18 June 2022

Time For A Rest

Regular readers of this blog will know that I'm really not a fan of long silences. At any given moment I usually have a ton of records to talk about, so I'll write the entries en masse then keep them stacked and queued so even if I have a busy weekend, a holiday to go on or an unexpected emergency, the blog will keep ticking over regardless.

However, this always assumes I have a ready supply of interesting material to write about, and right now, for the first time in absolutely years, I have to admit I'm absolutely stumped. As I'm writing this, I've just returned from my record player having digitised a bunch of promising looking records, only to find that I couldn't summon up the energy to do any research or write a single word about any of them. They may have been obscure, but they were also bland, pedestrian and lacking any kind of spark or unique personality. Wasting hours on them for the sake of getting a few blog updates live would have been cruel to me, and pointless for you. Come on, kids, it's not why we're here, is it?

So for the first time in absolutely years I'm going to take a bit of a break until I have a bit more to write about. I don't know how long it will be but I hope it won't be more than two or three weeks. I have a couple of long weekend breaks before the end of the month and I'll be keeping my eyes peeled for interesting records while I'm on my travels, just as I always do, blog or no blog. Hopefully we'll be able to get this show on the road again in no time. 

The Discogs shop remains open for your custom, though, so if you're bored or feeling as if you have some spare change to go on a vinyl mystery tour of your own, please do pop by. 

15 June 2022

Reupload - Chaser - Red Rum/ Country Boy


A glam rock song about a lovely horse. And it's rather good.

Label: Polydor
Year of Release: 1975

Red Rum was everyone's favourite horse in the seventies. The three-times Grand National winner was given endless excitable press, and ended up with his bemused horsey face on cash-in T-shirts, mugs, posters and probably belt buckles for all I know.

While faintly glam rock tinged songs about racehorses might therefore seem strange from the perspective of the average person living in 2022, in Red Rum's case, it's understandable. You could argue that anyone trying to produce a stomping glam number about him was actually living up to the standards and expectations of their time - a squeaking analogue synth, a glitter beat and a tune about an equine champion was, really, none-more-mid-seventies.

The studio group Chaser also do a solid job of bigging up the champion horse, with buzzing, squeaking guitars, galloping rhythms, and a soaring chorus. Lyrically too, they appear to both celebrate and feel some sympathy for Red Rum, asking "Is that a tear in your eye?" and speculating that he might want to feel "free" - which is both an odd and interesting question for a single of this nature to ask. "There's a bottle of wine at the end of the line" they try to reassure him, which is even more peculiar for reasons I don't need to underline.

12 June 2022

The Reps - What You Gonna Do About It/ Back Of My Mind

Rare exponents of Christian New Wave with a mighty earworm of a tune

Label: Ramp Records
Year of Release: 1984

Whenever Christian music is mentioned, most of us are probably guilty of imagining deeply middle of the road fare, whether its the kind of syrupy Christian rock that leaked out of American airwaves in the eighties, or earnest performers singing tearful ballads about the majesty of Jesus. 

While it's true to say that the artists who have attracted the most media coverage tend to be wholesome individuals with slick production values, in actual fact Christian youth events have been pulling in all kinds of acts for decades now, with contemporary rock artists like Delirious? even breaking through into the mainstream with minor top twenty hits in the late nineties. Spinning back even a couple of decades before that, popsike hero John Pantry even saw fit to sprinkle some psychedelic fairydust over Christian folk group Parchment to good effect. 

In the eighties, The Reps - who, lest we forget, we've covered on this blog before - were another of the Christian circuit's stalwarts, taking hooky, insistent New Wave songs about their faith up and down the circuit, and playing school halls in an attempt to take their message to the kids (which is how I found out about them). Writing songs which were spiky, fizzy, energetic and lyrically subtle, their aim seemed to be to trojan horse the Christian message into some contemporary(ish) sounds. Such behaviour obviously resulted in little coverage from the music press, but that was probably never the intention; what the group instead did was show a modern side to Christianity which a lot of younger people wouldn't necessarily have been exposed to before.

And make no mistake, "What You Gonna Do About It" is a nagging little disc melodically (but not lyrically) speaking. The fact that I saw them live once and carried this tune in my head for the next few decades of my life before ever finding a physical copy of it speaks volumes. The group crank up the guitars, pull out every poppy New Wave trick in the book, repeat the chorus incessantly and depart as quickly as they arrived. A number of punk collectors have made the mistake of talking about this as if it were a genuine provincial DIY artefact in the past, and it's not difficult to understand how they were tricked.

8 June 2022

Penny Lane - Unemployment/ [Same Both Sides]

Stupendously strange and quirky novelty disc about rural US poverty

Label: Ford
Year of Release: 1971

The thing about crate-digging is that you occasionally turn up an obscurity which has no real monetary value and also (arguably) a less than modest amount of artistic merit, but its existence becomes an unsolvable puzzle. Why was it released (or never properly released)? Is there a joke here you're missing? Why has the artist and everyone involved with the record disappeared into a unGoogleable black hole? And is it really your job to unknot all these complexities in the first place?

This record is a classic example of this syndrome. "Unemployment" was seemingly only ever put out as a double-sided promo copy then never given an official release. It's a rather grating novelty record sang in a southern twang by a slightly unhinged sounding woman which is backed by puffing flutes, bar-room piano riffs and drumbeats which are just slightly on the wrong side of funky. It appears to be a surreal lyrical exploration of rural poverty, filled with dead dogs, drowning horses and venomous snakes, but it lacks enough of a comedy hook to be a successful novelty record and is far too deliberately disjointed to pass as a serious one.

My best guess is that Penny Lane was a comedy character at the time - and I would guess had nothing to do with the groupie Pennie Lane from around the same period - and this was an attempt at spinning their jokes into a successful 45. It's common enough for novelty comedy records to be utterly baffling when shorn of their cultural context, and this one has spun my head several times around while I've tried to make sense of it.

5 June 2022

Mark Roman - Cuddly Toy/ Gonna Get Along Without You Now

Radio London superstar tackles Nilsson track

Label: Columbia
Year of Release: 1968

What was it with offshore pirate radio DJs and Harry Nilsson? Kenny Everett took on "Without Her" in 1968, and in the very same year ex-Radio London jock Mark Roman - real name Grahame Wallace - tackled "Cuddly Toy". To the best of my knowledge, Nilsson had no real connection with the off-shore pirates to speak of beyond occasional airplay, but perhaps he occupied a sweet spot between underground credibility and hummable family-friendly tunes, enough to make him a bankable source; there again, it's possible I'm reading far too much into things.

Whatever the facts behind the situation, Mark Roman makes a reasonable fist of things here. While his voice has some weaknesses, the tune is carried carefully and only the occasional bit of wobbly scansion gives the game away that this really isn't his day job. He was hosting a series of afternoon shows on Radio One by the time this was released, meaning his profile was by now truly national; as such, he stood a fair chance of getting in to the Top 40, but this single sold appallingly badly and there were no follow-ups.

His career in general was something of an oddity. The stage name Mark Roman, along with the show theme of "The Roman Empire", had been created by Radio London's programme director before a DJ had even emerged to fill the pseudonym. While some presenters were reluctant to potentially lose their household name recognition by adopting a pre-arranged stage name, Wallace stepped into the breach happily and promptly became one of the biggest stars on the ship, successfully balancing the fine line between chirpy and irritating in a way few others of the era (or indeed following eras) managed. 

1 June 2022

Reupload - The Martian Schoolgirls - Life In The 1980s/ Lonely Nights


Snappy dystopian punk-pop chugger from ex-101er Dan Kelleher

Label: Red Planet
Year of Release: 1979

If you were an avid John Peel listener in the eighties, chances are you'll have heard him begin his first show of 1980 with this self-released dose of DIY punk. "Life In The 1980s" forecast a bleak, bored, dystopian near-future, with lots of lyrical references to "depression zones" and starvation. 

While there's little doubt that the group were being slightly tongue-in-cheek, it was nonetheless not much of a New Year tonic - the late seventies had been a chaotic period for many in the UK, and there were those who thought worse was to come (and, depending on where they lived, they might not have been far wrong). "Life In The 1980s" was snappy and scrappy enough to punch the very worst possible scenarios across in its retro-futuristic lyrical style - you can almost imagine the ghost of Joe Meek giving an enthusiastic gold star to the group's sci-fi poetry.

The Martian Schoolgirls were a short-lived band formed by Dan Kelleher, who was originally bassist and backing vocalist alongside Joe Strummer in The 101'ers. When Joe sniffed a swift change in the zeitgeist and left to form The Clash, the band disintegrated and Kelleher initially moved on to The Derelicts, then finally this lot. While they were given some care and attention by Peel, and eventually picked up by Albion Records for one single in 1981 ("Motion") the group never quite rose above a fringe cult status.