31 March 2010

The Farmer's Boys - Whatever Is He Like?

Farmer's Boys - Whatever is He Like?

Label: BACKS
Year of Release: 1982

C86, tweepop, shambling, indiepop, call it what you will... but the truth is that revisionism is rife on the topic in the mainstream press. Plenty of journalists would kid you that ton of bands parachuted into the scene taking everyone by surprise at some point in 1986, were spotted instantly by eagle-eyed scribes, then launched by the NME into the cruel world via the C86 compilation tape.

The reality isn't so straightforward. The roots of the sound, if you really want to create a controversial argument, could probably be traced back to the more childlike whimsy apparent in the underground of the British psychedelic movement. When Jeff Lynne was in the Idle Race and stuck pictures of Rupert the Bear to his guitar and wrote "I Like My Toys" and "The Birthday", he was predating Stephen Pastel's "return to the garden" mentality and obsession with pre-pubescent playthings by a fair two decades. If you want to leave bearded future members of ELO to one side for a second (and I see no reason why you should, but have no doubt that some of you will) then the slightly ramshackle, pie-eyed explorations of Mr Syd Barrett also predate the movement, as does "Buffalo Billy Can" by The Apple, and if I could actually be bothered to plough through my iTunes folder to dredge up other examples, I'm sure I easily could (and all this is without even mentioning The Velvet Underground, obviously).

Even before the 1986 date was rubber stamped on the sound, however, and Edwyn Collins and Orange Juice were named as the only natural precursors to the noise (a fact I suspect he actually resents to this day) there were jangly noises coming from low-rent recording studios all around the UK. Norwich scenesters The Farmer's Boys are by far one of the most overlooked travellers into the brave new jingle-jangle morning, despite having a few minor Top 75 hits when they eventually signed to EMI. "Whatever Is He Like?" is an early example on the Norwich based BACKS label which showcases their ability to return to the ethics of sixties pop whilst utilising the kind of quavering, hesitant vocals which sound definitively eighties. They weren't really pioneers - there were other people out there at the same time doing the same thing too - but they came so close to mainstream success that their subsequent erasure from music history is rather perplexing. Indeed, music journalist Simon Price states that "Muck It Out" is his ultimate "song I love that nobody has heard of". Yet "Muck It Out" only missed the Top 40 by eight places in 1983, selling quite a few copies in the process, and even being marketed with its own special shaped picture disc - I don't dispute that it has fallen by the wayside somewhat, but the fact that more people at indie discos are likely to recognise an uncharted Pastels A-side is a rather perverse state of affairs.

The Farmer's Boys eventually split in 1985 after their sound became more heavily produced and their work matured a little, but a website has now been constructed in praise of their work here. And not before time, I'd say.

Listen out for the hoover solo on the B-side "I Lack Concentration", by the way.

27 March 2010

Eternal Triangle - I Guess The Lord Must Be.../ Perfumed Candle

Eternal Triangle - Guess the Lord Must Be/ Perfumed Candle

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1969

This is another example of a rather borderline psych-pop track which has been muttered about online recently, although in this case attention has been given to the B-side "Perfumed Candle" rather than the Harry Nilsson covering A-side I've pictured. I feel I need to be blunt, however, and say that "Perfumed Candle" is nowt special at all, being an orchestrally backed piece of Mamas and Papas styled pop which doesn't really sound particularly psychedelic. The cover of "I Guess The Lord Must Be in New York City" is a bit more punchy, breezy and optimistic, and has more sparkle than gruff old Harry's original version - therefore, it gets my vote as the side of choice.

Apparently, Eternal Triangle were to all intents and purposes Canadian act The Poppy Family before a change of name (and fortune). They had a major international hit with "Which Way You Goin', Billy?" the year following this release, although they couldn't quite sustain the buzz which initially surrounded their work, and split in 1973 when the couple fronting the act, Susan and Terry Jacks, divorced. There's a lesson for all muso readers who may be tempted to join acts with couples in them (hint/tip: don't. I've made the mistake of doing this twice in my lifetime, when once should be enough to learn a very simple lesson).

Some of the Poppy Family's albums are highly praised amongst aficionados of seventies music with a psychedelic slant, and they even used sitars on some of the tracks they recorded during that era, which seems very contrary, or incredibly unfashionable for the time depending on which viewpoint you want to take. After their dalliances with all things Eastern and a quick trip to the Divorce courts, Terry Jacks limped off into the sunset minus his lover and bandmate to record a weepy cover of the Jacques Brel track "Seasons in the Sun", and struck global market gold yet again.

If anyone has any opinions on the albums the Poppy Family recorded, please do voice them here - I must confess to never having stumbled on copies of them here in the UK, and it would be interesting to know if there's any hidden treasure contained therein.

24 March 2010

Clodagh Rogers - Spider

Clodagh Rogers - Spider

Label: RCA
Year of Release: 1969

This blog is two years old this very week, and as we break open the Babysham, salute second hand record store owners everywhere, and tread snack food into the carpet in a way so wild and wanton that even Vernon Kaye would blush with embarrassment, let's slip on a Clodagh Rogers single, shall we? No, that doesn't sound right.

In truth, if you told me that two years from now I'd be uploading Clodagh Rogers singles to "Left and to the Back", well, I probably wouldn't have been that stunned, actually. The purpose of this blog was always to try and shed light on the uncollectible and unloved as much as it was to occasionally shine up a piece of vinyl which has had years of critical acclaim on its side, then plonk it on the stereogram. Clodagh Rogers' career has now diminished to the extent that the only album of hers you can buy on CD is a "Best Of", and that definitely doesn't include this little beauty.

Clodagh's popularity in the UK during the sixties and seventies is something which seems to have become erased from the collective consciousness. Failing to win the Eurovision Song Contest in 1971 surely can't have helped her career (and she even received death threats from the IRA for representing the UK, thus probably wondering why the hell she bothered at the end of the night), but the decade still didn't see complete inactivity, as she trotted off professionally and reliably from one variety show and chat show to the next. As familiar a middle-of-the-road face then as somebody like Katie Melua is now, she was deemed 'a safe pair of hands'.

Kenny Young - who we spoke about before, remember? - was largely responsible for the production of her records throughout both decades, and whilst it would be logical to assume this didn't include any of the man's more wigged out work, assumptions are dangerous, as many a reader of this blog knows. "Spider", the flip-side to the minor 1969 hit "Biljo" is actually a creeping, guitar fuzz smothered, hollering piece of slightly psychedelic leaning pop which is likely to surprise anyone ready to entirely dismiss her output. Originally issued as a solo single by the man himself, Clodagh's version is already beginning to get a name for itself on collector's sites, and what was once a piece of 50p bin fodder is now starting to slip into the Psych section of second hand record stores with modest price increases attached.

It's not the best thing you'll hear all week, but it's certainly further proof that preconceptions about recording artists of any era - but most especially the sixties and early seventies - are there to be whacked back down time and time again. Still though, the A side doesn't do much to challenge your notions about her style... but you can't have it all.

20 March 2010

The Look - Tonight & Three Steps Away

The Look - Tonight

Label: MCA
Year of Release: 1981

Although the fact is curiously irregularly referenced these days, a whole host of retro mods and power poppers hit the music scene in the early eighties, all seemingly having a shelf-life of one or two hit singles before getting forgotten about. In the mod corner we had Secret Affair and The Lambrettas - both hideously over-rated by lovers of that kind of noise, I'll have you know - and in the power-pop corner sat far too many people to list, including The Pinkees who were disqualified from the charts because their record company went around lots of chart return shops buying up their disc. Personally, I think they should have been disqualified from the charts just because their PR seemed to revolve around making vague and unrealistic suggestions that they were the "new Beatles", but I'm a harsh man as you'll know.

Of all these backwards-looking eighties bands, however, The Look genuinely do remain my favourites. With their squawking, pounding organ noises (of the electric variety, in case anything else was going through your sick minds) almost glam rhythms and a healthy degree of worship at the Temple of the Earworm, their singles were simple but extremely powerful and effective. Their love of Northern Soul, The Small Faces and The Kinks was palpably obvious, but their ability not to take the post-modern approach of referencing old riffs and instead seemingly discovering fresh ones should be applauded. Plenty of these bands were bone idle where such things were concerned, and indeed plenty of retro bands still are.

Sadly, their label MCA didn't quite get them, it would seem, and pressured them into releasing the single "Tonight", a cover of the West Side Story classic which worked well live, but sounded a tiny bit pointless as an A-side. Far more interesting is the B-side "Three Steps Away", which presented here shouldn't disappoint anyone who enjoyed their hit "I Am The Beat", being more joyful riffage of the same nature - and whilst I doubt KT Tunstall referenced that riff for "Suddenly I See" years later, there is a slight similarity going on.

But then....

The Look - Three Steps Away

Label: MCA
Year of Release: 1981

For some reason MCA clearly eventually saw sense and re-issued "Three Steps Away" as the main A-side, but remixed it in a slick, smooth, polished eighties way in the process, completely removing any of the track's edge. The band claimed that they burnt their own personal copies of their debut album because they were so disgusted by what MCA did to the sound, and one listen to this proves why.

Once again, though, the flip side "It's Much Too Late For That" is a charming little ditty about failure to get one's end away, all pub piano and mod vocals. Hardly essential stuff, but likable enough to be worth a download.

All this over-production meant that The Look were one of the few bands I know of to actually sound more punchy and effective when they reformed in 2005 than at any point during their first incarnation. Their noughties album "Pop Yowlin'" is actually a lovely piece of work which, had it been issued in the mid-nineties by an up and coming act, would without question have received a lot of attention. As it stands, their retroisms and attention to period detail were peculiarly both ahead of and behind the times in 1981, and just plain yesterday's news by 2005. Ten years ahead of their time, and ten years behind their time, The Look are an unfortunate band, but one well, well worth digging up material by. Of all the eighties bands I've ever included on "Left and To The Back" (and I did write about another one of their singles here) they're probably the one I have the biggest soft spot for, and it's enormously frustrating that so few people are aware of their work.

17 March 2010

Second Hand Record Dip Part 49 - Buster Gobsmack Eats Filth - We Wanna Be Famous

Buster Gobsmack Eats Filth - We Wanna Be Famous

Who: Buster Gobsmack Eats Filth (aka Grant Baynham and Adrian Mills off TV's "That's Life")
What: We Wanna Be Famous
Label: BBC
Where: Music and Video Exchange, Camden High Street, London
When: 1988
Cost: One pound

Ah, BBC Records and Tapes... so much to answer for...

Readers of a non-British origin may require me to brief them with some background about this single, and I'll do my best. "That's Life" was a British consumer programme which thrived in the seventies and eighties with its absurd and jarring approach of highlighting members of the public who had been wronged by bogus companies, spivs and ne'er-do-wells, then juxtaposing them with "light hearted" segments where they'd show clips of talking dogs or old ladies yodelling in the street. I'm not making any of this up or exaggerating for effect, incidentally - they really did. The shades of light and dark within the show were so extreme that it was a wonder the format succeeded for one series, much less the countless numbers which were eventually commissioned. Clearly somewhere out there a demographic existed for people who wanted to hear stories about people who had been left brain damaged after being run over by an articulated supermarket lorry and watch meerkats do some skateboarding. In essence, the show occupied the same kind of territory that the numerous oddball 50p grief-magazines which occupy newsagents shelves do now, and it's actually quite surprising that it hasn't been revamped and relaunched on that basis.

In 1988, towards the show's twilight years, one of their investigative items focussed on a dubious character who was apparently ripping off bands in Manchester by directing appalling videos for them for unreasonable amounts of cash (and in case you're wondering, the videos for The Inspiral Carpets "Joe" and The Stone Roses "She Bangs The Drums" were self-produced band efforts, so whoever he was, we can't blame him for those). To show the gentleman up for the rogue he was, presenters Grant Baynham and Adrian Mills promptly went forth and formed a dreadful punk band to highlight his activities. "Eats Filth" were born (being an anagram of "That's Life", in case this needs to be highlighted), a terrible video was created, and the man was humiliated and shamed on national television, with John Peel joining in by making his annoyance known. Job done. Or so we thought...

The story didn't quite end there, although it really should have done. It would seem that somebody at BBC Records and Tapes decided that the deliberately dreadful record - all one and a half minutes of it - should be issued as a charity single for MENCAP. As executive decisions go, the weakness of this one should not be understated. "Buster Gobsmack Eats Filth" were essentially a satirical parody of a struggling punk band, which in terms of humour was ten years out of date by 1988. A modern equivalent would be a joke band set up to parody the Teen C movement now. It's true to say that the "That's Life" audience still seemed to find punks disproportionately hilarious in the late eighties - the shrieks of laughter from the studio audience whenever a London punk was vox popped by Mills or one of his cohorts proved a baffling noise to hear - but they really weren't going to bother their stereograms with this nonsense. It sold next to no copies, and as in my opinion this is probably one of the worst songs ever committed to vinyl, it deserved to, charity or no charity. After all, there are very few people who would even give a homeless man making this sort of noise any cash.

Because let's not forget that the song in question is so utterly, mindlessly bad that it may be a work of genius. It's a squawking piece of drivel with scattergun lyrics a petulant six year old could have penned which starts and stops very quickly and without having made any particular kind of melodic point. To all intents and purposes, this is the celebrity equivalent of The Legend's singles for Creation Records - it's that atrocious.

The B-side "The Toreador From Japan" takes a different tack, but seems quaintly racist instead - you sense that all concerned probably thought they were having a light-hearted laugh, and that no harm was done, but ultimately the fake "Japano Spanish vocals" will cause people who dwell in the year 2010 to cringe (indeed, they probably caused quite a few people living in 1988 to blush as well). And please don't ask me what the B-side was connected to in the world of "That's Life", if indeed anything. I don't know, and I don't know if I want to know.

Still though - at least you can all now see what I meant when I said a few entries back that Kenny Everett's World's Worst Record Show should probably be updated and relaunched by someone.

13 March 2010

The KLF - Kylie Said To Jason

KLF - Kylie Said To jason

Label: KLF Communications
Year of Release: 1989

I realise that there are likely to be some readers of this blog - readers of the "Keep Music Live" variety, I suspect - who may wonder what my continual fascination with The KLF is actually all about. For the benefit of these folk, I shall link to the KLF Wikipedia entry, purely because whether you find their music in any way exciting, interesting or even just plain endearing, it can't be denied that the ridiculous back-stories which weave their way through the work and career of Drummond and Cauty are almost art. Even if you despise a KLF single, the subtext of it and the accidents and crafted mayhem that occurred on the way are more interesting (and frequently more enticing) than the entire work of a band like Kasabian piled together.

"Kylie Said To Jason" was the duo's follow-up single to "Doctorin' The Tardis", a track the pair would claim was carefully crafted to be a number one shortly after it reached the top in the UK (although this sounds a piece of fanciful retrospective thinking). It too was supposed to follow the single into the charts and provide them with some more money to finish their film "The White Room" and rescue them from 'the jaws of bankruptcy', but in the end it failed to even get into the Top 100, and seemingly made their lives even more of a misery for a short period of time.

Shortly after its failure, however, a series of limited edition Trance records cut by the pair began to pick up play at clubs and at numerous free parties and 'raves' around the country. After capitalising on this credibility by remixing and reproducing some of the tracks with the aim of getting them to chart, their careers skyrocketed into the major league, and platinum discs, Brit Awards and critical acclaim followed. Unfortunately for the poor, maligned "Kylie Said To Jason", however, it was a mere piece of Pet Shop Boys aping pop which would have been poorly received by the underground groovers and shakers at the time, and as a net result it never appeared on "The White Room" album (despite having a place in the early rough tracklistings) and was never re-issued anywhere officially. It's impossible to speculate, but if they were as short of money as they claimed to be at the time of its release, it may also have been that they simply wanted to draw a line under the whole unpleasant experience.

This is all rather sad, as "Kylie Said To Jason" probably is one of the finest records the KLF shoved out. It is as sarcastic in its tones as it is surreal, reeling off lists of Antipodean stereotypes whilst keeping a bouncing Europop beat running behind. That it didn't catch on and ride the zeitgeist of all things "Neighbours" that dominated at the time may have been due to the fact that the whole affair didn't make much sense to anybody apart from KLF fans. There are no repetitive catchphrases to be had, no obvious jokes, and no use of whacky samples. It's even subtly catchy rather than poleaxing listeners with its reference points, and has a sudden diversion during the outro which is both thoughtful and pleasing. It breaks more or less every single rule for novelty success I outlined in the "Novelty" blog entry, then, where "Doctorin' The Tardis" could not be seen to fail.

Despite - or more likely because of - the above, it's been one of the KLF singles I've returned to most frequently. The Pet Shop Boys would have killed to have turned out something like this, and far apart from that, the b-side "Kylie Said Trance" is one of their earliest and also most interesting trance tracks, giving the track the credibility the A-side never really did by itself (and sorry for the pops and clicks on the vinyl). This may stand out like a sore thumb in the middle of the rest of their catalogue, but it's sodding great, and really should be heard by everyone who has even a vague interest, not just fans of the KLF.

Somebody has also uploaded the video, containing shots from the unfinished film "The White Room" here.

10 March 2010

Second Hand Record Dip Part 48 - Harmony Blend - Blue City

Harmony Blend - Blue City

Who: Harmony Blend

What: Blue City (Paloma Blanca) (b/w "(If You Knew) The Way I Feel")
Where: Music and Video Exchange, Camden High Street, London
When: 1978
Label: Alaska

Cost: 50p

I'm not really particularly interested in football - actually, scratch that, I'm not remotely interested in football - so whilst there are tons of soccer song goodies to be grabbed from second hand record stores out there, I'm seldom tempted to pick them up. There are whole blogs dedicated to them already, anyway, and I wouldn't want to delude myself that my quarter-hearted knowledge about the teams in question (and inevitably seventies teams at that, since that's when these records seemed most plentiful) would really add any joy to the world.

So then, I freely admit that I stumbled on this little oddity by accident. The title "Blue City" should have been a screaming giveaway of course, but I'm thick like that. In a way, I'm glad I did take this one home - the single appears to be a Euro-disco soccer-based take on "Una Paloma Blanca", complete with Linn drum "peooing!" noises, used here to an effect not heard since Anita Ward's "Ring My Bell". Clearly the market for disco-loving Manchester City fans was no stronger in 1978 than it is today, as the single flopped. Ah well, everyone tried.

Alaska Records were an independent seventies label owned by John Schroeder who littered the seventies with all kinds of novelty pop and disco, almost none of their releases really meeting with any success. I've a strong suspicion - but no more than that, which would cause a Wikipedia moderator to go beetroot red with fury - that they're also linked to Alaska Studios based near Waterloo station in London, once a popular choice for the cash-strapped indie band. Creation Records used them regularly in the eighties, and due to the proximity of the trainlines to the studio itself, noise pollution was apparently an occupational hazard in the eighties. The Jesus and Mary Chain recorded "Upside Down" there and were apparently 'inconvenienced' by this, even though one would have hoped they'd kept the clattering noise on the single, the weeds. Of course, you could argue that a certain amount of fate came into play here, as hardcore Manchester City fans Noel and Liam Gallagher later signed to Creation in the nineties, although history does not record whether they owned a copy of this record or not.

The vinyl releasing outlet of Alaska appears to have ceased its activities at the end of the seventies, meaning we never did get to hear a hi-NRG football song recorded by Leicester City fans or something like that.

6 March 2010

Focal Point - Love You Forever (b/w "Sycamore Sid")

Focal Point - Love You Forever

Label: Deram
Year of Release: 1968

Whilst the Apple organisation (as set up by The Beatles rather than some IT obsessives in California) is frequently thought of as being a well meaning, anarchic project gone slightly wrong, some bands blame the failure of their entire careers on the Fab Four's questionable project management abilities. Trash, for example, didn't seem to have the first clue whether The Beatles actually liked them or not, probably because some members were happy to bankroll them whether others weren't. In the midst of the confusion about their worth, they pissed off back to their Scottish homes with only one very minor top 40 hit on the Apple label to their names.

Focal Point were signed to Apple Publishing rather than directly to the Apple label, but apparently their careers were rather hampered by Beatle based bickering and questionable record company decisions, and subsequently they failed to really register with the public. This single "Love You Forever" appears to have been their only outing, and whilst it may be tempting to indirectly blame Yoko Ono for its failure, it has to be said that it's not the most inspiring A-side committed to vinyl that week, never mind in 1968 overall. It's a wetter-than-mouldy-carrots ballad with a dreary melody which completely fails to capture any originality, sounding like the kind of cast-off Joe Meek would have thrown into his tea chest for non-consideration.

Far more inspiring is the B-side "Sycamore Sid", which despite persistent rumours is not about Syd Barrett at all. Rather, it's a fantastic piece of popsike with organ freakouts and a knowing whimsy attached which pre-dates "Leisure" era Blur for tongue-in-cheek brilliance. It's one of those psychedelic tracks which would have been equally at home had it been released the late eighties and early nineties, and only suffers from a slightly rushed under-arrangement. Had more care been put into this, and the sides of the single been flipped, the results may have been rather different.

The band's brief but rather absurd story - beginning with them hassling Paul McCartney in a park - can be read online here.

3 March 2010

Driver 67 - Headlights

Driver 67 - Headlights

Label: Logo
Year of Release: 1979

If you're British and of a certain generation, the mention of the track "Car 67" by Driver 67 will automatically cause a smile of recognition to flicker across your face. Often written off as a 'novelty' single, the track in fact had a certain amount of charm and care most throwaway ditties lack. The fact that Paul Phillips, the artist behind the record, sat in a taxi singing into the radio for his Top of the Pops appearance also showed a Bill Drummond-esque attention to detail. I was only six years old when that was transmitted, but I didn't even need to check it out on YouTube to remind me what the performance looked like - now there's memorable presentation in action.

Less is really heard about the flop follow-up track "Headlights" and that, my friends, is because it was banned. "Car 67" may have been all fluff and innocence about relationship woes and tears before bedtime, but "Headlights" was - and I'm a liberal minded person as you'll hopefully by now realise - just wrong. Not even wrong in the way that vaguely sexist songs about women belonging in the kitchen are wrong, but outright, out-scoring Lou Reed-circa-Berlin type wrong. In the track, Paul Phillips adopts a sinister gravelly voice, and unveils his tale of sexually harassing and stalking young ladies on the highway at night - "I can see your fear in my headlights" he growls. It's an obvious thing to say, but it's no wonder the woman who chose to reside at Royal Gardens got rid of him. This particular track certainly puts a new spin on things. Or perhaps he had some kind of breakdown after being dumped and began taking revenge on womankind - mine is not to question why.

Unsurprisingly, this wasn't a follow-up smash, and apparently generated enough complaints on the only occasion it was ever played on Radio One never to be touched by a DJ there ever again. As for Paul Phillips, one can only assume he was attempting to play up to the darker side of country music and trucker rock, and the joke just got lost in translation. If nothing else, he surely must come close to taking the prize for one of the most questionable and absurd follow-ups to a hit single ever.

The B-side "Tail Lights", on the other hand, periodically has a vague resemblance to the "South Park" theme tune, which is surely a coincidence.