29 June 2016

Cindy Ann Lee - March/ Weekend With You

Label: Spark
Year of Release: 1969

The British song selection process for the Eurovision Song Contest has often felt infuriating in recent years, with the BBC seemingly jumping on any passing ditty and Brit Performing Arts School graduate and packing their bags for the show. This isn't always the case, of course - this year, they did run a phone poll - but often, it doesn't feel like a democratic process (Should it be? Have the Beeb ever made any guarantees or promises to this effect? And do I really believe their song selection process is so half-hearted? Oh, I don't know, leave me alone! You lot and your bloody questions.)

Back in the sixties, that often wasn't the case at all. For the 1969 contest, for example, Lulu's "Boom Bang A Bang" was selected by postal votes from the public after everyone's favourite Scottish Scott Walker stalker performed six possible songs on television. Of these, "Boom Bang A Bang" was a clear and unequivocal winner with 56,476 votes, but "March" still got plenty of people licking stamps and envelopes too, picking up 38,418 votes. That's certainly why it ended up on the B-side of Lulu's single, and might be why Spark Records ended up getting Cindy Ann Lee to cover it. If 38,418 members of the public felt strongly enough to write in about it, perhaps it stood a chance of becoming a hit in its own right.

Actually, I have to admit I prefer "March" to "Boom Bang A Bang". Crucially, it's chirpy without being irritating, striking the right balance between sixties Euro-pop and British girl-pop. The pounding kettle drums, sweet vocals and sheer stridence of the track are also a lovely combination. It probably wouldn't have won the contest, but then nor really did "Boom Bang A Bang" - at least, not outright, as it actually tied with the Spanish, Dutch and French entries and therefore had its impact slightly diluted. 

The class of "March" shouldn't be too surprising when you look at the songwriting credit and spot Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley's involvement, two people who littered the sixties with endless hits and some very notable near-hits too, from endless work with Dave Dee Dozy Beaky Mick and Tich, The Honeycombs, Petula Clark, The Herd, and er, Rolf Harris among others. 

Cindy Ann Lee is a little harder to trace further information on. All I've managed to glean is that she either was or went on to become a "musical theatre performer". "March" and "To You", both issued on Spark Records, were her only record releases. If anyone knows more, please do get in touch. 

26 June 2016

Precious Little - Ain't Got No Balls/ Lonely Nights

Label: DJM
Year of Release: 1979

DJM is probably most famous for being the label which Elton John found fame and fortune with, churning out a phenomenal volume of LPs and singles for them in the seventies. Elton was their only big hitter, however, and once he departed to release records through his own Rocket label, it was exposed for what it was - a small label lacking a cohesive vision. Their discography consisted of bits of library music, punk records (Slaughter and the Dogs), records by the Village People before they were famous, rock & roll revival records -  a total mish-mash, and perhaps more importantly a generally unsuccessful mish-mash at that. 

This single stems from those weird and underachieving years, and in common with many DJM records of the period, is a rather odd pop record. You could possibly call it Lily Allen before her time if you plugged your ears slightly, but it's a weak comparison I'll probably regret making within five minutes of this post going live. It has a very plastic reggae rhythm and snappy female vocals, but feels very tight, clean, airless and artificial somehow. A bit more vim and chaos and it may have been a hit. 

The lead singer for this record seems to be Trisha O'Keefe, who went on to produce Sue Wilkinson's hit "You've Got To Be A Hustler If You Want To Get On" for Cheapskate Records. 

The record is also very notable for being a creation of Geoff Gill and Cliff Wade, who in a previous part of their career played a part in many a psychedelic pop single, from Cliff Wade's utterly bizarre "Look At Me I've Fallen Into A Teapot" to Gill's drumming work with near-hitters The Smoke. Stalwarts of the legendary Morgan Studios in Willesden, some of their work can be heard on the essential "House of Many Windows" compilation on Sanctuary Records, which focuses on the studio and its accompanying label.

If nothing else, "Ain't Got No Balls" is a testament to their flexibility, clearly proving that besides weird late sixties pop they were capable of producing work like this. Things got much rosier for them later on when they composed "Heartbreaker", which became a huge hit for Pat Benatar in the USA. Cliff Wade also went on to write "The Woman I'm Supposed To Be" for Tina Turner's "Rough" LP.

22 June 2016

Y Dyniadon Ynfyd Hirfelyn Tesog (EP)

Label: Sain
Year of Release: 1970

Judging from the sleeve, you'd think that Y Dyniadon Ynfyd Hirfelyn Tesog were a bunch of old-time swingers, a Welsh language version of the Pasadena Roof Orchestra producing good-time music for the gents and ladies. You would, however, be wrong. All four tracks on this EP have heavy folk leanings, albeit particularly wonky folk music infused with brassiness and, so far as I can judge, a bizarre wit.

The sleeve notes are in Welsh, which is frustrating from my point of view but entirely to be expected under the circumstances. The user TheJudge on 45cat has been kind enough to translate them, however, and hopefully won't mind me presenting them here:

"The Dyniadon Ynfyd Hirfelyn Tesog happened in the third quarter of the twentieth century, and already they are safe of their place in the gallery of pillars and pioneers of the rich culture of our dear Western Civilisation, walking alongside greats such as Ysbaddaden, Spartacus, the Son of the Hills, Mr Wimpy and others (i.e. Y Tebot Piws). Despite this, their debt is great.

It started as a group of 79, but because of transportation and other problems, there was a purge, and by today there are only 7 (oops) 6 left.

i.e. (in alphabetical order):

Aric Dafis - a pretty face and red curls; piano, guitar, trumpet
Bai Meical - a pretty smile and big glasses; guitar, banjo, cello
Cruffydd Meils - a hairt face, Nye Bevan specs; cello, foot, nose
Chenfin Ifans - one gold tooth, £5 glasses; trumpet, fingers
Dili Ifans - "like the young Mozart", "a gentleman"; fiddle, guitar
Ddewi Ddomos - the gentle giant with the fair hair; viola, washboard.

And the voices of the group. I quote the (innumerable) critics:

"Lovely"; "Ha, ha", "That second tenor's a bit flat"; "Jew, jew, they're singing in Welsh"; "That big one's on Tregaron choir"; "Fair play to them for trying, eh".

The Songs

Full Belly - written by everyone in the group except G. Meils; sung by Aric and Ddewi; won the Inter-college Eisteddfod 1970.

Yesterday - written by The Beatles; adapted to the Welsh by G. Meils; Aric's charming voice.

Bitch - written by G. Meils; having thoroughly read the cover of D. Thomas' book "Portait Of The Artist As A Young Dog".

Dixie Of The Ears - music by Kurt Weil; adapted to the old language by G. Meils; a song of tribute to the heroes of the Dyniadon.


Here's an opportunity for every member who has paid the membership fee (£3-5-9d) to get a kiss from every Dynad every ten years until 1980. Send your name and car number along with 2 (broken) Tebot Piws records on a postcard to the correct address.

Sain company does not accept any responsibility for the effect of this record on your record player."

None of which really leaves us much the wiser, if I'm being honest, but at least gives us the line-up details and the sense that the Dynads had an obvious sense of mischief and humour. Apparently the word"Jew" in this context is a phonetic spelling of the Welsh word for "God", and is therefore not meant as some kind of anti-semitic insult. 

The track that is likely to be of most interest to "Left and to the Back" readers is "Dyddiau Fu", a Welsh translation of The Beatles' "Yesterday", which is actually incredibly good. Beginning with a simple, mournful, Salvation-Army-band-on-a Sunday-morning arrangement, and progressing into something folksy, eerie, and very touching, it's masterful in its simplicity. "Yesterday" is naturally a very difficult song to ruin, but by stripping it back to its core components and taking it for a walk to a remote, misty Welsh hillside to contemplate its sorrow, Y Dyniadon Ynfyd Hirfelyn Tesog shine it up beautifully.

Elsewhere, though, the band do offer other material of interest. In particular, the shouty, faintly baffling "Gast" which finishes the EP is a sign that just because the rest of the UK woke up to Welsh music in the nineties, it doesn't mean to say that many of the core components weren't already in place by 1970. It's rough around the edges here, for sure, but listeners should be able to recognise stylistic similarities between the band's vision and some of the folkier aspects of Cool Cymru.  

As for what became of the band, you're asking the wrong man, as the details seem to be rather thin on the ground. They did have another EP out on Sain in 1972, which featured the intriguingly titled track "I Couldn't Speak A Word Of English Until I Was Ten", but beyond that I know nothing. Can anyone help?

19 June 2016

The Sundowners - The Gloria Bosom Show/ Don't Look Back

Label: Spark
Year of Release: 1968

A slight surprise to find this single relatively cheaply priced and sitting around all unloved. It's not a lost classic by any means, but nonetheless it's an interesting psychedelic pop curio on a highly collectible label, and on top of that it's an early piece by seventies singer-songwriter Clifford T Ward.

Ward is often dismissed by some critics for being slightly middle-of-the-road, but like most writers and performers of that era, there was actually a wonky, peculiar edge to much of his work. His track "Home Thoughts From Abroad" - later covered by Jack Jones of all people - is a delicate, heart-tugging ballad about separation from a significant other, which somehow manages to crowbar the line "Does the cistern still leak?" into its lyrics. If any other ballad has managed to mention toilets and still sound sincere, and been covered by an easy listening superstar, I'd like to hear about it. 

Ward was apparently rather eccentric and difficult to work with. His manager Clive Selwood once wrote that his refusal to tour and dislike of public appearances and the naive demands he made of his record label (at one point asking that they buy him the house of his dreams so he'd "be happier and write better songs") made his career rather more difficult to promote than it might have been. That's possibly why his solitary top ten hit "Gaye" remains his best known work by far.

Way before any kind of success struck, however, Ward was both a performer and a jobbing songwriter. Psychedelic aficionados who haven't kept up with music magazines in awhile are often shocked to learn that The Factory's astonishing "Path Through The Forest" was his work, written under the pseudonym "Rollings". And then there's this track he passed on to The Sundowners, which... well, OK, doesn't hold a candle to "Path Through The Forest". But nonetheless, it's a quirky, music hall influenced effects-laden track about the mysterious Gloria Bosom, a lady with her own radio show. "She just knocks me right through the floor/ every time I hear her speak" sings the lead singer, seemingly through some kind of megaphone (so some aspects of "Forest" were intact). Like some kind of popsike premonition of The Buggles "Video Killed The Radio Star" colliding with one of Kenny Everett's peculiar ideas, it's a rum old burst of pop whimsy which is actually pretty charming. It probably lacked enough of a hook to really catch on with the public, but it's certainly on a par with many psych recordings of the period, so the lack of attention its received is a little baffling.

The Sundowners were apparently from Scotland and usually served as the backing band for Tommy Trousdale, and indeed managed one single on Thistle Records with him in the early sixties. They consisted of Steve Robbins on bass and vocals, Barry John Weitz on banjo, guitar and vocals, and Dave Silverman on everything else. This appears to have been the last 45 they managed to record, but the predecessor to this disc - "Dr. J. Wallace-Brown" - is very scarce and also apparently incredibly weird, according to one 45cat user. I'll keep an eye open for a copy, but I'm not holding my breath.

As for Ward, sadly he passed away in 2001 after complications from Multiple Sclerosis, which he was diagnosed with in 1987. He continued recording right up until the end, recording his final proper album "Julia and Other New Stories", while crawling on all fours in his home recording studio.

15 June 2016

Dansette - This Summer (Gotta Get Up)/ This Change Of Yours

Label: EMI
Year of Release: 1985

I've often wondered where the logic lies in major labels signing bands for one-single deals. Surely in their heart-of-hearts, the label bosses don't really want the records to succeed? If they do, the group will be in prime position to negotiate more favourable terms with the label, or jump ship elsewhere, and leave all concerned feeling rather daft for not playing a longer game. If the single flops, on the other hand, A&R and label management can simply shrug and say: "Ah well, that's why we didn't commit to the long haul, you see. The group simply didn't have what it takes to set the world alight. Still, worth a try". Have you ever heard of a band who got big after signing a one-single deal? (Apart from Procol Harum?)

I'm over-simplifying things a little, admittedly - contracts vary enormously from case to case, - and on top of that I don't really know what happened with Dansette. What I am pretty sure about, however, is that this was their only single, and there's certainly no LP out there.

That said, this single is damn scarce in itself, which makes me wonder whether it ever had a proper release or just existed as a promo item. "This Summer (Gotta Get Up)" is a none-more-1985 pop-dance track which mirrors the more sophisticated end of Stock Aitken Waterman's output, and filled to the brim with zest, youthful optimism and a cocktail or two. It's the sound of summer by the outdoor swimming pool in Harlow, Essex. It even has that ever-present electronic pre-chorus "vrrrrrrrm!" noise that dominated pop-dance tracks in the mid-eighties, and exists in some kind of cute sweet spot somewhere between early Madonna and Bananarama. So then, it could have been a hit, but in fairness the mid-eighties were awash with tracks like this, and it's perhaps not surprising it got lost.

Dansette consisted of Louise Porter, Matthew Davis and Siobhan Holliday, and the rear of the sleeve announces "Yes, the girls do play!", clearly trying to place them above mere pop fodder but seeming slightly precious in the process. As for what became of them afterwards, that's terribly difficult to say. Discogs seems to suggest that Louise Porter went on to write songs for a number of other acts, but the time lag involved is such that I'm actually not entirely convinced there's not been a mix-up. Anyone know anything more?

12 June 2016

Reupload - The Potatoes - The Bend/ Bend Ahead

Label: Fontana
Year of Release: 1966

Now here's something of a mystery. In 1966, Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich (hereafter known as DDDBMT) released the British number two hit "Bend It". Penned by Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley, it featured traditional Greek-influenced melodies, a strong bouzouki sound (apparently achieved via an electrified mandolin) and eventually became the audio backdrop for one of Gilbert and George's pieces of art. Never DDDBMT's strongest moment, it nonetheless captured the imagination of the British and European public and stormed the charts, even getting to Number One in Germany.

However, it seems as if a similar single was penned by Howard and Blaikley and released a mere few weeks before DDDBMT's version. "The Bend" is lyrically and musically very similar, and whilst you can't easily accuse people of self-plagiarism in a court of law, there was something very odd afoot here. According to the available timelines I have, "The Bend" was issued in the dying weeks of August 1966, with "Bend It" following rapidly on its heels in early September. It's entirely possible that Dave Dee and his merry band had enough space in their busy schedules to rush into a studio and record a similar track as soon as it became apparent that nobody was interested in this disc, but it doesn't seem too likely. So why on earth did Howard and Blaikley and Fontana Records issue two very similar sounding records involving presumably identical dances at exactly the same time? Was the thinking that they could actually create a bizarre Greek-flavoured scene, or bombard the charts with a certain noise?

A few rumours have flown around Internet-land about this record for awhile, and one theory is that this is actually DDDBMT larking around. However, I think the most likely explanation is that The Potatoes were a studio based creation, and for whatever reason Fontana decided not to get behind them and gave this record a half-hearted release later than originally planned. The concept was floated again with DDDBMT, an act with a strong chart history behind them, and once that record took off the whole matter was forgotten. As nobody concerned has ever come forward to clarify matters, that's probably the only answer we're going to get.

As for the record? Well, it is what it is. A foot-stomping novelty disc which pings and zings along, steadily getting increasingly frantic. It's not hard to imagine it having been a hit - certainly DDDBMT proved that could be done - but it does seem rather as if the whole thing had been suffocated at birth.

8 June 2016

Peanut - Home Of The Brave/ I Wanna Hear It Again

Label: Pye
Year of Release: 1965

We've discussed Peanut on this blog before - we have, you know - but unlike "I Didn't Love Him Anyway", this is a track from earlier in her career before her paths crossed with Mark Wirtz.

Wirtz's absence means that this version of Mann and Weil's "Home of the Brave" has fewer bells and whistles, or to be more precise, a much less elaborate arrangement, but it's still a fine piece of work. There's a rawness to it which actually suits the subject matter very well, and Peanut (aka Katie Kissoon) has a pleading, yearning voice which cuts straight through to the point. The fact she failed to score a hit in the sixties is still baffling to me, but she more than made up for this later on in her career. 

"Home of the Free" itself is lyrically cut from the same kind of cloth as R Dean Taylor's "Let's Go Somewhere", taking the fight against the dominant expectations of "The Man" and turning it into powerful soul music. Top notch stuff.

5 June 2016

Tony Cody - Walk On By/ (Ain't It) Funny How Time Slips Away

Label: Pye
Year of release: 1972

I can't claim any kind of exclusivity with this one, since it's already started to pick up some positive comments online by other crate diggers. However, it still doesn't seem to be much of a collectible - my copy was relatively cheap and in rather good condition too, so it clearly remains under the radar of most.

At first glance you might think that this is a club crooner taking on a Bacharach and David classic in a very straight and uninteresting way, but you'd be wrong. This take of "Walk On By" is quietly menacing, slightly creepy and contains a rich, meandering orchestral arrangement. The trilling bounce of the original is replaced with despondency and a faint air of sleaze - a fuzz guitar buzzes into life at various points, giving the track a pronounced and threatening shove. Cody's vocals are slick and smooth, but the mental image I have is of a man in an all-night Soho bar in a crumpled suit looking worse for wear; someone who is trying to give the impression of holding everything together but failing miserably. And following that observation it's perhaps appropriate for me to mention that what the arrangement of the single reminds me of most of all are the darker elements of Pulp's LP "This Is Hardcore". 

The flip "(Ain't It) Funny How Time Slips Away" is possibly proof that the oddness on the A-side was pure fluke. It's a fairly standard and unobjectionable ballad which offers nothing outstanding or unusual to the listener.

The identity of Tony Cody is something of a mystery. The Pye press release informs us that he was "born in Copenhagen of English-Danish parents" who had gone through several bands to finally "set himself up as an independent record producer". However, the only credit I can find for Tony Cody anywhere is this single. I'm wondering if the credited producer here, Tony Eyers - much later responsible for 5000 Volts and productions for Kelly Marie, Polly Brown, Petula Clark and Twiggy among others - is our man operating here under a pseudonym. It makes no sense to me that Cody would have gone to set up his own production company then released precisely nothing through it, not even his own solitary single, and this does seem to be a very early production of Eyers... so my suspicions may not be far wrong, but please don't treat them as fact. If anyone can confirm or deny this detective work of mine, please do step up to the plate.

1 June 2016

London Welsh Male Voice Choir - Sloop John B/ Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay

Label: Philips
Year of Release: 1973

That this single exists perhaps shouldn't be that surprising. Of all the sixties groups - Beatles aside - The Beach Boys probably picked up the most admiration from "proper" non-pop and rock musicians, finding their work reinterpreted faithfully by Easy Listening orchestras and performers of all kinds (even The King's Singers). Their arrangements were intricate and packed with so much detail that they survived the jump in genres without losing too much in translation - and so much has been written about Brian Wilson's spectacular arranging skills that it barely seems worth highlighting them again. It feels a little like emphasising the songwriting prowess of Lennon and McCartney - "They were quite good, weren't they?"

Still, you wouldn't necessarily expect a Welsh Male Voice Choir to have any interest in The Beach Boys. And this version seems inspired by Wilson's arrangement of the traditional seafaring tune, but adds seventies keyboard work and a slight bit of swing. The boys in the choir do a fine job of harmonising and adding emotional punch in the right places, and it's a unique listen - but obviously for my money, nothing captures the heart so much as The Beach Boys yearning original, which genuinely sounds like a pleading lament from a soul lost at sea. Not for no reason did it sit so well on an album along with tracks like "I Just Wasn't Made For These Times"; most of the LP sounded like a distress call, a cry for the lifeboat to be deployed. The London Welsh Male Voice Choir put a different spin on things and sound rather more like a bunch of tough men who have been whipped into exhaustion by their seafaring plight - and to be honest, that's the kind of interpretation you'd expect them to put on it, really, and the only possible choice to make, but it somehow doesn't capture the imagination as much as the Wilson version.

The B-side "(Sittin' on) The Dock Of the Bay" is perhaps more bizarre and unexpected, bringing to mind a troupe of Welsh ex-miners stood on the docks in Cardiff bay idly following a series of redundancies. "Watching the ships roll in/ then I watch them roll away again" sounds despairing in their hands, as indeed it possibly should be - the lyrics never were full of fizz and optimism in the first place, despite Otis's nonchalant whistling. 

Somewhat amazingly, both sides were partly produced by Rod Edwards and Roger Hand, aka Edwards Hand, who released some well-regarded George Martin produced LPs of their own. Prior to their work as Edwards Hand they also produced some great popsike sounds as part of Piccadilly Line, of which my favourite is possibly "I Know She Believes".

As for the London Welsh Male Voice Choir, they're based in the London Welsh Centre, where I coincidentally recently spent some time at a Christmas office function. Londoners can go there to learn Welsh, watch Welsh drama productions, or the Young Welsh Singer Of The Year competition, and various public discussions. Perhaps more surprisingly, 1973 was a stellar pop-tactic year for the choir, as they also featured as guest vocalists on Roxy Music's British number one LP "Stranded".

Equally bizarrely, I was once part of a lock-in in a pub in Neath (mid-Glamorgan) where a group of the regular drinkers began singing "Sloop John B" in a Male Voice Choir style, acapella. To this day it remains one of my most unexpected pub treats, and unfortunately this record can't really match up to the warmth and spontaneity of that performance.