of "We're Not What We Appear To Be" fame; were they ignorant of the other band or hoping to potentially cadge a few of their sales from confused fans? Your guess is as good as mine. 

Hopefully the above facts can serve as a statutory lesson as to how unreliable press releases are as historical documents. Naughty Beacon Records. 

28 February 2024

Reupload - Solent - My World Fell Down/ The Sound Of Summer's Over

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1973

The fact that the John Carter and Geoff Stephens penned "My World Fell Down" failed to chart when issued by The Ivy League is probably one of the great injustices of the sixties. Seldom has one song approximated the West Coast sound so faithfully and so well, and with such a sumptuous melody, only to fall by the wayside.

It was improved upon further in 1967 by Americans Sagittarius, who fleshed its sound out further still with disorientating sound effects which seemed to be knowing nods to Brian Wilson's Smile sessions, all acting as the cherry on the top of an utterly superb song. That fared somewhat better, climbing to number 70 in the US Charts, but its failure to become a significant hit doomed the track into being swept up by Nuggets, Rubble and other rarities compilations in the decades down the line. 

Whoever Solent were - that's not entirely clear, though someone called "Bobby S" has claimed vocal duties over on the 45Cat website - they obviously couldn't believe the song's lack of luck, and had another crack at it. This time round, the song is given a politer, smoother mix and almost more nostalgic, sorrowful harmonies. The track by now seems to be harking back to a sixties surfing shoreline as a distant memory (not that such things were that common in the UK to begin with) and the flipside adds to that mournful air, asking very gently where those surfing summers went to. "Don't worry baby" one of the singers sighs, and you almost get the sense they're mopping Brian Wilson's brow, trying to get him down to the south coast of the UK to work his magic. 

25 February 2024

Carl Gresham - It First Began/ Comedy Version


Label: None
Year of Release: not issued

Acetates are an expensive folly in the average record collector's life. If you see one in a second hand record shop or on Discogs or eBay, the price is usually ratcheted sky-high, the seller knowing that the scarcity and uniqueness of the offering is going to make it very enticing. Yet when you do purchase one, what you usually get is a songwriter warbling over some basic piano melody they've written, or a half baked beat idea from some smalltown group whose ideas and style hadn't moved on from 1962.

And then, of course, there's stuff like this which surely had a backstory, but I'm damned if I know what it is. Carl Gresham was a highly influential man about town in Bradford, being a record store manager and club DJ at the turn of the sixties, and occasional actor - he was Tom Courtenay's stand-in for "Billy Liar" - and a "personal appearances" agent to the stars, offering them work opening supermarkets and department stores (which begs some serious questions about that 'supermarket opening' scene in the film "Billy Liar", which does not feature in the novel at all. Was this a sneaky, knowing nod to Gresham's sideline business?)

Gresham - or "The Gresh" as he was known to friends and associates - gradually grew into something of an establishment figure in Bradford, appearing in pantomimes and having his own weekend breakfast radio show on Pennine Radio, so it wouldn't have been unexpected to see him pushing out a novelty single at some point.

The trouble is, though, this sounds like a very early sixties demo with very simple Freddie & The Dreamers styled melodies, which dates it ahead of Gresham's rise to minor fame. On the A-side you've got a frivolous, cheery melody buried in a terrible mix which he chirps along to serviceably. It's a pleasant enough early beat offering but nothing to crack open the cheque book for. 

Over on the flip, however, is a very strange "comedy" version of the song, which was apparently arranged and conceptualised by the director and producer David Mallet, who worked with Les Dawson and Kenny Everett later in his career, as well as becoming one of the most successful music video directors of all time. In this The Gresh whacks out, screaming and shouting, making panicky asides about "falling down the hole in the middle of the record" and generally acting the giddy goat. It's not clear what this piece of work is connected to or why an acetate of it was pressed. It's possible it was to accompany a comedy show or idea which never got commissioned, but equally likely it was just Gresham dicking around in his remaining studio time.