29 November 2012

Reupload - Marnie - Bell Jar/ Be


Label: Progression
Year of Release: 1995

If you're the kind of person who gets advance copies of singles for review - which, for a brief time, I was - there are certain sleeves that just guarantee the waxing will be shoved to the bottom of the listening pile. It's not that you don't intend to listen to them at all, of course, it's just you sometimes get the sense that any indie band who is prepared to allow certain designs to dominate their work are simply sending out messages that this is "not for you". And so it went with this particular 45, whose Plath referencing sleeve with Plath referencing song title immediately made me suspect the people behind it were the sorts of folk who wrote very angst-ridden teenage poetry and had decided to set it to music. "Play later," I thought, filing it behind a whole bunch of stuff I was genuinely excited about.

When I finally did get around to spinning the A-side "Bell Jar", I was pleasantly surprised by the contents. It does indeed sound like a tremendously moody piece of work, but the interesting thing I find about many bands who attempted this stuff in the mid-nineties is that they glossed the bleakness over with plenty of production sparkles. Had this been issued in '92 or '93, there's little doubt it would have been a Courtney Love referencing slab of angry, clattering gloom, but the mid nineties model introduces more fragile harmonies and melodic guitars to the mix. It starts off like Hole with clunking bass noises and despairing vocals, then somehow loosens up to take you by surprise. It's the music of a parallel universe where grunge didn't so much die, but was given a thorough sheen, and allowed to become slightly more fragile and snuggle up to its poppy side.

Far, far better than the A-side, however, is the flip, the lengthy, 33rpm spinning "Be", which features Roman Jugg out of the Damned on keyboards and just builds and builds upon a very simple idea, ending on a riot of moaning synth noises and soaring guitars - it's a tried and tested rock formula, and if it's one you don't care for much, this isn't going to change your mind one iota, but it's deftly done and leaves me wondering what Marnie might have been like live.

As for who Marnie were, I'm afraid to say I've lost the press release and can't remember, but seem to recall that they were from Essex, had at least two women in the line-up ("Michelle" gets the credit for the A side of this single, and "Olga" the B-side) and released a string of singles through the nineties which failed to sell in sufficient quantities to register in the upper regions of the indie charts. I never did manage to get to any of their gigs, which always seemed to be advertised as taking place in tiny pubs around the UK, and whilst they managed to keep on plugging away until the end of the decade and there apparently is an album out there somewhere, the Internet is keeping very quiet about it.

Rave reviews from Melody Maker and NME and plays by Peel and Lamacq were also apparently forthcoming, but one suspects that the band suffered from being associated with a tiny indie, and just didn't have the publicity money to turn those fleeting mentions and snatches of airplay into greater things. But this, of course, is all just speculation again...

(This blog entry was originally uploaded in October 2008, and no further information has come to light since.  Marnie are an incredibly secretive band, it seems, although I can't really understand why.  If anyone saw them live or knows who they were, drop me a comment please).

28 November 2012

Morning Star & Stoke Newington Lit Fest Christmas Assembly

Once again, I'll be DJ'ing at the Morning Star & Stoke Newington Literary Festival on 8 December.  This promises to be a packed and exciting line up of poets, including:

Perry Benson
Tim Wells
Anne Brechin
Sophia Blackwell
Niall O'Sullivan
Emlyn Hugill
Graham Bendel
Matthew Hedley Stoppard
Jah-Mir Early
Nicola Gledhill
Charlotte Henson

Plus a short talk about the upcoming Fifth Monarchist film by Ian Bone and Suzy Gillett.

Once again, I'll be DJ'ing and won't be performing myself, so please don't drop by in the expectation that I'll be taking the mic, as one person did on the last occasion!  But what myself and fellow DJ's John The Revelator and Graham Bendel will bring you is the best vintage sounds we can muster from our vinyl collections, with the usual merry mixture of freakbeat, mod, soul and funk noises.  It shall be good.

For those of you who Facebook, the invite page is here.

26 November 2012

Avenue AVE 76 - The Beatles, Desmond Dekker, John Lennon, Cilla Black, Beach Boys, Thunderclap Newman

Label: Avenue
Year of Release: 1969

It's been a long while since "Left and to the Back" last focussed on the thrills you can have whilst listening to budget priced "not the work of the original artists!" pop party records.  These discs were actually bought in large numbers and tend to turn up all over the place, but finding one that's both in good condition and either unintentionally funny or admirably well handled is hard work.

This 1969 example does, on the surface, seem to contain plenty of tripwires for unsuspecting session musicians, containing as it does reggae (always a problem for jobbing musos in the sixties, as the Top of the Pops orchestra proved time and time again), counter-cultural commentary, and West Coast harmonies.  It's disappointing to note that in the vast majority of cases, these are handled fairly well.  It seems ridiculous listening to somebody who isn't John Lennon singing about the trials and tribulations of being John Lennon on "Ballad of John and Yoko", but beyond a certain politeness to the vocal delivery there aren't many stumbles apparent.

"It Mek" is probably too polished and clean to sell itself authentically as genuine sixties reggae, but irrespective of that isn't terribly embarrassing, "Give Peace A Chance" sounds like it always did (someone ranting tediously over a bunch of individuals kicking around the contents of a broom cupboard - that can hardly have presented a challenge to everyone at Avenue House), and "Conversations" was never an impressive Cilla Black track in the first place.

It's left up to "Breakaway" before we start to notice serious floundering.  "Breakaway" was never the Beach Boys most heavily produced and arranged track, but when it's left in the hands of anonymous session musicians you are left appreciating the original a great deal more.  The harmonies are strained, and the musicians are very clearly struggling to replicate the Wilson sound here - you can almost hear the strain and panic.  It sounds as if the backing vocalist handling the "doos" is almost sobbing during the intro, while the others contemplate freedom and release in the style of a wedding service hymn sung by a church filled with atheists.  There really is a sense of resentment about the delivery here, as if everyone involved was handed a difficult job and asked to deliver it against an impossible deadline - the net result is a total disaster.  Phil Spector has gone on record as saying that Brian Wilson sent himself mad "trying to become me".  The Avenue jobbers here sound as if they went fairly close to the edge of sanity attempting to ape Wilson.

"Something In The Air" restores some balance at the end of side two by being a fair facsimile, although again lacks conviction given the subject matter.  In summary - bar one appalling stinker on this record, I've heard worse.  Oh yeah, and sorry about some of the pops and clicks and surface noise.

22 November 2012

The Bubblegum - Little Red Bucket/ With The Sun In Your Hair

Label: Philips
Year of Release: 1968

Another Vanda and Young composition for your delectation here, readers, this time performed by the Leicester-based Bubblegum rather than a member of American garage rock royalty.

"Little Red Bucket" snarls in the way that this week's previous entry (Jamie Lyons Group's "Gonna Have A Good Time") probably failed, being chock full of abrasive, distorted garage guitar and a simultaneously bubblegummy yet somehow slightly irate sounding chorus - imagine the 1910 Fruitgum Company being chased by a cloud of angry wasps.  It's clear that the record was probably supposed to have a been a bit of a plastic pop hit, but obviously the producer had other ideas and pushed the needles into the red during the recording and mixing process, making what could have been an also-ran piece of froth into an energetic and enjoyable single.

The B-side, on the other hand, is the most B-sidey sounding sixties flip I've uploaded on to this blog in many a moon, and probably isn't worth your time or trouble.

Not much is known about The Bubblegum except the fact that they previously operated under the name  Deuce Coup - anyone with any further information should feel free to get in touch!

Excuse the pops and clicks on this record, by the way, the record has had one very deep clean and the mp3 file has been through one filtering process, but it was going to be a horribly tough job to get rid of all the mess.  "Excellent Condition!" my eye.

19 November 2012

Jamie Lyons Group - Gonna Have A Good Time/ Heart Full O' Soul II

Label: Laurie
Year of Release: 1968

To start with, a guilty confession - I didn't walk into a record shop and buy this one.  On the contrary, the esteemed blogger of seventies obscurities and member of The Barracudas Robin Wills sold me a copy on ebay.  Mp3 bloggers bumping into each other on ebay is more common than you'd suppose, actually, and probably not all that surprising given the sheer amount of flotsam and jetsam there is cluttering up our houses.

Jamie Lyons was the lead singer with the brilliant Ohio garage rock band The Music Explosion who had a sizeable hit Stateside (though not, bafflingly, in the UK) with "A Little Bit Of Soul".  This release was presumably intended to create a profile for him as a solo star, and with a Harry Vanda and George Young penned A-side he probably should have had this one in the bag.  Sadly, the single perhaps lacks the bite of a lot of their other compositions and also the Music Explosion's output - it's a strong enough song which could have used a little more wildness in the studio.  

The B-side, however, will definitely be of interest to mods who enjoy cool grooving, organ led instrumentals - "Heart Full O' Soul II" is a typical example of this fare and swings with pride and conviction.  Although almost all B-sides of this ilk were intended as throwaway items at the time, they're an utter boon to retro DJs in the present day, and this is a rather unlikely and unexpected source for one.  

15 November 2012

Double Feature - Handbags and Gladrags/ Just Another Lonely Night

Label: Deram
Year of Release: 1967

We've already covered Brum psychedelic soul mod-poppers Double Feature on this blog with their brilliant version of Cat Stevens' "Baby Get Your Head Screwed On", and since we're now looking at their second and last release I suspect this is the final time we'll have cause to talk about them.

Whilst I wouldn't want to debate the relative musical merits of their two records, this is by far the more interesting release for fans of pop trivia.  "Handbags and Gladrags", an evergreen song penned by Mike D'Abo of Manfred Mann, was first released by Chris Farlowe who managed a minor chart hit with it.  However, if other sources are to be believed, D'Abo in fact intended Double Feature to record it first, but Andrew Oldham heard an early demo and nabbed it for Farlowe before they got a chance to do their stuff in the studio.  The net result was a single issued on Deram which followed a few weeks in the wake of the other release and subsequently lost out.

If this is true, then we should possibly kick Andrew Oldham for interfering.  Double Feature's version is a hell of a lot better - the woebegone moodiness of the hit recording is replaced by a looping, piano-led sprightliness, some more of that Move-esque cello work which featured on "BGYHSO", and a cracking, percussive urgency and biting vocal delivery.  All the cover versions of "Handbags and Gladrags" we've been treated to since have largely drawn from the sweaty, last-number-of-the-night Farlowe blueprint, when this single clearly shows that it's possible to shake a certain amount of life into the track.

The B-side isn't bad either, "Just Another Lonely Night" being something you could easily imagine having been a Northern Soul spin.  The more I hear of Double Feature, the more I wish they'd had a bit more of a career - either of their singles could have been hits, and the world would have been a better place if they were.  Admittedly though, it's hard to imagine "The Office" using this version of "Handbags" as their template for the opening credits... but if the theme tune performer Big George had been forced to look elsewhere for moody inspiration, that might also have denied The Stereophonics one more unnecessary hit single with their particular facsimile.  It's worth thinking about.

13 November 2012

Polite Notice

I've managed to keep this blog running for nearly five years now without once putting up a passive-aggressive admin notice, which is a good tally and will hopefully get me off the hook and make me sound less like my mother in a grouchy mood.  Also, it's a testament to the good nature of most of the people who stop by here, I think - you've generally been an enthusiastic, polite and supportive bunch, and you've even made me laugh when you've utterly despised what I've uploaded (actually, I think I've enjoyed those moments the most).  Nonetheless...

It's come to my attention over the last few months that a couple of people have been copying and pasting text from this blog and passing it off as their own work.  I freely confess that so far, it's nothing big - it's not another blogger or journalist in full-on plagiarism mode, for example, it's just one record retailer and another YouTube user pulling paragraphs of info from here when they feel it's appropriate to their needs.  I was tempted to ignore both completely.  However, I thought I'd try to nip it in the bud now with what I think is a fair point - I don't mind if you want to borrow my work to describe that piece of vinyl you're desperate to shift or that video you want people to watch, provided you link back here when you do so.  Writers and journalists (and I have been published 'properly', believe it or not - though this shouldn't make a shred of difference to my point) have a tendency to get a bit sniffy when other people credit themselves with their work.  Far apart from that, though, if you're indirectly profiting from my writing by way of a very successful record sale, it would be nice if you could send a few of your potential customers in this blog's direction.

I'm naming no names, but please do try to respect my wishes above.  Otherwise that horrible gnarled tree in the shape of the Grim Reaper above will haunt your dreams every night from now on.  

12 November 2012

Cool Breeze - Do It Some More/ Citizen Jones

Label: Bus Stop
Year of Release: 1974

There's a pile of records in the corner of my living room (or living room/ kitchen combination, since that's actually what it is) which are all set to upload to this blog.  Some of them don't live in the mini-tower of vinyl for long, because as soon as I buy them I'm desperate to share them.  Others live there for quite some time until I get totally desperate for blog content.  Then there are others - we'll call these the "guilty finds" - that I'm not overly keen on myself, but I know a lot of people online have been making a fuss about. "Wouldn't it be good to track down an mp3 of this one?" someone will say on a forum, and I'll go all quiet.

So then, the full story behind this record for me is that some enterprising ebay seller told me the B-side "Citizen Jones" was "psychedelic pop".  The 1974 release date should have caused alarm bells to ring, but I put in a low bid and subsequently won the thing.  Obviously, the very last thing this record is is popsike - if we're going to bracket it in that category, then the theme tune to "Sorry!", Brotherhood Of Man, Abba, Ken Dodd and that music Thames Television used to play when they were just opening up for the morning are also popsike, and God knows what else as well.  Naughty e-bay seller (Although small snatches of it to remind me of Sleeper's "Vegas", strangely).

This record is actually a very chirpy and standard piece of seventies pop, with the able harmony noises of sisters Rosemary and Patti Gold with friend and associate Wendy Baldock on vocals.  It has received an enormous amount of love online over the last couple of years, and whilst I have to admit I personally can't share the same degree of enthusiasm for its contents, it's easy to understand how others might - in terms of delivery and arrangements it's absolutely pitch-perfect, and has a sunny, cheerful chorus which doesn't irritate with any displays of pushiness.  This is a subtle and pleasing record which still sounds as if it had enough in the way of hooks to be a hit, whilst not really being the kind of thing I'd ordinarily listen to myself.

The band apparently enjoyed a lot of appearances on the mainstream television shows of the day (including everyone's favourite barrel of absurdities "3-2-1") but never quite managed to make it on to "Top of the Pops" or indeed enter the charts.

And as for the "Bus Stop" record label (most famously home to Paper Lace) try getting away with such a wanton breach of copyright for your company's logo now...

8 November 2012

Reupload - Buggy - Harry The Keeper

Label: Parlophone
Year of Release: 1970

This is the kind of thing you dream about digging up when you approach the bargain section in the corner of the second hand record shop, dipping in for possible underpriced gems. The clues are there for all to see, and whilst I'd be happy to print them upside down at the bottom of this blog entry as some sort of quiz feature, it's probably more sensible if I just outline them. This is a Morgan production by Danny Beckerman and Geoff Gill. The former would be enough to make this a compelling curiosity, but the fact that Beckerman and Gill are involved makes it doubly interesting, as the pair have been engaged with some of the more cultishly successful collectable psychedelic records of the period.

Buggy's "Harry The Keeper" has been late to pick up any sort of critical praise from the usual British Psychedelic websites (it only began to get noticed shortly after I bought this, actually) but it is beginning to be appreciated by lovers of the twee, toytown end of the spectrum. It's the usual sort of twisted childlike nonsense about a zookeeper cheerily feeding his friends to the lions, the kind of lisping innocence with a nasty underbelly that the period churned out in enormous quantities. There's no question that it will be best appreciated by those who like "that sort of thing", and utterly despised by everyone expecting something akin to The Grateful Dead. If you have an aversion to the frothier end of McCartney inspired psychedelic pop, you'd do well not to bother clicking on the download button.

The flip side "Rolly Pole Coaster" would indicate that rather like Kidrock's "Ice Cream Man" (see the "Circus Days" entry) this single may have been aimed at the junior market whilst still retaining a period sound. I'm sorry to say that the effects put on the vocals on the B-side make it sound as if its being sung by Joe Pasquale, and subsequently it becomes extremely irritating within a matter of seconds. Still, I'll leave it bundled in so you can be the judges of its quality (or otherwise).

(This blog entry was originally uploaded in November 2008.  Still not a great deal of extra information available on it, unfortunately, but I think what we've got is probably enough). 

5 November 2012

Eagle - Kickin' It Back To You/ Come In It's All For Free

Label: Pye International
Year of Release: 1970

Boston's Beacon Street Union are old friends of this blog, actually being one of the first American psychedelic/ underground acts we covered in 2008.  Arty and odd to the last, they're an example of one band (among many) you can wave around when your most boring friends waffle on about only being interested in The Velvet Underground or The Doors where "challenging" sixties American rock music is concerned.  Coming up with sinister, chilling singles about inner-city paranoia and bizarre, jittery songs that chimed in at either excessive or minimal lengths, they have failed to retain the levels of cultish appreciation they enjoyed at their height.  Sometimes they crossed the line, tried too hard and made themselves sound slightly silly - but that still makes them preferable to all manner of other acts who used the late sixties as an excuse to don some paisley shirts and stick some swirly sound effects over bog-standard pieces of pop.

After the failure of their second album "The Clown Died In Marvin Gardens" to have any impact outside their fanbase, guitarist and vocalist Paul Tartachny left the group, leaving the rest to decide to carry on under the name Eagle.  Much of their output from that period seems less angular and altogether harder and more abrasive, but - certainly in the case of the two sides on offer here - it's still thrilling despite that.  "Kickin' It Back To You" is a killer A-side which, despite bearing a faint resemblance to The Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter", actually enjoyed some plays on the Northern Soul circuit. All horns and soulful backing vocals combined with garagey sneers, it's the absolute best of both worlds, Wigan Casino colliding with a lost Nugget at a party everyone can enjoy.  Radio Luxembourg apparently had this at the top of their playlist for some time, but that didn't translate into sales in the UK, and nor did it really take off in their home country either.

If that weren't enough, the B-side "Come In, It's All For Free" dispenses with the boogie and is a furious, spittle-filled garage rocker with lyrics seemingly focusing angrily on people who refuse to accept hippy ideologies.  Whilst we as listeners can appreciate the message, sonically it's a very late punker (this kind of sound wasn't all that common in 1970).  Still, it's a gem of a flip which has perhaps been rather too buried over the years.

After Eagle's album "Come Under Nancy's Tent" failed to register with US audiences, it would seem that the band gave up entirely.  It's at this point that I have to confess I haven't heard all of that record, but I will be keeping a very close eye out for a copy.  

1 November 2012

Ola - What A Way To Die/ That's Why I Cry

Label: Big T
Year of Release: 1968

We've met Ola once before on this blog, via the utterly fantastic single "I Can Wait".  Since that was featured here I've DJ'ed the record in a number of places and have frequently been approached by punters asking for more information on it - with its Motown rhythms, clanging mod guitars and sheer energy, all the right elements should have been in place for a crossover hit at the time.  It was even featured on "Top of the Pops" in 1967 but that wasn't enough to push it above the Top 40 watermark.

"What A Way To Die" is another piece of the story, and is a far cry from that disc, being a huge old Procol Harum influenced ballad. Tellingly, this was issued via the small Transatlantic record label in the UK rather than Decca, who had clearly given up on the band's chart prospects at this point.  Whilst it has the same intensity to it as their other records, in truth Ola's voice isn't particularly well cut out for this sort of thing - it sounds better put to use yelping on rock records rather than last dance of the evening numbers, and this does remove some of the record's impact.

Still, this has been a part of the pack of many collectors of psychedelic pop singles, and still picks up a lot of love for its heavy organ sounds.  I would still advise potential Ola (and the Janglers) listeners to look elsewhere in their catalogue for thrills, where they'll find plenty of better recordings to spare.  They were the first Swedish act ever to chart in America, and trust me, there are some good reasons for that.

Sorry for the pops and clicks on this, I gave this a thorough clean and also tried filtering the audio, but trust me, some record dealers have very rum ideas about what "VG++!!!" records should sound like.