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"Punch On The Road" is actually an astonishing historical document of a bygone scene and era.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.