30 August 2017

Ultrafox - Nine By Nine/ Stomping At Decca

Label: Deram
Year of Release: 1971

When Deram first started up, it seemed like Decca's default subsidiary label for anything slightly underground, progressive, or folk orientated. This reputation has only been bolstered over the years by the "Deram Dayze" compilation, which features psychedelic pop meanderings from across the label's late sixties catalogue.

Deram never was solely a hairy, beardy sort of label, though, and also issued easy listening and novelty numbers such as the immortal, unforgettable Whistling Jack Smith's output. And then, in 1971, this "for Gruggy Woof Productions" (apparently) which is essentially a note-for-note cover of the John Dummer Band's violin led "Nine By Nine" piece from the previous year. 

"Nine By Nine" had been very popular in some other European countries, even reaching number one in France, but had failed to chart in the UK, instead selling slowly and steadily (second hand copies for around the £3-4 mark are still a relatively common sight). Its an eccentric song, sounding as if it belongs on an old shellac 78, or as backing music on an episode of "Jeeves and Wooster". 

It's not clear why this cover version was necessary, but Philips failing to properly anticipate an upsurge in demand for the original version was probably partly to blame. Whatever, they caught on eventually and re-released the original, but no version of this ever charted in the UK - not Ultrafox's, nor John Dummer's. And as for who Ultrafox were, your guess is as good as mine. And my guess would probably be "a group created for a one day studio booking solely with the task of recording this quickie cover, then never heard from again". 

27 August 2017

Tony - Jumping On/ The Purchase/ The Club

Label: Garcia
Year of Release: 1996

I spent most of 1993-99 living in Portsmouth, for various reasons I will not trouble you good readers with. During that time, I stuck my amateur journalistic beak into the local music scene, and tried to champion local bands as much as I could.

Portsmouth was at that time a rather poorly served local music scene lacking in credibility among most record labels. Some of this was down to the usual incuriosity of A&R representatives about any group not based in a major city (and especially London) but another factor was also the slight "islander's mentality" that tended to dominate Portsea Island at the time. The so-called "island" may well have had two major roads running on to it, one of which crosses a narrow creek of water you could probably wade through on a good day, but most of the bands seemed not to be very thorough at arranging gigs for themselves even as far afield as Southampton, and usually hadn't networked much outside their home town. Long-established and polished bands would play endless gigs around a tight circle of venues such as the Wedgewood Rooms, The Air Balloon and other assorted pub backrooms while never forging any associations across the tiny divide.

Some made it beyond Portsdown Hills to moderate success. Cranes are probably the most obvious example, and in addition, Pete Voss of NME cover stars Campag Velocet got around the whole problem by seemingly barely ever gigging in Portsmouth at all and basing his musical career in London. Similarly, Luke Haines of The Auteurs had associations, but disowned the place as quickly as he could.

Beyond those folk, a whole brace of local heroes popped up on limited run local compilations and sampler CDs and tapes, and Tony (who frequently adopted a bastardised Sony logo for their gig posters) made a strong impression on me when I heard their track "Mule" on the local "Elastic Fiction" cassette. Simple yet angsty, mournful and powerfully performed, it sounded like the work of a band who were accomplished and on the cusp of greater things. A fellow local band watcher tipped them to be Portsmouth's next major label signing, "if they actually get their shit together".

It's not for me to say whether their shit was got together or not, but this is Tony's solitary single, a limited 500 run pressing on the obscure indie Garcia Records. It gives a flavour of what they were capable of. The title track "Jumping On" is a high-powered bitchfest about The Beatles "anthology" project of the time, and the "Free Is A Bird" and "Real Love" debacle in particular. The group stab accusing fingers in the direction of McCartney, essentially accusing him of grave robbery. "It takes a stick to break the stones/ so let's go jumping on his bones" they sneer, later adding "Call in the expertise/ of the Traveling Wilburys" in an attempt to wound his pride.

Of course, it's doubtful Macca ever heard the record, but it's particularly salty single with an abrasive edge, and a sound akin to the harder edges of Britpop. Over on the flip, "The Purchase" appears to be a regretful chugging lullaby to the joys of hiring prostitutes. All this points towards the fact that Tony weren't common-or-garden indie chancers, who were ten a penny by this point, and had some slightly unusual and bitter world views in their arsenal.

It all amounted to nothing, of course, and this is the only official product we have to remember them by. It's possible that by 1996, record labels were cooling to the idea of anything vaguely Britpop in its sound, and Tony did tend to fit that bill at this point. They may also not have had sturdy enough management or external support, but that's pure speculation on my part based on the fact that most Portsmouth bands didn't. Whatever the reasons, we've been left with a rather obscure mid-nineties indie single which fell between the cracks at a point where just about any noise of this nature was guaranteed at least some publicity. It's a peculiar situation indeed.

23 August 2017

Drill - Juliet/ Pretty Girl

Label: RCA
Year of Release: 1979

While punk and new wave were often at opposite ends of the spectrum from British psychedelia in 1967, there's a much bigger debate to be had about some of the unacknowledged similarities too. The underground press, counter-cultural activity and the whole idea of the "kids doing it for themselves" were germane to both movements, though eyewitness accounts from 1967 often tend to dismiss that era's anarchy with the simple phrase "A bunch of rich kids pissing around with their parent's money".

Another two things both eras have in common is the fact that bands emerged, released one single or a select clutch of a few singles, then disappeared again - and a great many of the members of the groups would go on to much bigger and better things elsewhere. Take Drill, for example. The Chas Chandler managed group are barely mentioned anywhere these days, but featured the bass player and songwriter Chris Constantinou, who later went on to work with Adam Ant, Anabella Lwin, and Guy Chambers. 

Frustratingly, the details of the rest of their personnel are hard to come by, but this single is a real curiosity. The punk lovesong on the A-side "Juliet" is perhaps not the strongest offering here, being a bit 'boil in the bag punk' in places - there are only so many signposted references to "rebels" with "rings in their noses" you can take before you sigh "Yeah, we get it lads, you're those punks we've heard so much about". 

The B-side "Pretty Girls", however, is where the band get to play with the full sonic palette and end up sounding slightly akin to an XTC-less Barry Andrews doing his best nods to Eno and Talking Heads. It's essentially very yobbish, jerky New Wave, and an experience worth having.

Now, if only I could find their single with a punk cover of Gordon Lightfoot's "If I Could Read Your Mind" on the A-side, my year will be complete. 

The whereabouts of the rest of the group is not known, but Chris remains very active and is presently bass player with The Wolfmen on bass and vocals, and the punk supergroup The Mutants. 

20 August 2017

Reupload - Count Prince Miller - Rupert The Bear/ When We Were Children

Label: Penny Farthing
Year of Release: 1972

Proof is right here, if we really needed it, that no cover version has ever been considered too absurd or too outlandish for a reggae artist. For this is indeed the children's TV theme given a decidedly mellow feel, with high-pitched, screeching (and I presume studio-treated?) vocals delivering the chorus. Whilst sixties psychedelia played with the idea of fairytales and backgarden creatures being drug-influenced, I'd almost be tempted to say that this tackles the subject of everyone's favourite Nutwood dwelling bear from a stoned perspective.

The B-side "When We Were Children" even continues the theme gamely, referring to the songs mothers sing to their offspring and the simplicity of those comforting times, which lyrically is very close to the same under-explored topic as Pink Floyd's "Matilda Mother". It didn't seem as if anyone in 1972 was really ready for toytown reggae or twee reggae, though, but the thought of a gang of menacing looking skinheads grooving on down to the "Rupert The Bear" theme tune is an enticing one.

Count Prince Miller had a cult reggae hit the previous year with "Mule Train Parts One and Two", but is perhaps better remembered in mainstream society for his role as Vince in the eighties sitcom "Desmond's". Both these performances outshine "Rupert The Bear", but it's a peculiar career blip and anomaly I couldn't resist uploading here.

16 August 2017

Grazina - Be My Baby/ I Ain't Gonna Knock On Your Door

Label: HMV
Year of Release: 1963

Grazina Frame may not be an instantly recognisable name to most record buyers, but nonetheless she loaned her voice to a number of high-profile films and projects. She was the dubbed singing voice of Carole Gray in the Cliff Richard film "The Young Ones", and then did the same job for Lauri Peters in "Summer Holiday".  Her parallel career as an actress also lead to roles in a number of British films.

While she did issue a brace of singles throughout the sixties, her chart career was non-existent despite her obvious talent. Her debut single "Lover Please Believe Me" is a Geoff Goddard penned melodramatic galloper, and was deeply unlucky not to have sold better (it's also staggering that Meek wasn't involved in the production of the record, since several of his stylistic tropes are apparent). From there, things didn't really get much better, with HMV issuing a series of flops with diminishing public interest.

"Be My Baby", however, was a somewhat crafty release on EMI's part, given that it was put out into the UK marketplace in September, ahead of The Ronette's October release date. This gave it a head start over the official product for listeners who really hadn't experienced the full scale of Spector's vision yet. Despite this, it wasn't a hit, and it's not difficult to understand why. Minus the wall of sound and those astonishing harmonies, the song really sounds somewhat pedestrian and skeletal, even when left in the hands of someone as capable as Grazina. With more thought and time put into the production, it's possible that everyone concerned might have been able to produce a fair facsimile of the original, but this is a simple, straightforward rendition which is hard to relate to.

The B-side "I Ain't Gonna Knock On Your Door" is likely to be of more interest to readers, being a chiming, pinging, and sprightly piece of summery girl-pop. It's not a lost A-side by any means, but it's genuinely charming and Grazina pitches the idea perfectly.

Sadly, I've only included an edit from "Be My Baby" here, since it remains commercially available and you can buy it in full online if you're that way inclined.

13 August 2017

Fable - A Girl Like You/ She Said Yes

Label: Penny Farthing
Year of Release: 1971

A few weeks back I mentioned this on the blog's Facebook Page as an example of a single I was desperately trying to find an affordable copy of. In the end, I paid rather more for this copy than I'd hoped to (£17 - ulp!) but I still consider it to be worth owning even at that price.

I had originally stumbled on it on YouTube and was immediately bowled over by the approach it had taken - while The Troggs original version of "A Girl Like You" had been scratchy, jagged and hormonal sounding, this cover replaced that abrasiveness with a slick but minimal arrangement, a thumping bass drum and rich bass guitar, and exotic, Nico-esque vocal lines. It has absolutely no right to work in that manner, but it does so marvellously, and the quality of the performance highlights the fact that Reg Presley probably wasn't the completely primitive garage songwriter everyone assumed him to be in 1966.

Fable were essentially members of Jason Cord's backing group The First Chapter attempting a breakaway slice of success of their own. Consisting of Paul Robbins on organ and guitar, Keith Tully on drums, Mac Bailey on guitar and Pete Bickley on bass, they added the glamorous Wolverhampton local hero Anna Terrana on lead vocals to complete the new Penny Farthing signed line-up. 

Anna Terrana had already had a fairly substantial career on the national gig circuit at this point, fronting Lady Jayne and the Royaltee (known as "Royalty" on their CBS recordings) and picking up praise and acclaim from the music press and Radio One DJs alike. You can read much more about her background on the Brumbeat website here, which goes into enormous depth.

Fable were, unfortunately, a fairly short-lived proposition by comparison, offering us only two 45s (this and the 1970 single "Minstrel Boy" which preceded it). Both sides of this single are marvellous. Even the flip, "She Said Yes", is a pretty piece of beaty, early seventies harmony pop.

If you want to listen to more of Anna Terrana's work, she appears to have her own Reverb Nation site here. You'd be well advised to listen to head over and get stuck in, as there are plenty of other gems to uncover.

9 August 2017

The Germz/ Lit Candle - No Easy Way Down/ Boy Girl Love

Label: Cotique
Year of Release: 1967 and 1969

This is becoming something of a sought-after record for 60s garage collectors, in whatever guise it takes. The Germz were formed from the remains of a New York band called Terry and the Pirates, and consisted of Wendy Hirsch on vocals, Marty Green on keyboards, Bob Tobin on lead guitar, Jefferson Travis on rhythm guitar, Doug Smith on bass and Shelly Unger on drums. After a spell of local popularity, in early 1967 they inked a deal with the Roulette subsidiary label Vertigo and headed off to record these two tracks at Miramound Studios. 

It's the B-side which tends to get all the attention in the present day, being a piece of quirky, organ-driven garage pop with the most warped and wobbly sounding clarion calls you'll have heard since The Human League's "(Keep Feeling) Fascination". Propulsive, bouyant, and charmingly (rather than ineptly) loose sounding, it's a strange and sharp sounding recording which nags away at you long after the needle has left the run-out groove behind.

Amidst the more recent fuss, though, the A-side seems to have been overlooked or even dismissed by some, which is a deep pity. The Goffin-King composition "No Easy Way Down" has subsequently been recorded by Dusty Springfield, Carole King herself, and Scott Walker (quite drearily, actually, on his under-achieving "Stretch" LP) among others, but so far as I can ascertain this was the first released version. This might appear to have been a risky or eccentric decision on the songwriting duo's part, but I suspect the fact that the drummer Shelly Ungan was Gerry Goffin's cousin might not be a complete coincidence. Nonetheless, it's a beautiful version of the track, with Wendy's vocals sounding so youthful, spirited, spontaneous and powerful that it's hard to believe that it took the producer George Goldner twenty takes before he was satisfied with her performance. Amazingly, what we can hear is in fact the result of numerous takes of her performance being spliced together.

The resulting single hit number 48 in the local New York charts and number 35 in the Boston charts before disappearing altogether. Internal politics at the record company between Roulette bigwig Morris Levy and George Goldner caused the single to be scrapped after only 2,000 copies were released on to the marketplace, after which it did a big sod off forever. Even the master tapes were apparently wiped.

"Yes," you may well ask, "but what on Earth do The Germz have to do with The Lit Candle, whose single is pictured above?"

That's a fair enough question, but one that apparently even the group can't really answer. The Lit Candle single was issued in 1969 and is completely the same two recordings. The group were not informed of its release or their enforced name change, and suspect some corporate dodginess was afoot. Taking a less cynical view, it's possible that the growing popularity of other recorded versions of "No Easy Way Down" caused Cotique Records to take an interest in the original version, and it's also possible that they thought The Germz was too much of a garagey sounding group name for either 1969 or such a majestic ballad. Unless someone who was behind the decision to release the record gets in touch, however, we will probably never know why this pressing actually exists.

Whatever the facts, The so-called Lit Candle's "version" appears to have fared even less well than the original release, and seems to be the more scarce of the two pressings as a result. The group were no longer an active concern anyway, having disbanded shortly after the failure of the Vertigo issue. Wendy Hirsch and Marty Green went on to get a job together as songwriters at Screen Gems/ Columbia. After that career path failed, it proved to be the end of their professional relationship, but not their personal one - they got married and had a family not long afterwards.

I gleaned a lot of the above material from a moving YouTube video put together in the style of "Pop Up Video" by Wendy's son Matt to celebrate her fiftieth birthday. If only every garage group left such a simple and easy trail of information behind themselves...

6 August 2017

Reupload - Tik and Tok - Summer In The City/ Crisis

Label: Survival
Released: 1981

Readers of a certain vintage may have hazy memories of Tik and Tok, a robotic dance duo who appeared on all manner of television programmes in the early eighties.  Robotic dancing in the present day and age is popularly regarded to be the folly of Covent Garden street performers rather than cutting edge cabaret, but like mime, the Jim Rose Circus and puppets that emit cuss words, there was a brief point in time where it seemed an exotic and thoroughly modern affair.  Such things usually have a shelf-life of six months to a year before the allure fades and the talent becomes a gimmick, and so it proved with this duo, whose career high wasn't especially prolonged.

For a time, however, Tik and Tok were actually quite mainstream, popping up on Kenny Everett's television programmes and The Royal Variety Show, and supporting Gary Numan on tour (as well as being supported by a young Depeche Mode).  Until I stumbled across this record in the racks of "Music and Video Exchange", I had no memory of what they sounded like, and was expecting the kind of staccato, psuedo-futuristic and alienated fare we've already heard from The Techno Twins and Karel Fialka.  On the contrary, their cover of the Lovin' Spoonful's "Summer in the City" here is actually surprisingly upbeat and effective.  Taking the simplistic stomping rhythms of the original and highlighting them for robotic effect, it's a piece of electronic music that's dated amazingly well, sounding almost like a piece of noughties post-modern pastiche.   The original song is good enough to weather most changes to the original arrangement, but Tik and Tok manage to make it sound as if it always was a piece of eighties electro-pop right from the first hearing, which is actually an astonishing feat for a familiar, evergreen single.  I bought this half-expecting to burst out laughing on the first spin, only to find myself getting strangely into it and promptly putting it on my iPod playlist.

The B-side "Crisis" has aged well too, sounding inspired by Kraftwerk and German electronic pop, and featuring a strange and jarring piece of dialogue which is supposed to be one of the Kray Twins dialling a wrong number and getting through to the robo-duo's HQ.  Again, it manages to give the impression of Shoreditch and Hoxton circa 2005 rather than the Kenny Everett Video Show circa 1981, although whether that's innovative or a grave war crime depends upon your personal perspective.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Tik and Tok are still performing today, and apparently regularly appearing at Star Wars conventions thanks to their appearance in "Return of the Jedi".  It almost feels as if I should finish this blog entry on a sarcastic or ironical comment, but actually... why should I?  It would be far too lazy and far too easy, and unnecessary given the fact that I like this single.

3 August 2017

Conclusion Is - This Is Not My Country/ Angie And The Human Race

Label: Parlophone
Year of Release: 1970

It's very rare to find a popsike single that hasn't already been compiled on an LP entitled something like "The Afternoon Turquoise Crumpet and Butter Teashow", but I think I might just have managed it here. Sadly, though, I have close to sod-all information on the people responsible.

From what I can gather, the oddly named Conclusion Is were a studio based act who worked at Eden Studios, which was owned by Piers Ford-Crush and Philip Love. One of them, Ray Owen, was also a member of the rock group Ray Owen's Moon who recorded for Polydor, whereas David Early also worked with him on the novelty 1972 Supporter's United single "Up For The Cup" (which I've never heard or seen anywhere, but sounds curious).

The A-side "This Is Not My Country" is a piece of acceptable acoustically driven angst about being a refugee. The flip "Angie And The Human Race", on the other hand, is rather more popsike, consisting of discreet trumpet and organ lines and a gentle, bouncing psychedelic pop feel. My copy is a tiny bit scratchy, but those melodramatic toytown melodies seep through effectively. 

I have no idea what became of either musician, but this is the only record the pair had out under the name of "Conclusion Is". After both it and the Supporters United single flopped, it seems likely that Parlophone lost interest.