25 August 2015

Breaktime






















It pains me to say it, but unfortunately this blog won't be updated for a little while. I'm presently in the process of buying a house (and hopefully moving into the house, provided I can get the solicitors to agree on some nigglingly worrying details), and while I had hoped I could stack and queue enough entries to tide the site over during the process, there just aren't the hours in the day. So…

For the first time in two years, there's going to be a bit of a gap in the service. The last time I took a break in 2013 chaos absolutely fucking reigned. It was only intended to be 2-3 months long, but during the period I fractured my left elbow, moved house and had titanic battles with BT about getting back online again - apparently the simple job of just turning up to my house when they were supposed to and installing broadband was too tricky to cope with ("The man who is installing your broadband is just around the corner in his van, he'll be there soon…" "Er… I don't know why we said that. He cannot install your broadband today, he is nowhere in the area, yes, I would be shouting if I were you too, sir, I cannot blame you").

Here's hoping I get through this whole experience a bit more smoothly and "Left and to the Back" will be back online sooner rather than later. In the meantime, wish me luck. 

23 August 2015

Emerging - MIYNT, Communions and Have You Ever Seen The Jane Fonda Aerobic VHS?























I started the "Emerging" section of this blog largely to scratch a particular itch I had - while the purpose of "Left and to the Back" is unquestionably to focus on odd, brilliant and esoteric old vinyl finds, the reality is that my life and listening habits revolve just as much as around new material as old. Trouble is, the vast majority of artists I've featured in the section over the year sound as if they owe a large debt to music emerging somewhere from the period 1966-1995. In some cases, I could have presented them as bona-fide lost records from previous decades (and they'd probably have picked up more readers that way).

Stockholm's MIYNT, on the other hand, is brilliantly modern. Latest single "Civil War" (backed by the almost as brilliant "Nick Drake") is a complex, fascinating cobweb of melodic hooks married to a fiercely twenty-first century electronic production. Somewhere in the tangle lie elements of Boards of Canada, classic sixties pop, film noir soundtracks and contemporary EDM, but never once does it sound like it belongs to any one point, place or time. Luxuriously icy to the last and full of surprises, this is a single that deserves to be the launchpad for a major career - it makes this month's bunch of three-chord indie-pop merchants sound like the unadventurous chancers they are.



Staying within Scandinavia - and I haven't chosen to deliberately theme this entry, incidentally, it just turned out that way - Copenhagen's Communions are less bewitchingly futuristic, dropping post-punk basslines and angst-ridden eighties vocals into their otherwise crystalline pop, but "Forget It's A Dream" is a haunting and yearning track which sounds as if it should have been written long ago. It also achieves the remarkable feat of being so packed with ideas that the six-and-a-half minute run time of the song seems perfectly rational and reasonable. Not a note or riff wasted here.



There are also Finnish contenders this month in the shape of the ridiculously yet brilliantly named Have You Ever Seen The Jane Fonda Aerobic VHS, who take garage punk and leave out the guitars (bass excepted), instead choosing to develop their particular flavour of abrasive bubblegum pop with layers upon layers of analogue keyboards. It's unlikely to set the UK Top 40 aflame next week, of course, but "Family Man" is available now and makes it sound as if they're having more fun than anyone else on the planet, fizzing over as it does with energy and whirling keyboard sounds. It's a peculiar nugget for the 21st Century, and even if they never have another good idea, their time will have been well spent on this one.

19 August 2015

Reupload - The Lemon Men - I've Seen You Cut Lemons


Label (finally issued on): Polydor
Year of Release: 1969


I don't normally upload studio acetates on "Left and to the Back", simply because they're fragile, very difficult to come by and usually very expensive. If the opportunity arises to buy the issued or demo vinyl version instead of a rather crackly acetate, I'll take the former option despite the desirability of the latter. I like to own records I feel I can DJ with and play at my own leisure rather than ones I have to keep safe from the scuffing of needles and general wear and tear.

That said, I've never seen a finally released copy of The Lemon Men's "I've Seen You Cut Lemons" in my life, and whilst they (apparently) do exist, this acetate turned up for sale so cheaply that it was worth a punt. Frequently labelled by bloggers as a "psychedelic record", it's not so much psychedelia as an unbelievably peculiar ballad. A rich voiced singer croons a gentle melody about mental illness, using the unexpected lines: "You say that I'm mad and should be committed/ And you are the one who should be called sane""I've seen you cut lemons/ I've seen you burn children and leave them to die". Yes indeed. Perhaps to muddy the waters further, the song also contains the lines: "You ask me if I don't also cut lemons/ I do, but when I do I cry".

Context, as always, is everything. A Sean Connery directed play entitled "I've Seen You Cut Lemons" hit the London theatre stage around this time, and focussed on the relationship a writer had with his bi-polar sister. We'd need a script of the Ted Allan authored play in question to fully understand the significance of its title, and sadly I don't have one, but it would seem sensible to assume that this record was in some way a tie-in to the production, or at the very least a tribute to its efforts. Sadly, "I've Seen You Cut Lemons" was both a flop in London Theatre-land, closing after five nights, and perhaps inevitably a flop in the record charts as well. Surprisingly, it's story didn't end there, and the play formed the basis of the 1984 film "Love Streams" directed by John Cassavetes, which won the Golden Bear at that year's Berlin Film Festival.

As for the song itself, it's truly unorthodox, combining a brooding moodiness with peculiar Jimmy Webb styled lyrical lines and a relaxing lounge music backing - to use that lazy journalistic device of cross-referencing styles, it's rather like the theme tune to "Just Good Friends" colliding with the plot of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest". We will probably never hear its like again, and as for who the Lemon Men were... does anyone have any ideas? My guess would be that they were a studio band put together solely for this project, but I'd be happy to be corrected.

Oh, and as Bam Caruso always used to say on the back of those "Circus Days" compilation albums - you will be able to detect popping and crackling in this mp3, but it would be foolish to ignore this medium merely because of the fragility of earlier storage systems.

(Update - This blog entry was originally uploaded in April 2012. Since then I've been informed that Glen Mason is the vocalist on this disc, whose son's Godfather is none other than Sean Connery. He has recently had two CDs released entitled "All My Life" and "Shadrack and Rare Tracks". Thanks for letting me know, Chris Adams, and I hope Glen enjoyed hearing this track again). 

16 August 2015

The Road - She's Not There/ A Bummer



Label: Kama Sutra
Year of Release: 1968

If I'm not careful, this blog is going to get a reputation for continual uploads of cover versions of The Zombies "She's Not There". First we heard the synth pop version a mere few entries back, and now this is the much more antique 1968 cover, slightly wigged out and updated for the groovy set.

Rather than make this an entirely straight reinterpretation, The Road here have some fun with beatless, acapella interludes, long, drawn out and atmospheric electric organ build-ups, and generally faintly ambitious tinkering. It's not a total remodel in the mould of The Panic's version, and nor is it epic and bombastic in the manner of Colin Blunstone's fantastic re-recording under the name Neil MacArthur (something I would have uploaded here long ago were it not already widely commercially available) but it's picking up a few sixties club plays now purely for its swing. It's not hard to understand why.

B-side "A Bummer", meanwhile, gives Lieutenant Pigeon's flips a run for their money in sheer bizarre minimalism.

The Road consisted of brothers Jerry and Phil Hudson, Joe and Jim Hesse, Nick Distefano, and Ralph Parker. They hailed from Buffalo and formed as The Mellow Brick Rode (a much better name, in my view) in 1967. "She's Not There" just narrowly missed a Billboard Hot 100 place, and would perhaps have performed better had the band's manager organised a widespread US tour and promo package for them - but apparently these plans fell through. Rumours have since abounded about his gangster/ mob connections, and there's an interesting article with the group on this website that tries to complete the picture.

The Road managed two LPs - the eponymous "The Road" in 1969, and "Cognition" in 1971 - before disappearing. They still occasionally reform to perform on the club circuit.





12 August 2015

Bill Kenwright - Tiggy/ House That Fell On Its Face



Label: MGM
Year of Release: 1969

Bill Kenwright CBE is a man who has beavered away for many decades in entertainment, a name as likely to pop up in the background as well as the foreground of popular culture. During the late sixties just before this single was issued, he was busy playing the Coronation Street character Gordon Clegg, who ended up being woven in and out of the soap's plots over the next few years whenever the man's availability would allow. Prior to that - and perhaps unbeknownst to many viewers - he had a moderately successful singing career in the clubs and a number of singles were issued.

To say "Tiggy" is an unexpectedly epic example of his work would be an understatement. It starts with an urgent morse code riff, flows neatly into an urgent sounding verse then an epic, steamrollering chorus - like "Eloise", the track tries to slap you into submission, with all the fire alarms activating and water jetting down from the emergency sprinkler system. Whoever "Tiggy" was, Kenwright was manically keen to get her attention, though I'd personally have been a little afraid; but nobody can deny the overpowering first impression the track makes. It's a testament to producer Eddie Tre-Vett's usual skills in creating a powerful yet considered racket when needed, and it's somewhat surprising this didn't manage to at least become a minor hit.

The B-side "The House That Fell On Its Face" is also of interest to aficionados of popsike, being penned by producer Eddie Tre-Vett's boy wonder John Pantry. In total contrast to the A-side, it's one of Pantry's delicate, mournful pieces about a disintegrated relationship, closer to "Glasshouse Green Splinter Red" than anything by The Factory. Kenwright appears to be doing an impersonation of Pantry's vocal style throughout, suggesting that it may have been quickly recorded after hearing a rough demo.

Kenwright is yet another one of the lucky sods on "Left and to the Back" whose career we really don't have to examine too closely in terms of what might have been. He became a producer of many successful West End musicals (notably "Blood Brothers" and "Scrooge - The Musical" as well as the "Joseph and his Technicolour Dreamcoat" tour) and is the present Chair of Everton football club. Besides that, he runs his own record label (Kenwright Records), and is married to actress Jenny Seagrove. Having achieved more in one lifetime than most people could deem possible, I doubt he's much bothered about "Tiggy" failing to chart in 1969.





9 August 2015

Reluctant Stereotypes - Confused Action/ School Life



Label: WEA
Year of Release: 1980

Coventry's ska scene was big news by 1980, with The Specials and the Two Tone label propelling many records towards the charts and Top of the Pops slots. As always, for every winner there had be at least a few losers, and indeed The Reluctant Stereotypes, despite their major label deal and sharp looks, tend to be tipp-exed out of most written histories of the revival.

A quick spin of "Confused Action" hints towards why they might have sidelined. While most of the popular output of the time had grit and edge and rattled along at a breakneck pace, this single ebbs and flows smoothly, topped off with clean, sweet and considered vocals. Nonetheless, despite this it's an enjoyable record and - even if it doesn't sound like a top ten hit - has more than enough charm to see it through.

The B-side is much more curious. "School Life" muses on the usual obstacles of a schoolboy's existence, but ends on some rather Derek and Clive-esque musings on peadophile schoolteachers. One to file away carefully in the "You probably couldn't get away with it nowadays" box.

While the Reluctant Stereotypes never managed a hit, Paul Sampson later went on to join Coventry indie stars The Primitives while Paul King went on to form the flamboyant 80s pop band King, who were an inescapable proposition in 1985. There's a huge article in the Coventry Telegraph about the Reluctant Stereotypes which reveals a lot more about their music and their history - if only local London newspapers bothered to go into such detail about the city's musical heritage…





5 August 2015

Epic Splendor - A Little Rain Must Fall/ Cowboys and Indians



Label: Hot Biscuit Disc Company
Year of Release: 1967

The Epic Splendor were formed from the ashes of the New York based act Little Bits of Sound, and we've already covered their excellent and supremely under-rated single "It Could Be Wonderful" elsewhere on this blog. They were signed to the short-lived (and million dollar funded) US Capitol subsidiary Hot Biscuit and this was the first single the label issued.

"A Little Rain Must Fall" is generally treated with either huge enthusiasm or shrugging indifference by a lot of collectors these days, being regarded as a lost Northern Soul floor-filler by some commenters, or a slice of summery, breezy bubblegum by others. For my money, it's a beautiful, life-affirming little disc and I'd actually spent the last few years looking for a copy at a reasonable price. The lyrics are filled with gentle picture poster philosophy, filled to the brim with observations about how a "little rain must fall" before we get to enjoy the sunshine, but it's delivered with such spring and zest, and such an uptempo light soul arrangement, that it does indeed mirror the heartbreak and the passion necessary for a top northern soul spin. Its slightly gentle production may doom it for some in this respect, though - I can fully understand how it won't (and doesn't) win the rubber stamp of approval from everyone.

The B-side "Cowboys and Indians", on the other hand, is sneery outsider psychedelic pop about the marginalised life of a man with an alternative lifestyle, at total odds with the top side. "I suppose the way I live would blow people's brains/ but then the way they live has always blown mine" sneers the vocalist, bringing back images of an "Easy Rider" character on the dusty highway. 

Whatever you expect from sixties music, either the A-side or the B-side is bound to be a winner for you. 

Aside from this and "It Could Be Wonderful", there were no other releases from the Epic Splendor. "A Little Rain Must Fall" started out seeming like a likely hit, but in the end only managed to climb to number 87 in the Billboard Chart. An injustice, but the late sixties were flooded with so many astonishing records that it was far from the only one. 





2 August 2015

The Colours - The Dance/ Sinking



Label: Loco
Year of Release: 1983

While the early eighties are generally remembered as being a time of enormous musical progress - be that through groundbreaking developments in synthesised sound, increased glossy production values, or the more interesting ideas in prog getting absorbed into the more commercial strain of New Pop - it was also a time of enormous revivalism or adaptions of pre-existing sounds. And certainly, out there in indie-land, it was considerably easier for a band with basic, stripped back ideas to get the sound they wanted out into the shops than for an act with aspirations towards the big, expensive Trevor Horn sound. Away from the Woolworths racks, the basic guitar pop sound often reigned. 

The Colours, then, hailed from Newport and were one of many, many bands during the period to clearly be inspired by the sharp, snappy immediacy of the mod revival sounds going on around them. "The Dance" is actually a very smart example, too, having a kicking edge to it that all the best examples of that period did as well as a highly memorable chorus. Their restricted studio budget may even have actually helped keep a necessary roughness to this. There's a firm Dexys edge here, as well as a confident, aggressive swagger. 

This was their only single, and it's very tricky to find any details about their full line-up. However, apparently the Parfitt in the "Parfitt-Rose" songwriting credit is Richard Parfitt who went on to join the moderately successful The Truth, leading to The Colours demise. Perhaps more notably, he was also a founding member of cult nineties indie band 60ft Dolls, and once they split became a session musician and songwriter, both performing for and penning numerous tracks for fellow Welsh popstar Duffy. In fact, Duffy credits Parfitt with discovering her and "changing her life". 

This really isn't the usual "Left and to the Back" sob story, then, and if this record hasn't really been re-released anywhere since it's possibly because one of its main writers has bigger fish to fry. Still though, I like it a great deal and I think it deserves more attention than it's had. Somewhere amidst the brass and bounce you can actually hear a slight 60ft Dolls element as well, I swear. No bad thing.