28 February 2018

The Langleys - Green Island/ You Know I Love You

Brother-sister duo from Belfast with pretty beat pop. 

Label: Fontana
Year of Release: 1965

The Langleys were Jerry Langley and Mary Perpetual Langley from Belfast who both enjoyed rich and varied careers, whether as part of the duo, or as solo artists. 

"Green Island" was their first crack at the big time, and as a duo is certainly their biggest selling single, even if it failed to chart. This isn't particularly surprising - despite its fluffy naiveté, it's nonetheless a touching and deftly performed song about their native country. The frothy chorus may have some readers reaching for their sickbags, but for me it stops just short of being saccharine and sounds like exactly what it probably is; two teenagers who have yet to become too weary and cynical about the world performing a very pretty track.

The flip "You Know I Love You" is a bit more credible, being a slice of faintly soulful beat pop which was penned by the male half of the duo. Both sides are aided by very effective, but uncredited, arrangements.

Of the pair, Mary - or "Perpetual" as she was occasionally more commonly known - went on to have the most successful recording career, scoring contracts with both Shel Talmy's Planet label and CBS. Her recording of "Surrender" with its Talmy production is frequently heralded as her best piece of work, and while she never managed to score a proper hit, her performances were always very strong indeed. With a bit more luck, and perhaps more care with her promotion, there's every possibility she would have had a more prominent career.

Sadly, she died in an accident in 1988 at the age of 38, apparently at a point in her life where another record contract seemed likely. Her brother Jerry went on to pen "Ask Any Woman", which was one of Sandie Shaw's possible songs for the "Eurovision Song Contest" in 1968, and is still active as a musician. 

24 February 2018

Reupload - Austin Van Driver and the Morrismen - Salt & Vinegar

Chirpy 70s cockney punk-pop about everyone's favourite chippy condiments. 

Label: Pye
Year of Release: 1979

It's a work-in-progress bedroom demo for Blur's "Parklife"!  It's Mike Skinner of The Streets with a Casiotone demo of his missing chippy "dinnertime" track from "A Grand Don't Come For Free"!  It's Eddie Argos out of Art Brut doing an ironic advert for the British Potato Council!  It's Chas and Dave getting unusually belligerent and demanding in a Leytonstone Fish and Chip shop!  It's... well, it's all of these things, but it's actually none of these things as well.  Sorry.

However, we can definitely classify this as a curio from the arse-end of the life of Pye Records which was clearly meant to be a summer novelty pop smash.  Had a particularly influential daytime Radio One DJ taken a shine to this it probably would have been a hit, but we can only assume that they failed to see the potential - or rather, that Pye at this stage in their corporate lives were utterly incapable of getting anyone's attention at the Beeb.

There's something very cheesy and cheap about the record, and it's received thorough drubbings elsewhere on the Interweb, but I genuinely like it - it's unpretentious, snappy and decidedly silly, siphoning off the credible influences of Madness and Ian Dury and squeezing them into a novelty blender.  The lyrics focussed entirely upon the act of putting salt and vinegar on chips are utterly facile and ridiculous, but sometimes pop music needs such idiocy.  Had it been even a minor hit, there's a strong probability it would have become awfully irritating very quickly, but as a flop it's harmless, cheerful and sprightly.

It's not clear who Austin Van Driver and the Morrismen were, but certainly the involvement of Phil Hampson on the songwriting credit is something of a giveaway to the fact that they were a one-off project.  Hampson has produced numerous pieces of soundtrack work and one-off novelty singles over the years, including "The Sparrow" by The Ramblers,  "Matchstalk Men and Matchstalk Cats and Dogs" by Brian and Michael, and (perhaps more credibly) the "Spiral Scratch" EP for The Buzzcocks, as well as work for Slaughter and the Dogs and The Fall.  This particular single is probably stylistically halfway between Brian & Michael and The Buzzcocks, and as bizarre as you'd expect given that.

21 February 2018

Chuckles - Never/ Painting The Day

Tightly arranged and performed 60s pop from Mancs featured on "Piccadilly Sunshine"

Label: CBS
Year of Release: 1969

Chuckles - or "The Chuckles" as they were known prior to the late sixties - were a powerful gigging band with a solid reputation in the Manchester area. Starting off as a soul group and gradually evolving into a slick pop style, they were known for their highly competent cover versions, including an apparently impressive live take on the Beach Boys "Good Vibrations" (which I'd have been very curious to hear).

They were signed to Polydor in 1966 after a rep from that company spoke to their manager on the phone while he was present at one of their gigs, and heard the wild audience applause in the background. This must surely count as one of the few group signings done on the basis of overheard noise over a phone call. While Polydor didn't regret the deal and put out "Three Short Days", the single completely flopped, and they were cut loose for awhile, only to re-emerge on CBS for two singles in 1968.

"Never" was their last shot at a hit, and is very smartly arranged and smoothly delivered, filled with warm vocal harmonies and bright, brassy sounds. While it failed to perform much better in terms of sales, it's since picked up some keen admirers online, and the flip side "Painting The Day" has become commercially available again thanks to an appearance on the "Piccadilly Sunshine" compilation series. For that reason we can't include it for download here, but head over to YouTube if you want to hear more.

There's also a section on the "Manchester Beat" website giving much more information on the group's line-up and history. 

18 February 2018

The Learning Process - Who Killed Carol? (EP)

Superb atmospheric eighties alternative rock.

Label: Bucket
Year of Release: 1988

In the public's rush to buy all manner of obscure self-released/ indie records from the eighties, it's often staggering how little sense the prices on the collector's market make. You can expect to pay three figure sums for some frankly uninspiring generic pieces of gloomy bedroom No Wave, and then records like this sell for under ten pounds.

"Who Killed Carol?" is exactly thirty years old this month, and enters sounding like a slice of common-or-garden harmony driven folk music, and gradually builds, sweeping across a monochromatic landscape which grows more dramatic as jangly guitars join icy synths, pounding drums and hollering vocals. Stylistically, it owes as much a debt to Talk Talk as it does to The Smiths, meaning The Learning Process ultimately end up falling between the cracks of mid-eighties indie and the more dramatic, adventurous elements of post-punk.

The EP in general shows a group much more interested in meandering atmospherics than classic, catchy pop, which will alienate probably as many readers as it attracts. Track 3 "From The Outside In" sounds pleasingly vast, whereas the final track "My Greatest Fears" combines a propulsive, industrial drive with delicate, ever-shifting arrangements and keening vocals. Staggeringly, I've stumbled across bands in London venues in recent years who sound exactly like this - The Learning Process sound surprisingly current for a band of such a vintage.

The sleeve lists the band's membership as Dermot O'Dea on guitar and vocals, Brian Hoyle on drums, Alan MacLardy on Keyboards, John Kerslake on guitars and Martin Gilbert on bass guitar. The EP was recorded at the Suite 16 studios in Rochdale, so it's fair to assume the band were probably local. There appear to have been no follow-ups, and beyond that, I know nothing - but thanks to all of them for producing such fine piece of work. It's a shame we didn't get to hear much more.

If the previews below aren't working on your computer, go right to the source here. 

14 February 2018

The Clown - He Was A Singer/ Rock n Roll Man

Falsetto singing clown with a rather bombastic tune. Don't ask me. 

Label: CBS
Year of Release: 1977

While my curiosity was tweaked by the seller claiming that this was a "glam rock" record (don't get excited - it's not), I have to admit I really bought it on the strength of the sleeve. Just look at that clown. See his moody, masculine gaze, staring out into the middle distance, beyond the flaps of the big top, out into a world where he could be a super singing star... it's both absurd, amusing and slightly frightening all at the same time (and it might even feed into the fantasies of anyone out there with a clown fetish).

The track itself is a melodramatic piece of orchestral bombast with vocals that occasionally veer into a high falsetto. "He is a winner/ but sometimes a sinner/ THE CLOWN... he's the fire/ we are the flame... THE CLOWN" the singer informs us somewhat disturbingly. Melodically, it pushes closely towards "Delilah" and the soundtrack to a seventies disaster film. If this doesn't bring lots of images of the BBC Testcard into your mind's eye, or weird incidents in the middle of "The Poltergeist", you're a stronger person than I.

The flip "Rock N Roll Man" is a bit of rock and roll bar-room boogie which is surprisingly mid-paced and gentle and lacks the kind of dynamism you'd expect given the title.

I have absolutely no idea who "The Clown" was, apart from perhaps a metaphor for showbusiness and the deep, dark depression behind the jokes and gags of the humble circus entertainer. This appears to have been his only single, and so far as I can ascertain it was only released in Germany. If anyone has any more information, they know what to do.

11 February 2018

Reupload - The Daytonas - Faster Gimpo Faster Kill! Kill! Kill!

Bill Drummond & Zodiac Mindwarp produce a very convincing 60s surf rock record.

Label: Kalevala
Year of Release: 1997

Some time ago, you may remember me talking about Zodiac Mindwarp and Bill Drummond of the KLF collaborating on a project in Finland consisting entirely of imaginary bands releasing one-off singles in limited runs of 500 copies on the here-today-gone-tomorrow label Kalevala records.  I have already written about one of these items, Dracula's Daughter's "Candy", and I was absolutely staggered to see this one turn up in a local charity shop for £1 recently. Obscure limited edition singles with links to the KLF don't just turn up in thrift stores with dismissive price tags attached, after all - that's the stuff of fantasies, like Beach Boys acetates being left on garden walls.

It's an especially thrilling turn-up for the books as this is one of the prime cuts of Drummond's last real music industry folly.  While some of these Kalevala singles trough into mediocrity or just plain silliness, "Faster Gimpo Faster Kill! Kill! Kill!" is a spot-on parody of early sixties surf guitar music, featuring throttling guitar riffs, a squeaking organ, a stripped back drum kit, dramatic flourishes and hollering backing vocals akin to the Red Army Choir.  Only the stereo mix betrays the modern origins of the record and makes it sound like a nineties rather than sixties construction, the roughness and rawness of the sound is in all other respects perfect.  If this were an actual obscure sixties record, there's no question it would have made it on to this blog on its own merits.

The B-side, on the other hand, isn't a proper remix as one might suspect but the original track overloaded with sixties studio effects.  Even Joe Meek would have stopped short of calling it a good idea.

As for why the Kalevala project existed in the first place, Drummond is oddly forthcoming in his book "45": "The fact was, none of these bands existed anywhere but in our imagination.  Mind you, that's where all great bands exist. Being in a band or into a band is all about building, living out and worshipping (or loathing) a myth.  Doing it this way, Z and I were safe from confusing our various alter egos with our real selves".  

He goes on further: "When people ask me, 'Don't you miss the music business, Bill?' I try to tell them that the music business is about making unsuccessful bands successful.  Successful bands by their very definition are as interesting as packets of cornflakes.  No, it's strange, weird, fucked-up, unsuccessful pop music I dig.  Deluded pop music that wants to be successful and can't understand why it isn't…. records from places far away, by people who have no understanding of how things work in the worlds of London or LA but think they do. Records with crap sleeves".  

Perfect sentiments for this blog, really.

8 February 2018

The New Survivors - Pickle Protest/ But I Know

Odd 60s garage rock record referencing the protest movement. 

Label: Scepter
Year of Release: 1968

Here's a bit of a mystery. This 1968 garage rock record has a sparse organ-driven arrangement and a southern USA accented lead vocal, and appears to be referring to the protest movement and trying not to get itself into a tizz about the fact that "Red China's got the bomb". We are urged quite strongly that one way of not getting ourselves into too much of a panic about the world ending might be to just move our "happy feet".

I can't argue with that, really, since this attitude is what has made most popular music such a powerful force for time immemorial, through wars, recessions, and general uncertainty, but the lead singer's continual hiccups of laughter throughout - which sound like an accident initially, but are clearly staged - make me think this whole affair is a bit of a piss-take. It's intriguing, and quite catchy, and presumably made a lot more sense in 1968 than it does now and was possibly referencing a specific incident ("What is a 'pickle protest' anyway?" you might ask, and I can't help you there).

The B-side "But I Know" is a much more serious and soulful ballad which is actually a preferable listen for me. When I originally ripped these sides to mp3, I had to double-check my sources to check that "Pickle Protest" definitely was the original plug side - and it would seem that was the case.

It apparently picked up quite a bit of airplay in some US states, but wasn't a hit as a result, and The New Survivors seemingly didn't go on to record anything else. I've no idea who they were, but if anyone can enlighten me, I'd be grateful.

4 February 2018

Bill Oddie - I Can't Get Through/ Because She Is My Love

A serious crack at a conventional pop hit from Oddie, and it's a moody delight.

Label: Parlophone
Year of Release: 1966

Bill Oddie is, it's safe to say, mostly famed for two things - one is The Goodies, the other his birdwatching activities. He's also been no slacker on either front, given that The Goodies is one of those strangely under-rated shows which deserves more repeats than it gets, and his outspoken views on wildlife conservation show that his other passion goes far beyond mere hobbyism.

However, Oddie's musical chops have been rather under-explored. This is possibly because The Goodies put out a slew of novelty singles in the seventies which, while well arranged and written, weren't likely to cause the ears of hip collectors to prick up. A keen viewer of The Goodies, however, might have picked up on how sharp, clever and even absurd many of their musical parodies could be - "R-O-C-K Rock", for example, was a minimal and chaotic piss-take of fifties rock & roll which sounded both like a work of brilliant comedy, and also something you might have heard on the John Peel show at 11:30 in the evening. And if that sounds outlandish, it's not - Peel signed Oddie to his Dandelion label for one single as well, to record a version of "On Ilkla Moor Baht'at" in the style of Joe Cocker's version of "With A Little Help From My Friends".  

Going back way before that, however, Oddie did very briefly try his hand at becoming a conventional pop star, and this attempt really hits the bell. Beginning with the kind of slow, creeping bassline regularly utilised by The Walker Brothers, then slowly unfolding into an epic piece of soulful moodiness, it's a very good piece of songwriting and production with a surprisingly powerful vocal performance on top. Oddie is clearly inspired by Gene Pitney's melodramatic delivery, but his voice has a confident ache of its own. Not for no reason has this regularly been described as one of the best 'serious' singles put out by a celebrity (even Craig Charles gave it a spin on his radio show recently). 

The B-side "Because She Is My Love" is another showcase for Oddie's vocals, though is rather more easy listening than its more intense plug side. 

So far as I'm aware, Bill Oddie has no plans at all to revive his musical career, but singles like this one are enough to make you wish he'd had a more determined crack at it back in the sixties. Music's loss was comedy's gain. 

Sorry for the pops and clicks in the version below, but if you want to hear a cleaner version, YouTube can help.