29 March 2015

Blossom Dearie - Discover Who I Am/ The Music Played

Label: Fontana
Year of Release: 1968

Blossom Dearie was a hugely respected jazz singer and pianist from New York who never really broke through to mainstream success either at home or in the UK, though she did have a hit in France with her version of "Lullaby of Birdland". Very much a musician's musician and friendly with the likes of Scott Walker, her club stints in London, France and the USA were all highly acclaimed and her back catalogue is impressively deep.

This B-side is, if I'm not mistaken, an absurd curveball in her catalogue, being a piece of reflective, gentle and almost psychedelic pop. Without wishing to make obvious comparisons within her social circle, there are shades of Scott about it, from the arrangements through to the considered, introspective lyrics. It swells, fades and swells again, relaxing in its own melancholia and never reaching for an obvious hook. That may turn some listeners off, but for people who like their pop to be subtle and considered, it's an absolute plus - it's a track to wallow in rather than ride or cling to.

So who was the mysterious "Wollawitch" (suspiciously aligned to Blossom Dearie Music Ltd) who wrote this? I can find no other songwriting credits listing the name online, which either means it was a one-off contribution from a hopeful Dearie decided to devote a B-side to, or someone adopting a pseudonym, perhaps even Dearie herself. I smell a rat here, and I'd be interested to know if anyone has any answers.

Sadly, Dearie passed away in 2009 after a long illness, so we may never quite know the truth.

(Except, lo and behold, within minutes of me posting this Sean Bright came up with the answer in the comments below. Blimey!)

25 March 2015

Reupload - Patterson's People - Shake Hands With The Devil/ Deadly Nightshade

Label: Mercury
Year of Release: 1966

"I just come up from Hades/ To mingle all among you ladies/ Shake hands with the devil..."

There's an attention grabbing first line for a single if ever I've heard one. By 1966 the music buying public had already been treated to a wide variety of artistes using diabolical imagery to turn heads, so this single won't have been anything new - but I'd be willing to bet that it still upset some folks in certain quarters.

There again, perhaps it was actually just largely ignored by the radio DJs for other reasons, but I find that staggeringly hard to believe for a single so good. "Shake Hands With The Devil" is a piece of mod soul which seems from the very first play as if you've known it all your life - and whilst this may be because it falls back on a few cliched riffs here and there (the "Mustang Sally" descend, for example) it also swings thrillingly. The organ screeches, the vocalists scream, whilst beneath a steady, nagging rhythm maintains law and order. It's the kind of raw and dancefloor friendly sound you'd expect from a single emerging from the USA at this time, but amazingly Patterson's People actually stemmed from the incredibly dull Aylesbury, whose only real claim to fame to this day is being Bill Drummond's retirement town.

The B-side "Deadly Nightshade" has been given rather more attention by compilers of sixties rarities compilations over the last ten years or so, which is baffling as it doesn't sound like anything particularly special to me. It does admittedly have a slightly more psychedelic sound, however, which may add to its appeal to collectors of that genre.

As for Patterson's People, this was their only single. If anyone saw them play at the time or knows what became of them, please feel free to enlighten me and the other readers - certainly, of the British acts I've heard doing material of this style from this period, this record makes them sound like they would have been a very convincing live proposition.

Sorry for the pops and crackles at the start of "Shake Hands With The Devil", by the way. They do clear up after the first few seconds.

(This blog entry was originally uploaded in February 2012. Since then, we've found out that the group contained David Wenden among their personnel, who eventually moved to South Africa to continue as a folk musician, sadly passing away in 1980 at the age of 37. Other members included Patsy Archer and brother Art Archer, with Jim Alabaster on bass guitar. Regretfully, Art Archer also died in Aylesbury in 1988). 

22 March 2015

Juan and Junior - The Chase/ Nothing

Label: CBS
Year of Release: 1967

Anyone who enjoys rummaging around boot sales and second hand stores for largely unheard sixties records could do worse than pick up some sounds from continental Europe. The British charts unfairly locked out all manner of brilliant overseas artists, and even when a band like Los Bravos did break through with a single like "Black Is Black", the rest of their output was cruelly and unjustly ignored ("Bring A Little Lovin'" in particular sounds as if it should be have been a huge top three hit).

Juan and Junior are another case in point. Both were ex-members of the rather good Spanish beat combo Los Brincos, and while that group did enjoy some success in their home country, they had even more chart hits and plaudits in their reduced duo form. One single of theirs, Anduriña, was so admired by Pablo Picasso that it moved him to contribute an etching to use on their record sleeve.

Both went to Britain for an extended trip in 1967 to record some tracks in English and aim to break one of the more unforgiving markets. Naturally, they failed miserably. Their two singles "The Chase" and "To Girls" were not hits, and CBS had no interest in trying further. A pity, as "The Chase" in particular demonstrates songwriting suss and a buoyant, brassy, confident delivery. Its pure pop to its bones, but so bursting with cheer and sunshine that it's impossible not to be impressed. Far better than a great many of the frankly awful UK acts CBS were chancing recording budgets on at this stage, one can only conclude that Juan and Junior were cursed by the fact that they had no real time to develop a big enough fanbase over here to push the single over the red line and into the charts.

In any case, the pair would split in 1968 after a disagreement caused by Junior attempting a vocal retake of Juan's work while he was out of the studio. Hissy fits were thrown, solo careers beckoned, and Britain would never really see either artist again individually or otherwise.

19 March 2015

Paul Jones - Pretty Vacant/ Sheena Is A Punk Rocker

Label: RSO
Year of Release: 1978

Piss-taking pop parodies have always had a place in musical history. Joke easy-listening/ classical interpretations of hard-edged, sneering rock and roll have existed for just as long as mirth-making aggressive versions of traditionally innocent tracks. Every Oasis has had their Mike Flowers, and every innocent children's show its Dickies. We've found examples of the phenomenon on this blog dating as far back as the early sixties, and I wouldn't be at all surprised to see the practice surviving another fifty years. The very best and very worst jokes are always deathless.

Ex-Manfred Mann member Paul Jones's cover of the Sex Pistols "Pretty Vacant" is, however, so rich in detail that it's one of the most careful jokes ever. With the orchestra whirling into action for the intro, to the smooth, gentle bass sounds throughout, right down to Jones's weary mid-Atlantic vocals (more Jack Jones than Paul Jones, in fact) it finds fluffy levels of detail in the spikiness of the original you'd never have suspected were there. In this sense, what was doubtless supposed to be a very cheeky stab at the Pistols becomes a peculiar compliment - you suddenly appreciate the band's songwriting chops more than you perhaps previously did (not that I ever needed much convincing).

As if to highlight this, the B-side "Sheena Is A Punk Rocker" - flipped to be the A-side on some versions of this single - is altogether less interesting, causing Jones and Tim Rice on production duties to pull humour from as sarcastic a delivery of the lyrics as feasibly possible.

Portsmouth's finest son Paul Jones is no stranger to this blog, of course - we've already referred to him once when writing about the amazing 60s B-side "The Dog Presides".

17 March 2015

Emerging #2 - Lusts, Swim Deep and CuT

Welcome to March's round-up of the most interesting new(ish) bands to catch my ears. 

First off the bat are Lusts, an outfit led by Leicester brothers Andy and James Stone. Debut single "Temptation", out now on 1965 Records, is that very rare thing - a track that looks to the past for inspiration, gripping hold on to doomy guitars, eighties synths and post punk vocals, but still ends up sounding strangely of the moment. Insistent and catchy but with an icy, eerie undertow, "Temptation" is one of the most encouraging debuts I've heard so far this year, and we can only hope they've got more goodness up their sleeves.

Birmingham's Swim Deep, on the other hand, have already had one Top 20 LP out on Sony and can probably only be deemed a "new act" if we're being exceptionally liberal with the definition. Still though, while their earliest releases have done very little at all to impress me, new single "To My Brother" is an entirely different concoction, filled with old-school Acid House Roland squelches and an euphoric chorus which practically commands all listeners to raise their hands in the air without directly saying so. Delicate guitar riffs (and some monstrously buzzing ones) jockey for space with old-school grooves, and it is - to my immense shock and surprise - like a rallying cry for the indie-dance revival. This could happily sit on side two of "Happy Daze - Volume One" or Telstar's "Rave" compilation and nobody would be any the wiser.

For all the obvious retro-leanings, though, it's a staggeringly good single, and one capable of a far broader appeal than most of the music I've heard this month. They won't win any awards for breaking new ground, but "To My Brother" is proof positive that they can write songs which sound like indie club classics, albeit ones from a previous decade in another dimension.

Self-styled space-punks CuT from London, however, produce a monumental piece of modern psychedelia with "Time Traveller", which with its phasing, disconnected echoing vocals and soaring guitar lines resembles the best work of the greatest English sixties one-single wonders. Looking like a bunch of acid-addled bikers, there's also a rough dirtiness to their sound here which stops them from sounding too tripped out - and indeed, for possessing a group image that looks almost exactly as you'd expect, they deserve some respect.

It will be interesting to see if their music makes further inroads in 2015, or if they just end up on page 48 of Shindig magazine... though the vaguely psychy leanings of all the groups on offer in "Emerging" this month perhaps points towards something in the water supply.

15 March 2015

Now - I Wanna Be Free/ People Are Standing

Label: President
Year of Release: 1973

I've said it before, but will doubtless repeat it regularly - the early seventies is an under-rated source of sharp, spiky pop gems. All the popsmithery that bled out of Denmark Street during the late sixties simply flowed straight into glam and rock as the early seventies began, and with a tiny bit of imagined tweaking it's very easy to perceive how some mod and freakbeat could simply have been adapted into glam tracks instead. Am I making an original observation? Admittedly not, but people are still surprisingly sniffy about these sorts of ideas.

This release, for example, is an euphoric piece of storming power pop which, with its bubbling and squeaking analogue synths and slamming riffing does sound of the 1973 moment, but has the same raw aggression present in the best freakbeat obscurities. It never gives up, gleefully sprawling all over its short run-time to explore every last nook and cranny of the tune. Sounding like a punked-out, less polished version of Wings at their "Junior's Farm" finest, it deserves more listeners. It is commercially available in the Amazon mp3 store to buy, and also forms part of "Electric Asylum Vol 5", and you can hear it in more depth on YouTube. I've included a brief minute-long clip below so you can also get an idea of what you're missing.

The B-side "People Are Standing" is a bit of angst-ridden political protest about apathy which is less impressive, though by no means terrible.

Apart from a blurry press release online which I can't read properly, I've managed to obtain very little information about these boys, apart from the fact that they apparently had "an album ready to go" which obviously hasn't seen the light. If anyone knows more, please do get in touch.

14 March 2015

The Legion of Extraordinary Traders Presents...

Folks, it's been some time since I took bits of my 45 collection to an event and played them to some ladies and gentlemen, but next Sunday (22nd March) we'll be visiting the Earl Haig Hall in Crouch End, London as part of their LOET "Market and Social Event". I'll be joined by top London old-school club DJs Sean Bright and John The Revelator.

The same thing happens again on 26th April, and yet again on 31st May. Grab some booze, a coffee and a cake, buy yourself some clothes and a vintage Stylophone, and join me. It will be nice. And let's face it, you won't be doing much else on a Sunday afternoon.

12 March 2015

Manfred Mann/ Mike Hugg - Ski Full of Fitness Theme/ Sweet Baby Jane

Label: Ski
Year of Release: 1971

Manfred Mann were a perplexing paradox of a group at their peak. Named after their South African keyboard player and originally performing in the jazz and blues styles he so loved, they quickly morphed into a huge hit making machine, chalking up three British number ones which have become the staple of sixties oldie collections ("Do Wah Diddy Diddy", "Pretty Flamingo", "Mighty Quinn"). All are classy pop recordings, but were almost certainly a world away from the career Mann had envisaged for himself, and other stars of the time such as Scott Walker were frequently astounded at the patience he showed for such a bog-standard pop career.

By the seventies, something had clearly snapped, and Mann and co-conspirator Mike Hugg seemed to have devised a plan. They formed a new group called Manfred Mann Chapter Three focussed on experimental jazz rock, and continued to write and record other songs for commercial and advertising use. Clearly understanding that some commercial compromise was essential to making a living as a musician, Mann obviously thought that his time could be sensibly split with his pop songwriting chops being licensed for marketing purposes to partly finance other weightier projects. And indeed, why not? To this day, jazz musicians pay the bills by popping up as session musicians on all manner of other more simplistic material.

The "Ski Full of Fitness Theme" is an oddity which stems from this period, and can be widely found in charity shops and second hand shops the length and breadth of the country. Given away as part of a deal with Ski yoghurts, it's a surprisingly loose and pleasing yet strangely facile jam. "Ski - the full of fitness food!/ Feel fit for anything!/ Na na na na na na/ NA NA NA NA NA NAAAA!" they enthusiastically inform us before bursting into a bit of guitar riffola. This is not the stuff winning advertising slogans are made of, but as the brilliant magazine "Shindig" pointed out recently, the guitar jam of the main track does propel things along nicely.

Ski yoghurt was also a heavily marketed phenomenon so particular to the 1970s that mentioning it may act like a bat light to Peter Kay. Certainly in my house we devoured this exotic "fitness food", usually helping things along a bit by pouring in a spoonful of white granular sugar to make the concoction less sour. "What is the point?" you may ask, and I can only reply: "What? Of our behaviour, or this blog entry? I'm not sure I can help you in either case."

What I can tell you is that Manfred Mann Chapter Three were a very short-lived proposition, surviving for only two albums, and after this quirky period business was semi-returned to usual with the rather more rocky Manfred Mann Earth Band, who managed further top ten hits without veering things in a particularly poppy direction. Mike Hugg continued his career in jazz without Mann while also penning the legendary theme to "Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads" (partly inventing the mood of Oasis's "Don't Look Back In Anger" in the process), and presumably everything resolved itself relatively neatly. What else can you say apart from na na na na na na, and indeed, NA NA NA NA NA NA!

8 March 2015

Elliots Sunshine - 'Cos I'm Lonely/ Is It Too Late

Label: Philips
Year of Release: 1968

It's been awhile since we've had a burst of popsike on this blog, so here's some - and its written by something of a master at that. Caleb Quaye, father of Finley and a prolific session musician in his own right, is probably most admired among psychedelic pop fanatics for the thoroughly peculiar and amazing single "Baby Your Phrasing Is Bad". A pean to the difficulties of achieving a satisfactory relationship with somebody who has poor pronunciation, it wasn't a smash despite achieving some moderate airplay on Radio Scotland - but since appearing on the "Rubble" series of compilation albums, it's rightly earned its place in most "Best British Psychedelic Singles of All Time" polls.

Caleb takes a backseat here and acts as songwriter for Elliots Sunshine, an obscure pop group who only had this single to their name. His effort "'Cos I'm Lonely" sits on the flip, and is considerably less berserk than "Phrasing", content instead to bathe itself in tranquil pseudo-West Coast melodies.

The A-side is an unremarkable ballad which really isn't worth troubling with, but I'm including it here for the sake of completeness.

Very little is known about Elliots Sunshine, but by all rumoured accounts they were a proper gigging group and not a hastily pulled together aggregation of studio musicians. If anyone has any concrete information, it would be great to find out more.

As for Quaye, he eventually became a Christian evangelist and moved to the USA. That's the way it sometimes goes.

4 March 2015

Reupload - Ola and the Janglers - I Can Wait/ Eeny Meeney Miney Mo

Ola and the Janglers - I Can Wait

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1967

These days, I would hope that most people are aware of the fact that the Scandinavian countries have well-developed and extraordinarily creative music industries of their own (a sentence I'm aware sounds slightly condescending, but isn't meant to be).  In the sixties, however, if any Scandies attempted to break the UK or US markets, they were normally blocked out.  It's tempting to put this solely down to isolationism and xenophobia - and those two traits were certainly common to both Britons and Yanks at the time - but there again, when you consider that every teenage boy or girl with a guitar in London, Liverpool, Manchester, New York, LA and San Francisco (and beyond) were courting labels and darkening their knuckles knocking on the relevant doors, life was never going to be easy for somebody trying to infiltrate from the outside.

Ola and the Janglers - despite their ridiculous name, another thing I'll warrant stood in their way - were a hugely popular group in their native Sweden, scoring numerous hits.  Their material varied from the rich, weeping, Walker Brothers-esque ballad "What A Way To Die", to rather more abrasive garage poppers like "I'm Thinking Of You", straight along to this, something so downright mod it should have been given away free with all Vespa purchases.  The strummed, clanging guitars and Ola's charmingly hesitant vocals bounce keenly off Motown rhythms, and the whole thing is danceable enough to trigger activity in any well person's limbs.  It should have been a hit, and doubtless was in the areas Britons refer to as "continental Europe", but despite a "Top of the Pops" slot here in the UK, it didn't really do particularly well. 

Despite this, they were the first Swedish group ever to chart in the Billboard Hot 100 in the USA, their cover of Chris Montez's "Let's Dance" managing to climb up to number 92.  Ola's career continued in Sweden over the decades as well, recording a duet with Abba's Agnetha Fältskog in 1986 - somebody who completely changed international perceptions of Swedish music with her own career.  

Incidentally, I have to confess that I don't like the B-side to "I Can Wait" - even the title, "Eeny Meeny Miney Mo", is bloody irritating.  It's not without it's fans, though, so feel free to sample it below.  You've nothing to lose.

(This blog entry was originally uploaded in August 2010). 

1 March 2015

The Roundtable - Eli's Comin'/ Saturday Gigue

Label: Licorice Soul
Original date of release: 1969

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Jazz Club. Nice! Tonight, we've got some jazz upstarts lined up who have taken the liberty of augmenting their grooves with antique instrumentation.

We've all got "Time Tunnel" and International Ska Festival DJ Sean Bright to thank for this one. Catching up with me at a soul night in Camden, he thrust a copy of this into my hands at the bar with the blunt words: "This is the single you were after". This record, sought after by me for a year or two now, is a victim of one his clear-outs - so disgusted was he with the version of "Eli's Comin'" on the A-side ("A song I thought it would be virtually impossible to ruin") that he passed it on to me for the price of a beer.

So, this probably isn't to everybody's tastes, but it is downright unique. So unique that it's a wonder it ever got recorded in the first place. A collaboration between two members of the medieval music ensemble The Early Music Consort (David Munrow and Chris Hogwood) with UK jazzers Don Lusher, Kenny Clare and Kenny Baker, the tracks contain two drummers, a hammond organ, harpsichord, crumhorn and a whole lot of other unlikely music room instruments thrown into an audio blender. It should be complete and total chaos, an unlistenable cacophony, but it's tight and amazingly insistent. The A-side "Eli's Comin'" does indeed take liberties with the original tune, but turns it into something quite vibrant and - despite the obvious jazz flourishes - surprisingly groovy.

The flip "Saturday Gigue" allows the medieval instrumentation to come out to the fore, and gels less well, but does give you a chance to hear Munro's playing up front.

David Munro should really be given particular mention here as a remarkable individual who dedicated his life to obscure instrumentation, even commissioning reconstructions of defunct instruments. He was behind a total of fifty LPs, and a large body of soundtrack work and BBC radio programmes and British television programmes. Sadly, however, he committed suicide in 1976 while in a state of depression. You can see an example of his televisual work here, and it's worth remembering that prior to these ideas getting ITV exposure (imagine that) this was incredibly niche stuff.