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