30 August 2020

Force West - When The Sun Comes Out/ Gotta Tell Somebody

Second blog appearance for sixties Bristol pop group

Label: Columbia
Year of Release: 1966

Back in February, when we were mostly only dimly aware of something called a Coronavirus occurring in another country which felt too far away to be of any real significance - do you remember those days, readers? And do you wish you had done more with the time you had available then? - I uploaded Force West's final single to this blog and gave a detailed history of their lengthy activities. Changing their name more frequently than Spinal Tap (from Force West to the Oscar Bicycle to Shakane) and having a lengthy local gig history, they are the kind of group the slightly disagreeable and ugly word "stalwarts" was invented for.

"When The Sun Comes Out" was their third single, issued in July 1966 presumably in the hopes of a summer smash. The song does everything right to secure this - those close vocal harmonies, parping horns, and airy strings accompany lyrics filled with the kind of seasonal hope the British are bizarrely obsessed with every year. Obviously, it failed to change the group's fortunes or you wouldn't be reading about them on here.

The flip, on the other hand, is a bit of a beat groover, filled with thundering piano sounds and impossibly chirpy vocals. This feels like the sound of British Pirate Radio in 1966 to my ears. Apologies for the slightly scratchy sound quality, though.

26 August 2020

Nicky Hann - Purbeck Hills/ Oh Summer Time

A private pressing of pastoral summer folk

Label: Wild Bird
Year of Release: 1984(?)

It's interesting how your association and relationship with music changes as you age. In my teens and for most of my twenties, music often had to surprise me, and if its tone was optimistic or life-affirming, I usually wanted energy and urgency to accompany that mood. The older I've got, however, the more I've begun to see the appeal of artists and genres I would have openly mocked as a youngster. Everything, it seems, has its moment of personal relevance.

So then, "Purbeck Hills" is something of an anthem for Poole folk singer Nicky Hann, and spends just over three delicate, considered, gentle minutes extolling the virtues of a rural idyll. While I would have openly dismissed this kind of thing as self-indulgent, simplistic poppycock as a young man, these days, as a tired middle-aged individual in suburban East London, I feel I can understand what she means and acknowledge something that may be missing from my life. Her voice trills and soars over the delicate acoustic backing, and manages to sound both joyous and earnest in a manner you usually only experience with religious music - but in this case, she's referring to her particular idea of heaven. The song is still commercially available on Amazon (and presumably elsewhere) but there's a lovely live film of it on YouTube too.

The B-side "Oh Summer Time" has since fallen off the radar but is stylistically speaking more of the same, with less of a specific countryside reference and more of a yearning feel. You can listen in full at the bottom of this entry.

23 August 2020

Reupload - Big Cherry - Give A Dog A Bone/ Come In Bonzo

Fantastic Denim-esque seventies novelty track about the dog's life

Label: Pink Elephant
Year of Release: 1973

Many of the novelty singles released during the 70s were a damn sight more entertaining and imaginative than the "adult" pop which otherwise got taken seriously. I've probably made a case for "Popcorn" by Hot Butter being a genuinely groundbreaking piece of work already on this blog, yet at the time it wasn't really seen as anything other than a quirky experiment.

No such claims can be laid at the feet of Big Cherry, unfortunately, who were clearly a bunch of session musicians summoned into a studio to record a two-sided single about dogs. Yep, you read it right first time. I'm not sure whose marketing idea it was, but it would seem that someone at the label felt that there was a significant gap in the market for canine-themed pop music, something I haven't really witnessed before except in the mockumentary "Best In Show".

Both sides of this record are classier than "God Loves A Norwich Terrier", actually, but it's the B-side that really overloads itself with minimal eccentricity. "Give A Dog A Bone" is chirpy, inoffensive pop music about owning dogs, whereas "Come In Bonzo" is sung entirely from the gruff perspective of the dog. "Find yerself a lamp-post/ with high-class sanitation/ Master gets an 'efty fine/ For barker's aggravation" growls the singer, while analogue synths bleep and squeak in the background and the band knock out something between a conga rhythm and a krautrock beat. It's probably the result of an off-the-cuff studio jam, but despite its sheer silliness, it's shockingly addictive. It also sounds so much like a Denim out-take that it's almost hard to believe it isn't one - does Lawrence have this in his collection, I wonder?

19 August 2020

Schadel - Stop Where You Are/ One Touch Of Your Hand

Aussie ex-pat throws out a thundering debut

Label: Parlophone
Year of Release: 1966

Robert Schadel - known simply as Schadel in the music business for some reason - was yet another Australian who relocated to the UK in the mid-sixties. Nobody could ever blame the Aussies for abandoning their home market and making the long journey to the UK to try their fortune, given the lay of the land; not only was it easier to make a living out of music in the UK than in their big and broad but thinly populated home country, but Britain was "happening" in a way almost no other country could rival. 

Sadly, and this is a sentence I feel I've probably typed on this blog before (there are only so many ways to present harsh facts in a fresh light, you know) the UK market was also overcrowded with home-grown talent, and while The Easybeats got "in" with the in-crowd, it could be argued that even they didn't achieve the Pommie success they deserved. Home-grown groups who had spent years schlepping around the national gig circuit learning the tricks of the trade, building an audience and identifying the pitfalls had clear advantages over fresh incomers.

Schadel's debut British single "Stop Where You Are" is a powerful, quivering beat ballad, which bears a strong resemblance to the melodrama of American stars such as Roy Orbison and Gene Pitney. It's good, but you had to be a damn sight better than good in 1966 to cut through the noise and into people's lives. 

The self-penned B-side is really more of the same, and actually a bit more interesting with a sweet melody pushing and pulling against Schadel's yearning. "If you only KNEW the misery I've been through!" he declares against the trilling female backing vocalists and orchestral strings. You'll believe him - I wondered about a woman he'd left behind in Australia as soon as I heard it.

16 August 2020

Roger Moore - Where Does Love Go/ Tomorrow After Tomorrow

Future James Bond tries his hand at romantic balladry

Label: CBS
Year of Release: 1965

An imaginary scene from "Stella Street": Michael Caine is standing on the Surbiton pavement outside, looking somewhat bewildered. "'Ere, I don't know if you've heard... but Roger Moore's recorded a single. Thinks he can use that voice of his to charm his way on to the wireless and into the hit parade. Between you and me, if you're thinking of nipping into town to buy it... DON'T BLOODY BOTHER! It's awful. He's already got 500 copies of it sitting in his shed, not a single bloody buyer for any of them, and Mrs Moore wants the space back for the Flymo".

Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. By 1965, Roger Moore's acting career was already highly successful - though yet to reach its peak - with roles in films and series such as "Alfred Hitchcock Presents", "The Saint", "Mainly Millicent" (where he first played James Bond), "Maverick", "Ivanhoe" and "The Miracle". It was "The Saint" which first saw Moore's eyebrow-raising, deadpan style being used to maximum effect, which caused the hearts of numerous ladies to pound so hard that blouses and cardies were clutched tightly to chests across the United Kingdom.

Given his reputation as a heart-throb and the appeal of his "warm brown voice" (copyright Alan Partridge) it's not impossible to understand how he might have been asked to try his hand at recording a single. This rather dewy-eyed track was also recorded by the actor Charles Boyer and released the very same month to marginally more commercial success - it would appear it only narrowly missed out on an official chart placing - and Moore finished second in this particular horse race, leaving behind a single that's slightly harder to come by.

Still though, for once its obscurity is richly deserved. Moore's arch delivery could be a wonderful and highly effective dramatic and comedic tool on the big screen, but across a 45rpm single with romantic intentions, it's ill used. Moore sounds depressed, lethargic and weary throughout, narrating despondently, sounding as if a better gig was about to happen just round the corner in Soho and he had to hurry up and get this damn thing done before hot-footing it there. Problematically, it also feels possible to hear the moments his eyebrow is raised, which doesn't work in a song that's supposed to be about the death of a love affair, while the chocolate box arrangements plod behind him throughout. It manages to sound more ironic than a lot of the material from the nineties easy listening revival, which is an interesting achievement of sorts.

12 August 2020

Warren Davis Monday Band - Love Is A Hurtin' Thing/ Without Fear

Soulful second single from Croydon lads

Label: Columbia
Year of Release: 1967

To any onlooker, The Warren Davis Monday Band must have had it all (apart from, perhaps, a snappy and decent sounding name). A handsome actor-and-model-turned-singer in Max Spinks, aka Warren Davis. Bill Wyman's seal of approval and seat on production duties for their storming debut 45 "Wait For Me". They even had connections too, in their friendships with Procol Harum and support slots with The Yardbirds.

The group began life as The Boardwalkers and in that guise slipped out a vanity pressed single in "My Pussycat Is Missing" which later got compiled on to the Purple Heart Surgery compilation series. While the start of their career brimmed over with promise, their line-up was ever-evolving and the atmosphere within the group somewhat fractious, with Spinks by many accounts being singer, wheeler-dealer and all-round ace face, and the rest somewhat bolted on as his lower paid back-up. Sax player Phil Houlton has been quoted as saying: "For me, it wasn’t a very happy band. Spinks did all the hustling [for gigs] and kept very tight control of the money; I don’t think we got as much as we should have got. But then again, he did all the hustling, so he probably deserved extra money. I was very pleased to leave him to be honest.”

Guitarist Rob Walker has been equally unflattering, stating: "There were better bands around playing the same kind of stuff that we were. Not that it was what prompted me as I had had enough of the band anyway... The Warren Davis Monday Band would have to rely on a lot of luck to be successful."

Blimey! But perhaps Walker was underselling and understating the group's talents somewhat. While their 45s give no indication that they had the strengths of the biggest or most innovative groups of the day - one can imagine knees buckling and gills getting greener to the sound of their friends Procol Harum's debut 45, for example - what they were capable of was a thoroughly punchy sound on vinyl. Their debut "Wait For Me" proves this undoubtedly, but this follow-up is two sides of sweaty, smoky, honking basement soul too, with Lou Rawls' "Love Is A Hurtin' Thing" being adapted neatly on the A-side and the group original "Without Fear" on the flip upping the urgency and the tempo. Both sides are worthy additions to anyone's collection and highlight a tight band with more to offer.

9 August 2020

Reupload - Two Dollar Question - Aunt Matilda's Double Yummy Blow Your Mind Out Brownies/ Cincinnati Love Song

Intriguingly titled bit of Ron Dante performed pop

Label: Intrepid
Year of Release: 1969

"Admit it, Dave, you bought this single purely because you liked the title, didn't you?"
"What do you mean 'admit it'? I would happily volunteer that information without inquisition or any sense of shame".

Sadly, as much as I'd love to say that "Aunt Matilda's Double Yummy Blow Your Mind Out Brownies" is a piece of rambling psychedelia about "special cakes" with tons of phasing and an improvised instrumental break, it's not. It's actually a piece of chirpy bubblegum which might be totally lyrically innocent. Although as the singer chirps "It's a magical place where the rabbits go/ It's a wonderland where the flowers gro-oo-wow-ow!" I somehow doubt it. Though the more I think about it, those could also be the opening lines to any number of children's TV shows from the seventies and eighties. 

And who was the man peddling this cod-psychedelic filth to our kids? Why, none other than The Archies session lead singer and future Barry Manilow producer Ron Dante. This fact seems horribly obvious the second it's revealed to you, and you have to admit he had an ideal singing voice for this kind of thing - irrepressibly gleeful and cartoonish, turning what could have been something quite irritating into a track that's difficult to not like. In fact, the whole thing is a huge sugar high (rather than any other kind of high) with its rapid tempo and stuttering electric organs.

Dante is still active to this day, releasing records and performing live, and doubtless creaming off all kinds of excellent record royalties. 

5 August 2020

Danny McCulloch - Blackbird/ Time of Man

"Waiter! Waiter! There's an animal in my soup!"
"No sir, you are mistaken, that's not an animal, it's Danny McCulloch who used to be in The Animals..."

Label: Capitol
Year of Release: 1969

Having been ignobly sacked from The Animals by Eric Burdon in 1968, Vic Briggs and Danny McCulloch picked themselves up, dusted themselves down, and set about working on a new project. McCulloch was quickly offered a solo deal by the American label Capitol, and Briggs sat contentedly in the production booth overseeing what would become the "Wings Of A Man" LP.

Despite its sumptuous psychedelic packaging and a relatively keen promotional push, that album has become somewhat lost at sea since its 1969 release. Never officially reissued on CD nor mentioned much in the adult rock press, it's been allowed to become an obscure Animals related curio which despite its scarcity can still be picked up for reasonable sums of money. 

Neither side of this 45 was included in the tracklisting, and it looks as if Capitol were keen to go for the old trick of using a Lennon and McCartney cover to ease McCulloch's passage to fame as a solo artist. This version of "Blackbird" latches itself firmly on to the struggle inherent in the lyrics, transforming the song from a delicate, finger-picked, country-boy ballad into cry of desperation. McCulloch wouldn't be the last person to attempt this - as we documented on here back in 2018, The Symbols also latched on to the undercurrent of black civil rights messages in the track and gospelised the song in 1971. However, rather like that version, this also sold poorly.

Following the failure of this single and "Wings Of A Man", McCulloch released one further American only 45 ("Hope") then finally slipped out the ecstatic mescaline inspired "Colour Of The Sunset" for the Australian Festival label in 1970, which was promptly picked up by Pye International in the UK but - perhaps due to its subject matter - sold poorly.

2 August 2020

Frugal Sound - All Strung Out/ Miss Mary

Popsike collides with harmony folk and everything comes up roses

Label: RCA
Year of Release: 1968

Frugal Sound were Hampstead folkies who had a fruitful career on the live circuit but, in common with many British acts from that genre, didn't really have a career that translated into heavy vinyl sales. 

We briefly touched upon their excellent cover of The Beatles "Norwegian Wood" ten years ago on this blog, but this single demonstrates their evolution into folk-rock artists and shows how effective they were at translating their sound and ideas. By this point, the group consisted of Brian Stein on guitar and vocals, Rosalind Rankin on vocals and flute, Mick Berg on guitar and organ, Chris Johnstone on bass,  and Tony Hart (not that one!) on drums, which filled out their sound from the stripped-back London basement folk sound into something fuller and potentially more commercial.

This single demonstrates excellently how successful that move was creatively, even if it didn't bring the group further success. If the A-side "All Strung Out" is a good approximation of the West Coast harmony pop sound - and God knows plenty of British folk groups had a crack at that - the group-penned B-side always gives me the biggest thrills, sounding so popsike it's astonishing it wasn't compiled long ago. It focuses on the wearisome life of a floaty, dreamy lady who is "happier to sit and think than face reality", perhaps an early example of the flower-power dream turning sour. It deserved better than to be left lingering on a flipside, with its frilly harpsichord styled keyboard lines and warm harmonies creating something rich, full and intricate.