29 December 2009

Second Hand Record Dip Part 45 - Three Songs From Dougal and the Blue Cat

Three Songs From Dougal and the Blue Cat

Who: Eric Thompson and his Friends

What: Three Songs From Dougal and the Blue Cat ("Florence it's a Lovely Morning!"/ "Florence's Sad Song"/ "Success! King Buster")
Where: Music and Video Exchange, Camden High Street, London
When: 1972
Label: Surprise Surprise/ Music for Pleasure

Cost: One pound

Like most second hand children's records, this was found in a slightly scuffed up condition - the rear of the sleeve is also only partly coloured in by some particularly idle child who couldn't be bothered to finish what he or she started. Whoever they were, I'll bet they are neither an artist nor a Captain of Industry now, and that's for sure.

"Dougal and the Blue Cat" was a particularly eerie "Magic Roundabout" spin-off film from 1972, following the adventures of everyone's favourite animated Skye Terrier as the arrival of a sinister Blue Cat creates havoc in the garden. This EP sees Eric Thompson sing his way through three of the tunes from the motion picture, and whilst it didn't chart, it was certainly popular enough in my school to be owned by a number of children in my class.

The highlight of the EP is the rather despairing "Florence's Sad Song" which underlines the slightly absurd and almost chilling nature of much of the film, as a fascistic feline attempts to punish the previously happy characters if they happen not to be blue. Since the nineties when "The Magic Roundabout" suddenly got adopted by a bunch of candy ravers, there's been a revisionist tendency to refer to the series as having "cheeky drug connotations". As much as we can all giggle at Dylan the Rabbit 'watching the mushrooms grow', it is ridiculously unlikely this was ever the intent, and we may as well ask why those devious folkies Rod, Jane and Freddy were parachuted into "Rainbow" with their long hair and beards, or (to use a modern analogy) whether "Bob the Builder" is using cocaine or amphetamines to keep himself going through the long shifts. Well, it would explain the Britpoppish leanings of his single, wouldn't it, eh? Nudge nudge nudge? The reality is rather more boring, and whilst "The Magic Roundabout" definitely used some adult references and contemporary stylings to keep the grown-ups watching as well, drugs did not feature in the gameplan - although the conspiracy theorists may like to point and chuckle at the fact that Lupus Music published this EP, who were of course also Syd Barrett's publishers.

All that said, "Dougal and The Blue Cat" is a flight of fantasy which ranks up there with some of the best animated work ever made, and is worth a sniff on YouTube for the curious, whatever your age is. This EP is a nice little companion piece, if a slightly scratched one. Eric Thompson may not have the most wonderful singing voice in the world, but his charm carries the work along well.

23 December 2009

Frank Sidebottom - Oh Blimey It's Christmas

Frank Sidebottom - Oh Blimey It's Christmas

Label: Regal Zonophone
Year of Release: 1985

hello fans... frank here with my firm follow up e.p. its my very own christmas record, one side for the u.k. and the other side is for australia as they have a very hot christmas. since i started in showbiz a few months back i have developed my stage act to include "little frank" whic is an almost life like puppet which i made myself and you can hear him on this e.p. which i recorded myself in my shed and hope you like it
have a fantastic christmas and dont do anything that i do
thank you
frank sidebottom

I don't think there's much more I can add to the above, other than to say Merry Christmas to all Left and to the Back readers, and hope you all have a great 2010.

1. Oh Blimey It's Christmas
2. Christmas in Australia
including: Sun Arise/ Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport/ Waltzing Matilda/ Skippy/ My Boomerang Won't Come Back
3. In the Summertime
4. Auld Lang Syne

18 December 2009

Solid Gold Chartbusters - I Wanna 1-2-1 With You

Solid Gold Chartbusters - I Wanna 1-2-1 With You

Label: Virgin
Year of Release: 1999

The lists bookies produce on possible Christmas Number Ones aren't necessarily as accurate as one would often believe. For every nail-on-the-head prediction they make, there are a few that are hopelessly wrong - and today's "Left and to the Back" entry focusses on a KLF-related front-runner which nobody in the real world gave much of a stuff about.

 "I Wanna 1-2-1 With You" really, really should have been a big deal. The people behind it were Jimmy Cauty of the KLF, who obviously had a track record for producing hits of some note and had a huge fanbase hanging on to his every note, and Guy Pratt, sometime session man with Pink Floyd. It promised up-to-the-minute jokey novelty satire about that very new (at the time, obviously) phenomenon the pesky mobile phone ring, combined with the finest rhythms, dance diva vocals and a comedy video. Given the pedigree of the track, the major label backing - something the KLF never really had, incidentally - and the public's appetite around Yuletide for daft ideas, surely we were looking at a sizable hit a la "Doctorin' The Tardis" here?

 Whilst the Bookies obviously thought so, sales were actually tremendously sluggish and the single scraped an embarrassing number 62 in the charts. Despite being one of the very few people who rushed out and bought this during Christmas week, I have to say that the end result wasn't too surprising. There are several things wrong with the track - firstly, it is far too irritating for the sane consumption of just about anyone, making "Crazy Frog" seem like a soothing baroque masterpiece. The grating, bleeping mobile phone ring the entire track hangs on is horrendously sharp and ear-bothering, and could ruin even the greatest groove or riff. And as it happens, the beats per minute here were very dated by 1999 - whilst the KLF in their prime had put out records of a similar tempo, clubland had moved on to faster, more frantic noises, and this sounded like something from another era to many people. Even if you isolate these drawbacks, the tune itself is, to be frank, minimal, and the joke essentially a Trigger Happy TV out-take and little more. It's a huge shock to find myself writing this sentence - and I feel it may be the only time I bother to do so in my life - but Dom Joly did this whole schtick just so much better.

So then, this is an example of how sometimes people hopelessly fail to "design" Christmas Number Ones, not even with the right personnel in the studio. Westlife won the race with "Seasons in the Sun" in the end, if anyone's interested, and "I Wanna 1-2-1 With You" has become something KLF fans tend to forget ever existed. I apologise for bringing the topic up again, but it is the tenth anniversary of this particular disc... and it's an interesting exercise in novelty wrongness at the very least.


16 December 2009

The Deceptive Christmas Singles 1995

Label: Deceptive
Year of Release: 1995

Limited edition Christmas singles put out by indie labels seem to be a guaranteed annual occurrence, and - for all their rush-recorded flaws - are actually a charming addition to the season. In a world where people get themselves in a stew about the Christmas Number One, it's a pleasure to witness labels putting out music in a limited format without even feeling a tinge of panic about whether the vinyl will even trouble the number one spot on the seasonal independent charts or not. Cynics with Scrooge tendencies may point towards the collector's market for why these discs make excellent gifts, but the reality is most of them haven't really increased in value that much (with the exception of The White Stripes "Candy Cane Children" effort, which I own, but never bought expecting it to end up being such a collectible).

Deceptive - a now-defunct label partly run by BBC radio DJ Steve Lamacq, for those of you who need reminding - launched several of the things at once in 1995 like festive frisbees into the little record shops everywhere. All of them were essentially frivolous and very enjoyable additions the catalogues of the bands in question, including cheeky cover versions and off-the-cuff oddness.

Snuff - Xmas

Snuff - Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads

Snuff were naturally no strangers to bizarro cover versions in the first place, having previously treated us to their artistic interpretation of the Shake n Vac advert tune, but their minimalist approach to the theme from "Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads" takes the despairing original and puts a punkish spike up its bottom. Whereas the version by Highly Likely was quite mournful, almost in a post-Richey Manic Street Preachers way (no, really), Snuff manage to create a tearing tune, and even crowbar a reference to Chucklevision towards the end.

Collapsed Lung - Xmas

Collapsed Lung - Connection

Hip Hop inspired Harlow boys Collapsed Lung, on the other hand, opted to take on their labelmates Elastica by releasing a version of "Connection". Perhaps one of the less successful releases of the bundle, "Connection" is interesting enough, but it's a questionable fit stylistically. At not one point do you wonder why Elastica didn't explore this musical territory in a bit more depth.

Earl Brutus - Xmas

Earl Brutus - Single Seater Xmas

And where would we be without the Brutus? Single Seater Xmas was the only 'true' Christmas single of the lot, but was a tremendously strange effort even by the band's usual standards. Consisting of jingling bells, Formula One racing noises, Art of Noisey sampled vocals, and some outright peculiar bass guitar noises, it's possibly the oddest single they ever released, but none the less interesting for that. It also managed to peak at number one in the Christmas Chart Show indie chart that year, doubtless causing a lot of casual viewers to wonder what on earth was going on as a still picture of the band gently shimmered left and right across the screen for ten seconds.

Spare Snare also released "Wired For Sound" as the fourth limited edition single that year, but I don't have a copy - if anyone does, and they'd be kind enough to do the honours, please let me know.

13 December 2009

Vic Reeves - Abide With Me

Vic Reeves - Abide With Me

Label: Sense/ Island
Year of Release: 1991

Vic Reeves needs no introduction to UK readers, and I really can't be bothered to give him a detailed one for the benefit of overseas types. His comedy career has never really travelled successfully beyond these Isles, and isn't especially easy to explain to native newcomers, much less people with cultural barriers to contend with. Journalists tend to get around the problem by firing the words "surreal", "slapstick", "music hall", "dada", "Gilbert" and "George" around a bit in the hope it does the work justice, but in truth, it seldom does.

As somebody who had previously had a failed career as a lead singer for a variety of experimental and post-punk bands who never quite elevated themselves beyond the bottom of the bill in various small pub venues, let alone got a record contract, it shouldn't have been too surprising that Vic Reeves signed with Island when his career as a comedian took off. He had already been singing ironic cover versions (or were they?) of songs by The Smiths and Bryan Ferry in the "Vic Reeves Big Night Out" series, and the label must have been hoping for a pleasing Christmas stocking filler in 1991, perhaps consisting of similar material.

What we got was actually a very sympathetically produced comedy album in "I Will Cure You", which combined a number of party-pleasers with some oddball tunes of the man's own making, not least my personal favourite "Summer of '75" which combined rustic folk charm with crude Shane McGowanisms. "Abide With Me" featured on the album, but was a peculiar item, being neither funny nor frothy. The hymn itself was written by Henry Francis Lyte in 1847 as he lay dying from tuberculosis, and has since become something of a funeral standard, meaning that the associations many listeners have of it are not necessarily pleasant ones.

Uproar commenced from certain religious types in the UK when the track was then issued as dance remix single. "This is like dancing on people's graves!" shouted one Reverend, and a largely-forgotten campaign began to get the BBC to ban the record. Whilst the BBC never did officially ban it, I can't recall hearing it on the radio much during Christmas 1991, and Reeves was thwarted in his frankly bizarre attempt to get the number one spot that year, making do with the paltry number 47 instead.

The song itself is actually quite enjoyable with its vocoder declarations of "Abide With Me!", its sampled and treated choir noises, and Vic's rather too spirited vocals, not to mention the groovy house piano noises The Grid layered on to the single. It does somehow manage to over-ride its slightly morbid tone and become a winter solstice disco number rather than a pean to death, but it has to be said that of all the ideas Vic Reeves ever came out with, this surely has to be one of the oddest. That Island thought it might be a hit is odder still. When Lyte lay dying in his bed, his last thought surely can't have been "And when I die, at least my song will be immortalised by a surreal Northern comedian in the next century".

You can view the video here, and download the single by clicking on this link.

1. Abide With Me (12" Version)
2. Abide With Me (Holy Dub)
3. Black Night (Full Length 7")
4. Abide With Me (Acapella)

9 December 2009

Marvin Welch Farrar - Lady of the Morning/ Tiny Robin

Marvin Welch Farrar - tiny robin

Label: Regal Zonophone
Year of Release: 1971

Two thirds of Marvin Welch Farrar have already featured on this blog's "Pictures of Marshmallow Men" homebrew compilation, so some of you - or most of you, I actually hope - will already be familiar with the backstory here. Essentially, MWF were just two members of The Shadows attempting to issue vocal material under another name, with the addition of the previously unknown John Farrar. Although largely thought of as an instrumental act, The Shads themselves had occasionally sung on their discs before, but found the public less willing to accept this kind of output - so for the most part, it would appear they decided to draw the boundaries by issuing any material with those things called "lyrics" in it under this guise.

In all honesty, it's probably not what you'd expect. Rather than follow Cliff Richard's lead, it would seem that the band had something of a love affair with West Coast harmonies, and most of their vocal material almost had lovebeads hanging off its Crosby Stills and Nash inspired middle eights. This single showcases their approximation of this style across two sides - "Lady of the Morning" is the less interesting tune (albeit the official A side) in my opinion, consisting of a rather slight melody despite some pleasing bits of pedal steel and top-hole vocal harmonies. The chorus doesn't seem to quite reach any sort of satisfactory peak or conclusion for one thing. "Tiny Robin", on the other hand, is all icicles, plucked guitar strings, spooked vocal melodies, and is a seriously good atmospheric piece. Admittedly it's not really in the same league as The Fleet Foxes for this kind of 'vibe', but surely the fact that we're mentioning Hank Marvin and The Fleet Foxes in the same context is a curious enough phenomenon in itself?

Naturally, although one Marvin Welch Farrar album did manage to chart very modestly, the public's curiosity wasn't really poked, and the project died a death before the seventies were up. Hank Marvin felt that they were alienating an audience who just wanted to hear Shadows material, and failing to gain an adequate new audience who wouldn't accept the idea that what they were doing was in any way credible. As a result, they're not talked about much now, despite having recorded a few tracks any number of Wilson-worshipping indie kids would have killed to pen. It's an unfair world, but at least we can only conclude that it's also certainly an odd one.

Oh, and by the way... this is the first of a few Christmas-inspired uploads you'll be getting on the blog, in case it really needs spelling out to you.

5 December 2009

Five Go Down To The Sea? - Singing in Braille

Five Go Down To The Sea? - Singing in Braille

Label: Creation
Year of Release: 1985

This entry has largely been triggered by me uncovering a review of Creation's first fifty singles over on the mothballed Stylus Magazine website. In this particular retrospective, the resident critic Todd Hutlock states that it is one of the worst pieces of vinyl Creation ever issued, and dismisses the whole affair very tartly indeed, ranking them alongside The Legend in the 'Alan McGee blind spot' stakes.

As you will doubtless appreciate, I seldom get a cob on when people reveal wildly different musical tastes to my own. If this were my general inclination, there would be whole days or possibly weeks when I'd do little more than walk around London foaming at the mouth, demanding to know why Misty's Big Adventure weren't occupying the Christmas number one slot, or why perfectly good friends of mine have been known to state that The Stereophonics are a good band. It's not worth it, and it's easier just to relax, have a nice glass of sherry and allow others to feel differently from your good self, however outright wrong they may be.

For some reason, this particular piece did get me rattled, though. I happen to believe that "Singing in Braille" is actually one of the best early Creation singles there is. Whilst it doesn't quite top "Velocity Girl" by Primal Scream or "Ballad of the Band" by Felt, it is a seriously unique, charged and thrilling bit of work. There's nothing very "Creation" about it in sound, this is true - there's none of the dalliances with walls of feedback which The Jesus and Mary Chain, Slaughter Joe or Meat Whiplash treated us to, and nor are the lo-fi retro-sixties garage jangles overly apparent. What the track does have instead is a decidedly angular, dischordant thrust, with spitting Screaming Lord Sutch styled vocals, wobbly basslines and sledgehammer rhythms. Whilst it does have a chorus of sorts, the entire structure is as gloriously messy as the sleeve, seemingly hanging by a thread but holding together nonetheless. The energy you get from watching good musicians improvise is also apparent here - you expect the entire act to collapse, but instead everything holds together, and is shot through with adrenalin.

Cork's "Five Go Down to The Sea?" would probably have been more at home on Ron Johnson Records than Creation, having a similar style to a great many of their acts. The brilliant biography of Creation "My Magpie Eyes Are Hungry for the Prize" hints that McGee found the band impossible to work with, his doubts possibly being raised when he went around to their houseshare for dinner and was presented with a plate of Jelly Babies.

However easy they were to deal with - and I'd be willing to bet they would have presented anybody a few challenges, never mind a future Tory voting industry mogul - they did create a fantastic noise which they allegedly felt was partly cribbed by Stump at a later date. Sadly, the band ceased to be in 1989 when the frontman Finbarr Donnelly drowned in Hyde Park serpentine pond whilst drunk. There are, to the best of my knowledge, no CD retrospectives available of the band despite numerous vinyl EP issues worming their way on to shop stalls, and that's something somebody should consider rectifying. In the meantime, here's what I consider to be their best moment.

1. Singing in Braille
2. Aunt Nelly
3. Silk Brain Worm Women

2 December 2009

Edward Not Edward (an Edward Barton Tribute Album)

Edward Barton - Edward not Edward

Label: Wooden

Year of Release: 1989

When it comes to multimedia artists, a blog entry of a mere few paragraphs doesn't do their careers any great justice. You can't really summarise Billy Childish's career with a few tart observations on his novels, poetry, art and music, purely because there's just far too damn much going on - and on a similar level, I've held off from writing about Mancunian artist, poet and musician Edward Barton for some time now for a very similar set of reasons.

Unlike Childish, however, whose work is comparatively gritty and earthy, Barton has frequently taken the experimental and awkward route with his material in whatever form it's taken. A weather-beaten looking character with his scruffy beard and faintly disappointed eyes, he has nonetheless been responsible for some of the more delicate recordings in music. His most famous (and arguably most mainstream) piece of writing is the track "It's A Fine Day", which in its acapella form remains the most successful unaccompanied poem in the charts, reaching a none-too-shoddy number 87 in 1983. When it was later adopted by candy ravers Opus III nine years later, it reached the top five and apparently set Barton up with enough royalties to do as he damn pleased for awhile.

Alongside the delicate parts of his canon, however, sit songs so ridiculous, jarring and uncomfortable that even a solo period Stephen Jones out of Babybird would have balked at releasing them. The lo-fi and hilarious (if borderline terrifying) "I've Got No Chicken But I've Got Five Wooden Chairs" is a prime example of something which would make less tolerant folk ask "does he consider that music?", and even the more accessible "Not A River" would be rather funky were it not for its lo-fi awkwardness.

As marginal as his behaviour may be, Barton has nonetheless wormed his way into popular culture on a number of unlikely occasions, miming along to Tears for Fears "Sowing the Seeds of Love" on Wogan for no apparent reason, and having his work sampled by Norman Cook in his Fatboy Slim guise. His Channel Four appearances in the eighties met with numerous complaints, despite the fact that he didn't swear or make any references to sexual activity - he was just something the viewing public seemed to find naturally objectionable. The music press gave him plenty of coverage too, and whilst its strange to find one's self remembering the eighties with fondness, it does seem like the last period where somebody genuinely marginal could peak their head over the parapet into the glossy world of popular culture now and then. Barton is still active now, but if you don't read art journals or left-leaning publications, you wouldn't necessarily realise this.

So then, "Edward not Edward" is an Edward Barton tribute album, albeit one issued on his own label - such conflicts of interest seemed not to trouble the man. Some of the artists contained within the grooves seem to understand his unique charm, others seem more puzzled than anything else. The Fatima Mansions work wonders around "Dear Dad", turning it into a track which bounces by with odd off-beats thrown in willy-nilly along with Cathal Coughlan's savage screams. Hats must surely go off to 808 State as well for asking two small girls to sing the childish "Sorry Dog", a ditty focussing on the everyday problem of whether to blame the family dog or not once you've defecated on the floor. Stump also seem closest to Barton's vision in spirit, contributing songs which ultimately sound very Stump-ish without betraying the man's ideas one iota.

It's not a perfect piece of work. Bits of it are downright irritating, in fact - but it's never anything less than interesting.

Oh, and... back in "the day", most music journalists couldn't write about Barton without mentioning his large collection of children's shoes and toys he'd found discarded around Manchester ("it seemed to me that everyone threw their childhood away in the eighties") and his odd ways. He was frequently labelled an eccentric, to which he responded thus: "To not be an eccentric these days, you have to study very hard. The rules of non-eccentricity are multitudinous and hidebound - a whole lifetime's study is necessary to understand and accede to them. I'm just lazy - I want to write good songs and make good pictures." Not a quote you're likely to see in italic font at the foot of the pages of a corporate diary anytime soon, but a damn good one nonetheless.


1. Inspiral Carpets: Two Cows
2. Robert McKahey and Kevin Hopper (of Stump): King of a Flat Country
3. Fatima Mansions: Dear Dad
4. Mick Lynch and Chris Salmon (of Stump): Knob Gob
5. Dub Sex: Barber Barber
6. Patrick Mooney: Me and My Mini
7. Louis Philippe: Telephone Box
8. Ted Chippington: Z Bend

Side Two

9. Jane: I Slap My Belly
10. Ruthless Rap Assassins: Z Bend
11. 808 State (with Donna and Emma): Sorry Dog
12. A Guy Called Gerald: Barber Barber
13. Chapter and the Verse: I am a Mother
14. Kiss AMC: Smother

15. Fossil: On A Hot Day

29 November 2009

Second Hand Record Dip Part 44 - Neville Dickie - For Me and My Gal

Neville Dickie Red Domino

Who: Neville Dickie
What: For Me and My Gal (b/w Happy Days)
Where: Music and Video Exchange, Camden High Street, London
When: 1971
Label: Red Domino
Cost: 50p

(Because obviously, just finding an album of cockney knees-up songs wouldn't do for one month...)

Some of you good readers will be familiar with the work of Neville Dickie. He's a British boogie-woogie and stride piano player, and has been active on the gig circuit with his particularly competent brand of Jools Holland-pleasing piano playing since the sixties.

It wasn't really Dickie's name which caught my eye on this issue as the record label, however. Domino Records in the seventies were not a successful independent issuing waxings by that decade's equivalent of Franz Ferdinand or the Arctic Monkeys (or even Clinic), but rather a very specialist business operation which chose to slip out records likely to be of interest to pub drinkers. Owned by the Ditchburn Organisation who manufactured juke boxes for the smokey taverns of yore, Domino therefore had a roster which included Shep's Banjo Boys, The Old Kent Roadsters and Michael John and His Drinking Partners. None were top sellers, and this is actually the only example of a Domino record I've stumbled across. It's on their mysterious "red" label which presumably carried a different calibre of tune from their common-or-garden black label, although without hearing the contrasting output of the two labels I'm not quite sure how.

Clearly the anticipated market for singles made especially for barflies was never really strong, as the label lasted a mere two years before presumably being written off as a bad idea - that or their distributors Pye Records simply told them to go away after a string of never-ending flops. Their back catalogue reveals a weird little label which could have existed at any time in the history of recorded music, quite honestly, but may have had more success back in the gramophone era.

As for Neville Dickie's effort, it's very much what you'd expect - if you're as clueless about his brand of music as I am, you might describe it as being a very minimalist Lieutenant Pigeon with no thumping beats and groaning vocals. It is not my place to judge whether this is good boogie-woogie or bad boogie-woogie, and I'll leave that for others to comment on.

26 November 2009

Salad - Drink The Elixir

Salad - Drink The Elixir

Label: Island Red Label
Year of Release: 1995

Oh, don't you just hate it when you've said everything you really wanted to say about a band in an entry already? What more can be added to my initial analysis of Salad as a band, which can roughly be summarised as "indie band fronted by model and MTV presenter, started out shit, even their Press Officer confessed that they used to be shit, then suddenly, quite inexplicably, they became rather good"?

Salad are probably one of the biggest Britpop era bands to seemingly have no material still available on-catalogue. They may not exactly have dished out Top 40 singles, but they had enough of a cult following to score a top twenty album ("Drink Me") and were certainly given plenty of media space at their peak. "Drink The Elixir" seemed to be the first release of their careers to pick up some mainstream exposure, getting an ITV Chart Show play in the indie chart (and yes, Island Red were a subsidiary of Island distributed by Vital, pointlessly enough - loads of indie chart rigging of this nature went on in those days) and opening up the ears of previously disinterested people like me.

"Drink The Elixir" is a delightful little single as well, Marijne's cooing vocals balancing on top of some demonic, angular guitar riffs, and a great big clanging conclusion. Unlike many of their peers, Salad did have a slightly abrasive, oddball edge which went largely unnoticed at the time, critics preferring to whine about how their lead singer was a C-list celebrity before the band even started. Whilst there's little doubt that Marijne got the band attention they might not otherwise have received early in their careers, some of their later material would have stood out wonderfully at any time.

1. Drink The Elixir
2. Kiss My Love
3. Julius
4. Diminished Clothes (live)

22 November 2009

Earl Brutus - (some of) the Post-Deceptive Singles

We've already covered Earl Brutus' independent label years on here, (and here) and as ever, there's not much I can add to my original assessment of the band. For me, they were a beacon of hope in the late nineties as British alternative guitar-based pop and rock largely began to congeal into a syrupy, nostalgic mess. They sounded unlike other bands, pulling in Krautrock, techno, unholy slabs of glam rock and punk into one bundle, and coming up with something that sounded new and enticing.

If their earliest years consisted largely of material which was quickly recorded and the aural equivalent of a quick smack around the chops, their Island material sounded more considered (with the exception of one or two tracks) and none the worse for it.

Earl Brutus - The SAS And The Glam That Goes With It

Year of Release: 1997

1. The SAS And The Glam That Goes With It
2. Midland Red
3. The Scottish

This single was the first out of the major label vaults, and sounded brilliant from the screeching collision of angular guitar riffs and mechanical skidding noises at the start. "YOU ARE YOUR OWN REACTION!" the band screamed in the chorus, and created a lyrical list single which, far from being a list of grievances or commandments a la Scroobius Pip's "Thou Shalt Always Kill", was Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start The Fire" gone to la-la land. "TV Chefs - Quiche Lorraine Attitudes" they sneer disapprovingly one minute, then state "Hair Design By Nicky Clarke" the next.

Quite berserk and quite brilliant.

Earl Brutus - Come Taste My Mind

Year of Release: 1998

1. Come Taste My Mind
2. Superstar
3. Nice Man In A Bubble
4. William, Taste My Mind

Follow-up "Come Taste My Mind" is no less absurd lyrically, beginning with the information "I wear the clothes that make you cry", but is rather more formulaic than its predecessor, being a straight-ahead glam stormer the band tended to specialise in, rather than a track which skidded all over pop's Formula One racecourse before crashing in flames halfway round the circuit. Some music critics predicted a hit, but even at their most simplistic, the band were clearly too much for Mr and Mrs Woolworths.

Earl Brutus - Larky/ Teenage Opera

Label: Fruition
Year of Release: 1999

1. Larky
2. Teenage Opera
3. England Sandwich

The single "The Universal" followed "Come Taste My Mind", but is still available on iTunes in all its two-CD with extra B sides glory, quite astonishingly. This, however, isn't. After the band were dropped by Island, their management company Fruition decided to have one final stab at getting the band's material the respect it deserved, and released the double A-side "Larky/ Teenage Opera" without any major backing. To be honest, it's a fine double-header, "Larky" being a list of comedy catchphrases and advertising slogans sneered out over glam chords, complete with the chorus of "You won't live forever".

"Teenage Opera" resembles Blur's "Song 2" in places, but is so replete with peculiar samples, muttered phrases and clicking rhythms that it's like listening to that song through some peculiar kind of vortex. Meanwhile, the official 'B side' "England Sandwich" is a marvellous cut-up of prim, dispassionate British television samples set to Iggy Pop riffage.

There's little doubt in my mind that Earl Brutus were completely unique, and whilst it's sometimes hard to envisage quite where they would have gone if their recording career had continued from this point, Nick Sanderson and his friends certainly left a hell of a legacy before he died last year.

Please click on the titles to download the singles.

18 November 2009

Sweeping the Nation "Noughties By Nature"

Just a quick update to let all you all know that "Sweeping The Nation" are presently spending the rest of the year looking back at some of the best tracks of the Noughties, with contributions from other folk included.

Naturally, I've chipped in a few suggestions (starting with David Cronenberg's Wife here) and there's plenty of other people also pitching in with artists as varied as Jarvis Cocker, Girls Aloud, The Avalanches, The Hold Steady, Bright Eyes, and Kate Nash. Plenty to savour there, and also enough to shout abuse at the screen about too, I'd say. What more could you possibly want from a comprehensive list of various tracks which were released in a certain timeframe?

Sadly, no mention of The Vengaboys, David Sneddon or even Howard Brown yet, but I'm hanging on with hope and confidence that somebody will do the right thing.

17 November 2009

Second Hand Record Dip Part 43 - Larkin' Abaht!

Larkin Abaht

Who: The Mike Sammes Singers plus assorted cast of actors
What: Larkin Abaht!
Where: Music and Video Exchange, Camden High Street
When: 1960
Label: Realm/ Oriole
Cost: 50p

Caw blimey, we're going back a bit with this 'un. "The Larkins" was a British television sitcom devised in the fifties, and apparently marketed to rival the American influx of such entertainment. It featured Alf Larkin (played by David Kossoff) a matter-of-fact cockney gent who was ruled over by his considerably more forthright wife (Peggy Mount). It had absolutely nothing to do with the "Darling Buds of May" despite the use of the "Larkin" surname.

Numerous critics praised the series for its sharpness of wit, and as a result the inevitable spin-offs - oh, there have always been spin-offs it seems, since the media began - emerged. One such production was the obligatory film-of-the-sit-com "Inn For Trouble" which was lunched into British cinemas in 1959. And then in 1960, the album "Larkin' Abaht" reared its head, only to remain largely unplayed by at least one punter who clearly dumped it in the Camden Music and Video Exchange some fifty years later. Truly, you don't come across albums from 1960 which are this "mint" very often.

Whether you're a fan of the original programme or not, it has to be said that this album does seem rather short of wit. It's essentially a compilation of cockney songs (as the title would suggest) performed by the Mike Sammes Singers, all linked together in the guise of a live pub performance, with bits of heckling and dialogue from the various actors between tracks. Given the popularity of the television series it's an important artefact, but an inessential overall piece of work, I'd say. There's some smileworthy glib comments here and there, and if you haven't heard "I'm Shy Mary Ellen, I'm Shy" before there are worse versions around than the one available here - but that's the most praise I can give, I'm afraid, apart from to add that the pub noise and dialogue does paint a fairly charming picture.

As I've mentioned on this blog before, Oriole Records did have a nasty habit of wiping their master tapes regularly, so I'm unsure if this particular album has been scrubbed clean by some daft executive. Regardless of whether that's true or not, this is a very pristine, virtually scratch-free copy of the record, and so may be the best version we're going to get for now whatever the state of the masters. Sorry for offering the entirety of the album in the form of two tracks ("Side One" and "Side Two"). Due to the continually flowing nature of the record, it's difficult to divide the content up in other ways using the technology I have available to me.

You can read more about "The Larkins" over on "Television Heaven".

1. Wot Cher! (Knock'd 'Em in The Old Kent Road)
2. For Old Times Sake
3. I'm Shy Mary Ellen, I'm Shy
4. The Hobnailed Boots That Farver Wore
5. Across The Bridge
6. Don't Have Any More Missus Moore

Side Two
7. When Father Papered The Parlour
8. The Miner's Dream Of Home
9. They Built Piccadilly For Me
10. It's A Great Big Shame
11. The Golden Wedding
12. If It Wasn't For The 'Ouses In Between

15 November 2009

Windmill - Big Bertha

windmill - big bertha

Label: MCA
Year of Release: 1969

Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley were major players in the British sixties scene, producing hits primarily for Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich, but also sneaking out top-selling discs by a wide variety of other smiling sixties scoundrels too. Arguably their most famous composition amongst the cool kids in the beat collector cult is The Honeycombs Meek-produced "Have I The Right?" Besides that, they also worked with The Herd, Lulu, and even Elvis Presley.

Suffice to say, a band launched as a Howard-Blaikley project were normally assured big-time success, and Windmill, their first post-DDDBMT act, had high hopes attached to them. With press releases being rushed out assuring the public that Windmill would 'inject some dynamics into a dull scene', "Big Bertha" was the debut single. With it's strangely Higsons-esque (in retrospect) yells of "Hoo ha!", puffing flutes (hey! Dig that concession to the fast approaching prog rock movement!) and a driving chorus, only a fool would have betted on this single's failure at the time.

Nonetheless, it was a flop, and forty years down the line we're only left with the option of dissecting precisely why. Developing trends in music can't have helped - Dave Dee and his ridiculously-named pals were already rather passe by 1969, so introducing a new band producing similar cheery, upbeat pop with the same team behind them probably wasn't the wisest idea. On top of that, there's something very by-numbers about the sound of "Big Bertha". In a similar manner to the way that the lowest-ranking Stock Aitken and Waterman hits always sounded like cast-offs, "Big Bertha" feels similar, almost as if the chaps behind it offered it to a big-name act first, then threw it in the direction of their new boys when no other takers stepped forward. This is very probably wrong, but the track is memorable without being thrilling, catchy without having substance. The band give it plenty of welly and attempt to generate some excitement with their buzzing guitar noises and chirpy vocals, but something, somewhere, sounds rather flat. That's not to say that the single isn't worthy of a spin, and is certainly enjoyable enough for a few listens, but that's as good as it gets.

Windmill released a number of other singles - including the apparently psychedelic "Wilbur's Thing" - but none attracted the public's attention, and the band's career was cut tragically short when lead singer Dick Scott died in a car accident. The other members subsequently went on to form Prog Rock outfit Tonton Macroute, of whom I must confess I know nothing. But hey, there's a video of "Big Bertha" on Youtube here, which I surely can't be alone in finding incredibly surprising.

12 November 2009

Cupids Inspiration - My World

Cupids Inspiration - My World
Label: NEMS
Year of Release: 1968
It's rare, but every so often a single falters which in all other respects seems absolutely like a sure-fire hit. Not only is it a sleek, classy beast, filled with all the production trends of the time, it also has straightforward hooks and melodies even the Mums and Dads can nod along to, and a chorus which is so damn persuasive as to remain in your cranium for the next year after one solitary listen. I'm a realistic man, people, and I understand that much of what I upload to L&TTB wouldn't usually get within a sniff of the Top 75, much less the top ten. Sometimes, however, I have to wonder what went wrong.
"My World" is a superb single, make no mistake about that, which came hot on the heels of Cupids Inspiration's other (inferior) hit "Yesterday Has Gone". Like its predecessor, "My World" utilises lead singer Terry Rice-Milton's voice to its full potential, but this time backs it with an orchestra so blasting it could quite easily peel wallpaper away. This single is so ridiculously unsubtle that its a neon-coloured delight, a screaming statement of intent which couldn't have failed to get the average listener's attention - the only close comparison I can draw is to ask you to imagine the arrangements at the end of Suede's "Still Life" given double the amount of power. All this would mean nothing if the tune itself weren't a triumph too, and of course it is - the natural, care-free verses leading effortlessly into the wind-tunnel of the chorus.
Whatever, the orchestral bombast of the disc must have rankled with the public, or perhaps nobody played it on the radio - it only climbed as high as number 33 in the charts, and that was Cupids Inspiration's career (more or less) over and done with. Occasionally, though, I have to wonder if some enterprising advertising executive will use this on a television commercial and hoist it up into the charts again - both I and a number of other Internet speculators have often wondered if this is a sleeping giant of a disc.

9 November 2009

Sir John Betjeman - Licorice Fields of Pontefract

Sir John Betjeman - Licorice Fields of Pontefract

Label: Charisma
Year of Release: 1974

If there's something that until recently was quite likely to be regarded as appalling before the first note had even sounded, it's singles and albums which mix music with poetry. Prior to Scroobius Pip, it's tricky to name many examples that were even let through the music industry gate. The Liverpool Scene in the sixties would be one such rare case, and indie scribbler with synth to spare Anne Clarke another (massive in Germany, I understand) but beyond that we're left looking at odd isolated tracks on albums by artists who were merely dabbling with the form rather than immersing themselves full time. And let's completely bypass Jim Morrison's attempts, shall we?

My sympathies go out to everyone who struggles with the concept, because I certainly do myself. Most good poetry can stand on its own two legs and speak up for itself - it needs no (cow)bells, whistles, beats, catchy tunes or sultry sax solos. It should have 'killer rhythms' of its own. Any addition to the work itself will often prove to be a distraction and unnecessary embellishment. If you think I'm being narrow-minded here, try imagining Plath's "Daddy" being given a Manic Street Preachers make-over, or perhaps TS Eliot's "The Wasteland" an intelligent techno remix (although this might work, now I come to think about it). There are, however, exceptions. Some poets write in such a straightforward or earthy way - and I'd count Scroobius himself among them - that you can drop in music and not make the work sound bombastic, ridiculous or out of place. Their styles are not far short of pop lyricism anyway, and therefore, the combination can work for some (but not usually all) of their output.

And guess what? Sir John Betjeman pulls it off with this seventies single, the sly old devil. His sherry-rich delivery of "Licorice Fields of Pontefract" is combined with bouncy melodies, a minimal backing where it counts (it's noticeable that the musicians have the good sense to do the least work when his reading is upfront) and a mood and melody that actually improves upon, rather than destroys, the original. The instrumental breaks between the stanzas have a brassy pomp that recalls a lot of Sergeant Pepper apeing sixties pop, and all in all, this is a really pleasing little package, and a total pleasure to listen to. Cup your hand to your ears, and you might even hear the groaning sound of Roger McGough realising he'd been out-classed by an older, less fashionable writer.

Sir John Betjeman released a whole album of material at the same time entitled "Late Flowering Love" which I've never stumbled upon, but this snippet bodes well for the platter. No other poet laureates have followed his lead so far, and as such, we were spared Ted Hughes doing a blues-rock version of "Thought Fox", and Andrew Motion doing any-bloody-thing at all, thank goodness, although his birthday raps to Prince Harry may have veered dangerously towards record company territory.

(*An aside - when I first saw this in the record racks, I did secretly hope it was a Jamaican reggae artist who had chosen to call himself Sir John Betjeman.)

5 November 2009

Every Blog is Allowed to Ask This At Least Once


Sometimes, the ink runs dry. The eyes get tired. There's vinyl there, of course, up on the shelf, gathering dust and waiting to be uploaded but... no. You're not in the mood. You don't want to listen to the noise of somebody who failed tonight. Perhaps the band in question aren't particular favourites of yours anyway. Perhaps you've heard the track a hundred times before, and right now, you're just not in the mood for listening to it for the 101st time just so you can burn it on to a CDR. Or perhaps the concept of failure is too damn close to home on cold, dark nights like this one.

Then the phone rings. "You've got a bleeding mp3 blog," says the voice on the other end, heavily disguised by deep Darth Vader breaths and the type of voice encoder that sneaky eighties IRA terrorists used to use when dealing with 'the fuzz'. "Upload something to it. I don't care how you feel. I don't care how tired you are. Me and the boys want to hear that Sir John Betjeman single you found the other day, not read piss-poor parodies of Snoopy detective fiction".

Then they slam the phone down. But you know what? You don't want to listen to them either. Screw them and their rude, demanding ways. What do they know about living in a flat in East London and hiding every time the doorbell goes, because it might be a lawyer from Warner Brothers demanding to know why Harry Enfield's "Loadsamoney (Doin' Up The House)" was illegally uploaded? It's dusty. It's dirty. It's lonely.

So you, the blogger, go to your computer. You log on to your site. And, without pausing for a second to consider the reasons, you type "You know, I've frequently wondered. Who are you? Why have you come here? Do you regularly read the site? Do you enjoy it? What would you like to see more of? What would you like to see less of? And is there anything you've particularly enjoyed, including things you weren't expecting to enjoy?"

Then you sit back, click on "Publish Post", and you expect answers. You won't necessarily get them, but you anticipate reasons. And if you don't get them, you figure - if you don't get them - at least you've done your bit to fill the weekly quota of updates, even if only you know what the weekly quota of updates you've set actually is, and nobody else has ever noticed.

The phone rings again, but you don't pick it up. "I'll let them come to me," you think, "even if it involves weaponry".

2 November 2009

Animals That Swim - The Moon and the Mothership (plus interview)

Label: Snowstorm
Year of Release: 2001

Well, here's an unexpected treat. A video I must admit I didn't know even existed for Animals That Swim's single "The Moon and the Mothership" has turned up on YouTube, having been uploaded not by just any common-or-garden fan but the band's very own Del Crabtree.

By the time "The Moon and the Mothership" was issued on Snowstorm, it's safe to say that Animals That Swim's career was rather on the wane. It had never quite hit the heights of their friends and peers in the nineties in any case, but by the noughties they were playing to a hardcore group of fans and watching as each single came out to reasonable reviews rather than the raves which has accompanied their work in the previous decade - a far cry from the days when they did actually get mainstream television and radio plugs.

"The Moon and the Mothership" perhaps wasn't the best choice of single from the final album, but it's still a neat little tune nonetheless, and the accompanying video is an inventive and curious frolic through the sour old streets of London (and Stamford Hill, it would seem, round the corner from where I used to live).

Del has also uploaded a video of the band being interviewed on French television here, which might fill in some of the early blanks. Eee, something new turns up on Youtube every day.

31 October 2009

God's Children - Hey Does Somebody Care (b/w "Lonely Lullaby")

God's Children - Lullaby

Label: Uni
Year of Release: 1968

Of course we care, God's Children.

This was sold to me at a cheap price in a North London record store as being a prime piece of "Walker Brothers styled pop". "Great!" thought I, got it home and found that it's actually more of an authentic soul ballad.

This has its fans amongst collectors, it would seem, and isn't a bad example of the genre, but really is a lights-down-low, come-here-baby, pleading sensitive soul kind of ballad which will repulse as many people as it appeals to. If the lead singer didn't get down on one knee and beckon to a lady in the audience during live performances of this number, it was an utterly wasted opportunity. If the backing vocalists didn't spin around on their heels and point for the "Doo doo doo" parts as well, that would have been another let down for all concerned.

Melodramatic lyrics about "the ruins of my heart" abound throughout the disc. So, perhaps not that un-Walkerish then, the more I think about it. As you were.

28 October 2009

Rolf Harris - Bony

You may remember that I linked to the above clip some months ago when discussing the more obscure end of Rolf Harris' career, begging readers for more information on its origins. Just last week, Tim Worthington of the Out on Blue Six blog was kind enough to post me a full mp3 of the track which was recently discovered on a complilation by the man entitled "The Australian Album". On top of that, information came to light that the track originally featured on the "Two Little Boys" EP (rather than single) on Festival Records in Australia.

I still have yet to discover a copy of the single in Britain anywhere, although the fact that he recorded a promo clip for it in preparation for an edition of Top of the Pops would suggest that it was at least planned to be a proper, fully fledged A-side on these shores at some point (wouldn't it?). This download is purely the "Bony" track itself, and no information on what the B-side might have been - but come on, this is gold, with or without the full package. You won't hear the like very often.

As you'll have gathered from the video clip, "Bony" is a queer release indeed, but the full version reveals further absurdities, stylistically fitting somewhere between Chris Morris' "Dancer Prancer" music, Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Titch's "Zabadak" and Roxy Music's "Triptych". Admittedly I'm exaggerating to perhaps unacceptable degrees here, but "Bony" is not what you'd expect of Harris at all, and was actually a self-penned effort to boot. Whatever, EMI clearly weren't keen on the idea of him recording his own "Tilt" or "Metal Machine Music", because no similar noises have really been forthcoming since, unless we count the ones he's done on the Churchill advert.

Thanks to Tim again.

(post-publishing edit: A friend of mine has contacted me to suggest that this song is about a fictional Australian detective called "Bony", the star of many detective novels by Arthur Upfield. His nickname was Napolean Bonaparte, hence the references to the man throughout this song. The lyrics make much more sense if you know this, but on the other hand, nobody can deny that this is a slice of oddness.

Jay Strange has also kindly left me an mp3 download of another Rolf moment "Tutankhamun")

24 October 2009

Chocolate Soup for Diabetics Vols 4 & 5

Chcolate Soup for Diabetics Volume 4

Chocolate Soup for Diabetics Volume 5

Label: none given

Year of Release: 2002

Sorry kids - I've had to remove the download links for these, as they're commercially available again (even on iTunes, of all places). But you did have over two years to download these CDs, and if you haven't done it by now...

"Chocolate Soup for Diabetics" was widely regarded to be one of the major "gateway" albums for British garage and psychedelic nuts in the eighties, issuing some of the finest obscure cuts around. The influence the series had was such that almost all of the singles chosen for inclusion now command three figure sums both on e-bay and in collector's stores, and some of the bigger flops presented have been ripped off or sampled by larger acts since. If you think that it's a coincidence that Sebadoh's "Flame" sounds exactly like The Hush's "Grey", then you're a very generous soul. Lou Barlow clearly had ample supplies of Chocolate Soup at home.

A major fault with the original vinyl issues, however, is that the mastering was frequently shocking and of a bootleg quality (indeed, the legitimacy of the series has frequently been called into question). Some tracks play at faster speeds than they should do, a fact which became startlingly apparent when I first got to hear official reissues of Apple's "Buffalo Billy Can" and The Tickle's "Subway" much later on. Also, whilst mastering compilations straight from the original vinyl isn't that unusual a practice in this particular world, seldom has it been handled with as little clarity as the first three volumes in this series.

Volumes 4 and 5 appeared on CD rather unannounced in the early part of this decade, nearly twenty years after their younger brothers and sisters, presumably emerging from the same source. From memory, they were on the CD racks of independent music stores for about three months before disappearing again, presumably only ever having been pressed up in extremely limited runs. The first thing that's noticeable about both is that the sound quality is a huge improvement, and whilst most tracks still appear to be mastered from vinyl, the compiler has obviously learned a thing or two about effective noise reduction. The second thing, unfortunately, is that there's a sense of the bottom of the barrel being scraped. There are some fantastic little tracks buried away on these albums, but they're snuggling up alongside some very ordinary beat band fare which will only be of interest to completists of that ilk.

On the plus side, any album which includes Family's "Scene Through The Eye of A Lens", The Darwin's Theory's "Hosanna", or Mike Rabin's "Head Over Heels" is worth a sniff, but steel yourselves - neither of these CDs are up to the lofty standards the first few outings set, although at least you can enjoy them without muddy sound.

Volume 4 tracklisting:

1. Chords Five - Universal Vagrant (1967)
2. The Anteeks - I Don't Want You (1966)
3. The Perishers - How Does It Feel (1966)
4. The Exceptions - The Eagle Flies on Friday (1966)
5. The Rebel Rousers - As I Look (1968)
6. Alan Avon & The Toyshop - Night To Remember (1970)
7. The Dodos - Make Up My Mind (1968)
8. Roger Young - It's Been Nice (1966)
9. The Answers - Just A Fear (1966)
10. Force Five - Don't Know Which Way To Turn (1966)
11. The Darwin's Theory - Hosanna (1966)
12. The Transatlantics - Look Before You Leap (1966)
13. The Longboatmen - Take Her Any Time (1966)
14. Linda Van Dyck with Boo & The Boo Boos - Stengun (1966)
15. Gary Walker - You Don't Love Me (1966)
16. Caleb - Woman of Distinction (1967)
17. The Trend - Shot on Sight (1966)
18. The Family - Scene Through The Eye of A Lens (1967)
19. Steve Aldo - You're Absolutely Right (1966)
20. The Peasants - Let's Get Together (1965)
21. The Original Road Runners - Waterloo Man (1966)

Volume 5 tracklisting:

1. The Quotations - Cool It (1968)
2. The Transatlantics - Don't Fight It (1966)
3. The Longboatmen - Only In Her Home Town (1966)
4. The Ways & Means - Breaking Up A Dream (1968)
5. Chords Five - I Am Only Dreaming (1967)
6. The Moving Finger - Shake and Finger Pop (1969)
7. The Authentics - Climbing Through (1964)
8. The Mickey Finn - Garden Of My Mind (1967)
9. Force Five - Baby Let Your Hair Down (1966)
10. St. Louis Union - English Tea (1966)
11. The Magic Lanterns - I Stumbled (1966)
12. The Bad Boys - She's A Breakaway (1966)
13. The Sons Of Fred - Baby What You Want Me To Do (1966)
14. Boo & The Boo Boos - Oriental Boo (1966)
15. Mike Rabin & The Demons - Head Over Heels (1964)
16. Caleb - Baby Your Phrasing Is Bad (1967)
17. Wayne Gibson & The Dynamics - Baby Baby Baby Pity Me (1965)
18. The Petards - Tartarex (1969)
19. The J&B - Wow! Wow! Wow! (1966)
20. King-Size Taylor - Thinkin' (1966)
21. The Four Squares - Don't You Know I Love You (1964)

20 October 2009

Top of the Spot(ifie)s

Top of the Pops

"A bad cover version of love is not the real thing/ bikini clad girl on the front who invited you in" Bad Cover Version, Pulp

Since we've already touched upon the subject of budget cover albums and EPs this month, we may as well keep the theme rolling with the news that a whole crateload of "Top of the Pops" albums have now worked their way on to Spotify. There's good news and bad news attached to this - the bad news is clearly that a lot of retro bloggers are probably going now to wonder if it's really worth the trouble of uploading those thirty volumes they found in Oxfam last week. The good news, of course, is that we now have unlimited access to these sounds in digital quality - although your definition of good news might vary from mine.

Since this discovery, it's become a game of mine to highlight the good, the interesting, and the awfully inaccurate cover versions that exist in the series. It's been well documented before now that the bargain bin version of "Bohemian Rhapsody" is actually quite impressive given the limited studio and arrangement time the piece was clearly given. Queen spent several half-lives and a country mile's worth of mastertape on the original, so whilst the version presented here may not be absolutely perfect, it shows a low=budget respect for the original arrangements akin to Andy Partridge's Beatles re-recordings.

Given this fact, it's astonishing how far off the mark other efforts are - clearly some session musicians who were hired to do a job had an unhealthy disrespect for other tracks. If BoRap can be nailed, then what's the major issue with "Mouldy Old Dough", for Stavely Makepiece's sake? The piano sounds wobbly and warped, the rhythm inaccurate, and the vocals like Granddad out of "Only Fools and Horses" with half a cheeseburger in his gob. To say that the session musicians concerned must have despised this track to treat it with such contempt is to understate the case to some considerable degree.

Gary Numan's "Cars" isn't quite so maltreated, although the synthesisers used have a touch of the Rumbelows about them, and the vocals appear to be done by a man who sounds like Gilbert O'Sullivan doing an impression of an American new wave vocalist who is in turn doing a poor impression of Gary Numan. If this was the intention, I'm seriously impressed.

And talking of XTC, as we were earlier, that particular band seem to be particularly ill-served by the series. "Senses Working Overtime" suffers from bum notes and miscued rhythms, and is sung with the incorrect lyrics ("I can see his well-turned taste"?) with the vocals of a drunken village idiot being kicked around a bar, wailing for mercy as he goes. "Sgt Rock" fares little better, being an anaemic approximation of the song sung by somebody who'd clearly rather be in Steppenwolf. They put more effort into their Benny Hill impressions, so you have to wonder why Swindon's finest were treated with so little respect.

I could go on, perhaps pointing out other items such as "Virginia Plain", a rather unsympathetic version of L&TB fave Gary Shearston's "I Get A Kick Out Of You" performed with tone-deaf vocals (Arthur Mullard eat your heart out), and a ridiculously Tiny Tim styled version of Sparks' "Something for the Girl With Everything", but if I keep on in this way I'll be rather spoiling your own fun having a dig around. Please do leave a comment if you manage to find anything particularly accomplished or absurd.

Whether you love or hate this series, its popularity was baffling. That the music industry in Britain made the decision to expel these budget cover albums from the main charts in the mid-seventies is an indication of how much the public appeared to have a soft spot for them, and even when they were consigned to their own special "budget chart" they remained strong sellers. The musicians behind the work were often of a high quality, with the likes of Bowie (*cough*)* and Elton John beavering away on the releases, and the latter's work was so extensive that a separate compilation has been created of his own efforts. I'd prefer to think of the series as being a very interesting anomaly, whilst not particularly wanting one of the items to ever be gift-wrapped and given to me again by a cheapskate relative, thank you very much indeed.

(*No, I doubt Bowie or his musicians had anything to do with that linked version of "Space Oddity", but it is rather impressive).

18 October 2009

Is She Weird?

Is She Weird?

Years active: 1990-93 (?)

When I started this blog, I did originally intend to spend some time focussing on bands who were never signed, believing that somewhere within my array of CDRs, cassettes, and self-financed singles lay some top class numbers. I soon discarded this idea after a mere one entry (Golden Section) after realising that most bands remain unsigned for a reason. Of course, some of the demos I still have reveal a bunch of bands who were definitely good at what they did, but the primary issue in almost all cases is the fact that they lacked any identity of their own, and were frequently either chasing the tails of the current passing trend or desperately in thrall to a particular individual or individuals (you wouldn't believe how many Oasis clones there were around at one point in the mid-nineties - or actually, you probably would).

So then, to put the sound of "Is She Weird?" into some kind of perspective, it's worth noting that they were an early nineties Southend based band as opposed to one buzzing around Camden in the mid-nineties like desperate Britpop chancers. Way, way ahead of the game by London standards never mind provincial standards, the band combined a love of classic sixties pop with a hard-edged, spittle fuelled vocals. Traces of the styles of various EMF, Wonder Stuff and Jesus Jones wannabes are, in retrospect, present and correct - the band even used to cover forgotten Columbia-signed band Bedazzled's "Stageshow Days" live - but they're by no means the dominant force, the band instead preferring to write immediate, "Revolver"-era Beatles pop with some utterly furious and majestic drumming, and rollercoaster song structures. A listen to "Burden Me" below, for example, reveals a band who weren't exactly wholly catering for the good chaps and ladies wishing to groove on the dancefloor. There's a darkness and detail there that almost all of their peers locally struggled to deliver.

The band were never likely to be awarded any points for experimentation, but the fact they weren't signed remains a bit of a mystery. That they suffered from frequent line-up problems may well have been an issue, however - nothing turns an A&R Rep's head in the opposite direction quicker than a band whose personnel changes seemingly on a monthly basis. Initially, the band began life with Andy Hayes on Guitar and Vocals, Misha Ellis on drums, Rod Quinn on lead guitar and Peter Blanchard on bass. This line-up seemed stable enough for a bit, but then seemed to rupture, and the band appeared to develop a revolving doors policy, until by the end the only stable members of the line-up were Andy and Misha (pictured above). Indeed, the band apparently split during the recording of a self-financed album, which I still have a rough demo of somewhere in my flat, although I don't own a cassette player to listen to it on anymore.

Live they were great, too, possessing a furious arrogance and energy which was sorely lacking in most indie bands at the time. I wasn't a seasoned gig-goer at this point in my life, but at their best they certainly out-performed a whole slurry of other acts I would later go on to witness getting major deals and even success.

By the time the band actually sounded halfway current, they'd split for good, leaving Andy Hayes to go on to production work with OK-ish mod band Mantaray, and the others to disappear off to do I know not what. Unbelievably, a post-split Myspace page has been set up by a band member (I can only assume) but all attempts to contact somebody through it have proved to be futile, so I can only assume they're either avoiding me or it's not checked very often anymore - hence the trail goes cold, and I have no further information to give.

The below tracks are taken from a couple of self-financed vinyl singles they put out locally, but you'd do well to head over to the MySpace page as well to listen to "Mantelpiece", a superb piece of almost unsuitably joyous pop about the woes of infamy. Really, it may as well be their anthem. And yep, that version of "I Am The Walrus" does predate Oasis' version - although one can hardly quibble about who covered what first.

13 October 2009

The Critters - Don't Let the Rain Fall Down On Me

Critters - Don't Let The Rain

Label: Kapp
Date of Release: 1967

Another band we've covered before, I'm afraid. Nonetheless, that's no reason not to explore their back catalogue in a little depth, and this recent discovery is a bit of a gem, albeit a rather scratched and scuffed up one.

"Don't Let The Rain Fall Down On Me" was written by lead guitarist Jim Ryan in a ten-minute session in his Villanova University dorm room after being drenched by a downpour (whether the same can be applied to Fran Healy out of Travis for his similarly titled effort is open to speculation) and is a slightly Walker Brothers-tinged ballad with a very downbeat air. It was The Critters' last hit in America, popping into the Top 40 on a quick social call in 1967. Britain, it would seem, completely ignored the disc.

The B-side, "Walk Like A Man" is perhaps more pleasing, being a much more chest-beating statement of intent, albeit drenched in the same sugary melodies.

I doubt there will be any further chapters to add to the Critters story on this blog, but if any other discs crop up on these shores, I'm sure I'll add them eventually.

10 October 2009

Pictures of Marshmallow Men

Pictures of Marshmallow Men

Because it's about time again, isn't it? Yep, correctly guessed, this is yet another homebrew compilation, although on this occasion I'll stop short of calling it a 'psychedelic' compilation. There's plenty of that sort of content on here, but this time I've delved into my hard drive and record collection to attempt to find tracks from both the sixties and early seventies which blend well together. This includes the slightly demonic triptych of "Painting on Wood", "Black Mass" and "Never Care" at the start, which slowly and eventually morphs into the soft pop which dominates the latter end of the compilation.

I'm not going to even attempt to pretend that this album has an overall theme as such, and nor is it trying to make any kind of particular point about genres or production styles. Just think of it as a compilation tape of tracks that deserve to be heard more widely.

This time I've also tried to include the whole 100MB bundle in one download - if that causes anyone any difficulties, please comment and let me know and I'll split it into two parts again.

1. The Magicians – Painting on Wood (MCA - 1968)

As ridiculous as it sounds, clearly it wasn’t just Scott Walker who was inspired to write a song after viewing Bergman’s “Seventh Seal” film. The Magicians – of whom I know nothing, I’m sorry to say – were clearly moved enough to also follow suit. Unlike Walker’s musings on the topic, “Painting on Wood” is much more flamboyant and folk driven, and also features some funky piano lines which seem vaguely inappropriate. But hey, if you’re playing a game of chess with Death, there’s nothing to be lost by having a little foot-tapping session too.

2. Eyes of Blue – Never Care (Deram – 1968)

Neath-dwelling rockers the Eyes of Blue started life as a “blue eyed soul” band, before gradually morphing into a psychedelic (and eventually progressive) act. “Never Care” seems to be part of the bridge from psych to prog, but the trilling, folksy backing vocals on this one still show shades of whimsy.

3. Jason Crest – Black Mass (Philips – 1969)

When information about this track was sparse, myths persisted that it was a work of propaganda by some particularly determined Christians. Absolute rubbish, of course, as the Jason Crest were a band from Tonbridge who had already had a long and varied history by this point, putting out various pieces of organ-driven mysticism. “Black Mass”, on the other hand, is a berserk piece of work filled with demonic screams, disorientating echos, monk chants and thunderous noises. It was to prove their last recording, but if you’re going to leave pop’s big waiting room, it doesn’t hurt to do so in this bold manner.

4. Keith Relf – Shapes in My Mind (Columbia - 1966)

Keith Relf had a rather more overground career as the singer with the Yardbirds, but this particular solo release was greeted with public apathy. “My body shrinks into my head/ I must have help or I’ll be dead” he informs us gravely. “Shapes in My Mind” is catchy enough to bypass such absurdities and perhaps should have charted, but the public were having none of it.

5. Kate – Don’t Make a Sound (CBS – 1968)

This is a bit more tranquil. Kate were a London-based band (and not a person) who signed to CBS and also briefly boasted ex-Pretty Thing Viv Prince among their number. Three singles were all they managed, of which this track is probably the most pleasing.

6. Jigsaw – Tumblin’ (Music Factory - 1968)

Jigsaw managed to make some serious money with “Sky High” in the seventies, but before they broke through they spent long years on the pub circuit honing their craft, and putting out singles through a wide variety of record labels, including the small indie Music Factory. “Tumblin’” is hardly the most progressive track in the world, but utilizes heavy phasing and some neat organ grooves to good effect.

7. Geranium Pond – Marshmallow Man (never released)

Geranium Pond never really made any impact in the sixties, but appearances on compilations since have revealed a rather quirky outfit whose approach to psychedelia almost seems modern at times, treading a similar path to the likes of Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci or The Henry Road.

8. Elmer Gantry’s Velvet Opera – Dream Starts (Direction – 1968)

I’ve mentioned before that the eponymous Elmer Gantry’s Velvet Opera album is a seriously under-rated piece of work, and somehow isolating certain tracks from the work seems to always leave them feeling a little lost regardless of what compilation or mixtape you shove them on. It takes a lot to undo “Dream Starts”, however, which uses shimmering vocals, harmonies and a brass backing to amazing effect.

9. Serendipity – I’m Flying (CBS - 1968)

A sweet little track from Serendipity, a band from Tunbridge Wells who released two singles for CBS and recorded half an album before calling it a day.

10. Kenny Everett – Nice Time (Deram - 1969)

Kenny Everett’s friendship with John Lennon is well known, but the fact he released a string of non-comedic singles in the sixties seems to be less popularly acknowledged. As “Nice Time” proves, he had a rather Jeff Lynne-ish way of approaching music hall styled tracks, and it’s all surprisingly agreeable. This was also the theme to his TV show of the same name

11. Cyan – Toby’s Shop (RCA - 1972)

If we were being cynical we could argue that the childlike nature of this track has druggish connotations (“Toby always hides the secret of his pies” and “For just six pennies he can make the sun shine” indeed) but I suspect that by 1972 the time had long since passed for such references on mainstream pop singles. Still, we can dream. Cyan hailed from Italy and had a long career in their native country.

12. Grapefruit – Yes (RCA – 1968)

We’ve already covered Grapefruit on this blog, so there’s little to add except to say… no, I don’t know if Lennon and McCartney had anything to do with the work on this track, but probably not. “Yes” is a strident little piece of work, mind you.

13. Jason Eddie & The Centremen – Singing The Blues (Parlophone - 1966)

A particularly absurd Joe Meek track (and that’s saying something) which almost charted, the clattering, rattling approach to this version of “Singing The Blues” is so jarring that it makes cover versions by The Residents seem less questionable when played afterwards.

14. Brian Diamond and The Cutters – Shake Shout & Go (Fontana - 1964)

Whereas Brian Diamond and his Cutters manage to accidentally invent the B52s, even writing “Rock Lobster” for them in the process. There is some speculation as to whether the B52s directly ripped off this track, and if it had actually been a hit I’d say the lawyers would have had a field day kicking them around their bloody Love Shack before now. As it sank without trace, this can only be a particularly absurd coincidence despite the glaring similarities.

15. Los Brincos – Passport (Page One - 1968)

Los Brincos were proper pop stars in their native Spain, and it’s no wonder, since they released Who-ish barnstormers like this one. The British charts in the sixties closed their gates to their charms, however, which seems more than slightly unjust.

16. The Game – The Addicted Man (shelved Parlophone release)

Mod band The Game attempted to release this single about drug addiction, but the uproar it created on Juke Box Jury was such that EMI got cold feet and shelved the entire release, sneaking out another single in its place. It’s a very messy, noisy track indeed, with punkish guitars slamming all over the shop, and had it not been for the uproar it’s doubtful it would have had a chance to make an impression on the teenage public anyway.

17. Callum Bryce – Lovemaker (Conder – 1968)

A superb little single which had everything going for it, it seems – even being used on a Woodpecker cider advert (with the lyrics amended to “Woodpecker, Woodpecker, Woodpecker yes I would”). Despite the promotion, it would seem that being on a tiny independent label (run by Peter Knight Howard, an ex-associate of Joe Meek’s) hampered the band’s progress. Whilst ex-members of the Yardbirds were rumoured to be involved, actual concrete information about Callum Bryce has been difficult to come by, and the only information I can give you is that when I tried to bid on ebay for this single, the closing sum was $424. No, I didn’t win…

18. Zebedee – She Couldn’t Make Gravy (Decca – 1971)

This is essentially The Tickle in all but name, taking a slightly more glam approach as the seventies dawned. It didn’t help them gain success, but “She Couldn’t Make Gravy” features the same quirk and bounce which was apparent on “Subway” and “Good Evening”, albeit less swamped in studio effects. Lyrically, this track also has parallels with “I’m Gonna Get Me A Woman” by Mike Conway.

19. San Francisco Earthquake – Fairy Tales Can Come True (Mercury – 1968)

Songwriter Kenny Young (of “Under the Boardwalk” fame) was almost entirely responsible for this foray into toytown psych. Later in the seventies, he would also attempt New Wave under the name Yellow Dog. For all I know, he’s possibly arranging a retro-eighties synthpop single as we speak.

20. Esprit De Corps – If (Would it Turn Out Wrong) (Jam – 1972)

Radio One DJ Mike Read always seemed to dabble in pop music, and you get the sense that he’s slightly disappointed none of his efforts have ever seemed to get off the ground. Of all of them, “If” is probably the best thing he’s been associated with, a phasing-ridden atmospheric ballad which probably seemed a bit dated for 1972. Still, it fits snugly at home on here.

21. Fresh Air – It Takes Too Long (Philips – 1971)

Another mystery, I’m afraid. This apparently isn’t the same Fresh Air who released “Running Wild” in the sixties, of whom I also know nothing. “It Takes Too Long” veers dangerously close to parodying George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord”, but comes at it from a rather Chris Bell-ish angle, and is actually a really good little single. This originally came to my attention on the brilliant “Pure Pop” blog.

22. Marvin & Farrar – So Hard To Live With (EMI – 1973)

This is, in case it needs to be spelt out to you, Hank Marvin and John Farrar out of the Shadows. Bored of the restrictions placed on them by being in an instrumental outfit, they recorded a few vocal harmony lead pieces of work to little success. “So Hard To Live With” is so close to the seventies Beach Boys in style and spirit it could almost be an out-take.

23. Unit 4+2 – 3:30am (Fontana – 1969)

By 1969 Unit 4+2 seemed so passé that nobody much was paying any attention, and during that time they slipped out this beautifully atmospheric, doom-laden ballad. People still looked the other way, but it’s remained a favourite of modern-day psychedelic compilations since.

24. Billy Fury – In My Room (label and date information uncertain)

We’ve already covered Jimmy Campbell on this blog via the 23rd Turnoff entry, but in it I conveniently failed to mention that Billy Fury was enough of a fan to cover some of his tracks. “In My Room” is an absurd choice, with its references to posters of “Hitler, John and Paul”, and although Fury does a stirling job of covering it, one has to wonder what his fans thought. Incidentally, this appears on a Fury compilation album from 1984, but I can find no trace of its release date prior to that. Does anyone know? Or did it remain an out-take until the eighties?

25. Ginger Ale – “Sugar Suzy” (Injection – 1971)

And we’ll finish on a nice, tranquil noise. Ginger Ale hailed from Amsterdam and had existed in one form or another since 1961 – however, this particular soft pop effort was relegated to B-side status in the seventies. It’s also a nice note to finish on.