31 December 2012

Ebay Scoundrels and Fiends - with Marylebone Ensemble and The Square Pegs

Exhibit 1
Artist: The Square Pegs
Song: Love Me With All Your Heart b/w The Song Is You
Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1962

Despite the fact that I started this blog to promote the sheer fun you could have wading around second-hand record shops for obscure and unloved records, I freely admit that I'm a keen ebay user as well.  It's an irresistible site due to the sheer quantity and variety of material available - I could wait all year for a copy of Shocking Blue's "Send Me A Postcard" to turn up in my local Music and Video Exchange, or alternatively I could just bid on one of the many copies available that turn up online.

However, proper record stores are preferable if only because you can actually see what's being offered, and even if your view of what constitutes a disc in "Excellent condition!" differs from the owners, you can see the wear and tear with your very own eyes.  And also, if the shop dares to describe an Easy Listening LP as a "psychedelic must hear!!!" God help them the next time you're passing that way.  Ebay sellers do occasionally have tendencies to be a little less discerning in this respect, and whether it's because they're cloth eared or because they're just trying to make a quick buck, well, you be the judge.

Take this Square Pegs record as an example.  It was advertised as having a "Freakbeat B-side" by the seller, and given that it was starting at a low price I put a hasty bid on it.  In doing so, I completely failed to check the release date (1962) which would have given me a clue as to how searing the guitar-work on this number was likely to be.  I had let myself get over-excited by a faintly rebellious group name, and when this admittedly minty fresh demo 45 arrived in the post, I was dismayed by the noise I heard.  "The Song Is You" is almost odd in its decidedly straight approximation of a beat sound, consisting of vocal stylings Harry Secombe would doubtless have approved of on top of some very measured playing.  The A-side is a very ordinary ballad.  It's not the worst record I've ever bought in my life, but it's certainly not freakbeat, and I find it very hard to believe anyone could mistake at as being such.

(Scroll down for Exhibit B...)

Exhibit 2
Artist: The Marylebone Ensemble
Song: Porcelain/ Transplant
Label: Beacon
Year of Release: 1969

If the seller was to be believed, this effort is "psychedelic pop".  And again, I beg to differ.  What it actually is - on the A-side, at least - is a piece of easy listening which is sweet and sleepy, but a very odd choice for a 45.  Normally tracks such as these were buried on the many parent-attracting easy LPs that cluttered up the racks at Woolworths, not released as A-sides in the hope that they'd enjoy some radio play.

The B-side has possible leanings towards the mod side of things, however, in that it's an organ instrumental, albeit one that's so slow and steady in its tempo that it certainly wouldn't ignite much dancefloor movement.  It's not clear who the Marylebone Ensemble are, but my guess would be that it was a group name given to a bundle of session musicians who were hired on the day.

And that's as much depth as I'm prepared to go into on these two, I'm sorry to say.  As we approach the end of 2012, let's collectively hold both of them up as cautionary warnings, signs that we should take a deep breath, stop and think before we bid.  If that ultra-obscure 1966 single is going for a paltry sum in Excellent condition, it's usually not worth owning.  In my case, both of these will probably be charity-shop bound  in the New Year - I would put them up for sale again on ebay, but if I were actually honest about the contents I doubt they'd get off the block.

23 December 2012

Merry Christmas!

I'd like to wish a very merry Christmas to all "Left and to the Back" readers.  This has (almost) been the fifth year of people humouring this faintly ridiculous and often questionable idea, but it's been a pleasure to keep the fires burning.  As to whether we make it through a sixth year, let's hang on and see.

If you're still hungry for other Christmas-themed entries, these ones from 2010 are still live online:

El Vez - Feliz Navidad
Marty Feldman - A Joyous Time Of The Year
The Snowmen - Nik Nak Paddywack

Enjoy Christmas.  We'll be back before the end of the year with a bog-standard entry (no more YouTube videos, I promise) before continuing a normal service at the start of January.  

22 December 2012

Countdown to Christmas Party Time - Christmas In The Garage (The Sonics, The Blues Magoos)

Whilst British sixties pop artists were always bound to be fully into the idea of a chirpy, cheery Yuletide, their low-budget North American cousins in their garages occasionally took a dimmer and more irritated view.  The Sonics in particular recorded two tracks which snarled against the empty-handed disappointments of the season on this single - "Santa Claus" delivered them "nothing", and on the other side "Don't Believe In Christmas" they groovily outline similar stocking echoing let-downs.

Even if they can't quite get in the spirit of the season, they still sound a lot more rocking and exciting than any other sixties related Christmas efforts I've managed to dig up, proof positive that the outsiders to the whole event have the most fun.  If the buzzing guitar riffs here don't get you up on the floor, there's something horribly wrong.

The Blues Magoos got in there as well with two covers, "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" (which is a bit too messy for its own good) and this wildly different take on "Jingle Bells" above.  Less cynical and  poverty-stricken in its themes than The Sonics efforts, this still has a lot more spirit and energy to it than most Christmas covers and shows what can be done with a minimal budget and the right degree of enthusiasm.

Kick your boots off and dig those organ sounds, kids. 

20 December 2012

Countdown to Christmas Party Time - Solid Gold Chartbusters - I Wanna 1-2-1 With You

Label: Virgin

Year of Release: 1999

The lists bookies produce on possible Christmas Number Ones aren't necessarily as accurate as one would often believe. For every nail-on-the-head prediction they make, there are a few that are hopelessly wrong - and today's "Left and to the Back" entry focusses on a KLF-related front-runner which nobody in the real world gave much of a stuff about.

"I Wanna 1-2-1 With You" really, really should have been a big deal. The people behind it were Jimmy Cauty of the KLF, who obviously had a track record for producing hits of some note and had a huge fanbase hanging on to his every release, and Guy Pratt, sometime session man with Pink Floyd. It promised up-to-the-minute jokey novelty satire about that very new (at the time, obviously) phenomenon the pesky mobile phone ring, combined with the finest rhythms, dance diva vocals and a comedy video. Given the pedigree of the track, the major label backing - something the KLF never really had in the UK, incidentally - and the public's appetite around Yuletide for daft ideas, surely we were looking at a sizable hit a la "Doctorin' The Tardis" here?

Whilst the Bookies obviously thought so, sales were actually tremendously sluggish and the single scraped an embarrassing number 62 in the charts. Despite being one of the very few people who rushed out and bought this during Christmas week, I have to say that the end result wasn't too surprising. There are several things wrong with the track - firstly, it is far too irritating for the sane consumption of just about anyone, making "Crazy Frog" seem like a soothing baroque masterpiece. The grating, bleeping mobile phone ring the entire track hangs on is horrendously sharp and ear-bothering, and could ruin even the greatest groove or riff. And as it happens, the beats per minute here were very dated by 1999 - whilst the KLF in their prime had put out records of a similar tempo, clubland had moved on to faster, more frantic noises, and this sounded like something from another era to many people. Even if you isolate these drawbacks, the tune itself is, to be frank, minimal, and the joke essentially a Trigger Happy TV out-take and little more. It's a huge shock to find myself writing this sentence - and I feel it may be the only time I bother to do so in my life - but Dom Joly did this whole schtick just so much better.

So then, this is an example of how sometimes people hopelessly fail to "design" Christmas Number Ones, not even with the right personnel in the studio. Westlife won the race with "Seasons in the Sun" in the end, if anyone's interested, and "I Wanna 1-2-1 With You" has become something KLF fans tend to forget ever existed. I apologise for bringing the topic up again, but it is an interesting exercise in novelty wrongness at the very least.

(This blog entry was originally uploaded in December 2009). 

19 December 2012

Countdown To Christmas Party Time - Have Yourself a Psychedelic Christmas

I know what a lot of the regular readers are thinking at this point. "This is all very well, but most of us have a strong interest in sixties output. We haven't really had any Christmassy sixties offerings so far, have we?" It is to those people that I say "Bring on the biggest Christmas cracker in the world!" "Well, try these little nuggets for size..."

Band: Two and a Half
Track: Christmas Will Be Round Again
Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1967

This is an almost ridiculously chirpy piece of sixties pop from an utterly obscure group who, despite having five singles out in the sixties, have been impossible to track down or identify since.  Generally releasing tracks with a strong Simon & Garfunkel feel to them, "Christmas Will Be Round Again" deviates from that particular template to over-enthusiastically embrace Yuletide - truly, this is the noise of Christmas Eve and the excitement of the presents waiting for you in the morning (if you're about eight years old, and if you're reading this you're possibly not...)

Oddly, this was actually the Christmas B-side to the distinctly non-festive but much-fancied Two & A Half track "I Don't Need To Tell You", which was their final release before they disappeared off the face of the planet.  

Artist: The Outer Limits
Track: The Great Train Robbery
Label: Instant
Year of Release: 1968

Again, not strictly speaking a Christmas song, but this has a distinct wintery feel, chiming melodies and close harmonies as well as referencing "A cold and windy evening in December", so it's getting in by default.

"Great Train Robbery" has a distinct Bee Gees feel and asks the listeners whether they remember an audacious near-Christmas steam train hijacking from the late part of the nineteenth century - apparently five men and a woman with a shotgun were responsible, though they do add the disclaimer "so the papers say", which in these cynical "perhaps David Icke has a point" times takes on a new layer of meaning.  This is beautifully produced and shot through with mystery, constantly hinting at a bigger story but never quite disclosing the full details.  It's possible to visualise the incident as the song plays, making this an incredibly filmic single many years before such efforts became commonplace.

The Outer Limits are most famed for having Jeff Christie in their line-up, who eventually hit the big time with "Yellow River".  This is a much bigger achievement than that track, but sadly flopped, possibly due to cash-flow problems at Immediate (whom Instant were a subsidiary of) or perhaps the fact that this doesn't sound like an obvious 45.

Band: The Majority
Track: All Our Christmases
Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1968

Sometimes you can just tell that a record company has no real interest in attempting to promote a song or scheduling it properly, and is just "going through the motions" with it - this is a prime example.  Instead of taking the logical decision to release "All Our Christmases" in late November or early December, Decca decided that 12 January 1968 might make a more appropriate release date, causing the disc to predictably plunge into obscurity.

A shame, because this Bee Gees composition isn't half bad and deserved a better crack of the whip.  It's frothy and chirpy and would have made a perfect mid-table festive hit.  As things stood, Hull's Majority had already had seven singles out prior to this one, and the industry seemed to decide that their distinctly non-Christmassy goose was cooked.  This proved to be their final hurrah.

And finally... "Question of Childhood" by Adam and Dee isn't on YouTube, which would fit this list perfectly.  Nothing much I can do about that at the moment, but it might be something we have to return to at a later date.  

17 December 2012

Countdown to Christmas Party Time - Animals That Swim - A Good Xmas

Label: Elemental
Year of Release: 1996 (on the album "I Was The King... I Really Was The King")

"I had a good Xmas - we stayed in a hotel - it must have been good, because she's still not talking to me and my lungs ache. They rack my body". 

As Dylan Moran - a man probably not much at odds with the general philosophies of Animals That Swim - has pointed out before now, the British and Irish tend to measure how much of a good time they've had by how much they've screwed themselves up in the process, and that snatch of dialogue in "A Good Xmas" is therefore possibly more relevant to the season than anything else I'll upload this week.  True, strictly speaking this isn't an ideal track for the office party, and nor do I suspect that the band were going for a feelgood vibe, but still... there's more Christmas in that one line than Wizzard ever managed.  

Standing proudly upfront as the second track on their strongest album "I Was The King...", "A Good Xmas" lacks the linear narrative of most of the rest of the LP and instead snatches at images - the woolly-hat wearing builder-neighbour, passing buses, overheard conversations. Wintery as hell in its feel without being specifically festive in many places, it nails Zone 3-4 London life exquisitely, with a repetitive, insistent chorus which combines glam rock hand-clapping with the sarcastic line: "Made in Japan by my own sweet hand".

Besides being an excellent song in its own right, this is also a superb track to stick on a festive playlist if you're actually slightly at odds with the time of year - the bleary morning moodiness of the song conflicts with the clarion call of the trumpet parts, like a hungover man caught in the crossfire of a Salvation Army march.    It shouldn't, but the whole thing makes me feel a lot warmer than "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday".

Animals That Swim actually reformed in 2011 and released a new single - but if you don't own "I Was The King... I Really Was The King", you should remedy that immediately.  It stands up as being one of the finest albums of the nineties.

15 December 2012

Countdown to Christmas Party Time - Marvin Welsh Farrar - Tiny Robin

Label: Regal Zonophone

Year of Release: 1971

Two thirds of Marvin Welch Farrar have already featured on this blog's "Pictures of Marshmallow Men" homebrew compilation, so some of you will already be familiar with the backstory here. Essentially, MWF were just two members of The Shadows attempting to issue vocal material under another name, with the addition of the previously unknown John Farrar. Although largely thought of as an instrumental act, The Shads themselves had occasionally sung on their discs before, but found the public less willing to accept this kind of output - so for the most part, it would appear they decided to draw the boundaries by issuing any material with those things called "lyrics" in it under this guise.

In all honesty, it's probably not what you'd expect. Rather than follow Cliff Richard's lead, it would seem that the band had something of a love affair with West Coast harmonies, and most of their vocal material almost had lovebeads hanging off its Crosby Stills and Nash inspired middle eights. This single showcases their approximation of this style across two sides - "Lady of the Morning" is the less interesting tune (albeit the official A side) in my opinion, consisting of a rather slight melody despite some pleasing bits of pedal steel and top-hole vocal harmonies. The chorus doesn't seem to quite reach any sort of satisfactory peak or conclusion for one thing. "Tiny Robin", on the other hand, is all icicles, plucked guitar strings, spooked vocal melodies, and is a seriously good atmospheric piece. Admittedly it's not really in the same league as The Fleet Foxes for this kind of 'vibe', but surely the fact that we're mentioning Hank Marvin and The Fleet Foxes in the same context is a curious enough phenomenon in itself?

Naturally, although one Marvin Welch Farrar album did manage to chart very modestly, the public's curiosity wasn't really poked, and the project died a death before the seventies were up. Hank Marvin felt that they were alienating an audience who just wanted to hear Shadows material, and failing to gain an adequate new audience who wouldn't accept the idea that what they were doing was in any way credible. As a result, they're not talked about much now, despite having recorded a few tracks any number of Wilson-worshipping indie kids would have killed to pen. It's an unfair world, but at least we can only conclude that it's also certainly an odd one.

(This blog entry was originally uploaded in December 2009).  

You can buy these tracks through the usual commercial sources, and listen to Tiny Robin on Youtube. Is it really a "Christmas" record as such?  It is if I want it to be.  So there.  

13 December 2012

Countdown To Christmas Party Time - Justified Ancients of Mu Mu - Downtown

Label: KLF Communications
Year of Release: 1987

Christmas records obviously meant a great deal more to the KLF than pop historians have perhaps given them credit for.  Their collaboration with Tammy Wynette on "Justified and Ancient" contained sleigh bells and was released slap into the middle of the Christmas market, and we'll talk about the peculiar and flawed "I Wanna 1-2-1 With You" next week.  However, way before those ventures into tinseltown came this oddity.

Drummond and Cauty had already got themselves into trouble with lawyers around the release of their debut album "1987 What The Fuck Is Going On", which provocatively sampled large chunks of music without seeking out copyright permission.  As if to prove they had learned few lessons from their experience, "Downtown" sampled Petula Clark's classic, and the pair took the strange step of quoting from the Bible in interviews of the period, citing Proverbs 26:11: "As a dog that returneth to his vomit, so is a fool that repeateth his folly".

The Christian element continued with their collaborators.  Recorded with the London Gospel Community Choir, this is one of their more polished and well-realised early works, combining sour, cynical and heavily accented Glaswegian rapping with a joyous, happy-clappy chorus.  "Glory!" sing the choir. "What glory?" answers Bill Drummond (aka King Boy D) "In a wine bar world?  In a tenement block?"  Conquering the charts with a Christmas tune was clearly not on his agenda at this point, as despite the overwhelming pop and fizz of the chorus here, the tune is torn in two directions.  The Community Choir are pulling towards the holiness, the preciousness and the generosity of the season, whilst Drummond points out the harsher mid-winter realities, only for a sampled and stammering Petula to chip in at irregular intervals.  "Neon signs are pretty" she sings, sounding pathetic and weak in this context, before another hard-edged, shouted, Special Brew-sozzled verse barges her out of the way.

Early KLF records were often clumsy and awkward, and whilst "1987 What The Fuck Is Going On" was a groundbreaking and copyright busting album, it seldom had grace on its side, being filled with often clumsily placed distorted samples.  By the time "Downtown" emerged, they sounded as if they'd finally got the hang of their direction and could no longer be criticised as being a novelty act - this (along with most of the album "Who Killed The Jams?") is pop music with a bitter underbelly, the sound of a band absorbing the sounds and culture around them and criticising and distorting it.  By the end, even the choir are singing "Jesus, what can we do?"

This is probably the finest early KLF single, and whilst you can't quite hear the future they'd have as mega-selling Stadium House releasing millionaires, it's a step closer towards that.  It's certainly a pivotal indie release, and it deserves to be heard a lot more often.

12 December 2012

Countdown To Christmas Party Time - Paddy Roberts - Merry Christmas You Suckers

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1962

The music industry has always welcomed - and ripped off - the most unlikely of figures, from singing postmen to school choirs to arrogant glove puppets, but Paddy Roberts is still a peculiar entertainment figure.  A well-spoken if curmudgeonly ex-World War II pilot, he wrote a number of big selling songs for artists such as Alma Cogan, as well as having a sideline career in what could only be described as filthy ditties, many of which can be found in the bargain boxes of your local record emporium if you dig hard enough.

If the honest truth be told, Robert's tunes seem incredibly tame by today's standards, often to the point of being bereft of any humour at all.  The sleeve for "Songs for Gay Dogs" - pictured below - seems to be abnormally suggestive by the period's standards, but was apparently caused by the word 'gay' not really having the same meaning it does today.  Personally I'm faintly sceptical and would like to believe that Roberts may have snuck the gag in under the radar of his employers at Decca, but popular opinion on the Internet is against me.

So then, his 1962 Christmas single is an unsurprisingly sneering view of Yuletide which features Roberts fruitily dismissing the frivolity of the season.  We are all "suckers" for going along with the ridiculous charade every year, making ourselves ill in the process, and the year we're blown up by a nuclear explosion won't be a year too soon.

Once again, it's fairly tame stuff by today's standards, although it's the closest Paddy Roberts ever came to sounding like Rik out of "The Young Ones", beating Mayall to the punch with his social observations by a large number of decades.  But one year's radical is another year's tired old pseud, and as Half Man Half Biscuit have observed, it's cliched to be cynical at Christmas.  Saying that, though... it's also cliched to want world peace and to wish there was a cure for cancer - are these sentiments wrong?  I'm inclined to side with Paddy myself.  Right on!

Somewhat surprisingly, this track is available on iTunes should you wish to buy it.

Thanks also to Sids60Sounds for uploading this little gem in the first place. 

11 December 2012

Countdown to Christmas Party Time - Vic Reeves - Abide With Me

Label: Sense/ Island
Year of Release: 1991

Vic Reeves needs no introduction to UK readers, and I really can't be bothered to give him a detailed one for the benefit of overseas types. His comedy career has never really travelled successfully beyond these Isles, and isn't especially easy to explain to native newcomers, much less people with cultural barriers to contend with. Journalists tend to get around the problem by firing the words "surreal", "slapstick", "music hall", "dada", "Gilbert" and "George" around a bit in the hope it does the work justice, but in truth, it seldom does.

As somebody who had previously had a failed career as a lead singer for a variety of experimental and post-punk bands who never quite elevated themselves beyond the bottom of the bill in various small pub venues, let alone got a record contract, it shouldn't have been too surprising that Vic Reeves signed with Island when his career as a comedian took off. He had already been singing ironic cover versions (or were they?) of songs by The Smiths and Bryan Ferry in the "Vic Reeves Big Night Out" series, and the label must have been hoping for a pleasing Christmas stocking filler in 1991, perhaps consisting of similar material.

What we got was actually a very sympathetically produced comedy album in "I Will Cure You", which combined a number of party-pleasers with some oddball tunes of the man's own making, not least my personal favourite "Summer of '75" which combined rustic folk charm with crude Shane McGowanisms. "Abide With Me" featured on the album, but was a peculiar item, being neither funny nor frothy. The hymn itself was written by Henry Francis Lyte in 1847 as he lay dying from tuberculosis, and has since become something of a funeral standard, meaning that the associations many listeners have of it are not necessarily pleasant ones.

Uproar commenced from certain religious types in the UK when the track was then issued as dance remix single. "This is like dancing on people's graves!" shouted one Reverend, and a largely-forgotten campaign began to get the BBC to ban the record. Whilst the BBC never did officially ban it, I can't recall hearing it on the radio much during Christmas 1991, and Reeves was thwarted in his frankly bizarre attempt to get the number one spot that year, making do with the paltry number 47 position instead.

The song itself is actually quite enjoyable with its vocoder declarations of "Abide With Me!", its sampled and treated choir noises, and Vic's rather too spirited vocals, not to mention the groovy house piano noises The Grid layered on to the single. It does somehow manage to over-ride its slightly morbid tone and become a winter solstice disco number rather than a pean to death, but it has to be said that of all the ideas Vic Reeves ever came out with, this surely has to be one of the oddest. That Island thought it might be a hit is odder still. When Lyte lay dying in his bed, his last thought surely can't have been "And when I die, at least my song will be immortalised by a surreal Northern comedian in the next century".

(This entry was originally uploaded in December 2009).  

You can view the video here, and download the track by visiting iTunes.  

10 December 2012

Countdown to Christmas Party Time - XTC - Thanks For Christmas

Label: Virgin
Year of Release: 1983

Hello readers.  For the next couple of weeks I'm going to don some tinsel around my head and fully get into the spirit of the season to bring you some reuploads, YouTube clips and new material which is suitably joyous.  Why?  Well, after all, it's not as if I have much money left at this time of year to splash out on new material to upload to this blog what with buying tat for my relatives, don't you know how hard the last few years have been financially?  what kind of person would I be if I didn't?  Scrooge, that's who.

This particular XTC track is an oddity in the band's canon in that the original plans for the record could have been a lot more quirky and adventurous than the final product.  Andy Partridge's original intentions were to get female members of the Virgin Records staff to issue the song under the name The Virgin Marys, but this was stonewalled by the powers-that-be.  Instead, the band took the opportunity to record the single themselves whilst testing out David Lord as a possible producer for their next album, the utterly brilliant and criminally undersung "Big Express".

Suffice to say, "Thanks For Christmas" - issued under the name Three Wise Men - contains little of the angular edges of that album and is instead a delicate, chiming song which quite simplistically outlines the joys of the season.  This was released during a bleak period of the band's career when public and critical indifference to their output was at its height.  Andy Partridge had quit touring the year before due to ongoing anxiety issues and panic attacks brought on by stage fright, drummer Terry Chambers walked out shortly afterwards, and their future seemed somewhat uncertain.  Partridge has since admitted that the words "Bye bye" sung on the tail end of their 1983 album "Mummer" were a reference to the fact that he thought it may be their last release - and these were blurted out on a song ("Funk Pop A Roll") which also contained the bitter lines "I've already been poisoned by this industry".    Things were not exactly going swimmingly.

"Thanks For Christmas" isn't one of their finest singles, but it does act as a sweetener and a break between the clouds of that moment and the mayhem of the "Big Express" album, and did provide fans some assurance at the time that business was carrying on as usual in the XTC camp.  It is now apparently being played on some tapes in supermarkets and shopping centres hungry for lesser-heard festive tunes, a fact that thrills me no end.  It seems incredibly unlikely that this will ever nudge its way into the charts during the festive period in the manner that many old Christmas songs do, especially as it presently seems to be unavailable on all the usual commercial downloading sites, but it's still a seasonal offering from a very unlikely atheist source.  Oh, and the flipside, the strangely funky, breakdance-friendly "Countdown To Christmas Party Time" - which has loaned its name to this little sub-section of "Left and to the Back" - is also on YouTube if you're feeling curious.  

6 December 2012

The Caste - Don't Cast Aside/ One Step Closer

Label: President
Year of Release: 1968

Timing is everything in pop. Have I said that on "Left and to the Back" before? I get the nagging sensation I may very well have said that on "Left and to the Back" before.  But forgive me, long-term readers with good memories, for in many cases it is entirely true.  If you accidentally invent the future, you can be damn sure that you won't be the person who coins the cash from your far-reaching ideas (Joe Meek would be able to tell you that if he hadn't shot himself, and I'm sure the BBC Radiophonic Workshop members aren't as wealthy as Kraftwerk).  There again, if you come up with a perfectly acceptable melody with a dated arrangement, the kids are going to kick your ass back to Hicksville, Daddio, unless you're deliberately pastiching a style which is at least fifteen years old.

This perfectly good single by The Caste suffers from the latter phenomenon.  The close melodies and gentle beats sail so close to the ballads which emerged at the height of Merseybeat that it's actually surprising it even got released in 1968, a time when beat had been usurped by psychedelia which in turn was about to be usurped by hard rock.  Whilst other bands of the period (such as The Tremeloes) did like to keep their songs sweet and simple, they were still usually given bolder arrangements in the studio, whereas The Caste have opted for chiming, stripped back minimalism here, guitars, drums and voice.

"Don't Cast Aside" is a pretty little single with fantastic vocal harmonies which recalls the earliest moments of the British beat boom, but even with Eddy Grant in session on lead guitar this was doomed to fail.  A deep shame, but from the safety of our radioactive bunkers in 2012 there's plenty to enjoy here. 

3 December 2012

Me Myself & Me Again - Blaze Away

Label: Antic
Year of Release: 1978

From the rear sleeve: "'Me Myself And Me Again' is actually Vivian Fisher, a 26 year old recording studio engineer and frustrated musician.  Despite dabbling in cornet, french horn, trombone and piano, Vivian really always wanted to play every instrument. Then, one day when recording a marching brass band in the street, he discovered that the sound was actually recorded in segments as the band moved past.  This gave him the idea of a multi-track recording of himself impersonating the sound and character of the different parts of a brass band - and 'Blaze Away' is the result".

I try to avoid blandly slapping the notes of record sleeves on to my blog entries, but I've been sitting here chewing my fingers for the last half an hour desperately trying to think of what to say about this disc, and I can't.  I just can't.  Ridiculing the contents would be too easy (and in any case, they are impressively done - you wouldn't be able to immediately tell they were entirely the mouth-work of a recording engineer). Praising this record as being a lost classic would be ridiculous, unless of course you are a fan of the military marching band oeuvre.  It is, however, an utter gem in the world of eccentric novelty records, and a triumph of decadent seventies music industry mayhem over common sense.  Perhaps somebody within Antic Records or Warner Brothers (their distributors) expected this to sell in large quantities, but it's hard to clearly understand why.

In subsequent years - and largely thanks to Danny Baker talking about it on his radio show - this has become a much sought-after novelty record, to the extent that a copy in VG condition sold on ebay for £26 earlier in 2012.  The market has subsequently become saturated with the little bleeders ever since, to the extent that you can pick up copies for a much more reasonable price now (as I did).  The demand is explicable in that there's an innocence and eccentric frivolity to this which perhaps manages to remind people of a time when lowly studio engineers could see their name up in lights with one single daft idea - these days, of course, this would probably just end up becoming one peculiar YouTube clip buried among the wobbling pile of online attention seekers.

The B-side attempts to explain how the record was made by breaking down the individual components, but in all honesty, it's not essential listening.  Should the conjuror really give away his tricks, in any case?

Vivian apparently now works as a Sound Operator in the West London studio centre of BSkyB, returning to the back-room world from whence he came - but for a certain segment of the population, he will always be the one-man military marching answer to the Flying Pickets.  The time when he records an album of covers of songs by Nirvana and The Sex Pistols surely can't be far off.