30 December 2017

Reupload - Johnny Pearson - Rat Catchers/ Weavers Green

Label: Columbia
Year of Release: 1966

Spy series "The Rat Catchers" was a firm favourite on British television in 1966 and 1967, produced by the Rediffusion television company and broadcasting a total of 25 episodes. A huge part of the reason the series seems to be very rarely referenced now is the fact that the episodes were wiped by over-zealous television executives in the seventies, meaning the series has since been allowed to slip into an undignified obscurity.  A brief clip recently materialised on YouTube and apparently there are two full recovered episodes out there, but that seems to be our lot.

Johnny Pearson's dramatic theme tune - all thundering piano lines, dramatic strings and hushed segements - was perhaps a contributory factor to the programme's success in itself, and was popular enough with the public for EMI to release it as a single. Whilst it failed to chart, it picked up enough admirers in the seventies to be considered worthy of spins at some Northern Soul nights. Once again, if you can hear what exactly is Northern Soul about this track you have a better pair of ears than me, but I would guess that the pounding piano lines filled the vast, cavernous rooms easily.

Resting on the flip side is the theme to another largely forgotten series "Weavers Green", a countryside soap opera produced by Anglia Television. Axed after a mere 49 shows, it remains a British soap forever to be mentioned in the same breath as "Triangle" or "Eldorado" as something which didn't last the distance, although rumours persist that Anglia's lack of clout as a television company at this time had more to do with its failings than the quality of the show itself. The theme tune itself is pleasant and chipper, but ultimately inessential.

Johnny Pearson enjoyed a long career in music prior to his death in March 2011, leading the Top of the Pops orchestra for sixteen years and producing endless soundtracks for programmes (including the theme from "3-2-1") and adverts. One of his pieces of library music, "Autumn Reverie", was even adapted by The Carpenters to become the song "Heather", Richard Carpenter having been obsessed by the track after hearing it on a television advert. Tracks of Pearson's turn up with enormous regularity in the "Library Music" section of most second hand record stores, and I wouldn't be terribly surprised if he puts in another appearance on this blog at some point.

23 December 2017

Merry Christmas (You Suckers)

That's it from me until Christmas is over, I'm afraid. This blog will be taking its usual yuletide break so I can catch my breath for a bit, but it will be back for one last entry before New Year's Eve, and following that we'll topple headlong into our tenth year on the Internet. (Ten years! Imagine that. "Imagine there are no vinyl obscurity blogs", as John Lennon never, ever sang).

Trouble is, to be honest they are becoming increasingly scarce. While mp3 blogs were once a fashionable idea which cluttered every corner of the Internet, most of the people I shared links and company with when I began in 2008 are no longer here. They've either given up or been forcibly shut down. With this in mind, if you feel like giving this blog a gift at Christmas, you could possibly link to it on social media or your own website. As fewer fellow bloggers exist to direct traffic this way, it's beginning to feel like a much more isolated endeavour.

This site may be inactive over Christmas, but if I manage to resist the temptation not to tweet on @LeftAndToBack that will be a festive miracle in itself, so join me over there for YouTube videos and clips of all manner of obscurities.

Here's one for starters - The Ants' rather Joe Meek-like and atmospheric "Christmas Star" from 1963. Have a good Christmas, and thanks for being such lovely readers.

20 December 2017

Clockwork - Don't Leave Me Lonely At Christmas/ Count to Four/ Waiting For Your Love

Label: Magnet
Year of Release: 1981

Since the success of Mud's "Lonely This Christmas", a number of artists have realised that you can cash in on the festive season even if your output is melancholy. It's almost astonishing to think that it took a family-friendly glam rock band to realise that besides being a time of tinsel, booze, gifts and glee, the season has an unforgiving bleakness for those who have recently experienced romantic disappointment (or worse still, death). While everyone else is lounging around with their loved ones, there are plenty of others enjoying a succulent Findus Turkey Meal for One. Spare them a thought and ask them out for a drink, readers (but don't worry, I'm not talking about myself here. Well, at least not yet. But my wife has warned me that if I don't clear some of those wooden boxes of records out soon...)

The mysterious one-single wonders Clockwork take on the melancholy theme with soulful determination on the A-side "Don't Leave Me Lonely at Christmas", which is such a longing plea for a lover to return that you're almost tempted to telephone him to play it down the wires. The singer, whoever she is, walks the tight line between convincing yearning and OTT melodrama very well, but unfortunately the song is possibly too slight to have ever stood a chance of being a smash.

Much better is the Chic-inspired B-side "Count To Four" which, to be honest, has bugger all to do with Christmas but at least sounds like a serious party is going on somewhere. I'm slightly surprised this wasn't held back for use as another A-side by the group in the future, especially as two B-sides were offered to the public on the flip here. As things stood, the band were never heard from again. 

As for who they were, search me. I suspect that as the Liverpudlian songwriter Norman Smeddles penned all the tracks on this record, they may have been a studio group created by him with the aim of getting a Christmas hit, but if so, that extra B-side track on the flip seems mightily decadent and wasteful. If anyone knows more, please share some information.

17 December 2017

Charlie Jones - Hey Whiskers We Love You/ I Love You You Love Me

Label: Columbia
Year of Release: 1972

Ordinarily I would have had no reason to believe that this was anything other than an underplayed and under publicised Christmas single, were it not for the fact that Billboard magazine in the USA lists it among the notable British Christmas releases of that year.  So was it a simple case of a keen US journalist being a bit of a fan, or did this actually have a slightly higher profile than I believe? 

Whatever stories lie behind this recording, it's safe to say it's a slightly quirky three minutes. Charlie Jones has an excitable, hiccuping voice throughout, faintly akin to a sherry-sozzled and slightly chilly Steve Harley in his underpants standing naked by the festive tree. A rinky-dink arrangement bounces along in the background, until the anthemic chorus kicks in and begs the whole world to join in. 

Lyrically, the song focuses on the antics of Santa Claus and seems determined to sell him as being some kind of crazy beatnik character. "He likes to boogie just like you and me/ man, he's cool, he's free!" we're assured, and it's impossible not to swept along with the daftness of it all. I really like this one, and I'm surprised it didn't fare better, but I suspect that the lowly status of Charlie Jones suffered against giants like T Rex, Slade, The Osmonds and The Jacksons in the 1972 Christmas chart, and this effort was swept to one side in all the excitement. 

And who was Charlie Jones? He seemed to put out this single and the seemingly even more obscure "I Don't Want To Lose You" before disappearing entirely. There's also talk of an album, but I've scoured the internet and all I've managed to find is talk, and no evidence of a physical product whatsoever. If anyone knows, please do share the facts with the rest of the world.

14 December 2017

The Yellow Chair - Christmas Song/ Christmas Dub

Label: Mosa
Year of Release: 1981

An incredibly obscure Christmas single on the tiny Mosa record label, "Christmas Song" by the intriguingly named Yellow Chair is an odd mix of influences. There's some tribal drum thumping, folky vocals, and faintly new wave guitar lines, all adding up to create something which sounds festive in an Elizabethan kind of way. 

Nobody bought it, of course, and you'd be hard pressed to find any details about who the hell The Yellow Chair were; certainly, this seems to have been their only single. In the producer's chair, however, was none other than future Pogues member Philip Chevron, who later performed on one of the biggest British Christmas hits of all time in the form of "Fairytale of New York". It's a far cry from that to this, and it's odd to think that most critics and listeners probably have absolutely no idea that this piece of juvenilia even exists. 

To be completely fair, it's relatively unremarkable, and it's only the "Christmas Dub" on the B-side that brings something a bit different to the festive party. Nonetheless, it's an interesting little curio. 

10 December 2017

Camille - White Christmas/ Snowbelle

Label: EMI
Year of Release: 1979

Christmas singles are a complete lottery for everyone involved. If you produce a festive tune and it's a big hit, you might just - as Noddy Holder has often claimed - have created a pension plan for yourself. The PRS royalties from radio and shopping centre plays alone are enough to ensure a comfortable existence. 

Trouble is, the Christmas charts are also a very cut-throat and competitive environment, and provide a challenge even for big name artists to perform to their usual level. Just ask Elton John about his (relative) Christmas single disappointment. If you're an unknown artist with a yuletide ditty, you may find your work particularly cut out against towering giants like Reg Dwight, as we'll find out on this blog over the coming weeks.

First up is the almost entirely forgotten - if anyone really noticed it in the first place - twittering synth-pop version of "White Christmas" by Camille. This is a real oddity, combining Giorgio Moroder-esque rhythms and squelches to the Irving Berlin classic in a manner which should have pleased the futurists on the dancefloor. 

The track was partly produced by Mike Thorne, who was known to most post-punks as being Wire's producer at this point, and would later go on to enormous success working with Soft Cell. If you want a sense of where his career was going, the B-side "Snowbelle" is your best bet, being three minutes of  wintry instrumental, pulsing electronic minimalism, which will probably please "Left and to the Back" readers much more than the A-side. 

In all, this single was a fair stab at success, but copies are enormously scarce now, and nobody seems to have any clue who Camille was or if she did anything else. Discogs suggests she's actually Camille Rodwell who found some success in the USA in the nineties, but unless she took a career break of sixteen years before enjoying her first success with her second single, I find that extremely unlikely. 

Sorry for the pops and scratches on this copy, but it was a very tricky record to clean up. 

7 December 2017

Fergus - Gotcha Now/ Currents Of Your Ways

Label: Paladin
Year of Release: 1976

Fergus was much feted signing to the tiny Paladin label in 1976. Born in Sligo in the West of Ireland and raised in Dublin, Fergus was a regular teenage pub and ballroom performer in his home country before jumping ship to Britain in the mid-seventies. Finding himself less well-known on the gig circuit here, he slowly built up appreciation from a standing start before signing up with a manager in 1975.

"Gotcha Now" was his debut vinyl effort, and while it's most definitely a pop single, it's a peculiar beast, filled to the brim with screeching Moog noises, high-pitched vocals, twiddly guitar riffola and a steady, almost glam rock beat. It's a complicated and fussy dish of a record, with lots of little detours - it sounds as if everyone involved had a ton of ideas in the studio and couldn't let them go to waste. Stylistically somewhere between Sparks, Bolan and The Peppers, it was a little dated for 1976, and the world clearly wasn't moved by the single. 

Not that he'd disappear in a hurry. Fergus carried on releasing singles until 1985, all with a very different flavour. Some have been compared by listeners to Donovan, others to slick singer-songwriter fare or inventive seventies rock. An LP was also issued in 1978 on his manager's Rondercrest label, and is presently selling on Discogs for £105 or more if anyone fancies buying themselves a Christmas present or adding it to their list for Santa. The singles can generally be found for bargain basement prices by comparison, and may be slightly more acceptable stocking fillers for your family to consider.

I have no idea what became of Fergus after 1985 or whether he carried on writing and performing - but other readers may know more. 

3 December 2017

The Crew - Marty/ Danger Signs

Label: Plexium
Year of Release: 1969

Another total obscurity on the seldom-spotted Plexium Records. The Crew were a five-piece formed by vocalist and master percussionist (congas a speciality) John Wright in 1965, and subsequently went through a confusing array of line-ups throughout the rest of the decade. Neither the internet nor the usual reference tomes bother to chronicle these, which leaves me a little bit stuck.

By the seventies, however, they had become a funk band, offering their services to a variety of venues (including the Marquee on ten separate occasions) and supporting acts as legendary and varied as Fleetwood Mac, Led Zeppelin and Desmond Dekker.  

Let's not get ahead of ourselves, though, because that line-up offered a very different fare from the Plexium era group. "Marty" has already been rounded up on the "Piccadilly Sunshine" series of compilations, so can't be offered in full here - but is essentially an organ-driven piece of beat pop, slightly twee and chirpy in its delivery. It's not quite bubblegum, but it's closer to that on the spectrum than Sly and the Family Stone.

The flip "Danger Signs" is curious, in that it appears to be led by a female vocalist and not John Wright. Again, it's a chipper piece of sixties beat, and by 1969 possibly felt a little dated.

The Crew's most famous line-up went on to release a version of "Cecilia" on Decca in 1970, with Jonathan King's guidance and backing. An official website with more information on them can be found here

29 November 2017

Reupload - Dog Rose - Paradis Row/ Sunday Morning

Label: Satril
Year of Release: 1972

Well, this is a thorny mess.  Nobody can seem to agree on the band line-up for this recording at all.  The press release Satril Records put out for this single quotes entirely different personnel to the members eventually listed on their solitary 1972 LP release "All For The Love Of", and the only reasonable explanation is that as soon as this group imploded, the label quickly hired another bunch of musicians together to carry on under the Dog Rose name.  It's also possible that the name was owned by the label and musicians were hired for songs accordingly until a hit came.  

Confusion aside, "Paradis Row" occupies the same area as a great many early seventies pop singles, with a tiny drop of popsike in its veins, some anthemic McCartneyesque melancholy (the same strand inhabited by the theme to "Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads?") and a streak of Edison Lighthouse bubblegum.  Gently slapped bongos introduce swaggering riffs and beatnik-styled lyrical patter, and this eventually cascades into a huge rainbow streak of a chorus.  Regardless of who may or may not have been responsible for this, it's a bit of a buried gem, a could-have-been that never was.

The flip is much  more bizarre.  The press release describes it as "back to the fifties and rocking and rollin' down the avenue", but the jaunty pub piano, distortion and treble seem to be recalling The Kinks if anyone else.  Virtually absent of bass and overloaded with top-end screech, Graham Coxon would probably nod in approval at the lo-fi approach on offer here, though God knows what anyone made of it at the time.

If you were in any line-up of Dog Rose at any particular point and want to conclusively clear up a mystery here, please do get in touch.  

26 November 2017

Woolly - Sunshine Souvenirs/ Living And Loving You

Label: Mooncrest
Year of Release: 1973

This uplifting little single under the mysterious name of "Woolly" apparently picked up a fair bit of airplay in the summer of 1973, but like so many tracks of its ilk at the time, it went nowhere. "Sunshine Souvenirs" is a bouncy, chipper piece of pop which vaguely resembles Paul McCartney at his most carefree. It's not difficult to imagine it being a minor hit.

Sadly, it actually sold very poorly, and of course wasn't the work of McCartney at all. Rather, evidence online (at Discogs, anyway) would suggest that Woolly was simply a nickname for the popular Radio Luxembourg DJ Mark Wesley, who remained at the station until 1981. Wesley wasn't a stranger to the practical sides of the music biz, though - he was also a member of Southend psychedelic outfit Cardboard Orchestra in the late sixties, and acted as a songwriter for groups such as The Wake. Woolly appears to have been a late shot at being a popstar by the DJ, and the dayjob seemed to pay him much greater financial dividends in the long run, eventually causing him to land on Capital Gold.

22 November 2017

Sasha Caro - Grade 3 Section 2/ Little Maid's Song

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1967

Sasha Caro was one of those interesting characters who was everywhere but nowhere on the sixties London scene. He was born in Rangoon in 1940, but his family fled to England when Burma was invaded by the Japanese, remaining on these shores thereafter. A love of music quickly sucked him into both the business and creative side of the "industry", and he took some promising steps at commercial songwriting. Originally beginning his career under the name Rick Minas, he co-wrote the non-hits "Lease On Love" by the Graham Bond Organisation and "I Won't See You Tonight" by Hamilton and The Movement, besides setting up the cheap recording studio RayRik with his business partner Bruce Rae. He also had a deeply obscure solo folk 45 out on Polydor in 1965 entitled "Well I Want No Part Of It". 

Very few of their other songs managed to gain a release, though several appeared on an episode of "Dangerman" in the sixties as part of the episode "Not So Jolly Roger", which took place on a pirate radio station. All the "top sounds" the DJs spun throughout the episode were actually just recordings of Rick Minas's work, though none of these gained a commercial release after the episode aired. 

Somehow, Cat Stevens managed to discover Rick through his songwriting demos, and took him under his wing to attempt to launch him as a star in his own right. His name was changed to Sasha Caro, and the two resulting Stevens-produced Decca 45s are damn good - it's astonishing that they didn't find a place on "Rubble" or one of the other many compilations that swept up the best of the Decca and Deram labels psychedelic output. On the sprightly and intricate folk-pop styled "Grade 3 Section 2" Rick's voice is on fine form, swooping beautifully all over the song. The track manages to be rustic sounding without losing any catchy pop appeal, and while it does share a similar sound to Cat Stevens' own work, it's nonetheless a fine single. 

Sadly, I can't include the flip side "Little Maid's Song" below as it was recently compiled on the "Piccadilly Sunshine" series, and therefore remains commercially available. However, you can listen to it on YouTube if you want. 

The follow-up "Molatov Molatov" is also worthy of investigation, being a slice of Russian-tinged psychedelia which is far more OTT and decidedly bizarre. It's already worked its way on to my "wants" list for being such a full throttle collision of chaotic ideas.

As for what became of Rick (or Sasha, or whatever we want to call him or he would prefer us to call him) nobody seems to know. He apparently gave up music and took up a career as an accountant not long after his two Decca records flopped. This seems like a horrible waste of some very obvious talent, so I can only hope he had a change of heart somewhere along the line and still occasionally plays and writes. 

19 November 2017

The Waterproof Candle - Electrically Heated Child/ Saturday Morning Repentance

Label: RCA
Year of Release: 1968

It sometimes feels as if we live in an age where absolutely every last drop of psychedelic goodness has been mopped up, remastered and presented for public consumption on a compilation series, but some baffling little discs remain unappreciated affairs selling at bargain basement prices.

Take "Electrically Heated Child", for example. An oddly titled record performed by the equally oddly named Waterproof Candle, it was also produced and arranged by Jimmy Webb - enough reason, under ordinary circumstances, for it to be considered a collectible even without considering eccentric song titles in the valuation equation. Strangely, though, you can regularly buy it for around a fiver and some people online are also rather dismissive of its contents.

I blame that partly on the fact that it doesn't quite live up to the weirdness of its title, and instead turns out to be a carefully produced piece of faintly far-out harmony pop. Despite that, it drips with a weird and almost autumnal atmosphere, being filled with plucked acoustic guitar lines, hushed vocals, and even by the standards of the era, some incredibly rum lyrics. "Steelwomb lightbulb chi-iiild", they sing, "is your mother/ you have no other". "To be free," they conclude, "you must be dead".  I have no definite idea what on Earth it's all about, obviously, though I'd suggest The Candle are musing on the antiseptic lifestyle of a modern child in a heated, hi-tech apartment block. Thom Yorke would no doubt nod in agreement at their observations.

The B-side "Saturday Morning Repentance" is neat too, being much more uptempo and groovy (though these things are relative) as well as having lots of unexpected chops and changes to its arrangement. In common with the A-side, it has a commercial pop edge which is skewered somewhat by all the surrounding weirdness. Fascinating stuff, though.

The Waterproof Candle were apparently an Indianapolis based band who featured Rob Swaynie, Steve Foster, Wayne Wilson and Michael Rea. Rob Swaynie also featured in the line-ups of other bands in the area such as The Urge, Clarence Brown, and Memorial String Band. Steve Foster and Wayne Wilson previously served in the garage group Sounds Unlimited.  More than that, I do not know, but please feel free to fill in any blanks.

[Edit - the suggestion has been made since that the lyrics to the A-side are likely to be about child incubators, which is an even darker, less subtle, but  - let's face it - probably correct interpretation]. 

15 November 2017

Reupload - Charles Dumont - Le Fils Prodigue

Label: CBS
Year of Release: 1970

"You know, if you'd grown up listening to French pop music, I really don't think you'd be so keen on Scott Walker's albums" - my wife.

My wife, as you can probably gather from that above quote, doesn't like Scott Walker much, seeing his earliest work as being dull cherry-picking of adult French/ Belgian music productions - a Brel song there, a melodramatic orchestral arrangement there.  This is interesting if only because Walker himself largely rejects most French pop music, talking about it in extremely disparaging tones in most interviews.  I would further counter her argument with the observation that the Brel influence behind his work and occasional production flourish does not a continental breakfast make - a certain strand of French sixties pop definitely took the melodramatic, kitchen-sink route, but the most popular work (in its home country, at least) tends to be quite scuzzed up and messy. Jacques Dutronc, for example, doesn't really seem to immediately have anything in common with Scott Walker.

It is possible to find examples where the comparison fits, however, and this is one. "Le Fils Prodigue" has the same faint tinge of psychedelia about it, and the same strolling bass groove that Walker frequently utilised.  Wailing guitars undercut dismissive vocals, female backing vocalists coo their way melodramatically underneath, and the whole track is richly textured.  What's striking is that melodically there's not a great deal going on here - Dumont does not have a wonderful singing voice, and the song itself is not overburdened with traditional pop hooks. What stays fresh in your mind even after the first play are the flourishes, the details, the tiny sums of the parts.  The different elements interact beautifully.

Dumont was a prolific French songwriter who most famously penned "Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien" for Edith Piaf with lyricist Michel Vaucaire.  He still records and performs to this day, appearing most recently in "A Tribute to Edith Piaf" at the Beacon Theatre in New York.

Sadly, the flip "Ta Cigarette…" is still widely available, meaning I can't include it here.

12 November 2017

Deena Webster - Your Heart Is Free Just Like The Wind/ Queen Merka And Me

Label: Parlophone
Year of Release: 1968

Deena Webster has become something of a cult figure in folk circles in recent years. Her solitary LP "Deena Webster Is Tuesday's Child", recorded when she was a mere eighteen years old, was released in 1968 and sank without trace. Fans of the record are keen to point out her rich, appealing and innocent vocal delivery and interesting interpretations of established classics.

A number of singles were also issued throughout the period, of which the most popular among collectors is her version of "Scarborough Fair". This, her second release, is also worthy of some attention too, though, not least for her cover of Janis Ian's "Queen Merka and Me" on the flip, which combines rich orchestral arrangements with (towards the end) some absurd studio effects. Webster's voice is in fine form and the song gets increasingly giddy as it progresses.

Despite a small degree of media attention and a promising start, Deena Webster appears to have disappeared without trace not long after her last single "Things Men Do" was issued in 1970. However, her LP was recently reissued by Record Collector magazine. 

8 November 2017

Richard Stilgoe & Valerie Singleton - Suffering From Inflation/ Statutory Right of Entry

Label: BBC
Year of Release: 1975

Richard Stilgoe is one of those strange popular figures in British life who is famous despite never selling millions of records or having his own TV series.  Rather, his best known output was confined to regular brief appearances on television shows such as "Nationwide", "That's Life" and "Pebble Mill at One", usually singing light-hearted satirical ditties about the frustrations of the day. His gentle mocking of society began to seem dated by the early nineties, prompting the comedian David Baddiel to mock him with the character Richard Stillnotdead who sang the song "Why Do People Leave The Cap Of The Toothpaste Off?" on "The Mary Whitehouse Experience". Nonetheless, from that day to this, he has a loyal audience and fans, some of them rather unlikely figures such as members of cult indie bands or modern day poets and spoken word artists.

Stilgoe's media presence was arguably at its peak in the mid-seventies, when his bearded and somewhat casual Jeremy Corbyn-esque appearance cropped up constantly on early evening television. One of his prime achievements at this point - his "Bohemian Rhapsody" moment, if you will - was a song called "Statutory Right of Entry", which involved a cascade of multitracked Stilgoe vocals harmonising about a rather unlikely problem.

A "Nationwide" researcher had found out that numerous people in public jobs had a legal right to enter people's homes on demand. These included people working for the gas and electricity boards, and various other less likely characters besides. You would suspect that this wouldn't prove a problem for most home owners, but Stilgoe's ditty turns the situation into an epic and somewhat unlikely farce, with the home-owning Stilgoe character finding himself avalanched by public professionals cluttering up his property across the working week. The song gains comedy value tenfold if you can see the accompanying video clip, though, where an army of officious Stilgoes authoritatively dance and prance around.

For all the comedy value in the situation, it's hard to understand quite what either "Nationwide" or Stilgoe were worried about. If I had a broken gas meter or faulty wiring in my house, I wouldn't treat a public official appearing on the scene unprompted with any stress or anxiety. To be honest, I'd just be stunned by their efficiency. It also seems somewhat unlikely that they would set up camp in my home all week, unlike the builders I'm presently paying a small fortune to repair and renew my horrible, broken-down bathroom. Still, it's an incredibly memorable piece of melodic farce as a result of stretching the problem to breaking point, which is probably why people still remember it in the year 2017.

Less remembered is the actual A-side of this single performed with Valerie Singleton, "Suffering From Inflation". It has a strangely fifties arrangement, complete with harmonising bass vocals. Nonetheless, shorn of its original context, it's aged quite poorly as a piece of satire. Life in Britain in the mid-seventies (when it was the "sick man of Europe") was chaotic and unpredictable, and as an historical artefact the single is interesting, but it's low on laughs now compared to its OTT flipside. 

Thanks enormously to Tim Worthington for providing some background on this single in the fantastic "Top of the Box" book, which chronicles the facts behind every single that BBC Records and Tapes ever released. If you're a collector of odd and esoteric vinyl and don't have it on your bookshelves, you should remedy that immediately. 

5 November 2017

Community Chest - You Gotta Start Somewhere/ Get To The Point

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1972

I highly doubt Community Chest were anything other than a studio based group created by jobbing songwriter Geoff Wilkins and South African singer Emil Zoghby. Both names feature prominently on the credits here, and their names also appear scattered across a wide array of other pop and glam flops throughout the early seventies. 

Don't click away just yet, though, because "You Gotta Start Somewhere" is actually a lovely piece of pop with one foot in a vat of seventies polish, and the other in late sixties songsmithery. The insistent, chiming organ throughout the track gives it a huge warmth and a strong hook which sounds more '67 than '72, and the slightly bubblegummy chorus is also a delight. This isn't a single that ought to have been a hit necessarily, so much as one that might have been with the right push. 

The B-side is actually OK too, with its central chiming riff and faint proto-pub rock delivery. I haven't bothered to investigate the other work of Wilkins and Zoghby in any depth until now, but this might prove to be my springboard for further research. 

1 November 2017

Reupload - The American Dairy Association of Mississippi - The Basic Milk/ The Poets - Fun Buggy

Label: Jazzman
Original Release Dates: The Poets - 1971, American Diary Association: ??

It's very difficult for me to even bother trying to claim any exclusivity with this one. Both sides of this disc are promotional adverts which were re-issued on Jazzman due to their sampled appearance on DJ Shadow's "Product Placement", and as such are rather old news. But still... their inclusion here is entirely under the justification that you're still hardly likely to tune a radio and hear either track in its entirety.

Side One is a piece of funk propaganda put out there by the American Dairy Association of Mississippi, encouraging people to drink more pure dairy liquid presumably through the power of dance grooves alone.  "Milk - the basic! Milk - the basic!" the singers insist persuasively whilst the basslines and rhythms cut powerfully through the mix. And it works. Just writing about this now, I'm persuaded to pull a bottle out of the fridge and glug it down my neck, and that's more than those frigging terrifying Humphrey adverts ever did for me as a child. If I ever find out that the population of Mississippi has a lower rate of osteoporosis than Britain, I will not be surprised.

For the sixties fans amongst you, Side Two is perhaps even more bizarre, consisting entirely of the (by then) washed-up Scottish band The Poets singing the praises of Barr's Strike Cola to an equally funky backdrop. The Poets had one minor hit in Britain in the sixties with "Now We're Thru" and a whole bundle of rather wonderful singles out as follow-ups which (for no good reason at all) fared less well. Presumably "Fun Buggy" was an attempt at getting some cash off the good people at Barr during a somewhat difficult time, but is astonishingly atypical of their other mod-pop fare, swaggering as it does and making Strike Cola sound like the favoured beverage of choice from somebody off "Starsky and Hutch", rather than Scotland's budget-line alternative to Coca Cola which it undoubtedly was.

Most records pressed as promotional items for products are embarrassing, unlistenable trash, filled with session singers trying their hardest to sound sincere about the wonders of petrol, double glazing or postage stamps. Both sides of this re-issue highlight the fact that actually, you can make a product sound amazing by doing little other than getting some funk out. If television advert breaks were filled with noises like this, I'd probably be heavily in debt by now.

29 October 2017

Mike Morton Sound - Jennifer Jennifer/ See You Around

Label: Plexium
Year of Release: 1969

If you were in a charity shop and saw this one in the 7" singles box on the floor (because they're always on the floor, don't you find? Ooh, the knee and calf pain) you might skim past it, believing it to be an easy listening single or covers project. This would be a fair enough conclusion, given that The Mike Morton Congregation were a band who were heavily involved in cheapo LPs featuring covers of recent big sellers such as "Non Stop Party Hits".

"Jennifer, Jennifer" is credited to the Mike Morton Sound, though, and appears to have been a bona-fide attempt on Mike Morton's part at creating a hit of his own before he ended up collecting session group paycheques. As beat-orientated pop goes, it's quite good too. It starts off with a summery bounce, then suddenly, quite without warning, erupts into an uproarious, Blackpool Ballroom organ infested chorus. It repeats this pattern throughout and lacks a great deal of progression, but is interesting enough to hold its own. If its release date had been three or four years prior to 1969, it may even have stood a chance as a minor hit.

Mike Morton's Congregation were later responsible for the single "Burning Bridges", which featured prominently in the soundtrack to the film "Kelly's Heroes". We featured that on this blog back in 2014.

25 October 2017

Sandra Bryant - Girl With Money/ Golden Hours

Label: Major Minor
Year of Release: 1967

One of many, many records that slipped out on Major Minor almost unnoticed in the sixties, "Girl With Money" is a brassy, bouncy and sassy record which has all the hallmarks of a mid-sixties beat pop (rather than 1967) production. Sandra Bryant's voice lets rip all across this and she pushes herself to the bluesy max, but it's possible that by this point the public's tastes were moving on to more progressive fare. It's a pity, as it's a strong piece of work which under other circumstances might have offered enough zest to succeed. 

Contrary to popular belief, the Sandra Bryant behind this disc is not the actress who appeared in "On The Buses", but a vocalist from Dagenham. She managed one other single on Major Minor, "Out To Get You", before disappearing from view. The label must have hoped that some of Sandie Shaw's local fairydust would land on Sandra's shoulders, but it clearly wasn't to be.

22 October 2017

Ray McVay Band - Genesis/ House of Clowns

Label: Parlophone
Year of Release: 1966

Ray McVay was something of an eager beaver in the sixties and seventies. He worked on arrangements for a wide number of rock acts, as well as issuing swathes of easy listening LPs. While none of the latter were enormous sellers, many were intriguing Easy interpretations of the musical fads and fashions of the day. From "Golden Country Hits" to "Reggae Time With Ray McVay", he issued tons of albums with saucy ladies on the cover which put his own spin on the top pops.

Suffice to say, then, that despite the title of "Genesis", this isn't some kind of psych or prog workout. It starts out with a slightly "Open University" sounding beginning, then progresses into some twangy, instrumental beat. Given that the capable songwriting of Greenaway and Cook is behind the tune, it's got plenty of atmosphere and feels instantly familiar. In fact, the incessant guitar twangin', snare drum rolls and the deep "a doo doobee doo" backing vocals will transport you back to those carefree, innocent moments in your life. 

Ray was touring with Eddie Cochran and almost sat in the car seat that claimed Eddie's life in that fateful car journey, but had to take alternative travel arrangements at the last moment. Cochran may have passed on, but Ray went on to have a very long career, and presently works in the current line-up of the Glenn Miller Orchestra.

18 October 2017

Reupload - Me Myself & Me Again - Blaze Away

Label: Antic
Year of Release: 1978

From the rear sleeve: "'Me Myself And Me Again' is actually Vivian Fisher, a 26 year old recording studio engineer and frustrated musician.  Despite dabbling in cornet, french horn, trombone and piano, Vivian really always wanted to play every instrument. Then, one day when recording a marching brass band in the street, he discovered that the sound was actually recorded in segments as the band moved past.  This gave him the idea of a multi-track recording of himself impersonating the sound and character of the different parts of a brass band - and 'Blaze Away' is the result".

I try to avoid blandly slapping the notes of record sleeves on to my blog entries, but I've been sitting here chewing my fingers for the last half an hour desperately trying to think of what to say about this disc, and I can't.  I just can't.  Ridiculing the contents would be too easy (and in any case, they are impressively done - you wouldn't be able to immediately tell they were entirely the mouth-work of a recording engineer). Praising this record as being a lost classic would be ridiculous, unless of course you are a fan of the military marching band oeuvre.  It is, however, an utter gem in the world of eccentric novelty records, and a triumph of decadent seventies music industry mayhem over common sense.  Perhaps somebody within Antic Records or Warner Brothers (their distributors) expected this to sell in large quantities, but it's hard to clearly understand why.

In subsequent years - and largely thanks to Danny Baker talking about it on his radio show - this has become a much sought-after novelty record, to the extent that a copy in VG condition sold on ebay for £26 earlier in 2012.  The market has subsequently become saturated with the little bleeders ever since, to the extent that you can pick up copies for a much more reasonable price now (as I did).  The demand is explicable in that there's an innocence and eccentric frivolity to this which perhaps manages to remind people of a time when lowly studio engineers could see their name up in lights with one single daft idea - these days, of course, this would probably just end up becoming one peculiar YouTube clip buried among the wobbling pile of online attention seekers.

The B-side attempts to explain how the record was made by breaking down the individual components, but in all honesty, it's not essential listening.  Should the conjuror really give away his tricks, in any case?

Vivian apparently now works as a Sound Operator in the West London studio centre of BSkyB, returning to the back-room world from whence he came - but for a certain segment of the population, he will always be the one-man military marching answer to the Flying Pickets.  The time when he records an album of covers of songs by Nirvana and The Sex Pistols surely can't be far off.

15 October 2017

Sydney Elliott - Who Dat Girl/ Strawberry Blonde

Label: Spark
Year of Release: 1969

In the late sixties, the sound known as reggae (or "The REGGAE, ow!" as Johnny Johnson and His Bandwagon confusingly referred to it) was scorchingly popular with crossover hits emerging left, right and centre. This led to numerous small British independent labels trying to sign whatever club acts were based in London at that time, with Beacon Records jumping on both a bunch of mysterious sorts called Brixton Market, and the initially ska influenced Black Velvet. A lot of this material was slightly popped up for mainstream consumption, to varying degrees of success.

Spark, on the other hand, had Sydney Elliott on their books, who turned out this cultishly popular little single in 1969. "Who Dat Girl?" isn't 100% authentic reggae either, having an overly strict arrangement which sounds very Anglicised. The track itself is a bouncy, joyful affair about women in miniskirts, though, which was an incredibly popular lyrical topic during this period. Sydney delivers it well, and while your classic reggae DJ probably isn't going to spin it, it's an interesting period piece. It throws a tiny chunk of bubblegum into the blender and sounds like a possible hit.

The flip "Strawberry Blonde" is, as you might have guessed, about the desirability of ladies with that particular colour of hair, even going as far as to praise their cooking abilities. I doubt he did a scientific study on their souffle making abilities before recording the track, so it's best to take his words with a large pinch of kitchen salt (while also hiding behind the excuse that this was 1969 and these ideas about women's roles in the home hadn't quite fallen out of fashion yet).

Sydney Elliott was a popular club draw in the sixties and seventies, issuing another record on Spark (the rather more soulful "If Music Be The Food Of Love") and another for CBS ("Desperation") before disappearing from the recording studio vocal booth. He later became the uncle of the considerably more successful Maxi Priest, and the father of Jacob Miller of the reggae group Inner Circle.

11 October 2017

The Legends - Sometimes I Can't Help It/ Jefferson Strongbox

Label: Heart 
Year of Release: 1970

I'm sure almost everyone reading this will be aware of Dan Hartman. He's the author of hundreds of songs, some of which have since become a lingering presence on oldies radio - "I Can Dream About You", "Relight My Fire", "Instant Replay" and "Free Ride" are among his most known and appreciated, but there's a cornucopia of songs beneath that surface. He enjoyed a fruitful stint as a writer and performer in the Edgar Winter Band, and acted as a producer for Muddy Waters among others.

If you associate Hartman with his most well-known disco singles, his rock output comes as something of a shock. But he was nothing if not versatile as a songwriter and performer, as "Sometimes I Can't Help It" proves here. The Legends were his brother Dave Hartman's band, and he sneaked into their ranks at the age of thirteen. They issued a number of records on small, independent labels before signing to Epic in 1972, including this self-released square shaped flexidisc - which I assume was either sold cheaply at gigs or given away as a promotional item.

"Sometimes I Can't Help It" has a growl and a roar to it not unlike Steppenwolf at their most raucous, and The Legends here sit neatly on the border of sixties garage and seventies rock. It's a brilliant listen and shows that even at this point, Dan Hartman had developed some serious songwriting chops.  The Legends would turn out not to be the stars the Hartman brothers hoped they would become, but within a couple of years Dan would join forces with Edgar Winter and taste actual success. By 1978, the unlikely allure of the disco beat would set in, and his career would take another twist with the success of "Instant Replay".

Sadly, he passed away following complications with AIDS in 1994, but the legacy he left behind is not just vast, it's rather varied too. Different periods of his career mean different things to different people, and this screaming little single is an example of how raucously Rock he could be.

4 October 2017

Jackie Lee and The Raindrops - There's No One In The Whole Wide World/ (I Was The) Last One To Know

Label: Oriole
Year of Release: 1962

Another Oriole obscurity, this time from blog favourite Jackie Lee, who has already appeared here twice (with the theme from "Inigo Pipkin" and the rather magical "Space Age Lullaby"). Jackie Lee's career is long and tremendously varied, and her attempt - with her group The Raindrops - to represent Britain in the Eurovision Song Contest in 1962 is often skated over. It shouldn't be altogether surprising that it's not very prominent on her CV. Failing to do well at Eurovision is a known career-killer, and failing to present Britain at Eurovision by getting past the "Song For Europe" heats is also often an embarrassing indignity (ask Justin Hawkins). Far from simply failing to represent the UK, this song actually finished ninth on the scoreboard, making it a complete no-hoper.

She's got absolutely nothing to be ashamed of here, however. "There's No-One In The Whole Wide World" is a beat pop ballad performed with the warmth you'd expect from her, adding an extra dimension to the otherwise fairly standard backing. It's sweet, innocent and trots along neatly, but is actually quite Beat by the Eurovision standards of the time, which may be why it didn't do very well. It pricked up John Lennon's ears at the time, though, and caused The Beatles to cover it a number of times during their 1962 gigs. So far as anyone is aware, though, the Fabs never demo'ed this in any way.

Jackie Lee's career would obviously continue throughout the sixties and the seventies, issuing a vast array of work including the Northern Soul classic "I Gotta Be With You" under the name Emma Rede. 

1 October 2017

Reupload - Off Side - Match Of The Day/ Small Deal

Label: Pye International
Year of Release: 1970

Since its introduction in 1970, the "Match of the Day" theme on the BBC has become one of the most instantly recognisable television themes in Britain - if not, according to the Performing Rights Society, the most recognisable. More suggestive and indicative than any news broadcast theme (even the BBC World News channel's bleeping ambient effort) or even the wailing harmonica of "Last of the Summer Wine", some of us were born with this theme and know, within the first few milliseconds of the first note, what it's representing.

Trying to listen to it with a fresh pair of 2017 ears strapped firmly to my ageing head, it does seem a strange choice for a tune despite its endearing familiarity, and I'm clearly not alone in thinking that - my Canadian wife when she first heard it burst out laughing at the absurdity of a celebratory Herb Alpert styled quasi-Mexican ditty introducing a modern British football programme. Clearly at the time of commissioning the piece had South American connotations which seemed entirely synonymous with the big game, but there's definitely something a little unlike Auntie Beeb about the whole thing. However, I for one am happy about the fact that it's what we've got - it's a happy, chirpy clarion call which you can imagine beckoning members of any British family in from their bedrooms, kitchens and even bathrooms, like some soccer orientated Pied Piper of Hamlet with, er... a football for a head.

Whatever your personal feelings on the piece, it's one of the few television themes which has wormed its way so much into the British psyche that it conjours up memories and emotions from even the the most steely hearted football fan. As Paul Whitehouse once observed on an episode of "The Fast Show" in the guise of Ron Manager - "Match of the Day? Da da da da da-da-da-da da? Somehow comforting, isn't it, you know?" In summary, then - do I expect any non-British reader to really get the appeal of this record? No, not really. In the absence of any context at all, it probably sounds like a cheery piece of easy listening and not much more (and I'd be really curious to read your thoughts on it if it's unfamiliar to you, actually).

The single you can hear below isn't, of course, the original theme commissioned by the BBC but a very close and crafty approximation recorded by Mike Vickers for the benefit of Pye Records. It wasn't a hit, but in recent years has become a massive collector's item purely due to the B-side, a Vickers-penned piece called "Small Deal", which has apparently become popular with DJs who are keen on the "funky loops" it offers. To my ears, "Small Deal" is a dramatic piece of library music which offers nothing especially outstanding, but my DJ'ing chops are definitely not adequate enough to be able to hear what possibilities it might afford.

Mint copies of this frequently go for £20 plus on ebay. As you can hear, mine isn't exactly mint, but it's good enough, and certainly gives you a fair idea of what's on offer. Not that, in the case of the A-side, you'd really need telling.