29 December 2011

Reupload - Foreheads in a Fishtank - I Want To Masturbate At Castle Donnington

Label: Stuf Records
Year of Release: 1991

I was, and remain, completely unaware of what it was that actually drove Southend band Foreheads in a Fishtank through the early nineties. Despite managing to get themselves signed to Some Bizarre shortly after this single was issued, there can be fewer bands in the UK who were greeted with more confusion or bewilderment at the time.

Formed in the late eighties as a slightly rockist band (who one local man insists sounded rather like early Genesis) they gradually turned their attention to skewed, wobbly bass riffs, industrial rhythms, and perverse sloganeering. "I Want To Masturbate at Castle Donnington" is probably one of the better examples of their work, combining looped eastern wailing with threatening vocals, which are then frequently punctuated by "Psycho" referencing instrumental effects. It's actually not at all funny, despite the title, and sounds more like the work of obsessive stalkers who would give Barry George a run for his money. If somebody followed you down the street playing this on a ghetto blaster whilst singing "Give me pleasure" along with it, you'd run as hard as you could.

The B-side "Happy Shopper" was the A-side of their previous single, which was withdrawn after the cut-price food chain objected to its content. A prolonged, jerky rant against domestic bliss, the singer Jeff regularly screams "Who bought these tea bags?" in fury, whilst the verses are punctuated with the line "She grabs a plastic fish fork and she buggers me". There's a certain Stump-iness to the rhythm section on this track, but both sides remind me much, much more of Australian pranksters TISM. FIAFT could easily have been their Home Counties brothers.

Their debut album "Buttocks" was a very samey affair, but not unworthy - John Peel loved it, and offered them two sessions, and it certainly had its fans elsewhere too. For the most part, though, nobody knew quite how to deal with the band. They were mentioned in the same breath as The Swell Maps and Stump in reviews, but their crudeness combined with art-school song structures alienated the frat-boy audience just as much as it did the intelligent fringe crowd. Fans of both bands were not known for their love of vulgarity.

It's probably also worth mentioning as a footnote that the band had some peculiar and unorthodox ways of getting press attention without hiring a Press Officer or even being signed to a label. They once got into Kings Reach Towers and plastered their posters all over the walls of the NME's toilets - one review the magazine subsequently published largely consisted of a request asking them to come back and clean up. They also sent out packets of lard to music critics (which melted all over their records, causing a lot of anger and resentment), and on one occasion publicised a bunch of gigs in the NME's gig guide in places that didn't even exist (which were published completely unchecked). It may have got them press, but one has to wonder how much long-term ill feeling it all generated. One thing's for sure, though, they livened up Southend at a point in time where there really wasn't a hell of a lot going on there... I certainly enjoyed having my own set of renegades-about-town for a while.

(This entry was originally uploaded in August 2008, and somewhat unexpectedly got an enthusiastic response from many readers. Rather more worryingly, one of the band got in touch to correct me on the Genesis critique a friend of mine (who actually drummed in a band with me) originally raised with these pointed words: "Let me make this clear. Foreheads in a Fishtank were an anti establishment band ten years before the invention of the Internet. They had nothing to do with ‘Genesis’ though they may have agreed with ‘keep those mowing blades sharp’

In the late eighties some bands experimented with deconstruction of ‘melody’ into noise. Site: ‘My Bloody Valentine’. Which is why we hated soft bellied ‘NME’. Foreheads were clearly a part of the ‘Melody Maker scene’.

We sort to connect those sounds with down to earth lyrics. Those of day-to-day pointlessness and banality.

We looked to create three to four minute pop songs de-constructed from Melody into ‘NOISE’.

So we had more in common with ABBA than Genesis.

We hated all forms commerciality. And had the last laugh at the commercial record industry by finally understanding the inevitable pointless destruction of everything and the universe.

Everything is fleeting and passing. We choose to make a large wall of sound before our own inevitable death."

Glad we've finally managed to clear that one up, then.)

(FIAFT's material is shortly to be remastered and reissued, and the band have requested that any downloads should be removed from this site.)

19 December 2011

Merry Christmas

"Left and to the Back" will be taking a break while you lot chew on your mince pies and fiddle with the Beach Boys box sets you got as presents while the rest of your family nag you to do something else instead. It's not quite Christmas yet, I'll grant you, but nonetheless the reading figures usually start to plummet around about now, and I've got a busy festive season ahead so unfortunately won't be in a good position to keep the blog updated.

If you're utterly desperate for mp3 fun while I'm gone - and in particular, festive orientated mp3 fun - well, you're spoilt for choice.

If you haven't downloaded them already, the "Sweeping The Nation" festive mp3 compilations are almost a box set in themselves and worthy of several spins. These genuinely mop up most of the decent festive obscurities and oddities out there.

Failing that, "The Lord of the Boot Sale" has updated his blog with plentiful festive novelty tracks over the last few weeks, including one or two I had absolutely no idea even existed - Charlie Jones' "Hey Whiskers We Love You" for example, which is seasonal but at the same time faintly disturbing, like Steve Harley drunk whilst wearing nothing but a Santa hat.

And if you're really bored, don't forget the "Left and to the Back" Xmas Spotify playlist, and perhaps even our main playlist which isn't festive, but I get the sneaking suspicion a lot of people have forgotten exists (me included, actually - I need to update that quite soon).

Oh, and don't forget - if you didn't see them first time around, I did an array of Christmas blog posts in 2010 and 2009 which you can re-read again by clicking on the Christmas tag.

Above all else, have a fantastic, restful Yule. This blog aims to be up and running again before New Year's Eve, so I'll hopefully see you before 2012 begins.

Biggles - Gimme Gimme Some Lovin'

Label: Philips
Year of Release: 1971

Given that I didn't have any Christmas records to upload this year, I thought I couldn't just leave you all disappointed without any party tracks before present opening day (because of course, this blog has been soundtracking everyone's house parties for years now). So here's one.

"Gimme Gimme Some Lovin'" is nothing more or less than a glam rock medley combining the Transatlantic bubblegum hit "Gimme Gimme Good Lovin'" with the Spencer Davis Group's "Gimme Some Lovin'". Whooping, cheering and "Barbara Ann" styled party noises are worked into the mix to create something which sounds like the biggest rave-up since I heard "Gimme Hope Joanna" being played by a band in a pub in East London one summer to an assortment of booze-added cockneys. You don't hear the like very often. There's a thudding glam beat backing all this as well, which adds an extra layer of rowdiness, and in all whilst nobody could pretend this is a particularly sophisticated piece of work, it sounds bloody fantastic if you've had enough beer on a cold winter evening.

Biggles were essentially a studio based group created by one Mike Berry, who worked as a music industry mover and shaker for many years for both Sparta Music and The Beatles' publishing arm of Apple. It's probably safe to say that when this record flopped, no follow-ups were attempted under this name. You can read more about Berry's career on the Mersey Beat website.

This record also featured on the marvellous Purepop blog some years ago, where the author Robin Wills has done a fantastic amount of Mike Berry related trawling over the years. In fact, when I made the schoolboy error of mistaking this Mike Berry with the Joe Meek/ "Are You Being Served" Mikester awhile ago, he was quick to spot my on-blog mistake and contact me.

15 December 2011

The Gibsons - Only When You're Lonely

Label: Major Minor
Year of Release: 1968

Making it in Britain appeared to be the goal of most Australian bands in the sixties. Once they'd had one or two hit singles in their own country, they seemed to dart down to their local High Street travel agency to book tickets for the motherland, regarding their Australian fame as being an indication that they were in with a sound chance of British acceptance.

Sadly, a great many fantastic Australian acts were left disappointed. The Playboys and The Masters Apprentices were largely ignored in this country, and even The Easybeats only managed to chalk up two hit singles (despite deserving a great deal more). The arrival of Merseybeat had allowed the British to realise that their home-grown rock music could be just as groundbreaking and exciting (if not more so) than the American output, but acts from all other countries were still treated somewhat sniffily. Plus, the sheer competition on offer from the thousands of home-grown acts who had already spent years building up a following meant that even a great band had their work cut out whilst starting in a new country from scratch.

You could forgive Melbourne's The Gibsons for thinking that they were in with a shot. Their debut single in Australia, "That's What I Want" (issued under the name The Chicadas), performed strongly in most of the regional charts around the country, and actually hit the top spot in Brisbane. On the back of this they managed to pick up British management from Phil Solomon, owner of the Major Minor label. Changing their name to The Gibsons in an attempt to give them a more British-friendly name and also apparently in the hope that they might blag some free guitars in the process, their career never quite took off. Solomon did his level best to ensure they got their support from his pirate station Radio Caroline, so airplay was strong, but the public seemed disinterested despite high-profile tours around the nation.

Fans of psychedelic pop frequently cite the band's cynical stab at London "City Life" as one of the finer Australian examples of the genre. They're not wrong, but in reality (rather like The Montanas who we featured earlier this month) The Gibsons actually specialised in straightforward, uncomplicated pop with luxurious arrangements. "Only When You're Lonely" is a prime example of this, bringing to mind the fare of The Walker Brothers rather than Pink Floyd. It's a lovelorn ballad focussing on the selfish neediness of a pesky lady, and does sound as if it could very easily have been a hit. Sadly, this was not to be, despite having some striking harmonies and an unusually intricate chorus. The B-side "Ode To A Doll's House" borders on psychedelic pop, but climbs too high on the Twee-o-meter for my tastes. Perhaps you good readers will fare better.

For an interview with John Kaye and Geoff Dart of The Gibsons, please visit the relevant page on the excellent Peach Fuzz Forest blog where both go into depth on the topic of their British career with no hard feelings whatsoever.

12 December 2011

Driver 67 - Going My Way/ (Theme From) There Is No Conspiracy

Label: Logo
Year of Release: 1979

We've already partially explored the output of Driver 67 on this blog with a sniff at the sinister, horrible and downright wrong record about female-stalking truckers that is "Headlights". Enough has been said about that little disc that I don't really feel I need to add any more at this juncture.

Whilst it may have seemed as if Paul Phillips and Pete Zorn were trying to alienate radio stations and their entire female listening audience with "Headlights", "Going My Way" puts things back on the proper track, being a fizzbomb of a pop record with the same pub sing-along effect and pounding rhythms that Dennis Waterman delivered (to a much more convincing degree, actually) with "I Could Be So Good For You" the following year. The world-weary, Craig Charles-on-Coronation Street weepiness of "Car 67" isn't apparent in this instance, and if you regard the three singles as being a trilogy (and God help you if you do) it could be argued that "Headlights" focusses on Phillips' post-dumping misogyny, whereas this one represents his recovery. "Look," he is essentially saying to us, the good listeners, "we're pulling in different directions, but we could make this work. But if you can't be bothered, I'm off down the pub to sing along with the jukebox with all my mates. Whatever will be, will be."

The B-side in this instance is another perplexing piece of Driver 67 work, this time involving Zorn and Phillips discussing the noisy A-side neighbour who has moved in upstairs, and holding a naturalistic dialogue about the benefits and drawbacks of easy listening which sounds slightly like a Dexy's "Don't Stand Me Down" out-take. What a peculiar pair they were.

Pete Zorn is still an active session musician whose CV is the envy of anyone involved with folk and roots music. He is almost a permanent fixture in Richard Thompson's touring band, and has also played with Gerry Rafferty and Steve Tilston. Paul Phillips eventually became disillusioned with the music business after endless disputes about royalties owed to him from "Car 67". Record company failures to press up enough copies of that single to keep up with demand also won't have helped. The record dropped to number 11 mid-way through its climb up the charts only to continue climbing the following week; apparently this blip was purely due to the lack of copies available in the shops, and may have cut short its potential performance. He now works as a partner in a design business based in London, and imports vintage guitars.

8 December 2011

We Wish You A Spotify Christmas

Long-term readers of "Left and to the Back" may remember that for last two Decembers I've tried to include some vaguely Christmas themed mp3s on the blog. This year, however, it's not going to happen. In all honesty, finding Christmas records that hardly anyone has heard or noticed before is a bloody hard job, and on the rare occasion you do chance upon one it's usually complete and utter rubbish. To make matters worse, so many other blogs have done this sort of thing far better - "Sweeping The Nation", for example, produced several CDs worth of Christmas themed material.

For 2011, I've decided to change tack a little. Instead of shoving obscurities in your face like so many mince pies, I've created a Spotify Playlist of established Christmas songs with a few ones thrown in which, on the surface, appear to have nothing to do with the season whatsoever. This might seem like a ridiculous thing to do, but these are all tracks I regularly dig out for my own listening pleasure over Yuletide, purely because something about them - perhaps the time of the year they were originally released, the clanging bells in the mix, the Spector-ish wall of sound, the wintery feel - feels indicative of the season to me. This means that Pulp's "Bad Cover Version", Johnny Boy's "You Are The Generation That Bought More Shoes and You Get What You Deserve", The Jackpot's "Tiny Goddess" and the Dukes of Stratosphear's "Pale and Precious" sit alongside Slade, Jona Lewie and Greg Lake.

It's not a hugely long list at the moment, I'll agree, so I'd be grateful if you could chime in with your own suggestions in the comments below, either of a traditional festive hue or perhaps using more oblique reasoning. Answer soon enough (and provided the track is on Spotify) and I'll add it to the list like a little audio present beneath Spotify's giant Christmas tree. Answer later than 19 December, and I'll probably be too busy to do that. Soz, but other obligations beckon.

Added apologies to all you people living in countries which can't access Spotify. I haven't done this to deliberately exclude you from the Festive fun, but it's the only easy way of making all these tunes generally available.

5 December 2011

One Hit Wonders #21 - The Krew Kats - Trambone/ Peak Hour

Label: HMV
Year of Release: 1961

It's very tricky to pop into your local second hand record shop and not stumble upon some old near-hit from a British instrumental act - there were so many of them about during the early sixties, after all. The trouble is, many of the copies are battered and scratched to kingdom come, having enjoyed the pleasure of soundtracking parties, gatherings or just plain old Dansette scuffing within the first few years of their purchase.

It was an absolute unexpected pleasure to stumble upon a copy of this one in excellent condition, then. "Trambone" was a very minor hit in 1961, peaking at number 33. Its popularity may not have been significant enough to make it a major smash, but it was clearly enough to ensure that the track is still available to buy on iTunes to this day, meaning we'll have to content ourselves with a brief edit of its charms below.

Not that any of this really matters, because it's the B-side that contains the biggest surprise. "Peak Hour" is a surf-guitar styled instrumental with dramatic flourishes, jittery, skittish rhythms and some of the best twanging you'll have ever heard. One of those "too good to be buried on a flipside" moments, it's short and sharp, but riddled with drama. If this were the mid-nineties it would no doubt be a candidate for the soundtrack of some retro-gangster styled flick - as it's not, perhaps it will eventually gain popularity serving a more dignified role.

The Krew Kats were probably better known as The Wild Cats, Marty Wilde's backing group for much of his career. Rather than keep the "Wild Cats" moniker for their two non-Wilde 45s ("Samovar" was the follow-up to this), they rather bafflingly chose this identity instead. The most significant member of the band during this period was undoubtedly their drummer Brian Bennett, who was poached by The Shadows after Tony Meehan departed their ranks, and continued to produce a varied array of work away from The Shadows as well. Amongst his claims to fame are the BBC Golf theme "Chase Side Shoot Up" (also a "Northern Soul dancer" if some sources are to be trusted, and frankly I'm not sure they are), the theme to the sit-com "Robin's Nest" and various ditties composed for the ITV schools broadcasts between 1987 - 1993. "Peak Hour" is just one of the many surprising sidetracks and diversions during his main career as a skin-thumper in The Shadows, and arguably one of the best pieces of vinyl to feature his contributions.

1 December 2011

The Montanas - Ciao Baby/ Anybody There

Label: Pye
Year of Release: 1967

Oftentimes you will hear people talk about how demanding modern record labels are of their acts, spewing out invective about how "They didn't release The Head Shoppes album when the third single flopped!" In truth, the sixties weren't much better for this sort of behaviour. The Kinks "You Really Got Me" was their third shot at success after two stiffs, and it was widely believed that had it not succeeded, that would have been the end of the band's recording career.

Bearing the above in mind, the career of Dudley's The Montanas (also signed to Pye along with everyone's favourite Muswell Hill band) is perplexing to any student of pop. From 1965- 1969 they were allowed to release eight singles, and also had this one reissued once in order to see if it had more luck on its second outing. This was a perplexing amount of faith to show a band which, from its beat beginnings right to its sunshine pop end, never really showed much sales potential. Two things probably acted in the band's favour. Firstly, their beat take on harmony pop was incredibly middle of the road and subsequently enjoyed some airplay during the period. Besides that, reports from the frontline of the era would suggest they were also a versatile live act, as likely to please social and supper club audiences with music and comedy as they were Carnaby Street kids, and it's possible that Pye executives may have hoped that some of that crowd-pleasing ability would cross over into sales of physical product. This is a case of "citation needed" to the power of a hundred, obviously, but calculated guesswork is all we have in this peculiar case.

In reality, The Montanas never realised their potential either at home or abroad. They spent some time in America trying to crack the lucrative British Invasion market, issuing a total of eight singles there as well to no avail, although the rather good "You've Got To Be Loved" managed to climb to number 58 on the Billboard Charts. By 1969 both UK and US labels had clearly had enough, although the band carried on performing well into the seventies.

"Ciao Baby" was issued twice by Pye in a bid to give the band a hit. The first time around it dominated the airwaves impressively, but failed to chart. It's not hard to understand what Radio DJs saw in this one. It's rich, summery harmony pop which would have sounded utterly in keeping with some of the more middle-of-the-road hits of the day. There's a slick touch of class to the performance and it's arranged in a typically pleasing fashion by Tony Hatch. It isn't, however, any sort of lost classic, and the fact that it's been largely forgotten in the years since unlike other 'turntable hits' ("The Days of Pearly Spencer" by David McWilliams, for example) possibly shouldn't be that surprising.

Perhaps the most notable release by the band for people interested in psych pop is the rather sour, piss-taking 1967 B-side "Difference Of Opinion" where the band let their previously hidden satire spew in the direction of hippies. Dominated by pseudo-Dylan lyrics and statements like "Flower people, all the same/ using other people's names/ trying to find someone to blame", it's safe to say that they weren't convinced by the subculture of the time. Why they never got a gig penning parodical songs for "Spitting Image" in the eighties is anyone's guess.

28 November 2011

Reupload - Screemer - Interplanetary Twist

Label: Bell
Year of Release: 1976

It's another cheap Second Hand record from Bell. Aren't you the lucky ones? Bell were the glam rock label in the seventies, churning out endless pieces of tinsel from their dayglo production line, and it just so happens that it's these records which clog up charity store bins, remainder boxes and even rubbish skips the most. And no, that isn't a lazy, off-the-cuff remark, either - hundreds of rare glam singles recorded by Freddie Mercury under the name Larry Lurex were once found in a skip, discarded by some fool who believed them worthless.

By 1976, glam rock was starting to look a bit worn out, and bands falling back on the genre were frequently disappointed by the time the chart rundown was released. Even the established acts often struggled, so new ones - like Screemer here - found that Britain was hostile to their stomping sound.

In Screemer's particular case, however, one has to wonder if they were a mite too OTT even for the glam genre, if that's possible. I have come across many records in my time, but few have sounded as ridiculously theatrical and camp as this, a tune about introducing rock and roll to the people of the twenty first century (presumably they thought we'd all be blasting around on jet packs and listening to Jean Michel Jarre by now). Starting off with an airy synthesiser noise and a peculiar, Mystic Meg-styled vocal (which you just know the lead singer delivered with a suitably vacant stare), then building into a Rocky Horror Picture Show styled epic number, "Interplanetary Twist" is baffling. It's like The Sweet after they've eaten far too many sweets and are on a sugar rush, or Spinal Tap with some new space-age props. I've never seen a photo of Screemer, but I hope and pray they all wore futuristic space suits and had ridiculously ambitious fringes, otherwise the image I've got of them in my brain will be shattered.

I don't want to trick anybody into thinking that this is some kind of golden nugget of spacerock - although it is actually huge fun for five minutes, which is precisely what all good novelty pop should be. Just thank your lucky stars (no pun intended) it wasn't a hit and we didn't all have to hear it a hundred times, otherwise this could be a very different blog entry indeed.

Once again, the B-side ("Billy") isn't much cop, I'm afraid - but what more did you want from these intergalactic rockers, eh?

(Update - this entry was originally posted in August 2008, and I'm not too sure I care for its dismissive, flippant tone these days, but I suppose this blog was a young pup back then, I was still learning, and I'm entitled to have off days. Whilst I did originally purchase this from a bargain box for 50p, its value has increased dramatically in the years since and it changes hands for daft money on ebay now, the only one of the discs I've so far featured in the "Second Hand Record Dip" section of the blog to do so (to the best of my knowledge). This is largely due to it being featured on a glam rock rarities compilation, and proves if nothing else that my Larry Lurex comment at the start of this entry was somewhat prophetic. One man's junk is definitely another man's treasure.
As for Screemer - who knows? They still seem to be shy.)

26 November 2011

Final Vinyl

Just added another auction lot to ebay, and this will be the last I attempt this year, since I really don't want to get bogged down in the Christmas postal rush. Anyone who has run auctions on ebay at this time of year will know that emails along the lines of "I live in the Falkland Islands and want to know whether your copy of 'Sadie and Her Magic Mr Gallahad' by The New Generation will reach me in time for Christmas so I can wrap it up for my Niece" are only too common. Well, OK, they tend not to refer to obscure psychedelic records much, but you take my point all the same. I usually aim to get all records out within a day of two of getting the money, but that still doesn't mean to say that the stars of our mystical global postal services will align to cause a fast delivery.

Anyway, this time around, click here to see (amongst others):

FEDERATION: Blake's 7 Disco (I know one of you has surely got to want to own this)
EASYBEATS: Hello How Are You
HEINZ: You Were There
TIME MACHINE: Summer Of Love/ Another Dream In Black and White
PULP: His n Hers (vinyl copy)
PULP: This is Hardcore (Promo Remix 12")
BUGGY: Harry The Keeper
TERRORVISION: Oblivion (Promo one sided 12")
SUPERGRASS: Lenny (Promo 12")

You popsikers should be particularly interested in the Morgan records by Barnaby Rudge and Buggy, and the Bam Caruso oddity by Time Machine. Some of these sales even have soundclips on them, so it's like a blog only... er... not as good. But you can buy what's on it. Yes.

Any questions, feel free to ask. Unless they're intricate questions about the Brazilian festive postal service.

24 November 2011

The Calliope - Clear Mud/ Wiser

Label: Uni
Year of Release: 1970 (recorded in 1969)

Remember what I said about rare psychedelic/ dancefloor crossover records? One would have imagined that the era would have been shot through with such gems, but the reality is that those thoughtless hippies left behind very few records which swung. For all their versatility, even The Beatles left only slow groovers like "Get Back" and "Ballad of John and Yoko" behind, neither of which tend to set people's feet on fire (although you can - kind of - move a bit to "Paperback Writer" if you're feeling ambitious).

Here's another exception to the rule, then. "Clear Mud" is a messy, domineering, bongos-and-organ driven workout which slipped out in Britain in January 1970, long past the point where anyone cared for chipper little records with cheery hippy vocals in this country. A deep shame, because beneath the puffing flutes and bashed bongos lies a record which sounds like a distant cousin of Deep Purple's "Hush", utterly loose, carefree and actually quite wonderful for all that. Whereas most psychedelic pop had an obsession with the idea of catchy choruses, this is more interested in the rhythms and the mantra-like repetition of the song title, giving it more in common with a lot of the soul and mod records being released during the late sixties than perhaps you'd rightfully expect it to have.

The flipside "Wiser" restores order to the proceedings and is a brief, wistful ballad mentioning hope and rainbows. It's OK and comes with plenty of studio-glossed shimmering effects, but fails to defy your expectations in the manner of the A-side.

Little is known of The Calliope, but their line-up was apparently Jim Andron on guitar, organ and vocals, John Ray on guitar and vocals, Tony Riparetti on guitar, Sue Ferrel on flute and vocals, Dan Protheroe on bass guitar and Jim Saad on drums and vocals. Online evidence points towards a band active in Santa Barbara who had a couple of minor local hits but failed to take America as a whole. How "Clear Mud" ending up getting issued in the UK is a mystery which is clearly perplexing some record collectors online as we speak - US psych flops could hardly have been in much demand in Britain by 1970, and there's no evidence to suggest that this picked up any unexpected radio or club play prior to release. Nonetheless, here it is, proof that UK pressings of obscure records from across the Atlantic should never fail to surprise in their quantity.

Sorry about the surface noise on this record in some places, by the way. I did my best to minimise it, but unfortunately I don't have a perfect copy of this record.

21 November 2011

The Pipe Dream - If You Do What You Gotta Do

Label: Decca (Belgium)
Year of Release: 1969 (?)

You say "popsike", I say "borderline bubblegum, actually" - let's call the whole thing off. As the sixties drew to a close and The Archies' "Sugar Sugar" dominated the number one spot in numerous countries around the world, a similar chirpiness began to leak out of recording studios from (often manufactured) acts hoping to replicate that carefree feel. A lot of psychedelic pop had similar world-loving breeziness in its favour, of course, but also peculiar undercurrents and effects. By 1969, a lot of pop had dispensed with these elements entirely to produce something a lot more straightforward, whilst the heavy dudes got into the beginnings of hard rock and prog instead.

Don't let that put you off, though, because whilst "If You Do What You Gotta Do" isn't the most challenging thing you'll hear all year, it's addictively gleeful stuff. The chipper string arrangements and honking organ noises create a track which sounds a cut above most lightweight productions, and the chorus has a mighty power to it which may have driven people mad had the record managed to be a hit in the UK. The less said about the B-side, however, the better.

It was actually issued by Penny Farthing in 1970 in this country, but failed to attract much attention. I have a suspicion that this may have managed to become a hit on the continent, however - this is a Belgian pressing and we can hopefully safely assume that this is where The Pipe Dream are from.  Information on the band is scarce, and all I've managed to ascertain is that they are definitely not the American harmony band who released the LP "Wanderers/ Lovers" in 1969. It's over to you lot, I'm afraid - any further information you can give me on this lot would be welcome.

17 November 2011

Superalmendrado - Gotta Give It Up

Label: Dedicated
Year of Release: 1995

It's common enough to upload tracks by sixties outfits for whom background information is scarce, but nineties bands - especially nineties bands who were signed to well-known labels - seldom fall through the cracks so easily. By that stage in history we were all just starting to go online and leave dirty great Internet trails about exciting new bands we'd just seen and heard, and much of that information is still available today.

Superalmendrado, on the other hand, are an absolute mystery. Signed to Dedicated, the home of Spiritualized, The Cranes and Chapterhouse, this seems to be the only release of theirs which made it out into the public realm, and even then I've only ever seen Promo copies of it, leading me to suspect that it never received an official release. This is a jarring, dischordant piece of work which makes use of angst rock drumming, needles-on-the-nerves guitar lines, and forlorn vocals to bring three tracks which are not easy on the ear. Whether you consider this to be genius or utterly unlistenable may depend upon your tolerance of rock music's more experimental strands - but one thing's for sure, this isn't pop.

The whereabouts of the band presently remains as big a mystery as the full details of the line-up, but Craig Ward appears to have been the most active since, leaving Superalmendrado to join cult Belgian band dEUS not long after this single crept into the world. Whether his departure spelt the end for the band as a going concern or not is difficult to ascertain, but on the face of the little evidence we have available to us, it's probably safe to say that it won't have helped.

Anyone with any other background information on this band should get in touch to fill in the blanks. I'd be grateful for any help received.

1. Gotta Give It Up
2. Shedtronics
3. The Ballad of John Harlow

14 November 2011

Fox - Mr Carpenter/ Seek and You Find

Label: CBS
Year of Release: 1968

As a friend of mine wisely observed a couple of weeks ago, most psychedelic pop records do not make for good DJ'ing material - all that whimsy, introspection and feyness seldom leads to people shaking some action on the dancefloor. As with all genres, however, crossover records exist, and this is one of them.

Issued in 1968 just as the summer of love was beginning to seem a bit passe, "Mr. Carpenter" makes up for that by having a great fat bouncing groove going on, as well as some repetitive and nagging (if rather meaningless) lyrics. "Hey Mr Carpenter, won't you come on round and mend the door?" the band ask urgently, then follow it up with "Hey Mr Geetar-man, would you play me a song, I'm feeling down?". It's highly unlikely all these nagging favours would come to anything if the requests didn't come backed by a buzzing sitar riff, a marvellous psychedelic guitar breakdown, and some lovely stomping rhythms. Frankly, after three minutes of this I'd happily act as the band's general maintenance man. It's a gleeful soundtrack to a Saturday night, if lacking in the pseudo-profundity of a lot of its paisley painted brothers and sisters - but its poppy dumbness works endlessly in its favour.

The identity of The Fox is a mystery. They're certainly not the same Fox who signed to GTO in the seventies, and nor are they the same sixties band who issued the brilliantly titled LP "For Fox Sake". Nonetheless, rumours abound that this release features Dave Mason of Traffic on sitar, and it was produced by John Goodison who later got involved with songwriting for various glam rock bands including Mud (clearly he was getting a bit of stomping practice in early with this one). If anyone has the full lowdown on the band, please let me know. Otherwise, I may just assume that they were a studio based creation.

And yes, I really can't resist saying it - the lyrics to this are similar to Vic Reeves' "Oh Mr Songwriter" in places, aren't they? I highly doubt the man ever heard it, though.

12 November 2011

More Ebay Stuff

I've put some more stuff on ebay, if any of you readers are interested. Among the goodies on offer are:

dEUS - Worst Case Scenario (Limited Edition Audiophile Vinyl)
SAM THE SHAM AND THE PHARAOHS - Lil' Red Riding Hood (UK Pressing)
DEEP FEELING - Skyline Pigeon
BUZZ CLIFFORD - Baby Sittin' Boogie
BUD ASHTON - Telstar (Embassy remake of the Joe Meek classic)
MUSIC EXPLOSION - Little Bit O' Soul
OASIS - Definitely Maybe (double gatefold vinyl)
HANK THOMPSON - I'm Not Mad Just Hurt

And a bunch of other stuff besides. Please click here if you're interested.

10 November 2011

Second Hand Record Dip Part 77 - Natural Life - Strange World

Who: Natural Life
What: Strange World
Label: Hollywood
When: 1992
Where: de Plaatboef, Oude Gracht, Utrecht, The Netherlands
Cost: 50 Euros

It was a funny time, the early nineties, filled with a combination of political angst and grooved up music. It might sound perverse and desperately unfashionable now, but back then (my son) you could form bands with very specific political lyrical agendas and squeeze endless albums out of them, whether their specialism happened to be feminist, Marxist or Anarchic rhetoric. Not only that, but people actually thought they were slightly cool as well.

Natural Life are a particularly odd case in point, having been promoted as an environmentally conscious rock band with long hair, recycled record sleeves and singles which had a rather hollering, angsty outlook combined with big guitars and shufflesome beats. Subtlety never seemed to be on their particular agenda - this disc, for example, mentions shotguns very close to the call-and-response line "Sing it to me sist-errrr!" suggesting that their ambitions were to fill huge arenas rather than the local bar. Like a number of otherwise forgotten bands in this peculiar post-eighties period, there was a flavour of both the rapidly exiting baggy bands and the stadium ambitions of Then Jericho in their work, a dominating sense that all bases were being covered to appeal to as wide an audience as possible so their messages could be heard by all and sundry.

The B-side exercises their alternative roots a bit more keenly, being a dub-rock excursion which sounds incredibly like the festival-goers dance music of choice back in those days when Glastonbury was only just beginning to seem like it might be important.

This was their debut single which failed to chart, but the follow up "Natural Life", complete with a video featuring the band running, skipping and jumping through the Spanish wilderness posing with unplugged instruments, jumped into the UK Top 50 after Radio One and ITV Chart Show support. That proved to be their swansong - their album failed to chart, no follow-up was forthcoming, and like David Icke, the concept of Green rock music never really bothered the mainstream in the UK again. The drummer Shovell would later find gainful employment in M People, the whereabouts of Jon Spong, Darren Hunter, Liggy Locko, Mark Mathews, Ray Wilson and 'Big' Sydney Holdforth remain less clear.

The video for "Natural Life" also seems to be unavailable on YouTube - although I'm guessing somebody somewhere must have an off-air of the Chart Show episode it was broadcast on - but you can see them performing "Strange World" live here.

7 November 2011

Reupload - Federation - Blake's 7 Disco

Label: Beeb
Year of Release: 1979

Yes, another example of a reworked or otherwise tampered television theme finds its way into the "Left and to the Back" archives, although to be frank in this case it's easy to see what the BBC were playing at. They'd already released an approximation of the theme tune in 1978 (rather than the theme itself) and presumably thought that a cult sci-fi hit like "Blake's Seven" was always going to be good for a bit of milking. Hence (presumably) this "disco" version of the theme emerged in 1979 as well. And why did they stop there, you have to wonder? Why not a whole album full of alternate versions of the "Blake's Seven" theme done in a whole wide range of styles?

Perhaps the full stop to any such grand schemes coming into fruition really had to come when this flopped, and I'll be blunt, that might have a lot to do with the fact that it really isn't much cop - even the most desperate sci-fi completist would turn their noses up. Driven by a squeaky synth rendition of the theme which sounds for all the world as if it's being sung by Sweep (now actually, that would have been a version worth hearing) some hideous, half-asleep psuedo-funky basslines, and the irritating and unrealistic "handclap" noise on a drum machine, this could be the demonstration setting on a Rumbelows home MIDI synthesiser unit and nobody would be any the wiser. It sounds like the work of session people who despised what they were being asked to do, and wanted to get the whole exercise over with as swiftly as possible so they could nip down to the pub.

More interesting - and perplexing - is the flipside "Disco Jimmy", which so far as I know appears to have no connections with the programme at all, and just consists of some bagpipes, a disco beat, and a drunken Scotsman sounding off, although I think it's safe to say that the man isn't a native.

Equally confusing is the "Beeb" label, which seemed to run parallel to the BBC label in the seventies, but didn't really have a different release policy at all. You wouldn't get away with that now without the tabloid press running a week of headlines about the Beeb wasting licence payer's money. Nice cheerful picture of a bee in the logo, though.

Update: This blog entry was written in January 1991. I have nothing to add, as nobody responsible for the recording has come forward - wisely, I'd say - but "Here Is A Box" blog author Tim Worthington did correctly point out that "Blake's 7 Disco" does bear a certain resemblance to Pulp's out-take "We Can Dance Again", although the only version of that I can find online is Chevette's cover).

3 November 2011

The Motions - Take The Fast Train/ Hamburg City

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1968

The mod movement is regarded by most listeners and pop pickers as being an inherently British phenomenon, and whilst overseas mod acts most certainly did exist, it's curious to see how they presented themselves. The Motions, for example, posed beneath Big Ben for the sleeve of one of their earlier singles "Everything (That's Mine)", complementing the clanging Who-ness of the disc with distinctly familiar Anglo orientated imagery. That they hailed from The Hague in The Netherlands and were at that point produced by Americans Scott Walker and John Walker apparently presented no issues to them.

Despite (or perhaps because of) their rather un-Dutch image, The Motions were a force to be reckoned with in their native land, issuing dozens of singles and containing plenty of national musical legends in their line-up. Singer Rudy Bennett had a successful solo career after The Motions called it a day in 1971, drummer Sieb Warner became sticksman for Golden Earring, and perhaps most notably Robbie Van Leeuwen became one of the founding members of the ridiculously under-rated (in Britain, at least) Shocking Blue.

"Take The Fast Train" perhaps isn't their best single, but its raw, bluesy riff cuts through the sweet vocal harmonies in such a contradictory fashion that it's a compelling listen. The influence on Shocking Blue in particular can clearly be heard here - this is basically late sixties hard rock with a slightly sugary edge. Flip side "Hamburg City" is a lot less jagged (and therefore less interesting) being an almost Manfred Mann styled tribute to the German city.

The Motions are pretty much the Godfathers of the Nederbeat movement, and can even be found on the "Nuggets II" box set issued by Rhino. That they didn't do much business outside of their home country is unfortunate, but in the case of Britain they barely tried (notching up only a few gigs to their name there, despite Scott Walker's encouragement). Some members would, however, get their shot at international fame in other bands, and the Motions must therefore be considered one of the better schools of Rock in Holland, as well as releasing some furiously good singles.

31 October 2011

Second Hand Record Dip Part 76 - Nadine Expert - I Wanna Be A Rollin' Stone

Who: Nadine Expert
What: I Wanna Be A Rolling Stone
Label: CBS
When: 1978
Where: Wood Street Market, Walthamstow, London
Cost: 50p

Oh God. This is a prime example of a single you might spot in the 50p bin and do a double take about, not because you expect any good to come of chancing upon it - let's face it, the sleeve hardly promises a great lost artistic gem - but because you hope that it has some kind of kitsch appeal. And does it? Well, you be the judge.

Information on Nadine Expert online is about as scanty as the daywear she posed in for many of her record sleeves, but the media story appears to be that she happened to "bump into" Bill Wyman at an unnamed airport whilst he was on his travels (attractive young women seemed to stumble into Wyman's path a lot at this time) and following a chat with the man was offered the opportunity of a recording career. Well, it could happen to any of us. You can only wonder at the content of that conversation which must have occurred at the luggage carousel, or perhaps whilst they were both innocently waiting for the shuttle bus to ferry them to a useful terminal. This, the first single, was a disco medley of some The Rolling Stones classics, including "Paint it Black" performed in an absurdly joyous manner. It sounds exactly as you'd expect it to, and is only really notable for predating the trend for popular disco medleys of old hits by several years.

Nadine managed some success on the continent and is still respected by some aficionados of disco music. There's a clip of her performing this very track on some unnamed European music show, where she struts her stuff in a very confident, Suzy Quatro influenced, proto-Samantha Fox hybrid kinda way. Beyond that, it's very difficult to think of anything to add.

27 October 2011

Winston's Fumbs - Real Crazy Apartment/ Snow White

Label: RCA
Year of Release: 1967

So far as I'm aware, there are only two sixties singles whose lyrics are heavily focussed on interior design. One is Pregnant Insomnia's brilliant "Wallpaper", a track which gave its name to probably the best homebrew compilation I put together for this blog. The second is this, which is also surely the only rock record to heavily feature the repeated proclamation "Furn-i-ture! WOOO!" I'm not the right age to understand whether this line sounded as absurd at the time of this record's release as it does now, but it perhaps signifies how much design and lifestyle became a focus for many British sixties bands, and most especially any with a modernist agenda.

Jimmy Winston, yer man behind Winston's Fumbs, was unquestionably a man with a mod background, having previously been the keyboard player with The Small Faces. He'd already released one quite good 45 on Decca under the name Winston's Reflections, but he switched to lead guitar for this and sounded every inch the garage equivalent of Jimi Hendrix. "Real Crazy Apartment" is an excitable piece of work, so much so than the line "Take it easy now" could well be Winston addressing himself, shortly before he rattles off a list of things in his friend's apartment he particularly enjoys, including the Shakespeare volumes and the wallpaper. It's almost like Lawrence Llewelyn-Bowen on uppers, combined with such a high-tempo, rattling backing that it feels almost beyond gleeful.

Much has also been made of the flip "Snow White" over the years, but to my ears it's the poorer cousin, being a rather metronomic piece of work focussed on the shortcomings of a vain female scenester.

Winston went on to work in theatre, appearing in the musical "Hair", whilst the keyboard player Tony Kaye had rather more success in the progressive monster that was Yes. There was no Fumbs follow-up, but perhaps that's just as well - this would have taken some beating.

24 October 2011

The King's Singers and Greg Lake - Strawberry Fields Forever/ Disney Girls

Label: EMI
Year of Release: 1978

Sometimes I find myself wondering what on Earth I'm supposed to write about some of these records. Sometimes, instead of writing a big long description about the history of the act and what's on offer, I feel the urge to stick to the basics - so for this entry, all I'd really type is "This is the choral act The King's Singers covering the Beatles 'Strawberry Fields Forever' with The Beach Boys track 'Disney Girls' on the flip. Greg Lake produces". If I expanded on that, is there a danger I'd dampen the shock effect of the fact that the record even exists?

It most certainly does, however, and I'm probably as perplexed by it as you are. When the needle hit the grooves of this one on the first play, I must admit I was expecting a total dog's dinner of a record, another appalling Beatles cover to add to the long line of bastardised cash-in nonsense that's been released into the wild. In reality, it's neither as ridiculous as it sounds - and some of Lake's production frills actually help keep the proceedings mildly psychedelic - nor as unlikable as you'd expect. Also, as church choirs doing interpretations of modern classics has worked its way into the heart of popular culture in the early 21st Century, this probably sounds more run-of-the-mill now than it ever did in 1978. The King's Singers are obviously incredibly skilled at their craft and take the job in hand seriously, and the end production knows exactly where to draw the line in its interpretation, so there are no surprise fade-outs and fade-ins at the end, nor reverse effects. Overall, it's actually a pleasing record, like the long-forgotten sixties harmony act Tinkerbell's Fairydust taking a stab at the output of Mersey's finest sons. Oh, and the similarity of the intro to that of Bobak Jons Malone's "House of Many Windows" is, it's safe to say, coincidental.

Less excusable is the scratch and sniff sleeve containing a lady whose dignity is only covered with some strawberries. I'm sure such excesses played badly with the band's hardcore audience of Pebble Mill viewers and Christians, although who knows? The red vinyl EMI disc manages to make their disgusting seventies fawn and red label look halfway pleasing, mind.

The King's Singers were formed at King's College in Cambridge by six choral scholars in 1968, and are still active today and remain a successful live concern, performing 125 concerts a year. An adaptable approach to their set lists is one of the factors which has caused them to be a constant draw, including classical music as well as pop standards in their repertoire. After finding this one, my respect for them has actually increased tenfold.

20 October 2011

Johnny Johnson & The Bandwagon - Mr Tambourine Man/ Soul Sahara

Label: Bell
Year of Release: 1971

Johnny Johnson and The Bandwagon, rather like Geno Washington, were an American soul act who had far greater success in the UK. "Breaking Down The Walls of Heartache" was a number four hit in 1968 - even though, given its subsequent influence and club plays, it feels as if it should have climbed even higher than that - and whilst the original line-up of The Bandwagon failed to last into the seventies, Johnson was keen to continue to capitalise on his success outside of the States.

A whole variety of other singles were issued, including the top ten hits "Sweet Inspiration" and "(Blame It) On The Pony Express", shortly before this one was issued to public indifference. Your eyes aren't deceiving you - it is indeed a soulful rendition of the Dylan/ Byrds classic, complete with sweat, intensity and a great big brassy horn section. On first listen, it sounds frankly unnatural and absurd. So much is done to deviate from the original tune and arrangement during the introductory seconds in particular that it's hard to even hear what it has in common with Dylan's song, and it's only when a chipper version of the chorus kicks in that you're able to connect the dots. By the second listen, however, it's a pure joy to listen to, a cover version attempted in the spirit of all the best ones, using the original track as a springboard for different arrangements rather than a score to idly copy from. Some may scream "Sacrilege!", but it's actually no more or less of a deviation from Dylan's first recording than The Byrds attempted.

The fun doesn't stop there, either. The B-side "Soul Sahara" is a thing of wonder, with Johnson whooping and hollering his way through a funky backbeat and horn section as he forcefully takes us through a history of that thing we call soul, with all its accompanying sub-genres. That neither side seems to get played very often in clubs (unlike the group's hits) is a missed opportunity in my book - "Soul Sahara" has such a furious insistence that it's impossible to stay still while it's playing, whereas "Tambourine Man" is a wonderful talking point.

And all this gets me wondering - has there ever been a song which has attracted a more varied array of covers than "Mr Tambourine Man"?

(And whilst I realise we're in danger of drowning in asides and sentences starting with "and" at this point, apologies to The Lord of The Boot Sale who I know damn well uploaded both this one and Ginger Ale's "Sugar Suzy" not long ago. It would seem as if our purchasing habits are crossing over at the moment, but I'm sure we'll deviate wildly again soon).

18 October 2011

Can't Buy Me Love Vintage Jumble Sale

I'm back DJ'ing at the "Can't Buy Me Love" jumble sale on Saturday 29 October 2011, which as always will be taking place from 12:30 - 5:30 at The Boogaloo Bar in Highgate:

312 Archway Road, Highgate, London N6 5AT

Expect the usual carefully messy mix of soul, rock and roll, garage, mod pop, and whatever else takes the fancy of both myself and the resident DJ John The Revelator. This event is picking up quite a bit of press now, so do drop by and to find out what the fuss is about.

The Facebook events page is here for anyone who needs to remind themselves using the wonders of social networking technology. I hope to see some of you there.

17 October 2011

Reupload - Kes Wyndham - Broken Bicycle

Label: Pye
Year of Release: 1971

"The gross and net result of it is that people who spent most of their natural lives riding iron bicycles over the rocky roadsteads of this parish get their personalities mixed up with the personalities of their bicycle as a result of the interchanging of the atoms of each of them and you would be surprised at the number of people in these parts who are nearly half people and half bicycles...when a man lets things go so far that he is more than half a bicycle, you will not see him so much because he spends a lot of his time leaning with one elbow on walls or standing propped by one foot at kerbstones."
Flann O'Brien "The Third Policeman"

I freely admit that I have absolutely no idea whether or not Kes Wyndham's wistful "Broken Bicycle" tune is inspired by Flann O'Brien's bike-obsessed police officers in the "Third Policeman" novel. However, lyrically it certainly seems to have several key pointers - "We were one body of flesh and of steel" he sings mournfully, whisking the listener away into a hellish, surreal world where men may become methods of two wheeled transportation at any time.

It has to be said, "Broken Bicycle" is a rum little piece of work, being a subtly orchestrated ballad about the end of one woman's love affair with her jilted Raleigh. It comes drenched in the slightly twee, pie-eyed melodies of the sixties despite its 1971 release date, and was considered good enough to work its way on to the Ripples series of compilation albums (volume three - "Autumn Almanac"). Sadly, there is no information about who Kes Wyndham was or what else he did in the booklet, which is usually the compiler's polite way of sidestepping the issue that nobody has the slightest clue. I certainly don't either, but if the possibility of some royalties cheques can't smoke Mr Wyndham out of his hole, I sorely doubt I mention on this blog will. Still, Kes - if you happen to chance on this entry, please let us know what else you got up to.

The A-side "Honey Call Me Home" is less pleasing, being a rather middle-of-the-road ballad lacking a sufficient hook. I've included it in the download so people can satisfy their curiosities. I doubt anybody would have had more luck with this single if they'd flipped the sides around, since "Broken Bicycle" is far too subtle to crash the charts, but it might possibly have established Kes Wyndham as an interesting artist to watch.

(This entry originally went live in June 2009. Kes never did get in touch - I can't say I'm particularly surprised.)

13 October 2011

Ginger Ale - Sugar Suzy/ Scoobidad

Label: Injection
Year of Release: 1972

Many moons ago, you may remember that I wrote I was due to spend a week's holiday in The Netherlands, and I promised I'd return with some records for this blog. This is the first of the bundle, and whilst it may be a push to describe it as an obscurity - the A-side "Scoobidad" hit number four in Holland - the B-side has since acquired some love as a bit of a psych-pop classic across the whole of Europe.

Ginger Ale were formerly known as Roek's Family before changing their name and subsequently dabbling with more intricate sounds. "Scoobidad" is a fairly harmless piece of seventies bubblegum, but "Sugar Suzy" is beautiful despite its rather unpromising, Archies-esque title. Filled to the brim with twanging, whining guitars and gentle, wistful vocals, it would neither be out of place on the second side of Pink Floyd's "Atom Heart Mother" nor indeed a compilation of West Coast classics. Dreamy, considered and tranquil, it's far too good to be buried away on a flipside, and had it been released at an earlier date and on the right side of a seven inch single (or tucked away on an album) it's not difficult to imagine it gaining more respect than it has done. As it stands, hopefully this will gain further popularity over the coming years.

Ginger Ale eventually went their separate ways, with drummer Richard De Bois moving on to a successful production career, and guitarist Steve Allet going on to join the psych-tastic band Ekseption.

10 October 2011

Esprit De Corps - If (Would It Turn Out Wrong)

Label: Jam
Year of Release: 1972

Throughout the eighties, the musical prowess of Mike Read became something of a standing joke for popular culture vultures and viewers of "Saturday Superstore". The presenter and Radio One Breakfast Show host surely had plenty on his career-shaped plate during the period, but he still managed to slip out a few singles under the name The Trainspotters, all of which were met with utter indifference by both critics and the public. "Mike Read and his bloody guitar" almost became a disdainful national catchphrase for Saturday mornings.

At the time, hardly anybody at all referenced the fact that he was also partly responsible for this little-known 1972 flop which was later deemed of a high enough quality to emerge on the "Rubble" series of psychedelic compilation albums. I can only concur, it's actually pretty bloody good. The B-side "Pictures On My Wall" can probably be safely ignored, but "If (Would It Turn Out Wrong)" is one of those psychedelically tinged ballads with an unsettling undercurrent, here provided by the positively woozy phasing on the string section. It's an eerie piece of work which deserved further attention, but clearly never got it, despite sonically encapsulating the giddy, doubtful feelings of love which may possibly be unrequited - far from attempting to be "trippy", I'd argue that the chaps were merely trying to replicate conflicting emotions with the skying effects here.

Joining Mike Read were other music industry dabblers Dave Mindel, David Ballantyne, Bill Pit and Alan Tomes. It would appear that they only managed one more single after this one, "Lonely", before knocking matters on the head. Esprit De Corps are one of a privileged number of acts who appeared on "Top of the Pops" despite not having a hit to their name, so they clearly were given a fair chance by Read's future BBC paymasters, but it obviously came to nothing. As for what became of Read, he was at one point so successful in the eighties that Strawberry Switchblade's record label tried to talk one of the girls into going on a date with him, just to increase their chances of getting one of their records played on the Breakfast Show (they did not comply). It's a far cry from that to this, and no mistake.

6 October 2011

Second Hand Record Dip Part 75 - Cirrus - Rollin' On

Who: Cirrus
What: Rollin' On
Label: Jet
When: 1978
Where: Wood Street Market, Walthamstow, London
Cost: 50p

Ah, chocolate for men! Where were we in the days before we had chocolate for men, eh lads? In the seventies, if you were a bloke and you wanted a chocolate bar, you had to buy Dairy Milk and end up looking like a lady in public or (as one astute YouTube commenter puts it) "a bit like Larry Grayson". Dairy Milk and Galaxy, delicious though they are, were for men of suspicious inclinations. And as no self-respecting gentleman would ever want such an image, we had to resort to stealing bars from petrol stations, eating them in the middle of the night for fear that our lady-wives and lovers would catch us, and even hiding it in the Garden Shed underneath the biggest saw we could find. Put it this way, it wasn't much of a life.

Thank God for Rowntrees, then, who put an end to the whole dilemma by producing a low quality, manly chocolate bar all chaps could enjoy without fear of criticism. "Yorkie" (also slang for "Yorkshire Terrier", which as we know isn't an especially masculine dog - I'm stunned they got away with that one) was launched with adverts including a butch, confident truck driver slowly eating the large sized bricks of the stuff with an expression somewhere between smug self-satisfaction and sexual ambition. However hackneyed and silly this idea seems now, it worked a charm in the seventies, and propelled the bar up the best-selling chocolate charts - this despite the fact that it's among the shoddiest commercial chocolate I've ever wrapped my tongue around.

The tune from the advert was clearly popular enough that Jet Records thought it could be a hit single. They were wrong, obviously, and even the aid of this novelty chocolate bar shaped and coloured record didn't help matters. It's pure cod-Country and Western, all twangs and mock American accents, and frankly sounds like a right load of old cobblers. For just a few minutes, though, you could imagine you were the gentleman in the track, that confident, swaggering brute with only miles of road ahead and loads of chocolate on your mind, and as a fetching bonus you got a peculiarly shaped disc for your record collection into the bargain.

This entry is also almost topical in that one of the lorry driving men Stuart Mungall was recently sent to prison after committing euthanasia on his wife. "Left and to the Back" isn't really the place to comment about such complex social issues, but it's such an enormous elephant in the room that I didn't think I could let the entry finish without mentioning it.

3 October 2011

The Surfaris - Shake

Label: Paramount
Year of Release: 196? (This reissue 1973)

Now here's a puzzler for your collective minds. The Surfaris are, I would hope, familiar to all readers of this blog as the authors and performers of the legendary "Wipe Out" single, a song originally composed as an off-the-cuff B-side which subsequently went on to sell in terrifying quantities as the radio play favoured track. Only yesterday I had the television on and an advert using "Wipe Out" as its soundtrack was burbling away in the background - if The Surfaris signed a reasonable contract at the time of its original release, I shudder to think how much money they've made from it since.

In 1973 Paramount acquired the rights to The Surfari's catalogue in the UK and decided to issue the evergreen single once more in the hope that it may enter the charts again. There's absolutely nothing unusual in that. What is unusual, however, is what they opted to place on the flip side. Contrary to the label's "1963" credit, their cover of Sam Cooke's "Shake" originally emerged on the Dot label in the USA in 1967 during a period when nobody much cared about the band anymore. As such, it sank like a stone. That's a bit of a shame, as the track now sounds like a mean old garage track which would sound completely at home on any compilation such as Pebbles or Nuggets - it swaggers confidently, grooves mightily and sounds more of its moment than any Surfaris record issued in the late sixties has a right to sound. Instead of sticking with the surf guitar twang, it would seem the boys diversified towards the end of their careers.

Despite all this, the track is still a bafflement to me. The Surfari's official website suggests that they disbanded around August 1966, which makes the 1967 release date seem strange. It also makes no mention of "Shake" at all, as if the damn thing never happened. But - unless there's something strange going on - it surely did, for here is the audio proof below. I've already begged you lot on Facebook and Twitter, and I'm begging you again now - anyone with the full facts surrounding this track should definitely drop me a comment. It's ace, and I'd appreciate it if I had a bit more background knowledge about how it dropped into the world.

1 October 2011

Planet E-bay

I've done it again - I've floated a few records along the great E-shaped bay, although as always it's a handful rather than a bulk lot (I tend to run out of steam quite quickly).

Readers caring to click on this link will find the following records for sale:

VOODOO QUEENS: Supermodel Superficial
PARCHMENT: Light Up The Fire (John Pantry Produced effort)
OASIS: Some Might Say 7" (Probably of little interest to readers of this blog, and I don't particularly want it either - near mint as well!)
MOODY BLUES: Everyday/ You Don't (All The Time) (Early Moody Blues flop, fairly scarce these days)
GOLIATH: Port & Lemon Lady - demo copy (I've only seen a copy of this prog/ psych/ folk effort for sale once, and that was on the day I bought it. I'm curious to see how much it actually goes for. Get the feeling this one could be all or nothing).
IDES OF MARCH: Tie Dye Princess (a relisting)

If you're interested, you know what to do. As ever, any money raised goes towards the general running of this blog, in other words it pays off our subscription fees to have the mp3s hosted.

29 September 2011

The Three Johns - Never and Always

Label: Abstract
Year of Release: 1987

Leeds outfit The Three Johns were created by Mekons member Jon Langford in 1981, and whilst their track record seems to have been forgotten by most people in the years since, for a long time they were dependable indie chart botherers, releasing one John Peel favourite and NME Single of the Week after the other. Loud, occasionally political ("We're not a socialist band. We're a group of socialists who are in a band. It's a fine distinction but an important one") and periodically ramshackle, there was no suggestion that the band were ever going to be a threat to the mainstream, although in one Record Mirror interview they joked that at least one member might have boyband looks.

It's still worth revisiting their work to realise what some of the fuss was all about, however. "Never And Always" in particular is so urgent, brutal and intense that it's a clear winner for my affections at least. Produced by Adrian Sherwood who is responsible for the clattering, ear-battering drum machine work here, it's a combination of squawking punk vocals, angular guitar riffs and industrial turmoil which, had it been released by Public Image Limited, probably would have been widely respected. Instead it had to make do with a couple of Chart Show plays on the television and a moderately high placing on the indie chart.

The band called it a day in 1990, leaving behind a bunch of material which, while not always perfect, still deserves more listens than it appears to get in the present day. You'll never hear this on 6Music - but that doesn't mean to say that you shouldn't. It still grabs you by the throat even now.

26 September 2011

Reupload - The Hush - Elephant Rider/ Grey

Label: Fontana
Year of Issue: 1968

There are some cheery music industry optimists out there who believe that every band will eventually get the success they deserve, and if they don't, they've clearly approached something from the wrong angle. "Talent will out," as Freddie Mercury used to camply trill to anyone who was listening (and lest we forget, he suffered a few disappointments of his own before Queen made it).

On the other, shadier side of the room, however, stand people like me who think that whilst there's a grain of truth to the belief that talent is always recognised in the end, there are also other factors to consider. There's record companies, of course. We should never, ever, underestimate the power of record companies to make the wrong decision at the wrong time. Ask Bob Geldof what he thought of his American record company's plan to send stuffed rodents to radio stations to promote the Boomtown Rats. As a stunt, it turned more stomachs than it ever turned any dials on to heavy rotation. Then again, record companies are frequently known for promoting the right people in the wrong way, or signing the right bands and releasing the wrong tracks. And that's the focus of this entry.

Here we have two sides that sound absolutely nothing like each other. "Elephant Rider" sounds as if it could be a failed Song for Europe entry with its childish chorus and cheery noises, whereas "Grey" is actually a harsh, heavy, very garagey piece of work, messy and stormy in all the best ways. "One day I'll die, leave things behind..." the lead vocalist announces at the beginning of the track, to the single, pounding metronomic beat of a snare drum. "But that's just one thing on my mind," he then snarls as some demonic, punky guitars come behind. The chorus just builds, a single whining note being struck again and again as the vocals peak into panicked ranting. It's a total garage punk classic, and whilst I can understand how Fontana got jittery about its commercial potential, to bury this away on a B-side is nothing short of criminal.

As for whether The Hush approved of their decision or not, I'm afraid I couldn't say. This was the only single they were ever able to release, so unless some dusty tapes turn up somewhere soon, we'll never know if they had more tracks like "Grey" to offer. Nobody has ever been able to successfully trace them either, despite their single regularly going for hundreds of pounds at auctions (the copy photographed above is a bootlegged facsimile copy I purchased at a more regular price). If any of them ever happen to read this entry, though, they should certainly get in touch...

(This blog entry was originally posted in May 2008, and get in touch they did! Firstly the drummer Mac Poole dropped me a line to say that they were an act he put together at Luxembourg Studios in London, and they were managed by Doug Perry, the same man who later went on to manage the snooker champion Alex Higgins.
Their keyboard player Peter "Twiggy" Wood later went on to join The Sutherland Brothers, whereas vocalist Chris Anslow now works on the cabaret circuit.
Another anonymous commenter also pointed out that the band clearly had a fan in Lou Barlow, who had very clearly sampled the riff from "Grey" to use for Sebadoh's single "The Flame".
Now, if only it was as easy to gather as much information as this for the numerous other entries about bands who have long since disappeared off the face of the Earth...)

22 September 2011

Sounds Incorporated - The Spartans/ Detroit

Label: Columbia
Year of Release: 1964

The demise of the instrumental rock and roll combo is something I've mourned on "Left and to the Back" a number of times. There's no conceivable reason why such groups should have fallen out of fashion by the mid-sixties beyond the fact that listeners seemed to want groups to have an obvious focal point, a notable communicator, a role that only a lead singer could easily provide. Beyond that, the advantages of instrumental rock were obvious - it's more universal than vocal forms with their language barriers from one nation to the next, and there's frequently a sense of atmosphere and drama in these recordings which in the hands of other artists could be ruined by naff or disagreeable lyrics. The images painted by The Shadows' "Wonderful Land", for example, are for me a lot more enjoyable than those dished up by The Stones "Under My Thumb", a good track dirtily smeared by sneering, sadistic lyrics (and yes, at this point I am conscious of the fact that I may sound like somebody's Dad circa 1966).

Unlike most of the artists on this blog, Sounds Incorporated did meet with some minor success in the sixties - this record, for example, got to number 30 - but hovered just outside the fringes of mainstream acceptance. They worked with Joe Meek and are notable for having used the Clavioline keyboard before The Tornados did with "Telstar". When you couple that with the fact that they worked with the huge stars of the day, backing the likes of Gene Vincent, Cilla Black and Little Richard (during his UK tour), and even The Beatles on the track "Good Morning Good Morning", their relative anonymity becomes more startling. If nothing else, they were clearly among the most sought after session musicians of the era in Britain.

Of all the Sounds Incorporated recordings, this is probably my favourite. On the A-side rests a pleasingly atmospheric instrumental which proved to be their biggest hit, but on the flip lies "Detroit", an absolute floor-shaker of a track which combines sax riffs with mean, grooving hammond organ workouts and a tight rhythm section. At four minutes long, it's certainly one of the most persuasive mod groovers of 1964, and only recently seems to have been notching up spins by retro club DJs. The two sides of this single show how diverse and skilled Sounds Incorporated really were, as capable of creating Meek-esque atmospheric tracks as they were Rhythm and Blues inspired groovers.

19 September 2011

Frankie Machine - The Cartesian Product (EP)

Label: Artists Against Success
Year of Release: 2000

Blame Babybird if you want, but at the tail end of the nineties and during the eye-blinking morning of the 21st Century, the music press developed something of a fascination with eccentric lo-fi or semi-acoustic dabblers. They'd always been around, of course, the origins being easily traced to people pressing their own folk records in the fifties and sixties - but seldom before or since had the practice been given so much scrutiny, with some hacks admiring the anarchic, independent spirit of the artists in question, whilst others (who probably also freelanced for "Loaded") dismissed them as no-hopers and losers.

Some of the output was indeed self-indulgent silliness which should have remained locked away on the home Portastudio, but other items from the era - like this - are beguiling. The Cartesian Product isn't really an EP as such, but two sides of ambient noise, effects and melodies creating a well-woven whole. If the vinyl had been released as a two track single you'd genuinely be none the wiser. Wonderfully, though, it seeps with gentle menace, suggesting a creeping violence more intriguing and disquieting than most hard rock records. "I only wish that people wouldn't trust me enough to allow me to raise their children" Frankie gently sings as if performing a lullaby, not long before being interrupted by some discordant sound effects. Simultaneously comfy and utterly wrong, the use of melodic subtlety here is both manipulative and pleasingly odd.

There's not really a massive amount of point in me offering the EP below as its available free on the Frankie Machine website - but I've done so anyway, just so you can hear the both sides strung together as a coherent whole. Unbelievably, the act is still going, and I'm pleased to report that a new album "Squeeze The Life Back In" was issued in July of this year.

The Film I Never Made
Rhumba for the Mainframe
Happy/ Sadistic
St. Agnes Day Epilogue

Commercial Zenith
Tragic Love, Easy Listening
No Love Boat
Every Sunday Morning