31 March 2018

Drill - If I Could Read Your Mind/ Pretty Girls

The Gordon Lightfoot hit given a strange New Wave interpretation

Label: RCA
Year of Release: 1980

To a lot of people in the UK, Gordon Lightfoot is essentially a one-hit wonder, a Canadian curiosity whose sole chart entry "If You Could Read My Mind" occasionally gets airplay on Radio Two, or used in television soundtracks. It's a situation I've never quite got my head around. Skip across the ocean to Canada (or the USA for that matter) and he's something of a legend. Bob Dylan referred to him as the greatest folk singer of all time, and while I perhaps wouldn't stretch my praise that far, his LPs are all worth a punt, and usually turn up in the bargain bucket of your local second hand record emporium. Buy them at low prices while you still can - a record store cashier recently told me they're selling far faster than they used to. Quality and class always gets noticed in the end. 

The New Wave band Drill, who we've already featured on the blog with their single "Juliet", clearly had a certain fondness for Lightfoot, as they decided to take his sole British hit and inject it with their own inimitable style. Listening to it for the first time is a jarring experience. It's such a complete retooling of the track that it's initially barely recognisable, and you've got to give the group credit for not making this a slightly idle, angry punky facsimile. 

28 March 2018

Ten Years of Left & To The Back - Top of the Back

In the ten years "Left and to the Back" has been in existence, there's one question people have stopped me in the street to ask more often than most.

"Hey Dave," they tend to say, "of all the tracks you've uploaded to your legendary blog, which I understand was once given a twenty-five word mention in The Guardian as one of their internet picks of the week in 2010, which has been the most viewed?"

And you know what, I've never really had an answer, because I've never been bothered enough to check. Until now, that is.

The simple truth is that the most popular blog entries on here have always been about novelty records or one hit wonders rather than sixties records slowly building an underground reputation. There was a point in the blog's life when Freddie Starr's "It's You" accounted for about a tenth of all its traffic, which probably depressed me sufficiently to never want to check the stats in microscopic depth ever again.

Hopelessly obscure Christmas singles have also often held a special allure around December time, presumably from people bored of the traditional shopping centre fare and seeking something different to listen to. Oh, and if a group or artist ends up on a "Top of the Pops" repeat, it has roughly the same effect on overall public interest as it did in the good old days when people would buy the singles in Woolworths the following afternoon.

Anyway, the charts are in, and here are the top ten most-read entries.

1. The Snowmen - Nik Nak Paddywak

This one holds the pole position with remarkable ease, and not really (I suspect) on any particular merit, least of all the quality of my research at that point. BBC4 have frequently repeated a Christmas edition of TOTP2 which features these four wobbling around on stage precariously, and an on-screen info box 'fact' that "Ian Dury or Jona Lewie are rumoured to be behind the single".

Some blog readers suspect that the BBC's research team simply lifted this speculation (and it really is just speculation) from the blog entry on "Left and to the Back", but to be honest, it's boosted our readership no end every Christmas time as readers Google in from all corners of the UK, so I won't grumble.

As for who was behind the single, I'm delighted to report it was actually session musician and library music jobber Martin Kershaw, whose other works include "Music Inspired By Birds" and "The Magic of Acoustic Guitars". It's hard to imagine this fact turning up inside any BBC info-box in the near future.

I doubt my publication of the above will put anyone off believing that Ian Dury might have been behind the record, though, or cause the BBC to re-edit their show for future repeats.

2. Fun And Games - Grooviest Girl In The World

This is absolutely one of the best sixties bubblegum singles, albeit one that sold in disappointing quantities at the time, and I'm really not surprised to see it so high in the stats. Here's what we said:

"This actually just as easily sits somewhere between garage pop and glam. Filled with shouts of "Hey!", fuzzed up guitars, close vocal harmonies, thumping drums and pure joy, it's as close to pop perfection as the late sixties ever got. Placing this on your turntable is like inviting the contents of a local fairground into your living room - the hooks spin around your head and flash with neon colours until it all becomes a little bit over-exciting."

And clearly an awful lot of people agree.

 Paul Phillips, yer man behind the wheel here, was kind and generous enough to actually write to me a few years back offering me permission to host this mp3 on my blog for free, and perhaps unsurprisingly it's been a popular entry ever since. I strongly suspect that most people are going to the page to quickly grab the mp3 to download, but even so, I delivered an honest assessment of what I feel is a somewhat underrated song.

"The truth is that "Car 67" is a peculiarly innovative pop record which is loaded with gimmicks, and as a result sounds quite unlike anything else that was in the charts at that time. There's no punk spikiness here, no moonlight soul crooning, no early evening variety show-friendly chirpiness. Initially it appears to essentially be an earthily sung ballad... perched on top of a repetitive riff with spoken interjections from a switchboard operator from Birmingham. Having set out its bizarre stall quite early on, the song then weaves a narrative around the jilted cabbie, slowly revealing the source of his angst and woe in the manner a country songwriter would be proud of, taking various little musical backstreets and detours along the way. The mournful outro, in particular, is wonderful."

4. Regents - See You Later

This minor late punk hit with its terrifying minimalist B-side was unavailable for some years, leading to it gaining a slot on "Left and to the Back". Since that entry was written, the group has appeared on "Top of the Pops" repeats, the single and the group's other works have been reissued on iTunes, and order has been restored to the world, meaning a reupload of this is - unfortunately - never going to happen.

5. Darwin's Theory - Daytime/ Hosanna

The B-side of this track was featured on the "Chocolate Soup For Diabetics" series and for a brief period last decade became a popular spin in sixties garage clubs, which almost certainly accounts for its incredibly high placing here. It doesn't hurt that the A-side wasn't bad either, featuring a piece of stoned, Dylanesque early psychedelia about a girlfriend who just won't 'give out'.

This has also been reissued and compiled more times over than I can count now. As for who Darwin's Theory were, why, none other than the slightly unpredictable and madcap French group Les Cinq Gentlemen making a bid for UK success which never materialised.

6. Joy Sarney - Naughty Naughty Naughty

A minor, bouncy novelty hit about a wife-beater ("he's been in trouble with the law for grevious bodily harm/ I'm his puppet, but he won't pull my strings") being compared to Mr Punch, this was always going to attract readers who perhaps couldn't quite believe it even existed in the first place. I suspect that many people Googled this after wondering whether they were remembering some awful childhood cheese dream or an incident that actually occurred in real life.

Repeat showings on "Top of the Pops" and other clip shows highlighting awful seventies television kept it high on everyone's reading lists, and it remains jaw-droppingly weird to this day.

7. Hylda Baker and Arthur Mullard - You're The One That I Want

Whereas at least in this case everyone involved was aiming for sheer awfulness. This version of the Grease classic actually sold far better at the time than subsequent reports have suggested, even after the pair's disastrous "Top of the Pops" performance.  It was lapped up by the public, some of whom might have been people who enjoyed the perverse thrashing it gave to Greasemania at the time, others (like my Dad) who just found the sound of two cumbersome old sods trying to sound raunchy hysterically funny.

Clearly the fact it's the 7th most read "Left and to the Back" entry indicates there are many others who wanted another sip at this particular fountain. Mine is not to reason why.

8. Microdisney - Everybody Is Fantastic

This is no longer available for download due to the emergence of official remasters and reissues since, but it's heartening to see it picked up so much appreciation. The band's sound hadn't quite solidified yet, and some of the production values of this LP are rather low-rent, but it nonetheless contains some wonderful material. Or, as I put it at the time:

"There are moments on here that clearly show the direction they were heading in - by far the most impressive track here (and the sole single) is "Dolly", an acoustically plucked, warped ballad referencing bitter drunkenness and poverty, featuring the fantastic kiss-off line "Send me love and peace/ two more things I can't afford". "Dreaming Drains" follows a similar pattern, the spite against eighties decadence shining through the slightly muddy production."

9. Susan Fassbender - Twilight Cafe

Damn you lot, this should be a hell of a lot higher (and I suspect would be if a free download had actually been in the offing). Susan Fassbender and her songwriting and performing partner Kay Russell just had this one minor hit in the eighties, and it remains a floor-filler to this day - a pumping great New Wave inspired ditty which is immediately recognisable despite its somewhat modest chart resting place.

The blog entry goes into enormous depth about Fassbender and Russell and their other work, a lot of which has recently been issued for the very first time.

10. Camille - White Christmas

The Christmas singles I uploaded to the blog in 2017 were unusually popular, and none more so than this one, which was a strange one-off synth-pop version of "White Christmas" produced by Mike Thorne (of Wire and Soft Cell production fame). I still have absolutely no idea who was behind it, but it's a fascinating curiosity.

Bubbling under: The Crew, Yellow Chair, Peter and Gordon's "Hot Cold & Custard", Freddie bloody Starr, and Sue Wilkinson.

26 March 2018

Ten Years of Left & To The Back - Things That Make You Go "Hmmm"

Over the last ten years this blog has covered songs which, while not awful, have certainly been unusual and unexpected. Perhaps they've featured a celebrity from children's television apparently singing about masturbation, or the singer of the "Rupert The Bear" theme going on about the wonders of the space age in a pie-eyed manner for ICI Pharmaceuticals, or a sixties garage band screaming their tribute to a particular brand of socks...

Here's six entries which, for one reason or another, took me aback when I first found them.

1. Mick Robertson - Then I Change Hands (CBS)

"Magpie" presenter Mick Robertson was something of a poster-boy for British children's television in the seventies, and it was solely as a result of this - and certainly not, by anyone's confession, his vocal talents - that CBS Executive Clive Selwood signed him to his independent production company to immortalise his essence on wax.

Unfortunately for Robertson, various other executives at the record label weren't enthused about the project, and didn't put their all into the marketing and promotion of his singles. Their enthusiasm might perhaps have been more notable if "Then I Change Hands" didn't appear, on the surface at least, to be a ditty about compulsive masturbation. It's actually a creepy and compelling listen, which sounds more like a nineties effort by The Auteurs or Baby Bird than a 1975 single made by a "TV dreamboat". The arrangement, managed by production genius Richard Hewson, is also extremely well done. But a hit single? While the early seventies had a greater than usual tolerance for interesting art rock ideas, this didn't stand a hope. Not until Pulp's "This Is Hardcore" was put out as a single in 1998 did such a rich arrangement accompanying such an uneasy idea bother the mainstream again.

2. Lemon Men - I've Seen You Cut Lemons (Polydor)

"I've seen you burn children... and leave them to diiiieee..." Right you are then, mate.

All is not really as it appears with this single, and its morbid and uneasy atmosphere probably only makes sense within its intended environment. The Sean Connery directed play of the same name - about a man who lived with his unstable bi-polar sister - was playing at a London theatre at this time, and the tune was released in conjunction with its launch.

Connery's influence really couldn't make the play a hit, though, and it closed after five nights, meaning this single was irrelevant and severed of all context within days of its release. Its sole purpose since seems to have been to confuse record collectors like me who have unexpectedly found a single about someone's unstable sister scalding children nestling in the remainder racks.

3. Carpetbaggers - Sorry (Page One)

The Allied Carpets jingle "Allied for carpets for you!" burst its way out of many a television in the seventies and eighties, its instantly recognisable cheeriness helping to make the carpet retail outlet a huge success.

By 1982 Larry Page seemed to think that it might be a good idea to create a hit single around the jingle, and for reasons known only to themselves, a group of session men bashed out a version that sounded as if it had been covered by Sparks. If you've ever envisaged the Mael brothers stalking around carpet warehouses on industrial estates pulling faces at the browsing customers, this single is probably for you. Apparently that wasn't a huge demographic in 1982, though, and it completely flopped.

4. Don Crown - Budgerigar Man (Orange)

"Budgerigars they are my friends!/ You may laugh but they understand me" Don Crown informs us at the start of this single, and as openers go, it's tricky to top that one. Absurd and self-aware all at once (he seems to understand immediately that the first line is going to meet with mockery, so references everyone's pshawing with the second) he's already got us by the short and curlies. The rest of the song is a bit psychedelic as well as slightly Disneyfied and Bob Dylanised all at once, making for a unique and yet actually surprisingly enjoyable brew.

Until he recently retired, Don Crown was Britain's premier budgie busker, working with his birds at sites across England (and, in particular, London). An eccentric and fascinating man, he arguably deserved more fame than he got, but his act was possibly rather too niche for mainstream consumption.

5. The Saucers (aka Keith Chegwin and Maggie Philbin) - Spring Has Sprung (BBC)  

Strange though it may sound to 2018 readers, Cheggers and Maggie were no strangers to the charts, having had a hit (with Noel Edmonds on gurning duties) with "I Wanna Be A Winner" in 1981.

"Spring Has Sprung" attempted to capitalise on that early promise, and BA Robertson penned this song for them which - amazingly - is actually quite good. Filled with catchy synthetic twittering noises, a nagging chorus, and Maggie Philbin sounding rather seductive, it sounds like a slightly less elaborately produced Dollar record and was a very unfortunate flop indeed. Had it charted, who knows where their pop career might have gone next?

6. Dora Hall In General (Various Vanity Labels)

I'd like to think of Dora Hall as being the Queen of "Left and to the Back". Married to a millionaire disposable picnicware mogul in the USA, he threw an astonishing amount of money into her dreams of superstardom, issuing giveaway records and (later on) videos. No money was spared on the production and arrangements, which usually featured musicians as notable as the Wrecking Crew. As a middle-aged woman her moment for popular music stardom had obviously passed, but hundreds of discs were issued regardless.

While Dora Hall's voice isn't something of incredible strength, the records are often better than you'd expect, and some are actually pretty damn good. In particular, "Pretty Boy" and her cover of The Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction" - both featured on the blog - are fascinating. It's only when you see video footage of Hall hobnobbing with stars like Frank Sinatra Jr on her own paid-for cable TV special that the cringeworthy elements of the exercise start to kick in - but even then, there's not an absence of fun.

Before the internet or vloggers were even 'a thing', Dora Hall barged her way on to people's screens and record players on her own terms and seemed to have a whale of a time doing so.

24 March 2018

Ten Years of Left & To The Back - "Where Do You Get This SHIT FROM?!"

Hello readers. We're continuing our journey of some of the most interesting moments on "Left and to the Back" over the last ten years. What? Did I hear someone at the back mutter "self-indulgent"? Of course it is. I don't get paid for this, you know.

The title of this blog entry is borrowed from one of my wife's catchphrases. She tends to shout these words out when she walks into a room while I'm playing a record featuring a falsetto singing German clown, or a fictional Finnish death metal band, or a cheesy disco cover of a Beatles classic. The delivery of the line tends to change depending on the nature of the song. Sometimes it's shocked, sometimes despairing, sometimes downright angry (in these cases, it will be followed up with the line "Just... just take it off, for Christ's sake").

While the "World's Worst Records" blog should always be your prime go-to source for howlingly terrible discs, I'd like to think I've done a little bit to spread some misery into the world too. It's been a constant source of fascination to me over the years how much absolute shite executives at record labels have signed off as suitable for the public at large. Indeed, some of this stuff possibly shouldn't even have been thought up, never mind recorded, which brings us neatly on to our first single.

1. Pierre Cour - Letter To A Teenage Bride (Charisma)

Words almost fail me. On the surface, this appears to be a single about the rough marital rape of a reluctant teenage bride pining for her parents, with the monologue delivered by someone who sounds like Kenny Everett's character Marcel Wave. Well, I say "on the surface"... if you think further listens reveal hidden artistic depths, subtle satire or perhaps a joke lost in cultural translation, you'd be mistaken.

I'd never heard this single in my life before I played it on my stereo, and after the first listen I stayed rooted to the spot in a state of shock for about thirty seconds wondering if I'd really heard correctly. It's as if Pierre Cour heard Peter Wyngarde's "Rape" and felt the track was far too subtle for its own good, and needed a decent narrative and some extra layers of vulgarity to really hit home.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, female staff at Charisma Records refused to handle the publicity or marketing for this one, and it didn't get a proper release as a result. If you don't want to listen to it, I frankly wouldn't blame you.

2. Derek Jameson - Do They Mean Us? (Polydor)

With its sleeve apparently depicting a dishevelled and seemingly drunken Jameson masturbating outside Number 10 Downing Street, you'd expect some sort of political message from this record, however basic and coarse. You'd be disappointed, though, as "Do They Mean Us?" just features Jameson ranting and rambling indecipherably across three minutes while occasionally demanding "Show us yer British bottle!"

As I said at the time: "It's like being drunk and tired in the back of a black cab, dozing off while the cab driver shouts his various grievances to you, then waking up again only to find that you've lost the thread of whatever the fuck he was talking about in the first place, and he's moved on to something else... then repeat to fade."

The B-side "Yes Virginia There Is A Santa Claus" shows Jameson's sensitive side and at least makes some coherent sense, but is no less odd, not least because by the time it finishes his quivering, emotional tones force you to suspect that he really does think Father Christmas is real. What a strange man he was.

3. Grahame Lister - Fish 'n' Chips In Spain (Bark)

Conceptually, there's nothing all that wrong with "Fish 'n' Chips In Spain". It's just a harmless novelty record about a fun holiday abroad, filled with daft quips ("Si Si seƱorita Monty Pyfon is me bruvva-in-law") and a bit of a line-dancing groove.

For some reason, though, I've found it particularly potent in its ability to irritate, not only due to its naff jokes and nudge-nudge-wink-wink-say-no-more atmosphere, but also the bar-room musical arrangement (just wait to hear that "b-dum bum bum" bass guitar solo as the song reaches its crescendo). Lister had been involved with The Firm's "Star Trekkin" so you could argue he was no stranger to irritating records, but this doesn't so much take the biscuit as push an entire family pack of Party Circles down your throat all at once without taking off the outer wrapper. Rumour has it that Lister presently works for Putin and is successfully composing songs so teeth-grittingly annoying that they cause the heads of Russia's enemies to explode.

4. Buster Gobsmack Eats Filth - We Wanna Be Famous (BBC)

For some reason, the studio audience of "That's Life" found punks hysterically funny in the late eighties, hooting with laughter whenever one of Esther Rantzen's smiling stooges vox-popped them in the street. In fact, by 1987 the only time you seemed to see non-celebrity punks on mainstream television would be when Adrian Mills asked one of them to yodel outside their local Woolworths, which caused one spiky young man to tell him to piss off and stop being so silly. ("Good, I'm glad somebody's actually told him" - my Mum).

Perhaps mindful of this, Mills and his cohort Grant Baynham recorded this point-missing monstrosity for an episode, which doesn't really sound like a parody of a punk single so much as two drunken tramps bashing around on some random instruments they've found while shouting about Terry Wogan and Sue Lawley. It does feature the inspired but faintly inexplicable line "We're gonna spit at the camera-man!", though, which is its sole saving grace. Otherwise, one of the most diabolical records I've ever heard, and the fact that it achieves that status partly by design doesn't excuse it.

5. Jimmy Cross - I Want My Baby Back (Wanted)

No real surprises here. "I Want My Baby Back" won Kenny Everett's World's Worst Records programme in the seventies, and it hasn't aged well either. However, in my opinion the four records above it are worse, proving that the more time passes, the more dross miraculously escapes from record company headquarters.

"I Want My Baby Back" is about the tragic death of a young man's girlfriend in a vehicle crash, and takes the death disc concept to a whole new level with its ghastly punchline. Like "We Wanna Be Famous", this single clearly wants to be disliked for humorous effect, but what's seldom mentioned is how much of a one-play wonder it is. Once the joke is revealed, there's nothing here to really make you want to play it again. It's a slightly trite, bad taste comedy sketch committed to vinyl, the sixties equivalent of an attention seeking sicko YouTube video.

6. Nadine Expert - I Wanna Be A Rollin' Stone (CBS)

If your wish is to hear an ex-associate of Bill Wyman's seductively yelping and purring her way through a disco medley of Rolling Stones songs (including an absurdly joyous rendition of "Paint It Black") while struggling to hit any of the right notes, then everything you could possibly want is here. The sleeve of this single is arguably the most tasteful thing about it.

22 March 2018

Ten Years of Left & To The Back - Six Of The Best

Us crate diggers may be optimistic souls, but I'd like to think that we're not too unrealistic. When we're in our local charity shop or Music and Video Exchange, we're not there expecting to find 'lost classics'. In the digital age, almost anything half-decent has already been posted to YouTube within days of the buyer finding it. Actual classic LPs or singles? Forget it, buster. Beauty will always be in the eyes (or ears) of the beholder, but the chances of that vanity pressed folk LP from 1975 actually being amazing, and me being the first person to actually properly listen to it since then... well, if I believed in such regular occurrences, I'd have a very heavy direct debit set up for the National Lottery twice a week.

Like most people of my ilk, what I'm hoping to find are good new noises that will give me an unexpected kick througout the next working week, and perhaps beyond if they're good enough to have any longevity. If I can find some amusing howlers or some baffling oddments on the way (and more on those later) that might also enliven my days too.

What I'd like to think "Left and to the Back" has managed to do over the last ten years is very occasionally  find records that in a just and sane world would have been hits, and certainly could have gained a wider, more appreciative audience. Here's six such records I would urge you to investigate if you haven't done so already.

1. Orphan - Julie Isn't Julie In The Bath (Brilliant)

Uploads from the eighties tend to get a rather weak response from this blog's readers, but this one really is a wonderful piece of work. New Wave with a vaguely psychedelic bent which focuses its lyrical attention on the secretive life of a transsexual, this boils over with everything - a subtle chorus which just sounds better with each play, some none-more-eighties synth and guitar riff interplay, and driving beats. Sounding like a lost top ten hit, it seemingly only suffered due to its issue on a small indie label, and the fact that it was really Orphan's last throw of the dice before splitting up. Nothing tends to kill interest in a single more than it being released by a group who have already been a hitless going concern for years.

2. Black Velvet - African Velvet (Beacon)

While this one is reasonably well-known to anyone who attends the kind of retro soul and funk nights which take place in pub backrooms, it's never really gained a wider audience despite a number of reissues. A pounding and incessant piece of work which can't seem to make up its mind whether it's a bass-heavy piece of funk or a bouncy piece of ska, it's so forceful that it actually finishes too soon. To my delight, though, you can hear the group gearing themselves up for another run around the block just as the fade-out is nearly over, almost as if they kept the jam going long after the recording studio red light went off.

Black Velvet were a London-based group who were regulars on the gig circuit throughout the sixties and seventies, but never quite broke into the mainstream.

3. Action Spectacular - I'm A Whore (Bluefire)

While the song title "I'm A Whore" may give you the impression that Action Spectacular were a noisy, uncouth bunch of sorts, and the track certainly starts with a furious thrash, that eventually gives way into a yearning piece of indie-pop about pointless dead-end careers and McJobs.

The lines "I'm a slag who's been had/ in ten years I'll be my Dad/ look at all the worthless things I do" pop up in the first verse, and things don't really improve from there - but the song's heart-wrenching mood, and the final rant at the end about meeting St Peter, are instantly relatable to anyone who has spent three-quarters of their career dealing with mundane situations. If BMX Bandits "Serious Drugs" is one of the most oddly wistful yet moving songs about depression, "I'm A Whore" rivals its mood for dayjob angst.

4. Leather Head - Gimme Your Money Please (Philips)

Proto-punk in the area! Although that does depend a little bit on how you look at it. While this 1974 single does sound uncannily like Guildford's finest The Stranglers, the reality is that The Stranglers owed such a debt to sixties garage groups that it's possible both were sipping from the same water supply. Coincidentally though, both groups hailed from around the same area.

"Gimme Your Money Please" was Leather Head's only single, and is obviously a cover of the Bachman Turner Overdrive track, but the snarling vocals and menacing organ lines here give it a dastardly pub rock menace that the original never had. Superb stuff which probably hasn't been appreciated by enough readers of this blog.

5. Clive Sands - Witchi Tai To (SnB)

This somewhat obscure single has never really been a collectible, and when it turns up for sale you can frequently get hold of it for very reasonable prices indeed. This is unjust, for while "Witchi Tai To" is a cover of a slice of rather serious-minded American psychedelic rock, Clive Sands - aka Peter Sarstedt's brother - adds a bit of British popsike fairydust to his version, and it's much better for it.

Filled to the brim with throbbing keyboard sounds and a slowly swelling arrangement, by the time the needle lifts from the groove you'll be convinced that summer is finally here.

6. Patterson's People - Shake Hands With The Devil (Mercury)

A rare example of a bruising soul sound eminating from the depths of Aylesbury, this record screeches, yells and entices listeners to greet Satan and have sex with him. By the point of its conclusion you're not really left with any impression about how many takers there are to this offer, but if the horned one introduced himself with sounds like this, you would have to worry.

Impossible to ignore and instantly attention-grabbing, "Shake Hands With The Devil" was possibly a tad too raunchy and blasphemous to pick up the airplay it needed in 1966. All the more reason to give it the time of day now.

21 March 2018

Ten Years Old Today

I'm almost struggling to believe it myself, but "Left and to the Back" has been going for ten years solid (well, if you discount that six month break we had in 2013 when I fractured my elbow and got caught in the middle of house-moving shenanigans).

This started as a slightly confused blog where I waxed lyrical about records I felt were unfairly overlooked as well as any old random nonsense I found littering the Music and Video Exchange in Camden. While it might seem as if the approach is still scattershot, I like to think that it's a bit less random and slapdash these days, and if I include a record on the blog it's because I think it's worth hearing or because I actually have something to say about it. The days of just sicking the orchestral music from a coffee advert up on here just because I happened to find the associated promotional vinyl in a second hand shop last week are pretty much over. (And yes, that sentence should read "sticking" rather than "sicking", but for once I actually prefer the typo).

Naturally, managing to last for ten years without completely losing interest in this or otherwise being removed from the Internet is something that's bound to bring out my self-indulgent side, and for the next few entries I'll be putting up some posts about notable things I've shared in that time, and I might even have the odd update along the way (such as, for example, being able to do a big reveal on who The Snowmen really were...)

18 March 2018

Lucas Sideras - Rising Sun/ One Day

Glorious piece of late psychedelia from former Aphrodite's Child drummer.

Label: Polydor
Year of Release: 1972

This isn't an extremely rare recording as such. It was released all around Europe (and indeed Lebanon!) largely on the strength of Lucas Sideras' prior stint with Greek rock Gods Aphrodite's Child. British copies, on the other hand, are as rare as hen's teeth, to the extent that many discographers until recently assumed that this was never officially released over here - so I'm a bit bemused about how this one fell into my hands without me really trying. Call it good luck. 

I may be bemused but I'm also delighted. The A-side here is actually "One Day", which is a cuddly piece of contemplative, semi-acoustic pop. It's the B-side that really knocks my socks off, though. "Rising Sun" is a shimmering, rattling piece of psychedelic pop with some wonderfully convincing yet simple guitar lines. Fizzing over with optimism and a driving momentum, it's wasted by being buried away on the flip, although a longer version did emerge on Lucas's debut LP "End of the World".

While he would go on to release other records on the continent, so far as I'm aware Polydor didn't try to push him on the British again. His records sold moderately well elsewhere, and he eventually settled into a successful production career, before forming the group Ypsilon in 1977 and the blues rock band Diesel in 1987. He still occasionally records and releases solo material to this day.

14 March 2018

Happy Magazine - Who Belongs To You/ Beautiful Land

Bouncy ska-influenced pop from Newcastle band managed and produced by Alan Price.

Label: Polydor
Year of Release: 1969

Happy Magazine were a highly reckoned group in the late sixties. With fellow Newcastle boy Alan Price acting as their manager, and even contributing songs - their debut single "Satisfied Street" was also penned by him - they certainly had a valuable mentor to steer them through pop's choppy waters. 

The fact that their singles are still reasonably easy to find these days would appear to indicate that they didn't flop as badly as some records on Polydor during this period (I've mentioned on Twitter before now that some of Polydor's singles from the 66-69 period are so scarce I have to wonder if they even sold more than fifty copies). Despite this, they certainly weren't chart hits either, and that feels a bit unjust under the circumstances. In this case, "Who Belongs To You" bounces along as neatly and nicely as one of Price's own compositions from the same period. Possibly the fact that the group felt the need to add "(Ooby Dooby Doo)" in brackets after the song title put some punters off; it's certainly something that caused me to nearly not buy this record, fearing some incredibly trite bubblegum sound. 

The flipside here is a fairly mediocre slice of twee popsike which was recently compiled on to the "Piccadilly Sunshine" series of compilation albums, and remains commercially available. You can hear it on YouTube if you're really interested, but it's a simple, child-like tune which probably won't do much to squeegee your third eyeball. 

The group consisted of Kenny Craddock on organ, Pete Kirtley on guitar, Alan Marshall on vocals and Alan White on drums. This was their last single, and the instrumental talent in the group walked off to form Griffin who released the "I Am The Noise In Your Head" single later in the same year. Craddock and White then joined Ginger Baker's Airforce when Griffin failed to cause many record buyers to part with their pennies.

11 March 2018

Reupload - Mad Hatters - Humphrey Song

Stomping novelty glam rock about demonic drinking straws stealing milk - or something like that.

Label: Epic
Year of Release: 1976

He'd never believe it - and I suspect even if he did find out, he wouldn't care much - but the songwriter Mike Batt is indirectly responsible for two things that traumatised me as a child. The first and obvious thing would be the Wombles. Not the fictional litter-gathering characters who I liked, but their incarnation as a musical group. As a three year old child in a Butlins holiday camp, four towering men in Womble costumes gathered around me for a perfect photo opportunity. Seeing these fat, giant, Pete Townshend-nosed furballs stood behind me, glaring with vacant eyes in a manner I took to be menacing, I burst into floods of tears and had to be taken out of the room.

Then, Humphrey the phantom milk-drinker. Jesus Christ. You can talk to people of a certain generation about these adverts and they'll stare at you blankly - who? What? But they were the stuff of appalling darkness to me at the same age. In the adverts, Humphrey is an unseen force, never in camera shot, who steals milk from various surprised or terrified celebrities. Sometimes his emergence would be met with a booming, bellowing "He's behind you!" The fact that Humphrey was never visible caused me to conclude that this was a horrible, Triffid-type monster. I visualised a giant, striped, snaking straw, coiled and ready to strike, slithering into rooms and strangling people before sucking the milk bottles from their fridge dry. Again, tears emerged from my eyes and I had to be taken to a safe place in the house. Thanks a fucking lot, Mike Batt (though to be fair to the songsmith, he only came up with the tunes for these horrible creatures, I doubt he was behind the concept, or my own warped mind's visualisation of the unseen).

I didn't realise that there was a glam rock Humphrey single released to coincide with the adverts, although it's safe to say that only a particularly cruel adult in my house would have considered buying it for me as a gift. On top of a thudding beat and a honking Soho sax, things only get more mysterious. "Though Humphreying is against the law/ they'll Humphrey a bit then Humphrey some more" Batt warns us. "Hey they don't need no reason!/ Hey baby, this is the Humphrey season!" he adds, while a sinister, prolonged psychedelic Floydish whisper hisses "Humphreeeeeyyyy!" in the background. Absurdity and anarchy abounds. I didn't know Humphreys had seasons, or that there were specific laws against the very act of Humphreying itself.

There's no reason why this shouldn't have been a hit. The adverts were very well-known and popular (with everyone except me), Batt's original jingle was familiar to all and a huge factor behind their success, and the track is enough fun to be worth more than the usual couple of plays most novelty singles end up being granted. Doubtless the BBC were reluctant to playlist something so closely linked to a major ITV advertising campaign, and it failed to pick up attention elsewhere. But it could be that I'm biased - while you're probably hearing a very innocent glam ditty, I'm actually hearing bleak, monstrous terror and cow-juice drinking chaos. This track has enough darkness to it to never be pure 'novelty pop' to me. Do indeed watch out, people.

Sorry I couldn't include the ballad on the B-side in this upload, but it's absolutely scratched beyond use on my copy, I'm afraid.

7 March 2018

Julie Stevens - After Haggerty/ A Long Way From Home

Theatrical folkiness from - I presume - the Avengers actress and future Play School presenter

Label: Trend
Year of Release: 1971

It's an absurdly scarce record, this one, being the final single the tiny Trend label managed to put out before being compulsorily wound up in the High Court. Suffice to say, while it did get an official release, it seems unlikely that many copies were distributed or sold.

It's an interesting little single which really doesn't sound like chart-bound material, to be honest, so it's highly unlikely it would have turned the label's fortunes around. I assume that Julie Stevens is the singer and actress who also starred in The Avengers and eventually became a presenter on Play School and Playaway, and the track itself begins with a subtle jazzy backdrop as Stevens' theatrical vocal performance begins to build. It gradually becomes a strident march before dropping back into its original hushed performance, which is lyrically riddled with literary references.

The early seventies were awash with sophisticated, confidently performed and orchestrally arranged solo discs of this nature, but very few of them actually sold well, and "After Haggerty" is one of the more obscure examples. Whether you enjoy it or not will depend entirely on your feelings on such material, but Stevens' performance certainly showed that she could have cut it as a serious solo artist (and certainly West End musical star) if need be. So far as all that was concerned, she managed one more single on MCA ("Tally Man") before calling it quits. 

4 March 2018

Cinnamon - So Long Sam/ Broken Hearted Me Evil Hearted You

Sprightly girl-pop from the pen of singer-songwriter Barbara Ruskin.

Label: President
Year of Release: 1969

Barbara Ruskin has become something of a collectible artist these days, with her singles commanding enough interest for the compilation "A Little Bit Of This" to have been issued on CD. Her range throughout the sixties was certainly incredible, seeing her attempting stomping Motown styles, Carnaby Street pop, popsike, and delicate folksy material. 

Born in East London in 1948, she became a determined and eager performer, hustling deals along Denmark Street. She was one of the very few female singer-songwriters on the circuit at one point in the sixties, and between 1965-72 managed to issue a whopping seventeen singles as a result of her tenacity, none of which charted. In 1969 she even penned the track "Gentlemen Please" for the Eurovision Song Contest, but the evening's vote was not on her side, and Lulu ended up performing the rather more simplistic "Boom Bang A Bang" instead. 

Her songwriting activity also saw two singles placed with fellow female solo artist Cinnamon. The first, "You Won't See Me Leaving", was issued by Beacon Records in 1968, and the second and final effort "So Long Sam" fell into record shops in July the following year. Neither sold well, and both are fairly difficult to track down these days.

"So Long Sam" is a sprightly, airy track with a driving beat behind it and a careful pop arrangement. What's interesting about this is that it differs quite a lot from Ruskin's original demo, which is a slower and more reflective piece of work (and is actually a bit better for it). Cinnamon's interpretation punches its fist in the air to celebrate the end of a relationship, whereas the demo clearly explores the bittersweet possibilities.

For my money - and it is my money - the flipside here is more successful, sounding like the kind of thing that might light up retro dancefloors on a good night. Filled with a buoyant and faintly Northern Soul-esque orchestral arrangement, it has attitude and heartbreak to spare. Only a slightly rigid arrangement stops it from truly flying to its full potential.

I have no idea who Cinnamon actually was, and if anyone can enlighten me I'd be grateful. Some have speculated that Cinnamon were a performing group who had Ruskin among their number, but the sleeves for their/her Dutch and Italian releases show pictures of a leggy woman with a brunette pixie haircut. I'm slightly confused and I suspect I'm not the only one.

Ruskin, on the other hand, continued her career as a singer-songwriter until 1972 before packing up her acoustic guitar and moving on to other things.

Sorry about the surface noise on these mp3s, readers. I did the best I could.