30 June 2010

Second Hand Record Dip Part 57 - The Fred EP

The Fred EP

Who: The Rockingbirds/ Flowered Up/ Saint Etienne
What: The Fred EP
Label: Heavenly
When: 1992
Where: Wood Street Market, Walthamstow, London
Cost: 50p

I've ummed and ahh'ed at some length about uploading this one, since technically speaking it was a hit - reaching number 26 in 1992 - and all the artists involved bar one were involved in other records which had a far greater impact. Therefore, it's technically only a minor one hit wonder if you treat this as being a bizarre supergroup effort, or if you treat The Rockingbirds A-side as their only pick of the chart cherry.

Whatever, I decided to upload it for two reasons, one because it seems no less ludicrous now than it did at the time, and secondly because two of these three tracks seem to be commercially unavailable now, which seems a little daft. Launched to support the Terrence Higgins trust, this single was a chance for artists on the Heavenly record label to cover some of Right Said Fred's biggest hits. RSF seemed inescapable in '91 and '92, and various NME journalists seemed to adore the band as well, not least the contrary pure-pop loving likes of Steven Wells. Therefore, if a charity single of covers was going to be issued by some indie-schmindie late night Radio One types, and it was going to be a slightly camp effort for an AIDS charity as well, Right Said Fred probably seemed like a natural choice.

As different and as playful as the results sound, they do still detract from rather than improve on the originals, but The Rockingbird's country rock cover of "Deeply Dippy" sounds perversely as if it was meant to be, for reasons I really can't ascertain - perhaps there always was a seventies country element to RSF's music. Top marks to those chaps for making something so perverse sound so natural. Flowered Up, on the other hand, manage to come across as rather threatening and brutal, as if they're giving "Don't Talk Just Kiss" a kicking around some pub toilets in Camden. Thoroughly unnecessary, that (if quite funny for one listen). And whilst you suspect that Saint Etienne had some sneaking affection for the original material, the version of "I'm Too Sexy" contains lines such as "I'm too shaky for my Stevens" which leads one to think that they weren't sweating buckets taking this sort of thing terribly seriously. You almost suspect you'd be able to hear the giggling in the studio booth if you listen hard enough.

For me, this release sparks memories of a very strange period in the early nineties when a bunch of musicians from the Richard O'Brien school of imagery seemed to dominate the British music scene. Some people have since used this as evidence that the early nineties pop scene was utterly on its arse - but honestly, if it's between Ke$ha or Right Said Fred, whose record are you really taking home with you? There was an affectionate jollity about this material (and just the right amount of sauce) for it to be a pleasant enough inclusion to the summers of '91 and '92. Now, if we're talking about their ill-advised Comic Relief single "Stick it Out", on the other hand...

Sorry for not including Saint Etienne's effort in full, incidentally. It is still available on iTunes, and as I suspect the royalties from it are still Higgins-bound, please go and do the decent thing over there if you want to hear it.

Rockingbirds: Deeply Dippy
Flowered Up: Don't Talk Just Kiss
Saint Etienne: I'm Too Sexy

26 June 2010

The Flying Machine - Yes I Understand

Flying Machine - Yes I Understand

Label: Pye
Year of Release: 1971

Flying Machine were, to all intents and purposes, Pinkerton's Assorted Colours craftily continuing under a new name to create the illusion of being a new act. Pinkerton's had managed a number nine hit in January 1966 with "Mirror Mirror", but in terms of mainstream exposure their goose appeared to be cooked after that autoharp-tinged piece of pop faded away.

Once a number of members went their separate ways, the decision was taken to give the act a new name and create the impression of an entirely clean break, and The Flying Machine were born. Sadly, this made little difference to the commercial prospects of the act, who failed to reach the Top of the Pops qualifying end of the chart ever again.

Whilst it's not listed on a few discographies (noticeably, the "Rubble" compilation series fails to mention it) "Yes I Understand" would appear to be their last single, released in 1971 long after the beat boom had disappeared. Their adaption to the seventies is actually incredibly impressive, as "Yes I Understand" sounds like a great deal of the pop issued during the early part of the decade, all chipper melodies and rich arrangements, the optimistic, laidback sound of tracks like "Love Grows Where My Rosemary Grows" and "Me and You and a Dog Named Boo" apparent in its grooves. It's safe to say that this would have sounded very current, and not like the work of some old hands trying to give their career a resuscitation.

It wasn't enough, though, and there were to be no further singles from the act. "Mirror Mirror" would be their only success, and "Yes I Understand" such a footnote that, for whatever reason, few people can seem to remember the fact it even existed. Consider that wrong righted.

23 June 2010

State of Micky and Tommy - With Love From 1 to 5

State of Micky & Tommy - With Love From 1 to 5

Label: Mercury
Year of Release: 1967

Whilst more pieces of sonic goodness emerged in 1967 than can possibly be imagined in any ordinary year, and choosing your favourite tracks is a hard job, I have to say that "With Love From 1 to 5" effortlessly encapsulates the sound of any summer, and not just the 'summer of love'. Even when the needle drops on this little single in Summer 2010, it's like an aural bubblebath, or a beautiful soundspray of ideas which is more relaxing and pleasing than a hundred strategically placed windchimes.

Micky Jones and Tommy Brown were rather well known in France for being part of Johnny Hallyday's backing band (or "The French Elvis"). This led to endless session work and live work in France and not a great deal of exposure back in the UK, although this single was surely supposed to have been booming out of every alehouse jukebox during the summer of '67. Sadly, it was not to be, and it wasn't really until the "Chocolate Soup" series of albums featured this track in the eighties that it caught a section of the British public's imagination.

Not that Mick Jones, as he's known these days, could give a stuff one way or the other. He went on to fame and fortune in the (perhaps somewhat appropriately named) Foreigner, whose records bothered the airwaves in America and Britain to such an extent that it must have seemed as if he was trying to make up for lost time. To my ears, however, this kicks "I Want To Know What Love Is" into the dirt, even if several million other people probably do disagree with me.

"With Love From 1 to 5" is commercially available in all the usual places, but can be heard in full on YouTube.  Thanks to The Mushroom Machine for the upload.  

19 June 2010

Second Hand Record Dip Part 56 - The Grumbleweeds - Goodbye (Adieu Mein Kleiner Gardeoffizier)

Grumbleweeds - Goodbye

Who: The Grumbleweeds
What: Goodbye (Adieu Mein Kleiner Gardeoffizier) (b/w "You'll Never Get The Chance Again")
Label: Major Minor
When: 1967
Where: Wood Street Market, Walthamstow, London
Cost: 50p

I think I'm almost certainly correct in saying that this is the first time a song has featured more than once on "Left and to the Back". "Goodbye" was first featured in the form of a YouTube clip for Lieutenant Pigeon almost exactly two years ago, and at that time I must admit that I had no idea whatsoever that The Grumbleweeds had chanced their arm with the very same ditty in 1967. It's astonishing what you discover when you're rifling through the record store remainder bins.

Whilst their name may not be familiar to many overseas readers, and they certainly never managed a hit single even in the UK, The Grumbleweeds are one of the very few light entertainment club acts of the sixties to carve a career for themselves which has survived to this very day. Beginning their efforts in 1962 and finally going professional after reaching out to the public via the New Faces television programme in 1967, they have since produced award winning radio programmes for the BBC, and in the seventies and eighties even had their own television shows. Their original intention in 1962 had been to break through as a serious act - however, a natural inclination towards tomfoolery amongst the band led to them becoming more widely known as a comedy troupe. As a result of this, they are probably one the best-known flop sixties bands of all-time in Britain, if we're using chart positions as the correct definition of a "flop artist".

Perhaps inevitably - as this honour surely falls upon almost all sixties acts eventually - some of The Grumbleweeds earliest "serious" recordings have now become somewhat desirable amongst collectors, with one such example "(Hey Babe) Follow Me" being given a slot on the compilation "The Electric Asylum Volume 3 - Rare British Acid Freakrock" (no, I'm not making this up). Their album "In A Teknikolor Dream" (recorded with Alan Hawkshaw) is also something of a desirable item.

Whilst it would give me nothing but immense pleasure to announce that The Grumbleweeds were actually an unfairly maligned act who were writing ignored classic songs behind everyone's backs, the truth is rather more dull. Their output was usually, at best, pleasant beat pop fare. The version of "Goodbye" here is bouncy enough, and no more or less enjoyable than a lot of material Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich issued during the same period, but it should be immediately apparent to anyone who investigates their serious work that they made the right choice by becoming professional clowns instead. Certainly, it's extremely unlikely they'd have had a five decade long professional career by continually issuing material like this.

Still, the album and their earliest singles aren't without their online fans, and the interest in their non-comedy work has probably never been higher than at present. For my money, though, Lieutenant Pigeon win the "Goodbye" World Cup with their version of this song. But then The Pigeon very rarely lose any musical battles.

16 June 2010

The Fruit Machine - The Wall

Fruit Machine - The Wall

Label: American Music Makers/ Spark

Year of Release: 1969

From the very limited information I have available to me, it's possible to deduce that The Fruit Machine were a London-based band of teenagers who produced some rather gritty, beaty pieces of late sixties rock. "Follow Me" and their cover of Cream's "Sunshine of Your Love" in particular hint towards a unit who weren't shy about the use of beefy hard rock vocalisations and guitar work-outs.

Neither of their singles on Spark (the rather more fey "Cuddly Toy" and "I'm Alone Today") did any business, and for some perplexing reason the label opted out of issuing this one in the UK. Instead it was licensed to "American Music Makers" for US distribution, failing to crack that market in much the same manner that their UK singles had done. Its lack of success can perhaps be put down to its subject matter and fluffy hippy-isms seeming antiquated as the seventies dawned, but it's still one of the finest pop examples of the psychedelic genre. Penned by John Carter and Russ Alquist (who also released the amazing "Laughing Man" single on Spark) it appears to be a ballad on the subject of materialism backed with shimmering effects, gut-thudding, plunging basslines, and Eastern-styled instrumentation. For all that, at no point does it seem like a cheap novelty item, nor over-the-top - it's just a marvellous piece of songwriting and production which earworms you immediately after the first listen. Only the badly produced, treble-heavy trumpets can be faulted.

My copy of this is the DJ promo which is the same both sides, and therefore fails to feature the official flip side "Willow Tree". If anyone has that, or has heard it, please do let me know.

In the meantime, altogether now: "Mmmmmm-mmmmmmm-oooooo-aaaahhhhhhhh".

12 June 2010

Second Hand Record Dip Part 55 - Not The Nine o Clock News - The Ayatollah Song

Not the Nine O Clock News - The Ayatollah Song

Who: Not The Nine O Clock News
What: The Ayatollah Song (b/w "Gob On You")
Label: BBC
When: 1980
Where: Music and Video Exchange, Camden High Street
Cost: One pound

I sincerely hope that the comedy show "Not The Nine O'Clock News" doesn't need much in the way of introduction for most "Left and to the Back" readers - if it does, I'm afraid I'm going to direct you to the Wikipedia entry on the topic rather than spend paragraphs overworking the words "groundbreaking", "popular", and "seminal" before we even get to describe a note of the content of this record.

Whilst whole retrospective documentaries have been created about the show itself, the spin-off vinyl was actually relatively successful in the album charts and remains rather less explored as a subject matter. Two top five albums ("Not the Nine O'Clock News" and "Hedgehog Sandwich") boosted BBC Record and Tapes income where those gardening albums hopelessly failed, and these days it's odd to conceive of an audio spin-off of a comedy show achieving a similar feat. Even Flight of the Conchords can't pester the top ten. Back in the days when video recorders were luxury items, such seemingly bizarre shopping habits are entirely explicable. Monty Python even charted a few records of their own prior to the eighties, although the success of the NTNOCN product actually out-stripped even their sales performances.

The Beeb's decision to issue some of their musical sketches as singles perhaps shouldn't be seen as such a random act of folly, then. And even if it were, the mere outside chance of Mel Smith and Rowan Atkinson miming on Top of the Pops may well have tempted executives to take a chance on the whole idea by itself. Sadly, it didn't pay off, and the crew failed to find singles success where the albums had mopped up. In my statement for the prosecution, I may as well add that whatever the worth of the material here, the single is ruined by a cheap, idle mixdown which leaves the studio audience's laughter and applause intact. This is so distracting and unnecessary that you have to wonder how seriously anybody was taking this as a release.

Snipes aside, whilst "The Ayatollah Song" has never been one of my favourite sketches, the B-side "Gob On You" is one of the very few pieces of punk satire which nails some of the worst, cusp-of-the-eighties aspects of that genre, although because all we've got is the audio, we unfortunately have to do without the terrifying sight of Mel Smith plastered in make-up. But lyrically, "Gob on you/ in your Oxbridge punt/ Gob on you/ You're the NATIONAL FRONT!" is something Jimmy Pursey would probably have sacrificed his annual season ticket to Hersham for at one point in his career. Note also how the crew lead you to believe that they're going to use an unbroadcastable cuss word, eventually leading you up a more subtle but equally relevant alley instead. Now go away and compare that to another punk parody on the BBC label, "We Wanna Be Famous", to hear how such work really shouldn't be done.

10 June 2010

Being Here and Yet Being Away At The Same Time

Right... I won't be online as often as I'd like over the next couple of weeks. That won't effect the blog, though - oh no. I've got enough entries stacked up and timed for twice-weekly release to keep you all happy. It does mean that I won't often be able to respond to comments or messages straight away though, so please be patient.

Whilst I'm typing this holding entry, you might also like to note that "Left and To The Back" now has a Facebook group here. Lots of mp3 blogs have been taken down over the last few months, and I've set the group up purely to keep people posted in case we have to move the blog for any reason.

And finally... Yes, Sharebee hasn't been brilliant on some of the old entries lately, but if you just stick to downloading them all via the Megaupload link on the Sharebee page you should be fine.

Wow. Like, wow. This may be the dullest entry I have ever posted here in the history of Left and to the Back-kind.

9 June 2010

Bulldog Breed - Halo In My Hair

Bulldog Breed - Halo In My Hair

Label: Deram (this re-issue Acme Records)
Year of Release: 1969

Now, there were two Bulldog Breeds. One were a slightly proggish, psychedelic outfit who once recorded a track which was brilliantly titled "Top of the Pops Cock". The other were a band of white supremacist skinheads. Both acts released albums called "Made In England". Guess which one this isn't? One thing's for sure, I'm probably going to end up having to turn the comments off on this entry if a fan of the wrong band drops in via a Google search.

Although it's not entirely clear what the hell "Halo In My Hair" is all about (although I think it's safe to say that white supremacy doesn't feature) it presents itself with such an array of ridiculous effects that it charms you into submission. The vocals appear to be sung through a shimmering, gargling soup of effects, a bit like somebody singing in the room next door to you with their head submerged in some custard. This makes extracting sense from the lyrics difficult. On top of that, there are endless chirpy ringing noises, and it all skips along merrily, without purpose and without a care. Not a hit single in anyone's language, but far from being a total waste of time as well.

The B-side "Portcullis Gate" involves further melodrama about nothing particularly coherent. The over-dramatic silliness present on both sides of this disc does foreshadow a lot of what was about to happen in the seventies with prog rock (the bonkers-random village green musings of Peter Gabriel in particular) whilst still retaining the brevity and melodic simplicity of British psychedelia. It's a single which sits neatly on the cusp of the two genres right at a time when a sea-change was occurring, and for that reason alone I've never been able to enthuse about it to the same degree that other listeners have (I know at least two people who count this among the best psychedelic singles they've heard). There's something too self-conscious about it for me, and the 'fun' seems to be rather too calculated and eager to please, like the office joker who claims to "accidentally" walk into the building wearing odd shoes on Monday morning. Just as you suspect prior planning on the pranny's part, you also know damn well Bulldog Breed probably spent days thinking up the elements of silliness on these tracks. For me, it feels hundreds of miles away from the unpredictable and rather more spontaneous nature of Syd Barrett's work, and closer to the rather more mathematical precision of the seventies.

Still, I have been known to give this a listen on many occasions, and by no means do I want to completely slate the work - both sides are chirpy and insistent enough to win you over if you're not in an easily irritated mood, and there's no question that the band are smart enough to pull this off without looking like idiots, which is no mean feat given that most prog bands in the seventies hopelessly failed on that score. It's quite easy to understand how it's been put on so many sixties compilations, and why it was granted a limited edition reissue recently. It manages to spread cheer even though it really should just utterly annoy. That alone makes it more interesting than most of the singles I've uploaded here this year.

5 June 2010

Fatima Mansions - Bertie's Brochures

Fatima Mansions - Bertie's Brochures

Label: Radioactive
Year of Release: 1991

We covered The Fatima Mansions' debut album "Against Nature" here, and the breathtaking follow-up "Viva Dead Ponies" was recently remastered and reissued by Cherry Red. The third album "Bertie's Brochures" is less talked about, and that's probably due to the fact that it's not really a proper album as such, but a mini-album (or extended EP) of ideas which, as Cathal Coughlan put it in the sleevenotes, "overran the borders of any coherent year planner". Like "Against Nature", "Bertie's Brochures" is another rattle bag of ideas without any central theme or purpose, but more than any other FM album, this frequently echoes the subtlety of Microdisney releases.

Unlike Microdisney, however, there are no elements of west-coast rock hiding beneath Cathal's contemptuous lyrical tirades - this continues the strain of absurdist piano fronted pop set by "Against Nature". Not that this makes the content of any of it similar to a Mrs Mills party album, but there's certainly a fluid accessibility going on with most of the tracks which could not be claimed for their other albums.

The title track alone (sampled below) remains one of the band's finest achievements. Apparently influenced by a run-in Coughlan had with the law at some point in distant history, it's a piece of storytelling which leaves question marks hanging over the precise details, as well as having one of the finest choruses since Microdisney ceased to be. Sean O'Hagan may well have achieved wonders with The High Llamas, but there's clear evidence here that it wasn't just him providing the melodic suss to go with the salvo, the critical cliche which has been rolled out ever since.

Most of the other tracks, too, show a keenness to emphasise the lyrical coherency of the work, pulling back on the sonic artillery to allow the ideas room to push through. "Behind The Moon" is a depressive, post-split ballad, mentioning a "green bed of bottles", and the telling line "She says 'go', meaning 'stay'/ meaning 'you have to pay'". "Smiling" manages to be both chilling and intelligent, touching upon terrorism with the lines "We see the biggest killers of all/ say they are appalled/ they say 'our rage is extreme'/ but you know what they mean/ upstairs they're smiling/ still scared and still smiling".

So as not to disappoint the hardcore faithful totally, however, the cover here of "Shiny Happy People" is both hilarious and ridiculous, choosing a thudding primal electronic beat to murder REM's most famous pop song, and a chorus of daleks and a rap about a government filled with "closet queens who make it a crime to be gay" just to up the ante further. The song appeared to come about after Michael Stipe stormed out of a Fatima Mansions gig complaining he hated "art rock bands" (which would be rather like Don Henley storming out of a Microdisney gig announcing that he despised West Coast inspired rock, but who are we mere mortals to judge?).

Elsewhere, the Scott Walker song "Long About Now" sounds stronger than it ever did on the "Til The Band Comes In" album, and only the cover of Richard Thompson's "Great Valerio" seems in any way uninspired or dreary.

This probably isn't the best place to start if you're unfamiliar with FM, but it does have some truly brilliant moments, and I'd recommend downloading the album and sampling it anyway, treating the more throwaway moments not as filler, but amusing or entertaining vignettes. At its best, this outshines most supposedly intelligent pop being produced at present, and actually outshone the best of its day as well.


1. Behind The Moon
2. Bertie's Brochures
3. Shiny Happy People
4. V.N. (apology)
5. Mario Vargas Yoni
6. Smiling
7. Long About Now
8. The Great Valerio

2 June 2010

One Hit Wonders #8 - The Young Idea - With A Little Help From My Friends

Young Idea - With A Little Help From My Friends

Label: Columbia
Year of Release: 1967

Shall I just tag this as "Beatles cover", "one hit wonder" and "bland" and wander off, with no explanations offered to the lot of you? Surely there are moments when a few flippant tags say far more than a rambling, 500 word analysis ever could?

Well actually, no, not in this case. True, the A-side, which climbed to number ten in 1967 - and seems to have been remembered by very few people since - is the usual load of old opportunistic gash, adding nothing to the original Beatles version and in fact probably subtracting a great deal. There is virtually nothing which can be said in its favour, and as a cultural artifact it should be positioned somewhere near a "Top of the Pops" budget album in the general league table of worthiness.

Nonetheless, Tony Cox and Douglas MacRea-Brown - the duo behind this record - were actually solid songwriters in their own right, and its the B-side we're really interested in here. "Colours of Darkness" later loaned its name to a "Rubble" psychedelic compilation album, but curiously wasn't featured in the series itself. It would have been sat at home happily amongst the other tracks, however - there's a brooding, orchestral backed moodiness to the track and a hypnotic, harp-plucked riff which repeats at regular intervals to a bleary-eyed, tranquil effect. Had this been released by Kaleidoscope, there's a chance we'd still be discussing it endlessly. As the arse-end of a Beatles cover performed by a duo whose work has largely been ignored until very recently, it hasn't enjoyed that attention at all. I predict that will change.

Revola Records have been kind enough to reissue The Young Ideas album "With A Little Help From My Friends" on CD and mp3 formats, meaning you can download the track from iTunes if you feel so inclined. I've included brief snippets of both tracks below in the meantime. You won't want to hear more than a bit of one of them in any case.