31 August 2016

Roaring 60s - We Love The Pirates/ I'm Leaving Town

Label: Marmalade
Year of Release: 1966

Without offshore pirate radio in Britain in the sixties, it's hard to see how the music scene would have progressed as quickly. The BBC Light Programme did dedicate some airtime to beat pop, but the needle-time it gave to American soul, noisy mod bands, early psychedelia or indeed anything else that might upset your visiting Auntie wasn't really that impressive. For those kinds of sounds, Radio London or Radio Caroline would most likely be your friend, or - if you wanted to look to more legal channels - Radio Luxembourg might just do it, provided you could get a clear signal.

However, while the offshore pirates were given a relatively easy ride from the powers that be initially, the Government began to get increasingly huffy about their easy, licence-free ride over the airwaves. The final straw was possibly the shooting and death of Radio City owner Reginald Calvert, after a scuffle with Major Oliver Smedley about an unpaid bill for a new transmitter. (Which hardly makes the venture sound very underground or hip and happening, more like a scuffle between a couple of posh men about some dodgy under-the-counter business).

From that point on, the time for all the boats was almost up, and "We Love The Pirates" represents an early cry of protest about their possible demise. "You can hear your favourite rock and roll/ rhythm and blues with a lot of soul!" The Roaring 60s sing, quite accurately. There's not a great deal of soul or rhythm in blues in their performance, though - this is more like an airy Beach Boys pastiche meeting a protest song. Nonetheless, it was reasonably popular at the time (possibly due to Pirate Radio airplay, I'd say) without actually charting, and got the new Marmalade record label off to a good enough start.

Rumours have persisted for years that the group Family is behind this recording, which is false. While they did briefly perform under the Roaring 60s name, this was really just John Carter and a gang of session musicians doing their bit for the chaps at sea. It was all for nought, and the pirates all closed down as soon as an appropriate law was passed to make their activities illegal. Except, that is, for Radio Caroline, a stalwart that remains functioning to this day, though these days legally from a studio in Maidstone rather than at sea. 

The Roaring 60s wouldn't be the last people to care about the offshore pirates, either. As late as 1985 the track "I Spy For The DTI" was released in protest about the Department of Trade and Industry's "interference" with Radio Caroline and Laser 558. 

28 August 2016

Life 'n' Soul - Ode To Billy Joe/ Peacefully Asleep

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1967

The flipside to this single "Peacefully Asleep" was compiled on both the "British Psychedelic Trip" and Rubble series of psychedelic compilation LPs, and remains readily available to this day (you can hear it on Youtube here) - it's a distinctly woozy, strange kind of record where the band delivered strangulated, delirious vocals and added a doomy, disorientating cello line. It shimmers, buzzes and meanders away, never having much of a coherent chorus (unless those "bap-ba-ba-da-bap-ba-ba-da-baaaaah!" moments are supposed to it) but holding your interest through sheer use of atmosphere. 

Interesting, then, that the band really weren't fully paid up members of the UFO Club, but a pop group from Manchester, consisting of Stuart Charles on lead vocals, and John Brennan, Colin Brock, Clem Lee and Andy McCann (I can't find any references to who played what). The A-side is a version of Bobbie Gentry's "Ode To Billy Joe" which makes their usual direction perfectly clear. Taking a choppy, stripped-back acoustic approach to the track, it reduces the level of mystery and intrigue in the original and turns it into something slightly more uptempo. 

One more single would come forth from the group, the equally scarce but actually superior A-side "Here Comes Yesterday Again", which hints a bit more towards their roots performing regularly at the legendary Twisted Wheel club. After that flopped, Decca decided enough was enough. 

24 August 2016

Sale - Flying High/ Medicine Man

Label: MCA
Year of Release: 1978

Some obscure seventies rock here, and this really is a record of two distinct halves. "Flying High" is a piece of contemplative shoreline sensitivity, the sound of one man and his band staring at seagulls and considering their own freedom. Clearly nobody in the group ever had their crisps swiped by a gull as a four-year old. 

The B-side "Medicine Man", on the other hand, is a bluesy rock workout, and one which is likely to be of far more interest to readers of "Left and to the Back". Shades of CCR and ZZ Top lurk in the grooves here. 

Sale are a mysterious outfit who only managed this one 45 before disappearing into oblivion, so sadly I can't offer any background information at all. Their name is also one of the most un-Googleable group names ever, bringing up lots of search results about online auctions and, if you combine the search with "Flying High", budget kites. If you know who they are, please pass the details on. I have to say that both sides have slight shades of Sad Cafe about them, and while the two groups aren't identical sounding, I wouldn't be surprised to learn that they operated in similar corners of the gig circuit.

Also interesting to note that the A and B side were written and produced by different individuals (Joe Peppard on the A, Chester Allen on the flip) which seems like an odd arrangement. It leaves me wondering if the B side is from an entirely different session with possibly different musicians involved, and why that might be... but we're well into the realms of speculation here, and it's unlikely I'm going to get an easy answer. 

21 August 2016

Big Cherry - Give A Dog A Bone/ Come In Bonzo

Label: Pink Elephant
Year of Release: 1973

Many of the novelty singles released during the 70s were a damn sight more entertaining and imaginative than the "adult" pop which otherwise got taken seriously. I've probably made a case for "Popcorn" by Hot Butter being a genuinely groundbreaking piece of work already on this blog, yet at the time it wasn't really seen as anything other than a quirky experiment.

No such claims can be laid at the feet of Big Cherry, unfortunately, who were clearly a bunch of session musicians summoned into a studio to record a two-sided single about dogs. Yep, you read it right first time. I'm not sure whose marketing idea it was, but it would seem that someone at the label felt that there was a significant gap in the market for canine-themed pop music, something I haven't really witnessed before except in the mockumentary "Best In Show".

Both sides of this record are classier than "God Loves A Norwich Terrier", actually, but it's the B-side that really overloads itself with minimal eccentricity. "Give A Dog A Bone" is chirpy, inoffensive pop music about owning dogs, whereas "Come In Bonzo" is sung entirely from the gruff perspective of the dog. "Find yerself a lamp-post/ with high-class sanitation/ Master gets an 'efty fine/ For barker's aggravation" growls the singer, while analogue synths bleep and squeak in the background and the band knock out something between a conga rhythm and a krautrock beat. It's probably the result of an off-the-cuff studio jam, but despite its sheer silliness, it's shockingly addictive. It also sounds so much like a Denim out-take that it's almost hard to believe it isn't one - does Lawrence have this in his collection, I wonder?

I have no idea who performed on this record, but if you're a guilty man or woman, please do step forward. It's a fine piece of work.

17 August 2016

The Sundowners - Dr. J. Wallace-Browne/ Love Is In The Air

Label: Columbia
Year of Release: 1968

This single was recommended to me by a 45Cat Forum user as being "one of the weirdest A-sides ever released".  I would have happily snapped up a copy even if somebody claimed that it was one of the weirdest singles of the late sixties period - that era saw endless gambles and risks being taken by panicking record labels who weren't sure which way the wind was turning or what kind of weird shit "the kids" were presently into. But ever? Here, have my bank account details and take as much money as you want, sir.

In reality, it's not actually as off the wall as I'd hoped, but it's still pretty damn unusual. What The Sundowners appear to be trying to produce here is the kind of warped music hall inspired pop much beloved of the psychedelic period, and where they actually land is somewhere between The Scaffold and The Kinks at their most deranged. The band begin by singing about "Dr J. Wallace-Browne's confidence capsules" which "pick you up when you're down" (How very nineties of them - Prozac hadn't even been invented yet!) then eventually the entire track breaks down into the kind of brass-led pub tra-la-laing session much beloved during album interludes by Blur during "Modern Life Is Rubbish" and "Parklife". How anyone thought this would be a hit at the time is a 24 carat mystery, and copies are actually staggeringly hard to come across, which would seem to suggest that it wasn't a remotely popular purchase at the time.

To add to the bafflement, the flipside "Love Is In The Air" is very straightforward sunshine pop, which makes me wonder if there was some kind of mistake at the pressing plant and it was supposed to be the A side. 

We've already talked about The Sundowners once before on this blog, of course - here we talk about the less perplexing, but still rather unusual, "Gloria Bosom Show". You can get a bit more information about the history of the band in that entry. 

15 August 2016

Indie Top 20 - The Blog

In a move I'm hoping is going to be more of a joy than a burden, I've started a blog about the history of the largely forgotten "Indie Top 20" series, and the bands that featured on it. This series was a huge part of my teenage years, and it struck me that while there are any number of blogs online looking at the "Now That's What I Call Music" and "Hits" compilation LPs, this was my chance to write about my own experiences further out on the margins (or further into the safer orthodoxies of guitar-based pop, depending on your point of view).

If you fancy joining me, the blog is here. Please link back and spread the word if you can. 

14 August 2016

Reupload - Dex Dexter - Another Car, Another Car Crash/ Car Trek

Label: Trade 2/ Island
Year of Release: 1996

Was there ever a music press hyped scene more mocked than Romo? We could talk about Lionpop if you want, but that really fits under the category of "vague and poorly named ideas which only one person ever mentioned". Romo, on the other hand, was a simple case of bad timing and under-prepared artists. Some of the bands involved, like InAura, would produce material which under the right circumstances may have hit home. The issue was that their travelling companions had barely formed five minutes ago, were still in the process of forging identities of their own, and seemed to have an abundance of confidence which belied the actual material gathered. A romantic modernist reaction against the excessive laddisms of Britpop made complete sense at the time, but many of the acts involved seemed like student performance art revue projects caught halfway through rehearsal time having fully designed the costumes whilst only managing to have written one page of the script. In the end, Britpop died, Pop returned, and that was that. You can't invent the future. Sigue Sigue Sputnik will tell you that.

For a scene so hyped it's also shocking that so few pieces of recorded work slipped out. Orlando were the kings, managing one album and a few singles. InAura had a great album ready which was rejected by EMI, and subsequently issued by an indie two years too late for anybody to notice or care. Boutique were allowed a couple of interesting singles before slipping under the radar.

Dex Dexter were even less noticeable, being given permission to put out this single - with one of the greatest titles for an A side of all time - before being forgotten about almost immediately. The curious thing about the end product is how it sounds more like a late nineties lo-fi British approach to indie than "Romo" per se. Each angular guitar riff, each cheap keyboard drone which sounds rather like Sweep the puppet squeaking in protest, and each novelty car horn noise makes the end product more akin to the Teen C frolics of Bis than any serious new movement. At the risk of using idle comparisons for a second consecutive sentence, it's true to say that the sharpness of early Adam and the Ants is equally apparent, but unlike Orlando or InAura, there's not much in the way of sweeping electronic melodrama going on here. Maybe if Dex Dexter hadn't boarded the Romo bus, they'd have stood a slight chance in the indie world outside.

Their demise seemed extremely swift. I was introduced to the lead singer Seb at the Water Rats in Kings Cross mere months after this single was issued, and asked him what they had planned next. "You know as much as I do," he grumbled, his flamboyant persona dropping almost immediately. There were to be no more releases, but if you want to put the expectations of some music critics into perspective, go away and read Taylor Parkes' review of a Dex Dexter live gig here. Seldom has hyperbole been less justified, but hopefully enough time has passed now for the single to be enjoyed for what it is without any weight of expectation attached.

10 August 2016

Mike Quinn - Apple Pie/ There's A Time

Label: CBS
Year of Release: 1969

When The Beatles career went well and truly nova, cash-in singles like Dora Bryan's "All I Want For Christmas Is A Beatle", The Carefree's "We Love You Beatles" and Bill Clifton's "Beatle Crazy" trickled out into the marketplace, all basking in the collective golden halo that surrounded the four moptop's heads. Anything with the word "Beatles" in it seemed to sell at least some units in those days, even if it was rush-recorded and did little more than hold a mirror up to the hysteria of the day and stated "Look!". Mediocre records that simply declared "I'm a fan of The Beatles too!" stood a slight chance of charting, as if the entire music industry had gone into some weird feedback loop and everything began with and returned to them.

By 1969, however, Beatles covers aside - and there were still plenty of those leaking out - records celebrating the existence of The Fabs had pretty much dried up, and we were left with this instead; a single gently poking fun at their silliness. "Apple Pie" had originally been co-written by Portsmouth comedy folkie Jon Isherwood, and issued on the flip of his single "Old Time Movies" in January that year. The single flopped (though was later compiled on a "Circus Days" compilation put out by Strange Things Are Happening) but was given a second lease of life by groovy Carnaby Street store owner and DJ Mike Quinn in September 1969. 

The basis for the track's gentle satire is obviously the huge debacle surrounding Apple in the late sixties. Opened up as a boutique-come-talent-funding-facility-come-technological-research-lab-come-record-label-come-hippy-commune-come-whatever-the-hell-was-in-the-Fabs-heads-that-given-day, the business gullibility of Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr became grimly apparent now Epstein was no longer around to keep watch. While many clothes and valuable items were stolen from the boutique by anarchic hippies, the Fabs apparently also funded some "interesting" artistic research schemes which went nowhere. The person responsible for most of this work gets highly litigious when they're mentioned anywhere, so for the sake of a quiet and uncomplicated life, let's just say that nobody can really remember whether The Beatles were promised a large quantity of Electric Paint from somebody working for them or not, or a Special Invisible Security Force Field - what we do know is that many rumours have cropped up over the years insisting that they did. And even if those rumours aren't true, they paint a very interesting picture of other's perceptions of the organisation at that time. There's no question that Apple leaked money from seemingly every department and squandered a large part of the fortune The Beatles had built up. Apple had always sounded like a tremendously utopian idea, and unfortunately it's these businesses - in the media, technology, the arts or elsewhere - which tend to hit Earth at a very rapid velocity, whatever the wealth or good intentions of their original owners. 

The track "Apple Pie" seems to ponder whether the artist (or more likely Jon Isherwood) should or should not have been signed to Apple Records. "Then I sit and ruminate/ cos Apples give you belly-ache/ so Apple Pie my friend I'll pass you by" sings Quinn against a marching and faintly Starr-ish backing track. It also features a crude impersonation of Paul McCartney saying "Do you want a chip butty?", gentle rib-poking about George's meditation, and turns the vague anti-establishment political concerns of The Beatles into something as cartoonish as Yellow Submarine. At the time, this probably felt very naughty indeed, but by today's standards we can only shrug and say "Well, fair enough. They meant well, but Apple was filled to the brim with bad planning and far too many people cutting slices of pennies and pounds".

In the end, "Apple Pie" acts as a dose of common sense being injected into the tail end of the psychedelic era, but it's not anything like as vicious as it could have been. Isherwood carried on as a comedy performer and remained particularly popular in the Portsmouth area, and Mike Quinn carried on with his fashion business. And The Beatles... well, we all know what happened there.

Sorry for the pops and clicks on these recordings. They have been, shall we say, quite well loved.

7 August 2016

Skyband - Pie In The Sky/ Dream Machine

Label: RCA
Year of Release: 1975

Skyband were one of many polished seventies groups whose line-up contains a member of a cult and highly collectible sixties mod/ freakbeat group. Peter Beckett, here serving as a member of Skyband, began his career as the guitarist in mod group The Thoughts. Their solitary single "All Night Stand", penned by Ray Davies, is one of the most sought-after singles of the period, and not for no reason. Besides being a top-drawer Davies effort, The Thoughts performance is riddled with energy and electricity - that it wasn't a hit is one of the era's more baffling mysteries.

Following the dissolution of The Thoughts, Beckett joined Winston G and then cult prog rockers Paladin, before eventually jumping into Skyband with Lane Caudell and Steve Kipner. Fans of "All Night Stand" will be disappointed to learn that this isn't proto-punk, but actually disciplined soft rock for the most part. Their first single for RCA "Bang! Ooh! Ya Got Me!" does have a distinct glam slant to its sound, but it's slightly atypical - the follow-up "Pie In The Sky" is much more 1975 in its approach, imagining a future where orderly, smooth pop-rock ruled the airwaves (albeit with buzzing Moog noises in the background).

It's perfectly good, though. The careful vocal harmonies and bouyant arrangements bring to mind Supertramp or Pilot, and fans of either of those bands will probably find something to enjoy here. Somewhere in the background, supervising the band's self-production efforts, is John Pantry, sixties popsike songsmith most famous for The Factory's legendary effort "Try A Little Sunshine".  So that's two cult sixties artists with singles worth hundreds of pounds in the studio at the same time. It's a strange old world.

3 August 2016

The Epics - Travelling Circus/ Henry Long

Label: CBS
Year of Release: 1968

The Epics were an East London based group consisting of Mike Blakley - the brother of Tremeloes member Alan Blakley - on drums and backing vocals, Vic Elmes on lead guitar and lead vocals, Ian Jansen on guitar and Stuart Tann on bass. They had put out two singles on Pye, "There's Just No Pleasing You" and "Just How Wrong You Can Be" before jumping to CBS for this final effort.

The A-side "Travelling Circus" is a very ordinary track which is still commercially available, and can be found on YouTube. Penned by the Trems top team of Blakley and Hawkes, it's a very simple, chipper little ditty which clearly went after the mainstream pop market of its time, but was not especially effective at hitting home.

It's the B-side, "Henry Long", which tends to get psychedelic collectors in a lather. Straight from the "Arnold Layne" lyrical school of local eccentrics behaving in an illegal way, the tale of Long is told through distorted gramophone horn vocals, wobbly banana-fingered piano lines, and mellow guitar riffs. Mr Long, we are informed, was caught out and about with no clothes on, wearing just a top hat, and is now being asked to explain himself in a court of law. "For his mother's sake/ give an absent minded boy a break/ anyone could make the same mistake" sings Elmes forlornly.

The track admittedly sways towards the twee end of British psychedelia, and those of you whose noses get put out of joint by chirpy popsike are going to get tremendously irritated by this one. Still, for my money it's charming and brilliantly silly. Lyrically it's also a damn sight wittier and sharper than the cash-ins surrounding it, to the extent that nobody would have batted their eyelids had a Ray Davies songwriting credit been present.

Shortly after this single was released, The Epics toured Europe and had some small success in Denmark with a cover of Chris Andrews' "Yesterday Man" with their Danish road manager Johan Lind on lead vocals. On returning to the UK they changed their name to Blossom, then Stuart Tann left, only to be replaced by Alan Ross. Their name was changed yet again to The Acid Gallery, and their sole 45 was a cover of Roy Wood's "Dance Around The Maypole", which remains a psychedelic collectible.

Ian Jansen nicked off not long after that single flopped, and further shufflings of the line-up lead to Jeff Christie joining and the band Christie being formed. "Yellow River" was a monster seventies hit, but had so few original members of The Epics involved that regarding it as a continuation of their earlier career would be something of a mistake.