28 September 2009


As blogs go, I don't think this one takes many breaks really, even though there are moments where perhaps I'd benefit from holding back some of the 'groovy gravy' rather than trying to find interesting things to upload every other flipping day.

So... I'm sorry to say that I'm probably going to go quiet on the uploads, at least until this weekend.  No special reason, I'm just far too worn out to put any decent effort in.

While I'm gone - which won't be for very long - why not relax yourself to Telex's fantastic rendition of "Rock Around The Clock" above?

23 September 2009

Heads, Hands and Feet - Warming Up The Band

Heads, Hands and Feet - Warming Up The Band

Label: Island
Year of Release: 1971

Since Oasis' split was marked with a 'special' entry on Left and to the Back, I see absolutely no reason why my attention cannot be turned to the sad news of the Chas and Dave break up as well.  Of course, finding a vaguely related obscurity where C&D are concerned is dead easy - Chas Hodges was an extremely successful musician before his time in the world's most famous cockney duo, so there's an array of goodness to choose from.  In fact, a whole compilation could probably be created presuming I had the time to actually research and create one (it's an oft quoted fact in pub quizzes that Chas and Dave's session work on Labi Siffre's "I Got The" was sampled by Eminem for "My Name Is").

I'm picking this one, though, for no special reason other than it's good, and I also happened to find it resting beneath a pile of singles the other day after years of it being presumed AWOL from my collection.  Heads Hands and Feet were a bunch of country rockers from Britain who landed a cool $500,000 American deal off the back of one gig, although the A&R person responsible wasn't giving away such a large cheque as a blind gamble.  Almost all of them were seasoned session musicians who had played on numerous tracks before, and among them on backing vocals and bass guitar was Chas Hodges, a man who had worked with Joe Meek, Shirley Bassey,  and Jerry Lee Lewis amongst many others.

Naturally, Heads Hands & Feet never became a household name, and the half a million advance seems a little optimistic now - but "Warming Up The Band" is a cool little single, filled with boogieful piano riffs, a swaggering energy, and possibly too much cowbell for its own good.  There's no reason why this couldn't have followed their labelmates Free into the charts, but it obviously didn't quite click with the public.  Perhaps there was an old school roughness to it nobody took to.

The band managed three albums before quitting, but remain cult favourites in the worlds of both country music and rock.  Whilst Chas Hodges continued to have a varied career, adding rockney music to a long list of genres on his CV, some of the others sadly quit the music industry altogether after the failure, Pete Gavin the drummer becoming a construction worker, for example (and you only need to hear the grooves on this track to realise that's a horrible waste).  

There's little to add as a footnote here, beyond apologies for the whopping great scratch towards the end.  Yes, that was created by the record sliding under some other singles and getting marked, although I suppose I should be grateful that it isn't warped and doesn't jump.  If you're wincing at the damage in the final few seconds of this disc, just imagine how I felt when I heard it... 

21 September 2009

One Hit Wonders #5 - Brown Sauce - I Wanna Be A Winner

Brown Sauce - I Wanna Be A Winner

Label: BBC
Year of Release: 1981

Noel Edmonds... so much to answer for.  Readers outside the UK may not be familiar with Noel, and for the benefit of those folks I have to reveal that he was (and arguably still is) the cuddly bearded Uncle of the airwaves*, dominating the popular culture of the seventies and eighties in particular, and even most of the nineties until he decided to get "dangerous", "dark" and "edgy" on our asses.  And he did, too - the last series of the Saturday early evening extravaganza "Noel's House Party" saw him tormenting small children with fake 'aliens', losing his patience with surprised members of the public, and generally wheezing his airy laugh all over the place in a demonic fashion.  That was my favourite series, incidentally, but everyone else had tuned out by then.

Way, way before all that, however, he presented a morning show called "Swap Shop" where children would phone up and attempt to swap their unwanted gifts with other kids all over the UK.  In case this sounds too dull, the show was interspersed with celebrity banter, and interviews and japes from co-hosts Keith Chegwin and Maggie Philbin.  And that, really, is where this single comes in.  Written by Noel Edmonds and BA Robertson (of "Bang Bang" and "I Knocked it Off" fame) it is actually a passable ditty sung by Keith and Maggie, and not dissimilar in its stylings to Eurovision winners Bucks Fizz who were extremely popular at the time.  Featuring some of the worst rhymes to grace a pop song ever ("Don't want to rule like President Reagan/ or kick a ball like Kevin Keegan" they blurt hopefully) and some of the most joyful, sugary riffs, it really shouldn't be treated as a serious product.  Indeed, it was originally supposed to have been a one-off song on the programme, but public demand lead to its release on BBC Records.  Listen once and you'll find an earworming little pop song, twice and the appeal will begin to wane, then three times and you'll be sick to death of the simplicity of it.  You can't help but wonder if BA "Kool in the Kaftan" Robertson would have added a few more twists, turns and melodic diversions to the disc if he'd known it would actually become a single.  

Whilst a few extra frills might have given the single Top Five status, public demand still took it to a creditable number 15 on the charts in January 1982, but that was the best it could hope for, and a follow-up single credited to The Saucers (also penned by BA Robertson) barely registered in the public's consciousness.  Keith Chegwin went on to appear naked on evening television instead of Maggie Philbin as the Cosmic Ordering of all heterosexual male teenagers everywhere got terribly mixed up, Maggie Philbin herself did (and still does) numerous pieces of television presentation work, and Noel, of course, presents the ridiculously popular "Deal or No Deal" quiz show.  But you'd have to be from Planet Zog not to have noticed that.

As for BA Robertson, his solo career had stalled by 1981, but he eventually co-wrote "The Living Years" - not with Noel Edmonds this time, but Mike Rutherford out of Genesis for his Mike and the Mechanics project.  Beyond the beards, one has to wonder whether Rutherford and Edmonds have much in common, although I find it hard to imagine Rutherford doing prank phone calls to all and sundry.  But you never know... perhaps Peter Gabriel dreads the phone ringing at some unearthly hour...

(*Footnote fact - Despite his cuddly Uncle image, Edmonds has made it known in interviews that he's a tough person to work for.  Read into that what you will.)

And watch it below.

20 September 2009

The Hello People - If I Should Sing Too Softly

Label: Philips

Year of Release: 1968

I have given you many things on "Left and to the Back" over the course of the last year and a half, but one thing which has remained missing from my catalogue of greatness and oddness is a rock group consisting entirely of mime artists.   

The Hello People were apparently formed when the French master of mime Etienne De Crux taught a number of musicians how to paint and, upon observing how rapidly they picked up the form, wondered if some of them could learn mime quickly as well, and cleverly combine it with their music to create an innovative new kind of entertainment.  The answer was patently yes, since the resulting act The Hello People went on to perform gigs all around America, making a noise during their songs (you'll be happy to learn) but entirely miming on stage otherwise, and appearing entirely in mime make-up.  There is a picture of the band and more back-up information here.

It's hard not to snigger or even guffaw at the idea now, because in subsequent decades the art of mime has collapsed to the point where not even Covent Garden beggars bother to attempt to impress with it.  In the sixties, however, it still had a certain amount of credibility.  Also, when The Hello People made a noise - which is all we're getting on the single, after all, unless you wish to imagine somebody walking into an invisible wall during the run-in and run-out grooves - it was actually often damn good.  "If I Should Sing Too Softly" is a lovely piece of soft psychedelia with West Coast harmonies, a bouncy rhythm, and laidback vocals.  It's a little bit surprising that the band seem to have slipped through the net when research has been done for the numerous sixties soft pop compilations which have been released recently - this track is good enough to sit on there with the best of them.

Sadly, the American public did not take the concept of a non-communicative band in mime make-up to their hearts, and the highest position they managed to scale in the charts was number 123, despite having an eager cult following.  They also apparently got booed off stage when supporting the Chamber Brothers live.  Bless them, they tried.

And watch them below... (Thanks to MosesTKrikey for the YouTube upload)

16 September 2009

The Spotnicks - Orange Blossom Special and Just Listen to My Heart

Spotnicks- Orange Blossom Special

Spotnicks - Just Listen to my Heart

Label: Oriole
Year of Release: 1962 and 1963 respectively

Technically speaking, The Spotnicks have no place on this blog.  They were massive in their home country of Sweden during the sixties, and even achieved a moderate amount of success in Britain, which is astonishing for a nation which - then even more than now - tended to cock snooks at their musical neighbours from other European countries.  It's also a sure sign that the band had something special going on.

And indeed they did.  Their finest hour, the 200mph, rip-roaring "Hava Nigila", reached number 13 in the UK Top 40, and may only have been prevented from a top ten place by other business factors (which I'll come on to later).  These two singles, "Orange Blossom Special (b/w "Spotnicks Theme") and "Just Listen To My Heart" (b/w "Pony Express") charted rather more modestly at 29 and 36 respectively, but display a galloping, bouncing approach to the guitar instrumental which still sounds reasonably novel even today.  The Shadows may have been bigger on these shores, but I'd argue that should never have been the case.  

The Spotnicks are probably more famed over here for wearing space suits on stage than anything else, and for innovatively using leadless radio-controlled guitars which were apparently periodically known to cut out if an ambitious Spotnick wandered too far from the source of the signal.  Such is the price of breaking new ground - and in any case, I've witnessed similar problems when watching other acts live in the present day, so clearly the issue hasn't died a death.

Oriole Records are an interesting case in point, being an independent label in the UK at a time when attempting to strike it out alone was considered rather bold and even foolish.  Most of their cash in the sixties came from their Embassy Records outlet which sold el cheapo cover versions of the hits of the day to outlets of Woolworths.   They also owned a pressing plant which was frequently contracted out to major labels if one of their discs hit unanticipated demand, and Oriole pressings of Beatles singles are known to be quite collectible.  So known were they for focussing on these two business areas that it's widely alleged they frequently didn't spend a great deal of time grooming their potential hitmakers or promoting their own singles, so it's possible The Spotnicks might have had more success with another label.

Oriole also had a habit of wiping their master tapes, believing them to be too expensive to store and too valuable not to re-use - a fact which almost makes me want to bite my fingers off in frustration.  I'm sure the Spotnicks recorded most of their stuff in Sweden, but nonetheless I purchased a seventies Best Of album by them (on Air Records) which featured many of their sixties hits completely re-recorded in a heavily glossed, modern fashion, which does make me wonder if somebody was quick on the draw with the audio eraser at some point.  Ah well, these are definitely the originals below...

14 September 2009

Doctor's Children - Rose Cottage (EP)

Doctor's Children - Rose Cottage EP

Label: Upright
Year of Release: 1986

It's a well-known fact to any indie aficionado that 1986 was a year where endless singles in childishly designed sleeves suddenly fell into branches of small independent record stores.  The accepted wisdom was that the contents of each would be either be naive approximations of The Smiths performed on Argos guitars, or deeply fragmented, barking mad experimental discs.

The truth in fact frequently differs, and whilst The Smiths had gained affections amongst a certain kind of British musician, and there were also a few eccentrics out there who suddenly had the means to distribute their wares, there were also plenty of bands heavily tuned in to the alternative rock being dispensed by the Bunnymen, Julian Cope, REM, The Cure et al.  Plenty of them also had bugger all money, so chose to stick their recordings out in decidedly handmade sleeves.  That all of them seem to have fallen by the wayside when it comes to blogs and websites examining this sort of thing has more to do with the fickle finger of fashion than much else (unless their records came out on Creation, in which case all seems to be forgiven).

So then - The Doctor's Children seemingly hailed from South London, and appeared to be taking a strident, melodic Bunny kind of path as opposed to the Smithsian one which supposedly dominated at the time.  This record is filled with punchy guitar noises and droning organs which recall the more melancholic end of sixties pop.  Whilst there's nothing truly outstanding going on across the four tracks here, fans of independent music from that era might do well to lend their ears to this - not only was it produced by John Leckie, three years shy of discovering the Stone Roses, it also has a certain clean, carefree drive that has all but disappeared from alternative rock in the decades since.  Almost all the tracks contain clear, ringing chords and hollered vocals - the high point for me is the chiming Autumnal moodiness of "Blessed is the Man".

The Internet is rather shy about providing much more information about the band, and all I can really glean from the limited scraps available is that Sounds magazine rated them highly and predicted they would conquer all before them (which obviously never happened), that somebody financed an American tour for them (so they did better than a lot of other UK indie acts of the same period who were not granted permits), and that they released an album called "Dream Buffalo".  That's it.  If anybody has anything more, they know what to do.

According to the sleeve, the band's line up consisted of:

Paul Smith - Guitar, vocals
Matthew Woodman - Organ, Piano
Dave Ramsey - Bass
Rowland Howarth - Drums

1. Rose Cottage
2. Me, September 24th 1983
3. Blessed is the Man
4. When I Was Young

10 September 2009

Al Stewart - The Elf (b/w "Turn Into Earth")

Al Stewart - The Elf

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1966

Al Stewart must surely be familiar to most readers as being the seventies singer-songwriter responsible for the oft-referenced "Year of the Cat".  As at least one friend of mine has pointed out before, there barely seemed like a time when you could buy an RCA long player in the seventies without finding his albums advertised on the inner sleeve, although his sales in Britain weren't actually particularly impressive.  

Way before he began burbling on about felines and their connection to calendar years, however, Al Stewart was a sixties troubadour, strumming his stuff around the bars and clubs of Britain, and parting with hard-earned money to fund Yoko Ono's arts projects.  Featuring guitar work from Jimmy Page, this single is a two-headed beast with a jaunty little Donovan-esque A-side which contemplates elves hiding in bushes listening to him play music.   It predates a lot of the Middle Earth styled psychedelic musing about mystical creatures by a fair year, but isn't really the most impressive offering here.  That honour goes to the B-side, "Turn Into Earth" which is, without exaggeration, one of the best pieces of British psychedelia there is.  Taking the Yardbirds original and giving it an air of stoned, almost proto-dub reggae mystique, it is quite simply breathtaking, containing echo-ridden drum patterns, laidback vocals, and a woozy, ill-at-ease sense of something unwell in the opium den.   It builds and builds until it reaches a point where it comes to its decisive conclusion, fading suddenly as if to taunt the listener who wants more.

Nobody bought this, obviously, and original copies (mine's a facsimile) go for hundreds of pounds.  But not without reason - this is bloody great, kids.  Now, best not to talk too much about his time in Tony Blackburn's band...

7 September 2009

Second Hand Record Dip Part 42 - The Metropolitan Police Band - Dull it Isn't!

Metropolitan Police - Dull it Isn't!

Who: The Metropolitan Police Band
What: Dull it Isn't!
Where: Wood Street Market, Walthamstow
When: 1974
Label: Decca
Cost: 25p

Oh, just look at me.  I hit the bell with this one.  25p for an entire album recorded by the Metropolitan Police!  Readers expecting karaoke turns from the city's finest constables (with a cheeky wink for all the honest English gentlemen in their audience) will be sorely disappointed to learn that this is just the force's brass band, a regular crime fighting and trumpet tooting force whose presence is well-known at Arsenal football matches.  

For all their history - the Metropolitan Police parpers go back the twenties, making them one of the longest serving acts on this blog - one can only assume that the release of this album was supposed to appeal to Arsenal fans who listened to them every season, since the market for this otherwise would have been extremely narrow.  That said, Decca didn't appear to be giving much thought to the concept of a "market" for anything by the seventies, adopting a "throw mud at the wall and see what sticks" sales strategy, so perhaps they thought the novelty of a police brass band would have a wider audience.  

The title "Dull it Isn't!" is a sorry case of a record label protesting too much, since it has to be said that most of the content of this album is actually tremendously predictable fare, more mundane even than the sleeve shots of the police force attending to troubled children, riding horses and playing with dogs.  It seems to be performed well, but you would probably have more fun imagining the content of the grooves entitled "Traffic Patrol", "Passing of the Regiments" and "Trafalgar March" than you would actually listening to them.  Therefore, to give you a flavour of the album I've offered up two mp3s for download here.  The first is the Met's charming little cover of "Eye Level", which has a certain strident oomph that the original lacked, and the slightly swinging "Piping Hot", which you can march around to when you're next cooking a casserole for your dinner party guests.

To any Met Officers who may be reading, please remember that the purpose of this blog is to enrich people's knowledge about the world of obscure sounds.  I would therefore ask you to ignore my obvious copyright infringement, for without breaking the law a little I wouldn't have introduced a new audience to your truncheon-tapping sounds.  Please don't whack me around the head until I need stitches like you did to a friend of mine at an environmental protest this year - that wouldn't be in the spirit of the proceedings here at Left and to the Back at all.  Besides which, your transport officers did let me off my rail fare this morning when the ticket barriers weren't working, and that cost considerably more than 25p.  Think on.

3 September 2009

One Hit Wonders #4 - Warm Sounds - Birds and Bees

Warm Sounds - Birds and Bees

Label: Deram
Year of Release: 1967

Warm Sounds were essentially the duo Denver Gerrard and Barry Younghusband who worked primarily as Andrew Oldham's right hand muso men for the Immediate label.  If a band required a stray song they might have (such as "Black Sheep RIP", for example, which was theirs) or needed some competent vocal harmonies or smart instrumentation, Denver and Barry were beckoned.  

Their own particular waxings under the name of Warm Sounds were, perhaps unsurprisingly, generally gentle and wistful affairs, like West Coast pop with soft English vowels thrown into the mix. "Birds and Bees" is all lazy vocalised noises which would be described as scat if they were energetic enough ("Ooh bap bap, ah bap bap" is the closest I can get to transcribing them)  pinging glockenspiels and idle basslines.  Some people would probably refer to this as "popsike".  

Whilst "Birds and Bees" did well enough aboard the good ship Radio London to climb to to pole position in that station's chart, it only got to number 27 in the official charts used by the music industry, supposedly the lowest position a Radio London number one has ever occupied in the real world.  We shouldn't pay too much heed to this fact, since their chart was largely based on airplay, guesswork and whoever the station owed a favour to at any given point, but its safe to say that there were probably many disappointed faces at the Deram offices as a result.

It was also the duo's only hit.  Follow up singles "Sticks and Stones" (on Immediate this time) and the rather berserk "Nite is A Comin'" (back on Deram again) were ignored by the public despite picking up further radio play, and the concept of Warm Sounds was subsequently put into the chest freezer.  Younghusband later worked with Donovan in his Open Road band, whereas Denver Gerrard released a solo album "Sinister Morning" which wasn't greeted with much more enthusiasm than the later Warm Sounds releases.

1 September 2009

Medicine Head - How Does It Feel


Label: Dandelion
Year of Release: 1972

Well, here we go again... and it's like I said before... and I'm sure I will say many times again... second hand vinyl doesn't turn up in neat batches for any particular artist.  You're not likely to see the complete works of a certain artist just sitting neatly in the racks unless a disgruntled fan has a serious clear-out (it's long rumoured, for example, that one second hand store suddenly had tons of Julian Cope rarities in stock after a fan had a disappointing argument with him).

I'm well aware we've covered Medicine Head here before, and this leaves me with very little to add.  You'll know the drill already - the band were a perverse, two man blues outfit with a deliberately stripped down sound who nonetheless created some great pieces of lo-fi wonder for John Peel's Dandelion label.  Peel had one of their singles in his box of favourite seven inch singles when he died, and whilst they're certainly an acquired taste, a great deal of their output is simplistic, hypnotic and even exciting if you can get into their particular zone.

"How Does It Feel" features a twanging Jew's Harp, the usual basic stomping rhythms, and an approach so facile it borders on childish, but it's an appealing and cheering little single I'm happy to own.  The other blog entry of the band covers the full story of their evolution, and isn't particularly worth repeating again here.  Go back and read it for yourselves, you lazy sods.