30 December 2018

Reupload - Orange Colored Sky - Mr. Peacock/ Knowing How I Love You

Label: Uni
Year of Release: 1969

The constant waves of neo-psychedelic bands since the nineties have ensured that the ideas in the genre remain current, but even so, some psychedelic pop records sound much more of their moment than others. It doesn't impinge on their overall quality, but - to throw one example to the jury - Donovan's "I Love My Shirt" doesn't sound as if anyone would have recorded it in the last twenty years. Its slightly humorous, whimsical take on comfortable Carnaby Street wear seems somewhat quaint now. 

And so we come on to "Mr Peacock", a cheery ditty with harmony vocals largely celebrating the "grooviness" of a particular individual. This is the part of the era that "Austin Powers" filtered off and turned into a giant action cartoon - the garish, the silly and the celebratory. But within the context of its original purpose, it makes a lot more sense. The "Mr Peacock" to whom they refer is Don Knotts' character in the film "The Love God?", a dorky, awkward individual who turns into a sexual magnet when he accidentally becomes custodian of a successful pornographic magazine. This single was ripped from the soundtrack, and the line between Powers and Peacock is narrow enough to assume that tongues were probably firmly in cheek within the ranks of Orange Colored Sky as well.

While never blessed with an enormous amount of success, Orange Colored Sky (consisting of Larry Younger, Walter Slivinski, Vinny Younger and Tony Barry) were busy boys on the live gig circuit, spending periods as the house band at New York's Peppermint Lounge, as Burt Bacharach's opening live act, and working the club circuit in Los Angeles. Their 1970 track "Press A Rose" also managed to creep into the Billboard Top 100. Known for their professional live shows, a steady stream of  appearances continued until the eighties when they shut up shop.

23 December 2018

It's Christmas

All bloggers have been taught from hard experience - or perhaps just the application of some common sense - that updating their sites over the festive period is a lot of work for an even smaller readership than usual. And a lot of grief, too. You're supposed to be at the dinner table carving the poultry or helping Mum wash up in the kitchen, not uploading your seasonal guide to Christmas singles with psychedelic phasing on them. How would you explain doing that to your relatives? Where would you even begin?

So then, this marks the only point in any ordinary year where "Left and to the Back" takes a break for a week or so. I'd like to wish a Merry Christmas to all readers, and may the second hand record shops and junk stores of 2019 bring you many surprises. Fingers crossed they will do for me too.

I'll be back online before December is over, but 'til then... stay safe and warm, and remember, Slade's "Merry Xmas Everybody" can never really be overplayed, and anyone complaining about it will have me to answer to. 

22 December 2018

Tommy Eytle (Gramps off Eastenders) - A Christmas Tree From Norway/ Roehampton Was Her Name

Calypso musician and actor with strange late-period single

Label: Double AA/ Airborne
Year of Release: 199?

Here's an odd 45 which presumably has some kind of back-story, but one that doesn't seem to be documented anywhere. In fact, the record label doesn't even offer the year of release.

Tommy Eytle is probably best-known for playing the role of Gramps off Eastenders, which he held from 1990-1997. He was introduced as part of the Tavernier family, who were parachuted into the soap to balance the diversity of the cast (prior to that point, the cast of "Eastenders" didn't even come close to representing the mix of cultures in the East End, and indeed it could be argued the series still doesn't. We'll save the debates about mainstream soaps holding an accurate mirror up to their local worlds for another time.) 

Prior to this major acting role, however, Eytle was also a respected jazz guitarist and calypso singer who gigged at numerous clubs up and down the country, as well as performing the "Narrative Calypso" in the film "The Tommy Steele Story" in 1957. 

His "Eastenders" role also occasionally afforded him the chance to have a good old-fashioned singalong in The Queen Vic, and perhaps that's why this single emerged. Or there was possibly another reason - the "Gordons of Langford Play" credit at the bottom of the label seems to point towards an acting job in either a local community or fringe theatre production. 

19 December 2018

Slush - White Christmas/ Rich Man

A punk rock take on White Christmas - they're gonna spit at the snowman

Label: Ember
Year of Release: 1978

Nil points for originality here. The last time anybody bothered to properly sit down and count, there were over 500 cover versions of "White Christmas" in every genre known to man - from reggae and techno to metal. None have captured the public's hearts even a fraction as much as Bing Crosby's original 1942 recording, but as a seasonal standard it's become something many musicians learn to play before they've left childhood behind, if only to impress their families at the appropriate time. 

This, however, is a cheeky punk take on the track, which takes Irving Berlin's original for a race around the icy pub car park in a knackered Hillman Imp. Tongues are clearly completely in cheek throughout, and you could probably accurately imagine for yourself what it sounds like before you even hear a single note. (E.g. I'm - chugga-chugga-chugga - dreamin' ovva - WHITE - chugga-chugga-chugga - CHRIST-MUSSS! - chugga-chugga-chugga...) It possibly reckons itself a little bit subversive by treating a toasty-warm winter classic in this way, especially so soon after Bing's death, but really it's just the equivalent of doodling some crayon glasses and a beard over a photocopy of the Mona Lisa. No damage is really done here, and on the few occasions it was actually heard in 1978 - one of them being on the children's TV show "Magpie" - it was probably deemed to be some silly festive hi-jinks rather than outright sacrilege.

In case you hadn't already guessed, Slush weren't really bona-fide punks by most people's measures. They were the cult power-poppers and Isle of Wight dwellers The Pumphouse Gang operating under an assumed name, and that accounts for the rather better B-side "Rich Man" here, which was clearly penned by individuals who had the energy and punch necessary to survive on the live circuit in the era, but also had an approach closer to Nick Lowe than Sham 69.

16 December 2018

Annie Rocket Band - A Little Smile on Christmas Morning/ Apology For Living

If The Zombies celebrated Christmas, it might sound a bit like this

Label: Jayboy
Year of Release: 1969

Despite the fact that the much-loved Marmalade Skies website once listed this as one of the Top 120 toytown psych songs of all time, its lyrical focus on the Christmas season has made it a strangely under-compiled effort since. That's a shame, as either in or outside of the period, "A Little Smile On Christmas Morning" manages to be soft, sweet and intricate rather than whacking you over the head with a giant set of sleigh bells. 

In fact, those hushed vocals, considered arrangements and gentle, everyday lyrics about a child witnessing her father coming home for Christmas resemble The Zombies quite significantly; not a smart commercial move in 1969, but one which feels much more credible and relevant now. It's such a velvety sounding disc it will probably clean your record player's needle as the vinyl spins round. 

The flip-side leans towards marginally more progressive ideas, and is actually rather good with its jaunty, Barretty chorus and odd, ever-shifting moods.

12 December 2018

Next of Kin - Merry Christmas/ Sunday Children Sunday Morning

Interesting attempt at festive ska from Mitch Murray and friends

Label: MCA
Year of Release: 1969

Well, ho ho ho, what have we here in Santa's sack? Blow me down if it isn't a bit of cod-ska co-written by the songwriter Mitch Murray, of "How Do You Do It?", "Bonnie and Clyde" and "Is This The Way To Amarillo?" fame. Ho ho ho, off you go young man, get off my knee, there are others waiting, this record didn't bloody sell and I've got tons to get rid of, you know.

Mitch was, it's safe to say, not a man who had probably even holidayed in the Caribbean, much less been a member of a ska band. The Mike Leander production credit also indicates that there wasn't somebody from that background present to steer the ship towards those waters, so by rights, this disc should be a hopeless shambles.

It's interesting to find out that it's not terrible, then. It wouldn't pass muster with the average sixties skin who would almost certainly sniff out the distinctly Ob-La-Di-Ob-La-Da styled fake accents, but those cheap brass sounds, the raw production and the repetitive nature of the tune make it a strong parody of a late sixties ska track at the very least. It's unquestionably a cynical cash-in on a "current sound", but the attention to detail is impressive.

9 December 2018

Tiger Tim - Merry Christmas, Mr. Christmas/ Moving On

Radio Clyde veteran takes a stab at the Christmas charts and fails nobly

Label: President
Year of Release: 1975

Given that singles released by radio DJs are normally either super-whacky novelty items or embarrassing attempts by fading names to gain a future on the cabaret circuit, I expected the worst here. Shockingly though, "Merry Christmas Mr. Christmas" is a bit of a festive corker released in a decade that wasn't short of them. 

Pleasingly arranged with an unobtrusive and not at all sickly orchestra, an incredibly sticky chorus and subtle melodic changes, it sounds full of warmth and goodwill, and very much like a hit. If the Bay City Rollers had put it out, you can guarantee it would have been enormous, but in the hands of a local radio star who had little presence outside Scotland, it disappeared from view. 

"Tiger" Tim Stevens began working as a radio DJ in the West of Scotland in 1973, spending most of his career on Radio Clyde where he remained until 2010. 1975 saw him going off-air to attempt a career in music, of which this single and "Stargirl" on the GTO label were the only results. Despite the fact that "Stargirl" used a slightly more voguish glam sound, it also failed to generate sales.

5 December 2018

Carnegy Hall - The Bells of San Francisco/ Slightly Cracked

A psychedelic Christmas single? Oh, go on then

Label: Polydor
Year of Release: 1967

Let's face it, it's doubtful anyone's surprised by the fact that a psychedelic Christmas single was released at the tail end of 1967 - what's truly surprising is that the market wasn't flooded with kaleidoscopic Christmas elves and festive carols with groovy phasing. (Though at the very least Syd Barrett said that "Apples and Oranges" had a 'touch of Christmas' about it, I suppose).

Sadly, anyone expecting anything authentic here is going to be sorely disappointed. It's a rather flippant novelty cash-in, and while it starts promisingly with its bells and an ominous whirring sound, it quickly descends into child-like whimsy. While we're informed that Father Christmas is on his "psychedelic way", the track itself is more akin to Scott MacKenzie on a tight budget than Soft Machine. "Ting-a-ling-a-ling, ting-a-ling-a-ling-a-ling, a very hippy Christmas Day" the track continues, making you wonder if this was one of the key markers towards the "hippy wigs in Woolworths" moment in society. 

The songwriter Geoff Stephens seems to be the driving force behind the track, who by this point had already chalked up an impressive tally of enormous hits for Manfred Mann ("Semi Detached Suburban Mister James"), Dave Berry ("The Crying Game"), The New Vaudeville Band ("Winchester Cathedral"), and The Applejacks ("Tell Me When"). He would later go on to write "There's A Kind of Hush", "Sorry Suzanne", "Silver Lady" and "Lights of Cincinnati" among others, so the fact this record flopped probably hasn't featured in his nightmares much over the last fifty years. 

2 December 2018

The Rubber Band - Hendrix Songbook (LP)

Strange but oddly satisfying studio tribute to everyone's favourite guitar biter

Label: Major Minor
Year of Release: 1969

It would be tempting to cock a snook at this LP if you saw it in the racks of your local second hand record shop. It looks cheap, has a crap sleeve, and sixties tribute albums almost always tend to veer towards either bland easy listening arrangements or a group of hurried session musos trying to sound as much like their subject matter as possible. Buy enough of these things and you realise that most of them aren't even good for laughs.

This, however, is unexpected enough to be interesting. It consists almost entirely of uniquely arranged instrumental versions of respected Hendrix tunes, though the inclusion of "All Along The Watchtower" seems to indicate that all concerned were more concerned with whether Hendrix had ever performed, rather than penned, the tracks. It's not the kind of deluxe, carefully crafted culture clash you'd expect of such a project today, but there are enough puffing flutes and wailing guitars to prick up the average Hendrix fan's ears.

The Rubber Band were a Los Angeles based studio group consisting of Stan Ayeroff on guitar, Steve Baim on drums and Michael Lloyd on keyboards, bass and vocals. The player of most interest to "Left and to the Back" readers in that line-up is probably Ayeroff, who was originally in The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band and subsequently moved into the world of jazz. As a session player  and arranger, he has also worked with Rod Stewart and Roger Daltrey. 

28 November 2018

Ranee and Raj - Feel Like A Clown/ Rainbow Land

Sweet boy-girl pop with an Eastern and faintly psychedelic tinge

Label: Fontana
Year of Release: 1968

Sri Lankan pop stars are still a relatively rare deal in the UK, and these two were the first to have any mainstream media exposure here. Nimal Mendis and Sandra Edema both had a solid background in their native country, with Sandra having managed a Sri Lankan hit single at the humble age of twelve ("Oh My Lover") and Mendis authoring the soundtracks to a number of Sri Lankan films.

Mendis's first big break in England was placing the song "Kiss Kiss Kiss" with the singer Mary Marshall in 1958. Notable for being imaginatively engineered by Joe Meek with heavy use of echo and a decidedly forward-thinking sound, the track unfortunately failed to sell, but opened other doors for Mendis in the UK, including songwriting for the British folk group "One Two and Three" in 1965. 

A few years after this unlikely dalliance with British folk music, Mendis and Edema teamed up to release a couple of singles, this being closely followed by "Don't Tell Me I Must Go". At the time, this 45 was widely predicted to be a smash, with the pair being given a slot on "Top of the Pops" to promote it, and promising amounts of airplay. In the end, it sold in disappointing quantities and is quite hard to track down today. Perhaps that's due to the fact that "Feel Like A Clown" is one of those truly frustrating records which feels as if it's building towards an astonishing chorus - Edema's vocals are yearning and truly beautiful towards the end of each verse - only to settle into something hooky but somewhat pedestrian by comparison. 

25 November 2018

The Ray MacVay Sound - Kinda Kinky/ Kinkdom Kome

Swinging Kinks Tribute from Larry Page and raving Ray MacVay

Label: Pye
Year of Release: 1965

This is a baffling but very sought-after single from the prolific easy listening master Ray MacVay, who we last mentioned just over a year ago. Ray was perhaps more daring than many pseudo-James Last characters in the work he took on, attempting reggae, rock and country as well as the pop tunes that loaned themselves best to a nice and easy arrangement. 

This, however, appears to be a Kinks kash-in. While the repetitive central riff on side A does owe a small debt to Ray and Dave Davies, the band don't get a songwriting credit, and it seems that MacVay and Larry Page - who does get credited - were just using their sound as a springboard.

The end result sounds like a cross between a late night chat show theme and The Kinks, which is no bad thing. Indeed, I'm slightly surprised nobody has dug this one up to use on a television programme at any point in the last fifty years. It's also found some favour as a turntable hit with the mod club crowd, which has pushed up the asking price of copies over the years. 

21 November 2018

Reupload - Nicky Scott - Honey Pie/ No More Tomorrows

Interesting attempt at making a slice of White Album whimsy a hit in its own right. 

(Plug - this is also one of a handful of singles I've currently got up for sale on ebay here)

Label: Pye
Year of Release: 1969

The mania for covering Beatles albums tracks in the sixties is such that I'm genuinely past being surprised at each new discovery I make. If the Fabs hadn't put it out as a single, it would seem that somebody somewhere had their own take ready to go. In this case, step forward Mr Nicky Scott, with your version of "Honey Pie" off "The White Album". That's right, "Honey Pie". Hardly what you'd call a chart-bound sound, although I suppose somebody at Pye must have fancied that its old school music hall arrangements might sell to an older demographic. It didn't, though.

There's not much difference between this and McCartney's version, except Scott's strange Brummie accent at the start. It stays true to the original version, though perhaps adds a tiny bit more recording studio polish to the sound, taking away some of the 78rpm styled reediness of the original. It's still a truly bizarre choice for a single, though, irrespective of any new production flourishes. The truly old-school sound might have seemed more commercial in the era of the Bonzos and the New Vaudeville Band, but as a song this didn't come close to approaching the style or wit of either group, and it's been largely disregarded by most Beatles fans since. 

18 November 2018

Hohokam - Harlequin Tears/ To Sleep

Numan backed synth-pop band who came closer than most of his signings to breaking through

Label: Numa
Year of Release: 1985

Gary Numan tended to be everyone's favourite critical football in the eighties. While Numan the pop star pasted himself in make-up and donned a variety of uniforms for each phase of his career, playing the chameleon role with apparent ease, Numan the interviewee was usually consistent. Family orientated, inadvisably honest, prone to bouts of post-adolesecent naiveté and Thatcher and Royal Family worship.  If he'd been trying to be a wind-up merchant like Jaz out of Killing Joke, I've no doubt this would have hurt his image none. But he wasn't. So it did. The rock and pop world has always admired fraudulence and pretension over straightforwardness. 

I've no idea if the passing of the decades has changed his political views, though his last LP "Savage" had a keen enough grasp on the environmental crisis to impress the Green Party of England and Wales' deputy leader Amelia Womack. What I do have a sneaking admiration for, however, is either the generosity or downright foolhardiness (or both) behind his Numa Records label in the eighties. 

Numan had some form as a talent spotter. On seeing Depeche Mode performing a minor gig in the early eighties, he immediately alerted the boss at his label Beggars Banquet about their existence. While Mute Records got to them first, it must have boosted his confidence and belief that he could find equally huge stars elsewhere. He left Beggars and released his first records on his own Numa label in 1984 - and that's really when the mess starts.

Firstly, his sales and credibility were declining rapidly by the mid-eighties, suffering from the two pronged attack of a newly sincere and increasingly non-electronic post-Live Aid music scene, and continued savage brickbats from the music press and his fellow pop stars. Nor did it help that his material at this point sounded slightly confused and lost, at one moment aping Prince, the next Billy Idol. His confidence in his own style and voice seemed hugely diminished. If the success of his own work was supposed to help bankroll the rest of the label, that set things off on completely the wrong foot.

Handing over Numa's distribution deal to PRT was also a schoolboy error (though obviously, I have no idea what other options were on the table at the time). While PRT - formally trading as Pye - had enjoyed some glorious days in the sunshine, by the mid-eighties they were an even more confused force than Numan himself, and wouldn't live to see the nineties. Numan also found being a music mogul expensive work. In an interview with Fast Company in 2016, he commented: "Back then you still had your big record chains like Tower Records. They absolutely killed me. For example, I put out one album. They would order a thousand and they would only pay for one in 20 of those that they ordered. And if you didn’t accept that deal, they didn’t stock you at all... Because of those ridiculous deals, small labels, and probably even bigger ones would crumble. You’ve got no power. You’ve got nothing to fight them with. So you give them a thousand albums and then hope they do well enough that it gets in the chart. And then maybe someone else will stock it. And you can get your money. Nine times out of 10, that didn’t happen. You go out of business, the company folds. My record company folded fairly quickly."

You get the sense that he remembers this period with little fondness, and perhaps that's no wonder. But actually, it's an interesting label for a budget strapped collector, especially when you step away from his own material and delve a bit deeper. It's filled with failed pop plans and electronic acts who might have fared better a couple of years beforehand, and Gary's own production hand and favoured studios and engineers are ever-present.

Hohokam were probably the label's main hopes, and one of the main reasons Numan apparently started the label. "Harlequin Tears" here is a supremely energetic and menacing slice of synth-pop, sounding bit part Depeche Mode in their leather-and-whips pomp and Dead or Alive at the height of their "Spin Me Round" world domination. It was the closest the label came to a non-Numan chart hit, though given that it failed to even touch the Top 75, it clearly still fell a long way short of the target. 

14 November 2018

The Slade Brothers - Love and Comfort/ Clearly I See

Canadian ex-pats with contemplative debut single

Label: Pye
Year of Release: 1965

The Slade Brothers are probably best known to record collectors for their hypnotic, fuzz-guitar driven third single "Peace In My Mind". That really was a complete anomaly in their catalogue, though, with its vaguely hippy-ish undertones acting as a red herring against what was a rather 'straight' folk and pop orientated career.

The pair Jack Klaeysen and Ralph Murphy (not real brothers, you'll note) hooked up in Wallaceburg, Ontario in the early sixties, and began composing songs together. After hearing The Beatles for the first time, they decided that the North American continent clearly wasn't where it was at anymore, and in winter 1965 took a ship to Liverpool to try their fortune over here.

On board, they had the good fortune to meet Joe Collins, Joan Collins' father, who saw them entertaining passengers and asked them to consider inking a deal with his talent agency. The fact that they seemingly thought he was a chancer on a wind-up meant that the boys didn't sign on the dotted line until some weeks later, but not long after seeking him out they began to get major support slots with acts such as The Pretty Things and The Byrds, and a deal with Pye.

"Love and Comfort" was their debut single on the label in 1965, released a mere four months after their voyage - most groups, then and now, would gasp at breaks emerging so rapidly - and shows a pair of already slick performers producing minimal, pretty folk ballads. It's a little naive, and really doesn't sound anything like a hit, but acted as a strong springboard for future releases.

11 November 2018

The Chances-R - Talking Out the Back Of My Head and Turn A New Leaf Over

Two singles from relentless Southampton rockers and Melody Maker Beat Contest finalists.

Label: CBS
Year of Release: 1967

While Battle of the Bands contests are seen as a bit passé now, back in the sixties the Melody Maker National Beat Contest was a huge opportunity for aspiring groups. Shining a spotlight on bands away from the London hub, anyone who made the final at the London Palladium was at the very least a powerful live act. The competition tended not to leave itself open to mere fashion and hype - if you couldn't deliver, you didn't get through.

Rob Chance and The Chances-R went through a number of heats to earn the opportunity to perform in the final in 1966, and lead singer Rob decided that the best way of impressing the judges and audience would be to sing "Maria" and "Somewhere" from West Side Story. It has been suggested that this stunt reduced them to mere third place, as while Chance's performance was strong, it clearly wasn't in keeping with the other sharp bands on the bill raving it up. In the end, Neath's Eyes of Blue took the top prize, which seems to make perfect sense to me ("West Side Story" errors of judgement from the bronze placed band or not). They were widely regarded to be a fierce live act in their day.

The publicity was obviously valuable to The Chances-R, and they signed to CBS the following year. First out of the traps was "Talking Out The Back Of My Head" in March 1967, a skippy, jolly beat offering with vague Motown undertones, which ironically sounds very slightly like Eyes of Blue circa "Supermarket Full Of Cans". With tight vocal harmonies, an insistent chorus and one of the most dangerously long false endings I've ever heard, it's only fault is probably the nagging use of "la la la la" vocal lines, which are overdone.

It wasn't a hit, but their next release would be a bit sharper and livelier. (Entry continues beneath the sound files)

7 November 2018

Reupload - The Household - 21st Summer/ Winter's Coming On

Folksy harmony pop from Blackpool which sounds particularly beautiful on the wintery flipside. 

Label: United Artists
Year of Release: 1968

Another one of those records dealers everywhere are prone to telling fibs about. Oft labelled as a "psychedelic rarity", this actually sits more in folk/ sunshine pop territory, straddling the divide between the Mamas and the Papas and rather more rootsy music.

"21st Summer" is a cute, rustic little tune which has been enjoyed by a few sixties aficionados over the years, but doesn't sound like a hit single at all, which would go a long way towards explaining why it wasn't one. The B-side "Winter's Coming On", on the other hand, is a lot busier and sprightlier and also more appropriate to the present time of year (unless you're reading this in the Southern hemisphere). It has the same combination of pleasingly tight vocal harmonies and kick and bounce of a lot of the best folk-rock of the period, and deserves a bit more attention than it's actually had.

As for The Household, they're something of an enigma - there's very little information available about them, although apparently they were one of the first acts United Artists picked for their new release schedule as a fully fledged "proper" label in Britain (rather than a subsidiary) so clearly somebody in the organisation had high hopes for them.

4 November 2018

The Messengers - I Turn In (To You)/ The Semi-Professionals (Theme No.1)

Midge Ure proteges on a distinctly Ultravoxy sounding trip

Label: Chrysalis
Year of Release: 1982

Glaswegians The Messengers were formed from the ashes of the post-punk band Modern Man, who Midge Ure discovered while he was in a bar on Sauchiehall Street. He offered to produce their sole LP "Concrete Life" but the group, signed to the ailing MAM label, failed to generate any interest and quickly disintegrated.

Reduced to a basic duo of Colin King and Danny Mitchell, and focusing their renewed efforts on synthesised pop, they busied themselves after Modern Man's split by recording basic demos of tracks and posting them to potentially interested music business contacts, of whom Ure was inevitably top of the list.

In 1982, the man Midge got in touch and asked the pair if they would like to support and contribute additional instrumentation for Ultravox on tour, and also release a single in order to ensure they had some product to push on the road. The pair quickly agreed, and "I Turn In (To You)" is the fascinating result - produced by Ure himself, and using his favoured equipment and studio engineer John Hudson, it inevitably ends up sounding exactly like a record of his, to the point where drawing comparisons seems futile. You can hear it in every chunk of those melodramatic keyboard flourishes, pained vocal lines, and echoing drum sounds.

3 November 2018

Selling The Precious Things

I've just put a few of my singles up for sale on ebay, and you can see them here. You might even want to bookmark the link to my store, as more will be gradually added (with others going up on Discogs slowly over the coming months as well).

Whenever I do this, I generally get a couple of concerned messages from other record collectors asking why, and worrying about whether I'm in financial trouble or need the cash to pay for an eyebrow transplant or something. Selling bits of your collection off is, after all, unthinkable, isn't it?

While I'm happy to say that I'm not close to the debtor's prison yet, I do live in a very small two-up two-down house which I share with my wife. There are records I either have duplicate copies of, or hardly ever play, or have on LPs in much better condition.... none of them should really be taking up as much space as they are at the moment (confining them to the attic to possibly get warped or damp was the alternative option, and I'd rather they were loved by another keen owner).

Also, there are loads of singles I buy especially for this blog for the purposes of amusing or entertaining you all, but which don't necessarily have a place close to my heart.

The first few up for sale are:

1. Shades of Blue - There Ain't No Use (In Loving Me) - 1965 - Pye stock copy
2. The Kytes - Blessed - 1966 Pye demo
3. Bob Clarke - Haunted - 1971 CBS stock copy
4. The Jeeps - He Saw Eesaw - 1967 Strike stock copy
5. Airwave Orchestra - Channel 4 Theme Fourscore - 1982 Polydor stock copy

If this goes well, more will follow. 

31 October 2018

The Unknowns - Tighter/ Young Enough To Cry

Members of Paul Revere and The Raiders in a contractually necessary 'mystery' guise

Label: Marlin
Year of Release: 1967

When bands emerged in the sixties with names like "The Guess Who" or "The You Know Who Group", the management and label responsible were usually hoping radio programmers and the general public would be suckered by the idea that it was The Beatles or The Stones in disguise. Usually, the story was blander and simpler, and behind those vague monikers lay hungry musicians or producers desperate for a hit. 

On very rare occasions, though, there would be famous people behind the record, and lo and behold, here we have a bona-fide example of that. The Unknowns consist of Mark Lindsay and Keith Allison of Paul Revere and The Raiders collaborating with friend and non-top 40 recording artist Steve Alaimo. The individuals all met while Alaimo was musical director on the television series "Where The Action Is", and began to scheme about the possibility of putting some of The Raiders' lesser known LP tracks across to a wider audience. 

The slightly blandly named The Unknowns were the resulting mystery band, with the individuals in question lying low in order to avoid being caught breaking their respective recording contracts. This had the obvious disadvantage of causing the group to be unable to promote their own releases. The first, "Melody for an Unknown Girl", got to number 74 in the Billboard charts despite this, but the second single "Tighter" seemed to totally fail to capture anyone's attention.

28 October 2018

The Blizzard King - Break On Through/ Strangers In The Night/ In The Ghetto

Bill Drummond and Zodiac Mindwarp take on Morrison, Sinatra and the King of Rock and Roll.

Label: Kalevala
Year of Release: 1997

We've already talked in some depth about Bill Drummond's odd Kalevala label project, and we have now included all but one of the singles released (I'm still holding out for a reasonably priced copy of "Gimpo" by Gimpo). Like most of Drummond's post-KLF projects, it's been an odd, interesting, uneven, but occasionally very rewarding ride. These singles mark the last time he really dabbled with recorded music - the "17" project dealing entirely with one-off live performances - and while they generally indulge his whims rather than point to any directions the KLF might have gone in, Bill's whims are often more entertaining than most artist's considered works.

This record was always, on paper, one of most absurd-sounding of the batch. In Zodiac Mindwarp and Bill Drummond's novel/ road diary/ mesh of truths, half-truths and downright violent fantasy "Bad Wisdom", we learned about a Lebanese Elvis impersonator they had discovered in Finland who looked and sounded uncannily like the King himself. They also wrote about weird sounds they heard being piped through the radio in their car, including strange Finnish language covers of Bruce Springsteen tracks and songs by The Doors.

This is actually quite explicable - anyone who follows the Foreign Cover Versions Twitter feed will know that Finnish language covers of major American and British hits are two a penny, and some are surprisingly well produced given the probable size of the market they're catering for. Caught unawares, however, Drummond began to get obsessed with these sounds and wonder if he was in some parallel universe where everyone, Springteen, John Lydon, Elvis himself, somehow had Finnish heritage.

I visited Finland myself last year, and I can confirm that somehow the country does do funny things to your head, even if you're not Bill Drummond. Everything looks superficially Scandi at first, but the Finns had closer ties to the USSR than most Western European countries, creating a weird hybrid of cultures and a sense of being neither one place or the other. The Finns also possess a particularly dark, unusual sense of humour. While there, I was nearly tipped over the edge by a drawing of a giant demonic rabbit in the window of a barber's shop, which looked closer to my imaginary idea of the Echo spirit Bill Drummond envisaged years ago than anything I'd seen before. There were other odd things too - a man in a penguin suit dancing to out-of-tune cathedral bells, two Maneki-Nekos infinitely stabbing each other to a death that never came in a knife shop window, a rusty trombone in the window of a High Street bank, the creeping sense that if I stayed long enough I'd be told the purpose of why I came and what I was to do with my life next... all of which evaporated and felt embarrassingly nonsensical as soon as I touched down in the UK again. But perhaps that's just me.

Putting personal feelings and experiences aside for one moment, this single tries to reproduce the Finnish flavoured Elvis and Doors sounds Bill and Zed heard. Staying true enough to the original arrangements to feel familiar but just skewed enough to make you feel unsettled, it does a good job of summing up their experiences and acting as the book's "soundtrack", but possibly isn't something the average listener would return to much (unlike some of the other Kalevala releases this blog has documented).

24 October 2018

Reupload - The Monitors - Nobody Told Me

Fantastic and much-neglected early 80s Australian synth-pop

Label: Festival
Year of Release: 1981

The Monitors were fleeting sparks in the steelworks of Australian pop, and - so far as I can tell - didn't really manage to have any impact outside their home country. Formed as a studio ensemble in 1980 by session musicians Mark Moffatt and Terry McCarthy, they're most mentioned these days for their connections with the twin sister actresses Gayle and Gillian Blakeney who eventually joined the TV soap "Neighbours".

The concept was quite simple, and quite cynical if we're being critical. Neither Moffatt or McCarthy were particularly photo or telegenic, and the workaround for this in the band's videos and TV appearances was to involve the young sisters in a variety of ways. While they didn't sing on any of the records, the very young Blakeneys donned Kiss makeup and leapt around a lot for the debut single "Singin' In The 80s", which reached Number 16 on the Australian charts. Such was their visual impact at the time that some people began to believe that The Monitors were the Blakeneys group, rather than them simply being employed as a visual element.

They featured in a rather more subtle way in the video for the follow-up single "Nobody Told Me", which was less successful, peaking at a modest number 32. Unfair, since if you ask me "Nobody Told Me" is a far superior single, sounding incredibly of its time with the pulsing and squeaking synths and melodramatic vocals, but having such a killer hook in the fanfare of a chorus that it's irresistible. The nagging female backing vocals (performed by Kim Durant and mimed by the Blakeneys) are also enormously effective, and it's glorious pop music - Moroder tinged, melancholic and horribly addictive.

21 October 2018

UK Bonds - Anything You Do Is Alright/ The Last Thing I Ever Do

Two sharp slices of 60s Brummie mod-pop

Label: Polydor
Year of Release: 1966

OK, it's very unusual for me to put a record quite this battered-looking up on to "Left and to the Back", but in my defence, it is knackered in a fairly unique way. With an horrendous looking label and the pops and crackles intensifying towards the final moments of the audio, the most severe damage appears to have taken place towards the centre - almost as if somebody had stored it directly next to a four inch circular sander.

Suffice to say, it plays far better than you'd expect, and is a scarce enough record for me to deem it worthy of inclusion here. With tinkling piano lines, crashing Townshend-esque chords, a steady backbeat and icy cool vocals, "Everything You Do Is Alright" is straight ahead mod-pop for switched on kids. The track was also later attempted by Northern Soul favourites Chapter Five on CBS, though copies of that single seem equally tricky to come by.

The flip "The Last Thing I Ever Do" has been compiled on sixties rarities compilations before, but for my tastes isn't as satisfying - the vocals feel a bit less confident and the backing too plodding and pedestrian by comparison. 

17 October 2018

Bill - Car Boot Sale/ John Parr

Oddly despairing Steve Wright sponsored novelty single on the pointlessness of car boot consumerism

Label: Mercury
Year of Release: 1993

"Listen to Steve Wright In The Afternoon. Viewed from a certain angle the man is a genius. Find that angle and view. He is the most popular DJ in the country. He has been the heartbeat of the British psyche since 1985. You don't even have to like him to be awed by him. This... is not an attempt at obvious irony, it is for real."
Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty - "The Manual - How to Have a Number One the Easy Way"

Over the years, the above paragraph from the KLF's guide to making number one hits has troubled me. Once they've mentioned Steve Wright in relation to their summer smash "Doctorin' The Tardis", some parallels become very clear - Wrighty even used comedy dalek voices on his show, though noticeably after Drummond and Cauty used them first (and after Victor Lewis Smith, for that matter).

One person who has suggested that Steve Wright might actually be more of a subversive than you'd expect is Richard Easter, his radio sidekick for many years, who was responsible for a vast number of the comedy characters and musical sketches which littered his Radio One show. Easter's work-rate was actually phenomenal. Whereas most comedy writers will tend to focus their efforts on material for a couple of radio or television series a year, he rapidly contributed a lot of work to Wright's radio show five days a week, continually bearing the broad Radio One audience in mind. As such, it's not surprising that characters like Dr. Fish Filliter or Arnie Terminator's angry consumer complaints aren't necessarily award-winning or groundbreaking material, but all were short, sharp, absurd, almost always utterly silly and occasionally unexpectedly close to the (fish) bone. As comedic contributions to a mainstream radio show go, they were far more successful than most attempts at the time, and helped to keep Wright's ratings buoyant and people like me listening.

Easter was also a keen writer of catchy novelty ditties, which saw him score a bona-fide major hit through Epic Records with Arnee and the Terminators "I'll Be Back" (penned in two hours and apparently never intended for commercial release, though it seems to have inadvertently invented the sound of Scooter). Doubtless other major labels were keen to capture the lightning success of that unlikely hit, and Mercury obviously felt his satirical melodic musings on the tedium of car boot sales - repeated at extremely regular intervals throughout Steve Wright's show - would be the next top ten smash in line.