16 June 2021

Herbie's People - One Little Smile/ You Never Know


Bilston beat boys back on the blog again 

Label: CBS
Year of Release: 1966

Herbie's People are no strangers to this blog - back in 2015 we covered their debut single and near-hit "You Thrill Me To Pieces". "One Little Smile" was their follow-up effort.

To summarise, they were unlucky coves, being the first group to record "Semi-Detached Suburban Mr James" before watching in horror as Manfred Mann nabbed the song shortly afterwards and sent it sailing chartwards. They were therefore denied one near-certain hit and didn't manage to stumble into an equally strong opportunity again. 

To aficionados of popsike, they're probably best loved for their excellent final single under the name Just William, "I Don't Care/ Cherrywood Green", issued on Spark in 1968. Their earlier material is much beatier and chirpier and lacks those moody, quirky harmonies. The Carter/Lewis penned "One Little Smile" is evidence of this - it's commercial pop music from the days when songs with few mixed messages or negative undertows could rule the roost. You meet someone, you fall in love with their smile, you write a two minute chirpy pop song about it. The pure innocence of it would probably have already seemed slightly quaint by April 1966 and it undoubtedly does now, but it passes the old grey whistle test with flying colours.

Sadly, despite this it sold incredibly poorly and did not build on the momentum created by their first disc. They would issue another single for CBS, "Humming Bird", in February 1967 before being dropped by the label and finding themselves on Spark the following year. 

15 June 2021

The End of the Email Alerts

It looks as if Blogger will be ending email alerts for all blogs at the end of this month, meaning anyone who wants to receive an alert about a new entry on this blog - which, flatteringly enough, huge numbers of you have opted to do over the years - can't. Well, not through that method at least.

If you rely on getting that regular email to tell you a new entry has gone live, contact me with your details and I'll see what else I can sort out. I'm not guaranteeing an immediate solution but I'll certainly see if I can get something put in place shortly.

I generally whine and bitch when websites and apps reduce their functionality for no good reason, but all that tends to get me is emails saying "Hey, we hear you! But I think we can still collectively appreciate the brilliance of what we otherwise offer!" so let's not prod the corporate misery puppies to lick our faces yet again. I know when I'm beaten. 

Alternatively, as a general rule, entries on "Left and to the Back" usually go live on Wednesday and Sunday mornings at 8am Greenwich Mean Time, so you could all just remember that. Sometimes I'll have extra entries in a week where I've got lots to say, or I'll be late on a week where life has been somewhat complicated, but the rule of thumb is a good one. 

13 June 2021

The Guild - You Can See The Trees (But Not The Forest)/ Who'd Ever Thought

Eerie folk-rock from feted live act

Label: Philips
Year of Release: 1966

This was the only release from the folk-rock outfit The Guild. While the press were hardly burning up with front page stories and wild praise about their act, 1966 certainly saw complimentary reviews turning up firmly stamping them as "ones to watch". In the 8th October 1966 edition of "Billboard", a September live show of theirs is given a keen nod, noting that they were "excellent", "versatile" and also featured comedy in their set.

The comic aspect sounds intriguing, as the very last thing "You Can See The Trees" sounds like is a barrel of laughs; rather, the track has an eerie, gothic folkiness running through its core, with a string section whining in the background like hornets ready to strike, and a claustrophobic chorus and autumnal air. This, of course, is also why it's highly worthy of a listen - it's folk rock with a damp chill in the air, the smell of backyard bonfires on the breeze, as well as hints of unease in the lyrics. Those who like their folk rock to feel slightly Pagan and have a tight knot at its centre will get a lot out of this (Matt Berry would probably love it).

Billboard once again came out to bat for the group when this single's release date was announced, making it a top pick for the Hot 100. This wasn't an accurate prediction and given how few stock copies of this record seem to be in circulation these days, I'd suggest it actually sold very poorly indeed.

9 June 2021

Reupload - Heavy Jelly - I Keep Singing That Same Old Song/ Blue


Skip Bifferty in disguise (without glasses)

Label: Island
Year of Release: 1968

Well, this is bloody confusing. There were actually three groups called Heavy Jelly in this era. One bunch had Jackie Lomax and John Morshead in their line-up. The other were a mysterious set of coves who had one single out on Avco entitled "Humpty Dumpty". Then there's this bunch... who were originally the rather excellent Skip Bifferty but renamed themselves for this one 45 and an LP on Island. 

Skip Bifferty were from Newcastle and were originally managed by rock heavyweight Don Arden, and issued three marvellous singles (of which the highlights are the ace "On Love" and "Man In Black") and one long player, but despite constant evening airplay and acclaim for their frantic live shows, never broke through. "I Keep Singing That Same Old Song" was really their last hurrah, a fresh start with a new name (which was probably instigated to keep Arden off their backs, to be fair) and an unusual and risky gimmick. With an epic running time of 7:49 this was the longest single ever issued on seven inch single in the sixties, and made "Macarthur Park" seem like a concise ditty by comparison. The grooves on my copy are tighter than a gnat's chuff and run close to the label - hats off to the pressing plant for managing to handle this without making it sound like a complete mess. 

While it wasn't a hit in the UK, it did break through in other European countries, and has been compiled to death in the years since. If you do want to listen to it, there's a full YouTube video over yonder.

Less referenced since has been the B-side "Blue", which I actually prefer. Unlike the bloated top side which could do with having some fat trimmed off its edges, it has the usual conciseness and masterful energy of a Skip Bifferty single, albeit with a lot more bluesy rockiness in its mix. Once again, the group sound perfectly capable of reaching the by-then bourgeoning heavy rock crowd, but success never materialised, and they split not long after. 

6 June 2021

Jacqueline - Some Fine Day/ Do I Love You


Tremeloes produced mystery one-off 45 

Label: CBS
Year of Release: 1972

I've said this many, many times before on this blog, but mystery solo female artists litter the label discographies of the sixties like flytipped furniture on an East London side street (although most are more pleasant to come across than that). In their quest to find the next Lulu, Sandie Shaw or Cilla Black, labels signed numerous women to quickie deals which sometimes only offered them a single or two to prove they had what it took. Most inevitably didn't, or if they did, the deals weren't generous enough to allow them to prove it.

By the seventies things had improved somewhat, so it was surprising to find a 45 by this one-single wonder who has become nigh-on untraceable. Going only by the name Jacqueline, with no surname to aid our search, I don't expect to find out who the artist was and what else she did anytime soon. Nonetheless, this production was overseen by Alan Blakley and Len Hawkes of The Tremeloes, meaning that clearly she was given a lot of studio attention by two decent stars of the time.

Somewhat surprisingly, while it's possible to hear traces of "Yellow River" about "Some Fine Day", overall the track feels like a sixties throwback, a basic, chirpy, top-heavy pop stomper at a point where tastes were beginning to get more sophisticated. It has a celebratory air to it and, perhaps more unusually towards the end, some slightly Match Of The Day styled brass fanfares. Solid, likeable and lovely, but not the stuff chart revolutions or new beginnings are made of.