Friday, 19 July 2019

Le Freak


I featured the a-side of this disc on my radio show this week, and was horrified to discover that I had never blogged about it – although it did get a chapter all to itself in The World’s Worst Records Volume Two, and Michael was gracious enough to grant me an interview for that. Here’s an excerpt from that chapter.

Welcome to the weird, weird world of Chainmale, the antipodean performance artist, poet, and musician better known to his family as Michael Freeland.

Michael was born in Melbourne in 1952 but grew up in Sydney, his family relocating there when he was four years old. He showed an early aptitude for music and performance, appearing in musicals at the Castle Cove Primary School. Pleasingly, an early musical influence was the murderously brilliant Elva Miller: “My father bought a recording of Mrs Miller, not for her singing quality but for her guts. It inspired him and made him laugh,” he explains. When he moved on to Glenaeon Rudolf Steiner School Michael was introduced to eurythmy, a form of expressive movement originated by Steiner and Marie von Sivers in the second decade of the 20th century. Primarily a performance art, eurythmy is also used in education and for therapeutic purposes. “I later used eurythmy in combination with classical French mime and method acting to form my own school of performance,” he says.
“At the end of 1968, at 16, with ambitions to become an animal collector like Gerald Durrell, I left school to become a zookeeper. On returning from a collecting trip in the Outback and in the far north of Australia I took a second job working at night as an assistant stage manager at The Music Hall at Neutral Bay in Sydney.

“This all happened in 1969/70, when Australia was involved in the Vietnam war and Sydney’s streets were filled with personnel on R and R. There were demonstrations everywhere: I left home and spent several months as a hippy, travelling north and pretending I was Arlo Guthrie, with three chords to my repertoire. I remember going into a pub on the Queensland-Northern Territory border and asking if I could sing for my supper: I got halfway through the first song and a bloke came up and said he would buy me a meal if I promised not to sing another note!”

Michael produced a two-man poetry show specifically aimed at children. Recalled from Childhood featured the poems Michael had learned from his mother, father and grandmother, and it was here that he got his first crack at fame, of sorts, appearing on the Australian TV show GTK (Get To Know) in 1973. “GTK was the first of the rock video type shows in the world,” he explains. GTK “set the pace for all that was to follow. I then went to work in television, at ABC, in staging and floor managing.” He continued to perform, busking around Sydney before leaving ABC to study drama at the Mechthild Harkness Speech and Drama Studios. It was there that Michael’s passion for mime was born.

“I resurrected Recalled From Childhood as a school show, and put together a performance of original poetry at the Stanley Palmer Culture Palace in Darlinghurst. Then in early 1975 I joined the Queensland Theatre Company with their Arts Council Schools Presentation, touring throughout Queensland. I met my first wife while in Queensland, and in late 1975 we returned to Sydney.”
Michael returned to busking, this time incorporating mime into his act. “That worked well and we began to earn a decent living,” he says. “Although it must be remembered that in those days busking was illegal.” Being chased by the police became part of the act and Michael worked his occasional brushes with the law into his routine. “We were invited to perform at the Sydney Opera House, in the lunchtime outdoor venue, and also by the Sydney City Council in their Martin Place outdoor venue. This was very satisfying because the very person who was trying to arrest me a week earlier was now carrying my gear and setting it up!”

Under the name The Modern Mime Theatre he organised a series of performances in schools and won a contract with the Arts Council of New South Wales, which in turn lead to work in other states. “I found that I was booked out for two years in advance with three shows a day, five days a week, with one or two evening shows on top of that if I wanted them.” In January 1977 Michael performed at the first annual Sydney Festival: he would perform there each year until 1983. His act was going down well: that same year reviewer David Rowbotham, writing in Queensland’s Courier Mail newspaper wrote that Michael’s performance ‘speaks volumes for the possibilities of his art. He is a classic entertainer and storyteller.’

“In 1978, with an 18 month and a six week old baby, we headed over to the UK on our way to the Fools’ Festival in Amsterdam. I busked in Leicester Square in London, in Amsterdam, on the steps of the cathedral in Cologne and in front of the Pompidou Centre in Paris. After four weeks we returned to Australia and went back on tour.” As his act, and his confidence, grew he added fire breathing and balancing on a unicycle to his act and The Modern Mime Theatre became a duo in July 1978 when Canadian-born actor and mime artist Bob Eustace joined; the pair had been friends since they first performed together in 1972.

It was when Michael and his family got back to Australia that he created the piece of art for which certain people, me included, will always be grateful: the 7” single Freakout. Released under the name Chainmale (“It just seemed like a cool name,” he laughs) and backed with the electro-boogie track Mean Little Woman, Freakout is one of the most unsettling three minutes ever committed to vinyl: Numanesque keyboards, crying babies, manic screaming and with the words sung and music played in different time signatures to add to the disturbing effect. Odd and disquieting, Michael would incorporate the song into his act, building an uncomfortable and intense mime performance around his lyrics. That performance would later be adapted for use in a video filmed to accompany the single, now available for all to wonder at via YouTube.

“We were driving down a lane in the back streets of Hobart and I was jumping out of my skin. We passed a sound studio and my wife said, ‘why don’t you go in and record one of those songs you’re always making up?’ So, I went in an asked. Nick Armstrong (the studio proprietor) asked what I wanted to record. I went home, wrote out the lyrics, brought them back, and sang them to him with a single beat of my hand on the desk. He looked at me incredulously and said, ‘is that it?’ I said ‘Yeah. If (renowned Australian musician) Billy Thorpe can get away with ‘mashed potato yeah, oh yeah!’ then we’ll kill it’!”

Armstrong asked Michael if he would object to his having his friend Ian Clyne, best known for his keyboard work with the sixties band The Loved Ones, look over his song. “Ian and I met a couple of days later to record it having never met before. He played the sort of thing he thought I would like: it was big, but it was conservative. I said I wanted something with no holds barred; no constraints of convention, just freak out and do what you want. He smiled and said, ‘this is going to be fun’. As we were recording the vocals I got excited: my heart started racing and my tempo with it. He tried conducting me but I was gone.

“When we finished he said to me ‘you started in 8/8 and you ended up in 7/8’. I asked if we should do it again. We hit playback and Ian said ‘no, it works! You sound like you’re freaking out! Hell knows how you’ll ever sing it live’. That was the birth of Chainmale. I was around 30, I already had three kids, and in those days rock stars were around 18! I think Ian was around 14 when he was playing at the Wembley Stadium with the Loved Ones.”

Issued by the independent Candle Records in 1979, very few vinyl copies of Freakout exist: “I think about 1000 copies were pressed, of which only a fraction made it to the stores. However every now and then someone tells me they have a copy,” Michael says. “Did I consider myself a serious singer? I considered myself a serious performer with serious concepts to put forward and humour, confrontation, and sound were the best ways I had of achieving that. I don’t think anyone would come to hear my voice for the musical lilt in it, however they might come to experience the theatrical content of it.”

Chainmale recorded two further tracks, Schizophrenic Breakdown (a jolly little sing-along about crazy people) and the bizarre electro/skinhead anthem Kickback, in 1982. Videos were made for Freakout and for these two tracks: the video for Kickback – which is listed on YouTube as the ‘worst 80s music video’ ever made - features Michael and his young son Joel in skinhead gear, scaring the wits out of anyone who should happen to pass them by. “What we did others got to years later. The subjects of the songs were whatever I was experiencing at the time. The lightheartedness in Schizophrenic Breakdown is the lightheartedness you find in a riot. Everyone participating in a riot is jovial: it’s a release. The rage is only for the cameras, when they are given the opportunity to spout about their cause.

Freakout was the only record issued. The problem with the other two videos was getting TV play. Kickback had drinking and smoking in, which was against airplay policies, and Schizophrenic Breakdown could have upset people who might link it more with the illness rather than with the splitting of the social fabric in the UK into an apartheid similar to that in South Africa. As we already had the videos we put together a pilot for TV by adding some sketches, but I got sidetracked with life and with touring.”

Michael continued to perform until the mid-1990s. More recently he has become an author, penning two well-received satirical novels – 1995’s Pius Humble and The Company (1996) - under the pseudonym Bogan Gate, a name he took from a small village in NSW. 

How does the man once known as Chainmale, whose recorded work (thanks primarily to its resurrection on YouTube) is both feted by people who love it and ridiculed by others feel about his newfound fame? “I think it’s great. At least it’s not mediocre!”

Here are both sides of this exceptional disc: enjoy!

Download Freakout HERE


Download Mean HERE

Friday, 12 July 2019

Spelunking

I’ve been listening to a lot of what you would loosely categorise as library music and exotica recently. This is thanks primarily to my friend DJ GeorgyGirl, whose show, High Waisted Modernists, follows my own World’s Worst Records Radio Show on a Wednesday evening (and is an absolute must-listen), and to the recent purchase of a Martin Denny CD collection which pulls together eight of his albums, including Exotica, Exotica 2, Exotica 3 and Forbidden Island.


Today’s disc comes from the world of Exotica, a genre that took its name from Denny’s 1957 album and which is defined by Wikipedia as “the non-native, pseudo experience of insular Oceania, Southeast Asia, Hawaii, the Amazon basin, the Andes and tribal Africa. Denny described the musical style as ‘a combination of the South Pacific and the Orient...what a lot of people imagined the islands to be like...it's pure fantasy though.’ While the South Seas forms the core region, exotica reflects the ‘musical impressions’ of every place from standard travel destinations to the mythical ‘shangri-las’ dreamt of by armchair safari-ers.” Well, that clears that up then.

Chuck Holden’s The Cave not only encompasses the above, it also adds a wonderful layer of weird, a patina of peculiar if you will. When I found that it was also issued by Joe Leahy’s Unique Records, well I just had to have a copy.

I don’t know a lot about Holden: this is the only disc listed by him at Discogs, and that only appears to exist as promos – no one yet has turned up a stock copy. But it’s an absolute pip: Holden strums his zither (or I guess it could be an autoharp) while some unnamed, dusky sounding maiden shrieks over the top of his rather basic instrumentation. It’s mad and it’s ace! I have unearthed a few details though: as leader of the Charles Holden Orchestra he had a residency at Manhattan’s El Morocco nightclub in the 1950s and ‘60s. Credited as Charles Holden and Orchestra, they released one album, again on Unique, Dancing at “El Morocco”, 25 light jazz arrangements of popular classics including You’re the Cream in My Coffee, Putting on the Ritz and, tantalisingly, The Third Man Theme which I’ve not heard but one has to wonder if Mr. H dusts off his zither for. According to the album’s sleeve notes “the most unique and outstanding characteristic of Mr. Holden’s eight-piece group is its tremendous repertoire which includes the favorite songs of every well-known patron who frequents the club.”

Anyway, make of this what you will. I love it, and it led me down a path of discovery towards more cave-themed oddities, some of which you’ll hear if you tune in to next week’s World’s Worst Records Radio Show.

Here are both sides, The Cave and My Lost Melody. Enjoy!


Download Cave HERE

Download Melody HERE

Saturday, 6 July 2019

Bandwidth Exceeded

Just the briefest of notes.

I know many of you have been frustrated, coming here to download the latest aural calamity simply to be told that your request has been denied because we have exceeded the limits of our bandwidth and that you need to try again later.

Well, hopefully, that is now a thing of the past! For today I have started paying for extra space in the ether to store and share our audio horrors. From tomorrow (Sunday, 7 July) you should no longer have any trouble downloading any of the live links on the blog. Ain't I kind?

This blog has been running for 12 years now: the money I'm paying for that extra bandwidth is not enormous, so I'm not asking for any of you to chip in, but please remember that I make no money from this, all of the costs incurred come straight out of my pocket. If you'd like to do something tangible to show support, listen in to the World's Worst Records Radio Show, and join the Facebook page to help grow this community of like-minded mad music fiends. If you're feeling exceptionally generous, check out my books.

Ta!

Friday, 5 July 2019

Xylophones for Jesus


On my never-ending hunt for peculiar recordings, I often pick up things that look ‘different’, only to be disappointed. I cannot begin to count the number of times I have purchased a record just because I liked the otherworldliness of its cover simply to find something mediocre inside the jacket.

Today’s disc almost fell into that category, in fact, I had earmarked it for return to a charity shop or some such, but on closer inspection – and a good listening to – it proved to be not only worthy of my collection but also worth bringing to your attention, dear readers. And, as a bonus, it’s autographed by the main protagonist.

Ken Cushing Xylophone with Margaret Veal Pianoforte has to be one of the most peculiar Christian-themed records released in the UK, easily on a par with Marcy Tigner’s trombone albums. Who on earth ever thought that a man hammering away at a bunch of wooden blocks with a pair of mallets was going to lead sinners onto the path to salvation?

Searching for info, I discover that Mr. Cushing originally hailed from Halifax and had been playing xylophone professionally since at least 1942. He was still playing concerts for the Salvation Army into the mid-1970s, having himself relocated to the seaside town of Flamborough. Margaret Veal, a pianist from Abertillery in South Wales, also began her career in sacred music in the 1940s and often played Salvation Army concerts and fundraisers through until the early 1970s.

I also discovered that Ken and Marge had played together in Bristol, my hometown, in 1968. On 27 April of that year, the duo played a fundraiser for the Salvation Army Bristol’s Easton Road Corps, alongside the Bristol Easton Road Band and the Treorchy Male Choir. During the 40s Ken played in Gloucester, the city I was born in (and couldn’t get away from fast enough). Later He became involved with Christian Endeavour, an inter-denominational organisation which trains and equips young people to become church leaders. A woman called Margaret Veal worked extensively as a musical director and accompanist in the 70s and 80s, but I doubt that was our Marge, as her repertoire was decidedly more secular.

Issued by Pilgrim Records in 1964, the Ken Cushing Xylophone with Margaret Veal Pianoforte EP appears to have been Ken’s sole release, although he did appear on recordings by other artists, including the 1976 album by the Cambridge Heath Songsters, May Jesus Christ Be Praised! Ken’s photo appeared on the back of the album sleeve, even though he only performs on two songs. The same year that this EP was released, Ken and Marge played together at the inaugural Festival of Evangelical Mixed Voice Choirs at the Albert Hall, a huge choir festival that would grow to incorporate thousands of voices.

Here are both sides of this oddity. Enjoy!

Download Side 1 HERE

Download Side 2 HERE

Friday, 28 June 2019

You Silly Savage!


As today marks the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Stonewall Riots, this seemed like an appropriate choice for this week’s blog.

Released in 1973 and credited to Ben Gay and the Silly Savages, The Ballad of Ben Gay is a riposte of sorts to Johnny Cash’s hit A Boy Named Sue, which Cash recorded live in concert in 1969 at California's San Quentin State Prison and that appeared on his chart-topping At San Quentin album the same year. Issued as a single it provided Cash with a Number Two hit on the Billboard pop charts (Number One on the country chart) and went Top Five in the UK.

The unidentified singer took the stage name Ben Gay from the topical heat rub (similar to our own Deep Heat) of the same name. I had always assumed that his backing group, the Silly Savages, were unrelated to the group that backed Teddy and Darrel on their album These Are the Hits, You Silly Savage, but now I’m not so sure. Teddy and Darrel were documentary maker Theodore ‘Teddy’ Charach and his friend Darrel Dee; record producer (and former Republican governor) Mike Curb produced These Are The Hits… (featuring camped-up covers of recent hits) by overdubbing their voices onto a session from his favourite studio band Arrows, led by guitarist Davie Allen. Charach and Dee also appeared with Curb on the soundtrack to the 1967 movie Mondo Hollywood. Could Darrel Dee be the same man as Darrel Gulland, co-author of The Ballad of Ben Gay?

I can’t be sure: Gulland continued to write songs for a few years after this, working with musician dale Norris, and appears to have passed away in 2000. The one thing that can be ascertained is that the disc is connected to Fabor, the country music label that was based in Hollywood, and that was owned by producer promoter Fabor Robinson. Robinson’s name appears as co-author of the flip side, Silly Savage Serenade and producer/arranger 9and co-author of the A-side) Edd McNeely also recorded for Fabor.

The silliness of The Ballad of Ben Gay follows a long tradition of campery on record. Depending on how you view these things these records are charming period pieces, badly dated Carry On-style comic cuts or complete anachronisms of a bygone age. Lispy, wispy and fey, and about as sophisticated as a hammer blow to the head the humour, such as it is, is broader than the backside of the average McDonald’s customer. This type of record reached its apogee in 1964, with the launch of the Camp Records label. Some of these records were advertised exclusively to the LGBT community through the pages of papers such as One, Vagabond and, later, Gay News.

Soon mainstream record companies would get in on the act and throughout the 1960s and 70s a string of camp 45s issued on both sides of the pond, such as The Butch Brothers’ Kay, Why? (on Thrust Records), Steve Elgins’ Don’t Leave Your Lover Lying Around (a silly song about bed-hopping issued in 1974 on Dawn Records) and Yin & Yan’s Butch Soap (on EMI). Many camp actors and comedians issued records: in the UK alone Kenneth Williams, Frankie Howerd, John Inman and Larry Grayson all put out novelty songs that pandered to their camp but closeted persona and that were meant to appeal to either children or grandparents, two demographics unlikely to blush at the tired single-entendres in a song like Inman’s Are You Being Served Sir? (‘I’m sorry that this fitting room is dark and rather chilly, just try these on and mind that zip in case you catch your…’). Interestingly, was covered by New Zealand act Des Gay And The Foolish Fag's (their misplaces apostrophe, not mine, I assure you) as the Ballad of Des Gay in 1974.

Anyway, here are both sides of this silly single. Enjoy!

Download Ballad HERE




Download Serenade HERE


Friday, 21 June 2019

Death and Taxes


I am forever amazed at the gullibility of people, especially God-fearing folk who – desperate to get into heaven (or their version of it) – plough their life savings into one scam or another, each one fronted by some charlatan claiming to be God’s representative on earth. All convicted felon Jim Bakker had to do was shed a few crocodile tears and he was quickly accepted back into his evangelist family, and he’s hardly the only one.

It seems that claiming to be God’s messenger can help you get away with anything: gold plate-reading Joseph Smith, Jr. was “subjected to approximately thirty criminal actions” during his life according to one source: another reports Smith was arrested at least 42 times. In 1978 Scientology charlatan L. Ron Hubbard was convicted of making false claims about his ability to cure physical illnesses and was sentenced to four years in prison, which he failed to serve. Just look at the sexual abuse endemic in the Catholic Church, or the evil scumbag Fred Phelps - Leader of anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church – who was convicted of disorderly conduct and battery.

In May 2012 Daniel Gaub, the scion of evangelist Kenneth Gaub, was killed in a motorcycle accident. But was it an accident, or did Dan – as many believe - commit suicide in order to avoid a hefty prison sentence and the ruination of his family? Shortly after his death, the FBI raided Gaub’s home in search of evidence to support accusations that he was scamming people with high-risk foreign currency trading, known as “forex”. The agency took computers and boxes of records. Assets, including Gaub’s 70-foot yacht and a collection of cars and motorcycles, were also seized.

Brother Nathaniel (also known as Nathan), who for many years had been Daniel’s partner in the family’s musical act (and later the teen gospel band Eternity/Eternity Express) claimed that he “never saw [his] brother make an unethical business step in his life,” but Jack Baugher, a businessman in Gaub’s hometown of Yakima, stated that “he was committing a crime every time he took money from people… and he took a lot of money from people.” Baugher invested $200,000 in Gaub’s business, and several of those ripped off by Gaub claimed that he deliberately drove into a truck because he was under investigation by the FBI for fraud: local police were investigating claims that Gaub may have defrauded investors, many of them members of Stone Church in Yakima, of millions of dollars.

Nathan Gaub said that the accusations against his brother had sickened his family. “I don’t have a clue as to anything to do with the inside workings of that business, because I was not involved,” he said. “But I am blown away by any accusations of wrongdoing because it's just out of character.” Gaub's claims of non-involvement were, at best, disingenuous: his LinkedIn profile claims that he and Daniel were the co-creators of an "unsurpassed system of forex trading". 

Within months it was announced that the FBI was indeed investigating Daniel Gaub of running a Ponzi scheme that may have netted him and his family as much as $40 million. Although Dan Gaub’s parents were not implicated, it’s interesting to note that Ken Gaub has not filed his tax returns since 2012, the year his son died. His church – which he and his family have run since 1961 - is tax-exempt but still has to file returns annually. If a non-profit religious organisation fails to file for three consecutive years they can have their tax-exempt status revoked. So far this does not appear to have happened to Gaub senior.

Anyway, in happier times Dan, Nathan, Ken and the whole Gaub family played music together and made records. As I’ve already mentioned, in the 70s Nathan and Daniel played in a teen Christian rock band, but before that the brothers, their parents and their little sister Becky played in the Kenneth Gaub family band, which issued at least two albums in the mid 60s. Here are a brace of tracks from their 1964 album, Kenneth Gaub Family Feeling Fine: Jesus Loves Me sung by young Becky Gaub, and How Great Thou Art from Nathan, Dan, and Becky.

Enjoy!

Download Jesus HERE



Download Great HERE

Friday, 14 June 2019

The Crème de la Crème


André Van der Veken, born in the Belgian city of Ninove on 19 January 1949, has had a long a varied career in the world of pop.

He first recorded under the name Andy Free, issuing a number of 45s in both Belgium and Holland during the first half of the 1970s, including Mama (Philips, 1971) and Ik Kon Mijn Ogen Niet Geloven (I Could Not Believe My Eyes, BASF, 1974). In 1978, as André Van Der Veken, he released his first full-length album Maar Zo Is't (That’s How It Is). He then moved on to a successful career as a songwriter and producer, principally with the group Dance Reaction, who issued three 45s – including the oddly titled Shanks Mare Honey and Honey Puppy Is My Name between 1981 and 1983. He continued to work throughout the 80s and 90s, with duo Leeva and Andy (guess which one he was?), D.J. Arséne, and he co-wrote both sides of the comeback single for the 60s Belgian pop band The Paramounts. In 1996 Dance Reaction’s big Euro hit, Disco Train was remixed and re-released. 

Over the years he has worked with a number of Dutch and Flemish artists, including Jimmy Frey, Jo Vally, Willy Sommers and Laura Lynn, under such names as Dré Van der Veken, André Domien and Remien. But the pseudonym we’re most interested in here is Waylon, which he used for the one-off 1979 single Crème de la Crème/The Sparrow.

Crème de la Crème was the only disc Andy/André issued as Waylon, but what a record it is. A hellish mashup of Sylvester and Boney M, this ridiculously brilliant slice of disco buffoonery was released in Belgium, Holland, France, Germany and Portugal but failed to chart in any of those countries, despite being issued in both 7” and 12” formats, the latter available in both yellow and white vinyl. Over the years it has developed its own cult following, and quite rightly so. It’s a very special record.

After playing the songs on The World's Worst Records Radio Show and discussing them with listeners and fellow presenters there I decided to track down Dré Van der Veken, and was honoured when he kindly agreed to talk about the single with me.

The biggest surprise was the discovery that Waylon, the young man who appears on the sleeve of the 45, does not actually sing on the disc. “We only had the song and a nice boy who could not sing,” Dré admits. “So, I was required - poor me! - to perform the song myself. It was a laugh, believe me. We thought that the record would never make it to the market.”  

When asked about the voice he used on the disc, Dré candidly admitted that “I think it was a combination of wine and too much time in the studio. Things like that happened a lot, although those times are over now. Showbiz has changed; there’s no more money for crazy things and I am getting older. Although I’m still a little crazy!

“There was never going to be a follow up to the Waylon single: it was a joke. The real Waylon went off and married his boyfriend.”

In 2013 Dré released his second full-length album, Tussen Hoogtes en Laagtes (Between the Highs and Lows), which he describes as an “active creation between man and machine ... and my cat Johnny”. The album was “recorded in the bedroom, where I operate all the keys and synths myself, sometimes just with two fingers… It had to sound the way I heard it in my head and maybe I succeeded. The arrangements and sounds, perhaps not flawless, are primarily a bed for the lyrics. These are rather dark in nature, although I do not consider myself a pessimist but rather a pessimistic optimist and bon vivant.”

He's nonplussed about the curiosity that surrounds Crème de la Crème. “I'm surprised people are still interested in the Waylon thing,” he admits. “Copies now sell for more than 30 euro, and I never saw a penny of it,” he laughs. “Maybe I have to open a bottle of wine (or more than one), compose a follow-up and find someone who can’t sing again… what you think?”

Check out both songs below. My huge thanks to Dré Van der Veken for taking the time to talk to me. You can check out his more recent music, as well as tracks from his 1978 album Maar Zo Is't, at his website: www.drevanderveken.com

Download Creme HERE




Download Sparrow HERE


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