26 February 2015

Iron Cross - Little Bit O' Soul/ Sunshine

Label: Spark
Year of Release: 1972

While the debate still rages about whether the USA hit version of "Little Bit O' Soul" by The Music Explosion is bubblegum or garage - and "who gives a toss, it's marvellous anyway?" would be my answer to that - this heavy, stomping glam cover of it in 1972 puts a different spin on the idea. 

In fact, so forceful is this version that it's surprising it wasn't a hit. With a thump and a thwack and some vocals from a man so gruff he sounds as if he's been gargling with iron filings, it ups the aggression more than a little. "Little Bit O' Soul" never did do any serious business in the UK when The Music Explosion issued it here, so it was a cunning tune to plunder, taking a number two Stateside hit which was just plain unlucky over here and equipping it for evolving seventies tastes in Britain (where authors John Carter and Ken Lewis hailed from anyway).

You know the rest, though. It wasn't a hit. We don't do hits here on this blog. And nobody seems to be quite sure who Iron Cross were, although they had one follow-up release on Spark, the equally masculine sounding "Everybody Rock On". If anyone can identify them, please do let me know. 

22 February 2015

Reparata - Shoes/ A Song For All

Label: D'Art
Year of Release: 1975

1975 isn't renowned for being a year when a lot of quirky pop music found its way into people's lives, and the public were clearly crying out for some slightly skewed musical moments. They nearly got some, too - for this single is a prime example of something which only fell by the wayside due to a particularly tangled web of misfortune.

Reparata had previously had a modestly successful career with the sixties Brooklyn outfit Reparata and the Delrons, whose chirpy "Captain of Your Ship" single burst out of the USA and took the world by storm. Later in the nineties, to the complete befuddlement of everyone in the UK (or at least me) the very same song enjoyed a slight revival as the backing to a Mullerice advert, with Reparata's trilling, girlish words being mimed by a cartoon captain with an Uncle Albert beard who appeared to be commandeering a man's stomach. But let's park that thought for now, viewers, because things start to get even more confusing in a minute.

"Shoes" was originally issued as a promotional copy by Surrey International in 1974, then failed to make the shops for reasons which are unclear. Polydor picked it up for release in 1975, it became Tony Blackburn's single of the week, then immediately ran into enormous legal difficulties. Firstly, one of the remaining members of the Delrons claimed the rights to the Reparata name, and issued a legal challenge. This failed, but no sooner had that case been dropped than the independent D'art Records emerged crying foul, issuing an injunction and insisting that the rights to the single were actually theirs under the terms of a previous contract and Polydor had no business to be releasing it. Tedious music industry chaos ensued for some time before a compromise was reached whereby copies would be produced on both the Polydor and D'Art labels, both distributed and pressed by Polydor, with the profits presumably split in some undisclosed way.

Trouble is, by the time this resolution had been reached, radio had lost interest, the public had forgotten all about the record, and it stalled just outside the Top 40. And that's a ridiculous shame, because "Shoes" is a bizarre concoction - like a traditional Eastern folk song tugging on the sleeves of art pop, it skids and trips along so many different directions that it's actually fascinating. Filled with angelic backing vocals, a doomy, matter-of-fact vocal, and a worrying undercurrent, its observations on a family wedding day suggest some disquieting background is being left unsaid (or unsung).

It was rewarded in the South African chart where it climbed to number 6, but that really was the sole prize it received and Reparata's career never quite scaled the heights of the Delrons era again, although - as we may see at another time - her back catalogue is filled with some other oddities besides.

As for the song itself, it had been recorded by a variety of earnest folk artists (The (New) Settlers among them) before Reparata got her claws into it and really gave it a new atmosphere.

Thanks to regular reader and commenter Arthur Nibble for suggesting I cover this one.

17 February 2015

Mystery Acetate - Nola - Noises

I'm finding it really hard to buy affordable and interesting second-hand records at the moment. The prices are going through the ceiling. Is this a sign that wealth and prosperity are on the horizon again, and that suddenly people everywhere have lots of reserve cash to buy vinyl? Or symptomatic of the fact that vinyl is becoming a sought-after fashion statement? You guess, or perhaps ask an economist.

This acetate is something I lost a bidding war for on ebay - you can see the original listing here (and no doubt the seller bestfootforward has other stuff to come).

The seller included a clip (reproduced below with his kind permission) which really intrigued me. It's essentially faintly psychedelic pop with a heavy undercurrent of folk, featuring very enthusiastic use of echo in places, as well as some buzzing Meek-ish keyboard noises. The naive lyrical subject matter combined with Nola's touchingly heartfelt vocals creates something which, while not classic, is certainly intriguing.

The production dates it as being an early to mid seventies piece of work, by my reckoning, but that's my best estimate. Writer Tim Worthington suggested to me on Twitter that this may well be by Nola York - I suspect he's got a point, but if so, where did this track of hers come from? A slated then unreleased single, an album track, or something that was demoed (this sounds a bit too rich in detail to be a simple demo)? Please do provide me with your answers if you know them.

Also, over on the marvellous Roots and Traces blog a mystery has been rolling for over six months now - namely, who is behind this brilliant acetate of a slightly krautrocky song presumably entitled "Sylvia" (and it's not Focus, before you ask)? Given the production values and professionalism of the performance, my guess would be that it's not a bunch of unknowns cutting a demo, and what a fantastic, soaring piece of work it is too.

It would be good to resolve these two mysteries if possible. Such things bother me at night. No, really. Make it stop.

15 February 2015

Hotel UK - Dream Street/ Silver Bay

Label: Logo
Year of Release: 1981

Logo were an odd little label, existing from late 1977- 1982 and generally issuing a mixed bag of novelty, new wave, rock and pop records. They're excellent fodder for a blog like this one in that most of their material - barring some successes with The Tourists, Driver 67 and Streetband - flopped hopelessly, leaving very little trace of its existence even in these "you can hear everything on YouTube and Spotify" times.

Hotel UK seemed to be signed to the label during its Autumn years, at the point where the modest flow of hits had truly been stemmed and the Executives had, for reasons known only to themselves, replaced the original company logo with a jagged neon lime green on black creation. Well, it was the eighties, I suppose.  And man, does "Dream Street" make that clear. It's all synthetic pulses, electronic piano sounds, dramatic guitar riffs, and lyrics about "dudes" with big white cars. It sort-of "rocks", but in a very self-conscious way - it's so polished it positively dazzles in places. You know before you even get to that point that it's going to finish on a Eurovision song styled fist-punching repetition of the refrain "Midnight on dream street!" then rapidly stop on a final guitar chord, and then that's exactly what it does. No alarms, and no surprises - but it's got a choppy hook that will definitely appeal to people who don't mind their rock undercut with eighties production stylings. 

As for who Hotel UK are - that's a mystery to me, I'm afraid. This appears to have been their only single, so my guess would be that they were a gigging act who were unfortunate enough to be made promises by Logo Records shortly before they ceased their trading activities, or else were signed for a one single deal and didn't have the option picked up on their contract. 

This record is notable for being a Mick Glossop production. Glossop was truly the producer of choice if you were an alternative pop band in the late eighties, commandeering sessions by The Wonder Stuff, Lloyd Cole, PiL, The Waterboys and Sinead O'Connor, among many others. "Dream Street" is a little atypical of the kind of work he usually took on, but shows a diversity to his approach he perhaps may not generally be appreciated for. 

12 February 2015

The Magicians - The Liars (Theme)/ Poggy Goes Pop

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1966

It sometimes feels as if every single theme tune to a vaguely popular sixties TV show was released as a seven inch single, and here's another addition to the bunch - the plucky introductory ditty to the innovative drama series "The Liars".

"The Liars" was actually a popular programme during its run, though only nine 55 minute episodes were ever made. Consisting of actors Ian Ogilvy, William Mervyn, Nyree Dawn Porter and Isla Blair, the concept was that each performer would attempt to outdo the others with an unlikely tale, usually adapted from a classic short story. There's a clip on YouTube which gives you a flavour of the tone and mood of the show.

The theme itself is a rather squeaky little affair, and slightly dated sounding for 1966. Still, it has a certain instro-beat swing to it, and has slipped into almost complete obscurity since the programme's heyday - and what am I here for, eh? 

10 February 2015

Emerging #1 - King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, Public Access TV, Ex Hex, Claudia Kane

When I originally started this blog, the rules were clear - NO CURRENT BANDS ALLOWED. This wasn't supposed to be a blog highlighting hip and happening new acts, but rather the failures and also-rans of yesteryear. If you've got a theme, however broad and loose, it makes sense to stick to it rather than confuse the issue.

And anyway, who would want to be seen dead here, among all the flop artists? Surely getting a mention on "Left and to the Back" is akin to getting a permanent marker mention on the Wall of Doom rather a brassy star next to your name on the Hall of Fame? And should the tastes of someone who so frequently highlights failures be trusted? These questions troubled me at night (a bit). 

But as I'm sure you can probably gather, I've had a change of heart and done an about-turn on the original policy, and once a month I'll be talking about a handful of new-ish acts who have tickled my fancy recently. They don't have to be unsigned, newly formed, or even necessarily without a fairly significant history - the title "emerging" has been chosen deliberately to underline the fact that they just haven't crossed the finish line into the mainstream yet, and have only recently been noticed by me (please, no comments of "But this single was released weeks/ months ago!" I'm not trying to rival Pitchfork here). So without any further ado…

Ludicrously named neo-psychedelic Australians King Gizzard & the Wizard Lizard have been a somewhat divisive presence in the music press of late, thrilling and irritating critics in equal measure. For every writer who feels that their sharp, scuzzy, garagey bursts of psych mixed with krautrock are abnormally cheering, there are others who find that their sound topples over the line into downright silly pastiche.

Luckily, I have no issues with playful pastiche myself, and the lo-fi back catalogue of the band has cheered me up enormously over the last couple of months. Current album "I'm In Your Mind Fuzz" sounds as if it's been recorded on a budget the music department of most cash-strapped British secondary schools would feel rather stingy, yet weathers the roughness to deliver an enormous kick.  The opening salvo of tracks also reveals a band with numerous insistent grooves under their belts, with addictive motorik beats ploughing under the chaotic, effects-laden melodies.

Even their early garage album from 2012 "12 Bar Bruise" is endearingly daffy, showcasing demented punk moments like "Muckracker", although without a doubt their strengths are more apparent in their most recent works.

New York's Public Access TV are much more likely contenders for proper, mainstream success, having already been tipped for greatness by the NME and numerous other online sources. "They're the new Strokes!" says everyone, everywhere. That's strange, because the single "In The Mirror" sounds rather more like Supergrass at their most buoyant and bouncy to me, but I suspect comparisons to unfashionable Britpop artists are more likely to be treated with suspicion.

No matter, though - "In The Mirror" is a fine release, achieving the near-impossible feat of making a cold, overcast February day in London feel like the first signs of Spring. This is fresh and urgent sounding alternative pop, and if they have further singles up their sleeves which rival the swagger of this one, anything could happen, even (or perhaps especially) in these doom-laden, introspective times.

Washington's Ex Hex, on the other hand, here display a rare combination of minimalist garagey glam rock licks meeting a raw punk sound. "Don't Wanna Lose" showcases how effective that combination can be - there's a simmering, measured aggression here that sustains their basic ideas long past their obvious fade-out time. In it, they treat simple boneheaded mid-seventies ideas with the same stripped approach of early Wire, and it's a rare enough sound to be interesting, if slightly worrying.

"So Hot So Cold", on the other hand, shows what they're like with power pop in their veins, and is perhaps even better for it.

London's Claudia Kane has only recently signed to Sony, doesn't seem to have a Wikipedia page yet, and has less of an online presence than most of the acts "Left and to the Back" normally features.  Hopefully the major label "bigwigs" are trying to break her by slowly arousing everyone's curiosity rather than just disinterestedly going through the motions (because God knows we've seen the results of that problem on this blog enough times over the years).

Debut single "Residents of Darkness" appears on the surface to be the kind of anthemic electronic pop that's dogged the mainstream for rather too long, but slowly reveals its unique charms. This is the best of eighties New Pop and noir pop colliding with the present, sounding shadowy, intricate, subtle and seductive. With the right push and the right material, Claudia - who already seems like a brilliantly moody pop star in the video - stands a chance of far greater things.

And finally… Rose Elinor Dougall has been going for far too long now to fairly qualify even for this section of the blog, but her latest Soundcloud offering "Take Yourself With You", a pean to the pitfalls of hipster traveller behaviour, is the usual thing of considered beauty. Investigate immediately. 

5 February 2015

Reupload - Rita - Erotica/ Sexologie

Rita - Erotica

Label: Major Minor
Year of Release: 1969

Sometimes when you obtain second-hand records, you're given subtle clues about the personal preferences and habits of their previous owners.  My copy of "Flames" by Elmer Gantry's Velvet Opera, for example, has "MILLWALL FC" scrawled over-enthusiastically across the label - though I can't really think of a link between the two myself.  This record, I'm sorry to say, had a sticky mess across the vinyl I had to remove with an alcohol based cleaner.  Whether the sticky mess was actually the substance I had in my worst fears or not I wouldn't like to say.

"Erotica" is, after all, probably one of the saucier "Je T'Aime" related records to have leaked out during the late sixties.  It's five minutes of the inappropriately named Rita (I mean, really, Rita has to be one the least erotic names ever, surely?  Or a couple of rungs down from Ursula at least) puffing, groaning and climaxing to a funky rhythm.  Atop the groove is a psychedelic, organ driven jam which isn't terribly unlike Pink Floyd during their prime, ending in some bizarre "Careful With That Axe, Eugene" styled disorientation, making this a pretty unusual choice for a single.  It was certainly never going to get airplay, and there's nothing soft, sensual or gentle about the track itself, so it was primarily depending on shock value to generate the sales which never came.  It is a genuinely engaging piece of work, though, and if it weren't for the porno feel to the entire thing I'm sure we'd have heard a lot more about it - and given the fact that Lil Louis' "French Kiss" was an orgasmic club hit in the nineties, it's surprising that a few more retro-minded DJs haven't picked up on this yet.

The B-side "Sexologie" is rather more restrained, sounding as if it could be the new theme tune to "Bottom" if Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson had ever actually had a chance to make another series.  Which is appropriate, given that "Erotica" is the kind of single the character Eddie would have owned and treasured himself…

1 February 2015

Jackie Lee - Space Age Lullaby/ Sleep

Label: ICI Pharmaceuticals Division
Year of Release: 1972

Jackie Lee is no stranger to this blog. Back in March 2012 we focussed on the dual-headed kinderpop sensation "Inigo Pipkin/ End of Rainbow", the B-side of which still causes outbreaks of wistful melancholy in me despite the fact that I'm almost certainly not the target audience. 

Lee is probably most known for the "Rupert The Bear" theme so far as the general public are concerned, and that's a pity. She cut a number of knockout singles throughout the sixties and seventies, of which the Northern Soul favourite "I Gotta Be With You" highlights her strengths most keenly. A fantastic and highly expressive vocalist, it's unsurprising that she found herself in demand for soundtrack and session work when the "proper pop career" failed. 

"Space Age Lullaby" is one of the odder Lee efforts, being a Bowie-influenced ballad produced for the Savlon Babycare range (say that sentence aloud, bounce it around the room, revel in how ludicrous it sounds). ICI Pharmaceuticals whisked her into the studio to beautifully whisper lines like "Put another ring around Saturn, space age boy" and "Will you circle the stars incredibly suited/ in silver with fish bowls for eyes", all while backed by a lush arrangement. While it should be the usual cheap plastic junk which is so often thrown off the corporate promotional production line, it's actually a delightful product of its era, filled with wide-eyed wonder and naiveté, embracing the future rather than fearing it. Clearly addressed to a small child, it's sad to consider that we wouldn't harbour such thoughts about a new-born now - we'd just keep our fingers crossed that the future stayed environmentally and economically stable. 

Lee clearly didn't rush through the session either, or if she did she proved herself to be the master of getting the message across brilliantly with very few takes involved. Her vocal performance has the usual class about it, the hushed, awed delivery of certain key phrases sounding once again as if her methods may have been an influence on Sarah Cracknell of Saint Etienne.

I picked this single up believing that it may actually contain laughs aplenty. The idea seems truly ridiculous, after all - yet it's actually a compelling little creation which just happens to have corporate sponsorship attached. Sometimes, to the amazement of everyone, this sort of thing can happen.