30 August 2012

Randy Sparks - Hazy Sunshine

Label: MGM
Year of Release: 1971

I thought I better had dig this one out of the reserve box before summer finally drew to its inevitable close and the relevance of its mood got lost forever.

Randy Sparks is a man whose career has been better appreciated in the USA than it has on European shores.  Back there, he had enormous success with his folk ensemble The New Christy Minstrels, a cheery bunch of rootsy individuals who epitomise the more commercial, rustic, family friendly, feel good nature of American folk alongside such other contenders as the Serendipity Singers (though in fairness, The New Christy Minstrels were somewhat more earnest).  Such was their commercial breakthrough in the early sixties that they have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  Top that, Nick Drake.

Sparks' solo career is spoken about less, but in fact some of the early seventies moments are rather hippy-ish in their feel and not at all unlikable.  "Hazy Sunshine" in particular sums up the mood of flower power a fair few years too late, but is still a pleasant and tranquil listen.  "Nothing is black, nothing is white... If you don't believe in grey, go away" he demands, before informing the listener that new times are a-dawning.  I seem to say this at least once a month on this blog, but had he issued this single a few years before its actual release date he might have been in with a shot at the Billboard Charts, but the fact remains that such references were beginning to seem a bit passĂ© by the early seventies.  As it stands, what we're left with is a pretty piece of memorabilia which does make the summer seem like an altogether better place to relax in.

I would like to apologise for the pops and clicks present in the mp3s below, but erasing them only had the effect of deadening the acoustic production of the songs on both sides - and on reflection, I decided that an undoctored version of the rather scuffed up single I had was the better option.

28 August 2012

Reupload Time

Many moons ago - I'm too embarrassed to put an accurate timescale on this - I acknowledged that the mp3s for a lot of the blog entries prior to February 2010 were offline, and that I would slowly set about remedying this situation as and when time permitted.  And... time hasn't permitted, really.  I have received a few friendly reminders from people, but tackling the backlog feels a bit like dismantling a slag-heap with the aid of a teaspoon.

Still, a small piece of happy news is afoot - three more entries are back online!  Sing joy to the world!  They are the following efforts below:

Monaco - God Only Knows/ Earthy.  Brian Wilson's classic turned into a bizarre piece of smooth soul designed for bedroom seduction.  The flip-side "Earthy", on the other hand, grooves up an old-school electronic keyboard and wah-wah driven disco storm.

Mr. Floppy - 100,000 Morrisseys.  Morrissey-baiting Australian indie single complete with Smiths samples - I sold my copy of this awhile back, but luckily for you all my mp3 copies have remained in a safe place.

The Jeeps - He Saw Eesaw/ Music Goes Around.  Beach Boys inspired piece of British independent sixties pop, very hard to come by these days.

These entries were originally put up in the early weeks of January 2010, and there's a chance you may have missed them first time around, or if you're a new reader you'll never have heard them in the first place.

While we're in the subject, I also plan to remove the link to the download for the "Wallpaper" psychedelic compilation at some point after the next couple of weeks, so if you haven't downloaded a copy yet, you'd be advised to do it some time soon.  I do think it's one of the best homebrew compilations I ever uploaded on to this blog, and it flows fantastically well - but for various reasons, it can't have a permanent home here, and it may have to disappear into the ether for a bit.  At least I warned you first...

27 August 2012

Helen Day's Wild Affair - The Face That Broke A Thousand Hearts/ City Life

Label: Buzz Records
Year of Release: 1983

It's another trip to the Mystery Inn, I'm afraid, where the bands play late night sets but shroud their identities behind baggy gowns and hoods.  Or, to put it a less ridiculous way, I haven't the first clue who Helen Day's Wild Affair were, where they were from (although the Internet hints the North East of England may be a likely region), or what happened to them.

Side A is chipper pop with buzzing synthesisers, slap bass and confidently performed vocals which would date it squarely as being an early eighties recording session even if we didn't have the 1983 copyright on the label to guide us.  The flip, on the other hand, is smokier and vaguely reminiscent of Randy Crawford in its stylings.

I had originally suspected that this may be a vanity pressing put together by a touring cabaret act, or perhaps the kind of single management companies put together to showcase their new acts, but the existence of at least two other Buzz records (presuming the catalogue number of BUZZ 3 isn't a red herring) blow that idea out of the water.  As usual, if anyone knows anything more, please leave a comment.

Apologies for the horrible pops and clicks on Side Two, but they do clear up as the record gradually progresses.

23 August 2012

Babbity Blue - Don't Make Me/ I Remembered How To Cry

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1965 

Even if you're only aware of the obvious candidates in the hit parade data of the era, one trend was immediately apparent in the sixties - girl singers, girl groups and female band members were far more prevalent than they were in the fifties.  And yes, it's true to say that the break wasn't entirely clean and that some of the more famous examples were frequently patronised by the media (almost every single interview with Honey Lantree out of The Honeycombs seemed to treat her as a delicate lady who had been held in a group against her will, for example) but it was a start.

As with all music industry trends, however, the charts only told half the story.  Hiding in the archives of many record labels are female groups and soloists who never really caught on in quite the same way - if we're focussing on the output of the Decca label alone, the "Girls Scene" compilation CD is usually available at budget prices and does a stirling job of rounding up the other contenders, among them Adrienne Poster, Truly Smith and The Vernons Girls.  Missing from that compilation for no good reason I can discern is this track by one Babbity Blue.  Managing to emerge at Number 48 in February 1965, "Don't Make Me" is a frail, innocent and delicate ballad about trying to avoid the perils of teenage love which is actually genuinely touching and subtle rather than coated in syrup or riddled with catchy pop hooks.  Babbity's voice is hushed and doubting, and the backing (delivered by The Tremeloes) fits the bill brilliantly - it's pretty difficult to fault this one, and perhaps its subtlety was all that stood in the way of greater success at the time.  It's safe to say that this probably didn't slap casual radio listeners around the face much.

Babbity Blue was actually born as Barbara Chalk but renamed by her managers after she attended an audition for their company at the age of seventeen.  Unlike many of her contemporaries she never established herself as a touring act, but instead relied on television and radio exposure to bring her records to the public's attention.  Obviously the gambit failed, and after her follow-up single "Don't Hurt Me" completely failed to register she disappeared from sight.

20 August 2012

The Discounts - Selling Records

Label: Original
Year of Release: 1980

When The Buzzcocks issued their "Spiral Scratch" EP on their own label, their approach was trumpeted in some corners of the UK mainstream music press as being unique and ground-breaking. As with many things the NME and their various rivals and sister publications uttered, this obviously wasn't wholly true.  Any record collector worth their salt knows that DIY records had been around for a long time, much beloved by the likes of cabaret artists, folkies, Butlins holiday camp performers, provincial prog rockers and even sixties mod bands.  If somebody was operating in a marginal or specialist field and/or just wanted to make a quick buck selling a record at their gigs or in their local record shops, a DIY pressing was a fairly simple way of getting their music out there.

What is true is that "Spiral Scratch" publicised the ease of the process and made thousands of lightbulbs flash on above a lot of scruffy heads.  More to the point, bands who had formed a mere five minutes ago drew the conclusion that there was nothing stopping them from making a quick raid on their collective bank accounts and seeing if they could get themselves some cultish fame.  DIY records appealed to the Warholian side of many amateur musicians during the punk and post-punk era, and they sometimes chose to quickly put a record out in the hope of gaining a bit of notoriety, only to split up if they were ignored.

Where The Discounts are concerned, I'm possibly drawing far too many conclusions here, because nobody seems to know who the hell they were.  From the limited evidence I have available to me, it would seem that this was a DIY issue in Australia originally, and was subsequently picked up by the British label Original as their debut release on these shores.  It is, to be blunt, a world-weary slice of post-punk bitterness, with the lead vocalist playing the role of a bored record shop assistant (or owner) moaningly intoning his raison d'ĂȘtre.  The band cook up a jolly old swing behind him, but when combined with his droning it starts to sound like the backing to a catchy radio jingle, their best attempts mocked by his lack of enthusiasm.  Did Art Brut hear this one before recording "Formed A Band", I wonder? The "dub" B-side is more bizarre still, being the most minimal dub I've heard in my life.

Johan Kugelberg listed this track in his Top 100 DIY singles of all time, but (so far as I know) it remains uncompiled and fairly difficult to track down copies of.  So then, here it is below.

18 August 2012

The King Of The Castle

Short notice, I realise, but short notice is better than none...

I'll be DJ'ing with John The Revelator at The Castle in Whitechapel, London tonight from 8:30pm(ish) until the wee hours. You hopefully don't need to be told what to expect, but just in case you do it will involve garage pop, mod, soul and funk.  Some "Left and to the Back" records will inevitably feature, just don't expect to hear anything contemplative or downtempo.

You can find more information about the bar here, including directions - please do drop by.  It's going to be a very hot, sticky night in London tonight, you're not going to get any sleep at home, so you may as well sweat it out with the rest of us.

Oh, and ignore the picture of the stacking record player above.  It's merely there for illustrative effect - I'm not actually going to attempt to DJ on it.  

16 August 2012

Reupload - Leer Bros - Mystery of Love/ Just Trying To Please

Label: Intrepid
Year of Release: 1969

I found this little friend lying unwanted and greatly reduced in the Music and Video Exchange, but I can't seem to find a single scrap of evidence online or offline about who the Leer Bros. Band were (although we can hopefully safely say without fear of casual libel that they were indeed brothers with the surname Leer). What I can find, however, is a ton of collector's sites not reaching any general consensus on the type of music they play - I've read this described as "garage pop", "a mod dancer", "bubblegum" and even (wildly inaccurately) "soul/ funk" across several different sites, which means they're either a supersonic, groovy kind of multi-genre family band, or else a bunch of second-hand record traders are just telling potential buyers what they think they want to hear. Sadly, I think it's the latter.

Still, don't surf away just yet, because "Mystery of Love" is actually pretty good. I'd categorise it as being sixties guitar-based pop, in honesty - it doesn't have enough grit or rawness to really be referred to as "garage" - but a compelling, Keith Richards-esque riff and chipper groove makes it sound very much like Crazy Elephant's "Gimme Gimme Good Loving" with a tiny bit more spittle. And yes, I'm well aware that Crazy Elephant's track is frequently categorised as bubblegum, but I've never quite been happy with it resting in that category, especially as its B-side is a gut-churning piece of psychedelia I really must upload sometime.

This also sounds as if it might have been a hit single if the winds had been blowing a bit fairer for it on the week it was released, but its obscurity is now such that if you look on Last FM, it has yet to generate a single play. Trust me, that's as obscure as old singles get in these days of file sharing, mp3 blogs and re-issue labels.

(This blog entry was originally uploaded in April 2009, and since then I've had a ton of correspondence from readers about the Leer Brothers.  Please see below for a summary:

An Anonymous contributor posted:

You are closer than you think with much of your speculation. Take a bow.

The Leer Brothers are a slippery bunch. They spun off from Mel Wynn and The Rhythm Aces (Google: Mel Wynn). A kid from New Zealand (ABS) had a hit with a sampled version of a "hit" Jay Leer/Mel Wynn song titled "Stop Sign".

Caution: it has a catchy hook that will sneak into your brain at odd times.

The Leers Brothers were once signed to Mercury and subsequently dropped with a roster-cleaning that included David Bowie.

Jay was a Mercury A&R for a couple of years while with the band. His close and respectful association with Charlie Fach allowed him to work on the release of "Maggie May", mix the Chuck Berry Live in London Sessions LP, and produce a version of Gunhill Road's "Back When My Hair Was Short" and John Van Horn's "Mountain Music" LP. It also allowed the Brothers a lot of studio access.

The Leer Brothers Band released "Take You Down" b/w "Billy Bam Bam" on Buddah in 1976. The 45 is a study of contradiction.

The promo department convinced the label to rename them "Freedom" and try to glom onto the Centennial celebrations. Generally considered a mistake but knowing the Brothers wrote and recorded "Hot Pants" as "Salvage" and are reported to have done some tracks for Kasenetz-Katz, it is not like they had to have their arms twisted.

The majority of their work can be found on the 1999 CD "Better Late Than Never".

When Googled, more and more videos and hits are returned. They are very interesting.

jayleer said...
The Leer Bros. Band was known in the record business as The Kings of the Secondary Markets! Mystery of love was #1 in 21 secondary markets and sold 50,000 copies but never made it past the bottom of the national charts.

jack said...
They are brothers but their last name is Sechler - not Leer. Larry Sechler lives on Penn lake in north-east Pennsylvania. The drummer AKA Twiggy lives in Tampa Fl. - Don't know about the other two.

And to cap it all off there's now an official website.  God, I love it when things turn out to be so straightforward.)

13 August 2012

Second Hand Record Dip Part 80 - Leslie Sarony - Three Cheers For The Undertaker/ The K-Hissing Song

Who: Leslie Sarony
What: Three Cheers For The Undertaker/ The K-Hissing Song
Label: Imperial
When: 193(?)
Where: Wood Street Market, Walthamstow, London
Cost: £1

I don't own many 78rpm gramophone records, and I very seldom bother to try to convert the ones I do have to mp3 - this is for the simple reason that it's a messy and often unsuccessful process.  What I have to do is record the record at the wrong speed from my modern deck which uses completely the wrong kind of stylus, convert it to the correct speed, and sit with fingers crossed as I attempt to reduce the overwhelming flood of background noise too.  Neighbours have heard me cussing and swearing during this duty, I can tell you, sir.

This one was worth the fight, though, even if the end results are definitely imperfect.  Leslie Sarony was a music hall performer in Great Britain from 1913 onwards, and issued a colossal number of 78rpm records of popular comedy songs and his own work.  Among his triumphs are the vegetable rights ditty "Don't Be Cruel To A Vegetabuel", the observationally faultless "Why Build A Wall Around A Graveyard", and the utterly timeless "Don't Do That To The Poor Puss Cat".  Sarony absolutely flooded the market with these discs to the extent that I haven't seen what I believe to be a truly accurate discography yet, and naturally when the Bonzo Dog Band went raiding junk shops for 78s, they found plenty of his and were inspired enough by "Jollity Farm" and "Hunting Tigers Out In Indi-ah" to cover both.

The A-side on offer here, "Three Cheers For The Undertaker", is a piece of pitch black humour which is (almost unbelievably) available on iTunes with much improved audio, so if the brief clip below arouses your curiosity you can always head that way to buy it.  However the flip, "The K-Hissing Song", is so absurd that one friend of mine completely refused to believe it was a record from the thirties and instead insisted I was winding him up.  In it, Sarony explains that ladies can be seduced with a clever combination of both kissing and hissing like a snake, and warns of the dangers of kissing women too vigorously who have used a lot of face cream (apparently this is liable to lead to a slide-slip into their ears).  It's not difficult to understand how it didn't capture the public's imagination as much as "Don't Do That To The Poor Puss Cat" as it perhaps lacked that tune's mainstream accessibility, but top marks must be awarded to Sarony for coming up with such an off-the-wall comedic idea.

Sarony performed for most of his life, appearing during his later years in the Monty Python film "The Meaning of Life" as one of the elderly insurance clerks at "Crimson Permanent Assurance", as well as featuring in the sitcom "Nearest and Dearest".  He died in 1985, but the impressive and bizarre back-catalogue of records he left behind isn't talked about enough for my liking, and nor is his obvious influence on British comedy.

9 August 2012

Chris Andrews - Yo Yo/ Hey Babe

Label: Pye
Year of Release: 1970

We had a bit of a chat about Chris Andrews a year ago, and collectively acknowledged (didn't we?) that whilst he was one of the more successful songwriters of the sixties, his own solo material frequently flopped for no good reason.  The track of his we discussed then, "Hold On", was a prime example of the kind of mod floor-shaker which should receive more spins than it actually does.

Without wanting to retread over old ground too much, "Yo Yo" is one of the singles he recorded for Pye Records once it became apparent that Decca no longer cared for his services.  Recorded at the bum end of his solo career when his fan base had reached its most selective point, it failed to generate much interest in the UK despite numerous concessions to the emerging seventies sounds.  Whilst his late sixties records did often show a little bit too much faith in raw beat sounds at a time when sophisticated rock and pop was the order of the day, this leans so heavily towards bubblegum pop and glam rock that  you're left wondering why it didn't do some business at the turn of the new decade.  True, "Yo Yo" does indeed seem rather like "Sugar Sugar" in places, but the stomping beats and the euphoric chorus show he'd lost none of his knack for commercial songwriting.  Still, never mind - it was apparently a number seven hit in South Africa which perhaps served as some minor consolation.

Chris Andrews remains an active singer/songwriter, and among the more unusual strings to his bow is the theme music to Channel Four's "Chart Show" in the eighties.  Meanwhile, "Nothing Less Than Brilliant" by Sandie Shaw, issued in 1988, remains a ridiculously ignored piece of greatness which showed the world how jangly, female-fronted indie pop really should be done.

6 August 2012

Don Crown - Budgerigar Man/ Piper Call A Tune

Label: Orange
Year of Release: 1970

If ever I wanted proof that just about everyone of any minor fame or status was dragged into a recording studio in the seventies, this really would be my trump card, my smug seven inch disc to declare "Case closed, your honour".  Don Crown was until very recently Great Britain's premier budgie busker, with decades of experience.  Travelling the land and performing in tourist spots with his staggeringly well-trained budgerigars, they were capable of performing stunts and tricks which challenged the notion that the creatures have a very simple intelligence compared to many of their larger parrot brothers.

I had a pet budgerigar myself as a child and I freely admit that this might be a contributory factor in the affection I feel for Don. Like Duke Baysee who we discussed some entries ago, he's a London character, somebody who has briefly flittered into the lives of many capital dwellers at some point or another, a recognisable and faintly eccentric figure who nonetheless isn't particularly famous in the conventional sense of the word.  As such people become rarer and rarer in this mass-media world, we should do more to ensure that their presence is protected, which is why I signed a petition to prevent Crown from being banned from his long-standing busking spots by interfering Council officers.    If he were a talentless git strumming an acoustic guitar and singing "Angels" I'd probably have less sympathy, but the sheer degrees of saintly patience necessary to train his birds and teach them tricks should mean that we have more respect for his work.

So then, climbing down off my soapbox for a minute, let's focus on the single.  This was featured in the psychedelic e-zine "Sweet Floral Albion" some years ago as a lost gem, although the contributor didn't seem to be aware of who Don Crown was and treated the disc as a piece of whimsical, fairyland psychedelic pop.  An easy mistake to make, as it doesn't disappoint on that level, being full of twittering birds, grandiose and optimistic orchestral blasts, and a spoken outro which makes Don sound like a misunderstood Disney hero disappearing across the hills with his animals.  Like some of Tiny Tim's earliest efforts on Reprise, it's an impressively expensive sounding novelty single which was presumably meant to push his career to the next level - and indeed, how fantastic would it have been to see those budgies on "Top of the Pops"? - but it was not to be.  The record was largely ignored as was his follow-up "Mrs Wilson's Budgie", and despite some television coverage of his activities at the time, Crown returned to his busking spots where he remained until his recent retirement from public performance.

Don's career did have one minor flicker of hope a few years ago when he put himself forward for a "Britain's Got Talent" audition, but something went horribly awry as his usually calm and trusting budgies apparently panicked and began flapping around the studio.  Obviously the studio environment spooked them, and Crown was buzzed off the show, Simon Cowell clearly not appreciating this known London character as much as he had Duke Baysee some years before.  A deep shame, but if you want to look at some nobler moments in his career there's a brief documentary here, and here's a video of him in action on London's South Bank.

2 August 2012

The End - Shades of Orange/ Loving Sacred Loving

Label: Decca

Year of Release: 1968

Oh, of all the obvious records I could have picked... but it's high summer, nobody's dumping anything of much interest in the second hand record shops at the moment (this is a seasonal phenomenon, I'm sure, but don't ask me why) and taking a bit of a dip into the obvious backwaters of my record collection seems like the answer, even though I've had a copy of this little gem for years now.

The End are probably among the best-known "obscure" psychedelic bands in the canon, thanks to the involvement of a certain Bill Wyman who made them something of a pet project of his.  Initially spotted by singer and friend-of-the-Stones Elkie Brooks, The End initially supported Jagger and co on tour in 1965 and had an accompanying 45 out on Philips entitled "I Can't Get Any Joy".  When this bombed, it would take another three years before "Shades Of Orange" emerged into the sunlight with Wyman on co-songwriting duties and Charlie Watts on tabla.  Recorded during a break in the "Satanic Majesties Request" sessions, it's actually - sacrilege alert - a lot better than the messy trippiness of much of that album, the A-side in particular showing a mellow restraint faintly reminiscent of the most laidback Barrett-era Pink Floyd output.  If it has a fault at all, it's perhaps that it sticks stubbornly to its arrangement and theme throughout where some minor variations might have been welcome.  

Whilst The End never did achieve success in the UK, they managed a top five hit in Spain with "Why" (unreleased on these shores) and actually decamped to that country to capitalise on their following there. Decca did put out their album "Introspection" in Britain, however, where it has gained a cult following as being a fine example of psychedelia, and an enormous collectible amongst Stones fans for the involvement of Watts and Wyman.

The band eventually became hard rock act Tucky Buzzard and released another three albums under Wyman's wing, as well as signing to Deep Purple's Purple label.  All this high class patronage led to nought, though, and they too had all but dissolved by 1973.    

Please note that most of The End's material is commercially available online and in good record shops, therefore I've just included a brief clip from each side of this single here.  You can, however, hear both "Shades of Orange" and "Loving Sacred Loving" in full on YouTube.