29 May 2010

Tiger - On The Rose

Tiger - On The Rose

Label: Trade 2
Year of Release: 1997

Tiger have already featured on "Left and to the Back" courtesy of their album "We Are Puppets". Therefore, the background behind the act can be found in some depth here, and it's hard to find much more to say about them, apart from perhaps underlining and re-emphasising the fact that they were a seriously unusual, skewed and periodically brilliant band. These days they'd be consigned to the margins, but the late nineties were an unusual period when the music industry seemed open to all manner of possibilities.

This version of "On The Rose" is actually sharper and harder than the one found on the album, and actually slightly less satisfying - I'm left wondering why the need to re-record it and actually decommercialise it slightly was felt, although I doubt the latter outcome was anybody's intention. The B-side "On Spanish Farmland" is a period curio, however, and whilst it doesn't feature on the seven inch, I've also thrown in "I'm In Love With RAF Nurse" which came on the CD version and always felt rather wasted there. "I guess I'm a man/ ONE OF THE MEN!" barks Dan Laidler in a rather uncertain, testy way, as the band thud and drone behind him in a manner akin to a military march organised by art-school students with guitars.

You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone, you know.

26 May 2010

Jason Cord - I've Got My Eyes On You

Jason Cord - I've Got My Eyes On You

Label: Chapter One
Year of Release: 1968

When you're out and about buying bits of vinyl from the sixties, there are two things you must consider - firstly, if it was a flop and it's got any sort of vague beat, it will be sold as a "mod" record. Sometimes if the dealer is feeling ambitious, they'll label it as a "mod dancer!" And if it at any point, anywhere in the lyrics, it briefly mentions either children's sweets, sunshine, Labradors, looking up to the sky, multi-coloured things, or trees, lo and behold, it's "popsike", no matter how pedestrian the music behind the words. I've yet to encounter a record that mentions multi-coloured Labradors looking up to the sky whilst eating some sweets as some sunshine leaks through the branches of some trees, but I bet that would go for a bomb if it existed. I might even write it myself, get a few copies pressed up on a fake Deram label, artificially age them, then flog 'em on ebay.

The point is - and yes, there is a point - there are only so many desirable sixties obscurities to go around, and you shouldn't always believe what the traders tell you. Take me, for example. I forked out a disproportionate amount of money for this rather scratchy single in the belief that it was a sterling piece of mod pop. It's really not, y'know. It could be that this is a mod artist having a one-off excursion into balladsville, but I suspect it's unlikely.

In fact, there's really not much I can honestly say about this record except that it exists. Jason Cord appeared to hail from Wolverhampton and was active on the gig circuit at the same time as Slade's salad years, but beyond that I can find no information on the man. Both sides of this record show Mr Cord in loverman mode, and there appear to have been hundreds of records released with similar weeping string arrangements throughout the sixties, most of which remain uncompiled. The likes of Bam Caruso and Sanctuary Records have seemed unbothered about the croonier end of the sixties circuit.

Once again, there's nothing objectionable about this single, but nothing particularly memorable either. It whooshes by on a bed of silky strings. The fiver I paid for the damn thing is the only thing that really sticks in my mind, plus the fact that it was apparently produced by David Balfe, who I can only assume isn't the Teardrop Explodes manager and founder of Zoo Records.

22 May 2010

One in a Million: Fredereek Hernando/ Double Sight

One in a Million - Fredereek Hernando

Label: MGM
Year of Release: 1967

Much talked about but seldom actually made sense of, "Fredereek Hernando" was listed in Record Collector magazine's list of the greatest British psychedelic singles of all time, alongside The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Soft Machine and The Rolling Stones.

Now, whilst I wouldn't quite go that far in my praise for this single - for however much my opinion counts for anything - there's no question that "Fredereek Hernando" is a bit sodding strange. It's not just the lyrics that confuse and bamboozle, seemingly being about some infamous but eccentrically named figure being publicly hung, it's the salad of sinister echoing backing vocals, the screeching tape-rewinding effects, and the squawking guitar. In an interview many years later, lead vocalist Alan Young commented: "It was too way-out for mainstream exposure", and so it proved.

One in a Million were something of a regular support act for The Who during this period of time, and once again the influence of the Shepherd's Bush mob is very apparent, and by Young's own confession they were probably trying to sound like that band at their most cataclysmic rather than a hippy freak-out act. Still, whilst the gritted teeth vocals are decidedly not part of the peace and love plan, the surrealist lyrics and odd noises ensured that this single would inevitably come out of other side whiffing of incense, much as the 'Orrible 'Oo's "I Can See For Miles" is forever referenced in a psychedelic context.

The B-side "Double Sight" is a more straightforward mod rocker, and appears to be about the bogus arousals which become apparent in a gentleman when he meets the almost identical-looking brother of a woman he fancies. Can't say I've ever been there myself, your honour.

One of the more astonishing things about this single is the fact that the guitar lines were delivered by the 14 year old Jimmy McCulloch. Pete Townshend obviously wasn't blind to his prodigious talent, and ended up match-making him into the band Thunderclap Newman who subsequently had a massive number one hit with "Something In The Air". When that particular act proved to be little more than one-hit wonders and failed to "capitalise on their promise" (as so many editors of CD liner notes would doubtless say) he joined Stone The Crows, and eventually Paul McCartney's Wings. Tragically, he died of heart complications related to a heroin overdose in 1979, although we could state with some certainty that the musical output he achieved in his lifetime was more than many people double his age ever managed.

The other band members gradually drifted out of the music industry, but are still occasionally bothered by music journalists asking them about this very single, whose original pressing these days commands three figure sums on the collector's market. Mine is a re-issue - what do you think I am, made of money?

19 May 2010

Heads, Hands & Feet - Just Another Ambush

Heads Hands & Feet - Just Another Ambush

Label: Atlantic
Year of Release: 1973

I've already uploaded one of Heads, Hands & Feet's early singles "Warming Up The Band" to this blog, and even if I do say so myself, it's one of the finer obscurities I've dumped on here. Rip roaring rock and roll combines with an unstoppable energy to create something addictive and technically amazing without being overly flash, vain or showy. It's the sound of a raw but fantastically musically accomplished band appreciating enough of rock history to know exactly where to draw the line.

Given that an outline of the band's history can already be found over at that entry, there's little for me to add except to say that this effort hailed from their megabucks contract with Atlantic, and it's a bit of a different beast. "Just Another Ambush" is a slicker, neater thing, an FM radio Adult Orientated Rock single, closer to Steely Dan than Free. It's hard not to be disappointed if you're expecting something with rather more edge, but the competency behind the end product is hard to fault, and there's probably little reason why they couldn't have tasted a bit of success (the record company certainly invested enough that they would also have quite liked some return). Despite the gloss, there's a hell of a lot going on in this little single, from the parping trumpet lines, boogie-happy piano work, and bright, chiming guitars. Small, delightful surprises pop up in each verse and repetition of the chorus, and it's no obvious hit single, but remains a pleasing package.

The B-side "I Won't Let You Down", however, probably tops its radio-friendly brother by displaying the kind of Southern rock-inspired wide-eyed blissful optimism and confidence of direction that The Stone Roses would have killed for (and frankly should have displayed) on "The Second Coming" album.

Or, in short: if you like this kind of thing, then this is the kind of thing you'll like. And: surely the Heads, Hands and Feet reappraisal can't be so far away? You can pick up a lot of their stuff for peanuts in second hand record stores at the moment, and it deserves to be up there on the wall displays with the other (frequently inferior) collector's items.

15 May 2010

Second Hand Record Dip Part 54 - Moronic Surveyors - I Spy for the DTI

Moronic Surveyors - I Spy for the DTI

Who: Moronic Surveyors
What: I Spy for the DTI
Label: Farce
When: 1985
Where: Music and Video Exchange, Camden High Street
Cost: One Pound

In these times of the Digital Economy Bill and Internet Radio, the whole concept of an offshore pirate radio station seems somewhat quaint, but it frequently bothers me that the people who ran these ships seldom get credited for the effect they had on British popular culture. During the sixties, BBC programmers actually believed that the public could 'only take so much excitement' and regularly filled their airspace with light, easy music, like some kind of license-fee funded medication time. The Government were unwilling to give radio licenses to competitors, and therefore the inevitable happened - a loophole was found, and people began broadcasting radio from outside British territory. The seas around the UK became festooned with knackered old ships and even disused World War II forts broadcasting energy fuelled soul, mod pop, and psychedelia. I have recordings of many of the shows, and any single one of them would easily give the output even of 6Music a run for its money. But then I would say that. Their playlists were rather "Left and to the Back" friendly.

The loophole was soon closed, and an argument is made by plenty of left-leaning people - Tony Benn MP perhaps most notably - that the pirates were not run with the good of the people in mind, and behind the veneer of the Young, New, and Fresh broadcasters lay some shifty, nasty pieces of work. Record company payola to get certain tracks played by stations was extremely common, and the fact that the Radio London chart seemed to be comprised entirely of whoever the station was trying to curry favour with at any given time was a bit of a giveaway. It's also been pointed out that many of the stations felt that a Conservative government would look at them in a more favourable light, and less than subtle campaigns began to get the public to vote Tory (arguably one of the final nails in the coffin of the sixties pirate broadcasting scene).

We can huff and puff about this all we like, but without pirate radio, John Peel's UK broadcasting career would never have begun, certainly not in the format we all became familiar with. His "Perfumed Garden" show began on the illegal Radio London, and was essentially transported to Radio One when the boat's number was called. It's possible that Radio One would also never have been born, and the Home and Light stations would have continued trickling out the same sanitised eardrops so as not to provoke any unrest amongst the Great British public.

By the eighties, changes in the law had put the frighteners on most of the operators, and there were only two offshore pirates broadcasting to Britain who had any real influence on the music industry here - Radio Caroline, a stalwart from the sixties scene, and young upstart Laser 558 which used American DJs and had a hit radio format (and was actually completely unremarkable, if you want my honest opinion). Whilst Laser 558 was briefly extremely popular, attracting an estimated 4 million British listeners, it appeared to have problems attracting advertising revenue, and was continually having financial issues. If balancing the books were not enough of a challenge, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) sent out its own ship to watch its affairs very closely, collecting data on the station's operations. The two boats were anchored very closely to each other, the Government ship presumably also acting as a permanent reminder to the staff at Laser that theirs was no longer a safe income.

This single was presumably supposed to serve a dual purpose, acting as both a fundraiser for the station and a raised middle finger to the Government. They failed to really attract the cream of the scene, though - one would have hoped for the involvement of Duran Duran or perhaps even Nik Kershaw if all else failed. On the contrary, Laser 558 employed Paul Young. And no, not the relatively famous Paul Young, the slightly world-weary white soul singer with a permanently constipated expression - the other Paul Young, the Chris Morris lookalike lead vocalist of the forgotten Sad Cafe, who at this point hadn't had a hit single in five years. He was dutifully backed by some Laser staffers, and the whole thing was ignored by almost everyone. It can't have escaped the DTI's attention, and the adverts in the music press urging readers to buy the single with the strapline "Don't be a moron!" probably irked a few senior Whitehall figures, but that was the extent of this single's impact.

I'm probably being too critical here, since the end result is actually OK in a competent-cover-version type way - but as a call to arms it lacks any real bite, and fails to sound like a youthful, alternative challenge. That said, it's a better single than Ferry Aid's "Let It Be", if we're sticking to any kind of seafaring controversy fundraising single theme.

After endless financial, weather and DTI related complications, Laser 558 ran out of luck by Spring 1987, when they fell off air never to be heard again. Radio Caroline took over their frequency and carried on regardless, only to be boarded by the Dutch and British authorities in 1989, who apparently violently intimidated staff, then proceeded to smash up the ship's equipment (so much for the Tories having sympathy for the business activities of pirate ships). The very final minutes of the station's life can be heard in this mp3 clip here. That noise and subsequent closedown is probably more emotionally involving than Laser's little single, and gives a much truer picture of the resentment and anger which simmered above the shoreline during those difficult times than a soul cover version by the lead singer of Sad Cafe ever could.

In the meantime, a now-legal version of Radio Caroline is on-air, largely using the Internet to provide its audience base.

12 May 2010

The Factory - Try A Little Sunshine

The Factory - Try A Little Sunshine

Label: CBS
Year of Release: 1969

Whilst The Factory's debut single, the "Nuggets II" compiled "Path Through The Forest" (actually written by Clifford T Ward under a pseudonym, fact fans) is entirely the work of the band in question, that's certainly not the case in this instance. Southend-based songwriter John Pantry initially provided them with the track here in the full expectation that they would handle all duties themselves, reckoning without the lead vocalist Jack Brand's ability to hold the tune together. It would seem that the frontman's efforts were deemed to be unsatisfactory, and in the end, Pantry stepped up to the plate himself to deliver the final take.

None of the above really subtracts anything from the worth of the single, which is actually yet another full-throttle piece of slightly kaleidoscopic mod pop which is marginally indebted to The Who. There was so much material like this being peddled around at the time that one has to wonder why The Who were the only band of that ilk making it into the charts - presumably the others simply couldn't get the necessary airplay to build a fanbase upon. "Try A Little Sunshine" rolls, judders, shakes and smashes along with frustrated intent, seemingly at odds with its simplistic hippy lyrical message. Whilst "Path Through The Forest" sounded eerily prescient of the work of Joy Division, this is a soundsplash of buzzes, thrashed guitars, and oddly angelic vocal stylings - very much of its time rather than ahead of its time, but no less thrilling for that.

The B-side "Red Chalk Hill" (also sung by Pantry) is a gentle McCartney-esque ballad which Record Collector recently named as something which sounded like a "long-lost Oasis out-take". At a stretch of the eardrums we could perhaps allow for that description, but really, the whimsy contained within the grooves isn't especially reminiscent of the Gallagher brothers. Subtlety has never been one of their strong points. What "Red Chalk Hill" does have going for it, however, is a lyrically quaint kind of faintly menacing surrealism, combined with echoing, wailing backing vocals. The words bring to mind a Royston Vasey styled town where one can never escape, whilst the music seems to be pulling the tune in the direction of "Fool on the Hill" styled optimism. It's worth a lot, lot more than its throwaway B-side status.

This proved to be The Factory's last single, but John Pantry's career as a songwriter continued for some time, although he eventually returned to his Christian roots and began penning songs and overseeing production duties for psychedelic folk churchgoers Parchment. Many of these are actually rather good, stamping out the myth that all Christian pop has to be appalling. These days, he works as a vicar in a church in Hadleigh, and is periodically bothered by psychedelic buffs asking him about his musical past. The movement could barely have produced a less likely underground hero, although these days he naturally denies any of his work was meant to have psychedelic connotations. We can only deduce from this that he never did try any Sunshine at all, much less a little of it, the hypocrite.

In the meantime, any readers who are curious about what Jack Brand's vocals sounded like before John Pantry intervened should head over to Sir Henry Rawlinson's blog. He has the acetate of it here, from which you can draw your own conclusions.

8 May 2010

My Jealous God - Easy

My Jealous God - Easy

Label: Fontana
Year of Release: 1992

In the early nineties, the British music press probably used the word "opportunistic" to describe up and coming acts more than any other word. Many of the journalists writing at that point had been working on the papers when punk broke, and an obsession with authenticity remained. Therefore, "fake baggy bands" were as frowned upon as "fake punks" were in the seventies. And if you were a "fake baggy band" it normally meant you hailed from dahn sarf rather than oop north, emerged after the Stone Roses' first album, and stuck looping funky rhythms over everything you did in a desperate bid to get on to the Sunday Top 40 countdown on Radio One.

When My Jealous God emerged in 1989, suspicion about their motivations lingered heavily amongst most hacks, and their reputation has been dogged even today. Whilst anecdotal personal experiences count for little, I was trying to explain to a friend how great this single was a few months back, and he waved me away laughing "Oh go away, My Jealous God were just shit!" He had no interest in listening to the thing.

That's his loss, in my opinion, though - as it will be yours too if you can't be bothered to click play below. "Easy" is probably one of the finer singles to be released during the baggy era, plonked out by a major label long after the party had ended, and thus utterly punctured on the two-pronged assault of changing fashions and critical hostility. It sounds uncannily like a lost Blur single from the same era, but padded out with squawking organ noises, sixties psychedelic throwback melodies and an insistent, nagging hook. Had it been released either two years earlier or a few years later, it may have met with a more sympathetic audience, but otherwise, it was lost amidst the sea of shoegazing and grunge singles in 1992.

The disinterest "Easy" created seemed to kill the band off. There were to be no further releases - no singles, and no debut album. They disappeared very rapidly, and the lead singer Jim Melly has apparently since become a Professor of Popular Culture who has written several articles and books on various rock bands. The whereabouts of other band members Danny Burke, Chris O'Donnell and Andrew Berkeley remain less clear - but perhaps they'll treat us to a reformation on one fine day, and release the album that should have been.

5 May 2010

The Eyes - Man With Money/ You're Too Much

The Eyes - Man With Money

Label: Mercury
Year of Release: 1966

Cult mod band The Eyes were so obviously indebted to The Who that pointing out the fact feels as pointless as emphasising a series of exclamation marks with a bright yellow highlighting pen. Not only did they take the sheer aggression and throttle of Shepherd's Bush's finest, there are also elements of Daltrey's vocal stylings throughout their work as well. Where they seemed to differ was their visual image, which was like something out of a Clockwork Orange styled parallel universe - they dressed in boldly striped rugby tops and printed large eyes across the middle of them, rather than opting for the usual suited and booted fare. They were also known to don bright pink parka jackets with tyre tracks across their backs. No mods dressed like this, anywhere. But perhaps somewhere out there, in a dimension we are not conscious of, some did...

Their first single "When The Night Falls" was chronicled on the "Nuggets II" box set alongside its B-side "I'm Rowed Out", but neither moment is really up there with the band's finest. This release is, so far as I'm concerned, one of the best things they did. Impressive enough is the Everly Brothers cover on the A-side, which takes the squabbling duo's chirpy piece of pop about breaking and entering and fills it with the sheer menace it always deserved. The B-side "You're Too Much", however, is one of the best pieces of proto-punk there is, as the band screech monosyllabically about a very distracting lady. "You're too much/ oh you know you are babe!" they holler. "Yeah, I said yeah/ I SAID YEAH!" they emphasise. Whilst this is going on to no obvious conclusion, a sharp, buzzing, ear-scarring wall of guitar noise takes place behind, led by an exceptionally dumb, rudimentary plectrum-plucked riff. When I edited the audio for this, my program showed me an almost smooth block of noise on screen rather than the usual peaks, troughs and spikes. It's the sound of a frothing great rock tantrum where the scream continues from point A to point B unabated. That's a bloody good thing, in case you were in any doubt.

Led by Terry Nolder, The Eyes were always a strong draw on the live circuit in their native London, but none of their singles charted. Mercury Records rapidly lost patience with them, and insisted that they cover the Beatles song "Good Day Sunshine" for their fourth and final single. When even falling back on the old trick of taking a Fab Four album track and slamming it on seven inches of vinyl failed to create any convincing returns, they were dropped, and split up in 1967. No official album was ever released, but as an odd footnote they did release a budget-price album filled with Rolling Stones covers under the name of The Pupils. This was really designed for cheapskate visitors to Woolworths rather than their fans, who have remained albumless to this day. Still, the singles we do have knock the 45rpm efforts of the vast majority of sixties acts into touch, so it's perhaps unreasonable to complain too much.

1 May 2010

Second Hand Record Dip Part 53 - RB Greaves - Who's Watching The Baby (Marjie)

R.B. Greaves - Marjie

Who: RB Greaves
What: Who's Watching The Baby (Marjie) (b/w "The Gods Watch It All")
Label: Ember
When: 1977
Where: Music and Video Exchange, Camden High Street
Cost: 50p

I'm assured that this was a bit of a lucky second hand record dip in all, since this single frequently retails to collectors at much grander prices than 50p - the man on the till even questioned its pricing with the store manager when I bought it. Nonetheless, it's still the same faintly ridiculous fare we've come to know and love from this particular part of the blog.

RB Greaves is actually the nephew of Sam Cooke, and had a brief burst of success in America during the sixties with the number two hit "Take A Letter Maria" and its other chart-bound cousin "Always Something There To Remind Me". This particular tale of child neglect and debauchery failed to click with audiences at all, and that's none too surprising - soul songs about families worthy of a Jerry Springer appearance have never really been popular with the public. "Who's Watching The Baby (Marjie)" is full of drama, beginning when Greaves walks into a bar to find "a couple in the corner making love to each other/ the woman was my wife". Unsurprisingly, he's infuriated - but not just by the fact that she's having an affair, but by the fact that their baby has been left unaccompanied at home. He flies into an indignant rage and does some nasty damage with a glass which causes him to become imprisoned for murder. Oh, the terribly damaging flickers of temper that adultery provokes. In France he'd have had a much shorter sentence, mark my words.

To be fair to Greaves, the B-side "The Gods Watch It All" is a much classier affair, being a smooth and slick burst of political righteousness. "Marjie" is, on the other hand, a career oddment. Sadly, due to the fact that both tracks are amazingly available commercially on iTunes, I can only really give you sample edits below. I don't intend to make a habit of this kind of thing, but on occasion it may happen.

British label fans may also like to note that this appears to have been the final release on stalwart indie Ember Records, unless anyone can inform me otherwise.