27 November 2019

The Selofane - Girl Called Fantasy/ Happiness Is Love

Euphoric late sixties pop from seven-piece group

Label: CBS
Year of Release: 1968

The Selofane were a group who were absurdly large in terms of their overall membership size - regrettably though, so far as record sales were concerned, they never quite made the grade.

Despite this, there's little doubt that this, their first single, had an strong commercial sound, being filled to the brim with rich, loved-up harmonies, a powerful Albert Hammond production and a - for the time - vaguely exotic Europop sound. Coming on like The Love Affair with their dancing shoes off and their work at its most dreamy, "Girl Called Fantasy" sounds like a perfect accompaniment for shoreline romancing for the mod boy and mod girl on holiday. Maybe.

Sadly, both this and their follow-up "Shingle IAO" failed to chart and are somewhat obscure now. The flipside of "Shingle", the heavily phased "Chase The Face" has become a cultish favourite among psych collectors in recent years, but remains strangely uncompiled. It's only a matter of time. 

The group's personnel is going to be an epic chore to list, but for both these 45s Arnie Arnold played sax, with Alex Gavin on organ, Jon Gobin on vocals, Geoff Hulme on drums, Jud Lander on lead guitar and harmonica, Les Martin and bass and the enigmatically named Spider on trumpet. 

24 November 2019

Ways & Means - Sea of Faces/ Make The Radio A Little Louder

Woozy, strange and melancholic slice of winter 1967 psychedelia

Label: Pye
Year of Release: 1967

Ways & Means were a British vocal harmony group whose singles were normally quite straightforward pop affairs. Their most famous release, 1968's "Breaking Up A Dream", is sprightly and has a mod-ish kick which has led to it being well-appraised by collectors of that style and era. Their first 45 in 1966, on the other hand, was a cover of The Beach Boys' "Little Deuce Coupe" which was a faithful facsimile.

Between those two releases sat this little ghoul of doom, a vaguely disorientating and psychedelic outing which also sounds as if it's emerging from someone's personal crisis. "Sea of Faces" was released in the dead of winter 1967, and has an intriguing and captivating arrangement. It wails, howls and begs its way from beginning to end, sounding like the Gibb brothers drunk out of their minds on vermouth while lurching about riding a choppy ferry from the Isle of Man to the mainland UK. "I want YOU!" the band screech with unsteady feet, and if I were the lady in question, I wouldn't come back to any of them. It's a bit disturbing, but in a good way. 

The flipside "Make The Radio A Little Louder" takes a more traditional soul-pop tune and arrangement, but still has a wobbly, woozy feeling which threatens to disrupt the order at any moment. Ultimately though, it's not as interesting.

20 November 2019

Mojo Hannah - Six Days On The Road (LP) (including St. Jeremy)

Ex-Sweet man Mick Stewart's stomping Southern bar-room boogie boys 

Label: Kingdom
Year of Release: 1973

Mojo Hannah first came to my attention when a few months back, somebody wised me up to their hypnotic and delightful 1973 single "St. Jeremy". Sounding for all the world like a probable hit, "St. Jeremy" contains earthy early seventies rock grit in its fingernails but also the flamboyant sounds of a Cockney Rebel-esque fiddle and a pounding, repetitive and very vaguely artrock structure. It sounds like something you'd expect from some artschool glam rockers.

Hold that thought for a second, because Mojo Hannah were actually formed by ex-Sweet boy Mick Stewart, who was with that group for a mere year between 1969-70. On the other hand, don't don a pair of silver platform boots and put away all the breakables just yet. Far from being a stomping record filled with rockers about teenage rebellion and ballrooms being somehow "blitzed", or even a stylistic follow-on from The Sweet's earliest bubblegum days, the Hannahs largely produce a solid approximation of Southern country-rock across both sides of this LP.

"Six Days On The Road" is largely straight-ahead bar-room country rock, with plenty of squeaking cattle gut and songs about living one's life as a somewhat raucous individual. For fans of that genre, especially those who like it raw, unpolished and untroubled by slick production, there's lots to love here - the group sound as if they're on stage in front of you pounding their way through a series of songs which will probably mention Louisiana or the Mississippi Delta any second.

For my tastes, they're at their most interesting when they get into a stoned, hypnotic groove, and "St. Jeremy" is the absolute ace in the pack from that point of view - I was originally going to buy the single, until realising that I could obtain a copy of the whole album cheaper - and "Cajun Girl" isn't half bad either, with a gorgeous electric piano line combining with a repetitive beat and some beautiful close vocal harmonies from the boys. Excerpts from both tracks can be found behind the link, but don't necessarily treat them as entirely representative of the rest of the album.

17 November 2019

Reupload - The London Boys - Eyes of Kazan/ All My Life

Excellent McCartney-esque popsike song by John Carter, strangely unreleased in the UK

Label: BASF
Year of Release: 1971

There are, to the best of my knowledge, two bands with the "London Boys" moniker. One seemed to be a project of the jobbing songwriter (and Flowerpot Men member) John Carter. The other was an eighties Eurodisco act with flashy dance moves who somehow ended up doing backing vocals to charged political pop on Microdisney records (apparently angrily suggesting to Cathal Coughlan that he was sick in the head before they sang backing vocals to lines such as "There's nothing wrong with the young would-be rich/ that a headful of lead would not cure"). It shouldn't be too tricky to work out which one this is.

"Eyes of Kazan" is an odd release for two reasons. Firstly, it's a slice of psychedelic pop which was issued in 1971, long after most record buyers had shown any signs of caring about this kind of thing. It was also released in Germany only, failing to reach the shops in any other European markets (including the UK). I can only speculate as to why this was - it's possible that it was an old John Carter composition which had been gathering dust which BASF were persuaded to issue, but the (slightly cack-handed) stereo mix suggests to me that it's more likely to be a seventies recording.

It's actually pretty good as well. There's a copped Beach Boys bass riff (from "You're So Good To Me") and a thumping, stoned McCartneyesque feel to the whole thing, and while it lacks the necessary hooks to truly sound like a hit, it's neatly persuasive and proof positive that when digging the record racks for psychedelic pop, one needn't stop at 1969. There are other gems to be found beyond that end-date.

14 November 2019

Mike Wade - On The Make

Completely unreleased song by Scott Walker-esque crooner

Label: [acetate]
Year of Release: [n/a]

Acetates, particularly ones of unreleased songs, spark huge excitement in me. It doesn't necessarily matter if the song isn't a lost gem - I've been getting my knees dirty digging in plastic crates for long enough now to know that's a very rare occurrence - it's just interesting to get hold of a polished recording which never made it past the private studio pressing stage. If a record that only sold fifty copies is scarce, then an acetate which was only shared among a handful of people is always going to feel a bit like a "precious thing" to a record collector.

The trouble is, acetates usually aren't very cheap either, and if I'm being honest, they tend not to overly enthuse "Left and to the Back" readers, who perhaps sense that if it wasn't good enough to make it into record shops, it's probably not worth clicking to investigate further. If I'm being fair, that's not usually an unreasonable assumption. "So what have we here?" you may well ask while stroking your chins, and let me tell you...

Mike Wade was one of many theatrical, big-voiced male solo singers in the sixties, who issued one 45 on Beacon ("Lovers", backed with the danceable "Two Three Four") and two on Polydor ("Happiness" and "Lovin' You Lovin' Me"). With a singing style which does seem rather reminiscent of Scott Walker at times, he nonetheless failed to take the kind of creative risks our dearly departed friend did - there were to be no songs about death or Stalin, nor meat punched for its percussive qualities round at Mike's house.

As Scott became ever more introspective and experimental, perhaps record label bosses saw Mike Wade as being somebody who could be wheeled into his place. That really wasn't to be, though - all his singles sold poorly, and it's very tricky to track down any of them now. Scott's, on the other hand, have been reissued time and time over.

13 November 2019

Our Shop Is Still Online

You may remember me saying a few months back that "Left and to the Back" now had a shop selling all manner of rare, sought-after and unusual 45s.

Well, it's still there, and I'm trying to add records to it every weekend, though the more in-demand ones tend to sell quickly, so it's best to log on and check regularly. Postage is secure and cheap, my feedback has been good (so far) and there's a strong chance you might find something for sale that tickles your fancy.

Log in, and keep revisiting, and don't be afraid to ask if you've got any questions.

[The next blog update will be taking place tomorrow morning, by the way].

10 November 2019

The Squeal Band - Pour on Stardust/ Trailer Park Heaven

Call Jeremy Clarkson and the Top Gear boys! They'll lap up this driving prog.

Label: President
Year of Release: 1977

I admit I bought this single at a fairly low price because I saw the year of release, the group's name and the rather glammish A-side song title and assumed I might be getting some late period tinsel rock here. As commonly occurs when these kinds of assumptions are made, that wasn't what I heard when the needle hit the groove - both sides here are the work of skilled musicians showing off their chops very flamboyantly. Part Steely Dan, part Allman Brothers in their "Jessica" prime, it's hooky pop with lots of twiddly bits attached.

The A-side "Pour On Stardust" focuses on the hard knock life of a group attempting to impress management and record labels, who are urging them to "pour on stardust". It sounds very much like a satirical snipe at glam rock and plastic music industry mechanisations rather than the full-on stomp-a-thon I was hoping for, but there's no denying that the chirpy chorus with its painted-on smile is pretty poppy for a group of this nature.

The flip is more satisfying. "Trailer Park Heaven" is a cascade of warbling analogue keyboards and frantic fretboard activity, and it's concise prog rock at its fidgety best. If Yes or ELP had managed to create songs this detailed and kept them at a punchy three-and-a-half minutes, I might have had more interest in them. 

6 November 2019

The Kadettes - Fireball XL5/ Mission Impossible

An eighties synth-pop cover of a children's sci-fi show - just what the future ordered

Label: Blank
Year of Release: 1982

Back in their days as a relatively unknown live outfit, XTC used to try to excite provincial crowds who were unfamiliar with their material with unexpected covers. "All Along The Watchtower" made it on to their debut LP "White Music". Their peppy cover of "Fireball XL5", on the other hand, went nowhere, languishing in the vaults until their "Coat of Many Cupboards" box set unveiled it in 2002 (mixing it together with a pretty mean dub version). While the band weren't happy with the studio version, it's possible they also sensed it might be a bit too gimmicky for an up-and-coming group during those somewhat judgemental times.

A few years later, this little 45 was released by the rather anonymous Kadettes, and placed the tune in the rightful lap of a studio project who were unafraid of the project's novelty value. The early eighties were surely the right time to revamp the track as well. Barry Andrews' squeaky keyboards on XTC's version made it seem like sixties pastiche, whereas this remodels the track as a piece of sleek, futuristic disco - or at least, it sounded pretty damn modern at the time.

Regrettably, the flip "Mission Impossible" isn't actually a synthpop cover of the theme from that programme - though I'm not too sure how that would have worked. It's an original composition which  is perfectly listenable but overshadowed by the ginormous hooks on offer over on the A-side.

3 November 2019

Reupload - Jimmy Gordon - Test Pattern/ 1980

Two fuzzy garage instros from the creator of cult classic "Buzzzzzz"

Label: Challenge
Year of Release: 1967

Jimmy Gordon's 1963 surf instrumental "Buzzzzzz" is one of the more sought-after records of its genre, having an absolute overload of fuzz guitar and riff-ridden drama. Much bootlegged and compiled and blogged since, not much more needs to be added about its existence.

The 1967 follow-up single "Test Pattern/ 1980", on the other hand, has been given shorter shrift. As a sucker for all things remotely whiffing of television testcards, the track's title sucked me in. Rather than featuring a sinister screeching noise throughout its duration, or any reference to nervous girls with chalky fingers playing noughts and crosses with evil clowns, it's yet another instrumental with a twangy, fuzzy edge to it. By 1967 this surely felt slightly like old hat and its failure to hit the charts won't have been a surprise, though it has worked its way on to a compilation for psychedelic instrumentals since. So perhaps not...

The flip "1980" has more of a mellow, jazzy vibe to it, but pretty much stays true to the formula. Both sides are worth your time, with neither one really having the edge over the other in terms of quality.