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.