27 December 2013

Reupload - Five Go Down To The Sea? - Singing In Braille EP

Label: Creation
Year of Release: 1985

This entry has largely been triggered by me uncovering a review of Creation's first fifty singles over on the mothballed Stylus Magazine website. In this particular retrospective, the resident critic Todd Hutlock states that it is one of the worst pieces of vinyl Creation ever issued, and dismisses the whole affair very tartly indeed, ranking them alongside The Legend in the 'Alan McGee blind spot' stakes.

As you will doubtless appreciate, I seldom get a cob on when people reveal wildly different musical tastes to my own. If this were my general inclination, there would be whole days or possibly weeks when I'd do little more than walk around London foaming at the mouth, demanding to know why Misty's Big Adventure weren't occupying the Christmas number one slot, or why perfectly good friends of mine have been known to state that The Stereophonics are a good band. It's not worth it, and it's easier just to relax, have a nice glass of sherry and allow others to feel differently from your good self, however outright wrong they may be.

For some reason, this particular piece did get me rattled, though. I happen to believe that "Singing in Braille" is actually one of the best early Creation singles there is. Whilst it doesn't quite top "Velocity Girl" by Primal Scream or "Ballad of the Band" by Felt, it is a seriously unique, charged and thrilling bit of work. There's nothing very "Creation" about it in sound, this is true - there's none of the dalliances with walls of feedback which The Jesus and Mary Chain, Slaughter Joe or Meat Whiplash treated us to, and nor are the lo-fi retro-sixties garage jangles overly apparent. What the track does have instead is a decidedly angular, dischordant thrust, with spitting Screaming Lord Sutch styled vocals, wobbly basslines and sledgehammer rhythms. Whilst it does have a chorus of sorts, the entire structure is as gloriously messy as the sleeve, seemingly hanging by a thread but holding together nonetheless. The energy you get from watching good musicians improvise is also apparent here - you expect the entire act to collapse, but instead everything holds together, and is shot through with adrenalin.

Cork's "Five Go Down to The Sea?" would probably have been more at home on Ron Johnson Records than Creation, having a similar style to a great many of their acts. The brilliant biography of Creation "My Magpie Eyes Are Hungry for the Prize" hints that McGee found the band impossible to work with, his doubts possibly being raised when he went around to their houseshare for dinner and was presented with a plate of Jelly Babies.

However easy they were to deal with - and I'd be willing to bet they would have presented anybody a few challenges - they did create a fantastic noise which they allegedly felt was partly cribbed by Stump at a later date. Sadly, the band ceased to be in 1989 when the frontman Finbarr Donnelly drowned in Hyde Park serpentine pond whilst drunk. There are, to the best of my knowledge, no CD retrospectives available of the band despite numerous vinyl EP issues worming their way on to shop stalls, and that's something somebody should consider rectifying. In the meantime, here's what I consider to be their best moment.

1. Singing in Braille
2. Aunt Nelly
3. Silk Brain Worm Women

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

21 December 2013

The Pipkins - Pipkins Maxi Party

Label: Columbia
Year of Release: 1970

The Pipkins were an absurd and frankly faintly irritating novelty group created by songwriting supremo Roger Greenaway working in tandem with sometime Edison Lighthouse (and Brotherhood of Man and Flower Pot Men) singer Tony Burrows.  "Gimme Dat Ding" went top ten in both the USA and the UK as numerous people wigged out to the sounds of two respected music industry men putting on silly voices.  Like a high-budget version of your Dad and Uncle's drunken Christmas turn after the last dregs of Vermouth have been supped from the bottle, it remains something of an anomaly. The saloon room piano boogie may have slightly helped invent Lieutenant Pigeon, but beyond that the hit is something of a solitary twig on pop's family tree (and perhaps thank God for that).

Given the international success of "Ding", it's probably not that surprising that The Pipkins brand continued for several years as Burrows, Greenaway and various record labels tried to milk the concept for more hits.  There was even a long-playing record where you could apparently hear the pair's footsteps walking down into the distance as the run-out grooves pulled the needle towards the record's end.

Of all the examples I've heard, however, this single remains the most ludicrous.  The third outing for the project, "Maxi Party" tried to get the pair to do a big hits medley, but sounds utterly deranged - too deranged to sell, in fact - and actually genuinely funny.  Sounding less like Jive Bunny and more akin to Vic and Bob's bizarre approximation of Paul Simon and Neil Sedaka, Burrows and Greenaway growl and squeak through "Mama Told Me Not To Come", "Give Me Just A Little More Time", and "In The Summertime", backed by a cheap and nasty, out-of-tune sounding piano.  I admit that side one is probably all you need to hear to get the gist of the joke, but there is something strangely delightful about hearing grown men with falsetto voices squealing through Randy Newman and Chairman of the Board songs with all the respect of a demolition crew.

Perhaps to prove that the whole thing was just a big jape and there were no hard feelings intended, Greenaway even kicks two of his own compositions in the balls, namely "My Baby Loves Lovin'" and "Melting Pot", the latter of which descends into scatological humour and leaves the single nowhere to go but off the turntable.  Nice work, lads, and it's pleasing to know that your careers survived this strange diversion, but please don't reform under this guise and make any more records of this ilk.

18 December 2013

They Said There'd Be Peace On Earth

It's often the tradition at this time of year for me to slip into my Santa Claus outfit and throw various vintage flop singles out of my grotto for all of you to enjoy.  However, I won't be bothering this year.  Why not?  Well, because I posted up a lot of Christmas entries last year at a rapid rate and they remain among the least read on this blog.  As a result, I guessed you weren't really all that interested.

They're all still live and waiting to be read and appreciated, though, so if you do decide you're interested please click on the Xmas link and go hither and hear the sleigh bells.  A normal common-or-garden "Left and to the Back" entry will follow in due course, or at least something as "normal" as this blog gets.

Apologies also to any readers who noticed the technical problems we were having with some of the mp3s in preview mode this week.  It looks as if they've been fixed now, but if anything unusual happens, please let me know.

14 December 2013

The Outer Limits - Dark Side Of The Moon/ Black Boots

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1971

The Outer Limits are no strangers to this blog, having been covered around this time last year on a segment about popsike Christmas records. Having Jeff Christie (of "Yellow River" fame) on lead vocals and having issued one killer 45 on Deram in 1967 ("Just One More Chance") they never really seemed to realise their full potential commercially. 

By 1971 Christie had already gone off to sing about peculiar coloured rivers on hits of his own, so it's not clear if this single contains the remaining line-up of The Outer Limits carrying on regardless, is a studio out-take from before Christie's departure, or another band entirely - but whatever the facts, it's the B-side we're most interested in.  The A-side is a piece of early seventies pop so shiny and plasticky you can almost see your face in it, and while it has a lot of bounce, it also has all the drive, emotion and conviction of a breakfast cereal advert.  It's safe to say that it did not inform the direction of Pink Floyd's seminal album of the same name.

On the other hand, The B-side "Black Boots" is one of those moody instro-groovers you more commonly tend to find on sixties flipsides, but more interestingly still the bass-line hook is nearly note-for-note identical to The Stranglers "Nice 'n' Sleazy".  I doubt Guildford's most terrifying band deliberately stole it, but it is another example (alongside Leatherhead's "Gimme Your Money Please") of how many traces of the men in black could be found in pre-punk recordings.  Maybe Bob Stanley was right when he wrote in his excellent book "Yeah Yeah Yeah - The Story of Modern Pop" that the main thing linking the band to the punk movement is that they seemed like a nasty bunch of bastards.   

Thanks to Planet Mondo for pointing out the riff some time back, and apologies for the pops and crackles on the copy I managed to find.

11 December 2013

Barking & Houndsditch Choral Society - Queen of the Alley Dogs/ Dog Rock

Label: Track
Year of Release: 1973

God knows what it is, but the novelty of records consisting of singing dogs never quite wore thin for the music industry.  First there was the infamous Singing Dog novelty hit of 1957, then in the eighties Simon Cowell had a crack with Wonderdog, and between the two was this ridiculous effort on the otherwise highly credible and rockist Track Records label.

Given that Pete Townshend wrote a single called "Dogs" with The Who and apparently toyed with the idea of fleshing out the story of a London dog racing track across a concept album, it would be tempting to try and pretend this was some kind of lost Who off-cut.  With Terence Stamp in the credits here and his brother Chris Stamp responsible for managing The Who, the plot thickens further.  All this  evaporates when you check the rest of the credits and actually hear the damn thing, though - producer Ian Green has previously bothered "Left and to the Back" with the tragic Microbe single "Groovy Baby" and has no connections with the band, mainly working across the pop world.  The rest of the credits are equally unpromising.

From this we can only deduce that Track Records, for reasons known only to themselves, thought it might be a wheeze to hurl this novelty single out into an indifferent world.  As singles of its kind go, it's decently executed.  Technology had certainly moved on significantly since The Singing Dogs, and these canines really sound like they're going for it.  For real, dudes.  Do you need to hear it more than once, though?  No.  And nor am I going to waste an evening dissecting its contents, as that's a bridge too far even for me.  

The B-side, however, could be called an instrumental groover if you're feeling particularly optimistic or happen to be in the mood for getting everyone's hopes up on ebay.  Whatever, woof woof woof.  For now, I'll just file this single under "peculiar music industry anomalies".

7 December 2013

H.T. - You And Me/ Love Can Wait

Label: Polydor
Year of Release: 1966

It's fair to say that bands from the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar have not been widely chronicled in the great encyclopaedia of pop.  The island has in the past hosted major rock festivals and concerts, but its homegrown talent hasn't really made any significant impact globally.  

H.T. were a group otherwise occasionally known as The Valverde Brothers (or is it the other way around?) who had a crack at pop success with this single.  The minimal nature of it is immediately striking without being particularly hard-hitting.  The verses consist of a simple pounding rhythm, the repetition of one finger-picked chord and something close to political protest singing.  "We're gonna plant an acorn, yeah… when it grows in eighty years, remind them of you and me!" they holler, then eventually the chorus gains a tiny bit of traction only for the song to quickly slide straight back into minimalism again, the verses acting as peculiar strips of emptiness between the main action.  It's structurally bizarre, but not threatening or snotty enough to be classified as garage or mod, far too meaty and beaty to be psychedelic, and despite its best intentions the jolliness of the vocals makes it seem like some peculiar hybrid of "I'd Like To Teach The World To Sing" and The Eyes.  I like it for being so strange within the confines of quite a bubblegum performance, but I suspect it might be an acquired taste.

The Valverde Brothers never really had any success in the UK, but they did eventually achieve notoriety through their production and songwriting work on Peter Wyngarde's worrying album "When Sex Leers Its Inquisitive Head".  That certainly proved that they had the chops for creating even more adventurous and peculiar work than this, but (perhaps for the best) their career as studio-men for politically incorrect perv-pop records was abandoned quite swiftly, and they eventually achieved minor success in mainland Europe with a string of disco records in the late seventies.  

4 December 2013

Orphan - Julie Isn't Julie In The Bath/ Timebombs

Label: Brilliant
Year of Release: 1983

Sometimes a record catches my eye in a record store or ebay which I'm aware already has a bit of a low-level internet buzz about it. By this, I mean that a simple Google search reveals all kinds of questions about its origins or raves on internet forums, but no actual real information.

This is one such (well, I wouldn't have bothered with that opening paragraph if it weren't, not unless I was trying to be all post-modern and clever).  I must admit to being aware of its reputation but never having heard a single note of it until the needle hit the groove.  It soon became apparent what the fuss was about - this is pristine eighties pop with a distinctly post-punk and psychedelic twist.  Strict and even yet somehow quirky beats and synth splashes rub up against smooth guitar riffs, utterly peculiar lyrics (why Julie isn't Julie in the bath is never quite explained) and a faintly uneasy, film noir atmosphere.  A subtle chorus also creeps up on you more and more with each play, until the entire thing has infected your brain and won't leave.  It's unassuming to begin with, then all-consuming.  Only the squeaky synth instrumental section spoils the production values, but I suspect that probably seemed cutting edge when the song was recorded in 1981.

It would seem that Orphan formed in Birmingham at some point around 1978 or 1979, containing members Phill Dunn, Phil Campion, Pete Dunn, Phil Vickers, Keith Jones, Trevor Wigley and Steve Leighton.  They had become a solid fixture on the Birmingham gig circuit by the early eighties, and seemed to get themselves attached to the label Swoop, which was run by Lee Sound Studios in Walsall.     At least three singles ("RSVPU", "Nervous" and "Love on the Lichfield Line") slipped out on this imprint, but in the manner of most boutique labels run by recording studios, the connection failed to generate any hits for them.  It seems as if this track was then licensed to Brilliant Records in 1983 in an attempt to generate a better chance of chart action. Far from being a super major with clout, though, Brilliant was an indie distributed by Spartan, and the deserved outcome of a hit single never materialised. Also, by 1983 there's a chance that the woozy New Wave sounds on display here were starting to feel a bit dated, and had it been released in 1981 when it was actually recorded, the outcome may have been different.

However, we are where we are.  The band seems to have packed it in shortly afterwards, and Phill Dunn moved on to become a film director in Singapore, still occasionally recording music with his new psychedelic rock inspired band Roxy Rejects.

Assuming this was Orphan's last release - and I can't find anything to suggest otherwise - it would seem as if they left the music business at least having given it their best shot.

1 December 2013

Flavor - Dancing In The Street/ Comin' On Home

Label: Columbia
Year of Release: 1969

Sly and the Family Stone aren't discussed nearly enough these days in the discourse of music critics, and when they are I'm always left with the impression that some feel that they were a bit of a dead-end at the time, that nobody was doing anything similar.  In actual fact, both in the UK  and the USA, the rather restrictive term "soul rock" was briefly bandied around to describe all kinds of other artists who might conceivably be thrown into the same barrel.  Needless to say, none were as successful. 

The Washington-based Flavor were one such act who only managed three singles, of which this was their last.  Earlier in their career their approximation of soul had actually sounded frighteningly close to the Small Faces at times (check out "Heart-Teaser" on YouTube) but on this disc, you can hear something a bit closer to the roots than that, especially on the hand-clapping, gospel-inspired flip.

"Dancing In The Street" is a fantastic little rave-up, though, far better than Bowie and Jagger's later version in the eighties, and managing to bring some new ideas to the mix rather than being an imitation.  This rolls a lot more freely than the Martha and the Vandellas version, and while it's not the better option - I happen to think that the Vandella's effort is one of the best Motown sides going - it doesn't shame the original material at all.  You're left with the impression that Flavor could have had a decent career with the right push, but for whatever reason, that just didn't happen.

And who were they? If anyone knows, please get in touch.