28 December 2014

Custer's Track - On The Run/ Hello Heaven

Label: Major Minor
Year of Release: 1970

"Bankrobber" excepted, songs about bank raids have proved to be rather rare in the world of rock. Whereas in cinema there have been periods where it's been hard to let a month drift past without a new film coming out about a bank robbery, the preparation, planning and criminal expertise necessarily to pull off a financial services "job" seems not to have fitted well within the lexicon of rock and roll (Hip-Hop, on the other hand, has easily mined that area within an inch of its life).

Step forward, then, Custer's Track from Hornchurch in Essex who could have kickstarted a formula with this single had it been a hit. "On The Run" is sung from the perspective of a man hiding from the attention of the police, and it's actually as filmic as a balls-out rock record is capable of being. Awash with dramatic vocal harmonies, edgy little bass guitar stings, desperate wailing guitars and mournful vocals, it manages to convey both the adrenalin, desperation and panic of such an activity pretty damn well. The chorus is strong enough, but really what always compels me to return to the track is the almost camp, glam rock melodrama behind the whole idea. Somewhere "in a field" I always imagine a bank robber rather conspicuously sporting long hair and ruining his eye make-up with the streaks of post-bank raid tears. The year may have been 1970, and glam might not have been a commercial force yet, but shades of Queen and The Sweet are definitely within the grooves of this single.

Sadly, as its available to buy online as part of the compilation "Lovin' Fire - Psychedelia Melts Into The Progressive" (Progressive? Really?) I can't include it for free download here, but you can definitely sample it in all its glory on YouTube.

The flip side "Hello Heaven" is a different thing entirely, penned by the group's guitarist Tom Mayor. It's a breezy, jaunty toe-tapper which shows that the band's roots must have also been in the commercial end of sixties beat - seldom have two sides of the same record released at the start of a new decade pointed towards the past and the future so clearly.

Custer's Track consisted of Mick Welton on vocals, Kevin Power and Tom Mayor on guitar, John Donnelly on bass guitar and Derek Ballard on drums (who later worked with The Motors). This was their only release, but if any of the band (or their friends) would like to step forward to talk about what happened next, they'd be very welcome.

21 December 2014

Merry Christmas

This blog will now go all quiet until after Christmas - well, why wouldn't it? December is generally one of the weakest months of the year for readership engagement, and sitting here talking to myself when I could be ignored by engaging with my wife, family, friends and colleagues seems silly.

But never forget… "Left and to the Back" has a whole host of Christmas entries live online still, complete with mp3s, YouTube clips, and facts. XTC, the KLF, The Sonics, Vic Reeves, Hank Marvin,  and Animals That Swim all feature with jingle bells on, along with many others. Go away and read and listen.

If you're stuck for anything else to read over the period, you can also absorb a short story I've included for free on my other blogsite, about a man who tries to become a chess set building recluse but screws it up by telling everyone and drawing attention to himself. If you want to take a peak at what else I do when I'm not fannying around talking about sixties novelty pop or browsing through the record racks in charity shops, why not take a deeper look and wonder if there's actually something deeply wrong with me?

Happy Christmas everyone. I'll be back soon.

18 December 2014

Reupload - Angel Pie - She

Label: Echo
Year of Release: 1993

A slightly unusual upload, this one, in that it's a promo cassette rather than a piece of vinyl - hence the picture above bears no relation at all to what I have in front of me, which is simply a rather blank looking cassette thrown into a plain company case with the details printed on white card.  It is of bugger all value, but... let's not let that get in the way of the track itself, which slipped out almost completely unnoticed in the early nineties.

"She", far from being a cover of the Charles Aznavour classic, is a unique slice of ambient pop which oozes both class and atmosphere, from the slightly ominous chiming opening to the hushed vocals (delivered by Marina Van-Rooy) right down to the rather toytown psychedelic lyrics.  It sounds like an epic sixties orchestral belter turned inside out, with the peaks replaced by smooth, delicate ambient troughs - sound effects burble in and out of the mix, almost taking priority over the music at the tail end, and the strings are so subtle you might not necessarily notice they've arrived until a few seconds after they begin, drowning as they are in the audio soup and heavy bass the rest of the record offers.  Whilst the melody is very simplistic and delivered with breathy, girlish vocals, the record itself has so much going on that, despite owning it for many years, I've never really lost interest in it.  That it wasn't a hit shouldn't be very surprising, though - on the one occasion I heard it on daytime Radio One the DJ playing it simply sounded baffled as soon as the song ended, unsure of how to deliver his next link.  A promo video is on YouTube, but it's safe to say that it probably didn't get much in the way of MTV attention at the time either.

According to the information I have in front of me, Angel Pie were supposed to have had an album called "Jake" out, but I've never seen a copy anywhere and can only assume that it remains locked away in the vaults.  Their debut single "Tin Foil Valley" was more akin to snappy, Saint Etienne styled pop but did little business, and a third single "Tipsy Q Horses" appears to have been slated for release, but so far as I can see never materialised.  If my memory is correct the band were Liverpool-based and involved the producer Mark Saunders as a key member, but that's as much detail as I can recall.

More information on the band would be appreciated, most especially what happened to their album (which, believe it or not, I was actually looking forward to) and what they're up to now.

(This blog entry was originally uploaded in February 2011 - and nope, nobody ever did get back in touch to tell me what became of the album. If you know more, I'd love to hear from you). 

14 December 2014

Petr & Pavel - Laska/ Wenceslas Square

Label: Page One
Year of Release: 1968

It's interesting how often the late sixties are regarded as a period of "love and peace" and frequently represented by film footage of hippies idling around in fields clutching flowers. The period was, in reality, anything but. Ignoring even the obvious spectre of the Vietnam War hovering over everything, the USSR was also mobilising itself to the detriment of many lives.

Concerned about the increasing liberalisation of Czechoslovakia, where censorship and "secret police" interventions into daily lives were about to be lifted, the Warsaw Pact - consisting of USSR and its Eastern European allies - invaded the country to assert control, killing 108 Czechs and Slovaks in the process, and wounding 500 more. It was a heavy-handed display of appalling brute force which sent a flashing warning message out to all other Communist bloc countries - express yourselves freely and pay the price.

Petr and Pavel are slightly elusive, mysterious characters now, but at the time the story went that they were Czech entertainers who escaped by "stowing away on a jet plane" out of the country to Britain where they remained as defectors. There's no easily obtainable information about how they managed this feat, or what they did in Czechoslovakia before (the country had a booming beat scene, as we've already explored on this blog) just some Page One orientated propaganda about their escape and subsequent signing to a British record label. It's all very shady to say the least.

Top pop songwriters Alan Blaikley and Ken Howard got their mitts on them, and wrote this single which got issued the same year just in time for the Christmas sales rush. "Laska" was the only effort of theirs to get a release here, and seriously ramps up its Eastern European feel for the British market, combining the strident folk rhythms and "heys!" with an actually quite touching lyrical message. Throughout, the pair sing about being cut adrift from their homeland, alone in a strange land, but begin to speak in Czech at one point. This segment translates roughly as "My dear friend, we must learn to live in the New World - memories are good and bad - and look forward to peace and love". It's pure novelty pop, of course, but a quick search online reveals many people who were deeply moved by the record during those uncertain times. It was a heart-warming early winter tonic to many, an emotional cocktail of both defiance and loneliness beneath the blaring production.

Whatever anyone thought, Petr and Pavel clearly didn't release anything else here, and faded from view not long afterwards. I'd appreciate further information, and I certainly hope that everything worked out well for them in the end despite their lack of a hit single. This was, however, a festive release of which I can just about approve - it's both sentimental and hearty, and if I ever find out that the story about Petr and Pavel stowing away on a jet together is a record company lie… well, Larry Page had better watch out, that's all.

11 December 2014

Cut-Outs - D.I.Y/ We Don't Want To Hurt Ourselves/ Nearly Right

Label: EMI
Year of Release: 1979

Noel Edmonds - so much to answer for. From his cuddly patience with unpredictable children on Saturday morning TV to his frequently quite barbed japes at the expense of celebrities, Radio One DJ and TV host Edmonds straddled himself across seventies and eighties British popular culture like an immovable Blob(by). He was responsible for breaking many a hit on his widely listened to breakfast show, but it's safe to say that art-punk, DIY and new wave never really figured in his list of interests, even if he did get John Peel to host some segments on BBC TV's "Late Late Breakfast Show" (none of which had anything to do with music, before you ask).

This, then, is a truly peculiar story. One week on the Edmonds hosted "Swap Shop", it would seem that the programme found itself short of a band and in need of a replacement at very short notice. Upon realising that the assistant designer Grenville Horner had his own New Wave group Cut-Outs, a member of the crew asked him if he and his friends would mind stepping into the spotlight to fill the unexpected gap… and so it came to pass that the unsigned and almost entirely unheard of group went live on Saturday morning TV and gained themselves an interview with the jocular Noel afterwards. EMI spotted them performing "D.I.Y.", quickly booked them into the studio to get the track produced by John Leckie sharpish, and the rest is long-forgotten history. A punky anomaly on Edmonds' otherwise smooth and safe watch, and a rare, real-life example of the old Hollywood stand-by plot of "Hold on! The assistant kid can fill in for us!"

"D.I.Y." is actually slightly quirkier and more angular than you'd expect an employee of "Swap Shop" to come up with. "Brown Sauce" this isn't - rather, it's like Colin Newman out of Wire fronting a satirical approximation of Devo-styled pop, all sharp, panicked vocal delivery and staccato guitar parts. It certainly wasn't commercial enough to be a hit despite their television exposure and EMI's clout, and while the label offered them a tour supporting The Tourists to build their profile and take them to the next level, the members rejected the proposal all having day jobs to focus on.

We could deem them foolish for not grasping the opportunity, but as Grenville has subsequently gone on to work as a production designer on numerous major film productions, it would perhaps be foolish of us. The lead singer Graham Crowley is now Professor of Painting at the Royal College of Art, while the whereabouts of the guitarist John Feathers are less clear.

For leaving us this little gem in between BBC production duties and canteen breaks, however, we should salute Cut-Outs. They may never have made another record, but their one release emerged under such odd and non-punk underground circumstances that it's almost tailor-made for this blog.

Thanks to regular reader Arthur Nibble for bringing this track to my attention and causing me to seek it out. And obviously, if anyone, anywhere has video footage of their performance and the subsequent Edmonds interview, I for one would love to see it.

7 December 2014

The Van Dykes - Rock-A-Bye-Girl/ I'll Be Bye

Label: Green-Sea
Year of Release: 1965

Sometimes bands are inconsiderate with their choice of names. No less than five different American groups have called themselves The Van Dykes. There's the prolific Texan soul group The Van Dykes, The Brooklyn based outfit, the New Jersey Van Dykes and the Baltimore Van Dykes, all active in the sixties with their work occasionally overlapping the same timeframes. Proof positive that in the USA, regionally successful groups could share their names with other far-flung combos without it leading to legal challenges or car park fisticuffs.

The Van Dykes we're concerned with here - I'm 99.9% positive - are the Connecticut Doo-wop group, who were allegedly highly influenced by the Four Seasons. Consisting of Frank Ruggiero, Joe Tiberia, founding member Art DeNicholas and Tom Juliano, they were incredibly popular in their area and cut a number of singles for Green Sea Records (some of which were later reissued by Co-op in 1967). 

Personally, I'm not a huge fan of the Four Seasons, a few of their stronger moments aside. However, "Rock-A-Bye-Girl" is a lovely moment. Filled with great vocal harmonies on top of a simple backing, it's a throwback to more innocent times where bands could sing about being lovestruck teenagers and make it sound wholly, absolutely believable. There are slight shades of early Beach Boys seeping through the mix as well, which I'm inevitably going to be a sucker for. One spin of this and you'll feel as if you've already known it all your life. "I'll Be Bye" on the flip is a bit more of a rocker.

Sadly, in 1967 the lead singer Frank Ruggiero died in a boating accident, putting paid to the group's chances of national success. Whether the Co-op Records reissues came about as a result of this tragedy or were simply reissued due to continuing local demand, I can't quite ascertain - but they seem to be more commonly stumbled upon than the Green-Sea original issues these days.

It's always sad to have to finish a blog entry with the death of one of the principle members, but online YouTube support for The Van Dykes does at least prove that demand for his group's work continues.

3 December 2014

Sue Wilkinson - Posers/ Hollywood Sheik

Label: Cheapskate
Year of Release: 1980

The early eighties spewed up some strange one hit wonders, but few were more unexpected than model and actress Sue Wilkinson's "You've Got Be A Hustler If You Want To Get On" (originally titled "You've Got To Be A Scrubber If You Want To Get On" before someone at the record label got cold feet). The softly sung - barely sung, actually - yet acidic, bitter lyrics combined with a minimal pop backing created a peculiar novelty record, one which could also have conceivably been recorded as a "naughty" music hall 78 in the twenties and still sounds as if it could be a YouTube viral today. Like most successful novelty pop, it feels as if it belongs to no particular era stylistically and exists in its own wobbly world. 

I've never been too sure quite what "Hustler" was supposed to be proving, though. Was it a despairing record written about women failing to get ahead unless they sold themselves sexually, or a record which shruggingly accepted the fact and only just stopped short of celebrating it? And is the fact that she says these are the "only women making it" not slightly clumsy? (True, there weren't that many women in positions of power in 1980, but the ones who were didn't necessarily achieve their aims by bed-hopping. Thatcher was the Prime Minister in Britain at this point, after all… and no, don't even go there). The characters in "Hustler" are recognisable, but the acerbic, sweeping nature of it does leave me feeling slightly awkward. That's possibly the idea, though. 

So when you've managed that strange, minimal novelty top thirty hit - with Don Powell out of Slade on "boing" noises, fact fans - where to next? Well, clearly you try the same trick again. "Posers" is lyrically less snappy than "Hustler", instead taking digs at vain people, both men and women ("Got an up-lifted backside/ Then siliconed her flat-side/ you can bite her apple/ but you'll never, never reach the core"). Otherwise, it's business as usual in a slightly weirder, melodically more meandering way. This is almost New Wave, in fact, but without the lyrical obliqueness. 

Is it any good? Not especially. There are no sharp, memorable one-liners here, and the targets would have been tired even for 1980. It has all the hallmarks of a desperate attempt to re-ignite a spent firework, a common phenomenon in one hit wonderland, and I'd be surprised if Sue Wilkinson herself didn't realise that she wasn't going to achieve a long career delivering bitter ditties about the superficial nature of humankind to under-arranged backings. She managed two more singles on Cheapskate before drifting out of view. 

Regrettably, it would seem that she died of cancer in 2005, so we may never find out what her expectations or motivations were. Just for providing everyone with a truly baffling, out-there moment on "Top of the Pops", however, I can only respectfully bow my head. 

29 November 2014

Wishful Thinking - Peanuts/ Cherry Cherry

Label: London
Year of Release: 1967

I knew that my recent trip to Japan would turn up at least one unexpected 7" vinyl oddity, and here it is - a Japanese Wishful Thinking single. They're a band I had no idea had any kind of following in Japan - after all, they largely had to content themselves with the pickings from the fringes of the music industry here in the UK in the sixties - but here's physical proof that somebody cared enough to put this one out over there.

Wishful Thinking have featured on this blog twice before, but just to recap, they consisted of Roy Daniels (vocals), Terry New (lead guitar), Roger Charles (bass) and Brian Allen (drums). Of those members, only Roy and Roger are still alive, but are known to occasionally gig in Germany in order to capitalise on their cult following over there.

This single, meanwhile, is a bit of a pearl. Their version of Neil Diamond's "Cherry Cherry" is a sprightly and peachy, sounding as if it would have been at home blasting out of the airwaves via Radio London at the height of summertime. It's delivered with such energy and verve that it really deserved to be a huge hit.

The other side, a cover of the Four Seasons "Peanuts", is a bit bloody irritating, but then I never was a huge fan of Valli and his boys (a few golden moments in their catalogue aside). Still, it provides good entertainment if you're minded to occasionally screech "Peeea-NUTS!" at the top of your voice in the manner of Matt Lucas off "Shooting Stars".

Wishful Thinking would later have a global hit with "Hiroshima", which was entirely focussed on the fate of that Japanese city. I am unfortunately unaware of the Japanese public's response to that particular record.

26 November 2014

Reupload - Kenny Everett - Nice Time/ And Now For A Little Train Number

Label: Deram
Year of Release: 1969

The size and success of Kenny Everett's music back catalogue compares unfavourably in quantity to the fruits of his "day job".  His media career in radio and television comedy in Britain succeeded in a manner most people specialising in only one particular area would garrote their grannies for, but so far as the pop charts are concerned, only the rather dubious "Snot Rap" did well for cuddly Ken (number 9 in 1983, if you must know).  Well, he couldn't expect to have everything.

Yet it probably shouldn't surprise us to learn that Everett tried his hardest to have a bona-fide, non-novelty hit in the sixties as well.  Firstly, DJs from Tony Blackburn to Simon Dee were trying their hand at it too - with frequently distressing results - and also there always seemed to be an element of the frustrated pop star about him.  He took drugs with John Lennon, adored Harry Nilsson enough to cover two of his songs ("Without Her" and "It's Been So Long") and generally seemed like a potential pop star to some.

"Nice Time" is probably his last "serious" stab at a single, and also acted as a TV theme for an Everett series of the same name.  It's at least two years too late stylistically, but essentially this is toytown British psychedelia with a rich, chirpy arrangement and Beatles-esque lyrics (although by this point The Beatles themselves had gone back to basics).  The entire treatment sounds not unlike an Idle Race album track, of whom Everett was a huge fan - so perhaps that's no coincidence.  You'd have to be a miserable bastard not to at least be marginally cheered by the whole thing, even if the chorus isn't immediately apparent.

Much better, though, is the flip "And Now For A Little Train Number", probably one of the few pop songs in existence to glorify the life of the humble trainspotter.  Beckoned in by a brass band opening, then continuing into a particularly strident first verse, the delicate and matter-of-fact observations within are almost worthy of Ray Davies at his finest.  Whilst sitting in Birmingham station "watching British Rail pass painlessly through the heart of Britain", Everett muses about whether or not he should show somebody his collection of new train numbers when he gets home.  "On second thoughts I fear this kindly gesture may likely bore you" he shrugs sadly, adding "I won't come home".  What, ever?  You'll stay forever in the train sidings collecting numbers until somebody appreciates your efforts, Ken?  Why?  Presumably he means he won't come home immediately...

Whatever the meaning behind this track, it's an endearing piece of work which could and should appear on psychedelic compilations, but mostly hasn't, presumably because Everett's face just doesn't fit the party.  Oh, and probably partly due to the small matter of "Snot Rap" as well...

22 November 2014

Fever Tree - I Am (mono/ stereo mixes)

Label: Uni
Year of Release: 1970

Consisting of Dennis Keller on vocals, Michael Stephen Knust on guitar, Rob Landes on keyboards, E.E. "Bud" Wolfe on bass guitar, John Tuttle on drums and Don Lampton on guitar, Fever Tree were a  Houston band who are these days mainly known for their single "San Francisco Girls (Return Of The Native)" which just clipped the American charts at number 91 in 1968.

The bands roots were squarely in folk rock, and while they slowly progressed from that template, you can still hear some of its tones across this single, tempered with a few rockisms. "I Am" is mournful and hollering as well as rootsy, to the extent that Fever Tree end up sounding like an alternative universe Greenwich Village Guns N' Roses at some points. It's a little bit too lighters-aloft anthemic for my tastes, but may well be more broadly appreciated by other readers.

Fever Tree released an eponymous debut album in 1968 followed by "Another Time, Another Place" in 1969, and "Creation" in 1970. All sold modestly, but clearly not enough to convince the band to continue any further. A short-lived reformation occurred in 1978, then sadly, Michael Stephen Knust passed away in 2003, seemingly putting paid to any further revivals.

My copy of "I Am" is the promo version with a Mono version on the A-side and a stereo mix on the flip. I've included both below.

16 November 2014

Unisex - The Music Man/ Lovers

Label: Birds Nest
Year of Release: 1978

Birds Nest are another label I can't quite walk past when I see them lingering in the second hand racks. Partly owned by John Peel's manager and ex-Elektra Director Clive Selwood, they're not a label who released a great deal of hard-hitting, experimental rock, but they did seem to favour the quirky and the bizarre, as well as clearly having a typical seventies minor label love of strange novelty records.

"The Music Man" is a silky smooth disco number with a rich baritone vocal with breathy, seductive interjections - highly corny by today's standards, although the fact that the group are called Unisex clearly drops plenty of hints that this isn't a timeless piece of work. It isn't without charm, though, and while I wouldn't have the guts to drop this one into the middle of a DJ set, it raises a smile in its own timelocked 1970s way.

I can find no record of who Unisex were, but it's safe to say that Muff Murfin - co-owner of the label - probably had a strong hand in producing them. There are other far better examples of disco on the label, with Warlord's "Ultimate Warlord" with its Airy flip "I Shall Return" being something I really ought to examine at some point.

11 November 2014

Mike Morton Combination - Burning Bridges/ You Gotta Be Mine

Label: Plexium
Year of Release: 1970

Well, I don't know if any of you good people know who Mike Morton was, or who his "combination" were - but I've drawn a blank. One thing's for sure, he's among the very rare and select group of people to actually put his own group's name (rather than a pseudonym or blank credit) to a cheapo "covers" record of the "hits of the day", namely a Super Six EP release in 1971 which featured, among other things, "Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep". The smart money must be that he was simply a jobbing session man who took work where could find it, and occasionally put his own records out for novelty or soundtrack work. In fact, the sheer quantity of "Mike Morton's Eight", "Mike Morton Orchestra" and just plain "Mike Morton" releases over the years is embarrassing proof that I probably should be a tiny bit more aware of his work.

"Burning Bridges" must have seemed like a nice little earner on the surface, as it featured in the Clint Eastwood and Telly Savalas starring film "Kelly's Heroes". It kicks in with a strident rhythm and fanfare before sliding back into standard smooth seventies pop, before ricocheting back into an anthemic Hollywood sound again. A very minor hit elsewhere in the world, it failed to attract much business in the UK, and has since become a bit of a curio here.

It's also another odd single to crop up on the tiny Plexium label, a hitless and short-lived affair whose output is tricky to come by these days. While none of their records are truly outstanding, they're a faintly undermined source for quirky slices of late sixties and early seventies pop.

6 November 2014

Stevenson's Rocket - Alright Baby/ Teenager Dreamer

Label: Magnet
Year of Release: 1975

Pete Waterman has had a longer career than many people tend to give him credit for. Long before his golden patch with PWL in the eighties, his fingers were in many pop pies, of which Stevenson's Rocket were probably the most hyped. A group of keen and cute teenagers who played their own instruments (Kevin Harris on vocals, Alan Twigg on bass, Mick Crowshaw on guitar, Steve Bray on drums and Dave Reid on keyboards) they were fortunate to be spotted by the Hitman while playing a live set in Tiffany's in their native Coventry.

Gifted with ample television slots, press and radio play, their debut single "Alright Baby" sounds like an absolute sure-fire hit, and deserved far better than the paltry number 37 placing it achieved. All the best elements of teenage fifties Spector pop collide with the anthemic sugar-rush of seventies bubblegum, and it's possibly one of the finer Waterman obscurities. Rumours (which I haven't been able to verify) abound that it was bumped out of the charts after a chart hype campaign was unveiled, which would certainly be one good explanation for its failure.

The Rocket managed two more singles after this before fading into complete obscurity, despite seeming to have started their careers on an absolute media high. Their present whereabouts are unknown, but I and a number of other people online would be keen to have word of what they're up to now.

1 November 2014

The Explosive - (Who Planted Thorns) In Miss Alice's Garden/ I Get My Kicks From Living

Label: President
Year of Release: 1969

The Explosive were simply Decca group The Plague (of "Here Today, Gone Tomorrow" and "Looking For The Sun" fame) operating under another moniker. No line-up changes, no mess, no fuss, just a simple alteration of the band name, perhaps to shake off the curse of "psychedelic flop single" that might have clung to them at that point. They consisted of Ken Ali on vocals and guitar, Bill Dale on bass and vocals, Russ Harness on keyboards and John Truelove on drums. 

Signing to President, they fared a little bit better, but not so much that they ever managed a bona-fide hit single. However, a string of 45s emerged on that label of which this is probably the finest. The A-side is a slightly more bizarre version of Tom Northcott's cult US single, is widely available on iTunes and YouTube, and is therefore off-limits for the purposes of this blog - however, it's worth a spin just to hear the band go to town on the original track and, in my opinion, improve it with their splashes of wah-wah guitar, eccentric reggae-tinged rhythms and quirky vocals. Somewhere amidst the racket, the sound of the art school seventies is being created.

The flip "I Get My Kicks From Living" has clearly had less thrown into the blender, but is still an optimistic and carefree slice of sixties pop. 

The Explosive were finally dropped by President at the end of 1970, but they quickly signed to the tiny Plexium label and issued at least one more marvel, the fantastic and groovesome "Hey Presto, Magic Man", a track I've been after on seven inch for years now, but copies are astoundingly hard to come by. 

29 October 2014

Reupload - The Dots - Helen In Your Headphones/ Come And Get It

Label: EMI
Year of Release: 1982

Well, alrighty! Were it not for the wonders of the Internet, it's highly probable that I'd never have bothered placing this record on my "to buy" list. For years, "Helen In Your Headphones" existed in my brain without a title or a band name to go with it - all I could remember was a video which had both confused and vaguely scared me as a small child. One day whilst surfing on YouTube in a distracted fashion, the video popped up in one of the sidebars, banging my memory chimes very roughly. And Cliff almighty, it still disorientates me to this day. How such a brilliant and slightly unreal clip can be consigned to the dustbin of television history is a mystery, although I wouldn't bet against this going viral at some point in the next few years (and with any luck, I'll start the ball rolling with this entry - I'm still bitter that I didn't discover that Trololo sensation first, which is the most Left and to the Back-centric viral hit I've ever come across).

"Helen In Your Headphones" is an acquired taste, but it's definitely a special piece of work, wobbling on the usually awkward boundaries of parody and pop where so many an act with good intentions has fallen before. It begins with a barrage of eighties radio-speak, continues into a bouyant take on eighties synth-pop, then promptly splats headlong into a chorus so preposterously New Wave that it sounds ahead of its time, sporting the kind of punk era-referencing chorus the likes of Bis and indeed Dex Dexter were penning in the late nineties. Lyrically, it deals with the topic of an obsessed female fan of a radio DJ - "Hi Hi It's Helen... I just wanna tell you that your voice makes me go oh-oh-oh-oh" she sings insistently, out-creeping the rather oily DJ in question.

Whilst there's no doubting the record's capacity to irritate some people, I personally think it's brilliant, having a rare combination of a superb pop hook, tightness and conciseness, and a sense of humour which is delightful as well as being astute. It might be controversial to compare this to the Bonzo's "Craig Torso Show", but it does parody a certain vain, slippery element of the eighties "biz" to surprisingly strong effect, in much the same way that the Bonzos picked up on the flippant, self absorbed nature of some pirate radio jocks.

Two things stood in the way of chart success for The Dots, however - one would be the record having its own DJ intro, which may have proved difficult for DJs to work around themselves (especially if they were preposterous enough and Wayne Carr-esque enough to sound very similar). Perhaps mindful of this possible pitfall, EMI's plugging division apparently starting giving Radio One DJs expensive headphones as gifts to promote the single. Somebody got wind of the fact, thought it constituted payola, and the song was subsequently banned from the BBC's airwaves as a result. Given this fact, it actually did fairly well to climb as high as number 96 in the charts, its final resting place.

The Dots were from Leicester, and this appears to have been their only single, meaning EMI's rather rash marketing decision may have deprived us of other follow-ups. The rather scratched B-side "Come And Get It" is presented here for your pleasure as well, but doesn't really give any decent clues about where the band would have gone next. Still, with this one-off effort they really spoiled us.

25 October 2014

Quiller - Quiller/ General Direction

Label: BBC
Year of Release: 1975

"Quiller" was a BBC TV series based upon a series of spy paperbacks featuring a character of the same name, and while reports of the programme online generally tend to be favourable, the sad truth is that the solitary series was shown once then never repeated. No YouTube evidence exists of it, no DVD is available, and I've certainly never seen it - so I can't offer any helpful comments. I'm sure some conspiracy theorists out there feel that the BBC got cold feet about it because the plots were too similar to real-life spying activities. 

The show mainly lives on through its fantastically funky theme tune, which is a thing of beauty and almost too kicking and grooving for Auntie Beeb. To this day it's available on iTunes on a dance mix compilation, and that prevents me from uploading it here - but you can hear it for yourself on YouTube.

The B-side is another piece of deeply likeable, riff-ridden library music swagger. You can almost imagine yourself shooting dots off a BBC school countdown clock while it plays, and it's well worth a listen. Enjoy. 

22 October 2014

The Monitors - Nobody Told Me

Label: Festival
Year of Release: 1981

The Monitors were fleeting sparks in the steelworks of Australian pop, and - so far as I can tell - didn't really manage to have any impact outside their home country. Formed as a studio ensemble in 1980 by session musicians Mark Moffatt and Terry McCarthy, they're most mentioned these days for their connections with the twin sister actresses Gayle and Gillian Blakeney who eventually joined the TV soap "Neighbours".

The concept was quite simple, and quite cynical if we're being critical. Neither Moffatt or McCarthy were particularly photo or telegenic, and the workaround for this in the band's videos and TV appearances was to involve the young sisters in a variety of ways. While they didn't sing on any of the records, the very young Blakeneys donned Kiss makeup and leapt around a lot for the debut single "Singin' In The 80s", which reached Number 16 on the Australian charts. Such was their visual impact at the time that some people began to believe that The Monitors were the Blakeneys group, rather than them simply being employed as a visual element.

They featured in a rather more subtle way in the video for the follow-up single "Nobody Told Me", which was less successful, peaking at a modest number 32. Unfair, since if you ask me "Nobody Told Me" is a far superior single, sounding incredibly of its time with the pulsing and squeaking synths and melodramatic vocals, but having such a killer hook in the fanfare of a chorus that it's irresistible. The nagging female backing vocals (performed by Kim Durant and mimed by the Blakeneys) are also enormously effective, and it's glorious pop music - Moroder tinged, melancholic and horribly addictive.

Hit-wise this was The Monitors last hurrah. Their album "Back From Their Recent Illness" failed to sell well, and Moffatt went on to work with numerous other bands (including The Saints and Mental As Anything) while McCarthy left the music industry to work in advertising. We all know what happened to the Blakeneys, on the other hand, who also turned up unexpectedly in the video for Pop Will Eat Itself's "RSVP" in 1993, again despite having nothing at all to do with the track. Mine is not to reason why, though as PWEI weren't very photo or telegenic either, you can't help but draw the same conclusions from that particular gatecrash.

Meanwhile, with the big beards and synth obsessions, maybe The Monitors would have been more at home in East London in the 2010s rather than Australia in the 80s. Life is cruel.

Afraid I haven't included the B-side "Wishful Thinking" here as its scratched to kingdom come. Suffice to say that it's a reflective Phil Collins styled mournful ballad sung over an electronic piano. You're missing nowt.

20 October 2014

Metamorphic Rock - The Chelsea Hotel

Hello everyone - I'm sorry to say that it looks as if the DJ element of this event tomorrow night has been cancelled due to unforeseen technical/ administrative circumstances.

The poetry will still be going ahead, and it's still well worth attending as an event in itself - but anyone expecting to turn up and find me on the decks will be disappointed. Apologies for any inconvenience caused.

Time to announce something I'm really looking forward to. On Tuesday 21st October, I'll be DJ'ing at the Metamorphic Rock event at the Huntingdon Gallery in Shoreditch. Part of the London/ New York Festival, this will be an exhibition and poetry reading thematically based on the Chelsea Hotel.

As well as poetry from a wide range of excellent talent - and more on that in a moment - there will also be an exhibition of classic rock photographs by the brilliant Bob Gruen, at one time John Lennon's personal photographer. Or, to go with the officially advertised line:

"Manhattan's famous Chelsea Hotel, one-time home to innumerable musical and literary icons, has been closed for refurbishment since 2011. But that won't stop the new generation of London-based poets taking up residence. Set to the backdrop of Bob Gruen's Rock Seen exhibition, they set out to re-imagine the establishment, room by room, according to their own stylistic predilections, and throw the doors open once again to Bowie, Cohen, Bukowski and all the rest."

There are some fantastic poets on the bill, all performing new work - these include Matthew Caley, Amy Key, James Trevelyan, Sophia Blackwell, John Clegg, Harry Man, Mark Waldron, John Canfield, Roddy Lumsden, Holly Hopkins, Jon Stone and Abigail Parry, with others to be announced at a later date.

And me? My DJ sets normally slip around between garage, mod rock, soul and funk, but I've got other ideas in mind this time and will try to keep things as on-topic and appropriate as possible. It's going to be a lot of fun.

£6 on the door. Here's the link to the Facebook event page. See you there.

18 October 2014

Barock and Roll Ensemble - Eine Kleine Beatlemusic

Label: HMV
Year of Release: 1965

While discussing Beatlemania in the mid to late sixties, numerous music critics made the point that their compositional technique was more advanced than that of most popsmiths, so advanced in fact it could perhaps be compared to the classical composers of yore. These theories were initially mocked by many, but so far as I can tell they were the first stirrings of the idea that rock music can and should be studied seriously, that this wasn't just a gimmicky youth fad we were observing. 

I can't find any trace of whether these ideas inspired the "Eine Kleine Beatlemusic" EP or not, but it's pretty safe to assume they must have done. The A-side is the key concern here, consisting of an Allegro, Minuet, Trio and Finale composed of elements of "She Loves You", "I'll Get You", "A Hard Day's Night", "I Want To Hold Your Hand", "Please Please Me" and "All My Loving". It's extremely well put together to the extent that each phrase and extract flows seamlessly into the next, creating a pocket Beatles symphony. While it's possible to sense the smell of extracted urine here, ironically the final product is a lot better than later "serious" attempts to create Beatles Medleys by the likes of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. "Eine Kleine Beatlemusik" (or "Eine Kleine Beatlemusic" depending on whether you believe the front or rear of the sleeve) isn't all pounding kettle drums and marching beats, there's clearly been enormous care put into the concept which isn't just anthemic melodies delivered in a predictably strident way.

The B-sides tracks are a bit of a gas too, at one point showing off what might happen if Wagner were played by a sixties pop group. Peter Sellers was there first with these kinds of jokes, as witnessed on the "Trumpet Volunteer", and the worst progressive rock bands were probably the last funny examples to bother the airwaves. But that was all a long way off at this point…

A1: Eine Kleine Beatle Musik
B1: Star of Eve Bossa Nova
B2: My Old Man's a Dutchman - Twist
B3: Tannhauser Lettered Rock

14 October 2014

Record Shopping In Japan

Hello folks. I'm a bit excited to say that I'll be taking a trip to Japan very soon, and inevitably one of the top questions on my list is: "Where are all the decent record shops?" (Note - I'll mostly be in Tokyo and Kyoto).

If you've any hints or tips, please feel free to leave a comment below. If I find anything interesting while I'm over there, it may very well end up on the blog - so it's worth your while mentioning. 

12 October 2014

The Fenmen - Rejected/ Girl Don't Bring Me Down

Label: CBS
Year of Release: 1966

The Fenmen were actual proper pop stars (loosely speaking) for awhile, acting as Bern Elliott's backing group for the 1963 hit single "Money". Having a chipper Merseybeat feel to their records (despite actually hailing from - wait for it - Kent) they sounded as if they could have been one of the upfront beat groups of the time, but "Money" aside, they didn't actually sell many records.

Bern Elliott eventually jumped ship to work with other musicians, leaving Alan Judge, John Povey, Wally Allen, and Eric Wilmer to their own devices. They opted to take a Californian turn with this record, doubtless feeling that having aped the Liverpool sound there was no reason why they couldn't also impersonate Brian Wilson and company. It's a convincing job, actually, albeit one which seems to lack enough of a powerful chorus, but there's no question that it's the sound of strong musicians with an admirable flexibility to their approach, able to harmonise and perform summery pop as well as tough R&B tracks.

After this failed, Allen and Povey moved on to join The Pretty Things, getting involved right at the point where their sound was about to undergo a huge evolution and playing on the legendary "SF Sorrow" album. Neither "Rejected" or "Girl Don't Bring Me Down" hint towards that much, but it's easy to understand how they might have been regarded as a good fit for the band's next phase.

The more eagle-eyed among you may have spotted from the label scans that this isn't an original copy of "Rejected" and looks suspiciously like a bootleg. You're right. It is. I wouldn't have put it high on the list of in-demand rarities crying out for a bootlegged 7" reissue, but what do I know?

8 October 2014

J.J. Worthington - A Whiter Shade Of Pale/ Riding Down From Bangor

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1969

I've stated the obvious and said it before, so there's probably little point in saying it twice - but "A Whiter Shade of Pale" really was considered a stone-cold classic within a few months of landing, one of those rare rock moments (like "Bohemian Rhapsody" or "A Day In The Life") where a track receives immediate awestruck acclaim and the public affection never really wanes. You might get a few people now who declare the single to be a lot of pretentious nonsense, and if we're talking about the lyrics I might be inclined to join them, but it remains one of the most heavily played records on international airwaves.

That this very easy-going, family friendly, almost baroque version of the track was released a mere two years later is no real surprise, then. It replaces the soulfulness of the original with a subtle, more ponderous delivery, which might work in its favour for some, but I must admit I have my doubts. I can't trace who Worthington was - I suspect he was/is a folk singer or singer-songwriter - but his polite voice turns what was a meltdown over ghostly-faced nuns into a calm if surreal anecdote. The flip "Riding Down From Bangor" is a bit better, at least if you're a jaded city type who enjoys the occasional bit of rural folk whimsy.

As for Worthington, the only other piece of information I can find on him is rather unfortunate. His carelessly titled album "If I Should Touch You" often crops up on internet websites dedicated to terrible or inappropriate album sleeves, and here it is in all its glory. Dearie me, Decca. Sometimes the way your marketed your artists makes me wonder if all those rumours about your offices being filled to the brim with retired Army sergeants waffling on about their "war efforts" were true. What a mistake to make.

5 October 2014

Reuploads - Blessed Ethel - Rat and Fat Star

Label: 2 Damn Loud
Year of Release: 1994

These days, when a consortium of critics and music industry insiders get together to name who the most important artists of the coming year will be, there's little danger involved.  Trends are easy to predict.  Does the band have 768,000 Facebook 'likes' already?  Have they just been signed for a lot of money by a cash-strapped major label who absolutely has to see a return on their investment?  Are they Brit School graduates?  With every year's announcements, you can almost hear the noise of check-boxes being ticked.

It wasn't always thus.  In the nineties, predictions were likely to be very wonky indeed, which is how Blessed Ethel infamously got voted above Oasis as being the band most likely to succeed at the Manchester "In The City" live event.  This isn't as unusual as it sounds.  In the early nineties, suspicions in the music press were rife that Oasis were nothing more than a re-heated baggy band.  Blessed Ethel, on the other hand, had vitriol and a sneering energy which sounded much more of the moment - elements of the still relatively topical Riot Grrrl movement were apparent, and much was made of the band's oddball outsiderness, an absolute virtue in those pre-Britpop days.  The NME and Melody Maker wanted weird kids in the charts back then, not everyman styled stars.

We all know how the story ended.  Blessed Ethel did not conquer the world, but "Rat" gives some clues as to how they might just have given the impression they could.  It's ferocious garage rock capped off with Sara Doran's urgent and hysterical vocals; breathless, desperate and really rather brilliant in its own way.  True, at the time this would have been no more or less original than Oasis' known output, but the full-throttle nature of the single showcases a band keen to leave a scalding great mark.  Compare it back-to-back with an Oasis demo such as "Cigarettes and Alcohol" (one of the limpest, weediest, least representative demo recordings I've ever heard in my life), and everyone's favourite monobrowed pop stars suddenly sound  less fierce, less full of themselves.

As for any musicians reading this who may have recently lost a "Battle of the Bands" contest... take heart.  It means nothing. (Scroll down past the mp3s for another Blessed Ethel single…)

"Fat Star" is a rather more subtle outing for the group, but great nonetheless - simmering with heated paranoia and relying on a central atmospheric guitar riff rather than sheer aggression, it was the band's last proper single. Released a mere year after "Rat" in 1995, the public had had their chance to familiarise themselves with the band and the major labels had seen their opportunities to wave cheque books around, but it seemed all for nought.

A pity, as Blessed Ethel had an oddness and tension about their work which was utterly missing from so many of the nineties 'big hitters'. They had enough of a pop sensibility to cut through, but somehow missed out completely, and one album ("Welcome to the Rodeo") later, it was all over.

2 October 2014

Cocktail Cabinet - Puppet on a String/ Breathalyser

Label: Page One
Year of Release: 1967

Well, this is downright odd. Bill Martin and Phil Coulter were the songwriting and production team responsible for Sandie Shaw's most well-known but least credible moment - "Puppet On A String". It shot the United Kingdom to Eurovision victory, but its incessant, irritating bounciness makes it seem like one of her least interesting singles now. 

Nonetheless, why on earth either Coulter or Martin wanted to subject the song to this treatment, I've no idea. It's their production, and the A-side is a comedy novelty cover version of "Puppet…" done by somebody - and I can't find any record at all of who - attempting an impersonation of the then Prime Minister Harold Wilson. The concept seems to be that he's being persuaded to cut a record by some slick PR man in an attempt to make himself seem accessible to the youth. Cassetteboy's David Cameron Rap this ain't - it's a clumsy piece of satire which leaves you strangely sympathising with Wilson. So what if he wasn't sharp and down with the kids? At least he wasn't David "I love The Smiths, me, oh honestly, yes" Cameron or Tony "I love David Bo-how-ie!" Blair. It's possibly partly our obsession with grinning, presentable media and business-friendly Prime Ministers washed ashore on an oil slick which is responsible for the mess we're in. I'm not accusing Martin and Coulter of starting the problem with a strange flop novelty single, but… they were WRONG, that's all. 

This record has only really achieved collectible status due to the B-side "Breathalyser", a sharp and rapid-fire instrumental Hammond groove which still lights up dancefloors. It's commercially available on iTunes and elsewhere these days, but you can find it on Youtube too. This, really, is the stuff - cool, fresh and slightly knowing, and still loved by those in the know to this day. Its wasted on the flip side, but so many tracks in the sixties were. 

27 September 2014

The Jaybirds - Tell Me When/ You Can't Do That

Label: Embassy
Year of Release: 1964

Regular readers will know the drill with Embassy Records - this was no ordinary record label, being a budget outlet which specialised in releasing quickie 45rpm cover versions of the hits of the day. I've already written about their history here, and I'll refrain from doing so again.

Side A in this case is actually a reasonably faithful cover of "Tell Me When" by The Applejacks, a group best known mainly for that hit. The Applejacks were the first Birmingham based group to hit the British top ten and there were high hopes they could continue that initial success, but in reality each subsequent release was greeted with less enthusiasm from the public. A deep pity, because one early flip side "Boom Boom Boom Boom (Everybody Fall Down)" could perhaps be seen to pre-empt The Housemartins sound by two whole decades, to the extent that it's nigh-on impossible to listen to it without imagining Hull's top turn doing goofy dancing along to it while Norman Cook dances properly and tries not to look embarrassed behind them. It's safe to say that while The Applejacks were not actually lost musical pioneers, they frequently bashed out a beat tune with more competence and enthusiasm than many of their better-selling peers. 

Side B is the puzzler. "You Can't Do That" was never a Beatles A-side, but it proves how popular the Fabs were in 1964 that even their flip sides were being covered for cheapo single releases. But surely the logical thing to have done would be to pair this with a cover of "Can't Buy Me Love"? What was going on in the minds of everyone at Embassy HQ at this point? It's impossible to say. The track is commercially available on iTunes and also a Beatles covers album these days, so you'll have to satisfy yourself with a YouTube link for it instead. I'll be blunt - it's utterly unremarkable. So many of the cover versions of Beatles songs during this era remind you never to underestimate the power the group - including the much-maligned Ringo - could pack into their songs. Other session musicians clearly struggled to replicate their sound, to the extent that an effective Beatles cover actually feels like a notable achievement. 

22 September 2014

Nicky Scott - Honey Pie/ No More Tomorrows

Label: Pye
Year of Release: 1969

The mania for covering Beatles albums tracks in the sixties is such that I'm genuinely past being surprised at each new discovery I make. If the Fabs hadn't put it out as a single, it would seem that somebody somewhere had their own take ready to go. In this case, step forward Mr Nicky Scott, with your version of "Honey Pie" off "The White Album". That's right, "Honey Pie". Hardly what you'd call a chart-bound sound, although I suppose somebody at Pye must have fancied that its old school music hall arrangements might sell to an older demographic. It didn't, though.

There's not much difference between this and McCartney's version, except Scott's strange Brummie accent at the start. It stays true to the original version, though perhaps adds a tiny bit more recording studio polish to the sound, taking away some of the 78rpm styled reediness of the original. It's still a truly bizarre choice for a single, though, irrespective of any new production flourishes. The truly old-school sound might have seemed more commercial in the era of the Bonzos and the New Vaudeville Band, but as a song this didn't come close to approaching the style or wit of either group, and it's been largely disregarded by most Beatles fans since. 

Nicky Scott had a long history in music prior to the release of this, having previously been discovered by Simon Napier-Bell and paired with the black female singer Diane Ferraz, creating an inter-racial duo which was, in the early sixties, a huge deal on the London gig circuit. Eventually Scott was signed to Immediate Records as a solo artist, and while there put out a couple of folk flavoured releases which are rather good - his version of the Jagger and Richards penned meditation on the pitfalls of hiring prostitutes "Backstreet Girl" is worthy of more than a casual listen. "Honey Pie" seems to have been the first release he attempted after Immediate lost interest, and did little to raise his profile.

Meanwhile, I await a 7" version of "Wild Honey Pie" with interest. There probably is one out there somewhere…

21 September 2014

Ebay Clearout

Three problems for me at the moment - one, I've booked a holiday I can barely afford (aw diddums, come the sarcastic cries).
Two, my flat is getting cluttered with vinyl, some of which I could probably live without (I have duplicate copies of some records, for example).
Three, I am charged a monthly server fee for hosting the mp3s on this blog. It doesn't seem like much, but across the whole year it does add up.

Time for an ebay sale, then. And this time, there are some pretty impressive rarities on sale. It will be sad to kiss goodbye to some of them, but in reality I played them very infrequently, and I'm just not the kind of person who has the space to keep records carefully sleeved and placed in polythene bags so I can pull them out and show them off to my friends or coo admiringly at them during dull weekends. For a start, most of my friends couldn't care less.

Anyway, here's what's for sale. Audio clips can be played so you can hear the quality. Go here to listen and bid:

THE END: Shades of Orange / Loving Sacred Loving (Yes, it is the original, not the Acme reissue)
DAVE ALLEN: The Good Earth
THORINSHIELD: Lonely Mountain Again (UK Philips Pressing)
ELLIOT MANSIONS: I Don't Want To Live Inside Myself
MIKI: Knight In White Armour (Mark Wirtz produced acetate)
ORANGE BICYCLE: Carry That Weight You Never Give Me Your Money
MARK WIRTZ: Here's Our Dear Old Weatherman
DREAM POLICE: I'll Be Home In A Day Or So / Living Is Easy
THE DISCOUNTS: Selling Records
THE HITMEN: I Still Remember It
LONDON PLEASURES: London Pleasures / Summer of Love
CAVALRY TWILL: All You Need Is Love