1 December 2021

Bizarre Boys - Hop Off You Frogs (Taking The Pissoire)/ Electro Frog


Gary Bushell and pals with their dire Francophobic 45

Label: Creole
Year of Release: 1986

The trouble with most tabloid press shitstorms is that, far from being the defining news stories or arguments of the year, they're frequently barely even the hundredth most important event happening that minute. The endless froth and seethe of most red-tops is often manufactured outrage to either distract readers from the real problems of the day (if you're buying into left-wing social theory) or attempt to excite them by treating the world as one giant wrestling match. Simplistic stories about heroes and villains always seem to sell whether they're on the big screen or the newspapers. 

Over the in blue corner in 1986 we had Renaud Sechan, a French singer of some renown in his home country who had a minor chart hit there called "Miss Maggie". The song, Sechan claimed, was first and foremost a celebration of femininity, dedicated to all women of the world who he felt were marvellous, apart from Margaret Thatcher whose behaviour he deemed "more masculine than a man's". The English translation of the song ends with the killer lines: "And when the final curtain draws/ He'll join the cretins in the harvest/ Playing football, playing wars/ Or who can piss the farthest/ I would join the doggic host and love my days on earth/ As my day to day lampost I would use Madame Thatcher."

Renaud's outlook is far from perfect here. Stereotyping women as fair damsels who are entirely peaceable and universally politically fair-minded is problematic in itself (I could think of a couple of female French politicians who are far from being the kind of gentle perfumed hippies he describes) as is declaring tough - or masculine - behaviour in women to be a wholly negative and unwanted trait. For all its occasional sharpness, elements of the song veer close to Rik the People's Poet territory. As such, his sweeping statements perhaps should have been picked apart, but in the end, the only people prepared to step forward and do so were a bunch of hacks from The Sun who weren't exactly interested in delving into the contradictions and undercurrents of his argument. 

Journalist Geoff Barker offered a tune he'd written (or at least some lyrics to the tune of "Under The Bridges Of Paris") to some pals from the paper to perform - broadly unnamed in press interviews apart from Gary Bushell, who in typical fashion seemed keen to stand in the spotlight even when it might have been a better idea not to.
"There's a lot of animosity between the French and the British", Bushell declared. "We couldn't miss the chance to have our say".  

28 November 2021

Strange Fruit - Night Time/ Fun Bags


Jazz fusion types with instrumental funky shenanigans

Label: President
Year of Release: 1982

President was one of the first successful independent labels in the UK, scoring very quickly with The Equals in the sixties and seldom looking back throughout the rest of that decade. By the eighties, though, success was becoming much more elusive for the label, and there's a towering pile of (frequently limited run) flops of varying genres and styles to pick through.

Most are utterly unrewarding, it has to be said, but this one turned out to be a bit of a pearl. Strange Fruit were a group formed by Geoff Castle of jazz-rockers Nucleus and Paz and Rick Morcombe in the late seventies who specialised in jazz fusion. One LP emerged on President in 1981 (the unimaginatively and optimistically titled "Debut") which contained side A here, which is a busy, pounding slice of none-more-eighties instro-funk. The hyperactive bass line provides a solid foundation for the swinging brass, and the whole thing manages to be fun despite its fussiness and undoubted resemblance to an early evening drama theme.

Perhaps the fact it sounds like it's from a soundtrack shouldn't be surprising, because both Castle and Morecombe had form in this area, producing the KPM library music LP "Pulse Of The City" in 1978, containing tracks such as "Action Event", "Street Hussle", "Funky Cat" and "City Lights". In places, that LP offers more of the same, but with a distinctly less ambitious or punchy production. Any library music aficionados who enjoy that surely won't be disappointed with this single.

24 November 2021

Reupload - Sasha Caro - Grade 3 Section 2/ Little Maid's Song


Cat Stevens produced singer-songwriter with top quality psych 45

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1967

Sasha Caro was one of those interesting characters who was everywhere but nowhere on the sixties London scene. He was born in Rangoon in 1940, but his family fled to England when Burma was invaded by the Japanese, remaining on these shores thereafter. A love of music quickly sucked him into both the business and creative side of the "industry", and he took some promising steps at commercial songwriting. Originally beginning his career under the name Rick Minas, he co-wrote the non-hits "Lease On Love" by the Graham Bond Organisation and "I Won't See You Tonight" by Hamilton and The Movement, besides setting up the cheap recording studio RayRik with his business partner Bruce Rae. He also had a deeply obscure solo folk 45 out on Polydor in 1965 entitled "Well I Want No Part Of It". 

Very few of their other songs managed to gain a release, though several appeared on an episode of "Dangerman" in the sixties as part of the episode "Not So Jolly Roger", which took place on a pirate radio station. All the "top sounds" the DJs spun throughout the episode were actually just recordings of Rick Minas's work, though none of these gained a commercial release after the episode aired. 

Somehow, Cat Stevens managed to discover Rick through his songwriting demos, and took him under his wing to attempt to launch him as a star in his own right. His name was changed to Sasha Caro, and the two resulting Stevens-produced Decca 45s are damn good - it's astonishing that they didn't find a place on "Rubble" or one of the other many compilations that swept up the best of the Decca and Deram labels psychedelic output. On the sprightly and intricate folk-pop styled "Grade 3 Section 2" Rick's voice is on fine form, swooping beautifully all over the song. The track manages to be rustic sounding without losing any catchy pop appeal, and while it does share a similar sound to Cat Stevens' own work, it's nonetheless a fine single. 

Sadly, I can't include the flip side "Little Maid's Song" below as it was recently compiled on the "Piccadilly Sunshine" series, and therefore remains commercially available. However, you can listen to it on YouTube if you want. 

21 November 2021

Winy - My Son John/ Step By Step


Popsike (or bubblegum, depending on your point of view) from Swiss pop star

Label: Major Minor
Year of Release: 1970

Sometimes the fact an artist isn't from an English speaking nation is a dead giveaway. Take this record, for example - nobody in the Anglosphere would have given themselves the stage name "Winy". It's far too close to "Wino" or "Whiney", neither of which are compliments or the kind of upfront artistic statement anyone would usually wish to make.

I'm assuming Winy is a much more flattering nickname in Switzerland, because it's that nation Erwin "Winy" Klarer comes from. He began his recording career in the Swiss beat group The Angels in 1966, sticking with them for two singles on CBS ("The Creeper" and "Esther's Dance") before embarking on a solo career in 1968.

His first solo effort was a cover of The Beatles' "Birthday" under the name "Winy's Team and The Selection" before this one emerged in 1969 in his native Switzerland, then eventually the following year in the UK. In Europe, the sides were flipped and "Step By Step" was the A-side - Major Minor opted to prioritise the continental B-side "My Son John" over here, which does make some sense. It feels more modern for 1970, less beaty and ever so slightly closer to psychedelic pop, although purists would probably dismiss it as bubblegum.

Me? I think it's a good slice of period pop penned by quality songwriters Flett and Fletcher, who also wrote The Hollies "I Can't Tell The Bottom From The Top", Clout's "Save Me", and numerous tracks for Cliff Richard. It was also released by The Onyx in 1968 who failed to take it anywhere, so perhaps its failure shouldn't have been a total surprise. 

17 November 2021

Maddy Prior - Stookie/ Incidental Music From Stookie


Steeleye Span member takes on theme tune for edgy children's drama

Label: Making Waves
Year of Release: 1985

Children's television often had an unexpected grit and edge in the seventies and eighties, from "Grange Hill" with its highly accurate portrayal of the average British comprehensive as a jungle, to the weird Celtic legend creepiness of "The Owl Service". Both those series are now the stuff of legend, and have a reputation as being unrepeatable as pre-watershed, post-school fare (note: I'm not actually sure whether this is or isn't the case, but feel free to have a debate in your own mind about it). 

"Stookie", however (named after the Glaswegian slang for a headbutt) seems to have fallen out of many people's memory banks despite its edginess, possibly because it only managed one series in 1985. Featuring David McKay playing the sauntering, leathered up, spiked collar wearing main character, it chronicled the complex moral dilemmas posed by a teenager's life on a rough Glasgow estate, run-ins with the police and criminals included. 

If this all sounds like a tad too bleak for afternoon weekday television and not at all the kind of thing we should have been serving up to junior Gen X'ers at the time - and I'm quite sure someone wrote in to complain precisely along those lines - "Stookie" himself was, despite his budget Billy Idol appearances, a measured sort who generally played fair in the longer run, even if you probably wouldn't have wanted to get on the wrong side of one of his football pitch tackles.

The logical choice for a theme tune singer for such a series would have been someone familiar with sharp, edgy riffs and spiky noises, perhaps one of the many Scottish underground groups doing the rounds at the time. Instead, folkie Maddy Prior got the job, an eccentric bit of hiring which could have been close to a disaster. Weirdly though, it makes complete sense, and almost certainly sounds less off-putting than The Jesus and Mary Chain squealing out of the telly at 4pm would have done.