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.