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Hopefully the above facts can serve as a statutory lesson as to how unreliable press releases are as historical documents.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

18 February 2024

The Going Thing - Sweet Sunday/ Windy Day

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1971

Say hello to the only group (to the best of my knowledge) ever to emerge from the Ford manufacturing line - unless, of course, we're counting Ford Timelord of The Timelords. Back in the sixties, Ford were seemingly keen to make their cars seem sexy, zingy and a little bit more rock and roll; less "any colour you want, so long as it's black", and more "all the colours of the swinging rainbow, baby".

In Australia, the group The Going Thing were pulled together to groove and bop on a popular television advert to make cars seem more like something to dance about. There was nothing special about the ad, particularly not by modern day standards, but the zesty young folk in it clearly caught the public's imagination well enough that Ford began pumping out LPs by them for promotional use. "Christmas 1968 With The Going Thing", "The Going Thing 1969" and "1970" all appeared on Ford's own record label, and included gems such as "The Warranty Song" (please do click on the link to hear that one), "I Dig Rock and Roll Music" (where they sadly don't sing about loving "Duane Bleeding Eddy"), "Ford - It's The Going Thing" (of course) and an array of sunshine covers of popular hits.

American producers Tom and John Bahler were responsible for the group's sound and approach at this point, and offered $50,000 a year to Karen and Richard Carpenter to work on the project, which the pair sensibly refused, choosing to instead continue with their own work. Nonetheless, even without any contributions from the Carpenter siblings, the outcomes of this period were likably fluffy and pie-eyed enough to become of interest to collectors - the "1970" LP in particular goes for some inexplicably eye-watering sums given its contents, frequently attracting eBay bids upwards of £100. 

Once the Ford gig was up, the Australian label Sweet Peach picked them up and attempted to market them as a group with things other than family cars on their minds. The resulting LP "Good News" is a less kitschy collection of songs, and as such is seemingly of less interest to collectors. 

Following that album's disappointing performance, Decca surprisingly chose to give them a leg up with this single, which was issued not just in Australia but the UK as well. Like a lot of their material, its quality does belie its somewhat naff origins. "Sweet Sunday" is an intriguing cross between gospel and technicolour harmony pop, and while it's difficult not to sing The Velvet Underground's "Oh Sweet Nuthin'" over the first few bars, the group manage to carry the cheer of the ditty in a manner that wouldn't embarrass The Fifth Dimension. It's feelgood music handled with incredible care and some UK journalists even predicted a hit.

11 February 2024

C.T.A.-102 - More Strangers (In The Cave Again)/ A Thousand Days

Label: Gale
Year of Release: 1980

Paul Carman was an unlucky chap, recording a lot of music in the seventies under the "Dolphin" moniker (we covered his rocksteady version of "Hey Joe" some time ago) which tended to take existing hit singles and tear them apart, forcing them into new shapes and guises. When it worked, it worked unbelievably well. His smooth FM take on "Goin' Back", for example, is an interesting version which adds a small droplet of sixties trippiness to the otherwise slick hug of the mid-seventies production.

He was a perfectly good songwriter in his own right, though, as this single - issued under the strange C.T.A.-102 moniker - proves. "More Strangers (In The Cave Again)" is a shimmering, pulsing New Wave track which in places sounds like Colin Newman out of Wire being ordered to write a hit. It's another example of a performer from another era managing to adapt to the changing tide with astonishing ease, but clearly falling flat on their faces because nobody in the punk or post-punk scenes liked a "pretender" (unless they were sticking two fingers up and mucking about for their own amusement like The Strawbs). 

Fortunately, there's better news for the modern man in that a freshly mastered version of the track is available on Bandcamp for streaming and buying, and the link can be found below.