16 April 2015

Reupload - Paul Nicholas - Lamplighter

Paul Nicholas - Lamplighter

Label: RSO
Year of Release: 1976 (recorded 1971)

In a nineties interview, Jarvis Cocker once said that whilst he was high on drugs, he began to believe that he was in fact Paul Nicholas, the curly haired, lovable rogue of "Just Good Friends" fame.  He made it sound as if the entire experience was an appalling one, a bad trip from hell, but in fact this record proves that a way-out Nicholas may not be such a terrible thing after all.

For the benefit of overseas readers, "Just Good Friends" was a sit-com following the adventures of Nicholas' character Vince Pinner, a plastic cigarette smoking, softly spoken lothario whose catchphrase to his unfortunate girlfriend Penny was a slightly wounded and unimaginative "Sorry, Pen" (hers, for the record, was "You're a rat, Vince" which isn't much better).  However, long before that sit-com he had a varied career in film and theatre, a string of tepid pop hits in the seventies, and in the sixties had worked with Screaming Lord Sutch and the Savages, Pete Townshend (covering his song "Join My Gang") and even David Bowie, who wrote "Over The Wall We Go" for him.  For somebody who is best remembered as a rather middle-of-the-road figure, Paul Nicholas actually has a CV many credible rock stars would give their eye teeth for.

Despite even this, "Lamplighter" is still a surprise and also something of a mystery.  Recorded in 1971 but appearing in 1976 as the B-side to the dreadful hit single "Reggae Like It Used To Be", it's filled to the brim with shimmering Eastern-sounding guitar lines, stripped to the bone, threadbare drum patterns, howling, almost Iggy-ish vocals, and nonsensical lyrics, like a particularly perverse White Stripes joke.  You can easily imagine Nicholas wearing leather trousers whilst performing the track, perhaps beckoning to a lady in the front row.  It sounds like a sixties nugget, but was recorded both too late and by the wrong person, and has remained largely ignored until quite recently.

Record dealers are getting wise to the contents of this track these days, and frequently pricing it up at £5 or over as a "psychedelic oddity" despite the dodgy A side, but there are still cheap copies about - I saw one for 50p in a well-known second hand store chain quite recently, so you should keep an eye open for it and grab one if ever you get the chance.  It's both a talking point and actually a genuinely good track.

14 April 2015

Emerging #3 - Girls Names, Magic Gang and Team Me

Time for another look at the best new tracks that have caught my attention in the last month…

And I'm stunned to report that among the most astonishing pieces of work to catch my ear is "Zero Triptych", a near eleven minute single issued by Belfast band Girls Names. Epic singles are usually, it has to be said, the last resort of the creatively bankrupt, the work of people who believe that a long, repetitive and overwrought song might make more of a splash in the underground than a radio-friendly track. But this is brilliant - the band don't waste a single idea, taking the listener on a journey through icy eighties synth atmospherics to krautrock to psychedelic rock, all topped up with their own neo-gothic drama. Like Lusts, who we explored last month, this is the noise of people who have clearly dipped and dabbled heavily in the past to create their sound, but ended up with something that sounds definably 21st Century.

Not since InAura's "This Month's Epic" in 1995 has a deliberately epic track been approached with an overload of brilliant ideas. Sadly, due to its sheer length, I fear that "Zero Triptych" may be guaranteed the same ignoble fate - but it's an impressive way to fall.

Brighton's Magic Gang are much more trad-indie in their stylings, touching on both the lo-fi scratchiness of Pavement and - yet again - a certain amount of early nineties British indie slouching. Have all aspiring new bands in the UK bought copies of "Happy Daze" off Amazon in the last few months?

Nonetheless, their new B-side "It's Alright" in particular is the sound of slightly stoned youths joyously kicking around ideas like empty coke cans. It slacks in a slightly urgent sounding way, even though that makes no sense whatsoever, and has a jewel of a chorus.

Meanwhile, Norway's Team Me have shown unexpected volumes of generosity by giving away "F Is For Faker" for free. Normally I have a tendency to react badly to anthemic alternative rock, but "Faker" is so joyous it's impossible not to be swept along. Like the firework blasting finale to a headlining set in front of thousands of people, Team Me will probably have to suffice with a few plastic pint glasses of warm lager being held aloft at their club gigs instead - at least for now - but there's no questioning the energy and ambition here.

"F is for Faker" is also unmistakably pop enough that it may reach an audience beyond the alternative fringes given enough of a chance. This is the stuff crossovers are made of.

That's it for this month, although I have to admit that this trawl for new bands is throwing up more obstacles than I ever anticipated. Naming no names, but the quicker online bloggers and critics and indeed musicians themselves realise that twee mandolin-inflected twaddle should now only have two places left in society - mobile phone adverts and the Eurovision Song Contest - the easier life will be. And God knows it's ruining the Eurovision Song Contest for me as well.

12 April 2015

Sunchariot - Firewater/ The Only Girl I Knew

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1973

A trend has emerged in recent years for compiling psychedelic pop and rock obscurities from the early seventies on to CD compilations. Now that the sixties era seems to have been largely hoovered clean, obscure quirky rock and art pop with psychedelic influences from that period is gaining popularity. Sunchariot seem to have escaped a place on one of these albums so far, but there's no good reason for that.

Take "Firewater" for example. It's a truly berserk piece of rock music about the plight of the Native American, filled to the brim with hollering noises, dramatic tribal vocals and an urgent instrumental break. There are shades of stomping glam about this, but nothing dominant in that sense. For the most part, it sounds like the work of a proper rock band swimming around in a period concept for all it's worth (and indeed, the seventies was awash with these ideas. Hard to know who started it, but I suspect Jeff Lynne got the ball rolling with the Idle Race's "Days Of Broken Arrows", and finished it with ELO's "Wild West Hero" - but perhaps that's too simplistic an overview).

At least one member of Sunchariot went on to far more successful ventures. Dave Howman (whose name appears to have been spelt "Hawman" on the credits here) went on to co-write songs for - among other people -  Monty Python, including "Brian" in the "Life Of Brian" and "Every Sperm Is Sacred" in "The Meaning Of Life". He's a multiple BAFTA nominated songwriter who continues to create soundtrack work and play with his band The Ruthless Brothers.

As for the rest of the group, I'm afraid I'm unsure of their whereabouts. If anyone knows more, please speak up.

11 April 2015

The Legion of Extraordinary Traders

That's right - I'll be back DJ'ing at the LOET market event at Earl Haig Hall, Crouch End on Sunday 26th April. Vintage pinball machines, coffee, cake, booze and roasts will combine with the sounds of soul, funk, mod, psychedelia and classic pop, with efforts from me and semi-legendary London old-school DJs Sean Bright and John The Revelator.

Sean also promises to also be back with a collection of highly reasonably priced records for sale and also some home made toys of Delia Derbyshire at work in the BBC Radiophonic Workshop (which caused such a massive stir on Twitter the last time I mentioned it).

Put it in your diary. Now. I'm telling, not asking, with this. The Facebook event page is here

8 April 2015

J. A. Freedman - Love Got A Mind Of Its Own/ When You Walked Out Of My Life

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1969

A more recent enthusiastic addition to the list of records known only as "popsike", "Love Got A Mind Of Its Own" is a peculiar yet lovely piece of singer-songcraft to be filed alongside Bill Fay or Nick Garrie. Thudding but minimal basslines connect with a meandering and loping ballad and some powerful vocals, and the effect of the whole is actually pretty marvellous. 

However, it's the A-side that really got all the publicity at the time - naturally. "When You Walked Out Of My Life" was the winning entry representing Great Britain at the International Grand Prix RTL Music Competition in 1969, organised by Radio Luxembourg. It's not a patch on its flip, unfortunately, being pretty standard run-of-the-mill balladry, but its not without its fans online.

J.A. Freedman, aka Jules Freedman, issued an album through Decca in the same year entitled "My Name is J.A. Freedman… I Also Sing" which is now often cited as one of the scarcest sixties LPs in that label's catalogue. Featuring top session workers Herbie Flowers, Kenny Clare and Don Lusher, it's apparently hit-and-miss but the hits - such as "Love Got A Mind…" - are strong enough for it to finally see some belated acclaim falling its way and the asking price rising drastically.

No doubt dismayed by the low sales, Decca dropped Freedman not long afterwards, but he reemerged in 1973 with a hat trick of singles on EMI, which also flopped. These days, he works as a guitar tutor in schools in Sutton and Croydon.