30 January 2014

Reupload - Mike Conway - I'm Gonna Get Me A Woman

Label: Plexium Records
Year of Release: 1968

I've said before that the reduced boxes and bins of your average second hand record store usually have a fair few sixties solo artists nesting amidst the novelty pop, three hit wonders and rejected promotional singles. The musical history books have been particularly poor at recording the comings and goings of these lone rangers unless they were folk artists - and even then, there are some shocking gaps in everybody's knowledge.

If there's any information out there about Mike Conway at all, I can't find it. On the evidence of this recording, though, he sounds like a middle of the road supper club character who obviously didn't find enormous success. "The Reign of King Sadness" is a celebratory ballad about the end of bleak times which is really quite wearisome despite its good intentions, and it's the B-side in all its "You couldn't get away with that now!" glory that I'm really interested in. "I'm Gonna Get Me A Woman" is a bold declaration of intent where, with a joyful, brassy orchestral backing, Conway assures us "I'm gonna get me a woman, yes sir/ I think that each guy should/ but I ain't gonna marry no gal/ unless she can cook real good". The year might have been 1968, and such thoughts may have already become desperately passe and offensive to some, but the mainstream of pop carried on churning out these feminist baiting lyrical corkers for years to come (as also evidenced in Moments and Whatnauts' hit "Girls" in the seventies). There's a bounce to "I'm Gonna Get Me A Woman" I find enticing, and a distinct tone of wrongness about the lyrics which seems amusing now. The confidence in Conway's voice is a noise to behold - you can imagine him skipping down the street singing the song.

Of equal interest is the production credit for David Balfe, which I can only assume isn't David Balfe out of the Teardrop Explodes unless he was some kind of studio prodigy, and the fact this came out on Plexium Records, a very early independent label which failed to take on the might of the majors, but is now extremely collectible.

(This blog entry was originally uploaded in 2009, and members of Mike Conway's family were kind enough to get in touch with me.  I've reproduced their information below:

Mike lived in North Cheam, London and was the lead singer for a local band in the sixties called The Undergrades. He also went on to sing The Riegn of..and also I'm gonna get...yes sir. He was my Fathers brother and Mikes sister was Moreen Rose a singer who played venues throughout the UK ,I believe in the late 50's. Moreen was married to Dennis Newey who was with the BBC orchestra. Mikes father was Frank Quinn OBE the Quartermaster for MI-6 who died under mysterious circumstance in the early seventies. Mike was a really great uncle and he was the singing local generation in London in the sixties. He passed away in N.Ireland some years ago at age 55.
With better lyrics and coaching he could have been truly great. The undergrades I think produced a record, I am sure of it. "Rock on Mike" Love always, your family.

Further to my brother's comments on Mike his real name was Mike Quinn and had a stint in the Army, owned a shoe shop in Belfast and was also a prison guard for a while. He was a talented man but never managed the break needed to succeed. He was a fun man and good uncle but in truth we did not see enough of him over the years. Mike was a playboy type in his younger days but when his father died I feel that Mike somewhat lost his way with music and his image. Thank you for the chance to remember Mike's music via this site. I remember having the record and playing it every so often but it got lost over the years. Nice to see a picture of it again.)

26 January 2014

Wishful Thinking - Step By Step/ Looking Around

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1966

Some time ago now I posted a detailed entry about the history of the British harmony/ beat group Wishful Thinking, and rather than repeat myself for the sake of it on this occasion, it probably makes sense for me to direct you back to that effort.

"Step By Step" is another prime example of the group's typical sound.  Intricate vocal harmonies combine with bouncy, buoyant melodies to produce a single which ended up not doing a great deal in the UK at all.  Produced by Shadows man Tony Meehan, it tugs gently on a variety of popular sounds such as upbeat Alpert trumpet sounds, Beach Boys harmonising and Tin Pan Alley chirpiness, and as such seems as if it would have had the potential to crossover to a wide number of audiences.  Sadly, it was not to be, and it only acts as another milestone on the way to the group's broader success with "Hiroshima" in the seventies.

The B-side "Looking Around" is barely with troubling yourself with at all, but I include it here for the sake of completeness.

23 January 2014

The Fuckers - Sexy Roy Orbison

Label: Kalevala
Year of Release: 1997

Back in November, you'll remember that I talked about Bill Drummond and Mark Manning (aka Zodiac Mindwarp) and their peculiar mission to create a series of fictional Finnish bands whose singles they could release in quantities of 500 copies each. From ambient brilliance to garage rock to techno stupidity, the singles were varied in style and tone.  Ultimately though, I doubt anyone was quite prepared for the non-existent Finnish punk band The Fuckers.  Drummond writes in his excellent tome "45":

"They are the only Lapp punk band in the world.  They have been together for over ten years, no line-up changes, thousands of gigs, no success and no selling out.  They always get drunk before they go on stage.  Once on stage they fall over, break strings, get in fights with each other or members of the audience.  The night always ends with them being ripped off by the promoter.  They hate everyone and everything, but especially Helsinki.  To them, Helsinki is full of soft, southern, disco-loving, homosexual, rich, arty wankers, and full of girls they want to shag but never can, things they want to own but never will.  The Fuckers are the eternal dispossessed outsiders, failures and fuck-ups.  All of their own doing, though of course they'll never see it that way.  As far as I'm concerned, The Fuckers are the greatest band in the world".

So while "Sexy Roy Orbison" is probably one of the finest song titles of the nineties (though perhaps not as provocative as the song they apparently penned in honour of Princess Diana's death, "One Less Slag") does it cut the mustard?  Yes and no.  Possibly unsurprisingly, "Sexy Roy Orbison" actually sounds rather like the KLF colliding with Extreme Noise Terror as they did for a version of "3am Eternal", but perhaps less powerful and searing.  It sounds exactly what you'd expect a pissed-up underground punk band without a clue to sound like, and in that respect it's such an accurate parody that it would be hard for anyone to tell this wasn't the real deal if they were blindfold tested.  Buster Gobsmack Eats Filth this isn't.

It is a full-throttle, ferocious burst of noise and huge fun, but I doubt you'll need to listen to it more than half-a-dozen times before getting the gist and moving on.  The concept behind the group is mightier than the product itself.  Though I shudder to think what Google searches are going to get directed here as a result of the band's name and song's title….

19 January 2014

Gaslight - Move/ And So To Sleep

Label: Jayboy
Year of Release: 1969

An odd and slightly mysterious one, this. "Move" has been picking up some attention lately as an otherwise largely ignored psychedelic obscurity.  Not without reason - this is slippery smooth psych, complete with close harmonies, grooving electric organ work, heavy basslines and slow dance floor beats. The chorus reverts to UK Beat type, urging us to "jump and shout" and momentarily disturbs the mood, but otherwise this slides along beautifully.  It's not wildly dissimilar to the work of The Dragons, another band who were utterly ignored at the same time the scented hippy candles were getting snuffed out but recently had their material issued on Ninja Tunes.  

Gaslight seem to have released this single then disappeared without trace, giving us absolutely no clues as to who they were or what else they did.  There is some speculation online that they may be another band signed to Jay Boy or their controlling label President operating under a pseudonym, but there are no clear indications.  Whatever the facts, their approach was largely wasted on the British public by 1969, and as everyone began to pick up their hard rock, blues and prog albums, there wasn't time for this kind of technicolour dancefloor action.  A shame - if it had been issued a couple of years before, "Move" may have made a much more significant impression, but even then I can't help but feel that this is a subtle little record which might not have ever had a chance of bashing its way through the radio to encourage the public to buy it in vast quantities.  Still, we can enjoy it now. Move, readers, and get yourself together. 

15 January 2014

Dora Hall - Did He Call Today Mama?/ Time To Say Goodbye

Label: Calamo
Year of Release: 1963

Dora Hall is an old friend of the blog, of course, and I've already gone into enormous depth about her absurd and almost certainly unprecedented and unrepeated career in vanity recording.  Whereas most self-released artistes press up 200 records for their friends and family and the people who fancy them, Dora was married to a millionaire plastic kitchen utensils magnate.  This meant her records were regularly given away free with purchases of picnic-ware, airtime on cable television was bought, and she ended up an ubiquitous presence in the USA for decades without ever having a hit single.

Of course, it would have been a lot more fun if Dora Hall had been an exponent of experimental noise or political agit-prop, but the fact her husband's money bought her time with some of the finest session musicians in the country often meant that some of her singles weren't bad free gifts at all.  Several veer towards the Northern Soul end of the spectrum and sound no worse (and in many cases better) than acclaimed efforts from small indie labels operating in that sphere, and her takes on tracks like The Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction" actually have kicking horn sections and a gritty edge that is surprising.  She chose her material and musicians wisely and was much more than a middle-of-the-road character.  

"Did He Call Today Mama" - by Randy Newman, no less - is another example of her picking a winner.  It's a swinging borderline Northern Soul song with an edge of desperation about its lyrics, a beautiful kick about its performance, and a world-weary vocal from Hall who doesn't have a fantastic voice, but knows how to deliver the sentiments.  It's true to say that her television appearances sometimes made her seem somewhat naff and perhaps distracted from the quality of her recorded work, so I'd ask doubters to listen with a fresh pair of ears.  Some of these singles are so cheering I only wish they were more easily available in the UK.

Dora died in 1988, but she'll always have a special place in this blog's heart. 

12 January 2014

Public Skool - Baby Come Back/ Walking The Rat

Label: Logo
Year of Release: 1980

By 1980 punk was pretty much dead, but there were still a few pops and snaps going on in the fireplace  after the flames had been urinated out.  The "Oi!" movement, feverishly promoted by everyone's favourite British tabloid hack Gary Bushell, continued to give punk some occasional music press and radio presence.  Then, besides that, there were still a few records created by music industry session folk and chancers who hadn't quite realised that the game was almost up.

All the evidence points to this being a record made by a studio group having a laugh with the idea of making a Mockney punk record, much like The Strawbs attempt to go punk under the name The Monks a couple of years before.  The A-side, a cover of "Baby Come Back", is actually pretty good despite this, adding a football terrace edge to a track which wasn't short of foot-stomping qualities to begin with.  New Wave keyboards combine with "Oi!" vocals and glam banging to create a track which is fun without being essential.

The B-side is odder still, and if it isn't a piss-take then I'm sending my bullshit detector right back to the branch of Maplin I bought it from.  "Walking The Rat" is a wide-eyed punk track about taking a pet rodent out for a walk in public on a leash rather than a dog. Oh the anarchy.  "He's walking, walking the rat!" chant the backing vocals enthusiastically, and to cap it off we learn that the animal is called Pat.  I think I can detect a tiny bit of contempt here, and if this isn't a record made by serious session musos who felt that punk was either a bit silly or had made a mess of their careers, I'll be amazed. The presence of David Mindel on the production credits may be a clue - here was a man who wrote the "Jim'll Fix It" theme in the seventies, and was also in a band with Mike Read, penning the phased popsike classic "If (Would It Turn Out Wrong)" on his way.  It may be that a punk band were offered him as a producer for this session and simply accepted him as the right man for the job (those dog-rough glam rock credentials on the original 'Jim'll' theme perhaps did partly qualify him) or it may have been that he was in on a joke here.

Whatever, we're left with a punk curio which has been a guilty pleasure for many people over the years, and I suspect I'm not alone in enjoying this a wee bit more than I should do.

8 January 2014

Perfect People - Polyanna/ House In The Country

Label: MCA
Year of Release: 1969

It's tempting to think that absolutely every last half-good drop of British popsike is in wider distribution now, but as this particular disc proves, there are still lesser known surprises out there.  The official A-side to this record ("House In The Country") has already been compiled on "Piccadilly Sunshine" and is available on iTunes and Amazon and no doubt other commercial sites besides, so I'm not going to trouble myself too much with the contents of that one beyond providing you all with an edited 45 second clip of its charms.

The B-side "Polyanna", on the other hand, would have been a more logical choice, and it's somewhat surprising it was overlooked.  The simplistic but frankly bizarre lyrics appear to be exhorting a young lady not to commit suicide by throwing herself into a river, but this is pure rainbow-coloured sixties pop in all other respects.  Basslines swoop and plunge majestically in a manner Macca would respect,  the horn section kicks into the chorus giddily imitating the vertigo of a high bridge over a river, and the whole thing has a merry urgency about it and enough hooks to drag in even the biggest popsike cynic.  The vocals are perhaps slightly too gruff to truly compliment the contents of the rest of the song, but this is a fine piece of work otherwise - and when you spot Mike Leander's name in the credits, it becomes clear why.  Whilst he later became widely known for introducing Gary Glitter to success, in truth the Walthamstow born Leander had cut his teeth as an incredibly skilled arranger long before, working to brilliant effect on excellent records by David McWilliams, Ben E King, The Rolling Stones and Colin Blunstone before this one.  He also arranged The Beatles "She's Leaving Home" while George Martin was unwell, putting him in the unique position of being the only other arranger to work with them.

"Polyanna" isn't a lost classic to file next to the Fabs, but it's potent sixties pop which deserves a lot more attention than it's received so far. "House In The Country", on the other hand, seems to be a Manfred Mann off cut (penned by Hugg, Man and Hugg) which is merely OK-ish - twee, chipper and pleasant, the kind of fare you'd find halfway through the sixth volume of "Circus Days".

As for who Pleasant People are, my guess is that they were a studio group rather than a "proper" live gigging band, but if anyone knows differently, please do get in touch.

4 January 2014

Dog Rose - Paradis Row/ Sunday Morning

Label: Satril
Year of Release: 1972

Well, this is a thorny mess.  Nobody can seem to agree on the band line-up for this recording at all.  The press release Satril Records put out for this single quotes entirely different personnel to the members eventually listed on their solitary 1972 LP release "All For The Love Of", and the only reasonable explanation is that as soon as this group imploded, the label quickly hired another bunch of musicians together to carry on under the Dog Rose name.  It's also possible that the name was owned by the label and musicians were hired for songs accordingly until a hit came.  

Confusion aside, "Paradis Row" occupies the same area as a great many early seventies pop singles, with a tiny drop of popsike in its veins, some anthemic McCartneyesque melancholy (the same strand inhabited by the theme to "Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads?") and a streak of Edison Lighthouse bubblegum.  Gently slapped bongos introduce swaggering riffs and beatnik-styled lyrical patter, and this eventually cascades into a huge rainbow streak of a chorus.  Regardless of who may or may not have been responsible for this, it's a bit of a buried gem, a could-have-been that never was.

The flip is much  more bizarre.  The press release describes it as "back to the fifties and rocking and rollin' down the avenue", but the jaunty pub piano, distortion and treble seem to be recalling The Kinks if anyone else.  Virtually absent of bass and overloaded with top-end screech, Graham Coxon would probably nod in approval at the lo-fi approach on offer here, though God knows what anyone made of it at the time.

If you were in any line-up of Dog Rose at any particular point and want to conclusively clear up a mystery here, please do get in touch.  

1 January 2014

Sounds of Lancashire - Sliced Tomatoes/ Back to Bach

Label: Pye Disco Demand
Year of Release: 1975

I suspect the fact that Fatboy Slim sampled large chunks of The Just Brothers "Sliced Tomatoes" and plastered them all over "Rockafeller Skank" is a known fact even to the laziest of sample-spotters these days.  Already a Northern Soul classic by the time Norman Cook found other uses for it, the Brothers' sparse yet strangely brilliant track enjoyed a revival in clubs and on the airwaves after his plundering, and hasn't really gone away since - in fact, Demon Records put out a 7" vinyl reissue only last month, much to my relief as I'd been after a reasonably priced copy for some time.

What is perhaps less appreciated is the fact that Fatboy Slim was not the first person to get his grubby paws on it.  Back in the seventies, numerous record labels in the UK - Pye and Spark being the most notable criminals here - were quick to spot trends on the Northern Soul circuit and often put out cover versions of the main floor fillers which had often been long unavailable over here, if they were ever available at all.  Largely consisting of session musicians watching the studio clock, these rush-released discs veered in quality from being fair facsimiles to downright shoddy.  If you look on ebay, you can still see many of them, even the rarest ones, up for sale at bargain basement prices. There's a simple reason for this - nobody wants them.  They're the vinyl equivalent of the boyfriend or girlfriend everyone went out for a week because they looked a tiny bit like somebody else they fancied a lot more.  Do not DJ with any of them if you value your life, or at the very least your reputation.

"Sliced Tomatoes" by the mysterious Sounds of Lancashire takes things one step further, however. Noting the sparseness of the original, the session musicians in this case have decided to "helpfully" spruce the gaps in the record up with some burbling analogue synthesiser tinsel, creating a Moogy Wonderland disco record where a Northern Soul one should more logically be.  It bubbles and squeaks its way through the familiar Just Brothers riff like something out of a parallel universe where a Lieutenant Norman Cook of NASA was born twenty years earlier and dicked around with early synthesisers rather than turntables, probably wearing a spacesuit and saluting a lot during his routines.  I'm not making a case for this actually being good, mind you. Anyone expecting a Northern Soul version of Stereolab is going to be horribly disappointed.  However, it's absurd enough to warrant coverage on a blog as ridiculous as this one.

The actual proper A-side "Back to Bach" is another remake, this time of the brilliant "Bok to Bach" by Father's Angels.  That version covers similar territory but doesn't do so in as interesting a way.

Happy New Year everyone, by the way! I do have some genuinely good and completely obscure records lined up for the next couple of months at least, so don't surf away just yet. Please.