28 April 2010

Keith Shields - Deep Inside Your Mind/ Hey Gyp (Dig The Slowness)

Keith Shields - Hey Gyp

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1967

Keith Shields is admittedly less of an enigma than some of the sixties artists we've looked at over the last couple of years, but still, the available information is rather patchy to say the least. Beginning his short career in the music industry as a guitarist for Marty Wilde's Wildcats, he was then groomed for solo stardom by fellow Wildcat (and eventual member of The Animals) Hilton Valentine.

Whilst The Animals are known and loved globally for a series of snarling, aggressive, blues-based pieces of proto-Doors rock (and anyone who believes that The Doors don't owe anything to The Animals at all should probably leave the room now) Keith Shields has only a footnote in the encyclopedia of psychedelic pop. Much of that admittedly limited acclaim is down to this one single, which is a double-headed wonder. The A-side "Hey Gyp (Dig The Slowness)" is a Donovan song reimagined as a pounding piece of twanging, footstomping beat pop, all erratic bass guitar runs and belted vocals. If your hands aren't compelled to clap along, then there is no joy left in your bones.

Acting as the yin to the commercial side's yang, "Deep Inside Your Mind" is a piece of mellow, slow and shimmering psych, where the Shieldsmeister encourages us to explore our inner thoughts with the aid of deep basslines and a hammer dulcimer accompaniment. There is some dispute amongst collectors as to which side is best - balls to such futile debates, say I, both are solid pieces of work in very, very different ways.

Shields eventually recorded a solo folk album in 1970 appropriately entitled "All In Your Head", and unless anyone can prove otherwise, that seems to have been the end of his career. As ever, if any of you good readers have heard the LP and have any opinions on its contents, I'd be happy to hear them.

Both sides of this record are commercially available, and Hey Gyp can be found on YouTube.  Many thanks to Dripser for the upload.

24 April 2010

Second Hand Record Dip Part 52 - The Hot Forties - Theme From Firepower

Hot Forties - Firepower

Who: The Hot Forties
What: Theme From Firepower/ Smack in the Middle of Love
Label: DJM
When: 1980
Where: Music and Video Exchange, Camden High Street
Cost: 50p

"Theme From Firepower" is the piece of library music which was used to accompany Tony Blackburn's Top 40 rundowns on Radio One during his stint as our main man who told us what records we'd been buying in any given week. It's a job he took on with a certain degree of pomp, circumstance and drama, as can be noted in the theme here, which sounds rather as if it should be the backing track to some small ex-Communist country's evening news headlines. Of course, the suspense was thoroughly unnecessary, since by the time Tone saw fit to read the charts out on Sunday, they'd already been released five days before, and been declared on both Tuesday lunchtime and "Top of the Pops" on Thursday night - the Sunday charts weren't on-the-hour, up-to-the-minute business then as they are now.

The single we see before us here, then, was the poor relation to Phil Lynott's "Yellow Pearl" or CSS's "Whole Lotta Love", and unlike those two particular efforts, wasn't a hit as a result. Listeners doubtless associated it with the Sunday teatime doldrums, as jaded a presence on the airwaves as "Last of the Summer Wine", and it was a rather unloved record.

Still, the B-side "Smack in the Middle of Love" has been causing me endless childish amusement over the last few days purely for sounding like a chirpy lifestyle advert for heroin. "Smack!" coo the ladies sexily and inappropriately, as a jaunty backing track, not unlike the kind you'd find on a tampon advert, bounces away in the background. "Smack! Ooh-a-hoo!" they sing again, bringing images to mind of people stopping to chase the dragon after a particularly exhausting session of doing the splits around the rollerdisco rink. Or perhaps it's just me and my peculiar mind.

Filthy, dirty Tony Blackburn.

21 April 2010

One Hit Wonders #7 - Kissing The Pink - The Last Film

Kissing the Pink - Last Film

Label: Magnet

Year of Release: 1983

"In the last film I ever saw/ they wore suits and they wore tiiieees..." Well, it's good to know that the actors in this particular film - whatever it was - hadn't taken up the David Cameron-endorsed trend of wearing suits without ties...

"The Last Film" was a very peculiar and - speaking purely for myself here - rather unexpected number 19 hit in 1983 for Kissing The Pink, a band who had originally been produced by Martin Hannett, and had also harboured ambitions to work with Brian Eno (which the record company thwarted). Whatever "Last Film" is in anyone's pocket thesaurus of pop styles, it's not particularly "commercial", preferring to slowly build up an eerie atmosphere of doom, despondency and general grief via peculiar monk-chanting backing vocals, "Generals and Majors" styled whistling noises, and bizarre lyrical imagery. Clearly the playlisters at Radio One were having some sort of existential crisis at the time, and it popped up on the radio more often than one would expect, even being used as the track which first introduced Dave Lee Travis' long-standing "Give Us A Break" quiz (Kissing the Pink = snooker - do you see?)

Unlike most one hit wonders, Kissing The Pink still have a credible career, most recently being seen working with legendary Dance producers X-Press 2 on their album "Makeshift Feelgood". They also released a number of club-friendly singles throughout the late eighties and early nineties, most notably "Stand Up" which sounded like much more of an obvious hit than "The Last Film", but somehow failed to make much of an impression.

This single is commercially available in all the usual places online.  You can hear "The Last Film" over on YouTube - thanks to season1steve for the upload.  

17 April 2010

Phil Brady and The Ranch Set - Please Come Back


Label: Go
Year of Release: 1967

First, a disclaimer - sometimes I feel obliged to upload things not because I necessarily feel that they're great, odd, groundbreaking, interestingly awful or even historically relevant, but because I know there are several people online who have spent years wondering what they sound like. I know that feeling only too well. You browse through a label's sixties back catalogue, spy the name of an artist who is utterly unfamiliar to you, and you want to hear it. It doesn't matter that you've been told it's not worth worrying about, you have to sample it for yourself. And it would be so, so rude to deny you good people the chance to scratch that particular itch in this instance.

Records on the "Go" label, or its sister operation "Strike", are quite highly sought after by gap-plugging sixties collectors, mostly because it's an early example of a British cottage indie label. This curiosity has never been sated by the fact that almost all of the label's output is actually middling fare, consisting primarily of tracks which were never hits because they never had any particular right to be. Had they been operational in any other decade, it's fairly unlikely we'd even be discussing them right now, and they'd probably be consigned to the same 50p curio-bin that releases on D'Art (a seventies indie label), Plastic Speech (eighties) or Rotator Records (nineties) are now. The sixties, however, are deemed much too important for anything scarce to be entirely ignored - thus this entry has been born.

I can't dig up any meaningful information about Phil Brady & The Ranch Set anywhere, beyond the fact that they were a UK-based Country Rock outfit. "Please Come Back" is a trotting, twanging little thang with rich-as-Bisto vocals which is - and I'm conscious of the fact that when I'm slightly indifferent I use this word far too much - pleasant. The chorus is riddled with some interesting Joe Meek-esque echoes, which is curious when you consider the parallels between the go-it-alone operations of Go/ Strike and his own production work, but most of the rest isn't startling to the ears, sounding like a standard live band run-through of a toe-tapping ditty.

Lovers of authentic Country music frequently dis British country records for striving to sound like the real thing, but making fundamental errors in their arrangements which give away their country of birth far too easily. I'm absolutely no expert on the genre, but that definitely sounds like the case here - Phil Brady and His Ranch Set (what ranch had they worked on, I wonder?) so badly want to sound American that this borders on pastiche. I have to admit that this is one of the track's strengths for me - I do find the winks and nods to the range life quite charming, especially as they were probably from Wembley or somewhere. Still though, this is hardly worth bidding a ton of money on e-bay for, and I'd strongly advise you good people not to do so.

14 April 2010

Second Hand Record Dip Part 51 - Manuel and Los Por Favors - O Cheryl

Manuel And The Por Favors - Cheryl

Who: Manuel and Los Por Favors
What: Cheryl (b/w "Ode to England")
Label: Pye
When: 1979
Where: Music and Video Exchange, Camden High Street
Cost: One pound

It may not be the case that every single comedian or comedy character had their own single out in the seventies, but Jeez, it certainly feels like it. Very, very few of them actually sold in encouraging quantities, so why the music industry continued producing spin-off singles is a bit of a mystery. It wasn't even as if they had Comic Relief as an excuse yet (although some kind of low cost CD compilation of many of these tracks would be a neat fund-raiser, now I come to think of it, as well as giving all those flop efforts some sort of purpose).

"O Cheryl" by Manuel and Los Por Favors was almost entirely ignored on its 1979 release, despite launching during the same year as the final series of "Fawlty Towers". The positive feelings surrounding the series could have turned any old average ditty into a medium sized hit at the time, so it's disappointing to report that "O Cheryl" is dire, and therefore never stood a chance. Lacking in good humour, good melody or indeed good sense, it just consists of Andrew Sachs delivering a Manuel-styled performance about an English lady whom he loves. You could argue that Manuel always was supposed to be daft and incompetent, and he was merely being "in character" by dishing out a fairly tuneless piece of work, but what - ultimately - was the point if there were no laughs to be had? The best we can hope for is the triumphant delivery of the line "Now I am boss of fish and chip shop!", and even that won't have the whole of the world wide web rocking in the aisles.

The B-side "Ode to England" is much better, focussing on the benefits of this fine isle in a rather glib and ignorant way, and seemed like enough of a good idea at the time to feature on "The Secret Policeman's Ball". One could hardly call it comedy gold, but there are enough amusing lines and ludicrous misunderstandings to prevent this effort from being a waste of seven inches of vinyl.

Sidestepping dull news items involving the man in recent history, Andrew Sachs was last seen on "Coronation Street" playing the long-lost brother of the petulant, jowl-shaking Norris, before being written out within a matter of months. An emotive version of "Waltzing Matilda" was one of the last things viewers heard before the credits rolled after his character's death had been announced, and I'm relieved to say that a version of Sachs doing this is not on the release schedules of any record label at the moment.

Sadly, however, Sweeping the Nation have informed us that yer man did try to release a rival version of "Shaddap You Face" in Britain to steal the thunder from Joe Dolce's world-beating original. He failed miserably again, as the version climbed to 138 in the charts - although the fact that Dolce's label slapped an injunction on him preventing his single from seeing a release until theirs was on the market can't have helped. If anyone has a copy of this single to hand, I'd be keen to hear it.

10 April 2010

Andy Forray - Epitaph To You/ Dream With Me

Andy Forray - Dream With Me

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1968

Until recently, you could have written what most people in Britain knew about the career of Andy Forray on the back of your hand (certainly, compilation editors had nought on the man). His recording career seemed to involve a few flop singles for EMI/ Parlophone, followed by a stint in the musical "Hair" which lead to interest from Decca records who felt that they possibly had a star on their hands.

All that's changed, however, with the advent of an official MySpace page for the man, which plugs a few gaps without perhaps explaining terribly much. On there, you can hear disco recordings he did in the seventies and recent material without even so much as a "how do you do". Sometimes I can't help but feel that these obscure sixties artists aren't so much elusive as downright rude, ladies and gentlemen, like the mad Uncle you had who popped out for a pint of milk and only returned twenty years later, purely to ask what was cooking for dinner.

Whilst "Dream With Me" may be his best-known song by some considerable margin, with its odd noises and wibbly wobbly acid-tabs-in-the-vodka styled party atmosphere, the A-side "Epitaph To You" is clearly less talked about, and I've uploaded it here for you to ponder. It has to be said that it's the poor relation to its flipside, but one can easily understand why Decca thought that it would stand a better chance of getting airplay and acceptance than its partner. It's a big old sixties ballad propelled along with some impressive drumming and sympathetic orchestral arrangements. Still, whilst it would doubtless have pleased the Mums and Dads if given half a chance, psychedelic it ain't.

If you really want to hear "Dream With Me" - or if you haven't done so already - his MySpace page has a full version of it on his Nimbit player.

8 April 2010

The Digital Economy Bill Rushed Through Parliament

I was hugely tempted to write a very detailed blog entry today in protest about the Digital Economy Bill in Britain, but to be frank, words fail even me on this occasion. The legislation is utterly shot through with holes, and appears to have been voted through by a bunch of career politicians who have little (if any) understanding about the technology involved, nor the industry involved. In fact, plenty actually stood up in Parliament and practically admitted this was the case. This particular farcical exchange seems to effectively sum the proceedings up:

Jeremy Corbyn: I understand the point my hon. Friend is making, but does he not think there is a danger that the Bill will criminalise large numbers of imaginative young people and education establishments who frequently share material on the internet and use the medium as a form of creative expression? Are we going to kill all that off and cut people off as a result of this Bill?

Mr. [Sion] Simon: No, it does not criminalise anybody; all it does is simply seek to enforce the existing law. We should, however, be very careful that the Bill does not have the unintended consequence of bringing about the end of public wi-fi. I was assured by the experts in the various Departments involved in this legislation that there were clearly existing technical measures that made it perfectly possible to run public wi-fi with these measures.

Jeremy Corbyn: How?

Mr. Simon: Obviously, I do not claim to know what the technical measures are, but when I am told that they exist, I take it in good faith that they do exist, and unless my hon. Friend can prove to me that they do not exist-

As one observer has already commented, when politicians in the Houses of Parliament start asking each other to prove that the technology doesn't exist, we've found ourselves in the middle of a very messy, Kafkaesque hole.

The Digital Economy Bill won't work in the long run, of course. There are too many people who will manage to worm their way around it. As soon as it goes through the usual rubber-stamping procedures, however, it will mean the potential end in Britain - albeit possibly only temporarily - of a lot of what makes the Internet great. Mp3 blogs like this one could be among the first victims. The fate of thousands of YouTube clips uploaded by people with dusty VHS collections (which plenty of uninformed members of the public seem to think are somehow legitimate, and not in any way illicit) isn't particularly clear to me, but if the culling of clips doesn't get more draconian, I'd be amazed.

The majority of mainstream politicians have always failed to understand the arts, the music industry, youth culture and technology, and this is just one in a long historical line of errors on any of those subjects. However, this is likely to impact on many more people than even the closure of the pirate stations did in the late sixties.

Louis Barfe - author of the exhaustive "Where Have All The Good Times Gone?" book about the rise and fall of the music industry - has published a blog post here which kindly lists the names of MPs who voted the bill through. If your local MP is listed, perhaps consider dropping them a line to make them aware of your views on this, or remember their names in the forthcoming election.

Meanwhile, "Left and to the Back" will continue for as long as it is able to.

7 April 2010

Dex Dexter - Another Car Another Carcrash

Label: Trade 2/ Island
Year of Release: 1996

Was there ever a music press hyped scene more mocked than Romo? We could talk about Lionpop if you want, but that really fits under the category of "vague and poorly named ideas which only one person ever mentioned". Romo, on the other hand, was a simple case of bad timing and under-prepared artists. Some of the bands involved, like InAura, would produce material which under the right circumstances may have hit home. The issue was that their travelling companions had barely formed five minutes ago, were still in the process of forging identities of their own, and seemed to have an abundance of confidence which belied the actual material gathered. A romantic modernist reaction against the excessive laddisms of Britpop made complete sense at the time, but many of the acts involved seemed like student performance art revue projects caught halfway through rehearsal time having fully designed the costumes whilst only managing to have written one page of the script. In the end, Britpop died, Pop returned, and that was that. You can't invent the future. Sigue Sigue Sputnik will tell you that.

For a scene so hyped it's also shocking that so few pieces of recorded work slipped out. Orlando were the kings, managing one album and a few singles. InAura had a great album ready which was rejected by EMI, and subsequently issued by an indie two years too late for anybody to notice or care. Boutique were allowed a couple of interesting singles before slipping under the radar.

Dex Dexter were even less noticeable, being given permission to put out this single - with one of the greatest titles for an A side of all time - before being forgotten about almost immediately. The curious thing about the end product is how it sounds more like a late nineties lo-fi British approach to indie than "Romo" per se. Each angular guitar riff, each cheap keyboard drone which sounds rather like Sweep the puppet squeaking in protest, and each novelty car horn noise makes the end product more akin to the Teen C frolics of Bis than any serious new movement. At the risk of using idle comparisons for a second consecutive sentence, it's true to say that the sharpness of early Adam and the Ants is equally apparent, but unlike Orlando or InAura, there's not much in the way of sweeping electronic melodrama going on here. Maybe if Dex Dexter hadn't boarded the Romo bus, they'd have stood a slight chance in the indie world outside.

Their demise seemed extremely swift. I was introduced to the lead singer Seb at the Water Rats in Kings Cross mere months after this single was issued, and asked him what they had planned next. "You know as much as I do," he grumbled, his flamboyant persona dropping almost immediately. There were to be no more releases, but if you want to put the expectations of some music critics into perspective, go away and read Taylor Parkes' review of a Dex Dexter live gig here. Seldom has hyperbole been less justified, but hopefully enough time has passed now for the single to be enjoyed for what it is without any weight of expectation attached.

4 April 2010

Second Hand Record Dip Part 50 - Hot Butter - Percolator

Hot Butter - Pecolator

Who: Hot Butter
What: Percolator
Label: Pye International
Where: Music and Video Exchange, Camden High Street
When: 1973
Cost: 50p

Surely everyone with even a rudimentary knowledge of early electronic music is familiar with "Popcorn" by Hot Butter? Oft written off as a mere 'novelty' track, or a 'one hit wonder', I've personally played it to death over the years and regarded it more as being a brilliant piece of populist synthpop recorded during the very early winter of that genre's development. The funky rhythms and muddy electro-squelches are actually way, way ahead of their time, and whilst Hot Butter were most certainly not the first experimenters out of the gate, it's possibly the earliest example of the genre to actually click with the public. Bear in mind it was released two-and-a-half years before Kraftwerk's "Autobahn".

Stan Free was the man at the helm of this Danish act, pressing the keys on his Moog keyboard with unsuppressed glee. Sadly, he clearly didn't have lots of new ideas amidst all that new technology - the 1973 follow-up "Percolator" is a classic example of a bunch of musicians with an "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" mentality. Whilst the title of the track makes us believe that they've moved from the stove to the coffee making facilities in their abode - and let's be honest, they could have recorded a whole concept album of kitchen music if they'd wanted, and I for one would have bought it - in reality, it's the same pops and squelches we heard on the debut single. There is a slightly whistling electronic noise on there as well which could be an old fashioned hob kettle if you really wanted to push the boundaries of your imagination, but in reality they should have just called this "Have Some More Popcorn, Why Don't You? - We've Plenty Of It In The Cupboard" and it would have been more honest.

There's a less obvious funk about this single as well, but it's still catchy enough to warrant several listens. The B-side "Tristana", on the other hand, sound decidedly unelectronic, almost BBC Testcard-esque in its nature, and I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that Stan Free had very little to do with it. He's certainly the only member of the band not to get a songwriting credit for it.

Naturally, "Percolator" wasn't a hit in Britain, but it did do some business throughout the rest of Europe - not long after, Hot Butter's star waned, and that was the end of that. Still, not to worry. Plenty of other electronic knob twiddlers were waiting to take things to the next stage.

(Apologies for the incessant background buzz on the recording of "Tristana", by the way - I'm having a few problems with my pre-amp at the moment, and the track is too subtle to really filter the noise out effectively on the software I've got).