26 February 2011

Second Hand Record Dip Part 70 - Nanette Newman - "Fun Food Factory"

Nanette Newman - Fun Food Factory

Who: Nanette Newman
What: Fun Food Factory (b/w "Morris (The Studio Mouse)")
Label: B&C
When: 1977
Where: Wood Street Market, Walthamstow, London
Cost: 50p

I have wandered through life oblivious to many things until they've been right under my nose.  I didn't know or believe, for example, that New Zealand truly was a breathtakingly beautiful country until I actually saw it with my own eyes.  I also didn't know that you couldn't really feed dogs bread until I gave a friend's "standard" poodle more than a fair amount then watched as, a mere couple of hours later, he emptied the contents of his stomach all over the front room floor from both orifices.  And I never, ever knew that Nanette Newman (or "The Fairy Liquid lady" as she seems to be known to most) had put a single out.  I'm not sure where that fits in the grand scale of things, but I think it's safe to say it's not an unpleasant discovery - neither as nasty as runny poodle vomit and excrement nor as breathtaking as Kaikoura.

"Fun Food Factory" is the theme tune to a TV show Newman hosted at the time, which involved lots of children getting messy in cookery orientated fun.  According to the TV Cream website, there was a large "danger" sign on the back wall of the studio which would flash whenever the children handled a sharp object such as a knife, to alert the kids to the potential problems such things cause.  I have never seen an episode myself, but the theme is irrepressibly chirpy, and makes a visit to the Fun Food Factory sound like a visit to some neon-coloured corner of Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory.  "There's something there for you to make/ funny fruit and carrot cake!" the children exclaim, which makes me wonder what they're on about.  "Carrot cake" is, of course, a perfectly ordinary thing to make, but how would one create either bemusing or amusing fruit?  Was Nanette playing God here, growing phallus-shaped future-fruits in the studio with the help of several genetic scientists whilst in desperate search of ratings?    Or was the fruit in question in some way hallucinogenic?  Thank God the woman was stopped after one series and forced to sell magical long-lasting washing up liquid instead.

The B-side "Morris The Studio Mouse" is a woeful ditty about one mouse's failure to get a career in Hollywood, with parts for mice having apparently all but dried up.  There's a weedy, self-pitying tone to the rodent's high pitched squealing which predates Orville by some years, and I'm not crying "Keith Harris is a plagiarist" here - for all I actually know, he may have had some uncredited involvement in this creation - but it all seems a bit too much of a coincidence.  Nanette sounds so despairing and thoughtful throughout that it's hard not to be moved despite the ludicrous nature of the tune and the character.  Interestingly, this particular track was co-written with Mike Vickers, who also worked with Kenny Everett.  Presumably Kenny didn't take up the option on the song first.

23 February 2011

Dr. Marigold's Prescription - Breaking The Heart of A Good Man (b/w Night Hurries On By)

dr marigold's prescription - breaking the heart of a good man

Label: Bell
Year of Release: 1970

When you're browsing through the record racks looking for a pleasing obscurity, Bell Records frequently don't offer many contenders when it comes to non-glam rock records (and in fact, even some of its glam output is frankly rather cheap and nasty whether hit parade bothering or no).  Things aren't always as they seem, however, and in between the more bubblegum oriented output lies a few interesting discs.

A band with a name like Dr. Marigold's Prescription should of course mean that the musical gang in question were provincial psychedelic non-pop stars being roundly ignored by the general public.  In truth, that's not quite accurate.  They were actually a slightly boogie-influenced pop band, which their Cook and Greenaway penned A-side "Breaking The Heart of A Good Man" demonstrates keenly here.  All gnashing vocals and pounding drums, the track is perfectly OK, but could perhaps have done with more peaks and troughs in the arrangement to give the proceedings some sort of momentum.  The lyrics seem to deal with some cold-hearted woman who doesn't appreciate her man and spends all his wages on trinkets and other such nonsense.  Can't she see he's in the red, godammit?  Clearly not.

More interesting to me is the bizarre, decidedly popsike B-side "Night Hurries On By", dealing with the life of a nightwatchman through the shimmering haze of his shift-side fire and some rather late sixties recording studio effects.  It's not something which necessarily should have been compiled by now, but nonetheless, I'm a bit surprised that somebody at Bam Caruso or Past and Present didn't see an opportunity here to include it on one of their albums.  It's a warm yet wintery piece of whimsical psych, and sounds a lot stronger than much of the output on the "Circus Days" series of albums, to give an example of one series where it might have found a place.  

Dr Marigold's Prescription apparently began life in 1968 as the backing group for Billy Fury, before moving on to also carry out live work with John Walker (of the Walker Brothers).  Despite being a relatively hitless bunch, their recording career lasted until 1975 before they completely gave up the ghost, and two albums emerged, the scarce 1969 release "Pictures of Life" and 1973's "Hello Girl".  The "Tapestry of Delights" book describes them as "a middle of the road outfit, although the name promises better".  Several online psych fans argue that's an extremely unfair and snappy overview of their work, which is a debate we may be able to have at some later point if I manage to dig up some more of their work.

19 February 2011

Second City Sound - Shopping List

Second City Sound - Shopping List

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1966

It's those cheeky Second City Sound boys again.  "Shopping List" was their third single, and failed to get them back into the charts again as they might have hoped.  It's jaunty, jolly, chipper and bouncy, and sounds as if it belongs as the theme for an advert or tailer (can anyone confirm if it was used as such)?  However, this kind of simple instrumental pop was becoming passe, and the net result was a general disinterest in the record.  Three or four years earlier, this might have been a hit - but by 1966, it wasn't in with much of a chance.

As we've already confirmed in the last Second City Sound entry, Ken Freeman went on to build and create synthesisers, thus having a rare but shadowy influence on the sounds of the coming decades.  Bill Gilbert went on to play in the blues band The Sharks, and Stuart Wilson has recently been sessioning for (among other artists) Pixie Lott.

16 February 2011

Reupload - Action Spectacular - I'm A Whore

snakebite city volume eight

Part of: Snakebite City Volume Eight
Label: Bluefire Records
Year of Release: 1998 

There were numerous independent music industry innovations on the go during the nineties which now seem to have been thrown under the bed in pop's great spare room. The "Volume" series of albums springs immediately to mind, offering a compilation album of obscure tracks, album tasters and remixes with a well-written CD booklet sized magazine. You'd think they'd be worth a fortune by now, but don't rush on to ebay, because it seems they're not.

At the opposite end of the spectrum to "Volume" in terms of presentation are the "Snakebite City" series of compilation albums, strictly no-frills minimal affairs which retailed at budget prices. Focussing largely on unsigned bands, each release still seemed to have an uncanny strike rate in predicting which bands would cause a press flurry (Bis featured on one of the earliest volumes). They never quite managed to showcase an act who went on to top ten success, but nonetheless the line-up on the albums does read like a who's who of the pub circuit at a certain time in UK musical history. The Crocketts are there, as are Drugstore, The Sweeney, Inter (weren't Inter everywhere at one point?), Posh, Tiny Too, and... erm... some ranty performance poet type called Vis the Spoon (who still regularly performs around London, in case you needed to be told).

As you might expect, there's some tremendous dross across the eleven volumes, but some sheer brilliance as well, and one of the finest pieces of work props up track three on Volume Eight - for Sheffield's Action Spectacular produce the mournful "I'm a Whore" at that moment for our pleasure. Essentially Spearmint's "Sweeping the Nation" in lyrical tone with added spittle and despair, the song is a ballad to the McJob. It starts with a screeching thrash, the lead singer screaming "I'm a whore!" then turns into a delicate ditty, outlining the tedium of a low-rung daily routine. Answering phones, washing dishes, faxes, photocopiers are given namechecks towards the end, whilst the lines "I'm a slag whose been had/ in ten years I'll be my Dad/ look at all the worthless things I do" appear within the first verse. It's so despairing it's actually very funny, but also perhaps depressingly familiar, and by the time they come to "Always dreamed I'd have a band/ but I'm working for The Man" you can only sing along in sympathy. The epic ending with spoken word rant recalls Pulp at their finest, and the track really does have "cult classic" stamped all over it. The trouble is, I've never even met anyone who has heard it, unless I shoved it on to a compilation CD for them first of course.

Unlike a good many of the bands who were given the Snakebite City treatment, Action Spectacular did go on to get signed - but by the time I heard them tweeting out of my radio alarm on XFM one morning in the year 2000, they were rather different. The comedy angst of "I'm a Whore" had been replaced by lo-fi electronica and contemplative acoustic work-outs. The NME never completely got behind them (there's a mixed review here) , the records didn't sell, and to the best of my knowledge "I'm A Whore" never even came out as a flip side, never mind being given the A-side treatment it surely deserved. Still, here it is for your delight below - and if anyone does have a copy of their "From Here On In It's A Riot" album, I for one would be interested.

Anyone curious about Snakebite City might be surprised to see there's still a website active too.

(This blog entry was originally written in June 2008.  I finally did manage to track down a copy of their album "From Here On In It's A Riot" very cheaply indeed, and I'm disappointed to report that it's mostly a rather middling affair which doesn't show the same amount of wit or flair as this track.  The original entry for "I'm A Whore" is also one of Left and to the Back's lowest pulling pages of all time - despite the use of the word "whore" in the main header, which would normally pull in all sorts of waifs and strays - and received no comments at all. This either means I'm completely on my own with this one, or for some reason I didn't do enough to convince people of its greatness.  One last chance, then... and I'll never mention it again).  

12 February 2011

Angel Pie - She

Angel Pie - She

Label: Echo
Year of Release: 1993

A slightly unusual upload, this one, in that it's a promo cassette rather than a piece of vinyl - hence the picture above bears no relation at all to what I have in front of me, which is simply a rather blank looking cassette thrown into a plain company case with the details printed on white card.  It is of bugger all value, but... let's not let that get in the way of the track itself, which slipped out almost completely unnoticed in the early nineties.

"She", far from being a cover of the Charles Aznavour classic, is a unique slice of ambient pop which oozes both class and atmosphere, from the slightly ominous chiming opening to the hushed vocals (delivered by Marina Van-Rooy) right down to the rather toytown psychedelic lyrics.  It sounds like an epic sixties orchestral belter turned inside out, with the peaks replaced by smooth, delicate ambient troughs - sound effects burble in and out of the mix, almost taking priority over the music at the tail end, and the strings are so subtle you might not necessarily notice they've arrived until a few seconds after they begin, drowning as they are in the audio soup and heavy bass the rest of the record offers.  Whilst the melody is very simplistic and delivered with breathy, girlish vocals, the record itself has so much going on that, despite owning it for many years, I've never really lost interest in it.  That it wasn't a hit shouldn't be very surprising, though - on the one occasion I heard it on daytime Radio One the DJ playing it simply sounded baffled as soon as the song ended, unsure of how to deliver his next link.  A promo video is on YouTube, but it's safe to say that it probably didn't get much in the way of MTV attention at the time either.

According to the information I have in front of me, Angel Pie were supposed to have had an album called "Jake" out, but I've never seen a copy anywhere and can only assume that it remains locked away in the vaults.  Their debut single "Tin Foil Valley" was more akin to snappy, Saint Etienne styled pop but did little business, and a third single "Tipsy Q Horses" appears to have been slated for release, but so far as I can see never materialised.  If my memory is correct the band were Liverpool-based and involved the producer Mark Saunders as a key member, but that's as much detail as I can recall.

More information on the band would be appreciated, most especially what happened to their album (which, believe it or not, I was actually looking forward to) and what they're up to now.

9 February 2011

Locomotive - Mr Armageddan

Locomotive - Mr Armageddan

Label: Parlophone
Year of Release: 1969

Numerous music fans have a "year zero" mentality when it comes to the concept of Midlands-based ska bands - the populist view is that before Two Tone, there was virtually nothing.  As with all sweeping statements, this has little grounding in fact.  Birmingham had a thriving ska scene in the sixties way before Coventry's The Specials took the blueprint and brought it to wider awareness.

Locomotive are a decidedly odd case in point.  They were a gigging jazz act in their earliest years, but upon being joined by the keyboard player Norman Haines were suddenly introduced to a wider array of other sounds.  Having spent his time working in a record store in the multi-cultural Smethwick area,  he brought an enthusiasm for Blue Beat and Ska to a band of accomplished musicians, a mind-broadening exercise which eventually led to the minor hit single (and club DJ staple) "Rudi's In Love" in 1968.

Whilst the band could probably have forged a strong career continuing in this vain, their muso tendencies were also positively tickled by the emerging progressive rock style, which led to a series of recordings which dabbled around in the musical spectrum so much that they actually sounded utterly unique.  The second single "Mr Armageddan" showcases this change of style marvellously, being full of the-end-is-nigh styled hippy doom and gloom combined with blue-eyed soul vocals, a storming brass section and swirling keyboards.  It's almost the sound of a band who can't quite make up their minds about their general direction producing a psychedelic single which sounded utterly unlike any other during the period.  The track presented here is the original mono single version (straight from crackly vinyl) but is only an excerpt.  A full version can be downloaded from iTunes and other online music stores if you're interested.

The flip "There's Got To Be A Way" (edit below) combines jazzy riffs with soulful vocals and zig-zagging musical structures.  It's not going to be to everyone's tastes, and indeed there's sufficient evidence to prove that the band's multi-genre melodies turned away all the fans they'd originally built up at the time.  Still, it's an intriguing record, and "Mr Armageddan" at least is up there with some of the better pre-prog, post-psych records of 1969.

Dismayed by the stone cold public response to their album "We Are Everything You See" in 1970, the band split in several directions - but perhaps most notably and appropriately, their drummer Bob Lamb went on to produce UB40's legendary debut album "Signing Off", thereby having a marked influence on  the styles that emerged during the early eighties.

5 February 2011

Reupload - Camel Drivers - Sunday Morning 6 O'Clock/ Give it a Try

Label: Buddah
Year of Release: 1967

This one may be rather more obscure than I originally thought, since the band have presently only managed to clock 12 plays on Last FM. Twelve plays, I ask you! Even the most unsightly of unsigned bands can hope for more than that these days, so it's difficult, if not impossible, to explain how Michigan's The Camel Drivers have been so roundly ignored by so many for so long.

Y'see, they produce a variety of sixties sunshine pop which, whilst definitely lacking in an identity of its own (hundreds of other bands from the same era could easily have produced this single) still has a vibrancy and a spring about it which should at least mean a prominent slot on a sixties obscurity CD somewhere. "Sunday Morning 6 O Clock" is a fair piece of work in itself, but I'm much more interested in the flip "Give it a Try", which is so brassy and bouyant it would bring a smile to even Sir Alan Sugar's face.

According to an interview with the drummer (Here: they mainly toured around Michigan, New Jersey and Ontario in Canada, and didn't really manage to acheive any national impact in America, never mind international impact. This single seems to have been their only fully fledged national realease, with other singles coming out on Top Dog recordings locally in the Michigan area.

The Camel Drivers seem to have been one of those sixties American College bands who came within a whisker of turning their music into a career, but perhaps fell by the wayside when this single on Buddah didn't do the business. "And how did it end up in Camden Town, then?" I hear you ask again, and once again my answer is "search me". It's almost easier to buy flop American sixties singles in London than British ones at the moment - it's like some sort of Yank garage/psych vinyl slick. 

Originally posted in November 2008. I have no updates to give in this instance, except to say that the American garage/ psychedelic vinyl slick of Camden appeared to cease shortly after I bragged about it.  Oh well.

3 February 2011


Bling USB

Over the coming months, you're going to see an old face to "Left and to the Back" rather than a new one... I've taken the decision to reupload some of the oldest entries on this blog to, and provide updated information on the bands where it's available.

Quiz question:  Do you think I'm doing this because:

a/ Sharebee never did allow people to preview the tracks easily, meaning time-pressed people missed out on some of the earlier uploads?

b/ The blog's readership during the first year and a half of its life was quite low, so a lot of people have missed out on some of the better tracks?

c/ I've got a lot going on in my life right now, and can't keep on and on thinking up new entries for this blog all the time?

If you answered a, b or c, you are of course absolutely correct.

Don't worry, though - I hope to make the re-uploads an occasional appearance rather than a regular one, and the aim is to still update the blog twice a week with something, with at least one new entry in the offing.  If you don't think the idea is working (which I'll be able to gather from the stats pretty quickly anyway) please drop me a comment telling me to cease and desist.  In the meantime... let's see what happens.

2 February 2011

Second Hand Record Dip Part 69 - The Spitballs - Telstar

The Spitballs - Telstar

Who: The Spitballs 
What: Telstar/ Boris The Spider
Label: Beserkley
When: 1978
Where: Wood Street Market, Walthamstow, London
Cost: 50p

"Rock Follies" was the name of a comedy musical drama from the seventies, but in reality, actual rock follies do exist.  No, not buildings made out of rock by eccentric millionaires that are follies, you fool, but rather records nobody wanted or needed, nobody artistically absolutely had to get out of their systems, and very few people played.  Creation Records put out a number of records we could regard as follies, for example, discs which appeared to have been dreamt up in the pub the night before after a few ales.  The primary thing which separates a folly from a novelty record is the fact that it was usually recorded with no commercial purpose at all in mind, but clearly wasn't taking its artistic value very seriously either.

Spitballs almost certainly fall under the category.  Essentially a supergroup consisting of various musicians from other bands on Beserkley records (including Jonathan Richman) they made an entire album of covers of various songs they liked and admired, with no real grand purpose at all.  There's no special reason why they should have done this, but clearly they got a huge kick out of doing so, and there's a kind of undiluted pub rock enthusiasm running through the grooves, but little more than that.

This version of "Telstar" is so basic and stripped back that Joe Meek would probably have thrown a violent fit if he'd had a chance to hear it.  It's almost possible to imagine a particularly pissed-up wedding ensemble doing something similar whilst various children run amok about them spinning around like little satellites.  The B-side "Boris The Spider", covers The Who in a similarly carefree way, not that the song would ever have been possible to reproduce with a straight face in any case.

It's a funny old thing, the music business.