22 November 2017

Sasha Caro - Grade 3 Section 2/ Little Maid's Song



Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1967

Sasha Caro was one of those interesting characters who was everywhere but nowhere on the sixties London scene. He was born in Rangoon in 1940, but his family fled to England when Burma was invaded by the Japanese, remaining on these shores thereafter. A love of music quickly sucked him into both the business and creative side of the "industry", and he took some promising steps at commercial songwriting. Originally beginning his career under the name Rick Minas, he co-wrote the non-hits "Lease On Love" by the Graham Bond Organisation and "I Won't See You Tonight" by Hamilton and The Movement, besides setting up the cheap recording studio RayRik with his business partner Bruce Rae. He also had a deeply obscure solo folk 45 out on Polydor in 1965 entitled "Well I Want No Part Of It". 

Very few of their other songs managed to gain a release, though several appeared on an episode of "Dangerman" in the sixties as part of the episode "Not So Jolly Roger", which took place on a pirate radio station. All the "top sounds" the DJs spun throughout the episode were actually just recordings of Rick Minas's work, though none of these gained a commercial release after the episode aired. 

Somehow, Cat Stevens managed to discover Rick through his songwriting demos, and took him under his wing to attempt to launch him as a star in his own right. His name was changed to Sasha Caro, and the two resulting Stevens-produced Decca 45s are damn good - it's astonishing that they didn't find a place on "Rubble" or one of the other many compilations that swept up the best of the Decca and Deram labels psychedelic output. On the sprightly and intricate folk-pop styled "Grade 3 Section 2" Rick's voice is on fine form, swooping beautifully all over the song. The track manages to be rustic sounding without losing any catchy pop appeal, and while it does share a similar sound to Cat Stevens' own work, it's nonetheless a fine single. 

Sadly, I can't include the flip side "Little Maid's Song" below as it was recently compiled on the "Piccadilly Sunshine" series, and therefore remains commercially available. However, you can listen to it on YouTube if you want. 

The follow-up "Molatov Molatov" is also worthy of investigation, being a slice of Russian-tinged psychedelia which is far more OTT and decidedly bizarre. It's already worked its way on to my "wants" list for being such a full throttle collision of chaotic ideas.

As for what became of Rick (or Sasha, or whatever we want to call him or he would prefer us to call him) nobody seems to know. He apparently gave up music and took up a career as an accountant not long after his two Decca records flopped. This seems like a horrible waste of some very obvious talent, so I can only hope he had a change of heart somewhere along the line and still occasionally plays and writes. 

19 November 2017

The Waterproof Candle - Electrically Heated Child/ Saturday Morning Repentance



Label: RCA
Year of Release: 1968

It sometimes feels as if we live in an age where absolutely every last drop of psychedelic goodness has been mopped up, remastered and presented for public consumption on a compilation series, but some baffling little discs remain unappreciated affairs selling at bargain basement prices.

Take "Electrically Heated Child", for example. An oddly titled record performed by the equally oddly named Waterproof Candle, it was also produced and arranged by Jimmy Webb - enough reason, under ordinary circumstances, for it to be considered a collectible even without considering eccentric song titles in the valuation equation. Strangely, though, you can regularly buy it for around a fiver and some people online are also rather dismissive of its contents.

I blame that partly on the fact that it doesn't quite live up to the weirdness of its title, and instead turns out to be a carefully produced piece of faintly far-out harmony pop. Despite that, it drips with a weird and almost autumnal atmosphere, being filled with plucked acoustic guitar lines, hushed vocals, and even by the standards of the era, some incredibly rum lyrics. "Steelwomb lightbulb chi-iiild", they sing, "is your mother/ you have no other". "To be free," they conclude, "you must be dead".  I have no definite idea what on Earth it's all about, obviously, though I'd suggest The Candle are musing on the antiseptic lifestyle of a modern child in a heated, hi-tech apartment block. Thom Yorke would no doubt nod in agreement at their observations.

The B-side "Saturday Morning Repentance" is neat too, being much more uptempo and groovy (though these things are relative) as well as having lots of unexpected chops and changes to its arrangement. In common with the A-side, it has a commercial pop edge which is skewered somewhat by all the surrounding weirdness. Fascinating stuff, though.

The Waterproof Candle were apparently an Indianapolis based band who featured Rob Swaynie, Steve Foster, Wayne Wilson and Michael Rea. Rob Swaynie also featured in the line-ups of other bands in the area such as The Urge, Clarence Brown, and Memorial String Band. Steve Foster and Wayne Wilson previously served in the garage group Sounds Unlimited.  More than that, I do not know, but please feel free to fill in any blanks.

[Edit - the suggestion has been made since that the lyrics to the A-side are likely to be about child incubators, which is an even darker, less subtle, but  - let's face it - probably correct interpretation]. 




15 November 2017

Reupload - Charles Dumont - Le Fils Prodigue


Label: CBS
Year of Release: 1970

"You know, if you'd grown up listening to French pop music, I really don't think you'd be so keen on Scott Walker's albums" - my wife.

My wife, as you can probably gather from that above quote, doesn't like Scott Walker much, seeing his earliest work as being dull cherry-picking of adult French/ Belgian music productions - a Brel song there, a melodramatic orchestral arrangement there.  This is interesting if only because Walker himself largely rejects most French pop music, talking about it in extremely disparaging tones in most interviews.  I would further counter her argument with the observation that the Brel influence behind his work and occasional production flourish does not a continental breakfast make - a certain strand of French sixties pop definitely took the melodramatic, kitchen-sink route, but the most popular work (in its home country, at least) tends to be quite scuzzed up and messy. Jacques Dutronc, for example, doesn't really seem to immediately have anything in common with Scott Walker.

It is possible to find examples where the comparison fits, however, and this is one. "Le Fils Prodigue" has the same faint tinge of psychedelia about it, and the same strolling bass groove that Walker frequently utilised.  Wailing guitars undercut dismissive vocals, female backing vocalists coo their way melodramatically underneath, and the whole track is richly textured.  What's striking is that melodically there's not a great deal going on here - Dumont does not have a wonderful singing voice, and the song itself is not overburdened with traditional pop hooks. What stays fresh in your mind even after the first play are the flourishes, the details, the tiny sums of the parts.  The different elements interact beautifully.

Dumont was a prolific French songwriter who most famously penned "Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien" for Edith Piaf with lyricist Michel Vaucaire.  He still records and performs to this day, appearing most recently in "A Tribute to Edith Piaf" at the Beacon Theatre in New York.

Sadly, the flip "Ta Cigarette…" is still widely available, meaning I can't include it here.

12 November 2017

Deena Webster - Your Heart Is Free Just Like The Wind/ Queen Merka And Me



Label: Parlophone
Year of Release: 1968

Deena Webster has become something of a cult figure in folk circles in recent years. Her solitary LP "Deena Webster Is Tuesday's Child", recorded when she was a mere eighteen years old, was released in 1968 and sank without trace. Fans of the record are keen to point out her rich, appealing and innocent vocal delivery and interesting interpretations of established classics.

A number of singles were also issued throughout the period, of which the most popular among collectors is her version of "Scarborough Fair". This, her second release, is also worthy of some attention too, though, not least for her cover of Janis Ian's "Queen Merka and Me" on the flip, which combines rich orchestral arrangements with (towards the end) some absurd studio effects. Webster's voice is in fine form and the song gets increasingly giddy as it progresses.

Despite a small degree of media attention and a promising start, Deena Webster appears to have disappeared without trace not long after her last single "Things Men Do" was issued in 1970. However, her LP was recently reissued by Record Collector magazine. 



8 November 2017

Richard Stilgoe & Valerie Singleton - Suffering From Inflation/ Statutory Right of Entry



Label: BBC
Year of Release: 1975

Richard Stilgoe is one of those strange popular figures in British life who is famous despite never selling millions of records or having his own TV series.  Rather, his best known output was confined to regular brief appearances on television shows such as "Nationwide", "That's Life" and "Pebble Mill at One", usually singing light-hearted satirical ditties about the frustrations of the day. His gentle mocking of society began to seem dated by the early nineties, prompting the comedian David Baddiel to mock him with the character Richard Stillnotdead who sang the song "Why Do People Leave The Cap Of The Toothpaste Off?" on "The Mary Whitehouse Experience". Nonetheless, from that day to this, he has a loyal audience and fans, some of them rather unlikely figures such as members of cult indie bands or modern day poets and spoken word artists.

Stilgoe's media presence was arguably at its peak in the mid-seventies, when his bearded and somewhat casual Jeremy Corbyn-esque appearance cropped up constantly on early evening television. One of his prime achievements at this point - his "Bohemian Rhapsody" moment, if you will - was a song called "Statutory Right of Entry", which involved a cascade of multitracked Stilgoe vocals harmonising about a rather unlikely problem.

A "Nationwide" researcher had found out that numerous people in public jobs had a legal right to enter people's homes on demand. These included people working for the gas and electricity boards, and various other less likely characters besides. You would suspect that this wouldn't prove a problem for most home owners, but Stilgoe's ditty turns the situation into an epic and somewhat unlikely farce, with the home-owning Stilgoe character finding himself avalanched by public professionals cluttering up his property across the working week. The song gains comedy value tenfold if you can see the accompanying video clip, though, where an army of officious Stilgoes authoritatively dance and prance around.

For all the comedy value in the situation, it's hard to understand quite what either "Nationwide" or Stilgoe were worried about. If I had a broken gas meter or faulty wiring in my house, I wouldn't treat a public official appearing on the scene unprompted with any stress or anxiety. To be honest, I'd just be stunned by their efficiency. It also seems somewhat unlikely that they would set up camp in my home all week, unlike the builders I'm presently paying a small fortune to repair and renew my horrible, broken-down bathroom. Still, it's an incredibly memorable piece of melodic farce as a result of stretching the problem to breaking point, which is probably why people still remember it in the year 2017.

Less remembered is the actual A-side of this single performed with Valerie Singleton, "Suffering From Inflation". It has a strangely fifties arrangement, complete with harmonising bass vocals. Nonetheless, shorn of its original context, it's aged quite poorly as a piece of satire. Life in Britain in the mid-seventies (when it was the "sick man of Europe") was chaotic and unpredictable, and as an historical artefact the single is interesting, but it's low on laughs now compared to its OTT flipside. 

Thanks enormously to Tim Worthington for providing some background on this single in the fantastic "Top of the Box" book, which chronicles the facts behind every single that BBC Records and Tapes ever released. If you're a collector of odd and esoteric vinyl and don't have it on your bookshelves, you should remedy that immediately.