28 August 2019

Albert Embankment - As Tears Go By/ Cover Me

Intense cover of the Stones penned track with gravely male vocals and Joe Cocker's backing singers

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1971

The back catalogue of Decca in the early seventies is perplexing to say the least. The label had lost their cash cow by that point (The Rolling Stones) and seemingly their sense of direction as well. They staggered forward like a corporate zombie, scoring the occasional middle-of-the-road hit almost by chance, then moving on taking whatever else happened to fall in their path. 

Sometimes this approach worked, but worryingly frequently it didn't. Anyone heard of Ditch Cassidy, Country Jug, Farnborough Firework Factory, Music Room, Rivington Pike or Colin Pilditch? Bonus points offered if you've ever even seen a copy of any of these artist's singles - some of them are absurdly scarce, and no, I've absolutely no idea what most of them sound like (I did bid on the Farnborough Firework Factory 45 on eBay not long ago, but the winning bidder was too enthusiastic for my cautious self). The label was financially propped up by the handling of MCA's British arm and manufacturing and distribution of Jonathan King's initially extraordinarily successful UK Records, but in its own right was worryingly dizzy.

Albert Embankment always seemed to me to be yet another example of a one-single wonder on the label, as rare as it was mysterious. The A-side is a cover version of the label's old boy wonders The Stones, but is a distinctly empassioned version, ignoring Marianne Faithful's take and instead incorporating throat-shredding lead vocals and gospel styled backing vocals. Without wishing to accuse anyone involved in the recording of unoriginality, it was clearly put together by people who either admired Joe Cocker or noted his success with "A Little Help From My Friends", and tried applying the same technique to the Rolling Stones catalogue.

Sadly, my copy of it is quite scratched and I'm highly unlikely to come across another one soon (if ever). Nevertheless, it's not ruined and you can hear that the recording works well, putting a new spin on an old classic which will delight some listeners and leave others cold. It all depends on how tied you feel to the intentions of the original. 

25 August 2019

Reupload - Bill Kenwright - Tiggy/ The House That Fell On Its Face

Epic, manic, "Eloise"/ "Bernadette" styled pop from actor, theatre producer and Everton FC Chair Bill Kenwright. (Comes with John Pantry penned flip, popsike fans). 

Label: MGM
Year of Release: 1969

Bill Kenwright CBE is a man who has beavered away for many decades in entertainment, a name as likely to pop up in the background as well as the foreground of popular culture. During the late sixties just before this single was issued, he was busy playing the Coronation Street character Gordon Clegg, who ended up being woven in and out of the soap's plots over the next few years whenever the man's availability would allow. Prior to that - and perhaps unbeknownst to many viewers - he had a moderately successful singing career in the clubs and a number of singles were issued.

To say "Tiggy" is an unexpectedly epic example of his work would be an understatement. It starts with an urgent morse code riff, flows neatly into an urgent sounding verse then an epic, steamrollering chorus - like "Eloise", the track tries to slap you into submission, with all the fire alarms activating and water jetting down from the emergency sprinkler system. Whoever "Tiggy" was, Kenwright was manically keen to get her attention, though I'd personally have been a little afraid; but nobody can deny the overpowering first impression the track makes. It's a testament to producer Eddie Tre-Vett's usual skills in creating a powerful yet considered racket when needed, and it's somewhat surprising this didn't manage to at least become a minor hit.

The B-side "The House That Fell On Its Face" is also of interest to aficionados of popsike, being penned by producer Eddie Tre-Vett's boy wonder John Pantry. In total contrast to the A-side, it's one of Pantry's delicate, mournful pieces about a disintegrated relationship, closer to "Glasshouse Green Splinter Red" than anything by The Factory. Kenwright appears to be doing an impersonation of Pantry's vocal style throughout, suggesting that it may have been quickly recorded after hearing a rough demo.

21 August 2019

Stephen Shane - I'm Beginning To Touch You/ Someone Who Cares

Slick, slow seventies pop from this one single wonder

Label: Jam
Year of Release: 1972

This is yet another single on the Jam label contributed courtesy of Left and to the Back reader Eduardo Ojeda Marins. It clearly shows that they were trying their hardest to be a credible and successful label for pop hits (and not just ones by Blackfoot Sue).

The A-side is a faithful cover of the Anders and Poncia single "I'm Beginning To Touch You" which pulls back the slightly obsessive urgency of the original and turns it into a seductive piece of smoothie pop instead. If Anders and Poncia sound overwhelmed by the situation, Shane has got the romantic situation all under control - he's the corner of the bedroom with his acoustic guitar, his shirt undone by two or three buttons, and a glint in his eye. 

While Shane seemingly didn't issue any other records under his own name, he was responsible for a run of productions throughout the seventies, including records from such characters as Bill & Buster, Bitter Suite, MacArthur Park, Still Life, and some blokes called Bill Oddie and John Cleese working together for the Athletes Club Fund. None of these were big sellers, though (no, not even the last one) and he appears to have moved on to other projects after 1976.

18 August 2019

Dave & Don - What A Feeling/ That's My Way

Rich, Righteous vocal duet from British duo

Label: Polydor
Year of Release: 1967

Polydor's sixties back catalogue seems to be littered with singles which, whatever their modern market value, are bloody tough to find copies of these days. Seemingly taking a punt on all manner of independent recordings and club artists as they tried to establish a stronger business in Britain, there are still some nice, shiny offerings buried in their slurry pile.

This single, for example, wasn't a duet recorded by Dave Hill and Don Powell out of Slade, despite the label link - don't be so silly. Instead, it was scene veterans Don Fox and Dave Reid singing in rich baritones together, in a manner which will probably be enticing to fans of the brothers both Walker and Righteous. Both sides were written by Fox, and the A-side "What A Feeling" is simple but optimistic pop which on a fairer week might have sold better. In the heavily loaded release schedules of November 1967, however, it barely had a hope.

Don Fox was born in Stamford Hill in London and had recorded numerous singles before this one, from his debut release "Be My Girl" on Decca in 1957, to his take on "T'Aint What You Do" on the Triumph label in 1960 (after Joe Meek had left the business), but tended to be more of a live performer than a studio star by this point in his career. The same applied to his singing partner Dave Reid, who was mainly known for doing lead vocals for The Ten O'Clock Follies at the Talk of The Town. 

14 August 2019

Precious Few - Young Girl/ Little Children Sleep

When different record companies release different versions of the same song on one day, there is only one winner...

Label: Pye
Year of Release: 1968

Given what we now understand about the shadier world of showbiz, "Young Girl" is at best a slightly awkward listen. Lyrically, of course, the song outlines a fairly reasonable personal resolution to avoid "relations" with an under-age girl - if only many convicted celebrities had shown similar restraint - but something about Gary Puckett's howling, hollering, carpet-chewing delivery feels uncomfortable, like he's in Room 101 being tormented in some way. "Get out of HERE before I have the TIME to change my MIND!" indeed - it wouldn't stand up in a court of law, you know. "She just wouldn't leave the room before my desires got the better of me, your honour". 

For those of you who would prefer to hear a more subdued version of the song (which still feels a mite uncomfortable) Norwich's Precious Few are here, the boys to entertain you. Pye issued their cover of the song on exactly the same day Gary Puckett's cut was issued on CBS in the UK, leading to a chart stand-off which Puckett clearly led. While he bashed his fists against the wall screaming at the number one spot until it gave way, the Precious Few could only manage two weeks on the "Breakers List" (the "bubbling under" section of the official chart).

Their take on it comes from an anglicised beat perspective, much more flippant and organ-driven. If Puckett sounds troubled, the group here sound as if they're trying to give somebody the brush-off in a flattering way. "Really, no, this has been a lovely evening, but now the truth is out and erm... my lust... sorry, my LOVE for you has been exposed as inappropriate," they appear to be telling the young lady in question. (The "Get out of here" line still sounds dodgy, mind).

11 August 2019

Reupload - Epic Splendor - A Little Rain Must Fall/ Cowboys and Indians

Zesty Northern Soul styled sounds on the A-side, psych on the flip, and everyone wins

Label: Hot Biscuit Disc Company
Year of Release: 1967

The Epic Splendor were formed from the ashes of the New York based act Little Bits of Sound, and we've already covered their excellent and supremely under-rated single "It Could Be Wonderful" elsewhere on this blog. They were signed to the short-lived (and million dollar funded) US Capitol subsidiary Hot Biscuit and this was the first single the label issued.

"A Little Rain Must Fall" is generally treated with either huge enthusiasm or shrugging indifference by a lot of collectors these days, being regarded as a lost Northern Soul floor-filler by some commenters, or a slice of summery, breezy bubblegum by others. For my money, it's a beautiful, life-affirming little disc and I'd actually spent the last few years looking for a copy at a reasonable price. The lyrics are filled with gentle picture poster philosophy, filled to the brim with observations about how a "little rain must fall" before we get to enjoy the sunshine, but it's delivered with such spring and zest, and such an uptempo light soul arrangement, that it does indeed mirror the heartbreak and the passion necessary for a top northern soul spin. Its slightly gentle production may doom it for some in this respect, though - I can fully understand how it won't (and doesn't) win the rubber stamp of approval from everyone.

The B-side "Cowboys and Indians", on the other hand, is sneery outsider psychedelic pop about the marginalised life of a man with an alternative lifestyle, at total odds with the top side. "I suppose the way I live would blow people's brains/ but then the way they live has always blown mine" sneers the vocalist, bringing back images of an "Easy Rider" character on the dusty highway. 

Whatever you expect from sixties music, either the A-side or the B-side is bound to be a winner for you. 

7 August 2019

Dolphin - Hey Joe/ Dubby Dubby

Mellow reggae take on the Hendrix/ Leaves classic

Label: Gale
Year of Release: 1980

The enigmatic Dolphin - essentially a solo project by songwriter Paul Carman given a group name - are one of those obscure seventies groups whose work hasn't yet excited the average record collector. Releasing smooth, FM radio takes on Byrds and Spector classics such as "Goin Back" and "And Then I Kissed Her", their earliest 1976 releases on Private Stock landed at a time when increasingly few people gave a damn for such sophisticated fare. 

A shame, as those singles would have been pretty enough to have reached a larger section of the public a few years previously. Despite their no-show on the charts, the project continued with gusto with a total of six singles on Private Stock, one LP ("Goodbye") and then finally this 45 and another LP on the small Gale label. 

"Hey Joe" is the one that seems to be picking up a little bit more attention now. While it's a reggae take on the Hendrix classic, inevitably it is somewhat inauthentic - try to push it on the nearest skinhead or dancehall DJ and you're likely to be publicly mocked. It is a smooth and lilting attempt, though, taking The Leaves and Hendrix's wrath and angst and turning it into a despondent, low skank (can you actually skank despondently?) The passing of time has allowed the origins of this one to be forgotten and a few listeners to prick up their ears.

4 August 2019

The Airchords - Piccolo Man/ Walking On New Grass

Irish Showband legends with a Carter-Lewis-Alquist penned bit of 'popsike'

Label: Pye
Year of Release: 1968

The Irish Showband circuit was an unusual, occasionally makeshift phenomenon where rock, pop, soul and sentimental balladry co-existed in a prefab cabaret world. The excellent BBC documentary "How Ireland Learned to Party" gave context to the chaos, telling tales of bands hauling themselves up and down Ireland's A roads to makeshift rural venues and concert halls alike.

The showband circuit seldom harboured rebellious acts, but The Airchords probably still seemed like the least rock and roll of the lot, initially consisting entirely of members of the Irish Air Corps, and undertaking their initial rehearsals in a military dining block room. Forget about Elvis Presley bring forced into military service - The Airchords were the military, finely drilled, clean-cut and obedient, and barely a trace of long hair in sight.

Despite this - or perhaps partly because of it - they were briefly top pop stars in Eire, having large hits  with "The Leaving Of Liverpool" and "The Irish Soldier", and a 1967 number one with "Treat Me Daughter Kindly". "Piccolo Man", on the other hand, peaked at a slightly more tentative number 16 on the Irish Charts, seeming not to grab the public's imagination as much as their previous bursts of sentimental bravado. 

At the bare minimum, though, the song managed better in Ireland than elsewhere. The track, partly penned by in-demand songwriters John Carter and Ken Lewis, never really took off in the UK or mainland Europe despite its populist "Puppet On A String" styled oompah bounce. The Airchords clearly tackle it with straight-ahead efficiency and vigour - even if the intro does at one point sound like the old TV ident to Scottish Television - but it possibly didn't give the Irish public enough to chew on. 

The B-side is arguably better here, being a downright swingin' take on "Walking On New Grass". You can just picture audiences being driven wild by the uptempo devil-may-care tale of musicians on the road.