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.