21 August 2016

Big Cherry - Give A Dog A Bone/ Come In Bonzo

Label: Pink Elephant
Year of Release: 1973

Many of the novelty singles released during the 70s were a damn sight more entertaining and imaginative than the "adult" pop which otherwise got taken seriously. I've probably made a case for "Popcorn" by Hot Butter being a genuinely groundbreaking piece of work already on this blog, yet at the time it wasn't really seen as anything other than a quirky experiment.

No such claims can be laid at the feet of Big Cherry, unfortunately, who were clearly a bunch of session musicians summoned into a studio to record a two-sided single about dogs. Yep, you read it right first time. I'm not sure whose marketing idea it was, but it would seem that someone at the label felt that there was a significant gap in the market for canine-themed pop music, something I haven't really witnessed before except in the mockumentary "Best In Show".

Both sides of this record are classier than "God Loves A Norwich Terrier", actually, but it's the B-side that really overloads itself with minimal eccentricity. "Give A Dog A Bone" is chirpy, inoffensive pop music about owning dogs, whereas "Come In Bonzo" is sung entirely from the gruff perspective of the dog. "Find yerself a lamp-post/ with high-class sanitation/ Master gets an 'efty fine/ For barker's aggravation" growls the singer, while analogue synths bleep and squeak in the background and the band knock out something between a conga rhythm and a krautrock beat. It's probably the result of an off-the-cuff studio jam, but despite its sheer silliness, it's shockingly addictive. It also sounds so much like a Denim out-take that it's almost hard to believe it isn't one - does Lawrence have this in his collection, I wonder?

I have no idea who performed on this record, but if you're a guilty man or woman, please do step forward. It's a fine piece of work.

17 August 2016

The Sundowners - Dr. J. Wallace-Browne/ Love Is In The Air

Label: Columbia
Year of Release: 1968

This single was recommended to me by a 45Cat Forum user as being "one of the weirdest A-sides ever released".  I would have happily snapped up a copy even if somebody claimed that it was one of the weirdest singles of the late sixties period - that era saw endless gambles and risks being taken by panicking record labels who weren't sure which way the wind was turning or what kind of weird shit "the kids" were presently into. But ever? Here, have my bank account details and take as much money as you want, sir.

In reality, it's not actually as off the wall as I'd hoped, but it's still pretty damn unusual. What The Sundowners appear to be trying to produce here is the kind of warped music hall inspired pop much beloved of the psychedelic period, and where they actually land is somewhere between The Scaffold and The Kinks at their most deranged. The band begin by singing about "Dr J. Wallace-Browne's confidence capsules" which "pick you up when you're down" (How very nineties of them - Prozac hadn't even been invented yet!) then eventually the entire track breaks down into the kind of brass-led pub tra-la-laing session much beloved during album interludes by Blur during "Modern Life Is Rubbish" and "Parklife". How anyone thought this would be a hit at the time is a 24 carat mystery, and copies are actually staggeringly hard to come across, which would seem to suggest that it wasn't a remotely popular purchase at the time.

To add to the bafflement, the flipside "Love Is In The Air" is very straightforward sunshine pop, which makes me wonder if there was some kind of mistake at the pressing plant and it was supposed to be the A side. 

We've already talked about The Sundowners once before on this blog, of course - here we talk about the less perplexing, but still rather unusual, "Gloria Bosom Show". You can get a bit more information about the history of the band in that entry. 

15 August 2016

Indie Top 20 - The Blog

In a move I'm hoping is going to be more of a joy than a burden, I've started a blog about the history of the largely forgotten "Indie Top 20" series, and the bands that featured on it. This series was a huge part of my teenage years, and it struck me that while there are any number of blogs online looking at the "Now That's What I Call Music" and "Hits" compilation LPs, this was my chance to write about my own experiences further out on the margins (or further into the safer orthodoxies of guitar-based pop, depending on your point of view).

If you fancy joining me, the blog is here. Please link back and spread the word if you can. 

14 August 2016

Reupload - Dex Dexter - Another Car, Another Car Crash/ Car Trek

Label: Trade 2/ Island
Year of Release: 1996

Was there ever a music press hyped scene more mocked than Romo? We could talk about Lionpop if you want, but that really fits under the category of "vague and poorly named ideas which only one person ever mentioned". Romo, on the other hand, was a simple case of bad timing and under-prepared artists. Some of the bands involved, like InAura, would produce material which under the right circumstances may have hit home. The issue was that their travelling companions had barely formed five minutes ago, were still in the process of forging identities of their own, and seemed to have an abundance of confidence which belied the actual material gathered. A romantic modernist reaction against the excessive laddisms of Britpop made complete sense at the time, but many of the acts involved seemed like student performance art revue projects caught halfway through rehearsal time having fully designed the costumes whilst only managing to have written one page of the script. In the end, Britpop died, Pop returned, and that was that. You can't invent the future. Sigue Sigue Sputnik will tell you that.

For a scene so hyped it's also shocking that so few pieces of recorded work slipped out. Orlando were the kings, managing one album and a few singles. InAura had a great album ready which was rejected by EMI, and subsequently issued by an indie two years too late for anybody to notice or care. Boutique were allowed a couple of interesting singles before slipping under the radar.

Dex Dexter were even less noticeable, being given permission to put out this single - with one of the greatest titles for an A side of all time - before being forgotten about almost immediately. The curious thing about the end product is how it sounds more like a late nineties lo-fi British approach to indie than "Romo" per se. Each angular guitar riff, each cheap keyboard drone which sounds rather like Sweep the puppet squeaking in protest, and each novelty car horn noise makes the end product more akin to the Teen C frolics of Bis than any serious new movement. At the risk of using idle comparisons for a second consecutive sentence, it's true to say that the sharpness of early Adam and the Ants is equally apparent, but unlike Orlando or InAura, there's not much in the way of sweeping electronic melodrama going on here. Maybe if Dex Dexter hadn't boarded the Romo bus, they'd have stood a slight chance in the indie world outside.

Their demise seemed extremely swift. I was introduced to the lead singer Seb at the Water Rats in Kings Cross mere months after this single was issued, and asked him what they had planned next. "You know as much as I do," he grumbled, his flamboyant persona dropping almost immediately. There were to be no more releases, but if you want to put the expectations of some music critics into perspective, go away and read Taylor Parkes' review of a Dex Dexter live gig here. Seldom has hyperbole been less justified, but hopefully enough time has passed now for the single to be enjoyed for what it is without any weight of expectation attached.

10 August 2016

Mike Quinn - Apple Pie/ There's A Time

Label: CBS
Year of Release: 1969

When The Beatles career went well and truly nova, cash-in singles like Dora Bryan's "All I Want For Christmas Is A Beatle", The Carefree's "We Love You Beatles" and Bill Clifton's "Beatle Crazy" trickled out into the marketplace, all basking in the collective golden halo that surrounded the four moptop's heads. Anything with the word "Beatles" in it seemed to sell at least some units in those days, even if it was rush-recorded and did little more than hold a mirror up to the hysteria of the day and stated "Look!". Mediocre records that simply declared "I'm a fan of The Beatles too!" stood a slight chance of charting, as if the entire music industry had gone into some weird feedback loop and everything began with and returned to them.

By 1969, however, Beatles covers aside - and there were still plenty of those leaking out - records celebrating the existence of The Fabs had pretty much dried up, and we were left with this instead; a single gently poking fun at their silliness. "Apple Pie" had originally been co-written by Portsmouth comedy folkie Jon Isherwood, and issued on the flip of his single "Old Time Movies" in January that year. The single flopped (though was later compiled on a "Circus Days" compilation put out by Strange Things Are Happening) but was given a second lease of life by groovy Carnaby Street store owner and DJ Mike Quinn in September 1969. 

The basis for the track's gentle satire is obviously the huge debacle surrounding Apple in the late sixties. Opened up as a boutique-come-talent-funding-facility-come-technological-research-lab-come-record-label-come-hippy-commune-come-whatever-the-hell-was-in-the-Fabs-heads-that-given-day, the business gullibility of Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr became grimly apparent now Epstein was no longer around to keep watch. While many clothes and valuable items were stolen from the boutique by anarchic hippies, the Fabs apparently also funded some "interesting" artistic research schemes which went nowhere. The person responsible for most of this work gets highly litigious when they're mentioned anywhere, so for the sake of a quiet and uncomplicated life, let's just say that nobody can really remember whether The Beatles were promised a large quantity of Electric Paint from somebody working for them or not, or a Special Invisible Security Force Field - what we do know is that many rumours have cropped up over the years insisting that they did. And even if those rumours aren't true, they paint a very interesting picture of other's perceptions of the organisation at that time. There's no question that Apple leaked money from seemingly every department and squandered a large part of the fortune The Beatles had built up. Apple had always sounded like a tremendously utopian idea, and unfortunately it's these businesses - in the media, technology, the arts or elsewhere - which tend to hit Earth at a very rapid velocity, whatever the wealth or good intentions of their original owners. 

The track "Apple Pie" seems to ponder whether the artist (or more likely Jon Isherwood) should or should not have been signed to Apple Records. "Then I sit and ruminate/ cos Apples give you belly-ache/ so Apple Pie my friend I'll pass you by" sings Quinn against a marching and faintly Starr-ish backing track. It also features a crude impersonation of Paul McCartney saying "Do you want a chip butty?", gentle rib-poking about George's meditation, and turns the vague anti-establishment political concerns of The Beatles into something as cartoonish as Yellow Submarine. At the time, this probably felt very naughty indeed, but by today's standards we can only shrug and say "Well, fair enough. They meant well, but Apple was filled to the brim with bad planning and far too many people cutting slices of pennies and pounds".

In the end, "Apple Pie" acts as a dose of common sense being injected into the tail end of the psychedelic era, but it's not anything like as vicious as it could have been. Isherwood carried on as a comedy performer and remained particularly popular in the Portsmouth area, and Mike Quinn carried on with his fashion business. And The Beatles... well, we all know what happened there.

Sorry for the pops and clicks on these recordings. They have been, shall we say, quite well loved.