12 May 2021

Reupload - Steve Elgin - Don't Leave Your Lover (Lying Around Dear)/ Seductress

Outrageously and overtly camp flop 45 - not to be ignored

Label: Dawn
Year of Release: 1974

Regular readers of this blog have probably gathered that I'm fascinated by the extreme camp edges of glam rock and seventies pop. Well, Simon Gitter certainly did, because back in February he actually dropped me a line to bring this record to my attention. "Have you heard this one before?" he asked - and no, I most certainly hadn't. 

"Don't Leave Your Lover Lying Around (Dear)" is so camp and flamboyant that it would possibly make the corpse of Joe Orton blush. Filled to the brim with pub piano riffs, flirtatious gay remarks, a leg-kicking knees-up "Ain't She Sweet" interlude and a distinctly unsettling feel, it's like some kind of early seventies pop pantomime. Its appearance on the Dawn imprint of Pye is particularly baffling, as the point of that label was to showcase the more hippyish and progressive of Pye's signings, and while this could be described as "progressive" in the societal sense of the word, it certainly isn't otherwise. This is pure novelty pop with a twist.

The B-side "Seductress" is much more conventional, though equally flamboyant and dramatic in places. 

9 May 2021

Force West - Like The Tide Like The Ocean/ I'll Be Moving On

Bristol beat stalwarts with another neat 45

Label: CBS
Year of Release: 1968

Force West have appeared on this blog twice before now, in relatively short order - back in February 2020 we took a look at their final single "Sherry/ Mr Blue", and in September their third single "When The Sun Comes Out". 

Readers wanting the full line-up details of the band and all the relevant Who, What, When, Where and Why facts should head right over to the "Sherry" entry where they will find everything they need, and also get to hear the agreeably Jeff Lynne-esque flipside "Mr Blue". 

This single really does sound like the one that got away, though. "Like The Tide, Like The Ocean" is generally commercially available these days thanks to a compilation of Mike Hurst productions, but perhaps what's most surprising is the fact it made such little impression to begin with; it's filled with the kind of breezy, sweeping harmonies which were cutting through all the time by 1968, and far later than that, in fact. Its November release date may have doomed it somewhat; surely this should have been booming from car stereos on the seafront in July? Nonetheless, this just screams hit single and in a just world would have been a breakthrough 45 for the band.

Its commercial availability puts it off-limits for this blog, but its on YouTube and naturally available to buy on mp3 all over the place as well.

5 May 2021

Dennis Conoley - So Ashamed/ Don't Ever Leave Me

Steve Harley produced pop contender 

Label: Pye
Year of Release: 1975

While Steve Harley is generally more appreciated for his own work these days, it's a little-known fact that he has acted as producer for a number of acts as well. He was a big enough name to offer potential bumps to the careers of Dutch singers Yvonne Keeley and Patricia Paay in the UK, for instance, but sadly while his involvement may have increased their music press presence, none of their records were hits here as a result.

Dennis Conoley was another client of Harley's in 1975, and while Conoley would eventually have more success as a songwriter and studio manager, this single also slipped out. It's an interesting record which starts off sounding like a woebegone keyboard driven ballad best suited to late night solo taxi rides home, before gradually hitting a glammish stride. The influence of Harley can be strongly felt throughout and arguably prevents the track from getting too mired in its own depressive, regretful streak - it's neatly produced and knows exactly when to shift the dynamics to enable Conoley's ideas more space to express themselves. 

Sadly, this was his only single for Pye and while he continued recording, he was able to find more success as a songwriter and by owning the Purple Studios recording complex. He eventually wrote "Ten Minutes On A Tuesday Afternoon In Buffalo" for Billy Ray Martin, which takes a similar tack to "So Ashamed" but shoves it through a distinct electronic filter.

2 May 2021

The Marksmen - Smersh!/ Orbit 3

Hard-hitting instro from 1963 which strangely failed to break through

Label: Parlophone
Year of Release: 1963

Strange as it may seem, The Marksmen could, with the squint of an eye and a wave of the hand, be regarded to be "proper sixties pop stars". Credited as the backing group for Houston Wells on the Joe Meek produced "Only The Heartaches" in 1963, they weren't by this point unfamiliar with press or media appearances, having acted as backing boys for a genuine Top 30 hit-maker. 

Their association was relatively short-lived, however. During a tour of Ireland with Wells, the group began to get the sneaking suspicion that the singer was exploiting them, and tore up his return ticket home in a fit of pique, determining never to work with the man again. It was probably with hope in their hearts that they entered a recording studio to record this instrumental beat 45, hoping to creep back into the spotlight with the benefits of the shine they'd received from that one minor hit. 

"Smersh!" - somewhat unusually named after Stalin's "Death to Spies" organisation - is actually a sparkling example of the electric guitar instrumental having a sharp edge. Taking its cues from the sinister title, it begins in an innocent way, guitars twanging alongside tick-tocking rhythms, but its simple tune occasionally gets interrupted by all manner of rumbles, dischords, and whinnying guitar interludes, like Stalin's lads crept up behind them and gave them a ghastly going over while they were midway through their merry melodies. 

28 April 2021

Reupload - Drew Ross - Close Your Eyes And Go To Sleep/ Let It Be

Zingy piece of pounding pop from Inverness solo artist

Label: CBS
Year of Release: 1970

In common with almost all the solo artists I seem to be finding singles by at the moment, I really can't find a scrap of information on Drew Ross. I know that he had two 45s out on CBS, this one and the 1971 follow-up "I'm Going Home". I know that both records sold poorly and are difficult to find copies of these days. Beyond that... nothing. Nowt. Nada. Zip. My best guess would be that he was a keen cabaret/ working man's club performer who got the chance to release a couple of singles on a major label, but that's based on the laws of probability rather than the conclusive results of my research.

I can't speak with any confidence about any of his other recordings, but "Close Your Eyes..." is really rather good. It starts off with a similar pounding gusto to Love Affair's "Everlasting Love" and continues in a similar plastic Northern Soul vein. Packed with optimistic brassy blasts and bouyant drumming, it's actually something of a tonic - a skippy, bouncy record, and the kind of bright, immediate sixties pop that absolutely nobody seems to be either attempting to emulate or take seriously anymore. It could have been a hit at the time, but quite clearly wasn't.

The flip is a rather pedestrian cover of The Beatles "Let It Be", which really doesn't add anything new to the song, and isn't as worthy of your time. 

25 April 2021

Marjorine - I Live/ Loving Shrine

Likeable Howard and Blaikley pop track washed up on to a reggae label 

Label: Pyramid
Year of Release: 1969

Most record collectors in the UK will recognise the Pyramid label as a source of some of the best sixties reggae 45s, issuing records by respected names such as Desmond Dekker and The Maytals. The sight of its logo in a charity shop box is enough to get the average ageing rude boy's heart racing, and usually for fair reasons.

There were, however, a couple of moments when the label threw everyone a serious curveball while trying to diversify their product. Once was when they issued the psychedelic stomp of Staveley Makepeace's "I Wanna Love You Like A Mad Dog", which had about as much to with reggae as this blog has to do with embroidery. The other moment was when this Howard and Blaikley penned ballad slid out by the group Marjorine.

The group apparently came from Jersey and there's a black and white photo of them over on the Discogs site, but all other details about them seem to have evaporated into thin air in the following decades. The A-side here is a smooth and well-arranged Hollies-esque ballad with majestic brass backing and confident vocal harmonies, but isn't quite strong enough to sound like a probable hit. In typical Howard/Blaikley fashion, though, the melodies twist around your head beautifully and enable Marjorine to sound a lot more confident than your average bunch of plucky unknowns on a small independent label.

21 April 2021

The Dalys - Early Morning Rain/ Chanson D'Amour

Very pleasant take on Gordon Lightfoot's classic from Cork folk duo
Label: Fontana
Year of Release: 1969
"Early Morning Rain" is one of those fascinating singles which seems to have been recorded by an unimaginable array of artists - Paul Weller, Peter, Paul and Mary, Steve Forbert, The Settlers, Neil Young, Elvis Presley, Judy Collins, Eva Cassidy, Billy Bragg and The Grateful Dead have all had a stab at it, and I'm sure there are other artists besides who I've just completely forgotten to mention. It's a deathless and utterly wonderful song which proves that Bob Dylan had a point when he said that Gordon Lightfoot was the greatest folk performer in the world. At some point or another, all of us have been that man on the airport tarmac pondering our life choices while the person we love is already out of reach (maybe not literally, but that's obviously not the point).
While Lightfoot's original version of the song will always be my favourite, part of its popularity with other artists may lie in the fact that it's so damn difficult to screw up, and has a threadbare arrangement which allows them to stamp their own identity on it with relative ease. The Dalys were a folk duo from Cork who issued a raft of singles in the sixties, beginning their recording careers with "Without You" on Decca in 1964 and finishing at the end of the decade, seven singles later, with this. 

Duo takes of the track aren't unheard of but are somewhat less commonly chanced upon, meaning the Peter and Gordon styled interplay between John Daly and Paddy Carroll here lends the track an added fleecey warmth against the chill of the early morning airport farewells in the lyrics. 

18 April 2021

Dave Justin - Everybody's Gone Home/ Lincoln Green

Twee, merry and uptempo popsike via Enfield
Label: Polydor
Year of Release: 1967
Dave Justin - or Dave Forey to give him his proper birth name - had quite a few throws of the dice when it came to pop success. Initially he was in a duo with John Karlsson under the unimaginative name of Justin & Karlsson, and they issued the exceedingly rare and highly sought after cover of Simon & Garfunkel's "Somewhere They Can't Find Me" on Piccadilly in 1966.

After that single failed to gain any attention whatsoever, he moved on to a solo career and signed to Polydor in 1967, issuing four flop singles, "For Brandy", "You Outside", "Rachel" and this one, which was his second release for the label.

It is, to say the least, a somewhat unexpected concoction where folky Dylan influences collide with brassy oompah sounds and merry melodies, like a fight between the Salvation Army Sunday march-round and a gaggle of protesting beatniks. Parts of "Everybody's Gone Home" also sound uncannily like some of the brass band music beloved of The Village in "The Prisoner".

The flipside "Lincoln Green" takes a similar tack but milks the "la la la la la" aspects in a manner reminiscent of both Pink Floyd's "Jugband Blues" and Tintern Abbey's "Bee Side". 

14 April 2021

Reupload - Paul Slade - Odyssey/ Sound Of Love

Spectacular Ivor Raymonde arranged piece of bombastic melodrama
Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1969

The name Paul Slade may seem somewhat unfamiliar to most readers, but as a songwriter he managed to get credits on a number of hits in the seventies and eighties, perhaps the most well known examples being Grace Jones's "I Need A Man" and Changes' enormous disco smash "Searchin'". 

Obviously, though, our story doesn't begin there. Way back in the sixties when Grace Jones was just the stuff of our wildest nightmares, he was a jobbing bass guitarist and backing vocalist, usually working as a session musician for visiting live artists in London. Having been spotted playing at the Revolution Club in London, he was offered a management contract and a deal with Decca followed not long after, resulting in two incredibly scarce singles, "Heaven Held" and "Sound of Love". 

"Sound of Love" is, to be frank, an unexciting Bee Gees cover which may be of interest to fans of the group, but is unlikely to get casual readers of this blog hot under the collar. Slade performs it convincingly, but the arrangement is rather by-numbers and fails to sell the song at all well.

Of far more interest is the flip "Odyssey", which was co-written by Slade and is a melodramatic, moody piece of seemingly Scott Walker inspired hullabaloo about a missing lady. Punctuated by punching strings and something that sounds like the Thames TV ident (but isn't) Slade informs us "She haunted me wherever I go... And Still The Wind Carries Her Name!" It's over-the-top, frantic and fantastically arranged, putting the A-side to absolute shame. As the B-side to an unremarkable ballad, it's obviously been somewhat buried over the last fifty years, but that really deserves to change - "Odyssey" is ambitious and constantly interesting throughout its three minutes.

11 April 2021

The Wake - Boys In The Band/ To Make You Happy

Grooving Lieber and Stoller cover from seventies popheads
Label: Carnaby
Year of Release: 1970
While The Boys In The Band's single "(How 'Bout A Little Hand) For The Boys In The Band" was a hit in the USA, its British reception was more muted and it failed to chart. That might seem like a puzzling outcome for such a bold dancefloor smash, but a key factor in its failure might have been this spoiler release being put out a whole month earlier and sucking up most of the media attention.
It has to be said, The Wake's version isn't greatly different. The vocals are softer and more persuasive, but the backing is as powerful a facsimile as arranger Bill Shepherd could manage, and it swings just as hard as the original version. Such persuasive production enabled The Wake to sneak on to "Top of the Pops" to mime to this record, but despite the prime-time television exposure, it still sold poorly, meaning "Boys In The Band" has never really been a widely recognised track in the UK.

The Wake consisted of Bill Hurd on vocals and keyboards, John Edmonds on guitar, Chris Weeks on bass and Tony Miles on drums. Hurd later went on to more notable success with The Rubettes.

They also managed to release four other singles before calling it a day, and their 1971 concept LP "23:59" - based on the goings-on at a New Year's Eve party - is quite keenly sought after by psychedelic pop collectors these days, with copies going for as much as £150.

7 April 2021

Flight - What Am I To Do/ Is This The Way

Bizarre reminiscence about childhood misdemeanors from seventies glam group

Label: BASF
Year of Release: 1974
I only bought this one because of the cheap asking price and the Geoff Gill production credit, and blimey what a strange record it is. With a backing consisting of that much-loved oompah bounce which seemed to haunt many an early seventies single, the lyrics consist of a man reminiscing about getting his arse spanked and being generally admonished by his mother throughout childhood. 
"What am I to do with you my boy/ oh what am I to do with you?/ What will I tell your father when he comes back from the loo?" she asks throughout the three minute song, suggesting perhaps that the boy's Dad was hiding in there for the duration (nobody's ever that constipated). With this much of a rumpus going on in the household at all times, though, I can't say I blame him. The bathroom can be a safe space sometimes.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, hit songwriter Lally Stott was behind this piece of work, and was most famously known for penning the monster hit "Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep". We've covered his solo version of that track, with the faintly psychedelic "Henry James" on the flip, before on this blog.

The precise membership of the group Flight is somewhat vague, but we do know that bass guitarist Kevin Nixon was a member, who later went on to work with Francis Dunnery, as was the vocalist Mick Adamson who went on to join eighties metallers Maineeaxe. 

4 April 2021

Songbird - Sweet Elaine/ Spread The Word

Rocking record from American ex-pats based in Vancouver

Label: MAM
Year of Release: 1971

The group Songbird were, initially at least, somewhat misleadingly named. Their music tended to rock out and generally resembled no garden birds I'm aware of who would probably be appalled and terrified by their blues rockin' racket.

While their name may not be on the tips of everyone's tongues, they were nonetheless a busy group of American ex-pats based in Canada to work with singer Tom Middleton (among presumably other things). When they weren't acting as a backing group for him, they did also manage to cut some singles of their own, opening with this self-penned effort on the GRT label in 1971, then leaving a three year gap before issuing the distinctly smoother and sweeter "I Believe" and "Dirty Work" on Mushroom.

"Sweet Elaine" was the only track of theirs to get a UK issue on Gilbert O'Sullivan's happy home MAM, and is a piece of raw blues-rock boogie featuring vocalists Jay Caress possibly doing his vocal chords harm with his roared approximations of lustful thoughts. Ladies, he's doing himself serious damage here, and honey-menthol sore throat remedies ain't going to put that right. What he needs is some sweet loving.

Besides Mr Caress, the group initially consisted of Mike Flicker on drums, Terry Gotlieb on bass, and Charles Gray Jr and Bob Siegel on unnamed duties, though one can only assume that one of them was the lead guitarist. Flicker and Gotlieb would eventually work with Heart, with Flicker taking on the production duties for several of their LPs and Gotlieb sitting on the engineer's desk. Siegel eventually moved into music management.

31 March 2021

Reupload - Bryan Evans - Dont'cha Like Boys/ I Cry For Me

Camp glam classic given a straighter approach

Label: Pye
Year of Release: 1978

Keen "Left and to the Back" readers will know that some months ago, I uploaded Starbuck's "Do You Like Boys?" for everyone's delight and delectation. There's much more about the flop disc here (beneath the blurb about the equally fascinating Prowler single) but in a nutshell, it was a gay glam rock record which failed to pick up much radio airplay. "Do you go for a mean, aggressive bear?" Starbuck asked their listeners forcefully.

The plot gets much thicker, because a full five years after that single flopped, Bryan Evans decided to have another bash at making it a hit, albeit with Howard and Blaikley's original lyrics dramatically altered to obscure the original reading. Gone are the references to homosexual attraction, and instead the song could be interpreted as Bryan selling himself as something of a ladies man, seemingly questioning whether the woman of his desires is either asexual or a lesbian. "Dont'cha Like Boys?" he asks, while squealing analogue synths go off around him like personal attack alarms. Of course, if you've heard the Starbuck original first, it's hard to hear the question in quite such a way, and it still manages to seem flamboyant and camp. The directness is lost, and it's become an object of ambiguity instead.

It's a baffling addition to the Howard and Blaikley canon, but you can't blame them for trying to turn a brilliant single into a proper hit. By 1978, though, the analogue keyboard sounds and stomping glam beats really were yesterday's news, and it stood not a hope in hell. A shame, as this is a spirited and different approach which at another point might have lead to success.

28 March 2021

Freedom - Kandy Kay/ Escape While You Can

Ex-Procol types with surprisingly poppy single
Label: Plexium
Year of Release: 1969
I never can resist buying Plexium singles when they show up for sale. The EMI affiliated label's stone-cold, total lack of success makes it fertile territory for the flop hunter, and its mix-and-match A&R approach - where Easy Listening rubbed up against psychedelia, prog, pop and cheapo cover versions - makes it feel as if you're shoving your hand into an audio lucky dip.

 A lot of the label's releases are pure guff, of course, but amidst the flotsam and jetsam lie SE Essex scene stalwarts Sadie's Expression, the organ drenched pop of the Mike Morton Sound, and probably most enticing of all to collectors, the gruff psych-rock of The Glass Opening. Also high on some people's wish list are this lot, Freedom, who were formed by ex Procol Harum members Ray Royer and Bobby Harrison. Both had performed on the group's debut single "Whiter Shade Of Pale" but were rudely dismissed not long after it hit number one.

The pair decided to form a new group together, the name Freedom perhaps summarising their feelings about their "escape" from the hastily formed Procol as much as it referred to the liberal hippy ideals of the era. Joining them were Steve Shirley on bass and Mike Lease on keyboards.

Sadly, but perhaps somewhat predictably, Freedom did not manage to match Procol Harum's initial run of success, with their debut 45 "Where Will You Be Tonight" barely getting a sniff of attention when it was issued on Mercury in 1968. They jumped to Plexium for this one single in 1969, which appeared to be a deliberate attempt to pop things up in their rather hairy, maudlin, mellotron world. Gone are the anxious, pinched, progressive vocals, and in place are chirpy melodies, upbeat rhythms and brassy backings. I would even go as far as to say it sounds slightly like David Essex during his poppiest seventies moments in places, but for all that, the group still didn't get a hit, and went back to the drawing board to develop a harder, heavier sound. 

24 March 2021

Offered With Very Little Comment #9 - Norman and The Invaders, Fourth Company, The Sportsmen, Fluff, Brandin Iron


Five 45s long waiting for their moment on the blog

It's time again for me to flick through my vinyl to-do pile and upload a bunch of tunes which may or may not be of interest to readers. Whatever you feel about these, though, I honestly couldn't think of much to write about them.

Crate digging in second-hand shops or even delving deep into the listings on eBay or Discogs for mysterious sounding records is usually a gamble. For every single you find which has a long, fascinating story behind it, there's usually another one where the individuals behind it just cannot be traced, or one that seems so run-of-the-mill that I end up losing the will to make the effort to dig up more information.

All these singles are fairly scarce and unique, though, and probably interesting to the average collector.

If you're struggling to preview them, they can all be found here


21 March 2021

The Morgan-James - The Dreamer/ Out Of My Mind

Wally Stott arranged duo veer closer to popsike 
Label: Philips
Year of Release: 1968
The Morgan-James Duo - whose name was abbreviated to The Morgan-James late in their career for unclear reasons - were not really a hip and happening outfit. Signed to Philips on the strength of a string of dates at Paris's "Bar Of Music", their LP sleevenotes boasted that their main influences were The Four Freshmen and The Hi-Los at a point where beat music was the dominant chart force in the UK. 

Pete Morgan and Colin James met at the Mayfair Hotel when Morgan was drafted into James' gigging band when his usual bass player became unavailable. Morgan's background was on the somewhat more credible R&B and beat circuit, but after enjoying working together they decided there might be a future for them as a performing duo. 
The Philips label was something of a safe house for slick, seasoned, family friendly performers in the sixties and John Franz swiftly became wise to the pair and approached them with a contract. They went on to record ten singles and three albums for the label, and while the lack of chart hits may have made Philips' perseverance questionable, they were heavily in demand on the live circuit and also appeared on numerous prime-time television comedy and variety shows including "The Golden Shot", "The Bruce Forsyth Show", "Thank Your Lucky Stars", "The Good Old Days", "Morecambe & Wise" and "Dee Time". Surely with such continual exposure a chart breakthrough was only just around the corner?

You know the answer to that question yourself. While they were a safe pair of hands in the world of light entertainment and usually guaranteed to fill out a club with one of their gigs, they didn't seem to inspire the necessary public devotion to put them in the "hit parade". "The Dreamer" was their ninth single in 1968 and as a number of collectors have already pointed out, there's a faint tinge of psychedelia in Wally Stott's arrangements. Some might even call it popsike (though I personally wouldn't). Still, its airy, blissed out, tranquil melodies will probably please the kind of people who also listen to the "Circus Days" series of compilations on fair Sunday afternoons.

17 March 2021

Reupload - Monsoon - Tomorrow Never Knows/ Indian Princess

The first Asian pop star in Britain (arguably) covers The Beatles
Label: Mobile Suit Corporation
Year of Release: 1982

Back in the early nineties, we were all told that the sudden deluge of pop stars from Asian backgrounds was an entirely new phenomenon. While it's true to say that the sudden arrival of Cornershop, Apache Indian and Asian Dub Foundation felt like a huge sea change, successful Asian influenced pop, performed by someone from that background, was actually nothing new. Sheila Chandra of Monsoon (previously an actress on "Grange Hill") had actually already broken down the barriers in the early eighties, a fact which seemed to have become largely forgotten.

The first single "Ever So Lonely" was released on the minor Indipop label initially, and was a surprise number twelve hit when it was reissued through Phonogram in 1982. It was a seriously unusual record in a year where the British charts seemed to have their arms wide open for the unexpected. Propelled along by a hypnotic rhythm and Indian melodies - albeit Indian melodies performed by Western musicians - it was almost like a slice of late sixties psychedelia being given a rather more authentic Eastern edge.

Follow-up "Shakti (The Meaning Of Within)" only just missed out on a Top 40 place, and was followed up with this, a Beatles cover. One has to wonder whose idea it was, but the finger of suspicion points at the record company. "Tomorrow Never Knows" is a Beatles track which has never been improved upon or really developed across the various cover versions its spawned (Danielle Dax, Brian Eno, Junior Parker, and er, sixties flop act Mirage have all had a stab at it). The original was a staggeringly forward-thinking piece of work with its studio effects and astoundingly persuasive drumming, to the extent that I actually believe the stories about nineties club DJs spinning it and being asked by their Ravy Davy punters "What was that wicked tune?!" It's the sound of The Beatles hive mind using the studio in the ways that sample-heads and drum loop fanatics would later rediscover. All the subsequent covers of it have actually been somewhat reductive - taking the frenzied activity of the original and simplifying it to something calmer, taking it away from its manic beginnings and into the psychedelic chill-out room. And I've never been wholly convinced by that approach, unfortunately. Half of its appeal lies in its mayhem.

Still, Monsoon's cover of this has a feel and attitude of its own, and is far from the worst example. It's probably most notable for also featuring Bill Nelson, David Balfe out of Teardrop Explodes on keyboards, and Merrick out of Adam and the Ants. Chandra's vocals are wonderful as ever, and drop a large dollop of innocence into the mix. None of this was enough to turn it into a hit, though, and at this point the tide went out on Monsoon's success.

14 March 2021

Life - Hands Of The Clock/ Ain't I Told You Before

Montreal rockers with intricate, melodic single
Label: Polydor
Year of Release: 1969
The Canadian music scene - and particularly the Quebec and Newfoundland ends of it - seems strangely isolated at times, even to this day. Most Europeans would probably assume that having a close proximity to the USA would be a distinct advantage for any up-and-coming Canuck band, but in reality many have had to content themselves with regional airplay and strong local sales which didn't translate to appreciation across the border.
Life were one such example. Formed partly from willing members of The Scene after producer and songwriter Neil Sheppard informed them he wanted a Canadian group to record his songs, they got off to a highly ambitious start by dismantling (rather than covering) The Beatles "Strawberry Fields Forever" in 1969. The end results of that particular escapade with either fascinate or horrify you, but perhaps inevitably it wasn't a hit. 

The Sheppard penned "Hands Of The Clock" followed that release and sounds like a much more realistic proposition and performed more convincingly commercially, climbing to number 19 in the Canadian charts. Filled with quivering vocals, explosive brass lines and ambitious arrangements, it's thoughtful and progressive with neat, sharp hooks punctuating the rush of ideas. 

The group would go on to support Steppenwolf and generate huge media attention for being the first local band to play a major show at the Montreal Forum, but the follow-up single "Sweet Lovin'" didn't build on the success, and nor did their LP "Life". The group rapidly disintegrated and went their separate ways.

10 March 2021

Vinyl - The Nobody Men/ Pulse

"Mutt" Lange takes on vocal duties in a synth-pop band

Label: Mercury
Year of Release: 1980

Robert John Lange, aka "Mutt" Lange is something of a music business legend, having produced some of the most enduring stars of the last forty years. His close, careful and polished style has been used on albums by Def Leppard, Foreigner, Bryan Adams, Celine Dion, Shania Twain (who he was once married to) and, er, The Boomtown Rats. 

He's generally associated with "serious" musicians creating mainstream rock and pop, which makes this one-off 45 a real curiosity. It would seem that Vinyl were a group led by him on vocals who were purely synth-pop, a genre he barely ever dipped his toes into before or again, and the whole effort is inevitably deeply un-Lange in its stylings. "The Nobody Men" on the A-side sounds like Al Stewart gone futuristic - so you could argue it "invented" The Pet Shop Boys if you wanted to be inaccurate and harsh. It also has enough of a Euro feel to have popped up on some Italo Disco YouTube channels since, though the connections sound borderline to me.

Over on the flip, the Lange penned "Pulse" is a jittery, Moroder-esque piece of atmospheric pleasure which is worth your time as well. Both sides feature sounds that date them very clearly on the early side of synth-pop before the New Romantic cliches and stylistic tropes took hold, but the 1980 release date means that they were actually somewhat ahead of their time.

7 March 2021

We 4 - Candy Floss Man/ Perry Square


Irish folk group goes somewhat popsike for UK release
Label: Major Minor
Year of Release: 1969
Here's a scarce record I've passed on a few times in my life before now, purely because its online reputation is somewhat weak. Rated 2 out of 10 on 45cat and 2 out of 5 on Discogs, and with sniffy comments piling up on collector's sites, it surely wasn't worth breaking a five pound note for, never mind a tenner or more?
But wait. Perhaps I'm getting old and soft, but when I first put the stylus down on this record a couple of weeks ago after picking it up for the cost of some loose shrapnel, I was instantly delighted. Anyone reading the somewhat childlike, groovy title and expecting phasing, backwards guitar solos or even unusual lyrics is going to be disappointed, but treat "Candy Floss Man" for what it is - a rich and lively piece of folky, paisley harmony pop akin to the Fifth Dimension - and you may find yourself perking up and twitching about the room with the joys of Spring. The flip side "Perry Square" is also a lovely period piece, bringing to mind bright technicolour trips to the local park full of beaming people who, in my neck of the woods at least, never truly existed. Still, their false memories are a delight to wallow in for awhile.
We 4 were, of course, not really a hip group at the time, which complicates things further and possibly also explains this record's reputation. Consisting of John Harrington, Larry Hogan, Suzanne Murphy and Dennis Mowatt, they were from Ireland and spent most of their time on the folk circuit there, singing in both Irish and English. In 1969 they spread their wings to go on a much more ambitious European tour for five months, which possibly explains why Major Minor got excited enough to release this as a single here. Try though they did, it sold in disappointing quantities. 

3 March 2021

Reupload - The Hallmarks - One Way Street/ Johnny's Gone For A Soldier

A thick, syrupy dollop of folk-rock from an as yet unidentified band
Label: Polydor
Year of Release: 1967

Before they really got a grip on the UK market, Polydor released a slurry of flop singles which were barely heard at the time, and have drifted into absolute obscurity since. These were often by artists so overlooked that they haven't even managed to gain an entry in the usually exhaustive "Tapestry of Delights" encyclopaedia of sixties pop. 

That's certainly the case with The Hallmarks here, who appear to have been a folk rock group based in Britain (though it's hard to say for sure). The A-side here, "One Way Street", is a rather underproduced but strident piece of work, with the vocals somewhat suffocated in the mix by a treacle of chiming guitars and thumping drums. No matter - the song itself is actually an enjoyable example of the folk rock genre, containing close Mama and Papas-esque vocal harmonies, wintry sleigh bells, and a jingle jangle morning air. With a more sympathetic mix, it's possible to imagine this having been a hit, however by January 1967 stripped back folk rock was beginning to seem a bit passe, and more ambitious songwriting and production was beginning to shape the pop landscape.

Whoever they were, The Hallmarks seemingly never issued another record, and naffed off after this without leaving behind any clues to their identity. The A-side was also recorded by the Irish group Brendan Bowyer and The Royal Showband, aka The Royal Showband Waterford, so it's possible that the group were actually Irish rather than British. Equally possibly, however, "One Way Street" might have been a Denmark Street composition bought up by both bands at different times. Who knows? Certainly not me, that's for sure.

28 February 2021

Les Carle - Times They Are A-Changin'/ Catch The WInd - The Typhoons - For Your Love/ Honey, I Need

The Woolworths Bob Dylan is in the building, long before his career as Postman Pat theme tune singer and voice of the Smash robots

Label: Embassy
Year of Release: 1965

We've discussed the Embassy label on this blog before, but to summarise the situation for any newbies who may be lurking - it was a budget label stocked solely in Woolworths which featured session singers doing covers of the popular hits of the day. 

Embassy is a tempting punt for the record collector in the way that later exponents of penny-pinching department store pop often weren't, in that it didn't always try to be a sound-a-like label. Often the record would be a reasonable approximation of the artists being covered, but only a tone-deaf imbecile who had heard the original tracks once through a terrible radio reception could honestly believe that they might be the real thing. This has left behind a trail of interesting sounding records which don't tend to outshine the originals, but occasionally put their own likable stamp on them (my personal favourite is Joan Baxter's take on the Shangri-Las "Remember (Walkin' In The Sand)" which we covered some years ago).

This particular 1965 EP is a weird anomaly in the label's life which appears to be courting the student and counter-cultural market, desperately trying to gain the coppers of beatniks and hairies, or at least their relatives shopping for treats for them. On the A-side Les Carle (a pseudonym of Ken Barrie, the voice artist and session singer who later performed the Postman Pat theme and voiced the Smash robots) takes on Bob Dylan and Donovan, while the house band The Typhoons deal with The Yardbirds and The Pretty Things on the flip. It is, to say the least, an unexpected proposition and one that leaves you disappointed that the label couldn't hang in long enough for the psychedelic era - God knows what their backroom boys and girls would have made of "See Emily Play" and "Strawberry Fields Forever".

Barrie's take on Dylan is very clearly not an impersonation, not bothering to try and emulate that unique voice ("like sand and glue" as David Bowie once brilliantly put it) but instead put his own rustic, clear and pure sounding folk vocal on it. It works as well as any of the hundreds of other covers of the song tend to do, and doesn't disgrace itself in any way. So too does his take on Donovan's "Catch The Wind", and it leaves me wondering whether any of the Mums and Dads who may have bought this record for their scruffy offspring may have decided to keep it for themselves instead, preferring Barrie's clear, rounded delivery over those author's own works.

24 February 2021

China - High Looking High/ East And The West Side

Vic Elmes of Christie on a chugging, rocky comeback tip

Label: President
Year of Release: 1974

As the seventies got underway, there may have been people out there who had the group Christie pegged as having a long and prosperous future. "Yellow River" was a determined chart presence in 1970, not only peaking at number one but having a catchiness which ensured it stayed on the chart for 22 weeks and hit home in the USA as well.

While they managed to sustain their initial success to a degree, a period of obvious commercial decline set in after their follow-up "San Bernadino" peaked at number 7 later that year. They had no further hits - though "Iron Horse" did nudge the lower reaches of the Top 50 in 1972 - and eventually Jeff Christie decided that he would rather pursue a solo career than continue with the group.

This left their guitarist Vic Elmes at something of a loose end, and while he initially went back to a regular day-job to provide him with an income, it wasn't long before he returned to the studio with new group China. Sadly, this was their sole release. "High Looking High" is something of a rocker, chugging and grooving along like a swaggering rhinoceros. There's a tiny bit of Christie's old hookiness about the chorus, but the rest of it whiffs of denim and beery rock venues.

The change of direction paid no dividends and the group split very shortly after this was released, apparently being let down by management. Still, it's not a bad 45 to remember them by. Following this, Vic went on to join a later line-up of The Tremeloes.

21 February 2021

The Carnival - Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine/ Silver Dreams and Scarlet Memories

Future members of Prelude tackle Paul Simon number
Label: Columbia
Year of Release: 1967
While Simon and Garfunkel sold monstrous amounts of records, they really were the exceptions rather than the rules where folk and folk rock were concerned; the Mumford and Sons of their day, if you will (only with greater amounts of talent and lyrical dexterity). Most folk artists - honourable Byrds and Mamas and Papas-shaped exceptions aside - struggled to gain attention outside their bar cellar circuit, though some (The Overlanders) managed to have one lucky breakaway hit.
The Carnival, sadly, were no exception and this was their only single. The A-side is an agitated, pinch-faced rush through the Paul Simon song which is actually a solid performance. It's a tough song to ruin anyway, but the group add a few irritated embellishments which make the single sound like an itchy, rebellious poke at mainstream society.

The flipside "Silver Dreams and Scarlet Memories" is a group penned effort which is also a pleasurable listen, harking back slightly to the Everlys and early sixties pop. 

The groups members were apparently only Brian Hume and Ian Vardy, both of whom later went on to form the significantly better known Prelude, who had a huge underground and FM Radio hit with their cover of Neil Young's "After The Goldrush". There's clearly other players on this track, though, which leads me to think that at the very least a session drummer was called upon for this release, or we're not quite being given the full story. If anyone knows if there were additional members to the group and who they were, please do drop a line.

17 February 2021

Reupload - Rainbow Cottage - Cloppa Castle/ Take Good Care Of My Love

Nirvana's Patrick Campbell-Lyons pens kids TV theme for 70s hit-makers, and everyone wins
Label: Pye
Year of Release: 1978

Wigan's Rainbow Cottage were a rum bunch of coves - formed as a band consisting entirely of left-handed members (presumably for the novelty factor rather than as an act of protest) they were a club act who toured the UK relentlessly and made most of their money as a covers band. However,  they did occasionally pop into recording studios to put out original material. Their most successful effort, "Seagull", reached number 33 in 1976, and was penned by Brian Gibbs of popsike wonders The Answers. 

It's possibly due to Gibbs' involvement that "Seagull" sounds uncannily like a late sixties group ballad which has somehow found itself in the charts in 1976. It's whimsical, gentle, contemplative and actually quite sweet, and wouldn't have been completely out of place on a "Circus Days" compilation LP. 

The group tried to build on the track's unlikely but modest success and failed, and continued to make most of their money from the live circuit. However, another opportunity for fame and fortune arose in 1978, namely the chance to record the theme tune for the stop motion animated children's series "Cloppa Castle", based on warring tribes in some peculiar fictional alternate reality battling over the rights to oil. 

The theme tune is a busy but datedly analogue synth driven beast, beginning with psychedelic phasing and steadily building into something both strident and ridiculous. "Everyday at three o'clock/ they all sit down for tea!" we are informed forcefully, as the group summarise the general activities of the puppets in the programme with passion and gusto.