17 December 2017

Charlie Jones - Hey Whiskers We Love You/ I Love You You Love Me

Label: Columbia
Year of Release: 1972

Ordinarily I would have had no reason to believe that this was anything other than an underplayed and under publicised Christmas single, were it not for the fact that Billboard magazine in the USA lists it among the notable British Christmas releases of that year.  So was it a simple case of a keen US journalist being a bit of a fan, or did this actually have a slightly higher profile than I believe? 

Whatever stories lie behind this recording, it's safe to say it's a slightly quirky three minutes. Charlie Jones has an excitable, hiccuping voice throughout, faintly akin to a sherry-sozzled and slightly chilly Steve Harley in his underpants standing naked by the festive tree. A rinky-dink arrangement bounces along in the background, until the anthemic chorus kicks in and begs the whole world to join in. 

Lyrically, the song focuses on the antics of Santa Claus and seems determined to sell him as being some kind of crazy beatnik character. "He likes to boogie just like you and me/ man, he's cool, he's free!" we're assured, and it's impossible not to swept along with the daftness of it all. I really like this one, and I'm surprised it didn't fare better, but I suspect that the lowly status of Charlie Jones suffered against giants like T Rex, Slade, The Osmonds and The Jacksons in the 1972 Christmas chart, and this effort was swept to one side in all the excitement. 

And who was Charlie Jones? He seemed to put out this single and the seemingly even more obscure "I Don't Want To Lose You" before disappearing entirely. There's also talk of an album, but I've scoured the internet and all I've managed to find is talk, and no evidence of a physical product whatsoever. If anyone knows, please do share the facts with the rest of the world.

14 December 2017

The Yellow Chair - Christmas Song/ Christmas Dub

Label: Mosa
Year of Release: 1981

An incredibly obscure Christmas single on the tiny Mosa record label, "Christmas Song" by the intriguingly named Yellow Chair is an odd mix of influences. There's some tribal drum thumping, folky vocals, and faintly new wave guitar lines, all adding up to create something which sounds festive in an Elizabethan kind of way. 

Nobody bought it, of course, and you'd be hard pressed to find any details about who the hell The Yellow Chair were; certainly, this seems to have been their only single. In the producer's chair, however, was none other than future Pogues member Philip Chevron, who later performed on one of the biggest British Christmas hits of all time in the form of "Fairytale of New York". It's a far cry from that to this, and it's odd to think that most critics and listeners probably have absolutely no idea that this piece of juvenilia even exists. 

To be completely fair, it's relatively unremarkable, and it's only the "Christmas Dub" on the B-side that brings something a bit different to the festive party. Nonetheless, it's an interesting little curio. 

10 December 2017

Camille - White Christmas/ Snowbelle

Label: EMI
Year of Release: 1979

Christmas singles are a complete lottery for everyone involved. If you produce a festive tune and it's a big hit, you might just - as Noddy Holder has often claimed - have created a pension plan for yourself. The PRS royalties from radio and shopping centre plays alone are enough to ensure a comfortable existence. 

Trouble is, the Christmas charts are also a very cut-throat and competitive environment, and provide a challenge even for big name artists to perform to their usual level. Just ask Elton John about his (relative) Christmas single disappointment. If you're an unknown artist with a yuletide ditty, you may find your work particularly cut out against towering giants like Reg Dwight, as we'll find out on this blog over the coming weeks.

First up is the almost entirely forgotten - if anyone really noticed it in the first place - twittering synth-pop version of "White Christmas" by Camille. This is a real oddity, combining Giorgio Moroder-esque rhythms and squelches to the Irving Berlin classic in a manner which should have pleased the futurists on the dancefloor. 

The track was partly produced by Mike Thorne, who was known to most post-punks as being Wire's producer at this point, and would later go on to enormous success working with Soft Cell. If you want a sense of where his career was going, the B-side "Snowbelle" is your best bet, being three minutes of  wintry instrumental, pulsing electronic minimalism, which will probably please "Left and to the Back" readers much more than the A-side. 

In all, this single was a fair stab at success, but copies are enormously scarce now, and nobody seems to have any clue who Camille was or if she did anything else. Discogs suggests she's actually Camille Rodwell who found some success in the USA in the nineties, but unless she took a career break of sixteen years before enjoying her first success with her second single, I find that extremely unlikely. 

Sorry for the pops and scratches on this copy, but it was a very tricky record to clean up. 

7 December 2017

Fergus - Gotcha Now/ Currents Of Your Ways

Label: Paladin
Year of Release: 1976

Fergus was much feted signing to the tiny Paladin label in 1976. Born in Sligo in the West of Ireland and raised in Dublin, Fergus was a regular teenage pub and ballroom performer in his home country before jumping ship to Britain in the mid-seventies. Finding himself less well-known on the gig circuit here, he slowly built up appreciation from a standing start before signing up with a manager in 1975.

"Gotcha Now" was his debut vinyl effort, and while it's most definitely a pop single, it's a peculiar beast, filled to the brim with screeching Moog noises, high-pitched vocals, twiddly guitar riffola and a steady, almost glam rock beat. It's a complicated and fussy dish of a record, with lots of little detours - it sounds as if everyone involved had a ton of ideas in the studio and couldn't let them go to waste. Stylistically somewhere between Sparks, Bolan and The Peppers, it was a little dated for 1976, and the world clearly wasn't moved by the single. 

Not that he'd disappear in a hurry. Fergus carried on releasing singles until 1985, all with a very different flavour. Some have been compared by listeners to Donovan, others to slick singer-songwriter fare or inventive seventies rock. An LP was also issued in 1978 on his manager's Rondercrest label, and is presently selling on Discogs for £105 or more if anyone fancies buying themselves a Christmas present or adding it to their list for Santa. The singles can generally be found for bargain basement prices by comparison, and may be slightly more acceptable stocking fillers for your family to consider.

I have no idea what became of Fergus after 1985 or whether he carried on writing and performing - but other readers may know more. 

3 December 2017

The Crew - Marty/ Danger Signs

Label: Plexium
Year of Release: 1969

Another total obscurity on the seldom-spotted Plexium Records. The Crew were a five-piece formed by vocalist and master percussionist (congas a speciality) John Wright in 1965, and subsequently went through a confusing array of line-ups throughout the rest of the decade. Neither the internet nor the usual reference tomes bother to chronicle these, which leaves me a little bit stuck.

By the seventies, however, they had become a funk band, offering their services to a variety of venues (including the Marquee on ten separate occasions) and supporting acts as legendary and varied as Fleetwood Mac, Led Zeppelin and Desmond Dekker.  

Let's not get ahead of ourselves, though, because that line-up offered a very different fare from the Plexium era group. "Marty" has already been rounded up on the "Piccadilly Sunshine" series of compilations, so can't be offered in full here - but is essentially an organ-driven piece of beat pop, slightly twee and chirpy in its delivery. It's not quite bubblegum, but it's closer to that on the spectrum than Sly and the Family Stone.

The flip "Danger Signs" is curious, in that it appears to be led by a female vocalist and not John Wright. Again, it's a chipper piece of sixties beat, and by 1969 possibly felt a little dated.

The Crew's most famous line-up went on to release a version of "Cecilia" on Decca in 1970, with Jonathan King's guidance and backing. An official website with more information on them can be found here