25 September 2008

Another interval

I'm going to let this blog have a bit of a rest for a few days (until Wednesday, I suspect) because I'm being called up to Birmingham for a conference and won't have internet access during that time. Also, things are a bit busy right now...

In the meantime, kindly amuse yourselves with Roger Moore's utterly dreadful single "Where Does Love Go?" above. And to think people hold William Shatner and Peter Wyngarde accountable for all sorts of actor-turned-singer musical crimes - this is as bad as it gets.

Whilst you're at it, do go over to 45junkee's Youtube page which is chockful of curios. Some people think that Youtube clips which just show spinning 45s are a total waste of space, but for me it's often the closest I'll get to actually flipping through somebody's brilliant record collection and putting their singles on, so I can happily waste hours on them. Mr 45junkee's profile is one of the best there is. (He also spits 45 peas through a 45rpm record whilst at an angle of 45 degrees and high on smack, by the way).

23 September 2008

Fat Truckers - Teenage Daughter/ Multiplex

Fat Truckers

Year of Release: 2003
Label: Cercle Records

It somehow seems wrong to place bands on this blog who came and went within the present decade - perhaps it's premature to assume they won't come back and conquer the world. Also, in most cases, I generally hope that many of them will, however long the odds seem, and don't particularly want to curse them by placing them on a page filled with people who had careers which were rather less remarkable than they should have been. How would you feel if your band were placed next to Harry Corbett's novelty waxings? Hurt, I would suspect. You might even give up entirely.

One band I can only imagine would be thrilled at this prospect are Sheffield's Fat Truckers, however, who came, released a few singles, then went again without any polite explanations. Their peak exposure came whilst supporting Pulp at some large venues for their "We Love Life" tour. When I caught them at the Brixton Academy gig, they were busy alienating half the audience with a fifteen minute long version of "Teenage Daughter", the very single I've uploaded here. The call-and-responses anthem impressed a number of people like me, but also caused some rather negative outcries. They finished their set by flicking Vs at everyone who was being hostile, and waving to everyone who was being appreciative, and when I tried to cheer for an encore, a rather angry man next to me grabbed my arm and told me to stop encouraging them. It was a bit like being told off by your Dad for enjoying your friend's BMX stunt tricks which also incorporated some creative farting.

Fat Truckers were an unusual act, but pretty damn entertaining and not without some solid tunes as well - the Suicide-esque dirge of "Teenage Daughter" can get a bit trying after too many spins, but "Multiplex" is a much more interesting and durable composition. They would have been quite at home on Mute in the early eighties, but even whilst Electroclash went on around them, they were probably a bit too out-of-sorts for the 21st Century.

Their Wikipedia page also seems to be filled with unchallenged lies:

Interestingly, outside of music Rymer is also well known in scouting circles. In 2006 he picked up a lifetime achievement award at London's scouting HQ Baden Powell House for his work with the13th Sheffield cub group where he has held the position of akela since 1999. He dedicates a lot of time to teach the children rock climbing skills on Stanage Edge just to the west of his native Sheffield, however, in 2003 Rymer suffered a severe knee twist while climbing on the edge, an injury which restricted his movements on stage when the band supported Pulp on their UK tour. Fans used to seeing energetic performances from Rymer were disappointed at this problem and it was reported in the NME at the time seven people demanded refunds following the Brixton Academy show. Rymer at the time was massively upset not to be able to give 100% and suffered, briefly, with a bout of depression.

Of course he did.

21 September 2008

Landscape - European Man

(Edit on 3 Oct: It would seem that the YouTube user has suddenly disabled embedding on this one, so go here instead:

Much has been heard about a revival of eighties production values in the last few years, but it's worth reminding ourselves that, like all retro-celebration, only certain parts have been shaved off and repackaged for our enjoyment. When Britpop revived the sixties in the nineties, it was very careful to only dig out the most credible of reference points - The Kinks, The Beatles, The Who and The Small Faces all got a look-in, but there weren't many jolly, smiley suited bands out there doing their best Freddie and the Dreamers or Herman's Hermits impressions. It was exactly like Friday Night at the London Palladium had never happened (although I for one would have killed to see John Powers out of Cast doing a Dave Clark Five footstomp, or perhaps Digsy out of Smaller doing a Freddie Garrety dance).

Selective memory when it comes to referencing previous decades is an ongoing phenomenon, and here we are again, giving nods of respect to Gary Numan (whose past output actually, contrary to any lazy off-the-cuff remark you've heard just about anywhere, really doesn't look especially dated these days) and Duran Duran, but politely ignoring pioneers such as Landscape who seem rather more like a Not the Nine O'Clock News parody of New Romanticism.

Landscape, you see, were one of the first British bands out of the traps to fiddle with synthesisers, had one member (Richard Burgess) who supposedly invented the term "New Romantic" - although I'd wager that's something a few others would also lay claim to - and were so utterly Now at the turn of the decade that they blew my little infant mind. The trouble is, of course, that their vision of the future was so about-cock that it lead to goofy videos like the one above, which is a messy visual salad of arch campness and techno-angst. Like many bands of the period, they also thought that the use of digital pocket calculator fonts in their videos and packaging meant they were being forward-thinking, and thought nothing of putting out album sleeves designed on cheap eight-bit computer interfaces. Even by the time the decade closed they looked like peculiar relics, the sorts of chaps who probably thought we'd all be consulting Ceefax in the 21st Century on special mobile teletext headsets, rather than using the Internet on mobile phones.

To be fair to them, they did release one bona-fide classic single along the way which now never seems to crop up on anything other than Eighties compilations with Rubik's Cubes on the sleeve - "Einstein a Go Go". Besides that, there was also the vicious and marginally disturbing "Norman Bates" which has a much more convincing video below.

Less famously, all the members of Saint Etienne once argued that the Landscape album "From the Tearooms of Mars to the Hellholes of Uranus" was the 'worst ever made'. This is a little harsh for an album that has a few prime pieces of early electronic pop on it, but generally speaking, I would offer the advice not to bother with it unless you see it really cheap. Unless of course instrumental tango tracks played on synthesisers are your bag. Like I said, for a supposedly futuristic band, they weren't particularly gifted at understanding what the future might bring. Perhaps in a parallel universe somewhere there's a world that matches exactly with their predictions, although I'm not sure I'd want to visit it.

17 September 2008

Microdisney - The Peel Sessions

Microdisney - The Peel Sessions

Label: Strange Fruit
Year of Release: 1989

This is the third entry on Microdisney, and I may lay off uploading any more material from them for awhile. It's also a rather unique Peel Sessions album, in that it was released the year after the band split when their profile was probably at its lowest. John Peel and Clive Selwood clearly had no plans to hang around for a few years waiting to see if the band developed a "legendary" or "cult" reputation before letting this see the light of day, and somewhat oddly didn't much care to put it out whilst they were still an active concern. It must be reasonable to assume that the main motive behind this release was to showcase some fantastic music, and it managed to deliver that in spades.

Of all the bands who needed to have a Peel Session album or EP put out, Microdisney must surely be somewhere near the top of the list. I'm obviously not claiming that they were more important or influential than Hendrix, Queen, Pink Floyd or even Adam and the Ants, but the Maida Vale sessions they produced certainly showcased another side of the band, whereas most of those other acts didn't deviate too much from their usual sound at the BBC. Whilst their studio albums were glossy, slick and occasionally overproduced affairs, the Peel Sessions for Cathal and company were rawer, and much more emotive. This is not the sound of a band who have had to do eighty takes to achieve a more eighties sound - this is much more gutsy, effective noise which makes some of the material off their weaker albums ("Crooked Mile", for example) sound almost heartbreakingly good. The version of "Bullwhip Road" here is blistering compared to the 'proper' release, which is so understated it almost falls asleep on the job.

True to their previous form, the album delivers the same barbed wire fist lyrical punches combined with the smooth and studied sunshine backings, like Lou Reed holidaying in California with the members of Steely Dan. The most disturbing moment comes in "Everybody Is Dead", where Cathal Coughlan decides to screechingly repeat "I love you!" over and over until it becomes meaningless, hateful demonic hollering and yelling, and the band collapse around him. This was another moment that never quite made it on to an official studio release - the "Everyone is Fantastic" LP version consists of bland, bored repetition of the phrase as an alternative to the original statement.

I like to think that this album shows off what some of the weakest later Microdisney material could (and probably should) have sounded like, and also offers enough interesting alternative versions of some other fine songs to be worth sticking with from start to finish. Conversely, some of the earliest tracks sound less low budget and more rehearsed than their LP counterparts, too (I'm thinking of "Sun" here in particular).

If you've never heard a note of Microdisney before, this is actually a very good place to start to get an accurate overview of their career. And if you're very familiar with their work, you have absolutely no excuse never to have heard this as well, especially now I've uploaded it for your pleasure.

1. Sun (3 August 1983)
2. Moon (3 August 1983)
3. Dreaming Drains (14 April 1984)
4. Everybody Is Dead (14 January 1984)
5. A Friend With A Big Mouth (14 April 1984)
6. Teddy Dogs (14 April 1984)
7. Before Famine (3 August 1983)
8. Genius (2 October 1984)
9. Loftholdingswood (14 April 1984)
10. Horse Overboard (2 October 1984)
11. 464 (2 October 1984)
12. Town to Town (3 December 1985)
13. Bullwhip Road (3 December 1985)
14. Begging Bowl (3 December 1985)

15 September 2008

John Bryant - A Million Miles Away

John Bryant - A Million Miles Away

Label: Fontana
Year of Release: 1967

This is an act of complete self-indulgence on my part, but then screw it, it was my birthday yesterday so I feel as if I can do anything I want. Within reason, obviously.

For many years, the above 45 has been something of a family joke. Of all the obscure sixties singles there have ever been, this is also probably the only one we had about the house when I was a very small child. Let me explain - my father's name is John Bryant. Despite this, he is most definitely not the solo artist behind this work, contrary to his frequent claims. You see, this single was bought for him as a present by a friend of his at the time of its release, and for a long time afterwards he carried it around in his bag with him, showing it off to people and telling them it was his own work. Whether he did this for laughs or in some futile attempt to raise his social status I couldn't possibly say - although it remains a massive childhood disappointment to me that he tried the scam out on me when I was four years old, and I was deeply impressed. Even at that age I thought having a single out on a "proper label" was probably one of the greatest things you could achieve in life.

Even though I don't actually think this single is a masterpiece, it's the only release that's ever caused my entire family (rather than just me) to collectively puzzle and ponder about the whereabouts of the artist, and wonder if he possibly might be a distant relative. A quick google search and scour around some sixties sites reveals that John Bryant had three singles out on Fontana in the sixties, and one on MCA entitled "I Bring the Sun" which the "Happening 45" online store says is "Psychedelic pop manna from heaven, with mellotron, wah wah and tripped out daydream lyrics. The B side is almost as fantastic. A lost classic and pretty scarce." I have never heard this one for myself, so unfortunately cannot pass comment (although any MP3s anybody has would be very welcome). I seem to have memories of the "Sweet Floral Albion" sixties e-zine also recommending this as well.

"A Million Miles Away", on the other hand, is most definitely not psychedelic. John Bryant sounds rather like one of the many folk singer-songwriters of the period who got rushed into major label studios to have an orchestra bunged behind their compositions, and I'll be frank, this really isn't anything much to flip your wig about. It's a perfectly pleasant three minutes, with his rich, deep voice musing upon the pleasures of solitude on the harbour, but anyone expecting a find on a par with Bill Fay is going to be sorely disappointed. The flip side "It's Dark" is rather more bouncy and perhaps more interesting, but there's not much in the contest.

The question, however, remains. Who was John Bryant, and how did he manage to put out a string of singles on major labels in the sixties without having a hit? Did you know him? Are you him? Please do drop me a line if so, because I've always been curious about this one, and so have my family. The fact that he also had a "lost" psychedelic single out I've never heard has me even more intrigued.

10 September 2008

Parachute Men - If I Could Wear Your Jacket...?

Photobucket Image Hosting

Label: Fire
Year of Release: 1988

I've only recently begun to realise how few female lead singers had success in the eighties and nineties - in the present decade it would be considered extremely unusual if there were a top ten singles chart without a woman to be seen anywhere. A quick bit of research for previous decades shows that this was nothing absurd back then at all.

Perhaps this is why I keep on digging up so many female-fronted bands for consideration on this blog. The Leeds based band The Parachute Men were no exception to the lock-out, and being an indie band in the eighties as well could hardly have set the odds stacked against them higher. This is interesting, as the music they produced was actually thoroughly commercial, utlising chiming guitar lines and infectious vocal melodies. Fire Records obviously thought so - they made an official to complaint to the BBC about their failure to playlist their single "Leeds Station" on Radio One, and took it public in the music press as evidence of Auntie Beeb's bias against independent labels. Whilst the resulting squabble was interesting and fun, it didn't cause the corporation to change their minds about either that single or any of the rest of the band's output.

Somewhat predictably, the band were said to have knocked it on the head when they finally got sick of travelling down to London to play the same old half-filled small venues, and by the time the nineties dawned they were largely forgotten. A deep shame - this single proves they had a sound easily the equal of their more successful peers, and to prove it's no fluke, I've bundled in another A-side "Sometimes In Vain" for your approval. It's a lot moodier than "Jacket", and has a heavy, brooding atmosphere along with its pop hooks.

I've also included the b-side to "Jacket", "Meredith Burgess"... which once again isn't all that much cop. Perhaps I should just forget about uploading flip sides unless they're any good...

8 September 2008

Beyond the Wildwood - A Tribute to Syd Barrett

Syd Barrett Beyond the Wildwood

Wildwood blurb

Label: Imaginary
Year of Release: 1987

This is the second CD I ever bought, fact fans... I was faithful to vinyl for rather a long time.

The Tribute album was a distinctly late eighties/ early nineties phenomenon, but is a concept which still continues to trundle along to a lesser extent to this day. At one point, it was very difficult to look through the CD section of just about any cult artist without seeing a tribute album dedicated to them. The majority of them were completely rush-recorded gash by various unsigned bands you'd never heard of and almost certainly would never hear from again. In their aims to produce tribute albums to artists, some indie labels (because it was almost always indie labels) mistakenly assumed that XTC or REM were going to take time out of their busy schedules to bang out a version of a Captain Beefheart song for their compilation. Usually they were sorely mistaken, and the best they could manage was some band from Ipswich called Oh No She's Got A Zygote! The resulting version of "Electricity" would then sound like a bunch of buskers using Casio presets to recreate the Theremin noises, whilst somebody who had never even sniffed a trumpet in their lives honked on it in the background for the sake of it.

Whilst a lot of tribute albums were therefore a waste of perfectly good beer or grubbage money, you can point the blame for the trend squarely in the direction of this particular CD, which was one of the very first ones out of the traps. And, in truth, it's not half bad. Where most of the artists had the advantage with Syd's output is that - as Mr Smee rightly points out above - the foundations for his solo output were very stark and sparse in the first place. Therefore, if some psychedelic-influenced eighties indie band wanted to flesh out the original vision, they could.

Plenty chose not to, however, and what this CD reveals is something I've been arguing for a long time - that the boundary between twee/ C86 indie-pop and sixties psychedelia is sometimes wafer thin. The Television Personalities were always sixties kids at heart, but nothing quite prepares you for their version of "Apples and Oranges" which is significantly different from (but equally impressive as) the enjoyably messy original. Their cockernee mod take on the track makes it sound like "Parklife" ahead of the time. Then there's Plasticland's rather jaunty (but significantly inferior, I'm sorry to say) version of "Octopus".

Light years ahead of the artists I've just mentioned, though, are The Mock Turtles with their frankly startling version of "No Good Trying", which sounds like something from the early seventies before glam found its feet and the last effects of psychedelia were still lingering. It's a swaggering, camp beast of a track, and one which may surprise many who only know them as the one-hit wonders from the mobile phone advert. Also up there with the best is Paul Roland with his haunting hymnal version of "Matilda Mother" and The Shamen* who take "Long Gone" to new menacing, creepy conclusions.

There's a lot of guff on the CD as well, I'm afraid to say, and The Soup Dragons can hang their heads in shame for pissing on the Syd party - their attempt at "Two of a Kind" adds little to the original Peel Session version, which was never one of Syd's finest moments anyway. In fact, there is still debate about whether he wrote it at all, or if it's the work of another Floyd member. What Noise's version of "Rats" also probably seemed like a very hip and progressive piece of sample city mayhem at the time, but has dated horribly since - full credit to them for trying to do something different with the original material, though, even if the end result does sound like some kind of perverse attempt to create a hip-hop version of a Syd track on a Fostex machine in a damp abandoned warehouse. You've got to give it a go, I suppose...

Syd Barrett albums never go out of print (although there's a lot of material left in the can which really deserves to also see the light of day) but this tribute album did disappear off the shelves a number of years ago. I don't think it's an essential part of your Barrett collection, but it's certainly worth owning for some of the better moments, which may get you wondering what else could be achieved with some of his more threadbare moments, and who else in the present day could put their own skewed interpretations on his work. I can think of plenty of possible contenders.

(*Hands up who managed to forget that The Shamen launched themselves as a psychedelic revival band before releasing their Ebeneezer Goode assault much later in their careers?)

1 The Mock Turtles - No Good Trying
2 Plasticland - Octopus
3 SS-20 - Arnold Layne
4 Paul Roland - Matilda Mother
5 Fit and Limo - Long Cold Look
6 The Shamen - Long Gone
7 Opal - If the Sun Don't Shine (Jugband Blues)
8 The Ashes in the Morning - Baby Lemonade
9 Lobster Quadrille - Wolfpack
10 Paint Set - Golden Hair
11 Tropicana Fishtank - No Man's Land
12 TV Personalities - Apples and Oranges
13 Soup Dragons - Two of a Kind
14 Green Telescope - Scream Thy Last Scream
15 Chemistry Set - See Emily Play
16 What Noise - Rats
17 Death of Samantha - Gigolo Aunt

7 September 2008

The Honeycombs - Eyes

Label: Pye
Year of Release: 1964

In terms of Joe Meek productions, there are endless examples one could pluck out of thin air to include on a blog like this one - including works such as "I Hear a New World" which seems to have become more famous and more talked about in the last ten years than in the 35 years following its release. By now, with a stageplay of the producer's life out on the streets and a film starring Rhys Ifans supposedly in the pipeline, an introduction to Meek seems unnecessary. If you've never heard of him, there are shedloads of books and websites out there (and a whole box set) that will tell you about his work, and if you have, me giving you a quick rundown of all the established facts about his methods isn't going to enhance your appreciation one jot. For one thing, it feels like far too complicated a story to effectively condense into one paragraph, and bullet points would be far too insulting.

One argument that Meek obsessives love to throw out to the rest of the world is that he was "ahead of his time", however, and this is one of the tracks which regularly gets pulled before the jury. The Honeycombs' flop third single "Eyes" is, to say the least, extremely melodramatic, unpredictable and peculiar sounding for 1964. The combination of pattering drums, pinging guitars and teeth-clenching vocals sound much more like the kind of ideas late sixties rockers like the Beacon Street Union would have thrown around towards the tail end of the decade, and even they would fail to chart with them.

Lyrically as well, rumours persist that this song is actually about seeking homosexual companions in gay bars. It's not explicit enough in its content to really call a bluff or otherwise on that claim, but if true, it certainly wouldn't be the last time Meek gave the subject matter a spin.

Conversations are also regulary had about whether The Honeycombs are an underappreciated sixties band - in truth, I add them to this blog with a feeling of slight reluctance, since they managed a number one hit with "Have I The Right?" (therefore finishing about 50 places higher than many superior bands in the latter half of the decade) and managed a small string of minor hits afterwards. However, there is something to be said for the fact that "Have I The Right?" is one of the better beat singles of the sixties, certainly more exhilirating than The Beatles earliest output, and tracks like "Eyes" do prove that the band could be tremendously forward-thinking. Lest you scoff and say that it was all down to Meek, it's also worth remembering that the band have frequently insisted that they created most of their arrangements, not him - which makes this quite an interesting piece of work in all, even though their overall back catalogue can be patchy.

4 September 2008

Harry Corbett - Like The Big Guys Do

Harry Corbett - Like the Big Guys Do

Label: Pye
Year of Release: 1963

I am utterly bewildered by the sheer volume of flop comedy series spin-off singles out there - they are a testament to how often the sixties and seventies music industry thought it was being marketing lead, when in actual fact it was just being downright foolish and issuing unlistenable crap. I could (and perhaps should) compile an entire compilation of them for your pleasure, but trust me, most are awful. The prospect of a waxing by Leonard Rossiter might seem tempting, but in reality most of Leonard Cohen's output is more amusing. There's normally one wry joke per Cohen disc, which is at least one more than Rossiter managed during the woeful "Rising Damp" single.

Once every so often one crops up which is so absurd I feel I have to upload it, however, and this is up there with Bernard Manning's "Everybody's Fool" for lyrical content. "Like The Big Guys Do" is a pained, agonised romp through the dark backwaters of Harold Steptoe's soul, and he goes much further than you'd really like.

"Down on the corner, under the light," he sings, "that's where you'll find me every night/ watching the pretty girls pass my way..." Well, we can be thankful he didn't hide in the shadows waiting for them, I suppose.

"Why do they always pass me by?/ Why won't they stop when I give them the eye?" he continues, at which point you're tempted to interject and ask if he's ever noticed they might be walking that little bit faster.

"I wanna LOVE someone like the big guys do!" he seethes, "I wanna tell them lies, I wanna treat them baaaad!" he squawks. Never has adolescent male bitterness and insecurity ever been expressed so eloquently on vinyl. Now, I wonder why he never had any luck with the ladies...

3 September 2008

Yossarian - Gilbert and George/ They are Naked and They Move

Yossarian - Gilbert and George

Label: Satellite
Year of Release: 1998

You've got to move fast to catch Gilbert and George, they're fit old geezers...

Somewhat strangely, "Whatever happened to Soho?" is a question I've encountered on the Interweb more times than I ever really expected to. I'm not referring to the region of London, either, but the one hit wonders who sampled the Smiths "How Soon is Now?" on 1990's "Hippychick". It seems to be appreciated much more in retrospect than it was at the time - now the sneers of "cheap cash in!" appear to have given way to an appreciation of the single.

One small part of the puzzle can certainly be solved via this blog entry, because band member Tim London moved on to this particularly bizarre electronic project Yossarian. Unlike Soho, it was an utterly hitless and frankly rather unusual venture which slipped out largely unnoticed ten years ago, and you'd still be hard pressed to find anyone online who cares.

That's not to say that the general public are necessarily always right, of course, for whilst I find "Hippy Chick" to be a faintly irritating piece of fluff, "Gilbert and George" has wit, originality, and sonic scariness to spare. The tribute to the notorious British artists is lyrically a bit baffling, but somehow pleasing all the same with its carefully phrased but randomly tossed around references to "slightly scuffed shoes", men dressed like Mr Chips, and being stalked by the artists in question down London streets (an image which is probably meant to be worrying, but I find quite pleasing for some reason). It is backed up by primitive electronic noises, deep, stomach churning groans and oscillating whoops, and a basic, lo fi backbeat. It screams "home made", but still sounds more adventurous than most big league productions.

It's also a double A side, and the other "A" on offer here, "They Are Naked and They Move", is five minutes of Krautrock rhythms, guitar freakouts and retro space age noises. It's not as good as its partner, but certainly dominates the room impressively as soon as you slip the needle into the grooves.

And if you're still wondering what happened to Soho after "Hippychick", look here for something I uploaded last year:

They quickly shed members and became Oosh... but please don't ask me what the subsequent records were like, because I've never seen or heard a single one.