29 May 2022

Everyone Involved - The Circus Keeps On Turning/ Motorcar Madness


Piccadilly redevelopment Prog-folk protest which is far better than you'd expect

Label: Arcturus
Year of Release: 1972

This particular single puts my blog into previously uncharted territory, as far from merely being a discarded flop from yore, it was actually one cog in a protest movement which has since become a long-forgotten issue. It also involves me delving a lot deeper than I usually would into city planning, architecture and transport infrastructure (and unless we find another similar record like the one about the Highgate redevelopment plan, I can't imagine I'll be doing this again).

The sixties were an interesting time for London in terms of urban planning, and if you wander into certain areas today you can get a distinct sense of what the capital might have looked like if a programme of mass modernisation had been taken to its logical conclusions. The Westway in Hammersmith is one example, a stub of a motorway cutting high over a neighbourhood and slamming itself - and its pollution - over the top of residential streets and Notting Hill market. Far from being a one-off experiment, there was a broader proposal to create a whole ringway of motorways around Central London just like this one, snaking through houses, parks and commercial areas all round the city, until protesters and funders jinxed it.

The Barbican Estate in Central London is, of course, another example, separating pedestrians from roadways via a network of disorientating elevated walkways which ruin the average person's internal compass - two wrong left turns and you're suddenly next to a dark row of flats near a derelict bar, nowhere near where you were supposed to be and taking illogical mental steps like suddenly believing in werewolves. Still, at the time urban planners felt that allowing cars the run of the streets while pedestrians strolled about in the sky wasn't just a fascinating piece of urban design, but a solution good enough to make both petrolheads and walkers happy. One set could have all the road width they wanted and travel easily while the others wandered merrily in peace above. Theoretically it's a fantastic idea, but creating an island of accommodation with no regular or easy routes back to other civilisation had (and still has) clear drawbacks for both visitors and residents alike.

The sixties and seventies in the capital were utterly riddled with protest as residents took aim at urban planners, having seen their existing work and found it wanting. Possibly one of the biggest and certainly most highly publicised campaigns of its day was this one, which saw the ignition keys of a number of bulldozers primed right in the heart of the West End. By 1962 there were growing concerns about the lack of free-flowing traffic around the Piccadilly area, and the powers-that-be began to put forward proposals to address the issue. The architect William Holford came forth with some ideas which were typically ambitious for the era, involving raised walkways (again), a series of 200 foot towers, and a seven-lane road cutting through the region. Work on this scale would have involved three-quarters of the Circus being demolished, retail outlets, residential units and office blocks alike.

On the plus side, Londoners would also have gained a skating rink and a floodlit viewing platform and a 400 foot bronze tower encased in glass, but perhaps inevitably the local population were never really on the side of the planners, and the campaign from business owners and residents was far from muted. The issue was the subject of debate on local radio and the local press, but as it dragged on for well over a decade inevitably campaigners had to find new ways of getting their voices heard.

Which (finally) brings us on to this 45, recorded by the progressive hippy collective Everyone Involved. Far from being put together solely to protest about that issue, they were a politically liberal and forward-thinking bunch who had already recorded an entire LP called "Either/Or" which they pressed up and gave away to random passers-by for free, containing songs about - among other things - the rights of homosexuals and environmental issues. Built around a nucleus of Freya Hogue who had previously worked with Sunforest, guitarist Lucinha Turnbull, environmental campaigner Alan Wakeman and bassist Arnaldo Filho of Os Mutantes, the group were unconventional, seemingly cared not a jot for commercial success and existed purely to play music and occasionally rattle cages about societal issues. 

25 May 2022

Peppermint Circus - Please Be Patient/ Take My Love

Soulful sunshine pop from Coventry bunch

Label: Polydor
Year of Release: 1969

Peppermint Circus were a persistent band throughout the late sixties, chalking up five singles across three different labels, none of which really hit home in the UK. A cover of Barry Gibb's "All The Kings Horses" was the first, slipping out on the British imprint of the Swedish Olga label (for some reason) in 1968, after which a move to Polydor saw them releasing "I Won't Be There" and this disc, then they finished their careers on A&M in 1969 with two more records, "One Thing Can Lead To Another" and the appropriately titled "Let Me Go" (which A&M duly did) in 1970. 

They were also nothing if not versatile. Their debut was orchestral beat, the follow-up ska influenced, "Please Be Patient" (as you'll see below) has a distinct plastic soul feel, and the final two 45s ended on the sunshine pop side of the street. Perhaps their lack of a distinct identity did them harm in a marketplace which might have preferred a sound it could easily peg to the band, but it certainly wasn't all bad for them - "One Thing" got to number 9 in the Dutch charts, even if it didn't get very far in the UK.

The band consisted of bass guitarist Alan Tallis, vocalist Paul Thomas, James Curtis on other vocals, Clive Hartley on keyboards and drummer Paul Langer. Of this bunch, Paul Thomas went on to issue another single, "Let It Ride" on D'Art in 1971 which we've already covered on this blog.

22 May 2022

The Peepers - Ayeo/ A Heavy Drinking Ego Shrinking Doctor

Glam glee from act who were known as Express Delivery a mere year before

Label: Bumble
Year of Release: 1972

Sometimes while rooting around record stores and eBay, I stumble upon singles which clearly had serious backing and familiar names attached. And that's exactly what we've got here - a Carter, Lewis and Alquist songwriting credit and a Barry Blue production (aka Barry Green) all of which should add up to a sizeable hit.

That wasn't to be, though, and while in fairness "Ayeo" doesn't sound like 1972's definite monster single, it's groovy, neat and nagging enough that you can only suspect that it might have crept through under other circumstances. The fact it was issued as the tiny independent Bumble label's second single probably won't have helped, leaving its fate to a new, inexperienced outfit who had yet to firmly establish themselves (and as it turned out, never really did).

The flip side, the oddly titled "A Heavy Drinking Ego Shrinking Doctor" is a Rolling Stones-esque groove which isn't quite as freaky as its title would suggest.

19 May 2022

Reupload - Jefferson - Spider/ Can't Get You Out Of My Mind


Fantastic version of the creeping, vaguely psychedelic Kenny Young track

Label: Pye
Year of Release: 1971

"Spider" is one of those songs which really should have been a smash. First released by its writer Kenny Young (of "Under the Boardwalk" fame) on the CBS label in July 1969, it contained all the drama and raunchiness the hit parade needed. After nobody bit, Clodagh Rogers covered it, but decided to relegate it to the B-side of her hit single "Biljo", where it was later rediscovered in charity shops by delighted people like me.

For my money, though, the 1971 attempt by Jefferson is the one to go for. On this disc, you get to hear everything being thrown at the wall in an attempt to make the record a hit - wailing guitars, thundering orchestral arrangements, rip-roaring vocals and a general air of sultriness combine to create a record which drips with atmosphere. A slightly sleazy atmosphere, admittedly, but one with such a powerful punch that you almost don't notice. 

15 May 2022

K'nuts In May - Living On A Giro/ Round The Edges

Pals of Jona Lewie make a song and dance about signing on

Label: Ritz
Year of Release: 1983

Songs, poems and comedy about the perils of looking for work and signing on were common fare from the early to mid-eighties - perhaps unsurprisingly so given the difficulties many young people encountered finding work. Equally though, living on the dole was a not uncommon way of pursuing creative ambitions without the distraction of a nine to five job draining energy and gumming up the thought processes, which probably inspired a lot of people to write about it as well. 

Keef Hartley, ex-member of pub rockers The Thunderbolts, certainly seemed to know the topic well enough, singing here about searching the small ads and dreaming of a decent little earner. The song itself is surprisingly bouyant and catchy given the despondent subject matter, stuffed with brassy flourishes and swinging rhythms, coming from the same oddball New Wave corner of the music business as The Piranhas and Splodgenessabounds. "Join the army!" suggest some children, only for Trussell to sigh "I don't think they'd 'ave me..." wearily, only for the chorus to push all negativity to one side with more feet-kicking.

Trussell had previously played percussion on Jona Lewie's LPs "On The Other Hand There's A Fist" and  "Heart Skips Beat", and Lewie repays the favour here by picking up the accordian on the A-side (though it's not really a prominent feature of the track). The group otherwise appear to be a cast of thousands, with Tony O'Malley on piano, Malcolm Hine on guitar and bass, Chris Smith on drums, Bobby Henrit on percussion, and Ken Butcher and Andy McDonald on saxes. With a line-up like that, it's a wonder the group managed to earn much money between them, meaning a trip to the DHSS would have been nigh on essential to stay afloat. 

11 May 2022

Travis - Get The Life/ L.E.T.


"Look Around You" synths meet smooth pop, backed with 60s indebted instro

Label: Charity 12
Year of Release: 1984

Some eighties sounds have, despite their dated synths and occasionally deadening production values, remained current and deeply influential. I was talking on Twitter recently about the way Simple Minds "Don't You (Forget About Me)" seems to have swept into every subsequent generation's consciousness not (in my opinion) because it's an immaculately crafted song, but because it's a box of production tricks  which fulfils so many ideas about what an eighties track should sound like - those Live Aid friendly hollers from Jim Kerr, despondent synth washes and gutter-kicking post-punk lyrical touches ("rain keeps falling...") make it seem like a three minute time capsule of the era.

Other songs, on the other hand, mesh together everything the eighties left behind, the elements that were never hugely successful, and therefore never properly resuscitated, making them feel like strange artefacts in their own right. "Get The Life" here does exactly that - the introductory synth lines squeak and squeal in a way that would please Synthesiser Patel off "Look Around You", the basslines pulse and knock and metallic robot voices join in on the backing vocals, because of course they do. The whole track feels as if it should be seen through the fuzzy colours of a VHS off-air recording, and makes me feel old in a way some of the music from the same era doesn't.

This needn't be a bad thing, of course - music which is firmly and unquestionably rooted in its time period has its own charm. What makes this more baffling, however, is the way the instrumental B-side appears to aping the basement grooves of the sixties. Analogue synths aside, it's all go-go girls, honking electric organ sounds, driving rhythms and groovy babies by the dozen.

8 May 2022

Mynah Bird - Hippy Gumbo/ Get Yourself Off

Marc Bolan goes to the disco 

Label: President
Year of Release: 1979

President is an utterly fascinating label, and the further you get out of its sixties boom period, the more oddness you tend to dig up. From heavy glam to novelty reggae to flop synth pop, the company tried their hand at literally every genre known to man in order to score more hits, but mostly had to content themselves with a marginal status. 

This is one of the more obscure releases of the lot, and also one of the most startling. Marc Bolan's "Hippy Gumbo" was, in its original incarnation, a typical piece of bleating acoustic folk without much of a groove to it at all. Even when Marsha Hunt took it on in 1969 she did little but add more rounded, soothing vocals to the affair.

Which makes the approach taken by the mysterious Mynah Bird here seem utterly unexpected. Not for them further orchestrated pontificating on the fate of Gumbo - why should you when it seems you could just as easily take the track to the disco? "Hippy Gumbo" here is a full-blown party sound, bouncing enthusiastically while imploring us to chop up and set fire to the man in question. It shouldn't work in the slightest, but strangely it does, to the point that by the time the needle hits the run-out grooves you can't understand why it wasn't a more sprightly tune to begin with. 

The B-side "Get Yourself Off" is further fun, sounding like the kind of 70s cocktail disco Mark Moore of S'Express was fascinated with. The spoken word segments certainly ploughed the same areas in a similar fashion, mentioning classy clubs, exotic holidays and hang-gliding for some reason, never for a moment giving the listener the impression that this might be a serious exercise.

4 May 2022

Reupload - Glass Menagerie - Do My Thing Myself/ Watching The World Pass By

The final, harder edged single by the cult Burnley popsike merchants. 

Label: Polydor
Year of Release: 1969

The Glass Menagerie are probably most famed among obsessive buyers of sixties compilations for their bursts of light psychedelia. From their cult classic "Frederick Jordan" to their cover of the Rolling Stones "She's A Rainbow", their output tends to litter popsike mixes the length and breadth of the land despite the fact (*lowers voice*) that they really weren't that "way out" at all. 

After they were dropped by Pye in 1968 following the failure of their cover of Harry Nilsson's "I Said Goodbye To Me" (which some have suggested David Bowie must have heard), Polydor took them on for two more singles. Their first effort for their new employers was the haunting "Have You Forgotten Who You Are", which was more of the same sound. Their second and final release for the label, though, was this little stormer. Judging by the contents of both the A-side and the flip, they were trying to go for a harder rock sound in the hope of a winning a new audience. Suffice to say, it obviously failed and they disappeared into oblivion not long afterwards.

1 May 2022

Rare Amber - Malfunction Of The Engine/ Blind Love

Sixties blues rock ensemble with their solitary 45

Label: Polydor
Year of Release: 1969

The late sixties and early seventies blues-rock explosion probably gave the impression that every single group with trouble and Screaming Jay Hawkins on their minds shifted tons of gig tickets and records. In reality, there were very few arena-filling acts and a lot of bands who instead had to satisfy themselves with the bar-room and university circuit.

The short-lived London act Rare Amber were one such example who barely made it into the seventies. "Malfunction of the Engine" was their only 45 and it's a strangely minimal, haunted sounding record with subtle effects, twangy guitars and a stripped back rhythm section. It's certainly not an impersonation of delta blues, but a cavernous, troubled and fragile effort which Joe Meek might not have been ashamed of. It couldn't sound less like a hit single if it tried, but its nonetheless a strange and unique fish in the middle of a genre which was could be tediously predictable.

On the B-side is a straightforward cover of BB King's "Blind Love" which might have been closer to the average blues-lover's taste. 

They released a full LP in the same year which sold equally poorly and is now a much sought-after collector's item. Following that, they seem to have taken the logical decision to break up in the wake of public disinterest.