29 October 2014

Reupload - The Dots - Helen In Your Headphones/ Come And Get It

Label: EMI
Year of Release: 1982

Well, alrighty! Were it not for the wonders of the Internet, it's highly probable that I'd never have bothered placing this record on my "to buy" list. For years, "Helen In Your Headphones" existed in my brain without a title or a band name to go with it - all I could remember was a video which had both confused and vaguely scared me as a small child. One day whilst surfing on YouTube in a distracted fashion, the video popped up in one of the sidebars, banging my memory chimes very roughly. And Cliff almighty, it still disorientates me to this day. How such a brilliant and slightly unreal clip can be consigned to the dustbin of television history is a mystery, although I wouldn't bet against this going viral at some point in the next few years (and with any luck, I'll start the ball rolling with this entry - I'm still bitter that I didn't discover that Trololo sensation first, which is the most Left and to the Back-centric viral hit I've ever come across).

"Helen In Your Headphones" is an acquired taste, but it's definitely a special piece of work, wobbling on the usually awkward boundaries of parody and pop where so many an act with good intentions has fallen before. It begins with a barrage of eighties radio-speak, continues into a bouyant take on eighties synth-pop, then promptly splats headlong into a chorus so preposterously New Wave that it sounds ahead of its time, sporting the kind of punk era-referencing chorus the likes of Bis and indeed Dex Dexter were penning in the late nineties. Lyrically, it deals with the topic of an obsessed female fan of a radio DJ - "Hi Hi It's Helen... I just wanna tell you that your voice makes me go oh-oh-oh-oh" she sings insistently, out-creeping the rather oily DJ in question.

Whilst there's no doubting the record's capacity to irritate some people, I personally think it's brilliant, having a rare combination of a superb pop hook, tightness and conciseness, and a sense of humour which is delightful as well as being astute. It might be controversial to compare this to the Bonzo's "Craig Torso Show", but it does parody a certain vain, slippery element of the eighties "biz" to surprisingly strong effect, in much the same way that the Bonzos picked up on the flippant, self absorbed nature of some pirate radio jocks.

Two things stood in the way of chart success for The Dots, however - one would be the record having its own DJ intro, which may have proved difficult for DJs to work around themselves (especially if they were preposterous enough and Wayne Carr-esque enough to sound very similar). Perhaps mindful of this possible pitfall, EMI's plugging division apparently starting giving Radio One DJs expensive headphones as gifts to promote the single. Somebody got wind of the fact, thought it constituted payola, and the song was subsequently banned from the BBC's airwaves as a result. Given this fact, it actually did fairly well to climb as high as number 96 in the charts, its final resting place.

The Dots were from Leicester, and this appears to have been their only single, meaning EMI's rather rash marketing decision may have deprived us of other follow-ups. The rather scratched B-side "Come And Get It" is presented here for your pleasure as well, but doesn't really give any decent clues about where the band would have gone next. Still, with this one-off effort they really spoiled us.

25 October 2014

Quiller - Quiller/ General Direction

Label: BBC
Year of Release: 1975

"Quiller" was a BBC TV series based upon a series of spy paperbacks featuring a character of the same name, and while reports of the programme online generally tend to be favourable, the sad truth is that the solitary series was shown once then never repeated. No YouTube evidence exists of it, no DVD is available, and I've certainly never seen it - so I can't offer any helpful comments. I'm sure some conspiracy theorists out there feel that the BBC got cold feet about it because the plots were too similar to real-life spying activities. 

The show mainly lives on through its fantastically funky theme tune, which is a thing of beauty and almost too kicking and grooving for Auntie Beeb. To this day it's available on iTunes on a dance mix compilation, and that prevents me from uploading it here - but you can hear it for yourself on YouTube.

The B-side is another piece of deeply likeable, riff-ridden library music swagger. You can almost imagine yourself shooting dots off a BBC school countdown clock while it plays, and it's well worth a listen. Enjoy. 

22 October 2014

The Monitors - Nobody Told Me

Label: Festival
Year of Release: 1981

The Monitors were fleeting sparks in the steelworks of Australian pop, and - so far as I can tell - didn't really manage to have any impact outside their home country. Formed as a studio ensemble in 1980 by session musicians Mark Moffatt and Terry McCarthy, they're most mentioned these days for their connections with the twin sister actresses Gayle and Gillian Blakeney who eventually joined the TV soap "Neighbours".

The concept was quite simple, and quite cynical if we're being critical. Neither Moffatt or McCarthy were particularly photo or telegenic, and the workaround for this in the band's videos and TV appearances was to involve the young sisters in a variety of ways. While they didn't sing on any of the records, the very young Blakeneys donned Kiss makeup and leapt around a lot for the debut single "Singin' In The 80s", which reached Number 16 on the Australian charts. Such was their visual impact at the time that some people began to believe that The Monitors were the Blakeneys group, rather than them simply being employed as a visual element.

They featured in a rather more subtle way in the video for the follow-up single "Nobody Told Me", which was less successful, peaking at a modest number 32. Unfair, since if you ask me "Nobody Told Me" is a far superior single, sounding incredibly of its time with the pulsing and squeaking synths and melodramatic vocals, but having such a killer hook in the fanfare of a chorus that it's irresistible. The nagging female backing vocals (performed by Kim Durant and mimed by the Blakeneys) are also enormously effective, and it's glorious pop music - Moroder tinged, melancholic and horribly addictive.

Hit-wise this was The Monitors last hurrah. Their album "Back From Their Recent Illness" failed to sell well, and Moffatt went on to work with numerous other bands (including The Saints and Mental As Anything) while McCarthy left the music industry to work in advertising. We all know what happened to the Blakeneys, on the other hand, who also turned up unexpectedly in the video for Pop Will Eat Itself's "RSVP" in 1993, again despite having nothing at all to do with the track. Mine is not to reason why, though as PWEI weren't very photo or telegenic either, you can't help but draw the same conclusions from that particular gatecrash.

Meanwhile, with the big beards and synth obsessions, maybe The Monitors would have been more at home in East London in the 2010s rather than Australia in the 80s. Life is cruel.

Afraid I haven't included the B-side "Wishful Thinking" here as its scratched to kingdom come. Suffice to say that it's a reflective Phil Collins styled mournful ballad sung over an electronic piano. You're missing nowt.

20 October 2014

Metamorphic Rock - The Chelsea Hotel

Hello everyone - I'm sorry to say that it looks as if the DJ element of this event tomorrow night has been cancelled due to unforeseen technical/ administrative circumstances.

The poetry will still be going ahead, and it's still well worth attending as an event in itself - but anyone expecting to turn up and find me on the decks will be disappointed. Apologies for any inconvenience caused.

Time to announce something I'm really looking forward to. On Tuesday 21st October, I'll be DJ'ing at the Metamorphic Rock event at the Huntingdon Gallery in Shoreditch. Part of the London/ New York Festival, this will be an exhibition and poetry reading thematically based on the Chelsea Hotel.

As well as poetry from a wide range of excellent talent - and more on that in a moment - there will also be an exhibition of classic rock photographs by the brilliant Bob Gruen, at one time John Lennon's personal photographer. Or, to go with the officially advertised line:

"Manhattan's famous Chelsea Hotel, one-time home to innumerable musical and literary icons, has been closed for refurbishment since 2011. But that won't stop the new generation of London-based poets taking up residence. Set to the backdrop of Bob Gruen's Rock Seen exhibition, they set out to re-imagine the establishment, room by room, according to their own stylistic predilections, and throw the doors open once again to Bowie, Cohen, Bukowski and all the rest."

There are some fantastic poets on the bill, all performing new work - these include Matthew Caley, Amy Key, James Trevelyan, Sophia Blackwell, John Clegg, Harry Man, Mark Waldron, John Canfield, Roddy Lumsden, Holly Hopkins, Jon Stone and Abigail Parry, with others to be announced at a later date.

And me? My DJ sets normally slip around between garage, mod rock, soul and funk, but I've got other ideas in mind this time and will try to keep things as on-topic and appropriate as possible. It's going to be a lot of fun.

£6 on the door. Here's the link to the Facebook event page. See you there.

18 October 2014

Barock and Roll Ensemble - Eine Kleine Beatlemusic

Label: HMV
Year of Release: 1965

While discussing Beatlemania in the mid to late sixties, numerous music critics made the point that their compositional technique was more advanced than that of most popsmiths, so advanced in fact it could perhaps be compared to the classical composers of yore. These theories were initially mocked by many, but so far as I can tell they were the first stirrings of the idea that rock music can and should be studied seriously, that this wasn't just a gimmicky youth fad we were observing. 

I can't find any trace of whether these ideas inspired the "Eine Kleine Beatlemusic" EP or not, but it's pretty safe to assume they must have done. The A-side is the key concern here, consisting of an Allegro, Minuet, Trio and Finale composed of elements of "She Loves You", "I'll Get You", "A Hard Day's Night", "I Want To Hold Your Hand", "Please Please Me" and "All My Loving". It's extremely well put together to the extent that each phrase and extract flows seamlessly into the next, creating a pocket Beatles symphony. While it's possible to sense the smell of extracted urine here, ironically the final product is a lot better than later "serious" attempts to create Beatles Medleys by the likes of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. "Eine Kleine Beatlemusik" (or "Eine Kleine Beatlemusic" depending on whether you believe the front or rear of the sleeve) isn't all pounding kettle drums and marching beats, there's clearly been enormous care put into the concept which isn't just anthemic melodies delivered in a predictably strident way.

The B-sides tracks are a bit of a gas too, at one point showing off what might happen if Wagner were played by a sixties pop group. Peter Sellers was there first with these kinds of jokes, as witnessed on the "Trumpet Volunteer", and the worst progressive rock bands were probably the last funny examples to bother the airwaves. But that was all a long way off at this point…

A1: Eine Kleine Beatle Musik
B1: Star of Eve Bossa Nova
B2: My Old Man's a Dutchman - Twist
B3: Tannhauser Lettered Rock

14 October 2014

Record Shopping In Japan

Hello folks. I'm a bit excited to say that I'll be taking a trip to Japan very soon, and inevitably one of the top questions on my list is: "Where are all the decent record shops?" (Note - I'll mostly be in Tokyo and Kyoto).

If you've any hints or tips, please feel free to leave a comment below. If I find anything interesting while I'm over there, it may very well end up on the blog - so it's worth your while mentioning. 

12 October 2014

The Fenmen - Rejected/ Girl Don't Bring Me Down

Label: CBS
Year of Release: 1966

The Fenmen were actual proper pop stars (loosely speaking) for awhile, acting as Bern Elliott's backing group for the 1963 hit single "Money". Having a chipper Merseybeat feel to their records (despite actually hailing from - wait for it - Kent) they sounded as if they could have been one of the upfront beat groups of the time, but "Money" aside, they didn't actually sell many records.

Bern Elliott eventually jumped ship to work with other musicians, leaving Alan Judge, John Povey, Wally Allen, and Eric Wilmer to their own devices. They opted to take a Californian turn with this record, doubtless feeling that having aped the Liverpool sound there was no reason why they couldn't also impersonate Brian Wilson and company. It's a convincing job, actually, albeit one which seems to lack enough of a powerful chorus, but there's no question that it's the sound of strong musicians with an admirable flexibility to their approach, able to harmonise and perform summery pop as well as tough R&B tracks.

After this failed, Allen and Povey moved on to join The Pretty Things, getting involved right at the point where their sound was about to undergo a huge evolution and playing on the legendary "SF Sorrow" album. Neither "Rejected" or "Girl Don't Bring Me Down" hint towards that much, but it's easy to understand how they might have been regarded as a good fit for the band's next phase.

The more eagle-eyed among you may have spotted from the label scans that this isn't an original copy of "Rejected" and looks suspiciously like a bootleg. You're right. It is. I wouldn't have put it high on the list of in-demand rarities crying out for a bootlegged 7" reissue, but what do I know?

8 October 2014

J.J. Worthington - A Whiter Shade Of Pale/ Riding Down From Bangor

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1969

I've stated the obvious and said it before, so there's probably little point in saying it twice - but "A Whiter Shade of Pale" really was considered a stone-cold classic within a few months of landing, one of those rare rock moments (like "Bohemian Rhapsody" or "A Day In The Life") where a track receives immediate awestruck acclaim and the public affection never really wanes. You might get a few people now who declare the single to be a lot of pretentious nonsense, and if we're talking about the lyrics I might be inclined to join them, but it remains one of the most heavily played records on international airwaves.

That this very easy-going, family friendly, almost baroque version of the track was released a mere two years later is no real surprise, then. It replaces the soulfulness of the original with a subtle, more ponderous delivery, which might work in its favour for some, but I must admit I have my doubts. I can't trace who Worthington was - I suspect he was/is a folk singer or singer-songwriter - but his polite voice turns what was a meltdown over ghostly-faced nuns into a calm if surreal anecdote. The flip "Riding Down From Bangor" is a bit better, at least if you're a jaded city type who enjoys the occasional bit of rural folk whimsy.

As for Worthington, the only other piece of information I can find on him is rather unfortunate. His carelessly titled album "If I Should Touch You" often crops up on internet websites dedicated to terrible or inappropriate album sleeves, and here it is in all its glory. Dearie me, Decca. Sometimes the way your marketed your artists makes me wonder if all those rumours about your offices being filled to the brim with retired Army sergeants waffling on about their "war efforts" were true. What a mistake to make.

5 October 2014

Reuploads - Blessed Ethel - Rat and Fat Star

Label: 2 Damn Loud
Year of Release: 1994

These days, when a consortium of critics and music industry insiders get together to name who the most important artists of the coming year will be, there's little danger involved.  Trends are easy to predict.  Does the band have 768,000 Facebook 'likes' already?  Have they just been signed for a lot of money by a cash-strapped major label who absolutely has to see a return on their investment?  Are they Brit School graduates?  With every year's announcements, you can almost hear the noise of check-boxes being ticked.

It wasn't always thus.  In the nineties, predictions were likely to be very wonky indeed, which is how Blessed Ethel infamously got voted above Oasis as being the band most likely to succeed at the Manchester "In The City" live event.  This isn't as unusual as it sounds.  In the early nineties, suspicions in the music press were rife that Oasis were nothing more than a re-heated baggy band.  Blessed Ethel, on the other hand, had vitriol and a sneering energy which sounded much more of the moment - elements of the still relatively topical Riot Grrrl movement were apparent, and much was made of the band's oddball outsiderness, an absolute virtue in those pre-Britpop days.  The NME and Melody Maker wanted weird kids in the charts back then, not everyman styled stars.

We all know how the story ended.  Blessed Ethel did not conquer the world, but "Rat" gives some clues as to how they might just have given the impression they could.  It's ferocious garage rock capped off with Sara Doran's urgent and hysterical vocals; breathless, desperate and really rather brilliant in its own way.  True, at the time this would have been no more or less original than Oasis' known output, but the full-throttle nature of the single showcases a band keen to leave a scalding great mark.  Compare it back-to-back with an Oasis demo such as "Cigarettes and Alcohol" (one of the limpest, weediest, least representative demo recordings I've ever heard in my life), and everyone's favourite monobrowed pop stars suddenly sound  less fierce, less full of themselves.

As for any musicians reading this who may have recently lost a "Battle of the Bands" contest... take heart.  It means nothing. (Scroll down past the mp3s for another Blessed Ethel single…)

"Fat Star" is a rather more subtle outing for the group, but great nonetheless - simmering with heated paranoia and relying on a central atmospheric guitar riff rather than sheer aggression, it was the band's last proper single. Released a mere year after "Rat" in 1995, the public had had their chance to familiarise themselves with the band and the major labels had seen their opportunities to wave cheque books around, but it seemed all for nought.

A pity, as Blessed Ethel had an oddness and tension about their work which was utterly missing from so many of the nineties 'big hitters'. They had enough of a pop sensibility to cut through, but somehow missed out completely, and one album ("Welcome to the Rodeo") later, it was all over.

2 October 2014

Cocktail Cabinet - Puppet on a String/ Breathalyser

Label: Page One
Year of Release: 1967

Well, this is downright odd. Bill Martin and Phil Coulter were the songwriting and production team responsible for Sandie Shaw's most well-known but least credible moment - "Puppet On A String". It shot the United Kingdom to Eurovision victory, but its incessant, irritating bounciness makes it seem like one of her least interesting singles now. 

Nonetheless, why on earth either Coulter or Martin wanted to subject the song to this treatment, I've no idea. It's their production, and the A-side is a comedy novelty cover version of "Puppet…" done by somebody - and I can't find any record at all of who - attempting an impersonation of the then Prime Minister Harold Wilson. The concept seems to be that he's being persuaded to cut a record by some slick PR man in an attempt to make himself seem accessible to the youth. Cassetteboy's David Cameron Rap this ain't - it's a clumsy piece of satire which leaves you strangely sympathising with Wilson. So what if he wasn't sharp and down with the kids? At least he wasn't David "I love The Smiths, me, oh honestly, yes" Cameron or Tony "I love David Bo-how-ie!" Blair. It's possibly partly our obsession with grinning, presentable media and business-friendly Prime Ministers washed ashore on an oil slick which is responsible for the mess we're in. I'm not accusing Martin and Coulter of starting the problem with a strange flop novelty single, but… they were WRONG, that's all. 

This record has only really achieved collectible status due to the B-side "Breathalyser", a sharp and rapid-fire instrumental Hammond groove which still lights up dancefloors. It's commercially available on iTunes and elsewhere these days, but you can find it on Youtube too. This, really, is the stuff - cool, fresh and slightly knowing, and still loved by those in the know to this day. Its wasted on the flip side, but so many tracks in the sixties were.