1 March 2015

The Roundtable - Eli's Comin'/ Saturday Gigue

Label: Licorice Soul
Original date of release: 1969

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Jazz Club. Nice! Tonight, we've got some jazz upstarts lined up who have taken the liberty of augmenting their grooves with antique instrumentation.

We've all got "Time Tunnel" and International Ska Festival DJ Sean Bright to thank for this one. Catching up with me at a soul night in Camden, he thrust a copy of this into my hands at the bar with the blunt words: "This is the single you were after". This record, sought after by me for a year or two now, is a victim of one his clear-outs - so disgusted was he with the version of "Eli's Comin'" on the A-side ("A song I thought it would be virtually impossible to ruin") that he passed it on to me for the price of a beer.

So, this probably isn't to everybody's tastes, but it is downright unique. So unique that it's a wonder it ever got recorded in the first place. A collaboration between two members of the medieval music ensemble The Early Music Consort (David Munrow and Chris Hogwood) with UK jazzers Don Lusher, Kenny Clare and Kenny Baker, the tracks contain two drummers, a hammond organ, harpsichord, crumhorn and a whole lot of other unlikely music room instruments thrown into an audio blender. It should be complete and total chaos, an unlistenable cacophony, but it's tight and amazingly insistent. The A-side "Eli's Comin'" does indeed take liberties with the original tune, but turns it into something quite vibrant and - despite the obvious jazz flourishes - surprisingly groovy.

The flip "Saturday Gigue" allows the medieval instrumentation to come out to the fore, and gels less well, but does give you a chance to hear Munro's playing up front.

David Munro should really be given particular mention here as a remarkable individual who dedicated his life to obscure instrumentation, even commissioning reconstructions of defunct instruments. He was behind a total of fifty LPs, and a large body of soundtrack work and BBC radio programmes and British television programmes. Sadly, however, he committed suicide in 1976 while in a state of depression. You can see an example of his televisual work here, and it's worth remembering that prior to these ideas getting ITV exposure (imagine that) this was incredibly niche stuff.

26 February 2015

Iron Cross - Little Bit O' Soul/ Sunshine

Label: Spark
Year of Release: 1972

While the debate still rages about whether the USA hit version of "Little Bit O' Soul" by The Music Explosion is bubblegum or garage - and "who gives a toss, it's marvellous anyway?" would be my answer to that - this heavy, stomping glam cover of it in 1972 puts a different spin on the idea. 

In fact, so forceful is this version that it's surprising it wasn't a hit. With a thump and a thwack and some vocals from a man so gruff he sounds as if he's been gargling with iron filings, it ups the aggression more than a little. "Little Bit O' Soul" never did do any serious business in the UK when The Music Explosion issued it here, so it was a cunning tune to plunder, taking a number two Stateside hit which was just plain unlucky over here and equipping it for evolving seventies tastes in Britain (where authors John Carter and Ken Lewis hailed from anyway).

You know the rest, though. It wasn't a hit. We don't do hits here on this blog. And nobody seems to be quite sure who Iron Cross were, although they had one follow-up release on Spark, the equally masculine sounding "Everybody Rock On". If anyone can identify them, please do let me know. 

22 February 2015

Reparata - Shoes/ A Song For All

Label: D'Art
Year of Release: 1975

1975 isn't renowned for being a year when a lot of quirky pop music found its way into people's lives, and the public were clearly crying out for some slightly skewed musical moments. They nearly got some, too - for this single is a prime example of something which only fell by the wayside due to a particularly tangled web of misfortune.

Reparata had previously had a modestly successful career with the sixties Brooklyn outfit Reparata and the Delrons, whose chirpy "Captain of Your Ship" single burst out of the USA and took the world by storm. Later in the nineties, to the complete befuddlement of everyone in the UK (or at least me) the very same song enjoyed a slight revival as the backing to a Mullerice advert, with Reparata's trilling, girlish words being mimed by a cartoon captain with an Uncle Albert beard who appeared to be commandeering a man's stomach. But let's park that thought for now, viewers, because things start to get even more confusing in a minute.

"Shoes" was originally issued as a promotional copy by Surrey International in 1974, then failed to make the shops for reasons which are unclear. Polydor picked it up for release in 1975, it became Tony Blackburn's single of the week, then immediately ran into enormous legal difficulties. Firstly, one of the remaining members of the Delrons claimed the rights to the Reparata name, and issued a legal challenge. This failed, but no sooner had that case been dropped than the independent D'art Records emerged crying foul, issuing an injunction and insisting that the rights to the single were actually theirs under the terms of a previous contract and Polydor had no business to be releasing it. Tedious music industry chaos ensued for some time before a compromise was reached whereby copies would be produced on both the Polydor and D'Art labels, both distributed and pressed by Polydor, with the profits presumably split in some undisclosed way.

Trouble is, by the time this resolution had been reached, radio had lost interest, the public had forgotten all about the record, and it stalled just outside the Top 40. And that's a ridiculous shame, because "Shoes" is a bizarre concoction - like a traditional Eastern folk song tugging on the sleeves of art pop, it skids and trips along so many different directions that it's actually fascinating. Filled with angelic backing vocals, a doomy, matter-of-fact vocal, and a worrying undercurrent, its observations on a family wedding day suggest some disquieting background is being left unsaid (or unsung).

It was rewarded in the South African chart where it climbed to number 6, but that really was the sole prize it received and Reparata's career never quite scaled the heights of the Delrons era again, although - as we may see at another time - her back catalogue is filled with some other oddities besides.

As for the song itself, it had been recorded by a variety of earnest folk artists (The (New) Settlers among them) before Reparata got her claws into it and really gave it a new atmosphere.

Thanks to regular reader and commenter Arthur Nibble for suggesting I cover this one.

17 February 2015

Mystery Acetate - Nola - Noises

I'm finding it really hard to buy affordable and interesting second-hand records at the moment. The prices are going through the ceiling. Is this a sign that wealth and prosperity are on the horizon again, and that suddenly people everywhere have lots of reserve cash to buy vinyl? Or symptomatic of the fact that vinyl is becoming a sought-after fashion statement? You guess, or perhaps ask an economist.

This acetate is something I lost a bidding war for on ebay - you can see the original listing here (and no doubt the seller bestfootforward has other stuff to come).

The seller included a clip (reproduced below with his kind permission) which really intrigued me. It's essentially faintly psychedelic pop with a heavy undercurrent of folk, featuring very enthusiastic use of echo in places, as well as some buzzing Meek-ish keyboard noises. The naive lyrical subject matter combined with Nola's touchingly heartfelt vocals creates something which, while not classic, is certainly intriguing.

The production dates it as being an early to mid seventies piece of work, by my reckoning, but that's my best estimate. Writer Tim Worthington suggested to me on Twitter that this may well be by Nola York - I suspect he's got a point, but if so, where did this track of hers come from? A slated then unreleased single, an album track, or something that was demoed (this sounds a bit too rich in detail to be a simple demo)? Please do provide me with your answers if you know them.

Also, over on the marvellous Roots and Traces blog a mystery has been rolling for over six months now - namely, who is behind this brilliant acetate of a slightly krautrocky song presumably entitled "Sylvia" (and it's not Focus, before you ask)? Given the production values and professionalism of the performance, my guess would be that it's not a bunch of unknowns cutting a demo, and what a fantastic, soaring piece of work it is too.

It would be good to resolve these two mysteries if possible. Such things bother me at night. No, really. Make it stop.

15 February 2015

Hotel UK - Dream Street/ Silver Bay

Label: Logo
Year of Release: 1981

Logo were an odd little label, existing from late 1977- 1982 and generally issuing a mixed bag of novelty, new wave, rock and pop records. They're excellent fodder for a blog like this one in that most of their material - barring some successes with The Tourists, Driver 67 and Streetband - flopped hopelessly, leaving very little trace of its existence even in these "you can hear everything on YouTube and Spotify" times.

Hotel UK seemed to be signed to the label during its Autumn years, at the point where the modest flow of hits had truly been stemmed and the Executives had, for reasons known only to themselves, replaced the original company logo with a jagged neon lime green on black creation. Well, it was the eighties, I suppose.  And man, does "Dream Street" make that clear. It's all synthetic pulses, electronic piano sounds, dramatic guitar riffs, and lyrics about "dudes" with big white cars. It sort-of "rocks", but in a very self-conscious way - it's so polished it positively dazzles in places. You know before you even get to that point that it's going to finish on a Eurovision song styled fist-punching repetition of the refrain "Midnight on dream street!" then rapidly stop on a final guitar chord, and then that's exactly what it does. No alarms, and no surprises - but it's got a choppy hook that will definitely appeal to people who don't mind their rock undercut with eighties production stylings. 

As for who Hotel UK are - that's a mystery to me, I'm afraid. This appears to have been their only single, so my guess would be that they were a gigging act who were unfortunate enough to be made promises by Logo Records shortly before they ceased their trading activities, or else were signed for a one single deal and didn't have the option picked up on their contract. 

This record is notable for being a Mick Glossop production. Glossop was truly the producer of choice if you were an alternative pop band in the late eighties, commandeering sessions by The Wonder Stuff, Lloyd Cole, PiL, The Waterboys and Sinead O'Connor, among many others. "Dream Street" is a little atypical of the kind of work he usually took on, but shows a diversity to his approach he perhaps may not generally be appreciated for.