28 July 2011
Year of Release: 1982
Even at Comic Relief time of year in Britain, you don't get terribly many comedians queueing up to make records these days, which is actually something of a relief - the very idea of a Mighty Boosh spoof glam/ psychedelic single or a knees-up Michael MacIntyre war hits medley filled with whimsical things he's noticed about Hitler thrills me not. There was a time, though, from the fifties right through to the eighties, where having your own single was your personal signal to the world at large that you had arrived as a comic force. Bruce Forsyth, Jim Davidson, Jimmy Tarbuck, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, Bob Monkhouse, Bernard Manning, Julian Clary, Lenny Henry, Larry Grayson, The Young Ones, Tracy Ullman... the list is almost endless and encompasses everything from Royal Variety Show favourites through to the alternative set. The more radical people cared not whether it made them seem as if they'd "sold out" - why should they when they were getting to become pop stars and therefore living out their bedroom mirror fantasies?
Alexei Sayle is actually probably one of the most surprising additions to the canon in that he always seemed like somebody who didn't really care about whether he could get on "Top of the Pops" as well as prime-time BBC2. Whilst the likes of Rik Mayall and Julian Clary clearly had a hunger for the spotlight, Sayle appeared much more earthy and straightforward. So what on Earth was going on here?
In his defense, "Ullo John Gotta New Motor?" isn't really a commercial proposition, being a stream-of-consciousness rant seemingly in the guise of his Cockney character John backed with some funky loops. There's no chorus, no story, and seemingly absolutely no point, which makes the popularity of the single seem startling in retrospect - it reached number 15 in 1982 at a point in history where record sales were high and the charts were staggeringly competitive. To this day, unless you count the froth-mouthed ramblings of fringe anti-folk acts like Spinmaster Plantpot, there isn't really anything you can sensibly compare the record to, and like many novelty singles before it, success seems to have arrived in its direction purely because it sounded like nothing else around rather than because it followed the rules of the day. The record was also seemingly bolstered by fans of "The Young Ones", and people who caught Sayle being anarchic on "Top of the Pops". These days, the stretched parody of cockney banter the record is attempting to mock seems rather quaint, purely because very, very few people actually talk in this manner in the city anymore.
I suspect most British people know what Sayle is up to these days, but for the benefit of people overseas I can reveal that he is now an author of several successful (and serious) novels. No, really.
25 July 2011
Year of Release: 1991
Sometimes when I'm rummaging around the flat for possible things to upload to this blog, my greasy little paws chance upon something I really should have considered a long, long time ago.
Moonshake really weren't everybody's particular cup of tea. Formed by David Callahan of The Wolfhounds after that band had decided its time was up, their fans must have been baffled by the sudden shift in approach. Whereas The Wolfhounds specialised in a fierce, brittle and politically charged kind of indie guitar pop, Moonshake were a mongralised meeting of electronica, dub, krautrock, and "shoegazing" indie dream-pop, whilst still retaining some of the old spittle of yore.
Curiously, this first EP slipped out on Creation Records, but for whatever reason (possibly the label's perilous financial state at the time) they opted not to stay there and shifted to Too Pure for their debut album "Eva Luna". Whilst that album had heavier basslines and a more noticeable identity of its own, this EP is admittedly far closer to the sonic experimentation of My Bloody Valentine. The loops shimmer, the beats thud along like a drunk rolling slowly down some stairs, and the vocals are buried deep in the mix. Suffice to say, it's impossible to feel indifferent to this - you will either think it's sheer bilge or really rather good.
The first track "Gravity" in particular manages to be hypnotic in a repetitive, krautrock way whilst also being tremendously dense with ideas, and whilst the "Eva Luna" album (which was a critical fave rave at the time, but is seldom if ever referenced now) had a more definite identity, there's a more pleasing subtlety to these tracks to my ears. You can start hurling your collection of "Indie Top 20" albums in my face if you must, but I honestly believe that "Coming" on side two of this EP shows more balls, innovation and downright unsettling surprises than anything the Slowdives of this world managed. There are unexpected shifts, atmospheres and lyrics which make you stop and pay attention - it's difficult to focus on anything else whilst this is playing. This is the sound of people with big, broad record collections and the creative talent to understand how to take the most effective ideas from each to create something bold and relatively unique.
That Moonshake have been largely forgotten about in the 21st Century whilst plenty of people seem to be falling over themselves to download a lot of inferior material from the early nineties is a deep shame. That I hadn't actually played them in years myself is something you should perhaps punish me for as well, although depriving myself of these noises for so long and for no good reason might possibly be punishment enough.
(Update: This EP was originally uploaded in February 2009. I don't really have anything to add at this point, beyond saying - why the hell aren't this band being listened to thousands of people right now as we speak?)
21 July 2011
Year of Release: 1966
There seems to be a misconception in some circles that the minimal, wiry, angular, paranoid rush of a noise frequently associated with amphetamines only occurred when punk broke. I suspect you know where this entry is going just by looking at the "year of release" above, and why should I patronise you by beginning a new sentence with the word "However"?
"Just A Fear" is, it has to be said, a startlingly forward-thinking single, combining many of the kind of minimalist, dischordant structures and production techniques post-punk would utilise many years later. The skeletal, persistent main riff here could just as easily grace an early Fall single, and whilst the track does occasionally find its way back on to the main roads of convention at points, it's still as uncommercial as sixties beat pop ever got. Screeching its way towards a demented conclusion, its astonishing this ever got released at the time. The B-side, on the other hand, features a bluesy, honking harmonica and a clapping beat, and sounds like a product of an entirely different band.
The Answers only released two singles, both this and "That's What You're Doing To Me", before their guitarist Tony Hill was poached by cult psychedelic legends The Misunderstood. That band's output is rather more appreciated than "Just A Fear" ever has been, but a quick listen proves that Hill was already operating on the fringes long before they whisked him away.
18 July 2011
Year of Release: 1995
1995 was a confusing year if you happened to be reviewing music either for a living, or because you wanted to due to the tons of free records and tickets to gigs you got. Britpop had caught hold of the public's imagination, and you couldn't go to see a new band without witnessing at least one support act with either a fey English approach to guitar pop or a monstrously unsubtle demonstration of Ladrock (soon to turn into Dadrock). Many of the acts obeying the fashions of the day were actually perfectly good, but if you happened to be attending two to three gigs a week, you began to crave any band who seemed just a tiny bit like oddballs, and developed an irrational hatred for anything observing the NME approved template. Trust me, there was a review I wrote of no-hopers Powder at the time which was so vitriolic that these days I'm actually ashamed of it. Pearl Lowe's slightly smug performance pressed a horrible red button in my brain I hope nobody ever goes near again.
I managed to catch Elcka playing at a small provincial gig venue during this simultaneously exciting and somewhat trying year, and was immediately struck by their slightly bizarro approach to the more bohemian side of indie pop. The lead singer Harrold led the band in a flamboyant, airy way, seemingly beamed forward in time from some seventies Art College graduation ceremony. The songs were pure pop, but had enough twists and unexpected (and, even at the time, unfashionable) quirks such as harpsichord noises and MOR backbeats to stand out. There were some sounds occurring which seemed to be channelling both Steve Harley and Genesis's "I Know What I Like In Your Wardrobe" as well as Bowie and Roxy, meaning unfavoured retro acts were creeping into their sound besides the more accepted ones from the canon of cool.
Then I picked up this single, and decided to go haywire with my praise for the band, telling anyone who happened to be bothered enough to read my writing - which was very few people - that they should Watch Out, because here was The Next Big Thing. That was utterly untrue, of course, and in reality the splash Elcka made went unnoticed by even some of the more hardcore indie kids. Listening back to their debut single "Boho Bird" now, it seems good enough to understand why I'd have managed to get carried away, but not quite good enough for me to fathom why I thought they would end up taking on allcomers. "Boho Bird" is at once odd and infectious, combining erratic keyboard riffs with swaggering vocals, but was ultimately just too subtle to find a larger audience. There are no big choruses to be had, and instead the track saunters along in the kind of considered, stylish way which might not have leapt out of anyone's radios.
Eclka eventually signed to Island Records, and in 1997 their album "Rubbernecking" landed, but by then it was far too late, and even I seemed to fail to notice its arrival, buying it a few years later after spotting it in a record store. For all that, the band have a web presence (and fanbase) of sorts, and in April of this year it was announced that they were considering reforming for some gigs. I await with interest to see what happens, and if they do get back together, I've no doubt I'll turn up to see them if only to relive that moment when I saw a brilliant live band and immediately supposed they'd be on the front cover of all the major music papers within the twelve-month. Sometimes you can still be impressed and have huge fun while you're busy getting things wrong.
16 July 2011
I'm soon due to take a trip to the Netherlands, where I'll be stopping off in Amsterdam and The Hague... and somewhat inevitably, I'd be keen to know where the best second hand record stores are (if indeed there are many left).
This blog does tend to pick up quite a few hits from The Netherlands, so I'd love to hear from anyone who has any advice at all. It's for your own good - if I come back with any quality stuff, it will end up going straight on here, after all.
I'm also likely to be doing a couple of quick stops in Brussels and Antwerp over the border in Belgium. Thanks (in advance) for your help!
14 July 2011
Year of Release: 1969
Would-be Welsh pop stars seemed to get a rough ride of it during the sixties. Uncle Tom Jones may have broken out of the valleys and into the hearts of many a knicker-throwing wench, and Mary Hopkins might have briefly been Apple's biggest success after The Beatles, but beyond that there weren't many contenders. There was a distinct Welsh music industry established during the decade, but its appeal seemed to wane on the south side of the Severn Bridge and East of Chepstow - local (often folk-orientated) stars often flourished within their own borders, particularly in North Wales, but failed to find much appeal in the rest of the UK.
Of all the contenders, Cardiff's Gene Latter was certainly one of the most persistent, having a long and varied career from 1965 until the late seventies. During that time he tried many different styles, and one of his more undeservedly famous releases is "Mother's Little Helper", a dire cover of the Rolling Stones track which for some reason was given a home on the Rubble series of compilation albums. The Stones themselves slated it in the music press and sales were disappointingly low, and after such a thorough drubbing you could have forgiven Gene for calling it a day.
Rather than hang up his hat, he carried on, producing some curious and often strong work. "Sign on the Dotted Line" is possibly the most loved creation of his amongst the Northern Soul crowd, enjoying a great many plays on the circuit, and no wonder - the frantic, pounding insistence of the track is a joy to behold, and slotted in incredibly neatly with the scene, making him an unlikely Northern Soul turntable hogger along with the likes of David Essex and Elkie Brooks. Such was the track's cult popularity that you can still buy it on iTunes as part of a Northern Soul compilation, although if you want to hear the blaring, heartbeat amplifying thing before you buy, it's naturally on Youtube as well.
As a result of the commercial availability of the tune I've shied away from including it as a download on the blog, but instead given you the none-too-shabby self-penned B-side "I Love You" instead, which is what I believe many people would refer to as a "mod floorfiller". It's a very simple groover which sounds exactly like much of the fare which was emerging on Immediate Records before the label went under - all swinging confidence and ragged, masculine vocals.
Gene Latter's whereabouts are unknown. He appears to have released a single in the late seventies entitled "John Travolta, You Are A Superstar" which I've never seen or heard anywhere, and then we're left with nothing to go on. As ever, an update on his present activities would be welcome. Edit: A reader has since got in touch to suggest that the person behind the John Travolta single is a different Gene Latter, namely an ex-member of South African band The Shakespeares.
11 July 2011
Year of Release: 1966
Some time ago, I made a solemn vow not to upload any more Beatles covers to this blog unless there was an exceptional reason to do so, believing that far too many were just lazy xeroxes of the Fab's originals. However, bizarro novelty covers would be allowed, and so too would perfectly decent discs like this.
What the rather mysterious Three Good Reasons achieved with "Nowhere Man" is by no means radical, subversive or weird, but it is interesting. The vocals in the track are handled by female vocalist Annette Clegg, who brings a slightly spiteful, folksy tone to the proceedings. Whereas Lennon was largely writing about himself in a despondent fashion in the original but coyly buttering it up with pop melodies, Clegg sounds like a scolding finger-pointer here, which gives the track an abrasive edge it ordinarily lacks, foresaking vocal harmonies for a bit of grit. It takes a spark of originality to make a cover version sound like an enjoyable alternative to the original rather than a poor facsimile of the original, and Three Good Reasons are most definitely in the former camp here. "Nowhere Man" might not trump The Beatles, but it does strangely highlight how much they were influenced by Dylanesque folk rock by this point in their careers, and it does so in a pleasingly zippy, zinging way.
Three Good Reasons released two other singles - "Build Your Love" and "The Moment of Truth" - but never really achieved mainstream scucess. "Nowhere Man" was their best shot of the big-time, peaking at number 47, and as for where they are now, your guess is as good as mine. Information, as always, would be welcomed.
7 July 2011
Year of issue: 1991
Given the proliferation of blogs focusing on lost indie gems from the early nineties, it’s slightly surprising that “Young Mavericks” doesn’t seem to have been given any attention anywhere yet. This received rave reviews in the weekly music press, to the extent that the NME saw fit to give them an interview and also listed the single in the end-of-year “On list” – meaning that they thought it was one of the best recordings by a new band in 1991.
The Roman Jugg produced “Young Mavericks” is indeed the kind of ditty which would have got music journalists very hot under the collar at the time. A storming, sneering song which namechecks Rimbaud and Baudelaire, it has "Statement of Intent" stamped all over it. Such pretentious arrogance on debut singles always got the press to prick up their ears in those days (and it still does at the NME) but that’s not all it has to offer – there’s an infectious energy on display too, and an urgent chorus (which admittedly takes rather too long to kick in). The drums pound, rattle and roll, the guitars feedback joyously, and the keyboard sounds as if it’s engaged in a battle with an irritated and writhing octopus. In short, it’s huge fun, and if the band had actually made it there’s no doubt it would have been the monstrous, firework display launching finale piece to their festival shows.
For all that, the sound here is most definitely in an early nineties Evening Session vein, and whilst there’s a certain sixties garage undertone to the whole thing, there’s little question there are elements of Jesus Jones and The Wonder Stuff in the mix as well. Depending upon your point of view, you will either find that charming or utterly irritating.
True to the final line on the A-side here, Golden Section did indeed “burn out”. Following this acclaimed single, they split up within a matter of months and with no public explanation. Some members splintered off to form The Earthtrippers (a band I know absolutely nothing about) whilst lead singer Paul Tunkin created retro mod band The Weekenders, who enjoyed a slightly higher profile. These days, he’s better known as the DJ at the legendary Blow Up club in London, and puts together the tracklistings for their compilation albums featuring obscure sixties library and lounge music. A man after Left and to the Back’s own heart, then.
Golden Section were also from Southend, a town I lived in for a number of years. I was possibly too young when they were at their peak to make accurate judgments, but the energy on this single does seem to sum up their live act. They were known for being one of the more full throttle bands in the region, and regularly played to packed and sweaty venues, also earning prestigious support slots in London with the likes of The Verve.
Of the B-sides, the icy “Close Quarters” is the most appealing, with “Can’t See The Light” being a wee bit too indie-pop-by-numbers for my liking.
(Update: This entry was originally posted in April 2008. This song still seems strangely overlooked out in blogland. Its scarcity is probably an issue - the band pressed it up on their own label in limited quantities - but given some of the stodge I've heard on those endless blogs with names like Twisting Me Melons, Baggy Bonanza and I'm Madchester, Me, I find it odd to say the least that this couldn't be given a bit of space. Of all the critically acclaimed indie singles of the early nineties, this really seems to be the one that's fallen most under the radar).
4 July 2011
Year of Release: 1970
I have a general rule on "Left and to the Back", which is that if a track seems to be commercially available as an mp3 download already, I won't upload it in full. This is one reason why soul records, however obscure, tend not to get featured here. Almost all of the legitimate online sources for music are stuffed to the gills with soul tracks nobody cared about at the time, but have suddenly decided to start listening to now.
Examples where the usual situation has been flipped are incredibly rare to come by, but with Five Flights Up we may have just found the odd fish, the rum old exception to the rule. Back in 1970, this single was popular enough to get to number 37 in the Billboard pop charts, and has since disappeared into the ether. Google searches reveal nothing apart from people asking where the hell they can obtain a copy from (to a bemused silence) and radio airplay is apparently also impossible to come by these days. If nothing else, it's interesting to know that some US hits of yore suffer the same problem as UK ones - it really feels as if they might as well have never existed.
In the case of "Do What You Wanna Do", that's a slight shame. It's a slick, neatly harmonised piece of soul which saw the quintet crossing over to a mainstream audience. Pleasant as it may be, however, it's the impassioned, Smokey Robinson styled yearning of "Black Cat" on the flipside which sets my motor running, with its haunting, swelling brass arrangements and tales of lost love. If somewhere in your mind's eye you can't see a sulking, broken man strolling down city backstreets with only the local neighbourhood feline for company, you clearly have no feelings to speak of. "Black Cat" is autumnal, cinematic and actually quite wonderful.
Sadly, neither side provoked any commercial interest in the UK, although apparently this record did get a moderate amount of plays on the Northern Soul circuit - but once again, clearly not enough plays to warrant an inclusion on any of the usual compilations. Maybe the subtlety of the disc ultimately proved to be its undoing, but it certainly doesn't make it a bad record, and I for one would quite like to put forward the case for its revival.
FACT: When I spun this record at The Boogaloo bar in North London at the point when most people had drifted off home, the resident black cat strolled in front of the DJ booth just as the opening lines were delivered. Only one person noticed.
3 July 2011
I've been invited back to the London live music night "Rum Do" at The Castle in Whitechapel to do some more DJ'ing, and on this occasion my efforts will be taking place at their rather exciting All-Dayer, which hopefully means there will be loads of time to play the usual crowd-pleasers plus explore the more groove-some nooks and crannies of my record collection.
The Facebook invite is here, but for those of you who don't "do" Facebook these days, here's the information for you to write in your retro eighties File-o-Faxes:
Date and time: Saturday, July 9 · 8:00pm - 2:00am
Venue: The Castle
44 Commercial Road, London, E1 1LN
Other Useful Data:
It's that time of year again, the time when the Castle is taken over by drunks and bands, and it's all free all day. Here's what's cracking:
Without My Medicine
The De Selby Codex
The Fingers Malone Ensemble
Easy and the Cali Five
John the Revelator
and more TBA.
At this point, I should also add that I've seen The De Selby Codex live before, and they were brilliant - krautrock grooves merrily colliding with nonchalant on-stage mannerisms Stuart Staples out of The Tindersticks would be proud of. Not that I want to curse them by adding them to the roll-call of failures that presently exists on this blog...
UPDATE - note - the time of the event has now changed from 8pm - 2am. The De Selby Codex have also unfortunately had to pull out.
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