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.

7 March 2018

Julie Stevens - After Haggerty/ A Long Way From Home

Theatrical folkiness from - I presume - the Avengers actress and future Play School presenter

Label: Trend
Year of Release: 1971

It's an absurdly scarce record, this one, being the final single the tiny Trend label managed to put out before being compulsorily wound up in the High Court. Suffice to say, while it did get an official release, it seems unlikely that many copies were distributed or sold.

It's an interesting little single which really doesn't sound like chart-bound material, to be honest, so it's highly unlikely it would have turned the label's fortunes around. I assume that Julie Stevens is the singer and actress who also starred in The Avengers and eventually became a presenter on Play School and Playaway, and the track itself begins with a subtle jazzy backdrop as Stevens' theatrical vocal performance begins to build. It gradually becomes a strident march before dropping back into its original hushed performance, which is lyrically riddled with literary references.

The early seventies were awash with sophisticated, confidently performed and orchestrally arranged solo discs of this nature, but very few of them actually sold well, and "After Haggerty" is one of the more obscure examples. Whether you enjoy it or not will depend entirely on your feelings on such material, but Stevens' performance certainly showed that she could have cut it as a serious solo artist (and certainly West End musical star) if need be. So far as all that was concerned, she managed one more single on MCA ("Tally Man") before calling it quits. 

4 March 2018

Cinnamon - So Long Sam/ Broken Hearted Me Evil Hearted You

Sprightly girl-pop from the pen of singer-songwriter Barbara Ruskin.

Label: President
Year of Release: 1969

Barbara Ruskin has become something of a collectible artist these days, with her singles commanding enough interest for the compilation "A Little Bit Of This" to have been issued on CD. Her range throughout the sixties was certainly incredible, seeing her attempting stomping Motown styles, Carnaby Street pop, popsike, and delicate folksy material. 

Born in East London in 1948, she became a determined and eager performer, hustling deals along Denmark Street. She was one of the very few female singer-songwriters on the circuit at one point in the sixties, and between 1965-72 managed to issue a whopping seventeen singles as a result of her tenacity, none of which charted. In 1969 she even penned the track "Gentlemen Please" for the Eurovision Song Contest, but the evening's vote was not on her side, and Lulu ended up performing the rather more simplistic "Boom Bang A Bang" instead. 

Her songwriting activity also saw two singles placed with fellow female solo artist Cinnamon. The first, "You Won't See Me Leaving", was issued by Beacon Records in 1968, and the second and final effort "So Long Sam" fell into record shops in July the following year. Neither sold well, and both are fairly difficult to track down these days.

"So Long Sam" is a sprightly, airy track with a driving beat behind it and a careful pop arrangement. What's interesting about this is that it differs quite a lot from Ruskin's original demo, which is a slower and more reflective piece of work (and is actually a bit better for it). Cinnamon's interpretation punches its fist in the air to celebrate the end of a relationship, whereas the demo clearly explores the bittersweet possibilities.

For my money - and it is my money - the flipside here is more successful, sounding like the kind of thing that might light up retro dancefloors on a good night. Filled with a buoyant and faintly Northern Soul-esque orchestral arrangement, it has attitude and heartbreak to spare. Only a slightly rigid arrangement stops it from truly flying to its full potential.

I have no idea who Cinnamon actually was, and if anyone can enlighten me I'd be grateful. Some have speculated that Cinnamon were a performing group who had Ruskin among their number, but the sleeves for their/her Dutch and Italian releases show pictures of a leggy woman with a brunette pixie haircut. I'm slightly confused and I suspect I'm not the only one.

Ruskin, on the other hand, continued her career as a singer-songwriter until 1972 before packing up her acoustic guitar and moving on to other things.

Sorry about the surface noise on these mp3s, readers. I did the best I could.