16 April 2014

Reupload - Ron Grainer Orchestra - Tales of the Unexpected/ Simon Templar

Label: RK
Year of Release: 1979

The always entertaining, never predictable blog "Out on Blue Six" mentioned a perplexing phenomenon in a recent entry, that being the tendency of record labels to release bizarrely souped up versions of TV theme tunes. Whilst this didn't always apply with every release, and as such we were thankfully denied the novelty disco version of the "Minder" theme by the Dennis Waterman Band, people still frequently meddled with perfectly good work where there was no need.

Take the "Tales of the Unexpected" theme tune as an example. Admittedly it would make for a rather short single kept as it stands, but what already exists is a classic atmospheric burst of eeriness which is immediately recognisable to everybody of a certain age. Whereas this, on the other hand... is a slightly chirpy version, replete with early synthesiser noises and funky guitar soundz. I don't know what the majority of people purchasing the theme tune from their local Woolworths were expecting, but by Christ, I'll be betting it wasn't this (which may help to explain why it didn't chart).

The only possible bonus I can see from this arrangement is that some of the synth noises sound slightly like "Separations" era Pulp, so you could, if you so desired, amuse yourself by doing a Jarvis Cocker monologue over the top of the record, softly waffling on about an unexpected night time visit by a shadowy lady, who was probably Martha up the road who worked with Denise at the local outlet of Threshers, and you know because you observed her body under her tight black dress whilst she was walking Joe to school the other day... something like that, probably.

(This pithy blog entry was originally uploaded in November 2008. I did tons of really snappy entries back in those early days… I have nothing new to add about this record, apart from to say that somewhat confusingly, a single on the same label featuring the original theme tune is out there as well. This particular version is like the booby prize for crate diggers everywhere. Oh, and "Out on Blue Six" is no more, unfortunately, but Tim Worthington's Newsround is a perfectly good substitute). 

13 April 2014

The Beat Merchants - So Fine

Label: Tower
Year of Release: 1965

Here's a peculiar case of a very widely available obscurity, a working example of the longstanding rule of DJs everywhere - "Always check the B-side". In 1965 Tower Records released Freddie and The Dreamers chirpy tune "You Were Made For Me" in the USA. With North America's fondness for British eccentrics at the time and Freddie's irrepressible barmy charm and the song's whistle-worthy melody, it was sure to sell by the absolute bucketload. One small problem, though - in a peculiar contractual arrangement, Tower had only bought four tracks by the band, and wanted to hold back as much of their other goodness for the singles market as possible. The B-side was therefore something of a blank slate.

Still, not to worry. Tower simply dug through the British beat archives at EMI until they stumbled on "So Fine", a UK flop for the Beat Merchants. Including the tag line "Introducing the Beat Merchants" on the label of the flip to give the impression that they were paving the way for some more future British stars in the USA, not only was a worthy obscurity made easily available to collectors at a much later date, it also netted the group a cool £1,000 in royalties (which sounds laughable now, but was a big haul for a broke band back in the early sixties).

Despite all the promise of the "introducing" tagline, however, Tower never did issue another Beat Merchants single Stateside, which is a shame. Consisting of guitarist Ralph Worman, bassist Chris Boyle, rhythm guitarist Gavin Daneski and Les Rogers on drums, and based in Horsham in the UK and well-known and loved on the south coast club circuit, The Beat Merchants were solid purveyors of pounding R&B. Beginning their lives as The Hustlers and focussing mainly on an instrumental repertoire, their lives changed when they performed a local gig slot supporting The Rolling Stones. Blown away by the group's raw sound, things were never the same afterwards, and they changed their name to The Merchants and also altered their direction to blues orientated beat.

Within a surprisingly short space of time, record companies began to get interested in the band, perhaps sensing that they may be the next Stones. Decca and Columbia were both chomping at the bit, and mailed them contracts at exactly the same time - against the group's wishes, Columbia ended up being their home, where they issued two singles before parting company. "Pretty Face" is chaotic, ramshackle, high-tempo blues in the best sense of the phrase and probably their finest released work. The follow-up "So Fine" is rather more controlled and subdued, and apparently wasn't much loved by the band at the time. Don't let that put you off, though. It's still got a swagger and a stomp to it which makes it a pleasure to listen to.

Suffice to say, none of this really amounted to anything much, although it probably made The Beat Merchants the wealthiest obscure sixties group in Britain for a brief period. Not long after these disappointments the group returned to regular day jobs in Horsham and that was that - but "Pretty Face" and "So Fine" are well enough remembered to still generate a lot of discussion online to this day. I also can't help but wonder whether they would have achieved greater volumes of success akin to The Yardbirds had Columbia stuck by them for a bit longer.

8 April 2014

Identified Flying Objects - The Kytes (and Eddie King)

At least since the eighties when they were first compiled on to the "Rubble" compilation series, The Kytes have been something of an enigma. As stated in the liner notes for Volume 10, The Kytes did indeed once act as Peter and Gordon's backing band on tour, but little more than that was ever revealed about them. This seemed something of a shame, as the slow hammond groove of "Running In The Water" and the mournful folk-pop existentialism of "Frosted Panes" were both early popsike discoveries for me personally, and doubtless many other people besides (A VG condition copy of "Running In The Water" sold for £64 on ebay last week).

I was absolutely delighted and surprised when ex-Kytes man Eddie King got in touch with me through the blog recently to fill in the blanks and explain the bands history, even including a few photos and mp3s of a solo single of his. With his permission, I'm reproducing his story below. 

(photo: Eddie King and Freddie Allen)

Originally we had a band formed at school in Bristol in around 1960 called Ricky Forde and the Cyclones. This consisted of 5 guys, Ricky, myself, Freddie Allen, Julian Bailey and Roger Jones, By the following year we were working 5 nights each week all over the South West and beyond and went to work in Hamburg in 1962/ 1963. As I am sure you know, a lot of Liverpool and London bands were working there then and it was really where the whole British 60's thing started, so we got to work with lots of guys who subsequently became very well known.

In 1963 the 5 piece split and I continued with Freddie and Julian as a 3 piece band and got booked in 1964 on the same show as Peter and Gordon at a big variety club in the North East ( these clubs were big then!). They had a record, 'World Without Love' which had just hit number 1 but they didn't have a backing band and were basically two guys sitting on stools with guitars. They asked us to back them so we told them "OK, if you stand on stage"! The upshot of this was that we became their backing band from then on.

(photo: Eddie King and Peter Asher on a bullet train in Japan)

I travelled all over the world with them for the next two years and played on all their records as well as recording with many other mainly 'Abbey Road' artists. The other two guys played in the backing band in the UK and Europe. During this time I released a couple of singles under my own name, no UK hits but had a number 5 in Japan!

So, in 1966 the work with them was slowing so the three of us tried a record together as The Kytes which was "Blessed/ Call me darling" (with Dave "Dobie" Gillis on bass). I can't remember how we signed to Pye but I think it was down to knowing some people there in A&R and just taking the record in.

"Frosted Panes" was one of my songs and was recorded at Pye studios. The B side was a song written by Roger Cook, an old friend from Bristol, who was responsible for Blue Mink. Roger was on the session and sang harmony on the track.

"Running in the Water" was, however, a different line up - myself, Julian on drums, John Peters on bass and Pete Robinson on hammond ( yes the guy who went on to be a prolific film score composer and who was Phil Collins keyboard player for many years). The B side was "End of the Day" which featured some cracking organ stuff.

From memory I think this line up did a few gigs, mainly London college venues and went our separate ways.

Sadly, Julian passed away in the 70's, Freddie Allen and Gordon Waller a couple of years ago. I spent a further 20+ years in the music business mainly as a session player and band leader and played with lots of well known acts over the years. I finally quit in 1990 and haven't worked as a musician since although I have a studio at home and still write stuff and have had a few TV sig tunes and a couple of commercials. By pure fluke, I received a (small!) half yearly payment yesterday for some of the 60's Abbey Road recordings- still amazes me after 50 years. I'm still in touch with Peter Asher who, as I'm sure you know, became a top producer and manager with James Taylor, Carly Simon and many others.

As for The Kytes, typical for the time, nobody ever received a penny even after the compilations which I recently discovered.

I asked Eddie King a bit more about his solo hit in Japan.

The record was called 'Always at a distance' released on Columbia.

When we arrived in Japan I didn't have any idea that it had been released there leave alone getting into the top 5. We hurriedly changed the show so that I did a 15 minute solo spot first half.

Important to remember that the only band to have toured there had been The Beatles several weeks before and Peter and Gordon arrived shortly after.

While we were there the office in London urgently wanted a B side for my next single which was to be 'I Wanna Love her so Bad', so we went into the Toshiba studio in Tokyo to cut a track. The studio was dire and the result sounded less than good. (Toshiba was an EMI subsidiary).  Against my will the cut was used as the B side on the next UK release.

Interesting maybe, the A side had The Breakaways and a younger than me bass player who got booked on the session called John Paul Jones - do your own research!

A total delight to hear from Eddie and finally resolve a long-standing mystery, and attached in the Box below is the solo single he mentioned above "I Wanna Love Her So Bad", which was an unknown piece in the Kytes jigsaw puzzle for me until last week.

If any other bands have spotted themselves on "Left and to the Back" and want to get in touch to plug any gaps, please do - and please don't think nobody is interested, because I certainly am, and plenty of other people read this blog who also enjoy having these riddles resolved. 

3 April 2014

The Delmonts - A Ra Chicera/ Sorry For My Jealousy

Label: Spiral
Year of Release: 1971

Oft sold as a "reggae rarity" online, this sounds more like a calypso record to my admittedly easily confused ears, but I'm happy to be corrected if I'm wrong. Whatever you want to classify it as, "A Ra Chicera" is a rum proposition, sounding like an upbeat meditation on the failings of human nature accompanied by the kettle drummers and trumpeters from the "Grandstand" theme.  "Well, there's nothin' wrong with the world/ it's just the people living in it" The Delmonts inform us seriously, before clarifying "And there'd be nothing wrong with the people/ if they'd stop to think a minute".  They're not far wrong, are they? "A ra chicera, chicca racca roney", they add. Nope, lost me there.

The Delmonts didn't seem to release many other records or evidence of their existence, but I can tell you that this was the first in a small line of releases on Spiral Records, who were owned by the British jukebox company Ditchburn.  Like their later releases, "A Ra Chicera" did not chart, but it turns up in quantities which suggest that either they manufactured loads in the hope of a hit, or it came close to success. Certainly there seem to be suggestions online that The Delmonts did some television promotional work for this single, which would have given it an inside shot. As it stands, their thoughtful meditations on charity and neighbourliness were lost on the British public, and that may account for the present decline in living standards. You tried, the Delmonts, you tried.

29 March 2014

The Heavyweights - Utterly Funky/ Shambala

Label: Speak
Year of Release: 1969

Back in the sixties, smaller British labels had a habit of releasing instrumental singles recorded by session musos.  The thinking must have been that while these records were highly unlikely to be large hits, they might be purchased by enough people to turn a reasonable profit.  Also, if they were dancefloor friendly or funky enough, they might even be picked up by the keener Friday or Saturday movers. 

The Heavyweights, rather than being a 'proper' group, appear to have been Spark's attempt to make a small bit of money from this game, and given how infrequently copies of this one turn up now, it seems they probably failed. That's a shame - the A-side is a neat instro track which sounds peculiarly like it could have been an eighties sit-com theme, while the B-side is somewhat strangely the funkier of the two, filled with heavy breaks and deep basslines. The incessant repetition and the backing vocals also give Julian Cope's "Sunspots" a run for its money.  That puffing flute riff dates the flip squarely in 1969, however, back when such things were considered momentarily to be future instruments of rock and roll. It also helps to give the impression that this is actually TellTale, the group from the children's TV series "Rainbow", having a bit of a party after a successful shoot.

In reality, The Heavyweights seem to have been a one-off studio arrangement with sixties songwriting cult psych legend Russ Alquist involved, along with ex-Ministry of Sound member Micky Keen. Once this track failed to chart, they wandered off to engage in other bits of work instead.