29 January 2011
Year of Release: 1970
Readers, when I promise you something, have you ever known me to let you down? I declared some time ago that I'd upload the third (and final) Windmill single for your collective attention, and here you go. It's done and dusted. Technically speaking, you could if you wished now click on the "Windmill" tag at the bottom of this entry and create a mini-album of all their available work.
Of all their releases, "Wilbur's Thing" is talked about in the most hushed tones as being their "definitive piece of popsike", but to be honest it's not as satisfying as "I Can Fly". Rather, it's a curious, strident cross between "Puppet on a String" and a "Sergeant Pepper" reject track, all circus horns and Europop chorus. Like most of Windmill's output, it sounds astonishingly dated for 1970, like something which would have slotted well on to the "Circus Days" series of compilation albums. And true enough, plenty of the content of those discs did stem from the seventies, but there's not a guitar solo or gutsy vocal in earshot here, just pure and simple toytown glee.
After this, the band's career regrettably came sliding to a halt after the lead singer Dick Scott tragically died in a car accident. The other members went on to form Tonton Macoute who took things in a much more prog orientated direction.
26 January 2011
Year of Release: 1987
According to the exhaustive biography on Creation Records "My Magpie Eyes Are Hungry For The Prize", this band were responsible for one of Alan McGee's many Larry David-styled tact-challenged moments. Shortly after signing The House Of Love to his label, he was sat having a post-contract drink with the boys and declared bouyantly that he had just secured the services of one of the greatest new bands in the country. The band all grinned contentedly, delighted by his faith in their work, only for their expressions to drop in horror as he finished his sentence with the words: "And they're called Blow-Up".
So this is further proof that even when McGee was doing the right thing (signing the House of Love who pretty much single-handedly turned the label's fortunes and media image around) he was still managing to simultaneously screw things up elsewhere, or at the very least suffer from a rather warped perspective. For indeed, it is hard to imagine a single year in pop's calendar when Blow-Up could ever have been deemed to be Britain's hottest talent. What they were, in fact - at least based on the recorded evidence we have available to us - was yet another jangly indie band with a sixties obsession, and Creation had entertained many of those from its earliest days onwards. Let's not get too dismissive of what was never actually a bad thing, however. "Good For Me" is neat, snappy, likable and breezy, from its buzzing sitar onwards through to its floating vocal harmonies, but ultimately sounds like nothing more than one of those pleasing but slightly flawed flop sixties records you find halfway through a "Rubble" compilation, albeit filtered through the prism of a twee indie-pop band. There was no particular reason why "Good For Me" would have succeeded in 1967, and even less of a reason twenty years on.
The jangly indie nature of this record shouldn't come as a major surprise, given that their vocals were handled by Nick Roughley, formerly of the tweetastic 14 Iced Bears. This also meant that, for all the paisley trimmings, there wasn't really enough progression apparent in the sound of this record to have really made McGee trip a switch, so why did he? Perhaps we'll never know. He has, however, since gone on record as saying that they were simultaneously "the best and worst band I ever signed", although he fails to qualify that statement with greater detail.
Blow-Up's stay on the label was really more of a stop-over in any case, as their first album "In Watermelon Sugar" was actually issued on Cherry Red, and they were dropped by that label after their second long player "Amazon Eyegasm" in 1991.
22 January 2011
Who: Joan Collins Fan Club (aka Julian Clary)
What: Leader of the Pack/ Jacques
Label: 10 Records
Where: Haggle Records, Islington, London
Julian Clary's name tended to be bandied around like Billy-O whenever the alternative comedy scene was referenced in the eighties. This is curious, as unlike many of his travelling bedfellows he didn't seem particularly politicised (unless you regard the very act of being a camp homosexual to be a "statement") and dealt mainly in the kind of audience member put-downs and double-entendres which wouldn't have been terribly out of place in the previous decade. His most controversial act - announcing that he'd been "fisting" the cabinet secretary Norman Lamont live at a comedy awards ceremony before the watershed - in fact isn't even really a joke, more of an absurd statement. The image of Clary engaged in rough, hot, sweaty sex with the great man-Badger cross-breed Norman is peculiar enough to be amusing, but if it weren't for the uproar and news headlines which followed the bogus announcement, it's doubtful anybody would remember it. Sometimes the lines which get comedians into the deepest, hottest water tend not to be their finest moments.
And talking of below-par moments... like a great many alternative comedians in the eighties, Clary didn't balk at the idea of being given a record deal, joining the likes of The Young Ones, Harry Enfield and Alexei Sayle into the novelty disc hall of fame. "Leader of the Pack" was a logical choice for the lad, having a camp undercurrent to its melodramatic tale of careless motorcyclists, but comes closer in quality to Jasper Carrott's "Funky Moped" in terms of end product. Plugged to death on television at the time, "Leader of the Pack" was still something of a flop, failing to completely capture the public's imagination. That it sounds exactly as you'd expect it to sound isn't necessarily a good thing. Clary can't really sing (and I'm sure wouldn't make any claims to be able to) the song's arrangement is a tiny bit slapdash, and the jokes ("He came from the wrong side of the town... well, what was the right side?") mostly sound more like sarcastic asides rather than well-considered lines. Clary seemed to bank on the fact that we as listeners hadn't already realised that "Leader of the Pack" was something of a ridiculous disc, and was now signposting its frilly failings for our collective benefits - which is a bit like doing "Seasons in the Sun" at karaoke and making comments such as "pur-lease" and "Oh really!" at the end of each questionable or over-the-top line. Who on earth is genuinely going to have an "Eureka!" moment upon hearing such insights? Is there anyone who genuinely wept upon hearing "Leader of the Pack" first time around? If so, would this single make them think "Oh, I feel rather soppy about the fact I got worked about that now?" It's doubtful. If Clary had wanted to really challenge people's preconceptions about the homo-erotic elements of mainstream music, he could have had much more of a field day with any number of eighties Heavy Metal singles, and I predict the end result would have been considerably more amusing if the disc was chosen carefully. It probably would also have caused as much upset as his Lamont comment.
As is so often the way with these comedy singles, the B-side is stronger. "Jacques" is an amusing tale about a cool, laidback lover of Clary's whose coolness thwarted the entire relationship. It's an endearing and minimal parody of French balladry and pop music which just about pulls it off. And if Julian happened to be reading this, I'm sure he'd have something to say about those last three words.
Sorry about the pops and clicks on these recordings, by the way. Again, there was some sticky substance on this record when I bought it. The last record I purchased to have gluey gum all over it was Rita's "Erotica", so if I were Julian Clary I'd be quite flattered by that "outcome".
19 January 2011
Year of Release: 1970
Well, it would seem that first impressions can be incredibly misleading - I had assumed that the Mike Berry behind the production of this single was the same Mike Berry behind the tribute to Buddy Holly and of "Are You Being Served?" fame, but apparently it's an entirely different songwriter and producer who has been covered in great depth over at the Purepop blog.
"This is the Road" is one of many late sixties/ early seventies singles which took the Lennon blueprint of creating a slogan-driven, foot-stomping song which tries to bulldoze you into submission with its incessant repetition. It actually manages to be a bit more commercial and perhaps almost as effective as a lot of early Lennon singles (and certainly more interesting than "Cold Turkey") and as such has been put on a few sixties collectors want lists. There's an anthemic quality to it which also isn't terribly shy of the work of the Gallagher brothers, two other Beatles imitators who, had they been around during the seventies, might have been tagged with the "late period popsike" description on a few occasions.
Oddly for a flop record during this period, the single was issued twice by Ember, once in November 1969 when it was backed with "Daybreak", then again in July 1970 as a re-recorded version with "She's Clean" on the flip side this time. My version is the latter one, and it's clear that somebody at the record label thought that this was an absolute, guaranteed hit single, and perhaps considered the November failure of the record as an example of some solid gold goodness getting lost in the pre-Christmas market. Whichever executive made the decision to re-issue the record must have been sorely disappointed when it failed for a second time, and the Back Street Band were seemingly not afforded any further chances in the studio.
15 January 2011
Label: Rough Trade
Year of Release: 1984
"This record contains music recorded in the years 1982 and 1983. The reason why much of it has not been heard before is that, in those far-off days, few had heard Microdisney, and many of those who had thought us worthless. My, how times change! Well, at least they've changed enough to permit release of this record, now that it seems plain that we are unlikely to sound like this again.
The earliest recording here is "Fiction Land". In a draughty converted gym in south Dublin one bleak February afternoon in 1982, Sean and I recorded this song with the aid of engineer Dave Freeley, the first helpful person we had encountered in a recording studio. Since the failure of our previous Microdisney (which had yet to be formally ended) we had been occupying ourselves with simple things - Sean with his quality control job at the locomotive factory, and me with research in the west of Ireland for a projected book entitled "Sex Among The Subnormally Intelligent". Gloom prevailed.
However, the results of this session proved encouraging enough for us to visit that gym on several other occasions that year, in between bouts of songwriting in the village of Cork, where we both lived. As we continued to work with Dave Freeley and Terry Cromer, "Love Your Enemies" (April 1982), "Helicopter of the Holy Ghost" and "Hello Rascals" (both July) saw increasingly effective use of the limited resources available to us. The opportunity to release the last two recordings on a single was afforded to us by our friend Gareth, who had been releasing his Kabuki Records in London shortly before.
So September 1982 saw us visiting London, distributing free copies of the new record to the influential people who were to provide us with a source of laughter and misgivings for some time to come.
Back in Cork, we set about scrounging the money to make another record. We organised a 'mixed media event' in a bourgeois theatre near the meat market, where the cultured house staff decided that neither drunken horticulturalists, vomit, little men with bleeding forearms, nor, indeed, death-threats to the manager appealed to their sense of 'artistic freedom'. Their loss. And our profit.
Armed with a little money, we set out for Dublin with a violinist and an additional female voice, in November. Since the gym had now closed down, we were forced to go, with Terry as our guide, to a tiny studio normally reserved for the making of radio adverts. In the course of this tense Sunday, when recording was often halted by the rumble of the roller-disco downstairs, we brought forth "Pink Skinned Man", a tribute to the middle class torture to which many people we knew had abandoned themselves totally.
In spite of our satisfaction with the work, it was to take two remixes (the successful one being effected at Divine Wood Missionaries' seminary studio late that winter) to make it ready for release on Kabuki in April 1983. The time between recording and release saw us withdraw further from the world, writing dozens of songs that were never to be recorded in a small dirty room in Cork, and emerging to play them in public occasionally, to the alternating apathy and amusement of the miniscule "listening public" of Ireland.
The most recent recordings here are "Michael Murphy", "Pretoria Quickstep" and "Patrick Moore Says You Can't Sleep Here". These were recorded late in June 1983, only days before we fled forever this country which was turning us into cretins. As usual, the location was odd - an eight-track living room, on the edge of a forest in the hills of west County Cork. So was the purpose - provision of a soundtrack for a commercial drugs education video which was to be made by the media artist Michael Murphy. But the video was never made, due to the dubious motives and "morality" of the Irish state services, and the music was not used. By then, we were in another country, receiving excruciating lessons on the value of self-esteem.
So here it is - music of such potency that it could make Zola Budd, the Springbok Speedball and "British Citizen", dash back to her Daddy's kraal in Bloemfontein (hope she's in time for the lynching luncheon). Such light, I tell you, cannot be hid under a disconnected phone forever!
Some of you (the Freemason pederasts, for instance) may be a trifle confused or even annoyed by the packaging and name of this record. For all your dumb coyness, I don't think you need to be told. Just don't go anywhere, don't call anyone. Bastard."
("Love Your Enemies" was originally issued under the name "We Hate You South African Bastards")
Well... I'm not usually one for reproducing sleevenotes verbatim on this blog in lieu of actual analysis of the records, but in this particular case, Cathal Coughlan paints a much more vivid and honest picture of the process behind these tracks than 700 words of my own are likely to do.
If you get the impression that the recording process behind many of these sounds as if it might have impacted on the quality of the tracks, you may not be far wrong. Unlike their later material for Rough Trade, a lot of this work sounds uncertain and rushed, slightly muddy and mixed on the hoof (their later independent material would also be recorded under trying conditions, but the key difference is that it isn't possible to actually hear their struggles on those records). Coughlan and O'Hagan's songwriting also has yet to develop its full potential, and whilst there are unquestionably some strong tracks on here - "Pink Skinned Man", for instance, is a maudlin single which sounds closest to what Microdisney eventually became - it's an uneven journey. In particular, the soundtrack offerings are atmospheric and may have worked well in conjunction with the final drugs education film, but as standalone pieces they seem a little insufficient.
Or, in short - this isn't the place to start if you're interested in finding out more about Microdisney, and you'd be better off beginning with a download of "The Peel Sessions", "The Clock Comes Down The Stairs" or "39 Minutes". If you're an existing fan, however, or even have managed to become a fan through this blog, it plugs some gaps and highlights an interesting point in their development. The retitled reissue on Revola in 1996 (from which this version stems) also comes with the bonus of the studio versions of "Loftholdingswood", "Teddy Dogs" and "464" which originally appeared on the brilliant "In The World" EP, and all three of those tracks are reason enough to download the album.
(Sorry - this album is commercially available again on iTunes, Amazon and other sites besides, so I've disabled the download link).
1. Helicopter of the Holy Ghost
2. Michael Murphy
3. Love Your Enemies
4. Fiction Land
5. Pink Skinned Man
6. Patrick Moore Says You Can't Sleep Here
7. Hello Rascals
8. Pretoria Quickstep
10. Teddy Dogs
12 January 2011
Update: I'm afraid I've had to remove the download link to this one, though feel free to read about the contents below if that's what grabs you.
Whilst I’m not in the habit of making New Year’s resolutions, it did occur to me that it’s been an absolute age since the last “Left and to the Back” sixties compilation. At various points in 2010 I did sit down and try to pull one together, but suffered the same problem that’s plagued many a compiler or DJ – once you’ve pulled several hours worth of old material together, it’s hard to know where to go from there without scraping the bottom of the barrel.
The break has obviously been beneficial, as in that time I’ve stumbled upon all sorts of goodies, and I think what I’ve pulled together is one of the best homebrew compilations there’s been on this blog. It is rather more chirpy and popsike than the others, so if there’s a theme at all then that’s probably it; but as ever, the main intention is just to put together (or ‘curate’ if you’re feeling rather precious) a lot of music which hangs well in the same space for reasons which can’t always be easily defined without using the defensive phrase “Look, it just works, all right?”
As always, the cover “art” (above) is truly rubbish, being some “soothing” moisturizing cream which you wouldn’t necessarily realize was moisturizing cream unless I told you first. If anyone wants to come up with a better sleeve, let me know, and if you submit a better example with the same title I’ll be indebted to you, and easily guilt-tripped into return favours.
Note - sorry. This is no longer available for downloading.
1. Peter Thorogood: Haunted (Pye – 1968)
Given the dominance of Blaikley and Howard on this blog at present, it would be tempting to claim that the compilation kicks off with a project of theirs entirely deliberately – but the main reason is simply that this has become a serious psychedelic collectible over the last ten years, and it’s not difficult to hear why. Whilst the identity of the one single wonder Thorogood remains shrouded in mystery, “Haunted” is a wobbly, wistful thing of wonder, with an astounding violin-driven hook. Truly the kind of British sixties record you would have thought would have been dug out long before its present revival.
2. O’Hara’s Playboys – The Ballad of the Soon Departed (Fontana – 1967)
This Glasgow based outfit were led by saxophonist John O’Hara, and whilst some of their tracks allowed him to root and toot to his heart’s content, this is a rather more straightforward beat offering, and none the worse for it. Veering into mod territory, this is a great single whose hook may have been too subtle to make an immediate impact at the time.
3. Sun Dragon – Five White Horses (MGM – 1968)
Following the break-up of a band who were known variously as Sands (of “Listen to the Sky” infamy), The Army or The Others, their rhythm guitarist Robert Freeman and bass guitarist Ian McLintock became the duo Sun Dragon. A quickie cover of “Green Tambourine” was released by the pair in an attempt to take the wind out of the sails of the Lemon Pipers’ original in the UK, but only managed to climb to number 50 in the charts before being almost entirely forgotten about. “Five White Horses” was their final single, and is an effects-laden piece of slightly haunting pop about the sinking of an over-laden Chinese ship.
Jon Laden, Ian Paice and Ritchie Blackmore were present on the eponymous album they released, but it’s not clear whether all three are present on this effort.
4. Robbie Burns – Exit Stage Right (Spin – 1967)
The three lions of pop The Gibb Brothers took a break from writing hit singles of their own and dining on the fresh carcasses of wildebeest in 1967 to pen this effort for fellow Australian Robbie Burns. An insistent, nagging Beatlesy riff stamps its way right through this track, and it’s good enough to make you wonder why they didn’t bother to keep it for themselves.
5. Bamboo Shoot – The Fox Has Gone To Ground (Columbia – 1968)
The late sixties saw “popular music” as the public knew it begin to split and fragment into two distinct camps – the mainstream and the underground. Whilst there’s no conclusive record of this, it’s tempting to think of The Bamboo Shoot as one of the first acts to become simultaneously blessed and cursed with the “John Peel band” tag. He seemed to be the only DJ who was interested in their work, playing this track eight times on his show. Eventually, the BBC simply banned it outright, believing it to be filled with drug references, and even his support was forced to cease.
The band never released another single, and continue to insist that there are no references to illegal substances in the record. As I’ve never heard any myself, it’s hard to understand quite what Auntie Beeb were getting so tetchy about. “We don’t understand what they’re on about, so we’d better ban it” seemed to be the sole reasoning behind their act.
6. Sunchariot – Firewater (Decca – 1973)
Cheekily stolen from the “Purepop” blog for the benefit of this compilation – where I think it fits in rather well – “Firewater” is a rather condescending (some would say offensive) overview of Native American life, but is nonetheless backed with pounding rhythms, disorientating echoing effects and high level silliness. The identity of the band remains unknown.
7. New York Public Library – Got To Get Away (MCA – 1968)
An absolutely brilliant track from this Leeds outfit, which focuses on the topic of backwater town ennui and entrapment long before it became the bog-standard theme of many an indie fop. The frustration sounds genuine enough (did they hate Leeds that much, or was it a piece of fiction?) and the vocal harmonies and the hooks in the chorus create something which sounds like it should have been a proper hit. Clearly it was not to be.
8. Darwin’s Theory – Daytime (Major Minor – 1968)
Please see here for a full explanation of this track.
9. The Spectrum – Music Soothes The Savage Breast (RCA – 1968)
The flipside of their opportunistic cover of “Ob La Di Ob La Da”, “Savage Breast” is rather more satisfying, being a pleasurable piece of light orchestral whimsy. Keith Forsey was a member of this act, who later wrote “Don’t You Forget About Me” for Simple Minds, and the theme to “Flashdance”. This is a far cry from both.
10. The Silver Eagle – Theodore (MGM – 1967)
I have absolutely zero information regarding the background of this particular single, which is an absurd satirical view of a hotel suicide attempt witnessed by a gathering pavement crowd. “The chestnut man is marching down to make a sale or two/ followed by the ice cream vendor” the band inform us cheerily. This is toytown psych with a very bitter pill in its belly.
11. Peter and Gordon – Uncle Hartington (Capitol – 1968)
By the time Peter and Gordon issued their final album “Hot Cold and Custard” in 1968, nobody was really listening anymore. Perhaps that’s why that particular album is their most eccentric issue, taking in obsessions which usually only troubled the minds of the most disturbed folk singers. “Uncle Hartington” is about a tobacco stinking elderly relative the duo inform us is a royal pain in the rear, although he sounds pleasant enough to me.
12. Nick Garrie – Wheel of Fortune (DiscAZ – 1969)
Nick Garrie’s career has recently returned from the wilderness and he has recorded tracks with Norman Blake out of Teenage Fanclub for his album “49 Arlington Gardens”. However, it was this track which seemed to set the ball rolling for him again when it appeared on the “Circus Days” compilation. An exploration of one man’s death at a Great Yarmouth funfair, it’s a lovely piece of pop from a man who would later go on to support Leonard Cohen on tour.
13. Tidal Wave – Spider Spider (RCA – 1970)
Tidal Wave were a South African band, and “Spider Spider” managed to climb into their native country’s top 20 in 1970, whilst seemingly being largely ignored elsewhere. It’s a screeching piece of powerful orchestral psychedelia which deserved to find more pairs of ears abroad.
14. KG Young – Spider (CBS – 1969)
Kenny Young has had a long and varied career as a songwriter, most famously penning “Under The Boardwalk” and eventually producing and writing hits for Fox in the seventies. “Spider” was one of his occasional solo ventures, and when it failed as a single, he quietly gave it to Clodagh Rogers to put on a B-side – which you can hear here (if you haven’t already).
15. Dave Clark Five – Concentration Baby (Columbia – 1967)
On the B-side of the frankly dreary ballad “Everybody Knows” lies this little garage styled stormer, which finds the Tottenham quintet sounding rather more like The Monks than they ever would at any other phase in their career. Admittedly, this isn’t the same thing as saying they sound exactly like The Monks, but surely even vague parallels are entertainingly unlikely?
16. St Giles System – Swedish Tears (Philips – 1968)
St Giles System hailed from the Netherlands, but beyond that I have very little information on them. “Swedish Tears” is a bit of a psychedelic stormer, though, alternating between compelling and aggressive R&B riffage and demonic, swirling organ based mayhem.
17. Rita – Erotica (Major Minor – 1968)
For the limited information I have available to me on this track, please read here. I still don't think it's Rita from "Coronation Street", by the way.
18. The Poets – Fun Buggy (Strike Cola – 1971)
Scottish cult act The Poets were roped into doing a promotional single for the long-forgotten Barr manufactured cola drink “Strike” in 1971. This was long past the point where I would have thought their efforts made a positive difference to supermarket brands, but as I’d wager more people have heard of The Poets these days than have heard of Strike, perhaps we shouldn’t worry too much. “Fun Buggy” is an advert in all but name, but it grooves along in such a neat way that it’s found itself sampled in all sorts of places since.
19. Peter and Gordon – I Feel Like Going Out (Capitol – 1968)
When they were at their most strident, Peter and Gordon could sound scarily close to an irate Mulligan and O’Hare. When they defiantly sang “I’m going to get my name in the papers”, one could only tremble slightly and wonder what for. Still, this song swings along so confidently and purposefully that it’s impossible not to be swept along with its intentions.
20. Tuesday’s Children – Mr. Kipling (Pye – 1968)
Tuesday’s Children were Barry Younghusband’s band before he went off to get involved in the marginally more successful Warm Sounds. “Mr. Kipling” seems to accuse everybody’s favourite corporate cake expert of being something of a man about town. Keep the slogan to yourselves, please.
21. Sons and Lovers – From Now The Sun Shines (Beacon – 1968)
For more information on this track, please read here.
22. Windmill – I Can Fly (MCA – 1970).
Please read the previous Windmill entries here and here for more information. I’ve finally managed to find a copy of their elusive third single “Wilbur’s Thing”, which means I need to find the stamina and inspiration to write a third blog entry for them in 2011.
23. Just William – Cherrywood Green (Spark – 1968)
Just William are the Midlands band Herbie’s People moonlighting under another name. “Cherrywood Green” is a jaunty piece of psych-pop which rested on the flip of their single “I Don’t Care”.
24. Blonde on Blonde – Country Life (Pye – 1968)
Welsh proggers Blonde on Blonde were always the bridesmaids, never the brides, playing the Isle of Wight festival and apparently being well received but never truly capitalizing on their presence at the event with a hit album or single. Whilst their album “Contrasts” is only really worth a dip if you’re more interested in the prog end of the musical spectrum, “Country Life” (the B-side to their sole Pye single “All Day and All Night”) is the kind of wistful, quintessentially English number many of their poppier peers could have dished out, but few would have done it so well.
25. The Gibsons – City Life (Major Minor – 1967)
Songs tartly dismissing London life seem to be more common than tracks actually praising it – the harshness and expense of the environment seems to have wounded many an aspiring musician. As I know nothing at all about The Gibsons it’s tempting to assume that “City Life” is an Alan Partridge styled rant about the place, but we’ll let them off because the rush of the lyrical content does sum up the mood of the capital very well.
26. Cyan – My Little Ship Louise (RCA – 1971)
The B-side of their Euro-hit “Misaluba”, Cyan’s “My Little Ship Louise” is a delicate McCartney styled ballad which I always knew I’d end up making the final track on a blog compilation one day. The whimsical nature of the song may alienate some, but I personally think it’s a perfect closedown tune.
Italian poppers Cyan were stars for a period of time across much of Europe, but never quite saw the same degree of success in the UK, where they remain relatively unknown.
8 January 2011
Year of Release: 1991
Like just about every so-called alternative scene in the world, from psychedelia to punk to grunge to Britpop, a lot of major labels got out their cheque books for various baggy bands so late that by the time their records were released, both the mainstream and indie markets had utterly lost interest. CBS and their sister label Epic were spectacular late-runners, dipping deep into their bank accounts for the likes of Liverpool's The Real People and Rain right at the point where other major labels were considering culling anything indie in its stylings off their roster. Ill-advised A&R matters clearly didn't stop at the banks of the River Mersey either, as Scottish indie-dance shufflers The Apples were also given a contract around the same time.
To cut Epic a tiny bit of slack here, there's a sound to "Eye Wonder" which points more towards Jesus Jones and EMF than it does The Roses or the Mondays. Those sampler pressing digits are clearly incredibly itchy indeed, and the angular guitar riffs chop in around some very bass heavy grooves rather than being a constant feature. It also has a slick, smooth production which, were it not for the subcultural nods around it, wouldn't sound out of place on a Jamiroquai single.
It mattered not, however, as "Eye Wonder" caused The Apples to join the small and unenviable league of bands who only managed one week at number 75 in the UK charts then never created a follow-up "hit". Judging by the sheer volume of copies I saw of this in bargain bins for months after its release, Epic were also patently overly optimistic about the quantities they needed to press. There are serious lessons here any A&R executive would do well to learn - but it doesn't stop "Eye Wonder" from being a pleasant piece of period work which quite a few baggy fiends do try to track down now.
5 January 2011
Year of Release: 1969
Sometimes when discovering new entries for this blog, I have to resist the temptation to take the gung-ho approach of "This is brilliant! I must upload it now, and damn the research! They can stay shadowy, anonymous figures for all I care!" If I did this, the blog would become one long ream of entries with no detail or information about the men and women behind the tunes, and wouldn't be half as enlightening.
Still, a line has to be drawn somewhere, and where Black Velvet are concerned, I'm going to give up for now. There surely must be some information about them somewhere, but their name calls up all manner of other unrelated nonsense when Googled, and the only definite fact I've managed to glean is that they had ten singles out on various labels between 1969-1975, plus one album (although I'm willing to concede that there may have been a private pressing effort released besides an official effort). Given their productivity, they must have had a fanbase and can't be anything like as 'under the radar' as the pathetic tally of information I have on them would suggest.
If I were in any doubt about that, the debut single "African Velvet" proves that they must have been an absolutely storming proposition live - there's no way a band of this quality would have been entirely ignored. From the foot-bothering bassline intro right through to the red-raw, screeching organ riff and the irrepressible vocals, this sounds like some kind of garage-funk, a heady cocktail of the best bits of American sixties dance music combined with the rough and ready aspects of the British mod movement. The central riff dominates the entire track, but the hypnotic, nagging insistence of the thing mean it never once becomes tedious. At the last couple of grooves before the record completely fades out, you can hear the band starting all over again, oblivious to any red or green lights in the studio, in love with their own mindless jam. It's one of the most gleeful records I've stumbled across in a long while.
The B-side "Watcha Gonna Do About It" is a rather more simplistic soul ballad, but with the same sandpaper-rough production treatment which makes it seem harder, more jagged and ultimately more lovable than many flipsides of this ilk.
Given my enthusiastic response to this record, I can probably be forgiven for going on e-bay and buying another single by them...
Year of Release: 1970
Sadly, "What Am I To Do" is good, but nothing like as good as their first shot. It sees the band back into ballad territory, and handling it competently - but it's the flip "Coal Mine" which will thrill fans of "African Velvet" the most, cooking up as it does a nagging little groove which is pretty hard to resist. The pounding piano riff undercuts another brilliant vocal performance, and the whole thing is so energetic it could probably resurrect the dead.
Moving into the area of rumour, I've managed to dig up the following possible facts about Black Velvet from unreliable sources:
- Despite essentially being a British funk band, they apparently played a few of the sixties underground nights
- "African Velvet" may or may not have been produced by Eddy Grant (the label offers no credit or guidance on this, and from the point of view of salesmanship one would have thought it would)
- Different mixes of some of the earlier tracks are apparently also in circulation ("African Velvet" was reissued in 1971, and this may well have been a remix rather than a straightforward re-release).
I will not pretend for one moment that this genre of music is my area of expertise, so please feel free to fill in any blanks you can.
1 January 2011
Year of Release: 1973
Hurrah, it's another Howard and Blaikley flop, and guess what - I know absolutely nothing about the band in question performing this work. All online sources suggest that this was their only single, which either means they were a session group created in the studio by the prolific hit-makers, or they were given a cautious water-testing one-single only deal by Pye. The latter option would have been unlikely for an act with high-profile industry figures behind them (albeit industry figures whose success rate was rapidly waning) so the former seems very likely.
There's no real reason why "Toody" couldn't have been a hit. It's another slightly bubblegum flavoured kick towards the Northern Soul circuit, far too modern, plastic and false to have been taken seriously by various Wigan disco floor dancers, but still having that influence clearly trickling through its radio friendly grooves. There's even a gravelly declaration of "What am I gunna do?" backed by a synthesised noise after the chorus which appears to have been influenced by the glam scene, making this for its time a modern, aware pop disc plucking the best bits from the seventies scene. During a good week it's likely this would have fared well in the chart rundown, and in no way is it a Howard/ Blaikley sixties throwback.
Despite its failure, I've come across quite a few copies of this in second hand stores in my time, which would suggest that it sold a reasonable amount in the London area at least. It's certainly no rarity, which makes me wonder if Pye over-estimated demand and pressed too many copies, or if it was one of those pesky records which bubbled under the charts for a very long period of time. You know where to send your answers to, should you have any.
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