31 May 2014

DJ set at Well Versed

Hello folks. I thought you might be interested in a forthcoming DJ'ing set I'll be doing as part of the Stoke Newington Literary Festival.

I'll be supplying music together with the Dirty Water Club's Arthur Scott at the "Well Versed" event on Saturday 7th June. You can expect the usual mix of sixties garage pop, soul, funk and other oddments besides, but perhaps more importantly the featured poetry acts will be:

Phill Jupitus + Tim Wells + Niall O’Sullivan + Chimene Sulyeman + Bob Constant + Lucy Ayrton + Sam Berkson + Chris Coltrane + Captain of the Rant + Paul McGrane + Lisa Kelly + Emma Jones

We'll be at Mascara Bar, kicking off at 8pm and with DJs until 3am. There's also another full day's Well Versifying ahead of the Saturday gig, with full details available on their Facebook event page if you're interested.

29 May 2014

Melvin's Marauders - Buzz Buzz A Diddle It/ Three Months To Kill

Label: Birds Nest
Year of Release: 1979

One for the "why isn't this record more collectible?" file. True, it looks unpromising. The label - with its heavy use of sauce-in-a-sachet brown and red hues and references to recording studios called "The Old Smithy" - seems small-town and of no real concern to anyone looking for anything apart from a regional seventies flop. On top of that, the band sound relatively unfamiliar and unchronicled.

Anyone with any faint memories of Robert Plant's activities during the seventies might feel a sudden urge to run to the till with this, though, and they'd have good cause. For reasons known only to himself - friendship and a love of the same music, presumably - Plant occasionally appeared on stage with obscure Midlands old-school rock and roll group Melvin's Marauders in front of a small number of pleased ladies and gentlemen in unlikely venues such as The Silverdales Caravan Club, Wolverly Memorial Hall and Stourbridge Wine Bar. His appearances were unannounced, and involved him grabbing the mic and singing the lion's share of lead vocals. There are a handful of stories online from people talking in a shocked fashion about Plant materialising at a very unpromising sounding gig, and while the internet allows such people to share these experiences, one has to wonder whether it has also put paid to such surprise turns taking place in future. Any whiff of Plant at a pub venue these days would send Twitter into a flurry of activity and the venue would be crushed beyond capacity in minutes.

Perhaps more amazingly, Robert Plant also appears on this single doing backing vocals, hence the "Mystery All-Stars" credit on the label. It's nothing at all like Led Zeppelin and everything you'd expect it to be from my description above - old fashioned rock and roll filtered through the seventies pub rock circuit, frantic, fun and enjoyable. Even without Plant's presence, I'm pretty sure this would have been a dead cert entry for this blog, such is its energy and urgency.

The complete personnel behind Melvin's Marauders has been lost in the mists of time, but Ian Hatton was definitely their lead guitarist. He went on to join Honeydrippers with the post-Led Zep Robert Plant, before eventually joining Heavy Metal band Bonham. 

Birds Nest Records itself was a joint venture between ex-Elektra and Dandelion Records man Clive Selwood and Muff Murfin. Selwood chronicles the label's disappointing failure in his brilliantly entertaining memoirs "All of The Moves But None of the Licks", and notes with particular sadness that this - of all records - wasn't a hit.

26 May 2014

Foster Pilkington - Town of Forgotten Talent

Label (on release): Rockin' Horse/ Arista
Year of Release: 1986

Acquiring studio acetates of an artist's work is a peculiar but flawed pleasure. You open the sleeve to the pungent whiff of metal and vinyl lacquer, then there's the buzz of excitement as the needle hits the groove.  You're never quite sure if what you've bought is unique or not, an abandoned earlier version of a known song, or even a long lost demo or out-take. But then often the fragility of the medium becomes apparent as the scratches and scuffs interfere with the occasionally agreeable music. And that's what we have here - a worn copy of an obscure single I've tried to tidy up as best I could.

"Town" - or "Town of Forgotten Talent" as it was eventually known - is a reminder that aggressive, snarling political pop (as opposed to rock) was a more common presence in the eighties than we've given it credit for since. For every Billy Bragg wannabe, there were dozens of acts with synths and sardonic vocals making their discontentment with Thatcherism known. Even Depeche Mode, widely regarded in the UK as millionaire stadium pop stars these days, released "Construction Time Again" in 1983, an album espousing democratic Socialism accompanied by interviews fiercely defending the welfare state and NHS. "Everything Counts" was a hit twice over and nobody batted an eyelid.

Let's not get tempted to bandy around comparisons carelessly, though. "Town" is less subdued and a lot more furious than that. Focussing its anger on the unemployment statistics of the time, there's a grit-teethed, almost Lydon-esque delivery to the lyrics, while underneath tumbling piano lines clash with aggressive fiddle playing and agitated electronic bass lines and beats. It's a fantastically busy record which could easily have been favoured by Janice Long on Radio One in the early evening (I have no information to suggest it was, mind you) and in terms of both its sound and subject matter sums up a period of time beautifully - a time we seem to have accidentally transported ourselves back to in recent years. Regrettably, not a single word of this record seems dated or any less true now than it did in 1986.

From the little I have managed to find out about Foster Pilkington, he appears to have been a multi-instrumentalist from Scarborough who played all the studio parts to his songs himself - a well-worn idea now, but a bit more of a novelty in 1986. He had two singles out (this and the follow-up "Listening Land") before Arista Records lost interest in him with no LP being released. According to a couple of vague sources he is still musically active and living in Essex, but only one self-released effort in 2011 ("Empty", about homelessness) is apparent.

As for the acetate, it's hard to say whether it differs to the officially released 7" version, but it's certainly wildly different to the 12" version on YouTube. If anyone can resolve this riddle, I'd be grateful for further information.

22 May 2014

Fireball - Bachanalia/ I Dunno

Label: Spark
Year of Release: 1973

Do you remember that not too many entries ago we were talking about Graham Preskett, who recorded a pretty neat version of "Mellow Yellow" (backed with an equally superb version of "Disney Girls") for Spark Records? Well, it was by no means a one-off. Like many of the session musos who hung around the Spark stable, Preskett had his fingers in a number of their releases, and this is one such obscurity.

If you were being somewhat cynical, you could argue that "Bachanalia" was a cash-in on ELO's advances in orchestrated pomp rock, but it's not clear that this is where the main influence is from. Snappy, lively and with considerably more billy whizz in its bones than most of Lynne's releases, "Bachanalia" is hard to place anywhere. Clearly partly intended for the dancefloor and having a slight (and admittedly only slight) glam rock crunch about it, it's a likeable but peculiar anomaly, an aural tonic that gets the foot tapping but is hard to imagine being a huge hit.

The flip "I Dunno" sounds as if it could be a piece of library music, which for all I know may have been the original intention behind the work. Like the A-side, though, it's got a bit of a kick behind it.

Clearly Spark had high expectations for this one as it was granted a release in both the UK and America - nothing big came of either issue, though.

20 May 2014

Reupload - Mason Profitt - Vote!

(A quick and very relevant reupload here, British readers - please remember to vote in the Local Elections and EU elections on 22nd May. In an unpredictable climate, your vote really, really does count. I might even chuck a copy of this in the post for Russell Brand to ponder over).

Label: Warner Brothers
Year of Release: 1972

In Britain, we’re completely used to the “Rock the Vote” campaign where pop stars will nag young people to register. Paul Weller is generally a constant, usually appearing in the press with such a weary face in the accompanying articles that one loses the will to do anything for the rest of the day after seeing it, much less take part in the democratic process.

As is so often the case, the Yanks were on to the whole campaign way before we were. And so it was in the 1972 election over there that somebody persuaded folk rockers Mason Proffit to produce a promotional ditty on the subject. “Put down your toke, learn to vote, then you can hit 'em where they're gonna feel!” they urged hippies everywhere.

Somehow (and I’m not entirely sure how) this single ended up for sale in a second hand store in London, from where I bought it. It contains the full song on the A-side, plus three promotional radio slot features on the B-side which contain members of the band clearly reading facts about voting off a piece of paper to an instrumental version. How many hippies bothered to put down their spliffs and wander down to the polling booth after hearing this remains undocumented, as does the rumour that Paul Weller will be doing a soulful cover version of the track at the next British election.

(This entry was originally uploaded in June 2008. At this point the blog was still taking its first toddling steps and I clearly thought that giving background information about the act in question was a mere frippery, something nobody really cared about. I obviously deemed it far more important to needlessly take the piss out of the unrelated and largely irrelevant Paul Weller.
So then, to right that wrong, here goes... Mason Profitt were a cultishly successful folk rock band from Chicago formed by brothers Terry Talbot and John Michael Talbot. They issued five albums as Mason Profitt, and enjoyed acclaim from several of their contemporaries but sadly not many sales. None of their albums hit the Billboard 100, and eventually the band dissolved in 1973 (not long after this promotional item was released) to leave the brothers to drift off to record contemporary Christian music instead, for which they have received a Grammy Awards nomination. They have never performed with Paul Weller or been members of The Style Council.
There, that wasn't especially taxing, was it? Excuse me while I pop in my time machine to give the me of four years ago a kick up the arse.)

18 May 2014

Mormos - Magic Stone/ Hey Gilles

Label: CBS
Year of Release: 1972

Like Head West who we discussed some entries ago, Mormos were an American group who shifted to France to try to gain an audience there. Formed from various members of the defunct Illinois-based psychedelic rock group The Spoils of War and consisting of James Cuomo, Sandy Spencer, Tobia Taylor, Anne Williams, Rick Mansfield and Elliot Delman, they produced intricate yet traditional acoustic sounds akin to the folk scene happening across the water in the UK, with elements of The Incredible String Band and Fairport Convention in their sound. Why they based themselves in France rather than hopping over the English Channel to try their fortune in a more sympathetic marketplace is an interesting question.

They issued two LPs on CBS in France, "Great Wall Of China" and "The Magic Spell of Mother's Wrath", both of which are extremely scarce in their original pressings now, and even rare in the form of their subsequent nineties reissues. Tales are regularly spun about the group's relative popularity among French hippies, but clearly that wasn't enough to shift them to the levels of even moderate fringe success in that country, and their records remain highly sought after.

"Magic Stones", a single issued in the gap between the two LPs, is possibly the band at their most fluid and commercial - a merry, chirpy melody, performed and arranged with enormous dexterity, it will appeal to the kind of people who like their folk music to be simultaneously child-like and progressive. Any claims dealers make for their work being "lost classic folk" are wildly exaggerated, but it certainly could have done better than to languish in relative obscurity.

Sorry for the pops, clicks and surface noise on this one - it's not a perfect copy of the single, unfortunately.

14 May 2014

Reupload - S*M*A*S*H - Barrabas (Piloted)/ Turn On The Water

Label: Sub Pop
Year of Release: 1994

S*M*A*S*H must surely rank as being one of the most forgotten NME hype bands of all time. Not for them the mocking references reserved for Menswear, or the curious nods given to Godspeed You Black Emporer - they're almost never mentioned at all these days, despite reforming to make another album in 2007.

How different it all was. From the stories, reviews and celebrity plaudits that were given at the time of the band's first singles, you'd have thought that they were the next brave band of conquerors, the great hope of British music generally. Tales were told of grown men crying in their presence (no, really), frenzied gigs, and an angry, intelligent left wing political agenda (it's difficult to imagine now, but that kind of thing was considered really bloody important to the music press before Britpop came along). Whilst a lot of these stories were bog-standard hyperbole, I did witness S*M*A*S*H live a couple of times and can verify that they were an astonishingly powerful band when on form. At one gig, Joe Strummer stood near the front jumping up and down enthusiastically, which must have seemed like the baton being passed on from one act to another at the time, as well as seeming like a dream come true for the band.

Sadly, it was not to be for them - they wouldn't be on this blog otherwise, would they? This was their last single to generate any press interest, though, their one America-only release put out to try and crack that "all important" market (ambitious as they'd barely cracked their home market at the time). For my money, it's also one of their finest pieces of work, expanding upon their punkish beginnings and creating something which sounded more modern and brittle. There's a marvellous false ending, some brilliant lyrical sloganeering, and lots of unexpected musical twists and turns. The B-side is a cover version of the Afghan Whigs "Turn on the Water", possibly included to seem friendly to the US market.

S*M*A*S*H's initial career was cruelly brief, and they only managed one album ("Self Abused") before disappearing. Nonetheless, when I lived in University Halls of Residence at the time, it could be heard blaring out of various rooms, not least from the room of my immediate neighbour who worshipped them - so there was some truth to the NME's claims that they had an army of devoted young fans. The only lie in that sentence was the use of the word "devoted" - they were as fickle as anyone else, and couldn't wait to drop them as soon as Britpop arrived.

(This blog entry was uploaded in 2008, and S*M*A*S*H do seem to have been periodically active on the live circuit since, though I've not yet got around to giving them another look. One memory I fail to mention above is the time I queued up to see them at the Portsmouth Wedgewood Rooms and a notorious local homeless man - whose catchphrase was "Can you spare some change? Purely for alcohol, you understand" - tried to sneak in to see them for free. I'd like to think that if the band had ever found out, they'd have put him on the guest list). 

11 May 2014

Complete Cycle - I'm On The Road Again/ Back On The Road Again

Label: Jay Boy
Year of Release: 1970

Peter Lee Stirling is one of pop music's more prolific but strangely under sung characters. A songwriter throughout the sixties for artists such as The Merseys, Kathy Kirby and Dave Dee as well as being a performer in his own right under his own name and in groups such as Peter Lee Stirling and The Bruisers, he's left a faint scuff on sixties culture without many people noticing.

He achieves a songwriting credit for the top side here, "I'm On The Road Again". The Compete Cycle only released this single, and it's difficult to state with any authority whether or not they were a studio group led by Stirling or a going concern who were simply donated a tune of his. Whatever, it's a gravelly, rugged piece of country-tinged rock which seems to be taking its cues from the dominant CCR-styled sounds of the new decade, reeking rather of Jack Daniels and Coke. It's not the finest example of its genre and its easy to understand how it's largely been ignored by collectors and DJs, but lovers of early seventies faux-Americana will probably find quite a bit to enjoy here.

As for our good friend Peter Lee Stirling, a couple of years after this flopped he changed his stage name to Daniel Boone and racked up a notable international hit with "Beautiful Sunday", which despite only reaching number 21 in the British charts became an enormous hit elsewhere, selling two million copies in Japan alone. He also picked up a "most likeable singer" award from Rolling Stone magazine in the USA. 

If anyone has any information on The Complete Cycle, let me know. I strongly suspect they may have operated independently of Stirling, but there's no concrete proof and it's really only a hunch I have. 

4 May 2014

Medium Wave Band - Mellow Yellow/ Disney Girls

Label: Spark
Year of Release: 1976

When the easy listening revival arrived in Britain in the nineties, coated with irony as so much of the output of that decade often was, there was a tendency to behave as if it was something new. In truth, knowing and faintly mocking easy listening covers have been a comedic or novelty part of pop music since at least the fifties, when rock and roll found itself fair game for all manner of intricate cover versions (although in the case of some of the earliest ones, it's hard to tell whether rock music was the subject of the mocking parody, or easy listening was).

During the seventies, session musician Graham Preskett formed the Medium Wave Band ensemble who set about producing two delightful little singles of this ilk. The first one "Radio" has already been featured on this blog, but their cover of Donovan's "Mellow Yellow" is probably better value for money. Where the original swells over with false bonhomie, especially during the irritating studio "party" towards the end (fake recording studio parties never fail to destroy the mood of a record for me) the Medium Wave Band tighten their ties and button up their jackets for this and deliver a much more considered version. Doubtlessly indebted to Vivian Stanshall and actually admirable in its detail, like all the best comedy records this is part-joke, part careful study.  To be honest, I get more plain and ordinary enjoyment out of it than I do giggles.

The B-side "Disney Girls" is actually the second seventies easy listening version of the track to be featured on "Left and to the Back", the other being the King Singers attempt. It's not hard to understand why this might have been an appealing track for bands with middle-of-the-road leanings to cover at the time, and in both cases the attempt comes across as being quite pure and heart-felt.  

A lovely little 45, this one, which I'm surprised didn't sell in greater quantities. Had it been issued nearer the close of the sixties at the height of the fame of the Bonzos and The New Vaudeville Band, it would almost certainly have fared better.