31 December 2012

Ebay Scoundrels and Fiends - with Marylebone Ensemble and The Square Pegs

Exhibit 1
Artist: The Square Pegs
Song: Love Me With All Your Heart b/w The Song Is You
Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1962

Despite the fact that I started this blog to promote the sheer fun you could have wading around second-hand record shops for obscure and unloved records, I freely admit that I'm a keen ebay user as well.  It's an irresistible site due to the sheer quantity and variety of material available - I could wait all year for a copy of Shocking Blue's "Send Me A Postcard" to turn up in my local Music and Video Exchange, or alternatively I could just bid on one of the many copies available that turn up online.

However, proper record stores are preferable if only because you can actually see what's being offered, and even if your view of what constitutes a disc in "Excellent condition!" differs from the owners, you can see the wear and tear with your very own eyes.  And also, if the shop dares to describe an Easy Listening LP as a "psychedelic must hear!!!" God help them the next time you're passing that way.  Ebay sellers do occasionally have tendencies to be a little less discerning in this respect, and whether it's because they're cloth eared or because they're just trying to make a quick buck, well, you be the judge.

Take this Square Pegs record as an example.  It was advertised as having a "Freakbeat B-side" by the seller, and given that it was starting at a low price I put a hasty bid on it.  In doing so, I completely failed to check the release date (1962) which would have given me a clue as to how searing the guitar-work on this number was likely to be.  I had let myself get over-excited by a faintly rebellious group name, and when this admittedly minty fresh demo 45 arrived in the post, I was dismayed by the noise I heard.  "The Song Is You" is almost odd in its decidedly straight approximation of a beat sound, consisting of vocal stylings Harry Secombe would doubtless have approved of on top of some very measured playing.  The A-side is a very ordinary ballad.  It's not the worst record I've ever bought in my life, but it's certainly not freakbeat, and I find it very hard to believe anyone could mistake at as being such.

(Scroll down for Exhibit B...)

Exhibit 2
Artist: The Marylebone Ensemble
Song: Porcelain/ Transplant
Label: Beacon
Year of Release: 1969

If the seller was to be believed, this effort is "psychedelic pop".  And again, I beg to differ.  What it actually is - on the A-side, at least - is a piece of easy listening which is sweet and sleepy, but a very odd choice for a 45.  Normally tracks such as these were buried on the many parent-attracting easy LPs that cluttered up the racks at Woolworths, not released as A-sides in the hope that they'd enjoy some radio play.

The B-side has possible leanings towards the mod side of things, however, in that it's an organ instrumental, albeit one that's so slow and steady in its tempo that it certainly wouldn't ignite much dancefloor movement.  It's not clear who the Marylebone Ensemble are, but my guess would be that it was a group name given to a bundle of session musicians who were hired on the day.

And that's as much depth as I'm prepared to go into on these two, I'm sorry to say.  As we approach the end of 2012, let's collectively hold both of them up as cautionary warnings, signs that we should take a deep breath, stop and think before we bid.  If that ultra-obscure 1966 single is going for a paltry sum in Excellent condition, it's usually not worth owning.  In my case, both of these will probably be charity-shop bound  in the New Year - I would put them up for sale again on ebay, but if I were actually honest about the contents I doubt they'd get off the block.

23 December 2012

Merry Christmas!

I'd like to wish a very merry Christmas to all "Left and to the Back" readers.  This has (almost) been the fifth year of people humouring this faintly ridiculous and often questionable idea, but it's been a pleasure to keep the fires burning.  As to whether we make it through a sixth year, let's hang on and see.

If you're still hungry for other Christmas-themed entries, these ones from 2010 are still live online:

El Vez - Feliz Navidad
Marty Feldman - A Joyous Time Of The Year
The Snowmen - Nik Nak Paddywack

Enjoy Christmas.  We'll be back before the end of the year with a bog-standard entry (no more YouTube videos, I promise) before continuing a normal service at the start of January.  

22 December 2012

Countdown to Christmas Party Time - Christmas In The Garage (The Sonics, The Blues Magoos)

Whilst British sixties pop artists were always bound to be fully into the idea of a chirpy, cheery Yuletide, their low-budget North American cousins in their garages occasionally took a dimmer and more irritated view.  The Sonics in particular recorded two tracks which snarled against the empty-handed disappointments of the season on this single - "Santa Claus" delivered them "nothing", and on the other side "Don't Believe In Christmas" they groovily outline similar stocking echoing let-downs.

Even if they can't quite get in the spirit of the season, they still sound a lot more rocking and exciting than any other sixties related Christmas efforts I've managed to dig up, proof positive that the outsiders to the whole event have the most fun.  If the buzzing guitar riffs here don't get you up on the floor, there's something horribly wrong.

The Blues Magoos got in there as well with two covers, "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" (which is a bit too messy for its own good) and this wildly different take on "Jingle Bells" above.  Less cynical and  poverty-stricken in its themes than The Sonics efforts, this still has a lot more spirit and energy to it than most Christmas covers and shows what can be done with a minimal budget and the right degree of enthusiasm.

Kick your boots off and dig those organ sounds, kids. 

20 December 2012

Countdown to Christmas Party Time - Solid Gold Chartbusters - I Wanna 1-2-1 With You

Label: Virgin

Year of Release: 1999

The lists bookies produce on possible Christmas Number Ones aren't necessarily as accurate as one would often believe. For every nail-on-the-head prediction they make, there are a few that are hopelessly wrong - and today's "Left and to the Back" entry focusses on a KLF-related front-runner which nobody in the real world gave much of a stuff about.

"I Wanna 1-2-1 With You" really, really should have been a big deal. The people behind it were Jimmy Cauty of the KLF, who obviously had a track record for producing hits of some note and had a huge fanbase hanging on to his every release, and Guy Pratt, sometime session man with Pink Floyd. It promised up-to-the-minute jokey novelty satire about that very new (at the time, obviously) phenomenon the pesky mobile phone ring, combined with the finest rhythms, dance diva vocals and a comedy video. Given the pedigree of the track, the major label backing - something the KLF never really had in the UK, incidentally - and the public's appetite around Yuletide for daft ideas, surely we were looking at a sizable hit a la "Doctorin' The Tardis" here?

Whilst the Bookies obviously thought so, sales were actually tremendously sluggish and the single scraped an embarrassing number 62 in the charts. Despite being one of the very few people who rushed out and bought this during Christmas week, I have to say that the end result wasn't too surprising. There are several things wrong with the track - firstly, it is far too irritating for the sane consumption of just about anyone, making "Crazy Frog" seem like a soothing baroque masterpiece. The grating, bleeping mobile phone ring the entire track hangs on is horrendously sharp and ear-bothering, and could ruin even the greatest groove or riff. And as it happens, the beats per minute here were very dated by 1999 - whilst the KLF in their prime had put out records of a similar tempo, clubland had moved on to faster, more frantic noises, and this sounded like something from another era to many people. Even if you isolate these drawbacks, the tune itself is, to be frank, minimal, and the joke essentially a Trigger Happy TV out-take and little more. It's a huge shock to find myself writing this sentence - and I feel it may be the only time I bother to do so in my life - but Dom Joly did this whole schtick just so much better.

So then, this is an example of how sometimes people hopelessly fail to "design" Christmas Number Ones, not even with the right personnel in the studio. Westlife won the race with "Seasons in the Sun" in the end, if anyone's interested, and "I Wanna 1-2-1 With You" has become something KLF fans tend to forget ever existed. I apologise for bringing the topic up again, but it is an interesting exercise in novelty wrongness at the very least.

(This blog entry was originally uploaded in December 2009). 

19 December 2012

Countdown To Christmas Party Time - Have Yourself a Psychedelic Christmas

I know what a lot of the regular readers are thinking at this point. "This is all very well, but most of us have a strong interest in sixties output. We haven't really had any Christmassy sixties offerings so far, have we?" It is to those people that I say "Bring on the biggest Christmas cracker in the world!" "Well, try these little nuggets for size..."

Band: Two and a Half
Track: Christmas Will Be Round Again
Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1967

This is an almost ridiculously chirpy piece of sixties pop from an utterly obscure group who, despite having five singles out in the sixties, have been impossible to track down or identify since.  Generally releasing tracks with a strong Simon & Garfunkel feel to them, "Christmas Will Be Round Again" deviates from that particular template to over-enthusiastically embrace Yuletide - truly, this is the noise of Christmas Eve and the excitement of the presents waiting for you in the morning (if you're about eight years old, and if you're reading this you're possibly not...)

Oddly, this was actually the Christmas B-side to the distinctly non-festive but much-fancied Two & A Half track "I Don't Need To Tell You", which was their final release before they disappeared off the face of the planet.  

Artist: The Outer Limits
Track: The Great Train Robbery
Label: Instant
Year of Release: 1968

Again, not strictly speaking a Christmas song, but this has a distinct wintery feel, chiming melodies and close harmonies as well as referencing "A cold and windy evening in December", so it's getting in by default.

"Great Train Robbery" has a distinct Bee Gees feel and asks the listeners whether they remember an audacious near-Christmas steam train hijacking from the late part of the nineteenth century - apparently five men and a woman with a shotgun were responsible, though they do add the disclaimer "so the papers say", which in these cynical "perhaps David Icke has a point" times takes on a new layer of meaning.  This is beautifully produced and shot through with mystery, constantly hinting at a bigger story but never quite disclosing the full details.  It's possible to visualise the incident as the song plays, making this an incredibly filmic single many years before such efforts became commonplace.

The Outer Limits are most famed for having Jeff Christie in their line-up, who eventually hit the big time with "Yellow River".  This is a much bigger achievement than that track, but sadly flopped, possibly due to cash-flow problems at Immediate (whom Instant were a subsidiary of) or perhaps the fact that this doesn't sound like an obvious 45.

Band: The Majority
Track: All Our Christmases
Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1968

Sometimes you can just tell that a record company has no real interest in attempting to promote a song or scheduling it properly, and is just "going through the motions" with it - this is a prime example.  Instead of taking the logical decision to release "All Our Christmases" in late November or early December, Decca decided that 12 January 1968 might make a more appropriate release date, causing the disc to predictably plunge into obscurity.

A shame, because this Bee Gees composition isn't half bad and deserved a better crack of the whip.  It's frothy and chirpy and would have made a perfect mid-table festive hit.  As things stood, Hull's Majority had already had seven singles out prior to this one, and the industry seemed to decide that their distinctly non-Christmassy goose was cooked.  This proved to be their final hurrah.

And finally... "Question of Childhood" by Adam and Dee isn't on YouTube, which would fit this list perfectly.  Nothing much I can do about that at the moment, but it might be something we have to return to at a later date.  

17 December 2012

Countdown to Christmas Party Time - Animals That Swim - A Good Xmas

Label: Elemental
Year of Release: 1996 (on the album "I Was The King... I Really Was The King")

"I had a good Xmas - we stayed in a hotel - it must have been good, because she's still not talking to me and my lungs ache. They rack my body". 

As Dylan Moran - a man probably not much at odds with the general philosophies of Animals That Swim - has pointed out before now, the British and Irish tend to measure how much of a good time they've had by how much they've screwed themselves up in the process, and that snatch of dialogue in "A Good Xmas" is therefore possibly more relevant to the season than anything else I'll upload this week.  True, strictly speaking this isn't an ideal track for the office party, and nor do I suspect that the band were going for a feelgood vibe, but still... there's more Christmas in that one line than Wizzard ever managed.  

Standing proudly upfront as the second track on their strongest album "I Was The King...", "A Good Xmas" lacks the linear narrative of most of the rest of the LP and instead snatches at images - the woolly-hat wearing builder-neighbour, passing buses, overheard conversations. Wintery as hell in its feel without being specifically festive in many places, it nails Zone 3-4 London life exquisitely, with a repetitive, insistent chorus which combines glam rock hand-clapping with the sarcastic line: "Made in Japan by my own sweet hand".

Besides being an excellent song in its own right, this is also a superb track to stick on a festive playlist if you're actually slightly at odds with the time of year - the bleary morning moodiness of the song conflicts with the clarion call of the trumpet parts, like a hungover man caught in the crossfire of a Salvation Army march.    It shouldn't, but the whole thing makes me feel a lot warmer than "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday".

Animals That Swim actually reformed in 2011 and released a new single - but if you don't own "I Was The King... I Really Was The King", you should remedy that immediately.  It stands up as being one of the finest albums of the nineties.

15 December 2012

Countdown to Christmas Party Time - Marvin Welsh Farrar - Tiny Robin

Label: Regal Zonophone

Year of Release: 1971

Two thirds of Marvin Welch Farrar have already featured on this blog's "Pictures of Marshmallow Men" homebrew compilation, so some of you will already be familiar with the backstory here. Essentially, MWF were just two members of The Shadows attempting to issue vocal material under another name, with the addition of the previously unknown John Farrar. Although largely thought of as an instrumental act, The Shads themselves had occasionally sung on their discs before, but found the public less willing to accept this kind of output - so for the most part, it would appear they decided to draw the boundaries by issuing any material with those things called "lyrics" in it under this guise.

In all honesty, it's probably not what you'd expect. Rather than follow Cliff Richard's lead, it would seem that the band had something of a love affair with West Coast harmonies, and most of their vocal material almost had lovebeads hanging off its Crosby Stills and Nash inspired middle eights. This single showcases their approximation of this style across two sides - "Lady of the Morning" is the less interesting tune (albeit the official A side) in my opinion, consisting of a rather slight melody despite some pleasing bits of pedal steel and top-hole vocal harmonies. The chorus doesn't seem to quite reach any sort of satisfactory peak or conclusion for one thing. "Tiny Robin", on the other hand, is all icicles, plucked guitar strings, spooked vocal melodies, and is a seriously good atmospheric piece. Admittedly it's not really in the same league as The Fleet Foxes for this kind of 'vibe', but surely the fact that we're mentioning Hank Marvin and The Fleet Foxes in the same context is a curious enough phenomenon in itself?

Naturally, although one Marvin Welch Farrar album did manage to chart very modestly, the public's curiosity wasn't really poked, and the project died a death before the seventies were up. Hank Marvin felt that they were alienating an audience who just wanted to hear Shadows material, and failing to gain an adequate new audience who wouldn't accept the idea that what they were doing was in any way credible. As a result, they're not talked about much now, despite having recorded a few tracks any number of Wilson-worshipping indie kids would have killed to pen. It's an unfair world, but at least we can only conclude that it's also certainly an odd one.

(This blog entry was originally uploaded in December 2009).  

You can buy these tracks through the usual commercial sources, and listen to Tiny Robin on Youtube. Is it really a "Christmas" record as such?  It is if I want it to be.  So there.  

13 December 2012

Countdown To Christmas Party Time - Justified Ancients of Mu Mu - Downtown

Label: KLF Communications
Year of Release: 1987

Christmas records obviously meant a great deal more to the KLF than pop historians have perhaps given them credit for.  Their collaboration with Tammy Wynette on "Justified and Ancient" contained sleigh bells and was released slap into the middle of the Christmas market, and we'll talk about the peculiar and flawed "I Wanna 1-2-1 With You" next week.  However, way before those ventures into tinseltown came this oddity.

Drummond and Cauty had already got themselves into trouble with lawyers around the release of their debut album "1987 What The Fuck Is Going On", which provocatively sampled large chunks of music without seeking out copyright permission.  As if to prove they had learned few lessons from their experience, "Downtown" sampled Petula Clark's classic, and the pair took the strange step of quoting from the Bible in interviews of the period, citing Proverbs 26:11: "As a dog that returneth to his vomit, so is a fool that repeateth his folly".

The Christian element continued with their collaborators.  Recorded with the London Gospel Community Choir, this is one of their more polished and well-realised early works, combining sour, cynical and heavily accented Glaswegian rapping with a joyous, happy-clappy chorus.  "Glory!" sing the choir. "What glory?" answers Bill Drummond (aka King Boy D) "In a wine bar world?  In a tenement block?"  Conquering the charts with a Christmas tune was clearly not on his agenda at this point, as despite the overwhelming pop and fizz of the chorus here, the tune is torn in two directions.  The Community Choir are pulling towards the holiness, the preciousness and the generosity of the season, whilst Drummond points out the harsher mid-winter realities, only for a sampled and stammering Petula to chip in at irregular intervals.  "Neon signs are pretty" she sings, sounding pathetic and weak in this context, before another hard-edged, shouted, Special Brew-sozzled verse barges her out of the way.

Early KLF records were often clumsy and awkward, and whilst "1987 What The Fuck Is Going On" was a groundbreaking and copyright busting album, it seldom had grace on its side, being filled with often clumsily placed distorted samples.  By the time "Downtown" emerged, they sounded as if they'd finally got the hang of their direction and could no longer be criticised as being a novelty act - this (along with most of the album "Who Killed The Jams?") is pop music with a bitter underbelly, the sound of a band absorbing the sounds and culture around them and criticising and distorting it.  By the end, even the choir are singing "Jesus, what can we do?"

This is probably the finest early KLF single, and whilst you can't quite hear the future they'd have as mega-selling Stadium House releasing millionaires, it's a step closer towards that.  It's certainly a pivotal indie release, and it deserves to be heard a lot more often.

12 December 2012

Countdown To Christmas Party Time - Paddy Roberts - Merry Christmas You Suckers

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1962

The music industry has always welcomed - and ripped off - the most unlikely of figures, from singing postmen to school choirs to arrogant glove puppets, but Paddy Roberts is still a peculiar entertainment figure.  A well-spoken if curmudgeonly ex-World War II pilot, he wrote a number of big selling songs for artists such as Alma Cogan, as well as having a sideline career in what could only be described as filthy ditties, many of which can be found in the bargain boxes of your local record emporium if you dig hard enough.

If the honest truth be told, Robert's tunes seem incredibly tame by today's standards, often to the point of being bereft of any humour at all.  The sleeve for "Songs for Gay Dogs" - pictured below - seems to be abnormally suggestive by the period's standards, but was apparently caused by the word 'gay' not really having the same meaning it does today.  Personally I'm faintly sceptical and would like to believe that Roberts may have snuck the gag in under the radar of his employers at Decca, but popular opinion on the Internet is against me.

So then, his 1962 Christmas single is an unsurprisingly sneering view of Yuletide which features Roberts fruitily dismissing the frivolity of the season.  We are all "suckers" for going along with the ridiculous charade every year, making ourselves ill in the process, and the year we're blown up by a nuclear explosion won't be a year too soon.

Once again, it's fairly tame stuff by today's standards, although it's the closest Paddy Roberts ever came to sounding like Rik out of "The Young Ones", beating Mayall to the punch with his social observations by a large number of decades.  But one year's radical is another year's tired old pseud, and as Half Man Half Biscuit have observed, it's cliched to be cynical at Christmas.  Saying that, though... it's also cliched to want world peace and to wish there was a cure for cancer - are these sentiments wrong?  I'm inclined to side with Paddy myself.  Right on!

Somewhat surprisingly, this track is available on iTunes should you wish to buy it.

Thanks also to Sids60Sounds for uploading this little gem in the first place. 

11 December 2012

Countdown to Christmas Party Time - Vic Reeves - Abide With Me

Label: Sense/ Island
Year of Release: 1991

Vic Reeves needs no introduction to UK readers, and I really can't be bothered to give him a detailed one for the benefit of overseas types. His comedy career has never really travelled successfully beyond these Isles, and isn't especially easy to explain to native newcomers, much less people with cultural barriers to contend with. Journalists tend to get around the problem by firing the words "surreal", "slapstick", "music hall", "dada", "Gilbert" and "George" around a bit in the hope it does the work justice, but in truth, it seldom does.

As somebody who had previously had a failed career as a lead singer for a variety of experimental and post-punk bands who never quite elevated themselves beyond the bottom of the bill in various small pub venues, let alone got a record contract, it shouldn't have been too surprising that Vic Reeves signed with Island when his career as a comedian took off. He had already been singing ironic cover versions (or were they?) of songs by The Smiths and Bryan Ferry in the "Vic Reeves Big Night Out" series, and the label must have been hoping for a pleasing Christmas stocking filler in 1991, perhaps consisting of similar material.

What we got was actually a very sympathetically produced comedy album in "I Will Cure You", which combined a number of party-pleasers with some oddball tunes of the man's own making, not least my personal favourite "Summer of '75" which combined rustic folk charm with crude Shane McGowanisms. "Abide With Me" featured on the album, but was a peculiar item, being neither funny nor frothy. The hymn itself was written by Henry Francis Lyte in 1847 as he lay dying from tuberculosis, and has since become something of a funeral standard, meaning that the associations many listeners have of it are not necessarily pleasant ones.

Uproar commenced from certain religious types in the UK when the track was then issued as dance remix single. "This is like dancing on people's graves!" shouted one Reverend, and a largely-forgotten campaign began to get the BBC to ban the record. Whilst the BBC never did officially ban it, I can't recall hearing it on the radio much during Christmas 1991, and Reeves was thwarted in his frankly bizarre attempt to get the number one spot that year, making do with the paltry number 47 position instead.

The song itself is actually quite enjoyable with its vocoder declarations of "Abide With Me!", its sampled and treated choir noises, and Vic's rather too spirited vocals, not to mention the groovy house piano noises The Grid layered on to the single. It does somehow manage to over-ride its slightly morbid tone and become a winter solstice disco number rather than a pean to death, but it has to be said that of all the ideas Vic Reeves ever came out with, this surely has to be one of the oddest. That Island thought it might be a hit is odder still. When Lyte lay dying in his bed, his last thought surely can't have been "And when I die, at least my song will be immortalised by a surreal Northern comedian in the next century".

(This entry was originally uploaded in December 2009).  

You can view the video here, and download the track by visiting iTunes.  

10 December 2012

Countdown to Christmas Party Time - XTC - Thanks For Christmas

Label: Virgin
Year of Release: 1983

Hello readers.  For the next couple of weeks I'm going to don some tinsel around my head and fully get into the spirit of the season to bring you some reuploads, YouTube clips and new material which is suitably joyous.  Why?  Well, after all, it's not as if I have much money left at this time of year to splash out on new material to upload to this blog what with buying tat for my relatives, don't you know how hard the last few years have been financially?  what kind of person would I be if I didn't?  Scrooge, that's who.

This particular XTC track is an oddity in the band's canon in that the original plans for the record could have been a lot more quirky and adventurous than the final product.  Andy Partridge's original intentions were to get female members of the Virgin Records staff to issue the song under the name The Virgin Marys, but this was stonewalled by the powers-that-be.  Instead, the band took the opportunity to record the single themselves whilst testing out David Lord as a possible producer for their next album, the utterly brilliant and criminally undersung "Big Express".

Suffice to say, "Thanks For Christmas" - issued under the name Three Wise Men - contains little of the angular edges of that album and is instead a delicate, chiming song which quite simplistically outlines the joys of the season.  This was released during a bleak period of the band's career when public and critical indifference to their output was at its height.  Andy Partridge had quit touring the year before due to ongoing anxiety issues and panic attacks brought on by stage fright, drummer Terry Chambers walked out shortly afterwards, and their future seemed somewhat uncertain.  Partridge has since admitted that the words "Bye bye" sung on the tail end of their 1983 album "Mummer" were a reference to the fact that he thought it may be their last release - and these were blurted out on a song ("Funk Pop A Roll") which also contained the bitter lines "I've already been poisoned by this industry".    Things were not exactly going swimmingly.

"Thanks For Christmas" isn't one of their finest singles, but it does act as a sweetener and a break between the clouds of that moment and the mayhem of the "Big Express" album, and did provide fans some assurance at the time that business was carrying on as usual in the XTC camp.  It is now apparently being played on some tapes in supermarkets and shopping centres hungry for lesser-heard festive tunes, a fact that thrills me no end.  It seems incredibly unlikely that this will ever nudge its way into the charts during the festive period in the manner that many old Christmas songs do, especially as it presently seems to be unavailable on all the usual commercial downloading sites, but it's still a seasonal offering from a very unlikely atheist source.  Oh, and the flipside, the strangely funky, breakdance-friendly "Countdown To Christmas Party Time" - which has loaned its name to this little sub-section of "Left and to the Back" - is also on YouTube if you're feeling curious.  

6 December 2012

The Caste - Don't Cast Aside/ One Step Closer

Label: President
Year of Release: 1968

Timing is everything in pop. Have I said that on "Left and to the Back" before? I get the nagging sensation I may very well have said that on "Left and to the Back" before.  But forgive me, long-term readers with good memories, for in many cases it is entirely true.  If you accidentally invent the future, you can be damn sure that you won't be the person who coins the cash from your far-reaching ideas (Joe Meek would be able to tell you that if he hadn't shot himself, and I'm sure the BBC Radiophonic Workshop members aren't as wealthy as Kraftwerk).  There again, if you come up with a perfectly acceptable melody with a dated arrangement, the kids are going to kick your ass back to Hicksville, Daddio, unless you're deliberately pastiching a style which is at least fifteen years old.

This perfectly good single by The Caste suffers from the latter phenomenon.  The close melodies and gentle beats sail so close to the ballads which emerged at the height of Merseybeat that it's actually surprising it even got released in 1968, a time when beat had been usurped by psychedelia which in turn was about to be usurped by hard rock.  Whilst other bands of the period (such as The Tremeloes) did like to keep their songs sweet and simple, they were still usually given bolder arrangements in the studio, whereas The Caste have opted for chiming, stripped back minimalism here, guitars, drums and voice.

"Don't Cast Aside" is a pretty little single with fantastic vocal harmonies which recalls the earliest moments of the British beat boom, but even with Eddy Grant in session on lead guitar this was doomed to fail.  A deep shame, but from the safety of our radioactive bunkers in 2012 there's plenty to enjoy here. 

3 December 2012

Me Myself & Me Again - Blaze Away

Label: Antic
Year of Release: 1978

From the rear sleeve: "'Me Myself And Me Again' is actually Vivian Fisher, a 26 year old recording studio engineer and frustrated musician.  Despite dabbling in cornet, french horn, trombone and piano, Vivian really always wanted to play every instrument. Then, one day when recording a marching brass band in the street, he discovered that the sound was actually recorded in segments as the band moved past.  This gave him the idea of a multi-track recording of himself impersonating the sound and character of the different parts of a brass band - and 'Blaze Away' is the result".

I try to avoid blandly slapping the notes of record sleeves on to my blog entries, but I've been sitting here chewing my fingers for the last half an hour desperately trying to think of what to say about this disc, and I can't.  I just can't.  Ridiculing the contents would be too easy (and in any case, they are impressively done - you wouldn't be able to immediately tell they were entirely the mouth-work of a recording engineer). Praising this record as being a lost classic would be ridiculous, unless of course you are a fan of the military marching band oeuvre.  It is, however, an utter gem in the world of eccentric novelty records, and a triumph of decadent seventies music industry mayhem over common sense.  Perhaps somebody within Antic Records or Warner Brothers (their distributors) expected this to sell in large quantities, but it's hard to clearly understand why.

In subsequent years - and largely thanks to Danny Baker talking about it on his radio show - this has become a much sought-after novelty record, to the extent that a copy in VG condition sold on ebay for £26 earlier in 2012.  The market has subsequently become saturated with the little bleeders ever since, to the extent that you can pick up copies for a much more reasonable price now (as I did).  The demand is explicable in that there's an innocence and eccentric frivolity to this which perhaps manages to remind people of a time when lowly studio engineers could see their name up in lights with one single daft idea - these days, of course, this would probably just end up becoming one peculiar YouTube clip buried among the wobbling pile of online attention seekers.

The B-side attempts to explain how the record was made by breaking down the individual components, but in all honesty, it's not essential listening.  Should the conjuror really give away his tricks, in any case?

Vivian apparently now works as a Sound Operator in the West London studio centre of BSkyB, returning to the back-room world from whence he came - but for a certain segment of the population, he will always be the one-man military marching answer to the Flying Pickets.  The time when he records an album of covers of songs by Nirvana and The Sex Pistols surely can't be far off.

29 November 2012

Reupload - Marnie - Bell Jar/ Be


Label: Progression
Year of Release: 1995

If you're the kind of person who gets advance copies of singles for review - which, for a brief time, I was - there are certain sleeves that just guarantee the waxing will be shoved to the bottom of the listening pile. It's not that you don't intend to listen to them at all, of course, it's just you sometimes get the sense that any indie band who is prepared to allow certain designs to dominate their work are simply sending out messages that this is "not for you". And so it went with this particular 45, whose Plath referencing sleeve with Plath referencing song title immediately made me suspect the people behind it were the sorts of folk who wrote very angst-ridden teenage poetry and had decided to set it to music. "Play later," I thought, filing it behind a whole bunch of stuff I was genuinely excited about.

When I finally did get around to spinning the A-side "Bell Jar", I was pleasantly surprised by the contents. It does indeed sound like a tremendously moody piece of work, but the interesting thing I find about many bands who attempted this stuff in the mid-nineties is that they glossed the bleakness over with plenty of production sparkles. Had this been issued in '92 or '93, there's little doubt it would have been a Courtney Love referencing slab of angry, clattering gloom, but the mid nineties model introduces more fragile harmonies and melodic guitars to the mix. It starts off like Hole with clunking bass noises and despairing vocals, then somehow loosens up to take you by surprise. It's the music of a parallel universe where grunge didn't so much die, but was given a thorough sheen, and allowed to become slightly more fragile and snuggle up to its poppy side.

Far, far better than the A-side, however, is the flip, the lengthy, 33rpm spinning "Be", which features Roman Jugg out of the Damned on keyboards and just builds and builds upon a very simple idea, ending on a riot of moaning synth noises and soaring guitars - it's a tried and tested rock formula, and if it's one you don't care for much, this isn't going to change your mind one iota, but it's deftly done and leaves me wondering what Marnie might have been like live.

As for who Marnie were, I'm afraid to say I've lost the press release and can't remember, but seem to recall that they were from Essex, had at least two women in the line-up ("Michelle" gets the credit for the A side of this single, and "Olga" the B-side) and released a string of singles through the nineties which failed to sell in sufficient quantities to register in the upper regions of the indie charts. I never did manage to get to any of their gigs, which always seemed to be advertised as taking place in tiny pubs around the UK, and whilst they managed to keep on plugging away until the end of the decade and there apparently is an album out there somewhere, the Internet is keeping very quiet about it.

Rave reviews from Melody Maker and NME and plays by Peel and Lamacq were also apparently forthcoming, but one suspects that the band suffered from being associated with a tiny indie, and just didn't have the publicity money to turn those fleeting mentions and snatches of airplay into greater things. But this, of course, is all just speculation again...

(This blog entry was originally uploaded in October 2008, and no further information has come to light since.  Marnie are an incredibly secretive band, it seems, although I can't really understand why.  If anyone saw them live or knows who they were, drop me a comment please).

28 November 2012

Morning Star & Stoke Newington Lit Fest Christmas Assembly

Once again, I'll be DJ'ing at the Morning Star & Stoke Newington Literary Festival on 8 December.  This promises to be a packed and exciting line up of poets, including:

Perry Benson
Tim Wells
Anne Brechin
Sophia Blackwell
Niall O'Sullivan
Emlyn Hugill
Graham Bendel
Matthew Hedley Stoppard
Jah-Mir Early
Nicola Gledhill
Charlotte Henson

Plus a short talk about the upcoming Fifth Monarchist film by Ian Bone and Suzy Gillett.

Once again, I'll be DJ'ing and won't be performing myself, so please don't drop by in the expectation that I'll be taking the mic, as one person did on the last occasion!  But what myself and fellow DJ's John The Revelator and Graham Bendel will bring you is the best vintage sounds we can muster from our vinyl collections, with the usual merry mixture of freakbeat, mod, soul and funk noises.  It shall be good.

For those of you who Facebook, the invite page is here.

26 November 2012

Avenue AVE 76 - The Beatles, Desmond Dekker, John Lennon, Cilla Black, Beach Boys, Thunderclap Newman

Label: Avenue
Year of Release: 1969

It's been a long while since "Left and to the Back" last focussed on the thrills you can have whilst listening to budget priced "not the work of the original artists!" pop party records.  These discs were actually bought in large numbers and tend to turn up all over the place, but finding one that's both in good condition and either unintentionally funny or admirably well handled is hard work.

This 1969 example does, on the surface, seem to contain plenty of tripwires for unsuspecting session musicians, containing as it does reggae (always a problem for jobbing musos in the sixties, as the Top of the Pops orchestra proved time and time again), counter-cultural commentary, and West Coast harmonies.  It's disappointing to note that in the vast majority of cases, these are handled fairly well.  It seems ridiculous listening to somebody who isn't John Lennon singing about the trials and tribulations of being John Lennon on "Ballad of John and Yoko", but beyond a certain politeness to the vocal delivery there aren't many stumbles apparent.

"It Mek" is probably too polished and clean to sell itself authentically as genuine sixties reggae, but irrespective of that isn't terribly embarrassing, "Give Peace A Chance" sounds like it always did (someone ranting tediously over a bunch of individuals kicking around the contents of a broom cupboard - that can hardly have presented a challenge to everyone at Avenue House), and "Conversations" was never an impressive Cilla Black track in the first place.

It's left up to "Breakaway" before we start to notice serious floundering.  "Breakaway" was never the Beach Boys most heavily produced and arranged track, but when it's left in the hands of anonymous session musicians you are left appreciating the original a great deal more.  The harmonies are strained, and the musicians are very clearly struggling to replicate the Wilson sound here - you can almost hear the strain and panic.  It sounds as if the backing vocalist handling the "doos" is almost sobbing during the intro, while the others contemplate freedom and release in the style of a wedding service hymn sung by a church filled with atheists.  There really is a sense of resentment about the delivery here, as if everyone involved was handed a difficult job and asked to deliver it against an impossible deadline - the net result is a total disaster.  Phil Spector has gone on record as saying that Brian Wilson sent himself mad "trying to become me".  The Avenue jobbers here sound as if they went fairly close to the edge of sanity attempting to ape Wilson.

"Something In The Air" restores some balance at the end of side two by being a fair facsimile, although again lacks conviction given the subject matter.  In summary - bar one appalling stinker on this record, I've heard worse.  Oh yeah, and sorry about some of the pops and clicks and surface noise.

22 November 2012

The Bubblegum - Little Red Bucket/ With The Sun In Your Hair

Label: Philips
Year of Release: 1968

Another Vanda and Young composition for your delectation here, readers, this time performed by the Leicester-based Bubblegum rather than a member of American garage rock royalty.

"Little Red Bucket" snarls in the way that this week's previous entry (Jamie Lyons Group's "Gonna Have A Good Time") probably failed, being chock full of abrasive, distorted garage guitar and a simultaneously bubblegummy yet somehow slightly irate sounding chorus - imagine the 1910 Fruitgum Company being chased by a cloud of angry wasps.  It's clear that the record was probably supposed to have a been a bit of a plastic pop hit, but obviously the producer had other ideas and pushed the needles into the red during the recording and mixing process, making what could have been an also-ran piece of froth into an energetic and enjoyable single.

The B-side, on the other hand, is the most B-sidey sounding sixties flip I've uploaded on to this blog in many a moon, and probably isn't worth your time or trouble.

Not much is known about The Bubblegum except the fact that they previously operated under the name  Deuce Coup - anyone with any further information should feel free to get in touch!

Excuse the pops and clicks on this record, by the way, the record has had one very deep clean and the mp3 file has been through one filtering process, but it was going to be a horribly tough job to get rid of all the mess.  "Excellent Condition!" my eye.

19 November 2012

Jamie Lyons Group - Gonna Have A Good Time/ Heart Full O' Soul II

Label: Laurie
Year of Release: 1968

To start with, a guilty confession - I didn't walk into a record shop and buy this one.  On the contrary, the esteemed blogger of seventies obscurities and member of The Barracudas Robin Wills sold me a copy on ebay.  Mp3 bloggers bumping into each other on ebay is more common than you'd suppose, actually, and probably not all that surprising given the sheer amount of flotsam and jetsam there is cluttering up our houses.

Jamie Lyons was the lead singer with the brilliant Ohio garage rock band The Music Explosion who had a sizeable hit Stateside (though not, bafflingly, in the UK) with "A Little Bit Of Soul".  This release was presumably intended to create a profile for him as a solo star, and with a Harry Vanda and George Young penned A-side he probably should have had this one in the bag.  Sadly, the single perhaps lacks the bite of a lot of their other compositions and also the Music Explosion's output - it's a strong enough song which could have used a little more wildness in the studio.  

The B-side, however, will definitely be of interest to mods who enjoy cool grooving, organ led instrumentals - "Heart Full O' Soul II" is a typical example of this fare and swings with pride and conviction.  Although almost all B-sides of this ilk were intended as throwaway items at the time, they're an utter boon to retro DJs in the present day, and this is a rather unlikely and unexpected source for one.  

15 November 2012

Double Feature - Handbags and Gladrags/ Just Another Lonely Night

Label: Deram
Year of Release: 1967

We've already covered Brum psychedelic soul mod-poppers Double Feature on this blog with their brilliant version of Cat Stevens' "Baby Get Your Head Screwed On", and since we're now looking at their second and last release I suspect this is the final time we'll have cause to talk about them.

Whilst I wouldn't want to debate the relative musical merits of their two records, this is by far the more interesting release for fans of pop trivia.  "Handbags and Gladrags", an evergreen song penned by Mike D'Abo of Manfred Mann, was first released by Chris Farlowe who managed a minor chart hit with it.  However, if other sources are to be believed, D'Abo in fact intended Double Feature to record it first, but Andrew Oldham heard an early demo and nabbed it for Farlowe before they got a chance to do their stuff in the studio.  The net result was a single issued on Deram which followed a few weeks in the wake of the other release and subsequently lost out.

If this is true, then we should possibly kick Andrew Oldham for interfering.  Double Feature's version is a hell of a lot better - the woebegone moodiness of the hit recording is replaced by a looping, piano-led sprightliness, some more of that Move-esque cello work which featured on "BGYHSO", and a cracking, percussive urgency and biting vocal delivery.  All the cover versions of "Handbags and Gladrags" we've been treated to since have largely drawn from the sweaty, last-number-of-the-night Farlowe blueprint, when this single clearly shows that it's possible to shake a certain amount of life into the track.

The B-side isn't bad either, "Just Another Lonely Night" being something you could easily imagine having been a Northern Soul spin.  The more I hear of Double Feature, the more I wish they'd had a bit more of a career - either of their singles could have been hits, and the world would have been a better place if they were.  Admittedly though, it's hard to imagine "The Office" using this version of "Handbags" as their template for the opening credits... but if the theme tune performer Big George had been forced to look elsewhere for moody inspiration, that might also have denied The Stereophonics one more unnecessary hit single with their particular facsimile.  It's worth thinking about.

13 November 2012

Polite Notice

I've managed to keep this blog running for nearly five years now without once putting up a passive-aggressive admin notice, which is a good tally and will hopefully get me off the hook and make me sound less like my mother in a grouchy mood.  Also, it's a testament to the good nature of most of the people who stop by here, I think - you've generally been an enthusiastic, polite and supportive bunch, and you've even made me laugh when you've utterly despised what I've uploaded (actually, I think I've enjoyed those moments the most).  Nonetheless...

It's come to my attention over the last few months that a couple of people have been copying and pasting text from this blog and passing it off as their own work.  I freely confess that so far, it's nothing big - it's not another blogger or journalist in full-on plagiarism mode, for example, it's just one record retailer and another YouTube user pulling paragraphs of info from here when they feel it's appropriate to their needs.  I was tempted to ignore both completely.  However, I thought I'd try to nip it in the bud now with what I think is a fair point - I don't mind if you want to borrow my work to describe that piece of vinyl you're desperate to shift or that video you want people to watch, provided you link back here when you do so.  Writers and journalists (and I have been published 'properly', believe it or not - though this shouldn't make a shred of difference to my point) have a tendency to get a bit sniffy when other people credit themselves with their work.  Far apart from that, though, if you're indirectly profiting from my writing by way of a very successful record sale, it would be nice if you could send a few of your potential customers in this blog's direction.

I'm naming no names, but please do try to respect my wishes above.  Otherwise that horrible gnarled tree in the shape of the Grim Reaper above will haunt your dreams every night from now on.  

12 November 2012

Cool Breeze - Do It Some More/ Citizen Jones

Label: Bus Stop
Year of Release: 1974

There's a pile of records in the corner of my living room (or living room/ kitchen combination, since that's actually what it is) which are all set to upload to this blog.  Some of them don't live in the mini-tower of vinyl for long, because as soon as I buy them I'm desperate to share them.  Others live there for quite some time until I get totally desperate for blog content.  Then there are others - we'll call these the "guilty finds" - that I'm not overly keen on myself, but I know a lot of people online have been making a fuss about. "Wouldn't it be good to track down an mp3 of this one?" someone will say on a forum, and I'll go all quiet.

So then, the full story behind this record for me is that some enterprising ebay seller told me the B-side "Citizen Jones" was "psychedelic pop".  The 1974 release date should have caused alarm bells to ring, but I put in a low bid and subsequently won the thing.  Obviously, the very last thing this record is is popsike - if we're going to bracket it in that category, then the theme tune to "Sorry!", Brotherhood Of Man, Abba, Ken Dodd and that music Thames Television used to play when they were just opening up for the morning are also popsike, and God knows what else as well.  Naughty e-bay seller (Although small snatches of it to remind me of Sleeper's "Vegas", strangely).

This record is actually a very chirpy and standard piece of seventies pop, with the able harmony noises of sisters Rosemary and Patti Gold with friend and associate Wendy Baldock on vocals.  It has received an enormous amount of love online over the last couple of years, and whilst I have to admit I personally can't share the same degree of enthusiasm for its contents, it's easy to understand how others might - in terms of delivery and arrangements it's absolutely pitch-perfect, and has a sunny, cheerful chorus which doesn't irritate with any displays of pushiness.  This is a subtle and pleasing record which still sounds as if it had enough in the way of hooks to be a hit, whilst not really being the kind of thing I'd ordinarily listen to myself.

The band apparently enjoyed a lot of appearances on the mainstream television shows of the day (including everyone's favourite barrel of absurdities "3-2-1") but never quite managed to make it on to "Top of the Pops" or indeed enter the charts.

And as for the "Bus Stop" record label (most famously home to Paper Lace) try getting away with such a wanton breach of copyright for your company's logo now...

8 November 2012

Reupload - Buggy - Harry The Keeper

Label: Parlophone
Year of Release: 1970

This is the kind of thing you dream about digging up when you approach the bargain section in the corner of the second hand record shop, dipping in for possible underpriced gems. The clues are there for all to see, and whilst I'd be happy to print them upside down at the bottom of this blog entry as some sort of quiz feature, it's probably more sensible if I just outline them. This is a Morgan production by Danny Beckerman and Geoff Gill. The former would be enough to make this a compelling curiosity, but the fact that Beckerman and Gill are involved makes it doubly interesting, as the pair have been engaged with some of the more cultishly successful collectable psychedelic records of the period.

Buggy's "Harry The Keeper" has been late to pick up any sort of critical praise from the usual British Psychedelic websites (it only began to get noticed shortly after I bought this, actually) but it is beginning to be appreciated by lovers of the twee, toytown end of the spectrum. It's the usual sort of twisted childlike nonsense about a zookeeper cheerily feeding his friends to the lions, the kind of lisping innocence with a nasty underbelly that the period churned out in enormous quantities. There's no question that it will be best appreciated by those who like "that sort of thing", and utterly despised by everyone expecting something akin to The Grateful Dead. If you have an aversion to the frothier end of McCartney inspired psychedelic pop, you'd do well not to bother clicking on the download button.

The flip side "Rolly Pole Coaster" would indicate that rather like Kidrock's "Ice Cream Man" (see the "Circus Days" entry) this single may have been aimed at the junior market whilst still retaining a period sound. I'm sorry to say that the effects put on the vocals on the B-side make it sound as if its being sung by Joe Pasquale, and subsequently it becomes extremely irritating within a matter of seconds. Still, I'll leave it bundled in so you can be the judges of its quality (or otherwise).

(This blog entry was originally uploaded in November 2008.  Still not a great deal of extra information available on it, unfortunately, but I think what we've got is probably enough). 

5 November 2012

Eagle - Kickin' It Back To You/ Come In It's All For Free

Label: Pye International
Year of Release: 1970

Boston's Beacon Street Union are old friends of this blog, actually being one of the first American psychedelic/ underground acts we covered in 2008.  Arty and odd to the last, they're an example of one band (among many) you can wave around when your most boring friends waffle on about only being interested in The Velvet Underground or The Doors where "challenging" sixties American rock music is concerned.  Coming up with sinister, chilling singles about inner-city paranoia and bizarre, jittery songs that chimed in at either excessive or minimal lengths, they have failed to retain the levels of cultish appreciation they enjoyed at their height.  Sometimes they crossed the line, tried too hard and made themselves sound slightly silly - but that still makes them preferable to all manner of other acts who used the late sixties as an excuse to don some paisley shirts and stick some swirly sound effects over bog-standard pieces of pop.

After the failure of their second album "The Clown Died In Marvin Gardens" to have any impact outside their fanbase, guitarist and vocalist Paul Tartachny left the group, leaving the rest to decide to carry on under the name Eagle.  Much of their output from that period seems less angular and altogether harder and more abrasive, but - certainly in the case of the two sides on offer here - it's still thrilling despite that.  "Kickin' It Back To You" is a killer A-side which, despite bearing a faint resemblance to The Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter", actually enjoyed some plays on the Northern Soul circuit. All horns and soulful backing vocals combined with garagey sneers, it's the absolute best of both worlds, Wigan Casino colliding with a lost Nugget at a party everyone can enjoy.  Radio Luxembourg apparently had this at the top of their playlist for some time, but that didn't translate into sales in the UK, and nor did it really take off in their home country either.

If that weren't enough, the B-side "Come In, It's All For Free" dispenses with the boogie and is a furious, spittle-filled garage rocker with lyrics seemingly focusing angrily on people who refuse to accept hippy ideologies.  Whilst we as listeners can appreciate the message, sonically it's a very late punker (this kind of sound wasn't all that common in 1970).  Still, it's a gem of a flip which has perhaps been rather too buried over the years.

After Eagle's album "Come Under Nancy's Tent" failed to register with US audiences, it would seem that the band gave up entirely.  It's at this point that I have to confess I haven't heard all of that record, but I will be keeping a very close eye out for a copy.  

1 November 2012

Ola - What A Way To Die/ That's Why I Cry

Label: Big T
Year of Release: 1968

We've met Ola once before on this blog, via the utterly fantastic single "I Can Wait".  Since that was featured here I've DJ'ed the record in a number of places and have frequently been approached by punters asking for more information on it - with its Motown rhythms, clanging mod guitars and sheer energy, all the right elements should have been in place for a crossover hit at the time.  It was even featured on "Top of the Pops" in 1967 but that wasn't enough to push it above the Top 40 watermark.

"What A Way To Die" is another piece of the story, and is a far cry from that disc, being a huge old Procol Harum influenced ballad. Tellingly, this was issued via the small Transatlantic record label in the UK rather than Decca, who had clearly given up on the band's chart prospects at this point.  Whilst it has the same intensity to it as their other records, in truth Ola's voice isn't particularly well cut out for this sort of thing - it sounds better put to use yelping on rock records rather than last dance of the evening numbers, and this does remove some of the record's impact.

Still, this has been a part of the pack of many collectors of psychedelic pop singles, and still picks up a lot of love for its heavy organ sounds.  I would still advise potential Ola (and the Janglers) listeners to look elsewhere in their catalogue for thrills, where they'll find plenty of better recordings to spare.  They were the first Swedish act ever to chart in America, and trust me, there are some good reasons for that.

Sorry for the pops and clicks on this, I gave this a thorough clean and also tried filtering the audio, but trust me, some record dealers have very rum ideas about what "VG++!!!" records should sound like.  

29 October 2012

The Belltower - Exploration Day EP

Label: Ultimate
Year of Release: 1991

In 1991, the term "shoegazing" was predominantly used by critics (originally as a rather derogatory term) to describe a sudden rash of British kids with cute fringes obsessed with both My Bloody Valentine and the numerous functions of their guitar effects pedals.  These days there are whole blogs and websites dedicated to this sub-genre - we'll argue about whether it can sensibly be called a genre another time, perhaps - and a lot of superlatives are thrown around about how wonderful it must have been to have been young at that time.  Well, I was, and I can tell you that whilst many of the records were indeed strong, live almost all of these bands were deeply dreary, and it was sometimes difficult to tell if you were watching one of the support acts or the headlining act, since they all looked rather similar and were often reluctant to introduce themselves or engage in any banter.  If this sounds like NME styled propaganda, I'm sorry - it really is the truth.  Or, at the very least, it's my truth.  You may have different needs from live gigs.

Whilst Britain tended to dominate the field at this point, a few acts from across the pond with similar ideas did emerge, perhaps most notably Drop Nineteens and this bunch, who enjoyed a lower profile.  Whilst Boston's Drop Nineteens shot music videos of themselves going for spins in huge American cars and had vague, grungey hints of the American underground in their sound, there was little to distinguish The Belltower from their British counterparts.  This, their debut EP produced by Terry Bickers, featured guitars melting in the era's favoured treacly effects, dreamy vocals (handled at times by their male lead singer Jody Porter, at others by Britta Phillips) and an intriguing welding of the punkier edge of indie and psychedelia.  It was critically lauded at the time, but in retrospect perhaps the band lacked enough of a firm identity of their own to really stand out amongst the pack, and they never really did push through to the levels of minor success that many of their kin managed.  Jody Porter eventually went on to perform with Fountains of Wayne, whereas Britta Phillips has since enjoyed a reasonably successful career as an actress.

The high point of this EP is the wintery "Solstice" with its blissful organ backdrop, the low point "Never Going Home" which almost (though not quite) nudges towards Celine Dion-esque puffing Celtic noises.  As for what they were like live, I don't know - they were a support act at a Chapterhouse gig I attended, but for some reason never showed.  And I did count all the acts on the bill as they emerged, so I'm sure I'm not mistaken to say that they were missing.

1. Outshine The Sun
2. Beatnixon Blues
3. Solstice
4. Never Going Home

25 October 2012

Miki - Knight In White Armour/ Easy To Say

Label (when finally released): RCA
Year of Release: 1969

We took a quick look at Mark Wirtz's recording career back in June, focussing primarily on his "Teenage Opera" project which - it's fair to say - has overshadowed just about everything else he's done.  Wirtz did also attempt other commercial projects such as children's songs and straightforward attempts at pop (such as the single by Peanut we've already discussed) although none were ever really quite so ambitious as his tales of runaway trains and weak-hearted grocery store owners.

His flair for quality production work never subsided, however, and he saw out the rest of the sixties and the early seventies trying to score radio-friendly hits.  Whilst I'm drawing an utter blank on the identity of the performer Miki in this case (although the person who sold this to me suspected it may be the songwriter Miki Dallon, which I somewhat doubt) the work itself has the usual bright and theatrical detail you'd expect from something with Wirtz's name attached.  The first thirty seconds of this sound eerily like an eighties Marc Almond record, in fact, to the extent that I did briefly wonder if I'd been ripped off - the bleak lyrics, melodrama and West End stage enunciation of the lyrics is pure post-Soft Cell camp.  Whilst it never quite sparks into life as much as the verses seem to threaten, this is a brassy and likeable single with a little dash of popsike in its grooves.

Obviously the record didn't do big business when it was issued on RCA, although as I've never heard the official release I would be interested to know if this acetate contains any differences to the final version, as what I have here could be an incomplete edit or early master.  If anyone can help, please do leave a comment.  'Scuse the pops and clicks on the record.

Eagle-eyed readers will spot that the 363 Oxford Street address on the acetate label tallies with the HMV store's old location, meaning that either Wirtz or another studio representative will have nipped into their pressing facilities at the shop to get an acetate cut for promotional purposes.  This was the very same service Brian Epstein used to cut copies of The Beatles Decca demos, which George Martin later found out about from a HMV engineer who worked there - but that, my friends, is an entirely different story from a different time, and has little to do with the matter in hand.