28 June 2012

Meckenburg Zinc - Hard Working Woman/ I'd Like To Help You

Label: Orange
Year of Release: 1970

Another mystery to add to the "Left and to the Back" canon of mysteries, I'm afraid - nobody has the faintest clue who Meckenburg Zinc were, whether they were a gigging act, a studio aggregation, or perhaps a metalworks company indulging in a musical hobby (although the latter is obviously the 10,000-1 shot).

What we do know for sure is that John Carter co-wrote the A-side.  He was frequently associated with the Carter-Lewis songwriting duo whose credits took up large quantities of label space in the sixties with the likes of the Flowerpot Men and The Music Explosion, and Internet rumours suggest that he may have performed on the track as well.  Whatever the truth of the matter, "Hard Working Woman" is a neat slice of seventies pop which seems West Coast influenced in both its songwriting and performance, all close harmonies and chirpy arrangements.  It wasn't a hit, but copies of the disc have sold for $50 on ebay in the last few years which suggests a keen demand for the track.

As for the curiously designed Orange label, it was in fact a hitless and short-lived subsidiary of the Orange amplifier company.  So you've possibly come out of this blog entry learning something new at least.  

25 June 2012

The Wake - Linda/ Got My Eyes On You

Label: Carnaby
Year of Release: 1971

Anyone who has arrived at this blog entry expecting to read something about Bobby Gillespie's pre-Primal Scream band The Wake is going to be horribly disappointed, for this is not they.  Rather, this particular Wake were simply a late sixties/ early seventies pop act with vaguely psychedelic leanings who issued five singles to absolutely sod all success, although (somewhat akin to the Bobby G act) one of their members did go on to more financially fruitful activities.

Reckoned by some as an under-rated popsike act, The Wake were very much under the corporate guidance of concert promoter Mervyn Conn who produced this single and often also selected their tunes for them.  They appeared on "Top of the Pops" once in 1970 to plug their "Boys in The Band" single, which failed to make the charts despite its high-profile publicity, and by the time this single - their fifth - was issued in 1971 it seems quite likely that they knew the game was up.  Sadly, rather than bowing out on a baffling piece of experimental rock, "Linda" is a rather bouncy, strident ditty with an almost schlager feel.  It's not without charm and sounds as if it could have been the theme to a children's stop-motion animation series had it not been a pop record, but it was highly unlikely to reverse their poor fortunes.  The flip "Got My Eyes On You", on the other hand, is a bit of a McCartney-styled rocker, but seems too self-conscious to really come kicking and screaming through your speakers.

Their album "23:59" was a concept piece based upon a New Year's Eve party and is an acclaimed piece of work by some psych-pop enthusiasts, but is incredibly difficult to get a copy of these days.  For those of us without money to throw around on popsike fancies, perhaps the most familiar aspect of their career is the fact that their member Bill Hurd eventually went on to success with The Rubettes.  

21 June 2012

Mark Wirtz - He's Our Dear Old Weatherman/ Possum's Dance

Label: Parlophone
Year of Release: 1968

We've already partly covered Mark Wirtz's career on the blog entry about Peanut, but there's no harm in reprising it here.  Wirtz issued numerous lovingly produced pieces of exotica throughout the sixties (here's a Youtube clip of "Watermelon Man") but will probably always be best remembered for the "Teenage Opera" project.  This piece of unfinished long playing and musical theatre work, whose main attraction was its number two hit "Theme From Teenage Opera" (aka "Grocer Jack") by Keith West, was abandoned before its completion as sales for the singles diminished.  The follow-up single "Sam" about a redundant steam train driver only just scraped into the UK Top 40, and "Weatherman" was the third single, performed by Wirtz himself, which utterly flopped.

Even by the standards of most conceptual sixties pieces, the fragments we have of "Teenage Opera" make it seem like a bizarre and maudlin proposition.  Most of the tracks seem to be focussed on smalltown or Village life, and the waning respect shown to key individuals within the community.  Grocer Jack was put-upon and died of a stress-related heart attack, and Sam's steam train service was cut off due to its uneconomical route.  For once, the children singing on both records did not seem in any way twee or ineffective, but seemed to be used to make a point about the death of community and perhaps even innocence as modernity took its hold.  Is there even a case to be made for the death of Jack and disappearance of Sam as being representative of those shocking childhood moments when you suddenly realise that not everything is as set in stone or as dependable as it seems, that the world will ruthlessly plough on irrespective of your wishes?  It probably sounds ridiculous to put such a heavy critical reading on these records and suggest that they were about the death of innocence as mass consumption and capitalist logic took a ruthless hold, but then again, why not?  For me personally, if a central theme (intentionally or otherwise) winds it way through these two pop records, that would be it. The ghostly, whistling wind noises straight after Sam's departure on single two immediately bring to mind a mirthless, tumbleweed ridden desert standing where a community used to be.

So far as "Weatherman" is concerned, I freely admit that I'm not a huge fan.  "Sam" and "Theme" are both superb 45s which sum up the changes in the late sixties period in both an entertaining and slightly disconcerting way, but "Weatherman" lacks much of a narrative and overdoes the chirpiness more than a tad. Still, several of my friends appreciate this record and it's certainly lovingly produced, with so many details in the mix that it's no wonder Wirtz was occasionally compared to Brian Wilson.  I've only included a brief clip of the track below as it's commercially available on iTunes and other places as well, but hopefully it's enough to give you an idea.

The B-side "Possum's Dance" is, on the other hand, a really intricate and blissful instrumental typical of the kind Wirtz did so well.  For all my doubts about "Weatherman", I've always found it a shame that "Teenage Opera" was never successfully completed.  Had EMI allowed it to progress, I've no doubt at all that we'd be looking back on it as being very representative of the era, a key album even.

Mark Wirtz remains active in America as a multi-media artist, and I certainly hope his projects are gaining a favourable audience over there.

18 June 2012

Second Hand Record Dip Part 79 - Tom, Jim and Garth - Come Home Newfoundlander/ Something To Sing About

Who: Tim, Jim & Garth (of "The Scotians")
What: Come Home Newfoundlander/ Something To Sing About
Label: Melbourne
When: 196(?)
Where: Wood Street Market, Walthamstow
Cost: 50p

My wife's Canadian, you know. So really, you'd have thought that this particular single might have slipped inside her luggage when she moved permanently to the UK, or perhaps have been sent to us as a gift. You'd be wrong, however - it turned up in Wood Street Market in Walthamstow (East London) late last year to the complete and total bemusement of us both, sitting in the sixties 50p boxes alongside the usual records by Cliff Richard, The Tremeloes, Ken Dodd, et al.

Tom, Jim and Garth were all members of a Canadian folk outfit called The Scotians (later known as The New Scotians) and their chief member Thomas Powers was responsible for putting on gigs in "The Living End" coffee bar on Grafton Street in Halifax. Their output ranged from folk to pop to calypso, but primarily they were an important cog in the Canadian folk circuit and apparently capable of stirring up the memories of many people in that area.

This single has been rather heavily loved - "Come Home Newfoundlander" is battered beyond belief and horribly needleworn, which I apologise for - but is a two sided effort of very patriotic ditties about everyone's favourite large country north of the USA, and I suspect it may possibly have been geared at the tourist market in some way, which might explain how a copy ended up back home in the UK.  Both sides are quite charming, and as soon as I got the record home and played it my wife realised she knew both songs from her childhood, and that Canuck folk rockers The Great Big Sea also recorded a version of "Come Home Newfoundlander" (though I doubt that's going to mean anything to most readers).

Sadly, group leader Thomas Powers passed away in 2010 after a period of running a barber's business whilst continuing to play music.  What became of the rest of The New Scotians I'm none too sure, but I'm sure somebody will be able to fill in the blanks - certainly, some of their records seem very collectible these days.

14 June 2012

Reupload - The Hello People - If I Should Sing Too Softly

Label: Philips
Year of Release: 1968

I have given you many things on "Left and to the Back" over the years, but one thing which has remained missing from my catalogue of greatness and oddness is a rock group consisting entirely of mime artists.   

The Hello People were apparently formed when the French master of mime Etienne De Crux taught a number of musicians how to paint and, upon observing how rapidly they picked up the form, wondered if some of them could learn mime quickly as well, and cleverly combine it with their music to create an innovative new kind of entertainment.  The answer was patently yes, since the resulting act The Hello People went on to perform gigs all around America, making a noise during their songs (you'll be happy to learn) but entirely miming on stage otherwise, and appearing entirely in mime make-up.  There is a picture of the band and more back-up information here.

It's hard not to snigger or even guffaw at the idea now, because in subsequent decades the art of mime has collapsed to the point where not even Covent Garden beggars bother to attempt to impress with it.  In the sixties, however, it still had a certain amount of credibility.  Also, when The Hello People made a noise - which is all we're getting on the single, after all, unless you wish to imagine somebody walking into an invisible wall during the run-in and run-out grooves - it was actually often damn good.  "If I Should Sing Too Softly" is a lovely piece of soft psychedelia with West Coast harmonies, a bouncy rhythm, and laidback vocals.  It's a little bit surprising that the band seem to have slipped through the net when research has been done for the numerous sixties soft pop compilations which have been released recently - this track is good enough to sit on there with the best of them.

Sadly, the American public did not take the concept of a non-communicative band in mime make-up to their hearts, and the highest position they managed to scale in the charts was number 123, despite having an eager cult following.  They also apparently got booed off stage when supporting the Chamber Brothers live.  Bless them, they tried.

(This entry was originally uploaded in September 2009.  Little extra information has come to light since, but a clip of them appearing on The Smothers Brothers has materialised on YouTube.  And incidentally, at least one of their number did indeed go to prison for dodging the Vietnam draft).  

You can also watch another clip below... (Thanks to MosesTKrikey for the YouTube upload)

11 June 2012

Passion Blades - Living In A Lighthouse/ Dub Version

Label: Caprice
Year of Release: 1983

When you encounter records which are clearly DIY or vanity pressings of some kind, it doesn't tend to make your heart soar high with expectations.  If they're any good, there's a very strong chance they've been unearthed already by other keen collectors on the block (the soaring prices on ebay for "I Am... I Think" by Grobbert and Duff are a strong example of this phenomenon).  No, what you're most likely to get is a cabaret singer warbling away, or a trite pub band who couldn't even get their little local label interested in their work. Most of the DIY pressings I've bought have ended up straight back where they came from - the charity shop.

"Living in a Lighthouse", then, is a rare and pleasant surprise.  A piece of slick, considerately arranged, reggae-tinged eighties pop, it's very much "of its time" but no less atmospheric for that.  Synthesiser washes lap up against pounding rhythms and fretless bass noises, and its one of those records which trusts the listener to relax into its environment rather than hammering him or her across the head with a powerful chorus.  A brave choice for a band clearly trying to create a first impression with the public and the music press, then, but not at all bad. Comparisons with Level 42 and The Police and even (vocally) XTC are likely to be made, and this does seem to be the work of an act who perhaps hadn't quite forged a strong enough identity for themselves yet, but I've enjoyed this a lot more than most of the scratchy old sixties and seventies obscurities I've picked up in the last month.

Tracing the history of this act is obviously not going to be particularly straightforward, but at least one of their members is still active.  John Cavanagh has a CD out at the moment entitled "Branch Road", the proceeds for which will go to the Make A Wish Foundation and Teach First.  From the very brief description offered on his website, we can see that both he and Terry Munday (credited on the above label) were also involved with The Mugshots, a band who had one single out on United Artists entitled "Shy".  I've never heard it, but it seems to regularly go for large sums on ebay as a "punk/ powerpop" single, and I'll certainly keep my eyes peeled for a copy.

Anyone who has anything to add to this particular story should definitely step forward to fill in the blanks.

7 June 2012

The Kytes - Blessed/ Call Me Darling

Label: Pye
Year of Release: 1966

Most of the garage and psychedelic bands compiled on both legitimate and rather more questionable cult compilations have been smoked out of their holes now.  Once a track generates enough interest from aficionados and their relatives notice them getting mentions online, it's enough for them to suddenly come forward and talk more about their careers.  The Kytes, on the other hand, have been a mysterious act for many a moon. "Frosted Panes" - a hectoring but somehow sweet folky track about the media dictating ideas of personal identity - worked its way on to the Rubble series of compilation albums and sounded quite at home there, and the rather more organ-driven groove of "Running In The Water" was compiled on to volume one of "We Can Fly", but the liner notes to both admit to a lack of knowledge about the act.

Here's what we definitely know - The Kytes apparently acted as the backing band for Peter and Gordon at some points throughout the sixties, and had two record contracts, one with Pye (which resulted in two singles, this and "Frosted Panes") and a one-off single deal with Island.  After that, it seems certain that the band had no further product released, but whether they continued gigging or worked as session musicians for other artists is completely unknown.

"Blessed" was their first single and is a cover of the Simon and Garfunkel track, and was released in exactly the same week that The Tremeloes version went out on Decca.  Perhaps somewhat predictably, neither version was a hit - this frequently happened whenever rival record companies went "head to head" on different versions of songs in the sixties - but for my money, this take on it is suitably abrasive.  The guitars clang, the vocals sound as if they're being delivered through gritted teeth, and it brings out the disillusionment and protest in Paul Simon's original tune, even though lines such as "Blessed is the church... service/ makes me nervous" don't rank among his finest.  It's not difficult to understand why this wasn't a hit - it's doubtful it would have been even if the Simon and Garfunkel original had been lifted from their "Sounds of Silence" album - but it does sound like the authentic product of agitated youth, a theme "Frosted Panes" would somewhat wearily continue.  The less said about the irritating B-side "Call Me Darling" the better, although I could add that it seems to be aiming for McCartney styled whimsy but only gets the "whimsy" aspect nailed.

I doubt that I'll crack a mystery which has eluded fans of all things garage and psychedelic since at least the late eighties when The Kytes were first rediscovered, but if anyone does know of their identity, I'd be grateful for further information.

4 June 2012

Steppin' Out/ Bob Morgan - Who's To Know/ You Got It

Label: Charly

Year of Release: 1978

We've all encountered Bob Morgan, of course... we explored his adventures in reggae in this previous entry, focussing in particular on "Marguerite" which was included on "Vision On" for a period in the seventies.

Record buyers probably had absolutely no idea that Morgan had any kind of recording history prior to that record, but here it is.  Unlike the largely instrumental pieces he composed for library music purposes whilst working for KPM, both sides of this disc have vocals and are, to be frank, not in the same league.  "Who's To Know" slides by without making much of an impression, and it's only really the B-side "You Got It" which burbles along pleasantly with rich organ noises and deep, thudding basslines.  Clearly Steppin' Out were a gigging reggae band around London at this time, but after this single flopped nobody really seemed keen to continue pushing their physical product - at least not until "Marguerite" became popular with children's TV viewers.

Morgan remains an active musician, working producing soundtracks for films and the theatre.  He is also a respected jazz musician on the London circuit.  

2 June 2012

The Long Reupload Process Begins...

Regular readers of this blog might remember me complaining that all of the mp3 files from 2008-9 (and a few from 2010) had gone AWOL.  I did promise to set myself a weekly task of reuploading at least a few entries, but to be frank time hasn't been on my side and I doubt I'll ever be able to approach this in such an efficient manner.

However, the first four entries are done and dusted, an achievement which we could probably all jig around our living rooms to in celebration were it not for the fact that I'm slowly working backwards from February 2010 (when the problems with missing files start) and this seemed to be a bit of a novelty-heavy period for the blog.  But anyway, here's what you're getting:

- John Inman - "Are You Being Served, Sir?" - Inman's one and only hit, filled to the brim with Department Store specific innuendo.

- Egton Runners - "Won't Somebody Play My Record?" - No, they bloody well will not, not now and not ever.  You can't even give it away.  One of the least popular entries on this blog in terms of the volume of downloads, and I doubt it's going to pick up now.

- Rivals - "Speedway" - Some speedway racers sing about Speedway racing.  Enough said.

- and, due to a reader's request - The Magic Roundabout soundtrack EP "Dougal and the Blue Cat". 

If you're really, really anally retentive you'll notice I'm not necessarily doing this in strict order.  There are some entries (such as the Bedlam Opera one) I want to revisit with a proper re-edit purely due to the volume of information that's since come to light about the band, and others I can't touch either because I've since lost the mp3s and cleared out the record itself, or because it seems to be commercially available now and I'd rather not tread on anyone's toes.  Still, I should get around to completing the mammoth task of getting most of these tracks back online again at some point by 2017, by present estimates.