27 April 2016

Black Swan - Echoes and Rainbows/ Belong Belong

Label: Ember
Year of Release: 1971

Now here's a rum release. While Black Swan may seem like a group name, it would appear that this was entirely the work of Cherbourg born sixties star Billy Bridge, who enjoyed some minor success in France with tracks such as "Le Grand M". For the Black Swan project, he apparently played absolutely all the instruments himself with no input from other sources.

Unlike his early approximations of beat pop and Rock and Roll, however, Black Swan is essentially very organic late period psychedelia, and in the context of the material he was best known for is as unexpected as finding a Cliff Richard 45 with a heavy hippy feel. Actually recorded across the water in Britain, the A-side "Echoes and Rainbows" has a minimal trance-like insistence, complete with kazoo overload, whereas the flip "Belong Belong" is - illogically enough - much poppier, riddled with merry hooks akin to a slightly lighter version of Aphrodite's Child. In all, the two sides amount to a very hazy, dope-fuelled campfire listening experience.

A full album entitled "Da Ga De Li Da - Echoes and Rainbows" was issued in mainland Europe, but not (so far as I'm aware) the UK. It's been unavailable for some time since and, while it's getting picked up by a few psychedelic aficionados now, remains rather obscure. What became of Billy after this weird footnote in his solo career is not clear to me, but the Black Swan project was clearly a one-off never to be repeated.

Sadly, Billy passed away in Paris in November 1994.

Both sides of this single are available on iTunes as part of the "Ember Pop" compilation, but "Echoes and Rainbows" can be heard in full on YouTube. Very brief clips are also available below to give you a flavour of the single.

24 April 2016

The Changin' Times - Pied Piper/ Thank You Babe

Label: Philips
Year of Release (in the US): 1965

Now here's an odd find - a South African pressing of a low charting American garage single. The Changin' Times "Pied Piper" managed to climb into the lower reaches of the Billboard Top 100 on its release in 1965, but response to the record in the UK was downright indifferent on its issue here, and it took our native arrogant young gunslinger Crispian St. Peters to turn it into a monster top ten hit with a smoother, bouncier, and actually inferior version.

Maybe the original was just a bit too rough around the edges for British tastes at that time, but I think it's a thing of total wonder. From the incessant flute riff through to the raw and craggy Dylan-esque vocals, it's one of the finer pieces of pop to burst out of the naive nooks and crannies of American garage rock. Lyrically it's possible to view the disc as either being an approving nod to beatnik culture and the bourgeoning hippy movement, or an utter piss-take - my wife is utterly convinced that it's actually a fairly snarky piece of satire (the use of the phrase "so fall in line" perhaps being a criticism of the hero-worship the likes of Dylan received rather than being approving). Whatever your end conclusion, musically it's simple, sharp and delightful, and probably not seeking out underground credibility with its endless hooks.

The flip is even more raw than the A-side, throwing a rasping harmonica and spirited vocals against a thrown together minute-and-a-half ditty. It consists of the victory of youthful enthusiasm over ability and budget that so many garage records have in spades.

Despite initial appearances, though, The Changin' Times were actually songwriting duo Steve Duboff and Artie Kornfeld having a crack at fame in their own right. Besides penning "Pied Piper" they also created the original version of the "Nuggets 2" compiled garage classic "How Is The Air Up There?" Not for no reason does "Pied Piper" also have more than an inkling of pop songwriting suss about it - Kornfeld also penned the Jan and Dean classic "Dead Man's Curve", so had more than a slight notion about what he was doing.

Still, Kornfeld proved his hippy credentials by going on to become one of the main organisers of the Woodstock festival and also became a music industry "Mover n Shaker". Duboff, rather oddly, later became a video games designer though continued to write and produce music until he passed away in 2004.

"Pied Piper" was one of a brace of single The Changin' Times issued until 1968, when they finally called it a day. 

20 April 2016

The Cymbaline - Peanuts and Chewy Macs/ Found My Girl

Label: Mercury
Year of Release: 1967

It's a rare pleasure for me to introduce a band from my own home turf on "Left and to the Back". Ilford, by now a piece of East London Victorian suburbia spilling over into Essex, isn't a place where a great many pop stars have come from, unless we count Louise Wener, Jet Black, The Dooleys, Kathy Kirby, and er, Sean Maguire. Probably the place's greatest claim to rock fame is the fact that "Itchycoo Park" was written about a park in the area (and no Small Faces member can agree on which one, though Steve Marriott claimed it was Valentines Park, just round the corner from my abode, and the lyrics themselves point to this as being the most likely candidate).

The Cymbaline, consisting of Stuart Claver on vocals, John Hollis on guitar and vocals, Gerald Morris on bass, Anthony Mortlock on lead guitar and vocals and Philip Chesteron on drums, were apparently all Ilford boys and were an ever-present sight on the release schedules throughout the mid to late sixties. Kicking their careers off on Pye with "Please Little Girl" in 1965, they jumped to Mercury for their next release in the same year, then finally settled on Philips in 1967 until their demise in 1969. Seven singles were released throughout the whole period, and the group were clearly deemed bankable by a number of people at the time - but it all came to nought.

It's somewhat surprising under the circumstances. The lads were clearly able musicians, and vocally their record performances are actually of an extremely high quality. What stands out overwhelmingly across many of their 45s are the tight, precise and pretty vocal harmonies Mortlock, Hollis and Claver were capable of delivering, and Claver's lead vocals in particular strike out from your stereo convincingly. 

"Matrimonial Fears" is widely regarded to be their finest single, and found its way on to volume 4 of the Rubbles rarities series. However, the rest of their catalogue is by no means a total waste of time. "Peanuts and Chewy Macs", for example, is a sunshine-drenched piece of harmony pop which focuses on the activities of a slightly illicit market stall owner flogging tasty snacks to the public. It's as good as most of the harmony psych flops that came from the West Coast of the USA, and must have felt like a cheering listen leaking out of transistor radios in April 1967. Carefully arranged and with intricate arrangements, it's no lazy piece of work.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, after The Cymbaline dissolved Stuart Calver went on to do session vocal work for Roger Daltrey, Cockney Rebel and Linda Lewis. Chesterton later drummed for Marc Ellington, and the whereabouts of the others are unclear. 

17 April 2016

The Creation - Creation/ Shock Horror

Label: Creation
Year of Release: 1994

The Creation are usually one of the first groups on the lips of any connoisseur of sixties music if they're asked the question: "Which truly great British sixties bands fell by the wayside at the time?" 

In truth, they weren't total obscurities. They managed one very minor hit with "Painter Man", and another very near-hit with the big and beastly "Making Time". The former, somewhat absurdly, was later covered by Boney M, while the latter has become ubiquitous even in indie club land in the last twenty years - I was at an indie night in Ottawa ten years ago and heard the DJ play it to a huge dance floor response, and then again at a wedding elsewhere. It may have failed to crack the Top 40 in the UK, but it's since become regarded as a monstrous piece of mod pop as worthy of attention as anything The Who also produced at the time. The Germans were more accommodating in the sixties and found them a home in their charts - the British, for whatever reason, failed to see sense. 

The Creation's stock began to rise during the first wave of the sixties revival in the eighties, and only continued to gain momentum as the nineties set in. If evidence of this is needed, the fantastically chaotic and psychedelic "How Does It Feel To Feel" was covered by Ride and issued as an A side by them. 1994 obviously seemed like the perfect date for the original line-up to get back together and produce new material, and Alan McGee's Creation Records - themselves named after the band - seemed like the obvious home. They were placed in the studio with the label's legendary producer Joe Foster to produce a single also entitled "Creation", presumably with the idea that this three-way match between label, band and song title would be an interesting press story in itself.

What's astonishing about this record is that, unlike many comeback attempts by sixties groups, it sounds totally and utterly rooted in the decade it actually emerged in. The bleeding, compressed, treble-heavy production, attitude and energy sounds like 1994 Britpop as opposed to sixties mod rock. True, this isn't a tremendously large genre leap, but nonetheless the transition sounded surprising at the time and remains startling on relistening today. The A-side "Creation" in particular is a blistering piece of work, taking a simple riff and pushing it into the red. The track is seldom heard now, and probably doesn't stand up with the group's finest, but it's nonetheless worth your time. So many comebacks are riddled with embarrassment and misunderstanding present pop and rock trends - indeed, The Creation also had a crack in the eighties which is best ignored - but "Creation" and "Shock Horror" still don't sound especially distant. 

The Creation continue to tour and play today, but since the death of lead singer Kenny Pickett in 1997 they have been led by guitarist Eddie Phillips, who at present is the only remaining original member.

13 April 2016

Carl Wayne - Hi Summer/ My Girl And Me

Label: Weekend
Year of Release: 1977

Whatever you think of Carl Wayne - and there's no question in my mind that he fronted some of the finest singles of the late sixties as lead singer of The Move - history hasn't shown him to have been a man who was adept at spotting trends. When Roy Wood tried to push The Move into a more progressive direction, Wayne promptly left to focus on a more mainstream career. Wood birthed ELO in the aftermath, and Wayne popped up on mainstream television a lot but didn't score any hit singles or albums.

You can't blame Wayne for perhaps thinking that Wood's underground aspirations were marginally silly, but then later on in his career the songwriters behind "Sugar Baby Love" offered him first dibs on the track. Wayne concluded it wasn't worth his time, and Bickerton and Waddington then approached The Rubettes who soared to number one in the UK with it. Mistake number two.

And so it went. Wayne's solo career was something of a disappointment sales-wise, and while he was guaranteed frequent television exposure as a safe pair of light entertainment hands, the public would never be sufficiently moved (no pun intended) to grant him a hit single.

"Hi Summer" stems from the now largely forgotten 1977 LWT series of the same name, which Wayne appeared in and also sang the Lynsey De Paul penned theme tune. The show was essentially a travelling variety show involving various TV singers and stars roving around in an open-top bus, singing tunes and performing comedy sketches with smiles on their faces. Leslie Crowther, Lena Zavaroni, Derek Griffiths, and Anna Dawson all regularly featured, and the show's only repeat showing in recent years has been this rather dated clip of Griffiths and Dawson singing "Melting Pot" together. Alan Partridge was doubtless leaning forward in his chair and paying close attention at the time that first aired.

There's a clear Beach Boys influence cutting under the theme tune itself, and you'd be forgiven for expecting Carl Wayne fronting a piece of Beach Boys inspired work as sounding something close to Super Furry Animals - but this, sadly, would not be borne out. "Hi Summer" is jolly, bouncy and actually oddly enjoyable, but it doesn't come close to the man's finest work. His voice is in fine form throughout, but the material itself isn't strong enough to have been a hit, and the track is also over-long, repeating the same ideas around the block rather than expanding on them.

All this is somewhat incidental, however. It's very hard to imagine The Move's work without Carl Wayne's charismatic presence and throttling lead vocals. While you could try to argue that Roy Wood might have been able to carry the band by himself in the earliest days, Wayne had a star quality, and it's perhaps no surprise that he thought a solo career might be more beneficial to him than the trappings of a band.  Solo careers failing to fly despite seemingly positive odds is, unfortunately, an old old story in rock and pop (just ask Paul Jones).

Wayne would eventually earn some success as the new lead singer of The Hollies from the year 2000 until his tragic death of cancer in the year 2004.

10 April 2016

Reupload - Dr. Marigold's Prescription - Breaking The Heart Of A Good Man/ Night Hurries On By

Label: Bell
Year of Release: 1970

When you're browsing through the record racks looking for a pleasing obscurity, Bell Records frequently don't offer many contenders when it comes to non-glam rock records (and in fact, even some of its glam output is frankly rather cheap and nasty whether hit parade bothering or no).  Things aren't always as they seem, however, and in between the more bubblegum oriented output lies a few interesting discs.

A band with a name like Dr. Marigold's Prescription should of course mean that the musical gang in question were provincial psychedelic non-pop stars being roundly ignored by the general public.  In truth, that's not quite accurate.  They were actually a slightly boogie-influenced pop band, which their Cook and Greenaway penned A-side "Breaking The Heart of A Good Man" demonstrates keenly here.  All gnashing vocals and pounding drums, the track is perfectly OK, but could perhaps have done with more peaks and troughs in the arrangement to give the proceedings some sort of momentum.  The lyrics seem to deal with some cold-hearted woman who doesn't appreciate her man and spends all his wages on trinkets and other such nonsense.  Can't she see he's in the red, godammit?  Clearly not.

More interesting to me is the bizarre, decidedly popsike B-side "Night Hurries On By", dealing with the life of a nightwatchman through the shimmering haze of his shift-side fire and some rather late sixties recording studio effects.  It's not something which necessarily should have been compiled by now, but nonetheless, I'm a bit surprised that somebody at Bam Caruso or Past and Present didn't see an opportunity here to include it on one of their albums.  It's a warm yet wintery piece of whimsical psych, and sounds a lot stronger than much of the output on the "Circus Days" series of albums, to give an example of one series where it might have found a place.  

Dr Marigold's Prescription apparently began life in 1968 as the backing group for Billy Fury, before moving on to also carry out live work with John Walker (of the Walker Brothers).  Despite being a relatively hitless bunch, their recording career lasted until 1975 before they completely gave up the ghost, and two albums emerged, the scarce 1969 release "Pictures of Life" and 1973's "Hello Girl".  The "Tapestry of Delights" book describes them as "a middle of the road outfit, although the name promises better".  Several online psych fans argue that's an extremely unfair and snappy overview of their work, which is a debate we may be able to have at some later point if I manage to dig up some more of their work.

[This entry was originally uploaded in February 2011. I still haven't got around to buying a DMP album, which I must do soon. Another track of theirs, "Muddy Water", can be found on the blog here].

6 April 2016

Sweet Chariot - Wish I Were A Child/ Heavenly Road

Label: MCA
Year of Release: 1969

Another John Carter penned song on the blog so soon after the last? Well, why not. Both singles are very obscure efforts and both act as a testament to the fact that you can trace his talent not just in his hit productions, but in a lot of tracks which also fell by the wayside.

"Wish I Were A Child" has a much more serious, almost country rock flavour to it than most of his output, and is possibly indicative of Carter's desire to produce work which was slightly different to his poppier singles (though only he would be able to confirm this). It has a yearning, adult flavour to it that party crackers like "A Little Bit Of Soul" don't have. Perhaps that's why it failed to crack the charts, and remains almost completely unheard - there wasn't much of an outlet for songs like this one in the UK at the time.

The B-side "Heavenly Road" goes down the old gospel road and is even more unexpected. 

Sweet Chariot seem to be another studio-based outlet created for the realisation of one of John Carter's songs, rather than a 'proper' touring group. It's not unlikely that Carter contributed to the performance on the record in some way himself. 

Apologies for the slightly scuffed nature of both sides of this record.

3 April 2016

Boutique - Butterfly & Strawberries and Cream

Label: Trade 2
Year of Release: 1995

Boutique were one of the first bands I wrote about on this blog, and - partly due to the lack of information available at the time, and partly due to inexperience - I spewed out some utterly inaccurate drivel on to the screen. Life is a learning curve, dear readers, and allow me to try and do a slightly better job now.

Arriving at the height of Britpop in the mid-nineties, Boutique almost seemed like a calculated gamble of a signing by the record company, who may have sensed a possible turning tide away from the laddism of the period. Rather than sticking to the tried and tested classic songwriting paths of Blur or Oasis at that point, Boutique were all camp attitudes and art school pretence, owing more of a debt to early eighties synth-pop than sixties mod. At the point of their inception no scene appeared to exist which seemed relevant to their cause, but Taylor Parkes referenced them in a review as an example of a band who might fit a scene he was nurturing called Romo (or Romantic Modernism). Romo would owe a debt to the New Romantic movement of the early eighties, but attempt to also be progressive in its sounds. How well it succeeded on this level is something I'd throw open to question - indeed, I'd argue that for all its rather trad limitations, Britpop did at least allow more creative and extraordinary groups like Pulp and Super Furry Animals to get caught up in its slipstream - but nonetheless nuggets of pop goodness did get spat out of Romo.

Boutique appeared to consist of Chris Johnstone on vocals and Gary Chapman on synths, both of whom were a pair of outsiders from small-town Essex (The PO Reply Box on the back of the record's sleeve suggests Harlow) who, had Romo come along or not, would doubtless have carried on down their own particular electronic pop path in spite of the dominant trends around them. Three singles were issued on Trade 2 Records, none of which managed to even crack the Top 100 in the UK, though they did manage to make their presence felt in the indie chart. This wasn't enough to satisfy anyone at the record company that it was worthwhile issuing their LP, however, and it was filed away in the vaults where it remains unheard to this day.

A slight shame, that, because while all their singles ("Butterfly", "Strawberries and Cream" and "I've Told You Before") were simple, short, sharp affairs, there was an angularity to their style and arrangements that made them compelling. That's keenly in evidence on "Butterfly", where Johnstone's hiccuping, eey-oreing vocals collide with bleeping and gurgling antiquated synths, antiquated by both today's standards and certainly 1995's as well. Even duos like Erasure were trying to constantly modernise and update their synth equipment at this point, so the arrangement here feels consciously dated, in much the same manner that the arrangements of Cast or The Las were in thrall to a certain sixties period.

(Entry continues beneath the sound files)

Label: Trade 2
Year of Release: 1996

For my money, however, the band's best single was their third and final offering, "Strawberries and Cream". There are obvious and cheeky steals from both The Jam's "Start" (or is it The Beatles' "Taxman"?) here as well as David Bowie's "Ashes to Ashes", making it a thoroughly bizarre meshing of two pop cultures. But besides that, it's a two minute wonder of a single, effortless and optimistic while also being plainly strange. The buzzing, ringing synths throughout the chorus try their hardest to convey a perfect summer scene, then the clod-hopping guitars thump in immediately afterwards... and it's an enjoyable confusion of a record created by two people who were clearly in love with many different aspects of pop music, however fashionable those may or may not have been.

Their promo videos have finally been uploaded to Youtube too, meaning you can observe the style of a band who, while they were definitely in thrall to Bowie and the early eighties, seem unquestionably mid-nineties to me as well. Something about their youthful enthusiasm, magpie thievery and spark date-stamps them to an era when faintly dorky kids with huge record collections could gain record contracts and raid the pop charts - and while so much of that time was littered with bilge, if it allowed groups like Boutique to have their little moment, maybe that's an acceptable price to pay.

I've Told You Before
Strawberries and Cream