26 February 2014

Reupload - Windmill - Big Bertha

Label: MCA
Year of Release: 1969

Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley were major players in the British sixties scene, producing hits primarily for Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich, but also sneaking out top-selling discs by a wide variety of other smiling sixties scoundrels too. Arguably their most famous composition amongst the cool kids in the beat collector cult is The Honeycombs Meek-produced "Have I The Right?" Besides that, they also worked with The Herd, Lulu, and even Elvis Presley.

Suffice to say, a band launched as a Howard-Blaikley project were normally assured big-time success, and Windmill, their first post-DDDBMT act, had high hopes attached to them. With press releases being rushed out assuring the public that Windmill would 'inject some dynamics into a dull scene', "Big Bertha" was the debut single. With it's strangely Higsons-esque (in retrospect) yells of "Hoo ha!", puffing flutes (hey! Dig that concession to the fast approaching prog rock movement!) and a driving chorus, only a fool would have betted on this single's failure at the time.

Nonetheless, it was a flop, and forty years down the line we're only left with the option of dissecting precisely why. Developing trends in music can't have helped - Dave Dee and his ridiculously-named pals were already rather passe by 1969, so introducing a new band producing similar cheery, upbeat pop with the same team behind them probably wasn't the wisest idea. On top of that, there's something very by-numbers about the sound of "Big Bertha". In a similar manner to the way that the lowest-ranking Stock Aitken and Waterman hits always sounded like cast-offs, "Big Bertha" feels similar, almost as if the chaps behind it offered it to a big-name act first, then threw it in the direction of their new boys when no other takers stepped forward. This is very probably wrong, but the track is memorable without being thrilling, catchy without having substance. The band give it plenty of welly and attempt to generate some excitement with their buzzing guitar noises and chirpy vocals, but something, somewhere, sounds rather flat. That's not to say that the single isn't worthy of a spin, and is certainly enjoyable enough for a few listens, but that's as good as it gets.

Windmill released a number of other singles - including the apparently psychedelic "Wilbur's Thing" - but none attracted the public's attention, and the band's career was cut tragically short when lead singer Dick Scott died in a car accident. The other members subsequently went on to form Prog Rock outfit Tonton Macroute, of whom I must confess I know nothing. But hey, there's a video of "Big Bertha" on Youtube here, which I surely can't be alone in finding incredibly surprising.

(This blog entry was originally uploaded in November 2009.  Since then, I've managed to locate the other two Windmill singles, which can be found here and here.  So technically, readers of this blog now have access to everything they ever recorded - or released, at least

And is it me, or do parts of this sound slightly - though admittedly not much - like Elton John's "I'm Still Standing"?)

23 February 2014

Charles Dumont - Le Fils Prodigue

Label: CBS
Year of Release: 1970

"You know, if you'd grown up listening to French pop music, I really don't think you'd be so keen on Scott Walker's albums" - my wife.

My wife, as you can probably gather from that above quote, doesn't like Scott Walker much, seeing his earliest work as being dull cherry-picking of adult French/ Belgian music productions - a Brel song there, a melodramatic orchestral arrangement there.  This is interesting if only because Walker himself largely rejects most French pop music, talking about it in extremely disparaging tones in most interviews.  I would further counter her argument with the observation that the Brel influence behind his work and occasional production flourish does not a continental breakfast make - a certain strand of French sixties pop definitely took the melodramatic, kitchen-sink route, but the most popular work (in its home country, at least) tends to be quite scuzzed up and messy. Jacques Dutronc, for example, doesn't really seem to immediately have anything in common with Scott Walker.

It is possible to find examples where the comparison fits, however, and this is one. "Le Fils Prodigue" has the same faint tinge of psychedelia about it, and the same strolling bass groove that Walker frequently utilised.  Wailing guitars undercut dismissive vocals, female backing vocalists coo their way melodramatically underneath, and the whole track is richly textured.  What's striking is that melodically there's not a great deal going on here - Dumont does not have a wonderful singing voice, and the song itself is not overburdened with traditional pop hooks. What stays fresh in your mind even after the first play are the flourishes, the details, the tiny sums of the parts.  The different elements interact beautifully.

Dumont was a prolific French songwriter who most famously penned "Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien" for Edith Piaf with lyricist Michel Vaucaire.  He still records and performs to this day, appearing most recently in "A Tribute to Edith Piaf" at the Beacon Theatre in New York.

Sadly, the flip "Ta Cigarette…" is still widely available, meaning I can't include it here.

19 February 2014

Christopher Neil - If I Was Close To You/ Grey Day

Label: RAK
Year of Release: 1972

There are two ways I purchase records for this blog. One is to approach the problem by shopping using either blind or calculated luck. Perhaps the band's name seems interesting, or a producer of some renown is credited on the label, or it's 50p in a charity shop and I've never heard of it before. The other is being tipped off by people online raving about long-lost singles which they haven't heard in years.  The former approach pays dividends about a tenth of the time, I'd say, whereas the latter approach tends to involve striking gold more often than not.

So then, this Christopher Neil single has a number of fans on the internet, yet there are no YouTube videos of it or even brief snippets to be found anywhere.  The only way I could possibly hear the thing was by tracking down a copy, which I did on ebay from a seller who seemed keen to pitch it as a fantastic folk obscurity.  "Here you are, Mr Ebay seller!" I cried, waving my hands around like Russell Brand. "Have my bank details immediately and debit my account of ten pounds, for - despite its appearance on the none-more-pop RAK Records - this is clearly a Nick Drake styled winner!" The fact I was also slightly drunk at the time might explain matters further.

I wouldn't have bothered to mention the above were it not for the fact that I have to be brutally honest and declare that I'm not too sure what everyone else is hearing. The A-side "If I Was Close To You" was later covered by Olivia Newton-John, and is pleasant, silky, acoustic guitar led pop. What it isn't is popsike or acid folk or even fuzzy felt folk.  It's a frail, lovelorn pop record you could imagine an artist like Cliff Richard taking on.  I can't imagine myself playing it that often.

The B-side "Grey Day" seems to get more virtual knickers in twists, and I can appreciate that a fair bit more - it's a rather more sixties affair, complete with jazzily plucked guitar strings and a melancholy feel.  Still, though, I would never have paid that much money for it had I known the contents.  But damn it, when so many people are seeking out an mp3 copy of a record, it seems only fair to give it a place on here, however much I agree with them or otherwise.

Christopher Neil has many strings to his bow, being an actor, singer, songwriter and record producer. His most successful foray into record production was probably with Celine Dion who he handled for the global hit "Think Twice", but he gains far more respect from me for having twiddled the knobs for the Earl Brutus-favoured Dennis Waterman hit "I Could Be So Good For You", a record which is so good-time, boozy and giddy it practically whiffs of fizzy lager and the smoke from a hundred lit Bensons. 

He did eventually release an LP on RAK as well entitled "Where I Belong", but I have yet to see a copy of this anywhere. 

Sorry for the pops and clicks on both these tracks. I tried my hardest by giving the record a deep clean, but only so much could be achieved.

15 February 2014

The Attack - Hi Ho Silver Lining

Original Label: Decca
Original Year of Release: 1967

People don't really listen to the lyrics. Haven't you found this, viewers? They just don't. That's why wedding ceremonies up and down the land apparently feature Baby Bird's "You're Gorgeous" as a slow dance, and might even explain why David Cameron regularly taps his feet to the music of The Jam and The Smiths without once feeling an aggravated twinge as his right-wing sensibilities are challenged (though listening to what anyone has to say doesn't seem to be among his more obvious skills).

"Hi-Ho Silver Lining" is but one more example of this peculiar phenomenon. A popular feature at many wedding discos I've been to and even the soundtrack to a jaunty television advert, there is actually nothing remotely positive about its lyrics. Depending upon your interpretation, it's either referring to a woman whose life is clearly headed towards to a dark and dingy valley but is in denial or having as much fun as she can while she goes, or it's an altogether more savage attack on the drippy positivity within the decadent hippy culture of the day. "Saying everything is groovy/ when your tyres are flat" hardly seems to be the best sentiment for a wedding day, least of all "Lies are gonna get you some day/ Just wait and see".

Jeff Beck's version of this song was the hit we all know and (possibly) love, and his banner waving performance may have falsely sown the idea that it's a cheerful ditty in some people's minds. A mere few days before his version was issued, though, mod band The Attack got their teeth into it and clung on like Staffordshire Bull Terriers to each and every word. You can hear spit and venom in this version, and after coming out of the other side you can surely be left under no illusion that the woman on the receiving end of their message is regarded as a pretty drippy bint. For me, it sounds like the correct reading, mean spirited but appropriately so - the lyrics surely leave the group no other option. It's a dirty kick against someone who is clearly in denial about their declining position in life, or perhaps if you want to take a broader reading, the entire hippy culture en masse.

Consisting of singer Richard Shirman, drummer Alan Whitehead, guitarist Davy O'List (before he joined The Nice and - for a brief but odd period - Roxy Music), and John Du Cann, The Attack are widely regarded as one of the premier UK freakbeat bands. It's not hard to find swathes of their material on commercially available compilations, and indeed the flip to this record "Any More Than I Do" is almost overplayed these days.  However, this version of "Hi-Ho" has now almost totally been eclipsed by the better known one and has been largely ignored since its release. Consider that wrong righted.

12 February 2014

Black Velvet - See What You Get Out A Me/ Can't Stand The Pain

Label: MAM
Year of Release: 1971

Black Velvet have been featured frequently on this blog - I was fascinated by how such a forceful, driving group with elements of soul, funk and rock (and also, on occasion, total grit) in their performances could have remained so obscure.  They released multiple singles throughout the sixties and seventies to no avail, including the much sought-after and wonderfully addictive organ driven funk extravaganza of "Tropicana" (I've never found a copy of that I can afford) and my personal favourite, "African Velvet".

The reader Fairydust was kind enough to leave a comment here a while back filling in the blanks.  It would seem that they began life as the Coloured Raisins in London in 1966, with Brandis on vocals, David and Keith Gamport on guitars, Peter Nelson on organ and London Steel on drums.  All were from the West Indies originally and eventually added three other vocalists to their line-up - Honey Darling, King Ossie and Earl Greene.  By 1969 they became Black Velvet and by that point had become a hugely in-demand act on the capital's live circuit, and if the force apparent in some of their recordings is anything to go by, that's no big surprise.

"See What You Get Out A Me" perhaps isn't one of their strongest efforts, but is suitably hook laden.  The low bass piano notes riff here to remain firmly lodged in your mind, and the whole thing swaggers along nicely.  It doesn't have the sheer compelling adrenaline of some of their best work, but it also doesn't deserve to languish unheard.  

An ex-employee of their former label Beacon Records sent me a small photo of the band not too long ago as well, so their appearance is also no longer a complete mystery.  Thanks to everyone for all their detective work on this lot, it's hugely appreciated.  I almost never DJ these days without playing "African Velvet" at some point in my set, and the response to it is so positive it's hard to understand how it bombed at the time.  If a top-flight DJ or somebody from an advertising company is reading this and fancies trying to revive it in some way, they won't be disappointed. 

9 February 2014

Harmony Grass - Cecilia/ Mrs. Richie

Label: RCA
Year of Release: 1970

After British sixties harmony pop stalwarts The Castaways splintered, leader Tony Rivers decided to continue down the already established route that group had taken.  The Harmony Grass was formed with new members but precisely the same approach in mind - close approximations of the American West Coast sound being transplanted on to both existing and brand new material.

When The Harmony Grass hit home, they were really pretty damn good, occasionally mixing toy town psychedelia in with their sound alongside an enormously slick harmonic approach.  "Happiness Is Toy Shaped" is a beautiful piece of popsike which sounds akin to what the Beach Boys Christmas Album should have been in an ideal world.  Its A-side, "Move In A Little Closer, Baby" is, on the other hand, unremarkable bubblegum.  

"Cecilia" b/w "Mrs Richie" follows much the same pattern, with a driving bongo boogie version of Simon and Garfunkel's catchy but middle-of-the-road ditty on side A, and a much more meandering, thoughtful Wilson-esque sprawl across the flip which is far more satisfying.  "Mrs. Richie" still borders on the twee, and seems to be snatching some Paul Simon influences to add to the paisley brew, but is beautifully arranged, from the droning keyboards to the vocal harmonies.  There's an unexpected diversion and surprise at every moment, and it's the sound of a sixties group fully playing with the palette on offer.  If it's guilty of anything, it's probably taking too winding a course for its own good.

Ultimately, though, the group offered little which couldn't also be obtained elsewhere which might have been responsible for them becoming marginalised.  But if you're short of golden coastal sounds in your collection, The Harmony Grass's Anglicised approach to the form is often intricate and pretty, and worth your time investigating.

After the group wound down at the end of 1970, Tony Rivers later went on to do session work, specialising in vocal arrangements. Well, there's a surprise. 

3 February 2014

The Fun and Games - Grooviest Girl In The World/ It Must Have Been The Wind

Label: Uni
Year of Release: 1969

I appear to be approximately the 24th person online to blog about this one. Oh well. The simple truth is that some flop records have such an impact on the people who hear them that they promptly rush to the internet to tell everyone they know. Then those people tell everyone they know. And the dominos keep toppling until someone asks the not unreasonable question: "So how come this wasn't a hit?"  Allow me to tell you.

The Fun And Games were originally a Houston based group called The Six Pentz who morphed into their more well-known moniker to avoid confusion with another similarly named local act.  After some turmoil and a series of small-time independent recordings, they settled on a line up of Rock Romano on guitar and vocals, Joe Dungan on keyboards, Joe Ramano on bass, Sam Irwin on vocals and tambourine, and Carson Grahm on drums.  

After building up a positive local following in the Houston area they were discovered by Los Angeles based songwriter Gary Zekley, who pitched the idea of a working partnership with them to Uni Records.  The label agreed, and the recording sessions produced this tearing great noise. "The Grooviest Girl In The World" is usually classified as bubblegum, but this actually just as easily sits somewhere between garage pop and glam.  Filled with shouts of "Hey!", fuzzed up guitars, close vocal harmonies, thumping drums and pure joy, it's as close to pop perfection as the late sixties ever got.  Placing this on your turntable is like inviting the contents of a local fairground into your living room - the hooks spin around your head and flash with neon colours until it all becomes a little bit over-exciting.  If you don't feel as if you should be doing laps of your living quarters by the time the band sing "Come fly with me in my balloon", I am worried for your state of mind.  

It really should have been a huge hit, but Sam Irwin took to the stage at a Los Angeles music industry showcase and began insulting various Uni staffers live onstage, who subsequently lost their enthusiasm for promoting the record.  It struggled to number 78 in the Billboard Hot 100 then disappeared again, an unjust end to a fantastic single - but there again, the result was perhaps only to be expected.

Sadly, the fact that it's compiled on the album "25 All Time Greatest Bubblegum Hits" means I can't include it in full here, but it's on YouTube for you all to enjoy.

The flip side "It Must Have Been The Wind" is strangely dopey and jazzy and almost of equal interest, if inevitably overshadowed by its top side.  Here the group sound less sugary and much more as if they could be at home on an album of psychedelic obscurities.  Obviously a band of many skills, then, but despite their talents the subsequent LP "Elephant Candy" did very little sales-wise, and the band had disappeared by the time the seventies dawned.