28 September 2016

Dallas Boys - Night Of Love/ Can't Fool My Heart/ He Won't Love You/ What Do You Know About Losin'

Label: Major Minor
Year of Release: 1968

Now here's another good old mystery. The Dallas Boys were clearly not from Dallas in the USA, or if they were they had no records out in that country. So who were they, then? Nobody seems to be sure. Major Minor's output often had a strong Irish flavour and it's possible that they were from that country, but it's equally probable that they were a UK-based club act who were just offered the chance to record a couple of singles.

The sound of both is clearly incredibly Righteous Brothers influenced, but "Night of Love", the flipside of "Can't Fool My Heart" is a rare exception, being something of an unlikely Northern Soul pounder with all the thudding melodrama you'd expect. Burying something as kicking as this on a B-side seems foolish, but you can't blame all involved for trying to coin in on the boy's ballads - ballads, after all, always seem likely to sell.

Prior to the release of this single, The Dallas Boys had another release out which I'll cover below (beneath the soundfiles) for the sake of completion...

Label: Major Minor
Year of Release: 1967

Both sides of this single are trying to trade on the boys rich-as-Bisto baritone vocals, and are slow, considered ballads. It's unlikely that either side is going to be of major interest to "Left and to the Back" readers, but I've made the soundfiles available to assuage everyone's curiosity.

Obviously, if anyone knows who The Dallas Boys were, I'd love to have further information. 

25 September 2016

Reupload - After Tea - The Time Is Nigh/ Not Just A Flower In Your Hair

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1967

The Dutch music scene of the late sixties is an embarrassment of riches, and despite the fact that various compilation series - most prominently Rubble - have hoovered up a lot of the best material, a quick trip to an Amsterdam vinyl outlet can leave a buyer feeling spoiled for choice (as well as utterly bemused as to which records are duds and which ones are worth the asking prices quoted).  The Amsterdam music scene in particular out-freaked a great many of the oddest London bands, and initially moved Paul McCartney to once claim that it had a more finely developed underground than that city.

After Tea, however, can't claim complete and total membership of the Nederbeat clan, for they had ex-Syndicat Ray Fenwick on guitar at this point in their careers.  A mere one year after putting his instrument through grevious punishment with Joe Meek for "Crawdaddy Simone" he hopped across to the Netherlands to join After Tea, who were being formed by ex-member of The Tee Set Hans Van Eijck.  The band's name presumably served two purposes - to act as an homage to the Spencer Davies Group single of the same name, and also to insinuate that there was life for Hans beyond The Tee Set (in case this joke needed to be heavily highlighted for any of you readers).

This, their debut single, is a bit of a winner.  A-side "Not Just A Flower In Your Hair" is a piece of tongue-in-cheek Move inspired pop which chirps along confidently.  Whilst I suspect the song is as genuine a statement about hippy-dom as anything Scott MacKenzie produced, lovers of popsike will be pleasantly amused.

The B-side "The Time Is Nigh", on the other hand, is as mad as a bag of Jack Russells who have been fed acid-spiked dog treats, although the message seems to be in favour of abstinence from that particular drug.  "Throw your LSD away/ because meditation is the thing for today!" the group demand, whilst a swirling organ workout squawks along behind them, and various children manically "la la la" their way through their chorus.  Sounding like something existing between the theme music from "Rentaghost" and The Small Faces having a jam whilst on a cocktail of various conflicting drugs, this track is fully in keeping with some of the more berserk moments in the Dutch music scene of the time.

Sadly, as soon as Fenwick's work permit expired he was sent home and, through an interesting quirk of fate, joined the Spencer Davies Group to record "Time Seller".  After Tea plodded on without him back in the Netherlands and steadily became more progressive in their style, before eventually settling on a heavy rock/ blues sound for their final album "Joint House Blues".

21 September 2016

Poppy Factory - 7x7/ Stars/ Fabulous Beast (EP)

Label: Chrysalis
Year of Release: 1991

Something very unusual happened at the turn of the eighties. The success of the Happy Mondays, Stone Roses, Charlatans and Inspiral Carpets suddenly caused major labels to smell possible money in a lot of alternative rock or, more likely, indie dance acts. In the middle part of the eighties, large labels were sometimes sniffy about signing alternative acts, taking very careful, low budget punts on a small handful of bands then often half-heartedly promoting them at best - by the nineties, they were either snatching acts off indie labels just as they were creeping towards the Top 40, or signing them before the indies even got a sniff.

Poppy Factory were an example of an indie-dance act who, self-released debut "Drug House" aside, never came within a centimetre of an indie label. Cradle-snatched by Chrysalis on the tail end of the baggy scene, their exposure actually probably suffered slightly as a result. It sounds hard to believe now, but in those days if you didn't struggle on a small independent label for awhile, you were often regarded as being somewhat inauthentic and over-stylised by the music press.

The group, consisting of Jock Cotton on guitar and vocals, Michael Dale on keyboards and bass, and Jon MacDonald on keyboards, emerged out of Bradford with an innovative live show which frequently featured surrealist live props such as neon lobsters and out-of-context film clips, giving them an automatic parallel with World of Twist who were using similar bizarro stage distractions at the time. Sound-wise as well, the two bands have much in common - the indie-dance backbeats and the heavy leaning on distinctly eighties keyboard sounds make them feel like kindred spirits.

The debut single "7x7" is arguably their finest work. With its chorus and opening cry of "Call me Charlie Bubbles!" harking back to the sixties film of the same name starring Albert Finney, it combines electronic psychedelia, confused surrealist lyrics and an incredibly dramatic atmosphere to astounding effect. "Maybe the rooftops are hidden under the floors!" cries Cotton in an anguished, almost camp voice. Part E generation muzak and part rewrite of Scott Walker's "Plastic Palace People", it's indicative of how under-rated a lot of singles being released during this period were, and how grossly unfair it was that the indie-dance genre sparked and fizzed out quite so quickly. It's a very brave and immediately striking "proper" debut single which gently nudged its way into the Top 100 despite its odd edges.

(Entry continues beneath the sound files) 

Label: Chrysalis
Year of Release: 1991

Follow-up "Stars", on the other hand, is very brazenly a pop record, with its chiming keyboards, whispered backing vocals, and bongo-bashing groove. Gone is the delirium of the debut and in its place is a record which is rather closer to the shiny slickness of ABC. Absolutely nothing wrong with that, but the conventionality of the track can't help but be slightly disappointing.

Perhaps unexpectedly, the public agreed and the single failed to make as much of a splash as "7x7". Reduced, remaindered copies of this were a common sight during my teenage years, all of them sitting and gathering dust in the budget boxes of my local independent record shop. The pop art sleeve almost tempted me into buying it a few times - I should have done. It could be obtained at a much lower price then.

(Entry continues beneath sound files)

Label: Chrysalis
Year of Release: 1991

The Fabulous Beast EP was the group's last shot at chart stardom, and almost inevitably didn't make it. The title track is another slice of pop, this time much more frantic and retaining the faint sense of surrealism the debut single had. It's a return to form after the disappointment of "Stars", and should perhaps have performed better, but by this point the public's interest in both the band and baggy-inspired indie groups was seriously waning.

Another track on the EP, "Acceleration", shows that they had an obvious flair for faintly warped and melodramatic yet decidedly poppy ditties. It also seemed to prove that the forthcoming LP "Goodtime" was going to be an interesting proposition at the very least.

Sadly, the LP, while completed, never got released. Chrysalis dropped the band, noting their declining sales (and they never started from a very high base in the first place) and left the album in the vaults. To this day, it's never been heard by the general public, and nor have the group been widely remembered by anyone except those who paid close attention to the British alternative scene at the time.

Given a lot of emerging revivalist trends in this area, and how close some of them veer to Poppy Factory's sound - I'm thinking very much of bands like Swim Deep here - it's a pity nobody has thought to revisit those abandoned master tapes yet. Perhaps their time might have come.

18 September 2016

Dedicated Men's Jugband - Boodle-Am-Shake/ Come On Boys

Label: Piccadilly
Year of Release: 1965

If there's one thing nobody's bothered to write a sixties article about (so far as I know) it's the incredible volume of jugbands who made themselves known throughout the decade. You would have thought that in an era of rapidly changing recording studio technology and ever-evolving sounds, the sixties would have been very keen to shake them off - but no. Even in the late sixties The Purple Gang were deemed strange counter-culture heroes, and at the turn of the seventies Mungo Jerry's sound owed a debt to the movement.

Verifiable facts about the Dedicated Men's Jugband are hard to come by, but they had two releases out on the Pye subsidiary label Piccadilly, this and the follow-up "Don't Come Knocking". We also know (from the signed copy of this very 45 alone) that they consisted of Seth Copeland, Mick Sutton, Paul Birkbeck, Wink, Ray Butt (?), Lyn Birkbeck and Roger Mills, and they somehow were lucky enough to get a promo film made for themselves by Pathe.

Copies of their records are thin enough on the ground to suggest that they sold poorly at the time, but "Boodle-Am-Shake" is a real tonic - a preposterous, speedy little ditty which belts along at such a pace it's almost hard to keep up with it. You can understand why Pye took a gamble on them, despite them possibly seeming like a rather unlikely prospect.

14 September 2016

Honeyend - Heartbreaker/ Beautiful Downtown

Label: Spark
Year of Release: 1972

Spark Records became keen players in the Northern Soul market in the seventies, releasing quite a few singles dedicated to capturing that audience, many of them actually somewhat tepid cash-ins. There's no conceivable reason why anyone would want to own Ruth Swann's version of "Tainted Love" while Gloria Jones's existed, for instance, unless they were just desperate to have something that sounded reasonably similar. Wigan's Ovation, on the other hand, are often flagged up as being a great live band - not something I can comment on, but their Northern Soul styled singles lacked a certain rawness, passion or bite.

This is all quite interesting, as Spark actually issued a couple of singles in the early seventies which pre-empted the commercial rise of Northern Soul. Gene Latter's "Sign On The Dotted Line" is probably the most notable, but "Heartbreaker" by Honeyend also had its fans on the circuit. Starting with a jangling tambourine and a Motown-styled string arrangement, it does sound very "Made In The United Kingdom" - there's a studied, careful smoothness to this you just wouldn't find in many US Northern Soul spins at the time. However, it's also a lovely listen, and an original composition rather than a cheap cover version cash-in. 

I have no idea who the performers behind this disc are, but it seems likely they were a session group. Producer and co-composer John Worsley would go on to work on some other Spark singles, but nothing I could bring forward as being an example of a solid hit of the era. 

(Thanks hugely to Albert for sending me cleaned up versions of the below mp3s). 

11 September 2016

Earth - Everybody Sing The Song/ Stranger Of Fortune

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1969

Earth - or The Earth as they appeared to be known for this release - were a Plymouth rock group who managed to sneak two singles out in 1969, one being the rather rare and sought-after "Resurrection City" on CBS, which was subsequently compiled on to the "Circus Days" series of compilation albums.

The follow-up "Everybody Sing The Song" lacks the scrambling freak-out nature of the CBS single, and is much poppier and more anthemic, leaning heavily on the chirpy analogue synth sounds in the chorus. Once again, it's one of those faintly psychedelic A-sides that in a fair week might have stood a chance of airplay and possibly chart action - but as things stood, it utterly flopped.

Establishing the line-up of Earth should be very straightforward, as I have documentary evidence from the Circus Days box set that the group consisted of Dave Bolitho on vocals and keyboards, Pete Spearing on guitar, Robin Parnell on bass and Ian "Snowy" Snow on drums. What could be simpler? But no! The "Tapestry of Delights" book states that Greg Vandyke, an eventual record dealer from Plymouth, was also in the group on keyboards, and clarifies that a "slightly different line-up" recorded this Decca release (without specifying who) and also insists that a mysterious "Rangford" was also a member.

If you want to be confused further still, several online sources including Wikipedia state that Glen Campbell was also a member of the group. It seems to me to be fairly unlikely that Campbell would have caught a train to Plymouth and bumped into the boys and hooked along for the ride, and I'm tempted to regard this as being one of those weird Wikipedia inaccuracies which have since been quoted as fact all over the place. Indeed, in moments where the online version of events differs wildly from the printed versions, I tend to ignore it unless given solid evidence otherwise... but since the evidence on offer in print is also contradictory, this is a tough one to unpick. Does anyone know for sure? My guess is that Campbell appeared as a session guest on "Resurrection City" and that's where the story ends.

Whatever, we can state with some confidence that Spearing and Snow formed Stonehouse after this single flopped, and recorded one obscure LP for CBS. Snow eventually moved on to Asgard who recorded on the Moody Blues label Threshold.

Sorry for the sound quality on the B-side of this single in particular, by the way - this is the state I found it in. If anyone has a better version they want to upload, I would be happy to host it. Don't go looking for a better version on YouTube... there isn't anything at all there.

7 September 2016

Peter Fenton - Marble Breaks, Iron Bends/ Small Town

Label: Fontana
Year of Release: 1966

Pity the sixties artists who nearly had hits. Oh, the torture. "Near-hits" counted for bugger-all back then, and usually the record label would only give them one or two additional shots before dropping them. Take Peter Fenton here as an example - his driving, propulsive take on "Marble Breaks, Iron Bends" climbed to number 46 in the charts (very slowly at that, across three steady weeks) before dropping out again, and one single later he was off Fontana's roster.

That's a bit harsh. Both sides of this are actually impressive pieces of work. "Marble Breaks", as stated already, is a kicking little track which is far superior to the Drafi take on the song, and the flipside "Small Town" is arguably even better, being a Howard and Blaikley penned pean to suburban tedium with a mod beat groove behind it. Fenton even shoots off an impressive little monologue at the end, declaring "Forget it! What can you do in a small town anyway? It's all over by nine o'clock!" Stop exaggerating, sir, The Carpenter's Arms is open until late and you might even get your head kicked in in the car park afterwards.

Fenton hailed from Yorkshire originally, though I've also seen reports online suggesting he originated from Canada - I'm going to take those with a lorry-load of salt given that the accent at the end of "Small Town" is absolutely not North American. Despite his relative success, certainly in comparison to most artists on the blog, he's pretty much disappeared under the radar since. It would be good to find out what he got up to in the years after this.

6 September 2016

DJ'ing at Mews Festival 2016, Muswell Hill

It's been awhile, but I'll be back at the Avenue Mews Festival, Muswell Hill this Saturday (10th September) to do a bit of DJ'ing on vintage 70s equipment (pictured) with Sean Bright.

It will run from 7pm - 11pm and feature live music, street food, open studios, an open air cinema, vintage shopping, cocktails, and other such good things.

If you want to catch me or Sean spinning discs among the many other things going on, we'll be frightening people's children (who should be in bed by 5pm anyway, frankly, who do they think they are?) with our music in Can't Buy Me Love, Jet Payne's brilliant clothes store. They'll also have a Mojito stall inside, and you will know us by the queue trailing out of the door.

The Facebook event page is here, but to clarify here's a flyer:

4 September 2016

Reupload - The Discounts - Selling Records

Label: Original
Year of Release: 1980

When The Buzzcocks issued their "Spiral Scratch" EP on their own label, their approach was trumpeted in some corners of the UK mainstream music press as being unique and ground-breaking. As with many things the NME and their various rivals and sister publications uttered, this obviously wasn't wholly true.  Any record collector worth their salt knows that DIY records had been around for a long time, much beloved by the likes of cabaret artists, folkies, Butlins holiday camp performers, provincial prog rockers and even sixties mod bands.  If somebody was operating in a marginal or specialist field and/or just wanted to make a quick buck selling a record at their gigs or in their local record shops, a DIY pressing was a fairly simple way of getting their music out there.

What is true is that "Spiral Scratch" publicised the ease of the process and made thousands of lightbulbs flash on above a lot of scruffy heads.  More to the point, bands who had formed a mere five minutes ago drew the conclusion that there was nothing stopping them from making a quick raid on their collective bank accounts and seeing if they could get themselves some cultish fame.  DIY records appealed to the Warholian side of many amateur musicians during the punk and post-punk era, and they sometimes chose to quickly put a record out in the hope of gaining a bit of notoriety, only to split up if they were ignored.

Where The Discounts are concerned, I'm possibly drawing far too many conclusions here, because nobody seems to know who the hell they were.  From the limited evidence I have available to me, it would seem that this was a DIY issue in Australia originally, and was subsequently picked up by the British label Original as their debut release on these shores.  It is, to be blunt, a world-weary slice of post-punk bitterness, with the lead vocalist playing the role of a bored record shop assistant (or owner) moaningly intoning his raison d'ĂȘtre.  The band cook up a jolly old swing behind him, but when combined with his droning it starts to sound like the backing to a catchy radio jingle, their best attempts mocked by his lack of enthusiasm.  Did Art Brut hear this one before recording "Formed A Band", I wonder? The "dub" B-side is more bizarre still, being the most minimal dub I've heard in my life.

Johan Kugelberg listed this track in his Top 100 DIY singles of all time, but (so far as I know) it remains uncompiled and fairly difficult to track down copies of.  So then, here it is below.