10 August 2022

Reupload - Robb Storme Group - Here Today/ But Cry


Fantastic West Coast styled pop from future Orange Bicycle members

Label: Columbia
Year of Release: 1966

I've bypassed this particular single in the racks on a number of occasions in the past, suspecting it to be little more than an unimaginative, carbon copy of a track off "Pet Sounds". Cover versions - who really needs them, eh?

This is further evidence, if you really needed it, that when it comes to record buying I can be something of a prat. The version of "Here Today" on the A-side is respectful and arguably unadventurous, but propels and kicks the track along determinedly, upping the tempo slightly to suit the English climate it now finds itself in. The chorus in particular clatters along urgently. It's a win-win situation - Beach Boys fans won't feel alienated by it, but listeners after something slightly new will find enough to enjoy. 

It's the flip that's the biggest surprise, though. "But Cry" is a melting pot of styles, from the West Coast jingle-jangle of its guitar melodies and vocal arrangements to the propulsive, driving mod beats. If it's summer and your woman or man has let you down, and you're wearing paisley and beads and just want to sulk in a city park, this shall be your soundtrack. 

7 August 2022

Doctor's Children - Tomorrow I'll Die/ Winds of a Storm

Jangly indie kids of the paisley patterned kind

Label: Glass
Year of Release: 1985

Given the way in which the treble-heavy lo-fi world of mid-eighties indie has been hoovered up, regurgitated, shaken then reissued again in multiple different formats over the last thirty years, it's always slightly surprising to find anything left to talk about on here. Anyone from that era who put out a single with a minimally designed sleeve seems to have had their output re-released by Cherry Red and Revola twice over by now.

Bow before Doctor's Children, then, who have been really (unfairly) neglected in the race to remind the world that once upon a time, bands did as they liked and a cottage industry happily indulged and even paid them. "Tomorrow I'll Die" was their debut single in 1985, and while the group were not Creation signings, it has a lot of clear similarities with that roster - sharp guitar sounds meet howling vocals and a steady, patient back-beat. The group could regularly be found supporting the Jazz Butcher at London gigs, and developed a fair reputation for psychedelically tinged indie-pop as time moved on.

If that's your bag, this possibly isn't the best place to start, but their follow-up "Rose Cottage EP" has moments of beautiful autumnal melancholy, not least the chilly "Blessed Is The Man" which sees the group really fill out their sound more ambitiously with swelling organ sounds and chiming piano lines.

The group eventually released the John Leckie produced LP "King Buffalo" in 1987 which managed to pick up the attention of notorious critic Robert Christgau stateside, who noted their ambitions to put a new spin on classic American rock and happily observed the "chaotic feedback and organ murk subsumed in the soaring Byrdsy-Velvetsy ebb and flow". Ultimately though, he only saw fit to conclude his review flippantly with "so it goes in the realms of better-than-average guitar bands". Damning them with faint praise this may have been, but he still seemed fonder of them than The Stone Roses or Radiohead who were given far lower marks further down the line. 

3 August 2022

Dansette Damage - 2001 and three quarters Approximately/ Must Be Love

Soulful, bluesy New Wave musings from 1980

Label: Pinnacle
Year of Release: 1980

Birmingham's Dansette Damage must surely qualify as the only punk band to have put out a single produced by Robert Plant (albeit under a pseudonym - they had to be mysterious, those punk punters wouldn't have touched a Led Zeppelin affiliated 45 with yours, mate). Only 2,500 copies of "The Only Sound/ NME" were pressed up, and it's a beefy, thuggish, stomping effort which has deservedly attracted some attention over the years, and not just for the Wolverhampton Wanderer's help.

Less has been said about their Plantless follow-up single, issued on the indie distributor Pinnacle's own label a couple of years later, and perhaps that's because stylistically it couldn't be further apart. It's a much more polished piece of moody, bluesy, strutting New Wave which combines surreal and dystopian lyrical imagery with impassioned female backing vocals. Without doing anything particularly unorthodox musically across its three-and-a-half minutes, it's an uneasy piece of work and the band (or songwriter and singer Colin Hall) have tried to point out the coincidence that the year 2001 and three quarters would, of course, be 1st September 2001, very close to 9/11. 

Personally, I think that's stretching a coincidence to breaking point and there are few signs that the group were the Nostradamuses of New Wave in the lyrics; those references to keyhole peepers, skyscrapers and jailbreakers are very trad rock indeed and could have formed part of a Thin Lizzy track. Nonetheless, despite its commercial production and dogged groove it still manages to convey a deep sense of paranoid menace without once descending into rockisms. It certainly doesn't scream "daytime radio", which is probably why it wasn't even close to being a hit.

31 July 2022

Jonny Rubbish - Living In NW3 4JR/ The Other Side

If one Johnny Rotten sometimes exaggerates and lies, but the parody of Johnny Rotten always tells the truth, which one is actually right wing?

Label: United Artists
Year of Release: 1978

Novelty takes on punk rock were all the rage within minutes of the scene becoming mainstream news. Given that one of the primary objectives of punk was that anyone could do it, the doorway was left wide open for amateur aspiring comedians and social commentators to feel they could parody it too - it doesn't take a stand-up comedian more than a day to learn how to play a few chords badly, after all, making the movement easy pickings for quick and cheap laughs.

Enter Jonny Rubbish stage left, or Jon Gatward as his family knew him. He was a "punk comic" who supported The Stranglers on tour, being canned and spat off stage while he stood around in a dustbin mocking the careers of John Lydon, Paul McCartney and The Bee Gees with slightly heavy-handed parodies of their styles.

Only two singles of his seem to have hit the record shops, this one - by far the superior effort in my opinion - and a festive parody of The Bee Gees called "Santa's Alive" which is so awful I'm surprised The Stranglers didn't garrotte him for it. Both 45s are blunt takes on dominant trends and topical issues, with some lines which veer close to student revue stylings and others which are unexpectedly funny. NW3 4JR refers to the area of Belsize Park Gardens in South Hampstead, an area much sought after by the cream of North London society, and the track opens with Rubbish sneering "I am a Capita-LIST!" It's completely impossible to ascertain whether he's talking about himself as a defined comedy character or mocking the idea that John Lydon was ever a bog-standard prole with the kids' best interests at heart, but the track continues with all the savagely conservative, aspirational gusto of a man who sincerely wishes to attain the status of Hampstead.

The production is incredibly on-the-money though, sounding gritty, distorted, grainy and strangely thrilling, reminding us that underneath the alleged Great Rock and Roll Swindle lay some bloody astounding material which would have sounded exciting in just about anybody's amateur hands, even a comedy man in a trashcan.

The B-side, on the other hand, is largely some very dodgy spoken-word nonsense about Rabbis going on strike which might have halfway worked in Peter Cook and Dudley Moore's hands, but here just sounds badly thought through at best.

27 July 2022

Reupload - Rudy Grant - Space Oddity/ Every Step I Made


Reggae cover of David Bowie's classic. It works slightly better than you'd suppose.

Label: Ensign
Year of Release: 1981

It never ceases to amaze me how many unexpected and ambitious reggae cover versions there are out there. Some work, whereas others set their sights high and miss by miles.

In 1981, Eddy Grant's brother Rudy, not content with stopping at one or two singles, decided to record an entire album of covers which contained some unusual but generally workable choices, such as John Lennon's "Woman", Simon and Garfunkel's "Sound of Silence", and Stevie Wonder's "Lately". All of these attempts hang together well, and in the case of the Simon and Garfunkel classic, amazingly so.

This, however, is on dangerous territory. While the original version of "Space Oddity" may have a catchy melody at its centre, it's filled with odd fits and starts and instrumental diversions - which is what elevated the song above the mere 'novelty' tag some felt keen to give it during its initial chart run. It's an enormously sprawling, filmic sounding track with each flourish adding drama to the lyrical storyline. As such, it's a very tricky song to tack a steady reggae beat on to, and the way Rudy sidesteps this is quite interesting.