29 October 2012

The Belltower - Exploration Day EP

Label: Ultimate
Year of Release: 1991

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

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

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

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

25 October 2012

Miki - Knight In White Armour/ Easy To Say

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

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

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

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

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

22 October 2012

Gliss Anders - Toy Piano/ Whistling Plowboy

Label: Ember
Year of Release: 1962

Short, sweet and snappy instrumental singles were surprisingly common in the early sixties prior to the Beat Boom, and here is one such example.  "Toy Piano" by the mysterious Gliss Anders is two minutes of tringing, dinging toyshop melodies dominating over a subtle orchestral backing, with a B-side which is (it's not unfair to say) more of the same.  You can imagine Joe Meek sat in his Holloway home listening to this, thinking to himself "I wish I'd had that bloody idea", then finally "See, I always knew it was a poor idea" when the disc failed to chart.

My mother hadn't even met my father when this single was released, but records like this one do bring back some memories for me. Brief novelty singles of this ilk were much loved by Radio Two DJs in the eighties desperate to fill in short time slots before the news arrived, so my mind's ear is filled with Jimmy Young's voice intoning the latest petty complaints of middle-aged suburban listeners in an unnecessarily dramatic way, such as: "...and Mrs Elaine Saunderrrss of Sydenhammmm writes: 'I wish they would introduce a cat's licence. The local tom cats regularly urinate on my doorstep, and it stinks to high heaveennnnnnn'. Now, to take us up to the news, here's a lovely little tune....."

However, you may have problems of your own, and he always did tend to favour "Nut Rocker" anyway. The tedious man.

18 October 2012

Reupload - Jumbo - Brighten Up/ H.O.N Honey

Label: Bright Orange Biscuit

Year of Release: 1999

"It was inevitable, really, as pop music choked on stale dadrock pie, that we'd soon turn to some evanescent psychedelic sorbets to clean the palate..." - so began the NME's review of Jumbo's only album "CB Mamas" back in 1999. During the tail end of the nineties, there was a belief in some critical quarters that now the chief adult rock librarians Noel Gallagher and Paul Weller had decided to allow the likes of Ocean Colour Scene unlimited access to their vaults (even on early closing Wednesdays) to pilfer riffs, music had to go in a lopsided direction to remain fresh. If they didn't think that the Super Furry Animals, Mercury Rev and Olivia Tremor Control were showing us the way, there was a belief that perhaps post-rock may be the future instead. Some are inclined to argue that it was at this point that the mainstream music press "lost its way", backing bands who were utterly peculiar and unlikely to sell large quantities of records - personally, I believe it was just beginning to get back on track again, but lost its bottle pretty swiftly. A pre-Britpop NME would never have given a shit about whether their critical praise actually translated into platinum sales, and the fact that many of the above mentioned bands failed to become the next U2 or Oasis shouldn't have been the main criteria for excluding them from the magazine in the long term.

Whatever - there's now precious little information about Jumbo available, which is surprising for a band who emerged as the Internet had just begun to get seriously whirring, and also had an NME CD compilation appearance (as part of 1999's "On"). From my utterly inaccurate memory where "citation needed" shall be our guiding catchphrase, they hailed from Newcastle and composed a pack of confusing, lysergic and staggering ditties, with wild horns, scattering guitar lines, berserk time signatures and hollered vocals. Their products owed a lot more to the US underground than (for example) The Super Furries or Gorky's Zygotic Mynci were producing at the same time, but were intriguing and actually quite awkward records. Whereas Gorky's were engaging in English pastoral whimsy and silliness, Jumbo sounded like a competition between a youth club orchestra as to who could hold dominance over a song's direction or mood. Both "Brighten Up" and "H.O.N. Honey" are uneasy listening, but a lot of fun if you're in the right frame of mind.

Sadly, I'm also forced to agree with the NME's reviewer's sentiments about Jumbo seldom transcending the sum of their influences, but across seven inches they did make a nice noise. One is forced to wonder what became of the pups, and whether they're in bands now producing equally interesting material. It's an odd question to ask of a band who ceased trading a mere ten years ago, but sometimes acts do seem to slip off the radar very quickly indeed.

(This entry was originally written in March 2009. Little information has come to light since, but apparently members Andy Hodson, Gary Bowden and Jon Lee are still making music around Newcastle - and if they'd like to step up and plug their material, they'd be very welcome indeed).

15 October 2012

After Tea - The Time Is Nigh/ Not Just A Flower In Your Hair

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1967

The Dutch music scene of the late sixties is an embarrassment of riches, and despite the fact that various compilation series - most prominently Rubble - have hoovered up a lot of the best material, a quick trip to an Amsterdam vinyl outlet can leave a buyer feeling spoiled for choice (as well as utterly bemused as to which records are duds and which ones are worth the asking prices quoted).  The Amsterdam music scene in particular out-freaked a great many of the oddest London bands, and initially moved Paul McCartney to once claim that it had a more finely developed underground than that city.

After Tea, however, can't claim complete and total membership of the Nederbeat clan, for they had ex-Syndicat Ray Fenwick on guitar at this point in their careers.  A mere one year after putting his instrument through grevious punishment with Joe Meek for "Crawdaddy Simone" he hopped across to the Netherlands to join After Tea, who were being formed by ex-member of The Tee Set Hans Van Eijck.  The band's name presumably served two purposes - to act as an homage to the Spencer Davies Group single of the same name, and also to insinuate that there was life for Hans beyond The Tee Set (in case this joke needed to be heavily highlighted for any of you readers).

This, their debut single, is a bit of a winner.  A-side "Not Just A Flower In Your Hair" is a piece of tongue-in-cheek Move inspired pop which chirps along confidently.  Whilst I suspect the song is as genuine a statement about hippy-dom as anything Scott MacKenzie produced, lovers of popsike will be pleasantly amused.

The B-side "The Time Is Nigh", on the other hand, is as mad as a bag of Jack Russells who have been fed acid-spiked dog treats, although the message seems to be in favour of abstinence from that particular drug.  "Throw your LSD away/ because meditation is the thing for today!" the group demand, whilst a swirling organ workout squawks along behind them, and various children manically "la la la" their way through their chorus.  Sounding like something existing between the theme music from "Rentaghost" and The Small Faces having a jam whilst on a cocktail of various conflicting drugs, this track is fully in keeping with some of the more berserk moments in the Dutch music scene of the time.

Sadly, as soon as Fenwick's work permit expired he was sent home and, through an interesting quirk of fate, joined the Spencer Davies Group to record "Time Seller".  After Tea plodded on without him back in the Netherlands and steadily became more progressive in their style, before eventually settling on a heavy rock/ blues sound for their final album "Joint House Blues".

11 October 2012

The Saucers - Spring Has Sprung/ Major Breakthrough

Label: BBC
Year of Release: 1982

The curious thing about fluke novelty hits is that the lucky performers seldom accept their fate as flash-in-the-pan artists.  Instead, they have a tendency to try to milk their already limited template dry - hence Lieutenant Pigeon spent years releasing (actually quite entertaining) singles with honky-tonk pianos that nobody really bought, The Firm's attempted follow-up to "Star Trekkin'" entitled "Superheroes" was just more squeaky sci-fi/ fantasy stupidity which didn't get played enough to even annoy anyone, and the less said about Edelweiss' attempts to go for a second gold the better.  

Noel Edmonds had spent years hosting "Top of the Pops" and watching the limited fortunes of actors and TV presenters attempting spin-off novelty singles, so you'd have thought he'd have been sceptical about Brown Sauce having another crack at the charts after "I Wanna Be A Winner" got into the Top Forty.  Perhaps he was, and perhaps it's for that reason that he fails to appear in the video or the credits for this particular effort - but nonetheless, Saturday morning Swap Shop regulars Keith Chegwin and Maggie Philbin feature, and his old chum BA Robertson is back on songwriting duties again. In all other respects, this is business as usual.

Unsurprisingly, this single completely failed to chart.  More interestingly, perhaps, it's actually quite good, even better than its predecessor.  Whereas "I Wanna Be A Winner" was essentially a silly, off-the-cuff joke created for the "Swap Shop" TV show which was only released as a single to cater for public demand, "Spring Has Sprung" is actually a reasonably classy piece of early eighties synth-pop, complete with hushed vocals, atmospheric fills and a similar demanding, stomping chorus.  You can tell that a lot more thought has been put into this - obviously, Philbin's semi-erotic monologue and peculiar mid-Atlantic vocals do threaten to push the whole thing into the realms of parody, but had this been issued by a serious pop act such as Dollar, it might have been a minor hit.  This does actually sound as if Robertson was taking the prospect of the celebrity couple Chegwin and Philbin having further hits seriously and had decided to push the concept as hard as he could.  The video for this single recently emerged online and even features Philbin pouting moodily whilst dressed in new wave garb, looking like some kind of proto-Donna-out-of-Elastica.  

The B-side, to my amazement, is also a proper song rather than an off-the-cuff instrumental.  "Major Breakthrough" is a strident piece of marching rock which involves Chegwin pleading with Philbin's (presumably fictional) army father for his daughter's hand, whilst Philbin coos "Ooh Daddy, ooh Daddy dear!" girlishly in the background.  This has just the right level of bizarre, angular tweeness to 
bear vague resemblances to a Bis B-side, a fair fourteen years before that bunch saw the light of day.

Still, let's not go overboard.  Both sides of this are ultimately disposable and inessential in the grand old game of pop, but the fact that they provide any pleasure at all is still a shock to the system.  I'm actually quite glad they did attempt this single, even if BBC Records and Tapes are probably sorry they bothered to spend any money pressing these up.

8 October 2012

Jasmin-T - Some Other Guy/ Evening

Label: Tangerine
Year of Release: 1969

This particular single has found huge favour with various mod DJs over the last few years, to the extent that the bidding price for a copy in near mint condition has gone berserk - apparently one recently sold for £100.  Such is the desperation some people have to plug their collections with fresh-sounding vintage beats.

"Some Other Guy" is actually a pretty nifty cover of the Lieber and Stoller composition which starts off incredibly confidently with an addictive and dancefloor-friendly backbeat, all topped off with a puffing flute (puffing flutes on records seem to have been quite in vogue throughout 1969).  It doesn't really develop much beyond that initial first minute, however, which prevents the track from truly soaring into the heights it perhaps potentially could.  The flipside "Evening", on the other hand, is a fairly straightforward moody, bluesy ballad.

The identity of Jasmin-T has been a mystery to collectors for some time now, but apparently they were based in Liverpool and consisted of Brent "Lightbulb" Pickthall on bass guitar, Alan Menzies on drums, and George Eccles on lead guitar.  The band spent some time on the continent, in particular Italy where they were most popular, and played their last gig in 1976.  This scanty information is absolutely all I've managed to dig up online, so if anyone else is capable of filling in any of the blanks please do get in touch.

5 October 2012

DJ'ing at The Castle, 12 October

I'll be back at The Castle (44 Commercial Road, Aldgate, London, E1 1LN) again on Friday 12 October to deliver the usual soul, funk and rock and roll sounds with John The Revelator and other DJ's tbc.  The evening will run from 8:30pm until very, very late, and a Facebook invite (for those of you who do Facebook) is here.

If you're a regular reader of this blog you will enjoy the contents of the evening.  Besides blistering sixties mod and rock sounds (with a dash of psych here and there) we'll bring you vinyl obscurities you never thought you'd find yourself dancing to in a pub that tends to get absolutely rammed in the wee early hours of the morning.  Last time I DJ'ed there it was so hot that (as you can see from the photo) somebody obviously ripped their shirt off and went outside.  Fair enough.  However, as we also got requests for Muse and Justin Timberlake there may just have been something odd in the air that night.

See you there, I hope.  Bring clothes this time, please.  

4 October 2012

Second Hand Record Dip Part 82 - Tom Catz - It's The Fonz/ Love Walked Out The Door

Who: Tom Catz
What: It's The Fonz/ Love Walked Out The Door
Where: Music and Video Exchange, Notting Hill, London
Label: Weekend
When: 1978
Cost: £2

True fact: back when I was a five-year old boy, my family nickname was "The Fonz".  This was not because I owned a leather jacket or could even click my fingers in a commanding and charismatic fashion (I couldn't even whistle yet) but, I suspect, as some kind of ironic joke.  I doubt the Fonz dribbled peanut butter sandwiches around his face or regularly tripped over the family dog.  He was certainly never spanked for pissing up against a neighbour's wall whilst being caught short in the garden, that's for sure (unless there's an aborted "Happy Days" script out there I know nothing about).

Still, it's evidence of the ubiquity of the character at the peak of the success of "Happy Days".  The Fonz was deemed to be the very epitome of cool, almost something to aspire to.  As a small boy I definitely wanted to be The Fonz, but by the time I had the choice as a grown adult I obviously never tried.  Cool has context.  Clicking your fingers and saying "Hey" is all well and good in a feel-good retro sitcom, but it would make you seem like an utter pillock whilst doing a Saturday job in a supermarket.  Respect would not be forthcoming from your colleagues if you clicked your fingers at them whilst replenishing the cheese counter.

So then... "It's The Fonz" was obviously a cash-in song designed to profit on a craze in much the same way that "Kung Fu Fighting" had some years before.  The crucial difference here is that "Kung Fu Fighting" was a hugely enjoyable record, whereas "It's The Fonz" pastiches doo-wop vocals and feels right, but isn't a potent enough bit of pop to really make the grade.  One of the first rules of any successful novelty record is that you should be humming it after the first play even if you utterly despise it - "It's The Fonz" doesn't really achieve that.  Oddly though, the flip-side "Love Walked Out The Door" is a serious sounding piece of soul which sounds as if it could have been a hit in its own right had the wind been blowing in the right direction (God knows "Top of the Pops" was filled to the brim with this stuff throughout that period).

The Internet is being very unhelpful in helping me to identify who Tom Catz was (and I'm assuming he was a person rather than a group) but media buffs will no doubt note the fact that he was signed to London Weekend Television's label, a relatively short-lived venture which often put out records by the kind of variety acts who graced its programmes, such as these chaps.  It's highly probable that he did have some sort of media profile at the time, but as for where, who knows?  Most of my searches just lead to either one or two suggestions, none of which take me any further forward.

Sorry for the scuffed-sounding nature of these sides, by the way - I tried my best to clean them up.

1 October 2012

Uncle Tom Cobley's Ensemble - How Now Brown Cow/ The Dusty Miller

Label: Major Minor
Year of Release: 1967

Knowing the response some of my other easy listening uploads have received over the course of this blog's history, this will probably piss as many people off as it delights.  For, make no mistake about it, Uncle Tom Cobley's Ensemble are not a peculiarly named psychedelic group, as wonderful as that might be - they're some kind of studio aggregation put together for this one single.  Sorry.

But apologies may not be necessary if you're in a chipper frame of mind.  I actually believe that "How Now Brown Cow" is a sprightly piece of work which, had they any sense, the remaining boutiques around Carnaby Street would still be playing on their sound systems.  Pitched somewhere between "Kaiser Bill's Batman" (whose success it was probably supposed to emulate)  and the incidental music for a comedy Brit-flick of the era, it bounces along with such verve that it makes you want to step outside the front door, grab your handbag (or man-bag) and head towards the Kings Road so you can swing it with vigour whilst skipping through Chelsea.  Or perhaps these are all just my issues.

It is what it is, frankly, and you'll either rate it as a pleasant period piece or something so stupid I shouldn't have bothered either buying it or uploading it.   And not for the first time, I'll warrant.