26 March 2017

The Hallmarks - One Way Street/ Johnny's Gone For A Soldier


Label: Polydor
Year of Release: 1967

Before they really got a grip on the UK market, Polydor released a slurry of flop singles which were barely heard at the time, and have drifted into absolute obscurity since. These were often by artists who haven't even managed to gain an entry in the usually exhaustive "Tapestry of Delights" encyclopaedia of sixties pop. 

That's certainly the case with The Hallmarks here, who appear to have been a folk rock group based in Britain (though it's hard to say for sure). The A-side here, "One Way Street", is a rather underproduced but strident piece of work, with the vocals somewhat suffocated in the mix by a treacle of chiming guitars and thumping drums. No matter - the song itself is actually an enjoyable example of the folk rock genre, containing close Mama and Papas-esque vocal harmonies, wintery sleigh bells, and a jingle jangle morning air. With a more sympathetic mix, it's possible to imagine this having been a hit, however by January 1967 folk rock was beginning to seem a bit passe, and more ambitious songwriting and production was beginning to shape the pop landscape.

Whoever they were, The Hallmarks seemingly never issued another record, and naffed off after this without leaving behind any clues to their identity. The A-side was also recorded by the Irish group Brendan Bowyer and The Royal Showband, aka The Royal Showband Waterford, so it's possible that the group were actually Irish rather than British. Equally possibly, however, "One Way Street" might have been a Denmark Street composition bought up by both bands at different times. Who knows? Certainly not me, that's for sure.

If you can identify the mystery band, please do leave a comment.




22 March 2017

Sky - On Our Way/ The Singer Is Singing His Song



Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1969

Here's an obscure little single. Sky were from Aldershot and boasted Sparks' future drummer Dinky Diamond in their line-up, but beyond that details of their personnel are sketchy.

Whoever they were, these are two very different sides. The A-side "On Our Way" is a Spanish holiday flavoured, anthemic pub singalong which is a bit too simple for its own good - I've been known to lift a flagon of booze and "la la la" my way to oblivion with the best and worst of them, but this track falls under the category of "not quite subtle enough for Chas & Dave", and would have become impossibly irritating if it had actually become a hit.

The flip "The Singer Is Singing His Song", on the other hand, is a vaguely popsikey effort with a similar anthemic feel, but has vague shades of the Moody Blues about it and has subtle flowery frills and melodic diversions to offer. When I first bought this single, I assumed this was the A-side and "On Our Way" was the throwaway flip, but every source I've looked at disagrees with me, so I can only assume Decca heard some commercial potential with the plug side that I just can't.

After this single failed the band would jump ship to Bell to release "Long, Long Gone", but that also stiffed and the band were long, long gone themselves shortly afterwards. If anyone can provide more information about the line-up, please let me know.





19 March 2017

Judd - Snarlin' Mumma Lion/ Stronger Than A Man (Can Only Be A Woman)



Label: Penny Farthing
Year of Release: 1970

I used to know someone called Judd, a denim-clad gentleman who had spent some time in the USA and still had a certain Transatlantic growl to his voice. "Hey geez-errrr!" he'd yell to people he knew as they entered the pub. Then he'd wander over to the jukebox, and complain "You wanna know the problem with this thing? Not enough ROCK on it".

For years I wondered if this record might just be something to do with him, but it was never likely. The Judd I knew was the kind of chap who would never have shut up about the fact that he had once made a record. And of course it's not. Judd was actually the group name given to ex-Quiet Five member Kris Ife and a group of "itinerant" session musicians, who were all produced by studio genius Mark Wirtz.

Kris has already featured on this blog, but "Snarlin' Mumma Lion" is rather unlike a lot of his other work. It has a backwater American rock vibe to it - an odd direction for him to take, but odder still for his co-songwriter and producer Mark Wirtz. This is a far cry from his "Teenage Opera" years and really showed how diverse he could be with his writing and production styles. It's a nagging, persuasive beast of a record, though, and while it can't count among Wirtz's best - or Ife's best, for that matter - it's got a punch to it that just can't be ignored.

I've covered both Ife and Wirtz before on this blog, which leaves me at a bit of a loss to say much more about their careers. Suffice to say, though, "Snarlin' Mumma Lion" wasn't a hit, though it did enjoy issues across numerous European territories, meaning there are picture sleeve versions for interested collectors to burn their cash on, if they should desire.



15 March 2017

Reupload - Boss - Mony Mony/ Live Together



Label: Deram
Year of Release: 1973

Tommy James and The Shondell's "Mony Mony" is, to this day, a bit of a floor-filler.  Whilst I can't profess to truly adore the single myself and only play it once every so often at home, there's still something incredibly potent about the track at high volume at around one in the morning.  It's a record you can tease the wallflowers with, those uncertain looking people propped up at the bar who have been frantically tapping their feet all evening as if they're about to make a move, only to uncertainly twitch away from the action.  It's also one of those records for which bouts of hand-clapping are only to be expected.  Handily, you can also follow it with just about any sixties pounder of the same tempo and keep people on the floor, even if it's an ultra-obscure flop like Chris Andrews' "Yo Yo" (I've done it).

Covers of the track have always been apparent, with attempts from Amazulu and Billy Idol working their way out of pressing plants in the eighties alone.  This particular stomping seventies glam version of the record perhaps should have been a hit at the time - whoever had the idea that the track's pounding would lend itself well to the echoing thud and slap of glitter grooves was obviously utterly on the money.  There's space and sparseness to this effort which does create a major contrast between the noisy, busy nature of the original, but for all that it's still a nagging little disc which seems determined to pull people towards the dancefloor.

As for who Boss were, I'm guessing that they were a studio group formed for the benefit of this record rather than a 'proper' gigging band.  However, the B-side "Live Together" - a cover of a track by the equally obscure group Trainer - is a very different beast altogether (beneath the scratchy noises, which I apologise for) appearing to be an almost Joe Cocker-styled ballad designed to highlight the singer's talents.  I'm guessing the members of this group will have done other things besides in their careers, and please leave a comment if you know more.



12 March 2017

Stanley Frank - Cold Turkey/ Hey Stupid



Label: Polydor
Year of Release: 1977

I find it hard to believe that this is the second cover version of "Cold Turkey" I've uploaded to this site (the first was by David Byron of Uriah Heep, who contributed his vocal intepretation to a budget covers EP). My amazement largely stems from the fact that the original John Lennon single was an ignoble flop by the Beatle standards of the day, reaching a mere number 14 in the UK charts, and is very seldom heard at all these days. 

Nonetheless, a rocker from Canada called Stanley Frank took the song under his wing in 1977 and really upped the ante with it, taking the pulsing and tortured original and turning into a slice of Hard Rock. It buzzsaws its way through the Lennon tune and shoves the needles into the red, screeching its way to the inevitable climax. While no amount of reworking can disguise the fact that the original song always was a little disappointing, this to me has more energy and a greater sense of dynamics than the original - not something I would ever claim lightly. Frank makes it sound as if it was always born to be a seventies rock track and Lennon's version was just a demo.

As for our Stanley, he was from Montreal and relocated himself to the UK at the height of punk in the late seventies, too early for a revived Heavy Metal circuit, and too late for the mid-seventies rock heyday. He briefly had dealings with the Power Exchange label who tried to hype him as a "New Wave" artist, but it's doubtful that the ruse fooled more than a few people. He eventually settled on to A&M records where he issued the LP "Play It Till It Hurts" in 1980.

He remains active as a songwriter to this day, and has a website where you can sample his tunes. One of them in particular, "Run To The Sun", is a piece of West Coast soaked power pop goodness.