31 July 2016

New Inspiration - Medicine Man/ Is It Really Hard To Understand

Label: Penny Farthing
Year of Release: 1973

Now here's a tricky one - I can happily provide you with some limited facts about New Inspiration, but not bagloads. It would seem that they formed in Ghent, Belgium in the late sixties and were spotted by Dave Berry while he was touring that country. Berry quickly decided to act as their mentor, and penned additional material for the group, undoubtedly acting as a factor in getting them signed to Decca in their native country.

Stacks of singles and three LPs followed their signing, buried among which are apparently some surprisingly psychedelic tracks, including the mournful "Hurry Up and Tell Me". Much of their early work is obscure for a reason, though - faintly under-produced and with heavily accented vocals, it doesn't really stand up against the cream of the period.

By the seventies, however, they had moved in a more successful, rockier direction where the earlier flaws had been ironed out, and it's from this period that "Medicine Man" stems. For all their usual heaviosity, though, this single is something of a dancefloor treat, featuring pounding drums, whooping backing vocals and a chanting chorus so successful that it forms the basis of three-quarters of the track and gets away with it. Elements of it do drift frightening close to Creme Brulee's "Voodoo Lady" conceptually, but it's no piece of half-arsed plastic glam. This is actually fantastically and insistently groovy, in a manner which Bobby Gillespie might approve.

"Medicine Man" stems from the tail end of the group's career, and I'm not too sure what became of them or even really who was the line-up. If anyone can plug the gaps in my knowledge, I'd be very grateful. 

27 July 2016

Prowler - Pale Green (Hmmmm)/ Vauxhall Driving Man/ Starbuck - Do You Like Boys

Label: Parlophone
Year of Release: 1972

Mandrake Paddle Steamer's "Strange Walking Man" is one of the more widely compiled psychedelic singles of the sixties, and something of a collector's dream. Operating in a similar sonic space as the most woozy and uncertain sounding post-Barrett Pink Floyd tunes of the period, its exposure perhaps suffered due to it being released in 1969, long after the sun set on LSD-tinged pop.

Mandrake remained skint and struggling around the London gig circuit for some time after the single flopped. Their principle songwriters, Martin Briley and Brian Engel, do not remember the period fondly - somewhat ignobly for an underground circuit figure, Martin Briley remained living at home with his parents. When it became apparent that the group didn't have a viable future, Brian packed his bags first, and Briley followed a year later. 

Martin Briley quickly managed to land a job as a songwriter at George Martin's newly created Air Studios empire, and finding working by himself less successful than the collaborative work he had attempted with Engel before, he got on the blower to his old Mandrake mucker and the pair reunited again.

Scores of songs resulted from this, many of which have been compiled on the RPM Records CD "Between The Sea and The Sky". This, however, was the only single. "Pale Green Vauxhall Driving Man" is arguably one of the more deliberately oily, creepy pieces of work to slip out during the seventies, an era which contained plenty of competition. A slinking, swaggering guitar riff backs the story of a middle-aged pervert attempting to pick up very youthful women (how young? We're not told) in his Vauxhall vehicle, where he then attempts to drug them with "sticky brandy balls". 

To the credit of both Briley and Engel, the track doesn't attempt to remark upon the man in an approving way, stating quite clearly "I'm that nasty, shifty kind/ That greasy nineteen-fifties kind", making it closer to a piece of Lou Reed observational work than a Rolling Stones piece of glorification on the virtues of sleaziness. However, it's a distinctly unconventional subject matter backed with some absolutely killer songwriting - that winding guitar riff and the anthemic chorus are truly brilliant pieces of work.

Sadly, the pair ran into issues with the track almost immediately with the BBC, apparently not due to the subject matter so much as the "commercial placement" in the track, by mentioning the Vauxhall make of cars. The track was hastily redubbed to include a Moog humming noise over the offending "Vauxhall" line, rendering the lyrics a bit mangled, and also somewhat strangely ignoring the fact that "Vauxhall" is still clearly audible outside of the chorus. The title was also changed to the baffling "Pale Green (Hmmmm) Driving Man". What a peculiar situation. Suffice to say, the BBC still wouldn't play the track, and it flopped.

Both the A and the B side are compiled on the aforementioned "Between The Sea and The Sky" album, and I'd recommend you head off to your nearest online audio store to buy "Pale Green..." at least. The flip, "Jaywick Cowboy", is somewhat messy and less deserving of your attention. I've included sound samples below, but the A-side is readily available in full on YouTube.

For the next part of the Engel/ Briley story, please scroll past the soundfiles.

Label: Bradleys
Year of Release: 1973

Despite recording swathes of material for Air, only "Pale Green..." managed to get granted a release. The pair were on the Spark label for one LP under the name Liverpool Echo, and the pair's next dose of fortune would come courtesy of those Tin Pan Alley stalwarts Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley, who needed musicians to get involved in a glam rock project they had on the go.

Rumours have circulated the internet for some time that Starbuck (not to be confused with the identially named USA band) were a studio-based creation, but in fact both Briley and Engel toured with a full group, and they were a "functioning unit" on the British circuit. Three singles were issued by the band, "Wouldn't You Like It?" (on RCA), followed by "Do You Like Boys" and "Heart Throb" on Bradleys. Absolutely all of these are worth tracking down as supremely underrated pieces of glam, but "Do You Like Boys" is truly the jewel in their crown. 

Taking a camp and distinctly Bowie arrangement, the title of the song pulls no punches and the lyrics inevitably do exactly what you'd expect. Subtle references to homosexuality were common enough during this period, with androgynous looking aliens putting their arms around Mick Ronson on "Top of the Pops" being just about acceptable, but "Boys" is a total hammer blow. "Oh, do you LIKE boys?" Starbuck sing pleadingly, like Brett Anderson out of Suede pouting on the back of a pantomime horse, later going on to be more specific - "Do you really long to touch their hair?/ do you go for a mean, aggressive Bear?"

Howard and Blaikley really pushed their luck to the max here, and did so in a popular culture which apparently (according to gay singer-songwriter John Howard, who claims the BBC blacklisted him) was deeply uncomfortable with overt, unquestionable, non-comedic references to homosexuality. Starbuck, however, got utterly behind the material live, despite apparently being straight. They were once booked to play at a skinhead club at Chatham in possibly one of the more baffling decisions a promoter has ever made, and took the stage with full make-up, performing with the campery pushed up to the max. Amazingly, no violent incidents were recorded.

Not long after their third single flopped, Martin Briley went on to become a top session musician (including Meat Loaf, Jimmy Webb and Donna Summer on his CV) and Brian Engel joined the New Seekers. All's well that ends well, perhaps, but in an alternate universe somewhere, Starbuck went nova and upset and outraged an entire generation with this single. It really is one of glam rock's most undeservedly overlooked tracks.

Thanks to the ever-excellent PurePop blog for bringing the duo's work to my attention many moons ago.

24 July 2016

Reupload - Wishful Thinking - Turning Round/ VIP

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1966

Generally speaking, Wishful Thinking have been a rather ignored group in the UK by aficionados of all things beat and psych until very recently.  This is a bizarre state of affairs given that they issued a string of singles on Decca in the sixties and eventually hit the big time on the continent in the seventies - or at least the charts - with their somewhat dramatic single entitled "Hiroshima", the lyrical contents of which I hopefully don't have to spell out.

Under the wing of yer man from The Shadows Tony Meehan their singles tended to involve Four Seasons and Beach Boys-esque harmony pop, and that's typified by the A-side on offer here which is a fair enough stab at that style, but pretty inessential.  Of far more interest is the scuzzy, buzzing garage pop of the B-side "VIP" which incorporates distortion, dumb riffs, thumping drums and demanding and aggressive vocals about the importance of one's other half.  "Stand right back she's a VIP!" the group demand like close harmonising thugs, "A VIP to me!" That's the way you treat a lady.  It's delightful stuff, the kind of knuckle-dragging sixties pop which tended to be more ubiquitous in the USA than on British shores, and it's a surprise this one has been relatively ignored - stylistically, it would sit neatly alongside Richard and The Young Lion's "Open Up Your Door", although admittedly it fails to quite scale the heights of that record.

Whilst the mention of their name is likely to cause blank expressions on the faces of their homeland dwellers, Wishful Thinking are still cultishly popular in Germany.  Of the original members Roy Daniels (vocals), Terry New (lead guitar), Roger Charles (bass) and Brian Allen (drums), sadly only Roy and Roger are still alive, but it's apparently not unknown for them to promote their work abroad where it's more appreciated.  A new album "Believing In Dreams" was even issued abroad in 2009. I doubt "VIP" features much in their workload, but it really should.

Of equal interest to me is a version of The Beach Boys "Vegetables" they apparently recorded for Decca in 1968 - if anyone has heard this, I'd be very interested to know quite how it turned out.  

20 July 2016

Two Dollar Question - Aunt Matilda's Double Yummy Blow Your Mind Out Brownies/ Cincinnati Love Song

Label: Intrepid
Year of Release: 1969

"Admit it, Dave, you bought this single purely because you liked the title, didn't you?"
"What do you mean 'admit it'? I would happily volunteer that information without inquisition or any sense of shame".

Sadly, as much as I'd love to say that "Aunt Matilda's Double Yummy Blow Your Mind Out Brownies" is a piece of rambling psychedelia about "special cakes" with tons of phasing and an improvised instrumental break, it's not. It's actually a piece of chirpy bubblegum which might be totally lyrically innocent. Although as the singer chirps "It's a magical place where the rabbits go/ It's a wonderland where the flowers gro-oo-wow-ow!" I somehow doubt it. Though the more I think about it, those could also be the opening lines to any number of children's TV shows from the seventies and eighties. 

And who was the man peddling this cod-psychedelic filth to our kids? Why, none other than The Archies session lead singer and future Barry Manilow producer Ron Dante. This fact seems horribly obvious the second it's revealed to you, and you have to admit he had an ideal singing voice for this kind of thing - irrepressibly gleeful and cartoonish, turning what could have been something quite irritating into a track that's difficult to not like. In fact, the whole thing is a huge sugar high (rather than any other kind of high) with its rapid tempo and stuttering electric organs.

Dante is still active to this day, releasing records and performing live, and doubtless creaming off all kinds of excellent record royalties. 

The song's authors Vance and Pockriss were also behind hundreds of songs throughout the period, including their most famous effort "Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini". 

17 July 2016

Margo - The Spark That Lights The Flame/ Left Over Love

Label: Deram
Year of Release: 1969

It's a little known and unexpected fact, but Irish showband performer Margo is something of a Northern Soul sensation. Her career started off in County Down in the group Margo and The Marvettes, whose single "When Love Slips Away" eventually became a treasured spin on the soul circuit. This is somewhat unsurprising, as the track has all the ingredients necessary and sounds positively American in every aspect of its delivery.

That this 1969 solo single of hers should be overlooked is actually more baffling. "The Spark That Lights The Flame" is a really underexposed gem, and should actually have been a shoe-in for Decca and Deram's somewhat uneven "Northern Soul" CD compilation. It outclasses a lot of the other more absurd choices on that LP, sounding for all the world like a lost Motown track, but perhaps lacking the directness of much of that work, meandering and moping around all over the show. A beautifully complex arrangement compliments a effective, sharp, pleading chorus and it's a lovely, brooding three minutes. Margo herself performs superbly, selling the track with all her might, never under or over playing her lines. 

Margo, with or without her Marvettes, didn't manage to score any hits in her career, unfortunately - though 1981's "Behind The Footlights" was a minor success in Ireland - but was an ever-present force on the club circuit until 1980, usually touring with her husband Trevor Burns in the duo Take Two. 

She remains periodically active to this day, and a brief documentary about her early career is available online, featuring tons of period Super 8 footage. How often do I get to say that? Never, that's how often.

13 July 2016

Monsoon - Tomorrow Never Knows/ Indian Princess

Label: Mobile Suit Corporation
Year of Release: 1982

Back in the early nineties, we were all told that the sudden deluge of pop stars from Asian backgrounds was an entirely new phenomenon. While it's true to say that the sudden arrival of Cornershop, Apache Indian and Asian Dub Foundation felt like a huge sea change, successful Asian influenced pop, performed by someone from that background, was actually nothing new. Sheila Chandra of Monsoon (previously an actress on "Grange Hill") had actually already broken down the barriers in the early eighties, a fact which seemed to have become largely forgotten.

The first single "Ever So Lonely" was released on the minor Indipop label initially, and was a surprise number twelve hit when it was reissued through Phonogram in 1982. It was a seriously unusual record in a year where the British charts seemed to have their arms wide open for the unexpected. Propelled along by a hypnotic rhythm and Indian melodies - albeit Indian melodies performed by Western musicians - it was almost like a slice of late sixties psychedelia being given a rather more authentic Eastern edge.

Follow-up "Shakti (The Meaning Of Within)" only just missed out on a Top 40 place, and was followed up with this, a Beatles cover. One has to wonder whose idea it was, but the finger of suspicion points at the record company. "Tomorrow Never Knows" is a Beatles track which has never been improved upon or really developed across the various cover versions its spawned (Danielle Dax, Brian Eno, Junior Parker, and er, sixties flop act Mirage have all had a stab at it). The original was a staggeringly forward-thinking piece of work with its studio effects and astoundingly persuasive drumming, to the extent that I actually believe the stories about nineties club DJs spinning it and being asked by their Ravy Davy punters "What was that wicked tune?!" It's the sound of The Beatles hive mind using the studio in the ways that sample-heads and drum loop fanatics would later rediscover. All the subsequent covers of it have actually been somewhat reductive - taking the frenzied activity of the original and simplifying it to something calmer, taking it away from peculiar proto-techno/big beat and into the psychedelic chill-out room. And I've never been wholly convinced by that approach, unfortunately. Half of its appeal lies in its mania.

Still, Monsoon's cover of this has a feel and attitude of its own, and is far from the worst example. It's probably most notable for also featuring Bill Nelson, David Balfe out of Teardrop Explodes on keyboards, and Merrick out of Adam and the Ants. Chandra's vocals are wonderful as ever, and drop a large dollop of innocence into the mix. None of this was enough to turn it into a hit, though, and at this point the tide went out on Monsoon's success.

Much more interesting to me is the B-side "Indian Princess", a mournful sitar and tabla infused ballad  with tinkling piano lines which is genuinely touching. I can't see the single having been more successful if the sides had been swapped, but it's a shame the track had to be buried nonetheless.

Following the release of their LP "Third Eye" in 1983, Monsoon quietly disappeared. Sheila Chandra wandered off to have a hugely acclaimed solo career which included numerous releases on Peter Gabriel's Real World label, until her work was rudely cut short by the development of Burning Mouth Syndrome in 2010. This medical condition has rendered her mute, and therefore unable to continue performing or recording - obviously we can only hope for some sort of recovery very soon.

10 July 2016

Oo Bang Jiggly Jang - The Hanging Tree/ 1000 Leagues

Label: President
Year of Release: 1971

If you saw this record in the racks of your local second-hand record store, it's possible you'd look at the band's name, then casually dismiss it as some obscure bubblegum record and walk away. What a terrible error that would be, though - for, in a true lesson of never judging a book by its cover (or a band by their ridiculous name) "The Hanging Tree" is a actually a brilliant piece of atmospheric, epic folk rock. 

Taking the usual anthemic folk route - much beloved by the Fleet Foxes among many others - of describing a long-forgotten tragedy involving death and destruction and turning it into a howling, close harmony campfire sing-a-long, "The Hanging Tree" is a shocking omission from the list of late sixties and early seventies collectibles. Even the great bible on such matters, "The Tapestry of Delights", fails to list the band. Still, copies do appear to be relatively thin on the ground, and to make up for years of being ignored the track was recently compiled on to the "Mixed Up Minds" series of compilations. This means it's now commercially available on iTunes and Amazon and therefore outside our remit, but I've included a brief excerpt below for you to get a feel of the track - though the edit does no justice to the swelling, expanding arrangement. Go and buy it - it's worth your time and money, and sounds absurdly current for a flop track from 1971... although this may be indicative of how musical trends tend to cycle, rather than proving that Oo Bang Jiggly Jang were prophets without honour. 

The flipside "1000 Leagues" is less interesting, being a straightforward acoustic track, but still showcases a band who were far more able than a great deal of the folkies who had piles of low-selling vinyl released around this period. So who were they and what became of them? I'm guessing the songwriting credits for J. Roper and P. Bramall refer to members of the band - but searching for other work by those two isn't getting me any further. It seems as if this may have been their only vinyl outing. If anyone knows who they might be, please let me know. On the basis of this one single, it seems an enormous pity they weren't given other chances. 

6 July 2016

Monika Grimm/ The Les Sharp Band - The Singing Shell/ Hip

Label: Concord
Year of Release: 1969

Now here's an odd one. Concord Records were the record label of the music publishing company Campbell Connelly, and for their first release they issued a German language A-side by that country's actress and singer Monika Grimm. This seems like commercial death, an attempt to sink the organisation before it even started, but there clearly was a method to the madness - the track here presented as "The Singing Shell" is in fact "Ohne Dich", which had been used in a 1969 advert for Shell petrol.

This begs all sorts of questions. Why were Shell using a German language song in one of their British adverts? Was the advert really so popular that the track warranted a single release? Why did Concord grab the rights to release the track and not Monika's German label Polydor? Answers on the back of a postcard. The track itself bounces and parps along nicely and it's possible to imagine it in the context of a petrol advert, but the title translates as "Without You" which hardly sounds like a bouyant subject matter to remind you to keep your car's tank topped up with Shell petroleum products.

Monika enjoyed a long and varied career in Germany, starting out as a singer in the girl group The Hummingbirds in the late 1950s before eventually breaking out to go solo. Always a moderate selling singer rather than a huge star, her singing career had largely fizzled out by the mid-sixties (with the exception of this doubtless surprising UK release) though her acting career continued until the end of the decade.

Hiding away on the flip, on the other hand, is Les Sharp and His Band, or the conductor, bandleader and composer Bob Sharples under another name. "Hip" sounds slightly dated for 1969 - as does its A-side, to be totally fair - but man oh man, it's an instrumental that zings and swings along, and would be the soundtrack to everyone's summer cocktail parties in a fair and just world.

3 July 2016

Reupload - Passion Blades - Living In A Lighthouse/ Dub

Label: Caprice
Year of Release: 1983

When you encounter records which are clearly DIY or vanity pressings of some kind, it doesn't tend to make your heart soar high with expectations.  If they're any good, there's a very strong chance they've been unearthed already by other keen collectors on the block (the soaring prices on ebay for "I Am... I Think" by Grobbert and Duff are a strong example of this phenomenon).  No, what you're most likely to get is a cabaret singer warbling away, or a trite pub band who couldn't even get their little local label interested in their work. Most of the DIY pressings I've bought have ended up straight back where they came from - the charity shop.

"Living in a Lighthouse", then, is a rare and pleasant surprise.  A piece of slick, considerately arranged, reggae-tinged eighties pop, it's very much "of its time" but no less atmospheric for that.  Synthesiser washes lap up against pounding rhythms and fretless bass noises, and its one of those records which trusts the listener to relax into its environment rather than hammering him or her across the head with a powerful chorus.  A brave choice for a band clearly trying to create a first impression with the public and the music press, then, but not at all bad. Comparisons with Level 42 and The Police and even (vocally) XTC are likely to be made, and this does seem to be the work of an act who perhaps hadn't quite forged a strong enough identity for themselves yet, but I've enjoyed this a lot more than most of the scratchy old sixties and seventies obscurities I've picked up in the last month.

Tracing the history of this act is obviously not going to be particularly straightforward, but at least one of their members is still active.  John Cavanagh has a CD out at the moment entitled "Branch Road", the proceeds for which will go to the Make A Wish Foundation and Teach First.  From the very brief description offered on his website, we can see that both he and Terry Munday (credited on the above label) were also involved with The Mugshots, a band who had one single out on United Artists entitled "Shy".  I've never heard it, but it seems to regularly go for large sums on ebay as a "punk/ powerpop" single, and I'll certainly keep my eyes peeled for a copy.

Anyone who has anything to add to this particular story should definitely step forward to fill in the blanks.

[This blog entry was originally uploaded in June 2012. Lead singer Russell Keefe got in touch to fill in some of the blanks:
"We were originally called Mugshots and had a single release on United Artists records "Shy". A single on Lancaster Records "To Old For Fairy Tales” was also released.

After Passion Blades split up Terry Munday and I went on to form various bands but with little success. One of the bands had the the Chimes brothers Terry and Bryn. Terry of course of played with The Clash, Johnny Thunders, Generation X and many more. Whilst still playing with Terry Munday he got a gig with Les Mckeown's Legendary Bay City Rollers.
Terry did a few gigs with Les and then they asked me to join on Keyboards.

We toured the world for several years. Terry Chimes also joined the band for about 3 years. Terry Munday then left the band but I carried having a mainly fantastic time going all over the world playing music. With the Rollers I also recorded 3 albums. The best being "Ultimate Live" recorded live in Japan. Terry and I also wrote new songs for the Rollers which appeared on various albums. The song "Say" which Leslie and I wrote became a big hit with fans.

I left the rollers in 2010 after 18 years. I now have my own award winning blues band TBelly

We had an EP out in 2013 which got a lot of critical acclaim from all round the world and we will be recording our first album in August 2014.

I hope that helps update the info. If anyone wants some anymore info you can contact me through the TBelly web site. Also if anyone knows how I can contact John Cavanagh I would really appreciate it".

Thanks Russell for getting in touch and updating us.]