15 January 2017

The Vibrants - Something About You, Baby/ Danger Zone

Label: Columbia
Year of Release: 1967

Australian hitmakers often got a raw deal from global audiences in the sixties (and far beyond that period, actually). It didn't make much difference to the average A&R person in London, Paris, Los Angeles or Berlin whether an Aussie act had managed a top ten hit in the regional Sydney and Adelaide charts - unless the group were prepared to literally ship themselves over to a new country and tour properly and do promo there for a long time, they were a very distant and not particularly safe bet. The only real alternative market these bands had was the more accessible (but not exactly populous or profitable) New Zealand. 

It's largely for this reason that Australian hit compilations from bygone decades are a treasure-trove of mostly unheard and often great work. The smaller size of the Australian marketplace poses all sorts of horrible challenges to the British collector, too, as anyone who has ever tried to obtain a DJ copy of The Easybeats "Sorry" will tell you - it's an Australian hit, but finding a reasonably priced copy in the UK is almost as bad as hunting down a psychedelic rarity. 

The Vibrants here began life as the backing group for the singer Bobby James before he wandered off to form the Bobby James Syndicate. After that point, Geoff Skewes (organ), Terry Osmand (guitar), Terry Radford (guitar), Brenton Haye (sax), Jeff Gurr (bass) and Rick Kent (drums) forged their own way on the Australian gig circuit.

A few line-up changes later they managed to sign to EMI in their own country, and this, their second single, sold well enough to chart in Melbourne and a number of other Australian territories. It's a cover of the Holland-Dozier-Holland track which turns it into an - er - vibrant piece of mod-pop, close to the early Small Faces work in places, albeit with a bit less roughness around the edges. It was a big enough hit that it still features on the 4CD "Greatest Australian Singles of the 60s" box set released by Warner Music, but there's a YouTube clip below for anyone who wants to hear the track. It's propulsive and nagging, and if it had been issued by a British act would have been compiled on a sixties rarities CD here way before now.

The flip "Danger Zone" is another cover, which showcases how competently the band could recreate soul sounds - it's not difficult to hear how they must have been a huge draw on the Australian circuit. 

The group's line-up, always a fragile and constantly fracturing thing, meant that numerous members came and went throughout their lifetime, but the Vibrants (in name at least) finally called it a day at the end of 1971. 

11 January 2017

Adrienne Posta - Cruisin' Casanova/ Sing Me

Label: President
Year of Release: 1976

Adrienne Posta is probably a familiar name to many "Left and to the Back" readers - not only did she have a long career in the sixties bubbling under the national music charts with a variety of singles on Decca Records, she was also an actress with a successful career. Obtaining parts in "To Sir With Love", "Up The Junction" and "Budgie", her face became a reasonably familiar one on people's black and white sets and also the "silver screen", as people very rarely ever referred to it in real life.

Her most notable music release was probably "Shang A Doo Lang" in 1964, penned for her by those budding songsmiths Jagger and Richards and produced by Andrew Loog Oldham in a Phil Spector style. Despite the pedigree of the people involved in the track, it stiffed terribly, and subsequent releases penned by others didn't really perform as hoped either.

She eventually used other aspects of her stage school education to obtain an alternative career, and concentrated predominantly on acting. While she gained parts in some respected sixties British films and proved herself to be a highly accomplished actress, I highly doubt her role as Carol in "Adventures of a Taxi Driver" (not to be confused with the similarly titled Scorsese film, which I'm sure you weren't about to do) features highly on her CV. Like most of the "Adventures of..." films, it was a fairly basic piece of sex farce which offered more titillation than it did a sophisticated plot or action. 

Still, she was more than content to put her name to the theme tune, which she performs here in a smooth and sultry way which ill suits the film itself. It seems to suggest that the taxi driver in the main role is a sophisticated gent, a fare-collecting James Bond character, and not a rather ordinary and abrupt mini-cab driver who almost certainly harbours a sexually transmitted disease. Despite that, it has a certain cabaret sweetness about it. Posta's vocal performances were always good, and her earlier work features on endless sixties compilations as a result - this, on the other hand, has been under-exposed.

Inevitably it didn't provide her with the hit her career had been missing. I doubt many of the mostly male cinema goers for this film left the screenings of "Adventures of a Taxi Driver" thinking about the title music. 

8 January 2017

Circus Circus Circus - Inside The Inside Out Man/ No Hips

Label: BDI
Year of Release: 1987

When Rik Mayall passed away, one of the things I expected to go a tiny bit viral - but never did - was the clip of him appearing in a music video with the obscure eighties indie band Circus Circus Circus. During the promo for their debut single "Butcher Bitches", Mayall plays the role of a nerdish fan of the group, aping their dress sense and their moves (right down to falling over when one of their guitarists accidentally hits the deck). I'd be a liar if I claimed it was a red-hot, top grade Mayall performance, but it was done for free when he was feeling unwell, and entirely for the benefit of a band who didn't even have a proper record deal at that point. If nothing else, I felt that it underlined his good nature and his spirit, as well as being a performance which had barely ever been repeated anywhere.

"Butcher Bitches" was a fairly swinging piece of garage rock and roll, and didn't really prepare anybody for their follow up. While "Inside The Inside Out Man", written about Francis Bacon, initially has a faintly "House of the Rising Sun" air of doom and despondency about it, it's closer in style to the moodier indie releases of the day; more long mac and shades than cardigans and NHS glasses. It's also really rather good. Filled to the brim with moody guitar riffs and quivering sixties vocal harmonies, it's a huge leap forward from their debut. It managed to get television exposure on "The Chart Show" at the point of its release, but they never gained serious traction in the indie charts despite the publicity - and two more singles later ("Magic Girl" and "Under The Library") and they threw in the towel. An album was recorded but never released, something which somebody could consider remedying.

The group were formed in Beckenham, South London in 1985 and consisted of Doug Hart on vocals, Ric Clark and Mark Shaw on guitars, Richard Bentley on bass guitar and Rich Spicer on drums. 

4 January 2017

Reupload - Village East - Building With A Steeple/ Tumblin' Down

Label: MGM
Year of Release: 1967

I'm not really too sure why or what's happened, but a freightload of American Sunshine Pop records - a lot of them on MGM, and almost all of them relatively obscure - seem to have washed up on British shores in recent months.  Some collectors assumed that this one never made it past the promo stage, for example, but here's the stock copy as living proof, live and at large in the UK.

"Building With A Steeple" is probably the best example I've found yet, scrubbing away any edgy credibility it might have with a Christian message and yet sounding so downright lovely it's hard to understand how anyone could resist.  There's not much originality present here as the vocal harmonies and arrangements echo the likes of The Mamas and Papas, but crucially it's not inferior to their work in any way and was clearly extremely unlucky not to have sold in greater quantities.  There's a yearning to the vocals and an intricacy to the delicately strummed and plucked arrangements which would soothe the most troubled soul, and like all the best West Coast sounds from the period it sounds simultaneously lush and sincere.  The very concept of sanctuary in a church on a blazing hot Californian day sounds thoroughly appealing here.

Sadly, The Village East didn't release any singles after this one effort, as apparently the lead singer (whose name I've been unable to locate) immediately left to pursue an unsuccessful career as a solo artist after this flopped.  There's a sense that a lot of potential was wasted here, and my guess is that if they'd released some more tracks of a similar quality they may have broken through.  As for the song, it was also recorded by The Eighth Day (with a near-identical arrangement) and Frank Sinatra Jr.

I originally uploaded this entry in April 2013. Since then, Jim Holway, an ex-member of Village East has been in touch, sending some very old pictures of the group and a bit more information. It seems the band consisted of him, Terry McAloon and Nancy Petachi:

I have no idea what they are doing now. The reason the group broke up was because Nancy Petachi had a boyfriend who told her that she didn’t need us that she was the star and it all started. I told her lets make it first and then you can do what you want but she wouldn’t listen. Ronnie Dante would not put up with that and got The Eighth Day to record the songs. 

We were working on another single at the time called "A Million Lights". It was a great song but we never made it to the studio. What a shame. We were the pick hit of the week in Erie Pa and I know that for a fact cause a good friend of mine's cousin was visiting for the summer and when I started to play the song she knew all the words. I asked her how she knew it and she said "Are you kidding, it’s the pick hit of the week in Erie".

We were written up in Billboard as well. Called our song a real toe tapper. I can’t find that article.

We had a shot and blew it. Oh Well. That was a long time ago. I still do music and my group that broke up a few years ago had a couple of cd’s. The latest was called "Doo Wop to Motown".

Thanks so much to Jim for getting in touch and sending us that information and picture. If any other member of the band would like to drop me a line or add memories, please do drop me a comment. 

1 January 2017

Peter Franc - I'll Move Along/ Song For Every Season

Label: Dawn
Year of Release: 1972

Here's a quick burst of sunshine to cut through that nasty New Year's Day hangover.  "I'll Move Along" is a piece of acoustically driven upbeat folk rock which heavily resembles the more bouyant work of cult psychedelic figure Nick Garrie. Peppy and sugary, but knowing just where to draw the line so it doesn't become too overbearing, it's a lovely and incredibly well produced piece of work which will have many of you reaching for the Alka Seltzer with a bit more of a spring in your steps.

But who was the mysterious Peter Franc? It would seem that he was none other than Peter Pye, the Walthamstow-born rhythm guitarist who replaced Martin Murray in The Honeycombs when that man left the group at the end of 1964. Regrettably, Peter joined the band long after "Have I The Right?" topped the charts and therefore didn't create as much of an impression in the public's mind as his predecessor. 

It's not altogether clear why he chose to rename himself Peter Franc to launch his solo career in the seventies - it might have been to distance himself from his sixties career, or even to draw a distinction between himself and the label he was coincidentally signed to. Unlike his work with The Honeycombs, this was much more adult orientated fare, and by signing him to their progressive Dawn imprint, Pye Records were clearly hoping he could shift some serious hippy units. While many previous sixties stars tried to move into bubblegum pop or glam rock, Franc's aspirations clearly lay in being a serious singer-songwriter. 

The label seemed to have some considerable faith in him. Two singles followed this one ("Ballad of the Superstar" and "Flag of Convenience") and two LPs, "Profile" and "En Route". Neither really broke through in any big way, and by 1975 he had been dropped and seems to have disappeared from the music scene not long afterwards.