30 June 2021

Robert Peters - Fun Lovin' Kind/ A Climber

Chipper, zippy piece of sixties pop which has fallen into hopeless obscurity

Label: Parlophone
Year of Release: 1966

Well, here's a truly baffling find. "Fun Lovin' Kind" wasn't completely ignored at the time, managing to pick up enthusiastic Radio London airplay, but its sales were abysmal and subsequently it seems to have disappeared from the memory banks of the general public (and certainly the internet). Proof, if proof were needed, that airplay hits tend not to generate the kind of affection that bona-fide sales hits do.

"Fun Lovin' Kind" veers towards the swinging Carnaby Street end of middle-of-the-road pop, having a zinging, hurried arrangement and a likeable bounce. Peters' voice is wry and knowing, though his accent suggests that he may not have been English (some of the pronunciations here sound slightly Dutch?) It's not the kind of 45 which would find favour with the mod set and nor does it usher in the new psychedelic era, but it's an interesting example of what else was happening in 1966.

If anyone knows anything more about Robert Peters, let me know. So far as I can see, he had one follow-up single in 1967 ("Somewhere In The Sun", also on Parlophone) before disappearing, but I would imagine he did go on to produce other work. 

27 June 2021

Ravin' Image - Echoes/ Woman of Misfortune


Atmospheric piece of yearning psychedeic pop

Label: Capitol
Year of Release: 1969

Here's a slightly odd and very minimal 45 with psychedelic tinges. "Echoes" is on the surface a delicate and very simple ballad, very close to a wind-up music box melody in its simplicity. It steadily builds on its original simple idea with added moody organ lines, reverb and increasingly desperate vocal lines. 

This was Texan group the Ravin' Image's solitary release, but in that name only - members John Esposito and Ronnie Tourso were also both in The Utopia Parkway who issued the single "Come With Me" on United Artists  the following year, and had also been in Gentle'Men who put out the garage punker "Come On (If You Can)" on Cameo in 1966. Why they were so keen on pushing out singles under a multitude of different names is something of a mystery and will probably remain one unless someone comes forward to help us get wiser.

None of their singles seem to have sold in particularly large quantities, yet the Ravin' Image and Utopia Parkway efforts have a haunting yet naive air to them, simple, sweet yet ever so faintly troubling around their edges. Had they been given an opportunity to progress further, it would have been interesting to hear what else they came out with.

23 June 2021

Reupload - John Bryant - Tell Me What You See/ Poor Unfortunate Me


Rough and ready fuzz guitar ridden folk-rock 

Label: Fontana
Year of Release: 1965

We've touched on the work of John Bryant on this blog before, examining the ultra-obscure (£162 to you, squire) single "A Million Miles Away/ It's Dark", which was handed down to me from my parent's record collection. 

That particular single is a likeable and folky piece of work, with (as one reader pointed out to me) a flip that's very reminiscent of Cat Stevens. This single, however, was Bryant's Fontana debut and is an entirely different affair, being a distorted, snarling piece of folk-rock with distinctly Dylan leanings. Taking a very basic garage riff and piling surrealist lyrics on top ("clouds that move beneath the sea/ preachers dressed in leather") it's so beatnik it hurts - and is actually quite forward thinking for a British solo artist in 1965. Donovan might already have been around doing his best Bobby impressions, but he was seldom as rough and ready as this.

This may have been his (flop) debut single, but John Bryant actually enjoyed a long career in music after this, issuing further 45s for MCA, Polydor and Private Stock (the MCA single "I Bring The Sun" is a favourite of many collectors) only really ceasing recorded activities in 1978. He also wrote "Dear Old Mrs Bell" for The Shadows in 1968, and Cliff Richard recorded his track "She's a Gypsy".
These days he owns Abbeywood Films and the graphic design, animation and soundtrack firm Bryant Whittle, from where he's still penning music for commercial use.

20 June 2021

The Look - If I Were A Carpenter/ Can You Do (The Things I Want)

Sharp garage take on the Tim Hardin track from the very youthful Alessi Brothers

Label: Verve
Year of Release: 1967

Tim Hardin's "If I Were A Carpenter" has been picked up and kicked around by numerous performers and groups across the stylistic spectrum. Bobby Darin took it on, as did The Four Tops, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Bob Seger, Raymond Lefevre, Johnny Hallyday and even Robert Plant. Sometimes songs come along which are universal and adaptable enough to fit soul, supper club schmaltz, country, easy listening and rock without losing much in the interpretation, and even if Hardin never had a hit with the track himself, he hopefully managed to earn considerable royalties from those who did.

Low, low down on his royalties sheet with its figures to the right of the decimal point might sit this 1967 garage rock take on the tune. The Look - actually the West Hempsted, New York garage group Country Gentlemen under another name - take Hardin's original and begin sympathetically at first, before kicking the chorus around those four bare breezeblock walls. The track may as well be retitled "If I Weren't In Some Garage Group and Had A Fancy Office Job, Would You Marry Me?" It takes the original and turns it into a tantrum, which is an interesting way of handling the goods on offer.

The Country Gentlemen consisted of twins Billy and Bobby Alessi (on Guitar, Organ and Vocals and Guitar and Vocals respectively), Don Drodge on bass and Bob Pelicane on drums. Their debut 45 "Saturday Night" is actually a thumping great rock and roll groover, but obviously didn't cut through to mainstream success. 

16 June 2021

Herbie's People - One Little Smile/ You Never Know


Bilston beat boys back on the blog again 

Label: CBS
Year of Release: 1966

Herbie's People are no strangers to this blog - back in 2015 we covered their debut single and near-hit "You Thrill Me To Pieces". "One Little Smile" was their follow-up effort.

To summarise, they were unlucky coves, being the first group to record "Semi-Detached Suburban Mr James" before watching in horror as Manfred Mann nabbed the song shortly afterwards and sent it sailing chartwards. They were therefore denied one near-certain hit and didn't manage to stumble into an equally strong opportunity again. 

To aficionados of popsike, they're probably best loved for their excellent final single under the name Just William, "I Don't Care/ Cherrywood Green", issued on Spark in 1968. Their earlier material is much beatier and chirpier and lacks those moody, quirky harmonies. The Carter/Lewis penned "One Little Smile" is evidence of this - it's commercial pop music from the days when songs with few mixed messages or negative undertows could rule the roost. You meet someone, you fall in love with their smile, you write a two minute chirpy pop song about it. The pure innocence of it would probably have already seemed slightly quaint by April 1966 and it undoubtedly does now, but it passes the old grey whistle test with flying colours.

Sadly, despite this it sold incredibly poorly and did not build on the momentum created by their first disc. They would issue another single for CBS, "Humming Bird", in February 1967 before being dropped by the label and finding themselves on Spark the following year. 

15 June 2021

The End of the Email Alerts

It looks as if Blogger will be ending email alerts for all blogs at the end of this month, meaning anyone who wants to receive an alert about a new entry on this blog - which, flatteringly enough, huge numbers of you have opted to do over the years - can't. Well, not through that method at least.

If you rely on getting that regular email to tell you a new entry has gone live, contact me with your details and I'll see what else I can sort out. I'm not guaranteeing an immediate solution but I'll certainly see if I can get something put in place shortly.

I generally whine and bitch when websites and apps reduce their functionality for no good reason, but all that tends to get me is emails saying "Hey, we hear you! But I think we can still collectively appreciate the brilliance of what we otherwise offer!" so let's not prod the corporate misery puppies to lick our faces yet again. I know when I'm beaten. 

Alternatively, as a general rule, entries on "Left and to the Back" usually go live on Wednesday and Sunday mornings at 8am Greenwich Mean Time, so you could all just remember that. Sometimes I'll have extra entries in a week where I've got lots to say, or I'll be late on a week where life has been somewhat complicated, but the rule of thumb is a good one. 

13 June 2021

The Guild - You Can See The Trees (But Not The Forest)/ Who'd Ever Thought

Eerie folk-rock from feted live act

Label: Philips
Year of Release: 1966

This was the only release from the folk-rock outfit The Guild. While the press were hardly burning up with front page stories and wild praise about their act, 1966 certainly saw complimentary reviews turning up firmly stamping them as "ones to watch". In the 8th October 1966 edition of "Billboard", a September live show of theirs is given a keen nod, noting that they were "excellent", "versatile" and also featured comedy in their set.

The comic aspect sounds intriguing, as the very last thing "You Can See The Trees" sounds like is a barrel of laughs; rather, the track has an eerie, gothic folkiness running through its core, with a string section whining in the background like hornets ready to strike, and a claustrophobic chorus and autumnal air. This, of course, is also why it's highly worthy of a listen - it's folk rock with a damp chill in the air, the smell of backyard bonfires on the breeze, as well as hints of unease in the lyrics. Those who like their folk rock to feel slightly Pagan and have a tight knot at its centre will get a lot out of this (Matt Berry would probably love it).

Billboard once again came out to bat for the group when this single's release date was announced, making it a top pick for the Hot 100. This wasn't an accurate prediction and given how few stock copies of this record seem to be in circulation these days, I'd suggest it actually sold very poorly indeed.

9 June 2021

Reupload - Heavy Jelly - I Keep Singing That Same Old Song/ Blue


Skip Bifferty in disguise (without glasses)

Label: Island
Year of Release: 1968

Well, this is bloody confusing. There were actually three groups called Heavy Jelly in this era. One bunch had Jackie Lomax and John Morshead in their line-up. The other were a mysterious set of coves who had one single out on Avco entitled "Humpty Dumpty". Then there's this bunch... who were originally the rather excellent Skip Bifferty but renamed themselves for this one 45 and an LP on Island. 

Skip Bifferty were from Newcastle and were originally managed by rock heavyweight Don Arden, and issued three marvellous singles (of which the highlights are the ace "On Love" and "Man In Black") and one long player, but despite constant evening airplay and acclaim for their frantic live shows, never broke through. "I Keep Singing That Same Old Song" was really their last hurrah, a fresh start with a new name (which was probably instigated to keep Arden off their backs, to be fair) and an unusual and risky gimmick. With an epic running time of 7:49 this was the longest single ever issued on seven inch single in the sixties, and made "Macarthur Park" seem like a concise ditty by comparison. The grooves on my copy are tighter than a gnat's chuff and run close to the label - hats off to the pressing plant for managing to handle this without making it sound like a complete mess. 

While it wasn't a hit in the UK, it did break through in other European countries, and has been compiled to death in the years since. If you do want to listen to it, there's a full YouTube video over yonder.

Less referenced since has been the B-side "Blue", which I actually prefer. Unlike the bloated top side which could do with having some fat trimmed off its edges, it has the usual conciseness and masterful energy of a Skip Bifferty single, albeit with a lot more bluesy rockiness in its mix. Once again, the group sound perfectly capable of reaching the by-then bourgeoning heavy rock crowd, but success never materialised, and they split not long after. 

6 June 2021

Jacqueline - Some Fine Day/ Do I Love You


Tremeloes produced mystery one-off 45 

Label: CBS
Year of Release: 1972

I've said this many, many times before on this blog, but mystery solo female artists litter the label discographies of the sixties like flytipped furniture on an East London side street (although most are more pleasant to come across than that). In their quest to find the next Lulu, Sandie Shaw or Cilla Black, labels signed numerous women to quickie deals which sometimes only offered them a single or two to prove they had what it took. Most inevitably didn't, or if they did, the deals weren't generous enough to allow them to prove it.

By the seventies things had improved somewhat, so it was surprising to find a 45 by this one-single wonder who has become nigh-on untraceable. Going only by the name Jacqueline, with no surname to aid our search, I don't expect to find out who the artist was and what else she did anytime soon. Nonetheless, this production was overseen by Alan Blakley and Len Hawkes of The Tremeloes, meaning that clearly she was given a lot of studio attention by two decent stars of the time.

Somewhat surprisingly, while it's possible to hear traces of "Yellow River" about "Some Fine Day", overall the track feels like a sixties throwback, a basic, chirpy, top-heavy pop stomper at a point where tastes were beginning to get more sophisticated. It has a celebratory air to it and, perhaps more unusually towards the end, some slightly Match Of The Day styled brass fanfares. Solid, likeable and lovely, but not the stuff chart revolutions or new beginnings are made of. 

2 June 2021

Kissing The Pink - Stand Up/ Certain Things Are Likely


One-hit wonders on an extremely convincing comeback trip

Label: WEA
Year of Release: 1988

In the weird, bleak post-Christmas weeks, record companies generally try to slip out records which might fall between the cracks at other times of the year. It's the perfect time to launch new releases by cult bands, long-standing artists with loyal but modest fanbases, new hopes and groups who are down on their luck.

Kissing The Pink were definitely firmly in the latter category by 1989 when this single made minor in-roads into the winter Radio One playlist. Their solitary hit "The Last Film" had charted in 1983 and their follow-ups had all fallen unnoticed outside the Top 75, and they were becoming widely regarded as one-hit wonders. This should have left them feeling hopeless, but in fact the changing musical environment in the late eighties apparently seemed to boost their confidence - in interviews and press releases from the period, they said the current music scene made them feel "much more at home". They set about work recording with PWL supremo Phil Harding and came back with some very confident sounding singles, of which "Stand Up" was the last under their contract with Magnet, and arguably the toughest.

Unbelievably, this wasn't a hit even though it couldn't sound more "late eighties smash" if it tried. Rattling synth rhythms and a sharp-as-Wilkinson-Sword chorus combine with an arresting video, and it sounds like an easy top ten entry. Sadly, the public appeared to have different opinions to my own and it sold in disappointing numbers, not enough to even register in the icy January Top 75. If you're confused by this point, imagine how the band must have felt.