Friday, 24 April 2015

There's No Business

A revisit today with our old friend Jess Conrad – and his friends the Showbiz XI charity football team.

The Showbiz XI was set up in 1957 and over the years raised a lot money for good causes, arranging football matches, fundraising dinners, charity auctions and so on throughout Britain.

Unfortunately – because they were led by Conrad - these so-called celebs (and we really are scraping the bottom of the barrel: the two albums issued feature such ‘major stars’ as Steve ‘I’m Going to Spain’ Bent and actor Tony ‘Get Some In’ Selby) also decided that one way to raise money for their chosen charities was to issue a brace of albums: several tracks from which I present for you today.

As essential Footie fanzine When Saturday Comes put it (when writing about the Showbiz XI in 2008): ‘by the 1950s, with variety dying… the world of entertainment was being rapidly transformed by the twin forces of television and rock’n’roll and those two worlds collided to produce a charity football phenomenon.

‘Started in a coffee bar in Soho by disc jockey and song plugger Jimmy Henney and Cliff Richard’s manager Franklyn Boyd, it was primarily an outlet for young musicians and actors to indulge themselves in a game that many of them might well have taken up professionally, had not the stage and screen claimed them. Early line-ups included Sean Connery, Tommy Steele, Jimmy Tarbuck, Tony Newley, Lonnie Donegan, Des O’Connor and Patrick McGoohan, who was a rugged centre-half, plus various theatrical agents, managers and hangers-on. Although the team often trained at Highbury, ex-professional players featured rarely: only Billy Wright and Wally Barnes, a former Arsenal wing-half then working as a commentator, were ever-present.

‘One among the pioneers was a svelte, good-looking young rock-star-cum-male-model, Jess Conrad. Unlike Steele, Connery and many of the others, Conrad boasted no athletic ability whatsoever. But he had a dream. “I went in goal because, when I was younger, a Russian goalkeeper, Lev Yashin, caught my imagination. The pictures of him were so reminiscent of Batman sweeping through the air, and he was dressed all in black.” The fact that Conrad couldn’t actually kick a ball mattered little. For the next 40 years, Jess would earn quite a reputation as a shot-stopper, bravely diving in and risking his heavily insured teeth at the same time. Jess would ultimately captain, manage and organise the Showbiz XI. He also designed the logos, sourced the sponsors, negotiated with the FA, and packed the hampers as the various eclectic teams travelled by coach, train and plane to the four corners of the UK and beyond. When he was making movies, it was written into his contract that, every Saturday, wherever he was, he would be flown back to London to play.’

Apparently in May 1957 singer Alma Cogan kicked off a Showbiz XI game at West Ham in front of a crowd of 23,000 football fans. Injury forced Conrad to quit in the 1980s and today, as the Showbiz XI president, he confines his role to introducing the team before the game and promoting their work through his website.

There were two Showbiz XI albums, one EP and a 7” single (highlighting the dubious talents of young actor Gary Kielty and Grange Hill’s Zammo Maguire) – all issued between 1989 and 1990 on the short-lived Showbiz Records of Bognor Regis – and all are thoroughly dreadful. The front sleeve of the two albums and the EP show the same shot of Jess in football gear (with an after-the-fact Addidas logo added) heroically ‘saving a goal but musically scoring an own goal in the process’ as blogger David Noades put it when posting tracks form the two albums on WFMU. His leaden, tuneless singing would be bad enough if it were not for the awful material: Jesus The Messiah is so terrible even Pat Boone would have refused it; Soccer Superstar, sung by Jess and Tanya Tenola, is so dull doctors could proscribe it as a cure for insomnia, and Black Stockings - an ode to women in uniform – is a lumpen embarrassment.

So here, for your enjoyment, is a taste of the Showbiz XI: Jess singing Black Stockings, Tony Selby and his ode to Canada and the Showbiz XI ensemble 'singing' John Wayne, American. If you want to hear more of this awful rubbish please check out WFMU.


Friday, 17 April 2015

Thanks Sweetie

A bit of a mystery for you today, and one I’m hoping you can help me solve. Here, in slightly truncated versions (I snaffled ‘em off of eBay) are both sides of what appears to be the only 45 by one Eddy Walker.

Issued by the Aries Record Company – probably a vanity company (there was an Aries Records label extant in California in the late 1960s, co-founded by Shelley Fisher but I’m certain this was a different outfit: a number of Aries companies have existed over the years) - both sides were written by the performer (as Edward J Walker) and both are wonderfully off. 

On Sweetie Pie, Sweetie Pie and It’s Time For Love Walker’s voice is reed thin and flat and, in spite of some sterling work on the A-side, the band playing on the flip is tired and bored. I adore it and am trying to track down a physical copy for my own collection. Unfortunately I missed the one offered for sale on eBay last year but did at least manage to grab the sound files.

The songs are published by Tyhill Music, a New York-based company owned by Elizabeth Doll Hill, who also wrote songs under the name Betty Hill and Lisa Harrison. And that’s about as much as I’ve got. There are a myriad Eddie Walkers and Edward J Walkers out there but none seem to be our Eddy. If anyone has more info about thus mysterious and quite wonderful record - or indeed the man who wrote and performed it - please do let me know.


UPDATE: I've been in touch with the seller of this disc, who informs me that he believes that it was issued in 1971 and that Eddy was originally from Montana (although he readily admits he may be mistaken). It's not much, but...

Monday, 13 April 2015

Volume Two

Did I tell you I had a book out? Here's some blurb from the press release.

Available from April 1 2015, The World’s Worst Records Volume Two tells the extraordinary but true stories behind some of the most appalling audio crimes ever committed to vinyl. 

An affectionate look at some of the most peculiar recordings ever made, read about how Frank Sinatra was forced to record a song about singing dogs; discover Billy Joel’s secret past as a heavy metal icon; try and work out what was going on in Elton John’s head when he recorded his bizarre version of Give Peace A Chance, and find out which Bob Dylan record is so bad even Dylan himself hates it. Meet the Spanish Sex Pistols, Sweden’s very own Elvis and marvel at the American President who recorded a duet with his dog.

Extensively researched, and featuring music by major stars, ‘outsider’ artists and almost forgotten singers and songwriters, The World’s Worst Records Volume Two is the second book from Darryl W. Bullock, and is the companion to his first book, The World’s Worst Records Volume One. Darryl is a writer and publisher who has been editing his acclaimed bad music blog, also called The World’s Worst Records, since 2007. The blog has brought him into contact with many of the performers of these awful recordings, some of whom were happy to be interviewed for this new book - including former Radio One DJ David ‘Diddy’ Hamilton, US child star Troy Hess and cult Australian performance artist Chainmale - and some who were not!

With over 250 pages and illustrated throughout, The World’s Worst Records Volume Two is the first book from Bristol Green Publishing Ltd., a local company specialising in bespoke print publications for small, green and ethical businesses.

The World’s Worst Records Volume Two is available worldwide from Amazon.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Four More From Grace

Joy of joys! Four more cuts from the hideously inept Grace Pauline Chew for you to marvel over.

First up is Musicart 316/317: Don Valino with the Celebrity Singers and the Magictones performing There’s A Fire In My Heart backed with our old friend Phyllis Moore (again accompanied by the Celebrity Singers and the Magictones) with Damisela.

Issued on both 45 and 78 rpm, the otherwise-unknown tenor Don Valino performs There’s A Fire In My Heart with the overblown passion and histrionics you would normally associate with a 30s musical. It’s dreadful, but not hysterically so – unlike the B-side. The many duff notes played by the organist on Damisela – my assumption is that the player is either Leonard MacClain (the cinema organist who cut several sides for Musicart) or (much more likely) Grace herself – but particularly those at 1’09”, 1”46” and 1’51” have me in hysterics.

The A-side of the second single (Musicart 320/321), Why Can’t It Be Only Me by Richard Rossiter and the Nightingales is a typical GPC dirge: tuneless, and – like There’s A Fire In My Heart - at least twenty years too late for the audience. It’s worth noting that There’s A Fire In My Heart and Damisela were released in 1954, the same year that Bill Haley recorded Rock Around the Clock and Elvis recorded That’s Alright Mama. Why Can’t It Be Only Me and The Space Ship Blues were issued the following year, the same year that Little Richard recorded Tutti Frutti and Chuck Berry issued Maybelline. Grace was a woman resolutely stuck in her own particular era.

The Space Ship Blues is performed by ancient vaudeville act The Romany Sisters (accompanied by the grandly-named ‘Instrumental Quartette’) and sees the return of Grace’s favourite instruments, the Solovox and that godawful village hall piano that appears on so many of her recordings. Again, bum notes abound. And don’t let the sudden end of The Space Ship Blues confound you: that’s exactly as it appears on the pressing. The Romany Sisters had been performing in vaudeville for decades by the time they came to record this spectacularly awful rubbish and must have been in their 60s (or possibly older) at the time. 


Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Dead links

Hi everybody: just a quick update.

Divshare - the file sharing system I've been using for a number of years - has been down for a few weeks. It's back up now but the majority - if not all - of the older files are not working: the embedded player doesn't work and if you follow the ink and try to download the tracks that also leads to a dead end.

I'm sorry about this, but there's nothing I can do. Divshare have been completely useless and the email conversations I have had with the company have not yet yielded a decent result. I may have to move all of my files over to The Box.

In the meantime, if there are any sound clips you would like feel free to get in touch via the Facebook page, by email or just leave a comment here and I'll do my best to help.

Friday, 3 April 2015

Sex With Miss X

Not a bad record this week, but a distinctly peculiar one, and one I feel obliged to share with you, Christine backed with S-E-X, issued in 1963 by Ember Records in the UK (the song was also issued in a rather fetching picture sleeve in Europe on Stateside Records).

Based on the then-inescapable Profumo Affair – Christine is, of course, about Christine Keeler - the enigmatic Miss X is actually Joyce Blair, the sister of dancer and choreographer Lionel. The ever-so-slightly risqué song entered the charts (it reached number 37 in August 1963) and Joyce found herself appearing on the iconic TV show Ready Steady Go alongside WWR favourite Pat Boone plus Billy Fury, Brian Poole and the Tremeloes, Burl Ives and Chris Barber.

Lionel was 15 and Joyce just 12 when their father, Myer Ogus, a Russian barber who changed the family name to Blair, died. To help support their mother the siblings both sought acting work. In 1945, the pair won an amateur talent competition in Stoke Newington, and the theatre retained their services for the week. They went on to perform together in summer shows, pantomimes, cabaret and at the Windmill Theatre.

Miscredited to Count Jaine de Mora y Aragon, the co-composer and pianist featured on the coupling was actually Jaime de Mora y Aragon, a flamboyant Spanish aristocrat who worked as a musician and part-time wrestler. With his slicked-back hair, waxed moustache, monocle and cane he was once likened to Salvador Dali.

A fixture in Marbella since the early 1960s de Mora, or Jimmy as he was known, became such a favourite among the wealthy and wellborn who make the resort their summer playground that he was named by the city's tourist office as its official greeter. Although he was at various times a waiter, bullfighter, taxi driver, model and movie actor, de Mora was primarily a promoter, one who provided the public face for an assortment of business ventures from nightclubs to theatrical productions financed with other people's money.

The son of a wealthy count - and related to the Spanish royal family – Jimmy was born in Madrid but, after dropping out of school at the age of 17, entered the bohemian life of Paris, learned to play the piano and married first a Mexican actress and later a Swedish model. In 1960, when his sister, Fabiola, married King Baudouin of Belgium, Jimmy was excluded from the wedding. When he was later cast as the Belgian Ambassador in an Italian film, he played the diplomat in drag – his act of revenge.

His role as an international gadabout was curtailed in 1965, when he was convicted in his absence in Italy for passing bad cheques. He died in Marbella in 1995.

Leslie Bricusse, the song’s other co-writer, is an English composer, lyricist, and playwright who has worked most prominently in musicals. He’s also the composer or co-composer of several huge songs including Feelin’ Good, Goldfinger, You Only Live Twice, What Kind of Fool am I and Christmas at Hogwarts. In the 1960s and early 70s Bricusse enjoyed a fruitful partnership with Anthony Newley. They wrote the musical Stop the World - I Want to Get Off (1961), which was successful in London and on Broadway, and was made into a film version in 1966. The pair also wrote The Roar of the Greasepaint—the Smell of the Crowd (1965) and the music and songs for Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971), for which they received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song Score.

A fun record made by fun people from a fun time.

UPDATE: This wasn't the only Christine Keeler-themed record issued by Ember and involving Leslie Bricusse. The same year that the company issued the Miss X single they also issued an album and EP of songs and dialogue from the satirical stage show Fool Britannia. Starring Peter Sellers, Anthony Newley (Bricusse's writing partner) and Joan Collins, the show lampooned the Profumo Affair, JFK and the then-current establishment. Have a listen to Peter Sellers' song about Christine Keeler here:

Thanks to The Squire for that info!


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