30 April 2022

Top of the Box Volume 2


If you're the kind of weirdo who regularly hangs around this blog, you'll probably be aware of Tim Worthington's excellent book "Top Of The Box" which took a peek at the mysterious yet bureaucratic world of the 7" singles which were released on BBC Records and Tapes. From Ed The Duck right the way back to The Likely Lads with lots of unexpected folky, proggish and punky stops in-between, the book is a witty and impeccably researched look at one of the UK's strangest labels.

In a move so ambitious he's almost terrified me, he's just released Volume 2 which focuses on all the LPs released on the label, which is a telephone directory sized tome as opposed to Volume 1's slimline brochure. Once again, the degree of research here, on subjects which are frequently absurd and unexpected, is triumphant and a victory for anyone who feels that facts - and not the rumour and speculation which often drive Internet engagement on these topics - are important. 

Here you'll be able to find out just why the hell the Beeb put out a concept LP of poetry and music about roses, rediscover Neil Innes' forgotten vinyl work, and obviously take a visit to the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Inevitably, each of those sound effects and garden birds LPs is also given a fair overview in what must have been the most unusual music journalism project this decade. 

Buy it here.

27 April 2022

Palace Court Brigade - Whistlin' In The Sunshine/ Girls Grow Up


Sixties whistlemania continues - or doesn't

Label: CBS
Year of Release: 1969

"Whistling" Jack Smith - an anonymous session whistler whose moniker, to my mind, always made him sound like some dodgy bloke who sold knock-off car parts in the local pub - was a brief sensation in 1967 when his single "I Was Kaiser's Bill's Batman" stormed the charts. He's continued to be a viral Internet sensation since where videos of him (or at least "his" stand-in Billy Moeller) prancing and flouncing around have proven to be the UK's equivalent of Russia's Trololo.

Such commercial success created by mere whistling tunes obviously led some other studio musicians to try their hand at the format, but none broke through in the same manner. Artists such as Roger Whittiker had obviously worked whistling into their acts already, but seldom (if ever) did anyone whistle their way through entire tunes without putting their vocal chords into action before Smith surprised us all.

This single is another such attempt at scoring a hit solely through a merry whistlin' tune, and... well, it's hard to say much about it apart from it's everything you'd expect. Horns parp, backing vocals "aah" contentedly, and there's lots of lips pursing and blowing. It's one to skip merrily through Sping's fields to, but in all honestly, it's not a great lost novelty track - just something that CBS obviously wanted to take a punt on being a possible hit and emerged short-changed from.

24 April 2022

John Bryant - Lights Of Town/ Milkman (Demos on acetate)


John Bryant's early demos for his 1971 LP

John Bryant was probably the first ever musician whose work I owned yet whose identity was something of a mystery. His scarce Fontana 45 "It's Dark" sat in my parents pile of old singles and my Dad, who shared his name and clearly had mischief on his mind, concocted a story that he had tried his hand at becoming a singer and this one effort was all he had to his name before he opted to take a more mundane working life. Obviously, I believed him.

It wasn't until I was about six years old that he burst out laughing and admit I'd been had, and I went from being proud of what I thought was my father singing a perfectly good song to feeling slightly cheated. "What?! What?! You didn't seriously think it was me, did you?" he asked, and a clear life lesson that parents were neither God-like figures nor obscure artists signed to Fontana was cruelly realised. 

From there, the single lived on in my own collection and I decided to carry the joke on, occasionally telling friends that it was my Dad's attempt at a hit record "but don't talk to him about it - he gets a bit funny. It's a real sore point". 

Back in the real world, this particular John Bryant came from Tooting, not Peckham like my Dad, and spent some time in the gigging beat group The Shifters in the sixties with future Groundhog Tony McPhee. He was then signed as a solo artist to Fontana and issued a trio of folk singles which highlighted his skills as an intimate performer, from the rough beatnik stylings of his first 45 "Tell Me What You See" through to the smoky shoreline contemplation of his final effort for the label, the aforementioned "Million Miles Away". 

Later on, he signed to MCA to issue the much fancied psychedelic pop effort "I Bring The Sun", before emerging on Decca to release the super-obscure "I Believe I Love You", then shunting over to Polydor in 1971 to finally issue a full-length LP. It's from that record that these two tracks stem, but unlike the versions you'll find there, these are stripped bare and boil the tunes down to the essence of Bryant and his acoustic guitar. While, for instance, "Lights Of Town" features a whining country guitar and Americanised arrangements on the commercially issued version, this acetate is acoustic, reflective and maudlin and altogether more English sounding (and actually better, from my point of view). 

Meanwhile, the other side features him bluesily considering murdering the local milkman, something I hope he managed to get over before a Richey Rich styled incident emerged to ruin his promising musical career. 

20 April 2022

Reupload - The Magnificent Seven - Reggae Bagpipes/ Roll Out The Barrel


If you like a bit of reggae with your bagpipes, join our blog

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1972

Pop and rock, of course, have continually evolved as they've adopted and mixed and meshed various apparently conflicting styles. If during the sixties British groups hadn't had one eye on music hall ditties and the other on rhythm and blues, so much interesting material might never have been written and released.

But a combination of reggae and the sound of the bagpipes? Really? Never has the Simpsons slogan "Nuts and Gum, together at last!" felt more applicable. It's not as if "Reggae Bagpipes" is a mess, which is to the credit of everyone involved. While it doesn't have a particularly authentic production or arrangement going on, it would be just about credible enough to pass were it not for those droning great pipes playing "Scotland the Brave" throughout. 

17 April 2022

Colin Pilditch - Mrs. O'Mara/ What A Way

British actor tries his hand at singer-songwriter success

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1972

As is often the case with "Left and to the Back" blog entries, a certain amount of mystery surrounds this 45. The artist on this occasion is easy to identify, the reasons behind the record's release are not. Colin Pilditch was a multi-talented entertainer whose face popped up in all kinds of both plausible and unlikely scenarios. On the plausible side, he was one of the Young Generation Dancers in the early seventies, a troupe put together by the Beeb to handle choreography duties on their light entertainment shows, and as such he could be seen on that bunch's own programmes as well as the likes of "The Rolf Harris Show", "Vera Lynn", and - erm - the TV movie "Jesus" presumably prancing about as "The Lord Of The Dance" or somesuch.

Unexpectedly, however, he also appeared in a slightly bleak film with British singer-songwriter Roy Harper called "Made" in 1972 which explored a single mother entering into a relationship with a neurotic British singer-songwriter (a role which gave Harper very little need to stretch himself). Bob Harris also appeared as an interviewing DJ in another highly unchallenging role. Pilditch, on the other hand, actually acted as a minor character called "Jacko" in that movie - for as well as being a dancer and occasional choreographer, he also had a string of acting appearances in films and programmes over the years including "Z Cars" and "Please Sir!"

It's not completely clear why he wanted to spread his wings further and become a singer-songwriter, but this sole 45 is the only evidence I've been able to find of that journey and it's actually rather good. Bouncy, chiming and perhaps slightly sinister with its reference to kidnapping young ladies, it nonetheless seeps with the kind of lush, airy and spacious arrangements so common in the early seventies. For all its joyousness, it's also a strangely subtle record whose chorus is repeated infrequently, and as such it takes a few spins to worm its way into your heart and mind; this really isn't a case of an on-screen figure trying to push a hook-laden novelty record into the charts. 

13 April 2022

Ways & Means - Little Deuce Coupe/ The Little Old Lady From Pasadena

Curious Brit-takes on the Beach Boys

Label: Columbia
Year of Release: 1966

The Ways and Means have already featured on this blog back in 2019, when we took a look at their downright sinister psychedelic harmony single "Sea of Faces". That record has fascinated me for many years as an example of something which sounds as if it might have been trying to be a commercial hit rather than an underground sound, but everyone's aspirations disappeared down the back of the mixing desk at some point during the process. 

Certainly, this record - their debut a mere seven months before that one saw the light of day - showed no signs of any desire to produce a delirious sounding record. Both sides here are very straightforward and faithful reproductions of the Beach Boys sound with only a slightly (and perhaps appropriately) damp atmosphere letting things down slightly; it's hard to hear any warmth or glee in these renditions which in places sound a little perfunctory. It could have been a case of one too many takes in a pressured studio environment or possibly the group felt hamstrung by the material.

Whatever, 1966 was way too late for a British group to take a chance on scoring a hit with covers of early Beach Boys material. While the group had to wait awhile to take flight in the UK, they were very far from a marginal or unknown quantity in mid-1966 and "Little Deuce Coupe" had been made available on the "Fun Fun Fun" EP a few years before. The Ways and Means' performances here are hard to fault, but they were more interesting when they pushed the boat a little bit further out. 

10 April 2022

Wheatstone Bridge Band - Cloudy/ Little Petals

Paul Simon cover from mystery men

Label: Epic
Year of Release: 1968

"Hang on a minute," I expect you're thinking to yourselves, "Didn't Paul Simon's song 'Cloudy' get an outing on this blog very recently?" And yes, you're right. we looked at The Wedgwoods' version of it back in December. It's a fair cop.

But here's my case for the defence - for a non-hit Simon and Garfunkel track, it was picked up by an unusual number of artists. Liverpool Five, The Chicago Loop, The Sandals, Cecil McCartney, The Guild Light Gauge, Richard Anthony and The Factotums, for example. Even proper pop star Cliff bloody Richard had a go at covering it, so it's had a fair number of outings over the years; the odds of bumping into an obscurity with "Cloudy" on it are shorter than you'd suppose.

The mysterious Wheatstone Bridge Band do a very slick and slightly groovy version of it here, filled with fat basslines, pinging harpsichord notes, airy strings and harmonised vocals. It's rich, thick with melody and actually sounds like the kind of FM radio friendly work produced by artists in the early seventies rather than a sixties track. I approached this one with maximum scepticism but I like it a lot now. It's breezy without being insubstantial and is the perfect three minutes for an unsettled Spring day.

6 April 2022

Reupload - Prince The Wonder Dog - Sausages (Wheels)/ We've Got A Dog


A novelty single by an actual real-life talking dog! - Well, kind of...

Label: Columbia
Year of Release: 1979

The TV programme "That's Life" washed endless pieces of absurd popular culture flotsam ashore in the seventies and eighties, but few have lived on in the public imagination as much as Prince the talking dog. Owned by the mild-mannered Paul Allen, a man who looked like a member of a twee indie band before such things really existed, the canine apparently had an impressive human vocabulary and was especially obsessed with the word "sausages". 

In reality, of course, all of the dog's words were formed by Paul Allen manipulating its jaw while it growled. He confessed to "That's Life" that his long-term ambition was to teach the dog to say the words by itself, but inevitably this plan never really came to fruition. This is deeply unsurprising as scientists also haven't managed to get dogs to talk of their own accord either - if nothing else, Allen was a man with lofty ambitions. You can see a full clip of his "That's Life" appearance here.

Prince ended up becoming a huge hit with viewers, to the extent that a single was almost inevitable. Amazingly, BBC Records and Tapes passed on the possibility and EMI took the dog on instead, resulting in this peculiar single. The A-side is a two-and-a-half minute musical skit on the dog's experiences in a recording studio dealing with a "music industry mogul" (inevitably, one of Esther's comedy stooges putting on a Hollywood voice). It should be abysmal, and there may be readers out there who will argue it is - it was certainly featured on the "World's Worst Records" blog several years ago - but I find it unnaturally funny. Something about Allen's gentle, understated manner, the use of the song "Wheels Cha Cha Cha" (always a good comedy stand-by) and the dog's ludicrous vocalisations make it far more amusing than it has any right to be. It's unashamedly cheap sounding and unbelievably silly, but if Danny Baker had discovered Prince The Wonder Dog rather than Esther Rantzen, a lot more of my readers would probably be appreciative of his existence. 

3 April 2022

Colours - Love Heals/ Bad Day At Black Rock Baby

Righteous Beatlesy psychedelic gospel. 

Label: Dot
Year of Release: 1968

It's often a bit lazy to claim that any act is inspired by The Beatles, of course. Most - knowingly or otherwise - are to some degree or another, but then there are others (like The Aerovons, for example) who were so in awe of the group that they obviously couldn't quite escape their gravitational pull and forge an identity of their own. The end results created some good music but left a bunch of talented musicians denied an opportunity to make a firmer impression on the public.

Suffice to say, the first thing you think when spinning the pretty spiffing "Love Heals" by Colours is "Ah, good to hear John Lennon spreading the word of peace and love so forcefully again." The vocals are pure Plastic Ono, the hippyish message is simple, undemanding but strident, and the only thing that sets the group apart is the extreme tidal wave of gospel backing vocals which are several leagues above the door thumping crowd in "Give Peace A Chance". 

That backing - despite the Anglicised spelling of the word "Colours" in the group's name - is the big giveaway that the group are American. They were formed by jobbing songwriters Jack Dalton and Gary Montgomery who had previously written and worked (relatively unsuccessfully) for Motown, and joined by bass player Carl Radle, guitarist David Marks, drummer Chuck Blackwell, and guitarist Rob Edwards in 1967. 

Their debut 45 was "Brother Lou's Love Colony" which utterly stiffed, but follow-up "Love Heals" showed more promise, climbing just outside the Billboard Hot 100 and inspiring several other labels around the world (including the UK) to release it as well. That's not terribly surprising - it's actually an uplifting screamer of a record which somehow manages to mesh the righteousness of the latter-day Lennon with the throttling forcefulness of some of the Beatles earlier records. Had it been issued a year earlier at the height of "flower power" there's a chance it may have connected with the public even more.