15 May 2022

K'nuts In May - Living On A Giro/ Round The Edges

Pals of Jona Lewie make a song and dance about signing on

Label: Ritz
Year of Release: 1983

Songs, poems and comedy about the perils of looking for work and signing on were common fare from the early to mid-eighties - perhaps unsurprisingly so given the difficulties many young people encountered finding work. Equally though, living on the dole was a not uncommon way of pursuing creative ambitions without the distraction of a nine to five job draining energy and gumming up the thought processes, which probably inspired a lot of people to write about it as well. 

Keef Hartley, ex-member of pub rockers The Thunderbolts, certainly seemed to know the topic well enough, singing here about searching the small ads and dreaming of a decent little earner. The song itself is surprisingly bouyant and catchy given the despondent subject matter, stuffed with brassy flourishes and swinging rhythms, coming from the same oddball New Wave corner of the music business as The Piranhas and Splodgenessabounds. "Join the army!" suggest some children, only for Trussell to sigh "I don't think they'd 'ave me..." wearily, only for the chorus to push all negativity to one side with more feet-kicking.

Trussell had previously played percussion on Jona Lewie's LPs "On The Other Hand There's A Fist" and  "Heart Skips Beat", and Lewie repays the favour here by picking up the accordian on the A-side (though it's not really a prominent feature of the track). The group otherwise appear to be a cast of thousands, with Tony O'Malley on piano, Malcolm Hine on guitar and bass, Chris Smith on drums, Bobby Henrit on percussion, and Ken Butcher and Andy McDonald on saxes. With a line-up like that, it's a wonder the group managed to earn much money between them, meaning a trip to the DHSS would have been nigh on essential to stay afloat. 

11 May 2022

Travis - Get The Life/ L.E.T.


"Look Around You" synths meet smooth pop, backed with 60s indebted instro

Label: Charity 12
Year of Release: 1984

Some eighties sounds have, despite their dated synths and occasionally deadening production values, remained current and deeply influential. I was talking on Twitter recently about the way Simple Minds "Don't You (Forget About Me)" seems to have swept into every subsequent generation's consciousness not (in my opinion) because it's an immaculately crafted song, but because it's a box of production tricks  which fulfils so many ideas about what an eighties track should sound like - those Live Aid friendly hollers from Jim Kerr, despondent synth washes and gutter-kicking post-punk lyrical touches ("rain keeps falling...") make it seem like a three minute time capsule of the era.

Other songs, on the other hand, mesh together everything the eighties left behind, the elements that were never hugely successful, and therefore never properly resuscitated, making them feel like strange artefacts in their own right. "Get The Life" here does exactly that - the introductory synth lines squeak and squeal in a way that would please Synthesiser Patel off "Look Around You", the basslines pulse and knock and metallic robot voices join in on the backing vocals, because of course they do. The whole track feels as if it should be seen through the fuzzy colours of a VHS off-air recording, and makes me feel old in a way some of the music from the same era doesn't.

This needn't be a bad thing, of course - music which is firmly and unquestionably rooted in its time period has its own charm. What makes this more baffling, however, is the way the instrumental B-side appears to aping the basement grooves of the sixties. Analogue synths aside, it's all go-go girls, honking electric organ sounds, driving rhythms and groovy babies by the dozen.

8 May 2022

Mynah Bird - Hippy Gumbo/ Get Yourself Off

Marc Bolan goes to the disco 

Label: President
Year of Release: 1979

President is an utterly fascinating label, and the further you get out of its sixties boom period, the more oddness you tend to dig up. From heavy glam to novelty reggae to flop synth pop, the company tried their hand at literally every genre known to man in order to score more hits, but mostly had to content themselves with a marginal status. 

This is one of the more obscure releases of the lot, and also one of the most startling. Marc Bolan's "Hippy Gumbo" was, in its original incarnation, a typical piece of bleating acoustic folk without much of a groove to it at all. Even when Marsha Hunt took it on in 1969 she did little but add more rounded, soothing vocals to the affair.

Which makes the approach taken by the mysterious Mynah Bird here seem utterly unexpected. Not for them further orchestrated pontificating on the fate of Gumbo - why should you when it seems you could just as easily take the track to the disco? "Hippy Gumbo" here is a full-blown party sound, bouncing enthusiastically while imploring us to chop up and set fire to the man in question. It shouldn't work in the slightest, but strangely it does, to the point that by the time the needle hits the run-out grooves you can't understand why it wasn't a more sprightly tune to begin with. 

The B-side "Get Yourself Off" is further fun, sounding like the kind of 70s cocktail disco Mark Moore of S'Express was fascinated with. The spoken word segments certainly ploughed the same areas in a similar fashion, mentioning classy clubs, exotic holidays and hang-gliding for some reason, never for a moment giving the listener the impression that this might be a serious exercise.

4 May 2022

Reupload - Glass Menagerie - Do My Thing Myself/ Watching The World Pass By

The final, harder edged single by the cult Burnley popsike merchants. 

Label: Polydor
Year of Release: 1969

The Glass Menagerie are probably most famed among obsessive buyers of sixties compilations for their bursts of light psychedelia. From their cult classic "Frederick Jordan" to their cover of the Rolling Stones "She's A Rainbow", their output tends to litter popsike mixes the length and breadth of the land despite the fact (*lowers voice*) that they really weren't that "way out" at all. 

After they were dropped by Pye in 1968 following the failure of their cover of Harry Nilsson's "I Said Goodbye To Me" (which some have suggested David Bowie must have heard), Polydor took them on for two more singles. Their first effort for their new employers was the haunting "Have You Forgotten Who You Are", which was more of the same sound. Their second and final release for the label, though, was this little stormer. Judging by the contents of both the A-side and the flip, they were trying to go for a harder rock sound in the hope of a winning a new audience. Suffice to say, it obviously failed and they disappeared into oblivion not long afterwards.

1 May 2022

Rare Amber - Malfunction Of The Engine/ Blind Love

Sixties blues rock ensemble with their solitary 45

Label: Polydor
Year of Release: 1969

The late sixties and early seventies blues-rock explosion probably gave the impression that every single group with trouble and Screaming Jay Hawkins on their minds shifted tons of gig tickets and records. In reality, there were very few arena-filling acts and a lot of bands who instead had to satisfy themselves with the bar-room and university circuit.

The short-lived London act Rare Amber were one such example who barely made it into the seventies. "Malfunction of the Engine" was their only 45 and it's a strangely minimal, haunted sounding record with subtle effects, twangy guitars and a stripped back rhythm section. It's certainly not an impersonation of delta blues, but a cavernous, troubled and fragile effort which Joe Meek might not have been ashamed of. It couldn't sound less like a hit single if it tried, but its nonetheless a strange and unique fish in the middle of a genre which was could be tediously predictable.

On the B-side is a straightforward cover of BB King's "Blind Love" which might have been closer to the average blues-lover's taste. 

They released a full LP in the same year which sold equally poorly and is now a much sought-after collector's item. Following that, they seem to have taken the logical decision to break up in the wake of public disinterest.