30 April 2012

The Squires - Funky Bayswater/ Games People Play

Label: MCA
Year of Release: 1969

History tends to favour the winners.  When people look back over Tom Jones's career in the sixties, what they remember is the great randy Welshman himself, and his seemingly endless appearances on "Top of the Pops".  Precious few people have memories strong enough to consider that at many of his live shows during that period, he was accompanied by his loyal backing group The Squires with whom he shared equal billing.  Capable musicians to the last, The Squires could peform either with or without an orchestral backing at the bigger venues, but were apparently ditched for a better set of session musicians when Uncle Tom's TV career took off.

After being given the heave-ho, The Squires were given the opportunity to set foot in the recording studio and have careers in their own right which - presumably with few other options available - they took full advantage of.  "Games People Play" had recently been a hit in America and was chosen for the band as a crossover single, but it failed to attract much attention in the UK despite several critics predicting a hit.  In fairness, whilst this run-through of the track is faithful, it's a long way short of being the best version and fails to make much of an impression.

What's actually caused most of the fuss over the last few years has been the brilliantly titled flipside "Funky Bayswater".  Included on the "Instro Hipsters A Go Go" compilation series specialising in sixties rock instrumentals, "Funky Bayswater" does perhaps prove that Tom Jones was indeed rather a fool to shove the band out into the street - the lead guitar work here is sizzling, and is accompanied by a tight rhythm section which has excited people on mod dancefloors in London for awhile.  Occupying the same post-mod pre-hard rock hinterland that other instrumental groovers such as "Apricot Brandy" have, the track was apparently written in a few hours and recorded in a mere couple of takes, and as a result retains a lot of urgency and electricity.

After this flopped, there were no further singles by The Squires, and we all know what became of Tom Jones.

28 April 2012

Inaura - One Million Smiles

Label: Org Records
Year of Release: 1998

Ah, cruel, fickle finger of fate... it could and should have been very different for Inaura. Featuring Dave Formula out of Magazine as their keyboard player, the band had pedigree to begin with, and then seemed to be riding on what was supposed to become the giant wave of a new musical movement -namely Romo, the New Romantic revivalist scene created by the magazine Melody Maker.

I became aware of them at the time the first single "This Month's Epic" was issued, as their press officer phoned me at home raving about this band who (in his words) "are like a combination of all the best bits of The Verve and Duran Duran". Clearly he'd never read my student magazine column (and fair play to him, nobody else did either) or he'd never have bothered using those two acts as being a benchmark of any kind of superior quality. Nonetheless, with nothing better to do I went along to see them live that night and was blown away. In between hard techno squelches and eighties synth pop leanings were indeed enormous, epic, meandering songs which recalled the majesty of The Walker Brothers. There were unquestionably elements of Duran Duran in the mix - only a fool would claim otherwise - but there was more ambition here, and a lot more aggression and frustration in their sound. They had taken eighties pop and given it a much harder edge.

EMI were supposed to have issued the album "One Million Smiles" themselves in 1996, but following the total underperformance of the singles issued from it they immediately appeared to get cold feet. For two years after that, it apparently remained locked in the vaults where it may have remained for good had Org not stepped in to rescue the project. By the time they issued the album, however, whatever interest anyone had in Inaura had totally disappeared, and it was left to bellyflop on to record store shelves in 1998 two whole years after the last single from it had emerged. The subsequent public disinterest surely surprised nobody. If EMI's marketing muscle hadn't persuaded the world about Inaura's worth, then what was a tiny indie going to achieve years after the band had even last been in the mainstream music press?

Inaura's career was actually a very unfortunate case of multiple mistakes. For starters, they were launched as being part of the ill-fated Romo scene in the mid-nineties. Romo was an eighties pop revivalist movement launched by Melody Maker which was supposed to take over the waning lead Britpop had shown the country. Sadly, despite involving a shedload of interesting eccentrics and pretentious buffoons who would certainly have livened up the rather dour meat-and-potatoes music scene of the time, the majority of them really didn't deliver the goods musically, and the scene was quickly buried after a showcase tour which the public chose to completely ignore. Sadly for Inaura, not only were they left off the showcase (instead being given a nationwide support slot with The Human League) they were also one of the only bands amongst it who were astonishing live and also knew their way around a tune - a case of "the exception which proves the rule".

Their second mistake was to release the eight minute long "This Month's Epic" as the debut single, launching their career on a very overblown, dramatic flourish which subsequently gained absolutely no airplay, and aggravated the earthy, laddish music press of the time. Although I happen to think "This Month's Epic" is actually one of the finest singles issued in the mid-nineties, they perhaps could have waited until they'd slipped into the public's consciousness with something a bit more snappy. After all, they had snappy pop tunes by the bundle - "Soap Opera" and "Desire" on this album prove that conclusively.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, their ideas of mixing alternative guitar rock, eighties synthpop and burbling dance music influences were actually extremely ahead of their time, even if they were accused of being retro in the nineties. Whilst we now think nothing of seeing stylish, electronic, New Order referencing and eighties worshipping bands in the charts, in 1996 it was deemed to be a tiny bit silly (unless you were Garbage, for some reason). So, despite it being a bright, shining piece of pop with a credible production team behind it, the band were ultimately always doomed to fail. Sometimes the first person through the thicket is the one who gets his eyes scratched out, whilst leaving the path clear for other people to follow.

I'm always pleased when I see this album being referenced online as "ahead of its time", and I hope that people will begin to wake up to it more over the coming years. I don't hold out hope for an Inaura reformation, but I certainly hope that their work brings pleasure to a wider audience eventually.

(This blog entry was originally uploaded in June 2008, and I did originally plan to offer it for full download again as the old link had gone dead. Somewhat brilliantly, though, I've discovered that it's since been reissued and you can buy it from Amazon here (and doubtless other places too!) Therefore, this isn't a "proper" Left and to the Back Blog entry but a stopgap weekend one to try and draw your attention to the record).  

26 April 2012

Jackal - The Year of the Tiger/ Big Star

Label: BASF
Year of Release: 1974

It's tempting to describe the different genres of seventies rock in broad strokes - prog (widdly-wanky-woo), glam (thump, crunch, yeah!), hard rock (devils, witches, blues guitar, screeches and wails) and art rock (synthesisers squelch, vocals brood and yearn, unexpected ambient interludes).  In reality, the scene was rather more confused and disorientated than that, and elements of any of these noises tended to make themselves present in many discs.  The Sweet, for example, loved to play around with hard rock on B-sides when they got the chance, and the line between art rock and prog rock was often blurred - lest we forget, Davy O'List of The Nice was in the early line-up of Roxy Music.

Similarly, it's hard to know where to place Jackal in the grand scheme of things.  There's an unquestionable pop glamness about "Year of the Tiger", but its doomy, apocalyptic lyrics seem to stem from Black Sabbath, and the wellington boot-in-mud noise of the synths sounds could only be inspired by Moroder.  It's a wonderful single, though, which seeps atmosphere and saunters with sheer conviction - a lesser band could have made the whole affair sound truly ridiculous, but the A-side here draws its inspiration from the likes of Locomotive's "Mr Armageddan" rather than "In the Year 2525".  Named after the Chinese astrological year which apparently frequently summons war, earthquakes and famine, it broods on your turntable for three-and-a-half minutes utterly confident in its own ability to summon up the four horsemen, and as such is one of the rare singles to dominate a room without a powerful chorus or even an upbeat rhythm to aid it.  Apparently it managed to pick up some radio play in the UK at the time of release, but it flopped - though perhaps unsurprisingly, it's been plundered by a psychedelic compilation series since, and is available on iTunes to buy.  You can find a brief clip of it below, however, and somebody has been kind enough to upload it on to YouTube here.

The B-side "Big Star" is rather more straightforward, but nonetheless points towards a band who could have had some success if they'd had a chance to put out more singles.  As it stands, "Year of the Tiger" was their only effort on the short-lived UK arm of BASF records - a company more known for tapes and storage mediums in Britain than anything much else.

Jackal hailed from the Craven area of Yorkshire and consisted of Paul Sutton on lead vocals and guitar, Geoff Appleby on bass guitar and backing vocals, and Gary Burroughs on drums.   Great things were apparently expected of them in some quarters, which hopefully means that there may have been further recording sessions and therefore more material out there somewhere - so if anyone knows what happened to the band and where they are now, do leave a comment.

23 April 2012

The Zippers - My Sailor Boy/ Pretend You're Still Mine

Label (when issued): Hickory
Year of Release: 1964

You wait four years for an acetate to show up on "Left and to the Back", then two come along at once. Either I've suddenly become a very wealthy man, or I've managed to find a cheap source for a couple (guess which. It shouldn't be hard).

I'm afraid I've only managed to draw complete blanks about The Zippers, who would seem to be an all-female group from America with definite soul leanings. This was their only British single, but what a single it is - "My Sailor Boy" on the A-side is raw, ragged but decidedly Pop, and fizzes with energy and enthusiasm. With some records, false bonhomie creeps through the sterility of the slick production and multiple takes and ruins the potential energy of a track, but this genuinely sounds like unsuppressed gusto.

The B-side "Pretend You're Still Mine", on the other hand, is a brilliantly performed ballad in the style many retro-leaning female singers of the present day would applaud. It's brooding and very well sung, but once again there's a sense that this is a fairly immediate, quick recording of a great performance.

A lot of soul records belly-flopped in the UK on their first issue - including some Motown ones which are now legendary - and this seems to be yet another disc which didn't find a mainstream audience at the time. Regrettable, as I'd like to have heard more from this lot. Excuse the pops and clicks again, but an acetate of this age is never going to be in tip-top condition.

21 April 2012

Another Saturday at the Boogaloo - 28th April

Hello readers - you might be interested to know that I'm doing another DJ set at the "Can't Buy Me Love" vintage market at the Boogaloo pub on 28th April, starting at 12:30 at finishing at around 5pm.  As I've said a million times before, it's a great place to shop and listen to some fantastic music while you're at it - and if you don't see anything you want, you can always grab yourself a drink at the bar and hang around in one of London's most legendary pubs.  Here's the address:

The Boogaloo
312 Archway Road
N6 5AT

And here's the Facebook event link for people who hang around on that service.  

David Soul is a regular drinker in this establishment, but please don't turn up and expect to see him casually propping against the bar, because in all my time DJ'ing there I've never seen him once.  This is a let-down, a bit like when I was a small child and would always demand to go to McDonalds in the hope that Ronald McDonald would be in attendance, but he never was.  You can't have everything in life though, can you?  No.

19 April 2012

Axe - Running Wild/ Sing, Sing, Sing

Label: Decca (UK issue on MCA)
Year of Release: 1972

As the well of late sixties obscurities begins to run dry, collectors and compilers are beginning to turn their attention towards the early to mid seventies as a source of relatively untapped goodness. Whilst psychedelia was thin on the ground (although not totally non-existent) during this period, the kind of simple, gritty rock and roll which had wormed its way through mod, Nederbeat and R&B remained available for some time afterwards - and here is one such example.

"Running Wild" could have been recorded at any point from 1966 onwards, being pushed forwards by a stomping rhythm and simple riff, and sounds pretty great today. It's not a record of sophistication, but the whining guitar lines, lyrical concerns of "running wild and sleeping rough" and rock and roll journeymen tales do make it a bit of a primal beast, although never so uptempo that it doesn't have an agreeable dirty laziness to the rhythm as well. This was apparently something of a favourite on some club dancefloors at the time, although obviously that didn't seem to translate to record sales.

Information about the band Axe isn't widely available, but one of their key members Rod Alexander is still active today, with a biography that boasts involvement with the likes of The Everley Brothers, Ritchie Blackmore, Mike Berry and "Left and to the Back" favourite Rolf Harris. He also apparently enjoyed some time in West Africa during his career, which might explain why this pressing of "Running Wild" appears to be Gambian in origin - thanks to the forum posters Vinyl_Junkie and carryonsidney over at 45Cat for digging that information up. This is the only African pressing I own at the moment, and God knows how it ever managed to worm its way back into the UK...

16 April 2012

The Lemon Men - I've Seen You Cut Lemons

Label (finally issued on): Polydor
Year of Release: 1969

I don't normally upload studio acetates on "Left and to the Back", simply because they're fragile, very difficult to come by and usually very expensive. If the opportunity arises to buy the issued or demo vinyl version instead of a rather crackly acetate, I'll take the former option despite the desirability of the latter. I like to own records I feel I can DJ with and play at my own leisure rather than ones I have to keep safe from the scuffing of needles and general wear and tear.

That said, I've never seen a finally released copy of The Lemon Men's "I've Seen You Cut Lemons" in my life, and whilst they (apparently) do exist, this acetate turned up for sale so cheaply that it was worth a punt. Frequently labelled by bloggers as a "psychedelic record", it's not so much psychedelia as an unbelievably peculiar ballad. A rich voiced singer croons a gentle melody about mental illness, using the unexpected lines: "You say that I'm mad and should be committed/ And you are the one who should be called sane", "I've seen you cut lemons/ I've seen you burn children and leave them to die". Yes indeed. Perhaps to muddy the waters further, the song also contains the lines: "You ask me if I don't also cut lemons/ I do, but when I do I cry".

Context, as always, is everything. A Sean Connery directed play entitled "I've Seen You Cut Lemons" hit the London theatre stage around this time, and focussed on the relationship a writer had with his bi-polar sister. We'd need a script of the Ted Allan authored play in question to fully understand the significance of its title, and sadly I don't have one, but it would seem sensible to assume that this record was in some way a tie-in to the production, or at the very least a tribute to its efforts. Sadly, "I've Seen You Cut Lemons" was both a flop in London Theatre-land, closing after five nights, and perhaps inevitably a flop in the record charts as well. Surprisingly, it's story didn't end there, and the play formed the basis of the 1984 film "Love Streams" directed by John Cassavetes, which won the Golden Bear at that year's Berlin Film Festival.

As for the song itself, it's truly unorthodox, combining a brooding moodiness with peculiar Jimmy Webb styled lyrical lines and a relaxing lounge music backing - to use that lazy journalistic device of cross-referencing styles, it's rather like the theme tune to "Just Good Friends" colliding with the plot of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest". We will probably never hear its like again, and as for who the Lemon Men were... does anyone have any ideas? My guess would be that they were a studio band put together solely for this project, but I'd be happy to be corrected.

Oh, and as Bam Caruso always used to say on the back of those "Circus Days" compilation albums - you will be able to detect popping and crackling in this mp3, but it would be foolish to ignore this medium merely because of the fragility of earlier storage systems.

12 April 2012

Reupload - The Spectrum - Ob La Di, Ob La Da/ Music Soothes The Savage Breast

Band: The Spectrum
Single: Ob La Di Ob La Da
Label: RCA
Year of Release: 1968

As I'm sure I've said before, an entire MP3 blog could probably be created dedicated solely to Beatles cover versions - in fact, one probably exists already, but the subject doesn't fascinate me enough to go looking for it.

You see, for every inspired Beatles cover version there are at least 6,000 which ignored the sage wisdom behind the cliche "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" (or, as a forthright ex-colleague of mine used to say: "If it ain't your concern, don't f__k about with it"). To cover a Beatles song effectively, you've really got to do something surprising with it, something which either shows the world what weird really means (The Residents) or something which highlights raunchy or aggressive elements of the track some of us might have missed (Otis Redding's version of "Daytripper").

Sadly, the vast majority of sixties cover versions of Beatles tracks were somewhat pedestrian cash-ins. A favoured trick amongst record companies of the time was to issue Beatles album tracks as singles. You would simply put a band in the studio you'd been waiting awhile to break, give them a relatively new Beatles tune, and get them to bang it out quickly in the hope that it would be a hit, and their careers would be launched.

If you were really being a silly arse about it, of course, you released your favoured band's single in competition with another band covering exactly the same song, meaning somebody had to lose (or both did) in a rather unusual battle of the bands contest. In this case, The Spectrum's studio clock-watching yawnfest of a cover of The Beatles already quite uninspired "Ob La Di Ob La Da" went head-to-head with The Marmalade's slightly less dreary version. The public must have been thrilled to have had three Ob La Di Ob La Das in the same place at the same time*. The Marmalade went to number one and subsequently lasted a few more years despite hippies screaming "sell out!" in their faces, whereas The Spectrum's effort flopped, and they didn't trouble us for much longer.

"Why should we care?" I hear you ask, and as always I have no reasonable reply, except to say that the B-side "Music Soothes The Savage Breast" is an unusual piece of orchestral popsike, and should be given a chance - unlike The Spectrum generally who, it has to be said, leave me somewhat cold with their other singles, although there are plenty of folk online happy to defend them.

(*And that's if we ignore the "Ob La Di Ob La Da Story" by Jimmy Scott, who coined the phrase in the first place. It's a completely different tune, but certainly milks the topic. It's almost surprising an "Ob La Di Ob La Da" concept album wasn't issued).

(This blog entry was originally created in July 2008. Not much to add since, of course, except to say that this was put up in a last-minute panic when I realised that my original planned entry had been re-issued officially a few months back, and its appearance here has more to do with the fact that I'd already uploaded the mp3s to rather than because I wanted to draw attention to its present ebay "for sale" status.)

9 April 2012

The American Dairy Association of Mississipi - The Basic Milk/ The Poets - Fun Buggy

Label: Jazzman
Original Release Dates: The Poets - 1971, American Diary Association: ??

It's very difficult for me to even bother trying to claim any exclusivity with this one. Both sides of this disc are promotional adverts which were re-issued on Jazzman due to their sampled appearance on DJ Shadow's "Product Placement", and as such are rather old news. But still... their inclusion here is entirely under the justification that you're still hardly likely to tune a radio and hear either track in its entirety.

Side One is a piece of funk propaganda put out there by the American Dairy Association of Mississipi, encouraging people to drink more pure dairy liquid presumably through the power of dance grooves alone. "Milk - the basic! Milk - the basic!" the singers insist persuasively whilst the basslines and rhythms cut powerfully through the mix. And it works. Just writing about this now, I'm persuaded to pull a bottle out of the fridge and glug it down my neck, and that's more than those frigging terrifying Humphrey adverts ever did for me as a child. If I ever find out that the population of Mississipi has a lower rate of osteoporosis than Britain, I will not be surprised.

For the sixties fans amongst you, Side Two is perhaps even more bizarre, consisting entirely of the (by then) washed-up Scottish band The Poets singing the praises of Barr's Strike Cola to an equally funky backdrop. The Poets had one minor hit in Britain in the sixties with "Now We're Thru" and a whole bundle of rather wonderful singles out as follow-ups which (for no good reason at all) fared less well. Presumably "Fun Buggy" was an attempt at getting some cash off the good people at Barr during a somewhat difficult time, but is astonishingly atypical of their other mod-pop fare, swaggering as it does and making Strike Cola sound like the favoured beverage of choice from somebody off "Starsky and Hutch", rather than Scotland's budget-line alternative to Coca Cola which it undoubtedly was.

Most records pressed as promotional items for products are embarrassing, unlistenable trash, filled with session singers trying their hardest to sound sincere about the wonders of petrol, double glazing or postage stamps. Both sides of this re-issue highlight the fact that actually, you can make a product sound amazing by doing little other than getting some funk out. If television advert breaks were filled with noises like this, I'd probably be heavily in debt by now.

8 April 2012

Yet Another Ebay Sale

It's been awhile, but I've decided to try and rescue my depleting bank account again with another ebay sale. Sometimes it takes a recession to prompt a reluctant clear-out. Only nine items for sale this time, but one of them might tickle your fancy. They are:

ROCKIN' REBELS - Wild Weekend
PURPLE GANG - Granny Takes A Trip
TINDERSTICKS - Travelling Light (7")
THE APPLES - Eye Wonder
HERBIE & THE ROYALISTS - Soul of the Matter
PULP - This Is Hardcore (remixes)
DISCO 2000/ KLF - I Gotta CD
BRUTON MUSIC - Video Explosion
SPECTRUM - Ob La Di, Ob La Da/ Music Soothes The Savage Breast
(promo -pictured above).

Some of these are quite scarce. Please click on this link here if you're interested, and happy bidding.

5 April 2012

Lally Stott: Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep/ Henry James

Label: Philips
Year of Release: 1970

I'll bet if you asked most people who was responsible for the original version of "Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep", they'd wearily reply "Middle of the Road" and leave it at that. But that would make them fools, half-wits, morons, ill-educated curs of the first water. Whilst Middle of the Road had a massive international hit with the dreaded tune, they certainly weren't the first individuals to press it to wax. The author of the tune Lally Stott put a slightly slower version out first in 1970 and had some luck with it in Australia (where it spent one week at Number One) and Holland and Italy, but generally speaking it failed to become the UK chartblaster we know and love now.

Whilst this bubblegum ditty might not make you realise, the Prescot-born and eventually Rome-based Stott actually had a very credible history in sixties groups which are incredibly sought-after by collectors now. Serving time in Four Just Men and the legendary Wimple Winch, he has earned his stripes as a soldier in the great Freakbeat wars - and the B-side here "Henry James" is a firm reminder of those roots. Riddled with psychedelic effects, screeching car tyres, and a pounding, nagging beat, it's a far cry from the pure pop of "Chirpy" (which incidentally I've always had a soft spot for).

"Henry James" was compiled on the psychedelic compilation album "Nightmares At Toby's Shop", and the sleevenotes incorrectly state that he "killed himself some time ago". In actual fact, Stott's demise was not a result of suicide, and involved an unfortunate motorcycle accident in Precot in 1977.

Astonishingly, a rather strange black and white promo video of Stott entertaining a group of rather senior individuals in the street has worked its way on to YouTube. Smile to yourself as they all regard him with what appears to be a combination of mild entertainment and bemusement, and wonder what exactly is going on.

2 April 2012

Max Harris - Gurney Slade/ Hat and Cane

Label: Fontana
Year of Release: 1960

Once every so often a television series emerges which, despite only attracting a dedicated cult following, somehow ends up with an influence far beyond its unpromising viewing figures. The Anthony Newley vehicle "The Strange World of Gurney Slade" has largely disappeared out of the reference books of even the keenest TV critics. If you believe clip shows and potted TV histories, surreal comedy began in Britain with Monty Python (or at the very least "Do Not Adjust Your Set"). And yet...

In 1960, "The Strange World of Gurney Slade" broke most television comedy rules. With a concept based upon the lead character storming off the set of his own shit sit-com to the puzzlement of the assortment of stereotypical characters in the room, the show meandered around in a world of talking dogs, advertising hoardings that came to life, and ill-attended danceband events in the middle of flat, rain-drenched fields. It also frequently criticised and parodied light entertainment and marketing culture, basing an entire episode around an anal critique of advertising hoardings. A strange and elaborate concept even now, it's difficult to imagine how a prime time ITV audience would have handled the combination of slow satire and surrealism at the time - even the breaking down of the third wall aspect predated Garry Shandling and Sean Hughes' efforts much later in the century. Inevitably, most of the public didn't take to the programme much at all, and the show slipped into a late-night slot but ended up being remembered and loved by David Bowie and a quantity of other influential people at the time. Available on DVD now, it's worth a punt purely because even if you fail to enjoy the contents, it will still challenge virtually every preconception you have about the evolution of British comedy and who came up with which innovative idea first.

The jazzy theme tune was also rather iconic in its own way, setting the bohemian and considered tone for the rest of the programme. It might have been a largely forgotten piece after the show's relative lack of success had it not been for the tune also being used in the children's programme "Vision On" in 1974 for the clock sequence. Since then, it's become a reasonably well known piece of soundtrack music whose demand has far outstripped its initial exposure.

Clips of "The Strange World of Gurney Slade" are available on YouTube here and here, and are well worth a look.