Friday, 15 February 2019

Bittersweet Sinfonia

Although I seldom post about novelty records there have been one or two notable exceptions over the years. This is one of those records that always makes me laugh, and I think its about time I shared it with you.

The Portsmouth Sinfonia was founded by English composer Gavin Bryars and a group of students at the Portsmouth School of Art in 1970 and was open to anyone that either had no musical training or who chose to play an instrument that they were unfamiliar with. The only rules were that everyone had to come for rehearsals and that people should try their best to get it right, not intentionally play badly. Their first recording¸ a one-sided flexi disc of Rossini's William Tell Overture, was sent out as the invitation for the 1970 degree show. Their debut album, Portsmouth Sinfonia Plays the Popular Classics, followed in 1973.

The orchestra remained something of a cult, selling out the occasional live performance but not really attracting anything like a large audience until, in 1979 they issued their third album, 20 Classic Rock Classics, which gained a fair amount of airplay. After that, the orchestra was approached by Island records and, inspired by the “Hooked on Classics” series, in 1981 they released Classical Muddly – which became a top 40 hit in September of that year.

In 2011 the Portsmouth Sinfonia was the subject of a Radio 4 documentary. In that programme Bryars claimed that idea that members were required to be novices at their instruments was a "scurrilous rumour put about by the BBC". As if!
Here’s their 1981 hit single Classical Muddly (originally backed with a liver version of the Hallelujah Chorus, recorded at the Albert Hall) and, from their 1973 Brian Eno-produced album Portsmouth Sinfonia Plays the Popular Classics, the ridiculously fun Also Sprach Zarathustra.

Enjoy!
Download Muddly HERE

Download Sprach HERE

Friday, 1 February 2019

Baby Baby Baby Baby

Today’s terrible tune comes courtesy of drummer Martin Samuel, the former sticksman for the late 60s/early 70s pop/rock band Heat wave (not to be confused with the mid 70’s Brit disco band Heatwave), and it’s the truly awful Baby by Sensation.

A bit of background. Based in London, Heat Wave (also, confusingly, known as Heatwave) were signed by Larry Page, the former Teenage Rage (and manager of the Kinks and the Troggs), to his Penny Farthing label. They released one single, the psych-influenced Sister Simon (Funny Man)/Rastus Ravel (Is A Mean Old Man) in November 1970. Also released in Europe and Japan, as Martin says, “It's on the Penny Farthing label and, so far, we have not seen so much as a penny or a farthing from it!”

The A-side featured the Ladybirds (three former Vernons Girls who were the go-to vocal backing act of the time); the flip had a young man called Rick Wakeman on keyboards and Doris Troy on backing vocals. Both songs were written by John Edward, the former pirate radio DJ who would go on to huge success with Metal Mickey and Renee and Renato.

In the middle of the following year Martin left the group. “Although Heatwave kicked me out for suggesting we play more originals (we did two of mine) and songs not by Mr. Edward, it was really as a result of Edward recording singles using session players and only the vocalists, as did The Beach Boys, from the bands in his agency,” he explains. “I wanted no part, and they were worried I’d blow the whistle.”

He auditioned for (and almost joined) Badfinger, as a replacement for Mike Gibbins. “Mike had been doing serious session work as a drummer. He felt playing with them was cramping his style and he wished to expand as a drummer so, it was a friendly mutual agreement. I had the gig until Pete asked if I wrote songs. Having recently been replaced for just such a reason, for the first and last time in my life I lied and told him, ‘No, I'm only a drummer’. Later I discovered they were looking for an all-writing band!” Missing out on the Badfinger gig, he instead joined the Jonathan King-affiliated Crew.

Sensation (or The Sensation), the band that Heat Wave became after Martin left, found a new drummer (a chap called Stumpy), stuck with John Edward and recorded a new single, the glammy Black Eyed Woman (not a bad record at all) which was backed by the dreadful Baby... a song whose lyric must have taken John Edward months to write.

Martin rejoined not long after, “on condition we play more of ‘our’ originals and record them ourselves. Such did not transpire so I jumped ship, flew to Jersey and joined Simon Raverne.”

By an odd twist of fate, in 1980 Martin almost joined Badfinger again. “I was a studio session drummer in Los Angeles and met up with Joey Molland, who was working part-time as a carpenter/odd-job man, when Tom Evans flew in from the U.K. to discuss what was to be the aptly-named Badfinger album, ‘Say No More’. They wanted an all-Brit band including Tony Kaye, but Tony would only play if his drummer pal was in the band so, once again, I was ousted. As it turned out, they recorded the album in Miami (where Gibbins later passed away) with a totally different drummer!”

A lifelong drummer, Martin is still playing and composing today.

You can find out more about – and hear more from - Heat Wave and their associated bands at http://www.heatwave.n.nu/ Col Wolf has also written a detailed history of the band, which you can find here: http://www.forumusic.co.uk/heatwave.html

My huge thanks to Martin for taking the time to get in touch, and for providing the illustrations. Here are both sides of the Sensation 45. Enjoy! 

Download Baby HERE


Download Black HERE

Friday, 25 January 2019

Pipes of Peace

What can we say about Liberace that has not been said before? Not much, to be honest. The saccharine-sweet ivory tinkler is a bit much for me, fascinating though he is/was. But he's one of those artists that keep on popping up on my radar, and yet in the more than 11 years that I've been writing this blog I've yet to 'do' him, as it were.

So, allow me to make amends with his hateful 1959 B-side Let There Be Peace On Earth And Let It Begin With Me.

Issued in Britain as the flip to his instrumental version of the Rogers and Hammerstein classic You'll Never Walk Alone, the release followed a turbulent few years for Wladziu Valentino Liberace (known to his family and friends as Lee), who made his first recordings in 1946.

Revered as one of the world’s greatest entertainers, his enormous success relied on his position as America’s non-threatening, asexual ‘mama’s boy’, and his low-brow popularisation of high-brow music would never have happened if his audience – including the 35 million that regularly tuned in to watch him on TV - had seen him as anything other than sexless. 

In 1956 an article in the British newspaper The Daily Mirror (by columnist William Connor, writing under the pen name Cassandra) described Liberace as ‘the summit of sex - the pinnacle of masculine, feminine, and neuter. Everything that he, she, and it can ever want… a deadly, winking, sniggering, snuggling, chromium-plated, scent-impregnated, luminous, quivering, giggling, fruit-flavoured, mincing, ice-covered heap of mother love’. Liberace, at the time the highest paid entertainer in the world, sent a tongue-in-cheek telegram to the Daily Mirror that read: ‘what you said hurt me very much. I cried all the way to the bank’, although he would later sue the newspaper for libel, testifying in a London court that he was not homosexual and that he had never taken part in homosexual acts. 

Lee testified that, at a performance in Sheffield, ‘there were cries from the audience of “queer” and such things as “go home, queer”,’ which upset him ‘very much, and it upset the audience too.’ He won the suit, perjuring himself in the process, and the £8,000 damages he received led Liberace to repeat his new ‘I cried all the way to the bank’ catchphrase to reporters.

The Daily Mirror was not the only publication prepared to take a pop: the headline in the July 1957 issue of the US magazine Confidential trumpeted that ‘Liberace’s Theme Song Should Be “Mad About the Boy”!’ Liberace also sued Confidential, this time filing a $20-million libel suit and telling the press that ‘this story is a damn lie and I’m damned mad. If it takes every nickel I’ve got I’ll guarantee it will never happen to anyone else as long as I live. All of us take a certain amount of kidding about ourselves and our work, but when they come out in print and tell such lies, I’m going to move. It’s real heartbreak to see your life’s work destroyed so viciously by a magazine in an article of this kind. It’s a lie. It’s trash.’

Lee kept up the pretense to the end, even after his former chauffeur and lover Scott Thorson filed a $113 million lawsuit against him (in the first same-sex palimony case in the US), he denied any kind of homosexual involvement. In December 1986, less than two months before he died, Liberace settled the case for $95,000. The week after his death (on February 4, 1987) the Daily Mirror made a half-hearted attempt to recover the money from his estate, running the headline ‘Any Chance of a Refund’. 

Let There Be Peace On Earth And Let It Begin With Me is a rarity in the Liberace canon, in that it contains a vocal performance by the pianist. Lee would flex his larynx on occasion, but the results were always pretty dire... and never more so than this. The song, incidentally, was composed in 1955 for the International Children's Choir: it has since been covered by dozens of artists, including country singer Vince Gill and Carlos Santana.

Here are both sides of the 45.

Enjoy!

Download PEACE here

Download WALK here

Friday, 18 January 2019

Touched By the Hand of Cicciolina

Today's post was inspired by the rather wonderful Mr. Weird and Wacky. Blame him!

Immortalised by Pop Will Eat Itself (and Eurotrash), Elena Anna “Ilona” Staller – Cicciolina – is a former member of the Italian parliament, former actress, former porn star… and former disco singer.

Born in Hungary, if her ‘official’ biography is to be believed in 1964 (at the age of 13!) she began working as a model and, later, spy, passing information about American diplomats on to the Hungarian authorities. Soon she met and married Salvatore Martini and moved to Italy.

It was there that she met pornographer Riccardo Schicchi and adopted the name Cicciolina. Her first starring role was in the 1975 softcore lesbian romp La liceale (The Teasers) and, in 1978, the same year that she began her recording career, she became the first woman to bare her breasts live on Italian TV. By 1983 she had moved into producing her own hardcore movies, and this was followed by a tell-all book, The Erotic Confessions of Cicciolina, and an appearance on the cover of Playboy (the first of many).

Her political ambitions began in 1979, when Ilona stood as a candidate for Italy’s Green party. In 1985, she switched to the Partito Radicale, campaigning against nuclear energy and NATO membership, as well as for human rights. She was elected to the Italian parliament in 1987, the same year that she released her most infamous song, Muscolo Rosso, a paean to the penis. While in office, and before the outset of the Gulf War, she offered to have sex with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in return for peace in the region. Perhaps unsurprisingly, she was not re-elected at the end of her term in 1991.

Having gone ‘legit’, in more recent years she has appeared in the film Replikator and had a role in the Brazilian soap opera Xica da Silva. In 2008, she was a contestant on the Argentine version of Strictly Come Dancing.

Here are both sides of her 1979 disco single, a cover of Lief Garret’s I Was Made For Dancin’ and Save The Last Dance For Me, originally a hit for the Drifters.

Enjoy!

Download Dancin' HERE



Download Dance HERE

Friday, 11 January 2019

It's Time To Swing 'n' Slim

Who doesn’t love a good advertising record?

Trimettes, which enjoyed their heyday around 1963/64 were biscuits, available in three flavours, lemon & Chocolate, Orange or Cheese, which dieters were expected to use as a meal replacement – a proto Slim Fast bar, if you like. They came in packs of 12, which represented three meals: it was suggested by the manufacturers that for rapid weight loss you replace every meal with your four biscuit allowance and a glass of milk and, one you had achieved the desired weight, you could then maintain your figure by replacing just one meal a day with Trimettes biscuits.

Established to compete in the burgeoning slimmer’s market with Limmits, a similar meal replacement biscuit that had been around since the middle of 1961, Trimettes were manufactured by Universal Laboratories of Folkestone, Kent, who also made Daxaids, an indigestion medicine, Soothe chilblain cream, and Dascote cold and flu remedy as well as countless other ‘over the counter’ medicines.

Not exactly sensible, the biscuits’ main ingredient was sodium carboxymethyl cellulose, a thickener derived from wood pulp that is still used today in diet foods and in everything from paint to laundry detergent. Yum! By the early 1970s the range had increased to include fruit shortbread biscuits, chocolate fingers, lemon crisps and other tasty treats

Anyway, like a lot of other slimming aid manufacturers (Energen crispbread, for example) the good people behind Trimettes decided to produce a keep fit record, to encourage their loyal customers to add a few aerobic exercises into their diet regime. Sadly the disc, which came in a groovy fold-out cover featuring illustrations and directions for each of the exercises, gives away very few clues as to who was involved, although judging from the catalogue number it's clear that it was manufactured by CBS Special Products around 1965.

I know I know the narrator’s voice, I just can’t put my finger on his name. It’s almost definitely a pirate radio DJ. But what we do know is that the fantastic background music on Trimettes Swing ‘n’ Slim came from the Chappell music library, and features such now-revered composers as John Hawksworth and Jack Dorsey.

Here are both sides of this wonderful slice of 60s kitsch. Enjoy!

Download Side One HERE


Download Side Two HERE

Friday, 4 January 2019

Witches Brouhaha

Janie Jones, I hear you say. Where do I know that name from? Didn’t the Clash have a song called Janie Jones?

Yes they did, and this is the very Janie Jones they sang about, and who they – and a couple of members of the Blockheads - would later join forces with under the name Janie Jones and the Lash for the single House of the Ju-Ju Queen.

Born in 1941 in Seaham, County Durham as Marion Mitchell, Janie Jones has had a colourful career, at one time vying with Cynthia Payne as Britain’s most notorious madame. She started out as a clog dancer, winning championships in County Durham before becoming a cabaret artist in late 1950s London. It was then that she began to get herself in trouble.

In 1956 she was given 12 months’ probation for shoplifting, and in 1957 she was jailed for nine months for trying to smuggle a hacksaw in to prison. The following year she was fined £50 for allowing her home to be used “for the purpose of habitual prostitution.” She performed at the Windmill Theatre and reached notoriety in August 1964, when she attended the film premiere of London in the Raw wearing a topless dress.

Shortly afterwards Janie embarked on a career as a pop singer. Issued in November 1965, her debut single, the cackling novelty number Witches Brew, peaked at number 46 in the UK Singles Chart in 1966, despite one reviewer reporting that “the bubbling cauldron sounds more like a washing machine in full spate.” Later the same year that she was at the centre of an S&M vice scandal, and was charged with attempting to blackmail one of her clients for £2,450. After a lengthy trial Janie was acquitted, but just over a fortnight later – while she was performing in cabaret at the Astor in Berkeley Square (with Jack Hammer, author of Down In the Subway) she was arrested again, this time charged with running a brothel from her flat in Kensington Park Gardens. In May 1967 she was found not guilty.

It’s hardly surprising, given the notoriety Janie attracted, that subsequent releases failed to chart, despite her appearances on television programmes including Thank Your Lucky Stars and the Mike and Bernie Winters show. After a few years out of the spotlight she hit the headlines again after holding sex parties at her home, and in April 1974 was jailed for seven years for running what the papers of the day referred to as “a VIPs vice racket.” Janie was released on parole in 1977, the same year that The Clash sang about her on their debut LP. Five years later they returned the favour, backing Janie on the 1983 single House of the Ju-Ju Queen.

Here are both sides of her debut 45, Witches Brew and Take-a My Tip, plus the A-side to her third single, the ridiculously fun Tickle Me Tootsie Wootsies. You can find out more about Janie's colourful career at http://janiejones.info

Enjoy!

Download Witches HERE

Download Take-a HERE

Download Tickle HERE

Friday, 28 December 2018

The Other (Miss) Miller

Happy (almost) New Year, my friends!

1966 was a good year for old ladies, and hot on the heels of their success with Capitol’s Mrs. Miller, EMI in Britain decided to invest in their own, home-grown singing septuagenarian, Miss Ruby Miller.

Issued by Parlophone (now no longer helmed by George Martin, who left EMI the previous year to set up AIR) Miss Miller’s only 45, Stop and Think backed with Love Shades is a delight. Closer in style I think to Leona Anderson or Hermione Gingold that the wonderfully off-key warbling of our Elva. On promo copies of the single she appears as Ruby Miller, but on the released version, presumably to differentiate between the two women, ‘Miss’ was added to her name.

Incidentally, arranger Arthur Greenslade - who was Shirley Bassey's musical director - also wrote and conducted the arrangement for Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin's Je T'aime...

A former Gaiety Girl – one of the glamorous dancing troupe of fashionable young ladies who became the toast of Edwardian London – by the time Ruby recorded her sole outing she was 77, having been born in 1889. At 59, Mrs. Miller was a mere stripling.

As an actress, Ruby appeared in many films, beginning with the rare British comedy short Frills (1916) and continuing through until the late 1940s. In 1923 she was spotted by an American talent scout and whisked off to Hollywood to appear in the F.B.O. production Alimony (just four years later F.B.O. would become the second Hollywood studio to release a feature-length “talkie”), and towards the end of her cinema career she appeared alongside Vivien Leigh and Ralph Richardson in Alexander Korda’s production of Anna Karenina.

While appearing in films, she continued her career in theatre. In 1921 she starred in the Edge of Beyond, with a new young talent by the name of Basil Rathbone, and in1924-25 she appeared on tour in Arnold Ridley’s celebrated Ghost Train. In the early 1960s wrote her autobiography Champagne From My Slipper, and in 1962 she was awarded the ultimate showbiz accolade, starring as the “victim” in an episode of the long-running TV show This Is Your Life.

Ruby died in 1976, just a few months shy of her 87th birthday. But what a life she had.

Enjoy!

Download Stop HERE



Download Shades HERE

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