18 October 2017

Reupload - Me Myself & Me Again - Blaze Away



Label: Antic
Year of Release: 1978

From the rear sleeve: "'Me Myself And Me Again' is actually Vivian Fisher, a 26 year old recording studio engineer and frustrated musician.  Despite dabbling in cornet, french horn, trombone and piano, Vivian really always wanted to play every instrument. Then, one day when recording a marching brass band in the street, he discovered that the sound was actually recorded in segments as the band moved past.  This gave him the idea of a multi-track recording of himself impersonating the sound and character of the different parts of a brass band - and 'Blaze Away' is the result".

I try to avoid blandly slapping the notes of record sleeves on to my blog entries, but I've been sitting here chewing my fingers for the last half an hour desperately trying to think of what to say about this disc, and I can't.  I just can't.  Ridiculing the contents would be too easy (and in any case, they are impressively done - you wouldn't be able to immediately tell they were entirely the mouth-work of a recording engineer). Praising this record as being a lost classic would be ridiculous, unless of course you are a fan of the military marching band oeuvre.  It is, however, an utter gem in the world of eccentric novelty records, and a triumph of decadent seventies music industry mayhem over common sense.  Perhaps somebody within Antic Records or Warner Brothers (their distributors) expected this to sell in large quantities, but it's hard to clearly understand why.

In subsequent years - and largely thanks to Danny Baker talking about it on his radio show - this has become a much sought-after novelty record, to the extent that a copy in VG condition sold on ebay for £26 earlier in 2012.  The market has subsequently become saturated with the little bleeders ever since, to the extent that you can pick up copies for a much more reasonable price now (as I did).  The demand is explicable in that there's an innocence and eccentric frivolity to this which perhaps manages to remind people of a time when lowly studio engineers could see their name up in lights with one single daft idea - these days, of course, this would probably just end up becoming one peculiar YouTube clip buried among the wobbling pile of online attention seekers.

The B-side attempts to explain how the record was made by breaking down the individual components, but in all honesty, it's not essential listening.  Should the conjuror really give away his tricks, in any case?

Vivian apparently now works as a Sound Operator in the West London studio centre of BSkyB, returning to the back-room world from whence he came - but for a certain segment of the population, he will always be the one-man military marching answer to the Flying Pickets.  The time when he records an album of covers of songs by Nirvana and The Sex Pistols surely can't be far off.



15 October 2017

Sydney Elliott - Who Dat Girl/ Strawberry Blonde



Label: Spark
Year of Release: 1969

In the late sixties, the sound known as reggae (or "The REGGAE, ow!" as Johnny Johnson and His Bandwagon confusingly referred to it) was scorchingly popular with crossover hits emerging left, right and centre. This led to numerous small British independent labels trying to sign whatever club acts were based in London at that time, with Beacon Records jumping on both a bunch of mysterious sorts called Brixton Market, and the initially ska influenced Black Velvet. A lot of this material was slightly popped up for mainstream consumption, to varying degrees of success.

Spark, on the other hand, had Sydney Elliott on their books, who turned out this cultishly popular little single in 1969. "Who Dat Girl?" isn't 100% authentic reggae either, having an overly strict arrangement which sounds very Anglicised. The track itself is a bouncy, joyful affair about women in miniskirts, though, which was an incredibly popular lyrical topic during this period. Sydney delivers it well, and while your classic reggae DJ probably isn't going to spin it, it's an interesting period piece. It throws a tiny chunk of bubblegum into the blender and sounds like a possible hit.

The flip "Strawberry Blonde" is, as you might have guessed, about the desirability of ladies with that particular colour of hair, even going as far as to praise their cooking abilities. I doubt he did a scientific study on their souffle making abilities before recording the track, so it's best to take his words with a large pinch of kitchen salt (while also hiding behind the excuse that this was 1969 and these ideas about women's roles in the home hadn't quite fallen out of fashion yet).

Sydney Elliott was a popular club draw in the sixties and seventies, issuing another record on Spark (the rather more soulful "If Music Be The Food Of Love") and another for CBS ("Desperation") before disappearing from the recording studio vocal booth. He later became the father of the considerably more successful Maxi Priest, and Jacob Miller of the reggae group Inner Circle.



11 October 2017

The Legends - Sometimes I Can't Help It/ Jefferson Strongbox






















Label: Heart 
Year of Release: 1970

I'm sure almost everyone reading this will be aware of Dan Hartman. He's the author of hundreds of songs, some of which have since become a lingering presence on oldies radio - "I Can Dream About You", "Relight My Fire", "Instant Replay" and "Free Ride" are among his most known and appreciated, but there's a cornucopia of songs beneath that surface. He enjoyed a fruitful stint as a writer and performer in the Edgar Winter Band, and acted as a producer for Muddy Waters among others.

If you associate Hartman with his most well-known disco singles, his rock output comes as something of a shock. But he was nothing if not versatile as a songwriter and performer, as "Sometimes I Can't Help It" proves here. The Legends were his brother Dave Hartman's band, and he sneaked into their ranks at the age of thirteen. They issued a number of records on small, independent labels before signing to Epic in 1972, including this self-released square shaped flexidisc - which I assume was either sold cheaply at gigs or given away as a promotional item.

"Sometimes I Can't Help It" has a growl and a roar to it not unlike Steppenwolf at their most raucous, and The Legends here sit neatly on the border of sixties garage and seventies rock. It's a brilliant listen and shows that even at this point, Dan Hartman had developed some serious songwriting chops.  The Legends would turn out not to be the stars the Hartman brothers hoped they would become, but within a couple of years Dan would join forces with Edgar Winter and taste actual success. By 1978, the unlikely allure of the disco beat would set in, and his career would take another twist with the success of "Instant Replay".

Sadly, he passed away following complications with AIDS in 1994, but the legacy he left behind is not just vast, it's rather varied too. Different periods of his career mean different things to different people, and this screaming little single is an example of how raucously Rock he could be.



4 October 2017

Jackie Lee and The Raindrops - There's No One In The Whole Wide World/ (I Was The) Last One To Know



Label: Oriole
Year of Release: 1962

Another Oriole obscurity, this time from blog favourite Jackie Lee, who has already appeared here twice (with the theme from "Inigo Pipkin" and the rather magical "Space Age Lullaby"). Jackie Lee's career is long and tremendously varied, and her attempt - with her group The Raindrops - to represent Britain in the Eurovision Song Contest in 1962 is often skated over. It shouldn't be altogether surprising that it's not very prominent on her CV. Failing to do well at Eurovision is a known career-killer, and failing to present Britain at Eurovision by getting past the "Song For Europe" heats is also often an embarrassing indignity (ask Justin Hawkins). Far from simply failing to represent the UK, this song actually finished ninth on the scoreboard, making it a complete no-hoper.

She's got absolutely nothing to be ashamed of here, however. "There's No-One In The Whole Wide World" is a beat pop ballad performed with the warmth you'd expect from her, adding an extra dimension to the otherwise fairly standard backing. It's sweet, innocent and trots along neatly, but is actually quite Beat by the Eurovision standards of the time, which may be why it didn't do very well. It pricked up John Lennon's ears at the time, though, and caused The Beatles to cover it a number of times during their 1962 gigs. So far as anyone is aware, though, the Fabs never demo'ed this in any way.

Jackie Lee's career would obviously continue throughout the sixties and the seventies, issuing a vast array of work including the Northern Soul classic "I Gotta Be With You" under the name Emma Rede. 



1 October 2017

Reupload - Off Side - Match Of The Day/ Small Deal



Label: Pye International
Year of Release: 1970


Since its introduction in 1970, the "Match of the Day" theme on the BBC has become one of the most instantly recognisable television themes in Britain - if not, according to the Performing Rights Society, the most recognisable. More suggestive and indicative than any news broadcast theme (even the BBC World News channel's bleeping ambient effort) or even the wailing harmonica of "Last of the Summer Wine", some of us were born with this theme and know, within the first few milliseconds of the first note, what it's representing.

Trying to listen to it with a fresh pair of 2017 ears strapped firmly to my ageing head, it does seem a strange choice for a tune despite its endearing familiarity, and I'm clearly not alone in thinking that - my Canadian wife when she first heard it burst out laughing at the absurdity of a celebratory Herb Alpert styled quasi-Mexican ditty introducing a modern British football programme. Clearly at the time of commissioning the piece had South American connotations which seemed entirely synonymous with the big game, but there's definitely something a little unlike Auntie Beeb about the whole thing. However, I for one am happy about the fact that it's what we've got - it's a happy, chirpy clarion call which you can imagine beckoning members of any British family in from their bedrooms, kitchens and even bathrooms, like some soccer orientated Pied Piper of Hamlet with, er... a football for a head.

Whatever your personal feelings on the piece, it's one of the few television themes which has wormed its way so much into the British psyche that it conjours up memories and emotions from even the the most steely hearted football fan. As Paul Whitehouse once observed on an episode of "The Fast Show" in the guise of Ron Manager - "Match of the Day? Da da da da da-da-da-da da? Somehow comforting, isn't it, you know?" In summary, then - do I expect any non-British reader to really get the appeal of this record? No, not really. In the absence of any context at all, it probably sounds like a cheery piece of easy listening and not much more (and I'd be really curious to read your thoughts on it if it's unfamiliar to you, actually).

The single you can hear below isn't, of course, the original theme commissioned by the BBC but a very close and crafty approximation recorded by Mike Vickers for the benefit of Pye Records. It wasn't a hit, but in recent years has become a massive collector's item purely due to the B-side, a Vickers-penned piece called "Small Deal", which has apparently become popular with DJs who are keen on the "funky loops" it offers. To my ears, "Small Deal" is a dramatic piece of library music which offers nothing especially outstanding, but my DJ'ing chops are definitely not adequate enough to be able to hear what possibilities it might afford.

Mint copies of this frequently go for £20 plus on ebay. As you can hear, mine isn't exactly mint, but it's good enough, and certainly gives you a fair idea of what's on offer. Not that, in the case of the A-side, you'd really need telling.


27 September 2017

Malcolm Mitchell - The Wanted Man/ The Blues



Label: Oriole
Year of Release: 1960

It's always worth snapping up an obscure Oriole single if you see one lying around, for the pure and simple reason that many sold poorly at the time, and the label had an appalling habit of wiping master tapes. Seemingly, they believed - as some would have considered reasonable in the fifties and early sixties - that passing pop fads were really not worth keeping in any sensible archive. Ouch. A lot of the Oriole tracks you can still buy are either re-recordings or needle-drops from unplayed or judiciously filtered vinyl copies. The slogan on their company sleeves was "Young - New - Exciting", and their corporate philosophy seemed to be that anything that wasn't new deserved erasing from history. 

Malcolm Mitchell's "The Wanted Man" is so obscure that hardly anyone online seems to know it exists, much less own a copy. Discogs doesn't log its existence, and 45Cat shows no known owners (apart from me). It's an odd attempt at a pop hit, being a cover of the Israeli standard "Shir Habokrim". The original lyrics are apparently a cowboy's lament to the desert, which on this single are translated to the tale of a fugitive on the run. It has familiar, clinical 1960 production values with lots of precise, professional performances which never quite let go of the reigns. In other words, this is slickly performed early pop with plenty of echo and buttoned up delivery, and certainly not rock and roll or skiffle. 

Malcolm Mitchell was actually a solid friend of Bob Monkhouse, who he occasionally collaborated with musically, and a major jazz and big band figure throughout the fifties and beyond, being the first British musician (apart from the Duke of Windsor) to perform with Duke Ellington. He also issued a number of shellac 78 recordings on Parlophone in the fifties, and had his own television series on both Southern and the BBC. He eventually developed a lasting career in commercial marketing and advertising, producing the arrangement for the iconic Hovis television commercials and also did session work for various commercial enterprises, such as the promotional disc for Green Shield stamps in 1972. 

Clearly not a man who hid away from the world, then, which makes the obscure nature of "The Wanted Man" rather unusual. It's almost tempting to suggest that Oriole demanded he should hide away in the manner of a real-life fugitive for the crucial weeks around its release. 

Sadly, Malcolm Mitchell passed away in 1998, leaving behind three sons and one daughter. 


24 September 2017

The La De Da Band - Come Together/ Here Is Love



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. 


20 September 2017

Rosetta Hightower - The Walls Fell Down/ Captain's Army



Label: Philips
Year of Release: 1973

Now here's an obscurity. Rosetta Hightower was an American singer of some renown in the early sixties who hit big in the USA with the girl group The Orlons. Her solo career was perhaps less eventful, however, with numerous respected and beautiful sounding singles emerging - not least her fantastic cover of "Big Bird", of which I've been seeking out a copy for years - but very few crossing over to the mainstream.

This cover of The Bee Gees "The Walls Fell Down" is one example of a single so scarce that it almost never turns up for sale. It is, as you would expect, a soulful and gospel styled take on the Gibbs at their most melodramatic. Rosetta pours all her efforts into it and makes it sound as if it was always meant to sound this way, with a production and arrangement so lavish that it's almost a little bit frightening. 

Rosetta's recording career ploughed well into the eighties, and she based herself in England following her marriage to the musician Ian Green. She also delivered numerous notable session performances, not least singing backing vocals on John Lennon's "Power To The People". 

Sadly, she passed away in Clapham in 2014, aged seventy years of age. 


16 September 2017

Reupload - Gaslight - Move/ And So To Sleep



Label: Jayboy
Year of Release: 1969

An odd and slightly mysterious one, this. "Move" has been picking up some attention lately as an otherwise largely ignored psychedelic obscurity.  Not without reason - this is slippery smooth psych, complete with close harmonies, grooving electric organ work, heavy basslines and slow dance floor beats. The chorus reverts to UK Beat type, urging us to "jump and shout" and momentarily disturbs the mood, but otherwise this slides along beautifully.  It's not wildly dissimilar to the work of The Dragons, another band who were utterly ignored at the same time the scented hippy candles were getting snuffed out but recently had their material issued on Ninja Tunes.  

Gaslight seem to have released this single then disappeared without trace, giving us absolutely no clues as to who they were or what else they did.  There is some speculation online that they may be another band signed to Jay Boy or their controlling label President operating under a pseudonym, but there are no clear indications.  Whatever the facts, their approach was largely wasted on the British public by 1969, and as everyone began to pick up their hard rock, blues and prog albums, there wasn't time for this kind of technicolour dancefloor action.  A shame - if it had been issued a couple of years before, "Move" may have made a much more significant impression, but even then I can't help but feel that this is a subtle little record which might not have ever had a chance of bashing its way through the radio to encourage the public to buy it in vast quantities.  Still, we can enjoy it now. Move, readers, and get yourself together. 


14 September 2017

Ann C Sheridan - I Want You (She's So Heavy)/ I'll Be Gone



Label: Bradleys
Year of Release: 1976

You know how you all love Beatles cover versions? And you know how it's always the most unexpected covers that seem to turn up, for inexplicable reasons? Well, here's something for your lugholes - a disco cover version of the epic, sprawling piece of "Abbey Road" bluesiness "I Want You (She's So Heavy)". 

Obviously, it doesn't incorporate the "She's So Heavy!" elements of the track, where The Beatles guitars collectively explore doomy, descending chord patterns. That's too much for the average dancefloor to handle. Rather, it discofies the more sensual "I Want You" elements of the track, with the vocalist Ann C Sheridan purring sexily as the disco beats pulse behind her. 

It's an interesting experiment, but not one that quite comes off. The track never manages to find new or exciting places to go, and by lopping off the only melodic variant in the entire Beatles song, it restricts itself to being a piece of fairly minimal disco boogie. This might be fine on the dancefloor with the one you love or lust after, but it doesn't quite work at home.

Ann C Sheridan was actually the French singer Ann Calvert operating under another name. This track did manage to pick up some cult popularity in mainland Europe.


10 September 2017

Anton - Shot Down In Action/ Mine All Mine



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 copies of now, 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 glam sound.

The flip "Mine All Mine" is a rather bland Barry Blue penned ballad, and not worth getting fussed about.

Anton appears to have been Anton Johnson, a man who later issued a cover of the deathless "Hey Baby" on Laser Records in 1980, though he failed to find the success with it that DJ Otzi later achieved. If anyone has any additional information, please let me know.


6 September 2017

Mr Joe English - Lay Lady Lay/ Two Minute Warning



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. 

If anyone has any clues, please let me know. This is a lovely little single, and one of those moments where I've found myself wishing I had more material by the artist to investigate.



3 September 2017

Reupload(s) - The Bats - Listen To My Heart/ Stop Don't Do It/ Hard To Get Up In The Morning



Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1966


"Northern Soul", like Catholicism, is one of the hardest concepts to define, forever snaking its way out of your grip just as soon as you believe you've got the whole affair firmly nailed. Rather as the Vatican appear to sit and reinterpret matters now and then, so too do the divine faithful at the Soul Weekenders up and down the country, leading to some rather rum records landing on official (and unofficial, disputed) discographies. Is Count Five's "Psychotic Reaction" a Northern Soul record, for example? Not by my estimation it isn't, but that doesn't seem to have prevented some people from taking that line in the seventies (I have a bootleg repressing of the disc on the "Sound of Soul" label).

Nestling neatly on the Decca compilation "Northern Soul Scene" is a single by this South African band, The Bats (they're not Irish as the liner notes state). It only fits the genre due to its pounding, jogging rhythms, chiming piano lines and finger pops, but whether we're arguing about its standing in the official list or not, it's still a damn fine track. Effervescent, insistent and absolutely loaded to the brim with hooks, it's hard to understand where the chorus starts and the verses begin - listening to this record would inspire movement in even the most dancefloor shy of humans. Sadly, I haven't been able to include a clip of it in full, but it's available to buy on iTunes if you're that way inclined.

Truth be told, the B-side "Stop Don't Do It" is pretty good in a mod-pop way as well, and it remains a massive mystery why this record didn't chart in the UK. It's pure, absolute pop, being neither ahead of its time in its stylings nor awkward, and the start of a career should have been assured for the band. Sadly, it was not to be.







Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1967


So sadly, then, by the tail end of 1967 the game was up, and "It's Hard To Get Up In The Morning" was their final UK single. This is an entirely different proposition and sounds rather like a slice of bouncy, McCartney inspired whimsy - sweet and pleasant enough, but hardly the barnstormer "Listen To My Heart" is, nor powerful enough to have stood a chance in the charts.

What became of The Bats when this failed to do the business isn't clear to me, but if anyone has any information, please come forward. They deserve masses of recognition for their one club classic at least.





1 September 2017

Avenue Mews Festival, Muswell Hill, 9th September

I'll be DJ'ing alongside the by now almost legendary London spinmaster John The Revelator at the forthcoming Avenue Mews Festival, N10 3NP on 9th September.

You can see all the details to the left of this text, but the festival takes place in a shopping mews in North London, and features open artist studios, live bands, independent stalls, street food, craft beer and essentially everything anyone within at least a five mile radius (and arguably beyond?) could possibly want.

It's a busy event, it's free, and it's usually a chance to see a side of the area that's not always upfront and on display.

Come along and say hello to me if you bump into me on your travels. I'll be by some vintage record decks pumping out some old sounds.

For those of you who do Facebook, the event invite is here

30 August 2017

Ultrafox - Nine By Nine/ Stomping At Decca



Label: Deram
Year of Release: 1971

When Deram first started up, it seemed like Decca's default subsidiary label for anything slightly underground, progressive, or folk orientated. This reputation has only been bolstered over the years by the "Deram Dayze" compilation, which features psychedelic pop meanderings from across the label's late sixties catalogue.

Deram never was solely a hairy, beardy sort of label, though, and also issued easy listening and novelty numbers such as the immortal, unforgettable Whistling Jack Smith's output. And then, in 1971, this "for Gruggy Woof Productions" (apparently) which is essentially a note-for-note cover of the John Dummer Band's violin led "Nine By Nine" piece from the previous year. 

"Nine By Nine" had been very popular in some other European countries, even reaching number one in France, but had failed to chart in the UK, instead selling slowly and steadily (second hand copies for around the £3-4 mark are still a relatively common sight). Its an eccentric song, sounding as if it belongs on an old shellac 78, or as backing music on an episode of "Jeeves and Wooster". 

It's not clear why this cover version was necessary, but Philips failing to properly anticipate an upsurge in demand for the original version was probably partly to blame. Whatever, they caught on eventually and re-released the original, but no version of this ever charted in the UK - not Ultrafox's, nor John Dummer's. And as for who Ultrafox were, your guess is as good as mine. And my guess would probably be "a group created for a one day studio booking solely with the task of recording this quickie cover, then never heard from again". 


27 August 2017

Tony - Jumping On/ The Purchase/ The Club






















Label: Garcia
Year of Release: 1996

I spent most of 1993-99 living in Portsmouth, for various reasons I will not trouble you good readers with. During that time, I stuck my amateur journalistic beak into the local music scene, and tried to champion local bands as much as I could.

Portsmouth was at that time a rather poorly served local music scene lacking in credibility among most record labels. Some of this was down to the usual incuriosity of A&R representatives about any group not based in a major city (and especially London) but another factor was also the slight "islander's mentality" that tended to dominate Portsea Island at the time. The so-called "island" may well have had two major roads running on to it, one of which crosses a narrow creek of water you could probably wade through on a good day, but most of the bands seemed not to be very thorough at arranging gigs for themselves even as far afield as Southampton, and usually hadn't networked much outside their home town. Long-established and polished bands would play endless gigs around a tight circle of venues such as the Wedgewood Rooms, The Air Balloon and other assorted pub backrooms while never forging any associations across the tiny divide.

Some made it beyond Portsdown Hills to moderate success. Cranes are probably the most obvious example, and in addition, Pete Voss of NME cover stars Campag Velocet got around the whole problem by seemingly barely ever gigging in Portsmouth at all and basing his musical career in London. Similarly, Luke Haines of The Auteurs had associations, but disowned the place as quickly as he could.

Beyond those folk, a whole brace of local heroes popped up on limited run local compilations and sampler CDs and tapes, and Tony (who frequently adopted a bastardised Sony logo for their gig posters) made a strong impression on me when I heard their track "Mule" on the local "Elastic Fiction" cassette. Simple yet angsty, mournful and powerfully performed, it sounded like the work of a band who were accomplished and on the cusp of greater things. A fellow local band watcher tipped them to be Portsmouth's next major label signing, "if they actually get their shit together".

It's not for me to say whether their shit was got together or not, but this is Tony's solitary single, a limited 500 run pressing on the obscure indie Garcia Records. It gives a flavour of what they were capable of. The title track "Jumping On" is a high-powered bitchfest about The Beatles "anthology" project of the time, and the "Free Is A Bird" and "Real Love" debacle in particular. The group stab accusing fingers in the direction of McCartney, essentially accusing him of grave robbery. "It takes a stick to break the stones/ so let's go jumping on his bones" they sneer, later adding "Call in the expertise/ of the Traveling Wilburys" in an attempt to wound his pride.

Of course, it's doubtful Macca ever heard the record, but it's particularly salty single with an abrasive edge, and a sound akin to the harder edges of Britpop. Over on the flip, "The Purchase" appears to be a regretful chugging lullaby to the joys of hiring prostitutes. All this points towards the fact that Tony weren't common-or-garden indie chancers, who were ten a penny by this point, and had some slightly unusual and bitter world views in their arsenal.

It all amounted to nothing, of course, and this is the only official product we have to remember them by. It's possible that by 1996, record labels were cooling to the idea of anything vaguely Britpop in its sound, and Tony did tend to fit that bill at this point. They may also not have had sturdy enough management or external support, but that's pure speculation on my part based on the fact that most Portsmouth bands didn't. Whatever the reasons, we've been left with a rather obscure mid-nineties indie single which fell between the cracks at a point where just about any noise of this nature was guaranteed at least some publicity. It's a peculiar situation indeed.





23 August 2017

Drill - Juliet/ Pretty Girl



Label: RCA
Year of Release: 1979

While punk and new wave were often at opposite ends of the spectrum from British psychedelia in 1967, there's a much bigger debate to be had about some of the unacknowledged similarities too. The underground press, counter-cultural activity and the whole idea of the "kids doing it for themselves" were germane to both movements, though eyewitness accounts from 1967 often tend to dismiss that era's anarchy with the simple phrase "A bunch of rich kids pissing around with their parent's money".

Another two things both eras have in common is the fact that bands emerged, released one single or a select clutch of a few singles, then disappeared again - and a great many of the members of the groups would go on to much bigger and better things elsewhere. Take Drill, for example. The Chas Chandler managed group are barely mentioned anywhere these days, but featured the bass player and songwriter Chris Constantinou, who later went on to work with Adam Ant, Anabella Lwin, and Guy Chambers. 

Frustratingly, the details of the rest of their personnel are hard to come by, but this single is a real curiosity. The punk lovesong on the A-side "Juliet" is perhaps not the strongest offering here, being a bit 'boil in the bag punk' in places - there are only so many signposted references to "rebels" with "rings in their noses" you can take before you sigh "Yeah, we get it lads, you're those punks we've heard so much about". 

The B-side "Pretty Girls", however, is where the band get to play with the full sonic palette and end up sounding slightly akin to an XTC-less Barry Andrews doing his best nods to Eno and Talking Heads. It's essentially very yobbish, jerky New Wave, and an experience worth having.

Now, if only I could find their single with a punk cover of Gordon Lightfoot's "If I Could Read Your Mind" on the A-side, my year will be complete. 

The whereabouts of the rest of the group is not known, but Chris remains very active and is presently bass player with The Wolfmen on bass and vocals, and the punk supergroup The Mutants. 


20 August 2017

Reupload - Count Prince Miller - Rupert The Bear/ When We Were Children




Label: Penny Farthing
Year of Release: 1972

Proof is right here, if we really needed it, that no cover version has ever been considered too absurd or too outlandish for a reggae artist. For this is indeed the children's TV theme given a decidedly mellow feel, with high-pitched, screeching (and I presume studio-treated?) vocals delivering the chorus. Whilst sixties psychedelia played with the idea of fairytales and backgarden creatures being drug-influenced, I'd almost be tempted to say that this tackles the subject of everyone's favourite Nutwood dwelling bear from a stoned perspective.

The B-side "When We Were Children" even continues the theme gamely, referring to the songs mothers sing to their offspring and the simplicity of those comforting times, which lyrically is very close to the same under-explored topic as Pink Floyd's "Matilda Mother". It didn't seem as if anyone in 1972 was really ready for toytown reggae or twee reggae, though, but the thought of a gang of menacing looking skinheads grooving on down to the "Rupert The Bear" theme tune is an enticing one.

Count Prince Miller had a cult reggae hit the previous year with "Mule Train Parts One and Two", but is perhaps better remembered in mainstream society for his role as Vince in the eighties sitcom "Desmond's". Both these performances outshine "Rupert The Bear", but it's a peculiar career blip and anomaly I couldn't resist uploading here.




16 August 2017

Grazina - Be My Baby/ I Ain't Gonna Knock On Your Door



Label: HMV
Year of Release: 1963

Grazina Frame may not be an instantly recognisable name to most record buyers, but nonetheless she loaned her voice to a number of high-profile films and projects. She was the dubbed singing voice of Carole Gray in the Cliff Richard film "The Young Ones", and then did the same job for Lauri Peters in "Summer Holiday".  Her parallel career as an actress also lead to roles in a number of British films.

While she did issue a brace of singles throughout the sixties, her chart career was non-existent despite her obvious talent. Her debut single "Lover Please Believe Me" is a Geoff Goddard penned melodramatic galloper, and was deeply unlucky not to have sold better (it's also staggering that Meek wasn't involved in the production of the record, since several of his stylistic tropes are apparent). From there, things didn't really get much better, with HMV issuing a series of flops with diminishing public interest.

"Be My Baby", however, was a somewhat crafty release on EMI's part, given that it was put out into the UK marketplace in September, ahead of The Ronette's October release date. This gave it a head start over the official product for listeners who really hadn't experienced the full scale of Spector's vision yet. Despite this, it wasn't a hit, and it's not difficult to understand why. Minus the wall of sound and those astonishing harmonies, the song really sounds somewhat pedestrian and skeletal, even when left in the hands of someone as capable as Grazina. With more thought and time put into the production, it's possible that everyone concerned might have been able to produce a fair facsimile of the original, but this is a simple, straightforward rendition which is hard to relate to.

The B-side "I Ain't Gonna Knock On Your Door" is likely to be of more interest to readers, being a chiming, pinging, and sprightly piece of summery girl-pop. It's not a lost A-side by any means, but it's genuinely charming and Grazina pitches the idea perfectly.

Sadly, I've only included an edit from "Be My Baby" here, since it remains commercially available and you can buy it in full online if you're that way inclined.



13 August 2017

Fable - A Girl Like You/ She Said Yes



Label: Penny Farthing
Year of Release: 1971

A few weeks back I mentioned this on the blog's Facebook Page as an example of a single I was desperately trying to find an affordable copy of. In the end, I paid rather more for this copy than I'd hoped to (£17 - ulp!) but I still consider it to be worth owning even at that price.

I had originally stumbled on it on YouTube and was immediately bowled over by the approach it had taken - while The Troggs original version of "A Girl Like You" had been scratchy, jagged and hormonal sounding, this cover replaced that abrasiveness with a slick but minimal arrangement, a thumping bass drum and rich bass guitar, and exotic, Nico-esque vocal lines. It has absolutely no right to work in that manner, but it does so marvellously, and the quality of the performance highlights the fact that Reg Presley probably wasn't the completely primitive garage songwriter everyone assumed him to be in 1966.

Fable were essentially members of Jason Cord's backing group The First Chapter attempting a breakaway slice of success of their own. Consisting of Paul Robbins on organ and guitar, Keith Tully on drums, Mac Bailey on guitar and Pete Bickley on bass, they added the glamorous Wolverhampton local hero Anna Terrana on lead vocals to complete the new Penny Farthing signed line-up. 

Anna Terrana had already had a fairly substantial career on the national gig circuit at this point, fronting Lady Jayne and the Royaltee (known as "Royalty" on their CBS recordings) and picking up praise and acclaim from the music press and Radio One DJs alike. You can read much more about her background on the Brumbeat website here, which goes into enormous depth.

Fable were, unfortunately, a fairly short-lived proposition by comparison, offering us only two 45s (this and the 1970 single "Minstrel Boy" which preceded it). Both sides of this single are marvellous. Even the flip, "She Said Yes", is a pretty piece of beaty, early seventies harmony pop.

If you want to listen to more of Anna Terrana's work, she appears to have her own Reverb Nation site here. You'd be well advised to listen to head over and get stuck in, as there are plenty of other gems to uncover.



9 August 2017

The Germz/ Lit Candle - No Easy Way Down/ Boy Girl Love



Label: Cotique
Year of Release: 1967 and 1969

This is becoming something of a sought-after record for 60s garage collectors, in whatever guise it takes. The Germz were formed from the remains of a New York band called Terry and the Pirates, and consisted of Wendy Hirsch on vocals, Marty Green on keyboards, Bob Tobin on lead guitar, Jefferson Travis on rhythm guitar, Doug Smith on bass and Shelly Unger on drums. After a spell of local popularity, in early 1967 they inked a deal with the Roulette subsidiary label Vertigo and headed off to record these two tracks at Miramound Studios. 

It's the B-side which tends to get all the attention in the present day, being a piece of quirky, organ-driven garage pop with the most warped and wobbly sounding clarion calls you'll have heard since The Human League's "(Keep Feeling) Fascination". Propulsive, bouyant, and charmingly (rather than ineptly) loose sounding, it's a strange and sharp sounding recording which nags away at you long after the needle has left the run-out groove behind.

Amidst the more recent fuss, though, the A-side seems to have been overlooked or even dismissed by some, which is a deep pity. The Goffin-King composition "No Easy Way Down" has subsequently been recorded by Dusty Springfield, Carole King herself, and Scott Walker (quite drearily, actually, on his under-achieving "Stretch" LP) among others, but so far as I can ascertain this was the first released version. This might appear to have been a risky or eccentric decision on the songwriting duo's part, but I suspect the fact that the drummer Shelly Ungan was Gerry Goffin's cousin might not be a complete coincidence. Nonetheless, it's a beautiful version of the track, with Wendy's vocals sounding so youthful, spirited, spontaneous and powerful that it's hard to believe that it took the producer George Goldner twenty takes before he was satisfied with her performance. Amazingly, what we can hear is in fact the result of numerous takes of her performance being spliced together.

The resulting single hit number 48 in the local New York charts and number 35 in the Boston charts before disappearing altogether. Internal politics at the record company between Roulette bigwig Morris Levy and George Goldner caused the single to be scrapped after only 2,000 copies were released on to the marketplace, after which it did a big sod off forever. Even the master tapes were apparently wiped.

"Yes," you may well ask, "but what on Earth do The Germz have to do with The Lit Candle, whose single is pictured above?"

That's a fair enough question, but one that apparently even the group can't really answer. The Lit Candle single was issued in 1969 and is completely the same two recordings. The group were not informed of its release or their enforced name change, and suspect some corporate dodginess was afoot. Taking a less cynical view, it's possible that the growing popularity of other recorded versions of "No Easy Way Down" caused Cotique Records to take an interest in the original version, and it's also possible that they thought The Germz was too much of a garagey sounding group name for either 1969 or such a majestic ballad. Unless someone who was behind the decision to release the record gets in touch, however, we will probably never know why this pressing actually exists.

Whatever the facts, The so-called Lit Candle's "version" appears to have fared even less well than the original release, and seems to be the more scarce of the two pressings as a result. The group were no longer an active concern anyway, having disbanded shortly after the failure of the Vertigo issue. Wendy Hirsch and Marty Green went on to get a job together as songwriters at Screen Gems/ Columbia. After that career path failed, it proved to be the end of their professional relationship, but not their personal one - they got married and had a family not long afterwards.

I gleaned a lot of the above material from a moving YouTube video put together in the style of "Pop Up Video" by Wendy's son Matt to celebrate her fiftieth birthday. If only every garage group left such a simple and easy trail of information behind themselves...



6 August 2017

Reupload - Tik and Tok - Summer In The City/ Crisis
























Label: Survival
Released: 1981

Readers of a certain vintage may have hazy memories of Tik and Tok, a robotic dance duo who appeared on all manner of television programmes in the early eighties.  Robotic dancing in the present day and age is popularly regarded to be the folly of Covent Garden street performers rather than cutting edge cabaret, but like mime, the Jim Rose Circus and puppets that emit cuss words, there was a brief point in time where it seemed an exotic and thoroughly modern affair.  Such things usually have a shelf-life of six months to a year before the allure fades and the talent becomes a gimmick, and so it proved with this duo, whose career high wasn't especially prolonged.

For a time, however, Tik and Tok were actually quite mainstream, popping up on Kenny Everett's television programmes and The Royal Variety Show, and supporting Gary Numan on tour (as well as being supported by a young Depeche Mode).  Until I stumbled across this record in the racks of "Music and Video Exchange", I had no memory of what they sounded like, and was expecting the kind of staccato, psuedo-futuristic and alienated fare we've already heard from The Techno Twins and Karel Fialka.  On the contrary, their cover of the Lovin' Spoonful's "Summer in the City" here is actually surprisingly upbeat and effective.  Taking the simplistic stomping rhythms of the original and highlighting them for robotic effect, it's a piece of electronic music that's dated amazingly well, sounding almost like a piece of noughties post-modern pastiche.   The original song is good enough to weather most changes to the original arrangement, but Tik and Tok manage to make it sound as if it always was a piece of eighties electro-pop right from the first hearing, which is actually an astonishing feat for a familiar, evergreen single.  I bought this half-expecting to burst out laughing on the first spin, only to find myself getting strangely into it and promptly putting it on my iPod playlist.

The B-side "Crisis" has aged well too, sounding inspired by Kraftwerk and German electronic pop, and featuring a strange and jarring piece of dialogue which is supposed to be one of the Kray Twins dialling a wrong number and getting through to the robo-duo's HQ.  Again, it manages to give the impression of Shoreditch and Hoxton circa 2005 rather than the Kenny Everett Video Show circa 1981, although whether that's innovative or a grave war crime depends upon your personal perspective.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Tik and Tok are still performing today, and apparently regularly appearing at Star Wars conventions thanks to their appearance in "Return of the Jedi".  It almost feels as if I should finish this blog entry on a sarcastic or ironical comment, but actually... why should I?  It would be far too lazy and far too easy, and unnecessary given the fact that I like this single.



3 August 2017

Conclusion Is - This Is Not My Country/ Angie And The Human Race



Label: Parlophone
Year of Release: 1970

It's very rare to find a popsike single that hasn't already been compiled on an LP entitled something like "The Afternoon Turquoise Crumpet and Butter Teashow", but I think I might just have managed it here. Sadly, though, I have close to sod-all information on the people responsible.

From what I can gather, the oddly named Conclusion Is were a studio based act who worked at Eden Studios, which was owned by Piers Ford-Crush and Philip Love. One of them, Ray Owen, was also a member of the rock group Ray Owen's Moon who recorded for Polydor, whereas David Early also worked with him on the novelty 1972 Supporter's United single "Up For The Cup" (which I've never heard or seen anywhere, but sounds curious).

The A-side "This Is Not My Country" is a piece of acceptable acoustically driven angst about being a refugee. The flip "Angie And The Human Race", on the other hand, is rather more popsike, consisting of discreet trumpet and organ lines and a gentle, bouncing psychedelic pop feel. My copy is a tiny bit scratchy, but those melodramatic toytown melodies seep through effectively. 

I have no idea what became of either musician, but this is the only record the pair had out under the name of "Conclusion Is". After both it and the Supporters United single flopped, it seems likely that Parlophone lost interest.