29 April 2009

Second Hand Record Dip Part 31 - Double Diamond Continental Promotion

Double Diamond single


Who: Various session musos
What: Double Diamond European promotional single
Label: Double Diamond
When: unknown
Where: Music and Video Exchange, Camden High Street
Cost: 50p

There are numerous moments in my life where I've wondered if I've been in the wrong career. As things stand at present, if I have a half-arsed idea on a Wednesday morning like, for example, deciding to hold a flash mob to salute the shrine of Tony Hancock which sits all forlorn in a pub in Soho, it generally doesn't get executed for the pure and simple reason that it's a half-arsed idea. If I worked in advertising or marketing, however, not only would my whim be allowed free reign, I'd also be given a budget to see it through, and paid too. Imagine that.

Equally, I'm sure there have been rather damp midweek days when all of us have dreamed about creating jukebox singles in tribute to crap mass-produced English ales to give as gifts to continental bar landlords, but have never been given the means to see this through. Luckily for us, other people are out there living the dream for us, as you can observe from this perplexing item I picked up in a second hand store recently. The "Double Diamond" jukebox single appears to be going to great pains to describe the River Trent as glamorous to the Belgian market, and comes covered in quaint English rustic pub images, including a heart-bleedingly wonderful photo of a stained glass window of a cat enjoying a foaming pint of beer.

The music contained on the single is some Lieutenant Pigeon styled honky tonky piano instrumentals interspersed with pub "banter", which largely consists of chirpy exclamations of "A pint-a Double Diamond, please!" - a phrase I must confess I seldom heard in any pub I frequented in Britain, never mind anywhere else, which is probably why they stopped making the stuff in 2003. To borrow a phrase from Stewart Lee, I believe the pubs which exist on this recording could exist only on the continent known as "the imagination".

I don't have any record of the Belgian populace's response to this campaign, or the German's (whose language is catered for on another fold-out part of the sleeve) but I suspect it was probably weak. I can't imagine many landlords or bar-owners tearing to the jukeboxes in their tavernas to place "authentic" honky tonk English noises on their musical playlists, and nor can I imagine many punters actually paying money to listen to the advertising campaign*. I also have no idea how much of the budget went up in smoke before anyone saw the flaw in this particular plan, but still... why worry when it gave somebody in marketing a job to do, eh?

Download it here, if you must

The first person to say "Slender pickings in the budget section at the Music and Video Exchange this week, was it?" wins a lifetime's subscription to the most rubbish and intrusive junk mail marketing campaign I can find.

*And yes, I know some jukeboxes have random play when no money has been put into them, but you still can't fool me into thinking that this particular piece of work is anything other than ridiculously flawed.

27 April 2009

YouTube update

You'll possibly have noticed that I don't tend to bother with YouTube updates anymore. This isn't because they are, as a friend of mine once put it, the most idle form of blog entries which are merely capitalising on somebody else's hard uploading work, but because... well, YouTube's in a bit of a state right now, isn't it? No sooner has somebody uploaded a delicious vid for us all to savour than it's been ripped down by angry legal executives working for a company who have no intention of ever issuing the material on DVD anyway*. In fact, the main reason I haven't uploaded anything there myself in so long is partly because my Panasonic video-DVD convertor broke not too long ago, and by the time I got it fixed there was an almighty purge on the service, and half of what I had already uploaded to view was ripped down in the process. "Best leave it until things settle down a bit," I thought.

For similar reasons, one doesn't want to look like a hopeless tart and post a link to a video on YouTube here for something which disappears two days later, so I hope I don't land anyone in hot water by saying that the user Beyondthebeat has some amazing videos for you all to watch. It's a sixties obscurity lover's haven, featuring videos for singles I would have had no idea had promos in the first place - The Third Rail's "Run Run Run", for example, Scots beatsters The Poets, The Creation, and tons more. There's also a video clip for Pink Floyd's "Paintbox" on there, which may not be strictly relevant to this blog, but I had no awareness it even existed until a couple of days ago. Is there nothing to be said for a legitimate Pink Floyd DVD package compiling these bits together in one place?

Also, a clip of Edwyn Collins' frequently forgotten late night Channel Four sit-com "West Heath Yard" has worked its way on there - although there are plenty of people I know who refuse to believe it ever existed. See below for a glimpse into the recording process of the moving "Lasagne for One".

Now, if only these treats could stay in place for more than five minutes I'd be a very happy man (well I wouldn't, not at the moment anyway, but I'd be considerably closer to content than usual).

(*Yes, I know copyright law is rather more complex than this, and that lawyers aren't all miserable fun-spoilers out to ruin everybody's days - it just feels like that sometimes).

24 April 2009

Australian Playboys - Black Sheep RIP (b/w "Sad")


Label: Immediate
Year of Release: 1967

Firstly, it's confession time. No, I don't own this on vinyl - I freely admit that both the A and B side here is presented for your pleasure courtesy of two different compilation appearances, and whilst that means this upload is not especially authentic, it does mean that you get to hear the tunes in tip-top condition.

"Black Sheep R.I.P" is quite simply one of the odder singles of 1967, which is saying something for a year which kindly gave us gnomes named Grimble Grumble and sixteen vestal virgins leaving for the coast, and all number of other bits of psychedelic inspired whimsy. Perhaps taking their cues from the childlike lyricism prevalent throughout this particular era, the Australian act The Playboys (rebranded The Australian Playboys for the British market to avoid confusion with an existing English outfit) launched this particular record as their European trial balloon. To all intents and purposes it's a technicoloured pop freakout version of the children's nursery rhyme, complete with curious but invigorating instrumental passages, nagging vocals ("Do you have, do you have, do you have, do you have, YES I HAVE!" the band trill absurdly) and the surprising thing is it's actually pretty damn good. Naturally, it wasn't a hit in Britain and the band were never given another chance to break these shores, but they deserve top marks for coming up with such a ludicrous idea in the first place and then actually making it work.

The B-side "Sad" is featured on the "Nuggets II" box set and isn't as interesting, but still screams "Summer '67" in your ears, despite its rather downbeat tones. To my mind (and perhaps my mind alone) a less elaborate version of "Sad" could easily have been taken on by The Jesus and Mary Chain in their early days - it has the same doomed but innocent air.

For all the worth of both sides on offer here, the band seemingly knew luck wasn't on their side in the UK, and had pissed off back to Australia by the end of 1967 to form Procession. This leaves them on the very long list of sixties bands who moved to these shores to crack the British market and found themselves ignored - although one can't envy any band the job of rivalling the homegrown acts of this particular era.

Download it here

22 April 2009

Second Hand Record Store Dip Part 30 - Mankind - "Doctor Who"


Who: Mankind
What: Doctor Who (b/w "Time Traveller")
Label: Pinnacle
When: 1978
Where: Wood Street Market, Walthamstow
Cost: One pound

...and it's yet another Left and To The Back top thirty chart entry from yore. People shall begin to talk.

"Doctor Who" by session musicians Mankind hovered around the bottom end of the Top Thirty for ages, like gnats cloud around stagnant water. It's an interpretation of the TV theme which seems to have been largely forgotten about now, perhaps because it's yet another disco "rethink" of the original piece. The original BBC Radiophonic Workshop piece still has the ability to send chills down the spine with its whooshing and whirring and demonic oscillations, but it's safe to say that sticking a funky bassline to it does sap away most of its power. In fact, what we're left with is a song that asks us to dance about whilst being forced to think about Tom Baker, which is a tempting offer, but one which I can't bring myself to do at home without getting tremendously confused and unfootsure. One is also unsure what a Tom Baker disco dance would involve, but one suspects the choreography of scarves would play a role.

As a record, it's perhaps more noteable for being one of Pinnacle's earliest hit singles, causing the distribution company to raise its stakes slightly in the game of pop. Whilst the label itself would quickly dissolve, despite having some of the loudest and frankly best designs of the seventies (see here), the distribution arm would eventually become all-powerful, handling the likes of Factory Records and eventually PWL (and therefore Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan). Last year it finally went bankrupt amidst the present music industry turmoil, which is regrettable given its long history - alongside Stock Aitken and Waterman favourites, it actually did release a lot of underground material throughout its existence, and gave plenty of bands breaks they weren't likely to get from the major labels. Rough Trade may have always been more right-on and credible, but Pinnacle's back catalogue is also not entirely to be sniffed at.

So... here's (more or less) where it all started, not with a Joy Division seven inch, or an unexpected punk hit, or even Keith Marshall's "Only Crying" (another hit of theirs) but with a funky sci-fi theme. You've got to wonder.

Download here

It was on Top of the Pops as well, and some kind soul has decided to upload it to YouTube...

19 April 2009

Grapefruit - Dear Delilah (b/w "Dead Boot")


Label: RCA
Year of Release: 1968

McCartney-esque cries of "You bounder! You cheat!" are likely to come floating up from the virtual ether about this one, since it was technically a hit, nosing up to number 21 in the British charts. Still, a staple of golden oldie radio it most certainly is not, and I think we can safely give both it and the band an entry on this blog without too many people shouting about their mainstream nature.

Grapefruit are yet another example of the ubiquity of the Young family in rock music, as the lead singer Alexander Young is the sibling of George Young of the Easybeats, and of course also Angus and Malcolm Young of AC/DC. Unlike those particular notables, however, his career appears to have been restricted to a couple of minor hits with this outfit then a tumble into obscurity.

They were certainly given opportunities in spades, being signed to the Beatles' publishing arm of Apple, touted by Lennon and McCartney as a great up-and-coming act (Young can also be heard shouting on "Hey Jude" somewhere deep in the mix), and generally given a lot of preening and attention. Sadly, like a great many Apple acts they didn't register as highly with the public as perhaps the Fab Four anticipated, although the fact they managed minor hits at all still puts them head and shoulders above other colleagues such as Jackie Lomax and Fire, and - erm - The Black Dyke Mills Band.

"Dear Delilah" is their most successful single, and if we wanted to be really critical, we could argue that it's not actually as good as numerous flops which were released by other artists around the same time. For all that, though (and we could carp on about the fairness of the charts forever) it utilises phasing, moody melodies and a chorus that's just about catchy and swirly enough to pass the electric lemonade test. The B-side "Dead Boot" is slight melodically but conceptually strange, appearing to be a mourning ditty written as an ode to a knackered old shoe, which one can only assume came from the John Entwhistle school of lyric writing, involving quite literally writing about "what's around you".

The guitarist John Perry later tasted success again in The Only Ones - the rest seem to have slipped off the radar, with Young working mostly as a session musician in the industry after Grapefruit finally split in 1969.

Download it Here.

Oh look - and somebody's uploaded a French TV appearance of theirs on to YouTube:

One of my personal Grapefruit favourites is "Lullaby For A Lazy Day" which is frequently incorrectly identified as a Beatles out-take - you can hear it for yourself over on YouTube where it's been mislabelled once again.

14 April 2009

Idi Amin - Amazin' Man


Label: Transatlantic
Year of Release: 1975

Now, if there's one thing Laibach, Bob Geldof and I seem to agree on - and I'd be willing to wager if you put us all in a room together it would be the only thing we all agree on - it's the fact that a great many dictators behave uncannily like rock stars, using the same art school imagery, symbolism and sweeping universal statements that some of history's biggest murderers have also indulged in. In fact, the one reason rock stars will never seem like anything more than slightly comedic figures is that their use of arthole imagery for populist means, and their stadium rallies, and their fist-punching power gestures don't really amount to much more than a foot-stomping barn-storming session down at the Hammersmith Palais (and perhaps the odd sacked keyboard player here and there). Picture Bono with a machine gun in control of a third world state, though, and suddenly the imagery seems slightly horrific. In fact, one reason why I've never been too convinced that Tony Blair was actually, genuinely Evil is that he looked so damned unconvincing with a guitar. If you'd given Idi Amin an instrument, he'd have looked like he was born with the thing. Tony Blair just looked slightly ashamed and apologetic.

Of course, this isn't genuinely Idi Amin on this single, even though when I first picked up the disc I actually thought for a split second it might be. It is in fact satirist John Bird pretending to be Idi Amin, but still sending the single out under the ruthless dictator's name anyway (Hey, what was he gonna do? Sue for defamation?) Bird cooks up a mean groove as the frontman to this single, explaining his philosophy to win the public over with the power of song, and getting up to all sorts of backing vocalist sacking mayhem on the way. It would spoil the joke if I revealed the outcome of the record at this point.

The B-side, on the other hand, is purely a spoken word side outlining Amin's problems with the ladies. Both form part of the "Broadcasts of Idi Amin" album that Bird put out, after his Private Eye columns and offshoots on the same topic proved so popular that Transatlantic Records clearly thought there was an entire album's worth to be appreciated by the public.

Why Bird or Private Eye or Transatlantic Records stopped there I'll never know. This is surely under-explored territory, and whole albums by Kim Jong-il, for example, would be worthy additions to anyone's collection. You could simply file the vinyl next to Phil Spector's Christmas albums and have done with it. In fact, a cover of "Amazin' Man" by somebody pretending to be Phil Spector would be immensely topical at the moment....

Download it Here

12 April 2009

Second Hand Record Dip Part 29 - The Leer Bros. Band - Mystery of Love

Leer Bros. Band - Mystery of Love

Who: Leer Bros. Band
What: Mystery of Love (b/w "Just Trying to Please")
Label: Intrepid
When: 1969
Where: Music and Video Exchange, Camden High Street
Cost: One pound

I found this little friend lying unwanted and greatly reduced in the Music and Video Exchange, but I can't seem to find a single scrap of evidence online or offline about who the Leer Bros. Band were (although we can hopefully safely say without fear of casual libel that they were indeed brothers with the surname Leer). What I can find, however, is a ton of collector's sites not reaching any general consensus on the type of music they play - I've read this described as "garage pop", "a mod dancer", "bubblegum" and even (wildly inaccurately) "soul/ funk" across several different sites, which means they're either a supersonic, groovy kind of multi-genre family band, or else a bunch of second-hand record traders are just telling potential buyers what they think they want to hear. Sadly, I think it's the latter.

Still, don't surf away just yet, because "Mystery of Love" is actually pretty good. I'd categorise it as being sixties guitar-based pop, in honesty - it doesn't have enough grit or rawness to really be referred to as "garage" - but a compelling, Keith Richards-esque riff and chipper groove makes it sound very much like Crazy Elephant's "Gimme Gimme Good Loving" with a tiny bit more spittle. And yes, I'm well aware that Crazy Elephant's track is frequently categorised as bubblegum, but I've never quite been happy with it resting in that category, especially as its B-side is a gut-churning piece of psychedelia I really must upload sometime.

This also sounds as if it might have been a hit single if the winds had been blowing a bit fairer for it on the week it was released, but its obscurity is now such that if you look on Last FM, it has yet to generate a single play. Trust me, that's as obscure as old singles get in these days of file sharing, mp3 blogs and re-issue labels.

If anyone has any answers as to who the Leer Brothers were, and what else they did (if anything), they'd be gratefully received as always.

10 April 2009

London Pleasures - Summer of Love/ London Pleasures (Double A Side)

London Pleasures - Summer of Love

Label: Paperback
Year of Release: 1982

This one has been stuck in my "to upload" pile ever since I started this blog, but I've never got around to it purely because... well... the strength of feeling was never quite there, I must be honest. Despite the fact that this single has been listed on several collector's sites (and record stores) for rather ambitious sums of money, I've never quite understood what anybody might be seeing in it beyond the fact that it's yet another reasonable early indie single with a limited pressing.

The London Pleasures were indeed a London-based band (despite this coming out on a Peterborough based record label) who consisted of Mark Wragg on guitar, Brian Thorpe on Bass, Paul Addie on Drums and Phil Brammer on guitar and vocals. Judging from the two sides presented here, their particular schtick was a slightly new wave styled noise with sixties influences tacked on. Like a great many bands of their ilk, however, they were cursed with ultra-cheap production values which mean that neither track seems to rise much above demo tape quality, and frequently doesn't even hit the highs of the decade eighties recording technology was supposed to supersede. By the time the messy, noisy basics of punk had faded away, the DIY approach of many a bedroom indie label was left looking rather exposed when bands tried to record more complicated material.

Still, there's some nice ideas going on throughout the disc, and a sense that if they'd been given a bigger budget to play with and further releases, something more striking might have come out of the London Pleasures camp. Their theme tune "London Pleasures" is timeless lyrically at least (as well as being the stronger side), bemoaning the impossibility of anybody young actually living a swinging life in the hostile capital, whilst "Summer of Love" apes psychedelia and marries it with a fat, beefy bassline, a pleasing riff, and more lyrics protesting about the fact that the eighties were basically the evil yin to the sixties yang. There's also a gentle groove going on here which would probably have pleased Edwyn Collins and his Orange Juice cohorts more than the numerous piss-poor Postcard copyists who littered the indie scene for years afterwards.

Sadly, nobody rushed forward to finance any further releases, and this seems to be the sole offering from the band. Paperback Records apparently released one other single by another act before giving up too (although the Internet doesn't seem to have any data as to who this was by) and what we're left with is a whole bunch of guesswork about both the band and label. Still, don't go off and pay fifteen quid for this, for God's sake, just download it below.

Click to Download

6 April 2009

Marvin - Marvin The Paranoid Android (b/w "Metal Man")

Marvin the paranoid android
Label: Polydor
Year of Release: 1981
There are two songs I know of which reference a "paranoid android" - one features the line "kicking screaming gucci little piggy", the other "you know what really makes me mad?/ they clean me with a brillo pad". Guess which one this isn't?
The mania surrounding the television programme The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy in the early eighties was decidedly odd and almost unprecedented for a BBC2 show which only managed one measly television series, and the enthusiasm for its most popular character Marvin the terminally depressive robot lead to this particular spin-off single. Whilst this failed to get inside "the only chart that counts" on Radio One, it did pick up a surprising volume of airplay and became a favourite during my childhood. I recently rediscovered it in a second hand store in Walthamstow, and upon getting it home was astonished by how geriatric it sounds now. What originally seemed like a piece of synthesiser wizardry with jokes thrown in now sounds like a rather creaky b-grade version of Landscape. I also had a false memory of it using parts of Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" in the mix, but in actual fact the chorus only bears a faint resemblance to that particular tune, although one has to wonder whether it's coincidental.
For all my carping, this single is far from being the worst spin-off effort I've ever heard, managing to perfect the balancing act between humour and an engaging tune, the net result being a fair imitation of a Gary Numan record with lyrics by Douglas Adams, which surely any sensible person should wish to hear. It certainly dumps from a big height all over rival robot Metal Mickey's vinyl drek which dogged the same decade, although he too would have to be remembered in a song title by somebody else - in this case Suede - before getting a mention in the big Top 40 rundown. It's a peculiar old world.
Life, don't talk to me about LIFE....

5 April 2009

Vince Clarke & Paul Quinn - One Day (b/w "Song For")


Label: Mute
Year of Release: 1985

Vince Clarke's post-Depeche Mode, pre-Erasure period was more eventful than some people's entire careers in pop. After forming Yazoo with Alison Moyet and watching that duo dissolve after two albums, he hit upon the idea of recording a series of records with different vocalists fronting each release. The Assembly's under-rated and under-referenced top ten hit "Never Never" (with Feargal Sharkey) was the first. This, recorded with Scottish vocalist Paul Quinn of Bourgie Bourgie, was the second, and got to Number 99. Whoops.

The single's lowly chart position may explain why the project was scuppered, Vince perhaps realising that some kind of consistency was needed for the branding of his songs if they were to actually sell. However, it's difficult to understand quite why this was considered ever likely to sell in large quantities regardless of how it was fronted or badged. It actually sounds uncannily like an Erasure album track, one of the slow-tempo numbers they'd place towards the end of side two to make us realise that synthesisers too can weep. It's very clearly not a smash hit single, and the fact that Paul Quinn remained a largely unknown figure (unlike Feargal Sharkey) probably didn't persuade many radio stations to playlist it either.

For all that, it remains a curio because it does seem like a bridge between Clarke's period with Yazoo and his career with Erasure. "Never Never" didn't really vault over into new territories, sounding as if it could just have easily been a leftover from the "You and Me Both" sessions. "One Day", on the other hand, utilises new noises and styles, and sounds more as if Clarke was attempting to morph into something different.

Download it here

As a footnote, I have to say that I do think it's a pity that Erasure are so readily dismissed by so many people as irrelevant when they created some of the finer pieces of pop in the eighties, from the woozy accordian fuelled worker's protest song "The Circus", through to the Gloria Gaynor-meets-electro-gospel oddness "Drama!", and then of course the album "The Innocents" which is pretty much pure goodness from start to finish. Far from chugging along a predictable route, they produced some of the more engaging pieces of top ten work of that period, although if the only thing you've got stuck in your head is the "Abba-esque" EP, that may explain some of your prejudices.

1 April 2009

The Singing Postman - Third Delivery (EP)

Singing Postman - Third Delivery

Label: Parlophone
Year of Release: 1966

Track listing:

1. Wass The Bottum Dropped Owt?
2. Oi Wear Horned Rimmed Glasses
3. Oi Can't Git a Noice Loaf a Bread
4. Yew Can't Keep Liven in the Past

Allan Smethurst the Singing Postman truly is the rum truffle in pop's big luxury box of chocolates. When entering into a career in the music industry very few performers bother to dress up in their dayjob clothes, preferring instead to have an alien allure. Smethurst, however, was extraordinary in his ordinariness, making a feature out of both his job, his features, and his thick Norfolk accent.

After recording a few songs and releasing a hundred of them locally as the "First Delivery" EP, Parlophone began to get excited by the endless radio spots he was being offered and snapped up the rights to the songs. Following this, it all went slightly absurd for the unlikely star - appearances on the Des O'Connor programme followed, and his catchphrases began to catch on throughout schoolyards and workplaces. His touring work meant that his postman days were over, but nonetheless Royal Mail allowed him to keep the uniform for his live shows (unflinchingly generous for an organisation which these days appears to think little of fining its customers for its own mistakes - sorry for the digression, but I've been on the phone to them for a lot of today).

I've scoured over many novelty acts since writing this blog, and the tale is normally reasonably cheerful. The act has one hit, rides the wave for all its worth and presumably bungs a bit of spare money into a tax-exempt account, then the people involved return to their dayjobs with endless stories to tell about their fluke Top of the Pops appearance, the time they met Elton John, and how nothing prepares one for the shock of children's Saturday morning television programmes. I envy most novelty acts more than I (for example) envy Amy Winehouse. A nice little fluke hit seems like the pop equivalent of a gap year, rather than the miserable, self-obsessed goldfish bowl existence bona-fide stars opt for.

Allan Smethurst is most definitely the exception to the rule, though. He hated live performances and was utterly mortified by the endless over-enthusiastic attention he received from strangers. Eventually, he turned to alcohol to give him enough Dutch courage to take the stage, then became a full-blown alcoholic. As his novelty status faded away and he became a forgotten figure, his addiction caused violent rows with his mother, and he eventually checked into a Salvation Army hostel in Grimsby in 1980 where he remained until he died twenty years later.

Smethurst is obviously a difficult character to make a case for. As much as I'd love to say that his work shows raw genius, and that hidden behind the Norfolk vowels and quirky sideways looks at smalltown life lay a dark side, it has to be said that what he produced was very light and breezy. The recordings on this EP are utterly innocent and behind the times even for 1966, and the fifties-styled postcard picture sleeve says everything that needs to be said about the contents. This was the kind of entertainment which remained throughout that manic decade but seldom gets written about. From the early days of beat right through to the first rumblings of metal and prog in 1969, light entertainers with a certain charm and a marginally unusual way of looking at the world cluttered the radio dial and variety shows.

Where Smethurst differed from most was in his truly rudimentary singing and technique, his plinking and plonking playing and frequently out-of-tune vocals predating anti-folk by a fair few decades. The sleevenotes to this record boast that he "bases his singing sentiments on simplicity and sense, and while other folk-style artists may hog the headlines, Allan contributes easily as much in a more definite and genuine way to the balladry of our time". I wouldn't go that far, but in the slightly scratchy recordings here, there's something quite uniquely honest going on, and when you hear the weary paean to nostalgia that is "Yew Can't Keep Liven in the Past", you may be forced to realise that Smethurst just wasn't made for his times. The situations he sung about were already beginning to seem like quaint relics. Putting a character like this into the mainstream could only have ended in tears - or perhaps people who base their music careers on their dayjobs create some kind of bad karma when they give up the dayjob itself.

So as not to end this blog entry on too sour a note, shortly before he died Smethurst had cause to smile when Rolf Harris (who covered his "Have Yew Got a Loight, Boy?") visited his hostel to say hello. Despite his refusal to enter the pop music game ever again, his thrilled reaction to the hairy Australian's entrance showed that he was clearly proud of what he did manage to put out, and also who admired it.

Download the EP here