29 July 2015

Reupload - John Bryant - A Million Miles Away/ It's Dark

Label: Fontana
Year of Release: 1967

This, seemingly, is one of the rarest records in my collection. We've had these discussions before, of course - rare does not necessarily equal "valuable" or even collectible, so this in itself isn't a terribly impressive statement. On many occasions I have placed this single in the pile to go to the charity shop only to remove it and return it to the box from whence it came, purely because it's the only copy of it I've ever seen and to just brutally discard it in an unsentimental fashion runs against every instinct I have, however downright daft those instincts may be.

I have other sentimental reasons besides. This record was originally a joke gift to my father from a friend of his. Given that my Dad's name is John Bryant, he thought it would be highly amusing to ask why he'd hidden his talents for so long. The single became a family joke for a long time after that, with my Dad winding me up as a gullible five-year old by declaring to me, with apparent sincerity, that it was him singing. This felt astonishing to me. I loved records as much then as I do now, and the "fact" that my Dad had once released one made him almost superhuman in my eyes and I spun it on our chunky old record player (complete with sliding cabinet doors) on many occasions. Later being informed that I was, in fact, the victim of a cruel hoax was probably the first lesson in the long chain of life lessons we have to endure to eventually realise that our parents are not Godlike creatures after all - neither faultless nor all-knowing nor flop Fontana recording artists. Maybe the seeds of this blog were actually born the very day I was told the truth. Only a shrink could confirm that one.

Nonetheless, I rescued this record from a box of unwanted vinyl my parents were going to give to a charity shop in the nineties, and it's stayed in my collection ever since... and then I was slightly shocked to learn that a copy of it sold on ebay recently for £162. Apparently collectors of the Fontana label have huge trouble tracking this one down, and it's a sought-after release for that reason alone.

As for what it's actually like, back in September 2008 when I originally uploaded this record, I wrote the following:

"Even though I don't actually think this single is a masterpiece, it's the only release that's ever caused my entire family (rather than just me) to collectively puzzle and ponder about the whereabouts of the artist, and wonder if he possibly might be a distant relative. A quick google search and scour around some sixties sites reveals that John Bryant had three singles out on Fontana in the sixties, and one on MCA entitled "I Bring the Sun" which the "Happening 45" online store says is "Psychedelic pop manna from heaven, with mellotron, wah wah and tripped out daydream lyrics."

"A Million Miles Away", on the other hand, is most definitely not psychedelic. John Bryant sounds rather like one of the many folk singer-songwriters of the period who got rushed into major label studios to have an orchestra bunged behind their compositions, and I'll be frank, this really isn't anything much to flip your wig about. It's a perfectly pleasant three minutes, with his rich, deep voice musing upon the pleasures of solitude on the harbour, but anyone expecting a find on a par with Bill Fay is going to be sorely disappointed. The flip side "It's Dark" is rather more bouncy and perhaps more interesting, but there's not much in the contest."

John Bryant - now largely known as John D Bryant - came forward from the shadows and pointed me in the direction of his website, where more songs can be found as well as his other media projects. He seems to be something of an entertainment industry mover and shaker these days.

Anyone wanting to buy "A Million Miles Away" from me - and it is slightly scuffed due to my enthusiasm as a small child, as you can hear - you might have to wait. I'm not that interested in selling it yet, but I am about to embark on a very expensive house move, so who knows how I'll feel in the next few months…

26 July 2015

Dave Travis - Angela Jones/ Alberta

Label: Spark
Year of Release: 1975

Yes, I know. We all want this to be a cover version of "Angela Jones" performed by ex-Radio One DJ Dave Lee Travis. You do, I do… everyone wants to get stuck in to the absurdity of that particular scenario. Sadly, though, that's not who this record is by. Rather, Dave Travis was (is?) a versatile British guitarist and singer who has sessioned for a wide variety of rockabilly artists including Charlie Feathers and Buddy Knox. 

Despite the lack of novelty factor, this version of "Angela Jones" is OK, taking a lot of its cues from the Joe Meek produced minor sixties hit for Michael Cox and adding little new apart from Travis's much more confident, deeper and more rounded vocal. Why it was seen as a cover version which might be ripe for the mid-seventies market is anyone's guess, but clearly it wasn't as it totally failed to chart despite the forest of naffness that surrounded it in the British music scene at that time. 

Dave Travis released a few other singles on Spark and continued to gig and play and release albums until well into the late eighties. A popular live draw on the rockabilly revival circuit at that time, unfortunately his present whereabouts aren't clear to me - but it wouldn't surprise me at all to be informed that he's still going strong. 

22 July 2015

Panic - She's Not There/ Ticket To The Tropics

Label: PRT
Year of Release: 1982

I recently went on an experimental binge-buy of obscure eighties synth-pop singles. There are some good reasons behind this - firstly, when the genre hit its highs, it really produced some absolutely corking singles (some readers of this blog may not agree with that sentiment, but I grew up at just the right time to find it truly other-worldly. These days, of course, it just sounds like fantastic pop when done correctly). Secondly, I'm in the process of trying to buy a house and it's probably one of the cheapest vintage genres to buy for the cash-strapped record collector, occupying the same kind of budget slot that obscure glam rock records held in the nineties. You can pick all sorts of interesting tracks up for a mere 99p.

Take this version of The Zombies "She's Not There" for example. Synth-pop versions of classic sixties records were none too unusual - we've already had "Summer In The City" and "Day Tripper" on this blog - but this one takes the original and utterly remodels it, noting the extreme eeriness of the sixties version and turning into an icy futuristic blast. Some people will consider it to be sacrilege, but it's definitely an interesting piece of work, and certainly not a lazy cover. The Dub Version on the B-side in particular takes matters forward and creates a spacey, atmospheric and largely instrumental piece of work which moves so far from the beat blueprint that you'd almost struggle to identify it.

(Entry continues beneath the sound files).

Label: PRT
Year of Release: 1983

Panic's follow-up single "Ticket To The Tropics" was an original group composition, and is a fatter, fuller piece of work, dropping the cold minimalism and padding itself out into sophisticated eighties pop. Again, though, the remix on the flip side takes the track into more interesting directions, adding echo, and a doomy atmosphere. Panic really seemed to excel at mysterious soundscapes if these two singles are anything to go by.

Unfortunately, anyone wondering who they were isn't going to find any answers from me. I have no bloody clue. 45cat didn't even have these singles listed on their usually ridiculously comprehensive website (I've remedied that) and the rest of the Internet isn't helping me out much either. The fact that Panic is a horrible name for the purposes of Google is also hindering me. If you know more, please do drop me a line.

19 July 2015

Nite People - P.M./ Season of The Rain

Label: Page One
Year of Release: 1969

There's a tendency among many music journalists to try to claim that the progression of sounds in rock and pop follow very straight and simple lines. You've heard these ideas many times before - the notion that punk killed progressive rock, for instance, when progressive rock sales had declined by '76 anyway. Genres seldom kill other genres, it's more that rock music progresses, sometimes in the blink of an eye, sometimes at a snail's pace. Punk did not "destroy" progressive rock with one revolutionary slap, punk simply represented a progression (or, you could argue, regression) of some of the ideas found in both glam rock and more anarchic late sixties/ early seventies acts like The Deviants or The Pink Fairies. And indeed garage rock.

So bands that exist between the cultural rifts of movements, offering the best parts of each, are often fascinating. Southampton's Nite People existed by the late sixties with their feet on either side of mod and progressive rock, and that makes them quite unique and also a really interesting (and, on occasion, quite thrilling) listen. At their best, they specialised in taking the kinds of ideas normally found on soul records and adding an incredibly fussy but somehow very forceful kind of rockism to them, and that's probably most apparent on the much-compiled and bloody good "P.M." The organ licks have that doomy, prog air to them and the guitar solo is dramatic, but it's undercut with a floor-friendly beat and the lyrical concerns of a pilled-up mod raver. Nite People weren't alone in this area - Shy Limbs (with Greg Lake) trod similar paths - but they're referenced less frequently due to the fact that they're missing a star connection. Both artists also bear vague similarities to The Charlatans, though I doubt they were direct inspirations…

"P.M." is widely available on all your usual download sites, and also on Youtube. The fact that it's commercially available puts it outside the remit of this site. However, the flip side "Season of the Rain" is an Elton John and Bernie Taupin composition which isn't available anywhere in this version, and is a genuine curiosity. They're surprisingly true to the Elton John style and vision throughout, though the thunderously heavy organ pounds away faithfully as usual, adding an extra slab of drama.

Nite People consisted of Patrick Bell on sax, Martin Clark on bass, Barry Curtis on keyboards, Christopher Ferguson and Francis Gordon on guitar, and Jimmy Warwick on vocals. This was their final single and their present whereabouts is not clear to me.

17 July 2015

Emerging #6 - Venice Trip and The School

Another quick round-up of the best new music from the past month or so, whether regular readers of this blog actually pay any attention or not. Yes, it's you I'm talking to. "New music" isn't a dirty phrase, you filthy beast. 

And the London based Venice Trip are probably a fine example of a band who might actually appeal to typical "Left and to the Back" readers, sucking keenly on the teat of vintage psychedelic pop. The latest single "Look Forward" is a wonderful piece of summer psychedelia, shimmering, echoing, chiming and soaring whilst somehow dodging the usual trappings and not copping riffs from elsewhere. Tripping along on child-like optimism and zeal and aided massively by a rattlingly confident rhythm section, this is easily the best new single this month from beginning to sudden end. That it dodges the trap of ironically replicating past musical styles and instead finds new ways to play with them is an admirable thing indeed.

While it's been three years since The School's last album, Cardiff's finest indie-poppers haven't exactly spoiled us with material since then. "Do I Love You?" takes its cues from Frank Wilson's Northern Soul classic "Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)" creating a serious problem for themselves in the process - how do you measure up to something widely regarded to be among the greatest records ever made? And can the lightning be captured twice?

The simple answer is no, but that doesn't stop "Do I Love You?" from being a perfectly joyous pop song in its own right on the second or third play, once the impulse to compare the two tracks has died down. It is, of course, a frothy and buoyant piece of indiepop pulling from Northern Soul influences in a manner unheard since Spearmint borrowed the keyboard line from Dobie Gray's "Out On The Floor". Like that particular single, it makes a peculiar sort of sense, taking both sweetness and strength from the finest soul records.

Both these singles are out right now and available from all good digital music outlets.

15 July 2015

Simon, Plug & Grimes - Way In Way Out/ Long, Long Summer

Label: President
Year of Release: 1970

Simon, Plug & Grimes sounds like the name of an industrial drainage company from an industrial estate in Tottenham, not a band, and indeed in all my years of ploughing dusty boxes for odd singles, this is one of the worst band names I've ever stumbled across. "Presumably the band are a trio and those are their surnames, just look at the writing credits", I hear you reason, but let's face it,  it's a poor excuse. If my surname was Simon and I found myself in a group with two men with the surnames Plug and Grimes, I'd surely try a bit harder than falling back on the old "firm of solicitors" moniker.

Still, what's done is done. SP&G emerged on the music scene in 1970 with the single "Is This A Dream" on the highly collectible Deram label, then moved to President for their next three singles, "Way In Way Out", "Pull Together" and "Don't Push Me". The flip side to the latter single, "Is There Anyone Left", has since picked up a bit of appreciation from glam rock collectors for its slightly scuzzy Velvet-Underground-with-a-dash-of-tinsel feel. By that point, though, the goose was cooked (and the goose fat was probably blocking the drains) and Simon Plug & Grimes disappeared off the radar.

"Way In Way Out", on the other hand, is the kind of breezy, smiley pop single many acts were pulling off with aplomb in 1970, slightly too sugary for my tastes but certainly not without its fans on the internet. Indeed, the fact a YouTube user was begging somebody to upload a clear version of this recently, and the fact that I have a pristine copy in my collection, is really what lead to this blog entry being created. If I can make one person happy this week, that's probably one more person than usual.

The B-side "Long Long Summer" is understated, gentler and more contemplative and worth a spin. 

As for who SP&G were, search me. I've tried to find out, even consulting the fantastically weighty latest edition of "Tapestry of Delights", and nobody seems to know who they were or what they did next. If you know, or if you are one of the three men in question, do please enlighten us.

12 July 2015

The Adventures Of Mr Bloe (71-75 New Oxford and the Avenue Cash-in Conspiracy)

Label: DJM
Year of Release: 1971

"Groovin' With Mr Bloe" is one of the seventies more unlikely UK hits (a cover version sourced from the B-side to Wind's "Make Believe") . Consisting of a thudding great dancefloor beat acting as the backdrop to some mournful harmonica playing, it's one part unsubtle groover, another part "Last of the Summer Wine" incidental music. 

And maybe that's not particularly surprising. Some sources list Harry Pitch as the harmonica player on the number two smash, others Ian Duck (who definitely did appear on "Top of the Pops" to promote the record). If Pitch was indeed the man honking and wailing away in the studio for this disc, then he also did numerous other pieces of top-flight harmonica session work, including the theme and soundtrack to everyone's barely tolerated piece of Sunday early evening situation comedy. 

After "Groovin'…" fell out of the charts, DJM did what most record companies opt to do in such circumstances and tried to keep the b(r)and name alive. A follow-up "Curried Soul" was issued, but failed to chart, and "71-75 New Oxford" (named after the London 71-75 New Oxford Street base of DJM, now home to a hairdressers and a sandwich shop) was the last 45rpm hurrah. Elton John penned it and performed on both sides, and it's actually a beauty - more strident and Stevie Wonder inspired than "Groovin'" was and horrendously catchy to boot. Shoot me if you must, but I actually think this is the best single to come out under the Mr Bloe moniker, and it deserved to be a hit. The fact remains, though, that it always was going to be tough to sustain a band based largely on harmonica instrumentals, and the project had "probable one hit wonder" stamped all over it from the get-go.

Still, of all the Elton John obscurities there are in the world, this is the one I would argue is the most surprisingly under-referenced and also the most highly enjoyable.

But the Mr Bloe cash cow didn't stop there, as you'll see if you scroll down past the sound files…

Label: Avenue
Year of Release: 1971

Budget sound-a-like label Avenue were quick to cash in on Mr Bloe mania with a six-track EP of harmonica based ditties, including "Groovin'". But here's the interesting part - whereas Avenue generally employed session men to replicate the noises as closely as possible, here they appeared to have taken on Harry Pitch, the gentlemen often credited as the 'original' Mr Bloe.

If this is actually correct, it must surely be the only example of a session performer fronting both the original record and the budget sound-a-like version. Pitch has his cake and eats it too, with five extra original new tracks to add to the tally. None are especially notable and some are even slow and sad atmosphere pieces, though some, such as "Blowin' With Mr Pitch", almost capture the in-studio zest of the original. 

One thing's for sure - we'll probably never see harmonica instrumentals nearly top the British charts again, and Mr. Bloe seems like a very peculiar anomaly these days, albeit one it's cheering to remember  actually happened.

8 July 2015

Reupload - Double Feature - Baby Get Your Head Screwed On/ Come On Baby

Label: Deram
Year of Release: 1967

Whilst the Madchester/ Baggy revolution of the late eighties and early nineties is widely regarded to be the moment where psychedelia, guitar pop, soul and dance collided, in truth such dabbling around with the audio palette was occurring long before the Stone Roses and Happy Mondays.  There are tons of examples of singles released throughout the late sixties alone which tried to tick as many genre boxes as possible.

Cat Stevens's track "Baby Get Your Head Screwed On", for example, is given a particularly soulful psychedelic rendition here (or should that be psychedelic soulful rendition?) complete with parping horns, proto-Electric Light Orchestra styled string solos, and a gritty, gnashing vocal.  Whilst there's very little doubt that the track is actually quite ahead of its time, it falls just short of being brilliant by dint of the fact that the tune gets rather repetitive once they've set out their stall within the first minute.  There are very few fuzzy, psychedelic records of this era which will tempt you on to the dancefloor in a similar way, however, and for that reason alone it deserves the share of attention it has since had from aficionados.

The flip "Come On Baby" has an insistent groove which isn't dis-similar to The Equals, but again ploughs a similar furrow and fails to progress as much as it perhaps could do across its full two-and-a-half minutes.

Double Feature were a duo consisting of Bill Hall and Brian Lake who hailed from Birmingham, and following the failure of this and the follow-up "Handbags and Gladrags" to make a commercial impression they seemed to fade from view.  If anyone knows what happened after that or if they're up to anything now, please do pass the information on.

(This blog entry was originally uploaded in March 2011. Bill Hall's nephew and brother both got in touch to talk a bit about them - apparently Hall now owns a business and lives with his family, but he and Lake are now both a tiny bit embarrassed about their naiveté during their sixties pop heyday. I was left comments hinting at a "TV disaster" and sharing a mic with Hendrix, but nothing else. Come on, the pair of you, fess up. You've left two nifty records for everyone to remember you by. The version of "Handbags and Gladrags" - the first and best - was also covered here not long ago, and is a fine piece of work). 

5 July 2015

Mark Loyd - When I'm Gonna Find Her/ When Evening Falls

Label: Parlophone
Year of Release: 1966

Nish. Nowt. Zero. That's all the information I have available to me on this sixties artist, who released three flop singles during the middle part of the decade - "I Keep Thinking About You" and "Everybody Tries" in 1965, and this one in 1966. 

And that's a shame, because the B-side I'm presenting here, "When I'm Gonna Find Her" has since become a choice Northern Soul spin among those in the know, so favoured in fact that this bootleg reissue leaked out on to the marketplace a number of years ago. It's no surprise to see the track being admired by that crowd - "Find Her" is filled to the brim with all the yearning that great Northern Soul tracks have, but behind that is a minimalist arrangement and creeping bassline which gives the song a haunted feel, as if a stalking and faded phantom has buried itself away in the grooves. 

The A-side "When Evening Falls" isn't bad either, being a much more uptempo number and showing that Loyd, whoever he was, could pack a punch vocally.

I doubt we'll get to the bottom of his identity, but if anyone knows who he is, please leave a comment.

1 July 2015

Merlin - Sweet Dream Woman/ No Full Moon

Label: MAM
Year of Release: 1972

Once every so often I stumble across a single by a band I know nothing about - and can find absolutely nothing about online or offline - which is nonetheless a curiosity purely due to its total obscurity. Sometimes this obscurity makes it valuable to label completists (a recent copy of a scarce Fontana single I own went for £160 on ebay purely due to the fact that there are so few copies left "in the wild", and despite the fact that the music in the grooves was at best merely 'above average') but more often than not its just like finding an old till receipt from 1975 down the back of a cupboard; interesting and slightly nostalgia inducing, but not anything to get the Antiques Roadshow crew having panic attacks. The "collectibility" of a thing is determined by many factors besides rarity, and you're more likely to be unlucky than striking it rich. 

And here we are. There were two Merlins doing the rounds during the seventies. One were a glam rock outfit with progressive leanings signed to the CBS label. The other were this mysterious lot, about whom all I can glean is that they once toured with Leapy Lee (who also produced this single).

"Sweet Dream Woman" is the kind of easy-going, laid-back, feel good, gum chewing, jew's harp twanging country rock which temporarily had a spurt of popularity in the early seventies, and which I must admit isn't really my bag, even at its absolute best. I wouldn't know a great single of this ilk from a dud. However, this is bound to find appreciation from someone fascinated by curios of that nature, and for that reason it's today's blog entry. Sometimes it's nice to share even if you don't have anything productive to say and the artist in question is operating in an area you don't feel as if you're an authority on. 

A slightly grittier version of "Sweet Dream Woman" was a success for Waylon Jennings in the USA during June 1972, and the "Taylor" in the songwriting credits is none other than Chip Taylor, previously responsible for "Wild Thing". He also recorded the track as part of the trio Gorgoni, Martin & Taylor earlier in 1971 but it met with less success in that guise. 

Apologies for the crackles near the start, but if you can find a better copy out there, feel free to share it!