22 December 2015

Merry Christmas!

It's that time of year again when "Left and to the Back" breaks for Christmas - there's very little point in keeping the blog updated over the festive period, as barely anyone checks in, having better things to do with their time (or perhaps worse things, depending on your point of view) than read about old flop records somebody has found in a record or charity shop. And with that in mind... Merry Christmas Everyone!

Usually at this time of year I find myself wondering whether "Left and To The Back" will last another year. I wondered it at the tail end of 2008 when this whole ridiculous project began, and I'm sure I'll always scratch my head close to New Year's Eve and debate whether it's really possible that I can wring another year's worth of entries out of my ever-expanding record collection. And far apart from that, will I want to, or will I begin to get deeply bored or have other concerns in my life which end up taking greater priority? And will Spotify and iTunes finally have such a complete catalogue that blogs like this begin to look silly in their mission to present long unheard sounds?

It's impossible to answer. When "Left and To The Back" started, it was rough and ready. I still get a bit embarrassed when someone leaves a slightly sarky comment on one of the early entries picking me up on poor research or perhaps being offended at my slightly surlier writing style - but deleting the lot would feel dishonest, somehow.

Anyway, you could argue that the format only really sorted itself out when mp3 blogs began to be seen as somewhat passé by the world at large. It had a few brief media mentions here and there until 2012 - none of which I sought or used contacts to obtain, by the way, that assumes a degree of influence I just don't have (and you can sound the Sandi Thom klaxon all you want, but it does happen to be the truth in my case). Since then, it's been pretty much unpublicised and left to its own devices, yet the audience levels have steadily grown, and in fact November 2015 saw the second biggest number of unique hits in the blog's history, and the biggest number of returning visitors. If I do turn my back on this in 2016, it definitely won't be due to external disinterest, and I'd like to thank everyone who takes the time to visit this blog and read about a bunch of records nobody bought. Let's face it, it's hardly the format of anyone's dreams, it doesn't really smell of success, and I'm inclined to sympathise with the bafflement a friend of my wife's felt when she found out about this site's existence ("So... your husband writes about records nobody bought or liked, and people read it?")

But all this is veering dangerously close to self-celebratory waffle, which is another thing I find a bit cringeworthy. This blog is very niche and is never going to get the number of readers a well-written site focusing on new music will, but I'm glad enough of you enjoy it to make it feel like it's something slightly more than me talking to myself and a handful of other absurd people. Have a great Christmas, I hope Santa brings you a lot of under-appreciated musical gems, and see you for at least some of 2016, and hopefully all of it. 

20 December 2015

Neil Spence - Yes Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus/ Little Boy Lost

Label: Go
Year of Release: 1966

What kind of a human being would I be if I let Christmas slide past without a festive related upload? I know you all want it, and my conscience couldn't let me leave this little ditty to one side.

Neil Spence was, at this point in his career, a popular Radio London DJ working the lunchtime slot under the name Dave Dennis. "Dennis" was effectively a persona, a fast-talking banter merchant whose rapid-fire approach caused him to have the highest rated show - an unusual situation for any station, who would normally expect their stars to be found on the breakfast show. When you consider that Dennis was up against Kenny Everett and Dave Cash in that slot, this makes his achievements even more impressive.

In reality, though, Neil Spence was far from being a transatlantic styled flashman and was, in fact, a graduate of the Central School of Speech and Drama and a man with a past in repertory theatre. The character Dave Dennis was honed from listening to endless recordings of American jocks on the Dallas station KLIF, and his own natural style was rather more precise and formal. Kenny Everett got him to drop by on his show to read out the lyrics to the popular hits of the day in his repertory style, and it's possibly (though note, not definitely) that which may have been the background inspiration for this rather odd little single.

"Yes Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus" consists of Spence reading a poem inspired by the 1897 New York Sun editorial confirming the existence of Father Christmas, and places a sweet and mushy orchestral arrangement beneath it. If this was meant to be a joke, the meaning has been lost to the mists of time, so I suspect it's probably just something the staff at the tiny independent Go Records felt might be a hit. It wasn't, though it did climb to number 19 on Radio London's own chart (a fairly meaningless list which was compiled by the station's staff according to guesswork, favours and payola). While the approach may seem peculiar, it's worth noting that "The Sunscreen Song" in 1999 was simply a Chicago Tribune column set to music, so perhaps Spence was just ahead of his time.

I'm afraid to say that in my personal opinion, while this record is rare - and on an extremely collectible label - it's completely inessential. If I was being kind I would describe it as a "somewhat charming period piece", but it pipes up and fades out without really leaving much of an impression. It's a bizarre blip in the career of a man who was, it's safe to say, successful in broadcasting and the media otherwise.

After Radio London closed down in 1967, Spence worked for the BBC creating jingles, and continued his friendship with Kenny Everett who was also on Radio One at that time. From 1970 onwards he focussed more on his own business concerns, founding the major workplace radio station for United Biscuits and also worked as a broadcasting trainer, teaching numerous music radio DJs to successful careers, including Dale Winton, Jeremy Vine, James Whale and Adrian Love.

He passed away in 2007.

16 December 2015

Reupload - Ginger Ale - Scoobidad/ Sugar Suzy

Label: Injection
Year of Release: 1971

While it may be a push to describe this single as an obscurity - the A-side "Scoobidad" hit number four in Holland - the B-side has since acquired some well-deserved love as a bit of a psych-pop classic across the whole of Europe.

Ginger Ale were formerly known as Roek's Family before changing their name and subsequently dabbling with more intricate sounds. "Scoobidad" is a fairly harmless piece of seventies bubblegum, but "Sugar Suzy" is beautiful despite its rather unpromising, Archies-esque title. Filled to the brim with twanging, whining guitars and gentle, wistful vocals, it would neither be out of place on the second side of Pink Floyd's "Atom Heart Mother" nor indeed a compilation of West Coast classics. Dreamy, considered and tranquil, it's far too good to be buried away on a flipside, and had it been released at an earlier date and on the right side of a seven inch single (or tucked away on an album) it's not difficult to imagine it gaining more respect than it has done. As it stands, hopefully this will gain further popularity over the coming years.

Ginger Ale eventually went their separate ways, with drummer Richard De Bois moving on to a successful production career, and guitarist Steve Allet going on to join the psych-tastic band Ekseption.

13 December 2015

Edwina Biglet And The Miglets - Thing/ Vanessa's Luminous Dogcoat

Label: RCA
Year of Release: 1972

Nothing causes me to gravitate to a flop record more than a completely ridiculous group name, and if the song titles are off-the-wall as well, then my money is as good as yours (provided, of course, we're not talking excessive amounts. I'm not that stupid). Edwina Biglet and The Miglets is arguably as stupid a name as seventies glam rock ever spawned, and for that at least we have to salute the individuals involved.

More than that, though, "Thing" is is a chirpy Moog-infested track about... er... well, it's not really clear exactly what it's about, actually, and I doubt if you asked anyone involved they'd be able to tell you either. The intro promises an utter proto-techno noisefest, but it quickly calms down and establishes itself as something altogether more vacant and silly. The lyrics seem to involve various characters with different English accents bragging about a "thing" they own. It could be sexual innuendo at work, but the descriptions given defy logic and reason, as the "thing" is described with electronic squelches, buzzes and bleeps. It lights up, it's fun to play with, people think it should be banned, and your guess is as good as mine. 

More appealing to Moogheads out there is probably the B-side, "Vanessa's Luminous Dogcoat", an almost groovy jam which, had it been released by some obscure French artist would probably be commanding insane money on eBay now. As it stands, we're left with a record that neither charted - despite receiving modest amounts of airplay - nor really holds its head high in the collector's market, which given the double-sided oddness on offer seems a bit unjust. It won't be the best single you hear all year, but there's something irrepressibly charming about it. 

The complete details of who Edwina Biglet and The Miglets are isn't easy to find, but the lead singer Edwina dropped by on 45cat a number of years ago to reveal that her real name is Vanessa, and that the B-side was named after an actual jacket she knitted her greyhound. So at least we know something. If anyone has any additional information, please let me know. In a parallel universe somewhere, I'm sure this record was probably an extraordinarily irritating and huge hit. 

10 December 2015

Blue U - I've Been Lonely For So Long/ Melinda Marie

Label: York
Year of Release: 1972

Radio One Rock Jockey Tommy Vance was, by all accounts, a thoroughly decent and rather self-effacing chap who was to Rock (with a capital "r") and the New Wave of British Heavy Metal what John Peel was to indie bands. If you weren't one of the underweight floppy fringed kids in the corner of the student refectory listening to the latest Close Lobsters cassette on your Walkman and instead chose to perch your more significant arse among the fluffy bearded boys who always carried guitars everywhere with them, chances are Vance's evening rock show was an important part of your week.

Nonetheless, metallers are a notoriously ungrateful bunch - ask any non-metaller who has ever been booked to support a Heavy Metal band by mistake - who adore their beery hijinks. Apocrypha has it that at the Donington Monsters of Rock Festival back in the eighties, Vance asked the audience to all chant "Tommy Vance Friday Rock Show!" to supply him with an impressive sounding jingle. True to form, the ungrateful bastards instead all yelled in unison "Tommy Vance is a wanker!" and the recording was deemed unsuitable for broadcast.

God alone knows what they would have made of this single. The A-side was produced by Vance but seems rather Vance-free in terms of the performance - it's a fairly straight piece of soul-inspired pop which is sprightly but unlikely to get reassessed by a club DJ anytime soon.

The B-side, on the other hand, is Vance overload. Accompanied by ambient aircraft noises and pretty much nothing else, our man Tommy sings a simplistic song-poem about the mysterious Melinda Marie, who is leaving him on a plane eight miles high. His voice sounds sleepy, tranquil, faintly under the influence (though I doubt he actually was) and altogether lacking the usual gruff Man-in-Denim tones for which he would become famous. It was doubtless a studio afterthought, a quickie recording job to give the single a B-side, but it's a strangely fascinating piece of work, both due to the person involved and also a certain amount of prescience on its part. After all, spin forward to the eighties and Jane's acapella effort "It's A Fine Day" and you have a record cut from a rather similar cloth. Nobody has yet taken Vance's effort here and turned it into a dance track, but I suspect it's only a matter of time.

In any case, this was not Vance's last unusual appearance, or even last ambient appearance, on vinyl. One of his Radio One jingles featuring him growling "Rock radio - into the nineties and beyond!" was sampled on the KLF's classic LP "Chill Out" on the logically titled segment "Rock Radio Into The Nineties And Beyond", a key element in the final moments of that record.

Vance also apparently recorded and released records under various guises in the sixties and seventies, at one point confessing that there may be as many as "twelve" out there. The only ones that are clearly credited to him in some respect are "Melinda Marie" and the two sixties singles he released on Columbia, "You Must Be The One" and "Off The Hook".

His broadcasting career continued until his death from a stroke in 2005, and in later years his most repeated television appearance was on an episode of Chris Morris's "Brasseye" where he was convinced to contribute to a bogus crime rehabilitation video. To his credit, he was one of the few duped participants to speak highly of Morris after the broadcast and defend his right to ridicule the media and celebrities - and it did also cause British comedy fans of a certain age to use the phrase "foaming nut brown ale" rather too often when ordering drinks in pubs. You can tell he's having far too good a time reading out the words Morris has given him, meaning that if he wasn't in on the joke, he was at the very least faintly aware of how silly the situation was.

If anyone is able to "out" Vance's other vinyl appearances under pseudonyms, you'll be able to make a lot of collectors very happy.

7 December 2015

Lois Lane - Punky's Dilemma/ Lazy Summer Day

Label: Mercury
Year of Release: 1968

Lumme. At the moment, my TV is blaring out all kinds of quirky, merry, rinky-dink tunes for festive season adverts - usually cute cover versions of hits, sometimes accompanied with images of pretty young ladies wandering through busy streets with a smile on their lips and their eyes raised skywards. "Look at these quirky damsels!" the telly seems to be telling me. "If you bought a mobile phone package with us, you too could be walking through the city with ukulele music playing in your head on a constant loop". I'm probably not their target audience, in all honesty.

Anyway, while all this cutesy naffness abounds, it's worth realising that once upon a time, you could produce that kind of capital q Quirk music without falling back on a dull template. Lois Lane was originally one half of the Sleaford singing duo The Caravelles, who scored a huge hit in the UK and the USA with "You Don't Have To Be A Baby To Cry". They split in 1968 and went their separate ways, and this cover of Paul Simon's rather unusual "Punky's Dilemma" was one of the early fruits of that solo venture.

It throws everything at the wall - a dreamy "South California" melodic line, absurd studio interjections from slamming doors and apologetic individuals, and an adventurous Johnny Arthey arrangement. Lois's vocals are just on the right side of irritating, not overdoing the kookiness and staying on the right side of carefree and considered. It's a tough track to pull off. The references to jam preferences (she likes loganberry jam best, she tells the listeners) and English Muffins in toasters could very easily annoy the piss out of some human beings were they placed in the wrong hands, but she's able to underline the eccentricity of the track without making herself sound like an attention seeking hipster (possibly because, at the time of its release there was no such thing, at least not as we now understand the phrase).

Lois continued recording for some time after this single, issuing further efforts right up until 1977, including a lot of session work for Disney and budget sound-a-like covers records. Sadly, the success she saw with The Caravelles could not be repeated, and the releases eventually dried up. She was, however, apparently still producing vocal work for adverts until relatively more recently.

Both "Punky's Dilemma" and "Lazy Summer Day" are available over on iTunes, or otherwise you can hear both tunes from the YouTube videos below.

2 December 2015

Gary Street and the Fairways - Flipiddy Flop/ Hold Me Close

Label: Domain
Year of Release: 1968

The Irish Showband circuit produced numerous incredibly popular dance bands from the fifties through to the late seventies, groups who were stars in their home country but meant very little indeed, if anything, across the Irish Sea.

Gary Street and the Fairways formed off the back of the Agents Showband, adding Gary Street to their line-up as a vocalist following a long live stint in Germany. Returning back home to Ireland they immediately impressed with their new disciplined set and impressive new singer, and were quickly signed to King Records there. "Flipiddy Flop" was the first single, a band composition, and reached number ten in the Irish charts.

The tiny Domain label seem to have picked up the rights to the record in the UK, and it - er - flipiddy flopped into the British shops to a lot of general disinterest. Of more interest to me is The Equals cover on the flip, "Hold Me Closer", which has a bit more beef and swing to it. "Flipiddy Flop" is a wee bit too bubblegummy even for my sweet tooth.

The original line-up of The Fairways carried on for a couple of years after this, but no record they issued was ever as successful as this one, and they gave up before the 70s got properly underway. The name continued to be used by various other members until as late as 1983, however.

Possibly of greater interest than this record to "Left and to the Back" readers is the truly bizarre ska record they issued in 1969 entitled "Yoko Ono", which can be heard over on YouTube.  The band busy themselves by singing about trying to get to a plantation on which the famous artist and Beatle-wife appears to be waiting for them. I'll give it this much - it's better than "Ob La Di, Ob La Da".

29 November 2015

Champs Boys - Tubular Bells/ Fleur

Label: Philips
Year of Release: 1976

"Disco sucks!" roared the Rock purists in the seventies. And I'll tell you this, it very frequently didn't, and the fact that European disco cover versions of some of their most highly critically regarded artists were available was (and is) hilariously funny. Imagine the looks on those hateful, hairy little faces. We've already established that a disco version of "Days of Pearly Spencer" was made, but far beyond that you could enjoy disco versions of Pink Floyd classics too if you wanted. Marvellous stuff.

This dancefloor interpretation of "Tubular Bells" is oddly adventurous, taking the familiar chimes of the original and turning them into synth patterns undercut with the occasional brassy moog sound. Suddenly, Mike Oldfield's pension plan sounds much  more like the theme tune to a Saturday evening American crime drama series (complete, no doubt, with freeze frame shots of the main characters all pointing guns at the screen) than the eerie, disquieting piece of music it usually is. 

The B-side "Fleur" is an absolute must for lovers of all things Moogy too, being absolutely chock full of analogue synth sounds. 

This single only just qualifies for this blog, having peaked at number 41 in the British charts. These days, though, it seems like a complete and total obscurity and a little acknowledged chapter in the "Tubular Bells" story. 

Sorry for the pops and crackles on this record. 

25 November 2015

Reupload - The King's Singers and Greg Lake - Strawberry Fields Forever/ Disney Girls

Label: EMI
Year of Release: 1978

Sometimes I find myself wondering what on Earth I'm supposed to write about some of these records. Sometimes, instead of writing a big long description about the history of the act and what's on offer, I feel the urge to stick to the basics - so for this entry, all I'd really type is "This is the choral act The King's Singers covering the Beatles 'Strawberry Fields Forever' with The Beach Boys track 'Disney Girls' on the flip. Greg Lake produces". If I expanded on that, is there a danger I'd dampen the shock effect of the fact that the record even exists?

It most certainly does, however, and I'm probably as perplexed by it as you are. When the needle hit the grooves of this one on the first play, I must admit I was expecting a total dog's dinner of a record, another appalling Beatles cover to add to the long line of bastardised cash-in nonsense that's been released into the wild. In reality, it's neither as ridiculous as it sounds - and some of Lake's production frills actually help keep the proceedings mildly psychedelic - nor as unlikable as you'd expect. Also, as church choirs doing interpretations of modern classics has worked its way into the heart of popular culture in the early 21st Century, this probably sounds more run-of-the-mill now than it ever did in 1978. The King's Singers are obviously incredibly skilled at their craft and take the job in hand seriously, and the end production knows exactly where to draw the line in its interpretation, so there are no surprise fade-outs and fade-ins at the end, nor reverse effects. Overall, it's actually a pleasing record, like the long-forgotten sixties harmony act Tinkerbell's Fairydust taking a stab at the output of Mersey's finest sons. Oh, and the similarity of the intro to that of Bobak Jons Malone's "House of Many Windows" is, it's safe to say, coincidental.

Less excusable is the scratch and sniff sleeve containing a lady whose dignity is only covered with some strawberries. I'm sure such excesses played badly with the band's hardcore audience of Pebble Mill viewers and Christians, although who knows? The red vinyl EMI disc manages to make their disgusting seventies fawn and red label look halfway pleasing, mind.

The King's Singers were formed at King's College in Cambridge by six choral scholars in 1968, and are still active today and remain a successful live concern, performing 125 concerts a year. An adaptable approach to their set lists is one of the factors which has caused them to be a constant draw, including classical music as well as pop standards in their repertoire. After finding this one, my respect for them has actually increased tenfold.

(This blog entry was originally uploaded in October 2011. What I failed to mention at the time was that The King's Singers had also covered David Bowie's "Life On Mars" in an interesting fashion as well).

22 November 2015

Reparata - Your Life Is Gone/ Octopus's Garden

Label: D'art
Year of Release: 1976

I wrote quite a bit about Reparata, of Reparata and the Delrons fame, in this blog entry where I covered the utterly magnificent "Shoes", which existed like a mongrelised version of girl group pop, glam, and Roxy art-rock. It's one of the finest pop accomplishments of 1975, certainly, and only weird legal issues surrounding its release have prevented it from becoming far better known.

While "Shoes" flopped in 'real' terms, it created enough interest in Reparata's solo career for the small indie D'Art (or Dart, as they now seemed to be known) to reissue some stuff from their vaults in 1976. And what an odd reissue it is too, with it consisting of her Octopus's Garden/ Your Life Is Gone single from 1972 with the sides flipped.

Someone at the label clearly realised that their best shot at following up the art-pop of "Shoes" was the rather ace death disc styled number "Your Life Is Gone" which had previously been hidden under the jolly Beatles cover like a collection of writhing earthworms under a rock. While it's not an original idea by any means, the track takes the basic premise of "Leader of the Pack" and "Terry" and seriously ups the ante, adding car smash noises and ambulance sirens (and, for some reason, a sitar) to the mix. "Can't go on much longer!" wails Reparata. "Soon they'll have to put me away!", then the sound of crunching metal follows soon afterwards. As OTT as it sounds, the pleading melody is very faithfully and beautifully done. It's the kind of track retro revivalists such as The Pipettes might have turned their attention to ten years ago, had anyone involved in that project wanted to inject some black humour into the proceedings.

By 1972 death discs were considered a nostalgic relic, so there's definitely a sense of nudging and winking going on here, of pushing the template for effect. While it would be a difficult and seemingly insensitive listen for anyone who has recently lost a loved one in a car accident, at a distance from such issues it's a truly wonderful pastiche. Reparata has one of those smoky, gloomy, heartache-infused sixties voices which can handle this kind of melodrama without making it seem too ludicrous - it's a testament to her that she can actually walk hand in hand with the style of the track without once sounding insincere.

The B-side, and previous A-side, "Octopus's Garden", isn't as interesting but is a jolly enough cover of The Beatles track, riddled with sound effects and a music hall styled backing. It sounds like it should have been the flip all along, frankly.

18 November 2015

Pink Umbrellas - Raspberry Rainbow/ Oh No! The Insect Man

Label: Ready Steady Go!
Year of Release: 1983

We last explored the work of Paul Sampson back in August, examining his stint in Coventry ska band The Reluctant Stereotypes. Following the failure of that group to generate significant sales, he and fellow Stereotype Steve Edgson appeared to waste very little time in moving on to their next project, psychedelic pop revivalists Pink Umbrellas, joined by Rob Hill on drums and Barry Jones on bass.

Most readers won't need me to underline the fact that there was quite a significant revival of sixties ideas in the early to mid eighties, although most remained entrenched firmly underground. From the Paisley Underground in America to a lot of the early output of Creation Records, right on to XTC's fantastic recordings under the name The Dukes of Stratosphear, the reaction against clean, smooth, synthesiser dominated productions spread notably. If you wanted to, you could make a serious case for the movement never really disappearing and popping overground by '89, via The Stone Roses, The Charlatans, and Inspiral Carpets. Certainly, all three groups had a keen ear for those sounds, and John Leckie was largely chosen to produce The Stone Roses debut on the basis of his work with The Dukes. Beyond that, the twee, jangly elements did also seem to get hoovered up by many C86 bands such as The Pastels.

A big reason why so much eighties psychedelic revival material gets overlooked these days probably boils down to two simple problems - the slightly pristine production you often got, and the fact that borderline parody often seemed to be the order of the day. Doctor and The Medics may have played a huge part in the revival with their regular appearances at Alice In Wonderland club nights, but there was always a sense that they were having more fun playing with some clothes in the dressing-up box than they were writing brand new psychedelic classics.

So then, Pink Umbrella's "Raspberry Rainbow" is a likeable peculiarity, but definitely on the same side of the fence. Over and above a great many other efforts of the time, this is actually a fairly accurate take on the twee end of popsike, but one which nonetheless sounds incredibly tongue-in-cheek, almost Thamesmen era Spinal Tap in its stylings (though I must admit on first play that I thought it sounded like an obscure Blur out-take). The B-side "Oh No! The Insect Man" finishes the job with some silly sixties sci-fi leanings, sounding like the work of people who have watched rather too many late night black and white repeats on the television rather than taken any hallucinogenic drugs.

There's no question that the stylings of "Raspberry Rainbow" and its flip are affectionate rather than sneering, though, and it was respected enough at the time of its release to gain some Radio Two airplay, doubtless to an audience hungrier for new sixties-styled sounds than elsewhere. That wasn't enough to cause it to chart, and there were to be no follow-ups. An LP was apparently recorded but so far as I can tell never released, and all we're left with is this curio.

Paul Sampson went on to work with The Primitives and became a respected producer. A final twist in this particular tale is the fact that The Stone Roses apparently had him shortlisted to produce their debut, but their message of interest didn't reach him until John Leckie had been booked and it was all too late. Given the exemplary work Leckie did with XTC for The Dukes project I have to doubt Sampson's production on the Stone Roses debut would have been better, but who knows how things might have turned out…

15 November 2015

Day Costello - The Long And Winding Road/ Free (Unlimited Horizons)

Label: Spark
Year of Release: 1970

It's common enough to hear talk of how the sons and daughters of successful musicians are almost always eclipsed by their elders and betters. What's perhaps less frequently discussed is how often the offspring of relatively unsuccessful musicians (in chart terms, at least) produce far better and more lasting work. Amy Winehouse, daughter of Mitch Winehouse, is obviously a recent prime example of this, but there are many others. Children growing up surrounded by music will inevitably latch on to it and sometimes take it to more interesting places than their parents.

And obviously enough, Day Costello was an identity assumed by Ross McManus, father of "Elvis" Costello. He issued a trio of flop singles in the sixties on the HMV and Decca labels between 1964-67, and this oddity in 1970, which was never really supposed to see the light of day as a 45. Originally recorded for the purposes of a budget covers LP in Australia with vocals by Danny Street, Ross's services were called for at the eleventh hour when the label disliked Street's final performance.

When it became apparent that The Beatles weren't releasing "The Long and Winding Road" as a single in Australia, Fable Records decided he should try his luck in plugging the gap, in much the same manner as Ray Morgan did in the UK. The results were partly positive. The single was reviewed somewhat critically in some quarters due to the rather ponderous approximation of the Phil Spector arrangement - a criticism I would definitely echo - but it managed to pick up enough airplay to become a minor Aussie hit. A big plus in its favour is unquestionably Costello's vocals, which don't improve on the Beatles original (as if), but add a subtly different interpretation. Delicate, considered and with a lot of strong tremelo in them, he sounds like an ordinary man lost on some distant plain.

Why a UK release was required on Spark Records is something of a mystery, but presumably the label felt that they could potentially out-run Morgan's effort (I could confirm this theory if I could manage to find the Spark release date, but the data is unobtainable). It didn't happen, the single sank without trace, and copies are actually pretty scarce these days. My one is a bit roughed-up in places, but unfortunately it's the only copy I've chanced upon in my lifetime.

The flip side "Free (Unlimited Horizons)" is a defiant sounding number which begins sounding vaguely reminiscent of Pulp's "Sunrise" before revealing its true identity as a piece of middle-of-the-road optimistic pop. It's highly rated by some collectors, but I find it slightly too conservative and lightweight.

Costello, of course - or McManus, if you'd rather - continued to do session work, and after this point his most famed effort was probably the R Whites Lemonade television advert in the UK with son Elvis on drums and backing vocals, which somebody really should have put out as a single in some form. If it could be done for the Humphrey adverts, it could have been done for R Whites, for God's sake. But I'm sure you've all got worries and concerns and issues of your own…

Naturally, in a peculiar twist of fate Elvis Costello eventually worked with Paul McCartney as a co-songwriter throughout the eighties and nineties, bringing the circle neatly to a close.

11 November 2015

Jimmy Gordon - Test Pattern/ 1980

Label: Challenge
Year of Release: 1967

Jimmy Gordon's 1963 surf instrumental "Buzzzzzz" is one of the more sought-after records of its genre, having an absolute overload of fuzz guitar and riff-ridden drama. Much bootlegged and compiled and blogged since, not much more needs to be added about its existence.

The 1967 follow-up single "Test Pattern/ 1980", on the other hand, has been given rather more short shrift. As a sucker for all things remotely whiffing of television testcards, the track's title sucked me in. Rather than featuring a sinister screeching noise throughout its duration, or any reference to nervous girls with chalky fingers playing noughts and crosses with evil clowns, it's yet another instrumental with a twangy, fuzzy edge to it. By 1967 this surely felt slightly like old hat and its failure to hit the charts won't have been a surprise, though it has worked its way on to a compilation for psychedelic instrumentals since. So perhaps not...

The flip "1980" has more of a mellow, jazzy vibe to it, but pretty much stays true to the formula. Both sides are worth your time, with neither one really having the edge over the other in terms of quality.

There's some confusion about the identity of Jimmy Gordon. Some have argued that he's Jim Gordon, a session drummer who later worked with Eric Clapton in Derek and the Dominoes and went to jail for murdering his own mother in 1983 during a schizophrenic episode. It seems much more likely, however, that this single is actually the work of a session bassist with the same name who periodically worked with Dave Burgess of The Champs (and "Tequila" fame) who is also credited here. Certainly, while "Test Pattern" does feature drums prominently in places, there's nothing going on that showcases them in particular. I'm sure someone will be able to put me right on this if my assumptions are incorrect, however.

8 November 2015

Screamer - City or Bust/ I've Got Hairs

Label: Arista
Year of Release: 1975

Glam rock probably produced more one-single wonders than even psychedelia managed, leaving  behind a plethora of mysterious names performing a beery rock and roll racket. Many were studio based bands produced by wannabe Mickie Most and Mike Leander figures desperate for some teenage readies - some, on the other hand, were genuine releases by hopelessly obscure circuit bands.

And here's one. All I've managed to ascertain from Internet rumour is that the band were based in East London and throughout a large chunk of the seventies had a residency at the Three Rabbits pub in Manor Park (don't go looking for it, it closed over a decade ago and is now a Boots Pharmacy - though given that the pub was apparently haunted, it would be interesting to know if anything spectral had also made itself apparent amongst the stacks of Ibuprofen). 

Screamer were essentially a crowd-pleasing covers band who occasionally wrote material of their own on the side, and this was one such attempt. It managed to achieve some light daytime radio airplay before disappearing from view, perhaps indicative of changing commercial tastes at that time. It's a shame, because "City or Bust" is very sprightly and entertaining, filled with bar-room boogie piano, deep bass backing vocals, and a sense of ceaseless frivolity. It's tricksy and incredibly catchy, and gives a strong impression of how some of the dafter, quirkier elements of glam eventually got absorbed into New Wave. 

The peculiarly titled "I've Got Hairs" on the flip is rather more adult rock, and does indeed seem to focus on the rather Alan Partridge-esque topic of adult experience and wisdom being represented via the presence of pubic hairs. This insight is interspersed with jazzy and adventurous guitar work. The mid-seventies were an odd place sometimes. 

The only member of Screamer I've managed to identify is bass player Steve Stroud, who apparently eventually married Cheryl Baker of Bucks Fizz - but I wouldn't swear even to that. They are also apparently not the same band as the "Screemer" whose "Interplanetary Twist" single I posted on here some time ago (and the two bands certainly don't sound alike).  

As ever, if any of you can fill in the blanks, you'll have a friend in me. Sorry for the pops and clicks on the record.

4 November 2015

Reupload - The Motions - Take The Fast Train/ Hamburg City

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1968

The mod movement is regarded by most listeners and pop pickers as being an inherently British phenomenon, and whilst overseas mod acts most certainly did exist, it's curious to see how they presented themselves. The Motions, for example, posed beneath Big Ben for the sleeve of one of their earlier singles "Everything (That's Mine)", complementing the clanging Who-ness of the disc with distinctly familiar Anglo orientated imagery. That they hailed from The Hague in The Netherlands and were at that point produced by Americans Scott Walker and John Walker apparently presented no issues to them.

Despite (or perhaps because of) their rather un-Dutch image, The Motions were a force to be reckoned with in their native land, issuing dozens of singles and containing plenty of national musical legends in their line-up. Singer Rudy Bennett had a successful solo career after The Motions called it a day in 1971, drummer Sieb Warner became sticksman for Golden Earring, and perhaps most notably Robbie Van Leeuwen became one of the founding members of the ridiculously under-rated (in Britain, at least) Shocking Blue.

"Take The Fast Train" perhaps isn't their best single, but its raw, bluesy riff cuts through the sweet vocal harmonies in such a contradictory fashion that it's a compelling listen. The influence on Shocking Blue in particular can clearly be heard here - this is basically late sixties hard rock with a slightly sugary edge. Flip side "Hamburg City" is a lot less jagged (and therefore less interesting) being an almost Manfred Mann styled tribute to the German city.

The Motions are pretty much the Godfathers of the Nederbeat movement, and can even be found on the "Nuggets II" box set issued by Rhino. That they didn't do much business outside of their home country is unfortunate, but in the case of Britain they barely tried (notching up only a few gigs to their name there, despite Scott Walker's encouragement). Some members would, however, get their shot at international fame in other bands, and the Motions must therefore be considered one of the better schools of Rock in Holland, as well as releasing some furiously good singles.

(This blog entry was originally uploaded in November 2011)

1 November 2015

Dogfeet - Sad Story/ On The Road

Label: Reflection
Year of Release: 1970

Consisting of lead singer Alan Pearse, guitarist Trevor Povey, bass player Dave Nichols and drummer Derek Perry, Dogfeet were one of the very many blues rock bands the UK music scene boasted in the early seventies. Indeed, it's difficult to thumb through a seventies copy of NME and Melody Maker and not see gig adverts for a veritable plethora of obscure pub blues boys howling into their pints of mild.

Unlike the Zeppelin copyists who cluttered up the scene, Dogfeet were rather more moody and subtle, though, as this, their solitary single, demonstrates. "Sad Story" is a contemplative and gentle six minute stroll through one woman's adultery, backed up with a clean, sorrowful and straightforward production. There's no hollering, distortion or sweat here, and if the feel recalls anything at all, it's possibly Pink Floyd's more straightforward moments on "More". It's so laid-back and natural that as a listener, you feel you're intruding on a private jam between four men having a private low. This is "blues" as a smoky bar-room (or possibly marijuana fogged bedroom) experience, not a big, bold Finsbury Park Rainbow outing.

The B-side "On The Road" picks up the tempo a little, but is available elsewhere so I've included only a short excerpt.

After one eponymous and very unsuccessful album the band disappeared, but they've found their records in high demand in collector's circles ever since. I've no idea what became of the individual members afterwards.

28 October 2015

The Chasers - The Ways Of A Man/ Summergirl

Label: Philips
Year of Release: 1967

Romford's The Chasers grafted their way around the British gig circuit in the sixties. Consisting of Roger Pincott on vocals, Len Tuckey on guitar, Jack Chambers on bass and Lenny Butcher on drums, they were formed in 1960, beginning by performing straight-ahead beat pop before hardening their sound to an R&B approach in 1963. This gave them many more opportunities to break out of the local Romford area and perform in clubs nationally, achieving notable support slots with other R&B acts of the day such as the Downliners Sect.

While apparently being a strong live proposition, they failed to break through with any of their three releases across three different record labels during that period. "Hey Little Girl", issued by Decca in 1965, and "Inspiration", issued by Parlophone in 1966, were largely ignored by the public and poorly promoted by both institutions.

Top songwriter (and recording star in his own right) Chris Andrews was friends with the band, and produced all their work. By 1967 Pincott had jumped ship and the band replaced him with Bobby Rio, and there might have been a sense that if they couldn't strike it lucky with a third single, the goose could be cooked. It would certainly explain why Andrews chose that moment to step in and give them an original and powerful composition of his own to work with.

"The Ways Of A Man" is much poppier than the previous singles and lacks a brittle R&B edge, instead sounding very identifiably like a melancholy Andrews track. The delicate nature of the song makes for a compelling listen, but the style doesn't quite suit the band who sound noticeably hemmed in, and as a pop ballad it's crying out for Sandie Shaw's mournful tones to raise it to another level. Unsurprisingly, it followed their other far stronger singles into the dumper, and remains one of Andrews' less frequently heard and undeservedly unappreciated tunes as a result.

Rio also abandoned The Chasers after the failure of this single, and the group limped on as a trio for a few months before giving up when Tuckey joined The Riot Squad.

Excuse the pops and clicks on both sides of this single - it's not a perfect copy, I'm afraid.

25 October 2015

The London Boys - Eyes of Kazan/ All My Life

Label: BASF
Year of Release: 1971

There are, to the best of my knowledge, two bands with the "London Boys" moniker. One seemed to be a project of the jobbing songwriter (and Flowerpot Men member) John Carter. The other was an eighties Eurodisco act with flashy dance moves who somehow ended up doing backing vocals to charged political pop on Microdisney records (apparently angrily suggesting to Cathal Coughlan that he was sick in the head before they sang backing vocals to lines such as "There's nothing wrong with the young would-be rich/ that a headful of lead would not cure"). It shouldn't be too tricky to work out which one this is.

"Eyes of Kazan" is an odd release for two reasons. Firstly, it's a slice of psychedelic pop which was issued in 1971, long after most record buyers had shown any signs of caring about this kind of thing. It was also released in Germany only, failing to reach the shops in any other European markets (including the UK). I can only speculate as to why this was - it's possible that it was an old John Carter composition which had been gathering dust which BASF were persuaded to issue, but the (slightly cack-handed) stereo mix suggests to me that it's more likely to be a seventies recording.

It's actually pretty good as well. There's a copped Beach Boys bass riff (from "You're So Good To Me") and a thumping, stoned McCartneyesque feel to the whole thing, and while it lacks the necessary hooks to truly sound like a hit, it's neatly persuasive and proof positive that when digging the record racks for psychedelic pop, one needn't stop at 1969. There are other gems to be found beyond that end-date.

21 October 2015

Ignatius Jones - Like A Ghost/ Seductive Ways

Label: Ensign
Year of Release: 1982

Australian actor, contortionist, journalist and singer Ignatius Jones is an odd sort. He's most famed in his home country for being the lead vocalist in "shocking" new wave band Jimmy and the Boys, whose act apparently included S&M and mock rape. Footage of their shows sounds ripe for inclusion in one of those "It Was Alright In The 70s" clip shows, by the sounds of it, except none seems to be available. However, YouTube allows us to watch them covering The Kinks in a peculiar fashion and see TV footage of their Tim Finn penned top ten hit "They Won't Let My Girlfriend Talk To Me", and with that we should presumably be content.

Once Jimmy and the Boys split, Ignatius set about trying to establish a solo career for himself. The results were not as successful. "Like A Ghost" was the first release, and is actually rather good, awash with an eerie, empty synth-pop simplicity as a complete antidote to the absurd theatrics of his previous band. Apparently a minor hit in the gay clubs on the American West Coast, it was obviously deemed notable enough to be granted a UK single release, unlike anything Jones did before or since… but for all the record label enthusiasm, it wasn't a sizeable seller on either side of the planet.

After the follow-up single "Whispering Your Name" failed to gain any traction, Jones formed the briefly lived Arms and Legs before then joining the swing-jazz band Pardon Me Boys.

He arguably found bigger success outside the fields of acting, music or journalism when he became an Events Director and was given the role of Creative Director for the 2000 Sydney Olympic opening and closing ceremonies. It's a far cry from being a member of the most shocking New Wave band in Australia, viewers.

18 October 2015

Hackensack - Moving On/ River Boat

Label: Island
Year of Release: 1972

In the late sixties and early seventies, music began to be appraised by certain selective punters not just by how melodic or innovative it was, but how loud and heavy, especially in the live environment. Bands began to obtain huge amplifiers and stacks affordably, and thus acts such as Blue Cheer described themselves as being capable of turning the air to cheese with their sheer racket. Presumably nobody asked for a refund when the venue around them didn't transform miraculously into rich Brie.

Hackensack were renowned for being one of Britain's heaviest blues rock bands in the early seventies, and became quite a draw on the live circuit, chalking up 270 gigs - but naturally, their high voltage and volume attacks failed to cross over into record shop sales. 1974's Polydor released album "Up The Hard Way" was cultishly successful, but not enough to convince anyone that they had a reasonable commercial proposition on their hands, though it has since become a highly collectible item. Thus Hackensack were kicked back on to the small venue circuit before giving it all up, an unissued live album apparently languishing in the Pye vaults.

This is their solitary single, and consists of two quite different halves. The A-side "Moving On" chugs along and swings merrily, and actually has an almost glam rock chorus which sounds like it might have been borrowed from Iron Virgin or one of the many flop tinseltowners of the day. It's perfectly good, but it's the B-side that really shows what Hackensack were capable of. "River Boat" is an absolute dumb-ass assault, riddled with a primal, almost garage rock riff which needles away throughout. Vocals scream, cymbals crash, and the whole thing is a fine example of how the 60s punk tradition naturally morphed into Serious Rock in the early seventies. So downright distorted and compressed is the track that I had to have three goes of ripping it from vinyl before getting the right volume control - it sends all the needles flying into the red even at low recording volumes. I still can't decide if I over or under did it.

Lead singer Nicky Moore went on to be a key player in the New Wave of British Heavy Metal with Samson, guitarist Ray Majors went on to join British Lions before eventually hooking up with Mott The Hoople, and drummer Simon Fox joined Be Bop Deluxe. The whereabouts of bassist Stu Mills is less clear.

11 October 2015

Back very soon...

I moved into the new house a month ago, and you can see from the picture above the chaos that awaited… the previous owners simply locked the doors and left a pile of junk behind, most of which was of such a poor quality that even the local charity shops wanted nothing to do with it. Cheap old chipboard wardrobes from the eighties, scratched and scuffed drinks cabinets, a wheelchair, a very old radio (pictured - I'll try to test this at some point, as soon as I can find a new lead for it), even an ancient 70s kitchen sink with a slightly rusty residue… moving our own stuff in was a challenge, viewers, and we're still trying to work out the cheapest way of getting a lot of the old junk sent to landfill.

The question you're naturally asking is "But did they leave any vinyl behind?" And of course, no, they didn't. The one pile of junk I would have been delighted to have been left as an unlisted feature of the house wasn't to be found. So it's been a slow process of shifting things hither and tither, tidying, painting, removing horrendous carpeting from the floors, and generally getting a run-down property up to some sort of inhabitable scratch. The boiler was also shot, so we didn't even have hot water for the first few weeks.

All that said, Virgin Media have been brilliant at getting us back online, managing to get us hooked up in half the time BT managed during the last house move. This despite the fact that they had to get roadworks permission from the council, dig up the kerb outside, and wire the cable into our property. To achieve all that in a fortnight is actually unbelievably good.

I'm also hopeful enough that the chaos in my life has been reduced to the extent that I can start putting regular entries back up on "Left and to the Back", although the flow may be disrupted from time to time whenever the builders are in. 

I also think I'll ditch the "Emerging" section of the blog unless anyone has a begging need to see more from it. Nobody seemed to ever read or comment on the entries, which leads me to suspect that this really should remain as a blog for obscure old music, not up and coming artists (however enthusiastic I am about them). Send your letters of complaint to the usual address… but I highly doubt I'll get any.

See you soon, then. 

25 August 2015


It pains me to say it, but unfortunately this blog won't be updated for a little while. I'm presently in the process of buying a house (and hopefully moving into the house, provided I can get the solicitors to agree on some nigglingly worrying details), and while I had hoped I could stack and queue enough entries to tide the site over during the process, there just aren't the hours in the day. So…

For the first time in two years, there's going to be a bit of a gap in the service. The last time I took a break in 2013 chaos absolutely fucking reigned. It was only intended to be 2-3 months long, but during the period I fractured my left elbow, moved house and had titanic battles with BT about getting back online again - apparently the simple job of just turning up to my house when they were supposed to and installing broadband was too tricky to cope with ("The man who is installing your broadband is just around the corner in his van, he'll be there soon…" "Er… I don't know why we said that. He cannot install your broadband today, he is nowhere in the area, yes, I would be shouting if I were you too, sir, I cannot blame you").

Here's hoping I get through this whole experience a bit more smoothly and "Left and to the Back" will be back online sooner rather than later. In the meantime, wish me luck. 

23 August 2015

Emerging - MIYNT, Communions and Have You Ever Seen The Jane Fonda Aerobic VHS?

I started the "Emerging" section of this blog largely to scratch a particular itch I had - while the purpose of "Left and to the Back" is unquestionably to focus on odd, brilliant and esoteric old vinyl finds, the reality is that my life and listening habits revolve just as much as around new material as old. Trouble is, the vast majority of artists I've featured in the section over the year sound as if they owe a large debt to music emerging somewhere from the period 1966-1995. In some cases, I could have presented them as bona-fide lost records from previous decades (and they'd probably have picked up more readers that way).

Stockholm's MIYNT, on the other hand, is brilliantly modern. Latest single "Civil War" (backed by the almost as brilliant "Nick Drake") is a complex, fascinating cobweb of melodic hooks married to a fiercely twenty-first century electronic production. Somewhere in the tangle lie elements of Boards of Canada, classic sixties pop, film noir soundtracks and contemporary EDM, but never once does it sound like it belongs to any one point, place or time. Luxuriously icy to the last and full of surprises, this is a single that deserves to be the launchpad for a major career - it makes this month's bunch of three-chord indie-pop merchants sound like the unadventurous chancers they are.

Staying within Scandinavia - and I haven't chosen to deliberately theme this entry, incidentally, it just turned out that way - Copenhagen's Communions are less bewitchingly futuristic, dropping post-punk basslines and angst-ridden eighties vocals into their otherwise crystalline pop, but "Forget It's A Dream" is a haunting and yearning track which sounds as if it should have been written long ago. It also achieves the remarkable feat of being so packed with ideas that the six-and-a-half minute run time of the song seems perfectly rational and reasonable. Not a note or riff wasted here.

There are also Finnish contenders this month in the shape of the ridiculously yet brilliantly named Have You Ever Seen The Jane Fonda Aerobic VHS, who take garage punk and leave out the guitars (bass excepted), instead choosing to develop their particular flavour of abrasive bubblegum pop with layers upon layers of analogue keyboards. It's unlikely to set the UK Top 40 aflame next week, of course, but "Family Man" is available now and makes it sound as if they're having more fun than anyone else on the planet, fizzing over as it does with energy and whirling keyboard sounds. It's a peculiar nugget for the 21st Century, and even if they never have another good idea, their time will have been well spent on this one.

19 August 2015

Reupload - The Lemon Men - I've Seen You Cut Lemons

Label (finally issued on): Polydor
Year of Release: 1969

I don't normally upload studio acetates on "Left and to the Back", simply because they're fragile, very difficult to come by and usually very expensive. If the opportunity arises to buy the issued or demo vinyl version instead of a rather crackly acetate, I'll take the former option despite the desirability of the latter. I like to own records I feel I can DJ with and play at my own leisure rather than ones I have to keep safe from the scuffing of needles and general wear and tear.

That said, I've never seen a finally released copy of The Lemon Men's "I've Seen You Cut Lemons" in my life, and whilst they (apparently) do exist, this acetate turned up for sale so cheaply that it was worth a punt. Frequently labelled by bloggers as a "psychedelic record", it's not so much psychedelia as an unbelievably peculiar ballad. A rich voiced singer croons a gentle melody about mental illness, using the unexpected lines: "You say that I'm mad and should be committed/ And you are the one who should be called sane""I've seen you cut lemons/ I've seen you burn children and leave them to die". Yes indeed. Perhaps to muddy the waters further, the song also contains the lines: "You ask me if I don't also cut lemons/ I do, but when I do I cry".

Context, as always, is everything. A Sean Connery directed play entitled "I've Seen You Cut Lemons" hit the London theatre stage around this time, and focussed on the relationship a writer had with his bi-polar sister. We'd need a script of the Ted Allan authored play in question to fully understand the significance of its title, and sadly I don't have one, but it would seem sensible to assume that this record was in some way a tie-in to the production, or at the very least a tribute to its efforts. Sadly, "I've Seen You Cut Lemons" was both a flop in London Theatre-land, closing after five nights, and perhaps inevitably a flop in the record charts as well. Surprisingly, it's story didn't end there, and the play formed the basis of the 1984 film "Love Streams" directed by John Cassavetes, which won the Golden Bear at that year's Berlin Film Festival.

As for the song itself, it's truly unorthodox, combining a brooding moodiness with peculiar Jimmy Webb styled lyrical lines and a relaxing lounge music backing - to use that lazy journalistic device of cross-referencing styles, it's rather like the theme tune to "Just Good Friends" colliding with the plot of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest". We will probably never hear its like again, and as for who the Lemon Men were... does anyone have any ideas? My guess would be that they were a studio band put together solely for this project, but I'd be happy to be corrected.

Oh, and as Bam Caruso always used to say on the back of those "Circus Days" compilation albums - you will be able to detect popping and crackling in this mp3, but it would be foolish to ignore this medium merely because of the fragility of earlier storage systems.

(Update - This blog entry was originally uploaded in April 2012. Since then I've been informed that Glen Mason is the vocalist on this disc, whose son's Godfather is none other than Sean Connery. He has recently had two CDs released entitled "All My Life" and "Shadrack and Rare Tracks". Thanks for letting me know, Chris Adams, and I hope Glen enjoyed hearing this track again).