Friday, 10 March 2023

Charlie Barlow Sings!

Alan Stratford Johns (born 22 September 1925) first came to prominence, here in the UK at least, in the mid-1950s, in a string of small parts in movies and theatre, before hitting the big time as Detective Inspector Charlie Barlow in the long-running BBC police series Z-Cars and its many spin-offs.


Johns grew up in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, and served as a deckhand in the South African navy during World War II. After the war, and following a short period working in accountancy, he became involved in amateur theatre. In 1948 he bought a one-way ticket to Britain and learned his craft working in repertory theatre at Southend-on-Sea. One of the first roles he was offered was in a Christmas musical, which he turned down as he felt he did not have the vocal chops. He did, however, stay with the company for almost five years, and during that time changed his name, dropping ‘Alan’ and becoming known, simply, as Stratford Johns.


Early film appearances included a bit-part in the classic Ealing comedy The Ladykillers (1955), and, in 1957, he made his British TV debut in the Associated-Rediffusion series Destination Downing Street, but it was as Barlow that he would become one of the most familiar and popular faces on British television. Charlie Barlow appeared in five TV series, four as the star: Z-Cars (1962–1965); Softly, Softly (1966–1969), Softly, Softly: Taskforce (1969–1972), and Barlow at Large (1971-1975, retitled Barlow in its final seasons). The character appeared for a final time in 1976, in the series Second Verdict.


Johns’s film appearances include 1970’s Cromwell, with Richard Harris and Sir Alec Guinness. Later roles included appearances in the George and Mildred movie, the 1980 big screen version of the popular sitcom, and in Ken Russell’s 1988 films Salome's Last Dance and The Lair of the White Worm. His many stage credits include Daddy Warbucks in the original West End run of Annie, and the Ghost of Christmas Present in the stage adaptation of the film musical Scrooge.  Guest appearances on TV include The Avengers, Department S, Doctor Who, Great Expectations, Blake's 7 and I, Claudius. He can be seen, alongside Clare Grogan and Moly Weir in the video for Young at Heart, the 1984 hit by Scots band The Bluebells. One of his final roles was in the TV series Heartbeat.


Outside of acting, he and his wife (and her aunt) ran a hotel and bar for actors in St Martin’s Lane (which opened during the 1950s and closed in 1976), and in the mid-1960s there was a popular photographer used by members of the acting profession, the Stratford Johns Studio, in Marble Arch. He was also the author of the children's book Gumphlumph, which he read on the children's television series Jackanory and narrated for album release.


But that’s not why we’re here, is it? We are here because, in 1965, he released an album Stratford Johns Sings, on His Master’s Voice. A selection of ballads which, as he himself admits in the sleeve notes, were chosen ‘quite deliberately’ because they were ‘square’. It’s a delight: Johns’ stentorian voice blasts its way through 14 songs, including Summertime, Beautiful Dreamer, and How to Handle a Woman. In other hands it could have been awful; somehow Stratford Johns Sings manages to be charming, if a little amateur and vainglorious. It’s clear, though, that the actor knows his limitations: on the back cover Johns writes about how he has taken singing lessons but that he realises his voice has been somewhat ravaged by too much drinking and smoking. He even enlists his children, offering their opinions on his vocal abilities. The producer of the album goes unnamed, but I’ll lay you a pound to a penny that the man behind this was Norman Newell, one of EMI’s in-house A&R men, whose career I touch on in my book The Velvet Mafia.


Johns died on 29 January 2002: his wife, Nanette Ryder (the daughter of actors Morris/Maurice Parsons and Mona Ewins), who he had married in March 1955, outlived him by four years and two days.


Here are a couple of tracks from Stratford Johns Sings: You Stepped Out of a Dream and You Do Something To Me. Enjoy!


Download Stepped HERE

Download Something HERE

Friday, 3 February 2023

Toy Boy Tunes

Born on 9 October 1947 – John Lennon’s seventh birthday - Sir Roderic Victor Llewellyn (better known as ‘Roddy’) is a British baronet, garden designer, journalist, author, and television presenter best known for his eight-year relationship with Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon, the younger sister of the late Queen Elizabeth II.


They were introduced, at the Café Royal in Edinburgh in 1973, by Lady Anne Glenconner. At the time, Roddy was a gardener and, at 25 years old, a full 17 years younger than the princess.


The much-publicised relationship was a factor in the dissolution of the princess's marriage to the Earl of Snowdon. In 1976, photographs of Roddy and Margaret in Mustique appeared in the press, and Roddy was outed as Margaret’s ‘toy boy’. Llewellyn issued a public statement, saying that ‘I much regret any embarrassment caused to Her Majesty the Queen and the royal family, for whom I wish to express the greatest respect, admiration and loyalty’.


The Queen was not happy, according to Princess Margaret’s authorized biographer, Christopher Warwick, who said that ‘The Queen didn’t approve of Roddy or of the relationship, and she thought that in all of this Roddy business, her sister was behaving badly.’ However, Lady Glenconner would later tell Vanity Fair that, ‘After Princess Margaret’s funeral, the Queen, she said, ‘I’d just like to say, Anne, it was rather difficult at moments, but I thank you so much [for] introducing Princess Margaret to Roddy ’cause he made her really happy.’ Personally, I find it difficult to believe that our later monarch would say ‘’Cause’, but there you have it.


At the height of their eight-year relationship, Roddy was persuaded to spend a few days in a recording studio. The results were issued as Roddy by Philips in 1978. According to the note, in Roddy’s own handwriting, on the reverse of the sleeve, ‘Like lots of other people I have always wanted to make a record, and I feel very fortunate to have now done this. We all had a lot of fun recording the album – hope you enjoy it too.’


He may have ‘always wanted to make a record’, but there should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that he would not have had he not been at the centre of a high-profile scandal. Musically, it’s slick, synthy, lightweight stuff, but the simple fact is that Llewellyn cannot sing. There’s a difference between bumbling through a few bars of a song at home and standing in front of a microphone in a professional studio, attempting to cut a hit recording. The voice is too mannered, too thin and too flat. I’m sure he did have ‘a lot of fun’, and today, with a little touch of autotune and a more forgiving backing, he might have gotten away with it, but when you’re crooning along to what is essentially the soundtrack to a seventies sitcom there’s no room to hide.


Produced by Tony Eyers, who specialised in recording musak-versions of standards for the foreign market (including Reggae Music Played By Tony Eyers, and Tony Eyers Plays Beach Boys, both issued in Sweden in 1977) but will be best known for writing I’m On Fire, a hit for 5,000 Volts, featuring the voice (if not the face) of Tina Charles.


By the beginning of 1981, Roddy and Margaret were through and, on 11 July 1981, Llewellyn married Tatiana Soskin, a daughter of film producer Paul Soskin. The couple have three daughters, Alexandra, Natasha, and Rosie.


In 2009 Roddy succeeded his elder brother David (better known as ‘Dai’), to the Llewellyn baronetcy. Roddy and Dai had a difficult relationship, and barely spoke to each other after the elder Llewellyn talked to newspapers about his brother’s relationship with a royal. 25 years after his relationship with Margaret had ended, Roddy Llewellyn told the Daily Mail that he still could not bring himself to forgive his brother’s ‘betrayal’. Dai dismissed him as a ‘snob and a resentful, chippy little twerp’, but the brothers were reconciled shortly before Dai’s death.


Now aged 75, he’s still working and he’s still singing. Apparently, when he went to meet actor Helena Bonham Carter, while she was preparing to play Princess Margaret in the Netflix drama series The Crown, ‘He started singing a song in my kitchen,’ she revealed to the Sunday Times. ‘He came to tea with me and Harry [Treadaway], who plays Roddy. He was so fun and warm — that’s what she needed. He’s very musical.’ Well, I’ll leave you to make up your own minds there, with a couple of tracks from Roddy: Missing Her Again and Crazy World.




Download Missing HERE


Download Crazy HERE

Friday, 27 January 2023

Ol' Blue Eyes's Bark

Frank Sinatra is one of those singers who always gets a pass, the commonly-held belief that he was a great singer makes him seemingly untouchable when it comes to the kind of folk – like me – who write about bad music.


But that’s a shame because there are some truly horrific examples in the Sinatra canon, a couple of which I offer up for you today.


Singer and actor Francis Albert Sinatra (born 12 December 1915), known as the ‘Chairman of the Board’ and ‘Ol' Blue Eyes’, Sinatra was one of the most popular entertainers in the world. He began performing in the mid-1930s, performed with bandleaders Harry James and Tommy Dorsey and, after signing as a solo artist with Columbia Records in 1943, became the idol of the bobby soxers, selling out venues and starring in the weekly radio show Your Hit Parade (more about that later).


He also forged a highly successful career as a film actor, appearing in 60 movies and winning an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor in From Here to Eternity in 1953. Among his screen credits are the hugely popular musicals On the Town (1949), Guys and Dolls (1955), and High Society (1956). He left Columbia and signed to Capitol, releasing critically acclaimed albums including In the Wee Small Hours (1955), Songs for Swingin' Lovers! (1956), Only the Lonely (1958), and Nice 'n' Easy (1960).


Sinatra left Capitol in 1960 to start his own label, Reprise Records, and released a string of successful albums: through his lifetime he sold over 150 million records. Sinatra may be best known for his string of classic performances, from Fly Me To the Moon to Strangers in the Night and, of course, My Way, but he also recorded a significant number of clunkers during his career, especially in the early years. While with Columbia he was often at loggerheads with Mitch Miller, then head of A&R at the label. It was Miller who insisted that Sinatra record the execrable Mama Will Bark, as a duet with shapely starlet Dagmar, which Billboard dismissed as ‘a silly novelty piece [which] proves that Dagmar is better seen than heard’. Legend has it that Sinatra was so angry with Miller that he never forgave him: when the pair passed each other in a hotel lobby, Miller extended his hand to greet the singer, but Sinatra snarled, ‘Fuck you! Keep walking.’


Then there’s Sinatra’s version of Woody Woodpecker. In the 1940s Sinatra was starring on the radio show Your Hit Parade and, as a consequence of this, was often called on to perform songs that were doing well in the charts that week… one of which was Mel Blanc’s Woody Woodpecker, a major hit in 1948. Although Sinatra’s lacklustre performance of this monstrosity was never supposed to be released, in 1974 British budget label Windmill Records put it out on a collection of Sinatra rarities, I’m Confessin’, and the recording has been in circulation ever since.


He made the occasional misstep during his Capitol years too: take, for example, the ridiculous version of Old Macdonald (awful, but admittedly better than Elvis’s stab at it, and his 1960 campaign song High Hopes With Jack Kennedy. That’s not to say his later career was free of faux pas. His disco version of Night and Day is truly horrible (the disco-fied All or Nothing at All was more successful, but still nasty), as is his cover of Paul Simon’s Mrs. Robinson, where Sinatra alters the lyrics (most egregiously the line ‘Jesus loves you more…’ becomes ‘Jilly loves you more…’, and confused an entire generation) and attempts to turn a rather wonderful pop song into a big band swing number.


Outside of his recording career, Sinatra’s somewhat colourful personal life included turbulent relationships with wives Ava Gardner and Mia Farrow, and rumours of his association with mob bosses followed him his entire career, leading to his being investigated by the FBI for his alleged relationship with the mafia. He became one of the best-known members of the Rat Pack, an informal group of Hollywood stars and recording artists that originally included Sinatra, Errol Flynn, Nat King Cole, Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall (Bacall and Sinatra were set to marry following Bogart’s death, but Sinatra called the wedding off after shortly after the couple became engaged, in mid-1958), but is probably best known for its Las Vegas iteration, of Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Junior, Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop. In 1963 his son, Frank Junior, was kidnapped and Sinatra paid $240,000 ransom for his safe return.


He died, aged 82, in May 1998, leaving behind an incredible body of work, including the two songs I present for you today, Mama Will Bark and Woody Woodpecker. Enjoy!


Download Mama HERE 

Download Woody HERE 

Friday, 6 January 2023

The Future Is Now

Happy Friday, my friends, a happy New Year to you too, and a big welcome to the world of New York-based outsider musician Neil Dick.


I first heard of Neil through his inclusion on one of Irwin Chusid’s Songs In the Key of Z collections: a home cassette demo of The Future Is Now, which appears on the third volume of the series. More recently I was reminded of his brilliance by fellow incorrect music enthusiast and Sheena’s Jungle Room DJ Miss Mei, who posted his entire 2006 album, also called the Future Is Now, on YouTube after CDBaby decided to cease production of physical discs and make it almost impossible to find Neil’s album.


Which is a huge shame, as it really is a wonderful thing. As Neil himself said at the time of release, ‘I take great pride in presenting my debut album… Having been a music lover nearly all of my life, I consider this album as a coming to fruition of really “finding myself” musically.’


Neil was, he tells us, ‘An avid listener of popular songs on the radio as early as the age of five.’ A few years later, at his mother’s insistence, he ‘Took piano lessons for a couple of years… which came in handy in the future. In high school, I discovered I had a good singing voice. I would sing many of the popular songs of that era to myself, but was too shy to pursue this skill before audiences. Decades later, having overcome my shyness, I started performing in karaoke events in clubs.’ These karaoke spots emboldened him and encouraged him to pursue his dream of releasing his own music.


Neil purchased his own synthesizer, and found himself a studio, Olive Juice, to record his debut full-length album. Eleven of the 12 tracks on The Future Is Now were written by Neil himself: the twelfth, Broken Heart, was composed by his friend Andrew Singer, aka rap artist soce the elemental wizard (all lower case, just like k.d. lang). Many of the tracks on the album originally appeared on a demo cassette, released in 1998 under the name Neil Darins. That cassette also includes several Neil Dick originals that would not be re-recorded for The Future Is Now, including the rather sweet I Really Flipped Over You, and The Edmonton Song.


In the 1950s, Neil was at school with Chuck Negron, a founding member of the band Three Dog Night. The pair reconnected backstage in 2004, and one of the tracks on the album, It’s a Small World tells the story of their friendship.  


An active member of New York’s LGBTQ community (he gets a credit on the soundtrack to the 1995 film Wigstock: the Movie), having recently turned 78 (he celebrated his birthday on 21 December), Neil is no longer making music but is still working, currently as part of the staff of the New York Language Center.


Enjoy a couple of tracks from the extraordinary The Future Is Now, Neil’s ode to Chinese cookery I Love That Red Sauce, and the magnificent, uplifting title track The Future Is Now. For more, check out mei Clover's YouTube channel, where you can find the entire album, as well as a couple of tracks from Neil's 1998 demo cassette.



Download Sauce HERE

Download Future HERE

Friday, 23 December 2022

Christmas Cavalcade 2022: Part Three, the Wing Wing

Ho! Ho! Ho! (again) and welcome to the third and final instalment of this year’s Christmas Cavalcade.


I’m finishing my Christmas Selection Box for 2022 with four tracks from the utterly wonderful Wing Han Tsang – an artist I have regularly featured on the World’s Worst Records radio Show, but who will be known to many of you from her appearance on the 2005 South Park episode ‘Wing’.


I have featured Wing on the blog before, but that was way back in 2011, so it is probably best that we have a quick recap. Wing Han Tsang, usually known simply as Wing, is a Hong Kong-born singer, who began her career in music after emigrating to New Zealand at the beginning of the 1990s. She began by entertaining patients at nursing homes and hospitals in and around Auckland, as well as busking in shopping centres (check out YouTube for some superb footage of Wing doing the latter), and singing in hotels in the Auckland area.


Her popularity prompted suggestions that she release a CD; the result was Musical Memories of Les Miserables and The Phantom of the Opera Performed by Wing, released in March 2001 and recorded at the Otara Music Arts Centre, based in the Otara Shopping Centre, Auckland. The second album, I Could Have Danced All Night, followed six months later, and by 2015 she had released 20 albums and Eps.


Following her ‘discovery’ by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, Wing toured the US,  appearing in San Francisco, at the famous Birdland jazz club in New York and at the 2008 South by Southwest festival. In May 2008, she performed on the BBC Introducing stage at Radio 1's Big Weekend, in Maidstone, singing songs written by Abba and Elton John. She has since made many more television and radio appearances around the globe.


In 2015, Wing announced that she retired from the music business via her official website. A sad loss of a singularly unique talent.


Anyway, here are four Christmas-themed tracks from the magnificent Wing; Jingle Bells  and Santa Claus Is Coming To Town from her 2007 collection Everyone Sings Carols With Wing, plus the wonderfully daft Santa in a Helicopter and her reading of the classic Silent Night from her 2014 EP Carols - Rap and Sing a Beautiful Christmas With Wing.


Enjoy! And I'll see you all again after Christmas.


Download Jingle HERE

Download Town HERE

Download Helicopter HERE

Download Silent HERE

Friday, 16 December 2022

Christmas Cavalcade 2022: Part Two

Ho! Ho! Ho! Everybody: who is up for another selection of Christmas-related catastrophes? Two singles, four tracks, and all of them worthy of inclusion on your own Christmas playlist


First out of the snow-covered barn door is (or, rather, are) Dick and Richard, and both sides of their 1963 seasonal offering Santa Caught A Cold On Christmas Eve and the even sillier Stinky The Little Reindeer. The A-side song was written by Dave Barbour, first husband of the singer Peggy Lee (the couple were married for eight years between 1943–1951), her son-in-law Dick Foster (husband of Lee and Barbour’s only child, Nicki Lee Foster) and Richard Addrisi, Dick and Richard being the son-in-law and Mr Addrisi.


Jack Marshall, who produced the disc, wrote the flip side; Richard Addrisi also performed with his brother, Don, as the Addrisi Brothers, and as Dick and Don. Previous to that, the brothers had been part of a traveling trapeze act, The Flying Addrisis, with their parents. The brothers were successful songwriters through the 60s and 70s, and in 1972 scored a minor Billboard hit with their song We’ve Got To Get It On Again, but this particular clunker failed to chart.


Next up is a coupling from our old friend Red River Dave, with both sides of his 1980 single, the atonal horror that is Santa's Watchdog Archibald (featuring the dulcet tones of Gloria May), backed with the political polemic The Night Ronald Reagan Rode With Santa Claus. I featured Red River Dave on the blog back in August, and you can read more about his career HERE.


Apparently, The Night Ronald Reagan Rode With Santa Claus was penned by Dave 'Red River McEnery 'in the spirit of Christmas forgiveness’. The song features then-president Reagan issuing a pardon to striking air traffic controllers, with Santa telling the Pres that 'Santa Claus counts on air controllers all over the world. He's counting on a safe sky as he flies round the world with Christmas greetings and toys for good little girls and boys.'


Enjoy these, and I’ll be back before the Big Day with the third installment of this year’s Christmas Cavalcade.


Download Santa HERE

Download Stinky HERE

Download Archibald HERE

Download Ronald HERE

Friday, 9 December 2022

Christmas Cavalcade 2022: Part One

Well, here it is... almost. Just over two weeks to go until the Big Day, so I had better pull my finger out and give you some Christmas-themed music, hadn't I?

And how better to kick off than with three tracks from Eilert Pilarm's seasonal offering from 2001, Eilerts Jul or Eilert's Christmas?

I haven't featured Eilert on the blog for a long time, more than 11 years in fact, although he regularly pops up on The World's Worst Records Radio Show. Just this week I was reminded, by regular blog and show contributor Stephen 'Beany' Green, of this particular album, and it felt like an entirely appropriate opener for this year's Christmas cavalcade.

Eilert, for those previously unacquainted with his genius, is (or was, he stopped performing over a decade ago) Sweden's number-one Elvis impersonator. A cult figure in his home country, Eilert became semi-famous on TV, appearing in adverts cooking while dressed as a cut-price Presley, and singing his off-key renditions of the King's greatest hits. 

Born in 1953, his original surname was Dahlberg, but he changed it to Pilarm to give himself the same initials as his hero. Championed here in Britain by the late John Peel, Eilert first appeared on stage - playing in an ice hockey arena in the town of Husum - in his Elvis garb in 1992, while working at a paper mill. A local radio DJ saw him, got hold of a couple of cassettes of Eilert doing his thing and began to feature him on air, National stardom soon came: Eilert issued six albums and a couple of EPS between 1995 and 2006, he appeared on TV in Britain and the USA, and in 2001 alone he played over 150 gigs across Sweden.

Here are three tracks from the brilliant Eilerts Jul: Eilert's cover of the Elvis standard Blue Christmas, a Swedish version of Silent Night (Stille Natt), and a traditional Swedish carol from 1898, Nu Tandas Tusen Juleljus, which roughly translates as A Thousand Christmas Candles are Lit.


Download Blue HERE

Download Silent HERE

Download Candles HERE

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