28 June 2015

Herbie's People - You Thrill Me To Pieces/ Sweet and Tender Romance

Label: CBS
Year of Release: 1965

Formed in Bilston as Danny Cannon and The Ramrods in 1959 then going through a couple of minor line-up changes before becoming Herbie's People, this lot were a highly versatile live act in the Midlands area. Consisting of Len Beddow on lead guitar and vocals, Alan Lacey on drums, Herbie on lead vocals, Mick Taylor on guitar and vocals and Peter Walton on bass, they moved on from raw Buddy Holly styled rock and roll to diversify their style enormously to take on harmony pop and electric organ dominated melodies.

The band were apparently a powerful live force and seemed like an obvious shoe-in for the charts so far as their management and (presumably) CBS were concerned, but were dogged by bad luck. At one point they planned to release "Semi Detached Suburban Mr James" as a single but were beaten to the punch by Manfred Mann, who scored a hit with it instead (though Herbie's People's version was granted a US release). 

"You Thrill Me To Pieces" was also unlucky not to have been a hit and seemed dangerously close to becoming one after a lot of radio and TV exposure. It apparently appeared in some chart company's Top Forties, but not in the official run-down, and as such is technically a flop so far as the powers that Beeb are concerned. It's light, frothy, twangy and harmonic, and listen hard enough and you can just about hear the huge raft of influences the band had accumulated. 

I far prefer the B-side "Sweet and Tender Romance", though, which is so enjoyed by all popsike aficionados that it's available to buy through all the usual mp3 outlets (though you can listen to it on YouTube here). There's an droning, organ driven wooziness to "Romance" and steady climbing melody which makes you think that the band must have found moving with the times to absorb psychedelic influences to be a total breeze. And you'd be right - when Pete Walton left the group in 1968 they changed the group name to Just William and recorded the much-compiled and really very pleasing "Cherrywood Green" for Spark. 

That was by no means the end for Herbie's People, though. They reformed countless times to gig again on the Midlands circuit, but finally decided to throw in the towel, apparently for good, in November 2011. As we all live in times where bands get back together for one final hurrah on multiple occasions, though, who can say for sure?

24 June 2015

Sarah Jane - Listen People/ The World Is Round

Label: Pye
Year of Release: 1966

The post-nineties music scene has been completely flooded with female stars after a long period of women in rock and pop - and certainly female singer-songwriters - being rather sidelined. That some of the largest selling records of the last fifteen years have been made by Adele, Amy Winehouse, Lily Allen, and (*sharp intake of breath, wince*) Dido is a sign of the marketplace becoming a lot more even, not through any kind of concerted right-on media campaign, but entirely through consumer choice.

It's easy to forget that back in the sixties there was a similar push and rush of female artists, although back then a hell of a lot more of them failed to get more than one hit, and many more didn't chart at all. For every Sandie Shaw there was an Adrienne Poster, for every Lulu a Bobbie Miller. In fact, I'm going to mention Twinkle's late non-hit "Micky" at this juncture not because it's especially relevant to the record in hand (it isn't at all) but because its failure to chart is one of the era's biggest injustices. It's my blog and I'll whine if I want to.

But moving on to the matter in hand - Sarah Jane's version of the Gouldman-penned "Listen People" is an understated proposition to say the least. In fact, it almost turns understated into a genre of its own. A delicate orchestra brushes strings in the background while Sarah Jane sings so softly it's as if the whole performance is being carried on a summer breeze. Even turning the volume up to ten probably wouldn't trouble the neighbours. It wouldn't be the last time such a style took hold, and nor was it the first - Marianne Faithfull also had similar subtle ways to begin with, and Vashti Bunyan would certainly usually favour the delicate arrangement over the strident. Unlike either of those artists, however, Sarah Jane would neither score immediate success nor achieve eventual acclaim, and this single seems to have been her only outing.

"Listen People" was also issued as a single by Herman's Hermits in the same year, where it managed to pick up a bit more of an audience (though not in the UK, where it never achieved A-side status). I'm afraid I consider it to be the inferior version, though I have no doubt it might have sounded much stronger coming through people's kitchen or factory radios.

As for who Sarah Jane is or was… I'm afraid I have absolutely no information. So if you know her, or indeed you are her, please step forward and make yourself known.

21 June 2015

Savwinkle and Turnerhopper - Your Mother Thinks I'm A Hoodlum/ Dirtyin' My Thing

Label: Pye
Year of Release: 1970

When a record has a title like "Your Mother Thinks I'm A Hoodlum" and is by a pair of artists known as Savwinkle and Turnerhopper, it's hard to walk past. If it's bad, it's bound to be ridiculously bad, and if it's good, chances are it's going to live up to its title in all manner of interesting ways.

And indeed, it doesn't really disappoint, especially as a social document. Lyrically it's themed on the topic of a man's significant other's mother disliking him due to his long hair. Throughout the track, reasons are listed as to why this is a ludicrous stance - after all, he pays his taxes, he doesn't drink heavily… in all respects, he's an upstanding member of society. And of course, by 1970 long hair on men was increasingly common in mainstream society and about to become the norm (though try telling that to my mother's elderly neighbours in the mid-nineties - perhaps there's room for another single in this world entitled "Your Elderly Slightly Bigoted Neighbours Think I'm A Hooligan"). This could have been a cross-over novelty single about the tipping point in men's hairstyles, a song for all the hairy fellows out there with respectable day jobs and unexciting social habits.  

Musically this is fairly stripped back and raw, rattling along like an acoustic freakbeat single or a particularly agitated Mungo Jerry session. Meanwhile, over on the flip, Messrs Savwinkle and Turnerhopper rant about the negative habits of all would-be critics out there on "Dirtyin' My Thing". This probably isn't the place to suggest that it's considerably weaker than the A-side, then…

The excellent Purepop blog covered this record many years ago and managed to identify the artists responsible. The duo were Steve Turner and Derek Savage of a Battersea, South London based act called The Saturday Band. They ceased playing live at the cusp of the sixties and opened up their own talent agency, but still harboured dreams of writing and performing themselves - step forward producer Ray Hammond who shared office space with them and arranged a one-off deal with Pye. It seems to have been their only recorded output before finally throwing in the towel, though I'd be delighted to be proved otherwise. 

18 June 2015

Emerging #5 - C Duncan, Kid Wave and The Sticklers

Welcome to our monthly catch-up of the most interesting new music out there. Summer is upon us, and as seems to generally be the tradition at this time of year, the online tannoys filled with new noise have gone slightly quiet. And certainly, anything great seems to be covered by mainstream sources within seconds, as we're about to find out this month. But no fear, let's press ahead anyway…

Glasgow's C Duncan has been a surprising new discovery for me personally. The son of two classical musicians, his work sounds grand, complex and mysterious without once tipping over the edge into pomposity or ludicrousness. Choral structures meet folk melodies and even elements of very late sixties psychedelia - think The Nice at their very best rather than their over-reaching worst, then multiply that goodness several times over again.

In particular, the track "Garden" feels like a refreshing return to intricate seventies art-pop with a dash of modern folk thrown in. Some critics have thrown in The Fleet Foxes as a comparison, but this is considerably more intelligent and captivating than the disappointing "Helplessness Blues".

The Guardian, The Quietus and The Line Of Best Fit have already leapt on the "Architect" album, so my little bit of acclaim here isn't really news - but if you haven't noticed those reviews yet, now's your chance to listen.

Anglo-Swedish outfit Kid Wave, on the other hand, have caused so many ripples in the mainstream media that even Shaun Keaveny has been playing them on the BBC6 music breakfast show - and squeezing any new music on to that show seems nothing short of miraculous these days.

Still, the single "Honey" deserves it. The aural fog of multiple effects pedals being triggered means that comparison with early nineties shoegazing seem inevitable, but the track also drips with the kind of pop suss that was seldom found in that movement. On the contrary, "Honey" teases and seduces with its chorus, trapping you with its sense of dreamy elation.

And while The Sticklers' "Mr Needlove" came out last year, this section of the blog wasn't running then, and they do have a new album in the pipeline… so I can be excused.

"Mr Needlove" is still available from all good online mp3 outlets of course, and showcases London's The Sticklers delivering folk rock which is surprisingly hard and angular. Snapping staccato vocals combine with an urgent sounding chorus, and there's more than enough quirk and energy here to push it into new and interesting territories. In fact, it's as New Wave and art school as this kind of thing tends to get, showing that the band are clearly capable of picking up the fiddle where Dexys Midnight Runners left off and taking it on new and exciting journeys. 

17 June 2015

Reupload - Brindley D Spender - The Company I Keep/ On A Day Like Today

Label: Domain
Year of Release: 1968

In the world of that thing we call "popsike", it's beginning to get tougher and tougher to find items which remain uncompiled.  So many compilations summing up the late sixties era have by now been released by labels both big and small that very few stones are left unturned - and when you consider some of the sheer nonsense that's been remastered by major labels, you could be forgiven for thinking the bottom of the barrel has so many scratch-marks on it that it might resemble a Pollock painting in etched form.

This is why turning up something which remains generally unreferenced is a huge thrill, and whilst I wouldn't want to make massive claims for "The Company I Keep", it's still a damn strong example of popsike balladry, having the same rueful, dark charm that a great many of the more reflective moments on the "Circus Days" series of compilation albums had.  In this case, Mr Spender appears to be giving a girlfriend of his a thorough dressing-down for thinking ill of his friends and associates, and failing to be polite and welcoming.  Perhaps his lady friend had been bored shitless by their talk of musical obscurities.  It's difficult to say - but what we can ascertain from the grooves we're presented with here is that the track has a simultaneously dreamy and dark nature, pulling in the delicate but detailed orchestral arrangements so beloved of many artists during this era, but adding a layer of spite on top which sounds as if might actually be genuine.  There's a summery nature to the disc, but rest assured there are thunder-clouds on the horizon, which gives the record a bit of a kick that many of its more well-known cousins definitely lacked.

Brindley D Spender is something of an enigma, but I have managed to ascertain that his real name is Ken Smart, and he'd previously been a member of the Rubble compiled Sons of Fred, as well as a member of Odyssey who were briefly signed to the independent Strike label.  From there, the trail goes cold and it's impossible for me to ascertain what became of him or where he went next (if anywhere).  If anyone knows, please check in and share the information.

I can't find much information on Domain Records either, although it would seem that they were an indie manufactured and distributed by President if my basic identification of British sixties pressing styles is anything to go by - and it's probably not.  (And don't call me sad.  You won't be calling me sad when I find a really rare Beatles outsource pressing in Oxfam through learning this stuff, will you?  You will?  Oh).

(This blog entry was originally uploaded in June 2011. I don't have any new information to impart, unfortunately). 

14 June 2015

Nicky James - Reaching For The Sun/ No Life At All

Label: Philips
Year of Release: 1969

After the first 30 seconds of playing this one, I really thought I'd found a surefire winner here, a record that makes you want to go on Google and check you're not going mad or remembering 60s rock history incorrectly - because initially, it seems unthinkable this wouldn't have been compiled or talked about somewhere else already.

"Reaching For The Sun" is unbelievably confident sounding at first, charging through your stereo speakers like Roy Orbison and Scott Walker riding together on stallions. Reg Guest - who also arranged a great deal of Walker's work - is partly to thank for exercising as much thundery drama from the track as possible, and typically for Guest, managing to find a way of expressing an epic idea without falling back on the worst easy listening cliches. Rather, "Reaching For The Sun" has the kind of clanging bells and rolling drums of a contemporary late sixties track like The Herd's "From The Underworld", and measures up to the best of his other arrangements from this period.

Ultimately though, "Reaching For The Sun" is one of those tracks that promises something awe-inspiring and then slides back into mere goodness. The epic roll of the first minute isn't really followed up with a convincing peak of a chorus, and you're left to wonder what could have been achieved with a few careful rewrites. But even as it stands, it's an unjustly obscure piece of work - not even listed on the artist's Wikipedia page, for shame - which deserves a bit more respect.

Nicky James had a long and varied career from the early sixties onwards, never managing to become much more than a Birmingham scene hero in the process. Born in Tipton, but shifting to Birmingham as a young man, he was initially a member of Denny Laine and the Diplomats before recording solo work for Pye, and was also briefly in The Jamesons with John Walker of the Walker Brothers. Famed locally for his extremely powerful vocals, he issued a brace of singles throughout the sixties, following his acclaimed 1963 Pye single "My Colour Is Blue" with issues on both Columbia and Philips, but none were hits. His B-side "Silver Butterfly" was compiled on to volume 17 of the Rubble series of compilation albums, but beyond that his output has been largely untouched since.

The Moody Blues signed him to their Threshold label in the seventies which should perhaps have seen a shift in his fortunes, but none of the singles or the two albums ("Every Home Should Have One" and "Thunderthroat") charted, and that was the end of his recording career. During the noughties a new album "Black Country Boy" was in the process of being created, but sadly James died following complications with a brain tumour in 2007, and the work never saw the light of day.

I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for other singles of his in the future.

10 June 2015

Dutch Elm - You're Gone/ Donna/ Poetry In Motion

Label: Rox
Year of Release: 1978

This is another case of me being led up the garden path - the record store selling this record labelled it as "obscure new wave", and I took a random punt on it in the hope that I'd be buying something if not good, then at least slightly unusual. A fair assumption, after all - Rox were a Liverpool based independent label who did have punk bands on their roster. But as soon as the needle hit the grooves at home, I realised something was up. This is pretty much old school rock and roll given a tiny bit of seventies attitude and spittle.

The A-side "You're Gone" is, though, quite an energetic and commanding pub rock performance, and if it isn't quite new wave it is certainly rough and ready. If Dutch Elm had been plying this particular kind of old school sound a mere four or five years earlier, they'd have probably been respected lights in the pub rock movement, but by 1978 this probably seemed slightly old hat and only likely to appeal to the faithful rock and rollers. But even so, the seventies (and early eighties) still had those in spades, and it's easy to imagine them doing well within their niche.

The flip side tracks "Donna" and "Poetry In Motion" are straight covers and add very little to the originals. I can only guess that they were included to showcase some elements of Dutch Elm's live set.

As for who they were, search me. This appears to have been their only release, but if you do have more information, let me know.

7 June 2015

The Spectrum - Glory/ Nodnol

Label: RCA
Year of Release: 1969

The Spectrum are starting to pick up a bit of love from sixties pop-pickers these days, who are recognising that while they never really did try very hard to pass the electric lemonade test, they still produced some strong pop singles. For my money, the previously featured "Heading for A Heatwave" is a high water mark, and indeed it did manage to sell in huge quantities in Spain.

This particular disc of theirs attracts a lot of interest for its vaguely unorthodox flip side "Nodnol", one of those peculiar late sixties tracks that is clearly inspired by the sailed ship of psychedelia but also pre-empts some of the oncoming noises of seventies glam. Those stomping, tumbling drums, fey cockney vocals (in the chorus, at least) and thudding piano lines are clearly beckoning in the new era.

The actual A-side "Glory" is a piece of optimistic pop (poptimism?) which tries to lift the listener's spirits with its gospel chorus. Somehow though, for my money it doesn't really sound raw or passionate enough to quite do the job.

For most of their career The Spectrum consisted of Tony Atkins on lead guitar, Bill Chambers on organ, Colin Forsey on vocals, Keith Forsey on drums and Tony Judd on bass. Keith Forsey went on to write "Flashdance (What A Feeling)" and "(Don't You) Forget About Me", besides acting as sticksman on Donna Summer's "I Feel Love". Now that, my friends, is a career most drummers could only dream of.

3 June 2015

Trade Mark - The Days of Pearly Spencer/ Baby, You Make It Real

Label: RSO
Year of Release: 1978

"Days of Pearly Spencer" is possibly the most iconic sixties single never to have been a hit in the UK. Largely but not entirely thanks to Marc Almond's hit nineties cover version, it's since been rediscovered afresh and given the respect it deserves. Propelled by the same intense melodrama as Scott Walker's bleakest best and focusing its lyrical attention on some kind of doomed, poverty stricken post-apocalyptic scenario ("Iron trees smother the air/ but withering they stand and stare/ through eyes that neither know nor care/ where the grass has gone") it's the kind of record that probably could only have been written around that time. 

Like a lot of doom-laden pop, however, what it does do is tread a very fine line between genius and adolescent preposterousness, which is probably why I nearly hit the floor laughing the first time this version leaked out of my stereo speakers. For this, for reasons known only to its creators, is a pumped-up, adrenalised seventies disco version of "Pearly Spencer". My first thought was that this was such a mismatch of ideas that it was tongue-in-cheek in its intentions, but it seems doubtful. Someone clearly heard the original and noticed, somewhere buried in its grooves, the soundtrack to a pumping Saturday night. 

Many liberties are taken with the original arrangement here. The chorus is altered so that the phrase "Pearly Spencer! Pearly Spencer!" is repeated by enthusiastic backing singers, akin to denizens of a doomed city sounding the melodic signal for a Batman or Mighty Mouse styled super-hero. The gothic melodrama is thus reduced to sketchy cartoonish action, film noir translated into an explosion of Zaps and Kapows. 

While I can't make up my mind whether this translation is inspired or ridiculous beyond measure, what's interesting is how well it actually works on the second or third listen once the presumably unintentional joke wears thin. Trade Mark have a point - the circling orchestra hook in the chorus of the original does, when sped up, lend itself well to dancefloor urgency. McWilliams's explosive melodrama can actually be adapted to camp finger-pointing. Because disco was such a maligned form by 1978, the logical conclusion to draw is that some disrespect was intended in this cover version, but Trade Mark were apparently French (consisting of the brothers Gorges and Michel Costa) and it's much more likely that they wanted to adapt a popular hit song (in their country) for the local nightclub. For pulling off the seemingly impossible and noticing those possible underlying qualities to "Pearly Spencer", they deserve some kind of medal. And of course, as we're all way past all that "Disco Sucks!" nonsense in the present day and age, we can enjoy the end results with no baggage attached.

As we're on the topic of David McWilliams, though, I'll use this entry as an excuse to praise his sixties output, which is seldom discussed these days. The likes of "Three O'Clock Flamingo Street", "Question of Identity", and "Mister Satisfied" show a folk songwriter who deserves to be remembered for far more than "Pearly Spencer". The compilation "Days of David McWilliams" deserves to be tracked down and savoured by many more people.