22 March 2018

Ten Years of Left & To The Back - Six Of The Best

Us crate diggers may be optimistic souls, but I'd like to think that we're not too unrealistic. When we're in our local charity shop or Music and Video Exchange, we're not there expecting to find 'lost classics'. In the digital age, almost anything half-decent has already been posted to YouTube within days of the buyer finding it. Actual classic LPs or singles? Forget it, buster. Beauty will always be in the eyes (or ears) of the beholder, but the chances of that vanity pressed folk LP from 1975 actually being amazing, and me being the first person to actually properly listen to it since then... well, if I believed in such regular occurrences, I'd have a very heavy direct debit set up for the National Lottery twice a week.

Like most people of my ilk, what I'm hoping to find are good new noises that will give me an unexpected kick througout the next working week, and perhaps beyond if they're good enough to have any longevity. If I can find some amusing howlers or some baffling oddments on the way (and more on those later) that might also enliven my days too.

What I'd like to think "Left and to the Back" has managed to do over the last ten years is very occasionally  find records that in a just and sane world would have been hits, and certainly could have gained a wider, more appreciative audience. Here's six such records I would urge you to investigate if you haven't done so already.

1. Orphan - Julie Isn't Julie In The Bath (Brilliant)

Uploads from the eighties tend to get a rather weak response from this blog's readers, but this one really is a wonderful piece of work. New Wave with a vaguely psychedelic bent which focuses its lyrical attention on the secretive life of a transsexual, this boils over with everything - a subtle chorus which just sounds better with each play, some none-more-eighties synth and guitar riff interplay, and driving beats. Sounding like a lost top ten hit, it seemingly only suffered due to its issue on a small indie label, and the fact that it was really Orphan's last throw of the dice before splitting up. Nothing tends to kill interest in a single more than it being released by a group who have already been a hitless going concern for years.

2. Black Velvet - African Velvet (Beacon)

While this one is reasonably well-known to anyone who attends the kind of retro soul and funk nights which take place in pub backrooms, it's never really gained a wider audience despite a number of reissues. A pounding and incessant piece of work which can't seem to make up its mind whether it's a bass-heavy piece of funk or a bouncy piece of ska, it's so forceful that it actually finishes too soon. To my delight, though, you can hear the group gearing themselves up for another run around the block just as the fade-out is nearly over, almost as if they kept the jam going long after the recording studio red light went off.

Black Velvet were a London-based group who were regulars on the gig circuit throughout the sixties and seventies, but never quite broke into the mainstream.

3. Action Spectacular - I'm A Whore (Bluefire)

While the song title "I'm A Whore" may give you the impression that Action Spectacular were a noisy, uncouth bunch of sorts, and the track certainly starts with a furious thrash, that eventually gives way into a yearning piece of indie-pop about pointless dead-end careers and McJobs.

The lines "I'm a slag who's been had/ in ten years I'll be my Dad/ look at all the worthless things I do" pop up in the first verse, and things don't really improve from there - but the song's heart-wrenching mood, and the final rant at the end about meeting St Peter, are instantly relatable to anyone who has spent three-quarters of their career dealing with mundane situations. If BMX Bandits "Serious Drugs" is one of the most oddly wistful yet moving songs about depression, "I'm A Whore" rivals its mood for dayjob angst.

4. Leather Head - Gimme Your Money Please (Philips)

Proto-punk in the area! Although that does depend a little bit on how you look at it. While this 1974 single does sound uncannily like Guildford's finest The Stranglers, the reality is that The Stranglers owed such a debt to sixties garage groups that it's possible both were sipping from the same water supply. Coincidentally though, both groups hailed from around the same area.

"Gimme Your Money Please" was Leather Head's only single, and is obviously a cover of the Bachman Turner Overdrive track, but the snarling vocals and menacing organ lines here give it a dastardly pub rock menace that the original never had. Superb stuff which probably hasn't been appreciated by enough readers of this blog.

5. Clive Sands - Witchi Tai To (SnB)

This somewhat obscure single has never really been a collectible, and when it turns up for sale you can frequently get hold of it for very reasonable prices indeed. This is unjust, for while "Witchi Tai To" is a cover of a slice of rather serious-minded American psychedelic rock, Clive Sands - aka Peter Sarstedt's brother - adds a bit of British popsike fairydust to his version, and it's much better for it.

Filled to the brim with throbbing keyboard sounds and a slowly swelling arrangement, by the time the needle lifts from the groove you'll be convinced that summer is finally here.

6. Patterson's People - Shake Hands With The Devil (Mercury)

A rare example of a bruising soul sound eminating from the depths of Aylesbury, this record screeches, yells and entices listeners to greet Satan and have sex with him. By the point of its conclusion you're not really left with any impression about how many takers there are to this offer, but if the horned one introduced himself with sounds like this, you would have to worry.

Impossible to ignore and instantly attention-grabbing, "Shake Hands With The Devil" was possibly a tad too raunchy and blasphemous to pick up the airplay it needed in 1966. All the more reason to give it the time of day now.

21 March 2018

Ten Years Old Today

I'm almost struggling to believe it myself, but "Left and to the Back" has been going for ten years solid (well, if you discount that six month break we had in 2013 when I fractured my elbow and got caught in the middle of house-moving shenanigans).

This started as a slightly confused blog where I waxed lyrical about records I felt were unfairly overlooked as well as any old random nonsense I found littering the Music and Video Exchange in Camden. While it might seem as if the approach is still scattershot, I like to think that it's a bit less random and slapdash these days, and if I include a record on the blog it's because I think it's worth hearing or because I actually have something to say about it. The days of just sicking the orchestral music from a coffee advert up on here just because I happened to find the associated promotional vinyl in a second hand shop last week are pretty much over. (And yes, that sentence should read "sticking" rather than "sicking", but for once I actually prefer the typo).

Naturally, managing to last for ten years without completely losing interest in this or otherwise being removed from the Internet is something that's bound to bring out my self-indulgent side, and for the next few entries I'll be putting up some posts about notable things I've shared in that time, and I might even have the odd update along the way (such as, for example, being able to do a big reveal on who The Snowmen really were...)

18 March 2018

Lucas Sideras - Rising Sun/ One Day

Glorious piece of late psychedelia from former Aphrodite's Child drummer.

Label: Polydor
Year of Release: 1972

This isn't an extremely rare recording as such. It was released all around Europe (and indeed Lebanon!) largely on the strength of Lucas Sideras' prior stint with Greek rock Gods Aphrodite's Child. British copies, on the other hand, are as rare as hen's teeth, to the extent that many discographers until recently assumed that this was never officially released over here - so I'm a bit bemused about how this one fell into my hands without me really trying. Call it good luck. 

I may be bemused but I'm also delighted. The A-side here is actually "One Day", which is a cuddly piece of contemplative, semi-acoustic pop. It's the B-side that really knocks my socks off, though. "Rising Sun" is a shimmering, rattling piece of psychedelic pop with some wonderfully convincing yet simple guitar lines. Fizzing over with optimism and a driving momentum, it's wasted by being buried away on the flip, although a longer version did emerge on Lucas's debut LP "End of the World".

While he would go on to release other records on the continent, so far as I'm aware Polydor didn't try to push him on the British again. His records sold moderately well elsewhere, and he eventually settled into a successful production career, before forming the group Ypsilon in 1977 and the blues rock band Diesel in 1987. He still occasionally records and releases solo material to this day.

14 March 2018

Happy Magazine - Who Belongs To You/ Beautiful Land

Bouncy ska-influenced pop from Newcastle band managed and produced by Alan Price.

Label: Polydor
Year of Release: 1969

Happy Magazine were a highly reckoned group in the late sixties. With fellow Newcastle boy Alan Price acting as their manager, and even contributing songs - their debut single "Satisfied Street" was also penned by him - they certainly had a valuable mentor to steer them through pop's choppy waters. 

The fact that their singles are still reasonably easy to find these days would appear to indicate that they didn't flop as badly as some records on Polydor during this period (I've mentioned on Twitter before now that some of Polydor's singles from the 66-69 period are so scarce I have to wonder if they even sold more than fifty copies). Despite this, they certainly weren't chart hits either, and that feels a bit unjust under the circumstances. In this case, "Who Belongs To You" bounces along as neatly and nicely as one of Price's own compositions from the same period. Possibly the fact that the group felt the need to add "(Ooby Dooby Doo)" in brackets after the song title put some punters off; it's certainly something that caused me to nearly not buy this record, fearing some incredibly trite bubblegum sound. 

The flipside here is a fairly mediocre slice of twee popsike which was recently compiled on to the "Piccadilly Sunshine" series of compilation albums, and remains commercially available. You can hear it on YouTube if you're really interested, but it's a simple, child-like tune which probably won't do much to squeegee your third eyeball. 

The group consisted of Kenny Craddock on organ, Pete Kirtley on guitar, Alan Marshall on vocals and Alan White on drums. This was their last single, and the instrumental talent in the group walked off to form Griffin who released the "I Am The Noise In Your Head" single later in the same year. Craddock and White then joined Ginger Baker's Airforce when Griffin failed to cause many record buyers to part with their pennies.

11 March 2018

Reupload - Mad Hatters - Humphrey Song

Stomping novelty glam rock about demonic drinking straws stealing milk - or something like that.

Label: Epic
Year of Release: 1976

He'd never believe it - and I suspect even if he did find out, he wouldn't care much - but the songwriter Mike Batt is indirectly responsible for two things that traumatised me as a child. The first and obvious thing would be the Wombles. Not the fictional litter-gathering characters who I liked, but their incarnation as a musical group. As a three year old child in a Butlins holiday camp, four towering men in Womble costumes gathered around me for a perfect photo opportunity. Seeing these fat, giant, Pete Townshend-nosed furballs stood behind me, glaring with vacant eyes in a manner I took to be menacing, I burst into floods of tears and had to be taken out of the room.

Then, Humphrey the phantom milk-drinker. Jesus Christ. You can talk to people of a certain generation about these adverts and they'll stare at you blankly - who? What? But they were the stuff of appalling darkness to me at the same age. In the adverts, Humphrey is an unseen force, never in camera shot, who steals milk from various surprised or terrified celebrities. Sometimes his emergence would be met with a booming, bellowing "He's behind you!" The fact that Humphrey was never visible caused me to conclude that this was a horrible, Triffid-type monster. I visualised a giant, striped, snaking straw, coiled and ready to strike, slithering into rooms and strangling people before sucking the milk bottles from their fridge dry. Again, tears emerged from my eyes and I had to be taken to a safe place in the house. Thanks a fucking lot, Mike Batt (though to be fair to the songsmith, he only came up with the tunes for these horrible creatures, I doubt he was behind the concept, or my own warped mind's visualisation of the unseen).

I didn't realise that there was a glam rock Humphrey single released to coincide with the adverts, although it's safe to say that only a particularly cruel adult in my house would have considered buying it for me as a gift. On top of a thudding beat and a honking Soho sax, things only get more mysterious. "Though Humphreying is against the law/ they'll Humphrey a bit then Humphrey some more" Batt warns us. "Hey they don't need no reason!/ Hey baby, this is the Humphrey season!" he adds, while a sinister, prolonged psychedelic Floydish whisper hisses "Humphreeeeeyyyy!" in the background. Absurdity and anarchy abounds. I didn't know Humphreys had seasons, or that there were specific laws against the very act of Humphreying itself.

There's no reason why this shouldn't have been a hit. The adverts were very well-known and popular (with everyone except me), Batt's original jingle was familiar to all and a huge factor behind their success, and the track is enough fun to be worth more than the usual couple of plays most novelty singles end up being granted. Doubtless the BBC were reluctant to playlist something so closely linked to a major ITV advertising campaign, and it failed to pick up attention elsewhere. But it could be that I'm biased - while you're probably hearing a very innocent glam ditty, I'm actually hearing bleak, monstrous terror and cow-juice drinking chaos. This track has enough darkness to it to never be pure 'novelty pop' to me. Do indeed watch out, people.

Sorry I couldn't include the ballad on the B-side in this upload, but it's absolutely scratched beyond use on my copy, I'm afraid.