30 July 2012

Brenda and Johnny - This Can't Be Love

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1964

So much has been written about the "Doctor Who" theme tune over the years that it almost feels as if there's very little left to be said.  One of the most groundbreaking (and terrifying) electronic compositions ever recorded, you could sit and talk about it as being one of the wonders of recorded sound if you wanted, and I probably wouldn't argue much with you.

When released as a single it didn't chart, but it sold slowly and steadily over the course of many Who seasons, and the other wonder surrounding the disc became what the hell this was doing on the flip.  Acting as the dark side of a record filled with futuristic horror is a couple called Brenda and Johnny performing a beat version of Rodgers and Hart's "This Can't Be Love", whooping up an utterly conventional storm.  It's an enjoyable piece of period pop, actually, filled with odd beats, buzzing guitars and over enthusiastic vocals, and possesses a naivete that renders it completely charming - but the connection with "Doctor Who" is something that has baffled record collectors for many years.  There were no Brendas or Johnnys in any of the series, there are no obvious links to the BBC Radiophonic Workshop here (Mike Leander takes on production duties) and in fact the whole thing simply seems to be a strange offcut from the Decca archives.  One would have thought that they could have found a more appropriate piece of instrumental music somewhere in their vaults, but perhaps there were other reasons (money, time, favours) which involved this being used instead.

Whoever Brenda and Johnny were, it would seem the duo never bothered us again - at least not in this guise - but certainly enjoyed a long and sustained period of publicity throughout the sixties by finding their voices heard by every "Doctor Who" fan who purchased this record.  Have you seen them?  Do you know who they are?  Do call.

26 July 2012

Reupload - Group X - There Are 8 Million Cossack Melodies And This Is One Of Them/ Teneriffe

Label: Fontana
Year of Release: 1963

The sixties guitar-based instrumental act is seldom looked upon with much fondness or regard.  True, there are some Joe Meek productions out there which some like to spin, and few would object to the likes of Dick Dale on their stereo, but there were sheer volumes of twangy-guitar playing, foot shuffling smiling boys (they usually were boys) on the circuit back in the early part of the decade.  The NME et al would generally have "Best Instrumental Group" categories in their year end polls, which The Shadows normally won hands down.

Perhaps the spectre of The Shadows and Hank Marvin's perceived naffness eventually did for instrumental acts everywhere, but it's when you come across inventive little ditties like this one that you almost mourn the passing of the genre.   Group X were apparently a studio-based affair, but this oddly titled tribute to the Ukraine/ Russian region (I wonder if Peter Solowka out of the Wedding Present was listening?) is everything an instrumental pop record of the period should be - fizzing, buzzing and twanging with so many hooks it earworms its way into your brain immediately.  Here seems to be the primary difference between vocal acts and their instrumental cousins of the time - when lyrical phrases were lacking, the melody lines had to have an extra added potency to hit home, and so they frequently did.   Once again, this is hyperpop stuff, very very infectious and with little time for subtlety.  

"There are Eight Million Cossack Melodies..." wasn't a hit despite (or perhaps because of) its preposterously long title, but the number of online mentions its received on forums recently would suggest that its remembered by many.  Group X never did go on to any sort of success, but I'm sure they found other session work to occupy their time.

(This blog entry was originally uploaded in August 2009, and I'm afraid no additional information about the band ever did come to light).

23 July 2012

Esprit De Corps - Lonely/ Do You Remember Me (Like I Remember You)

Label: Jam

Year of Release: 1973

I featured Esprit De Corps' most well-known single (though that's not saying much) back in October 2011.  If I'd had a copy of this one to hand at the time as well, I've no doubt at all that I'd have uploaded this as part of the very same blog entry, but I didn't.  In fact, I'd never actually heard it before, much less owned it - whilst "If (Would It Turn Out Wrong)" has featured on psychedelic compilations and is perhaps the band's defining statement out there in popsike land, "Lonely" has been almost utterly ignored.

This actually doesn't make a whole heap of sense, for in terms of melodic stylings, studio effects and even the woebegone nature of the performance, you could wriggle a threadworm between the two records.  "Lonely" features the same dramatic vocals and phasing effects that its debut brother did, and is probably the equal of that record - it's a giddy, Sunday afternoon period drama of a record, making a right old fuss about solitary lifestyles.  I personally don't happen to think that any of the band's work is essential or breathtaking, but it certainly has a distinctive style and charm which could have registered with the public.  However, despite the fact that they got a slot on "Top of the Pops" for this record as a new act, it failed to attract sales.  

As I've previously mentioned, the Radio One DJ Mike Read was a member of this band alongside industry types David Mindel, David Ballantyne, Bill Pitt and Alan Tomes.  They were probably his best shot at getting taken seriously as a musician rather than a radio personality, as his efforts here predate his early Radio Luxembourg career by three years.  As we all know, however, it was not to be, and a highly successful career in radio and television broadcasting was his consolation prize.  If "Lonely" had become a minor hit - the most it would have managed, I reckon - you have to wonder if he'd have had a life of going up and down motorways and sleeping in cramped touring vans instead.  A close call, Mike... a very close call indeed.

19 July 2012

Wishful Thinking - Turning Round/ VIP

Label: Decca

Year of Release: 1966

Generally speaking, Wishful Thinking have been a rather ignored group in the UK by aficionados of all things beat and psych until very recently.  This is a bizarre state of affairs given that they issued a string of singles on Decca in the sixties and eventually hit the big time on the continent in the seventies - or at least the charts - with their somewhat dramatic single entitled "Hiroshima", the lyrical contents of which I hopefully don't have to spell out.

Under the wing of yer man from The Shadows Tony Meehan their singles tended to involve Four Seasons and Beach Boys-esque harmony pop, and that's typified by the A-side on offer here which is a fair enough stab at that style, but pretty inessential.  Of far more interest is the scuzzy, buzzing garage pop of the B-side "VIP" which incorporates distortion, dumb riffs, thumping drums and demanding and aggressive vocals about the importance of one's other half.  "Stand right back she's a VIP!" the group demand like close harmonising thugs, "A VIP to me!" That's the way you treat a lady.  It's delightful stuff, the kind of knuckle-dragging sixties pop which tended to be more ubiquitous in the USA than on British shores, and it's a surprise this one has been relatively ignored - stylistically, it would sit neatly alongside Richard and The Young Lion's "Open Up Your Door", although admittedly it fails to quite scale the heights of that record.

Whilst the mention of their name is likely to cause blank expressions on the faces of their homeland dwellers, Wishful Thinking are still cultishly popular in Germany.  Of the original members Roy Daniels (vocals), Terry New (lead guitar), Roger Charles (bass) and Brian Allen (drums), sadly only Roy and Roger are still alive, but it's apparently not unknown for them to promote their work abroad where it's more appreciated.  A new album "Believing In Dreams" was even issued abroad in 2009. I doubt "VIP" features much in their workload, but it really should.

Of equal interest to me is a version of The Beach Boys "Vegetables" they apparently recorded for Decca in 1968 - if anyone has heard this, I'd be very interested to know quite how it turned out.  

16 July 2012

Brian Bennett - Chase Side Shoot Up/ Pegasus

Label: Fontana

Year of Release: 1974

The sheer versatility and experience in the line-up of The Shadows isn't really commented on often enough, people being more keen to focus on their most well-known and stylistically consistent work.  Sadly, ploughing through a bog-standard Shads hits list would ignore Marvin and Farrar's brilliant stabs at Crosby Stills and Nash styled pop in the seventies, Tony Meehan's endless production work, and drummer Brian Bennett's mind-bogglingly varied array of library music work which you'll almost certainly have heard before, whether you think you have or not.

Here is perhaps the most famous and immediately recognisable example.  "Chase Side Shoot Up" is best known as being the theme to the BBC golf coverage in Britain, where it's acted as the introduction to the swish and thwack of badly dressed men with golf clubs since 1980.  Its strange but effective mix of laidback beats combined with dramatic melodic flourishes probably made it a dead cert for the coverage as soon as the BBC Executives wrapped their ears around it, and its been stuck in people's brains in the UK ever since - another classic example of a record very few people bought enjoying a greater recognition factor (and probably more royalty pay-outs) than many hits.

As you'll gather from the date on the label, however, "Chase Side Shoot Up" had a history prior to the BBC taking a shine to it, and in fact its synthetic flourishes were originally enjoyed in nightclubs - and even apparently some Northern Soul nights - in the mid-seventies.  It might seem absurd to imagine those "thumpa-thumpa-thumpa" drum noises being accompanied by genuine dancing rather than the gentle thud of the palm of your hand against the arm of the sofa, but that apparently was the case.  How widespread its club plays were is a difficult thing to ascertain, and any attempts to play it now (in Britain at least) would surely be greeted with bafflement and derision, but there was a time when the squealing synths on this seemed futuristic and dancefloor orientated rather than accepted as a background noise.  Viewed objectively as a piece of music rather than an iconic theme, it's perfectly good but stubbornly sticks to its central riff despite threatening to spin off into other interesting ambient areas at points - there's a vague whiff of missed opportunities here across the full three minutes. 

The flip "Pegasus" would perhaps go down better these days, being a beautifully drama-filled piece of electronic funk which brings to mind men rolling under cars, pistols at the ready for that inevitable high action crime scene in a seventies flick.  In fact, the Moog and tropical funk action here is so notable that numerous websites recommend this as a lost groove, and the demand for the record on ebay is possibly more driven by the B-side than the famous A-side these days. Not surprising - this is a marvellous bit of work which really deserved better than to sit on the back side of this single.  

Brian Bennett continues to produce library music and soundtracks, and has won three Ivor Novello awards for his work, which has included sophisticated and considered orchestral arrangements as well as catchy jingles.  Even his under-exposed library music work is highly sought after by collectors, with prices shooting up (if you'll pardon the pun) all the time.  

12 July 2012

Money - Come Laughing Home/ Power Of The Rainbow

Label: Major Minor

Year of Release: 1969

"Stop wasting your time looking for obscurities," a rather pushy record dealer said to me a couple of weeks ago. "There's nothing out there that hasn't been compiled or DJ'ed with already, and even if you think you find a good record nobody's heard of, I guarantee you somebody out there has." 
"Ah yes, Mr Dealer, but what if they found a record, believed it to be crap, and wrongly put it to one side?" I replied. Well actually, I didn't.  I just nodded and smiled at him politely whilst those very thoughts ran through my head.

 Of course, he had a very good point.  It is indeed becoming a near-impossible mission to find anything new that's interesting, particularly from eras where the lucky dip has been well and truly picked dry.  Given the enormous array of blogs out there, the endless unofficial compilations of obscure material it's impossible to keep track of, and street-smart retro DJs with money to burn, you can never definitely state that you're the first person to be wowed by a track.  So naturally, when I say to you readers "This is a good record which appears to have been ignored", it should be taken with a tiny pinch of salt. It could be played weekly at your local popsike bop for all I know.

Obviously I'm leading up to the point that Money's "Come Laughing Home" is a really pleasant surprise, despite being rather tartly dismissed by a couple of other sources.  When you see a record label clearly stating that the tune is from a theatre production - in this case Keith Waterhouse's play of the same name - you tend not to expect more than a saccharine pop ballad with a gentle orchestra behind it.  This, on the other hand, introduces itself with some doomy organ chords, the repeated pleading refrain "Come home!" before launching headlong into a sweet and wistful piece of harmony-drenched popsike.  Reminiscent of a likable Roy Wood penned ballad and containing riffs which sound similar to fragments of "Dancing In The Moonlight" in places, the A-side is summery, breezy and chipper without being irritating.  I don't want to overstate the case here, but it's surprising that this one hasn't received a bit more attention from collectors.

Sadly, the flip "The Power Of The Rainbow" really isn't worth troubling yourselves with too much, being a rather dull pop ballad.

Money apparently hailed from Manchester, but information about them is otherwise hard to come by.  One more single entitled "Breaking Of Her Heart" was issued in 1970 before they disappeared off pop's map, and if you know who they were and what else they did, please do let me know.

9 July 2012

Slack Alice - Motorcycle Dream/ Ridin' The Wind

Label: Fontana
Year of Release: 1974

The seventies was an odd period when hard rocking bands seemed to regularly poke their heads out from their drinking dens on the club circuit to release one single and possibly an album, only to promptly disappear again.  Fronted by the pouting Sandra and apparently hailing from Barnet (North London), the brilliantly named Slack Alice were one such example, apparently serving up some mean R&B covers as well as original material on the national live circuit. Whatever their abilities, this was clearly not enough for them to  break through to what we would probably have called "the big time" back then.

This single - which seems to have been their only seven inch effort - showcases a band who sound very much of their time, with elements of Shocking Blue and Suzi Quatro present and correct in the mix.  It rocks hard and is not without grit, but there's a poppiness here too which perhaps should have given the band a better chance.  Some minimal radio airplay was apparently generated, but a proper crossover into the charts never really occurred, and this record has subsequently fallen into obscurity since.  

After the failure of this record and their eponymous album (which I've never seen a physical copy of) Sandra, guitarist and songwriter Peter Finberg and the rest - whoever they were - apparently decamped to the growing pub rock scene in London to mix with the Feelgoods and Hotrods of this world, but this trend wasn't enough to resuscitate their career, and eventually they petered out.  

Apologies for the appalling digital images of the appalling injection moulded label, by the way.  My scanner is broken, I don't have enough money to buy a new one, and there's not enough light in rain-soaked London at the moment to easily take digital snapshots of label images.  Does that paint a rather bleak image for you all?  Ah, sorry.

5 July 2012

Reupload - The Bridewell Taxis - Don't Fear The Reaper/ Face In The Crowd

Label: Stolen
Year of Release: 1991

When I started this blog, I made a solemn vow not to make life too easy for myself all the time. Uploading a Moonshake EP is an example of going for the easy option, purely because precious few people would deny that whilst their noises may not have agreed with the popular ear, they certainly had imagination to spare. Going for the tough option, on the other hand, involves uploading items that received crap reviews as well as poor sales at the time not because they were misunderstood, difficult to get to grips with or ahead of the plot, just that the general consensus (which seems very unlikely to change whatever I say to the contrary) was that they were awful.

So then, The Bridewell Taxis' supposedly "Madchester" cover of Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper" was never going to get an easy ride. The fact that many of you are possibly laughing at that sentence alone speaks volumes. It came out at a point where many indie bands were scoring rogue hits with covers of classics, the biggest smash of which was undoubtedly Candy Flip's shameful "Strawberry Fields Forever", a record which does get raved about online now, but frankly I don't care if I never hear it again. It was increasingly being seen as an opportunistic move, an attempt to launch whole careers off the back of other people's good work which, as it happened, very seldom actually paid dividends.

Then there's the minor issue of the tastes of the early nineties - "Don't Fear The Reaper" was, as cover version choices go, inadvisable. Most bands at the time were idly whacking on funky drummer loops and wah-wah guitar to bog-standard covers of sixties classics to gain psychedelic cool points. The excesses of seventies adult rock hadn't really been explored yet, for the simple reason that music critics were still surprisingly sniffy about that era.

Given these walloping great facts, then, you could be forgiven for wondering what the case for the defence actually is. Primarily, I would argue that "Don't Fear The Reaper" is actually a really good song, but Blue Oyster Cult's original version of it has multi-tracked vocals so limping, anaemic and lifeless they sound like two lovers committing suicide by slowly drowning in porridge. Suffering from the worst kind of clinical seventies over-production, there's no emotion in the rendition at all, and a lot of nastily fussy guitar lines far too high up in the mix (and if you're reading this and shaking your head, you should probably be aware that I'd be happy to throw even worse insults at some album Pink Floyd did called "Dark Side of the Moon").

What The Bridewell Taxis did was create something which is definitely rougher, with squeaking organs where the guitars would normally be, a slightly harder, more agitated vocal, and some brilliant subtle use of brass which reminds me of the Salvation Army band on a weekend. It's a much more pleasing version which is more foggy and autumnal, but still manages to add some grit into the mix. And well... you can't deny that the driving riff was always a good one to start with.

It helps that I always did like The Bridewell Taxis too, a band who were much hyped by the NME and Melody Maker when they entered the music scene, then promptly forgotten about as soon as it became apparent they weren't going to go the distance. Despite the fact they hailed from Leeds, they were lumped in with the Manchester movement, which actually made precious little sense for reasons far beyond those of location. The noises they created appeared to owe a greater debt to the Northern alternative bands of the early eighties like The Teardrop Explodes and Wah! than any current white label spinning at the Hacienda. Their solitary trombone player also added a very low-budget Northern Soul effect, like some token, lo-fi nod to the mod movement.

Irrespective of whether they had press acclaim on their side or not, they appeared to suffer from line-up difficulties at an early hour, released an album called "Cage" as The Bridewells which contained none of their initial singles and was a huge disappointment, then disappeared. Nobody has mentioned them much since, and me bringing up their allegedly "ill advised" cover version isn't likely to do them many favours, but do take a look at the video for "Spirit" to see what else they could be capable of. 

(This blog entry was originally uploaded in February 2009.  I have little to add now, and also no apologies to make, though I like "Dark Side of the Moon" a tiny bit more now than I did then.  Candy Flip also had some good tunes, though their version of "Strawberry Fields Forever" does not count among them). 

2 July 2012

The Wedgwoods - September In The Rain/ Gone, Gone Away

Label: Pye
Year of Release: 1964

The identity of The Wedgwoods has, unfortunately, been a mystery for some time now.  Despite their two folky-sounding singles on Pye (of which this was obviously one) and five on Columbia, and the fact that they were releasing records as late as 1977, they are something of an enigma.

Here's the little we do know.  They supposedly consisted of four members, Betty Tiverington on vocals, David Tiverington on guitar, and two other individuals whose identities are unknown.  Specialising in a melodic strain of harmony folk, they appeared not to be part of any radical Dylan-inspired movement (although I'm prepared to be corrected on this) and this might ultimately have been a reason for their failure.

Apparently this likable version of "September In The Rain" received an encouraging volume of airplay in 1964 and was expected to break through into the charts, but obviously didn't capture the public's imagination sufficiently.  Hitless to the last, somebody at EMI obviously still had enough faith in their work to allow them to issue the album "Here Come The Wedgwoods" in 1976, a whole twelve years after this release was ignored.  Does anyone know who they were or why their careers continued for a long while?  My guess would be that they were known names on the folk circuit and had a niche following, but without any back-up evidence to hand this is all just speculation.