30 March 2016

Richard - A Little Bit/ Take Me

Label: Parlophone
Year of Release: 1969

We've already covered the production and songwriting work of Mark Wirtz elsewhere on this blog, which leaves me with very little to add. Besides Wirtz's ambitious Teenage Opera work, he was also constantly on the look-out for conventional pop hits. 

"A Little Bit", penned by his protege Miki Anthony - also covered elsewhere on this blog, though I admittedly had trouble identifying him at the time - is as straight-ahead at it gets, sounding like a strange, late sixties approximation of a beat boom number. The lyrics are about persuading a likely lady to move closer to her suitor, and again, it conveys this message with an early sixties innocence rather than shooting the whole track through with suggestiveness (though as with many tracks of this ilk, somehow that makes it feel slightly more manipulative and creepy). Perhaps that's the reason it failed to break through into the charts. It's not that such records didn't make it at all in 1969, but they usually had richer, more complicated arrangements than the raw bounce of this one - it's ironic that Wirtz, a man renowned for pushing the envelope, fell behind the curve here. Still, it's a perfectly good single with some neat electric organ noises, and might have fared better if it had been issued a few years earlier.

As for Richard, I have not a clue who he might have been. There was an artist in the Quebec region of Canada operating under the same name at the same time, but that need not mean anything. Whatever the facts, "A Little Bit" was, so far as I can tell, the only single credited simply to Richard in the UK, unless we count another issue on RAK in 1975 - and once again, I doubt that's the same person, but probably another performer who decided to dispense with his surname.

All answers on a postcard, please. Or a comment in the comment box will do.

29 March 2016

DJ'ing at Have Love Will Travel - 2nd April

Ey up chaps. I'll be DJ'ing my usual blend of garage, psychedelia, mod pop, punk and post punk at the Have Love Will Travel event at the Mascara Bar in Stamford Hill on Saturday 2nd April, 9pm until late.

It promises to be massive fun and I've got some great and surprising 45s lined up, and will be DJ'ing alongside Sean Bright and the legendary John The Revelator.

For those who are unfamiliar with the format of the event, here are some of the artists they usually spin:

★ The Sonics ★ Devo ★ Little Richard ★ The Clash ★ B52s ★ Etta James ★ David Bowie ★ The Slits ★ Blondie ★ The Velvet Underground ★ Toots and the Maytals ★ Gang of Four ★ The Shangri-Las ★ T-Rex ★ Chuck Berry ★ Ramones ★ Jackie Wilson ★ The Rolling Stones ★ Talking Heads ★ Ray Charles ★ The Stranglers ★ Ike and Tina ★ Wanda Jackson ★ The Specials ★ The Kingsmen ★ The Runaways ★ Iggy Pop ★

The address of the Mascara Bar is 72 Stamford Hill, London N16 6XS, and the Facebook invite is here

See you there!

27 March 2016

Starbreaker - The Sound Of Summer/ Arizona Lost and Gone

Label: Air
Year of Release: 1977

John Carter should need no introduction to most of you, and yet "should" is probably the operative word there. While I've no doubt that many "Left and to the Back" readers are aware of his songwriting efforts for projects and bands as varied as The Flowerpot Men, First Class, Manfred Mann, The Music Explosion and The Ivy League, not to mention the efforts released under his own name such as the truly mind-boggling piece of psychedelic pop "Laughing Man", plenty of others won't be.

For the benefit of the people who have yet to delve into his back catalogue, Carter was a songwriter who undoubtedly heard Brian Wilson's efforts from across the pond and immediately decided that this was the future of sophisticated popsmithery as the world knew it. Therefore, a huge rump of his output from The Ivy League in the sixties through to First Class in the seventies dedicated itself to sunny and yet frequently despondent or introspective pop songwriting. The Ivy League's superb "My World Fell Down", later covered by US group Sagittarius to greater recognition, is a fine example of his experiments with an Anglicised approximation of the California sound.  When First Class's "Beach Baby" was issued in the seventies in the USA, it climbed into the Top 5 and most North Americans blithely assumed that it was the work of a Californian group. Unbeknownst to them, Carter had merely penned the track from his East Sheen house with his wife Gillian Shakespeare and given it to a studio group.

By the late seventies his hit rate was beginning to slow down, and Starbreaker's "The Sound Of Summer" stems from this less fertile period. However, there's utterly no reason why it should have failed. Beginning with what distinctly sounds like the noises of a seaside crowd in Brighton rather than the Californian coast, "The Sound Of Summer" springs into life with a fantastic clarion call, the usual effective vocal harmonies, and a sprightly, effervescent melody. It's sharp, riddled to the brim with hooks, and short and sweet. Had it been issued at any other period than the late seventies, it's easier to imagine it performing better.

Perhaps by the time this blog entry goes live, it will even summon an end to the freezing cold, grey English days that have dominated over the last few months. Here's living in hope. 

23 March 2016

The Hinge - The Village Postman/ You'd Better Go Home

Label: RCA
Year of Release: 1968

One more from the bottomless pit of popsike records about ordinary people in small towns or villages toiling away doing their day jobs. Grocer Jack in "Teenage Opera" might have started the ball rolling, but there are tons of others too - The Decision introduced us to "Constable Jones", Cyan to the sweetshop owner Toby, Bulldog Breed to the street corner newspaper salesman, Dr Marigold's Prescription to the nightwatchman... on and on the list goes.

"The Village Postman", far from being a tribute to The Singing Postman aka Allan Smethurst, is a jolly ditty about the trials, tribulations and light-hearted moments of being a hard-working postie close to retirement. "He has to work in all the weathers", the band inform us, in case we'd overlooked that aspect of the role. It bounces and chimes along nicely, the simplicity of the arrangement suiting the lyrical theme well.

The Hinge were a duo consisting of Gerry Levene and Chris Sedgewick. Levene was for some considerable time a legend on the Birmingham gig circuit, being frontman of hard-gigging beat group Gerry Levene and The Avengers who took their act all around the UK, including Liverpool's Cavern Club in the early sixties. Perhaps more significantly, that band had Roy Wood in its ranks at one point, before Wood departed to more fully realise his own ambitions. The Hinge came long after Levene's period with The Avengers drew to a close, and involved a significantly different sound for him, but sadly not one which paid greater commercial dividends.

Following the failure of "The Village Postman", Levene continued his music career, being involved in the band Crossbones who released "Shakin' All Over" on the Penny Farthing label in 1972, and also forming his own publishing and record company Sovereign which remained active until very recently, issuing solo work of his own as well as others. He has also specialised in music management (taking on the accounts of Danny King and Cozy Powell) and dog breeding. Sedgewick's movements are less clear, although it would seem that he continued songwriting for awhile afterwards.

Sadly, Levene passed away on 20th December 2011.

21 March 2016

It's Great To Be 8, Yeah...!

Somewhat miraculously, "Left and to the Back" celebrates its eighth birthday today. I don't normally bother to bookmark the occasion - because I usually completely forget, to be honest with you - but as it's actually occurred to me this time around, I thought it was worth celebrating the fact that we've managed to plough through eight years without me losing interest or running out of things to write about, or running out of money to buy these records with (when you take into account the fact I have to pay Box a regular subscription fee for use of their servers, as well as fork out cash to buy the singles that feature on here, keeping this blog alive is actually a hobby that costs money - if either my wife or I lost our jobs or fell into financial difficulties, it would probably be a very early casualty).

It's been nothing but an absolute pleasure to keep this daft little project alive, and thanks hugely to both the people who have stuck with this blog since its very early days, and all the new readers who have come along in the years since.

To celebrate how far we've come, let's take a look at a screenshot of the blog in its earliest days, shall we?

Hmmm... Design-wise, at least, it certainly improved...

20 March 2016

Leather Head - Gimme Your Money Please/ Epitaph

Label: Philips
Year of Release: 1974

This one has already been featured over on the mighty PurePop blog, but sometimes when a record is this fantastic you have to spread the love around a little bit. For - and I have not a shred of doubt in my mind when I say this - the A-side "Gimme Your Money Please" sounds like one of the finest unrecognised proto-punk records ever. You be the judge.

Originally recorded by Bachman Turner Overdrive, their version of "Gimme Your Money Please" is a rather straightforward piece of rock and roll boogie, probably great if you like that kind of thing, but personally speaking it fails to hold my attention. One-record wonders Leather Head, on the other hand, took the original track, put a honking great electric organ behind it, spittle drenched vocals up front, and turned it into what was probably supposed to be a nod to the pub rock movement but actually sounds frighteningly like The Stranglers - and for once, I really don't think this is an idle, off-the-cuff comparison or a piece of lazy journalism, though I have no doubt that some punks will argue that Guildford's finest are merely an incorrectly classified pub rock band anyway. So huge is the resemblance to The Stranglers that there have even been minor Internet rumours in the past that the two bands were in some way aware of each other or linked, but even if the former is true (the actual town of Leatherhead from which the band derive their name is, after all, very close to Guildford) I'd suggest the latter is very unlikely. We may have to chalk this one up to coincidence and have done with it.

Anyone expecting a similarly "Rattus Norvegicus" shaped B-side will be hugely disappointed with "Epitaph", which is a six minute piece of mournful progressive rock utilising mellotrons (although I've a sneaking suspicion that some readers of this blog may go nuts for it - apologies for the pops and crackles for anyone who did hope to hear a clean, pristine version). One can only assume that at the time Philips snapped up Leather Head for a suck-it-and-see one single deal, they hadn't fully decided on their direction and created a single with two sides which were completely at odds with each other. Still, despite its pretentious lyrics "Epitaph" is not without its charms, and to be honest it's hard to understand how this single hasn't become a huge collector's item given that most obscure prog discs seem to go for vastly inflated sums nowadays, and Leather Head's take on the genre is actually quite convincing as well.

[Update - this was originally uploaded in March 2012. Since then, Geoff Boswell of Leather Head has been in touch to give me the full line up details and further information.

"We are all still alive and kicking. Band was:

Marcus Bird - Keyboards
Jim Baldwin - Guitar
Richard Paul - Drums
Geoff Boswell - Bass.

We were all at school together, formed a band and did well locally. Spotted by a Philips A&R person we changed name [at their suggestion] to Leather Head as we all lived in Ashtead Surrey [2 miles from Leatherhead].

Did some interesting gigs mainly around London. Most memorable I guess was supporting a band called Stryder at the MARQUEE CLUB.

Single was a one off recorded at Marquee Studios and at Stanhope Place."

Thanks for the added information, Geoff, and if any other members of Leather Head want to chime in any thoughts or memories, please do feel free. This is a brilliant little single and I wish we'd been given the chance to hear more.]

16 March 2016

What Four - Stop In The Name Of Love/ Asparagus

Label: Tower
Year of Release: 1968

Once every so often I stumble upon a sixties garage punk single that really causes me to pull "WTF?" faces. This shouldn't happen often, of course... I've been around the block enough times to realise that a lot of garage singles are highly bizarre artefacts, so I'm already prepared. But still, when I purchased this one, I felt sure that what I'd be getting was an uptempo, abrasive take on the Supremes classic. And what I got instead was...

Well, it's hard to describe this version of "Stop In The Name Of Love". The first listen to it is highly perplexing, as the band choose to make all the most quirky sounds at the places you'd least expect them. The "Think it over" segment of the original tune, for example, is the calm after the huge warning sign of the chorus. What Four instead place a clanking, pounding riff behind it that makes it sound like an extension of the chorus's hysteria, the next level up. This is not a pop song anymore, it's the noise of five railway barriers sounding off simultaneously through valve amplifiers.

I had hoped that this might be a good single to DJ with, but I suspect it might actually clear dance floors. It's not a bad record by any means, and I actually enjoy its peculiar elements hugely, it's just too irregular for most dancers to be able to make a connection with. I suspect the point of inspiration may have been Vanilla Fudge's version of "You Keep Me Hanging On", but "Stop" here is much more abrasive and stripped back.

The B-side "Asparagus" is possibly a bit more promising in the dance-floor department, being a proper uptempo garage pounder with layers of lyrical absurdity about accepting the universal goodness of American asparagus over the top. I suspect its a metaphor for the kind of meaningless middle-of-the-road demands made by "squares", readers. But the track has a loose, rhythmically simple enthusiastic drive behind it, akin to the kind of garage rock you might suspect Jack White would most enjoy.

There were two What Fours around in America in the 60s, the girl group and some garage punkers from Queens, New York. This is almost certainly the work of the latter rather than the former. Previously known as Sunrisers, they changed their name to What Four for the release of the single "Tossin Ship" on the tiny Rollem label, before finishing their careers with this cover on Tower. I have no other information on them besides that - if you know more, please do pass the details on.

13 March 2016

Buzz - The Digger On Mars/ Jubilee Rock

Label: Crystal
Year of Release: 1977

Another record with something unusual and interesting on the flip, and something utterly insubstantial on the A-side. The 1977 Silver Jubilee only really produced one single which anyone still talks about, and that's The Sex Pistols "God Save The Queen". There were others which took a much more positive tone, such as Neil Innes' seldom referenced (by him or anyone else) "Silver Jubilee", or a multitude of associated singles BBC Records and Tapes slipped out. None made any real impact with the public, and it might be tempting to think that's because we're a bunch of Republicans at heart, but I rather suspect it had more to do with the quality of the material on offer.

Take this A-side, for example, a forgettable piece of chugging pop-rock with some boy scouts and girl guides singing on it. It was surely intended as a joyous party record, but nobody involved sounds enthused enough to really carry it. The vocals alone sound like the work of somebody who was keen to get the whole business over and done with as quickly as possible.

The B-side gives us some clues as to why, and makes it apparent that this clearly wasn't a band whose ambitions lay with Royal event novelty tie-in singles. It sounds out-of-time for 1977 but also notable. Clearly taking its cues from both the David Bowie and Pink Floyd back catalogue, "The Digger On Mars" combines whizzing analogue synths, chugging Glam Rock guitars, and a surprisingly ambitious arrangement. Just when you think the song has settled into a knuckle-dragging, punchy glam rut, there's a superb middle-eight which sounds almost prog in its leanings, a "Dark Side of The Moon" inspired piece of spacey introspection. Then the drums burst in again, the song returns, and this time buzzes full-throttle into something much more minimal and repetitive and almost - but not quite - motorik. A three minute song of clear thirds, then, and the last thing on Earth you'd expect to find buried on the back side of a Royal Family tribute record.

As for who Buzz were, they had two singles out on Crystal in 1977, this and "What A Feeling", neither of which made any impact. To complicate matters further, there have been at least seven bands called Buzz or The Buzz since the sixties, and while I'm absolutely positive that this lot have nothing to do with the Joe Meek associated group, it's possible there may be links to the others. I can't begin to unknot the chaos by myself, however, so if anyone has any ideas, please drop me a comment.

9 March 2016

Jim Jiminee - Do It On Thursday/ Housewife

Label: Cat and Mouse
Year of Release: 1987

Back in the late eighties, I was sat in my bedroom listening to Jim Jiminee's album "Welcome To Hawaii" far too damn loudly. As any teenage fool knows, this approach generally tends to provoke anger in one's parents, and a bang on the door followed by "What ARE you listening to? Turn it down or OFF!" On this occasion, however, something changed. "What ARE you listening to?" my Mum began. "I mean, it sounds like the sort of thing your Dad and I would have listened to in the sixties..."

Ouch. As a teen, I hadn't immersed myself in the world of uptempo sixties rock and pop yet, and didn't know how to take this. But to her credit, my Mum knew what she was talking about. Jim Jiminee were frequently classified in the British music press as being part of an indie/ twee pop scene, but the frantic, buzzing, brassy urgency of their three minute songs really owed a debt to the British sixties acts in Soho basement bars. While you can trace doley eighties indie angst in Jim Jiminee's output, and an obvious debt to Madness, somewhere in those sweaty grooves - and God, "Welcome to Hawaii" sounded as if it was recorded in a sweaty club, feeling like an electric live album rather than a polished studio work - was also the presence of people like Georgie Fame and even skiffle groups. And though my knowledge of these things was limited as a teenage boy, I was dimly aware of the validity of my Mum's comparison and released I had no defence. Did Jim Jiminee partly cause me to delve further back into the musical past? Partly, I think, though others also pushed me in that direction (The Wonder Stuff being fairly inaccurately compared to Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd by Julianne Regan in Record Mirror also sent me in the direction of the budget "Relics" LP, though in fairness Julianne only said this in retaliation for Miles Hunt saying that All About Eve were essentially just Fleetwood Mac. This makes me possibly the only person to have got into Syd Barrett via Grebo).

I digress somewhat. So here is the first Jim Jiminee record I was aware of, thanks to its appearance on "The Chart Show" on Channel 4 in Autumn 1987. "Do It On Thursday", an uptempo ode to the wait for one's unemployment cheque, is typically driving, antsy, and deceptively elaborate. In those days, many indie bands had a scratchy urgency about their work, but the blistering guitar solo and the careful keyboard frills that litter this single really wouldn't have been at home on a Wedding Present or Soup Dragons 45. The band also dressed in sharp suits and not hand-me-down Oxfam clothes or paisley shirts. They were both of their time and slightly behind their time as well.

Maybe that's why they didn't do as well as they should. Critics were quick to praise their frantic live shows, but ultimately "Do It On Thursday' - or the absolutely full-throttle should-have-been-huge "Town and Country Blues" - wouldn't have sounded at home on late eighties daytime Radio One, and as we've seen time and time again, it's not necessarily about the quality of your work but also how well it fits the music scene around you.

After the failure of the LP, the band - consisting of Kevin Jamieson, Pete Dyes, Delphi Newman, Nick Hannan and Lindsay Jamieson - seemed to fizzle out. As an odd footnote, backing vocalist Delphi won a Record Mirror search for a star competition a couple of years later and was placed on their front cover and feted as a future hitmaker, but beyond an appearance on an EP they gave away for free with that copy, nothing else seemed to happen for her. There is nothing on the Internet about how this not insignificant media push didn't even produce so much as a record label signing for Delphi, never mind a hit, but she later formed the group World Without Tigers in 1998.

The irrepressible Kevin Jamieson always seemed to be the main force of nature in Jim Jiminee in any case, and he later went on to form Deep Season with Nick and Lindsay - a band the Internet also seems to know very little about.

It's oft stated that Harriet Wheeler of The Sundays was also a serving member for a period. This is not, strictly speaking, the case; rather, she was in an earlier line-up of the group called Cruel Shoes. The idea of her contributing to something so energetic and uptempo is absurd enough for people to want to cling on to, I suspect.

But really, it's more than good enough that Jim Jiminee had some truly wonderful moments in their catalogue without them having any minor indie star connections. Buy a copy of "Welcome to Hawaii" now - sinfully, they're not even that collectible, so you won't have to fork out much or search that hard - and dance around your living room like a maniac to its contents. There are fewer finer ways to while away a weekend evening.

6 March 2016

The Academy featuring Polly Perkins - Munching The Candy/ Rachel's Dream

Label: Morgan Blue Town
Year of Release: 1969

Life wasn't easy for independent labels in the sixties, and Morgan was no exception. Constantly dealing with shambolic distribution networks, very few of them scored hits. President Records broke the mould in the later part of the decade, but Joe Meek's struggles with Triumph and the financial struggles experienced by Strike Records spoke volumes about the hurdles many truly independent businesses had to deal with.

Far from being just an independent label, though, Morgan was also a large and well-respected recording studio in North London, with an in-house session team of musicians and songwriters who regularly bypassed the Morgan label and licensed their product to majors (The Smoke's "My Friend Jack" probably being the most famous example). The best Morgan recordings, such as those by The Smoke, Bobak Jons Malone and Fortes Mentum, were compiled on a superb Sanctuary Records release called "House of Many Windows" some years ago. This is now out-of-print, but copies are well worth tracking down - the team had developed a distinctive and actually incredibly agreeable sound by the late sixties, filled with tricksy and classical inspired arrangements, a low-end bass fuzz, and peculiar woozy but nonetheless poppy psychedelia. Whereas a lot of other psychedelic pop of the period sounded like the melodic equivalent of cheap Christmas cracker toys, Morgan took their mission seriously - in anyone else's hands, a track like Fortes Mentum's "Saga of a Wrinkled Man" would have possibly sounded cheap and nasty. Not for no reason did one prominent Morgan man Will Malone go on to become the arranger for The Verve in the nineties (and it is just about possible to hear the similarities if you really try).

Morgan Blue Town was an incredibly short-lived offshoot of the main label which attempted to reposition their product in a more progressive vain, appealing to the hippy and student markets. Any recordings on the label tend to be hopelessly scarce now, including this single by actress, Ready Steady Go compere and singer Polly Perkins.

This is actually a somewhat threadbare inclusion to their usually heavily produced catalogue. Polly Perkins had failed to score any hit singles in her music career, but was nonetheless a "known name" at this point who had already put out some commercial sounding grooves - so her sudden shift to progressive sounding music must have seemed bizarre at the time, a bit like Twinkle suddenly going a bit way-out and boarding the weed bus to rural Cambridgeshire. Nonetheless, "Munching The Candy" is a very folky, campfire effort which nods and winks in the direction of naughty drug-taking behaviour. "Rachel's Dream", on the other hand, is a rather more epic B-side which considers the plight of the Jewish people. No, really.

Like everything else on the label, it failed miserably. Polly only issued one other single in its wake, 1973's "Coochi Coo" on Chapter 21 Records, and seemed to focus more on her acting career afterwards. Perhaps that was the right decision. Between 2011-12 she scored a job on "Eastenders" as Dot Cotton's estranged sister Rose, and had numerous other jobs on the go in the run-up to that moment. While there's nothing wrong with her musical output, it certainly seems as if her strengths lay in theatre and screen work. For the rest of us, however, this single will always feel slightly like Dot Cotton's sister singing about a "hole in my head" where "the light's shining in" while a flute puffs in the background. And that's something that stays with you. Honestly, you'd have thought Dot had enough to deal with having Nick in the family.

The Academy and Polly Perkins also put out an album entitled "Pop-Lore According To The Academy" in 1969 which failed to do much business but was recently reissued to some fanfare.

2 March 2016

Spangs - Frightened of the Night/ Safe In My Room

Label: RCA
Year of Release: 1980

Spangs are yet another band to add to the never-ending list of New Wave/ synth-pop acts who sneaked out a couple of singles early in the eighties but never released a full length LP. "Frightened of the Night" is, as its title suggests, a paranoid, wiry, edgy kind of effort, thick with a cold and foreboding atmosphere but not short on hooks. 

Released once on the independent Carno records before being picked up again by RCA, the added clout of a major label's promotion and distribution sadly did little extra for the record, and it failed to chart again. Once the follow-up "Who Invited You Anyway" was also ignored in 1981, the band were seemingly dropped and the game was over.

While Spangs might not be a name that's on the tip of anyone's tongue apart from the most hardcore New Wave collectors, some of the band's members did continue to appear on other records. Guitarist Mark Strobel and keyboard player Steve Bull joined the China Records signed The Name in the late eighties, who managed to drop two more albums into the world than Spangs.  Bass player Bernie Davis would also later go on to work with Alabama 3. 

The whereabouts of the lead vocalist Chris Spencer and drummer Dave Rice, however, are a little less clear. Discogs seems to suggest that Spencer became the frontman for American noise-rockers Unsane, but that smacks suspiciously of a database error - I strongly suspect he's an entirely different individual.

Whatever the full facts, "Frightened of the Night" is starting to pick up some attention among collectors of early eighties pop, and that's hardly surprising. Containing many of the era's melodic tropes which would later be utilised and used by the 21st Century Shoreditch cool kids with silly haircuts, it manages to be simultaneously of it's time and also faintly ahead of its time.