30 November 2022

Bob Rogers & Playground - Take Advantage/ Get Yourself Together


Respect to all milkmen and women everywhere

Label: Express
Year of "release": 1971

Hello readers. Do you remember drinking water out of hosepipes? Do you remember when binmen WERE binmen and bikes WERE bikes? Do you remember eating out of tins of Spam during power cuts and feeling grateful, and your Dad giving you a slap if you refused to suck the jelly on the top of the can up with a straw for his own grotesque amusement? DO YOU? And did it do you any harm? And do you remember the milkmen? Hold up, though...

Door to door milk deliveries may feel like they belong among Internet memes celebrating somewhat forgotten ways of life, but are very much still "a thing". My milk, for example, is delivered by electric float from Parker Dairies of Woodford Green who service the suburban East London area (they haven't paid me to say they're very reliable, but I will say it anyway - when I move house they'll lose my custom and somebody else should rebalance things by stepping into the fray). When I first started utilising their services during the lockdown of 2020, however, my next-door neighbour - who wasn't born in this country - was outraged, responding furiously: "Why are they just leaving drinks on your doorstep? They could get stolen. RING THEM AND TELL THEM TO DO THEIR JOBS PROPERLY! They should knock on your door and give it to you!" I tried to explain to her that milkmen knocking on my door at five in the morning wouldn't be welcome, but she walked off shaking her head at the drivel I was apparently spouting. Such is the lowly profile of the milk roundsperson in 2022. 

Back in 1971, however, business was booming and Express Dairies saw fit to hire seasoned performer Bob Rogers and plonk him in the studio to record a promotional flexidisc extolling the virtues of cow udder juice. Bob was by this point a popular cabaret performer with holiday camp residencies to his name, playing covers of the pop hits of the day, but had previously been a member of the instrumental beat combo The Ted Taylor Four who were with the Oriole label for five singles between 1958-1961 ("Fried Onions" is an interesting one).

For "Take Advantage", however, he croons away about the special deals your local milko could offer you, making it clear - as Benny Hill also did in adverts of the day - that you could also obtain other non-dairy products from him, including chicken, bread, potatoes and eggs ("take advantage, save your legs!") in all weathers. From a 21st Century perspective, this feels like an early example of direct food delivery which in its digitised form is the mainstay of all supermarkets who are serious about modernising their services. In truth, Unigate and Express and all their other milk round rivals and cohorts were offering such services halfway through the twentieth century. It's enough to make you weep with pride.

27 November 2022

David Cumming - Rubber Rabbit/ The Parrots of Simple Street

Renowned scriptwriter immortalises his musical ideas on wax

Label: Philips
Year of Release: 1967

David Cumming's name isn't bandied around often nowadays, but back in the sixties he was all over the end credits of many top rated television shows. As a comedy scriptwriter for The Dick Emery Show, Baker's Half Dozen, The Stanley Baxter Show and Horne A'Plenty (with Kenneth Horne) his output was prolific and while he may not have usually been visible on screen, his gags kept many of these series afloat for series after series.

It's a wonder he had the time to dabble with pop music, but dabble he obviously did. This little 45 slipped out in 1967 at the peak of his scriptwriting activity, apparently after the songwriter Peter Lee Stirling made a few encouraging noises in his direction. The A-side "Rubber Rabbit" is pure whimsical sixties pop, the kind of organ-driven tweeness you're amazed Bam Caruso didn't pick up for their "Circus Days" compilation series. Some might call it "popsike", and with its mentions of toy bunnies, goldfish and fairground activity, I think we should probably allow them that liberty, though it remains uncompiled and generally unremarked upon.

Over on the flip he gets somewhat spiky with "The Parrots of Simple Street", a folky sneer at all the wannabe Kerouacs and Dylans of the world and the people who idolise them and hang on to their every word. You have to wonder what triggered this one - did one of them say "The Dick Emery Show? Hey, I don't dig that scene, man, I like Gurney Slade" to him in a coffee bar, to the tittering approval of a lovely lady? We might never know. Despite being compiled on "Piccadilly Sunshine", though, it feels to me less compelling than the bright, fluorescent pop on the plug side. 

David Cumming's recording career seemed to come to a halt after this and he returned to the typewriter, eventually moving to Australia in 1984 where he also managed to appear on screen, getting his mug on "Sons & Daughters" playing the role of a Minister. Despite writing credits for "Three Of A Kind" that decade, his work rate slowed down and he generally appeared to settle into a much less visible lifestyle before sadly passing away in 2011.

23 November 2022

Reuploads - The Chances-R - Talking Out the Back Of My Head and Turn A New Leaf Over


Two singles from relentless Southampton rockers and Melody Maker Beat Contest finalists.

Label: CBS
Year of Release: 1967

While Battle of the Bands contests are seen as a bit passé now, back in the sixties the Melody Maker National Beat Contest was a huge opportunity for aspiring groups. Shining a spotlight on bands away from the London hub, anyone who made the final at the London Palladium was at the very least a powerful live act. The competition tended not to leave itself open to mere fashion and hype - if you couldn't deliver, you didn't get through.

Rob Chance and The Chances-R went through a number of heats to earn the opportunity to perform in the final in 1966, and lead singer Rob decided that the best way of impressing the judges and audience would be to sing "Maria" and "Somewhere" from West Side Story. It has been suggested that this stunt reduced them to mere third place, as while Chance's performance was strong, it clearly wasn't in keeping with the other sharp bands on the bill raving it up. In the end, Neath's Eyes of Blue took the top prize, which seems to make perfect sense to me ("West Side Story" errors of judgement from the bronze placed band or not). They were widely regarded to be a fierce live act in their day.

The publicity was obviously valuable to The Chances-R, and they signed to CBS the following year. First out of the traps was "Talking Out The Back Of My Head" in March 1967, a skippy, jolly beat offering with vague Motown undertones, which ironically sounds very slightly like Eyes of Blue circa "Supermarket Full Of Cans". With tight vocal harmonies, an insistent chorus and one of the most dangerously long false endings I've ever heard, it's only fault is probably the nagging use of "la la la la" vocal lines, which are overdone.

It wasn't a hit, but their next release would be a bit sharper and livelier. (Entry continues beneath the sound files)

20 November 2022

Take 6 - Whiter Shade Of Pale/ There Goes My Everything/ Carrie Anne/ Groovin/ Okay/ Here Come The Nice


Pocket money covers of tip-top chart hits, from the faithful to the ghastly

Label: Take 6/ Avenue
Year of Release: 1967

While they're probably never going to command huge prices, budget sound-a-like hits compilations have been picking up casual interest from collectors of late, not least because some of the session players on these stocking filler discs later went on to become famous. Elton John grabbed the opportunities that were afforded keenly and was noted for his adaptability in the studio, although sometimes the results were rather unexpected. Likewise, David Byron of Uriah Heep wasn't averse to popping in for a cup of tea and a rendition of one of the day's hits in exchange for a few pounds (such as this cover of John Lennon's "Cold Turkey").

"Take 6" was a short lived and not particularly successful six-track EP series issued by Avenue Records which worked to the same familiar business model as all the others - get some seasoned musicians in quickly to accurately record the hits of the day (and absolutely no fannying about with "alternative interpretations" or fresh arrangements) then get the product on the shelves whip-smart to rival the official versions. They retailed at the cost of a standard seven inch single and must have been tempting to the uniformed or the unfussy who deemed it worth their while to own six A sides for the price of one. 

To give them full credit, the session musicians mostly managed to produce fair forgeries of the original work, and that's borne out by track one here, a cover of "Whiter Shade Of Pale" which just about manages to retain the mystical heat haze of the original. True, it sounds more like Van Morrison singing than Gary Brooker (but don't get excited, it's almost certainly not) but the rest is a faithful replica with only the thinness of the production showing itself as a marked difference.

And so the pattern follows throughout most of the EP, being filled with competent, efficient versions of top hits,  until you get to the main track I bought this for, The Small Faces under-the-radar paean to drug purchasing "Here Come The Nice". This was actually a very smartly, carefully produced and arranged number in its official incarnation with a depth, tricksiness and slickness which was going to be very difficult to pin down by any would-be interpreters, and so it proves. The pinging guitar notes at the start quickly give way to ludicrous falsetto vocals somewhere between Tiny Tim, The Pipkins and Donald and Davey Stott, then the session players deliver a Youth Club bash-through the song, which it really didn't deserve. Still, it's as terrible as I'd hoped, and sometimes hearing people fall flat on their arses trying to perform something wonderful is actually masochistic fun. I hope for their sake that nobody famous was involved in this monstrous three minutes; as no credits are ever given on these releases, we will probably never know.

17 November 2022

The Smile - Apricot Face/ Why Should I


Mysterious nineties indie single on Irish MOR label

Label: Play
Year of Release: 1992

Now this one is baffling. The Play label was Irish and tended to feature quite middle-of-the-road artists from its home country, such as Brendan Shine, Ann Breen, and perhaps less relevantly Radio Two DJ Ray Moore who gave the label its only two UK hits with "Children In Need" related product (the "Blog Eyed Jog" sidebar on this website is partly named in honour of one of them, though this is the first time I've ever bothered to mention it in the context of anything else. I'm astonished it took me fourteen-and-a-half years to get around to it, frankly).

It was exactly the last place you would have expected to find a nineties indie band littering the place up with their vim and brio, yet the final record to have slipped out on the label before it disappeared completely was this one - a none-more-1992 piece of post-baggy alt-rock. A paean to a girl with "eyes like diamonds" and skin like an apricot, it comes from the same sonic stable as The Real People, Bedazzled and other sixties-indebted tambourine shakers and groovers from the same period. 

The flipside "Why Should I" really highlights their main influence, though, with a whopping great Beatles-esque harmonica riff running straight through the middle and a gentle jangle to go with it. Clearly these chaps were just as interested in the beat end of the sixties as Lee Mavers.

The "Kaiser Keller" writing credit is another big giveaway to the group's influences. Named after the famous Hamburg club that hosted the pre-fame Fabs, it was also the name of a 1988 group who had one single out on their own Clock label. That record is almost as under-documented as this one, with no YouTube or blog site documentation of its existence, but it doesn't seem too unfair to surmise that there's a strong probability that The Smile are the same (or close to the same) group under another name.

13 November 2022

Freedom - Frustrated Woman/ Man Made Laws

Ex-Procol members get hard and heavy with The Standells garage classic

Label: Probe
Year of Release: 1970

This is the second time Freedom have featured on "Left and to the Back" - we covered their highly poppy single "Kandy Kay" last year and also dug into their history back then too... but just to recap: the group were formed by ex Procol Harum members Ray Royer and Bobby Harrison shortly after they were dismissed from that band. While both had contributed to "Whiter Shade of Pale", the track hadn't long been top of the charts before they were told their services were no longer required.

Their subsequent career in the somewhat collectible group Freedom seemed to involve hopping and jumping between various different labels, and initially performing relatively lightweight ditties before eventually getting hard and heavy. "Frustrated Woman" marks the beginnings of that heaviosity, taking The Standells garage classic "Dirty Water" and making it stomping, sludgy and dirty, like a bunch of hairies revving their motorcycles through a muddy ditch.

Curiously, the A-side clearly marks the group (and not Ed Cobb) as the writers of the track which seems like a blatant piece of copyright theft worthy of the KLF - there is no way any court in the land would agree this was entirely Freedom's work, and had it been a hit I suspect the lawyers would have been on the phone immediately.

The flipside is theirs, however, and sees the group getting heavier still while ranting about evil "man made laws" and "selfish" people. I would nod in agreement with them but it's not entirely clear to me what it specifically is they're so angry about, so I'll just stay quiet in my corner to be on the safe side.

9 November 2022

Hugh Lloyd and Bill Pertwee - Uncles/ Friends and Neighbours

Legendary British actors josh musically about their familial responsibilities

Label: Spark
Year of Release: 1971

Novelty singles involving children were something of a phenomenon throughout the seventies and eighties in the UK, and most of them were pretty damn grim. "There's No-one Quite Like Grandma" is traditionally near the top of the tree when people are asked to vote on the worst singles of all time, along with "Grandad", "The Sparrow", "It's Orrible Being In Love When You're Eight and an Half" and the festering sludge of kiddie-flops that lay beneath the hard outer crust of that particular cowpat.

And while we're on the topic of flops... this is one such. It's a recording by the British actors Hugh Lloyd and Bill Pertwee backed by their "nephews and nieces" (except in reality, of course it wasn't - these were all handpicked children getting their first taste of showbiz). While it's had a kicking online over the years, nobody has actually been kind enough to upload it so we can all hear what it sounds like.  Seems like a job for me, doesn't it?

Surprisingly though, it turns out to be gentle, humorous fare which won't gain many repeat listens from anyone, but will raise a few smiles along the way. Lloyd and Pertwee play the roles of clueless bachelor duffers to perfection, coming across like carefree tweedy men for whom a walk in the park with their extended family is a kind of exhausting bliss. It's easy to picture them fishing sweets out of their pockets with a friendly nod while laughing gently at the chaos around them, proper gents of the Werther's Original persuasion. 

While I would certainly have a more irritable view of this single if it had been a hit and I'd had to hear it fifty times, in truth there was never much danger of that. Unlike Mums, Dads, loveable grandparents and even affectionate Aunties, Uncles have seldom enjoyed a lot of public recognition. Peter and Gordon's slightly Mulligan and O'Hare-esque track "Uncle Hartington" probably more effectively sums up the popular view of an eccentric middle aged man who tends to add little to his nephew's lives and clutters up the place when he visits. Maybe we all need to hire a PR company to improve our lot.