31 March 2019

The Barons - Cossack/ Summertime

Two ace rumbling, twangy guitar instrumentals 

Label: Oriole
Year of Release: 1961

In many ways, it's sad that the concept of instrumental rock bands went from being a common genre with its own NME awards category (though The Shadows always seemed to win) to a notably eccentric anomaly. At some point in the post-Merseybeat early sixties, bands without singers became unhip and unloved, possibly acceptable enough for an end-of-term college dance party or a local bar, but certainly not major careers.

Instrumental pop and rock is, for me at least, often wonderful in that without the distractions of a lead singer's gnashing and moping about lost love, a failure to get laid or the trials and tribulations of being young, you're free to project your own images and ideas on to it. As a result, there are instrumental tracks that remind me of good moments in my life, and occasionally situations with people with whom I either completely lost touch or are no longer with us. For one listener, The Shadows' "Wonderful Land" might be literally about America as the group intended, whereas for another it might end up being about the time they took a road trip to Devon with the partner they later married. Had Hank Marvin sang "America is a wonderful land/ beautiful women and swinging bands" over the top, that attachment to a pivotal memory would possibly be buggered. (Note - he never intended to do this. I'm just making things up to prove a point).

Dartford's The Barons, however, put out two singles on the fascinating Oriole label when instrumental groups were not an endangered species. Both sides of this, and indeed their follow-up 45 "Sumurai", are a lovely listen. There's a strong bass rumble, urgent percussion and a gorgeous twang running right through which proves that even antiquated instro-pop could be, in its own way, a little bit menacing. I'd rather listen to this than an early disc by Gerry and The Pacemakers or Freddie and the Dreamers, anyway.

27 March 2019

Bingo Boys - Bobbie Bingo/ Love Is Blind

Novelty number of the bingo appreciating kind

Label: Oriole
Year of Release: 1961

Bingo appears to be a declining business in Britain, with bingo halls no longer featuring in every town centre in Britain. Fourteen years ago, after my wife and I got hitched, we moved into a newly built block of flats next door to a derelict bingo hall in East London. Its interior was no longer filled with the sound of numbers being announced and frantic scribbling. It was, however, possible to hear the odd coo of a roosting pigeon and the occasional shout of "What are YOU lookin' at?!" from the building's resident homeless person as he wandered outside (nobody could ever accuse him of begging, he seemed to spend his life trying to get people as far away from him as possible with threats of violence if necessary). 

Fortunately readers, I've moved on in life, though the bingo hall in question still remains derelict, unloved and unused. Back in 1961, though, it would have been filled with the buzz of activity and this little 45 might have been a good theme for it. "Bobbie Bingo" is a number so chirpy and cheeky you can almost imagine the performers winking as they sang it. With a melody not a million miles away from "Me Old Mate Ghandi" off "Alas Smith and Jones", it's certainly very much of its time, with one eye on music hall ditties of yore and the other on the "freak novelty hit" prize.

Sadly, it wasn't to be and the tiny number of copies of this which have turned up for sale in recent years would indicate it sold very poorly. Like a lot of Oriole product, though, it's fascinatingly low budget and English - while they were often squeezed out of the marketplace by the larger labels, their cheap and cheerful attempts to get inside the hit parade often feel as if they say more about that era in Britain than EMI's fussy, precise productions (for example).

24 March 2019

Reupload - Paul Jones - Pretty Vacant/ Sheena Is A Punk Rocker

Smooth MOR FM cover of the Sex Pistols by a somewhat cheeky Paul Jones

Label: RSO
Year of Release: 1978

Piss-taking pop parodies have always had a place in musical history. Joke easy-listening/ classical interpretations of hard-edged, sneering rock and roll have existed for just as long as mirth-making aggressive versions of traditionally innocent tracks. Every Oasis has had their Mike Flowers, and every innocent children's show its Dickies. We've found examples of the phenomenon on this blog dating as far back as the early sixties, and I wouldn't be at all surprised to see the practice surviving another fifty years. The very best and very worst jokes are always deathless.

Ex-Manfred Mann member Paul Jones's cover of the Sex Pistols "Pretty Vacant" is, however, so rich in detail that it's one of the most careful jokes ever. With the orchestra whirling into action for the intro, to the smooth, gentle bass sounds throughout, right down to Jones's weary mid-Atlantic vocals (more Jack Jones than Paul Jones, in fact) it finds fluffy levels of detail in the spikiness of the original you'd never have suspected were there. In this sense, what was doubtless supposed to be a very cheeky stab at the Pistols becomes a peculiar compliment - you suddenly appreciate the band's songwriting chops more than you perhaps previously did (not that I ever needed much convincing).

21 March 2019

Design - Willow Stream/ Coloured Mile

Harmony pop bordering on popsike. For fans of Tinkerbell's Fairydust, possibly.

Label: Epic (or CBS in the UK)
Year of Release: 1970

Design were a harmony pop outfit who issued a number of singles in the seventies to fairly limited success. The corridors and dressing rooms of light entertainment were filled to the brim with smiling boys and girls teaching the world to sing in those days, so the music business's perseverance was understandable, but it does have to be admitted that their later releases can only be described as 'well performed but typical of that fare'.

Their debut single "Willow Stream" has just enough popsike in its sound to appeal to collectors, though. If you're one of those people who looked at a rare copy of Tinkerbell's Fairydust's LP and actually considered buying it, you'll probably be happy to pick this up for the spare change in your pocket as well. It has a seventies pop bounce which definitely dates it stylistically outside the sixties, but the lyrics and harmonies still have one foot in the previous era. The B-side isn't bad either.

For unknown reasons, copies of this seem slightly easier to obtain in their US demo pressing, which clearly indicates some heavy optimism on behalf of Epic. Oddly, they later went on to promote "Coloured Mile" to the A-side of their next release, but that didn't perform any better.

17 March 2019

Quator - Spy Trap/ Playgirl

Funky, flutey theme tune grooves ahoy

Label: BBC
Year of Release: 1972

The early releases of BBC Records and Tapes are fascinating in that amidst the really obvious stuff such as the "Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads" single are theme tunes and soundtrack excerpts to long-wiped and forgotten series. "Spy Trap" is one such example. While the series, based on a shady MI5/ MI6 styled organisation called "The Department", was apparently popular through its 1972-75 run, it's never been repeated in recent years nor commercially released. 

A shame, because if its theme tune is anything to go by, this would have been wondrous. Sassy, fruity and decidedly flutey, "Spy Trap" is all darkness and mystery with a strange chugging Status Quo styled rhythmic underlay. The flipside "Playgirl" isn't too bad either, which will instantly bring to mind a backstreet heist. Give 'em hell, cops. 

This single is unusual in that it features the efforts of Brian Wade of the group Trane, who had already had one vaguely psychy single out on BBC thanks to their appearances in the then-popular radio soap "Waggoner's Walk". They would go on to release one more single on Penny Farthing in 1971 ("Still Burning Bright") before calling it quits.

13 March 2019

The Bye-Laws - Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye/ Come On Over To My Place

Another Irish Showband with two strong beat cover versions

Label: Pye
Year of Release: 1968

The Bye-Laws came from Ballyfermot in Dublin and were one of seemingly hundreds of bands who busied themselves on the showband circuit. While some of their compatriots and rivals were well received in small towns and at rural events, The Bye-Laws apparently had a strong "urban audience". 

Being a part of Ireland's "metropolitan elite" didn't mean they had any roughness or rawness to their sound, though, and they certainly weren't slashing their amp cones with razors or dropping acid. This really is beat music, pure and simple, with some strong vocals on top. The A side, a well-delivered cover of "Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye" with its steady beat, plucked guitar strings and harmony vocals, wouldn't have sounded out of place as a Beatles B-side back in their earliest days, but it's a little bit antiquated sounding for 1968. The flip is a jollier and more uptempo affair, though it's hard to make "Come On Over To Our Place" sound like a drag (very difficult not to sing "Hey you, we're having a Wimpy" to if you're a certain age, though).

The group consisted of Maurice Walsh on vocals, Jimmy Conway on lead guitar, Paul Holohan on bass, and Aidan Scannell on drums. Maurice ski-daddled off to join the group Purple Pussycat after this single, and their second effort "Run Baby Run" had Pat Morris on lead vocals instead. Neither 45 was a hit either in the UK or Ireland - some sources state that this effort sold well in their home country, but I can't find any chart data for it whatsoever, so at best it would have been a slow and steady seller over a long period of time.

10 March 2019

Reupload - The Londonairs - Dearest Emma/ Bugles a Go-Go

Withdrawn single from some men singing about how much they fancy Emma Peel off The Avengers. It's really not that racy though, readers...

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1966

From the fifties right through until the nineties, highly popular television shows tended to begat novelty singles dedicated to them, some official, many unofficial. In most cases, it's the unofficial ones that tend to be the most peculiar and therefore entertaining, albeit for all the wrong reasons. Tim Worthington has done a fine job of championing The Go Go's "I'm Gonna Spend My Christmas With A Dalek" for years now, a sixties cut whose idea of a dalek voice sounds more like Sir Patrick Moore doing an impersonation of a robot. Supremely ridiculous stuff.

"Dearest Emma" by The Londonairs isn't quite in that camp, but as a tribute to Emma Peel of "The Avengers" it is slightly and knowingly silly. "We love all your kinky clothes/ you dress fit to kill/ we'd fight for the right to be the guy with the bill" they chirp rather sinisterly. "We go pale at the things you do to red blooded men/ now that just ain't right to us/ But do it again-".

Right. Basically, this is the sound of a cabaret act singing about how they're tempted to have a fiddle around inside their trousers whenever "The Avengers" comes on the telly. Cut through to its core, and that's all this record is saying, complete with a Carnaby Street swing of a backing. If nothing else, you can surely admire its honesty. In the days before Twitter, some comfort could be drawn from the fact that at least you could get your messages of appreciation across to actresses you fancied via the recording studio.

6 March 2019

Heatwave - Sister Simon (Funny Man)/ Rastus Ravel (Is A Mean Old Man)

Bit of an unexpected mod-soul "dancer" on the flip of this pop single

Label: Penny Farthing
Year of Release: 1970

The "Left and to the Back" mailbag - or email account, to be less pretentious about it - received another surprise a couple of months ago, when Martin Samuel, the drummer (and occasional fire-eater) in sixties group Heatwave, got in touch about this single. 

Heatwave were formed in 1969 as soon as Samuel joined the pre-existing group The Moving Targets to become their new drummer. Otherwise consisting of John Fellows on bass and vocals, Terry Shea on rhythm guitar and vocals, and Richard Steen on lead guitar and vocals, they became renowned on the gig circuit for their strong vocal harmonies. Some plum support slots were gained, including ones with Consortium, Love Sculpture and Spooky Tooth.

Despite these successes, their agent John Edwards felt that they lacked a strong enough frontman, and  vocalist Peter Allatt was recruited. This period of their career lead to prominent radio sessions for Kenny Everett and DLT among others, and this single which was recorded in Pye Studios in 1970. The A-side is a chirpy pop tune which is naggingly catchy, but it's failure is probably explained by the fact that despite the hooks and the breezy arrangement, it arguably wouldn't have stood out enough among the pop pile of the day. 

The flipside is where the action really is. "Rastus Revel" was created around a funky riff Samuel helped to create, and has started to become acknowledged among retro DJs as the one to zoom in on. Wah-wah guitars combine with a slinky groove to create a cool, mean number. Rick Wakeman played piano on the recording and The Ladybirds (Maggie Stredder, Gloria George and Marian Davis) provided the sultry backing vocals.

3 March 2019

Izzy Royal - Coronation Street/ Dub

Proof, if proof were needed, that there's been a reggae cover version of everything...

Label: WEA
Year of Release: 1985

I don't know why so many reggae artists have a penchant for covering well-known but unlikely songs, but the habit runs deep. Beatles fans will be aware of the Trojan box-set of reggae Fabs covers, and readers of this blog will doubtless remember such gems as "Rupert The Bear" and "Space Oddity".

To say I was surprised by the existence of this 45 would be an understatement, however. The soap opera "Coronation Street" is familiar to just about anyone with a British birth certificate, but its bluesy, world-weary instrumental theme - perfect for singing "Oh Coronation Street" along to over and over again if you're that way inclined - wouldn't seem to translate well to any other genre at all.

This single proves that a lilting reggae beat was just waiting to be dropped on to the song after all, as the whole thing hangs together astonishingly well. The cheeky dub version on the flipside even manages to give it a thunderous, clattering, stoned atmosphere.