26 June 2016

Precious Little - Ain't Got No Balls/ Lonely Nights

Label: DJM
Year of Release: 1979

DJM is probably most famous for being the label which Elton John found fame and fortune with, churning out a phenomenal volume of LPs and singles for them in the seventies. Elton was their only big hitter, however, and once he departed to release records through his own Rocket label, it was exposed for what it was - a small label lacking a cohesive vision. Their discography consisted of bits of library music, punk records (Slaughter and the Dogs), records by the Village People before they were famous, rock & roll revival records -  a total mish-mash, and perhaps more importantly a generally unsuccessful mish-mash at that. 

This single stems from those weird and underachieving years, and in common with many DJM records of the period, is a rather odd pop record. You could possibly call it Lily Allen before her time if you plugged your ears slightly, but it's a weak comparison I'll probably regret making within five minutes of this post going live. It has a very plastic reggae rhythm and snappy female vocals, but feels very tight, clean, airless and artificial somehow. A bit more vim and chaos and it may have been a hit. 

The lead singer for this record seems to be Trisha O'Keefe, who went on to produce Sue Wilkinson's hit "You've Got To Be A Hustler If You Want To Get On" for Cheapskate Records. 

The record is also very notable for being a creation of Geoff Gill and Cliff Wade, who in a previous part of their career played a part in many a psychedelic pop single, from Cliff Wade's utterly bizarre "Look At Me I've Fallen Into A Teapot" to Gill's drumming work with near-hitters The Smoke. Stalwarts of the legendary Morgan Studios in Willesden, some of their work can be heard on the essential "House of Many Windows" compilation on Sanctuary Records, which focuses on the studio and its accompanying label.

If nothing else, "Ain't Got No Balls" is a testament to their flexibility, clearly proving that besides weird late sixties pop they were capable of producing work like this. Things got much rosier for them later on when they composed "Heartbreaker", which became a huge hit for Pat Benatar in the USA. Cliff Wade also went on to write "The Woman I'm Supposed To Be" for Tina Turner's "Rough" LP.

22 June 2016

Y Dyniadon Ynfyd Hirfelyn Tesog (EP)

Label: Sain
Year of Release: 1970

Judging from the sleeve, you'd think that Y Dyniadon Ynfyd Hirfelyn Tesog were a bunch of old-time swingers, a Welsh language version of the Pasadena Roof Orchestra producing good-time music for the gents and ladies. You would, however, be wrong. All four tracks on this EP have heavy folk leanings, albeit particularly wonky folk music infused with brassiness and, so far as I can judge, a bizarre wit.

The sleeve notes are in Welsh, which is frustrating from my point of view but entirely to be expected under the circumstances. The user TheJudge on 45cat has been kind enough to translate them, however, and hopefully won't mind me presenting them here:

"The Dyniadon Ynfyd Hirfelyn Tesog happened in the third quarter of the twentieth century, and already they are safe of their place in the gallery of pillars and pioneers of the rich culture of our dear Western Civilisation, walking alongside greats such as Ysbaddaden, Spartacus, the Son of the Hills, Mr Wimpy and others (i.e. Y Tebot Piws). Despite this, their debt is great.

It started as a group of 79, but because of transportation and other problems, there was a purge, and by today there are only 7 (oops) 6 left.

i.e. (in alphabetical order):

Aric Dafis - a pretty face and red curls; piano, guitar, trumpet
Bai Meical - a pretty smile and big glasses; guitar, banjo, cello
Cruffydd Meils - a hairt face, Nye Bevan specs; cello, foot, nose
Chenfin Ifans - one gold tooth, £5 glasses; trumpet, fingers
Dili Ifans - "like the young Mozart", "a gentleman"; fiddle, guitar
Ddewi Ddomos - the gentle giant with the fair hair; viola, washboard.

And the voices of the group. I quote the (innumerable) critics:

"Lovely"; "Ha, ha", "That second tenor's a bit flat"; "Jew, jew, they're singing in Welsh"; "That big one's on Tregaron choir"; "Fair play to them for trying, eh".

The Songs

Full Belly - written by everyone in the group except G. Meils; sung by Aric and Ddewi; won the Inter-college Eisteddfod 1970.

Yesterday - written by The Beatles; adapted to the Welsh by G. Meils; Aric's charming voice.

Bitch - written by G. Meils; having thoroughly read the cover of D. Thomas' book "Portait Of The Artist As A Young Dog".

Dixie Of The Ears - music by Kurt Weil; adapted to the old language by G. Meils; a song of tribute to the heroes of the Dyniadon.


Here's an opportunity for every member who has paid the membership fee (£3-5-9d) to get a kiss from every Dynad every ten years until 1980. Send your name and car number along with 2 (broken) Tebot Piws records on a postcard to the correct address.

Sain company does not accept any responsibility for the effect of this record on your record player."

None of which really leaves us much the wiser, if I'm being honest, but at least gives us the line-up details and the sense that the Dynads had an obvious sense of mischief and humour. Apparently the word"Jew" in this context is a phonetic spelling of the Welsh word for "God", and is therefore not meant as some kind of anti-semitic insult. 

The track that is likely to be of most interest to "Left and to the Back" readers is "Dyddiau Fu", a Welsh translation of The Beatles' "Yesterday", which is actually incredibly good. Beginning with a simple, mournful, Salvation-Army-band-on-a Sunday-morning arrangement, and progressing into something folksy, eerie, and very touching, it's masterful in its simplicity. "Yesterday" is naturally a very difficult song to ruin, but by stripping it back to its core components and taking it for a walk to a remote, misty Welsh hillside to contemplate its sorrow, Y Dyniadon Ynfyd Hirfelyn Tesog shine it up beautifully.

Elsewhere, though, the band do offer other material of interest. In particular, the shouty, faintly baffling "Gast" which finishes the EP is a sign that just because the rest of the UK woke up to Welsh music in the nineties, it doesn't mean to say that many of the core components weren't already in place by 1970. It's rough around the edges here, for sure, but listeners should be able to recognise stylistic similarities between the band's vision and some of the folkier aspects of Cool Cymru.  

As for what became of the band, you're asking the wrong man, as the details seem to be rather thin on the ground. They did have another EP out on Sain in 1972, which featured the intriguingly titled track "I Couldn't Speak A Word Of English Until I Was Ten", but beyond that I know nothing. Can anyone help?

19 June 2016

The Sundowners - The Gloria Bosom Show/ Don't Look Back

Label: Spark
Year of Release: 1968

A slight surprise to find this single relatively cheaply priced and sitting around all unloved. It's not a lost classic by any means, but nonetheless it's an interesting psychedelic pop curio on a highly collectible label, and on top of that it's an early piece by seventies singer-songwriter Clifford T Ward.

Ward is often dismissed by some critics for being slightly middle-of-the-road, but like most writers and performers of that era, there was actually a wonky, peculiar edge to much of his work. His track "Home Thoughts From Abroad" - later covered by Jack Jones of all people - is a delicate, heart-tugging ballad about separation from a significant other, which somehow manages to crowbar the line "Does the cistern still leak?" into its lyrics. If any other ballad has managed to mention toilets and still sound sincere, and been covered by an easy listening superstar, I'd like to hear about it. 

Ward was apparently rather eccentric and difficult to work with. His manager Clive Selwood once wrote that his refusal to tour and dislike of public appearances and the naive demands he made of his record label (at one point asking that they buy him the house of his dreams so he'd "be happier and write better songs") made his career rather more difficult to promote than it might have been. That's possibly why his solitary top ten hit "Gaye" remains his best known work by far.

Way before any kind of success struck, however, Ward was both a performer and a jobbing songwriter. Psychedelic aficionados who haven't kept up with music magazines in awhile are often shocked to learn that The Factory's astonishing "Path Through The Forest" was his work, written under the pseudonym "Rollings". And then there's this track he passed on to The Sundowners, which... well, OK, doesn't hold a candle to "Path Through The Forest". But nonetheless, it's a quirky, music hall influenced effects-laden track about the mysterious Gloria Bosom, a lady with her own radio show. "She just knocks me right through the floor/ every time I hear her speak" sings the lead singer, seemingly through some kind of megaphone (so some aspects of "Forest" were intact). Like some kind of popsike premonition of The Buggles "Video Killed The Radio Star" colliding with one of Kenny Everett's peculiar ideas, it's a rum old burst of pop whimsy which is actually pretty charming. It probably lacked enough of a hook to really catch on with the public, but it's certainly on a par with many psych recordings of the period, so the lack of attention its received is a little baffling.

The Sundowners were apparently from Scotland and usually served as the backing band for Tommy Trousdale, and indeed managed one single on Thistle Records with him in the early sixties. They consisted of Steve Robbins on bass and vocals, Barry John Weitz on banjo, guitar and vocals, and Dave Silverman on everything else. This appears to have been the last 45 they managed to record, but the predecessor to this disc - "Dr. J. Wallace-Brown" - is very scarce and also apparently incredibly weird, according to one 45cat user. I'll keep an eye open for a copy, but I'm not holding my breath.

As for Ward, sadly he passed away in 2001 after complications from Multiple Sclerosis, which he was diagnosed with in 1987. He continued recording right up until the end, recording his final proper album "Julia and Other New Stories", while crawling on all fours in his home recording studio.

15 June 2016

Dansette - This Summer (Gotta Get Up)/ This Change Of Yours

Label: EMI
Year of Release: 1985

I've often wondered where the logic lies in major labels signing bands for one-single deals. Surely in their heart-of-hearts, the label bosses don't really want the records to succeed? If they do, the group will be in prime position to negotiate more favourable terms with the label, or jump ship elsewhere, and leave all concerned feeling rather daft for not playing a longer game. If the single flops, on the other hand, A&R and label management can simply shrug and say: "Ah well, that's why we didn't commit to the long haul, you see. The group simply didn't have what it takes to set the world alight. Still, worth a try". Have you ever heard of a band who got big after signing a one-single deal? (Apart from Procol Harum?)

I'm over-simplifying things a little, admittedly - contracts vary enormously from case to case, - and on top of that I don't really know what happened with Dansette. What I am pretty sure about, however, is that this was their only single, and there's certainly no LP out there.

That said, this single is damn scarce in itself, which makes me wonder whether it ever had a proper release or just existed as a promo item. "This Summer (Gotta Get Up)" is a none-more-1985 pop-dance track which mirrors the more sophisticated end of Stock Aitken Waterman's output, and filled to the brim with zest, youthful optimism and a cocktail or two. It's the sound of summer by the outdoor swimming pool in Harlow, Essex. It even has that ever-present electronic pre-chorus "vrrrrrrrm!" noise that dominated pop-dance tracks in the mid-eighties, and exists in some kind of cute sweet spot somewhere between early Madonna and Bananarama. So then, it could have been a hit, but in fairness the mid-eighties were awash with tracks like this, and it's perhaps not surprising it got lost.

Dansette consisted of Louise Porter, Matthew Davis and Siobhan Holliday, and the rear of the sleeve announces "Yes, the girls do play!", clearly trying to place them above mere pop fodder but seeming slightly precious in the process. As for what became of them afterwards, that's terribly difficult to say. Discogs seems to suggest that Louise Porter went on to write songs for a number of other acts, but the time lag involved is such that I'm actually not entirely convinced there's not been a mix-up. Anyone know anything more?

12 June 2016

Reupload - The Potatoes - The Bend/ Bend Ahead

Label: Fontana
Year of Release: 1966

Now here's something of a mystery. In 1966, Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich (hereafter known as DDDBMT) released the British number two hit "Bend It". Penned by Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley, it featured traditional Greek-influenced melodies, a strong bouzouki sound (apparently achieved via an electrified mandolin) and eventually became the audio backdrop for one of Gilbert and George's pieces of art. Never DDDBMT's strongest moment, it nonetheless captured the imagination of the British and European public and stormed the charts, even getting to Number One in Germany.

However, it seems as if a similar single was penned by Howard and Blaikley and released a mere few weeks before DDDBMT's version. "The Bend" is lyrically and musically very similar, and whilst you can't easily accuse people of self-plagiarism in a court of law, there was something very odd afoot here. According to the available timelines I have, "The Bend" was issued in the dying weeks of August 1966, with "Bend It" following rapidly on its heels in early September. It's entirely possible that Dave Dee and his merry band had enough space in their busy schedules to rush into a studio and record a similar track as soon as it became apparent that nobody was interested in this disc, but it doesn't seem too likely. So why on earth did Howard and Blaikley and Fontana Records issue two very similar sounding records involving presumably identical dances at exactly the same time? Was the thinking that they could actually create a bizarre Greek-flavoured scene, or bombard the charts with a certain noise?

A few rumours have flown around Internet-land about this record for awhile, and one theory is that this is actually DDDBMT larking around. However, I think the most likely explanation is that The Potatoes were a studio based creation, and for whatever reason Fontana decided not to get behind them and gave this record a half-hearted release later than originally planned. The concept was floated again with DDDBMT, an act with a strong chart history behind them, and once that record took off the whole matter was forgotten. As nobody concerned has ever come forward to clarify matters, that's probably the only answer we're going to get.

As for the record? Well, it is what it is. A foot-stomping novelty disc which pings and zings along, steadily getting increasingly frantic. It's not hard to imagine it having been a hit - certainly DDDBMT proved that could be done - but it does seem rather as if the whole thing had been suffocated at birth.