Friday, 8 November 2019

Beyond the Pale


In twelve years, and in over 540 posts (this is, in fact, blog post 543) how on earth (pun intended) have I managed to ignore writing about the Christian Astronauts, otherwise known as the Shoup family from Fremont, Ohio, and their one classic album Beyond the Blue

I did include them in a write-up on Christian music in The World’s Worst Records Volume One, but for those who have not read the book yet, let me introduce you to one of the weirdest and most wonderful records this side of Into Outer Space with Lucia Pamela.

This delightfully amateur outer space epic first appeared in 1971. Dean Shoup (referred to on the album’s liner notes and throughout their 10-year career as Captain Shoup), like Marcy Tigner, was a self-taught ventriloquist who realised that America's fascination with space travel could provide him with a platform for spreading the gospel.

Advertising himself as “one of the world’s leading ventriloquists” and as a “gospel magician” (whatever that may be), Dean and his family toured America and filmed more than 300 episodes of a cable-TV children's ministry programme, also called Beyond the Blue, which was broadcast in the Washington state area. The cast included his wife Connie (a.k.a. Sister Shoup), kids Rick and Michelle (also known as Shelly), Jerry (a shrill-voiced ventriloquist’s dummy) and his grandmother, and starred a seven-foot tall robot, Loosenut, apparently fashioned from cardboard boxes and tin foil but which came equipped with flashing eyes and moving arms and who sounded, unsurprisingly, exactly like the good captain. In 1972, after the album was released, the family would be joined by their third and last child, son Brent. sadly I have been unable to find any footage of the TV show... but I'm sure it's out there somewhere.
The brilliance of Beyond The Blue lies, in part, to the obvious lack of money spent on the project: Captain Shoup provides all of the sound effects as well as the voices for the non-human members of the ship’s crew and the album’s narrative content, while Sister Shoup’s whole raison d’etre seems to be to chirrup through a handful of hymns.

According to the sleeve notes: “Capt. Shoup is in the pilot seat and Loosenut is the co-pilot. Lt. Green is sitting at the computer giving us assistance in helping us to stay on course, using the Bible for the flight manual”. It’s childish, cheap and utterly charming: Captain Shoup’s stumbling delivery only adding to the album’s appeal.

Despite the Christian Astronauts delivering their last earthly sermon in 1981, it’s my hope that the Shoups, Jimmy, Granny and Loosenut are still out there preaching the good word in a galaxy far, far away. Originally issued by Gospel Empire Records, the album received a limited reissue, on CDR, from outsider music specialists Companion Records a few years ago, fully endorsed by Captain Shoup himself. Sadly, this has now sold out, but you can hear a couple of tracks here, My Heart Is Reserved (sung by Rick) and I’ll Never Be The Same (sung by Michelle).

Enjoy!

Download Heart HERE


Download Never HERE

Saturday, 2 November 2019

Thirteen Minus Two


 Inspired by a recent comment on this here very blog, I have just purchased a copy of the rather splendid Eleven Plus Two by brother and sister act the Twintones. And I’m so glad that I did.

Issued by Cornish independent Summit Records in 1974, Eleven Plus Two houses the entire (as far as I am aware, anyway) recorded output of The Twintones. It’s a name oft employed by bands, but this particular act consisted of twins Kay and Gary Tucker, who hailed from the village of Nanpean, approximately 4 miles north-west of St Austell.

It’s a fun little record, and for pre-teens – the album was recorded when they were just eleven-years-old - these kids are really quite accomplished. Kay played keyboards and Gary drummed, although the duo also dabbled in other instruments, as can be heard on their recording of Remember You're A Womble, where Kay also plays trombone and Gary plays euphonium.

The album features an odd mix of family-friendly standards, from recent chart hits including Popcorn and Y Viva España (rendered “Eviva Espana” on the sleeve) to a rousing rendition of the Dambusters March and Ode To Joy. Still, you have to admit, the noise of heels clipping across the floor on These Boots Were Made for Walking (the addition of a 'g' at the end of walkin' is all-important) is inspired, and the duo almost manage to keep time to it. “This engineer, Alan, brought in a plank of wood and wore cowboy boots, and walked in the same rhythm as the piece, to embellish what we were doing,”* Kay explains.

Banana Rock, although mentioned in the sleeve notes and sandwiched on side two of the album between Ode To Joy and Melody Waltz (a tune composed by Kay herself), isn’t credited nor included in the track listing. A shame, as it’s the duos only vocal. It’s the second tip of the hat on the LP to the then-hugely popular kids’ TV show (and earlier book series) The Wombles, and to Mike Batt’s musical group of the same name. Coincidentally, the two tracks recorded by the Twintones bookended the album Remember You're A Womble, issued in the same year as Eleven Plus Two. Banana Rock provided the Wombles with their third consecutive Top ten single in June 1974.

Sadly, everything about the packaging and marketing of this is half-arsed. The cover photo appears to be a blow up of a dimly-lit Polaroid, and Gary was none too impressed with the result: “The sleeve looked very dull to me, for two youngsters. They just used a flash camera, and it was all brown around the outside. They didn't do any location shooting – it was in the studio, they took the camera. We could have gone out on the cliffs and done a lot more to make it a bit brighter – not two children stuck in this dark hole,”* he said, many years later. The endorsement on the reverse of the sleeve from “international star” Dick Emery amounts to little more than an admission that he once met the siblings, although apparently he was impressed enough to invite them on stage with him for the last night of his residency at the “Talk Of the West”, the rather grand-sounding club within the Perran View Holiday Park.

And why the nonsensical title for the album? Surely Eleven Times Two would have made more sense: the twins were both eleven at the time of recording, after all. Unless, of course, it’s a pun on the Eleven Plus exam that kids moving from juniors into secondary school sat in those days. Apparently, the title came about because, according to Kay, “We started recording the album when we were 11, but thanks to a strike somewhere in the chain it took two years for the record to come out. When we asked what we should call the record, Job Morris [co-owner of Sentinel Records] said: ‘Well, 11 plus 2’. It was a reference to the exam, and the fact we were now 13.”* It's a shame because these kids were clearly talented.

There would be no further records from the Twintones, although Kay did release a solo cassette, Kay Plays Technics which Gary recorded at home and which was issued, again by Sentinel, to sell at gigs.

The Twintones career petered out as the twins grew up, and the demand for live acts of their type diminished, although in 2013 the pair reformed for a charity show in support of Cornish cancer support charity Tanya’s Courage Trust.

Anyway, here are a couple of stand out tracks from Eleven Plus Two: These Boots Were Made for Walking and Banana Rock. Enjoy!

Download Walking HERE


Download Banana HERE



*The quotes in this from Kay and Gary come from an interview conducted by journalist and stand-up comedian Dave Waller, and first appeared on the Sentinel Records blog in 2014 

Friday, 25 October 2019

Bum Deal


Pat Campbell’s album, Just a Quiet Conversation, is everything a bad music enthusiast could hope for. Overwrought narration with folksy, clip-cloppy Country and a good dose of God-bothering on the side. Just a Quiet Conversation would spawn the classic single The Deal, which almost made the UK Top 30 and has the honour of sitting alongside Red Sovine’s Teddy Bear in the Kenny Everette-curated pantheon of bad records.

it’s Epic: an absolute masterpiece.

Pat Campbell had been a member of the '50s Irish harmony group The Four Ramblers, together with a young Val Doonican. While Doonican left for solo stardom, the group continued for a short while, releasing one 10” album, The Emerald Isle, and a couple of singles before Pat gravitated to the industry side of the music business, first as a DJ for Radio Luxembourg (he’s there, presenting his own Late, Late Show in 1959) before becoming involved in label management.

After a stint working for Decca, where he oversaw the licensing and release of many of the post-mortem Jim Reeves albums and singles (Reeves label, RCA, was a subsidiary of Decca before setting up their stand-alone UK operation), by 1968 Pat was working for Phil Solomon’s Major-Minor Records, an Irish record label based in north London that licensed a lot of its material from abroad: we’ve already featured such horrors as the Equipe 84 single Auschwitz and Freddie “Parrotface” Davies’ Cynthia Crisp. While at Major-Minor, Pat had recorded a couple of vocals for label mate Mike Mercardo, a keyboard player known as 'The Swinging Monk', for his album The Power and The Glory.

The Irish have always had a soft spot for Country & Western music, and one of the artists Major-Minor was interested in was our old friend Red Sovine. Major-Minor do not appear to have released any of Old Red’s albums here in the UK (he was licensed to London for much of this period) although they may have had a hand in promoting some concerts. Pat, it seems, became very enamoured of Red’s storytelling style… which is where the inspiration for Just a Quiet Conversation comes from.

Referencing his regular C&W slot on Radio Luxembourg, the album’s sleeve notes wax lyrically about his credentials: “Pat Campbell was born in Ireland, but it might just as well have been Nashville. He's been there many times and he's welcomed as a friend by the biggest names in the world of country music. On each visit he brings a little piece of Nashville home with him, but also leaves a little of Pat Campbell there in return.” However, Pat’s recitations are more Terry Wogan than truck driving man. Still, The Deal, the first of two singles issued from Just A Quiet Conversation managed to spend five weeks on the UK singles chart, peaking at a respectable number 31 shortly before Christmas 1969.

After his brief shot at pop chart immortality, Pat returned to spinning discs for a living, rather than making them himself, eventually working as a DJ for Radio Two, where he presented a show called Country Style. 

Sadly, Pat passed away in 2006. His family and friends remember him as a happy man who was always pulling practical jokes. Perhaps Just A Quiet Conversation was one of those. I’m sure he’d appreciate just how much fun people are still having, listening to his album half a century after it was recorded.

Here are a couple of tracks for you: Pat’s cover of Red Sovine’s Giddy Up Go and his hit single, The Deal. If you like this you can find the entire album, plus the two Swinging Monk tracks, at WFMU.

Enjoy!

Download Giddy HERE




Download Deal HERE


Friday, 18 October 2019

Shake Me, I Prattle


Little Beverley Bunt, from the village of Indian Queens in Cornwall, was just seven years old when she recorded her first - and so far only – EP for His Master’s Voice back in 1959. 

According to the sleeve notes, even at that young age Bev was already something of a veteran, having won several singing competitions including the Junior Vocal Championship of Cornwall.

Arranged and conducted by Ron Goodwin, the four songs on this release are just lovely: The Queen’s Highway attempts to teach children how to cross the road safely, and predates the Tufty Club and the Green Cross Code Man by years. Open Up Your Heart has also been recorded, notably by Little Marcy, as Let The Sunshine In

Me And My Teddy Bear had been recorded by dozens of artists before, including a pre-Little Marcy Marcy Tigner, on her one-off EP for Angelus, which I featured on this very blog back in 2013. My Choc’late Rabbit, credited on the disc as having been written by a gentleman by the name of Pascal Marks was, in fact, co-written by American songwriters Gerald Marks, the author of All Of Me and Milton Pascal. The song had previously been recorded by Rosemary Clooney in 1950, the year before she hit the big time with Come On-a My House

Bev did not release a record under her own name again, although she did pop up in 1968 in the regional heats of a Miss Cornwall competition, and she also appears to have done some session work at Roche Studios in Cornwall in the late 1970s.

The name Indian Queens, incidentally, seems to have come from an 18th Century public house and rather than Pocahontas or Queen Victoria, the one-time Empress of India.

Here are all four tracks from this charming little release. Enjoy!

Download Teddy HERE


Download Heart HERE


Download Rabbit HERE


Download Highway HERE

Friday, 11 October 2019

It's The Jesmonds


Love Is All, the only EP release from lounge act the Jesmonds, comes from the same label that brought you the wonderful Joanne Duo, Eron.  

Issued in 1980 “to satisfy the demands of their innumerable fans” (it says here), the Jesmonds were another woeful cabaret trio made up of brothers Kevin (keyboards) and Andy Hyde (drums) who, according to the sleeve notes, “had played together for about five years and won outright at an 'Opportunity Knocks' show and later, at a Butlins talent competition.” In September 1979 they took on vocalist Roy, who the brothers at another Opportunity Knocks show (my assumption is that these were regional talent shows, rather than the TV version), where Roy and the brothers tied for first place.

Managed by the brothers’ father John Hyde, by the time they came to record their EP they were “one of the most popular acts in Kent at hotels, clubs and at dinners,” apparently. that’s something I find hard to accept, although having listened to most of the Joanne Duo’s output it’s fairly obvious what passed for entertainment in the hotels and social clubs of Kent in the late 70s and early 80s. there’s very little (read: no) information about the trio online, although according to the sleeve notes their act was full of “energy and dynamism” as well as showcasing their “excellent visual presentation and their likeable personalities.”

I’ve found a listing for the trio playing a summer season at Romney Sands Holiday Park in 1983, but that’s all I’ve got, I’m afraid. The usual shout out for anyone who may have more information about the band, but until then here are a couple of tracks from the EP: Cracklin’ Rosie and Love Is In The Air.

Enjoy!

Download Love HERE


Download Rosie HERE


 Thanks to Conrad Zimmer for the info!

Friday, 4 October 2019

Wheely Great


Not much is known about the two young men behind the insanely rare Wheelz of Steel Volume One, brothers Raymond and Richard Markowski of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. But what follows is what I been able to glean so far.

Born in 1961 and 1962 respectively, the brothers were born with Muscular Dystrophy, an inherited genetic condition that gradually causes the muscles to weaken, leading to an increasing level of disability. Unable to get around without assistance, the boys were not going to let their situation get the better of them, and with commendable good humour and a certain irony (and a nod, no doubt to British NWOBHM band Saxon), named their band Wheelz of Steel after the wheelchairs they were confined to.

Issued in 1983, the self-funded and self-released album features the brothers swapping guitar and bass duties, with vocals handled by Richard. Throughout they are accompanied by their trusty Roland drum machine, credited on the reverse of the sleeve as “T.R”. All eight songs were co-written by the boys themselves.   

It’s a dreadful record, but you have to admire their spirit. How many of us in a similar situation would have been able to write, perform on and release our own LP? Not only that, but they even performed live, entering into a local Battle of the Bands competition and winning. Admirable stuff.

Sadly, both of the Markowski brothers are no longer with us: Raymond passed away, aged just 32, in 1993. Richard died in September 2011 aged 49 after power was lost at the Milwaukee home he shared with his mother in an overnight windstorm, cutting off the electricity supply to his ventilator. Richard’s mother, Beverly, called 911 when his ventilator started to beep, but she told emergency personnel that she had backup batteries, so they left. She called 911 again shortly afterwards because her son was struggling, and the alarm was beeping again. He later died at a hospital. According to the county medical examiner’s report, Mrs. Markowski believed that the batteries had a longer life. A sad end to a short, but accomplished, life.

Have a listen to a couple of tracks from the brilliant Wheelz of Steel Volume One here: Outerspace Man and Mad Man. If you want more, the whole thing is available on YouTube,

Enjoy!

Download Outerspace HERE



Download Mad HERE

Thursday, 19 September 2019

A Demo


Kenneth Higney’s absurd album Attic Demonstration, issued on his own Kebrutney Records in 1976, has gained a reputation as an outsider classic over the years.

The album was originally recorded to promote the former truck driver’s work as a songwriter, with Higney roping in friends Gordon Gaines (guitars, drums), John Duva (bass guitar), and Mark Volpe (guitar, percussion) to help fill out the sound. The collection of demos was never intended for commercial release,  however when none of Higney’s songs proved sellable he had a limited run of just 500 copies pressed, “because I figured it was easier than constantly making up cassette tapes to send out,” he explained in a 2011 interview for It’s Psychedelic Baby magazine.

One of those 500 discs found its way to the editors of Trouser Press, who called Higney’s work a “cross between Lou Reed and Neil Young without the aid of melody”. That’s a pretty accurate description, and although Higney was none too flattered, he did like the idea of his work being mentioned alongside such luminaries as Reed and Young. In 1980 he released a 7”, I Wanna Be The King/Funky Kinky, a tribute to New York Dolls guitarist Johnny Thunders backed with a hideous stab at disco. The single, limited to just 1,000 copies, again featured Gaines and Volpe, plus John Lynch on bass. It’s a delightful mess.

After years in obscurity, occasionally issuing recordings by other artists through his Kebrutney label, Higney resurfaced in 2003, reissuing Attic Demonstration (or “A Demo”) as a limited run of 3,000 CD copies and adding the two sides of the single in for good measure. He followed that six years later with a new album, American Dirt. Many of the songs on the album were written around the same time as those on Attic Demonstration, which featured musicians such as Jack Pearson, formerly of The Allman Brothers Band. Two years later he issued his third album, Ambulance Driver: a collection of newer songs but still with one – Nonsense – from the Attic Demonstration days.

You can purchase all of Kenneth’s work via his own website, http://www.kebrutney.com/

Here are a couple of the standout tracks from Attic Demonstration, Quietly Leave Me and Night Rider, Higney’s song about the Ku Klux Klan.

Download Quietly HERE

Download Night HERE


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