30 December 2020

Arena - You Call This Love/ With Or Without You


Vanity pressed hooky eighties rock from who knows where

Label: Arena
Year of Release: 1986

There's a simplistic tendency to assume that between 1976-86, most DIY or vanity pressed singles were the work of awkward spiky types desperate for John Peel or early evening Radio One airplay. In reality, life continued much as it did before punk, and the majority of self-financed releases were from acts either wanting to sell records directly to the audiences they played to (social club and holiday camp performers, for example) or bands believing that having something immortalised in wax in local shops might get more attention than a bog-standard demo tape. Have I said this on the blog before? I've a feeling, readers, that I may have done. Forgive me. 

Anyway, in common with many of the DIY releases of the day, this one came and went without leaving a strong mark in the media. I have no idea who Arena were, where they came from, or what they went on to do next, but this record has steadily become a moderately sought-after curiosity.

Both sides reveal an accomplished group of performers and some surprisingly slick production given the self-financed nature of the release. None-more-mid-80s squeaky keyboards mix with powerful, boyish vocals, and some hair-metal styled guitar work. The group sound as if they're going for the sweet spot between mainstream pop and hard rock, in common with other bands of the era like Europe. There's a pop suss here that isn't quite powerful enough to have got the attention of record labels - "You Call This Love" sounds more like a convincing follow-up to a hit single rather than the big hit itself - but indicates that better things might have been ahead.

23 December 2020

Merry Christmas!


As ever, this blog will be taking a break for the Christmas period, but I'll be back with a new post before the year's up.

In the meantime, you really should spin back and listen to some of the Christmas singles which have appeared on here over the last few years, all of which are deeply unlikely to be played in your local shopping centre anytime soon (especially Derek Jameson's effort).

I hope you've enjoyed some of the records which have drifted my way over the last year. As I'm typing right now, there's a pile of 45s on my right-hand side waiting to be digitised for the New Year round of entries, and who knows, we might even make it through 2021 unscathed to hear even more audio curiosities.

Have a great Christmas, and enjoy your new global anthem:

22 December 2020

Paul Rich - Must Be Santa/ Virgin Mary

 Cut-price cover of the Mitch Miller favourite
Label: Embassy
Year of Release: 1960
I can't resist putting an Embassy single up for your attention before Christmas arrives. After all, which of us didn't receive a budget record for the festive season from a tight-arsed (or thrifty) relative? "It's just a little something for you to open on Christmas Day" as Auntie Vi used to say, not realising that the LP she'd brought you was not recorded by the latest hot hit makers, but by some balding session musicians working to the clock (cut to an image of Elton John beavering away in the studio corner). Think about it - what could be more Christmassy than a cheap Woolworths knock-off?
Still, it's not as if "Must Be Santa" was much of a hit in the UK anyway, and it's certainly not as if it really "belonged" to Tommy Steele, who took it to an under-achieving number 40 here. The track had originally been recorded in the USA by Mitch Miller and then interpreted by Steele later, meaning it was wide open for anyone's attempt by this point, low budget or otherwise. Embassy Records stalwart Paul Rich, who recorded more frequently for the budget Woolworths label than any other singer, gives it a much less cheeky and more rounded, better enunciated take than Steele, and there's a cosiness to it I can't help but enjoy. This feels like polite, 1960 Palladium entertainment and the song and arrangement suits my mood like a comfy pair of slippers.

It can't have been much of a cash generator for Woolies, though. For as much as the song was reasonably well liked in North America, it didn't really begin to pick up in popularity in the UK until Bob Dylan's crazed cover was released, which seems to have become the template for every pub band and artist who has tried it since. Even the wonderful Zooey Deschanel took Bob's stylings for this under her wing in 2016, but made the fatal error of including Hilary Clinton's name among the list of presidents at the point of recording. Ah well. Christmas is the perfect time for optimism, I suppose.

20 December 2020

The Ants - Christmas Star/ Wandering

 Joe Meek-esque festive 45 from Don Powell of Slade's future wife
Label: Parlophone  
Year of Release: 1963

Good God, I can only imagine Joe Meek's face when he first heard this Christmas instrumental. He wasn't a big lover of music business bigwigs ripping off his style at the best of times, but this single is practically a Meek parody. All the essential features are present and correct - the compression, galloping rhythm, buzz of distortion around the edges, and the ambitious yet faintly mend-and-make-do broom cupboard arrangements.

As soon as you spot that this is a Robert Stigwood production, it all begins to make sense. Stigwood had a passing association with Meek thanks to his management of John Leyton, and had actually worked alongside him as co-producer on Leyton's "Girl On The Floor Above". It doesn't take much of a leap of the imagination to assume that perhaps he paid close enough attention to his methods to know exactly what to do when it came to recording this single.

"Christmas Star" sounds like you'd expect a festive single from the The Tornados to sound, just far too late in the day to have any impact. By the end of 1963, slightly more than a year since their monstrous success with "Telstar",  the group were very much yesterday's news, putting out single after single to increasing public disinterest. Cashing in on their sound was never going to be a very bankable proposition by the time Merseybeat was exciting the nation, which makes me wonder why Stigwood bothered - if anyone was going to score big with a Meek-styled festive instrumental hit, it was probably Meek himself.

16 December 2020

Reupload - Petr & Pavel - Laska/ Wencelas Square

  Hopeful 1968 Christmas protest single from Czech defectors

Label: Page One
Year of Release: 1968

It's interesting how often the late sixties are regarded as a period of "love and peace" and frequently represented by film footage of hippies idling around in fields clutching flowers. The period was, in reality, anything but. Ignoring even the obvious spectre of the Vietnam War hovering over everything, the USSR was also mobilising itself to the detriment of many lives.

Concerned about the increasing liberalisation of Czechoslovakia, where censorship and "secret police" interventions into daily lives were about to be lifted, the Warsaw Pact - consisting of USSR and its Eastern European allies - invaded the country to assert control, killing 108 Czechs and Slovaks in the process, and wounding 500 more. It was a heavy-handed display of appalling brute force which sent a flashing warning message out to all other Communist bloc countries - express yourselves freely and pay the price.

Petr and Pavel are slightly elusive, mysterious characters now, but at the time the story went that they were Czech entertainers who escaped by "stowing away on a jet plane" out of the country to Britain where they remained as defectors. There's no easily obtainable information about how they managed this feat, or what they did in Czechoslovakia before (the country had a booming beat scene, as we've already explored on this blog) just some Page One orientated propaganda about their escape and subsequent signing to a British record label. It's all very shady to say the least.

Top pop songwriters Alan Blaikley and Ken Howard got their mitts on them, and wrote this single which got issued the same year just in time for the Christmas sales rush. "Laska" was the only effort of theirs to get a release here, and seriously ramps up its Eastern European feel for the British market, combining the strident folk rhythms and "heys!" with an actually quite touching lyrical message. Throughout, the pair sing about being cut adrift from their homeland, alone in a strange land, but begin to speak in Czech at one point. This segment translates roughly as "My dear friend, we must learn to live in the New World - memories are good and bad - and look forward to peace and love". It's pure novelty pop, of course, but a quick search online reveals many people who were deeply moved by the record during those uncertain times. It was a heart-warming early winter tonic to many, an emotional cocktail of both defiance and loneliness beneath the blaring production.

13 December 2020

The Dog That Bit People - Lovely Lady/ Merry-Go-Round


Short, snappy mellow prog from ex-Locomotive members
Label: Parlophone
Year of "Release": 1971
 The Dog That Bit People were another one of those here-today gone-tomorrow progressive bands which seemed to litter the early seventies almost as much as the roaches that probably festooned the ashtrays during their gigs. Formed by Michael Hincks and Bob Lamb from the rather more successful Locomotive after Norman Haines left that group, their only LP - the unimaginatively titled "Dog That Bit People" - is one of the scarcest of that era.

Stock copies for their only single "Lovely Lady" seem to be non-existent, and it's only ever turned up in its promotional form, which leads me to suspect it was only ever produced as bait for progressively minded radio DJs. Whatever the facts behind this, it's actually a breezy, summery affair with dashes of both Americana and McCartneyesque cheeriness amidst the mix. As long as you don't continually hear the phrase "lovely lady" being spoken in Jimmy Savile's sinister tones - he did, after all, love to say "Love-leh love-leh love-leh laaaay-deh!" - you're probably home dry with an appropriately flowery, bright and surprisingly straightforward 45 from an otherwise relatively elaborate bunch of proggers. This is one of the few singles I've come across which sits neatly on the crossroads of popsike and prog, and it's none the worse for it.

Besides having Hincks on vocals and bass and Lamb on drums, The Dog That Bit People also featured John Caswell on vocals and guitar and Keith Millar on vocals, guitar and keyboards. Caswell apparently went on to produce some solo material in the eighties on the MCA label and also played with the Steve Gibbons Band. Hincks and Lamb became backing musicians for Raymond Froggatt, and the whereabouts of Millar is - you guessed it - unclear. There's always one, isn't there?

9 December 2020

Magik Roundabout - Everlasting Day/ Instrumental

Kiwi dreamers on a baggy tip
Label: M&G/ Wau Mr Modo/ Polydor
Year of Release: 1991

Back in the early nineties, I was a member of a band (unsigned and unsuccessful) who - for reasons of stubbornness or just plain coincidence - had a tendency to champion other groups who were not really on the tip list of most of the established music magazines. "Dave, have you heard Taste Xperience's new one? It's fantastic! They're going to be huge!" they'd rave inaccurately while I unknotted my bass guitar lead.

Magik Roundabout were another favoured group on the jaunts up the A127 back from the rehearsal rooms to my parent's house, with this song being the preferred track played from a somewhat worn out TDK cassette. They were an odd group to jump on, but one who clearly had some music business support behind them. This, seemingly their debut single, was produced by the highly sought-after Youth and released via the Polydor subsidiary M&G, thereby ensuring that the group dodged the usual indie chart slog and were allowed access to top quality pluggers and marketing moguls.

While this might have seemed absurd from a UK perspective and given the impression that the group had emerged from nowhere, the lead singer Peter van der Fluit had previously been a member of the New Zealand post-punk group The Screaming MeeMees , a group so successful in their home country that their 1981 single "See Me Now" became the first Kiwi record to enter their native charts at number one.

Following the split of that group, Peter studied for a Masters in Music at the University of Auckland, then moved to London in the early nineties and formed this lot, who perhaps not entirely unexpectedly combined the dominant blissed out baggy sounds of the era with the kind of gentle, understated and cheery vocals and melody lines more typically found on the New Zealand music scene. If you're listening to "Everlasting Day" and find yourself wondering whether it sounds like Crowded House on an ecstasy tablet, rest assured that was my first thought as well.

6 December 2020

Rick and Sandy - Half As Much/ Cottonfields


Chipper Beatlesy sixties pop from hopeful duo
Label: Mercury
Year of Release: 1965
If you saw this relatively cheap 45 sitting in your local charity shop box, it would be tempting to pass by, assuming that it was just another folk duo or a pair of scrubbed and preppy light entertainment types. Let's face it, the early to mid sixties was filled with lots of flotsam and jetsam from both sources.

In reality, while this isn't exactly power-packed, it's nonetheless a nice bit of beat pop which punches beyond the duo's small collective weight. The A-side, a high tempo cover of "Half As Much" - originally popularised by Rosemary Clooney - ties the melody tightly to The Beatles "I Should Have Known Better" riff, and builds on it to create some bouyant, Merseybeat flavoured pop which might have charted in a good week or month. Rick and Sandy were clearly drinking from the same Everly Brothers fountain as the Fabs, and the end result is equal parts pleasure and pain; beneath the catchy melodies you can hear the boys keening for a very ungrateful lover.

The B-side is also interesting as an early beat cover of Leadbelly's "Cottonfields" which beat The Beach Boys (and others) to the punch. It sounds very much like a quickie cover on the flip, and indeed that's almost certainly what it was, but it's interesting to hear their take.

Hopes were high for this single, which was the duo's first, and a slot was arranged on "Ready Steady Go" to promote the disc, but it failed to sell well. Their follow-up records "I Lost My Girl", "I Remember Baby" and "Creation" received less publicity and subsequently were more ignored still. The final 45 "Creation" was penned and produced by the (then) rising music industry wunderkind Jonathan King, but this wasn't enough to reverse their fortunes and turned out to be their final release.

2 December 2020

Reupload - Romford Golden Sunshine Band - Alberto The Great/ Kalahari Bushman Shuffle


Uncharacteristically chirpy emotions and sounds from Romford way

Label: MGM
Year of Release: 1968

Ah, Romford. The Essex town that spoils us all, with the whiff of yeasty goodness from its brewery (way back when), the cheap polyester work shirts on sale at its market stalls, the tattered Union Jacks flapping proudly over various right-wing political party leafletting points... it's a place us Ilfordians, ourselves not living the high life, tend to look at when we want to feel a bit posh. 

A few days ago, someone remarked on Twitter that "The world is not like a pub car park in Romford" in an attempt to get someone to understand that violence is not always the answer to everything. A Romfordian user hit back: "Not comfortable with this level of Romford bashing. Fights tend to happen everywhere, and not just car parks." 

Still, I ought to be careful what I say - the great brassy force of this record makes it sound as if there's a lot of members in the Romford Golden Sunshine Band, and after this blog entry they might try to beat me up. While there may have been multiple musicians involved, the only members I'm able to verify with any certainty are lead man Dave Watson and co-writer Dennis Masterton. The drummer was apparently Bill Legend of T Rex fame, but I can't find a verifiable source for that fact.

"Alberto The Great" here is an incredibly merry instrumental, packed with equal doses of Herb Alpert styled shine and a tiny bit of soulfulness. It's a bit too chirpy to be a credible case for the dancefloor, but like some of the better easy listening instrumentals from this period, it has a careful and bouncy arrangement that's never boring. 

29 November 2020

John Christian Dee - The World Can Pack Their Bags And Go Away/ Stick To Your Guns


Sulky introverted ballad to the joys of prostitution

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1969

While John Christian Dee's name may not be immediately familiar, the American-born songwriter and performer was actually one of the sixties busiest beavers. From being the first "Adam" in the Germany based singing duo "Adam and Eve", to penning "Don't Bring Me Down" for The Pretty Things, to marrying (and working with) controversial society figure Janie Jones, Dee was everywhere while as a solo performer (in UK chart terms) being nowhere. 

 The relative failure of his solo singing career has to be put in some perspective here. Adam and Eve were a sensation in Germany, issuing scores of singles and seldom being off the television, and when he moved to Britain his songwriting career was productive and actually highly credible. Besides working with The Pretty Things he also wrote "Get Yourself Home" for The Fairies - a cult sixties R&B classic - and a string of other pop songs for major labels. All this was attempted while trying to make a name for himself as a solo performer, which caught some of the attention of the music press but didn't necessarily result in huge sales.

"The World Can Pack Their Bags And Go Away" was his third solo single on these shores, and was also somewhat strangely the B-side of his previous single for Pye "Take Me Along", though the differing production credits for this issue would suggest a more ambitious re-recording. It's a full-on sulk of a record, documenting someone's post-adolescent heartbreak and wanderlust. "For a couple of pounds I could buy a friend/ but what would people say?" asks Dee somewhat weirdly at one point, before detailing a hotel check-in with the aforementioned buddy. 

It's a very peculiar piece of kitchen sink songsmithery which begs sympathy for a lonely and heartbroken man who just wants to spend quality time with a whore; not a subject that was likely to find much commercial favour in 1969, or indeed now, which is probably why it didn't. 

25 November 2020

Swegas - What'ya Gonna Do/ There Is Nothing In It

Two stabs of "progressive brass rock" from British octet

Label: Trend
Year of Release: 1970

Swegas were one of many hugely ambitious but ultimately somewhat penniless progressive rock acts doing the rounds of the European gig circuit in the early seventies. Signed to the both the independent B&C and Trend labels, then finally BASF, the octet must have faced more significant financial challenges than most underground acts - few others had so many bodies to house or mouths to feed.

The quantity of members gave them a fuller, brassier sound than many of their peers, however, with perhaps the exception of other soul-loving hairies such as Locomotive. While their debut LP for B&C was recorded and then subsequently shelved, both sides here were on the proposed original tracklisting, and give a firm impression of their sound, though I can't help but wonder whether in a live environment they were a bit more raucous than this. Both the A-side and flip here sound slightly cautious and lacking in punch.

An album ("Follow The Light") emerged on Trend in 1971, then when that label went under they got a deal with BASF who issued their second and final LP "Beyond The Ox" later on in the same year in Germany. This is now an extraordinarily collectible release with copies frequently selling for over £150, and offers a more mature, developed sound.

22 November 2020

George Chandler - The Best Dreams/ Dream On

Salman Rushdie's disco dreams for midnight's groovy children

Label: Burnley Building Society
Year of Release: 197?

Whenever the Nationwide Building Society broadcast a new television advert featuring a poet, my social media feeds fill with howls of protest. Among the usual complaints that the poem accompanying an advert for a financial institution isn't exactly "The Wasteland", there's a tendency for howls of "Sell out!" to be heard from other writers too. 

I feel somewhat ambivalent about all this. Making a living as a writer is absurdly tough and not everyone has the means to plough through the hardest times without taking up distracting full-time day-jobs. If an advertising agency drops by your door with a quick and lucrative offer - as agencies did in the past with John Cooper Clarke, who for awhile was the Honey Monster's companion in the Sugar Puff adverts - it's going to be very difficult to say no if the cash buys you a year off working in the council post room. 
"No! They're off the artistic roll-call!" scream the Bill "orange drink" Hicks fans on Twitter, forgetting that Hicks did actually add the disclaimer "but if you're a starving artist [and do an advert] I'll look the other way". 
"But how can they expect to be taken seriously ever again?" yell the writers, and I'd argue that's entirely their own business to resolve... and anyway, the roll call of writers who have been down this road before and "got away with it" is immense, so it's probably nothing to worry about. 

The highly critically acclaimed and wardrobe-hiding author Salman Rushdie, for example, previously held a successful career at the advertising agency Ogilvy and Mather, where he penned several successful campaigns and slogans including "Naughty But Nice" for Fresh Cream Cakes, and "That'll Do Nicely" for American Express. This is interesting from an advertising historian's perspective, but it's this little 45rpm wonder, seldom referenced on Rushdie's CV, which is most relevant to "Left and to the Back".

Back in the late seventies, the now-defunct Burnley Building Society took the generous step of giving away a free Disco single about the brilliance of their organisation to new clients, a move which must have had many customers saying "Oh, you shouldn't have!" The single itself is a perfectly acceptable, inoffensive piece of work with accomplished production and musicianship behind it, but the lyrics over-egg the ecstasy of opening an account with the Burnley. "Dreamin' 'bout a country garden/ dreamin' 'bout feeling free/ skies of blue can come true for you/ 'cause the best dreams begin with B!" penned Salman Rushdie all those years ago, in a move which is doubtless now causing numerous Nationwide poets to collapse with laughter. 

18 November 2020

Reupload - Earth - Everybody Sing The Song/ Stranger of Fortune


Plymouth rockers on a vaguely psychedelic pop excursion

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1969

Earth - or The Earth as they appeared to be known for this release - were a Plymouth rock group who managed to sneak two singles out in 1969, one being the rather rare and sought-after "Resurrection City" on CBS, which was subsequently compiled on to the "Circus Days" series of compilation albums.

The follow-up "Everybody Sing The Song" lacks the scrambling freak-out nature of the CBS single, and is much poppier and more anthemic, leaning heavily on the chirpy analogue synth sounds in the chorus. Once again, it's one of those faintly psychedelic A-sides that in a fair week might have stood a chance of airplay and possibly chart action - but as things stood, it utterly flopped.

Establishing the line-up of Earth should be very straightforward, as I have documentary evidence from the Circus Days box set that the group consisted of Dave Bolitho on vocals and keyboards, Pete Spearing on guitar, Robin Parnell on bass and Ian "Snowy" Snow on drums. What could be simpler? But no! The "Tapestry of Delights" book states that Greg Vandyke, an eventual record dealer from Plymouth, was also in the group on keyboards, and clarifies that a "slightly different line-up" recorded this Decca release (without specifying who) and also insists that a mysterious "Rangford" was also a member.

If you want to be confused further still, several online sources including Wikipedia state that Glen Campbell was also a member of the group. It seems to me to be fairly unlikely that Campbell would have caught a train to Plymouth and bumped into the boys and hooked along for the ride, and I'm tempted to regard this as being one of those weird Wikipedia inaccuracies which have since been quoted as fact all over the place. Indeed, in moments where the online version of events differs wildly from the printed versions, I tend to ignore it unless given solid evidence otherwise... but since the evidence on offer in print is also contradictory, this is a tough one to unpick. Does anyone aknow for sure? My guess is that Campbell appeared as a session guest on "Resurrection City" and that's where the story ends.

15 November 2020

Honeyboy - Heart of Gold/ Version

Beautiful reggae take on Neil Young classic

Label: Penguin
Year of Release: 1977

Reggae's ability to plunder the classic songbook, take any song from any genre (within reason) and reappropriate it for its own purposes is enviable. Of the thousands of Jamaican singles churned out each year throughout the seventies and eighties, some top flight covers can be found for your delight.

This Neil Young cover has been a lot more buried than it deserves to be, however. The gentle, yearning "Heart of Gold" probably feels more of an obvious candidate for the Lover's Rock treatment than it initially appears, and the treatment here is respectful, faithful and yet somehow - as bafflingly contradictory as it sounds - entirely its own sound. It manages to make you believe that Neil Young's original vision was always for this track to be heard by lovelorn rude boys everywhere. 

The dub version on the B-side isn't the most adventurous you'll hear but also spikes the song into new and interesting shapes.

11 November 2020

Ian Green's Revelation - Groover's Grave/ Revelation


Two slices of instro-sophistication

Label: CBS
Year of Release: 1969

Ian Green is a British arranger who has occasionally been compared to David Axelrod. Both were actively recording at the same time and creating considered soul, jazz and easy listening hybrid interpretations of popular hits as well as recording original material.

CBS obviously hoped that Green would capture a youngish market who wanted lush instrumental music but didn't want to engage with the chocolate box arrangements so beloved of their parent's generation. While so much easy listening fare of the late sixties relied on being a soothing aperitif to anyone bloated on rock's excesses, Green's tracks frequently allowed themselves to be a bit more vibrant, fruity and powerful. 

Sadly, it came to nothing and this was the last of his 45s for the label, and is somewhat unusual in that both sides were composed by his wife Rosetta Hightower who we've met on this blog before. Despite it's promising title, "Groover's Grave" isn't as way-out or as groovy as you might think, and is actually a fairly jolly bit of work with lots of puffing flutes and pinging guitar strings. For my money, the flipside "Revelation" gives a strong impression of what set Green apart from his more popular peers.

9 November 2020

Tessa Niles - The President's Girl/ You Take My Breath Away


Jittery uptempo President-bothering 45

Label: Rainbow
Year of Release: 1985

I have to confess I knew absolutely nothing about this single until I received a tweet about it from the Football and Music website a couple of weeks ago, leaving me with a tricky conundrum. Should I order a copy online knowing I wouldn't receive it in time to prepare a topical blog entry to run neatly alongside the US election? Well, you're reading this, so obviously I did and timing be damned. 

There again, it's not as if the single itself was ever timed neatly with an election, nor actually (so far as I can ascertain) released in the USA, so I can probably be forgiven. The sleeve of "The President's Girl" presents itself as a strange piece of countrified patriotic Americana, which I suspect is probably just irony on everyone's part, because the single is actually a very punchy, jittery piece of mid-eighties pop. Optimistic and frothy, it's occasionally a bit silly and hyperactive with its quiz show styled horn fanfares, but it still whiffs of a possible hit. Obviously though, it didn't break through.

Tessa Niles is, of course, an enormously successful session singer from my hometown of Ilford, who despite her humble suburban London beginnings has worked with artists as varied as ABC, David Bowie, Pet Shop Boys, Marillion, Living In A Box, Duran Duran, Bros, The Higsons (er... that one's a bit unexpected!), Suede, Gary Numan and Grace Jones, and a whole host of other stars besides. The vocals on this single provide lots of hints as to why she was so heavily in demand, but obviously the attempt to launch her as a star in her own right failed and these days her solo career barely features in any career summarising biog.

8 November 2020

The Rogues - Memories of Missy/ And You Let Her Pass By


Obscure, disowned and faintly psychedelic pop from Salfordians

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1967

Most bands who only manage to release one single are proud of their efforts, even if looking back they find themselves cringing a little at the naiveté of the work. They've achieved something few of us ever will - a nice slab of seven inch vinyl, a small, gentle ripple in life's great rockpool to prove they existed and had ideas of their own.

The Rogues from Salford seem to have very different ideas about this record, however. The Manchester Beat website quotes one of them as saying this is a "truly appalling record the whole group hated!" Their gripe appears to be with the A-side "Memories of Missy" here, a Dick James penned tune which while not awful, is certainly a bit beige. 

Lurking on the B-side, though, is something you'd hope is much more in keeping with the group's sound. "And You Let Her Pass By" sounds a lot more 1967 with its insistent Blackpool Pier organ sound, aggressive, powerful drumming, and punchy brass section continually cutting through the angst. While Ivor Raymonde's production stops the track getting too aggressive, you can still feel The Rogues pulling hard on the leash he's tied them to, always only a few moves away from going full garage rock. It unintentionally creates a tension that stops the track from being a common-or-garden B-side and pushes it close to something special.

4 November 2020

Reupload - Sadie's Expression - Deep In My Heart/ My Way Of Living


Lovely single from sixties Essex gig circuit stalwarts

Label: Plexium
Year of Release: 1969

I spent my teenage years living in Benfleet - or the Thundersley region of Benfleet, to be much more precise - but I very rarely get the opportunity to write about bands from that area on this blog, purely because it has never, in any point in its history, been particularly lively. There were a number of "movers and shakers" in the local region during the sixties, though, most notably John Pantry in his many groups and guises, The Mode from Thundersley, and this lot, otherwise known as The Troggs (before Reg Presley got his hands on that name) or The Expression. 

Consisting of Chris Brown, Mick Harding, Hugh Thomas, Mike Drewer and John Skelton, Sadie's Expression were kings of the Essex gig scene during the mid to late sixties, learning the ropes by playing rough bars to bikers and rockers, then moving on to having regular contracts with large venues such as the Basildon Mecca and The Elms in Leigh. Talent-spotted by numerous influential people, including producer Peter Eden and The Walker Brothers, their recording career was nonetheless something of a damp squib in comparison. A recording session for Decca produced their version of a Bill Fay track "Yesterday Was Such A Lovely Day (Elsie)" which the label rejected, and two 45s on the small Plexium label (this in 1969, and "Old Whitehall Number" in 1970) are the sole vinyl proof of their existence.

"Deep In My Heart" is a carefully arranged, mid-tempo late sixties beat track which picked up some Radio One airplay, but the distributors and manufacturers EMI failed to press up enough copies, with even shops in the Essex area apparently being devoid of Sadie's Expression stock. Largely regarded as a possible hit, it therefore languished in obscurity and remains something of a minor collectible. It's not a late sixties "hip sound" as such, but it does showcase the group's many strengths, not least the powerful vocal harmonies. 

1 November 2020

Hot Shots - Mellow Yellow/ Come On Susie


Glam rock stab at the Donovan classic

Label: Gull
Year of Release: 1975

Readers who know their seventies chart pop will have come across the group Hot Shots (or The Hotshots are they were usually known) before. They scored a top five hit in 1973 with a plastic reggae cover of "Snoopy Versus The Red Baron", which is barely ever heard on the airwaves these days but nonetheless caused a minor stir at the time.

The recording was the work of reggae stalwarts Cimarons, but as the record began to sell the group actually used to tour and do public appearances consisted of John Jones, Yanni Flood Page, Malcolm Player and Chris Haig-Harrison. They also recorded all the subsequent follow-up singles under the Hot Shots name which, lo and behold, utterly flopped.

To confuse matters further still, while their singles were all inauthentic Dairy Lea reggae, this - their final effort - aped the glam rock style instead. "Mellow Yellow" was of course an enormous sixties hit for Donovan, and the group decided to apply its groovy whimsy to a fey glam arrangement. A solid glitter swagger is built up, with some of the lead guitar lines and vocals clearly trying their hardest to impersonate Marc Bolan, and by the time the track ends you find yourself wondering why Donovan Leitch didn't always apply the bacofoil boogie to the track. Probably because the glam genre hadn't emerged by 1967, I expect.

By 1975, though, it was also beginning to seem like old hat, and doing vague impersonations of Marc Bolan effectively meant aping an individual who was already dripping further and further down the charts. This single really was never going to be anything other than dead on arrival, ignored by the Radio One funsters as a dated exercise and tied to a group who had no previous form for producing this kind of noise.

28 October 2020

Baskin & Copperfield - I Never See The Sun/ Stranger On The Ground


Eventual members of The Rubettes with convincing tilt at the charts

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1970

The Rubettes have perhaps steadily become one of the less referenced seventies glam rock acts, with only their deathless number one "Sugar Baby Love" being given much airplay time. Their other hits "Tonight", "Juke Box Jive", "I Can Do It" and "Baby I Know" barely get a sniff of attention these days, though the group name is still keenly used for endless glam revival tours.

Prior to the group's inception, members John Richardson and Alan Williams had a contract with Decca as a duo. Their first release was a slightly cynical cover of Lennon and McCartney's "Long and Winding Road" which failed to chart, but second single "I Never See The Sun" seemed to make a possible change in their fortunes. Despite the fact that the single wasn't close to poking the Top 40, the BBC saw fit to give them a slot on "Top of the Pops" - not unusual behaviour for the programme at the time - and the record attracted some airplay too.

This would ordinarily have been enough to create a flurry of attention, but sadly the record never sold convincingly. That's a shame, as it's clearly the kind of anthem the 1970 charts generally welcomed with open arms, complete with weary clarion calls, a scarf-waving chorus and delicate, boyish vocals. Four years prior to this, The Walker Brothers would have happily recorded this one.

25 October 2020

Slade Brothers - What A Crazy Life/ For A Rainy Day

The Canuck duo with their final stab at UK chart success

Label: Pye
Year of Release: 1966

We've already talked about The Slade Brothers' unusual beginnings in British showbiz the last time we met them in November 2018. While I've occasionally wondered about the veracity of the claim that their career was kickstarted after a chance meeting with Joan Collins' father on a Liverpool-bound ship, I suppose stranger things have happened; the unexpected chart success of the "One Pound Fish" market crier for one thing.

While Pye must surely have been tempted to give up on the pair before the point of this final release, "What A Crazy Life" actually seems to evidence one enthusiastic last try at pushing them over the line. It's actually a strong composition from the bankable Cook and Greenaway songwriting team, and earned them airplay on Radio Luxembourg and releases around the world. Its production is also considerably less threadbare than some of their earlier singles, with a flowery and stomping Johnny Harris orchestral arrangement beneath the boys. 

For me, though, the beauty is on the flipside which has been even more ignored over the years. "For A Rainy Day" is penned by the duo and it shows they were able to write complex, intriguing songs which were head and shoulders above a lot of the pop pack. With swelling organs, pinging harpsichords, and subtle, shifting moods throughout, it actually resembles the likes of The Mamas and Papas at their finest, transporting a West Coast mood to a drizzly British shore. It's astonishing this one seemingly hasn't been compiled somewhere yet - it's a prime candidate for a "Tea, Battenburgs and Baroque" styled LP (Don't go looking for that compilation, by the way - it doesn't exist). It's also one of the most appropriately Autumnal songs I could find for a current blog entry.

21 October 2020

Reupload - Paul Curtis - Video 2000


Futuristic synth blast aiming to promote flop video recording unit

Label: Philips
Year of Release: 1979, at a guess?

"Video 2000! What were all that about then, eh?" are words which Peter Kay has almost certainly never, ever started any stand-up routine with. In the video recorder revolution, Video 2000 was the Oric Atmos to VHS's ZX Spectrum and Betamax's Commodore 64, or perhaps the Liberal Democrats to VHS's Tory and Betamax's Labour, or... oh, I don't know, why don't you think of some rubbish and poorly fitting analogies for yourselves?

The simple fact is that I have never, ever met in my life anyone who owned a Video 2000 machine. I knew of their existence, but everyone owned either VHS or Beta machines, and rued the day they chose Beta when that format eventually bit the dust (my family, to their eternal regret, were relatively late Betamax adopters). Video 2000 machines may as well have been ghostly myths in my neck of the woods in Essex - I don't think I even saw a player for sale in the local Dixons or Currys. Apparently they were superior to the VHS and Betamax formats in almost all ways, from sound to picture quality to tape durability, but this cut little ice with the buying public, and the format was junked in 1986 to precious few tears.

Still, this synthetic promotional single from the late seventies gives you some idea of the kind of excitement Philips wanted to generate around Video 2000. The sleeve appears to show the player arriving in a blur from outer space, like some kind of alien tech us privileged humanoids had managed to acquire from the ashes of Roswell. The single backs this image up with dramatic whooshing noises, hyperactive slapped basslines, and the kind of synthesiser melody favoured by the Channel 4 Testcard in 1982 and the opening credits of short-lived science fiction series (probably with the face of each actor freeze-framed as their name appears on screen). But above all else, it sounded like the FUTURE. Or at least, it did at that time.

18 October 2020

The Igloos - Wolf/ Octopus


Cuddly Toys keyboard player tampers with Syd Barrett single

Label: Fresh
Year of Release: 1980

While one of the missions of punk rock appeared to be to wipe the slate clean and dismiss all your previous rock idols, plenty of artists were given a free pass. The Who, for example, were so appreciated by The Sex Pistols that Pete Townshend actually had to demand that they move on (his aggravation seemingly caused by the glaring inconsistencies behind their stance rather than any desire not to be saddled with the burden of their love and appreciation). Syd Barrett, on the other hand, was clearly appreciated by many punks as an eccentric who walked away from rock stardom, even if this is a heavily over-simplified take on his life. The Damned wanted him to produce their first LP, and apparently Malcom McLaren also wanted him to work with The Pistols.

The Cuddly Toys were a glam inspired New Wave band from London who had evolved from the glam punk outfit Raped (*wince, sharp intake of breath*) who put out the "Pretty Paedophiles" EP (what a bunch of proto-Super Hans characters they were). The change of name to something twee and considerably less controversial didn't really change their fortunes significantly, however; they hovered around the edges of the scene never quite making any significant inroads, though as is often the case, found an appreciative cult audience in Japan.

The Igloos were really just a side-project of the group's keyboard player Billy Surgeoner, and were seemingly never created with any long-term prospects in mind. The A-side "Wolf" is a considerably more poptastic take on the track of the same name from the Cuddly Toys' debut "Guillotine Theatre" LP, with a squeaky clean but addictive hook, and the jerky, quirky stylings which were fashionable at the time. 

The flipside is, of course, a cover of Syd Barrett's "Octopus" and while it doesn't trump the original, it certainly sands it down and polishes it into an interesting enough new jewel. It's clear that Surgeoner heard the unusual time signatures and immediately suspected that the song could be fashioned into something much more contemporary sounding, and he pulls the task off very well indeed. Drum machines hiss mechanically and synths hum, and the song is translated into the kind of thing you'd hear seeping out of a strange futuristic self-playing organ at a fair. It won't replace the original on your playlist but it's one of the more interesting interpretations I've heard. You get the impression Syd might have nodded his head appreciatively at it. 

14 October 2020

This Final Frame - The Diary/ Discontent


Brassy Scouse post-punk with an appropriately filmic edge

Label: Scratch
Year of Release: 1982

The almighty box set "Revolutionary Spirit" was released a few years back, which across five CDs lovingly detailed the comings and goings of the Liverpudlian post-punk scene. It found space for the great (Teardrop Explodes, Echo & The Bunnymen, OMD), the good (Wild Swans, Icicle Works, It's Immaterial) and the perplexing (The Chuddy Nuddies, Those Naughty Lumps) but somehow managed to overlook This Final Frame entirely.

The group, consisting of Paul Skillen on vocals, Peter McAsey on bass, Jim Short on trumpet, Eamonn Sale on keyboards on vocals and Carl Henry on drums, had a somewhat restless career, leaping from label to label in search of the elusive breakthrough moment. This, their debut 45, came out on the RCA subsidiary Scratch Records - home also to the divisive comedian Jim Davidson, who provided them with their only charting record in "Too Risky" - and was largely ignored, resulting in all their future releases either being handled by independent or European labels. It's a daring first outing to say the least. While all the components (such as the airy wash of synthesisers, those Teardrop trumpets and the heavy, bending basslines) were compatible with the sound of 1982, the song itself is total post-punk despondency, an atmosphere rather than a catchy pop tune. While the track was enthusiastically picked up by local radio, the rest of the country proved immune to its charms.

The flipside "Discontent" ups the ante further and shows the group flying their discordant freak flag up the longest pole they could fathom. Tribal drums pound, backing vocalists let out war cries, trumpets screech, and the singer hollers "DISCONTENT!" repeatedly. You wouldn't open your door to them if they came calling at 3am, put it that way.