30 September 2018

The Atlantics - Don't Say No/ Send Him To Me

Super obscure slice of 60s girl pop

Label: Windsor
Year of Release: 1964

Another puzzling record which poses as many questions as answers, I'm sorry to say. According to the Manchester Beat website, The Atlantics on this record formed in 1962 and hailed from Blackpool, consisting of Chris Riley on rhythm guitar, Michael Stephens on bass, Frank Blackburn on lead guitar, and Ronnie "Lee" Brambles on drums. Ordinarily I would have absolutely no reason to doubt the information of a well-run site, but there's one snag. There are clearly at least two women singing on this record, one of whom is taking the lead. Either this is not the same group after all, or they underwent a temporary and short-lived line-up change at the record label's behest, or for other unknown reasons.

Whatever the facts, this is actually a rather nice chunk of sixties girl group action, a little rough and ready in places - something which surely isn't helped by the mere "VG" quality of the copy I own - but swinging, beaty and punchy. It's also notable for the production involvement of Peter Stirling, later known as Daniel Boone, a member of the beat group The Bruisers and regular "Left and to the Back" guest.

26 September 2018

Reupload - The Charades - Hammers and Sickles/ Left Wing Bird

Bizarre and faintly hysterical anti-Communist and anti-Socialist folk.  

Label: Monument
Year of Release: 1966

The Cold War is responsible for producing some very interesting pop music. The eighties thrived on it, and even if it wasn't often explicitly mentioned in songs and videos, its looming shadow could be felt within the chilly production and bombastic arrangements. And similarly, back in the sixties the folk movement would have been less abrasive and packed less of an urgent, defiant punch had it not been for two giant opposing countries with piles of idealism (the romanticism of common ownership versus the powerful idea of capitalism being a conduit for meritocracy and enabling Freedom). Expressed in such simplistic terms, it was pure propaganda on both sides, of course - left without the right checks and balances and existing in a pure, unchallenged form, any system will eventually go to rot.

This single turned up in a job lot auction recently, and is odd to say the least. Divorced of its original context, it sounds like a faintly futile gesture. The A-side "Hammers and Sickles" sounds bizarrely hysterical, like the last ever Capitalist campfire singalong in defiance of the advancing Red Army. The lyrics seem to be suggesting that Communists were encouraging children to play with the Little Red Book rather than "crayons". "I like walking through fields of flowers knowing that I can own it all" the band also declare haughtily, which if you want to interpret it literally seems to suggest that a slice of American soil can eventually be anyone's if they earn it - something which still doesn't apply to any public land so far as I'm aware. You can walk back and forth across Yellowstone Park on some sort of sponsored anti-Commiethon until you collapse, The Charades, you're still not going to win the opportunity to buy it one day.

23 September 2018

Paul Brett - Mr. Custer/ Goodtimes, Hardtimes

Bouncy, chirpy single with faint popsike leanings from Fulham guitar ace

Label: Bradleys
Year of Release: 1973

Well, I certainly wasn't expecting to find this one for £1 in Oxfam. Paul Brett was something of a shadowy, wandering figure throughout the sixties and seventies, adding his guitar riffage to all manner of cult groups. Among his more notable achievements are stints or session work with Fire, The Overlanders, The Strawbs, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, the undervalued Elmer Gantry's Velvet Opera, and Tintern Abbey. If that weren't enough, he also sessioned for Al Stewart and Roy Harper.

Among heavy, deep digging aficionados of folk rock, he's probably best known for his work under the group name of Paul Brett's Sage who issued an eponymous debut LP on Pye in 1970 and follow ups "Jubilation Foundry" and "Schizophrenia" on their progressive imprint Dawn across the two following years.

After those three records were issued to only minor public interest, Brett disbanded his merry Sages and set off by himself, going on to become one of the first artists to be signed to ATV Music's newly launched Bradleys label in '73. The earliest singles released on this label are examples of corporate vanity at its absolute apex, with a special picture sleeve dedicated to the label and its "Mr Bradley" character rather than the artists in question. Who the moustachioed and bubbly Mr Bradley was based on, and why he ran a hotel on the picture sleeves, are questions whose answers have been lost to the mists of time. It's safe to bet that they also weren't very clear to ordinary punters who didn't read Music Week or internal record industry memos in 1973, who must have been confused by the appearance of identical picture sleeves housing completely different records by different artists.

20 September 2018

Tiger - Shining In The Wood/ Where's The Love?

Fantastic, frequently overlooked abrasive nineties art-pop 

Label: Fierce Panda
Year of Release: 1996

By 1996, when both music critics and record company A&R people began to realise that Britpop was looking tired, there was much head-scratching about where British alternative rock could go next. It was pretty clear that if the public were to remain interested, either a stylistic shift had to happen among the big players, or a new wave of noise had to sweep in.

As it happens, both things occurred. While Oasis were content to continue much as before, Blur and Pulp began to branch off and take different and somewhat more difficult winding paths, and waiting in the wings were also a veritable shit-ton of eccentric, arty or just downright trashy and punky dinmakers.  Bis had the cute teenage looks and angular pop tunes by the bucketload, Kenickie a rawer, earthier, wittier edge, Urusei Yatsura the discords and power, and Tiger the... er, well, it's hard to quite summarise where Tiger were coming from in a couple of words.

Borrowing droning analogue keyboard sounds from Stereolab, the scattershot lyricisms of post-punk, the anthemic choruses of Britpop and the screeching madness of Sonic Youth and Pixies, Tiger were only ever going to sound like a barnful of suburban oddballs, and it's truly astonishing to realise that they actually picked up radio airplay and mainstream television appearances in the nineties. In virtually no other period of British music history would this have been allowed.

16 September 2018

Symbols - Blackbird/ Great Swamp Symphony

Mike Post produced Soul/ gospel reworking of The Beatles track

Label: Bell
Year of Release: 1971

Just when you think you've been made aware of all the one-single wonder groups whose sole effort was a Beatles cover, another rears its head. Sometimes it's like one big game of whack-a-mole where all the rodents are wearing Woolworths Beatle wigs.

Soul and reggae covers of Beatles tracks are by no means uncommon, and "Blackbird" should perhaps be considered one of the most appropriate choices for politically minded groups during the sixties and seventies. Apparently written by McCartney partly in response to the black civil rights struggle in America, "Blackbird" may act as a discreet, delicate, folksy moment on "The White Album", but its background message had a far greater power potentially waiting to be amplified. 

This clearly wasn't lost on The Symbols (or the ska group The Paragons in 1973) who deliver a much punchier, less subtle version of the song here. Gospel vocals holler "Fly blackbird fly!" at regular intervals while the arrangement of McCartney's original finger-plucked version is swamped by strings and roaring vocal harmonies. It's transformed from a plaintive and pretty tune into a sweeping, panoramic piece, like something you would expect to hear in the concluding dramatic moments of a motion picture. 

12 September 2018

Reupload - Fireball - Bachanalia/ I Dunno

Glammish instrumental courtesy of Spark Records session God Graham Preskett

Label: Spark
Year of Release: 1973

Do you remember that not too many entries ago we were talking about Graham Preskett, who recorded a pretty neat version of "Mellow Yellow" (backed with an equally superb version of "Disney Girls") for Spark Records? Well, it was by no means a one-off. Like many of the session musos who hung around the Spark stable, Preskett had his fingers in a number of their releases, and this is one such obscurity.

If you were being somewhat cynical, you could argue that "Bachanalia" was a cash-in on ELO's advances in orchestrated pomp rock, but it's not clear that this is where the main influence is from. Snappy, lively and with considerably more billy whizz in its bones than most of Lynne's releases, "Bachanalia" is hard to place anywhere. Clearly partly intended for the dancefloor and having a slight (and admittedly only slight) glam rock crunch about it, it's a likeable but peculiar anomaly, an aural tonic that gets the foot tapping but is hard to imagine being a huge hit.

9 September 2018

Tim Easley - Susie Q (Parts One and Two)

Obscure take on the Dale Hawkins Rock and Roll standard

Label: Bell
Year of Release: 1968

Another mystery record to add to the never-ending pile. I bought this record almost exactly a year ago with the expectation that if I did enough research on it something useful would eventually come to light, but so far, there's been nada - just the vague suggestion that Tim Easley is a pseudonym for another recording artist.

The rockabilly song itself was written and originally performed by Dale Hawkins, who also produces this version, and reached the Billboard Hot 100 on its original release in 1957. It was then subsequently picked up by The Rolling Stones and Creedence Clearwater Revival, the latter of whom reached number 11 with it in the USA in 1968, a few months before this single emerged. Whether Hawkins or the mysterious Easley figure were expecting to get a second wind of success from CCR's version is unclear, but the fact that it was seemingly only released by Bell in France and the UK - where CCR had considerably less impact - indicates that the label didn't fancy its chances Stateside. 

5 September 2018

To Heaven A Jet/ Revox Cadets - Airfields/ Tony Goes To Tokyo (and rides the bullet train)

Mystery synth-pop with heavy Bill Nelson involvement

Label: Cocteau
Year of Release: 1981

What a peculiar release. Bill Nelson is something of a cult figure in Britain, producing major progressive/ art-rock work with Be Bop Deluxe and later Bill Nelson's Red Noise. Hailed by artists as diverse as David Sylvian, Andy Partridge and Gary Numan, Nelson arguably hasn't really had the full credit he's been due for influencing the direction of modern pop and rock. Seldom ever on the radio, and generally ignored by the kinds of major magazines who run retrospectives on classic rock artists, he's one of those seventies artists whose run of success was too modest to place him in the mainstream, and too big to cause anyone to trumpet his virtues as a "lost artist".

By 1980, he had run into a dispute with Harvest Records about his Red Noise project, and subsequently made arrangements with them to begin a new career on his own Cocteau Records label. Far from using it as a vanity press for his own output, Nelson also released a number of records by other artists. While some of these will be familiar to most readers, and Nelson was astute enough to release early records by A Flock Of Seagulls and Fiat Lux, it was also home to some very strange records like this one.

2 September 2018

Telephone Bill & The Smooth Operators - Cruisin'/ Pinball Wizard

Bluegrass cover of The Who classic. There's something you don't hear everyday.

Label: Weekend
Year of Release: 1977

I'm sure I've mentioned it on here before - good God almighty, I've written over a thousand blog entries on here in the last ten years, you can't expect me to be Captain Originality all the time - but the mid-seventies were a weird gold-rush period for musicians on the light entertainment circuit. Any musical act whose innovative or thoughtful routines regularly featured on shows like "Pebble Mill" or "New Faces" tended to get a record contract, even if only for a few singles. Very few managed hits, but the seven inch single boxes of charity shops the length and breadth of the land are filled with the kind of acts who appeared on programmes like "Hi Summer" or were frequent interlude acts on mid-table chat shows.

Labels like York, run by Yorkshire Television, and Weekend, owned by LWT, tended to showcase these people as well, and while neither are great labels for prog, psychedelia or proto-punk, they do showcase some reasonably unusual things. Telephone Bill & The Smooth Operators are, it's fair to say, not a completely run-of-the-mill act. Performing a blend of folk, country and swing, their songs could whoosh past in the blink of the eye and the blurring of fingers on the fretboard. Such family-friendly energy caused them to be frequent guests on television and radio as well as tireless workhorses of the national folk circuit.