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The B-side "Happy Shopper" was the A-side of their previous single, which was withdrawn after the cut-price food chain objected to its content.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.