29 December 2016

Offered With Very Little Comment #2 - Amboy Dukes, IPOH, Fumble

Hello, my little post-Christmas tinkers. You may remember that back in October, I uploaded a brace of leftover singles in one entry which I could find very little to talk about. They'd been ripped to mp3 and their labels had been taunting me from my "action pile" for months (if not longer in one case).

This, then, is three more singles I've been meaning to upload for awhile, but really don't have much to say about. If there are any interesting facts about them you want to share, please do so in the comments section - but so far as I can tell and hear, there's nowt unusual or notable about these.

Band: Amboy Dukes
Title: He Came To See Me Yesterday/ Easy Going Me
Label: Polydor
Year of Release: 1968

We talked about the British Amboy Dukes back in May 2015, introducing two of their singles. Therefore, my brevity this time is due to the fact that we already have this lot covered, not that they aren't interesting in and of themselves (they are - "High Life In Whitley Wood" is a single that's very high on my 'wants' list, and I occasionally spin "The Marquis" at Northern Soul nights).

"He Came To See Me Yesterday' is more of the same, really, though takes things at a steadier, gentler pace. Not one of their more 'in demand' sounds. 

Band: I.P.O.H
Title: Caveman Billy/ Doggy
Label: Pye
Year of Release: 1973

IPOH stands for "In Pursuit of Happiness", and the group were led by Island of St Kitts ex-pat Hamilton King, and featured cult blues performer King Rollo in their ranks. This was their sole Pye release, and rather oddly is a cover of a Hot Chocolate B-side. 

The flip, "Doggy" is a bit more interesting.

Artist: Fumble
Title: Mama, Don't You Hit That Boy/ Tonight
Label: DJM
Year of Release: 1979

Fumble were a rather popular rock n roll revival act in the 70s and 80s who, despite their keen live following, never quite managed to climb as high up the charts as Shakin Stevens, Darts, Showaddaywaddy or even Matchbox. Staggeringly, they even supported David Bowie on his "Ziggy Stardust" tour. Quoth the starman: "I adore them. They're very unpretentious about revamping that whole era".

So here they are, then, for your pleasure. There's also a website here.

22 December 2016

Merry Christmas!

See that on the left? That was the Christmas Tree the local council put up in Streatham Hill a couple of years ago, right outside the local butchers. I felt that I'd seen better tinsel trees obtained from Woolworths in the seventies, and took a photo to share with everyone how sad, spartan, lonely and lacking in ambition I felt it was. I wasn't trying to have a dig at the Council or anything like that - at least, not on this particular occasion - it just amused me, and I thought it would make other people laugh as well.

The tree on the left has nothing to do with "Left and to the Back", really. It has nothing to do with lost music, good or bad, all it represents is Christmas in its most austerity-driven South London form. And 2016 has been a very mixed year for most people, but I do hope you have a good rest over Christmas...  I used to dread the fact that late December provided me with only long stretches of inactivity, with repeats and old films on television, clubs closed, no gigs to speak of and not much news. After this year I'm beginning to form the opinion, however, that sometimes having nothing happening isn't such a bad deal. Sometimes I think we all just need to stop for a bit, and if not have Christmas, then at the very least have a long lie down in a dark room. "If we don't all occasionally stop moving to look at where we've got to, how will we know if we've ever arrived?" as I'm sure somebody said once, but I can't quite work out who to attribute that piece of popular philosophy to. It might even be Prince (Rest in peace, sir). It's definitely not David Bowie (ditto). But perhaps it was AA Milne or even Geri Halliwell.

And where has this blog got to? Well, "Left and to the Back" will be entering its ninth year in 2017. Some children have grown up and journeyed from Junior School to University in that period - a scary thought to contemplate. They've steadily learned how to formulate complex arguments in essays while I still have made absolutely no progress in my ambition to keep my wallet in my pocket while in record shops. Some of us learn, some of us don't.

When I launched this blog back in 2008, I promised myself that it would be updated at least twice a week, and it usually has been. I just thought that by setting myself that target, I'd ensure that things would actually happen and the blog wouldn't just grind to a halt after three months like so many of them do. However, while I want to keep the blog alive, I'm sure I probably will be scaling my ambitions back a little next year and introducing more reuploads and less frequent updates. The Internet has changed almost completely since this blog launched, and it's become increasingly hard to find records which are relatively unheard or unavailable (and harder still to find ones which are actually any good or interesting). What I could do with almost ridiculous ease in 2008 is now quite tough and expensive to fulfil.

One day I'm sure I'll admit defeat and call time on this faintly silly hobby of mine purely because it will prove too impractical (if nothing else) but... there will be another blog entry before the New Year comes round, I assure you. In the meantime... have a nice break.

And if you like what I do here, please do link back through your blog, or on social media, or wherever takes your fancy. All blogs need referrals to keep their audience levels afloat, and with the demise of many of the mp3 blogs which used to direct here (RIP Lord of the Boot Sale in particular) "Left and to the Back" definitely needs new troops who are willing to spread the word.

See you soon. 

20 December 2016

Heathcliffe - Hollybush and Mistletoe/ My World

Label: Tangerine
Year of Release: 1968

Tangerine was a tiny and short-lived label, issuing a mere thirteen singles between 1968-69, of which this was the first. While some of their output by Adam and Dee and Jasmin-T had faintly psychedelic leanings, this opening salvo was a rich old slice of easy listening. No great surprises there - as the success of Engelbert Humperdinck made clear to everyone, the gentler side of popular music still had a massive audience at this time, and was often a better gamble for new independent labels than the latest fashionable sounds.

Heathcliffe - whoever he may be - takes on both these tracks with a deep, rich voice and almost sounds like a British Bing in places. The A-side is a Christmas track which didn't sell amazingly well, but clearly sold enough copies to not be especially rare these days, while the flip is a sentimental but very specific and appropriate wedding song. 

Both sides were in the safe hands of the arranger Alan Hawkshaw, but don't go expecting anything wigged out or organ-driven here. This is gentle, smooth and unobjectionable stuff.

18 December 2016

Reupload - Justified Ancients of Mu Mu - Downtown

Label: KLF Communications
Year of Release: 1987

Christmas records obviously meant a great deal more to the KLF than pop historians have perhaps given them credit for.  Their collaboration with Tammy Wynette on "Justified and Ancient" contained sleigh bells and was released slap into the middle of the Christmas market, and the peculiar and flawed "I Wanna 1-2-1 With You" was another attempt to get festive sales.  However, way before those ventures into tinseltown came this oddity.

Drummond and Cauty had already got themselves into trouble with lawyers around the release of their debut album "1987 What The Fuck Is Going On", which provocatively sampled large chunks of music without seeking out copyright permission.  As if to prove they had learned few lessons from their experience, "Downtown" sampled Petula Clark's classic, and the pair took the strange step of quoting from the Bible in interviews of the period, citing Proverbs 26:11: "As a dog that returneth to his vomit, so is a fool that repeateth his folly".

The Christian element continued with their collaborators.  Recorded with the London Gospel Community Choir, this is one of their more polished and well-realised early works, combining sour, cynical and heavily accented Glaswegian rapping with a joyous, happy-clappy chorus.  "Glory!" sing the choir. "What glory?" answers Bill Drummond (aka King Boy D) "In a wine bar world?  In a tenement block?"  Conquering the charts with a Christmas tune was clearly not on his agenda at this point, as despite the overwhelming pop and fizz of the chorus here, the tune is torn in two directions.  The Community Choir are pulling towards the holiness, the preciousness and the generosity of the season, whilst Drummond points out the harsher mid-winter realities, only for a sampled and stammering Petula to chip in at irregular intervals.  "Neon signs are pretty" she sings, sounding pathetic and weak in this context, before another hard-edged, shouted, Special Brew-sozzled verse barges her out of the way.

Early KLF records were often clumsy and awkward, and whilst "1987 What The Fuck Is Going On" was a groundbreaking and copyright busting album, it seldom had grace on its side, being filled with often clumsily placed distorted samples.  By the time "Downtown" emerged, they sounded as if they'd finally got the hang of their direction and could no longer be criticised as being a novelty act - this (along with most of the album "Who Killed The Jams?") is pop music with a bitter underbelly, the sound of a band absorbing the sounds and culture around them and criticising and distorting it.  By the end, even the choir are singing "Jesus, what can we do?"

This is probably the finest early KLF single, and whilst you can't quite hear the future they'd have as mega-selling Stadium House releasing millionaires, it's a step closer towards that.  It's certainly a pivotal indie release, and it deserves to be heard a lot more often.

14 December 2016

Yellow Pages - Dougal/ Mister Snowman

Label: Sovereign
Year of Release: 1972

Yes, you're right, it's a fair cop, I did buy this one because I thought it might be psychedelically tinged in some way. And no, it's not at all. Oh go on, laugh away, but it's not your wallet, is it? But never fear. I didn't bet the farm on this record, and it's an interesting little piece of novelty history in itself. 

There tend to be two types of people on this planet - those who feel tears pricking their eyes as soon as they hear children singing, and those who feel that unless they're on a Lou Reed album or a Pink Floyd number one, they should never be heard on vinyl. I am in the latter camp, and "Dougal" is, sadly, a track involving lots of kiddiwinks singing merrily.

Before you surf away, though, this appears to be something of an oddity. The children are actually singing "I want to ride with Dougal on the Magic Roundabout" in an homage to the hugely popular television show. It's an odd request to make, since Dougal very seldom rode all that much on the Magic Roundabout, and spent most of the series neurotically whinging and wittering away like a Skye Terrier possessed by the spirit of Tony Hancock. Nobody ever got killed for asking, though, and "I want to spend time with Dougal while he whinges and witters away like a Skye Terrier possessed by the spirit of Tony Hancock" doesn't scan very well.

The track chimes and clops along merrily, but is far too melodically slight to have ever been a hit. In fact, this seems to be horribly obscure, with copies turning up incredibly infrequently. I have to wonder if it was ever properly released at all, since I've never seen a copy without "Demo record - not for sale" stamped on it, but it's hard to prove, and collectors tend not to have much knowledge about novelty records aimed at children.

The B-side "Mister Snowman" is much more Christmassy and fits in neatly with the present season. If you're Judy Finnegan, you'll doubtless shed a tear. 

I obviously have no clue who the people behind this record were, but Ben Nesbit also wrote the theme from "White Horses", which was sung by the legendary Jackie Lee. 

11 December 2016

Derek Jameson - Do They Mean Us?/ Yes Virginia There Is A Santa Claus

Label: Polydor
Year of Release: 1986

I'm really not a morning person. If you're going to try to start a conversation with me in the morning, especially before caffeine, it's best to keep it a bit light, humorous and convivial. Don't bark orders at me. Don't get on a soapbox about something in the newspaper. Don't be loud. It's DAWN outside, goddamn you, we're not in a nightclub at two in the morning. I feel delicate.

Perhaps given that this is my general temperament - always has been, probably always will be - it's probably no surprise to you all to learn that Derek "You've Got To Get Up Early In The Morning To Catch Me Out, Mate" Jameson is officially my least favourite breakfast show host ever. His stint on BBC Radio 2 ruined so many school mornings, from his grizzled bark of "MAWNIN'! JAMESON 'ERE!" onwards, that I suspect he may have buggered up some of my education.  Here was a man who could discuss a news item, snarl "I THINK WE SHOULD DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT, DON'T YOU!" with an exclamation mark on the end rather than a question mark (he was big on demands, low on questions, was our Jameson) then plonk some soothing Frank Sinatra on the stereogram. It was almost frightening as the show careered from one extreme to the other.

Whatever I felt, and I surely couldn't be alone, Jameson was a late eighties broadcasting behemoth, and a man who seemed to succeed at everything he set his mind to. From having TV series of his own, to guest-hosting Wogan, to being given the country's most prestigious Radio Two slot, he really commanded the airwaves during that strange period.

Jameson's life had actually been absurdly eventful even up to that point, with his very humble beginnings in a children's home, and some time spent begging on the streets, eventually leading to trainee reporter work at Reuters and then a slow climb up the career ladder in Fleet Street. He documented all these details in a book entitled "Touched By Angels", so titled to reflect his beliefs that Guardian Angels watched over him at all times. You can even see an advert for the Sun's serialisation of the tome over on YouTube.

Jameson held numerous impressive editorial positions, including editor-in-chief at The Daily Star at the point of its launch, which he allegedly promised would be "Tits, bums, QPR and roll your own fags" (which sounds like a line from an Earl Brutus single). However, he wasn't always completely blessed. A large amount of rot set in when BBC Radio 4's "Week Ending" comedy programme cracked the gag that Jameson was so ignorant "he thought erudite was a type of glue", and Jameson promptly decided to sue. He lost the case, and most of his own personal fortune, when the jury decided this was fair comment. Naturally, more people have since retold this joke than ever heard it on its original Radio 4 broadcast, so not only did he effectively burn an enormous stack of money on a pointless court case, he also spread the insult further and wider than ever before. Rupert Murdoch also removed him as editor of News of The World in 1984 after a disagreement about a newspaper article. A career at the BBC, ironically the very institution which wronged him in the first place (in his eyes, at least) was presumably one way of making some money back quickly.

But what has any of this got to do with "Do They Mean Us?" Good question, and no doubt Jameson, if he were still alive, would be rapping me around the knuckles with a ruler and asking me to make that point a few paragraphs higher ("AND CUT OUT ALL THE GUFF ABOUT ERUDITE!"). Well, in truth, I have absolutely no idea whatsoever why this single needed to be released unless it was a desperate bid to top up his post-court case bank balance. An odd spin-off single from his BBC series set to a jaunty music hall melody, it's a truly ridiculous piece of vinyl, featuring Jameson's cackling ramblings about a cornucopia of disjointed "issues", ranging from the state of the Labour Party to the EEC. "SHOW US YOUR BRITISH BOTTLE!" he barks in every chorus. It's like being drunk and tired in the back of a black cab, dozing off while the cab driver shouts his various grievances to you, then waking up again only to find that you've lost the thread of whatever the fuck he was talking about in the first place, and he's moved on to something else... then repeat to fade.

More disturbing still is the B-side, which was once played by Chris Morris on Radio One purely to bemuse the nation. Jameson's reading of the age-old chestnut "Yes Virginia There Is A Santa Claus" (we've covered Neil Spence's version elsewhere on this blog) is soft and woolly and reveals his sensitive side, and is a little like sitting on Uncle Del's knee and being told a story when he's slightly sozzled after the Queen's speech. "Uncle Derek, why are you crying? And why is there onion and sage stuffing secreted in your shirt pocket?" you would probably ask him.

Once Jameson's radio career came to an end, he settled down in Brighton and led a rather more sedate life, penning weekly columns for the Brighton Argus. In one of these, he hinted that should such a position ever be created for the town, he might like to become a directly elected mayor. "I'd sort the police out. No excuses from officials! No statistics! No saying we can't do it, there's not enough money! I'd say, 'Just get on with it, mate!' Yes, I think I'd like to be mayor!" was the general gist of the piece. Say whatever else you want, but you could never describe him as being anything less than fascinating and possibly a tiny bit ahead of his time. 2016 would have loved him, and he probably would have become mayor of somewhere, though probably not Brighton.

7 December 2016

The Gibsons - Night And Day/ City Life

Label: Major Minor
Year of Release: 1967

We've already covered the career of The Gibsons in some depth on "Left and to the Back", providing entries on their singles "Only When You're Lonely" and "Magic Book". You should all head off to the entry for "Only When You're Lonely" right now for a read about their Australian origins, and their unfortunately rather hitless UK career.

"Night And Day" is perhaps most famed for its flip side "City Life", which has worked its way on to numerous psychedelic compilations, and deservedly so - its a slightly pithy, bitter observation on London life with numerous period production flourishes. However, there's no reason why "Night And Day" shouldn't also be heard by you good readers. Despite its groovy organ opening, it's nothing like as good as its B-side, but is nonetheless an interesting and accomplished harmony pop take on the Cole Porter song. Not really paisley patterned, but slightly swirly and groovy in its own way.

"City Life" is available to buy all over the Internet, and so isn't included here. If you want to try before you buy, nip over to YouTube where you can hear it in full

4 December 2016

Roof Tops - Astro Projection/ Tequila Samba

Label: AA
Year of Release: 1973

I must admit that getting hold of this one got me all hot under the collar. It's an Icelandic rock band's self-released 1973 single "Astro Projection", and I don't know quite what I was expecting, but something odd, low-budget but unquestionably proggy was my ultimate hope.

In reality, this is pretty much straight-ahead bar-room hard rock which is slightly muffled sounding in places (Not helped by the poor pressing I have). Filled with flashy, showy guitar runs and powerful vocals, it's clear where the band's ambitions lay, but the muted production - especially around the rhythm section - diminishes the potential power of the tracks somewhat.

I know very little about Roof Tops, but you can see a picture of the lads over at 45cat. The Icelandic rock circuit carried few opportunities in 1973, but was certainly established - Thor's Hammer had already ripped huge holes in the country's venues with their barnstorming sound throughout the sixties. Roof Tops are rather more laidback in their sound and proved a wider variety of sounds had emerged by this point. 

Sorry about the knackered B-side label and the scuffs, pops and clicks on these recordings. It looks as if my copy of this single has been through some strange battles in its time. 

30 November 2016

Romford Golden Sunshine Band - Alberto The Great/ Kalahari Bushman Shuffle

Label: MGM
Year of Release: 1968

Ah, Romford. The Essex town that spoils us all, with the whiff of yeasty goodness from its brewery (way back when), the cheap polyester work shirts on sale at its market stalls, the tattered Union Jacks flapping proudly over various right-wing political party leafletting points... it's a place us Ilfordians, ourselves not living the high life, tend to look at when we want to feel a bit posh. 

A few days ago, someone remarked on Twitter that "The world is not like a pub car park in Romford" in an attempt to get someone to understand that violence is not always the answer to everything. A Romfordian user hit back: "Not comfortable with this level of Romford bashing. Fights tend to happen everywhere, and not just car parks." 

Still, I ought to be careful what I say - the great brassy force of this record makes it sound as if there's a lot of members in the Romford Golden Sunshine Band, and after this blog entry they might try to beat me up. While there may have been multiple musicians involved, the only members I'm able to verify with any certainty are lead man Dave Watson and co-writer Dennis Masterton. The drummer was apparently Bill Legend of T Rex fame, but I can't find a verifiable source for that fact.

"Alberto The Great" here is an incredibly merry instrumental, packed with equal doses of Herb Alpert styled shine and a tiny bit of soulfulness. It's a bit too chirpy to be a credible case for the dancefloor, but like some of the better easy listening instrumentals from this period, it has a careful and bouncy arrangement that's never boring. 

Sadly, Watson passed away some time ago from a heart attack, but his group's album "Would You Believe" is still available in its entirety on YouTube. It might be better to listen to them there rather than below. As you can see from my scans of the labels above, my copy of this single has been very well-loved and overplayed. 

27 November 2016

Reupload - Dave Allen - The Good Earth/ A Way Of Life

Label: Philips
Year of Release: 1969

A few entries back when we discussed Alexei Sayle's hit single, I (possibly unnecessarily) listed many of the comedians who - for better or worse - had issued vinyl from the fifties onwards. I neglected to mention Irish comedian Dave Allen, whose sole 45 is possibly one of the most unlikely releases there's ever been.

Before we really get stuck into the contents of this disc, it's worth me getting on my soapbox and arguing that I genuinely regard Allen to be a legend. His lengthy television career from the sixties to the nineties is a testament to his surprisingly broad appeal, but what's less appreciated in some quarters is quite how revolutionary he was in his own understated way. Way before Ben Elton steamed in with his "bit of politics", Allen weaved tales of hypocrisy in the church, lampooned authority figures and generally (and perhaps most successfully) highlighted the absurdities of human life. Allen certainly traded on grouchiness and his material frequently landed him in trouble, but unlike many comedians with an axe to grind, there was a warmth to his story-telling which still seems unique today. His sign-off line to audiences everywhere was "Goodnight, thank you, and may your God go with you", an entirely non-cynical and utterly ecumenical statement which, despite my lack of belief in a "God" as such, I can't help but find touching.

So perhaps it shouldn't be too surprising that a comedian choosing to sign off his shows in such a giving way released this record, in which he appears to read soft but slightly weary poetry to the accompaniment of an orchestral backing. "The Good Earth", despite its rather sentimental leanings, manages to sum up Allen's personality rather well, using an astronaut looking down upon the planet as its focus, then signing off with the resigned statement: "Why can't we be good on the Good Earth?"  The wonder of space travel may seem like a rather corny focus for such a thought in the present day, but in 1969 this was doubtless a very modern, contemporary message.

The B-side "A Way Of Life" is actually more absurd still, being akin to "The Sunscreen Song" long before that God-foresaken record was ever issued (note - a blog reader has since informed me that it's a poster/ greetings card poem called "Desidereta" which has also been recorded by Leonard Nimoy under the title "Spock Thoughts"). To the accompaniment of "Greensleeves", Allen advises all his listeners on the best ways to approach life, offering gems such as "Listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant - they too have their story" and "For all that is sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a very beautiful world". It's easy to laugh for all the wrong reasons at such a record, but maybe this was the closest we got to the softer side of Allen, almost - although not quite - uninterrupted by thoughts about the planet's aggressive absurdities. And whilst neither side of this record would ever be likely to win the Forward Prize for Poetry, it means well and isn't nauseating.

It wasn't a hit, but when a Radio Two DJ played the record again in the nineties and asked in a rather perplexed manner why Allen put it out, he was unembarrassed and unrepentant, stating simply that he just saw it as a good opportunity to put some spoken word material with a message he happened to like to music. Of all the novelty or spin-off singles I've ever uploaded, this one feels the least like a cash-in, and certainly among the least likely to ever actually stand a hope of charting. I, for one, believe his version of events.

25 November 2016

Have Yourself A Northern Soul Christmas

Back in the mid-seventies when the country was facing an enormous amount of political uncertainty, Northern Soul was HUGE. With the beats per minute to encourage frantic dancefloor activity, and the emotional content to pierce right into our hearts, it ticked all the right boxes. And I'm not saying that it could be a form of joyous relief from all our woes right now, but, y'know... er....

Anyway, I'm DJ'ing at a regular FREE Northern Soul night in Hackney Wick on Saturday December 3rd, and all the details can be found on Facebook here. It's a great night out and I'll be joined on the decks as always by John The Revelator and guest Janie Jones. Please come along.

If you don't do Facebook, here are the address details:

Grow, 98C Wallis Road, Main Yard, Hackney Wick, E9 5LN.

23 November 2016

Sadie's Expression - Deep In My Heart/ My Way Of Living

Label: Plexium
Year of Release: 1969

I spent my teenage years living in Benfleet - or the Thundersley region of Benfleet, to be much more precise - but I very rarely get the opportunity to write about bands from that area on this blog, purely because it has never, in any point in its history, been particularly lively. There were a number of "movers and shakers" in the local region during the sixties, though, most notably John Pantry in his many groups and guises, The Mode from Thundersley, and this lot, otherwise known as The Troggs (before Reg Presley got his hands on that name) or The Expression. 

Consisting of Chris Brown, Mick Harding, Hugh Thomas, Mike Drewer and John Skelton, Sadie's Expression were kings of the Essex gig scene during the mid to late sixties, learning the ropes by playing rough bars to bikers and rockers, then moving on to having regular contracts with large venues such as the Basildon Mecca and The Elms in Leigh. Talent-spotted by numerous influential people, including producer Peter Eden and The Walker Brothers, their recording career was nonetheless something of a damp squib in comparison. A recording session for Decca produced their version of a Bill Fay track "Yesterday Was Such A Lovely Day (Elsie)" which the label rejected, and two 45s on the small Plexium label (this in 1969, and "Old Whitehall Number" in 1970) are the sole vinyl proof of their existence.

"Deep In My Heart" is a carefully arranged, mid-tempo late sixties beat track which picked up some Radio One airplay, but the distributors and manufacturers EMI failed to press up enough copies, with even shops in the Essex area apparently being devoid of Sadie's Expression stock. Largely regarded as a possible hit, it therefore languished in obscurity and remains something of a minor collectible. It's not a late sixties "hip sound" as such, but it does showcase the group's many strengths, not least the powerful vocal harmonies. 

The group fell apart not long after the second single flopped, but are still remembered fondly by a number of people in the Essex area. The thoughts of drummer John Skelton form a large part of a tribute website which has been put together here, and it's a fascinating read. It was there that I learned that the group had a vicious local rivalry with The Mode, who accused them of stealing their idea for a homemade psychedelic light-show. I'm surprised there weren't street-fights on the Rayleigh Road at the Thundersley/ South Benfleet border. 

About time The Mode put a website together too, if you ask me. And sued those other South East Essex chancers Depeche Mode for taking the second word in their group name. 

20 November 2016

Foster Pilkington - Listening Land/ The Art Of Being Shy

Label: Arista/ Rockin' Horse
Year of Release: 1986

Two-and-a-half years ago or so, I uploaded an acetate I found of a Foster Pilkington single called "Town of Forgotten Talent". I thought it was an exceptional lost eighties single and I still do - filled with fury about the decimation of numerous towns in the UK at the time, it (sadly) remains topically relevant today. More than that, though, it was a moody and spiky yet elaborate piece of work musically, and sounded fantastic.

That and this single seem to have been Foster Pilkington's only two eighties releases. The latter fell into my hands more recently (for the princely sum of 50p!) and is a slightly tamer effort, though that's not saying much. Despite the fact that it was issued on Arista, it has a distinct indie sound to it, and a sharpness that was very rare on a major label in 1986. The fact that Foster Pilkington appears to have produced, arranged, wrote and sung the track means that he was clearly left alone to be very much his own man, but unlike Prince this isn't funky - it's just agitatedly bouncy, like an aural spacehopper covered in barbed wire coming through your speakers (look, I'm trying here, OK?)

The amount of information about Foster Pilkington online is fairly weak, which is annoying as he remains an active musician and performer. His last LP "The Love That Kills" emerged almost exactly a year ago, and is available on Bandcamp. He's based out in Brightlingsea near Clacton and Colchester these days, and still gigs regularly - clearly one to watch out for.

16 November 2016

The Majority - I Hear A Rhapsody/ Wait By The Fire

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1967

Despite their appearance on the "Nuggets II" box set with the slightly rocking "One Third", Kingston Upon Hull's The Majority weren't really a garage band at all, or even a mod act. The vast bulk of their output was harmony pop, and "I Hear A Rhapsody" is a particularly smooth, silky example. So smooth and silky that the band felt that it was unrepresentative of their output and chose to jettison it from their official compilation CD "The Decca Years". Oh well - you can hear what the fuss was about (or rather wasn't) for yourselves now. 

I suspect that it was the record label's idea of a probable Big Ballad Hit, and I've heard far worse examples in my time. The fact that the group sound dangerously close to crooners here possibly hurt their credibility, however, and it's perhaps been the most ignored release in their catalogue ever since - neither a chart hit nor sufficiently loved by the band who recorded it for them to bother to draw attention to it since.

The group, at this point consisting of Barry Graham on vocals, Roger France on lead guitar, Don Lill on drums, Rob Long on guitar and Ken Smith on bass, were heading towards the end of the road at this point. Two singles later they'd pack up all their big ideas about becoming stars in their own right and become a backing band for Barry Ryan, playing on his major hit "Eloise". Once that session stint finished, a different line-up called Majority One continued their career on the continent with mixed results, eventually changing their names to Black Label and then eventually Rocky Cabbage (really, you couldn't make this stuff up, could you?) before splitting.

The brace of eight singles they put out on Decca through the sixties is actually an impressive tally for a group who never had a proper UK hit, and most of them are collected on the "Decca Years" CD, including the B-side "Wait By The Fire" here - and as a consequence of that, I've only included a brief clip of it here. 

13 November 2016

Seth Martin - Mystery Lady/ What A Lovely Way To Spend Forever

Label: Page One
Year of Release: 1969

I'm afraid this is yet another one of those sixties records where the flip is considerably more interesting than the A-side. What you get on the "plug side" is a rather syrupy Cook and Greenaway ballad which really isn't the greatest thing either wrote. "Mystery Lady", on the other hand, is a peppy, bouncing piece of brass-riddled pop with its fists punched in the air and an anthemic chorus at its heart. It's occasionally labelled as "Northern Soul" elsewhere, but I don't believe it ever got a spin at any of the famous soul clubs. 

As for who Seth Martin is, I can't seem to find any useful information anywhere. There have been a number of suggestions that he's actually the songwriter David Martin operating under another name, but no proof. If you know anything for sure, please let me know. 

9 November 2016

Spaghetti Head - Glad and I Wanna Be Seen

Label: Pump
Year of Release: 1992

If Stiltskin hit number one by being a Smashing Pumpkins tribute band for the benefit of a Levis advert, Spaghetti Head could perhaps be regarded as the era's Miller Lite advert EMF clones. The beer's advert during the early nineties - frustratingly unavailable on YouTube - had this single as its soundtrack, presumably created in order to persuade fans of bands who bashed their synthesisers around angrily to quaff light lager. Well, it was a huge youth market, after all (for about six months).

"Glad" undergoes a major lyrical transformation for this single, but otherwise the track sounds much as it did on the ad. It's hyperactive, busy, slightly funky and frivolous. While all involved obviously anticipated a hit single, it's also clear that nobody was taking this terribly seriously. Still, with its truly nagging catchiness it could actually have been a "Jeans On" for the nineties, but sales were clearly disappointing and the track was most commonly encountered by listeners on the Indie compilation LP "Precious" - sequenced between Pale Saints and My Bloody Valentine, for some baffling reason.

The man behind the track is Tony Gibber, who appears to have had a long career in soundtracking films and television programmes, perhaps being most famous for the 2003 "Top of the Pops" theme "Get Out Of That". Somebody with the name Tony Gibber also seems to have been associated with the production and arrangement of some Bucks Fizz singles in the eighties, and had two singles of his own out on WEA in 1979 and 1980. I can't prove that it's definitely the same person, so this speculation on my part would have Wikipedia's "citation needed" alarms ringing, but it seems likely.

If it is, we can only assume he would have at least been in his thirties by the time this came out. Had it been a hit, he might have looked a bit "interesting" performing the song on "Top Of The Pops" with his baseball cap on backwards, so it's a shame that appearance never came to pass.

(Blog entry continues beneath the sound files) 

Label: Pump
Year of Release: 1992

Of more interest to me is actually the follow-up single "I Wanna Be Seen", which appeared to have no advertising campaign tied to it at all. Rather, it seems to have been an attempt on the record label's part to continue to try their luck with the Spaghetti Head name.

It's arguably the better of the two singles, with frantic wah-wah pedalling action, vocal whooping, itchy beats and House styled piano riffs. None-more-early-nineties in fact, and a complete and total clone of the most commercial elements of British indie at that point - but where it might have sounded unoriginal and lacking in credibility at the time, it sounds effervescent and a little bit thrilling now.

After "I Wanna Be Seen" flopped, it was game over for Spaghetti Head, and Tony Gibber moved on to other more profitable work.

6 November 2016

Reupload - Clive Sands - Witchi Tai To/ In A Dream

Label: Snb
Year of Release: 1969

"Witchi Tai To" is one of those songs which - despite its relative obscurity in the grand scheme of things - has been covered half to death.  Originally produced by the songwriter and saxophonist Jim Pepper as an adapted Native American chant which he learned from his grandfather, the single surprised a few people by getting to number 69 in the US Billboard charts.  It apparently remains the only track to chart in America which features an authentic native chant (although before anyone argues about it, I'm no expert when it comes to definitions of authenticity for such things).

It was then covered by counter-culture figures Brewer and Shipley, then somehow gained the attention of major league pop impresario Simon Napier Bell in the UK who decided to produce this slick version of it for the British market.  This was fronted by the mysterious Clive Sands who was, in actual fact, Peter Sarstedt's less successful brother.  This version of "Witchi Tai To" has picked up abuse from some quarters for being too poppy and inferior to the original, but I happen to think it's wonderful.  With an arrangement that increasingly swells as the song progresses and an almost hymnal organ underneath, it's no bastardisation of Pepper's intentions, just another brilliant piece of summery late sixties pop.  Where the original occasionally verges towards the pious, this is the sound of blissed out glee, almost explosively happy - even the needle damage on my copy can't destroy its intentions.  That it's been almost completely overlooked since its release is surprising - a recent compilation focussing on the output of Napier Bell's SNB label completely ignored it.

The flip "In A Dream" is rather more traditional popsike fare, but is also sweet in its own way.

Clive Sarstedt later changed his name to Robin Sarstedt - presumably to confuse people researching blog entries years in the future - and had a hit in the UK with "My Resistance Is Low" in 1976.  For my money, however, this flop is far, far better than that track, and it's certainly a notch or two above his brother's "Where Do You Go To My Lovely".

2 November 2016

The Predictions - Su-p-er-i-or Plan/ True Love Is Strange

Label: T&T
Year of Release: 1968

Right. Obscure privately pressed sixties records are a common enough phenomenon in the USA that I shouldn't really be surprised by the sight of yet another one, but still... this confuses me for a variety of reasons. Firstly, it crops up in the online marketplace relatively frequently, suggesting that it was probably pressed up in ambitious quantities at the time. Secondly, the production is professional enough to suggest that it wasn't simply a few local teenage scruffs heading down to the cheap local studio to quickly record a garage rock record. 

But for all that, I've sod all idea who The Predictions were. Given that this is the only release I've been able to trace on T&T Records, though, it seems reasonably safe to assume that the label was set up purely for the benefit of promoting the group, and had no loftier long-term ambitions in mind. 

The music is fairly straight-ahead late sixties American pop, with chirpy interchanged vocals between a male and female vocalist who were clearly the centre-piece of the band. It's peppy and not at all bad, but not remotely "hip" for the era, leading me to suspect that The Predictions might have been a provincial club act trying to get noticed beyond their usual haunts. The B-side, on the other hand, is a very sparse, minimal and haunting ballad. 

If anyone has any ideas, let me know. 

Sorry for the pops and crackles on the B-side, folks. 

30 October 2016

Don Crown (& His Busking Budgies) - Mrs Wilson's Budgie/ Flying Machines

Label: President
Year of Release: 1971

Don Crown is absolutely no stranger to this blog (and he's even an occasional reader of it). I'm a keen admirer of his lost psychedelic pop single "Budgerigar Man", and covered it back in August 2012

As stated back on the previous entry, Don Crown was a street performer and busker who incorporated budgerigars into his musical act, arranging for them to - as clearly stated in song on "Budgerigar Man" - "Perform tricks while I sing and play". Budgerigars may be part of the parrot family, but they're not widely acknowledged as being especially bright compared to their larger brothers, nor easy to train, so the patience involved in producing such a show is clearly saintly. And for what it's worth, I caught Don Crown doing his stuff live as a child, and it absolutely made my day, even though I was never successful at replicating the results at home. 

Don did make a few media appearances with his birds, and it's probably thanks to that exposure that some record labels tried to make arrangements for him to have a hit single. "Budgerigar Man" on Orange Records flopped, and this, the follow-up on President, was equally unsuccessful. More lo-fi and one-man-band than the debut single, "Mrs Wilson's Budgie" may be taking some cues from The Blossom Toes "Mrs Murphy's Budgerigar", or it may be that the lyrical similarities are purely coincidental. Unlike the Toes, though, "Mrs Wilson's Budgie" has a much more jaunty, almost jugband feel to it. It's a likeable novelty record, but doesn't scale the production or arrangement heights of his debut.

The flipside "Flying Machines" has attracted slightly more attention recently, being compiled on "Electric Asylum Volume 3 - Rare British Acid Freakrock". I'd describe it as being absolutely nothing of the kind. It has a very lo-fi, sixties beat feel to it, with a Joe Meek-ish homemade production. Towards the end as the song reaches its peak, it even starts to bear a resemblance to a Lee Mavers out-take from some aborted Las sessions, though I highly doubt he was ever taking any notes from Uncle Don. Or perhaps the reason The Las didn't put out a second album was due to not having the right kind of budgies in the studio - "They should be proper sixties blue budgies, la". 

Irrespective of that, it's the better side of the two, but is commercially available. I'd advise you to make your way over to iTunes or elsewhere to grab yourself a copy, but I've included a brief snippet below.

26 October 2016

The Size Seven Group - Where Do We Go From Here/ 'Til I Die

Label: Mercury
Year of Release: 1965

Well, where do we go from here? Is it down to the lake, I fear? No, don't be silly.

The Size Seven Group hailed from Corby in Northamptonshire and were at one time named by Burt Weedon as "the greatest semi-professional group in Britain". Consisting of six members, namely Alan Black on bass, George Cumming on piano and vocals, Billy Geary on guitar and harmonica, Brian Lynn-Dowell on vocals, Billy Nicol on drums and Jack Stewart on lead guitar, they were an extremely popular and successful group in the local area, and their first single "Crying My Heart Out" was issued by the local label Rendezvous. The lack of other releases from that particular label would suggest that it existed briefly and solely to give The Size Seven Group a leg up.

This was a successful move, and resulted in the group being signed to Mercury where they remained for a further three singles, of which "Where Do We Go From Here?" was the first. It's a nice little beat pop ditty which caused enough ripples in the UK to get the American branch of Mercury Records to issue the track stateside. It wasn't a proper hit on either side of the pond, however, and the UK-only follow-up singles "It's Got To Be Love" and "In Time" completely failed to register with the public.

The Size Seven Group aren't really a particularly collectible act, their locally released debut aside, and that's arguably because there's no real edge to anything they produced. They existed mainly to deliver slick, professional versions of harmony ballads and light pop, not garage rock, soul or psychedelia. That said, they're occasionally acknowledged as being a rather overlooked British band in the world of mid-sixties pop, and an exceptional live act for the period. 

23 October 2016

Paul Curtis - On The Move (Video 2000)

Label: Philips
Year of Release: 1979, at a guess?

"Video 2000! What were all that about then, eh?" are words which Peter Kay has almost certainly never, ever started any stand-up routine with. In the video recorder revolution, Video 2000 was the Oric Atmos to VHS's ZX Spectrum and Betamax's Commodore 64, or perhaps the Liberal Democrats to VHS's Tory and Betamax's Labour, or... oh, I don't know, why don't you think of some rubbish and poorly fitting analogies for yourselves?!

The simple fact is that I have never, ever met in my life anyone who owned a Video 2000 machine. I knew of their existence, but everyone owned either VHS or Beta machines, and rued the day they chose Beta when that format eventually bit the dust (my family, to their eternal regret, were relatively late Betamax adopters). Video 2000 machines may as well have been ghostly myths in my neck of the woods in Essex - I don't think I even saw a player for sale in the local Dixons or Currys. They were just something that didn't touch my world. Apparently they were superior to the VHS and Betamax formats in almost all ways, from sound to picture quality to tape durability, but this cut little ice with the buying public, and the format was junked in 1986 to precious few tears.

Still, this synthetic promotional single from the late seventies gives you some idea of the kind of excitement Philips wanted to generate around Video 2000. The sleeve appears to show the player arriving in a blur from outer space, like some kind of alien tech us privileged humanoids had managed to get our hands on. The single backs this image up with dramatic whooshing noises, hyperactive slapped basslines, and the kind of synthesiser melody favoured by the Channel 4 Testcard in 1982 and the opening credits of short-lived science fiction series (probably with the face of each actor freeze-framed as their name appears on screen). But above all else, it sounded like the FUTURE. Or at least, it did at that time.

"You can't beat the system, no no no!" sing some soulful ladies, before backing this up with an even more ecstatic line about the player's fantastic ability to record many more televisual hours than its boring VHS or Betamax rivals, and with a 16 day pre-record clock facility. Trouble is, Video 2000 couldn't beat the market system, no no, and indeed, no. For reasons of timing (it was launched after the other formats) and distribution, it just didn't capture the public's imagination, and it would have taken a lot more than a slightly funky promotional synth single to put that right.

Still, in a funny kind of way, I am glad this exists, just because everyone needs the space for one chirpy disco record about defunct recording technology in their lives.

19 October 2016

Offered With Very Little Comment - Prime Evil, Brian "No Chance" Green, Tommy Farrell, White Gold

Inevitably, digging through record crates and remainder bins and going on ebay to search for interesting looking vinyl can bring forth an embarrassment of riches and... well, an overload of "meh". Records which are neither awful or good, by artists of whom little is known, creating music which was typical for its era and not in any way groundbreaking or surprising.

When I started this blog I prided myself on having something to say about everything I created an entry about, but these four singles have been sitting on my "to upload" list for over a year now, and try though I do I really cannot think of any insights to offer. Nor for the most part have I been able to uncover much information about any of the artists. It seems as if the best way of dealing with the situation is to offer them up for listening whilst not exhausting my tired brain trying to come up with interesting ways of putting them into any sort of context.

"Why upload them at all?" you may ask, and the answer to that is simple: "I guarantee you someone, somewhere will have been looking desperately to hear one of these singles. And not just the singer's cousin, either".

I might do this again on occasions where there's not much else to talk about - or I may not. We'll see. For now, though, here's your discs:

Artist: Prime Evil
Song: King Kong, King Kong (Parts 1 & 2)
Label: Mainspring
Year of Release: 1976

Pounding, tribal, synth-infested novelty disco record describing the events in the King Kong film. Scott Walker, of course, also precisely described the events in a classic film when he recorded "Seventh Seal". It sounded absolutely nothing like this, though I suppose the vocalist is emoting quite powerfully here. 

Artist: Brian (No Chance) Green
Songs: Now You're Gone/ 'Tain't No Sin
Label: Fontana
Year of Release: 1967

Seemingly a slice of Trad Jazz issued on a major label at a point when most people in the UK had long since given up on Trad Jazz and it had become a seriously niche concern. The flip is nice and lively, but really not my bag.

Artist: Tommy Farrell
Songs: You Made Me Lie To You/ Soon
Label: Beacon
Year of Release: 1969

Super-scarce Beacon 45 which hardly ever turns up anywhere, but really isn't much of a collectible, largely due to the fact that it's a fairly run-of-the-mill ballad. 

Artist: White Gold
Songs: Cross My Heart/ I Will Always Love You
Label: Logo
Year of Release: 1978

Smooth and smoochy disco action, nicely constructed and produced.