30 November 2016

Romford Golden Sunshine Band - Alberto The Great/ Kalahari Bushman Shuffle

Label: MGM
Year of Release: 1968

Ah, Romford. The Essex town that spoils us all, with the whiff of yeasty goodness from its brewery (way back when), the cheap polyester work shirts on sale at its market stalls, the tattered Union Jacks flapping proudly over various right-wing political party leafletting points... it's a place us Ilfordians, ourselves not living the high life, tend to look at when we want to feel a bit posh. 

A few days ago, someone remarked on Twitter that "The world is not like a pub car park in Romford" in an attempt to get someone to understand that violence is not always the answer to everything. A Romfordian user hit back: "Not comfortable with this level of Romford bashing. Fights tend to happen everywhere, and not just car parks." 

Still, I ought to be careful what I say - the great brassy force of this record makes it sound as if there's a lot of members in the Romford Golden Sunshine Band, and after this blog entry they might try to beat me up. While there may have been multiple musicians involved, the only members I'm able to verify with any certainty are lead man Dave Watson and co-writer Dennis Masterton. The drummer was apparently Bill Legend of T Rex fame, but I can't find a verifiable source for that fact.

"Alberto The Great" here is an incredibly merry instrumental, packed with equal doses of Herb Alpert styled shine and a tiny bit of soulfulness. It's a bit too chirpy to be a credible case for the dancefloor, but like some of the better easy listening instrumentals from this period, it has a careful and bouncy arrangement that's never boring. 

Sadly, Watson passed away some time ago from a heart attack, but his group's album "Would You Believe" is still available in its entirety on YouTube. It might be better to listen to them there rather than below. As you can see from my scans of the labels above, my copy of this single has been very well-loved and overplayed. 

27 November 2016

Reupload - Dave Allen - The Good Earth/ A Way Of Life

Label: Philips
Year of Release: 1969

A few entries back when we discussed Alexei Sayle's hit single, I (possibly unnecessarily) listed many of the comedians who - for better or worse - had issued vinyl from the fifties onwards. I neglected to mention Irish comedian Dave Allen, whose sole 45 is possibly one of the most unlikely releases there's ever been.

Before we really get stuck into the contents of this disc, it's worth me getting on my soapbox and arguing that I genuinely regard Allen to be a legend. His lengthy television career from the sixties to the nineties is a testament to his surprisingly broad appeal, but what's less appreciated in some quarters is quite how revolutionary he was in his own understated way. Way before Ben Elton steamed in with his "bit of politics", Allen weaved tales of hypocrisy in the church, lampooned authority figures and generally (and perhaps most successfully) highlighted the absurdities of human life. Allen certainly traded on grouchiness and his material frequently landed him in trouble, but unlike many comedians with an axe to grind, there was a warmth to his story-telling which still seems unique today. His sign-off line to audiences everywhere was "Goodnight, thank you, and may your God go with you", an entirely non-cynical and utterly ecumenical statement which, despite my lack of belief in a "God" as such, I can't help but find touching.

So perhaps it shouldn't be too surprising that a comedian choosing to sign off his shows in such a giving way released this record, in which he appears to read soft but slightly weary poetry to the accompaniment of an orchestral backing. "The Good Earth", despite its rather sentimental leanings, manages to sum up Allen's personality rather well, using an astronaut looking down upon the planet as its focus, then signing off with the resigned statement: "Why can't we be good on the Good Earth?"  The wonder of space travel may seem like a rather corny focus for such a thought in the present day, but in 1969 this was doubtless a very modern, contemporary message.

The B-side "A Way Of Life" is actually more absurd still, being akin to "The Sunscreen Song" long before that God-foresaken record was ever issued (note - a blog reader has since informed me that it's a poster/ greetings card poem called "Desidereta" which has also been recorded by Leonard Nimoy under the title "Spock Thoughts"). To the accompaniment of "Greensleeves", Allen advises all his listeners on the best ways to approach life, offering gems such as "Listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant - they too have their story" and "For all that is sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a very beautiful world". It's easy to laugh for all the wrong reasons at such a record, but maybe this was the closest we got to the softer side of Allen, almost - although not quite - uninterrupted by thoughts about the planet's aggressive absurdities. And whilst neither side of this record would ever be likely to win the Forward Prize for Poetry, it means well and isn't nauseating.

It wasn't a hit, but when a Radio Two DJ played the record again in the nineties and asked in a rather perplexed manner why Allen put it out, he was unembarrassed and unrepentant, stating simply that he just saw it as a good opportunity to put some spoken word material with a message he happened to like to music. Of all the novelty or spin-off singles I've ever uploaded, this one feels the least like a cash-in, and certainly among the least likely to ever actually stand a hope of charting. I, for one, believe his version of events.

25 November 2016

Have Yourself A Northern Soul Christmas

Back in the mid-seventies when the country was facing an enormous amount of political uncertainty, Northern Soul was HUGE. With the beats per minute to encourage frantic dancefloor activity, and the emotional content to pierce right into our hearts, it ticked all the right boxes. And I'm not saying that it could be a form of joyous relief from all our woes right now, but, y'know... er....

Anyway, I'm DJ'ing at a regular FREE Northern Soul night in Hackney Wick on Saturday December 3rd, and all the details can be found on Facebook here. It's a great night out and I'll be joined on the decks as always by John The Revelator and guest Janie Jones. Please come along.

If you don't do Facebook, here are the address details:

Grow, 98C Wallis Road, Main Yard, Hackney Wick, E9 5LN.

23 November 2016

Sadie's Expression - Deep In My Heart/ My Way Of Living

Label: Plexium
Year of Release: 1969

I spent my teenage years living in Benfleet - or the Thundersley region of Benfleet, to be much more precise - but I very rarely get the opportunity to write about bands from that area on this blog, purely because it has never, in any point in its history, been particularly lively. There were a number of "movers and shakers" in the local region during the sixties, though, most notably John Pantry in his many groups and guises, The Mode from Thundersley, and this lot, otherwise known as The Troggs (before Reg Presley got his hands on that name) or The Expression. 

Consisting of Chris Brown, Mick Harding, Hugh Thomas, Mike Drewer and John Skelton, Sadie's Expression were kings of the Essex gig scene during the mid to late sixties, learning the ropes by playing rough bars to bikers and rockers, then moving on to having regular contracts with large venues such as the Basildon Mecca and The Elms in Leigh. Talent-spotted by numerous influential people, including producer Peter Eden and The Walker Brothers, their recording career was nonetheless something of a damp squib in comparison. A recording session for Decca produced their version of a Bill Fay track "Yesterday Was Such A Lovely Day (Elsie)" which the label rejected, and two 45s on the small Plexium label (this in 1969, and "Old Whitehall Number" in 1970) are the sole vinyl proof of their existence.

"Deep In My Heart" is a carefully arranged, mid-tempo late sixties beat track which picked up some Radio One airplay, but the distributors and manufacturers EMI failed to press up enough copies, with even shops in the Essex area apparently being devoid of Sadie's Expression stock. Largely regarded as a possible hit, it therefore languished in obscurity and remains something of a minor collectible. It's not a late sixties "hip sound" as such, but it does showcase the group's many strengths, not least the powerful vocal harmonies. 

The group fell apart not long after the second single flopped, but are still remembered fondly by a number of people in the Essex area. The thoughts of drummer John Skelton form a large part of a tribute website which has been put together here, and it's a fascinating read. It was there that I learned that the group had a vicious local rivalry with The Mode, who accused them of stealing their idea for a homemade psychedelic light-show. I'm surprised there weren't street-fights on the Rayleigh Road at the Thundersley/ South Benfleet border. 

About time The Mode put a website together too, if you ask me. And sued those other South East Essex chancers Depeche Mode for taking the second word in their group name. 

20 November 2016

Foster Pilkington - Listening Land/ The Art Of Being Shy

Label: Arista/ Rockin' Horse
Year of Release: 1986

Two-and-a-half years ago or so, I uploaded an acetate I found of a Foster Pilkington single called "Town of Forgotten Talent". I thought it was an exceptional lost eighties single and I still do - filled with fury about the decimation of numerous towns in the UK at the time, it (sadly) remains topically relevant today. More than that, though, it was a moody and spiky yet elaborate piece of work musically, and sounded fantastic.

That and this single seem to have been Foster Pilkington's only two eighties releases. The latter fell into my hands more recently (for the princely sum of 50p!) and is a slightly tamer effort, though that's not saying much. Despite the fact that it was issued on Arista, it has a distinct indie sound to it, and a sharpness that was very rare on a major label in 1986. The fact that Foster Pilkington appears to have produced, arranged, wrote and sung the track means that he was clearly left alone to be very much his own man, but unlike Prince this isn't funky - it's just agitatedly bouncy, like an aural spacehopper covered in barbed wire coming through your speakers (look, I'm trying here, OK?)

The amount of information about Foster Pilkington online is fairly weak, which is annoying as he remains an active musician and performer. His last LP "The Love That Kills" emerged almost exactly a year ago, and is available on Bandcamp. He's based out in Brightlingsea near Clacton and Colchester these days, and still gigs regularly - clearly one to watch out for.

16 November 2016

The Majority - I Hear A Rhapsody/ Wait By The Fire

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1967

Despite their appearance on the "Nuggets II" box set with the slightly rocking "One Third", Kingston Upon Hull's The Majority weren't really a garage band at all, or even a mod act. The vast bulk of their output was harmony pop, and "I Hear A Rhapsody" is a particularly smooth, silky example. So smooth and silky that the band felt that it was unrepresentative of their output and chose to jettison it from their official compilation CD "The Decca Years". Oh well - you can hear what the fuss was about (or rather wasn't) for yourselves now. 

I suspect that it was the record label's idea of a probable Big Ballad Hit, and I've heard far worse examples in my time. The fact that the group sound dangerously close to crooners here possibly hurt their credibility, however, and it's perhaps been the most ignored release in their catalogue ever since - neither a chart hit nor sufficiently loved by the band who recorded it for them to bother to draw attention to it since.

The group, at this point consisting of Barry Graham on vocals, Roger France on lead guitar, Don Lill on drums, Rob Long on guitar and Ken Smith on bass, were heading towards the end of the road at this point. Two singles later they'd pack up all their big ideas about becoming stars in their own right and become a backing band for Barry Ryan, playing on his major hit "Eloise". Once that session stint finished, a different line-up called Majority One continued their career on the continent with mixed results, eventually changing their names to Black Label and then eventually Rocky Cabbage (really, you couldn't make this stuff up, could you?) before splitting.

The brace of eight singles they put out on Decca through the sixties is actually an impressive tally for a group who never had a proper UK hit, and most of them are collected on the "Decca Years" CD, including the B-side "Wait By The Fire" here - and as a consequence of that, I've only included a brief clip of it here. 

13 November 2016

Seth Martin - Mystery Lady/ What A Lovely Way To Spend Forever

Label: Page One
Year of Release: 1969

I'm afraid this is yet another one of those sixties records where the flip is considerably more interesting than the A-side. What you get on the "plug side" is a rather syrupy Cook and Greenaway ballad which really isn't the greatest thing either wrote. "Mystery Lady", on the other hand, is a peppy, bouncing piece of brass-riddled pop with its fists punched in the air and an anthemic chorus at its heart. It's occasionally labelled as "Northern Soul" elsewhere, but I don't believe it ever got a spin at any of the famous soul clubs. 

As for who Seth Martin is, I can't seem to find any useful information anywhere. There have been a number of suggestions that he's actually the songwriter David Martin operating under another name, but no proof. If you know anything for sure, please let me know. 

9 November 2016

Spaghetti Head - Glad and I Wanna Be Seen

Label: Pump
Year of Release: 1992

If Stiltskin hit number one by being a Smashing Pumpkins tribute band for the benefit of a Levis advert, Spaghetti Head could perhaps be regarded as the era's Miller Lite advert EMF clones. The beer's advert during the early nineties - frustratingly unavailable on YouTube - had this single as its soundtrack, presumably created in order to persuade fans of bands who bashed their synthesisers around angrily to quaff light lager. Well, it was a huge youth market, after all (for about six months).

"Glad" undergoes a major lyrical transformation for this single, but otherwise the track sounds much as it did on the ad. It's hyperactive, busy, slightly funky and frivolous. While all involved obviously anticipated a hit single, it's also clear that nobody was taking this terribly seriously. Still, with its truly nagging catchiness it could actually have been a "Jeans On" for the nineties, but sales were clearly disappointing and the track was most commonly encountered by listeners on the Indie compilation LP "Precious" - sequenced between Pale Saints and My Bloody Valentine, for some baffling reason.

The man behind the track is Tony Gibber, who appears to have had a long career in soundtracking films and television programmes, perhaps being most famous for the 2003 "Top of the Pops" theme "Get Out Of That". Somebody with the name Tony Gibber also seems to have been associated with the production and arrangement of some Bucks Fizz singles in the eighties, and had two singles of his own out on WEA in 1979 and 1980. I can't prove that it's definitely the same person, so this speculation on my part would have Wikipedia's "citation needed" alarms ringing, but it seems likely.

If it is, we can only assume he would have at least been in his thirties by the time this came out. Had it been a hit, he might have looked a bit "interesting" performing the song on "Top Of The Pops" with his baseball cap on backwards, so it's a shame that appearance never came to pass.

(Blog entry continues beneath the sound files) 

Label: Pump
Year of Release: 1992

Of more interest to me is actually the follow-up single "I Wanna Be Seen", which appeared to have no advertising campaign tied to it at all. Rather, it seems to have been an attempt on the record label's part to continue to try their luck with the Spaghetti Head name.

It's arguably the better of the two singles, with frantic wah-wah pedalling action, vocal whooping, itchy beats and House styled piano riffs. None-more-early-nineties in fact, and a complete and total clone of the most commercial elements of British indie at that point - but where it might have sounded unoriginal and lacking in credibility at the time, it sounds effervescent and a little bit thrilling now.

After "I Wanna Be Seen" flopped, it was game over for Spaghetti Head, and Tony Gibber moved on to other more profitable work.

6 November 2016

Reupload - Clive Sands - Witchi Tai To/ In A Dream

Label: Snb
Year of Release: 1969

"Witchi Tai To" is one of those songs which - despite its relative obscurity in the grand scheme of things - has been covered half to death.  Originally produced by the songwriter and saxophonist Jim Pepper as an adapted Native American chant which he learned from his grandfather, the single surprised a few people by getting to number 69 in the US Billboard charts.  It apparently remains the only track to chart in America which features an authentic native chant (although before anyone argues about it, I'm no expert when it comes to definitions of authenticity for such things).

It was then covered by counter-culture figures Brewer and Shipley, then somehow gained the attention of major league pop impresario Simon Napier Bell in the UK who decided to produce this slick version of it for the British market.  This was fronted by the mysterious Clive Sands who was, in actual fact, Peter Sarstedt's less successful brother.  This version of "Witchi Tai To" has picked up abuse from some quarters for being too poppy and inferior to the original, but I happen to think it's wonderful.  With an arrangement that increasingly swells as the song progresses and an almost hymnal organ underneath, it's no bastardisation of Pepper's intentions, just another brilliant piece of summery late sixties pop.  Where the original occasionally verges towards the pious, this is the sound of blissed out glee, almost explosively happy - even the needle damage on my copy can't destroy its intentions.  That it's been almost completely overlooked since its release is surprising - a recent compilation focussing on the output of Napier Bell's SNB label completely ignored it.

The flip "In A Dream" is rather more traditional popsike fare, but is also sweet in its own way.

Clive Sarstedt later changed his name to Robin Sarstedt - presumably to confuse people researching blog entries years in the future - and had a hit in the UK with "My Resistance Is Low" in 1976.  For my money, however, this flop is far, far better than that track, and it's certainly a notch or two above his brother's "Where Do You Go To My Lovely".

2 November 2016

The Predictions - Su-p-er-i-or Plan/ True Love Is Strange

Label: T&T
Year of Release: 1968

Right. Obscure privately pressed sixties records are a common enough phenomenon in the USA that I shouldn't really be surprised by the sight of yet another one, but still... this confuses me for a variety of reasons. Firstly, it crops up in the online marketplace relatively frequently, suggesting that it was probably pressed up in ambitious quantities at the time. Secondly, the production is professional enough to suggest that it wasn't simply a few local teenage scruffs heading down to the cheap local studio to quickly record a garage rock record. 

But for all that, I've sod all idea who The Predictions were. Given that this is the only release I've been able to trace on T&T Records, though, it seems reasonably safe to assume that the label was set up purely for the benefit of promoting the group, and had no loftier long-term ambitions in mind. 

The music is fairly straight-ahead late sixties American pop, with chirpy interchanged vocals between a male and female vocalist who were clearly the centre-piece of the band. It's peppy and not at all bad, but not remotely "hip" for the era, leading me to suspect that The Predictions might have been a provincial club act trying to get noticed beyond their usual haunts. The B-side, on the other hand, is a very sparse, minimal and haunting ballad. 

If anyone has any ideas, let me know. 

Sorry for the pops and crackles on the B-side, folks.