30 October 2019

The Giant Jellybean Copout - Awake In A Dream

Bizarrely named studio bunch worshipping at the feet of Brian Wilson

Label: Poppy
Year of Release: 1968

While Brian Wilson's talent caused jaws to drop globally when "Pet Sounds" was closely followed by "Good Vibrations", it left the groups who admired him most somewhat snookered. Those who loved The Beatles could put their own spin on the moptop sound without seeming like total clones (though admittedly The Knickerbockers seemed happy to ape their style with very few embellishments). The Beach Boys, though? How can you sound like a 'psychedelic barbershop quartet', as Hendrix put it, in your own way? Wilson not only developed but essentially owned that template.

This is exactly where the ridiculously named Giant Jellybean Copout came unstuck. "Awake In A Dream" is essentially The Beach Boys during their "Good Vibrations"/ "Smile" phase on a much lower budget. It's a very astute imitation, to be fair, and the tremendously psychedelic "lucid dreaming" lyrics and perfect close harmony vocals combine with a meandering structure to create something that must have been a satisfying listen for Wilson fans hungry for the delayed "Smile" LP.

As the group's name might suggest, there's more than a bit of sickly sweet bubblegum running through the core of this record too, but it's syrupy pop with a rather confusing and conflicting aftertaste. 

The main man behind this group was Jim Ryan of The Critters, who is probably best known in the UK for his minor hit "Younger Girl". It's a thing of pure sunshine loveliness which probably doesn't get played much these days due to the fact the lyrics seem slightly paedo-friendly if you're the cynical type. If you hear it as what I suspect it's supposed to be, though - a dreamy song for teenagers about the girl two forms below - it's a thing of beauty. 

Ryan eventually went on to become Carly Simon's touring guitarist, before becoming a studio based session musician. 

27 October 2019

Magnet - Something To Remember Me By/ Everything

Final offering from an under-discussed supergroup

Label: CBS
Year of Release: 1970

The name Magnet is probably familiar to readers who like to delve deep into compilations of sixties obscurities - their debut B-side "Mr. Guy Fawkes" found its way on to both the "We Can Fly" and "Electric Asylum" series.

You could argue that they should be better known than that, however. Consisting of Mick Cox (ex-Them and Eire Apparent) on lead guitar, Keith Evans (ex-Downliners Sect) on bass, Eddie Middleton (ex-Pendulum) on drums and Tony Kelly on guitar and vocals (who, for his part, played with Don Partridge) they were like a supergroup consisting of members of cult sixties combos. Enough to moisten the palms of collectors everywhere, you'd have thought. 

If "Mr. Guy Fawkes" displayed a certain amount of psychedelic whimsy, the A-side showed where the group were really at. "Let Me Stay" is a long, drawn-out rocker which has more in common with Joe Cocker or heavy west coast rock than toytown. 

"Something To Remember Me By" continues in that ilk, but is a sharper, more commercial number, filled with riffs Free or The Ides Of March wouldn't have said no to and a tight, propulsive drive. Had "The Old Grey Whistle Test" been running in 1970, it seems safe to say the group would have been featured.

24 October 2019

The Look - Drumming Up Love/ Testing Times

Final 80s single from under-rated foursome

Label: Towerbell
Year of Release: 1983

The Look have been treated somewhat shabbily over the years. Their name tends to prompt the reflex response of "Eighties one-hit wonders!", and among the most discerning - or perhaps I should say snobbish - punters there's also a tendency to regard them as plastic mod revivalists.

First things first. "I Am The Beat" may have been their only significant hit ("Feeding Time" nudged number 50), but what a hit. Powered by that stomach punch of a drumbeat and one of the sharpest, simplest and catchiest organ riffs of the era, it's far stronger than the efforts of many of the New Wave groups and sixties revivalists they were occasionally compared to. As unashamed crowd pleasers go, it's up there with "Mony Mony" and "Brown Sugar" to my ears, only I tend to actually want to hear "I Am The Beat" more often.

Formerly known as The Kreed, The Ely group were initially signed to MCA in 1980 on a dubious "suck it and see" deal where the label pushed out a single or two to see how they fared, before deciding whether they were prepared to make a longer-term commitment. This wasn't uncommon practice at the time, and usually didn't bode well for a group - if the label lacked enough faith to commit to even one album, it was usually a sign that the band in question were not held in particularly strong esteem in the A&R department, and could find themselves pushed to one side in favour of other acts with bigger money and longer term plans behind them.

So it seemed for The Look at the time. Radio One fairly quickly picked up on the single, but MCA didn't begin to push the record hard until Simon Bates directly named the Managing Director live on air and told him to "get your finger out and promote this record - we're playing it up here and you've got a hit on your hands" (who would have thought Batesy could be so masterly and forceful about the fate of a new band?). It finally entered the Top 40 in the harsh January of 1981, and had risen to the number 6 spot by the end of the month, causing the group to begin to make regular appearances on the likes of "Top of the Pops", "Cheggars Plays Pop" and "Tiswas", lead singer Jonny Whetstone's mulleted, pleased-as-punch face peering through television screens the length and breadth of the land.

Further singles from the group resulted in greatly diminishing returns, however. Descriptions of the period would seem to suggest that MCA mishandled the act, resulting in some rush-recorded but actually rather under-rated singles and an "over-produced" LP ("The Look") which was released long after the momentum of "I Am The Beat" had passed. By 1982, a mere year after scoring a top ten hit, they had been dropped by the label and - despite being a popular draw on the UK gig circuit -struggled to get any interest from the other majors.

Enter the PRT affiliated independent label Towerbell in 1983, home to hit-makers Joe Fagin, Natasha (of "Iko Iko" fame), Nils Lofgren and Shirley Bassey - possibly not the most credible outfit to be associated with, but a reasonable port in a storm. "Drumming Up Love" was the only single to be released from that relationship, and it's a sturdy offering in itself. Filled with the group's usual barnstorming riffs and hooks, it even displays a rawness and energy somewhat lacking in a few of their MCA releases, almost as if the lower budget did them all good.

Sadly, the record sold disappointingly, and the group were offered no further opportunities from the label. The band have claimed that they went to the offices for a meeting only to find the premises "boarded up", which is interesting as while Towerbell definitely did cease trading in 1986, that's some time after this single's failure and presumably long after The Look originally split. We can only assume that Towerbell moved premises and failed to pick up the option to release any more of the band's work in the process, leaving the bemused group "waiting in reception" as they say in the music biz, only in a most chilly, unusual and undignified way.

20 October 2019

Reupload - The Pickwicks - Little By Little/ I Took My Baby Home

Period costume wearing beat group with two spiky, garagey efforts

Label: Warner Bros
Year of Release: 1965

Consisting of Alan Gee on guitar, Malcolm Jenkins on drums, Tony Martin on bass and Johnny Miles on lead guitar and vocals, Coventry's The Pickwicks were one of many sixties beat groups who utilised costumes on stage to strike an eccentric presence. Donning top hats, period costumes and pulling pompous faces, their inventive use of clobber got them noticed, but ultimately didn't score them a hit. Two Decca singles, "Apple Blossom Time" and "You're Old Enough To Be In Love" didn't chart, and this, their final hurrah on Warner Brothers, was equally luckless.

The A-side "Little by Little" is an incredibly minimal, almost garagey effort which isn't so spiky as to be uncommercial, but certainly isn't populist enough to break through. Nonetheless, its insistent keyboard riff and simmering attitude is enticing.

Of far more interest to most readers, I suspect, will be the flip, the Ray Davies composition "I Took My Baby Home". Clattering and crashing into the tune with aplomb, it's a lovely and uplifting two minutes. 

16 October 2019

Candy Choir - Those Bootleggin' Prohibition Days/ Love Me Princess

Last gasp for Kent harmony pop stalwarts

Label: MAM
Year of Release: 1971

When "I'm A Hog For You" by Erkey Grant and The Eerwigs re-emerged on the Rubble compilation series, there was some confusion about who the oddly named combo were. Well, The Eerwigs were this Kent combo under an early name, and after that wiggy R&B number failed to tickle the public's fancy, they morphed into Candy Choir (after a brief spell as Plus Four - God, this business is confusing sometimes). 

Their sixties bread and butter mainly stemmed from acting as Crispian St. Peter's backing group, but their ambitions clearly lay in striking out as a popular force in their own right. Ostensibly a pop group despite their promising sounding popsike styled name, their debut 45 for CBS "Children and Flowers" showcased their tight vocal harmonies and intricate arrangements, but didn't sell well. Nor did their second outing for that label, "Alexander's Rag Time Band", and by 1970 they had been dropped on to Polydor for two further singles, "Why Do You Cry My Love" and "Magical Spiel" (with Barry Ryan) neither of which improved their standing.

This one-off 45 on MAM was their last hurrah, and as ever showcases their marvellous harmony sound but wastes it somewhat on a novelty A-side. "Those Bootleggin' Prohibition Days" is somewhat in keeping with the ironic period pastiches which began to drip out of the early seventies, but is charming without being particularly memorable. For a better track which is much more in keeping with the group's style, the flipside "Love Me Princess" is more worthy of a spin - romantic and mushy but so beautifully performed you'll forgive them any cliches.

13 October 2019

F.R. David - Symphonie (EP)

F.R. David explodes all over the blog for you

Label: Polydor
Year of Release: 1967

Outside of France, the singer F.R. David - born Robert Fitoussi - is mainly remembered for one thing; his global hit "Words". Its ringing, chiming and despairing melodies about his emotional constipation seemed to appeal to all the women of the world who liked to think that beneath their man's stony exterior lay hidden affections and depths. Perhaps along the way, it attracted the men that applied to as well. On first release, I must admit I found it somewhat wet and irritating, but in my old age I've developed a sneaking affection for "Words".

The problem with having one large hit is inevitably it overshadows the rest of your career - how many times have we heard that before? - and in F.R. David's case, that's particularly unfortunate. He's a much more interesting performer and songwriter than he's been given credit for in the UK, having somewhat credible sixties origins. He began his career in 1965 as a member of the garage band Les Trefles who changed their name to Les Boots after one EP. Success was not forthcoming, so he split to go solo and initially issued this, which was pretty wigged out by the usual standards of French pop.

Track one "Symphonie" is the tune to pay attention to. Riddled with meandering orchestral arrangements, David's falsetto trilling and accompanied with a somewhat psychedelic promotional video which seemingly references Synesthesia, it's French chanson pop with a microdose of LSD. Like many French releases of the period, you can tell the production and arrangements are hemming in the potential wildness of the track - the stench of freshly laundered recording studio lab coats and conductor's bow ties never feels far away - but it's a fascinating piece of work from an unlikely source.

Track two is a cover version of "Strawberry Fields Forever" which reduces the grandness of The Beatles original vision to a melancholy, reflective ballad. It's not the worst version of the song I've heard, but it lacks a real point. The cover version of "Knight In Rusty Armour" and the likeable "Rien De Plus" on the flipside are more interesting.

9 October 2019

Phil Brady & The Ranchers - Exeter By-Pass/ Papa

Scouse country stalwart's solitary Pye release

Label: Pye
Year of Release: 1970

Imagine, just as the Merseybeat scene really began to get swinging, having the sheer misfortune but pure artistic honesty to be fronting a country group in Liverpool. More unscrupulous folk would have dropped the cowboy hat in a jiffy in favour of a Beatle haircut and some copped Motown rhythms, but Phil Brady carried on as he started in 1962 - performing and releasing a series of anglicised country songs, indifferent to the trends around him.

In spite of - or perhaps because of - this singular vision, he began to build a strong live following in the North West of England, which caused the Cavern Club to offer him the chance to release the novelty track "An American Sailor at the Cavern" on their own record label. Sadly, the Cavern's financial demise occurred at almost exactly the same time this record was pressed up, and as a result very few copies made it into the shops. If you spot a copy, snap it up - it's one of the rarest singles of the period, and certainly one of the most unusual Cavern souvenirs.

His other releases are more commonly chanced upon, especially his LPs which were at one point a fairly regular sight in the record sections of department stores in particular. This release for Pye, however, marks his last release on 45, and is a charming, warm and mellow lovelorn contemplation of the Exeter By-pass of all things. You won't hear that in Nashville. In this instance, Brady clearly had the courage to drop distinctly English images into a country track, and it pays off in a way it simply wouldn't if he'd copied from the same rulebook as numerous plastic anglo-cowboys and played the broken hearted, troubled but rugged man from a place he'd yet to visit. "Exeter By-Pass" is equal parts English rain and Southern Comfort (though what an appalling drink that would make in reality).

6 October 2019

Reupload - Hackensack - Moving On/ River Boat

Seering, high-paced and relentless rocker from 70s circuit faves

Label: Island
Year of Release: 1972

In the late sixties and early seventies, music began to be appraised by certain selective punters not just by how melodic or innovative it was, but how loud and heavy, especially in the live environment. Bands began to obtain huge amplifiers and stacks affordably, and thus acts such as Blue Cheer described themselves as being capable of turning the air to cheese with their sheer racket. Presumably nobody asked for a refund when the venue around them didn't transform miraculously into rich Brie.

Hackensack were renowned for being one of Britain's heaviest blues rock bands in the early seventies, and became quite a draw on the live circuit, chalking up 270 gigs - but naturally, their high voltage and volume attacks failed to cross over into record shop sales. 1974's Polydor released album "Up The Hard Way" was cultishly successful, but not enough to convince anyone that they had a reasonable commercial proposition on their hands, though it has since become a highly collectible item. Thus Hackensack were kicked back on to the small venue circuit before giving it all up, an unissued live album apparently languishing in the Pye vaults.

This is their solitary single, and consists of two quite different halves. The A-side "Moving On" chugs along and swings merrily, and actually has an almost glam rock chorus which sounds like it might have been borrowed from Iron Virgin or one of the many flop tinseltowners of the day. It's perfectly good, but it's the B-side that really shows what Hackensack were capable of. "River Boat" is an absolute dumb-ass assault, riddled with a primal, almost garage rock riff which needles away throughout. Vocals scream, cymbals crash, and the whole thing is a fine example of how the 60s punk tradition naturally morphed into Serious Rock in the early seventies. So downright distorted and compressed is the track that I had to have three goes of ripping it from vinyl before getting the right volume control - it sends all the needles flying into the red even at low recording volumes. I still can't decide if I over or under did it.

2 October 2019

Bear George - Bear Rap/ Bear Behind

For sweet music... murder the bear

Label: Cambra
Year of Release: 1983

Hofmeister. I bet the mention of that reasonably priced tinned lager brought back some memories for you, eh readers? Only instead of the Proustian rush of delicious "hops" suddenly appearing on your tongue, I expect you probably remember the mystery of cleaning out your fridge and finding a stray can of it at the very back. Perhaps you recall thinking: "How did that get there? Who bought that shit? Was it Rob? Has that been around since last year's party?" before concluding "Well, I'll drink it if it's a Sunday night, all the off licences are shut and I'm desperate, I suppose..." (repeat the cycle again in another nine months time, or sooner depending on your fridge hygiene schedule. My approach is admittedly lax).

I've never met anybody in my life who claimed that Hofmeister was their favourite lager. It generally sat perched among the other weak, pissy budget beers like Skol in the supermarket, and as such was only attractive if you were broke and desperate. The last time I purchased a tin during a rather desperate penny-pinching period, I concluded that if somebody had replaced my lager with some fizzy mineral water topped up with a small drop of amber food colouring, I'd have been none the wiser. I probably would have got just as drunk too. Hofmeister was probably a fair accompaniment to a vindaloo which had fried your tastebuds so much you could no longer recognise what you were drinking, but that's it.

Contrary to popular belief, it also wasn't a German beer, but was brewed by Scottish Courage. Faced with the challenge of trying to make a truly rubbish product appealing to young, gullible drinkers everywhere, Courage did what companies have done for longyears and hired an advertising company to blow their conceptual fairydust on it. Enter John Webster, who had previously directed the Cresta, Smash and Sugar Puffs adverts. In this case he seemingly took some cues from the Honey Monster success and shot the adventures of a woodland bear who had gained a sniff of Hofmeister beer and decided to live a more urban lifestyle as a result.

George The Bear was a strange amalgamation of various aspects of geezer-ish early eighties culture. With a voice like Mike Reid, the jacket of a darts player, the swagger of a wide boy, a pork-pie hat like Mickey Pearce and the casual attire of a football fan dressed up for a night out in the clubs, he ticked all the boxes likely to appeal to men who secretly wanted to be more funny, cocky, confident and impressive than they really were. Adolescents, in other words.

The adverts were a screaming success and enabled Hofmeister to retain its popularity into the nineties, though concerns were eventually raised about the bear's appeal to people well beneath the legal drinking age, and the adverts were eventually banned. As the years moved on, the British palate for beer also became more sophisticated, and even the skintest boozers slyly u-turned on their following of the bear, moving on to richer, stronger lagers instead. It was subsequently discontinued in 2003.