26 March 2009

The Look - Real Live Heaven (b/w "Knock Knock Knock")

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Label: MCA
Year of Release: 1981


I was only eight years old when I turned on Top of The Pops one day, and suddenly became transfixed by dubious looking Kevin Keegan-esque men with mullets stomping out an organ driven groove.

"Girls are dancing all around/ and just for me..."

As one hit wonders go, "I Am The Beat" is probably one of the finest. It's so simplistic it sounds as if it should have been written a during the earliest days of the beat boom, but it arrived out of nowhere and soared up the charts in 1981 as if it owned them, and managed to sound simultaneously new and knowingly referential. Besides coming from men who clearly had a love of classic rock, there was something angular and "noo wave" about the band, which caused Smash Hits to comment "one Squeeze of The Look and I'm in XTC". The simplicity of their music belied a huge stock of influences.

Unfortunately, the band's rise to fame seemed at odds with the record company's attitude towards them. They were signed for a one-single deal initially to see how "I am the Beat" fared, and even when Radio One playlisted it MCA could barely be bothered to promote the disc, leading Radio One DJ Simon Bates to plead on air for the label to "pull their fingers out". One has to wonder how valuable these one-off single deals were by the eighties, and if many acts were genuinely broken by them - they seemed to be a mark of A&R indifference rather than faith.

After it climbed to number six the label offered them more recording time, and an album was apparently rushed out as a result, with "rushed" being the operative word. The band were apparently deeply unhappy with its over-polished sound which they felt was hopelessly at odds with their live show - in a recent interview they claimed to have "burned all their copies".

It's from this LP that "Real Live Heaven" stems, and I'll be frank, if it's representative of the long player at all, I'd argue they're being overly modest. The ingredients which made "I am the Beat" so compelling are still intact, and it's riddled with more hooks than a Peter Hook family reunion. The glammish stomp is still present and correct, as is an insistent chorus, and whilst nobody is likely to give the song any points for subtlety - Slade would have killed to have something so terrace-pleasing in their set list - sometimes that really doesn't matter. They deserved to have a minor hit with this at least, although I can't help but wonder whether it would have been more at home amidst the early nineties indie scene.

After the album didn't perform to their expectations, MCA dropped them, and The Look jumped from the frying pan into the fire with Towerbell Records, an independent label whose owner later fled the country owing many of his acts vast sums of money. According to their website, the band turned up for a meeting one afternoon and found the windows to Towerbell boarded up. One could hardly have blamed them for giving up at this point, but it was with some surprise that I found out that they'd very recently reformed and released a follow-up album two decades later entitled "Pop Yowlin". It's available on iTunes, and from the brief samples I've heard so far proves they're still in love with producing skronking great barnstormers. Lovely.

Click on this link to download "Real Live Heaven"

And, if you want, view "I am the Beat" on German TV below (Thanks to DeOudeDoos for the upload).

24 March 2009

Rolf Harris - Hav Yew Gotta Loight, Boy?/ Bluer Than Blue

Have Yew Gotta Loight Boy

Label: Columbia
Year of Release: 1966


The recent phenomenon of people claiming to "ironically" like Rolf Harris has, I must confess, perplexed me somewhat. To me, it's always been rather more clear-cut than that. Either you like Rolf Harris, or you don't. Irony doesn't come into play at any point in your decision.

This might seem like a peculiar point to make, but the fact is - or, OK then, my personal opinion is - that the longevity of Rolf Harris' career has more to do with his one-off status than any kind of "naff" factor. Some of my earliest memories are of Rolf Harris on Saturday morning television, seeming like a mad distant Uncle who'd moved to Australia before I'd got the chance to know him, and was now beaming all his adventures back on to the small screen for my benefit. It wasn't just the fact that Rolf was competent at what he did (although he unquestionably was) but the way in which he approached it which was attention grabbing. He was like some eccentric, hairy overgrown child with attention deficit disorder. If he wasn't boinging around doing impressions of kangeroos (or Rolfaroos as he called them) in a studio that seemed too small to contain him or his personality, he was singing songs that seemed frankly berserk. I loved Rolf as a child, and could barely contain my jealousy when one of my schoolfriends eventually met him at a signing. My appreciation of him as a grown adult is therefore not ironic, but rather something which gives me a degree of warmth and comfort, a fuzzy feeling of harmless nostalgia. There is nothing "ironic" in my appreciation of aged hairy Australian men pulling stupid faces and pretending to be marsupials. That, my friends, is called entertainment in my book.

What's astonishing about Rolf as well is that besides the famed "Two Little Boys" and "Tie Me Kangeroo Down, Sport", he appeared to have been given the keys to the pressing plant at EMI if the sheer wave of Rolf seven inches that drifted out throughout the sixties is anything to go by. His cover of the Singing Postman's "Hev Yew Gotta Loight, Boy?" failed to (*cough*) light up the charts, but the B-side "Animals Pop Party" is sheer Harris mania, wherein he describes the events at an unruly party filled completely with animals. Or perhaps just friends of Rolf's pretending to be animals. I can't make up my mind. It has a sad and sorry ending, with the boisterous beasts hurling Rolf on to the street because they think he's a bit odd, which I hope never happened to the man in real life.

I don't want to comment too fully on the A-side because I intend to do a Singing Postman update on this blog soon - that's a sad tale in itself and one which deserves repetition - but suffice to say it's a loyal if slightly higher budget cover version of the novelty folk singer's track.

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Label: Columbia
Year of Release: 1969


"Bluer Than Blue" is a less impressive ballad, but the B-side here - "The Monster" - is a demented song about (again!) an outsider. Rolf adopts a variety of silly voices throughout the track, which is also festooned with excessive late sixties production values (the single sleeve I have of this advertises Pink Floyd's "A Saucerful of Secrets" on the back, appropriately enough). For each voice he adopts, I can visualise in my own mind the faces he'd be likely to pull in a live performance and the quirky dances he would doubtless adopt, something I can't imagine being able to do for many other people.

Download both the above here

Sadly, I still haven't managed to locate a copy of the now-legendary "Boney", a flop single from the seventies which I've only ever heard a brief YouTube clip from, but what a Youtube clip:



Thanks to Out On Blue Six for bringing the above to my attention in the first place - now all that remains is for somebody (and it may be me) to begin an Internet campaign to get it reissued...

23 March 2009

pop

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As this blog is presently celebrating its first birthday, I thought it would be an ideal moment to post up another homebrew compilation for your pleasure (thereby hopefully making amends for the lack of updates in recent weeks as well).

The concept behind this one is purely to upload a whole bunch of sixties pop music which has seldom been played or heard anywhere since that decade drew to a close. Pickings are actually surprisingly rich - mainstream radio stations were as ruthless with their playlists then as they are now, and if a single didn't look like a surefire hit, it normally got dropped fairly swiftly. Therefore, the likes of The Onyx's "You Gotta Be With Me" most assuredly did enjoy a number of daytime spins, but when that failed to translate into sales (and I personally have to wonder how) its needle-time dropped accordingly.

There again, unlike the psychedelic compilations I've uploaded to "Left and to the Back" over the past year, "Pop" is a relatively straightforward assortment. There's not much in the way of phasing, backwards guitar solos or lyrics with even the mildest hint of acid-soaked tomfoolery on most of these tracks. What I wanted an excuse to do instead was celebrate the lesser-heard aspects of Tin Pan Alley (from where a number of these tracks definitely stemmed) rather than award points for studio innovation or ever-changing time signatures. It's true to say that a number of these tracks worked their way on to psychedelic compilations at some point, but that's due to a rather liberal definition of the term rather than because the people behind the tracks were ever present at the UFO club or wearing cool threads down the Kings Road. These are largely wannabe pop stars who were happier on the cabaret and supper club circuit rather than freaking out at the Roundhouse, where they probably would have had heavy objects hurled in their direction.

Motown, soul, The Beach Boys, and sixties beat also all make their influences felt throughout the CD, which should make it varied enough to please the most jaded of listeners. I even managed to get Eartha Kitt on there, who fits into the category of "none of the above" - what more could you possibly want?

1. The Onyx - You Gotta Be With Me (Pye - 1968)
Kicking off with probably one of my favourite flop pop records of the sixties, "You Gotta Be With Me" really is an astonishing little concoction. Combining Beach Boys close harmonies with insistent Macca basslines, soft pop harpsichord noises and a driving rhythm and top-notch chorus, it's such a combination of everything that appeared to be selling and in vogue at the time that its failure seems inexplicable.
The Onyx hailed from Waterbridge in Cornwall, although focussed most of their gigging activity in Bristol and South Wales, as one would imagine would have been entirely necessary. The lyrics of this track appear to be suggesting to a woman that if she were to become the lead singer's special friend, he could "get her into all the scenes". I'm not too sure what exclusive Cornish gig-in-a-barn he might be talking about there...

2. The Californians - Follow Me (Decca - 1967)
The Californians seemed to be near-constant support slot companions for The Walker Brothers at one point, but the name (and indeed image) is entirely a marketing gimmick. Despite their surfer-boy haircuts and beach bum complexions, they were in fact from the landlocked Midlands. "Follow Me" is a pleasing tune performed in the Beach Boys style, but the fact they weren't taken terribly seriously at the time should probably surprise nobody.

3. Peanut - I'm Waiting for the Day (Columbia - 1967)
Born Katherine Farthing and hailing from Trinidad, Peanut produced a slurry of singles throughout the sixties, all of which did nothing chart-wise, but it's possibly this cover of The Beach Boys classic with "Teenage Opera" producer Mark Wirtz which attracts the most retrospective attention. It dares to tamper with the existing arrangement, and whilst I'm frankly undecided about the end result, this does tend to get a lot of people hot under the collar...

4. Twinkle - Micky (Instant - 1969)
The writer and performer of "Terry", Twinkle probably needs little introduction, although her career was needlessly brief, so much so that she was largely deemed a showbiz has-been whilst barely out of her teens. Unlike Lauren Laverne, though, she didn't feel the need to dive headlong into a media career as a result, for which we can all be thankful.
"Micky" is actually a fantastic single which was supposed to have been an attempt at a comeback on a newly-launched subsidary of Immediate Records, but the public failed to bite. That may largely have been due to a nasty edit on the issued single which cut this version into ribbons and caused it to fade out before it even had a chance to register - the long version here (if three and a half minutes can really be considered "long") is far better.

5. Sandy Coast - Back to the City (Page One - 1969)
Dutch band Sandy Coast have had an extremely long and fruitful career in their homeland but remain less appreciated in the UK. "Back to the City" is proof that their status in Holland is no fluke at all - this sounds indebted to The Move but is a spankingly good piece of pop which, had it not been a mere B-side in the UK, might perhaps have stood a chance.

6. The Shakespeares - Something To Believe In (RCA - 1968)
Zambian band The Shakespeares were another act who failed to enjoy as much attention in Britain as their homeland. "Something to Believe In" utilises a plethora of odd sound effects behind what the critics of the day would doubtless have called "a catchy beat tune".

7. The Afex - She's Got The Time (King - 1967)
Compilation compilers have spent years attempting to seek this band out in order to gather more information about this record, but it's apparently been a fruitless task. "She's Got The Time" is a hard hitting beat track which has lit up dancefloors in retro and mod clubs in recent decades, but the heroes behind it remain shadowy, elusive figures.

8. Unit 4 + 2 - I Will (Fontana - 1969)
Nothing obscure going on here, mind you. Unit 4 + 2 enjoyed a relatively long career by sixties standards, most famously hitting the number one spot with "Concrete and Clay", which remains a steady favourite of "gold" radio stations everywhere (and Kevin Rowland). By the tail end of the decade, their image and sound had begun to seem rather quaint, however, and they belatedly attempted to modernise with the single "I Will" (backed with the equally notable and faintly psychedelic "3:30"). In truth, it wasn't much of a leap forward, but rather heartbreakingly it probably is their best single after "Concrete and Clay", and the fact it seemed passe at the time of release seems a little unjust. 

9. Los Brincos - Nobody Wants You Now (Page One - 1967)
Spanish popstars Los Brincos spent most of their career combining the influences of the British beat scene with dustings of flamenco, but the UK public seemed reluctant to embrace the whole concept. "Nobody Wants You Now" is a rather good example of their fare, but even the promotional push of Larry Page made no difference to their careers on this island.

10. Jason Crest - A Place In The Sun (Philips - 1969)
Hailing from Tonbridge, The Jason Crest (a band rather than a person) are famed (or should that be infamed?) for both producing a string of whimsical pieces of psychedelic pop ("Tea Garden Lane"), some storming live Radio One sessions (which are available on a Tenth Planet album), and - perhaps more than any of these - a piece of squealing, screeching bad trip psychosis entitled "Black Mass". They came in many different flavours and varieties, and "A Place in the Sun" is but another piece of the jigsaw. Sitting on the other side of seven inch vinyl "Black Mass" occupied, this is a decidedly (moody) bluesy pop ballad. After this, no other singles came forth from the band.

11. Keith West - On A Saturday (Parlophone - 1968)
After the success of "Teenage Opera" (aka "Grocer Jack") Keith West broke away from his role as the lead singer in Tomorrow and chanced his arm at a steady pop career. It was to prove a foolish decision, even if it did produce some worthy chunks of sixties goodness. "Sam", the next piece of the Teenage Opera, is worth investigating, but this track is an oft-overlooked sunny ballad which sums up the best bits of any relationship I've ever had. Go on, say "ahhh", I dare you.

12. Young Idea - On The King's Road (MFP - 1968)
Culled from the budget price MFP compilation "With a Little Help From My Friends", "On The King's Road" is a cautionary tale to all the hip young things about London town. It could be renamed "On Brick Lane" now. Wagging their fingers like angry aunties, of course, are one-hit wonders The Young Idea, an anglo-Italian duo who had a hit with a cynical cover of "A Little Help From My Friends". They failed to replicate the success, but I'm assured a CD anthology of their work is due to be released soon.

13. July - The Stamping Machine (unreleased demo - available on compilations only)
A truly baffling burst of music from a band who seemed to specialise in creating lyrics which had worrying implications. "Friendly Man" boasted the lines
"Mothers say stay away/ far as you can from the friend-er-lee man", whereas "Stamping Machine" - if I'm interpreting this correctly - appears to be about how fate (in the shape of some sinister futuristic machine) shapes our destinies. "I know it's made you cry/ but I'd rather cry than die/ so I have to thank the Stamping Machine!" they confidently trill. Quite. This is just a demo, but the pop ingredients are all intact, even if this track does frighten me a little.

14. Penny Peeps - Little Man With A Stick (Liberty - 1968)
Absolutely loathed by the band themselves who (if you listen to the B-side "Model Village") were clearly more inspired by The Who, this cover of a Tin Pan Alley tune nonetheless hits numerous pop spots, as well as having a charming story running through the lyrics. I originally uploaded this one to Muxtape last year, but it got ripped down shortly afterwards...

15. Jude - Morning Morgantown (unreleased - available on compilations only)
Jude cut a number of demos at Morgan Studios in London throughout the sixties, but none were ever developed further. This cover of Joni Mitchell's track is a charming piece of pop-folk which may possibly have been a tribute to the studio and independent record company.  It deserved to at least be given a chance in the real world.

16. Outer Limits - Great Train Robbery (original mix) (Instant - 1968)
The Outer Limits were lead by Jeff Christie who failed to find much success in this particular gang, but later ended up on Top of the Pops with the clonking great seventies hit "Yellow River". "Great Train Robbery" is rather more subtle, clearly taking inspiration from The Bee Gees "New York Mining Disaster" to deliver its tale of merciless steam train crooks and vagabonds.

17. Chocolate Watch Band - Requiem (Decca - 1967)
Releasing singles by new bands right into the middle of the Christmas market has by now established itself as being a complete waste of time, but things were either very different in the sixties or else music industry types were more foolhardy. Released in dark December 1967, "Requiem" failed to do the business despite having all the hallmarks of a hit, and even a mildly festive feel. This Chocolate Watch Band are not to be confused with the American Chocolate Watch Band, incidentally - they certainly sound absolutely nothing like them, either.

18. Argosy - Mr. Boyd (DJM - 1969)
Argosy (featuring Elton John and Roger Hodgson out of Supertramp) have already featured on this blog's compilation "Wallpaper", but that was with the flip side to this single "Imagine". "Mr. Boyd" is an altogether poppier, more strident issue with a distinctly Noel Gallagher-esque guitar solo. Upon hearing this, it becomes immediately easy to understand how both parties went on to enormous success - the key songwriting elements were all in place, now all they needed was a sound of their own rather than something blatantly in thrall to the pop trends of the day.

19. The Attack - Neville Thumbcatch (Decca - 1968)
A piece of complete and total bloody stupidity which later achieved cultish immortality when it was covered by Peter Wyngarde.  "Neville Thumbcatch" is as frothy as sixties pop gets, and as ridiculous.

20. Cardboard Orchestra - Zebedy Zak (CBS - 1969)
Although frankly, this upbeat, chirpy tune about homelessness isn't all that far behind. Cardboard Orchestra hailed from Southend and were apparently consistently disappointed with the froth that record labels asked them to record, regarding themselves to be a rather more experimental unit. Whatever, "Zebedy Zak" is a knees-up tribute to tramps all across the land, and as such isn't particularly leftfield apart from perhaps in its subject matter.

21. Toby Twirl - Movin' In (Decca - 1969)
Again, a band rather than a person, Toby Twirl failed to hit big with this bold and brassy tune, but it's remained a compilation fave for some time now.

22. The Montanas - A Step in the Right Direction (Pye - 1968)
The Montanas had a long career on Pye despite selling next-to-nought, and were apparently much fancied at the label as being their bright new hopes, right until the end of the decade when they could hardly have been deemed "new" anymore. The persistence of the A&R folk at Pye central never paid dividends, and this number didn't help matters one bit despite having a strident chorus. One of their tracks "A Difference in Opinion" appears to be taking swipes at Bob Dylan and the entire beatnik/ hippy movement, which is a bit cheeky (although I doubt Dylan noticed). Doubtless their chicken-in-a-basket audience nodded in agreement at the time, though.

23. The Elastic Band - Eight and a Half Hours of Paradise (Decca - 1968)
There's some absolutely spiffing soul-inspired pop going on here which sounds up there with the best of the era - over-enthusiastic organ solo included. Despite the obvious promise on display here, the Elastic Band are these days only usually referenced for being the band Andy Scott was in before he became lead guitarist for The Sweet, which seems a shame.

24. We All Together - It's A Sin To Go Away (MAG - 1970)
This has perhaps been given much wider exposure now due to its appearance on the "Nuggets II" box set. Nonetheless, "It's A Sin To Go Away" really is a haunting piece of Peruvian pop which warrants the extra attention, and deserved better than to only be loved by its home country's audience. The Beatles influences can clearly be felt, but somewhere in the moody atmosphere and longer running time for this, the best of seventies pop is also being predicted.

25. Custer's Track - On The Run (Major Minor - 1969)
Another blank being drawn here, I'm afraid - nobody seems to know who Custer's Track were. This appears to have been their only single, a slightly rocky number telling tales of city bank robberies and romance. Its B-movie subject matter and confident vocal harmonies appeared not to win the general public over, but judging by the musicianship on display throughout this record, it would be surprising if the band members didn't go on to other more proggish projects.  But who?  And when?  You tell me (although there's a photo of the band in a scanned advert on a page
here). 

26. Eartha Kitt - Hurdy Gurdy Man (Spark - 1972)
OK, I'm pushing my luck now - this was issued in 1972, but please forgive me. Eartha Kitt hopefully needs no introduction, but this cover of Donovan's "Hurdy Gurdy Man" will probably come as a surprise to most people. It sounds exactly as you'd expect it to, incidentally.

27. Trash - Golden Slumbers - Carry That Weight (Apple - 1969)
Originally named White Trash until this was deemed too offensive by somebody at Apple Corps, Trash were a Scottish band who signed to The Beatles label and were then largely neglected by the company if biographical accounts are to be believed. Their manager sneaked them into the studio to do a cover of this "Abbey Road" track in a desperate bid to persuade Lennon and McCartney that they had a hit in them somewhere - McCartney disagreed and nearly read the riot act over the "wasted studio time", whereas Lennon gave this the green light.
It was finally issued as a single amidst all the wrangling and managed to peek its brow above the Top 40, but the band was doomed amidst the Fab Four's catfighting, and they subsequently gave up all hope, returning from whence they came... and perhaps that's a good place for us to sign off, too.

Click on this link to Download Part One...

...and this one to Download Part Two.

18 March 2009

Boys Wonder

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It's an unfortunate fact that success in art, music, and indeed life itself is dependent as much upon timing as talent. The people who are first through the thicket are seldom the ones who are showered with riches when others benefit from their daring. It's much more likely that they'll be confronted with critics, and even their own friends, telling them they're idiots and they're wasting their time. Meanwhile, anyone with a mediocre talent can have a brief but lucky flurry of success just through copying the dominant trends of the day.

Some time ago I was looking at an old Chart Show clip on YouTube, and these skinny wretches in retro-wear appeared on the screen singing chirpily about "Jimmy Dean" and cutely whacking their guitars. Nothing remotely unusual about that, you might think, but it made me feel inappropriately nostalgic for my university days - inappropriately, of course, not just for the reason that the scene they best seemed to fit (Britpop) was often awful, but because they were never even around during that era. In fact, Boys Wonder first hit the scene in 1987, and were done and dusted before the nineties even began. I hadn't even left school by the time they split up.

Being perhaps a tiny bit critical here, there are many reasons Boys Wonder might not have hit the big time besides the fact that they seemed out of sorts with both the emerging Manchester scene and the departing C86/ shambling scene. I've yet to hear a single track of theirs, for example, which sounds as good as the best material produced by the three Britpop heavy-weights (Pulp, Oasis, Blur), and whilst I've no doubt they would have had some success if they'd emerged in 1994 instead, I suspect it wouldn't have been to the level of those lofty heights.

Be that as it may, in terms of production, stylings and posturing here, there's quite a bit of daring forward thinking going on which really shouldn't be ignored. The band were largely critically slated at the time, "for sounding like Sham 69" as one member says in an interview - which is interesting, because the comparison is a weak one and an indication of how much critics at the time were clearly confused by what they were trying to do. Their over-elaborate kitsch clothes, talk about dandyism, sense of irony, and excessive frivolity will have seemed odd even next to the most upbeat of Grebo bands, who may have been lagered up lovers of fun but were usually exponents of the "bash it out and bugger the analysis and the window dressing" school of musical thought. There really wasn't a great deal of this stuff around in the late eighties outside of mod nights in pubs in London.

It's also easy to say that all they were effectively doing was predicting a revival rather than actually instigating a new musical style. This is a fair point, but whilst I certainly wouldn't want to categorise them alongside the earliest experimenters with electronic sound, or even the earliest techno artists, there's still a significant difference between their output and that of their sixties forebears. Those bands (generally speaking) didn't treat what they were doing particularly ironically. On top of that there's an eighties dilution to Boys Wonder's sound as well which, rather than being interfering or too clean, actually works well. Somewhere in the barks and yelps in the vocals you can hear the influence of Adam Ant seeping through, and in the instrumentation the indie movers and shakers of the moment like The Wedding Present and The Darling Buds are also making themselves slightly spikily apparent. When you blend it all together (to quote Jools Holland) what that little cocktail effectively produces is your common-or-garden nineties Britpop band a whole decade early. To put that into perspective, Pulp were still recording awkward sounding, dark garage records at this point about suffocating relationships.

Was anybody listening and taking notes? It's not entirely impossible, but it's doubtful that their flop singles would have given the likes of the ambitious Damon Albarn much encouragement. They seemed to exist out on a limb by themselves, not being taken terribly seriously at all, before disintegrating and moving on to other projects until fashion caught up with them.

A fan website was recently launched for the band, which has enabled me to catch up with their work as well as download a large volume of their singles for free, which you can do too. You can access it here, and have a listen to the earliest bits of their discography here - I particularly recommend "Goodbye Jimmy Dean" which would have been Radio One A-listed in 1995.

A lot of members of Boys Wonder went on to form Corduroy, of course, who are another band who seemed to achieve more critical approval without having any commercial success - but theirs is another story for another time (perhaps).

15 March 2009

Jumbo - Brighten Up/ H.O.N. Honey

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Label: Bright Orange Biscuit
Year of Release: 1999


"It was inevitable, really, as pop music choked on stale dadrock pie, that we'd soon turn to some evanescent psychedelic sorbets to clean the palate..." - so began the NME's review of Jumbo's only album "CB Mamas" back in 1999. During the tail end of the nineties, there was a belief in some critical quarters that now the guardians of the gates of the adult rock library Noel Gallagher and Paul Weller had decided to allow the likes of Ocean Colour Scene unlimited access (even on early closing Wednesdays) to pilfer riffs, music had to go in a lopsided direction to remain fresh. If they didn't think that the Super Furry Animals, Mercury Rev and Olivia Tremor Control were showing us the way, there was a belief that perhaps post-rock may be the future instead. Some are inclined to argue that it was at this point that the mainstream music press "lost its way" - personally, I believe it was just beginning to get back on track again, but lost its bottle pretty swiftly. A pre-Britpop NME would never have given a shit about whether their critical praise actually translated into platinum sales, and the fact that many of the above mentioned bands failed to become the next U2 or Oasis shouldn't have been the main criteria for excluding them from the magazine in the long term.

Whatever - there's now precious little information about Jumbo available, which is surprising for a band who emerged as the Internet had just begun to get seriously whirring, and also had NME CD compilation appearances (on the NME's 1999 "On" freebie). From my utterly inaccurate memory where "citation needed" shall be our guiding catchphrase, they were actually extremely young (possibly teenage) musicians from Newcastle who did indeed compose a pack of confusing, lysergic and staggering ditties, with wild horns, scattering guitar lines, beserk time signatures and hollered vocals. Their products owed a lot more to the US underground than (for example) The Super Furries or Gorky's Zygotic Mynci were producing at the same time, but were intriguing and actually quite awkward records. Whereas Gorky's were engaging in English pastoral whimsy and silliness, Jumbo sounded like a competition between a youth club orchestra as to who could hold dominance over a song's direction or mood. Both "Brighten Up" and "H.O.N. Honey" are uneasy listening, but a lot of fun if you're in the right frame of mind.

Sadly, I'm also forced to agree with the NME's reviewer's sentiments about Jumbo seldom transcending the sum of their influences, but across seven inches they did make a nice noise. One is forced to wonder what became of the pups, and whether they're in bands now producing equally interesting material. It's an odd question to ask of a band who ceased trading a mere ten years ago, but sometimes acts do seem to slip off the radar very quickly indeed.

8 March 2009

Break



I'm working out of Glasgow for the next week, and I don't even want to begin to kid myself that I'm going to attempt an update in that time. Even in the event that I did bring some mp3s and vinyl rips with me, chances are I wouldn't get the time to do anything with them.

I'll hopefully see you again around this time next week, at which point this blog should start to become more active again.

Dave Howard Singers - Yon Yonson



Label: Hallelujah
Released: 1987


If I were forced to pick any song from the last thirty years which managed to seep into the public consciousness despite never becoming even a Top Hundred hit, this would surely be it. I've already summarised the career of the Dave Howard Singers here, but this was the moment when they managed to get the attention of British schoolchildren and their irritated parents.

"Yon Yonson" reached number four in the British Indie charts, a lofty position which meant it received multiple plays on Channel Four's "Chart Show" on Friday evenings. The idea - simply repeating the endless 'Yon Yonson' nursery chant to from intro to fade - meant that a brief snippet of it was all the average listener would need to hear before it became permanently welded into their brains.

I know people who utterly detest this song, and it's easy to understand why. Its insistence could easily be infuriating to those of an easily agitated disposition. However, I actually like it - it builds impressively as it progresses, starting out as a novelty piece of pseudo-hip hop and then screeching, snarling and groaning to its beatbox driven conclusion. It's simultaneously stupid and bold, rhythmically stripped back but somehow danceable, and makes the most of its very limited template.

The degree of public exposure it received was doubtless helped no end by the fact that this was a very early example of an 'acceptable' indie video. If they even bothered to embrace the concept at all, so many indie bands of this period produced promo videos which seemed as if they'd been directed by a toddler with a Super 8 whilst high on Nerds, or looked like they had the production qualities of a bad holiday home movie - the fact that this, for all its simplicity, followed some of the basic rules of music video presentation (such as holding the camera steady from time to time) assured it got coverage. In fact, it wasn't even in the Indie Top 10 for one of the Chart Show's Chart File Updates but they still played it, proof that the show's producers had a certain amount of faith in both the video and track.

The Dave Howard Singers recently reformed for shows in Toronto, and released a compilation of their EP tracks in Canada. I can only hope it works its way over to Britain soon - I really want a copy.

Second Hand Record Dip Part 28 - Mike Conway - Reign of King Sadness

Mike Conway - Reign of King Sadness

Who: Mike Conway
What: Reign of King Sadness (b/w "I'm Gonna Get Me A Woman")
Label: Plexium Records
When: 1968
Where: Reckless Records, Soho (RIP)
Cost: 50p


I've said before that the reduced boxes and bins of your average second hand record store usually have a fair few sixties solo artists nesting amidst the novelty pop, three hit wonders and rejected promotional singles. The musical history books have been particularly poor at recording the comings and goings of these lone rangers unless they were folk artists - and even then, there are some shocking gaps in everybody's knowledge.

If there's any information out there about Mike Conway at all, I can't find it. On the evidence of this recording, though, he sounds like a middle of the road supper club character who obviously didn't find enormous success. "The Reign of King Sadness" is a celebratory ballad about the end of bleak times which is really quite wearisome despite its good intentions, and it's the B-side in all its "You couldn't get away with that now!" glory that I'm really interested in. "I'm Gonna Get Me A Woman" is a bold declaration of intent where, with a joyful, brassy orchestral backing, Conway assures us "I'm gonna get me a woman, yes sir/ I think that each guy should/ but I ain't gonna marry no gal/ unless she can cook real good". The year might have been 1968, and such thoughts may have already become desperately passe and offensive to some, but the mainstream of pop carried on churning out these feminist baiting lyrical corkers for years to come (as also evidenced in Moments and Whatnauts' hit "Girls" in the seventies). There's a bounce to "I'm Gonna Get Me A Woman" I find enticing, and a distinct tone of wrongness about the lyrics which seems amusing now. The confidence in Conway's voice is a noise to behold - you can imagine him skipping down the street singing the song.

What became of the chap is anybody's guess. A search around the Internet reveals that this man here is a sixty year old singer from South Wales, which would seem to be about the right age, but there seem to be multiple Mikes in circulation, including an Indy racing car driver, a voiceover artist and musician based in the States, and the manager of Australian kid-pop band The Wiggles. Place your bets, please.

Of equal interest is the production credit for David Balfe, which I can only assume isn't David Balfe out of the Teardrop Explodes unless he was some kind of studio prodigy, and the fact this came out on Plexium Records, a very early independent label which failed to take on the might of the majors, but is now extremely collectible. Judging by the catalogue number, this looks like it may have been their first release.

1 March 2009

Denim - Novelty Rock

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Label: Emidisc
Year of Release: 1997


"We've not been going very long/ we've only written one good song/ here it is, we will play/ it's the best song that we've got it's called/ INTERNET CURTAINS!/ Now we've got ourselves a hit/ 'cos Chris Evans played it/ every day, on his show/ I thank the Lord for a song called/ INTERNET CURTAINS!"

When Lawrence Hayward broke up Felt after ten years and ten albums, all eyes were on him for the next move. Felt had specialised in making a very unique and occasionally genuinely beautiful kind of alternative pop, all of which remains on catalogue to this day (so will never be uploaded to this blog). The twists and turns they took, however, confused even their biggest fans, producing instrumental jazz tinged albums as well as moments of tranquil wonder such as "The World is as Soft as Lace", and Bob Dylan influenced low budget, high treble indie pop like "Ballad of the Band". Not all of it was great, but it was at least never anything less than interesting, and when they hit their peaks, by God, they left you wondering why they were simply a "cult band". Go away and buy "Primitive Painters" now if you're wondering what I'm talking about. All bands should be kept on a long leash if it allows them to achieve similar sparkles in the long run.

When Denim finally emerged in the nineties, Lawrence appeared to have spent some considerable time contemplating how terrible and unkind the eighties had been, and his new band seemed to be suggesting that we'd all be much better off pretending the decade never happened. He hooked up with ex-members of the Glitter Band, produced odd promotional items such as guitar plectrums shaped like the logo for the Bell record label (home to glam rock and bubblegum pop for most of the much-maligned seventies), wrote songs such as "I'm Against The Eighties", and produced a debut album in "Back in Denim" which, whilst imperfect, overflowed with ideas and amidst its kitsch leanings appeared to be making some heartfelt points. Plenty presumed that it was a one-off project and he'd move on to some other idea - however, this was not to be, and further work followed.

As the nineties progressed, Denim appeared to be getting less and less consistent, and whilst their "Denim on Ice" album isn't wholly bad, the straitjacket of the concept did seem to be taking its toll on Lawrence. Felt could be anything and everything they wanted to be - Denim were always in thrall to glitter and glam and novelty pop, and it was hard to see what further points they could make.

Shortly after that album was put out, an album of "odds and sods" was issued, namely "Novelty Rock". Featuring "Mouldy old songs and some new 'uns", "Novelty Rock" doesn't pretend to be anything other than a compilation of B-sides, one-off singles and a few new ideas. Almost all the tracks have a cheap and cheerful novelty shine to them, like two minute Internet virals given their own audio space (in fact, the opening track "We Are The New Potatoes" - one of the most ridiculous and hilarious things ever committed to vinyl - eventually became the soundtrack to one). For a compilation, it has a surprisingly consistent sound of cheap synth noises - I'm sure the Commodore 64 SID chip is in full effect in numerous places here - repetitive catchphrases, and, as detailed in the lyrics quoted above, some fairly sharp satire.

The central problem with the whole idea, and possibly the point too, is that you'll never bother to play it more than a few times before tiring of the jokes and the relatively limited arrangements. It is throwaway, but I doubt it was ever meant to be anything else.

So then - if you're thinking of using this album as a starting point for discovering about Denim, please think again. The debut "Back in Denim" is widely available and much more worthy. If you want a quick cheap thrill and a few chuckles, however, "Novelty Rock" is certainly worth a listen, and I don't think fans of Lawrence should look the other way either.

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Tracklisting:

1. The New Potatoes
2. On a Chicory Tip
3. Robin's Nest
4. Internet Curtains
5. Snake Bite
6. Ape Hangers
7. The Great Grape Ape Hangers
8. Ankle Tattoos
9. Tampax Advert
10. Supermarket (originally released on Ice Rink records under the name "Supermarket")
11. Running in the City
12. I Will Cry at Christmas