Friday, 9 September 2022

Ou Est Maddy Genets?

For today’s posting, I bring you one of those records that is a staple of those endless ‘worst album covers of all time’ lists but which has, until relatively recently, proved nigh on impossible to track down. Perhaps that’s because Maddy Genets et son Ensemble is not an album at all, but a four-track EP.  

 

The entire Maddy Genets discography appears to consist of two Eps and one 45, issued by Le Kiosque d'Orphée in Paris, a custom pressing label for recordings made at a small studio at 20, Rue des Tournelles, a couple of blocks from la Place des Vosges, in a gorgeous art nouveau building that now houses a second-hand shop called Sissi’s Corner. All three releases are as rare as Maddy’s teeth, judging by her inability to crack a smile in the portrait that appears on the cover of this particular EP.

 

The other two releases are credited to Maddy Genets Et Ses Accordéons, although the trio that makes up the group appears to be unchanged; Maddy, her husband, and a man I assume is their son. The name change I guess came about because Monsieur Genets moved from accordion bothering to thumping out a tune on an electric organ for the Maddy Genets et son Ensemble EP.

 

Both of these other discs come in identical sleeves, which probably means that Maddy and her family had a bunch printed and shoved discs in willy-nilly, depending on demand. All of the 10 songs distributed over the three known discs are standard tourist fare, which leads me to believe that the trio more than likely spent the early 70s busking outside Parisian attractions, shilling their discs from a suitcase on the pavement rather than through any stores. I have seen it suggested that some or all of the family were (or are) blind, which would have certainly helped their earning ability, and explained why they were unable to work out which record went in which sleeve, although as one correspondent asks, why would Maddy be wearing glasses if she were blind? Perhaps she was visually impaired, rather than completely sightless. 

 

The music the trio played was perfectly acceptable; accordion instrumentals with the occasional verse sung by Maddy herself, and nothing like as awful as the covers might lead you to expect (or hope for). Perfect fodder for the tourists around Montmartre or the Marais.

 

Anyway, have a listen for yourself. Here are all four cuts from the 1973 EP Maddy Genets et son Ensemble, Acropolis, Petite Fleur, Dalila, and SolenzaraAs always, if anyone reading this has any more information on Maddy and her family, I would love to hear from you.

 

Enjoy!


Download Acropolis HERE

Download Petite Fleur HERE

Download Dalila HERE

Download Solenzara HERE

Friday, 26 August 2022

The Ballad of Red River Dave

Born in San Antonio, Texas, Red River on 15 December 1914, David Largus McEnery was an American artist, musician, and writer of topical songs who specialised in the darker side of music, writing and performing dozens of tributes to deceased celebrities. Apparently he picked up the nickname ‘Red River Dave’ in high school, because he enjoyed singing the song Red River Valley.


As a teenager, Dave regularly appeared on radio, as well as singing, yodelling, and performing rope tricks at rodeos - something he would continue to do for the rest of his life. In 1936, he broadcast live from the Goodyear Blimp for WQAM in Miami, but his career really took off (quite literally) with his song Amelia Earhart's Last Flight, which it is claimed was the first song ever sung on television in the US, broadcast from the 1939 New York World's Fair.

 

In a career that lasted more than 50 years, he appeared in several westerns movies as a singing cowboy, playing Steve Barrett in Swing in the Saddle (1944), which also featured the Nat King Cole trio and Slim Summerville, and was either featured or starred in more than half-a-dozen shorts, including Hidden Valley Days and Echo Ranch (both 1948). He worked for several radio stations, including WOR in New York City, WSAI (Ohio) and XERF, on the Texas/Mexico border. In later years, he became a well-known painter of Texas landscapes and Western Americana themes and was often known to paint the backs of his old guitars. Dave’s compositions (outside of the death disc genre) include Hitler Lives (If We Hurt Our fellow Man), the Wink Martindale, communist-themed pastiche Red Deck of Cards, and the 1980 novelty The Night Ronald Reagan Rode With Santa Claus.

 

Hugely prolific – in 1946, as part of a publicity stunt, he wrote 52 songs in 12 hours while handcuffed to a piano - Dave had a way with a death disc, and throughout the 1950s and 60s seemed to concentrate on songs about dead Hollywood stars, releasing ‘tributes’ to James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Bing Crosby and Sharon Tate, as well as one dedicated to Elvis’s mother. In 1975 he was on the cusp of issuing his latest waxing, The Ballad of Patty Hearst. He had just mailed out dozens of press releases to promote the single and was looking forward to getting some much-needed television coverage for the song, ‘with its emotional knockout punch aimed at the Symbionese Liberation Army’ [the newspaper heiress’s captors] when, what do you know, the FBI found Patty in San Francisco and scuppered his plans. Dave was heartbroken.

 

Red River Dave joined the subjects of so many of his songs on 15 January 2002, aged 87. His passing merited an obituary in The Guardian.

 

Here are a couple of killers from Dave’s prodigious output, his 1969 single about the Tate-LaBianca tragedy California Hippie Murders! and, from 1962, the surprisingly graphic The Ballad of Marilyn Monroe.

 

Enjoy! 

Download Hippie HERE 

Download Monroe HERE

Friday, 19 August 2022

Introducing Mandy

Mandy Rice-Davies, (born Marilyn Davies, 21 October 1944) is undoubtedly best known for her role in the 1963 Profumo scandal, the sex and spy shenanigans that rocked British society in the early 19860s and led to the downfall of the Tory government. Ahh, simpler times: today it seems that a government of any stripe can get away with anything. 

For those unaware, or in need of a refresher, it all began one weekend in July 1961 when William, Viscount Astor (known to everyone as Bill) and his wife Bronwen were hosting a house party at their Buckinghamshire pile, Cliveden House, with guests including the president of Pakistan, and the then-Secretary of State for War, John Profumo and his wife, actress Valerie Hobson. At the same time in Spring Cottage, a small house on the Cliveden estate, 19-year-old Christine Keeler was attending a different party held by Stephen Ward, a friend of the Astors and a keen amateur artist who had recently been invited to Buckingham Palace, where the Duke of Edinburgh and Princess Margaret had sat for pencil portraits. 

On the Saturday evening, guests from both parties mingled at the Cliveden swimming pool. Keeler, who had been swimming naked, was introduced to Profumo (although it was later established that the pair had met previously), and they began an affair shortly afterwards. Sadly for Profumo, Ward was also friends with Captain Yevgeny Ivanov, a naval attaché at the Soviet Embassy in London - and Ivanov was also having an affair with Keeler. Profumo broke off the affair, and that might have been the end of it had all of this not occurred at the height of the Cold War. MI5 wanted to use Keeler to entrap Ivanov, who they saw as a potential double agent, and they encouraged Ward to ensure that this happened. MI5 knew of Profumo’s liaison with Keeler, and rumours began to circulate around Fleet Street about the affair, but even then it may have blown over if Keeler had not become involved in another scandal, a shooting incident at Ward’s London home in December 1962 that led the press to investigate her more thoroughly. 


Christine Keeler was as the apartment with her friend Marylin Davies. The man who had tried to shoot the lock off the door, and admitted that he had intended to kill Keeler, was Johnny Edgecombe, a petty criminal and thug who had already carved up one of Keeler’s other lovers, Aloysius “Lucky” Gordon, on the dancefloor of Soho’s Flamingo club, formerly owned by Jeffrey Kruger, the founder of Ember Records. Kruger, who had helped bail Joe Meek out when he was setting up his studio at Holloway Road, could never be accused of missing an opportunity. Ember would issue the single Christine by Miss X (which I wrote about back in 2015), inspired by Christine Keeler: the enigmatic Miss X was actually Joyce Blair, the sister of dancer and choreographer Lionel. The company also issued an album that lampooned the whole affair, Fool Britannia, featuring Peter Sellers and Joan Collins.

 


Questions were being asked about the relationship between Profumo and Keeler and about the Government’s involvement in another spy scandal concerning John Vassall, a naval attaché at the British embassy in Moscow. Labour MPs George Wigg and Barbara Castle took advantage of Parliamentary privilege, which provides immunity from legal action, to refer to the rumours linking a minister with Keeler and then raised questions about how the scandal related to the Vassall case. Wigg demanded that there should be either an enquiry into the rumours or a denial from Profumo, although he stopped short of identifying him in the House. 


The following day Profumo made a personal statement in which he admitted he knew Keeler and Ward, but he insisted that ‘There was no impropriety in my acquaintanceship with Miss Keeler and I have made this statement because of what was said yesterday in the House by three MPs and which remarks were protected by privilege. I shall not hesitate to issue writs for libel and slander if scandalous allegations are made or repeated outside this House.’ 


Keeler was absent for the duration of the Edgecombe trial. Barbara Castle suggested that Profumo could be involved with her disappearance, but Miss Davies was happy to tell reporters that she believed that her friend was somewhere on the Continent: ‘Christine has very influential friends who mix in diplomatic and political circles in European capitals.’ Among her influential friends was Alex Murray, the former lover of both Lee Middleton (Lady Lee, who would later marry DJ Kenny Everett) and Lionel Bart (Bart once revealed that his ballad As Long As He Needs Me, which was featured in Oliver! and had provided Shirly Bassey with a big hit in 1960, was written about Murray) who, under his real name Alex Wharton, had recorded Keeler’s confessions on to tape for a possible ‘tell all’ book about the affair. 


On 5 June 1963, Profumo was forced to admit that he had lied to the House, and he resigned from office. The following month, Ward stood in the witness box of the Old Bailey, charged with five counts of living off immoral earnings. The jury found him guilty, but he was not there to hear the verdict. Ward was in a coma when the sentence was passed, having taken an overdose of sleeping tablets. He died three days later, leaving suicide notes addressed to several people including Lord Denning and Vickie Barrett, who had claimed that Ward had picked her up in Oxford Street and had taken her home where she was “required to be intimate with some men and to whip and cane others.’ Ward admitted knowing Barrett and having sex with her but denied acting as her pimp. He did admit to paying the rent on the flat occupied by Keeler and Rice-Davies, and to introducing them to Lord Astor and others. Barrett's letter said: ‘I don't know what it was or who it was that made you do what you did. But if you have any decency left, you should tell the truth. You owe this not to me, but to everyone who may be treated like you or like me in the future.’ 


The series of scandals scuppered the Conservative government. Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, who openly supported Profumo as he lied to the House, resigned in October and the following year the Labour party won the General Election, ending 13 years of Tory rule. 

 

Rice-Davies traded on the notoriety the trial brought her, and in 1964 released a four-track EP, again for Ember, entitled Introducing Mandy. That would be her only UK release, but it was followed in several European countries by the single Hey Mr Robinson (a nod to Labour grandee Geoffrey Robinson, who was alleged to have passed on highly sensitive intelligence including defence secrets to communist agents), backed with Auf Die Grosse Liebe, both sung in pigeon-German and with the tune for the latter based on Au Clair de la Lune. 

 

Over the next few decades she would be involved in several enterprises, including running nightclubs, issuing her autobiography ad even acting, appearing in the Tom Stoppard play, Dirty Linen and New-Found-Land. She went on to appear in a number of television and film productions, including the comedy series Absolutely Fabulous and Chance in a Million. Her film career included roles in Nana, the True Key of Pleasure (1982), Black Venus (1983), and Absolute Beginners (1986). She was played by Bridget Fonda in the 1989 film Scandal, alongside Joanne Whalley as Keeler. 

 

Mandy Rice-Davies died, aged 70, on 18 December 2014 after a long battle with cancer. 

 

Here are a couple of tracks from Miss Rice-Davies, the aforementioned Hey Mr Robinson and, from the Introducing Mandy EP, her flat but fun cover of the classic You Got What It Takes. Enjoy! 

 

Download Robinson HERE

 

Download Takes HERE

Friday, 22 July 2022

Whatever Happened to Simon?

Born in Manchester on 28 July 1935, Cyril Nicholas Henty-Dodd, known professionally as Simon Dee, was a British disc jockey and television personality, most famous for his twice-weekly BBC TV chat show, Dee Time.

 

He had a rich and varied career: following two years of National Service (where he gained valuable experience working for the British Forces Broadcasting Service) he worked as a bouncer in a coffee bar, an actor, a photographic assistant, a builders’ labourer, a leaf-sweeper in Hyde Park, and a vacuum cleaner salesman before, in 1964, landing a job with Radio Caroline, becoming the first live voice heard on the pirate station in March of that year.

 

He was not with Caroline for long. Dee was flamboyant and stubborn, and refused to play certain records, despite the fact that Caroline (like all of the pirate stations) relied heavily on the financial support of certain record companies. He left Caroline in May 1965, but by then he had already begun making the transition to television, presenting ATV’s flagship pop show Thank Your Lucky Stars. In June he was signed by both the BBC and Radio Luxembourg, but controversy followed Dee, and he was reprimanded by his bosses at the newly-established Radio One when he insisted on playing Scott Walker’s recording of the Jacques Brel song Jackie, despite it having the distinction of being the first song banned by Radio One, blacklisted due to references to homosexuality.

 

Luckily for him, the bosses over at BBC television decided he was just the right man to front a new, twice-weekly chat show. Dee Time was an instant hit and regularly pulled in audiences of 18 million viewers. The show ran from 1967-69 and was broadcast live, which sadly means that only two complete episodes still exist in the archives. However, success went to his head: he became better known for his extravagant lifestyle than for his abilities as a presenter, and a demand for more money from the BBC saw Head of Light Entertainment Bill Cotton terminate Dee’s contract.

 

In 1969, within days of his being dropped by the BBC (his slot was filled by Cliff Richard), Dee signed a new contract worth £100,000 with London Weekend Television, for a 26-episode chat show series, although that too was cancelled before it could complete its run. According to contemporary news reports, ‘London Weekend decided to drop the Simon Dee Show after a series of behind-the-scenes- rows over who was to appear on the programmes. Mr. Dee recently threatened to walk out when he was not allowed to have singer Matt Munro in a programme.’ It does seem odd that the presenter of a hip and happening show would have put his own career on the line for the avuncular balladeer, but maybe he saw his career heading in another direction, after appearing in bit-parts in both The Italian Job and Doctor in Trouble.

 

Dee’s broadcasting career was all but over: he landed the occasional guest slot but his reputation for being difficult meant that no one would hire him long-term. Leaving showbiz behind him, he became a bus driver; ironically, Matt Monro had been a bus driver before finding fame as a singer. In 1974 Dee served 28 days in Pentonville Prison for non-payment of rates on his former Chelsea home, and on another occasion, he was jailed for vandalising a lavatory seat that had Petula Clark's face painted on it, as he thought that was disrespectful to her. The magistrate who sentenced him was Bill Cotton. In 1981. Shortly after he had been dropped by Radio Luxembourg after missing a recording session for the first episode of a contracted series, he was arrested for assaulting a policeman outside the gates of Buckingham Palace.

 

Dee died of cancer on 29 August 2009.

 

Like pretty much every other celebrity radio DJ of the era, Dee was brought into the studio to record an obligatory pop single, issuing Julie backed with Whatever Happened To Us on Les Reed’s recently established Chapter One label in 1969. A  pair of dreary ballads, they do nothing to showcase his obvious star quality. Previously, in 1966, he had narrated a rather fun flexi-disc for Smiths Crisps, When It Comes To The Crunch (It's Smiths IT IS!), but as far as I am aware these two tracks were his only attempts at a pop career. 

 

Judge for yourself: here are both sides of his sole single release, Julie and Whatever Happened To Us.

 

Enjoy!

 

Download Julie HERE

 

Download Whatever HERE

Friday, 8 July 2022

Oh Brother!

The cuts I’m featuring today were recently gifted to me by Mr Fab, who until 2018 edited the mighty Music For Maniacs blog before establishing Sheena’s Jungle Room, the internet-based radio station (part of WFMU) that I broadcast on weekly (or is that weakly?)

 

They come from the sole release from a couple styling themselves Sir Anthony Lanza Cocozza and the Countess Elaine Lanza Cocozza, the unwieldy titled This Album is a Tribute In Memory to the Great Mario Lanza, although I believe that on the disc’s labels the album has the more sensible title A Tribute To My Brother Mario Lanza. Cocozza was Mario Lanza’s family name: he adopted his mother’s maiden name, Lanza, when he was on the path to stardom.

 

Self-styled poet Anthony Lanza Cocozza claims to have been Mario’s half-brother. He was not, unless of course he was born as the result of Mario’s dad having an illicit affair, as Mario’s parents only had one child, although he does appear to have been related in some way: there are (or were) a lot of Cocozzas in the States, and I really do not have the time to check every family tree. It is, of course, perfectly possible that he was brought up believing he was related to the great singer, having been told a tall tale by one of his parents. That’s something we can only speculate about.

 

Our boy seems to have styled himself ‘sir’, believing that he had the right to do so, having married a countess. He didn’t, and anyway, the British honours system does not work like that: marrying someone with a title does not automatically entitle you to share in your spouse’s good fortune.  

 

Apart from that, of course, his wife was not a countess. Elaine Hardenstein styled herself Countess Elaine Lanza Cocozza, and claimed that she was related to British Royalty, possibly even the granddaughter of Queen Victoria. She wasn’t. I’ve followed her family tree back to before Victoria’s birth, and her family on both sides are either American of Greek. I suppose that leaves the slight possibility that she was somehow related to the late Prince Philip, whose mother was one of Queen Victoria’s many grandchildren.

 

Elaine also claimed that she had a successful career as a singer prior to her marriage, but I can find little evidence to support that. She did audition to become the singing ringmaster for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus in 1981, and excitedly told the judges that, ‘I’m mad about circuses. I used to ride bareback through the streets in parades as a little girl.’ Hardly an act befitting for the granddaughter of a British monarch, although at that same audition she also claimed that she had ‘sung in movies and nightclubs and with Mario Lanza.’ At her behest, Anthony auditioned that day too, singing a song of his own composition, although later muttering ‘I wish I would have sung “Jamaica Far Away”.’

 

Ah, now there’s a tale. On their album, the pair duet on the classic Jamaica Farewell, however for some reason the cover lists the song as Jamaica Far Away. The album was not released until 1985, (on the custom pressing subsidiary of Hip-Hop specialist Macola) although some have speculated that it was recorded years earlier, and that theory may have some weight. Given that we have proof that Anthony Cocozza had been mistitling the song for at least five years prior to its release, it’s a distinct possibility.

 

Three years after the release of This Album is a Tribute In Memory to the Great Mario Lanza, Anthony Lanza Cocozza was claiming to have been running his own opera company in southern California. God knows what his fellow singers and potential pupils must have thought of this cacophony.

 

Anyway, make your own mind up. Here, from the stunningly inept This Album is a Tribute In Memory to the Great Mario Lanza, are a couple of corkers, Jamaica Far Away and Yellow Bird. Enjoy!


Download Jamaica HERE

Download Yellow HERE

Friday, 24 June 2022

Mr B. A. Tweten Sings

Mr. Bat Sings is one of those odd albums that regularly features on those ‘worst album art’ lists but – I would assume – few people have actually listened to. With the scary clown on the cover, why would anyone bother to venture inside, especially when that clown appears to have had a butchery implement airbrushed from his cold left hand? It’s just horrendous.

 

Sadly the musical offering hidden behind this nightmare image bears little or no relation to the horrors you would expect, as the album consists of Mr. Bat – aka Bruce Arthur Tweten – crooning his way through 14 gospel standards, accompanied by Mrs. L.E. Tweten (his mother) on rather subdued organ.

 

From Kensal, North Dakota, Bruce was born in March 1936. The son of Lamoyne Everett Tweten and Alma Gabrielson, Bruce sang as a soloist at St John’s Catholic Church in Kensal, and over the years also sang – either as a soloist or as a member of a choir – at a number of churches around the region. A 1964 press report has him performing as part of the ‘WSAF chorus’, but I can find no record of this choir. Could it be a misprint, and the paper meant the USAF Chorus, the choir of the United States Air Force? Members of Bruce’s extended family served in the Air Force, so I believe that to be likely.

 

But what on earth is going on with that cover? Did Bruce perform as a clown at kid’s parties in North Dakota? I can find no evidence to suggest that he did, so what’s it all about? It bears zero relation to the sacred songs Bruce performs on the disc, so I really am at a loss to explain it.

 

A lifelong Republican, Bruce spent his last days in Jamestown, North Dakota. He died on 26 October 2001, aged 65. From the information I have been able to glean from his obituary, he appears to have been married at least twice; his second wife, Ada Mae, predeceased him by two years. Mother Alma died in 2006, at the grand old age of 92.

 

If you can bear it, the entire album is available on YouTube, but for the less masochistic among you, here are a couple of cuts from the super-odd Mr. Bat Sings Ten Thousand Angels and the album’s closing track, Would You Feel Lost In Bethlehem. Enjoy!

 

Download Angles HERE

Download Bethlehem HERE

Friday, 10 June 2022

The True Story of the Brothers Butch

Two years ago, for Pride Month, I introduced you to the Brothers Butch (or the Butch Brothers, at the time no one knew for sure which version of the name to use), and speculated about who exactly was behind the wonderful camp classic, Kay, Why? Just before Christmas 2021, I was contacted by one of the people involved in the disc and for the last few months I have been researching this incredible story. 

 

Back in February, I wrote a piece for The Guardian that told some of the history behind the record. More of the tale appeared in this month's issue of Record Collector magazine, but the whole story has not been told until now. It's a long read, but if you're interested in the truth behind the incredible Kay,Why? then grab yourself a cuppa and read on. 

 

For LGBT people, and especially for gay men, the summer of 1967 offered much promise. The new Sexual Offences Act (which introduced some of the recommendations of the decade-old Wolfenden Report) had just been passed, meaning that homosexuality – well, homosexual acts between two consenting adult males aged over 21, in the privacy of their own home at least – was no longer a criminal offence, and the atmosphere was filled with a palpable sense of change for the good. Hippies in kaftans with flowers in their hair walked the streets of London barefoot, and around the world people were protesting for equal rights and an end to war. Love was indeed in the air: the Beatles told a global television audience that it was all we needed, and it felt like the world believed them.

 

As the summer of love turned first into autumn and then winter, a strange little record issued by a tiny, London-based independent label appeared. Very few copies were sold, but it has gone on to become one of the most sought after, and highly cherished, examples of typically British camp humour. Its origins have been debated in books, online and in academic papers, but for more than half a century no one has known the true identities of the musicians behind this disc, with their Beatle-y ‘ooohs’ and camp archness.



Credited on the picture sleeve (correctly) to The Brothers Butch, but on the disc to The Butch Brothers, the innuendo-laden Kay, Why? (titled, if you did not already know, after the leading brand of water-based lubricant, K-Y Jelly) was apparently penned by one Eileen Dover, a wonderfully silly pseudonym that would befit many a drag queen. All double entendres and limp wrists, Kay, Why? was not the first queer pop record, but it was one of the earliest – and most blatant - to be issued here in the UK. It appeared just a few months after maverick producer Joe Meek and his band The Tornados issued their final single, Is That a Ship I Hear, which featured, as its B-side, a tune with a spoken middle eight entitled Do You Come Here Often. With its wink-wink reference to trolling the ‘dilly, Do You Come Here Often was the first British pop song to include polari, gay slang used to such great comic effect by Hugh Paddick and Kenneth Williams as Julian and Sandy in the hugely popular BBC radio show Round the Horne.

 

There is a fairly good chance that the men behind Kay, Why? had heard of California’s Camp Records, a label that issued a dozen ribald, under-the-counter singles and two albums between 1964-65. Claiming to employ the talents of ‘Hollywood TV and screen personalities’, they also used silly pseudonyms to hide the identity of writers and performers – Byrd E. Bath, the Gay Blades, Sandy Beech, Rodney Dangerfield (no, not that Rodney Dangerfield) – and the titles of their releases, including Homer the Happy Little Homo and Florence of Arabia leave little to the imagination. But Kay, Why?’, and the flip, I’m Not Going Camping This Winter, owe more to the British school of campery than its US cousin.

 

 
‘Oh George, isn’t it nice having a group backing us?’
‘You always were greedy, Clo!’
‘Oh, I can’t say the right thing, can I?’
‘So why don’t you shut your face until you’re supposed to sing?’


Who were the real people hiding behind the name the Brothers Butch, or for that matter who was Eileen Dover? For more than half a century there has been no trace of information on them anywhere. Despite one or both sides of the disc turning up on various collections over the years, including the Jon Savage-compiled Queer Noises 1961-1978: From The Closet To The Charts, no one seems to have been able to uncover any of the people involved. Until now.

 

The disc was the only release from Thrust Records (fnarr fnarr), based at 494 Harrow Road, London. Now a flat above a fast food takeaway, at that time it was also the address of Eyemark Records, a tiny independent record label that had previously issued I Got You by Sheil and Mal, a Sonny and Cher parody from actors Sheila Hancock and Malcolm Taylor, and the album Recitals are a Drag by legendary drag ball organiser Mr. Jean Fredericks. To add to this eclectic roster, in December 1966 the company announced plans to launch Railwayana Productions, a series of field recordings of train sounds, an odd and potentially suicidal move considering that the Beeching cuts were in full swing and steam was being replaced by diesel.

 

Eyemark (or Eye Mark as it occasionally appeared) was set up by Mark Edwards, a former BBC cameraman who was moving into music video production, and Malcolm Taylor, an actor, stage director and acting coach. Taylor also ran, with his actress mother Margaret Taylor, an employment agency, Domestics Unlimited, providing work for ‘resting’ actors and musicians, and one of the musicians he was finding work for was Eric Francis, singer with a four-piece psychedelic rock group from Fulham, the Purple Barrier. ‘It was a good way to earn a little money when we didn’t have any gigs,’ says Francis. It was through Taylor that Francis met Edwards and introduced him to the rest of the group (Francis and Purple Barrier drummer Alan Brooks had previously been in The Wanted, with David Bowie’s future guitar maestro Mick Ronson), and Edwards quickly became the band’s booking agent and de facto manager.

 

The Purple Barrier recorded one (unreleased) single for Eyemark before, in 1968, changing their name to the Barrier, to avoid any confusion with Deep Purple, friends from the same part of London, who had just issued their debut 45, Hush!. In the spring of 1968, the Barrier issued their first single, Georgie Brown, co-written by Mike Redway, who the previous year had sung the closing theme for the James Bond spoof Casino RoyaleHave No Fear, James Bond is HereGeorgie Brown was backed with a song that has gone on to become a psychedelic classic, Dawn Breaks Through, composed by Francis and bandmate Del Dwyer. ‘”Georgie Brown” was absolutely horrendous,’ says Francis. ‘We didn’t want to do it and it didn’t represent what we sounded like. It did nothing over here, thank goodness, but it proved popular in some other countries, which meant that we had to go and do TV shows to promote it in places like Belgium and Germany. We absolutely hated it!’ Booked to appear on a TV show in Belgium, the band were horrified to find brass instruments laid out for them to play. ‘It had an oompah-band backing,’ Francis explains. ‘There were tubas and trumpets and god knows what in the middle of the floor of the studio, and they expected us to play them. We were just a four-piece pop band! We were on the show with the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, and they were so talented, they picked these instruments up and they were away. We ended up miming to the record, and they played alongside us.’

 

With his connections Edwards was also able to get the Barrier included on a pilot for a new BBC pop show, featuring Julie Felix, and had them slated to perform the title song for a film starring Terry-Thomas and Phyllis Diller, The Pubs of London, which was never made. Georgie Brown did well enough for Philips to sign the band, with Eyemark and Mark Edwards staying on as producer.

 

Could Mark Edwards be Eileen Dover, or perhaps one of the two singers featured on the disc? Edwards was a man fizzing with ideas, many of which would involve his own small circle of gay friends. As well as running his record label, he was also working on a music video project for TV broadcast around the world, filming acts associated with songwriters Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley, including Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich, and The Herd. The giant Philips corporation offered financial backing for the project, and Edwards produced clips for several Philips acts, including Dusty Springfield, Manfred Mann and Esther and Abi Ofarim. When not on tour, Francis would often get involved in the filming, and he and Edwards worked on a number of projects together, including the Bee Gees’ television film Cucumber Castle. ‘At one point, we were probably doing 60 or 70 percent of this country’s pop promotion films,’ Francis states. ‘The kind of thing they would show on Top of the Pops when the band were not available.’

 

With companies in Japan working on a viable home video system, Edwards and his backers were discussing how they could make these half-hour music compilations available to home consumers, almost a decade before domestic video players became available. When Philips withdrew their backing, Howard and Blaikley stepped in, forming a new company, Video Supplement, with Edwards. Their first project together – announced in February 1971 - was to be a half-hour special entitled the Festival of Light. That does not appear to have been successful, however they did produce one programme, Europop, in early 1972 that featured The Electric Light Orchestra, John Kongos Lindisfarne, Mott The Hoople, and Slade.

 

As well as participating in Edwards’ video project, Howard and Blaikley were also involved with Eyemark Records, writing Uh!, the A-side of the Barrier’s second single, and debut for Philips, as well as the follow-up, Tide is Turning. Their distinguished, decades-long careers include two UK number ones, Have I the Right? for The Honeycombs (produced by Joe Meek) and The Legend of Xanadu for Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich (for which Edwards and Francis shot the promotional film), as well as more outré material with a decidedly queer theme. They even wrote for Elvis. I contacted Ken and Alan to ask if they knew anything about Kay, Why?’, but they informed me that neither of them was involved.

 

That might have been the end of it, but, just a few days before Christmas 2021, I was contacted by Eric Francis, lead singer, occasional fire eater, and one of the principle songwriters for the Barrier. Eric told me that it was they who provided the instrumental backing for Kay, Why?. ‘At the time of recording we had no idea what it was for other than the fact it was for a comedy record,’ he recalls. ‘Mark Edwards was responsible for the production and distribution, but he had nothing to do with writing or performing on it. Howard and Blaikley, although they were connected with us as a band, had nothing to do with it either.’

 

Kay, Why? was recorded in early November 1967 at Olympic Studios, Barnes, where just a few months before the Beatles had put down the backing track to the anthemic All You Need is Love, and its B-side Baby, You’re a Rich Man. Other acts including Led Zeppelin, Queen, the Rolling Stones and David Bowie would also use the studios before they closed their doors in December 2009. The Purple Barrier performed on the instrumental track for Kay, Why?, but were not involved with the vocal. After finishing the session, they were off to Europe on tour. ‘We were told it was for a comedy record,’ says Francis. ‘There was no fee involved, we just did it as we were all mates, and we were missing by the time they came in to do the vocals.’

 

So who wrote the songs and performed vocal duties on the disc? ‘It was written and performed by Roy Cowan and Iain Kerr,’ says Francis. ‘They were a talented duo who, in the late 60s and early 70s, performed as “Goldberg and Solomon”, a comedy Jewish version of Gilbert and Sullivan. Iain also played piano on “Georgie Brown”, and he’s on “Shapes and Sounds” and the Howard and Blaikley song “Uh!”. He was just a nice chap who was always around. Iain and Roy were at the session, but they didn’t record their vocals at the time. No one was more surprised than we were when we finally got to hear it!’

 

Now in his late 80s, and a decade into his fight with Parkinson’s, Iain Kerr has never spoken about his involvement in Kay, Why? before.

 
Iain Kerr was born in Edinburgh, although he was brought up in New Zealand, and he gave his debut performance there, billed as the Wonder Boy Pianist, at the age of four. After building a reputation for himself on the local musical and opera scene, in 1961 he returned to the UK with his cabaret partner Daphne Barker. The duo were an instant hit on the London cabaret circuit, and released an album of risqué songs, Banned!, in 1962 which was itself banned by the BBC.

 

Not long afterwards, while Barker and Kerr was performing at a London night club – ‘The kind where you pay five shillings for a glass of water and extra for the glass’, he later recalled – they were introduced to Roy Cowan. Cowan, born in Hampstead, London of Russian parents, had trained to be a rabbi but discovered his knack for writing parodies of hit songs while serving in the army. The budding song satirist, who had previously written lyrics for Charles Aznavour among others, impressed Kerr with an on-the-spot parody of Moon River, entitled Chopped Liver, and an immediate, and lasting, partnership was formed. As well as working with Cowan, Kerr continued to perform in clubs and hotels in London, becoming friendly with visiting US stars including Bob Hope and Sammy Davis Jr., and was regularly featured on the popular BBC radio programme Music While You Work.

 

The pair wrote songs for Kerr’s nightclub act as well as for other artists, including both sides of the 1966 45 issued by septuagenarian cabaret singer Miss Ruby Miller, Daphne Barker’s aunt. They also wrote My Poem For You, the B-side to Mike Redway’s James Bond single, and Cowan wrote the lyrics for the huge international hit A Walk in the Black Forest. Perhaps the most bizarre commission came from tractor manufacturer Massey Ferguson, who had the pair compose a full opera for the company, that was staged in a corn field in Greece in front of sales delegates from around the world.

 

‘We met Mark Edwards and Malcolm Taylor at a recording session for Philips,’ Kerr explains. ‘They liked what we were doing and asked if we had anything else. I said, “well, we’ve got this song called “Kay, Why?”, but we need a backing group. That’s how we got the Purple Barrier. They were very good, but the Brothers Butch were terrible! The band were very good, very professional, and Mark and Malcolm both liked “Kay, Why?” so we let them get on with it and didn’t ask questions. We had a very friendly relationship with the boys, and thought that they were trying their best.’ With no promotion, sales of ‘Kay, Why?’ were tiny, but it was for their unique take on Victorian light operetta, Gilbert and Sullivan Go Kosher, that Cowan and Kerr would achieve international fame.

 

As Goldberg and Solomon, the pair recorded their first album, for Edwards and Eyemark, the same year as the Butch Brothers tracks were laid down. The Tailors of Poznance (subtitled the Best of Goldberg and Solomon, Volume Two) featured actress Miriam Karlin, star of the hit TV show the Rag Trade, who Kerr had coached for her role in the hit stage musical Fiddler on the Roof. Karlin also recorded a pair of Howard and Blaikley numbers that year for Eyemark, which were licensed to Columbia. Various sources have suggested that the pair had intended to issue a prequel – The Chandeliers: the Best of Goldberg and Solomon, Volume One – but Kerr denies this. ‘There never was a Volume One,’ he laughs. ‘Gilbert and Sullivan’s first opera failed [the music for Thespis is now lost]; they didn’t have a “number one”, and we decided that we would not have a “number one” either.’

 

Kerr was also involved in another Eyemark release around the same time: QPR – The Greatest, performed by Queens Park Rangers footballer Mark Lazarus. ‘I did it because I was asked!’, he says. The flip side features what is probably the most peculiar, psychedelic football anthem ever recorded, a song called Supporters - Support Us, credited to the Q.P.R. Supporters, of which, says Francis, ‘I have heard it suggested many times that it may be something to do with us, but not guilty!’ A third Barrier single, again produced by Eyemark for Philips, was issued when the company demanded a follow up to Uh!. Howard and Blaikley produced The Tide Is Turning, a track from the latest Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich album, and Edwards provided the B-side, A Place in Your Heart, but although the Barrier recorded the vocals, none of the band actually played on the disc: ‘The tracks were laid down while we were on tour in Germany,’ Francis explains. ‘We came back and we were told “this is your next single”!’

 

Very little – if anything – was done to promote Kay, Why?, and by December 1967 Cowan and Kerr were in Johannesburg, with their show An Evening With Goldberg and Solomon. Kerr recalls the trip well. ‘Roy and I went out to South Africa on the ship the Windsor Castle,’ he adds. ‘Halfway through the journey were invited to drinks at the Pig and Whistle, the crew’s bar. They had decorated the bar out for us, and as we went in there were two fellows miming to our “Kay, Why?” record!’

 

By 1970 Eyemark was no more, but by that time, Edwards had already moved on. ‘For a while I took over the office,’ says Francis. ‘I was running an entertainment agency, Amberlee Artists, with a guy called Ray Perrin.’ Francis had left the Barrier, who would continue on for another couple of years with a different vocalist. ‘It was all very amicable,’ he explains. ‘In fact, I was at the audition to replace me. They found a guy called Ian Bellamy… He was a very good singer. Better than I was!’ Francis made one more single with Howard, Blaikley and Edwards, the bubblegum novelty Alcock And Brown, credited to The Balloon Busters, but by now Edwards had signed a five year production contract with MCA records for a husband-and-wife team he managed, John and Anne Ryder, and the pair scored a hit in several overseas territories with the Marty Wilde/Ronnie Scott-penned I Still Believe in Tomorrow. The Eyemark back catalogue was taken over by a new company, Amberlee Records Limited, headed by Eyemark’s former sales manager John Peters (initially based at the same address: in 1973 they would move across the road from the former Eyemark offices), who would continue the railwayana series and expand into organ recitals. sadly the company chose not to reissue Kay, Why?

 

Edwards’ hit his peak as a producer in 1970, with Curved Air’s debut album Air Conditioning; that same year Eric Francis managed to score a number one hit in Japan, with the band Capricorn, and another song from the team of Wilde and Scott, Liverpool Hello, but apart from the occasional session (including one for soul singer Doris Troy, then signed to the Beatles’ Apple label) that would be his last shot at stardom. ‘By 1971 I had a small baby, and I decided to get out. I had been a professional musician for about ten years,’ he says, ‘But I would have been better off financially stacking shelves in Morrisons. I did some driving for a car hire company; one of my customers was Greg Lake, the bass player with Emerson, Lake and Palmer, which was a bit embarrassing because he was a mate!’ Edwards would later manage (well, mismanage would be more accurate) gay singer-songwriter Steve Swindells, who in turn would go on to work with Hawkwind and Roger Daltrey among others. ‘Mark Edwards was beginning to drink too much by the time we split from him,’ says Eric Francis. ‘He died quite a few years ago after throwing away what could have been a good career.’

 

Five years after Kay, Why? was recorded, an advert appeared in Gay News. ‘Have a Thrust for Christmas’ it announced, before promoting the record, albeit with its sides flipped, making the more seasonal I’m Not Going Camping This Winter the plug track. No one knows why the company decided to give the disc another push, it could have been that someone in the office merely unearthed a box of 45s while getting ready for their move to new premises, but the world of 1972 was a very different one to that of 1967. By the time the advertisement appeared, the Gay Liberation had been established for two years, Britain’s first pride march had taken place and pop stars including David Bowie had helped make androgyny big business.

 

A few years ago a peculiar digital release turned up on Amazon and iTunes, coupling both sides of Kay, Why?’ along with the very similar sounding The Girls In the Band and Bald, a pastiche of Age of Aquarius, the hit song from the free love musical Hair. This MP3 EP also included three other songs, one of which was Waltzing with Hylda, from Cowan and Kerr’s mid-70s revue Slightly Jewish and Madly Gay. Credited to the daisy Chain Duo, Kerr now admits that the performers are Cowan and himself. ‘Roy and I went to see the Boys in the Band [it opened at Wyndham’s Theatre, Leicester Square, in February 1969], and I had coached Oliver Tobias for his role in Hair.’ The plan had been for a second Brothers Butch single, but this did not materialise. ‘Roy and I were extraordinarily busy at the time,’ he recalls.

 

Indeed they were. During the decade following the recording of ‘Kay, Why?’, Goldberg and Solomon recorded three further albums and toured the world, playing several return seasons in Australia and South Africa and appearing in front of more than 1,000,000 people in more than 200 venues. The curtain fell on their highly successful act when Cowan died of a heart attack, aged 54, in Sydney in June 1978; at that time the two men had been working on a musical based on the life of Ruby Miller, alongside her niece Daphne Barker. That same year Malcolm Taylor - the actor who co-founded Eyemark Records and later teamed up with Howard and Blaikley to write a novelty single for actor Wilfred Bramble - gave up acting and songwriting for a seat in the director’s chair. He would go on to direct many episodes of TV serials, including Coronation StreetCrossroads and EastEnders. Taylor died in January 2012. The Barrier’s drummer Alan Brooks is no longer with us, neither is guitar player Del Dwyer (Brooks and Dwyer would both later become members of cult r’n’b band the Downliners Sect) who sadly passed away at the end of December. Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley continued to have a massively successful, if somewhat eclectic, career and are both still around today, and records by the Barrier have become some of the most sought-after from the British psychedelic era: a copy of Georgie Brown in its ultra-rare picture sleeve sold in 2020 for over $1,500.

 

Kay, Why? appeared at a time when LGBT people in Britain were beginning to find their voice. It may not have changed the world, but despite its commercial failure, it is an important footnote in the history of LGBT music. ‘We were aware,’ says Kerr, ‘That we were sticking our oars out and making a few ripples.’ Those ripples would soon become waves.


‘Kay, why don’t you bring out the best in me?
‘Why did you have to make a mess of me?
‘Why did you slip through my fingers?’

 

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