28 February 2016

Reupload - Peanut - I Didn't Love Him Anyway/ Come Tomorrow

Label: Columbia
Year of Release: 1967

The German born Mark Wirtz is best known in the UK for writing and producing the number two hit single "Excerpt From 'A Teenage Opera'" (aka "Grocer Jack") for Tomorrow frontman Keith West.  Supposedly forming part of a stage musical which in actual fact hadn't been written yet, the project stalled when the follow-up excerpts "Sam" and "He's Our Dear Old Weatherman" (the latter performed by Wirtz himself) fared less well.  Each single was an densely orchestrated pean to eccentric or otherwise unloved elderly gentlemen within a small community, and was - with the exception of "Weatherman" which I own a copy of and find hugely irritating - actually rather wonderful.

We're in danger of being sidetracked here, however, because there was so much more to Wirtz than this one famous project.  Amongst other things, he was also the producer for Katie Kissoon, aka Peanut, a singer from Trinidad who had previously had two flop singles on Pye before being brought under his wing to record a cover of "I'm Waiting for the Day" for Columbia.  That particular track is a fairly faithful reading of the "Pet Sounds" classic which probably should have been a hit single, but when it failed, the pair turned their attention to the Wirtz penned "I Never Loved Him Anyway".

This single is a sweet, mournful and terribly under-exposed part of Wirtz's catalogue, being filled with the same delicate toytown arrangements as the "Teenage Opera" tracks.  Gone, however, are the references to aged eccentrics and in their place is an understated ballad with some beautifully delivered vocals from Kissoon.  It contains all the sense of loss and finality which peppered the Opera project, but feels rather more personal, especially during the gentlest, quietest parts of this record where Peanut simply harmonises to an understated backing.  It lacks any kind of killer chorus, and it's perhaps for that reason that it failed, but it does prove that the use of toytown arrangements could be utilised beyond sixties psychedelic fantasia - ballads like this made fine use of the technique to recreate an atmosphere of child-like yearning.

Kissoon later went on to rather more success duetting with her brother Mac Kissoon on hits such as "Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep" (how many versions of this were there?!) and "Sugar Candy Kisses".  Once the hits dried up for them, she then put her fantastic vocals to use on sessions for (among others) Elton John, Roger Waters, Van Morrison, George Harrison, The Pet Shop Boys, Robbie Williams, and countless others.  Whether you think you've heard her before or not, you almost certainly have.

[This blog entry was originally uploaded in May 2012. I've nothing to add, except to mention that I actually sold my copy of "Dear Old Weatherman" a year or so ago alongside other rarities to finance a  much-needed holiday]. 

24 February 2016

Michael Blount - Beautiful Morning/ Feathered Cloud

Label: York
Year of Release: 1972

While very, very few of the records were actual bona-fide hits, the sixties and early seventies must have nonetheless felt like a time when it was perfectly possible for many British folk artists to score deals with major labels. Even minor acts like The Wedgwoods put out scores of singles across the two decades, and LPs besides... I doubt many of these people (if any) lived in wealthy circumstances, but folk certainly had way more mainstream television and radio exposure then than it does now. Nick Drake might not have been prime chat show interlude material, but a lot of the other artists were.

Michael Blount is a case in point. Mainstream enough to score a deal with York Records, connected to the business of regional TV company Yorkshire Television, both sides of this single are sweet enough for you to hear their mainstream appeal, but rustic enough not to completely betray their roots. "Beautiful Morning" in particular has a delicate lilt though could have perhaps sounded better without the chocolate box orchestral arrangement. Still though, it highlights the fact that Blount was capable of writing uplifting songs about rural Albion in a careful and intelligent way.

"Beautiful Morning" was also granted a release in the USA on Decca Records, where it also failed to make much of an impression. 

He put out three LPs, one on CBS in 1970 ("Patchwork") and the other two on York ("Souvenirs" and "Fantasies") which have had a mixed response from fans of the genre. That weighty and lofty tome "Tapestry Of Delights" warns readers away, while other online sources recommend them - I personally would argue that the average listener's tolerance for his work is going to depend on their taste for contemplative Fading Yellow styled acoustic pop. It's not necessarily a bad thing in my view, but a lot of collectors tend to prefer to have more angst and experimentation in the grooves, which would account for some of the rather harsh overviews. 

Blount is also apparently still active on the circuit, making him something of a rare individual so far as this blog is concerned. 

(Confession time - I've also stolen the images for this blog entry from 45cat user The Toad, as I'm presently miles away from a usable scanner. If he or the mods at 45cat object, I'll take them down and replace them with a scan from my own collection in a few days time. Not having access to the usual facilities felt like a poor reason for not updating the blog!)

17 February 2016

Carpetbaggers - Sorry/ Beautiful Gas

Label: Page One
Year of Release: 1982

Roger Greenaway is a hugely successful songwriter whose list of tracks would be the envy of anyone trying to get the public's ear. From "Something's Gotten Hold Of My Heart" to Andy Williams' under-praised "Home Lovin' Man", to the... er... unique novelty talents of The Pipkins, his abilities and work with Roger Cook often seemed effortless throughout the sixties and seventies.

Besides his attempts to crack the charts, he also had a successful career writing songs for television adverts, some of them among the most iconic jingles of the period. This is a two-sided single boasting two of his better known efforts retooled for home listening, released on the short-lived relaunched eighties version of the Page One label.

A-side "Sorry" is actually the music used by Allied Carpets to flog their wares to excited home improvers, and would usually be accompanied by the slogan "Allied for carpets for you". However, it's only in this rewritten seven inch guise with the corporate sponsorship removed that you realise how much the damn jingle sounded like a Sparks tribute. "Sorry" suffers from a slightly cheap, Rumbelows synthesiser production, but besides that the jerkiness of the arrangement, the wryness of the lyrics and the vocal stylings smack of Ron and Russ Mael. All this begs the question - how on earth did anyone in the marketing department think that a subtle reference to the Mael brothers might have put people in mind of luxury carpet fittings? Did Ron's hypnotic stare indirectly help to sell many a roll of quality feltback? Could he, even today, resuscitate the ailing fortunes of the carpet showroom and cause a shift away from the modern trend in wooden floorings and laminates? We may never find out.

The flip side "Beautiful Gas", on the other hand is - if you haven't guessed already - an atmospheric synthesiser driven version of the "Cookability" theme for British Gas. I'd have preferred a vocal version myself, but what we have here is interesting enough, sounding strangely futuristic (especially next to its rather more minimally produced A-side) and almost ambient in style. If it doesn't make you want to install a new gas hob in your kitchen, I don't know what will.

Carpetbaggers were obviously a studio group and not a going concern, but it would be interesting to find out who sung on the A-side. If anyone knows, drop me a line.

14 February 2016

The Reps - Rebel/ No More Yesterdays

Label: Kingsway Music
Year of Release: 1980

The Reps were the first band I ever saw live. That sounds like an impressive statement, as if they were some kind of gateway group who helped me discover my love of rock and roll, so let me clarify that a bit - I had no choice in the matter. My Religious Education teacher at secondary school, a much-mocked and faintly smug but, in retrospect, well-meaning sort of man - the kind who is always the first to volunteer to take forty schoolchildren on a camping expedition then nearly have a nervous breakdown in the process - booked the group to play at my school. The Reps, you see, had a reputation (or should that be Rep-utation?) for delivering edgy, relevant and not at all drippy Christian Rock music.

So there I was, sat in the school assembly hall, begrudgingly admiring the group. I had long made up my mind that I didn't believe in God, but nonetheless The Reps were loud and loved catchy New Wave and Powerpop riffs, two things I was also quite keen on. In fact, they played our school hall twice and I can still remember how the chorus to their track "What You Gonna Do About It?" goes even now. The hooks earwormed their way deep, and it's clear that the band had a very simple concept - keep the Christian message simple and subtle, the songs catchy, and the style relevant (they were a wee bit out of time in that respect by the time I saw them, admittedly) and eventually you may gain a few more believers. For all their efforts, I highly doubt anyone who actually knew their underground music would have been converted. A quick look at the quota of beards and rather casual clothes on the sleeve shows that the band were more likely to be found shopping at C&A than Sex on the Kings Road. Still, I could see how they might make an impact on the floating voters.

The Reps didn't actually begin as a New Wave styled band, starting their days as The Dunamis or Dumani Roadshow, a much more middle-of-the-road group. "Rebel" seems to catch them at a halfway house, an odd transition point. The A-side is squeaky, sprightly and definitely punk inspired, trying to reach the alienated kids out there. The intro even sounds almost like a nineties Teen C record, zinging along jauntily and only really mentioning Jesus about a minute in.

Flip "No More Yesterdays", on the other hand, is MOR 70s angst-rock, owing a slight debt to the space-age melodrama of Jeff Lynne and ELO. And, to be honest, while the lyrical message behind the track is even more naive than one of Jeff's more flippant exercises on "Time", it's actually the side I prefer. There's a keener expression of ideas here, and overall it sounds like a much more natural style for the group. You get no sense that they're trying to fit into a pair of trousers far too tight for them.

Their next single release, though, the aforementioned "What You Gonna Do About It?" would go on to defy the odds and become a punk/ new wave collectible, proving that they did eventually master the art impressively (and leave me regretting the fact I didn't buy the record for two quid at the time).

The Reps were apparently mainstays on the Christian Rock circuit for many years afterwards, picking up an impressive following along the way, but the trail for their activities goes cold after the late eighties. It seems as if the line-up at the point of "Rebel" was John Ritter on vocals and guitar, Sue Ritter on vocals and keyboards, Andy Clark on guitar and vocals, Paul Raper on bass, and Jo Stephens on drums, but that may have changed later on.

On a slightly tangential point, the small Christian orientated Kingsway Music label also put out a single by an artist called Adrian Snell with the title "That's Me In The Corner". Was Michael Stipe paying attention? It's doubtful, but you have to ask.

10 February 2016

Snips - Waiting For Tonight/ Smash Your TV

Label: Jet
Year of Release: 1978

Steve Parsons - aka Snips - was a key member of the much-fancied (but commercially under-achieving) mid-seventies band Sharks along with Chris Spedding. When that band's time came to a natural end, he burst out on his own with a string of solo singles throughout the late seventies and eighties.

Debut 7" effort "Waiting For Tonight" was an incredibly strong opener. Aided no end by its chiming Steve Lillywhite production and insistent hooks, it's the kind of track that would be held in higher regard had it been issued by an established New Wave artist of the day, as opposed to someone who had already been around the block a few times (though that riff in the link to the track "Sophistication" above shows that some members of the punk brethren were certainly listening to Sharks). A simple riff propels things along, and there's a distinct power-pop edge at play here too.

While Snips never really tasted fame or success of the mainstream kind despite issuing two LPs and five singles on Jet and EMI, all was not entirely lost. Parsons became, and presumably remains, a force to be reckoned with in the soundtrack world, and also still maintains a presence on the live music scene with his present group The Presence LDN. Sharks also reformed briefly to issue the comeback LP "Like A Black Van Parked On A Dark Curve" in 1994. Unlike the vast majority of bands on this blog, he is clearly not a man whose musical ideas will easily be put to rest.

7 February 2016

Robbi Curtice - The Soul Of A Man/ When Diana Paints The Picture

Label: Sidewalk
Year of Release: 1968

Now here is an absolute stormer, and one I'd been trying to find at a reasonable price for years on end. As occasionally happens, I took a punt on a very battered looking copy at a highly reduced price, and contrary to my expectations, it plays perfectly OK.

"The Soul of a Man" begins with a thudding, thundering bass line, Mod inspired crashing drums, then finally Robbi's victorious roar of "Right in the palm of your hand is the soul of a man". James Bond inspired brass patterns join the foray, and the track bashes and crashes around, ricocheting off the walls. One of those rare examples of a great record that seems to be all chorus and virtually no verses at all, it does a lot with very little, a veritable firework display of a two minute single.

The flip can't be ignored either. "When Diana Paints The Picture" is gentle, considered popsike with another high quality and effective arrangement. That both sides were coated with such fairy dust shouldn't be too surprising when you considered Vic Smith's close involvement. Vic later went on to become produce Vic Coppersmith-Heaven, producer of choice for The Jam and, perhaps less famously, Peter Wyngarde on his "When Sex Leers Its Inquisitive Head" album.

Robbi Curtice was Wiltshire based songwriter Rob Ashmore in real life, who had recently scored a Denmark Street publishing deal with Mills Music. "When Diana Paints The Picture" was co-written with Curtice's regular working partner Tom Payne and was being held in reserve by the company for Cilla Black for a possible future single, which obviously never emerged (and with all due respect to the deceased superstar, it's hard to imagine her version topping this one anyway). "The Soul Of A Man", on the other hand, was entirely a Ralph Murphy and Vic Smith composition, and recorded pronto after Curtice "learned the song in minutes after learning it on the back of an Embassy cigarette packet". Allegedly all concerned were disappointed with the final production of the track, and it only saw the light of day in the USA where it was almost entirely ignored, bar rumoured consumer interest in Sacramento.

Curtice's songwriting career continues, and in 2007 he saw a song of his ("Gospel Lane") emerge on the soundtrack for the Serge Bozon film "La France".

3 February 2016

Reupload - Johnny Johnson & His Bandwagon - Mr. Tambourine Man/ Soul Sahara

Label: Bell
Year of Release: 1971

Johnny Johnson and His Bandwagon, rather like Geno Washington, were an American soul act who had far greater success in the UK. "Breaking Down The Walls of Heartache" was a number four hit in 1968 - even though, given its subsequent influence and club plays, it feels as if it should have climbed even higher than that - and whilst the original line-up of The Bandwagon failed to last into the seventies, Johnson was keen to continue to capitalise on his success outside of the States.

A whole variety of other singles were issued, including the top ten hits "Sweet Inspiration" and "(Blame It) On The Pony Express", shortly before this one was issued to public indifference. Your eyes aren't deceiving you - it is indeed a soulful rendition of the Dylan/ Byrds classic, complete with sweat, intensity and a great big brassy horn section. On first listen, it sounds frankly unnatural and absurd. So much is done to deviate from the original tune and arrangement during the introductory seconds in particular that it's hard to even hear what it has in common with Dylan's song, and it's only when a chipper version of the chorus kicks in that you're able to connect the dots. By the second listen, however, it's a pure joy to listen to, a cover version attempted in the spirit of all the best ones, using the original track as a springboard for different arrangements rather than a score to idly copy from. Some may scream "Sacrilege!", but it's actually no more or less of a deviation from Dylan's first recording than The Byrds attempted.

The fun doesn't stop there, either. The B-side "Soul Sahara" is a thing of wonder, with Johnson whooping and hollering his way through a funky backbeat and horn section as he forcefully takes us through a history of that thing we call soul, with all its accompanying sub-genres. That neither side seems to get played very often in clubs (unlike the group's hits) is a missed opportunity in my book - "Soul Sahara" has such a furious insistence that it's impossible to stay still while it's playing, whereas "Tambourine Man" is a wonderful talking point.

And all this gets me wondering - has there ever been a song which has attracted a more varied array of covers than "Mr Tambourine Man"?