30 October 2016

Don Crown (& His Busking Budgies) - Mrs Wilson's Budgie/ Flying Machines

Label: President
Year of Release: 1971

Don Crown is absolutely no stranger to this blog (and he's even an occasional reader of it). I'm a keen admirer of his lost psychedelic pop single "Budgerigar Man", and covered it back in August 2012

As stated back on the previous entry, Don Crown was a street performer and busker who incorporated budgerigars into his musical act, arranging for them to - as clearly stated in song on "Budgerigar Man" - "Perform tricks while I sing and play". Budgerigars may be part of the parrot family, but they're not widely acknowledged as being especially bright compared to their larger brothers, nor easy to train, so the patience involved in producing such a show is clearly saintly. And for what it's worth, I caught Don Crown doing his stuff live as a child, and it absolutely made my day, even though I was never successful at replicating the results at home. 

Don did make a few media appearances with his birds, and it's probably thanks to that exposure that some record labels tried to make arrangements for him to have a hit single. "Budgerigar Man" on Orange Records flopped, and this, the follow-up on President, was equally unsuccessful. More lo-fi and one-man-band than the debut single, "Mrs Wilson's Budgie" may be taking some cues from The Blossom Toes "Mrs Murphy's Budgerigar", or it may be that the lyrical similarities are purely coincidental. Unlike the Toes, though, "Mrs Wilson's Budgie" has a much more jaunty, almost jugband feel to it. It's a likeable novelty record, but doesn't scale the production or arrangement heights of his debut.

The flipside "Flying Machines" has attracted slightly more attention recently, being compiled on "Electric Asylum Volume 3 - Rare British Acid Freakrock". I'd describe it as being absolutely nothing of the kind. It has a very lo-fi, sixties beat feel to it, with a Joe Meek-ish homemade production. Towards the end as the song reaches its peak, it even starts to bear a resemblance to a Lee Mavers out-take from some aborted Las sessions, though I highly doubt he was ever taking any notes from Uncle Don. Or perhaps the reason The Las didn't put out a second album was due to not having the right kind of budgies in the studio - "They should be proper sixties blue budgies, la". 

Irrespective of that, it's the better side of the two, but is commercially available. I'd advise you to make your way over to iTunes or elsewhere to grab yourself a copy, but I've included a brief snippet below.

26 October 2016

The Size Seven Group - Where Do We Go From Here/ 'Til I Die

Label: Mercury
Year of Release: 1965

Well, where do we go from here? Is it down to the lake, I fear? No, don't be silly.

The Size Seven Group hailed from Corby in Northamptonshire and were at one time named by Burt Weedon as "the greatest semi-professional group in Britain". Consisting of six members, namely Alan Black on bass, George Cumming on piano and vocals, Billy Geary on guitar and harmonica, Brian Lynn-Dowell on vocals, Billy Nicol on drums and Jack Stewart on lead guitar, they were an extremely popular and successful group in the local area, and their first single "Crying My Heart Out" was issued by the local label Rendezvous. The lack of other releases from that particular label would suggest that it existed briefly and solely to give The Size Seven Group a leg up.

This was a successful move, and resulted in the group being signed to Mercury where they remained for a further three singles, of which "Where Do We Go From Here?" was the first. It's a nice little beat pop ditty which caused enough ripples in the UK to get the American branch of Mercury Records to issue the track stateside. It wasn't a proper hit on either side of the pond, however, and the UK-only follow-up singles "It's Got To Be Love" and "In Time" completely failed to register with the public.

The Size Seven Group aren't really a particularly collectible act, their locally released debut aside, and that's arguably because there's no real edge to anything they produced. They existed mainly to deliver slick, professional versions of harmony ballads and light pop, not garage rock, soul or psychedelia. That said, they're occasionally acknowledged as being a rather overlooked British band in the world of mid-sixties pop, and an exceptional live act for the period. 

23 October 2016

Paul Curtis - On The Move (Video 2000)

Label: Philips
Year of Release: 1979, at a guess?

"Video 2000! What were all that about then, eh?" are words which Peter Kay has almost certainly never, ever started any stand-up routine with. In the video recorder revolution, Video 2000 was the Oric Atmos to VHS's ZX Spectrum and Betamax's Commodore 64, or perhaps the Liberal Democrats to VHS's Tory and Betamax's Labour, or... oh, I don't know, why don't you think of some rubbish and poorly fitting analogies for yourselves?!

The simple fact is that I have never, ever met in my life anyone who owned a Video 2000 machine. I knew of their existence, but everyone owned either VHS or Beta machines, and rued the day they chose Beta when that format eventually bit the dust (my family, to their eternal regret, were relatively late Betamax adopters). Video 2000 machines may as well have been ghostly myths in my neck of the woods in Essex - I don't think I even saw a player for sale in the local Dixons or Currys. They were just something that didn't touch my world. Apparently they were superior to the VHS and Betamax formats in almost all ways, from sound to picture quality to tape durability, but this cut little ice with the buying public, and the format was junked in 1986 to precious few tears.

Still, this synthetic promotional single from the late seventies gives you some idea of the kind of excitement Philips wanted to generate around Video 2000. The sleeve appears to show the player arriving in a blur from outer space, like some kind of alien tech us privileged humanoids had managed to get our hands on. The single backs this image up with dramatic whooshing noises, hyperactive slapped basslines, and the kind of synthesiser melody favoured by the Channel 4 Testcard in 1982 and the opening credits of short-lived science fiction series (probably with the face of each actor freeze-framed as their name appears on screen). But above all else, it sounded like the FUTURE. Or at least, it did at that time.

"You can't beat the system, no no no!" sing some soulful ladies, before backing this up with an even more ecstatic line about the player's fantastic ability to record many more televisual hours than its boring VHS or Betamax rivals, and with a 16 day pre-record clock facility. Trouble is, Video 2000 couldn't beat the market system, no no, and indeed, no. For reasons of timing (it was launched after the other formats) and distribution, it just didn't capture the public's imagination, and it would have taken a lot more than a slightly funky promotional synth single to put that right.

Still, in a funny kind of way, I am glad this exists, just because everyone needs the space for one chirpy disco record about defunct recording technology in their lives.

19 October 2016

Offered With Very Little Comment - Prime Evil, Brian "No Chance" Green, Tommy Farrell, White Gold

Inevitably, digging through record crates and remainder bins and going on ebay to search for interesting looking vinyl can bring forth an embarrassment of riches and... well, an overload of "meh". Records which are neither awful or good, by artists of whom little is known, creating music which was typical for its era and not in any way groundbreaking or surprising.

When I started this blog I prided myself on having something to say about everything I created an entry about, but these four singles have been sitting on my "to upload" list for over a year now, and try though I do I really cannot think of any insights to offer. Nor for the most part have I been able to uncover much information about any of the artists. It seems as if the best way of dealing with the situation is to offer them up for listening whilst not exhausting my tired brain trying to come up with interesting ways of putting them into any sort of context.

"Why upload them at all?" you may ask, and the answer to that is simple: "I guarantee you someone, somewhere will have been looking desperately to hear one of these singles. And not just the singer's cousin, either".

I might do this again on occasions where there's not much else to talk about - or I may not. We'll see. For now, though, here's your discs:

Artist: Prime Evil
Song: King Kong, King Kong (Parts 1 & 2)
Label: Mainspring
Year of Release: 1976

Pounding, tribal, synth-infested novelty disco record describing the events in the King Kong film. Scott Walker, of course, also precisely described the events in a classic film when he recorded "Seventh Seal". It sounded absolutely nothing like this, though I suppose the vocalist is emoting quite powerfully here. 

Artist: Brian (No Chance) Green
Songs: Now You're Gone/ 'Tain't No Sin
Label: Fontana
Year of Release: 1967

Seemingly a slice of Trad Jazz issued on a major label at a point when most people in the UK had long since given up on Trad Jazz and it had become a seriously niche concern. The flip is nice and lively, but really not my bag.

Artist: Tommy Farrell
Songs: You Made Me Lie To You/ Soon
Label: Beacon
Year of Release: 1969

Super-scarce Beacon 45 which hardly ever turns up anywhere, but really isn't much of a collectible, largely due to the fact that it's a fairly run-of-the-mill ballad. 

Artist: White Gold
Songs: Cross My Heart/ I Will Always Love You
Label: Logo
Year of Release: 1978

Smooth and smoochy disco action, nicely constructed and produced. 

16 October 2016

Reupload - Money - Come Laughing Home/ Power Of The Rainbow

Label: Major Minor
Year of Release: 1969

"Stop wasting your time looking for obscurities," a rather pushy record dealer said to me a couple of weeks ago. "There's nothing out there that hasn't been compiled or DJ'ed with already, and even if you think you find a good record nobody's heard of, I guarantee you somebody out there has." 
"Ah yes, Mr Dealer, but what if they found a record, believed it to be crap, and wrongly put it to one side?" I replied. Well actually, I didn't.  I just nodded and smiled at him politely whilst those very thoughts ran through my head.

 Of course, he had a very good point.  It is indeed becoming a near-impossible mission to find anything new that's interesting, particularly from eras where the lucky dip has been well and truly picked dry.  Given the enormous array of blogs out there, the endless unofficial compilations of obscure material it's impossible to keep track of, and street-smart retro DJs with money to burn, you can never definitely state that you're the first person to be wowed by a track.  So naturally, when I say to you readers "This is a good record which appears to have been ignored", it should be taken with a tiny pinch of salt. It could be played weekly at your local popsike bop for all I know.

Obviously I'm leading up to the point that Money's "Come Laughing Home" is a really pleasant surprise, despite being rather tartly dismissed by a couple of other sources.  When you see a record label clearly stating that the tune is from a theatre production - in this case Keith Waterhouse's play of the same name - you tend not to expect more than a saccharine pop ballad with a gentle orchestra behind it.  This, on the other hand, introduces itself with some doomy organ chords, the repeated pleading refrain "Come home!" before launching headlong into a sweet and wistful piece of harmony-drenched popsike.  Reminiscent of a likable Roy Wood penned ballad and containing riffs which sound similar to fragments of "Dancing In The Moonlight" in places, the A-side is summery, breezy and chipper without being irritating.  I don't want to overstate the case here, but it's surprising that this one hasn't received a bit more attention from collectors.

Sadly, the flip "The Power Of The Rainbow" really isn't worth troubling yourselves with too much, being a rather dull pop ballad.

Money apparently hailed from Manchester, but information about them is otherwise hard to come by.  One more single entitled "Breaking Of Her Heart" was issued in 1970 before they disappeared off pop's map, and if you know who they were and what else they did, please do let me know.

(Since this blog entry was originally uploaded in July 2012, a few facts have come forward. Key players in the recording, Ray Teret and Mel Scholes, were apparently also DJs on Signal in Stoke. Something I should also have spotted first time around is that this is a Bill Kenwright production, who had a background in musical theatre and acting, and is of course these days is Chair of Everton FC. 

That seems to it, but if anyone knows anything more, please let me know. Somebody called Emma Tanton dropped me a line promising more information, but it was never forthcoming -if you want to get back in touch again, I'll be all ears). 

12 October 2016

Dee Eldridge - Joys Of Alicia/ Half As Much

Label: Major Minor
Year of Release: 1970

This is a very obscure and very late piece of girl-pop. Issued in 1970 but sounding incredibly like a mid sixties piece of work, little is known about the performer Dee Eldridge. The track itself contains everything lovers of the twee end of sixties pop enjoy - gentle, sprightly lyrical musing on the fate of a poor deluded unfortunate with a fey name, pounding drum-work, and bouncy catchiness.

Copies of this are difficult to come by now, and it hasn't really picked up a lot of love from popsike aficionados probably partly due to its relative lightness, and also partly due to its 1970 release date. However, it's deftly performed by Eldridge, and the chorus is worthy of the likes of Sandie Shaw. Nicky Welsh also does the usual solid job of arranging the track into shape.

It's unlikely to undergo a serious reassessment, but in a crate-digging world that tends to offer very little new finds of interest from this period, it's reassuring to know that there are still good singles out there worthy of fresh pairs of ears - and this, while not breath-taking, is certainly a cheering listen.

9 October 2016

Lunar Funk - Mr. Penguin (Parts One and Two)

Label: Bell
Year of Release: 1972

"My name... is Mr. Penguin - you do your thang/ and I'll do my thang/ ha ha ha ha ha ha..."

I stumbled upon this record purely by chance in the soul and disco section of a second hand record store, and bought it on the strength of the band's name and the song title alone. "This," I thought, "is either going to be abysmal or great. And whichever it is, I bet I can at least write about it".

And guess what? "Mr. Penguin" is fantastic and truly absurd, though a lot of funk purists have been rather critical of this in some places online. Driven by fantastic jazzy electric organ riffs and a persuasive funk-disco beat, it tops the whole thing off with absurd, almost threatening spoken interruptions from the chap who identifies himself as "Mr. Penguin". He's deadpan, his laughter is somewhat hollow, and he couldn't give a fig what we think of him. It's the kind of record you'd place firm money was in Prince's collection somewhere at Paisley Park; it seems utterly at home with the man's love of funky riffs and also borderline psychedelic absurdity. So too can I imagine this finding favour with sixties mod types and Acid Jazz heads far more than it's likely to please the discerning, "serious" funk crowd. 

The track was also apparently put together in something of a hurry by the musicians Leroy Emmanuel, Mose Davis, Demo Cates and Andrew Gibson. Complaining to their employers that they had no money coming in for Christmas 1972, they were rushed into the studio to cut a couple of tracks which all concerned hoped would reverse the situation. One of the tracks, "Crawl Y'All", was issued under the band name Bad Smoke on Chess Records, then there was this little number for Bell, a single the label were apparently desperate to own and coughed up handsomely for. It became something of a dancefloor hit in the aftermath and was heavily played at a couple of regional American stations, and Radio Luxembourg in Europe, but it's become largely forgotten since.

Blues & Soul magazine published a review of this record in 1972 which stated "Rumour has it that it is completely electrical, and there are, in fact, no musicians involved". Lord alone knows where this rumour stemmed from - a mischievous record label employee, I'm sure - but it's obviously total balderdash. It does, however, bring to mind some of the more ridiculous lines from Chris Morris's "Club Night" guides on the Bluejam radio show. "He uses guns, by the way, and there's no floor in the club at all". 

5 October 2016

The Weltons - Hang 10 Hang 10/ Ali Cat

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1977

The seventies was an era completely awash with family bands, from The Jacksons to The Osmonds to The Nolans, but The Weltons (Steve, Paul, Julie and Mark) never really achieved the heights of any of those three bands. They came close to mainstream fame on a variety of occasions, enjoying television exposure in the late seventies on "Opportunity Knocks" and elsewhere. They also earned a chance to represent the UK in the Eurovision Song Contest in 1982 (they were beaten by Bardo) but overall, it was a case of "close but no cigar".

"Hang 10 Hang 10" is probably the finest single in their largely ignored catalogue, being a fairly rough and ready pub rock/ glam hybrid dedicated to the joys of surfing. Filled with catchy analogue synth noises and a simple and effective guitar riff, it's stripped back and basic stuff, but no worse for it.

Sadly, one gets the feeling that all this was a bit too old hat for 1977, and their sound - neither punk nor disco nor hard rock - struggled to find a place in the hearts of music lovers at that time. Following their failure to represent Britain at Eurovision, they appeared to fade away from public sight, though you have to wonder if they occasionally get their amps and guitars out at Christmasses and weddings in the Welton clan. I'd like to think so.

2 October 2016

Mark Wirtz - Caroline/ Goody Goody Goody

Label: CBS
Year of Release: 1969

Although he's most famed for the Teenage Opera project, which we've discussed at enormous length here, Mark Wirtz really did put it about a lot as both a producer and performer in the sixties. He wasn't quite up there with Joe Meek in terms of prolificness, but his output did also veer all over the road, ranging from throwaway novelty silliness to intricate, ambitious soundscapes.

"Caroline" is very certainly the former. It is seriously strange, though, being a ballad about a woman so obsessed with her weight that she won't eat anything apart from fruit and salad when she's out with the Wirtzman. Wirtz ends the song by going into a long diatribe, pleading with her not to worry about "getting fat", as her present behaviour is ruining many a dinner date. You're forced to conclude that the poor lady probably had some sort of eating disorder (seriously - it doesn't sound right).

With a strolling, trotting rhythm to it, "Caroline" also somewhat startlingly resembles the music from the 1980s Toffee Crisp "seance" adverts, which is probably a coincidence unless the songwriters Leander and Mills were hawking off-cuts to advertising agencies at that point.

Inevitably, this single isn't high on anyone's list of Wirtz wants, but it's such a ridiculous record that it's worth logging here. Obviously all involved must have hoped that it might strike a chord with men everywhere frustrated with their calorie-counting better halves, but I'd be willing to wager that total bemusement was the only response forthcoming.

1 October 2016

On The Wheels of Steel (But Not Playing Stealers Wheel)

All you Londoners, and indeed anyone within easily commutable distance... I'm set to make two DJ'ing appearances over the next couple of weeks, and I thought I'd let you know about what and where they are.

The first is this coming Wednesday 5th October at the Sebright Arms in Hackney, where I'll be providing the vinyl backdrop at the UK album launch of New York anti-folk legend Seth Faergolzia (of Dufus infamy - and if you chaps haven't checked out Dufus, remedy that immediately now. They were responsible for one of the most mindblowing live shows I saw last decade, believe it or not).

Also on the bill are 11th Hour Adventists (featuring ex-Swell Mapper Jowe Head) and muscular indie pop from The Reverse.

I asked the organiser Joe "Blang" Murphy what he wanted me to do on the night, and he was rather laissez-faire, to be frank. So I'll probably just bring lots of things along that I think an audience prone to going out on Autumn nights to watch very left-field alternative music will enjoy, so expect garage rock, psychedelia, post punk, indie, and whatever oddments slip under my paw, and maybe even Big Cherry if I get drunk enough.

The Facebook details are here for those of you who do Facebook.

And THEN...

On Friday 14th October I'll be back at Grow in Hackney from 7pm - 2am doing another one of their close-to-becoming-really-rather-popular Northern Soul nights along with John The Revelator of Dirty Water and Heatwave and Jonathan Dabner of the Dugout Soul Club.

This, my friends, is a brilliant venue to play Northern Soul all until really early in the morning - it's an ex-warehouse with a huge, high ceiling which the music reverberates off just like it would have done in those Wigan Casino days. If you don't go to this Northern Soul night, and instead mope off to one held in an old pub backroom somewhere, you can count me as being officially disappointed.

Here's the Facebooky thing. 

Two very different things, then. See you at one or both of them. I will. Won't I?

(It also occurs to me that one of these DJ'ing gigs is something John Peel would have approved of, while the other is something Tony Blackburn would enjoy. I am, quite clearly, all things to all people...)