29 April 2015

Dora Hall - Satisfaction/ 5 O'Clock World

Label: Reinbeau
Year of Release: 1966

Regular readers of "Left and to the Back" will know that I have a soft spot for Dora Hall. This is the wife-of-a-disposable-picnicware-magnate's fourth blog entry in total, and for anyone wanting to know the full background behind her colossal back catalogue, the answers can be found here. Literally hundreds of Hall singles are out there for the taking, and quite a few videos and LPs too.

Whether you love or loathe her output, there's no question that she covered some downright unusual tunes at times. Clearly Hall's first love was the showy swing of the easy listening kings and queens - you can hear it in her mannered, measured delivery - but she was never afraid to put that to use on modern rock hits. In this case, "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" gets the Hall makeover, being turned into a big, brassy piece of suaveness. Her vocals aren't perfect, but the style suits the track oddly well, and it has enough oomph to carry itself entertainingly across three minutes. Andrew Loog Oldham surely approved, and by the time the horn section kicks in, so will you.

Less convincing is the B-side "5 O'Clock World" which is a struggle to listen to, despite the delightful premise of the idea. 

Oh Dora. You may be the Queen of the American Thrift Store Bin, but you're the kind of artist blogs like this were invented for. I salute your memory. 

26 April 2015

Fickle Pickle - Maybe I'm Amazed/ Sitting On A Goldmine

Label: Philips
Year of Release: 1970

Paul McCartney, by his own confession, went a tiny bit odd after The Beatles split, the initial elation of "that magic feeling" of having nowhere to go soon giving way to common-or-garden boredom, inertia and vague depression. His home recorded debut solo album, while fondly regarded in general, is still seen as a missed opportunity by some. Like a series of draft sketches produced by a master painter, it taunts and teases the listener with brilliance before often ebbing away into stoned incoherence.

At the time, "Maybe I'm Amazed" was almost universally regarded as the stand-out track, another epic McCartney rock ballad in search of a more polished arrangement. Macca refused to entertain the idea of it being released as a single, though, and it seemed destined to remain album-bound, until a group of session boys at Morgan Studios in London got other ideas.

Fickle Pickle, a studio group consisting of Wil Malone (of Orange Bicycle and Motherlight) on keyboards, Geoff Gill on drums and vocals, Cliff Wade on a variety of instruments and Steve Howden on bass, picked up the song and decided to turn it into a hit single. The fact that you're reading about it on here means they obviously failed, but that's actually highly surprising. This version allows the song to spread its wings (no pun intended) fully and is a damn good guess at what a polished, non-home studio version of "Amazed" might have sounded like. And it's a corker - the drums sound more fluid than metronomic, and the backing vocals soar like the Fabs at their Abbey Road finest. Its failure is one of pop's biggest mysteries. 

It was a minor hit in the Netherlands, and in an attempt to capitalise on their success in that country an LP entitled "Sinful Skinful" was released by the boys, but failed to sell at all well. It's a reasonably nice concoction of slightly novelty-tinged turn-of-the-seventies pop, but nothing to get your knickers in a twist about. The only other highly noteworthy Fickle Pickle recording for my money is their B-side "Sam and Sadie" whose anthemic Beatles-inspired drama predates Oasis's penchant for such things.

And the "Maybe I'm Amazed" story doesn't necessarily finish there. It's also been covered by The Faces and Billy Joel, but for my money, Sandie Shaw's seldom heard and considered reading is also worth a listen. If other significant covers emerge in the future, I wouldn't be at all surprised.

22 April 2015

Dermot Morgan - Thank You Very Much Mr Eastwood/ (Garret version)

Label: Ritz
Year of Release: 1985

An appropriate one, this, since this week marks the twenty year anniversary of the first episode of "Father Ted" being broadcast  (if I'd been quicker on the ball, I'd have had this blog entry written days ago). In the leading role, Morgan's depiction of a priest filled with thwarted ambitions stuck on an island of rural idiots was fantastic. While O'Hanlon's dumb and innocent Father Dougal McGuire gets most of the obvious laughs initially, on repeated viewings it's Ted's horrendous and lonely predicament that gives the series its backbone. Without his entrapment and world-weariness, "Father Ted" would simply be a cast of idiots behaving oddly and chaotically.

As has been widely documented elsewhere, Morgan's career in Ireland far pre-dated "Father Ted". Active on radio and television comedy from 1979 onwards, he developed a reputation for sharp satire, taking on numerous authority figures or slightly dangerous targets (including the IRA). One of his earliest creations, Father Trendy, mocked priests who attempted to get down with their younger parishioners, but he was a slightly more hollow and vain creation than the priest Arthur Matthews created for the series.

Evidence of Morgan's popularity in Ireland in the eighties can be found in the fact that he was granted several novelty single releases during that period, always the hallmark of a bankable comedian. "Thank You Very Much Mr Eastwood" is perhaps the most famous of the set, and was penned to mock the predictable antics of one Barry McGuigan, the highly successful Irish featherweight boxer. Known for his habit of thanking his manager after every victory, "Thank You Very Much Mr Eastwood" rips into his clumsy speech patterns with obvious glee. If McGuigan feels like a questionable target these days, it's perhaps because, like most sports heroes, he has faded into the background in his retirement. At his peak he was an ubiquitous figure, even being a guest on the likes of "Noel's House Party". Such unquestioning reverence must have been like a red rag to a bull for Morgan, although the end efforts do ultimately leave one wondering whether a single about dodgy priests or terrorists would have aged better.

Whatever its relative merits, a UK issue of the record was granted at the time (not so daft when you consider that Frank Kelly - who went on to play Father Jack - had a hit with "Christmas Countdown" a couple of years before) although it wasn't a hit here. Still, the promo video, featuring Michael Redmond aka Father Stone, is worth a watch for all fans.

As for Morgan, as I'm sure you already know he passed away in 1998 at the age of 45. It's impossible to speculate where he would have taken his career next, but there's no question that he could have continued to have success without "Father Ted", and it's a huge tragedy that we were all denied the ability to witness this. But his performance in that series alone is an astonishing legacy, and something I - and many, many other people - will never tire of watching.

19 April 2015

Calum Bryce - Love-Maker/ I'm Glad

Label: Conder
Year of Release: 1968

One of the great music business myths is "If there's a catchy pop song on a television advert, it's sure to get re-released and become a hit". Sadly, while adverts may give some completely mediocre tracks unfair advantages in the charts, there are other good ones which seemed to have no fair wind or music industry interest behind them at all. 

"Love-Maker", for example, is a track which positively itches with hooks. From the creeping bassline to the whistling upper melody, right down to the "Lovemaker, love maker, yeah yeah yes I would" chorus, it snakes, grooves, and seduces you into its charms. With an adapted chorus of "Woodpecker, yes I would" it soundtracked cinema adverts for the popular cider drink in the sixties, but it wasn't re-released as a result. Just thinking about this fact makes me crave a Woodpecker, even though I'm not actually very keen on cider. The whole track sounds thirsty somehow. Now that's an effective piece of advertising. 

While it flopped in 1968 it has worked its way on to numerous sixties compilations since, and remains available on iTunes and Amazon, putting it outside the remit of this site. However, there's a YouTube clip here you can listen to. Original copies sell for hundreds of pounds and mine (it almost goes without saying) is a counterfeit.

Far less frequently encountered is the flip, "I'm Glad", another piece of catchy pop which is more sprightly and eager to please than it is smooth. It's featured below for all the curious pairs of ears out there.

Calum Bryce consisted of Dave Mumford on guitar and vocals, Tim Posford on bass, Mel Wayne on sax, Derick Horn on keyboards and Geoff Coxon on drums. Further work of theirs was recorded but apparently never released - however, they continued to tour for a number of years after this single's release and appeared live on the Radio One Roadshow on a number of occasions.

18 April 2015

Big Green Jammboree - 23rd April

If you've been reading this blog for long enough, you'll tend to know that I don't really mention politics here a great deal (unlike on my Twitter feed). It's not really part of the site's mission statement. Though thinking about it, we don't even really have a mission statement, unless "Visit charity shops, record shops, ebay and boot sales and come home with a ton of weird records and write about them" could be adequately described as that.

However, for the last year-and-a-half now I've been working with the Green Party in the Lambeth area, helping to give their progressive anti-austerity policies greater emphasis locally. And now they're throwing a pre-election gig. A big one. A Big Green Jammboree, at the Jamm club on the Brixton Road on the 23rd April.

Performing live will be The Discount Orchestra with their "seven piece blend of dance-floor stomp", Rachel D'Arcy and her Ukelele, and Hornman "providing underground bass and beats with earthy guitar and trippy vocals".

Non members of the party are obviously welcome to attend, and the Facebook details for the event can be found here, with the EventBrite ticket details here. It should be a very good evening indeed, whether you're interested in the Green Party or not. If it's not a great night, I'll happily give you a free copy of Paul Nicholas' "Reggae Like It Used To Be" with its surprise psychedelic B-side "Lamplighter" on the way out.

(That's a lie. I won't).

16 April 2015

Reupload - Paul Nicholas - Lamplighter

Paul Nicholas - Lamplighter

Label: RSO
Year of Release: 1976 (recorded 1971)

In a nineties interview, Jarvis Cocker once said that whilst he was high on drugs, he began to believe that he was in fact Paul Nicholas, the curly haired, lovable rogue of "Just Good Friends" fame.  He made it sound as if the entire experience was an appalling one, a bad trip from hell, but in fact this record proves that a way-out Nicholas may not be such a terrible thing after all.

For the benefit of overseas readers, "Just Good Friends" was a sit-com following the adventures of Nicholas' character Vince Pinner, a plastic cigarette smoking, softly spoken lothario whose catchphrase to his unfortunate girlfriend Penny was a slightly wounded and unimaginative "Sorry, Pen" (hers, for the record, was "You're a rat, Vince" which isn't much better).  However, long before that sit-com he had a varied career in film and theatre, a string of tepid pop hits in the seventies, and in the sixties had worked with Screaming Lord Sutch and the Savages, Pete Townshend (covering his song "Join My Gang") and even David Bowie, who wrote "Over The Wall We Go" for him.  For somebody who is best remembered as a rather middle-of-the-road figure, Paul Nicholas actually has a CV many credible rock stars would give their eye teeth for.

Despite even this, "Lamplighter" is still a surprise and also something of a mystery.  Recorded in 1971 but appearing in 1976 as the B-side to the dreadful hit single "Reggae Like It Used To Be", it's filled to the brim with shimmering Eastern-sounding guitar lines, stripped to the bone, threadbare drum patterns, howling, almost Iggy-ish vocals, and nonsensical lyrics, like a particularly perverse White Stripes joke.  You can easily imagine Nicholas wearing leather trousers whilst performing the track, perhaps beckoning to a lady in the front row.  It sounds like a sixties nugget, but was recorded both too late and by the wrong person, and has remained largely ignored until quite recently.

Record dealers are getting wise to the contents of this track these days, and frequently pricing it up at £5 or over as a "psychedelic oddity" despite the dodgy A side, but there are still cheap copies about - I saw one for 50p in a well-known second hand store chain quite recently, so you should keep an eye open for it and grab one if ever you get the chance.  It's both a talking point and actually a genuinely good track.

14 April 2015

Emerging #3 - Girls Names, Magic Gang and Team Me

Time for another look at the best new tracks that have caught my attention in the last month…

And I'm stunned to report that among the most astonishing pieces of work to catch my ear is "Zero Triptych", a near eleven minute single issued by Belfast band Girls Names. Epic singles are usually, it has to be said, the last resort of the creatively bankrupt, the work of people who believe that a long, repetitive and overwrought song might make more of a splash in the underground than a radio-friendly track. But this is brilliant - the band don't waste a single idea, taking the listener on a journey through icy eighties synth atmospherics to krautrock to psychedelic rock, all topped up with their own neo-gothic drama. Like Lusts, who we explored last month, this is the noise of people who have clearly dipped and dabbled heavily in the past to create their sound, but ended up with something that sounds definably 21st Century.

Not since InAura's "This Month's Epic" in 1995 has a deliberately epic track been approached with an overload of brilliant ideas. Sadly, due to its sheer length, I fear that "Zero Triptych" may be guaranteed the same ignoble fate - but it's an impressive way to fall.

Brighton's Magic Gang are much more trad-indie in their stylings, touching on both the lo-fi scratchiness of Pavement and - yet again - a certain amount of early nineties British indie slouching. Have all aspiring new bands in the UK bought copies of "Happy Daze" off Amazon in the last few months?

Nonetheless, their new B-side "It's Alright" in particular is the sound of slightly stoned youths joyously kicking around ideas like empty coke cans. It slacks in a slightly urgent sounding way, even though that makes no sense whatsoever, and has a jewel of a chorus.

Meanwhile, Norway's Team Me have shown unexpected volumes of generosity by giving away "F Is For Faker" for free. Normally I have a tendency to react badly to anthemic alternative rock, but "Faker" is so joyous it's impossible not to be swept along. Like the firework blasting finale to a headlining set in front of thousands of people, Team Me will probably have to suffice with a few plastic pint glasses of warm lager being held aloft at their club gigs instead - at least for now - but there's no questioning the energy and ambition here.

"F is for Faker" is also unmistakably pop enough that it may reach an audience beyond the alternative fringes given enough of a chance. This is the stuff crossovers are made of.

That's it for this month, although I have to admit that this trawl for new bands is throwing up more obstacles than I ever anticipated. Naming no names, but the quicker online bloggers and critics and indeed musicians themselves realise that twee mandolin-inflected twaddle should now only have two places left in society - mobile phone adverts and the Eurovision Song Contest - the easier life will be. And God knows it's ruining the Eurovision Song Contest for me as well.

12 April 2015

Sunchariot - Firewater/ The Only Girl I Knew

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1973

A trend has emerged in recent years for compiling psychedelic pop and rock obscurities from the early seventies on to CD compilations. Now that the sixties era seems to have been largely hoovered clean, obscure quirky rock and art pop with psychedelic influences from that period is gaining popularity. Sunchariot seem to have escaped a place on one of these albums so far, but there's no good reason for that.

Take "Firewater" for example. It's a truly berserk piece of rock music about the plight of the Native American, filled to the brim with hollering noises, dramatic tribal vocals and an urgent instrumental break. There are shades of stomping glam about this, but nothing dominant in that sense. For the most part, it sounds like the work of a proper rock band swimming around in a period concept for all it's worth (and indeed, the seventies was awash with these ideas. Hard to know who started it, but I suspect Jeff Lynne got the ball rolling with the Idle Race's "Days Of Broken Arrows", and finished it with ELO's "Wild West Hero" - but perhaps that's too simplistic an overview).

At least one member of Sunchariot went on to far more successful ventures. Dave Howman (whose name appears to have been spelt "Hawman" on the credits here) went on to co-write songs for - among other people -  Monty Python, including "Brian" in the "Life Of Brian" and "Every Sperm Is Sacred" in "The Meaning Of Life". He's a multiple BAFTA nominated songwriter who continues to create soundtrack work and play with his band The Ruthless Brothers.

As for the rest of the group, I'm afraid I'm unsure of their whereabouts. If anyone knows more, please speak up.

11 April 2015

The Legion of Extraordinary Traders

That's right - I'll be back DJ'ing at the LOET market event at Earl Haig Hall, Crouch End on Sunday 26th April. Vintage pinball machines, coffee, cake, booze and roasts will combine with the sounds of soul, funk, mod, psychedelia and classic pop, with efforts from me and semi-legendary London old-school DJs Sean Bright and John The Revelator.

Sean also promises to also be back with a collection of highly reasonably priced records for sale and also some home made toys of Delia Derbyshire at work in the BBC Radiophonic Workshop (which caused such a massive stir on Twitter the last time I mentioned it).

Put it in your diary. Now. I'm telling, not asking, with this. The Facebook event page is here

8 April 2015

J. A. Freedman - Love Got A Mind Of Its Own/ When You Walked Out Of My Life

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1969

A more recent enthusiastic addition to the list of records known only as "popsike", "Love Got A Mind Of Its Own" is a peculiar yet lovely piece of singer-songcraft to be filed alongside Bill Fay or Nick Garrie. Thudding but minimal basslines connect with a meandering and loping ballad and some powerful vocals, and the effect of the whole is actually pretty marvellous. 

However, it's the A-side that really got all the publicity at the time - naturally. "When You Walked Out Of My Life" was the winning entry representing Great Britain at the International Grand Prix RTL Music Competition in 1969, organised by Radio Luxembourg. It's not a patch on its flip, unfortunately, being pretty standard run-of-the-mill balladry, but its not without its fans online.

J.A. Freedman, aka Jules Freedman, issued an album through Decca in the same year entitled "My Name is J.A. Freedman… I Also Sing" which is now often cited as one of the scarcest sixties LPs in that label's catalogue. Featuring top session workers Herbie Flowers, Kenny Clare and Don Lusher, it's apparently hit-and-miss but the hits - such as "Love Got A Mind…" - are strong enough for it to finally see some belated acclaim falling its way and the asking price rising drastically.

No doubt dismayed by the low sales, Decca dropped Freedman not long afterwards, but he reemerged in 1973 with a hat trick of singles on EMI, which also flopped. These days, he works as a guitar tutor in schools in Sutton and Croydon.

4 April 2015

Mick Robertson - Then I Change Hands/ Annabelle

Label: CBS
Year of Release: 1975

As I've said before, it's easy to regard 1975 as being one of pop's least enticing years, but the mainstream still had its little wobbles. And this is one of the most peculiar examples of the period.

Mick Robertson was the host of the ITV children's programme "Magpie" at this time, and had picked up an unexpectedly enthusiastic female following and plenty of teen magazine space on the basis of his long curly locks and moody looks. This didn't escape the attention of PR man Peter Thompson and music industry mover and shaker Clive Selwood, who felt that, provided Robertson could hold a tune, there was no reason to confine his talents to "Magpie". Why not try and see if he could produce a few hit singles and albums? Given that the practice of getting attractive TV stars to front records has had mixed results over the years, but the odds are generally more favourable than punting on a complete unknown, nobody could blame them for having a go.

The first single "The Tango's Over" sold moderately well but failed to crack the charts. This, the follow-up, is where things start to get a bit strange. Whatever you'd classify it as being, "Then I Change Hands" is not really a mainstream pop record. Rather, it actually sounds peculiarly ahead of its time - Robertson howls up an angst ridden storm while distorted guitars and creepy string arrangements buzz around him, sounding as woebegone as someone from the nineties indie underground. Luke Haines and Stephen Jones almost certainly weren't listening, but they could have been. Indeed, Jarvis Cocker could have been getting "This Is Hardcore" styled ideas from this single. 

"Sometimes I feel lonely… / Then I change hands" Robertson cracks throughout, leading a lot of people to conclude that this song is actually a tribute to the stress relieving joys of masturbation.  I couldn't say for certain, but if that's the case, it makes it one of the most audacious rock stunts ever. A children's presenter wailing in despairing and lonely tones about wanking on a record had never been done before, and will almost certainly never be tried again. Given that Robertson co-authored the track, only he could possibly state what the purpose of the single was, and whether it was actually his ambition to subtly corrupt the youth with ambigious lyrics about bedtime tissue action.

Suffice to say, it wasn't a hit. Selwood blamed CBS for not pressing up enough copies to keep up with demand, whereas I'd argue they probably guessed this wouldn't sell well outside of Robertson's core fanbase and simply went through the motions. But nonetheless, I do really like this single. If I'd heard it blind as a new release, I'd be impressed - and that's a serious achievement for what was supposed to be a cynical money-spinning project.

An album with the same title followed. It flopped, and CBS broke the contract, allowing Robertson to return to the day job. We may never hear the like again. 

1 April 2015

Syzygy - Light Is All Around/ Instrumental

Label: BBC Records & Tapes
Year of Release: 1981

BBC Records and Tapes is a rum little label. For every release that makes sense - the theme tune to a well-known TV show, or a performance from one of Broadcasting House's best known stars - there's another that has been labelled so poorly it's impossible to understand what it relates to, particularly with the distance of time. The Beeb didn't really seem to understand marketing as well back in the seventies and eighties.

And this is an example of something I stumbled across a copy of and spent ages trying to obtain some context for. I drew endless blanks until Henry29 on the 45Cat forum told me. And it's like this: Syzygy consist of Dominic Glynn and Justin Mackay. Glynn eventually became known for his arrangement of the Series 23 Doctor Who theme. This was then subsequently used as a piece of incidental music throughout the 23rd series of Who, "Tardis Delta Core", in 1986 - although what it was used for in 1981 at the time of release is still staggeringly unclear.

The track itself is very much of its time, and the instrumental flip without the singing children is, for me, the preferable version.

Glynn and Mackay also had a very successful career composing music for computer games for the Commodore 64 and Atari. Mike Harding, credited on the label, is apparently not the Mike Harding (as in seventies folkie-turned-comedian) which is something of a pity, as I like the idea of his dour moustachioed figure grappling with mixing some synthesisers and exclaiming "Bugger me!" a lot.

KLF and Robert Anton Wilson fans may like to note that the Timelords "Doctorin' The Tardis" video featured Ford Timelord with the number 23 painted on his bodywork in a few areas. This record, on the other hand, was a piece of incidental music from series 23 of Doctor Who. And when we featured Driver 67 many moons ago, I made the point that the last car to be called on the tannoy on the record is "Car 23". Where is all this leading to? Who can tell… The light is all around, readers.

Except, of course, Dominic Glynn got in touch with me on Twitter to say that absolutely none of the above is correct. This is a different Syzygy and this record had absolutely nothing to do with him whatsoever.

This is turning into a wild goose chase, so if anyone does know why this record was issued and who created it, please do let me know.