30 December 2008

Screaming Lord Sutch - Jack the Ripper

Normally when looking at any piece of banned or censored material from two decades ago or more, there's a sense of indifference to it. In rock music in particular, what counts as operating on the outer edges of outrage in one decade seldom means much ten years later once the dust has settled. Does The Shamen's "Ebeneezer Goode" still shock anybody, for example? I would have thought by now it's even included on late night "Retro Party Flashback!" shows on local independent radio stations, probably preceeded by a naughty chuckle from the DJ as he or she puts it on. Frankie Goes To Hollywood's "Relax" certainly seems to be played like it was never the subject of censorship these days.

It's a genuine surprise, then, to encounter a banned single from the early sixties which still causes you to do a sharp intake of breath now. In this case, it's not so much the song which feels questionable (although there is a case to be made there) but the video itself - featuring Sutch knifing various women gleefully in his role as Jack the Ripper. Whilst the song itself is an ace piece of very early rock music, where Joe Meek and Sutch combined to created a track which was raw and seething in comparison to their slick and somewhat twee British peers, the video is an uncomfortable watch. It would be banned even now.

Much has already been written about what Screaming Lord Sutch and The Savages contributed towards rock music, and summarising it here is going to be a tough job. Suffice to say, the band were formed as a reaction against the poor state of British popular music rather than out of a desire to be slick and professional. Hence Sutch and his merry crew would utilise stage props, extremely loud amplification, wild drumming and unpredictable behaviour, such as, on one occasion, setting fire to effigies of Cliff Richard. The few clips available online now point towards an act that seems somewhat corny by present day standards, but it's important to consider just what else there was around at the time. Compared to the aforementioned Cliff or even any number of Brian Epstein approved Merseybeat pros, there's something quite unique about them which (cliche alert) was ahead of its time. Whilst other acts were polishing their boots and steam ironing their suits for their appearances on prime time television, Sutch and the Savages were too busy being unbroadcastable. More to the point, they were largely excellent musicians (Noel Redding, Jimmy Page and Ritchie Blackmore all passed through the ranks at some point) immersing themselves in rock and roll and allowing themselves to improvise and occasionally appear out of control. There are numerous reports to the effect that they were one of the best live bands in the country at the time, and whilst I'm obviously far too young to have ever witnessed them, the amount of professional musicians willing to testify to the fact has to count for something.

Less appreciated is the fact that The Savages drummer, Carlo Little, was actually Keith Moon's teacher, offering him lessons when he first purchased a kit. Therefore, Moon's frantic, wild style owes a great deal to the band. You can read Little's account of their meetings here:

Whilst Sutch was always a great lover of outrage and practical jokes, one can't help but feel that the Monster Raving Loony Party (a joke political party he set up to campaign in various elections, for the benefit of any overseas readers) did ultimately blot his copy book, causing him to be remembered as a "character" and figure of fun rather than one of British rock music's first eccentrics, and a pioneer of sorts. Their output was inconsistent, Sutch's voice was certainly nothing to write home about - although his rather character-filled imperfect vocal style predates a lot of other artists as well - but the stir they created clearly got a lot of musicians thinking about how to present themselves, alternative ways of playing, and also what place outrage and unpredictability had in rock music. Anyone declaring that in terms of sales and commercial appreciation versus actual influence on music they were effectively the British Velvet Underground would be greeted with derision. They would also probably be sent down a dark cellar somewhere and whipped for crimes against critical judgement, but somewhere in that statement lies the kernal of a truth.

While we're here, it's possibly also worth looking at the 1977 disco version of "Jack The Ripper", which is rather less pleasing, but does include Sutch sounding ever so slightly like Nick Cave in places. Probably a coincidence, but a cheering one nonetheless.

27 December 2008

Bobak Jons Malone - Motherlight

Bobak Jons Malone - Motherlight

Label: Morgan Blue Town
Year of Release: 1969 (re-issued in 2001 by Edsel)

As this blog has suffered from some Christmas downtime and it's been awhile since the last update, I thought I'd return with something more substantial than the last piece of seven inch vinyl I found in a local second hand store.

The history behind this album is somewhat fishy. It would seem that music business entrepreneur Monty Babson had decided to expand his interests beyond his existing Morgan Studios (sometime home to the Rolling Stones amongst lesser sixties stars) and its damp squib of a record label, and into the area of serious, "progressive" artists on a new outlet called "Morgan Blue Town". Sensing that the musical talent probably lay right under his nose with the numerous session boys who beavered away in the studio at all hours, he asked three of them, Wil Malone, Andy Johns (younger brother of Stones producer Glyn Johns, whose name was bizarrely changed to Jons for the sleeve credit) and engineer Mike Bobak to come up with something suitably forward-thinking for the album market. Babson's deal was not the stuff many would be envious of - he asked them to work late at night during studio dead time, and made them sign an agreement which stated that they lost the rights to their work as soon as they created them. Mike Bobak has since gone on record as saying that he didn't mind this arrangement as "it was never going to sell a million", and perhaps the ad-hoc band also used the duff contract as an excuse to indulge artistic tendencies which might otherwise have been reigned in.

The resulting "Motherlight" album is not without its flaws. "Wanna Make A Star, Sam" smacks of filler, even if it does lyrically predate Pink Floyd's "Have A Cigar", and "Burning The Weed" is a novelty track only worthy of a few listens before the joke wears thin - although astonishingly, it was supposedly the inspiration for DJ Dee Kline's 2000 hit "I Don't Smoke". Beyond those slip ups, however, lie six other tracks which utilise eerie lyrics, dissonance, and adventurous use of studio technology to create one of the more unsettling albums of the era. In particular, "House of Many Windows" is a triumph of the pre-prog, post-psych period, using some strangely effective (rather than outright pretentious) surreal lyrics in tandem with wobbly, giddy piano work and doomy organ passages. "High on A Meadow Lea" is another prime example of bad trip psychedelia, the undercurrent of something threatening and nasty continually tugging at the song's good melodic intentions.

For an album issued in 1969, "Motherlight" is actually an enormously forward-thinking piece of work, stylistically predating a lot of material which other bands would bring out in the seventies, but excusing itself of pompous excess which many other acts would fail to do. Clocking in at just over half an hour long, the album makes its point without outstaying its welcome, and doesn't bash ideas to an early death with tedious long, repetitive instrumental passages which add little to the experience. It's a finely balanced and interesting piece of work, and not for no reason is it frequently talked about amongst collectors.

In fact, "Motherlight" would always have been a dead cert for this blog were it not for the fact that it's been frequently written about on just about every other psychedelic and progressive website in the entire world, but as none of the old uploads for it seem to be available anymore, this seems like a good time to put it out in the public domain again.

As for the people involved, Bobak, Jo(h)ns and Malone all went on to successful careers in the music industry as session players, engineers and producers - Wil Malone, in particular, has worked on arrangements with Massive Attack and The Verve, whilst Andy Johns co-produced Television's "Marquee Moon". This album may have only sold cultishly well in Holland and been largely ignored elsewhere, but the talent working behind it was enough to set the individuals involved up for life.

Track listing

1. Motherlight
2. On A Meadow-Lea
3. Mona Lose
4. Wanna Make A Star, Sam
5. House of Many Windows
6. Chant
7. Burning The Weed
8. The Lens

Now commercially available again and therefore unavailable for download here - so please don't ask!

20 December 2008

Second Hand Record Dip Part 22 - Les Surfs - Go Your Way

Les Surfs - Go Your Way

Who: Les Surfs
What: Go Your Way (b/w "Chained to a Memory")
When: 1965
Label: RCA
Where: Wood Street Market, Walthamstow
Cost: 50p

The current state of the singles collecting market means that I can afford to make the odd mistake now and then. Whereas a lot of stores in the past would have happily priced up any old obscure sixties nonsense at ten pounds purely because it was obscure nonsense, and for no other reason, now things appear to be getting more reasonable. True, some hucksters are presently trying to flog off Beatles singles for extortionate sums of money purely because they are out-source pressings from when EMI's in-house facilities were stretched to capacity, even though to all intents and purposes they are exactly the same product, but besides that... there's a recession on. Haven't you heard?

This means that items I would have walked past back when people were pricing them up in a barmy fashion I now take a punt on... sometimes it pays off, and very frequently I'm afraid it doesn't. Take this single, for instance. I was absolutely convinced that Les Surfs were probably some kind of French surf rock band, which would have been impossible to walk past for the same price as a bar of Snickers - but it transpires that they were actually a family act from Madagascar who did a reasonable, if rather unexciting, line in harmony pop.

Apparently huge in many European countries but never quite breaking through in Britain, Les Surfs are still much loved by a lot of sixties pop collectors, and their material certainly has a certain warmth and naive charm. Dick Dale, however, it most definitely is not.

18 December 2008

Crazy World of Arthur Brown - Nightmare (b/w "Music Man")

Crazy World of Arthur Brown Nightmare

Label: Track
Year of Release: 1968

Poor Arthur Brown. His career started out in an enormously humble way, regularly playing psychedelic nights in tiny basement bars around London, before - seemingly out of the blue - "Fire" shot to number one in 1968 and changed his status overnight. From that point on, everybody involved with the act had to find a way of keeping a terrifying looking man wearing firey headgear in the public eye. This is inevitably where the problems started.

There's no question that there was more to Brown than screeching, shouting and demonic organ solos, but to be frank, his act could never be fairly described as 'pop'. The track "Give Him A Flower" proves that there was a fantastic Bonzos-esque sense of humour going on as well, but even in that case the jokes were possibly too niche and too knowing for mainstream consumption. Perhaps with this in mind, "Nightmare" became the follow-up to his number one, and lo and behold... nobody bought it.

"Nightmare" is even more threatening than "Fire", consisting mostly of a determined, full-on organ riff topped off with Brown's demonic screaming. It's not a bad record at all, but had Radio One played this during the daytime, it would have terrified the wits out of most of the nation - gone is the almost groovy hook, and instead there's a lot of terror and minimalism in its place. No horn section this time, I'm afraid.

Cases have been made for Arthur Brown by numerous critics at numerous points, and the claims that he 'invented Heavy Metal' and 'inspired Alice Cooper' are by now tremendously well-known. It does seem very sad, then, to think that the only major mention he's received on television in the last ten years has been on Chris Morris' Brasseye special, where "The Crazy World of Arthur Brown" was revealed as being a slang phrase for a paedophile. As if being an undeserved one-hit wonder weren't enough of a problem...

16 December 2008

The Pre-Curve Toni Halliday Entry

The Uncles - What's The Use of Pretending?

Label: MCA
Year of Release: 1984

Ah, Toni Halliday... it's impossible for her name to be mentioned without my eyes glazing over in a dream-like state as I remember my adolescent fondness for her. When the band Curve were at the peak of their powers (in 1992) I had a poster of her on my wall which stayed put for many years. Besides being involved with some of the more interesting, dense and adventurous alternative pop of the period, where clattering drum patterns, effects laden guitars and revving bass lines all collided, she also coated the singles with her own gentle, honey-sweet singing voice, delivering lyrics which were frequently barbed and defiant.

At the time, though, they were greeted with a great deal of suspicion. Far from being fresh, naive young souls on the indie block, Curve had a history which was considerably less credible. Not long before their first EP found its way out into the world, Toni Halliday had been releasing very middle of the road pop singles - this lead to accusations that she was "cashing in on alternative rock" from some sources. I still find this somewhat unbelievable. "Alternative Rock" - in its truist, non-Kaiser Chiefs, non-Ting Tings form - is a particularly tricky beast to cash in on, seldom paying a musician's rent. Had Halliday and Dean Garcia wanted to make a fast buck, it seems more logical to me that they'd have tried releasing some novelty dance singles sampling children's TV theme tunes, or perhaps attempted some cynical cover versions. Playing with effects pedals on guitars and releasing songs with lyrics like "It's never enough to swallow those pills/ Now I'm sick, and always will be" is an odd way to approach multi-platinum success.

Nonetheless, to have some understanding of where the cynicism came from, it's really worth listening to some early Halliday singles. The first proper release she was involved with was The Uncles "What's The Use of Pretending" which is actually a piece of utterly forgettable pop music with cheap, brassy synth noises and Tears for Fears inspired electronic oriental instrumentation. Toni's voice doesn't yet have any subtlety, yelping the vocals in a jerky, eighties style rather than the soft but savage approach she later developed. The B-side "Deep Water" even goes so far as to be outright crap - it's a long, long way from here to the "Doppelganger" album, and that's for sure.

At the tail end of her solo career in 1988, not long before Curve came into being, "Love Attraction" saw the light of day on Dave Stewart's "Anxious" label...

Toni Halliday - Love Attraction

....and in terms of ideas and range it's a huge improvement, albeit not one which is likely to have set many Curve fans' pants on fire. There's not a big difference between this and a great deal of the middle of the road solo artist pop that scattered itself throughout the lower half of the Top 100 in Britain at the time, but there's a confidence about it which is impossible to entirely dismiss.

Of course, all of this begs the question of how the giant leap from middle-of-the-road solo artist to alternative hero was achieved so quickly, and I'm afraid my answer isn't very interesting - it was probably a case of somebody with a varied musical taste suddenly deciding to do her own thing after years of having a rather unimpressive solo career filled with compromises (see also: Tori Amos). Feel free to download the above two examples below, although I apologise for the scratches on "Love Attraction" and its B-side "Child":

Probably the best thing I can do is leave you all with a YouTube video of Curve's "Coast is Clear" just to remind you of what we're talking about...

14 December 2008

Medicine Head - It's Natural (b/w "Moonchild")

Medicine Head - It's Natural

Label: Barn
Year of Release: 1976

Medicine Head have always been a curious case, so far as I'm concerned. Depending upon who you speak to, they were either "Forward thinking punk rockers playing the blues in a minimal and daring way", "A pretty good rock band, good for a couple of quid on the live circuit, actually", or "purist bores who were lucky to last as long as they did with one idea". That's what my three imaginary friends said on the telephone when I rang them up just now, anyway (they don't get together in one place very often - there would be too many fights).

For my part, I find it hard to understand how a duo who began with so much credibility could become so seldom referenced. Consisting of John Fiddler on vocals, guitar, piano and drums and Peter Hope-Evans on harmonica, jew's harp and mouthbow, they played blues tinged rock and roll stripped down and raw. John Peel adored them so much he signed them to his own label, Dandelion Records, and even gave them their first hit "(And The) Pictures in the Sky" - a minimal thumper with jew's harp, humming, rather T Rexy lyrics and bar-room boogie piano which, for however 'worthy' that sounds, is actually bloody ace, not making much of an impression first listen, but worming its way into your head slowly and finally setting up home there for good. Had it been issued in the sixties rather than 1971, we'd probably be talking about it a lot more than we presently do.

The whole "Two Man Band" schtick of Medicine Head, plus the blues influences, does make one wonder if Peel recognised bits of the White Stripes in them at a later date. It's true to say that The White Stripes are a lot better, and less hairy, and more noisy and less considered than The Head, but the template remained much the same. A standard quote in reviews of their gigs at the time seemed to be "It's astonishing how two people playing the blues can make so much noise!", which, of course, became the standard line for virtually every hack seeing Jack and Meg for the first time in the late nineties. Perhaps when somebody else comes along and does it for a third time fewer people will have their expectations confounded.

By the time "It's Natural" slipped out in 1976, Medicine Head had already managed to have a top ten hit and three top forty hits on Polydor, but no hit albums. After it became clear they weren't going to have their contract renewed, they moved over to Slade manager Chas Chandler's label Barn, who began to handle their affairs.

One of their final shots, "It's Natural" is a slightly tame beast despite its rolling groove. There's some nice guitar twanging in there and I still find the whole thing impossible to dislike, but it couldn't sound less like a single if it tried - the fact it flopped, then, should not bother us unduly, but the fact that the band were heading towards the end of their careers possibly should have done. For all their hair and beards and worship at the alter of thousands of sacrificied bluesmen, part of me thinks that there was something quite DIY and intriguing about them which didn't quite 'fit' the excesses of prog, and the fact that they've been relegated to a very minor footnote in rock music since seems a bit unjust.

Shortly after this single, the band split, and neither John Fiddler or Peter Hope-Evans have played together again since.

11 December 2008

Karel Fialka - The Eyes Have It

Label: Blueprint
Year of Release: 1980

I've always found records which failed to entertain the Top 40 but gained a lot of airplay fascinating. It must cause pluggers everywhere to come crashing back down to earth as they realise that their job alone cannot guarantee a hit. It must also cause the artist a certain amount of grief - who do they blame, the distribution, the label, or their own song?

Perhaps Karel Fialka has given the above a lot of consideration over the years, because "The Eyes Have It" was a total smash in airplay terms, even managing to get (as you can see) a Top of the Pops slot despite only climbing as high as number 52. Although back in the day TOTP were known for doing things like this now and then, getting a new act on to the show on a Thursday night without a hit would still be considered a major victory for any plugger. Despite the exposure, the public clearly decided not to bite, and it went ignored to the extent that even when he did finally get a hit with the truly irritating "Hey Matthew" seven years later, most people didn't seem to remember his past.

"The Eyes Have It" isn't without its charms, although it's very much a period piece and would have sounded utterly out of place if released three years later. For 1980, however, it has all the correct elements - those mechanical, jerky, dispassionate vocals much loved by many major label New Wave one-hit wonders (See also: Flash and the Pan), an insistent, slogan driven hook, and some synth noises which now sound dated in a charming way. As much as eighties production values seem to be making a resurgance, it's precisely this kind of record which seemingly never gets revisited by the present cool kids on the block. As a result, it seems more distant to me and makes me feel more nostalgic than something like XTC's "Black Sea", which has been ripped off more times than I can be bothered to count in the last six years (not that this stops it from being a superb album, of course, just a very heavily plundered one).

It's as well to be realistic, however, and for all the rigid mechanical sloganeering stomp of this single, it was possibly all a bit too minimal to ever have had much chance of being more than a minor hit. Blueprint were also a subsidiary of Pye Records who were known for being dreadful at breaking any new artist at this point in time, and the two factors combining can't have helped Karel Fialka much at all. The upshot of that is that "Hey Matthew" gets used in pub quizzes as an example of a one hit wonder, when to be perfectly bloody honest I'd be happy to forget it ever happened. Such is life.

8 December 2008

Earl Brutus - The Early Singles (Well, most of them...)

Since uploading the last set of Earl Brutus mp3s some entries ago, I'm both stunned and reassured to discover that they are the second most popular reason people come to this blog from Google (See if you can guess the most popular reason. It's not hard). It's surprising because whilst they had a hardcore army of fans throughout the late nineties, their records never sold in staggering quantities even with the might of Island's marketing muscle behind them for their second album. It's reassuring because, of course, they frequently made some of the best music of the latter half of that decade - warped, demented, occasionally ramshackle but always invigorating krautpunkrock records with whopping great glam rock beats tacked on, rather like furry dice to the windscreen mirror of a mud splattered Volkswagen stock racing car.

At a time when a lot of bands were frequently prissy about their work, they reminded us that sometimes spontaneous, messy chaos is at the root of a lot of good rock music. And so it proved - the first album "Your Majesty We Are Here" was written and recorded in two weeks flat, and still sounds a hell of a lot better than most albums that year which had huge budgets. It shames the major players to such an extent that when they signed to Island, I (wrongly, as it turned out) fretted about their material losing its edge.

The main thing to bear in mind when listening to these pre-major label singles, then, is that the B sides probably aren't going to be a good introduction to the band for newcomers. In the fortnight "Your Majesty..." was put together, it doesn't seem as if there was a lot of meat left on the bones to dish out to the singles buying public. For the most part - and with one or two choice exceptions - these are instrumental curios or rum little doodles which aren't up there with the band's best. The A sides, on the other hand, are largely different from the mixes on the album and sound as fresh and brutal as ever.

Two things in particular you should pay attention to are "Bonjour Monsieur", the second single from the band which never made it on to the album, and is up their with some of their best material, and the utterly ludicrous "Flash Versus Tarkus" mix of "Life's Too Long" which uses dialogue from the film "Flash" to rebuild the single.

Missing from this download set, I'm afraid, is the 1993 single mix of "Life's Too Long" backed with "Valley of the Slimkings", which I've never seen a copy of anywhere - if anyone can help or enlighten me or even upload the damn thing, I'd be grateful. Also, completely unlisted on the Wikipedia discography is the limited edition 1995 Christmas single "Single Seater Xmas", which I also don't have a copy of, and also seems to have been absent from second hand record store shelves for as long as I've been looking. Still, that was available as part of the download for the "Your Majesty" album some time back, and you can't have everything...

For further information, click on the "Earl Brutus" tag at the bottom of this entry.

Bonjour Monsieur (b/w "On Me Not In Me")

Earl Brutus - Bonjour Monsieur

Label: Royal Mint
Year of Release: 1995
Source: 7" vinyl rip

Navyhead (b/w "North Sea Bastard")

Earl Brutus - Navyhead

Label: Deceptive
Year of Release: 1996
Source: 7" vinyl rip

Life's Too Long

Earl Brutus - Life's Too Long

Label: Deceptive
Year of Release: 1996
Source: CD single

1. Life's Too Long
2. I Love Earl Brutus (Introducing Shinya)
3. Motarola
4. Life's Too Long (Flash Versus Tarkus)

I'm New (b/w "Like Queer David" and "Mondo Rotunda")

Earl Brutus - I'm New

Label: Deceptive
Year of Release: 1996
Source: 7" vinyl rip

4 December 2008

Frazier Chorus - Typical

Frazier Chorus - Typical!

Label: Virgin
Year of Release: 1989

"Inspired by no-one/ other groups bore us/ how can you say we sound like Frazier Chorus?" - 'Girlfriends Finished With Him' by Half Man Half Biscuit

The only surprising thing about this particular Left and to the Back entry is that it took so long for me to bother to upload it here - after all, I uploaded a Chart Show clip of the video nearly two years ago, which has since been sitting pretty on YouTube by itself picking up plentiful hits.

Frazier Chrorus were probably one of the ultimate cult bands in the late eighties and early nineties, picking up an audience from all over the genre spectrum. "Ravers", if we wish to clumsily use early nineties tabloid speak, apparently purchased their album "Sue" to enjoy as comedown listening. Stranded C86 kids with no off-kilter arty bands to appreciate in the Madchester flood snapped up their records with joy (Stuart Murdoch out of Belle and Sebastian was one of them). I might be imagining it, but I'm also fairly sure that Radio Two played them once or twice, and the then yuppie targetted, CD lifestyle dominated magazines "Q" and "Select" had plenty of praise to heap on them. Radio airplay may have proved to be a problem, but for awhile it seemed as if they might be precisely the kind of odd band which breaks away from the indie fringes - the type of act for whom uniqueness might prove to be an advantage rather than a stumbling block.

Despite the Half Man Half Biscuit lyric above, nobody really sounded much like Frazier Chorus at the time (even Jona Lewie, despite the protestations of a couple of critics) with their hushed, whispered vocals, and use of flutes, strings and chiming glockenspiels. They sounded rather like an act who had raided the school instrument cupboard and then been forced to rehearse quitely in the library before being introduced to the world - and whilst that should be an awful, awful prospect, it created a bizarre noise which was at once richer and more varied than their contemporaries, as well as introducing some gentleness and introspection to a rather boisterous music scene. In fact, it's a noise which suits eighties production values incredibly well (unlike a lot of the other poor sods who had to record at the time). The fussy, velvety nature of most studio activity from the period seems to work in their favour.

It didn't all take off perhaps quite as well as some people expected, obviously, but the amount of affection they created is still very apparent in many online communities, and they seem to be remembered to a greater degree than (for example) more successful alternative acts of the same period like The High.

As a footnote, it's worth adding that apparently Martin Freeman is lead singer Tim Freeman's brother, and the character in "The Office" was partly based on him [citation needed - ed]. A point to ponder whilst you listen to the "Typical" twelve inch single, perhaps...

1. Typical (Extended Mix)
2. String
3. Born with a Headache

Oh, and here's the video clip:

3 December 2008

Eddy Phillips - Limbo Jimbo (B/W Change My Ways)

Eddy Phillips - Limbo Jimbo

Label: Charisma
Year of Release: 1976

We haven't had too many examples of singles on this blog which should be filed under the section "You Couldn't Get Away With It Nowadays (and perhaps that's just as well)". Of the few we've had that have felt uncomfortably iffy, none of them have been by a respected cult star, so let's all hold hands together as we break new ground with this particular obscurity, because it's a long way down.

Before I start explaining the content of the single, I may as well begin by saying that I'm a fan of The Creation and think that the bulk of their sixties recorded output deserves the respect it receives from aficiandos. Whilst fans of obscure sixties garage and psychedelia can sometimes be a little too free with their praise, using superlatives to describe any number of mediocre flops, The Creation really should have broken through. Any band capable of recording "Making Time" and "How Does It Feel to Feel" has already earned a well-deserved mention in the rock history books so far as I'm concerned, and there the argument can rest.

Despite the above, when lead guitarist Eddy Phillips tried to launch his solo career on the world in 1976, surely nobody could have been expecting this. Utilising riffs from The Creation's sole hit "Painter Man", "Limbo Jimbo" tells a tale of Jamaican immigration which is borderline offensive to say the least. "He got in trouble with the law", sings Eddy in a fake accent, describing Jimbo's arrival in Britain, "He limbo'ed under a ladies door". I don't have any statistics for what the crime rates were in Britain for Jamaican males limboing their way into ladies quarters without permission, but I'd be willing to bet it wasn't that much of a problem. We'd surely have heard about it.

Further stereotypes and cliches abound, and we are told towards the end of the sorry tale that Jimbo wants to return to Jamaica to the nice weather and (most mysteriously of all) "DA TORNADOES!"

Anybody expecting a blistering piece of mod pop is going to be very disappointed indeed by this one, as it's closer to in style to Typically Tropical than The Creation, and Eddy Phillips must regularly thank his lucky stars it was never a hit - his band's reappraisal might otherwise never have happened in the eighties. The flip side "Change My Ways" is a piece of country-tinged rock that sounds like the sort of thing you'd have expected him to return with after spending so long away - the A side seems to be mysteriously overlooked by people writing about the man.

For what it's worth, I doubt the single is meant to be malicious, and we can probably just about get away with referring to it as "dated kitsch" and moving swiftly on.

1 December 2008

Psychic TV - Good Vibrations

Label: Temple
Year of Release: 1986

"Good Vibrations" probably sits right up there with "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "A Day in The Life" as songs which should never be covered, and would only be touched by either somebody desperate to take the piss or one who felt very, very daring.

It's difficult to say what category Psychic TV's version of this song falls under, but there's something about this whole package which is enticing in a peculiar way. Ostensibly, the band haven't bothered to significantly change the original arrangement of the tune, and have for the most part in fact faithfully replicated the entire thing - but then there are some unsettling and wobbly undercurrents to the version which make it seem as sinister as Dennis Wilson's friendship with Charles Manson. The video is also an absurd cocktail of colourful random "goofball" antics, like some deliberately badly realised eighties recreation of a sixties promo clip, and the combined effect is actually a tiny bit confusing.

Technically speaking, it's hard to justify including Psychic TV on a blog like this one. They may not have had any proper "hits" as such but, along with Genesis P-Orridge's first band Throbbing Gristle, the shadow they've cast across the music scene is long. It was, after all, they who sampled Peter Fonda saying "We wanna get loaded and have a good time" from the film "Wild Angels" before Primal Scream got their hands on it, and Throbbing Gristle who were pioneers for the industrial music scene. All that said, this version of "Good Vibrations" seems to have been largely forgotten about even by the band's fanbase - which isn't that surprising, considering the fact that most fans seem to frown upon their pet bands releasing cover versions as singles, and are frequently desperate to forget them - and the video seems to have fallen to the back of everybody's brains despite getting some terrestrial TV exposure on "The Chart Show".

There was a rumour at this point that Genesis P-Orridge was quite keen for Psychic TV to worm into the mainstream, and it's possible (although I've no concrete proof) that this was supposed to help push them through where they could go on to cause untold damage. Obviously, however, a lowly Top 75 chart placing was all that really awaited them, and it was not to be. It's hard to say whether that's just as well or not.

27 November 2008

Lysergic Diversions

Lysergic Diversions

Since "Wallpaper" (the last homebrew psychedelic compilation I uploaded) went down so well, here's another attempt, complete with the usual dodgy GIMP created sleeve.

The rules remain the same. These tracks are the work of artists who, generally speaking, created a few nuggets of perverse, skew-wiff pop music during the late sixties before sinking without a trace again, or - if they had longer careers - certainly didn't get the success they deserved. This is, for the most part, the sound of artists who were clearly starting to fall in love with the possibilities of the recording studio as much as their own live performances, throwing almost every piece of modern technology into the mixing process and - in the case of the Silver Apples - even using instruments most of the rest of the music industry were still regarding as novelty items. Even though most of these tracks had sod all influence on the music industry at large, you can get a sense of the textures which were being created by the technology of the time, which would eventually help inform the self-indulgence of prog in the seventies, and the overwhelming production gloss of the eighties. The material on offer here, however, is considerably snappier and (hopefully) much more fun.

Once again, most of these tracks have been featured on sixties compilations before, and I'm not claiming any sort of exclusivity with this effort - but I hope it's an enjoyable listen.

1. Francois Wertheimer - Le Compagnon de Voyage (Byg Records - 1970)
French psychedelia, no less, which without question has a flavour which is noticeably different from the rest of this compilation. Starting off like a wrist-slashing Euroballad, then slowly descending into a mire of sound effects, groans, and violent orchestral noises, "Le Compagnon De Voyage" is an unsettling affair, perhaps made more so by the fact that its sleeve featured a picture of Hitler in a dress. Francois later became something of a player on the French prog scene, and eventually worked with Vangelis on a variety of projects. This, on the other hand, wasn't a big hit for him at home or anywhere else in the world.

2. John Carter and Russ Alquist - Laughing Man (Spark - 1968)
John Carter had a reasonable amount of chart success as a songwriter throughout the sixties, writing for the Ivy League, Tom Jones, The Troggs, and (cough) Max Bygraves, but this effort with his chum Russ Alquist is something else altogether. By their own confession created whilst smoking a lot of marijuana, "Laughing Man" is almost disturbing in its jollity and distorted vocals, especially by the time you get to the downright sinister spoken word segment. It's safe to say that Max Bygraves didn't record this one, and that's for sure...

3. July - I See (Major Minor - 1969)
More Eastern-influenced psychedelia from the London band who dubbed themselves "The Eastern Hollies". "I See" is a gently persuasive piece of work with an unexpected and perplexing ending.

4. Geranium Pond - Dogs in Baskets (unreleased)
Featured on the Marmalade Skies Toytown series of CDRs, "Dogs in Baskets" pushes every lever and knob in the recording studio to get across its tale of... well, I've never been able to work out quite what they're going on about, to be honest. Little dogs with no silhouettes feature in the lyrics prominently, and from that you can deduce what you will.

5. The Fingers - I Hear The Sun (unreleased)
The Fingers were one of the first British groups to badge themselves as "psychedelic". They apparently brought a monkey on stage with them who gave off "psychotic smells", but beyond that it has to be said that their earliest material was somewhat tepid beat fare, without a whiff of incense (or indeed monkey dust) to be smelt. Lest we be tempted to forever accuse them of cynical marketing gimmicks, however, they really push the Magic Bus out for this one. "Trees try to gas me!" they cry, which could only mean that they're in the Outback of Australia, where the only trees which release noxious chemicals exist. Doubtless that place is also where the sun would be the "loudest" if you were trying to hear it. Lyrical puzzle solved.

6. Blossom Toes - What On Earth? (Marmalade - 1967)
That The Blossom Toes failed to sell records in the sixties is quite criminal - their mixture of music hall japes combined with their suss for Beatlesy tunes made them the missing link between the more cabaret elements of the era (such as the Bonzos) and the wonders of the Fab Four. "What On Earth?" is also so bouyant it could have been recorded by The Polyphonic Spree.

7. The Factory - Red Chalk Hill (CBS - 1969)
Written and sung by the Southend born John Pantry, "Red Chalk Hill" is a strong piece of period pop with appropriately mystical lyrics. Pantry eventually turned his back on the music industry to become a vicar, partly spurred on by some Christian folk bands he produced in the seventies. He still preaches in Essex, where he is occasionally bothered by psychedelic buffs entering his church asking him about his obscure past.

8. Rifkin - Continental Hesitation (Page One - 1968)
"How about some Leyton Oriental mystery?" It's very difficult to tell quite how serious this recording is, and I've often wondered if it's supposed to be a pisstake of hippy trends - but it's still a hugely enjoyable piece of psychedelic pop with the spikey undertones of mod running through its core. Nobody has ever been able to trace or uncover the identity of Rifkin, and this track is the B-side of the only single which was ever issued by them. Somebody somewhere must know who they are, and they should get in touch.

9. The Liverpool Scene - Baby (RCA - 1969)
If you want proof that Simon Armitage isn't the only poet to have dabbled with this pop music lark, listen to this, Adrian Henri's outfit bringing poetry to the masses. Roger McGough frequently got involved with this band's live gigs and studio recordings, and the end results quite frankly sound like Half Man Half Biscuit and Art Brut being well and truly pre-empted. "You make me feel like Woolworth's aftershave, baby" indeed. In a sane world, we wouldn't be waffling on about John Cooper Clarke's forays into the recorded medium as being in any way groundbreaking.

10. The Smoke - My Friend Jack (Demo Version - 1967)
This is the original version of a single which was a massive continental hit (to the extent that it was covered by Boney M, ffs) but failed to make the charts in Britain due to the BBC getting sniffy about its lyrical content. In the re-recorded version (which the BBC still refused to consider) the lyrics were toned down to talk about Jack's merry travels rather than his love for sugarcubes with certain special toppings, but the demo version here is quite plain in its intent.

11. The Orange Machine - Real Life Permanent Dream (Pye - 1968)
The Orange Machine were an Irish psychedelic band who appeared to arrive on the scene in the UK just as the party was drawing to a close. This cover of Tomorrow's "Real Life Permanent Dream" is much more aggressive and insistent than the original.

12. Russell Morris - The Real Thing Parts 1 and 2 (Decca - 1969)
This has already been mentioned as a YouTube entry on this blog, but this is the full six minute version (rather than the video edit) for your listening pleasure. A number one hit in its native Australia, UK pressings of this are almost impossible to find.

13. Pugh - Love Love Love (Metronome - 1969)
Swedish psychedelic star Pugh never managed to replicate his status in other nations - despite managing to creep out an album in America with all the tracks sung in his native language - but that doesn't stop "Love Love Love" from being one of the more demented Beefheartian pieces of Scandinavian pop you're ever likely to hear.

14. Neo Maya - I Won't Hurt You (Pye - 1967)
A solo effort from Graham Carter Dimmock of Episode Six (a band which also featured Ian Gillan and Roger Glover who would go on to join Deep Purple). This is a cover of The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band's album track, but whilst their version favoured understated gentleness, Neo Maya's version goes for the bold stroke of a thunderously loud orchestra halfway through. Both versions are ace in their own different ways, and if forced to pick a favourite, I probably couldn't.

15. Silver Apples - Oscillations (Kapp - 1968)
The Silver Apples are the only American band on this compilation, and really very little else needs to be said about them. This is apparently one of the first ever electronic singles to be released, and whilst it was seen as a foolhardy move at the time, this sounds absolutely fantastic to this day - no mean feat given the primitive technology involved. But while we're on the subject...

16. Crocheted Doughnut Ring - Nice (Polydor - 1967)
...this was actually slightly ahead of the game too. An experiment with studio technology using the master tapes of its A side, this is a pleasing piece of work which features an array of ambient noises which excited pirate DJs so much at the time that the record company preferred side was almost completely overlooked. And speaking of that...

17. Crocheted Doughnut Ring - Two Little Ladies (Azalea & Rhododendron) (Polydor - 1967)
...I can't resist slipping it in afterwards. Unlike its flip, this is fairly straightforward McCartney inspired pop, but it gets us back into the land of the relatively sane in one easy step.

18. David McWilliams - Three O'Clock Flamingo Street (Major Minor - 1969)
My campaign to get the work of McWilliams reassessed continues, and really, why not? Proving that "The Days of Pearly Spencer" was absolutely no one-off, "Flamingo Street" is a brash and busy piece of work which, had it featured on a Scott Walker album, would probably be trumpeted all over the Internet as we speak. McWilliams lacked Walker's consistency, and occasionally recorded political pop which was rather clumsy in its sentiments, but gems like this really don't deserve to remain buried.

19. The Magic Mixture - Moonbeams (Saga - 1968)
A true oddity from the budget Saga label, who used to supply Woolworths with cheapo stock pressed up on appalling vinyl (and I'm now wondering if the fact this compilation has two Woolworths references on it was an act of my subconscious whilst putting this together). Unlike their TV themes albums or their dashed-off-in-a-day LPs introducing us to the marvellous world of trumpet sounds, The Magic Mixture were a band with songs of their own who were bunged into a makeshift recording studio in an Infant School hall to produce an album in an evening. "Moonbeams" is one of the stand-out tracks, and its believed the echo wasn't an intentional effect, but created by the dynamics of where the band recorded. Quite accidentally, the track therefore has a fantastic eerie, spacey feel to it. The album, somewhat surprisingly, also has some other strong moments, although it didn't lead to fame and fortune for anyone concerned.

20. David - Light of Your Mind (Philips - 1969)
Another band nobody has quite managed to track down. Their sole single "Light of Your Mind" was later recorded by James Griffin out of Bread, whose version I also have an MP3 copy of - but rest assured it's not as good.

21. Joy Unlimited - Mr Pseudonym (Page One - 1968)
Sounding like a lost end theme to a spy film, "Mr Pseudonym" is another track thick with atmosphere. The German band Joy Unlimited attempted to break the UK market with this, but it was not to be - a shame, as there's a certain Julie Driscoll meets Procol Harum charm to this which is hard not to warm to.

22. Gordon Waller - Rosecrans Boulevard (Columbia - 1968)
Gordon out of Peter and Gordon's debut solo effort, this Jimmy Webb song is baffling even by his usual standards. "She was a stewardess, you know", he tells us near the end, only managing to confuse matters still further in the process just as we thought we were beginning to make sense of them.

23. Kaleidoscope - Music (Fontana - 1968)
Now, this is studio trickery in action. The producer and engineer sound desperate to try everything here - panning music across speakers, chucking absurd effects on voices, even slipping in a recording of a coin spinning around at a slow speed. It's six minutes of studio anarchy, and seems as good a place to rest this compilation as any... and life goes on.
This Kaleidoscope were an English band who should not be confused with their American counterparts from the same era. Not if you want to avoid upsetting me, at least.

Part One:

Part Two:

25 November 2008

Second Hand Record Dip Part 21 - Ron Grainer Orchestra - Theme from "Tales of the Unexpected"

Tales of the Unexpected

Who: The Ron Grainer Orchestra
What: Tales of the Unexpected (b/w "Theme from 'Paul Temple'")
Label: RK Records
When: 1979
Where: Music and Video Exchange, Camden High Street
Cost: 50p

The always entertaining, never predictable blog "Out on Blue Six" mentioned a perplexing phenomenon in a recent entry, that being the tendency of record labels to release bizarrely souped up versions of TV theme tunes. Whilst this didn't always apply with every release, and as such we were thankfully denied the novelty disco version of the "Minder" theme by the Dennis Waterman Band, people still frequently meddled with perfectly good work where there was no need.

Take the "Tales of the Unexpected" theme tune as an example. Admittedly it would make for a rather short single kept as it stands, but what already exists is a classic atmospheric burst of eeriness which is immediately recognisable to everybody of a certain age. Whereas this, on the other hand... is a slightly chirpy version, replete with early synthesiser noises and funky guitar soundz. I don't know what the majority of people purchasing the theme tune from their local Woolworths were expecting, but by Christ, I'll be betting it wasn't this (which may help to explain why it didn't chart).

The only possible bonus I can see from this arrangement is that some of the synth noises sound slightly like "Separations" era Pulp, so you could, if you so desired, amuse yourself by doing a Jarvis Cocker monologue over the top of the record, softly waffling on about an unexpected night time visit by a shadowy lady, who was probably Martha up the road who worked with Denise at the local outlet of Threshers, and you know because you observed her body under her tight black dress whilst she was walking Joe to school the other day... something like that, probably.

Anyone complaining that I've pissed off and left this blog unattended for a whole week and then just come back with a crap version of a TV theme will be happy to know that there is a more substantial entry I'm working on. Sit tight, why don't you...

15 November 2008

Interlude Part 3


Left & To The Back is going to be taking a break for a week or so whilst I kick back, relax and focus my attention on other things. You can expect to see a new update at some point around 26 November - but, if you're hungry for other listening thrills in the meantime, why not wrap your ears around the following:

The Marmalade Skies Trip to Toytown Collection

This is sheer overkill in terms of quantity including 119 tracks, but it's the most delightful kind of overkill I can think of. Those wonderful people at the Marmalade Skies psychedelic website have created a Toytown chart filled with the most twee, childlike and effervescent pieces of sixties pop, and included a 5 CD download so you can listen along. From Geranium Pond's "Dogs In Baskets" to Kenny Everett's "A Little Train Number", there's something for everyone here - it's an exhaustive list which mentions the obvious candidates (although nobody too obvious) as well as some tracks I've never heard of in my life, much less actually heard.

Utterly brilliant, and if doesn't keep you busy for the rest of the month, never mind a week, I don't know what will: It's the best "virtual" box set I've ever come across in my entire time online.

Sweeping The Nation C99

Lovers of indie may prefer the C99 compilation Sweeping the Nation have uploaded for our pleasures. Their C98 and C97 comps focussed on the indie margins, bringing back bands time has overlooked like Earl Brutus (good move!), Solex, Spearmint, Ten Benson, Ultrasound and Bennet, and C99 carries on the work by reminding us that Scott 4, Brassy, Murry The Hump (thumbs up again) and The Make-Up all produced solid stuff.

It can be found here:

45junkee's Record Collection

I've mentioned this before, and I don't want to end up becoming a bore on the subject, but Mr 45junkee has been very busy uploading his vinyl 45s to Youtube, and it's become like the jukebox of any right thinking person's fantasies. Click on the link, watch and listen to the record play in high quality audio (and even watch it spinning if you're that way inclined). It's the only place you'll find Leonard Rossiter and The Yardbirds sitting side-by-side.

See you when I return.

Peter & Gordon - Hot, Cold & Custard

Peter & Gordon Hot Cold & Custard

Label: Capitol
Year of Release: 1968

He buys sweets for little children/ and they refuse him... He's my old Uncle Hartington/ he needs us, we don't need him/ There goes the doorbell/ Oh, don't let him in..."

This album has been under a lot of discussion on the Internet forums recently as being a "great lost classic" (it remains unavailable on CD) and whilst I'd love to join in with the jumping up and down, I have to forewarn you that if you press play expecting such wonders you may end up sorely disappointed. Really, I feel that this deserves to be filed under 'interesting' rather than 'classic'.

"Hot, Cold & Custard" is, it has to be said, a fantastic period piece, but frequently borders on the kitsch. Right down to the sleeve design, I've sometimes wondered to myself if this is where Reeves and Mortimer got the inspiration for Mulligan and O'Hare from - there's a disturbed yet gentle folky oddness about it which instantly puts one in mind of men addicted to hormone replacement therapy tablets.

Besides that, the album is littered with clumsy philosophical references (try "The Quest for the Holy Grail" for some interesting thoughts on religion), childlike naivete in tracks like "The Magic Story of the Park-Keeper and His Fairy Godmother" - which incorporates some very odd honking, experimental improv-jazz noises - and the sheer determined stridancy of the track "I Feel Like Going Out (And Doing Something Quite Important)" (my brackets, not theirs) can't be ignored either. The word I would use to describe "Hot, Cold & Custard" is 'charming' rather than 'brilliant'. It has a restrained feel about it and an innocence which make it a peculiarly gentle piece of hippy-ish work. Once every so often you can detect a note of agitation in either Peter or Gordon's voice, only for it to be soothed down by the next lilting chorus.

What really cannot be ignored is the volume of people - and particularly psychedelic collectors - who seem to adore this album, so perhaps my personal viewpoint is rather unfair. There's also no question that there are some top quality moments to be had on here, the track "Uncle Hartington" being one particularly humorous moment which, if you're a fan of the more toytown end of psychedelia, you'll absolutely love.

That the album didn't find an audience probably shouldn't be considered too surprising, as it's neither fish nor fowl. Not way-out enough to find favour with the hippy movement, nor lyrically straightforward enough to please the Mums and Dads, "Hot, Cold & Custard" was Peter and Gordon's final piece of work. Following its failure, Gordon Waller went solo and recorded Jimmy Webb's "Rosecrans Boulevard" which really pushed the boat out and is a must-hear - but that's another story.

Sorry to say that I downloaded this album from a bit-torrent site as well - I try to only include my own CDs and vinyl on this blog, but I thought that this one was too interesting to let go.


A1. I Feel Like Going Out
A2. Freedom is a Breakfast Food
A3. Never Ever
A4. The Magic Story of the Park Keeper and His Fairy Godmother
A5. Sipping Wine
A6. Greener Days
B1. You've Had Better Times
B2. The Quest for the Holy Grail
B3. She Needs Love
B4. Uncle Hartington
B5. 'Cos You're A Star

13 November 2008

The Camel Drivers - Sunday Morning 6'o Clock (b/w "Give it a Try")

Camel Drivers - Sunday Morning 6 O'Clock

Label: Buddah
Year of Release: 1967

This one may be rather more obscure than I originally thought, since the band have presently only managed to clock 12 plays on Last FM. Twelve plays, I ask you! Even the most unsightly of unsigned bands can hope for more than that these days, so it's difficult, if not impossible, to explain how Michigan's The Camel Drivers have been so roundly ignored by so many for so long.

Y'see, they produce a variety of sixties sunshine pop which, whilst definitely lacking in an identity of its own (hundreds of other bands from the same era could easily have produced this single) still has a vibrancy and a spring about it which should at least mean a prominent slot on a sixties obscurity CD somewhere. "Sunday Morning 6 O Clock" is a fair piece of work in itself, but I'm much more interested in the flip "Give it a Try", which is so brassy and bouyant it would bring a smile to even Sir Alan Sugar's face.

According to an interview with the drummer (Here: they mainly toured around Michigan, New Jersey and Ontario in Canada, and didn't really manage to acheive any national impact in America, never mind international impact. This single seems to have been their only fully fledged national realease, with other singles coming out on Top Dog recordings locally in the Michigan area.

The Camel Drivers seem to have been one of those sixties American College bands who came within a whisker of turning their music into a career, but perhaps fell by the wayside when this single on Buddah didn't do the business. "And how did it end up in Camden Town, then?" I hear you ask again, and once again my answer is "search me". It's almost easier to buy flop American sixties singles in London than British ones at the moment - it's like some sort of Yank garage/psych vinyl slick.

11 November 2008

Second Hand Record Dip Part 20 - Buggy - Harry the Keeper

Buggy Harry the Keeper

Who: Buggy
What: Harry the Keeper (b/w "The Rolly Pole Coaster")
Label: Parlophone
Year: 1970
Found: Reckless Records, Soho (RIP)
Cost: One pound

Now, this is more like it. This is the kind of thing you dream about digging up when you approach the bargain section in the corner of the second hand record shop, dipping in for possible underpriced gems. The clues are there for all to see, and whilst I'd be happy to print them upside down at the bottom of this blog entry as some sort of quiz feature, it's probably more sensible if I just outline them. This is a Morgan production by Danny Beckerman and Geoff Gill. The former would be enough to make this a compelling curiosity, but the fact that Beckerman and Gill are involved makes it doubly interesting, as the pair have been engaged with some of the more cultishly successful collectable psychedelic records of the period.

Buggy's "Harry The Keeper" has been late to pick up any sort of critical praise from the usual British Psychedelic websites (it only began to get noticed shortly after I bought this, actually, which partly explains its ridiculous low price) but it is beginning to be appreciated by lovers of the twee, toytown end of the spectrum. It's the usual sort of twisted childlike nonsense about a zookeeper cheerily feeding his friends to the lions, the kind of lisping innocence with a nasty underbelly that the period churned out in enormous quantities. There's no question that it will be best appreciated by those who like "that sort of thing", and utterly despised by everyone expecting something akin to The Grateful Dead. If you have an aversion to the frothier end of McCartney inspired psychedelic pop, you'd do well not to bother clicking on the download button.

The flip side "Rolly Pole Coaster" would indicate that rather like Kidrock's "Ice Cream Man" (see the "Circus Days" entry) this single may have been aimed at the junior market whilst still retaining a period sound. I'm sorry to say that the effects put on the vocals on the B-side make it sound as if its being sung by Joe Pasquale, and subsequently it becomes extremely irritating within a matter of seconds. Still, I'll leave it bundled in so you can be the judges of its quality (or otherwise).

10 November 2008

The Pale - Dogs With No Tails

Pale Dogs with No Tails

Label: A&M
Year of Release: 1992

From one Irish band who sound slightly like somebody else to another who sound like nobody else I can think of... although, rather like The Frames, they are apparently still going today. Before I get into trouble with any Irish readers, I may as well remind everybody that the focus of this blog is strictly what entered the UK Top 40, and despite Wikipedia claiming that the band "did well" in Britain, I rather beg to differ... unless charting at Number 51 with this single and then never returning to the Top 75 again defines success.

Sticking with Wikipedia for a minute, though, it's worth noting that the band are referred to there as being influenced by: "Eastern European, reggae, ska, bluegrass, world music, and pop". Normally when bands are described in this absurd way it's because their Press Officer has had the equivalent of a psycho attack in a genre shooting gallery, and has hurriedly overemphasised their originality purely to grab the attention of journalists on the look-out for something fresh and new. Far too often such descriptions are given to bands who are (as one commenter has already pointed out on my Bark Psychosis entry) simply leaning towards prog rock. Quite uniquely, The Pale genuinely were queer fish, however, and could fairly be described as an act who were (and are) difficult to pigeonhole. "Dogs With No Tails" sounds like some late seventies New Wave band smashing up a Greek Taverna, and other releases veered slightly towards Stumpish territories whilst somehow also retaining an Eastern leaning flavour.

Apparently (and somewhat unsurprisingly) they are still a highly regarded band in Turkey and Israel, which begs some questions as to why Ireland don't just enter them for Eurovision next year. They could hardly do worse, could they?

Sorry for not including the B-side on here, but it's scratched to buggery, and you'll be happy to know that you're not missing out on a great lost flip-side as a result of my carelessness with this one.

7 November 2008

The Frames - Masquerade

Label: Island
Year of Release: 1992

In some respects, it's tempting to include The Frames on a blog like this just for the sake of it, because typing "Pixies soundalike band lead by the bloke who played Outspan Murphy in the film 'The Commitments'" is just so damn satisfying. You'd never have thought whilst watching the film that he had an inner Frank Blank punching at his rib cages and troubling his very soul.

In other respects, I'm aware that the above paragraph seems slightly dismissive for all its factually correct qualities. There's no question that during their earliest days The Frames were sorely indebted to The Pixies and were perhaps signed before they were ready to face the world, but "Masquerade" is still a truly brilliant track, featuring one of the best riffs of the year and a genuinely uninhibited vocal performance. It's a barking, screaming, savage little bleeder of a thing with just enough commercial oil to stop it all from sounding too much like a "John Peel airplay only" affair. To my mind, it was one of the best debut singles of 1992 - lacking in an identity of its own, certainly, but still a lot better than a great many other borderline-parody bands who were around at the time and seemed to get a much easier critical ride.

The band are apparently still very active in Ireland and as such probably don't really deserve to have a place on this blog, but I can possibly get away with putting them down as "The Frames mk I" as there have been numerous line-up changes in the past sixteen years.

The video, as you probably noticed, is taken from the Chart Show and features backing singer Noreen O'Donnell mugging for the camera in the manner of a frustrated lead, flaying her arms around and flicking her eyes skywards like a small child after too many Trebor Fruit Salads. She left in 1996, whether to a band of her own or not I really couldn't say (in fairness, it's something she probably would have done well). Lead singer Glen Hansard, meanwhile (for it is he, Outspan Murphy) seems to be doing his best to look rugged and psychotic, banging at his own reflection in frustration and suchlike. No, it's not the best promo flick in the world, but never mind.

The single, as you may also have noticed, hasn't been put up for download on here. I do own a copy and would have been quite willing to Sharebee it up for you all, but rather unbelievably it's still available for sale on iTunes and doubtless numerous other online stores as well, so I avoided sticking it up as a freebie in order not to incur the wrath of Island/ Universal.

Thanks to craydee75 for the YouTube upload.

5 November 2008

Second Hand Record Dip Part 19 - The Stampeders - Carry Me

Stampeders - Carry Me

Who: The Stampeders
What: Carry Me (b/w"I Didn't Love You Anyhow")
Label: Polydor
Where: Music and Video Exchange, Camden High Street
Year of Release: 1971
Cost: One pound

Following the US Election I was desperately trying to think of a themed blog entry to put up. With a typical lack of foresight I'd wasted Mason Profitt's "Vote" months ago, so the best I could really do was this. It's a Canadian country rock band attempting their first serious shot at the American market, and failing completely due to that old devil called politics (and no, not record company politics on this occasion).

Whilst "Carry Me" was a massive hit in its native Canada, its failure to translate to success across the border has long been attributed to its subject matter, and most especially the weary line "Carry me away from this old war/ I don't wanna fight no more" which was apparently seen as being critical of the efforts in Vietnam by many radio station programmers. A shame they had to be so picky, because the song isn't necessarily a finger-wagging, fight-pickin' piece of political pop, but a very gentle, despairing track which probably encapsulated the mood of many people at the time, even those who honestly thought that the battle was one worth fighting. And lo and behold, it's equally applicable to another well-known situation today.

The band managed to notch up a couple of bona-fide US hits a bit later in their career with "Sweet City Woman" and "Hit The Road Jack", but this was one of their biggest smashes at home, and to my mind one of their most interesting (if simple) pieces of work.

On the subject of why so many cheap American singles suddenly seem to be cropping up in second hand stores around London, your guess is as good as mine.

3 November 2008

Lieutenant Pigeon - I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen

Lieutenant Pigeon

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1974

I've already written about Lietenant Pigeon in some depth on this blog, and once you've written a band who had a member's mother on piano and specialised in Joe Meek-styled honky tonk recordings, you've said all there really is to say. What more do you want? In-depth analysis of their concept? I've tried, believe me, but it's all rather unfathomable.

There are people out there - Jarvis Cocker, for example - who maintain that the band were a work of genius, but I'm much more tempted to downgrade my rating to "eccentric good fun". There's an argument to be made that they broke some production barriers with their home recording techniques, but those who argue that they advanced on what Meek had already achieved are probably deluding themselves, as even under their serious "Stavely Makepeace" guise there are no noticeable leaps and bounds in technique, just a lot of likeable material which happened to be recorded in an ordinary house rather than a plush studio.

Whilst their career stopped dead in Britain after their second hit "Desperate Dan", they went on to have another chart entry in Australia with this particular disc which, as you can probably tell by the label, is Aussie in origin. It's yet more chirpy whistles and party piano pops, as you'd expect, but the flip "Big Butch Baby" is rather unusually a vocal effort with glam rock leanings. Sorry for the fact that this record isn't exactly in mint condition, but the scratches do start to clear up a little bit after the first 30 seconds or so.

30 October 2008

Marnie - "Bell Jar" (b/w "Be")

Marnie Bell Jar

Label: Progression
Year of Release: 1995

If you're the kind of person who gets advance copies of singles for review - which, for a brief time, I was - there are certain sleeves that just guarantee the waxing will be shoved to the bottom of the listening pile. It's not that you don't intend to listen to them at all, of course, it's just you sometimes get the sense that any indie band who is prepared to allow certain designs to dominate their work are simply sending out messages that this is "not for you". And so it went with this particular 45, whose Plath referencing sleeve with Plath referencing song title immediately made me suspect the people behind it were the sorts of folk who wrote very angst-ridden teenage poetry and had decided to set it to music. "Play later," I thought, filing it behind a whole bunch of stuff I was genuinely excited about.

When I finally did get around to spinning the A-side "Bell Jar", I was pleasantly surprised by the contents. It does indeed sound like a tremendously moody piece of work, but the interesting thing I find about many bands who attempted this stuff in the mid-nineties is that they glossed the bleakness over with plenty of production sparkles. Had this been issued in '92 or '93, there's little doubt it would have been a Courtney Love referencing slab of angry, clattering gloom, but the mid nineties model introduces more fragile harmonies and melodic guitars to the mix. It starts off like Hole with clunking bass noises and despairing vocals, then somehow loosens up to take you by surprise. It's the music of a parallel universe where grunge didn't so much die, but was given a thorough sheen, and allowed to become slightly more fragile and snuggle up to its poppy side.

Far, far better than the A-side, however, is the flip, the lengthy, 33rpm spinning "Be", which features Roman Jugg out of the Damned on keyboards and just builds and builds upon a very simple idea, ending on a riot of moaning synth noises and soaring guitars - it's a tried and tested rock formula, and if it's one you don't care for much, this isn't going to change your mind one iota, but it's deftly done and leaves me wondering what Marnie might have been like live.

As for who Marnie were, I'm afraid to say I've lost the press release and can't remember, but seem to recall that they were from Essex, had at least two women in the line-up ("Michelle" gets the credit for the A side of this single, and "Olga" the B-side) and released a string of singles through the nineties which failed to sell in sufficient quantities to register in the upper regions of the indie charts. I never did manage to get to any of their gigs, which always seemed to be advertised as taking place in tiny pubs around the UK, and whilst it would seem that they managed to keep on plugging away until the end of the decade, there certainly appears to be no evidence of a Marnie album out there.

Rave reviews from Melody Maker and NME and plays by Peel and Lamacq were also apparently forthcoming, but one suspects that the band suffered from being associated with a tiny indie, and just didn't have the publicity money to turn those fleeting mentions and snatches of airplay into greater things. But this, of course, is all just speculation again...

27 October 2008

Whiteout - Detroit

Whiteout - Detroit

Label: Silvertone
Year of Release: 1994

I predict I'm going to get an almighty slagging from some random readers for daring to speak positively about this single. There is, you see, a particular mindset which dictates that 99% of all British guitar pop singles released between the years 1994 - 97 were awful. Actually, we'll just call the whole thing "Britpop" and save time.

Whilst I hold Britpop responsible for a vast number of ills (the invasion of dumb, posh, high fashion kids into a movement that was supposed to be an 'alternative' safe haven from that stuff and The Kaiser Chiefs to name but two things) it's something of a fallacy to say that the era which spawned it was blighted with low quality product. For one thing, I refuse to accept that Kurt Cobain was somehow more intelligent or lyrically astute than Jarvis Cocker, and nor do I think that Slowdive (good though they actually were) played with as broad a sonic palette as the Super Furry Animals. You can hate the era for how it turned "indie" into a middle of the road fashion statement, for how it killed the music press's marginally leftfield sensibility, or for how at its worst it gave us dullards like Echobelly, but to say it was "all shit" is a sweeping lazy statement. Not only was a lot of the output at the time breathtaking or even exhilirating, it also saw bands as diverse as Gorky's Zygotic Mynci and Leftfield getting Radio One playlisted amidst the confusion. For about a year, the music scene was actually huge fun, and there was a sense that bands who should exist only on the margins were creeping into the mainstream - until the inevitable comedown when 600 awful Oasis clones parachuted into Camden. Defining the entire era by that horrific moment, however, is as unfair as defining Punk by the cascade of Oi! bands that emerged by the time the party was over. Pick the fag end of any movement and you'll observe similar nonsense. Perhaps some of the better material just needs to be rediscovered by a generation who can't quite remember how bad things got towards the end of the era.

Which brings us, two paragraphs late(r), on to the single in question. Whiteout didn't actually start out as also-rans in the whole race, actually being considered as serious contenders for a time. The four scruffy teens from Scotland weren't necessarily playing with new ideas, seemingly copping riffs from the Faces and numerous sixties bands, but they did so in a way that, for a time, actually made them seem as if they might be as good as the debut album-era Oasis. If that sounds laughable, one listen of "Detroit" should make things slightly clearer - it fizzes with an energy that a lot of bands at the same time couldn't have topped, has one of the better choruses of the year, and actually sounds completely in love with itself, even risking the kind of key change at the end which other bands would be too knowing to bother with. It's the sort of thing that could only have been created by a gaggle of arrogant teens with tremendously low self-doubt - which may be repugnant to some, but in my opinion the best simple rock ideas should be done precisely this way. It's the vinyl equivalent of a firework display which pulls out thousands of pounds worth of pyrotechnics right near the end when you thought it couldn't top itself. At no point across its four minutes does it ever trough out.

Whiteout didn't hit the big time, of course, and a number of factors have been blamed for this - their label (Silvertone were supposedly never the most organised cookies), the fact they based themselves in Scotland rather than moving to London to be on the media's doorstep, or the fact that certain journalists in the press never quite took to them. Personally, I have to wonder if leaving most of the singles off their album "Bite It" and filling it with lots of slow tempo ballads was the best move in the world - after all, Dadrock styled epics were never really what the majority of us rated them for in the first place. Despite that, though, "Detroit" is one of my favourite singles of 1994, whether you like it or not. And let's face it, this blog shouldn't really be about going for the easy options all the time.

The B-side "Dee Troyt" is a slightly unusual slow version which was produced by Brian O'Shaugnessy, who created The Firm's "Star Trekkin'", then went on to produce Primal Scream, Saint Etienne, Denim and Misty's Big Adventure. What a peculiar career the man has had.

23 October 2008

Kevin Rowland - Young Man

Label: Mercury
Year of Release: 1988

Since it now seems to be considered "modern" and clever to refuse to allow YouTube clips to be embedded into blogs, you're going to have to make do with a link for this one, I'm afraid... as if that makes a shred of difference to the situation apart from inconveniencing you, the reader, by making you browse away, and therefore making you less likely to listen to the song or view the vid.

A rant against controlling YouTube users (or in this case controlling record companies) aside, I've always felt this is one of Rowland's finer moments which went totally unnoticed at the time. The album from which it stems, "The Wanderer", is far from being up there with his best, a fact I'm sure he would even acknowledge himself, but if this your worst then perhaps there's not much point in making an issue out of it. "Young Man" is a very simple and direct message to angry adolescents, self-hating teenagers and youthful misfits everywhere, which is uniquely touching in a way Brian Wilson would kill to be in his old age. There is none of Kev's bitter, world-to-rights ranting here (spectacular though that is) and instead it's replaced with gentle reflection and a very affectionate lyric. "You'll be fine", he reassures the listener, making this the only song I can think of (apart from perhaps Mike Reid's novelty disc "The Ugly Duckling", which we'll overlook) which takes a gentle, reassuring look at mixed-up kids everywhere.

It takes a particular kind of genius to be this direct and simplistic and make it seem insightful, although when he sings lines like "There's no need to be the best at everything you do" you are left wondering just how much of this is biographical. I wish I'd heard this at a difficult age, though - I didn't manage to stumble across this track until I was in my late twenties. Ah well.

And where is that new Dexy's Midnight Runners album, eh?

21 October 2008

Draculas Daughter - Candy

Dracula's Daughter

Label: Kalevala
Year of Release: 1997

You'll remember, of course, that a few months back I mentioned that Bill Drummond and Mark Manning (aka Zodiac Mindwarp) wrote and released a number of records in 1997 under the guise of up-and-coming acts from Finland? Oh, you don't. Well, if you really need more information on the slightly baffling project (which in fairness is no more or less baffling than most Drummond activities) a website still sits here:

As only 500 copies of each were ever pressed and imported to Britain, they're naturally extremely scarce, and actually tremendously varied in quality as well. Some - such as KLF roadie Gimpo's self-titled "Gimpo" - are an absolute waste of precious pressing plant resources. Others - like Aurora Borealis' self-titled "Aurora Borealis" - were actually extremely good, but I won't waffle on about that one too much since it's already been posted on this blog elsewhere.

Draculas (sic) Daughter's "Candy" sit somewhere between the two. Manning and Drummond periodically used local Finnish musicians and singers for the recordings and just directed their style, and it seems fairly safe to say that's what happened in this case. What you've got here, then, is a pretty good Velvet Underground apeing disc which wouldn't have been out of place amidst the mid eighties music scene, or indeed the late sixties one. It's hypnotic, repetitive and insistent, and features some agreeably lazy, scuzzed up guitar work in the instrumental break. Please don't ask me why the original title "Supermodel" is scrubbed out on the label, because I have absolutely no clue...

One has to wonder if Drummond was trying to belatedly achieve with Kalevala a project he mooted a long time ago for Zoo Records, where he created "parallel universe" versions of bands on their catalogue. The Teardrop Explodes were to become Whopper, and featured Cope's alter-ego Kevin Stapleton on lead vocals who "enjoyed a game of rugby and liked the odd pint". These occasionally poorly disguised Finnish bands with their records released by a fictional clueless sounding Finnish indie record label owner do bring to mind a parallel universe Zoo Records, set up in Helsinki rather than Liverpool. Only Drummond could honestly back me up on my hunch, though, and I've a funny feeling he won't bother.

19 October 2008

Bubonique - 20 Golden Showers

Bubonique 20 Golden Showers

Label: Kitchenware
Year of Release: 1993

Way back in the early nineties when he was something more of a media darling and star than he is today (and could seemingly be found propping up the bar of every London gig you went to) the comedian Sean Hughes decided he wanted to make a record. This was at a time when Vic Reeves had recently hit the top spot with "Dizzy", and given the fact that Hughes regularly pranced around in front of the camera dancing to Morrissey and The Smiths on his series "Sean's Show", there was some speculation about what form his project might take. Would he cover the Mozmeister, perhaps, or do his own slightly doomy song in tribute to the great man?

In an interview in 1992 with the NME, it was revealed that he was recording with Cathal Coughlan of Microdisney and The Fatima Mansions, and speculation mounted. The fact that Sean revealed that he had mostly been improvising in the studio and could only remember singing "Play that funky music, Irish guy" should have thrown cold water over the entire thing, but there was still a lot of goodwill for the project. Coughlan was highly respected in the music press at this time for being a satirical maverick, and Hughes was also seen as being something of an emerging comedy genius, so the odds of a quality product seemed fairly high.

In the end, what we got was this. A fuzzy, lo-fi, scattershot, sprawling mess of an album which picked up good reviews, and was certainly startling and shocking enough to warrant a couple of listens, but was forgotten about quite quickly by everybody who came into contact with it. Porn and snuff movie samples jostle for space with Dave Lee Travis radio broadcasts (where he waffles about talented people working in bunkers away from the glare of the modern world), bizarre parodies of REM, Ice T and Guns and Roses, and frankly inexplicable jokes about necrophilia and fisting. The humour within seems considerably more Coughlan than Hughes, although reduced to crude basics rather than the "Swiftean satire" every music critic usually associated with him.

To make the album that bit more inaccessible, it was mastered as one long track so if you wanted to skip forward to particular parts of it, you had no choice but to hold down the "forward" button on your stereo, and on top of that the volume mastering was different at various points. During particularly quiet moments, a stinging blast of distortion sometimes kicks in so that any listener using headphones is forced to rip them off quickly. Please do consider yourselves warned about this aspect.

For anyone interested in the careers of either Cathal Coughlan or Sean Hughes, this CD has to be heard, but the balance between humour and self-indulgence is perhaps a bit amiss. The parodies, for example, are excellent, the GnR referencing "I Think You're Cool" hitting the nail firmly on the head, and the vicious REM mocking "East Sheep Station" doubtless being fuelled by Stipe's own misgivings about Coughlan's work (he once walked out of a Fatima Mansions gig snarling "I hate art rock bands", which was a rather unexpected criticism given some of REM's output). Beyond those, the obsession with bleak samples and strange in-jokes (who was Shak Parouk, for example?) have meant that this album doesn't really figure strongly on either artist's CV these days. You get the impression that it was something they had enormous fun producing, but didn't see as being an important piece of work.

They did, however, follow it up with another effort a couple of year's later. "Trance Arse Volume Three" parodied Blur in a track called "Oi Copper!", and was apparently otherwise more of the same. If anyone has a copy, I'd like to hear it. In the meantime, enjoy the link, all of you... but not the easily offended.

Track Listing:
1. Summer (The Fist Time)
2. I Think You're Cool
3. Play That Funky Music Irish Guy
4. Cop Lover
5. Codsucker Blues
6. My Baby Gave Me Rabies
7. Elvis '93 (You Can Fuck Elvis)

8. Theme From "Chicken Arse"
9. Iron Child
10. Yoda Lady
11. Anytime, AnyPlace, It's Okay to Bubo With Shak Parouk
12. 2 J.G.
13. East Sheep Station
14. Love Me Deadly, Kiss Me Headley
15. DLT 666 No Idea (Insincere)
16. The Bubonique America's Top Ten
17. Frank is Frank (Hurry Up and Die, Buddy)
18. Jellypop Perky Jean
19. Dildo Neighbour
20. Ang On Ronno
21. Love Camp Seven
22. Nation of Bubonique
23. Closedown