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. 

14 February 2021

Eddy Adamberry - I Am The People/ I'm A Bloodhound

Heavily John Lennon inspired "protest" 45 from the prolific Adamberry
Label: Pye
Year of Release: 1973
The seventies were riddled with artists who had already endured long and fruitless careers throughout the previous decade, from the much-loved (David Bowie) to the now commonly derided (Gary Glitter). Eddy Adamberry was no exception to this rule, although sadly the seventies offered him little in the form of payday opportunities either.

He began with the Gibraltar group Los Cincos Ricardos with his brother Joe in the mid-sixties. Their three singles on Philips are agonisingly hard to track down now, although the third and final release in Autumn 1966 - a cover of The Kinks "Most Exclusive Residence For Sale" - occasionally pops up for sale at inflated prices on various auction websites. 

After that, Adamberry seemed to go to ground until 1972 when he popped up with the phased, flowery and actually rather lovely Mike Batt produced solo single "Captain Jones", which failed to progress his career further. "I Am The People" was his next release, and for my money is a delightful surprise which seems to have become surprisingly overlooked in Pye's otherwise heavily plundered archives since. 

It is, to be blunt, the noise of someone who has been listening to Lennon's angry protest records very closely indeed and has decided to siphon off the best bits of them and marry them with a pounding "I Am The Walrus" bounce of an arrangement (which also bears a slight resemblance to the yet-to-be-recorded "Mr Soft" by Steve Harley, strangely. Clearly lots of singers were drinking from the same water fountain at the time). It's a throaty roar of a single, and while it's hard to gauge how much Adamberry really means it - he's very non-specific about the political issues he's ticked off about, and you'd never have got Lennon ducking the issue in the same way - it's got a persuasive thrust to it and a suitably anthemic chorus. All it lacks is an instrumental break or middle eight to vary the tone.

10 February 2021

David Hamilton - A Special Goodnight To You/ Just For The Weekend

DJ and TV links man Diddy grabs his top hat and cane
Label: Spectre
Year of Release: 1967
Well, I'll be blowed. "Diddy" David Hamilton is one of those broadcasters who - until the late eighties at least - felt woven into the fabric of British society. At his peak, his agent must have struggled to find time to deal with anyone else on their books. Not only was he a top BBC Radio DJ, he was also a dependable voiceover man, rent-a-host, quiz show guest and newsreader. A walking, talking example of the oft-used phrase "A safe pair of hands", it felt as if there was literally nothing the man couldn't do.

Hold that thought for a second, though, because for all his strengths, Hamilton really wasn't a top flight singer. This single was released in 1967 when he was, among other things, the continuity announcer for ABC Television in Manchester. His sign-off catchphrase would always be "A very special goodnight to you", and it seems this became well known enough in the region to warrant a single of the same name. Enter the mysterious Spectre Records, who so far as I can see didn't release anything else at all, to do the honours.

I suspect that Hamilton had his tongue firmly in his cheek when recording this, especially during the smooth spoken word segments, but as a novelty single it's neither muckling nor mickling - not funny or gimmicky enough to stand out, but not good enough as a song or performance to pass as a pop hit from a famous face. It's a rinky-dink piece of daffy easy listening and has a little bit of the slick, middle-class broadcasters charm about it, but that's the bare minimum you'd expect.

Clearly the public agreed, and nobody really bought this record. That wouldn't put Hamilton off fronting others, though, as in 1973 he put out the Tommy Cooper referencing single "Just Like That" - which is considerably worse than this. Elsewhere, he also put out a promotional single for Provident Personal Credit snappily titled "If You Need A Little Help With Money Just Spend Three Minutes With David Hamilton" which sounds a bit threatening or even obscene, to tell the truth. 

7 February 2021

Aerial Landscape - Proposition 13/ Are You Sleeping

Harbingers of Doom and Gloom with Chirpy Melodies
Label: RCA Victor
Year of Release: 1968
Sweeping generalisations are often a bad idea - few things are likely to aggravate people more on social media, for one thing - but nonetheless, if you wanted to highlight the key differences between UK and US hippy pop in the late sixties, chief among them would probably be the mood and tone. If US performers were often intense young men and ladies who were either desperate to prove they were poets like Bob Dylan or wanted us to know that the way we lived our lives was simply Not Good, a lot of UK acts tended to be experimental, childlike and giddy, and more obsessed with improvements in recording studio technology than the Vietnam War. Yes, it's a generalisation and there are exceptions on either side of the pond, but still...

Aerial Landscape produced this rather strange single in 1968 which somehow crossed the streams. The lyrics appear to be pointing towards a coming storm of no specified kind ("The sands of time are shifting/ and the lights are going out!" they begin, before adding "As the Grim Reaper is sleeping/ in comes Satan with his rake") while the melody behind them is merry and triumphant. It's not a complete mismatch, of course. Aerial Landscape, bless their souls, appear to be optimistic enough to believe that their underground movement will mean that the greedheads of the world will shortly been shown the door. We're still waiting, chaps.

The song is blessed with some beautiful arrangements which, while chirpy, keep things moving along and enhance a fairly simple (if occasionally lyrically oblique) protest song into something approaching pop. It's the kind of song whose style wouldn't last beyond the sixties and while it feels timelocked in a particular era as a result, it's still a strong listen.

3 February 2021

Reupload - Circus Circus Circus - Inside The Inside Out Man/ No Hips

Moody post-punk/ indie from luckless mates of Rik Mayall
Label: BDI
Year of Release: 1987

When Rik Mayall passed away, one of the things I expected to go a tiny bit viral - but never did - was the clip of him appearing in a music video with the obscure eighties indie band Circus Circus Circus. During the promo for their debut single "Butcher Bitches", Mayall plays the role of a nerdish fan of the group, aping their dress sense and their moves (right down to falling over when one of their guitarists accidentally hits the deck). I'd be a liar if I claimed it was a red-hot, top grade Mayall performance, but it was done for free when he was feeling unwell, and entirely for the benefit of a band who didn't even have a proper record deal at that point. If nothing else, I felt that it underlined his good nature and his spirit, as well as being a performance which had barely ever been repeated anywhere.

"Butcher Bitches" was a fairly swinging piece of garage rock and roll, and didn't really prepare anybody for their follow up. While "Inside The Inside Out Man", written about Francis Bacon, initially has a faintly "House of the Rising Sun" air of doom and despondency about it, it's closer in style to the moodier indie releases of the day; more long mac and shades than cardigans and NHS glasses. It's also really rather good. Filled to the brim with moody guitar riffs and quivering sixties vocal harmonies, it's a huge leap forward from their debut. It managed to get television exposure on "The Chart Show" at the point of its release, but they never gained serious traction in the indie charts despite the publicity - and two more singles later ("Magic Girl" and "Under The Library") and they threw in the towel. An album was recorded but never released, something which somebody could consider remedying.

The group were formed in Beckenham, South London in 1985 and consisted of Doug Hart on vocals, Ric Clark and Mark Shaw on guitars, Richard Bentley on bass guitar and Rich Spicer on drums.