Friday, 14 September 2018

The Saga Saga

Today’s selection will split opinions. Some of you will think of these tracks as psychedelic or avant-jazz masterpieces, others as a complete waste of vinyl. I know where I stand.

Another bizarre find brought to my attention by the Squire, who discovered the first track, a particularly peculiar take on Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade on the RPM compilation Swinging London: The Accidental Genius of Saga Records 1968-1970.

The track was originally issued by Saga Records in 1968 on the album Trumpet A’Gogo. Saga, as I’m sure you will all recall, was the UK independent record company who first introduced the concept of budget-price albums to the country, and who provided a home for the mighty Joe Meek’s label Triumph. Saga were a pretty shameless bunch; the Trumpet A’Gogo title was nicked from a series of albums issued from 1966 onwards by James Last. As the sleeve notes (ahem) note, it’s “a must for the listener who’s hip to the music of NOW!”

The group credited, The New World, are in no way connected to the Antipodean band of the early 70s who had a hit with Tom Tom Turnaround and recorded the original version of Living Next Door To Alice. Nor are they connected with Meek's space symphony I Hear A New Wold despite both being Saga products. Sadly, the vocalist on this oddity is not credited, but the six-piece group consisted of Chick Webb (Drums), David Moses (Bass Guitar), Graham Stansfield (organ), Michael Gibbs (trombone), Phil Parker and Stu Hamer (both on trumpet). Shortly after the release, the same six men (as David Moses and Group) issued another album for Saga called Golden Trumpet. That album is almost as insane as Trumpet A’Gogo. One track, Loving to Spare, features vocalist Ricki Martin, although he does not receive credit for any of the other improvised or scat vocalisations on the album. There’s a wonderful, hip psychedelic feel to the albums Moses and his friends recorded for Saga, although it’s clear that in both cases the band were not afforded the luxury of endless studio time. But for me the occasional bum note only adds to the charm. This is cool, Daddio!

Moses had a long career in British jazz and folk, working with everyone from the Mike Sammes Singers to John Martyn, from Sandy Denny to Stéphane Grappelli. The multi-instrumentalist is well-known and respected for the work he has done bringing music to children: he was a regular on BBC TV’s Playschool, has written hundreds of songs for children, and he is the author of the successful Recorder Boppers series of books. He’s still performing today. Graham Stansfield became Graham Field, joined Rare Bird and later wrote and performed the theme tune to the ITV comedy Agony. Mike Gibbs would go on to work with Uriah Heep, and have a long and successful association with the NDR Big Band.

A couple of tracks then from this odd couple of albums, Scheherazade from Trumpet A’Gogo and Ride the Night from Golden Trumpet. The latter also fails to credit the vocalist, but I’d hazard that, in both cases, it’s David Moses himself. I've just bought a copy of Trumpet A’Gogo - once it arrives I'll update you.

Enjoy!

Download Scheherazade HERE


Download Ride the Night HERE

Thursday, 6 September 2018

Impish Behaviour

An act that issued their only single in the twilight of Britain’s short-lived but hugely influential skiffle craze, The Imps were a five-piece band from Lancashire, so named because the boys were aged around 12 - although I understand that an Imp Father played guitar for the blossoming boy band. Discovered by talent spotter Carrol Levis, they came from Miles Platting, a suburb of Manchester, and they disappeared almost swiftly as they arrived, issuing their sole 45, Let Me Lie and Dim Dumb Blonde on Parlophone at the start of 1958.

According to Chas McDevitt’s book, Skiffle: The Definitive Inside Story, the line-up of The Imps was made up of “Danny McGee with his granny’s washboard; Don Ainsworth with his father’s fishing line attached to an old soap box and his mother’s broom handle; Geoff Wood, Jeff Tranter and Howard Tonge each played a miniature thirty-shilling plastic guitar,” although newspapers of the day referred to these instruments as ‘plastic ukes’. The novelty act appeared on Britain’s first rock ‘n’ roll TV show, 6-5 Special, in February 1958, and the A-side of their single, Let Me Lie, was featured in the film The Golden Disc.

Issued in America as The In-Between Age, The Golden Disc starred early British teen idol Terry Dene, alongside avuncular DJ David Jacobs, singer Nancy Whiskey (who sang lead vocals on the Chas McDevitt Skiffle Group's Top Five hit Freight Train) and others. Dene had a tempestuous career, falling out with his management, the press, his wife, the British army and often falling down drunk. After disappearing from the UK pop scene he re-emerged in Sweden, having found God and become a preacher.

Although the disc’s label may lead listeners to believe that The Imps appeared in the movie, the film version of Let Me Lie was not performed by our bunch of pre-teen tearaways, but by the defiantly (and definitely) adult Sonny Stewart and his Skiffle Kings: in fact, Stewart is credited as the song’s author. Sonny Stewart’s real name was the slightly more prosaic Arthur Chamberlain, and like a number of skiffle and rock ’n’ roll acts, the band first drew attention playing at the 2I’s coffee bar in Old Compton Street, Soho. Sonny Stewart and his Skiffle Kings had issued their own version of the song, on Philips, at the end of 1957, although bizarrely Arthur’s publishers, Pan Musik Limited, didn’t get around to copyrighting it until February 1958, shortly after The Imps’ version was released. Despite The Imps replacing the original guitar break with a whistling solo, neither recording was a hit.

The flip side of The Imps’ single, Dim Dumb Blonde, is a horribly-dated slice of 50s sexism, and an odd choice for a bunch of boys not even in their teens to sing. Mind you, the plug side is a song about death, an even more peculiar junior choice. Dim Dumb Blonde was written by Eric Spear, who had spent his career writing music for minor British movies and who would go on to greater fame as the composer of the theme tune to the world’s longest-running soap opera, Coronation Street. Go man!

“The Imps make Tommy Steele seem positively senile, with their shrill unbroken voices,” said reviewer Arthur Reeves in the Coventry Evening Telegraph, “Although it is a pity they do not have the colossal and infectious beat that young Tommy generates.” Apparently, the lads found it hard to find work, as many of the clubs around Manchester refused to put them on because they were so young. I have contacted former Imp Don Ainsworth: should I hear back from him I shall update you all.

Enjoy!

Download Lie HERE



Download Blonde HERE

Friday, 31 August 2018

Nigh And Day By Day

A wonderful disc for you today that I’ve been meaning to post for a while, but had held off as I had very little information about it. I can’t even remember who first alerted me to its existence – it may have been Bob at Dead Wax, or Bob at The Wonderful and The Obscure. It may not have been a Bob at all. Never mind: whoever it was, I thank you.

Released in June 1954 (it was listed in Billboard, 19 June), although the writing credits for the plug side, Day-By-Day, are given to Hank-Oliver and Rusty-Newby, the song clearly owes a lot to Cole Porter’s Night And Day. And no, I’m not being heavy handed with the hyphens here, they pepper the titles and credits on the labels of the original release, including the flip side, Cry-Heart-Cry-On.

Choi-Nump-Ni, “a full-blooded Indian” (Billboard, May 1954), or Native American as we would politically correctly say now was signed by Academy Records, of Fresno, California, to “a long-term recording contract,” although this particular 45 seems to have been his only release. Confusingly there was another Academy Records, this one operating out of Chicago, at exactly the same time. Our Californian cousins issued at least one further 45, Word of Honor by Rusty Newby (without a hyphen this time). Newby led his own hillbilly act, Rusty Newby and the Saddle Serenaders.

So who was Choi-Nump-Ni? Well, he was also known as Hank Oliver, which explains the co-author credit on the disc, and he passed away last year at the grand old age of 91. Choi/Hank was the last member of the Choinumni tribe to speak its native language fluently, although his sister, who survived him, could speak the language reasonably well. The retired logger and ranch worker loved music, and he recorded several songs in the 60s and 70s, including In the Snows of Wounded Knee, which he recorded shortly after returning from the 1973 occupation of Wounded Knee, which had been the site of a Native American massacre in 1890. The occupation, also known as the Wounded Knee Incident, began in February 1973, when around 200 Native Americans seized and occupied the town of Wounded Knee, South Dakota, following the failure of the Oglala Sioux Civil Rights Organization (OSCRO) to impeach tribal president Richard Wilson, who was accused of corruption and abuse of opponents. Protesters also criticised the U.S. government's treatment of Native Americans. Hank also recorded a song about the Trail of Tears, the forced removal of Native Americans from their ancestral homelands in the 1830s.

An advocate of peaceful protest, Hank Oliver was quite a guy. When he was just 14 he was forced to take on the role of head of the family to his seven sisters and two brothers after their father was run over and killed by a car. He moved to Oregon to work as a logger, and also fought wildfires with the U.S. Forest Service before returning to his tribe’s ancestral land in Fresno County, where worked to protect sacred sites and teach the native language.

Oliver, who was Navajo on his father’s side (his father came from Albuquerque, New Mexico) and Choinumni on his mother’s, was buried at the Choinumni Sacred Burial Grounds on the tribe’s ancestral land in Piedra, not far from Fresno, where he had lived for more than three decades. Since 1991 Hank had lived in a small house, owned by United California Citrus, which was situated on land that had once belonged to his tribe. His former boss, Mo Zuckerman, insisted that the now-retired Hank stayed rent-free. Hank's mother, Emma, was the last princess of her tribe, and lived to the grand old age of 106: the family maintained that she was actually 109. She outlived all but four of her nine children.

Although Hank/Choi’s performance might seem a little harsh to Western ears, the sentiment is pretty special: “When I’m dead, I don’t want you to cry or grieve for me… I only ask for you to be merciful and kind.”

Enjoy!

Download Day HERE



Download Heart HERE

Friday, 24 August 2018

Lilac Time

Hollywood headliner Errol Flynn was down on his luck when he agreed, begrudgingly, to appear in the British musical Lilacs In the Spring opposite Anna Neagle. Released in 1954, It was the first of two movies the stars made together, the other being King's Rhapsody. Released in the USA as Let's Make Up, the movie also heralded the feature film debut of a young Scots actor called Sean Connery. I wonder whatever happened to him?

Made by Everest Pictures, a new production company from producer-director Herbert Wilcox; who was also Neagle’s husband. Wilcox had made three films for Republic Pictures, and had hoped that the company would bankroll film versions of two Ivor Novello musicals he had purchased. When this did not happen, he was forced to obtain finance from another company, British Lion. Flynn only agreed to make the film to pay off the debts he had incurred from his own abandoned project, The Story of William Tell.

Neagle and Wilcox personally guaranteed a loan of ₤75,000 to make Lilacs In the Spring, but the movie was a flop, and the loss contributed to Wilcox's bankruptcy. It wasn’t helped by the 50-year-old Neagle playing the coquettish daughter of the 45-year old Flynn.

Flynn liked Britain, or perhaps Britain liked him; in the twilight of his career, it certainly seemed easier for him to earn a living here than in the States, where the Tasmanian devil had made his name. He enjoyed a renaissance of sorts in 1957 with his role in The Sun Also Rises, but that would be his last major hit. He died in October 19598 from a combination of heart disease and cirrhosis of the liver. 

Even though the hard drinking, womanising Flynn was no singer, he opted to use his own voice in Lilacs In the Spring rather than be dubbed by a professional. Neagle, on the other hand, was a talented and trained singer. Bizarrely, Philips in the UK decided to issue a 78 from the film, featuring Flynn mugging his way through Lily of Laguna on one side and duetting (of sorts) on the film’s title song, We’ll Gather Lilacs (written by Ivor Novello) on the flip – however he doesn’t duet with Dame Anna, but with his then-wife (and singer) Patrice Wymore. It’s not good…

Lily of Laguna was written in 1898 by English composer Leslie Stuart. Advertised as “the world’s greatest coon song”, by the time Flynn got in there the lyrics had been toned down somewhat, and his version lacks the original’s racial insensitivity. This ‘cleaner’ version had previously been recorded by Bing Crosby.

In an odd postscript, Flynn’s only son, Sean, (born 31 May 1941), disappeared in Cambodia in April 1970 during the Vietnam War, while and he and his colleague Dana Stone were working as freelance photojournalists for Time magazine. Neither man's remains have ever been found and, after a decade-long search financed by his mother, he was officially declared dead in 1984. It is generally assumed that the two men were killed by Khmer Rouge guerrillas. In 2010, a British team uncovered the remains of a Western hostage in the Cambodian jungle, but DNA comparisons with samples from the Flynn family were negative.

Just as an aside, in 1974 Errol Brown (of Hot Chocolate fame) attempted to launch a solo career, issuing the single From The Top Of My Head under the name Errol Flynn…

Enjoy!

Download Lily HERE


Download Lilacs HERE



Apologies for the poor quality of We’ll Gather Lilacs. I’ll replace the sound file when I track down a better version.

Thursday, 16 August 2018

Heartbreaking

Elvis Presley’s breakthrough, Heartbreak Hotel¸ was issued by HMV in Britain in early 1956. The single became Elvis’s debut UK hit, reaching Number Two and staying on the charts for 22 weeks. Sadly, it was prevented from reaching the top spot by serial WWR miscreant Pat Boone.  Reissued in 1971, the single once again hit the British Top Ten: a 40th anniversary reissue, in 1996, also entered the Top Fifty.

The success of Heartbreak Hotel inspired several artists to issue cover versions, most of which were poor, and a few which were downright awful. You can see where I’m going with this, can’t you?

First up is US outfit the Goofers, a quintet of Italian-American musical comedians who issued several discs in the States between 1954 and 1960. All former members of Louis Prima's band, The Goofers played the London Palladium in 1957 and 1958, the same year that they starred in the movie Bop Girl. The group was known for their crazy antics, including playing their instruments while hanging upside down on a trapeze. In 1956 they gave us Teardrop Motel and made fun of Elvis’s own delivery by making most of the words intentionally unintelligible. Issued by Vogue-Coral in the UK (an imprint of Decca), the B-side of the single was Tennessee Rock and Roll.

The same week (in the UK at least) the Pye-Nixa label had a bash at Presley, with a Mae West-inspired cover of Heartbreak Hotel, performed by Gale Warning and the Weathermen (although, confusingly, the disc credits read Gale Warning and Her Boys). Playing on the name of the Weathermen, the flip - Met Rock - saw Gale reading the shipping forecast over a big band beat. The disc was not well received and, like the Goofers, failed to chart on either side of the Atlantic.

In real life Gale was the formerly famous actress Frances Day, who I featured briefly on this here blog three years ago. Born Frances Victoria Schenk in New Jersey in 1907, the bisexual Day – lover to both Edward VIII and Eleanor Roosevelt - was reputed to be the illegitimate daughter of automobile pioneer Horace Dodge. Spotted in a New York Speakeasy she was taken to London in 1924 by Australian impresario Beaumont Alexander, who dyed her hair platinum blonde and launched her in the West End where she was known for performing in nothing but a G-string and feather boa. Day married Beaumont in 1927, but after living apart for many years, they divorced a decade or so later.

She went on to appear in countless shows and films during the 1930s but had pretty much vanished from the public consciousness when, in the late 1950s, she reappeared as a regular panellist on the TVG show What’s My Line. She died in 1984: her will stated that “there be no notice or information of any kind of my death, except for and if a death certificate is obligatory. Any persons, private or Press, you shall simply say that I am no longer at this address. ‘Gone away. Destination unknown’, and that is the truth.” Class!

Just as an aside, American humourist Stan Freberg also issued a version, backed with a parody of Lonnie Donegan’s Rock Island Line, which was credited to Stan Freberg And His Sniffle Group. Freberg was well known in the States as a voice actor, appearing in many cartoons in a long and varied career – although, despite what you may read elsewhere, he did not voice Rocky or Bullwinkle.

Enjoy!

Download Heartbreak HERE


Download Met Rock HERE



Download Teardrop HERE


Download Tennessee HERE

Friday, 10 August 2018

How Low Can You Go?


Now here’s an odd one for you. Roz Croney, the so-called Queen of the Limbo, issued How Low Can You Go in 1963. It’s dreadful, but of massive importance to jazz collectors as it features Sun Ra, the composer, bandleader, keyboard player, and poet known for his experimental music, his prolific output, and his wildly theatrical performances.

Roz was a native of Grenada. She began to limbo after visiting Barbados, with her mother, in 1955. Two years later she was instructing actor Dorothy Dandridge how to limbo for the film Island In The Sun, and she went on to tour America as a featured performer in Larry Steele’s revue Smart Affairs of 1961. Steele was the head of the largest black entertainment touring troupe in the United States at the time. According to reports, the limber Ms. Croney could limbo beneath a bar just seven and a half inches off the floor.

In an article in Ebony magazine, Roz revealed that “she considers herself a more than passable singer, but cannot use this talent because her voice is kept hoarse by the shouts which accompany her limbo routine.” Shame she seemed to forget that when Tom Wilson, the record producer best known for his work with Bob Dylan, Frank Zappa, Simon & Garfunkel and The Velvet Underground, dragged her in to New York’s Mastertone Studio to record this nonsense. One assumed that Wilson was inspired by seeing Roz perform, or perhaps by the success of Chubby Checker’s 1962 single Limbo Rock, or the earlier, instrumental version of the tune by the Champs.

Sun Ra, or Herman Poole Blount to give him his given name, got the gig because for a number of years he had been working as a session musician for Edward Bland, the arranger of this travesty. For much of his career, Sun Ra led an ensemble he dubbed "The Arkestra", and he brought along several of his long-time collaborators, including Marshall Allen (alto sax), John Gilmore (bass clarinet), Ronnie Boykins (bass), and Pat Patrick (baritone sax and flute) for this album. perhaps unsurprisingly, there was no How Low Can You Go Volume Two.

Here’s a handful of cuts from How Low You Can Go, Doggie In The Window Limbo, The Limbo Queen and the truly awful Whole Lot Of Shaking Going On (apparently the correct title, Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin’ On was too vulgar!)

Enjoy!

Download Doggie HERE



Download Queen HERE



Download Shaking HERE

Friday, 3 August 2018

The Teenage Rage


Leonard Davis was working in EMI’s Hayes factory when he as spotted by producer and songwriter Norman Newell, the man who had also given Russ Conway and Shirley Bassey their big breaks at Columbia... and who produced the awful Songs for Swinging Children.

Born in South Wales in 1938, at the tender age of 19 Len was launched on to an unsuspecting public as “Larry Page, the Teenage Rage” but, despite issuing three singles for Columbia in 1957 and 58, he would never score a chart hit for the company. 

It’s not hard to understand why: he can’t sing! The poor boy was pushed in to the EMI studios in Abbey Road and given dreadful, anodyne arrangements of recent US hits to perform, and the results are dreadful. He explained the process in the in the book The Restless Generation: "The label saw no future in rock ‘n’ roll. They had to make all the great American records sound like Worker's Playtime; they Didn't have a clue. Consequently, I made a Mickey Mouse version of That'll Be The Day [issued as his second A-side]. I was treated as a junior employee and for my first record they gave me a copy of Start Movin' by Sal Mineo and told me to go away and learn it - which I did - every vocal inflection, every swish of the rhythm. Then you get to the studio and find they're like a marching band… I had no input, they even picked the key for me." Start Movin' was issued as the flip side to his cover of the Del Vikings' Cool Shake.

After he was dropped by Columbia he went to Saga, the same company that was soon to launch Joe Meek’s Triumph label. Page’s singles (and one EP) for Saga also flopped, and he gave up any pretence of being a singer to concentrate on orchestrations, arrangements and, later, group management. 

Larry Page would hit the big time a few years later as the manager of the Kinks and the Troggs, and as the leader of the Larry Page Orchestra, probably best known for their albums of Kinks and Beatles covers: Page’s Kinky Music album was arranged by Ray Davies and featured future Led Zep member Jimmy Page. Larry was also the founder of both Page One and Penny Farthing records, which hit the big time with Venus by Shocking Blue, Daniel Boone’s Beautiful Sunday, and Chelsea F.C.’s Blue is the Colour.

Page now lives in happy retirement in Australia.

Here are both sides of his debut 45, and - courtesy of YouTube - the appalling That'll Be The Day.

Enjoy!

Download Start Movin' HERE



Download Cool Shake HERE



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