27 September 2017

Malcolm Mitchell - The Wanted Man/ The Blues



Label: Oriole
Year of Release: 1960

It's always worth snapping up an obscure Oriole single if you see one lying around, for the pure and simple reason that many sold poorly at the time, and the label had an appalling habit of wiping master tapes. Seemingly, they believed - as some would have considered reasonable in the fifties and early sixties - that passing pop fads were really not worth keeping in any sensible archive. Ouch. A lot of the Oriole tracks you can still buy are either re-recordings or needle-drops from unplayed or judiciously filtered vinyl copies. The slogan on their company sleeves was "Young - New - Exciting", and their corporate philosophy seemed to be that anything that wasn't new deserved erasing from history. 

Malcolm Mitchell's "The Wanted Man" is so obscure that hardly anyone online seems to know it exists, much less own a copy. Discogs doesn't log its existence, and 45Cat shows no known owners (apart from me). It's an odd attempt at a pop hit, being a cover of the Israeli standard "Shir Habokrim". The original lyrics are apparently a cowboy's lament to the desert, which on this single are translated to the tale of a fugitive on the run. It has familiar, clinical 1960 production values with lots of precise, professional performances which never quite let go of the reigns. In other words, this is slickly performed early pop with plenty of echo and buttoned up delivery, and certainly not rock and roll or skiffle. 

Malcolm Mitchell was actually a solid friend of Bob Monkhouse, who he occasionally collaborated with musically, and a major jazz and big band figure throughout the fifties and beyond, being the first British musician (apart from the Duke of Windsor) to perform with Duke Ellington. He also issued a number of shellac 78 recordings on Parlophone in the fifties, and had his own television series on both Southern and the BBC. He eventually developed a lasting career in commercial marketing and advertising, producing the arrangement for the iconic Hovis television commercials and also did session work for various commercial enterprises, such as the promotional disc for Green Shield stamps in 1972. 

Clearly not a man who hid away from the world, then, which makes the obscure nature of "The Wanted Man" rather unusual. It's almost tempting to suggest that Oriole demanded he should hide away in the manner of a real-life fugitive for the crucial weeks around its release. 

Sadly, Malcolm Mitchell passed away in 1998, leaving behind three sons and one daughter. 


24 September 2017

The La De Da Band - Come Together/ Here Is Love



Label: Parlophone
Year of Release: 1969

The La De Das were one of New Zealand's premier rock groups in the sixties, scoring regular top ten hits in their home country and styling themselves in a slick, mod fashion. Their 1966 number 4 NZ hit "How Is The Air Up There" has such a raw, raucous sound that it was an obvious shoe-in for the "Nuggets II" box set issued by Rhino Records, holding its own very comfortably alongside the garage and psychedelic rackets offered up by other international groups on the compilation.

In the manner of many groups "down under", they got itchy feet and began to seek out touring opportunities in the northern hemisphere by the late sixties. These plans included a stint in Britain in 1969, resulting in recording sessions which created this particular single. Clearly hearing an opportunity in the singles market place for a cover version of The Beatles "Come Together", this slick, reverb-ridden version emerged at the beginning of October 1969 (under the name The La De Da Band for some baffling reason) a mere week after "Abbey Road" was released, and a few clear weeks before The Beatles "Something/ Come Together" double A-side hit the shops. It's an interesting cover which doesn't take many liberties with the original arrangement, but somehow does have an unfamiliar, mellow warmth. While The Beatles version has a faintly threatening edge, this one beckons the listener into the studio jam in a welcoming fashion.

Suffice to say, most members of the British public were quite happy to wait until The Beatles version was released before parting with their money, and this single was a complete flop (and to be honest, even The Fabs could only get it as high as number four). The group eventually made their way back to New Zealand and continued to have a recording career there until the mid-seventies. They remain thought of incredibly fondly as one of New Zealand's most significant and popular homegrown rock bands, and were admitted into the Australian Blues Foundation's Hall Of Fame in 2003. 


20 September 2017

Rosetta Hightower - The Walls Fell Down/ Captain's Army



Label: Philips
Year of Release: 1973

Now here's an obscurity. Rosetta Hightower was an American singer of some renown in the early sixties who hit big in the USA with the girl group The Orlons. Her solo career was perhaps less eventful, however, with numerous respected and beautiful sounding singles emerging - not least her fantastic cover of "Big Bird", of which I've been seeking out a copy for years - but very few crossing over to the mainstream.

This cover of The Bee Gees "The Walls Fell Down" is one example of a single so scarce that it almost never turns up for sale. It is, as you would expect, a soulful and gospel styled take on the Gibbs at their most melodramatic. Rosetta pours all her efforts into it and makes it sound as if it was always meant to sound this way, with a production and arrangement so lavish that it's almost a little bit frightening. 

Rosetta's recording career ploughed well into the eighties, and she based herself in England following her marriage to the musician Ian Green. She also delivered numerous notable session performances, not least singing backing vocals on John Lennon's "Power To The People". 

Sadly, she passed away in Clapham in 2014, aged seventy years of age. 


16 September 2017

Reupload - Gaslight - Move/ And So To Sleep



Label: Jayboy
Year of Release: 1969

An odd and slightly mysterious one, this. "Move" has been picking up some attention lately as an otherwise largely ignored psychedelic obscurity.  Not without reason - this is slippery smooth psych, complete with close harmonies, grooving electric organ work, heavy basslines and slow dance floor beats. The chorus reverts to UK Beat type, urging us to "jump and shout" and momentarily disturbs the mood, but otherwise this slides along beautifully.  It's not wildly dissimilar to the work of The Dragons, another band who were utterly ignored at the same time the scented hippy candles were getting snuffed out but recently had their material issued on Ninja Tunes.  

Gaslight seem to have released this single then disappeared without trace, giving us absolutely no clues as to who they were or what else they did.  There is some speculation online that they may be another band signed to Jay Boy or their controlling label President operating under a pseudonym, but there are no clear indications.  Whatever the facts, their approach was largely wasted on the British public by 1969, and as everyone began to pick up their hard rock, blues and prog albums, there wasn't time for this kind of technicolour dancefloor action.  A shame - if it had been issued a couple of years before, "Move" may have made a much more significant impression, but even then I can't help but feel that this is a subtle little record which might not have ever had a chance of bashing its way through the radio to encourage the public to buy it in vast quantities.  Still, we can enjoy it now. Move, readers, and get yourself together. 


14 September 2017

Ann C Sheridan - I Want You (She's So Heavy)/ I'll Be Gone



Label: Bradleys
Year of Release: 1976

You know how you all love Beatles cover versions? And you know how it's always the most unexpected covers that seem to turn up, for inexplicable reasons? Well, here's something for your lugholes - a disco cover version of the epic, sprawling piece of "Abbey Road" bluesiness "I Want You (She's So Heavy)". 

Obviously, it doesn't incorporate the "She's So Heavy!" elements of the track, where The Beatles guitars collectively explore doomy, descending chord patterns. That's too much for the average dancefloor to handle. Rather, it discofies the more sensual "I Want You" elements of the track, with the vocalist Ann C Sheridan purring sexily as the disco beats pulse behind her. 

It's an interesting experiment, but not one that quite comes off. The track never manages to find new or exciting places to go, and by lopping off the only melodic variant in the entire Beatles song, it restricts itself to being a piece of fairly minimal disco boogie. This might be fine on the dancefloor with the one you love or lust after, but it doesn't quite work at home.

Ann C Sheridan was actually the French singer Ann Calvert operating under another name. This track did manage to pick up some cult popularity in mainland Europe.


10 September 2017

Anton - Shot Down In Action/ Mine All Mine



Label: Spark
Year of Release: 1975

It really does seem as if the vast majority of Spark's output throughout the sixties and seventies sold a few hundred copies (if, in some cases, even that) before being melted down. Their catalogue is littered with surprisingly good little singles which are astonishingly difficult to track down copies of now, and here's another example.

"Shot Down In Action" is a piece of dramatic seventies glam pop with a pounding intro, chiming piano lines, and an excess of drama. It's strident, catchy, flamboyant and has a surprisingly ambitious arrangement for a song of its type - this is no bonehead cruncher. If it's guilty of anything at all, it's perhaps being a little bit past its sell-by date by 1975, just as the spotlights were starting to dim on anything with a vaguely glam sound.

The flip "Mine All Mine" is a rather bland Barry Blue penned ballad, and not worth getting fussed about.

Anton appears to have been Anton Johnson, a man who later issued a cover of the deathless "Hey Baby" on Laser Records in 1980, though he failed to find the success with it that DJ Otzi later achieved. If anyone has any additional information, please let me know.


6 September 2017

Mr Joe English - Lay Lady Lay/ Two Minute Warning



Label: Fontana
Year of Release: 1969

Now here's a bit of an interesting find - an obscure and, so far as I can tell, almost completely ignored soul cover of a Bob Dylan track. This version of "Lay Lady Lay" is mellow, atmospheric, and filled to the brim with basslines so fat you could fill a jar with the drippings from them. With a relaxed, smoky vibe around it which almost recalls the pace and atmosphere of Dusty Springfield's "Son of A Preacher Man", Mr English's voice is expressive and takes the song to new and blissful places - in all, a cover worth looking out for.

The B-side has picked up a few fans online already, but also remains obscure. "Two Minute Silence" sounds like a bit of a funky studio jam, but definitely shows what English and his studio guests were capable of as soon as some energy was injected into proceedings. 

I have absolutely no idea who Joe English was. A man of that name turned up in Paul McCartney's Wings as their drummer, obviously, but this almost certainly isn't the same person. Nor is it the J English who turned up on Count Shelly records in 1973, who was Junior English, aka reggae performer Errol English, operating under another name. 

If anyone has any clues, please let me know. This is a lovely little single, and one of those moments where I've found myself wishing I had more material by the artist to investigate.



3 September 2017

Reupload(s) - The Bats - Listen To My Heart/ Stop Don't Do It/ Hard To Get Up In The Morning



Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1966


"Northern Soul", like Catholicism, is one of the hardest concepts to define, forever snaking its way out of your grip just as soon as you believe you've got the whole affair firmly nailed. Rather as the Vatican appear to sit and reinterpret matters now and then, so too do the divine faithful at the Soul Weekenders up and down the country, leading to some rather rum records landing on official (and unofficial, disputed) discographies. Is Count Five's "Psychotic Reaction" a Northern Soul record, for example? Not by my estimation it isn't, but that doesn't seem to have prevented some people from taking that line in the seventies (I have a bootleg repressing of the disc on the "Sound of Soul" label).

Nestling neatly on the Decca compilation "Northern Soul Scene" is a single by this South African band, The Bats (they're not Irish as the liner notes state). It only fits the genre due to its pounding, jogging rhythms, chiming piano lines and finger pops, but whether we're arguing about its standing in the official list or not, it's still a damn fine track. Effervescent, insistent and absolutely loaded to the brim with hooks, it's hard to understand where the chorus starts and the verses begin - listening to this record would inspire movement in even the most dancefloor shy of humans. Sadly, I haven't been able to include a clip of it in full, but it's available to buy on iTunes if you're that way inclined.

Truth be told, the B-side "Stop Don't Do It" is pretty good in a mod-pop way as well, and it remains a massive mystery why this record didn't chart in the UK. It's pure, absolute pop, being neither ahead of its time in its stylings nor awkward, and the start of a career should have been assured for the band. Sadly, it was not to be.







Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1967


So sadly, then, by the tail end of 1967 the game was up, and "It's Hard To Get Up In The Morning" was their final UK single. This is an entirely different proposition and sounds rather like a slice of bouncy, McCartney inspired whimsy - sweet and pleasant enough, but hardly the barnstormer "Listen To My Heart" is, nor powerful enough to have stood a chance in the charts.

What became of The Bats when this failed to do the business isn't clear to me, but if anyone has any information, please come forward. They deserve masses of recognition for their one club classic at least.





1 September 2017

Avenue Mews Festival, Muswell Hill, 9th September

I'll be DJ'ing alongside the by now almost legendary London spinmaster John The Revelator at the forthcoming Avenue Mews Festival, N10 3NP on 9th September.

You can see all the details to the left of this text, but the festival takes place in a shopping mews in North London, and features open artist studios, live bands, independent stalls, street food, craft beer and essentially everything anyone within at least a five mile radius (and arguably beyond?) could possibly want.

It's a busy event, it's free, and it's usually a chance to see a side of the area that's not always upfront and on display.

Come along and say hello to me if you bump into me on your travels. I'll be by some vintage record decks pumping out some old sounds.

For those of you who do Facebook, the event invite is here