30 April 2014

Marianne and Mike - As He Once Was Mine/ Go On

Label: Vocalion
Year of Release: 1964

Regular readers will know all about the struggles I have attempting to find material for this blog which is largely unheard.  Back when I began writing here in 2008, finding singles and tracks which were unavailable on iTunes, YouTube, Spotify and elsewhere was like wandering through a large apple orchard the first day after a hurricane.  The feast we all had, eh readers (are any readers from that period actually left?) These days record companies have digitally re-released a lot of the content from the darker corners of their catalogue, the YouTube uploaders have completed their herculean tasks to digitise their entire singles collections, and we are where we are - up shit creek, really, but at least I still have an intact and rather firm wooden paddle.

Except… once in a while a surprise pops up. I had never heard or seen a copy of this single before it fell into my hands. The seller promised some enjoyable "sixties girl pop", and I raced home to put it on my turntable enthusiastically. More astoundingly still, it's actually pretty good and possibly doesn't deserve to be as obscure as it is. The A-side, featuring the mysterious Marianne in duet with a chap called Mike, zings along with Joe Meek styled compression and echo, all flighty and pretty. The flip is a solo affair and much more beat-orientated, and equally good.

On learning of my purchase, fellow DJ, friend and sixties female solo artist fanatic Sean Bright began frantically digging around the internet attempting to locate facts about Marianne, thereby partly saving me a job. Marianne was born in Manchester in 1947 as Marian Stockley, and began performing music while she was a fifteen year old student at Bolton art college. Initially joining the Mike Taylor Combo, her and Mike were coaxed away from the group by Vocalion to produce a couple of singles as a duo, this debut effort and the follow-up "You're The Only One".  Both tracks were penned by Marianne's boyfriend Wilf Lewis, but neither sold in convincing quantities.

Later in 1965 Marian and Wilf founded the more widely known group Wynder K Frog, but left to pursue a solo career on Fontana before they hit the recording studios. Adopting the name Friday Brown, her recordings under that moniker are enormously varied, taking in folk, blues, pop and Northern Soul. One of these efforts, the self-penned "32nd Love Affair", is an utter corker, pitching its mood somewhere between the flamboyant regret of Gene Pitney and the Wigan dancefloor. Steadily as her career bled into the seventies and the cabaret circuit, however, her work became more subdued and middle of the road. This led to appearances on the likes of "The Two Ronnies", but still didn't create any real commercial headway for her.

After 1973 it would seem that she moved into advertising and began to write jingles and music for commercial purposes, before eventually retiring from music altogether in 1995. Her run of employment in the media still outstrips many of the other artists we've featured on this blog, though, and is a testament to her obvious talent. 

27 April 2014

Bollard - I Need Your Love/ Sunshine In The Morning

Label: Satril
Year of Release: 1972

Although it's not talked about often, the cabaret and working man's club circuit appeared to have a notable influence on the mechanisms of the music industry in the early seventies. It wasn't where progressive artists of any hue could be found impressing punters chowing on their supper (although stranger things happened - Woody Kern regularly played the circuit, for instance, and once had a live set interrupted by an intercom announcement that the pie and peas were ready). More usually, it tended to be where the slicker artists dispensing their liquid-soap smooth brand of post-Beatles pop could be found, people we could probably fairly describe as potential New Faces or Eurovision contestants. Then, of course, the likes of the Batley Variety Club were cash generators for old hands such as Scott Walker, providing the foundations for comebacks and career resuscitations aplenty.

Bollard were yet another one of the hard-working circuit bands who littered the early to mid seventies. Consisting of Ron Blake, Ron Castor and Mick Snell, they formed in Essex (the precise location doesn't seem to have been recorded) and were initially known as Solid Gold, and you really can't get a more cabaret club sounding band name than that. Changing their names to Bollard and signing to Satril for a one-off single, to have a "highly successful career in records… accepting the challenge offered by all sides of the Entertainment industry" according to the press release, this one seven inch appears to have been their lot. Rainbow-hued and soaring, "I Need Your Love" sounds like the commercial noise of Love Affair being propelled into a new decade, slick, joyous and sun-kissed. It's not radical or in any way jarring - meaning the record seller who tried to tell me it was a "psych/prog" record was talking out of his rear - but it does stake out its own particular territory confidently and does sound like a possible hit.

It didn't happen, though, and that seems to have been the lot for the band's "career in records". Of some interest is also the fact that the B-side was co-written by David Mindel, who we've talked about elsewhere on this blog. There is some dispute about whether Bollard played on it at all, as it seems to be  the same as a demo recording Mindel and Gary Benson recorded rather than a final product.

Thanks to the ever-fantastic 45cat community for all the pieces of information about this record.

23 April 2014

Dora Hall - Pretty Boy/ It's Time To Say Goodbye

Label: Reinbeau Records
Year of Release: 1965

Dora Hall has already featured twice on this blog, and if you want an adequate summary of her career, please go to this blog entry where all is explained. For those of you who don't have the patience, however, let's summarise her career as bluntly as this: Failed actress/ singer marries disposable cup and picnicware magnate, the aforementioned magnate then pours some of the company money into trying to make her a successful light entertainment star over several decades, then not a lot really happens except history remembering her as a very peculiar fluke on the very fringes of popular culture. 

At the risk of repeating myself further, there was a tendency at the time to regard all of Hall's output as being unspeakably naff, but that received wisdom is beginning to be challenged. In short, her husband had too much damn money in the bank to litter the world with cheap and nasty productions - it wouldn't have reflected well on him to have done so, and as a result a lot of her 45s swing brilliantly, though some admittedly do beg the question "What in thundering sodomy was everyone involved thinking?" But she did release hundreds of records.  Mark E Smith would balk at her work rate, in fact.

"Pretty Girl" is an example of a successful sounding disc, so respected now that it's actually a Northern Soul spin. It's not a 'borderline case' in the Northern Soul world either - listen to that joyous chiming, soaring brass section and uptempo, galloping rhythm combined with yearning vocals and you'll realise this absolutely fits the genre like a glove. Spin it next to Dobie Gray's "Out On The Floor" and few people will argue that it's the better record, but most will continue to dance as the atmosphere and celebratory feel remain intact. 

If you happen to be out crate-digging and spot a cheap Dora Hall single sitting unloved near the back of the pile, do take a punt on it. If you're living in the USA they're apparently pretty easy to come by. Here in Britain, she had one 45 out on the collectible indie King Records ("Hello Faithless") and that's it. You owe it to us to try. 

16 April 2014

Reupload - Ron Grainer Orchestra - Tales of the Unexpected/ Simon Templar

Label: RK
Year of Release: 1979

The always entertaining, never predictable blog "Out on Blue Six" mentioned a perplexing phenomenon in a recent entry, that being the tendency of record labels to release bizarrely souped up versions of TV theme tunes. Whilst this didn't always apply with every release, and as such we were thankfully denied the novelty disco version of the "Minder" theme by the Dennis Waterman Band, people still frequently meddled with perfectly good work where there was no need.

Take the "Tales of the Unexpected" theme tune as an example. Admittedly it would make for a rather short single kept as it stands, but what already exists is a classic atmospheric burst of eeriness which is immediately recognisable to everybody of a certain age. Whereas this, on the other hand... is a slightly chirpy version, replete with early synthesiser noises and funky guitar soundz. I don't know what the majority of people purchasing the theme tune from their local Woolworths were expecting, but by Christ, I'll be betting it wasn't this (which may help to explain why it didn't chart).

The only possible bonus I can see from this arrangement is that some of the synth noises sound slightly like "Separations" era Pulp, so you could, if you so desired, amuse yourself by doing a Jarvis Cocker monologue over the top of the record, softly waffling on about an unexpected night time visit by a shadowy lady, who was probably Martha up the road who worked with Denise at the local outlet of Threshers, and you know because you observed her body under her tight black dress whilst she was walking Joe to school the other day... something like that, probably.

(This pithy blog entry was originally uploaded in November 2008. I did tons of really snappy entries back in those early days… I have nothing new to add about this record, apart from to say that somewhat confusingly, a single on the same label featuring the original theme tune is out there as well. This particular version is like the booby prize for crate diggers everywhere. Oh, and "Out on Blue Six" is no more, unfortunately, but Tim Worthington's Newsround is a perfectly good substitute). 

13 April 2014

The Beat Merchants - So Fine

Label: Tower
Year of Release: 1965

Here's a peculiar case of a very widely available obscurity, a working example of the longstanding rule of DJs everywhere - "Always check the B-side". In 1965 Tower Records released Freddie and The Dreamers chirpy tune "You Were Made For Me" in the USA. With North America's fondness for British eccentrics at the time and Freddie's irrepressible barmy charm and the song's whistle-worthy melody, it was sure to sell by the absolute bucketload. One small problem, though - in a peculiar contractual arrangement, Tower had only bought four tracks by the band, and wanted to hold back as much of their other goodness for the singles market as possible. The B-side was therefore something of a blank slate.

Still, not to worry. Tower simply dug through the British beat archives at EMI until they stumbled on "So Fine", a UK flop for the Beat Merchants. Including the tag line "Introducing the Beat Merchants" on the label of the flip to give the impression that they were paving the way for some more future British stars in the USA, not only was a worthy obscurity made easily available to collectors at a much later date, it also netted the group a cool £1,000 in royalties (which sounds laughable now, but was a big haul for a broke band back in the early sixties).

Despite all the promise of the "introducing" tagline, however, Tower never did issue another Beat Merchants single Stateside, which is a shame. Consisting of guitarist Ralph Worman, bassist Chris Boyle, rhythm guitarist Gavin Daneski and Les Rogers on drums, and based in Horsham in the UK and well-known and loved on the south coast club circuit, The Beat Merchants were solid purveyors of pounding R&B. Beginning their lives as The Hustlers and focussing mainly on an instrumental repertoire, their lives changed when they performed a local gig slot supporting The Rolling Stones. Blown away by the group's raw sound, things were never the same afterwards, and they changed their name to The Merchants and also altered their direction to blues orientated beat.

Within a surprisingly short space of time, record companies began to get interested in the band, perhaps sensing that they may be the next Stones. Decca and Columbia were both chomping at the bit, and mailed them contracts at exactly the same time - against the group's wishes, Columbia ended up being their home, where they issued two singles before parting company. "Pretty Face" is chaotic, ramshackle, high-tempo blues in the best sense of the phrase and probably their finest released work. The follow-up "So Fine" is rather more controlled and subdued, and apparently wasn't much loved by the band at the time. Don't let that put you off, though. It's still got a swagger and a stomp to it which makes it a pleasure to listen to.

Suffice to say, none of this really amounted to anything much, although it probably made The Beat Merchants the wealthiest obscure sixties group in Britain for a brief period. Not long after these disappointments the group returned to regular day jobs in Horsham and that was that - but "Pretty Face" and "So Fine" are well enough remembered to still generate a lot of discussion online to this day. I also can't help but wonder whether they would have achieved greater volumes of success akin to The Yardbirds had Columbia stuck by them for a bit longer.

8 April 2014

Identified Flying Objects - The Kytes (and Eddie King)

At least since the eighties when they were first compiled on to the "Rubble" compilation series, The Kytes have been something of an enigma. As stated in the liner notes for Volume 10, The Kytes did indeed once act as Peter and Gordon's backing band on tour, but little more than that was ever revealed about them. This seemed something of a shame, as the slow hammond groove of "Running In The Water" and the mournful folk-pop existentialism of "Frosted Panes" were both early popsike discoveries for me personally, and doubtless many other people besides (A VG condition copy of "Running In The Water" sold for £64 on ebay last week).

I was absolutely delighted and surprised when ex-Kytes man Eddie King got in touch with me through the blog recently to fill in the blanks and explain the bands history, even including a few photos and mp3s of a solo single of his. With his permission, I'm reproducing his story below. 

(photo: Eddie King and Freddie Allen)

Originally we had a band formed at school in Bristol in around 1960 called Ricky Forde and the Cyclones. This consisted of 5 guys, Ricky, myself, Freddie Allen, Julian Bailey and Roger Jones, By the following year we were working 5 nights each week all over the South West and beyond and went to work in Hamburg in 1962/ 1963. As I am sure you know, a lot of Liverpool and London bands were working there then and it was really where the whole British 60's thing started, so we got to work with lots of guys who subsequently became very well known.

In 1963 the 5 piece split and I continued with Freddie and Julian as a 3 piece band and got booked in 1964 on the same show as Peter and Gordon at a big variety club in the North East ( these clubs were big then!). They had a record, 'World Without Love' which had just hit number 1 but they didn't have a backing band and were basically two guys sitting on stools with guitars. They asked us to back them so we told them "OK, if you stand on stage"! The upshot of this was that we became their backing band from then on.

(photo: Eddie King and Peter Asher on a bullet train in Japan)

I travelled all over the world with them for the next two years and played on all their records as well as recording with many other mainly 'Abbey Road' artists. The other two guys played in the backing band in the UK and Europe. During this time I released a couple of singles under my own name, no UK hits but had a number 5 in Japan!

So, in 1966 the work with them was slowing so the three of us tried a record together as The Kytes which was "Blessed/ Call me darling" (with Dave "Dobie" Gillis on bass). I can't remember how we signed to Pye but I think it was down to knowing some people there in A&R and just taking the record in.

"Frosted Panes" was one of my songs and was recorded at Pye studios. The B side was a song written by Roger Cook, an old friend from Bristol, who was responsible for Blue Mink. Roger was on the session and sang harmony on the track.

"Running in the Water" was, however, a different line up - myself, Julian on drums, John Peters on bass and Pete Robinson on hammond ( yes the guy who went on to be a prolific film score composer and who was Phil Collins keyboard player for many years). The B side was "End of the Day" which featured some cracking organ stuff.

From memory I think this line up did a few gigs, mainly London college venues and went our separate ways.

Sadly, Julian passed away in the 70's, Freddie Allen and Gordon Waller a couple of years ago. I spent a further 20+ years in the music business mainly as a session player and band leader and played with lots of well known acts over the years. I finally quit in 1990 and haven't worked as a musician since although I have a studio at home and still write stuff and have had a few TV sig tunes and a couple of commercials. By pure fluke, I received a (small!) half yearly payment yesterday for some of the 60's Abbey Road recordings- still amazes me after 50 years. I'm still in touch with Peter Asher who, as I'm sure you know, became a top producer and manager with James Taylor, Carly Simon and many others.

As for The Kytes, typical for the time, nobody ever received a penny even after the compilations which I recently discovered.

I asked Eddie King a bit more about his solo hit in Japan.

The record was called 'Always at a distance' released on Columbia.

When we arrived in Japan I didn't have any idea that it had been released there leave alone getting into the top 5. We hurriedly changed the show so that I did a 15 minute solo spot first half.

Important to remember that the only band to have toured there had been The Beatles several weeks before and Peter and Gordon arrived shortly after.

While we were there the office in London urgently wanted a B side for my next single which was to be 'I Wanna Love her so Bad', so we went into the Toshiba studio in Tokyo to cut a track. The studio was dire and the result sounded less than good. (Toshiba was an EMI subsidiary).  Against my will the cut was used as the B side on the next UK release.

Interesting maybe, the A side had The Breakaways and a younger than me bass player who got booked on the session called John Paul Jones - do your own research!

A total delight to hear from Eddie and finally resolve a long-standing mystery, and attached in the Box below is the solo single he mentioned above "I Wanna Love Her So Bad", which was an unknown piece in the Kytes jigsaw puzzle for me until last week.

If any other bands have spotted themselves on "Left and to the Back" and want to get in touch to plug any gaps, please do - and please don't think nobody is interested, because I certainly am, and plenty of other people read this blog who also enjoy having these riddles resolved. 

3 April 2014

The Delmonts - A Ra Chicera/ Sorry For My Jealousy

Label: Spiral
Year of Release: 1971

Oft sold as a "reggae rarity" online, this sounds more like a calypso record to my admittedly easily confused ears, but I'm happy to be corrected if I'm wrong. Whatever you want to classify it as, "A Ra Chicera" is a rum proposition, sounding like an upbeat meditation on the failings of human nature accompanied by the kettle drummers and trumpeters from the "Grandstand" theme.  "Well, there's nothin' wrong with the world/ it's just the people living in it" The Delmonts inform us seriously, before clarifying "And there'd be nothing wrong with the people/ if they'd stop to think a minute".  They're not far wrong, are they? "A ra chicera, chicca racca roney", they add. Nope, lost me there.

The Delmonts didn't seem to release many other records or evidence of their existence, but I can tell you that this was the first in a small line of releases on Spiral Records, who were owned by the British jukebox company Ditchburn.  Like their later releases, "A Ra Chicera" did not chart, but it turns up in quantities which suggest that either they manufactured loads in the hope of a hit, or it came close to success. Certainly there seem to be suggestions online that The Delmonts did some television promotional work for this single, which would have given it an inside shot. As it stands, their thoughtful meditations on charity and neighbourliness were lost on the British public, and that may account for the present decline in living standards. You tried, the Delmonts, you tried.