24 October 2021

Darby - Rocking With Snoopy/ Find Mr Zebedee

Kiddie glam-pop backed with baffling popsike about a retiring school caretaker

Label: Bus Stop
Year of Release: 1976

Once every so often I learn of the existence of a 45 and decide I must own it despite its probable naffness. It's not so much that I expect the single to defy all my expectations, more that I simply have to hear what the artist has done with the absurd concept; so when I found out that someone had put out a flop glam pop single called "Rocking With Snoopy", my credit card came out almost immediately. A bargain at any price, I reckoned.

In my head, "Rocking With Snoopy" was a Wombles clone with a thudding bass drum, handclaps, lots of "yeahs" and probably some rip-off of a Peanuts theme high in its melody, staying just enough on the right side of parody to avoid the copyright police. What it actually is, somewhat disappointingly, is a Bay City Rollers styled candyfloss melody married to facile lyrics. "Come along and be a snoopy groupie!" the group demand, which sounds a bit wrong. Mind you, they also sing "Snoopy high high/ snoopy low low/ snoopy dance fast/ snoopy dance slow" so I don't think we're supposed to be thinking about this too hard. 

As is often the case with these vinyl oddments, it's the B-side that's really thrown me for six. "Find Mr Zebedee" was actually the final flop single for one hit wonders Edison Lighthouse, and this is either an immaculate imitation or exactly the same recording - and I'm 99.9% certain it's the latter. The song focuses on the final day of a retiring school caretaker, placing him quite literally on a podium to receive an award. "How can we paint a janitor in colours of a saint?" the group sing, only to go on to do exactly that. 

"Find Mr Zebedee", for all its utter silliness, is actually a delightful bit of harmony popsike which, had it been a Bowie composition from his Deram years, we'd probably still be talking about. As it was the final record of a faded seventies group with an ever-shifting membership, though, it's been somewhat ignored since, which means hardly anybody has ever heard Mr Zebedee's audible but subdued expression of thanks on this record. Seldom has a combination of English jubilance and awkwardness been captured so well on record - you can visualise Mr Zebedee having to be coaxed out of the toilet where he was hiding to avoid making an unnecessary spectacle of himself.

20 October 2021

Screen Idols - Something's Gotten Hold Of My Heart/ Runaway

Ex-Spiders From Mars and Rats From Hull types get a hold of Pitney

Label: Parlophone
Year of Release: 1980

After David Bowie "broke up the band" in 1973, The Spiders From Mars didn't all just drift away to new projects. It's often forgotten that a Mick Ronson-less version of the outfit emerged on Pye Records in 1975, with Trevor Bolder and Mick Woodmansey recruiting Mike Garson, Dave Black and Pete McDonald to their ranks. It's tempting to regard this version of the group as a cash-in on the famous name rather than a bona-fide continuation, and it has to be said that the debut 45 "White Man Black Man" bears about as much relation to the Ziggy Stardust sound as Gilbert O'Sullivan does to Roxy Music. It's seventies pop, not glam rock, and not even a very credible brand name could push it over the commercial line. 

One flop LP later and the group drifted off in their different directions. Drummer Woodmansey got together with his his ex-Rats bandmates Ched Cheeseman and Geoff Appleby and ex-Lone Star member Tony Smith to form this outfit with singer Michelle Nieddu. Screen Idols were occasionally badged as New Wave, but this was probably wishful thinking on the part of their PR officer whether he meant punk-tinged pop or the New Wave of British Heavy Metal - the reality is that they played powerful pop rock tracks with a slightly modern edge, Nieddu's vocals rasping forcefully over the top of the group's hard, confident sound. 

For whatever reason, they couldn't seem to settle with one label. Their debut single "Blind Man" came out on Cobra in 1979 (along with their LP "Premiere"), followed by "Routine" on Superstition in 1980 and then finally this effort on Parlophone, which had a cover of the Cook and Greenaway classic "Something's Gotten Hold Of My Heart" as its A-side. Much has been written about the track in the past, acknowledging the fact that while the dependable and family-friendly performer Gene Pitney popularised it, the lyrics appeared to be acknowledging psychedelia. Could "Something has invaded my life/ painting my sleep with a colour so bright" have been a nod to the folks who had turned on and tuned in from one of the songwriters who would eventually write the British Gas jingle? It's unlikely, but the fact that it could be just as easily interpreted as a ballad to mind expansion is an interesting coincidence.

The Screen Idols, of course, resist the temptation to convince 1980 audiences that this was far out and leave the mellotron and the theremin well and truly locked in the recording studio cupboard. Their take on the track is instead a thumping anthem which takes it in a new and unexpected direction. It's doubtful you'll prefer it to Pitney's take or indeed the version Pitney and Marc Almond would end up taking to number one (also on Parlophone, interestingly) in 1989, but it points towards fresh possibilities for the track.

17 October 2021

Freestyle - Ski Spree/ Devil's Dyke


If you like analogue synths and skiing, look no further kids

Label: Sonet
Year of Release: 1975

Some musicians and songwriters make scoring a contract look so easy; they're the kind of flashy devils who turn up at an office with a demo tape in their hands, then promptly get offered an opportunity which seems to set an unstoppable chain of events in motion.

In this case, Stuart Willis was touting an instrumental demo on Denmark Street and happened to find himself in the offices of Noon Music, whose boss suggested to him that one of the tracks sounded like it would fit a Winter Sports theme. "Ski Spree" was born, and was placed with the mysterious group Freestyle. Once released, Noon Music pushed it to the National Ski Federation of Great Britain which led to it being featured in the opening and closing ceremony of the Winter Olympics in 1976. 

None of this impressed the public enough to turn it into a hit, which is a bit of a shame - it's the kind of frantic moog-ridden dancefloor number which did pick up some attention in the mid-seventies, and it's certainly powerful enough to stand out. By today's standards, however, I'd argue the synth aspects are a bit too squeaky, like someone is brutally taking hammers to an electronic robot cat. 

I much prefer the flip side "Devil's Dyke" which is a full-blown jazz disco meltdown, featuring puffing flutes, squelching keyboards, fidgety basslines and busy arrangements, all of which work together without sounding too fussy or sophisticated. It's one of those jazz-funk tracks which doesn't over-egg the "jazz" aspect and causes feet to involuntarily twitch in even the laziest of couch potatoes. 

13 October 2021

Reupload - Sandra Bryant - Girl With Money/ Golden Hours

Bouncy, brassy pop from Dagenham girl

Label: Major Minor
Year of Release: 1967

One of many, many records that slipped out on Major Minor almost unnoticed in the sixties, "Girl With Money" is a brassy, bouncy and sassy record which has all the hallmarks of a mid-sixties beat pop (rather than 1967) production. Sandra Bryant's voice lets rip all across this and she pushes herself to the bluesy max, but it's possible that by this point the public's tastes were moving on to more progressive fare. It's a pity, as it's a strong piece of work which under other circumstances might have offered enough zest to succeed. 

Contrary to popular belief, the Sandra Bryant behind this disc is not the actress who appeared in "On The Buses", but a vocalist from Dagenham. She managed one other single on Major Minor, "Out To Get You", before disappearing from view. The label must have hoped that some of Sandie Shaw's local fairydust would land on Sandra's shoulders, but it clearly wasn't to be.

10 October 2021

Richard Kerr - Hard Lovin'/ Auntie's Insurance Policy

Suggestive "dancer" on the A-side backed with satirical popsike

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1966

Richard Kerr's name may not immediately trip off the tongues of most readers, but he's actually a successful songwriter with numerous hits to his name. Besides writing "Mandy" for Barry Manilow (or "Brandy" for Scott English, however you want to look at it) and "Looks Like We Made It", he also penned "Somewhere In The Night" for Helen Reddy. Of more interest to me is the utterly fabulous "My World" by Cupid's Inspiration and "Nice Time" by Kenny Everett, both of which slipped out of his pen as well.

Both prior to and during his songwriting success, however, Kerr had a solo career with his first records emerging on Decca in 1966. His debut "Concrete Jungle" was an interesting piece of angsty pop poking a stick at the anonymity of office nine to five life. This effort emerged at the absolute tail end of the year  and drops the social realism for straight ahead raunch. "Hard Lovin' is what I need," sings Kerr. "I need some sordid pleasure/ to brighten up my days of leisure". It's hardly subtle, and I'd be staggered if it got any daytime airplay at the time, but the pounding, slapping rhythm (ooh, don't) behind Kerr's cheery delivery does make for a track which might have been appreciated out in the smoky, sweaty basements and dancefloors of the land. It combines the swinging oompah rhythms so popular throughout the mid-sixties with raunch, stomp and a little sprinkling of soul. 

The flipside is interesting too, being a deceptively jolly slice of satire about sucking up to monied family members. It's a borderline case for the popsike files but ultimately probably has a tiny bit too much vinegar in its grooves.  

Following the failure of this single, Kerr jumped to Decca's progressive subsidiary Deram for the next single "Happy Birthday Blues", before seemingly bouncing from label to label over the next two decades, from RCA to Warner Brothers to Epic to A&M. All were presumably acting on the assumption that he was a proven hit writer who was bound to end up writing a smash for himself at some point, but none of the records released under his own name - including five LPs - sold to significant audiences. 

6 October 2021

AD 2,000 - Rhythm and Chips/ Don't Play The Disco

Analogue synth instro on tiny Nottingham indie label

Label: Eagle
Year of Release: 1980

Another puzzler to add our long logbook of vinyl mysteries, I'm afraid. This is a peculiar double A side which features a buzzing, burbling analogue synth instrumental on one side - which is obviously the aspect which caused me to part with my pocket change - and a despondent crying-in-the-late-night-taxi-home slow rock ballad on the other, which is probably fine if that's your kind of thing. (The "Late night FM radio sad taxi journey home" sound is an entire sub-genre in itself, in my opinion, albeit one that's unlikely to ever become as popular as Yacht Rock). 

More perplexingly, though, neither side sounds very eighties. The twittering analogue synths on "Rhythm and Chips" sound like a product of the previous decade, while "Don't Play Me No Disco" belongs to that unnamed genre of records which could have fitted in neatly alongside Sad Cafe's "Every Day Hurts" on a K-Tel compilation for men having a moment. 

My best guess is that both these sides were recorded a couple of years earlier before finally getting picked up by the Nottingham indie label Eagle in 1980, by which point they were slightly out of step with the public mood. That didn't stop the single getting another issue in 1982, though, when the label's name was changed to Ash to presumably avoid confusion with a larger Eagle under operation at the same time. Once again, though, public interest in the track seemed low.

3 October 2021

Rod Hull and Emu - Bristol Rovers All The Way/ I'd Do Anything

Man and bird cheer Bristol Rovers into the Second Division

Label: Columbia
Year of Release: 1974

In the last few months, I've let an Old English Sheepdog/ Poodle crossbreed dog into my life (or a "Sheepadoodle" if you want to take the quick and easy way of describing the mutt). Even as puppies, these dogs are a weighty great ball of furry energy, an easily distracted twenty kilos of hyperactivity and teeth. On many occasions, I've found myself running after her screeching "No! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! STOP IT!" having been delighted by her doe-eyed fluffiness only one minute before.

I sometimes wonder if at some point in his life Rod Hull got himself into a similar situation and it was partly the inspiration for Emu. The camp delight followed by the frenzied panic seems only too familiar to me, and may be familiar to any other pet owners who haven't quite got to the point where their beasts have been entirely tamed into predictable behaviour.

Emu, of course, was the King Terror of them all, most famously attacking Michael Parkinson but also getting his beak into Johnny Carson, Richard Pryor, Snoop DoggJohn Stapleton and Nick Owen (at the same time) and just about anyone else who strayed into his shadow. Critics of the act have pointed out that it was essentially the same playground gag over and over again, but that's actually both incorrect as well as harsh - as a children's entertainer in the seventies, it wasn't Emu's surprise attacks that amused me but Rod Hull's low-budget parodies of television on "Emu's Broadcasting Company", many of which continue to make me smile today. And even if he did become best known for his chat show misdeeds, what performances they were. Very few puppeteers have ever managed to make a creature seem as brutally, magnificently and anarchically alive as Emu. Each peck and rumble felt frighteningly real, with Hull's body seemingly thrown around helplessly by a wild and frantic bird he was struggling to restrain. Try doing it that convincingly yourself  - though of course, you'd need to find an Emu puppet first.

That's exactly what Hull did initially at the very start of his British showbiz career. He found Emu in a prop cupboard in Australia and took him back home with him, and to cut a long and much-repeated story short, a star was very quickly born. 

The bird's recording history, on the other hand, is less successful or opaque. Rolf Harris produced an Emu single in 1972 which claimed to be "Emu singing" but if you slowed the record down it was pretty clear that it was actually Rolf speeding his own voice up, the dirty spiv. Given that Emu was an entirely mute creation in the UK, it's not easy to see why this single was necessary, or why anyone thought something so squeaky and cutesy could easily be associated with the bird. While some copies of it came with a sketch of Rod Hull on the sleeve, so far as I'm concerned it is Not Canon and we should all cock a snook at it.

This, then, was the pair's proper recording debut in 1974 and... well, I have to be honest, words fail me for this one as well. The track consists of Rod Hull singing football supporting lyrics to the tune of "She'll Be Coming Round The Mountain" with the Bristol Rovers team. It wasn't a song commonly (if ever) sung by supporters of the club, and beyond the fact that Hull was a supporter, it's not clear how it came into being - they had just reached the second division of football (or the Championship League in today's footballing language) but hardly had enough supporters nationally to give them a profit-making single. Despite this, EMI obviously picked up the tab, everyone got their recording studio time, and this track was quickly recorded, released then promptly forgotten by almost everyone except ardent Bristol Rovers fans.

29 September 2021

Reupload - Anton - Shot Down In Action/ Mine All Mine


Thundering glam single from the Spark stable

Label: Spark
Year of Release: 1975

It really does seem as if the vast majority of Spark's output throughout the sixties and seventies sold a few hundred copies (if, in some cases, even that) before being melted down. Their catalogue is littered with surprisingly good little singles which are astonishingly difficult to track down, and here's another example.

"Shot Down In Action" is a piece of dramatic seventies glam pop with a pounding intro, chiming piano lines, and an excess of drama. It's strident, catchy, flamboyant and has a surprisingly ambitious arrangement for a song of its type - this is no bonehead cruncher. If it's guilty of anything at all, it's perhaps being a little bit past its sell-by date by 1975, just as the spotlights were starting to dim on anything with a vaguely tinsel drenched sound.

The flip "Mine All Mine" is a rather bland Barry Blue penned ballad, and not worth getting fussed about.

26 September 2021

Punch - Ballad Of The Good Luck Charm/ On The Gang

BBC Documentary stars with sole 45

Label: Bus Stop
Year of Release: 1976

Most of the one single wonders we feature on "Left and to the Back" leave behind virtually no trail whatsoever and I'm occasionally left to try and pull the pieces together over the course of weeks, months or even (in some cases) years. Thank God for Punch then, who left a BBC documentary behind to inform us all. Seldom are things ever that easy. 

In 1976, BBC North decided to film a documentary about life on the road for the group as they wheeled around the working man's and variety club circuit. During the sixties and seventies, being a reasonably popular club band could be a perfectly acceptable way of cutting a living as a musician and might even see you getting promoted to the cruise ships or, in the more talented and lucky cases, genuine mainstream stardom. While it was never a credible route to success and the music press were often very sniffy about the circuit, keeping a drunken club crowd satisfied in a rough town on a Friday night required entertainment chops and versatility most of the more fashionable acts didn't have. Just ask Pink Floyd how they fared in Hull on a Friday night in the sixties. 

"Punch On The Road" is actually an astonishing historical document of a bygone scene and era. It doesn't pretend to be glamorous and shows the roadie-less group ruining their backs lugging their own gear around, driving their own van, and turning up to play seedy looking pebble-dashed establishments under iron coloured skies. Inside these unpromising exteriors lay either enthusiastic crowds letting their hair down, or a small gaggle of moody middle aged pint sippers staring through the musicians, gently passing time with a mild interest. It underlines the economic and practical realities of being a live musician during that period - at one point, the group reveal they've written their own songs but a working man's club crowd come to hear songs they know, not new material. Their time to unveil these would have to wait until they reached the next rung on the ladder.

22 September 2021

So Feww - Spirits High/ Rainmaker and his Son

Self-released New Wave from the North West

Label: All For One
Year of Release: 1982

The oddly named So Feww - I'm sure there's a reason for the extra 'w' but it's not clear to me what it is - were clearly desperate for everyone's attention in the early eighties but have since evaporated from sight. While they threw a lot of their own personal money into putting out two vanity discs via the Oldham custom recording service Pennine Records in 1981 and 1982 it's bloody difficult to trace who was in the band and what became of them.

All that's left behind are these two cheeky, chirpy, jittery New Wave singles nodding and winking at us through our stereograms, this and the debut "I'm Not Automatic". Both are seemingly taking their cues from the likes of Squeeze and XTC, mixing accomplished pop melodies with edgier New Wave sounds.

On this 45, "Spirits High" takes the prize for its faintly moody jangle, the track seemingly willing itself and the listener out of their despondency. It's entirely in keeping with the North West indie doing the rounds at the time and wouldn't necessarily have been out of place on Zoo Records. If it's guilty of anything, it's probably ending too soon and without having completely tied up the melodic loose ends  - the song is crying out for a more dramatic finish than the sudden abrupt halt we're offered.

19 September 2021

The Impossibles - Delphis/ Be My Baby


Psychedelic 90s dancefloor action from lost Edinburgh duo

Label: Fontana
Year of Release: 1991

This isn't the first time we've looked at The Impossibles on "Left and to the Back" - we also pondered their marvellous cover of Slapp Happy's "The Drum" back in 2018. Since that time, however, they've remained a frustratingly elusive pair with no new information about them appearing online at all.

This is an unusual situation. Whenever I write about sixties or seventies bands who never had an LP out, I usually hit a brick wall when trying to uncover the band's future movements; this is only to be expected as their online presence is normally weak. It's deeply strange for a nineties act to be so shy when they realise they have a lot of Internet admirers, though. They're normally among the first to rush forward to reintroduce themselves and talk about a reunion gig they're holding at the Betsy Trotwood in London in 2022. 

Lucy Dallas and Mags Grundy of the Impossibles are obviously exceptions to that general rule, but perhaps we shouldn't be surprised. Even at the time, the small number of press interviews I saw revealed two individuals who were modest and self-effacing, suggesting that they'd only managed to get a major label deal due to connections and a lot of luck. Their sound may have had a Madchester tinge to it, but they certainly weren't taking any of their promotional cues from the Stone Roses. 

That doesn't mean to say that the three singles they put out aren't lost jewels of that era, though, in particular this effort and the final 45 "The Drum". While "The Drum" was an infectious thumping party anthem, "Delphis" is closer to the blissed out psychedelic indie-dance doing the rounds in the early nineties while also partly pointing towards the approaching shoegazing wave. The keyboard and bass lines chop and bounce along as if culled from a lost Happy Mondays demo, but the vocals trill, coo and wail incomprehensibly, creating a single that sounds simultaneously welcoming and introspective. It's one of the few efforts of the era you could comfortably push towards fans of either Slowdive or Northside, and acts as a curious marker of the changing times (it's possibly no coincidence that the B-side of an earlier Impossibles 45 "Privilege" was produced by Kevin Shields).

16 September 2021

Reupload - The La De Das - Come Together/ Here Is Love


Slick and likeable cover of Beatles track from Kiwi heroes

Label: Parlophone
Year of Release: 1969

The La De Das were one of New Zealand's premier rock groups in the sixties, scoring regular top ten hits in their home country and styling themselves in a slick mod fashion. Their 1966 number 4 NZ hit "How Is The Air Up There" has such a raw, raucous sound that it was an obvious shoe-in for the "Nuggets II" box set issued by Rhino Records, holding its own very comfortably alongside the garage and psychedelic rackets offered up by other international groups on the compilation.

In the manner of many groups "down under", they got itchy feet and began to seek out touring opportunities in the northern hemisphere by the late sixties. These plans included a stint in Britain in 1969, resulting in recording sessions which created this particular single. Clearly hearing an opportunity in the singles market place for a cover version of The Beatles "Come Together", this slick, reverb-ridden version emerged at the beginning of October 1969 (under the name The La De Da Band for some baffling reason) a mere week after "Abbey Road" was released, and a few clear weeks before The Beatles "Something/ Come Together" double A-side hit the shops. It's an interesting cover which doesn't take many liberties with the original arrangement, but somehow does have an unfamiliar, mellow warmth. While The Beatles version has a faintly threatening edge, this one beckons the listener into the studio jam in a welcoming fashion.

Suffice to say, most members of the British public were quite happy to wait until The Beatles version was released before parting with their money, and this single was a complete flop (and to be honest, even The Fabs could only get it as high as number four). The group eventually made their way back to New Zealand and continued to have a recording career there until the mid-seventies. They remain thought of incredibly fondly as one of New Zealand's most significant and popular homegrown rock bands, and were admitted into the Australian Blues Foundation's Hall Of Fame in 2003. 

12 September 2021

Race Marbles - Like A Dribbling Fram/ Someday

Novelty word salad Dylan parody

Label: Capitol
Year of Release: 1965

When Radio DJs try to parody or mock the dominant musical trends of the day, we tend to get a flavour of how invested they really are. A lot of radio DJs, after all, view themselves as being part of a strange branch of light entertainment which involves being a charismatic chatterer between bits of music being played. They often didn't forge their careers out of a love of music but a desire for more people to hear their voices. To mock a singer, band or movement, you really have to get under the skin of it first and listen; a tough task for that tribe. 

Occasionally radio DJs have chanced their arm and put out their own parody tunes on 45, and it's seldom above the level of mediocre. There have been moments in the UK where someone has hit the nail on the head unbelievably well  - Steve Wright's crew managed to invent Scooter with their Terminator inspired 45, for example, and Chris Morris' parody of Pixies is so spot on it hurts - but in general, it's not an area filled with rich pickings.

So let's take a look at this exhibit. Over in Toronto in 1965, DJ Gary Ferrier was obviously troubled by Bob Dylan's top three hit "Like A Rolling Stone" and felt that it was a bloody strange racket at best. He responded with this, a parody of the record which mocks the "nonsense" lyrics (which, certainly by Dylan's standards, are anything but) and the threadbare roughness of the sound. Word salad lyrics ("Are you cleaving your scram? / Is your clam in a jam? / Like a dribbling fram") meet amateur musicianship and a tuneless squawking harmonica hits notes randomly while the lyrics whack into berserk, child-like imagery.

What's interesting about the 45 is that we're hearing Dylan through Ferrier's ears, and/or the ears of some of the era's "squares" as well. Listening back to it now in 2021, "Like A Rolling Stone" is a coherent piece of classic rock, overloaded with bitterness, passion, triumphalism and despair, a sweet and sour concoction which is always placed near the top of Dylan's achievements for many good reasons - very few 45s manage to overload so many emotions into such a brief performance. However, certainly for a number of listeners in 1965, this noise sounded unusual, incoherent and unacceptable, an overload of bad singing, strange imagery and amateurism. This is the gallery Ferrier is unquestionably playing to, and it worked. "Dribbling Fram" was a minor Top 40 hit in his home country and even picked up attention in the USA (where it was also released). 

8 September 2021

The Kinsmen - It's Good To See You/ Always The Loser

A cut from the Aussie heroes early career in the UK

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1968

To most British listeners, The Kinsmen are best known - if they're recognised at all - for their version of the John Pantry track "Glasshouse Green Splinter Red" which worked its way on to the "Rubble" compilation series in the eighties. The collision of the vocal group's close harmonies and the mysterious lyrical subject matter about a lonely old gardener led many to file it under "popsike".

In their native country of Australia, however, The (Four) Kinsmen eventually became well-known and loved light entertainers, mixing humour with their vocal abilities and gaining support slots with Ray Charles and Pat Boone. It's highly doubtful that they would ever have deemed themselves "psychedelic" at any point in their careers, preferring the certainties of the theatre and supper club circuit over student underground nights. 

This 45, cut in Britain before they were big news back home, is probably much more representative of their sound. "It's Good To See You" is a bouyant A-side which is drenched in sunshine, but I prefer the more strident, boisterous flip instead which drops the politeness and kicks its legs out somewhat.

5 September 2021

Aitch - Let It Be Me/ Let Me Say This

Austere and minimal 45 from ex-Bent Frame member

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1971

Many moons ago, I had a friend who decided to start calling himself Aitch for no reason any of us could discern. True, his surname began with the letter H, but it wasn't a nickname anyone else had foisted on him, he just began answering the phone with the introduction "Alright! Aitch here!" in the hope we'd all pick up on it. It's better not to judge, really - each of us deals with our identity crises in our teens and early twenties in different ways.

In a similar fashion, Aitch here is, so far as I can judge, John Hetherington of the Roger Daltrey managed group Bent Frame trying to give himself a unique new identity. By this point, he'd already recorded a few tracks with that group which had not seen commercial release, among them the compelling "Fairy Lights" (which eventually saw daylight on the "Circus Days" compilation series in the nineties) and a version of Thunderclap Newman's "Accidents" as well as a track called "It's Only Me" which was released as a solo single of his by RCA in 1970. 

This March single under a temporary new identity appears to have been a one-off for Decca, and is a strange 45 to say the least, taking its arrangement cues from John Lennon's "Give Peace A Chance" or possibly early T Rex. A minimal, pounding rhythm pattern joins a simplistic melody to create something anthemic but threadbare, and how much you enjoy it is going to depend on your attitude to underground campfire singalong discs. 

1 September 2021

Reupload - Mr Joe English - Lay Lady Lay/ Two Minute Silence

Mellow soulful take on the Bob Dylan classic

Label: Fontana
Year of Release: 1969

Now here's a bit of an interesting find - an obscure and, so far as I can tell, almost completely ignored soul cover of a Bob Dylan track. This version of "Lay Lady Lay" is mellow, atmospheric, and filled to the brim with basslines so fat you could fill a jar with the drippings from them. With a relaxed, smoky vibe around it which almost recalls the pace and atmosphere of Dusty Springfield's "Son of A Preacher Man", Mr English's voice is expressive and takes the song to new and blissful places - in all, a cover worth looking out for.

The B-side has picked up a few fans online already, but also remains obscure. "Two Minute Silence" sounds like a bit of a funky studio jam, but definitely shows what English and his studio guests were capable of as soon as some energy was injected into proceedings. 

I have absolutely no idea who Joe English was. A man of that name turned up in Paul McCartney's Wings as their drummer, obviously, but this almost certainly isn't the same person. Nor is it the J English who turned up on Count Shelly records in 1973, who was Junior English, aka reggae performer Errol English, operating under another name. 

29 August 2021

T Party - You're The Only One/ Man With A Gun


Ready salted synth pop from SE Essex

Label: Wax Records
Year of Release: 1985

Just in case there are any young people in bands reading this blog - deeply unlikely, I'm sure - I'd like to give you a basic press related tip. Humbleness is not your friend, and utilising a bit of press hype does not necessarily mean sacrificing your artistic integrity. 

Confused? Let me give you an example. If you're a thoughtful acoustic performer who writes about everyday life, don't go to your first press interview and say "Well, erm, I suppose I'm just an ordinary bloke with a guitar who sings about the things I see!" That might get you on to page 32 of the Sidcup Courier, but it's not going to take things a lot further. Hell's teeth, man, do you think Bob Dylan's debut article with The New York Advertiser Incorporating Used Cars Weekly had him muttering "I just play, man"? Spin them a yarn. Give examples of how your points of inspiration differ from everyone else's - and if you can't think of anything, think harder. You don't even need to be dishonest in the process, just sufficiently self-aware about your talents. Nobody is exactly the same as the person who was in the room immediately before them, after all.

The T Party's debut interview with the Evening Echo (below) tries to make them sound plain and ordinary, which is an interesting PR technique, but is possibly partly due to the Echo's daftness as much as T Party's quotes - after all, this was a paper who ran the headline "Posh Clobber Could Clinch It For (Depeche) Mode" and suggested they'd only make it if they got some high quality suits. 

A sensible Press Officer might have asked them to suggest that while "You're The Only One" was their attempt at a solid gold hit single, offering the kind of undistllled electronic hooks and youthful thrills the somewhat sombre and middle-aged 1985 charts were sorely missing, the B-side showed that they was often a menacing element to their work as well, a faint creepiness under the bright pop spell. 

25 August 2021

Sherri & Son - Lies/ Even More Lies


Femme synth-pop with high emphasis on the "pop" element

Label: Precious
Year of Release: 1981

As eighties mania builds in collectors circles, this rather obscure disc has been attracting more attention of late and it's easy to hear why. While it's not a lost classic or a pioneering example of the synth pop which gripped the public imagination at the start of the decade, it's nonetheless hooky, cold, marginally threatening, and topped off with the kind of softly sung female vocals which suggest trouble is close at hand.

The duo - presumably not actually a mother and son duo a la Lieutenant Pigeon - are a bit more of a mystery, though. This was their only release and the only hints we have are the other credits on the label. The publisher Trisha O'Keefe had previously been the singer in the group Precious Little who we've already documented here, and the fact this release is credited to "Precious Little Productions" suggests a high amount of involvement on her part, though I wouldn't necessarily swear to her being the lead singer of this record (it sounds and seems pretty likely, though).

Whatever the facts behind this, it's an interesting and in some ways prescient pop single. The added flourish of those occasional Spanish guitar licks predates the habit for including them in synth-pop music by a fair few years, and the record has enough atmosphere and insistent, nagging melodies to sound like a possible hit for the period, but clearly being tucked away on a tiny indie did it no favours, and it fell below the waves.

22 August 2021

Berry Cornish - Questions/ Stories From The Wishing Well


One-off folk 45 from stage and screen performer

Label: Jam
Year of Release: 1973

Berry Cornish may not be an immediately familiar name, but she was certainly very active on the light entertainment circuit throughout the sixties and seventies. While not being someone who landed many regular television appearances after 1970, she nonetheless made one-off acting appearances in shows such as "Love Thy Neighbour" and "Man About The House", as well as being a regular guest (as herself) on "The Roy Castle Show" throughout his third and fourth series in 1969 and 1970.

While being someone who was just as comfortable singing as acting, her recording career appears to have been restricted to this solitary 45 on the DJM subsidiary Jam. She promoted it with an appearance on the "Benny Hill Show" on 5th December 1973 a mere two days before its official release, and out it slid to not many sales at all.

That's not altogether surprising. While Cornish is obviously a professional performer here and the arrangement is delicately handled, this sounds like the kind of folk disc you'd have been more likely to encounter at the tail end of the sixties with its hints towards people's attitudes about men with long hair and the judgemental, conservative ways of society's straights. These issues hadn't gone away by 1973, of course, but the mainstream appetite for those ideas had definitely diminished (or been absorbed by Glam and other genres).

The author of the A-side is Ann Odell who had her own LP out on DJM in the same year, and she seems to have co-produced this single as well, which would suggest a closer involvement with Berry's career than her merely being someone whose work was found on file in a Denmark Street office. 

18 August 2021

Reupload - Fable - With A Boy Like You/ She Said Yes


Astonishing mellow, almost VU-esque take on Troggs classic

Label: Penny Farthing
Year of Release: 1971

Well, here's one hell of a find on Penny Farthing, a label which seldom delivers interesting goods. The A-side is a gender-switched cover of The Troggs classic which I originally stumbled across on YouTube. I was immediately bowled over by the approach it had taken - while The Troggs original version of "A Girl Like You" had been scratchy, jagged and hormonal sounding, this cover replaced that abrasiveness with a slick but minimal arrangement, a thumping bass drum and rich bass guitar, and exotic, Nico-esque vocal lines. It has absolutely no right to work in that manner, but it does so marvellously, and the quality of the performance highlights the fact that Reg Presley probably wasn't the completely primitive garage songwriter everyone assumed him to be in 1966.

Fable were essentially members of Jason Cord's backing group The First Chapter attempting a breakaway slice of success of their own. Consisting of Paul Robbins on organ and guitar, Keith Tully on drums, Mac Bailey on guitar and Pete Bickley on bass, they added the glamorous Wolverhampton local hero Anna Terrana on lead vocals to complete the new Penny Farthing signed line-up. 

Anna Terrana had already had a fairly substantial career on the national gig circuit at this point, fronting Lady Jayne and the Royaltee (known as "Royalty" on their CBS recordings) and picking up praise and acclaim from the music press and Radio One DJs alike. You can read much more about her background on the Brumbeat website here, which goes into enormous depth.

15 August 2021

Paul Brett Sage - 3d Mona Liza/ Mediterranean Lazy Heat Wave

Bassy, funky folkiness - accept the contradictions

Label: Pye
Year of Release: 1970

Paul Brett is one of those performers whose career history is far richer and broader than rock and pop history books are likely to give him credit for. As both a background session muso and group member, he played lead guitar with The Strawbs, the utterly marvellous Elmer Gantry's Velvet Opera, Fire, The Warren Davis Monday Band, Tintern Abbey, Al Stewart and Lonnie Donnegan, which sounds like a complete wet dream of a CV to the average sixties aficionado. 

By 1970, however, he was striking out on his own via the Paul Brett's Sage (or Paul Brett Sage) moniker, a collective which also housed band musicians Bob Voice on drums, Dick Dufall on bass, Nicky Higginbottom on flute and Stuart Cowell on guitar. The group they this bunch have the closest associations with are unquestionably Fire (of "My Father's Name Is Dad" infamy) as Voice and Dufall had both been in the group alongside Brett. 

Anyone plonking this on the turntable and expecting more toytown psychedelia or mod angst will have their expectations thwarted, however - if "3D Mona Liza" is close to any style at all, it's probably the various folk rock festival groups who littered the twilight 1970 era, with its puffing flutes, furious guitars and impassioned vocals. That's not to say it's uninspired - its frantic guitar work and primitive grooves don't have much in common with anything else going on in the period, and its a blistering single which really could have become a hit.  As things stood, the single stalled, although Paul Brett Sage continued for three LPs and their work is now greatly sought after by collectors of the period. 

11 August 2021

The Sheldons - Wonderful Land/ The Shark

German take on The Shads on an American issue 45

Label: Philips
Year of Release: 1962

I regularly stumble across people (passionate music fans among them) who try to argue that The Shadows were a supremely naff group with no redeeming qualities. They're wrong, obviously, and I normally rush to recommend "Wonderful Land" to them as the first case for the defence - and God knows there's a long list of other singles besides, including the wah-wah festooned "Scotch On The Socks" which I used to enjoy DJ'ing so people could race over to me to ask who it was by. 

"Wonderful Land", though, sits high up on the tree as one of their biggest hits and most delightful sounds, being somehow simultaneously exultant and sad. Hank Marvin's yearning twanged notes and the gentle orchestra behind him seem to be pining for something that doesn't really exist - an idea of something better - rather than being present and content in the moment. The band appeared to have arrived at the title by happenstance; when one of the group commented to songwriter Jerry Lordan that it "sounded like America", another member added that it seemed like a "wonderful land", and this vague, idealistic impression of a free utopia is, by accident or design, carried right through the mood of the record. The fact it emerged just prior to the beat boom perhaps also unintentionally underlined why a change had to happen - Britain needed to feel good about itself and its own take on American ideas, not pine for far-away lands as offering an answer. 

And anyway, America didn't care for this particular love letter, or indeed most of our musical love letters prior to The Beatles. Very few people over there bought the single (issued on Atlantic) which left the ground clear for someone else to have a crack at that market with the same tune. The mysterious Sheldons, who recorded this in Germany, thus stepped forward to have another go.

8 August 2021

Flight - Overnight Sensation/ It's Only Money

Satirical sneering at the Glam Rock swindle

Label: Buk
Year of Release: 1975

Some years ago a friend of mine found a pop music history book with a publication date of 1973 in a local charity shop, and sat and sniggered to himself about the perspective from that frozen point in time. The closer the narrative got to the year it was released, the wonkier (or less accepted by modern day standards) the perspective got. In particular, the end chapter looked forward to the future and made bold claims for Glam Rock, stating that it was the pop sound of the future with far-reaching influences, a sound that would reverberate throughout the ages and flex the pop sound into brand new shapes. 

I'm a lover of Glam myself and don't want to casually dismiss its influence, but in retrospect it's apparent that there were rumblings, whinings and bleepings going on in the world of electronic music at that time which would hit much harder on the future of pop music than the thud, chant and thwack of glam. David Bowie has unquestionably been a huge influence on numerous 21st Century artists, but even his most ardent fans would have to admit that it's his Berlin era albums (when he had one ear on influential and forward looking German sounds) and "Scary Monsters" that sounded more futuristic and prophetic than the adventures of Ziggy.

These are the perils of trying to predict the future with confidence. It's far too easy to become a cheap and careless soothsayer and predict that in the year 2076 we'll be listening to the music generated by our houseplants. And anyway, even at the time not everyone agreed with the more forgiving mainstream assessment of glam, with many (particularly prog fans) seeing it as little more than tinsel and tat, a circus filled with aged opportunists and their dodgy managers, a cheap passing craze no more relevant than skateboards or hula hoops. 

In 1974, First Class stuck the boot in with "Bobby Dazzler", a brilliant, sardonic and faintly bitter single about ageing rock stars hitching a ride on the glittery comet trail. "What they trying to do to you?" they sang. "They tell you what to wear and how to comb your hair/ and everything else you do". Alvin Stardust might have winced if he hadn't been too busy to hear it (presumably). 

Then in 1975, just as the glam party was truly on the wane, Flight spat on the dying patient by putting this one out, a 10cc-esque sneer at the pop tat around them. The band adopt a Bay City Rollers chug and sing "We're the latest and the greatest to be born" through their teeth. "We're our manager's creation/ and we love the adoration" they add, just to hammer the point home. 

4 August 2021

Reupload - The Germz/ Lit Candle - No Easy Way Down/ Boy Girl Love


First outing for brilliant Goffin/King ballad by New York garage band

Label: Cotique
Year of Release: 1967 and 1969

This is becoming something of a sought-after record for 60s garage collectors, in whatever guise it takes. The Germz were formed from the remains of a New York band called Terry and the Pirates, and consisted of Wendy Hirsch on vocals, Marty Green on keyboards, Bob Tobin on lead guitar, Jefferson Travis on rhythm guitar, Doug Smith on bass and Shelly Unger on drums. After a spell of local popularity, in early 1967 they inked a deal with the Roulette subsidiary label Vertigo and headed off to record these two tracks at Miramound Studios. 

It's the B-side which tends to get all the attention in the present day, being a piece of quirky, organ-driven garage pop with the most warped and wobbly sounding clarion calls you'll have heard since The Human League's "(Keep Feeling) Fascination". Propulsive, bouyant, and charmingly (rather than ineptly) loose sounding, it's a strange and sharp sounding recording which nags away at you long after the needle has left the run-out groove behind.

Amidst the more recent fuss, though, the A-side seems to have been overlooked or even dismissed by some, which is a deep pity. The Goffin-King composition "No Easy Way Down" has subsequently been recorded by Dusty Springfield, Carole King herself, and Scott Walker (quite drearily, actually, on his under-achieving "Stretch" LP) among others, but so far as I can ascertain this was the first released version. This might appear to have been a risky or eccentric decision on the songwriting duo's part, but I suspect the fact that the drummer Shelly Ungan was Gerry Goffin's cousin might not be a complete coincidence. Nonetheless, it's a beautiful version of the track, with Wendy's vocals sounding so youthful, spirited, spontaneous and powerful that it's hard to believe that it took the producer George Goldner twenty takes before he was satisfied with her performance. Amazingly, what we can hear is in fact the result of numerous takes of her performance being spliced together.

The resulting single hit number 48 in the local New York charts and number 35 in the Boston charts before disappearing altogether. Internal politics at the record company between Roulette bigwig Morris Levy and George Goldner caused the single to be scrapped after only 2,000 copies were released on to the marketplace, after which it did a big sod off forever. Even the master tapes were apparently wiped.