29 June 2014

Fruit Machine - Willow Tree

Label: Amercian Music Makers
Year of Release: 1968

Over four years ago I uploaded The Fruit Machine's fantastic USA-only single "The Wall" to this blog, frothing at the mouth in the process about its "shimmering effects, gut-thudding, plunging basslines, and Eastern-styled instrumentation". It remains one of my favourite obscurities of the era, acting as a near-perfect bridge between psychedelia and sixties pop - comparisons have been made between the single and Simon Dupree and The Big Sounds' "Kites", but in reality it's far, far better than that.

Sadly, the track has now been issued on iTunes and is available through four different labels, and rather than deprive the group of royalties I'd rather you went there and bought it instead. The mp3 that used to sit on this blog has since been deleted, but you can still sample "The Wall" on YouTube.

Fortunately, however, I've finally managed to grab a copy of the B-side. The single I originally had was a DJ promo with "The Wall" on both sides, whereas a month ago I managed to stumble upon an actual release copy at a reasonable price. "Willow Tree" isn't as good as its topside, but it's still a marvellous piece of work. Sounding slightly like a more mournful piece of work from the post-Syd, pre-Prog Floyd, it's a leafy, rural piece of psychedelic pop with whining, buzzing guitars and elements of paranoid doom about it. The noise of a comedown in the summer time, it's a brittle but nonetheless lovely track. Apologies for the obvious scratches, pops and needle damage, by the way.

As for the Fruit Machine, its since been revealed that while the first 45 they issued - "Cuddly Toy" - was the work of an in-house session band, subsequent releases "The Wall" and "I'm Alone Today" were the work of a proper "gigging" outfit from South West London. Stephen Gould, Andy "Ced" Curtis (previously a member of a group called The Walham Green East Wapping Steam Beating, Carpet Cleaning, Rodent and Boggit Exterminating Association) Chris Randall and Andy Deacon were in the line-up, and issued a string of 45s which didn't really manage to sell in large quantities. Indeed, for some reason "The Wall" b/w "Willow Tree" was never issued at all in the UK, which seems like a woeful misjudgement on the part of their label.

Curtis and Gould later went on to become involved with Rare Bird, who regular readers of this blog will know were also an eventual destination for The Turnstyle's member Mark Ashton (discussed a few weeks ago). Somebody pull together a family tree now and save me the job of having to do it.

25 June 2014

Reupload - Upholstered Eldorados - I Wanna Talk Like Iggy Pop

Label: Box 52 Records
Year of Release: 1990

Now here's a complete oddity with an all-star cast behind it (albeit an all-star cast from the Fourth Division of pop, with the exception of its main attraction). Andy Stennett - the keyboard player out of eighties disco wonderboys Freeez - worked on this track, along with female vocalist Helen Shaw who had a few hits as the frontwoman of various club singles in the nineties.

Yer main man in all this, however, is obviously Iggy Pop. Absolutely all the lead vocals for this track were culled from an edition of Radio One's Roundtable where he was a guest reviewer of the latest singles releases, and the lyrics are simply found snippets of conversation where Pop frequently bemoans the state of pop. Possibly my favourite moment in the whole song is when Helen Shaw tries to "sing along" to his studio chatter, to fantastic comedic effect.

This was something of a cult club hit at the time, and obviously a one-off for all concerned - Iggy loved the track and gave it his blessing, but obviously didn't work with the individuals behind it in any other capacity, and they in turn presumably moved on to whatever their next DJ/ studio project was. Musically, it's a bit of a treat too - its shuffling early nineties, baggy-ish groove meant that it worked its way on to "Indie Top 20 Volume Eleven" without sounding too out of place, from where I must confess I got this recording. I don't own the original twelve inch, which can change hands for quite a bit of cash now.

One has to wonder if an equivalent project could be attempted by somebody today - this is certainly the only example of the "studio interview/ club record" crossover I can think of, although I'm happy to be proven wrong.

(This blog entry was originally uploaded in August 2008. I've not much to add except to say that the other person responsible for this track's creation, Sweeper, dropped into the blog to say hello, so we can now note his involvement in a slightly more official way.)

22 June 2014

The Bruisers - Blue Girl/ Don't Cry

Label: Parlophone
Year of Release: 1963

Keen readers of "Left and to the Back" will recall that only last month I mentioned a songwriter and performer called Peter Lee Stirling. His sixties run of recordings didn't really exercise many record store cash registers - though he did at least manage to write "I Belong", which finished second in the Eurovision Song Contest when Kathy Kirby performed it in 1965 - but he obtained multi-million success with the international hit "Beautiful Sunday" recorded under the name Daniel Boone in 1972. 

Way before such riches fell from the heavens, though, he was the guitarist and vocalist with Tommy Bruce's backing group The Bruisers (previously known as The Beachcombers). Hailing from Birmingham, The Bruisers came within a whisker of major success with this single which hovered around the lower reaches of the Top 40 for several weeks in 1963, eventually only managing to climb as high as the number 31 slot.  It could easily have performed better - with its wailing harmonica, close vocal harmonies and firm, precise beat, this was really Merseybeat in all but location and therefore name. Obviously influenced by the Fab Four but none the worse for it, "Blue Girl" scored them an appearance on Ready Steady Go where they also performed their follow-up single "Your Turn To Cry". Sadly, it wasn't their turn to have a bigger hit - it completely failed, and they returned to being Tommy Bruce's backing group for a couple of other singles before disappearing from the scene altogether.

So far as "Blue Girl" is concerned, the general lack of discussion around what was actually a minor sixties hit at one of the most important points in British pop music history is odd. Had it shifted reasonable units in the USA as well, one can imagine that it might occupy at least a footnote in Beat history - as things stand, it was a record I was oblivious to until embarrassingly recently. 

You'll note from the label scans above that Flashback Records in London get a free plug due to their policy of plastering price tags right across the labels of 7" singles. The Islington branch is actually one of my favourite record stores in Britain, and it might even go on to become my actual favourite if they dispense with this policy - as soon as you try to peel the sticker off, the label usually tears. Vandalism, I call it. 

18 June 2014

Unknown Artist - Spread A Little Warmth With A Bush Nelson Fan Heater

Label: None
Year of Release: Unknown

Ah, the fan heater. We've all owned them, haven't we? We've all lived in cheap rented accommodation without central heating and by winter pulled the fan heater out of the cupboard, knowing damn well that doing so would send the pay-as-you-go electricity meter spiralling downwards faster than HMV's debts. We've all enjoyed that peculiar, prickly and deathly smell of burning dust going up our nostrils before hitting our throats, the intense heat on our legs, then feeling as if the house is still in the Arctic as soon as we walk as little as two metres away. We have.

What I would guess none of us have associated with fan heaters is cocktail/ dinner party swing music. Maybe if you'd never had the need to own a fan heater you would consider them some kind of decadent luxury, the last touch to a living room for a toff who requires their feet to be especially toasty, but otherwise… it doesn't compute. I associate fan heaters with bad indie records being played out of a cheap Saisho hi-fi unit, because that was my soundtrack in life when I last had to use one constantly. The Sinatra styled cool of this promotional record is baffling, but to be fair to its creators, most adverts-on-vinyl are. You can't blame Bush for trying to inject some sophistry into the proceedings, even if it only convinced about three people in the end.

The lyrics are naturally an ungifted comedian's paradise, leaving plenty of space for obvious potshots, so I'll avoid spoiling the surprises here. The performance, on the other hand, is slick and difficult to fault. It's unlikely we'll ever find out who the musicians behind this were, but they sound as if they probably cropped up on considerably worthier records in their time - this definitely isn't a terrible bar-room jazz ensemble who have been wheeled in to do the job cheaply.

As for me - because I know you're about to ask - I still have two fan heaters in my possession, and one actually is a Bush (the other is a Pifco, making me something of a fan heater brand whore). This is because I live in an old listed building in London without proper central heating and single glazed windows, because installing double-glazed ones would ruin the frontage. If ever a record was made specifically for my present living circumstances, it's this one. The target audience is clearly me and some of my broke "arty" neighbours.

The B-side is a slightly longer version of the A-side, by the way, the extended mix, if you will. I don't think they felt releasing this one on twelve inch was worth the budget.

15 June 2014

The Wages of Sin - West Virginia/ Hey Hey Hey (Well I'm On My Way)

Label: CBS
Year of Release: 1970

Another absolute mystery, I'm afraid. "West Virginia" is the sole release from the obscure and largely undocumented Wages of Sin, and the lack of information about them probably indicates that they were  a studio group created for the purposes of this record - in the early seventies this had become highly regular practice.

Originally issued by Ronnie Dio's group The Elves to similar disinterest a mere few months before, "West Virginia" straddles an awkward line between bubblegum and garage, having the kind of kicking horns and soulful hollering vocals to draw comparisons with the likes of Paul Revere and The Raiders. The chorus is close enough to a stadium chant to make me think it might have stood a hope of being a hit, but despite the fact that this is a UK re-recording of the song, it still sounds far too damn American. The British, as a rule, are fine with celebrating American cities and states when they're halfway familiar through the television and cinema screen. New York, San Francisco, California, LA, Las Vegas, Detroit, these are all places we're happy to gaze upon in admiration and celebrate in song. West Virginia, on the other hand, isn't going to stir up many feelings of fondness or familiarity, largely because internationally it has a very low profile. Would anyone from the USA buy a celebratory British song called "Great Yarmouth"? I doubt it (very few people in Britain would either).

Still, this is cheerful enough, and thuds and punches its way through its celebration just enough that you almost want to visit West Virginia. Perhaps if Tony Christie had covered it, as he did with "Show Me The Way To Amarillo" which caused tourism in the city to leap up dramatically, everyone would be in business.

11 June 2014

Turnstyle - Trot

Label: Pye
Year of Release: 1968

Turnstyle's "Riding A Wave" has joined the ranks of the uber-collectible British psychedelic 45s. It was  the group's only single and has been known to command nearly £900 in excellent condition, and is extraordinarily hard to track down. So hard, in fact, that an enterprising bootlegger ran up more copies of it recently (the version I own, naturally) all of which seem to have since sold out.

It's little wonder, really. "Riding A Wave" is a great little summertime psych record, doomed on its original release perhaps by the fact that Pye Records shoved it out in the unforgiving gloom of a British November. But even outside of its ideal context, it's still a joyous and celebratory record, filled with soaring Indian string arrangements and a storming, defiantly carefree chorus. It's on YouTube and even iTunes if you want to investigate further.

Less exposure has been given to the B-side over the years. "Trot" is a very different beast indeed, being a threatening, clattering and clanging rocker, raving and drooling away. Harsh garagey guitar riffs hang out with bluesy vocals and in a blindfold test, it's unlikely anybody would guess this was the same band.  Knuckle-dragging tunes and weightless psych-pop seldom shared vinyl space on one 45 in this way.

Turnstyle were formed by songwriter and drummer Mark Ashton and his brother (whose identity I have not managed to unveil). Based up in Scotland, they only managed to stay together for six months after this single was released before disbanding, after which Mark moved over to the considerably more successful prog outfit Rare Bird, whose "Sympathy" sold more than one million copies globally. I prefer "Riding A Wave", personally.

8 June 2014

The Mad Hatters - The Humphrey Song

Label: Epic
Year of Release: 1976

He'd never believe it - and I suspect even if he did find out, he wouldn't care much - but the songwriter Mike Batt is indirectly responsible for two things that traumatised me as a child. The first and obvious thing would be the Wombles. Not the fictional litter-gathering characters who I liked, but their incarnation as a musical group. As a three year old child in a Butlins holiday camp, four towering men in Womble costumes gathered around me for a perfect photo opportunity. Seeing these fat, giant, Pete Townshend-nosed furballs stood behind me, glaring with vacant eyes in a manner I took to be menacing, I burst into floods of tears and had to be taken out of the room.

Then, Humphrey the phantom milk-drinker. Jesus Christ. You can talk to people of a certain generation about these adverts and they'll stare at you blankly - who? What? But they were the stuff of appalling darkness to me at the same age. In the adverts, Humphrey is an unseen force, never in camera shot, who steals milk from various surprised or terrified celebrities. Sometimes his emergence would be met with a booming, bellowing "He's behind you!" The fact that Humphrey was never visible caused me to conclude that this was a horrible, Triffid-type monster. I visualised a giant, striped, snaking straw, coiled and ready to strike, slithering into rooms and strangling people before sucking the milk bottles from their fridge dry. Again, I used to burst into tears at the adverts and had to be taken from the room. Thanks a fucking lot, Mike Batt (though to be fair to the songsmith, he only came up with the tunes for these horrible creatures, I doubt he was behind the concept, or my own warped mind's visualisation of the unseen).

I didn't realise that there was a glam rock Humphrey single released to coincide with the adverts, although it's safe to say that only a particularly cruel adult in my house would have considered buying it for me as a gift. On top of a thudding beat and a honking Soho sax, things only get more mysterious. "Though Humphreying is against the law/ they'll Humphrey a bit and Humphrey some more" Batt warns us. "Hey they don't need no reason!/ Hey baby, this is the Humphrey season!" he adds, while a sinister, prolonged psychedelic Floydish whisper hisses "Humphreeeeeyyyy!" in the background. Absurdity and anarchy abounds. I didn't know Humphreys had seasons, or that there were specific laws against the very act of Humphreying itself.

There's no reason why this shouldn't have been a hit. The adverts were very well-known and popular (with everyone except me), Batt's original jingle was familiar to all and a huge factor behind their success, and the track is enough fun to be worth more than the usual couple of plays most novelty singles end up being granted. Doubtless the BBC were reluctant to playlist something so closely linked to a major ITV advertising campaign, and it failed to pick up attention elsewhere. But it could be that I'm biased - while you're probably hearing a very innocent glam ditty, I'm actually hearing bleak, monstrous terror and cow-juice drinking chaos. This track has enough darkness to it to never be pure 'novelty pop' to me. Do indeed watch out, people.

Sorry I couldn't include the ballad on the B-side in this upload, but it's absolutely scratched beyond use on my copy, I'm afraid.

4 June 2014

Reupload - Elliot Mansions - I Don't Want To Live Inside Myself/ Three Score and Ten

Label: President
Year of Release: 1972

I've owned this particular single for years, and there are two key reasons it's never been uploaded. Firstly, information on Elliot Mansions seems to be incredibly scarce, and I was hanging on for more facts to materialise - however, it seems as if I may be waiting for the rest of my lifetime. And secondly... despite numerous good reviews on psychedelic pop sites like Sweet Floral Albion, I really can't hear what everyone else is seemingly hearing here. Both sides are perfectly passable ballads, with the A-side perhaps being of most interest to people as a Barry Gibb composition, but I can't hear any oddness or adventure you'd expect from a popsike disc.

Still, it seems rather selfish to sit on these things when there clearly is some demand for them to be heard, and so I present it to you for download with apologies for having absolutely no back story about the artist (or possibly band) in question.

Perhaps rather more interestingly, this single is one of many which turned up in boxes around London which appeared to have originated from the BBC Gramophone library. I had always assumed that the BBC's vinyl library was the most comprehensive in the world and that they never had "clear outs", but that's clearly not the case, as the BBC transparent plastic sleeve my copy came in (plus the bold BBC library stamp on the B-side) both prove. Good news for collectors, perhaps, who get to pick up near-mint copies of old singles for very low prices, but I have to wonder if some of this material would be better off inside the vaults rather than being allowed to wander into the hands of people like me - although I should probably respect the fact that if license payers were asked what their money should be spent on, the storage of flop sixties and seventies acts probably wouldn't be very high on their lists.

And as usual, I must ask anyone with any information about Elliot Mansions to come forward and spill the beans.

(Update - This entry was originally uploaded in July 2009. Nobody ever did come forward to 'spill the beans' about Elliot Mansions, though numerous people brought me up to date with the BBC's plans to digitise its library. My opinions on this record haven't changed much in the intervening years, unfortunately, but Bee Gees fans will probably want to check it out as a rarity. A copy sold on ebay for £10 recently…)

1 June 2014

The Vejtables - The Last Thing On My Mind/ Mansion Of Tears

Label: Autumn
Year of Release: 1965

From a fairly ignorant UK perspective, it's easy to reduce the US folk-rock movement into a few key names and places. The reality is that away from the hits and the iconic figures, there were a lot of other players who never really gained much more than cult appreciation (or perhaps even less than that).  This blog recently revisited the work of the largely unknown Brotherly Lovers from Queens in New York, and the pile goes a lot deeper than that.

Californian band The Vejtables, on the other hand, had moderate success in certain regions of North America, and caught some media attention for possessing the then quite unheard of combination of a female singer/drummer in Jan Errico. Their cover of Tom Paxton's "The Last Thing on My Mind" is probably one of their better known moments, and continues to be appreciated enough that you can buy it from plenty of tax-dodging mp3 selling outlets to this day (or listen to it on YouTube if you're that way inclined). 

For my money, though, the B-side "Mansion of Tears" is the better moment here - the jangly guitar, dramatic, romanticised vocals and trad-folk imagery listed in an angsty rush is quite lovely. Occasionally compared to The Seekers, The Vejtables were in reality a tiny bit harder and spikier, and that shows through here. The combination of world-weary female harmonies with chiming guitars mixed to the forefront still sounds completely lovely, even if some of the lyrical content does veer close to "A Mighty Wind" territory.

Once The Vejtables tore off into a more psychedelic direction, Jan Ellis decided to depart and join The Mojo Men who released the garage classic "Sit Down I Think I Love You". But the remaining band did give her a good run for her money - they changed their name to The Book of Changes and their single "I Stole The Goodyear Blimp" is freaky popsike story-telling at its finest, seeing the band "tripping on a big huge silver cigar". Nice. She should have stayed put, really.