Friday, 29 November 2019

Dismal Diana

Today’s terrible tune comes from the pen of one Eric Paul Smith, an architect from Audenshaw, Manchester who woke up one day in 1981 and – inspired by the recent news of their engagement - decided to write a waltz to celebrate the upcoming nuptials of Charles, Prince of Wales and his fiancée, Lady Diana Spencer.

Up until this point Eric had, as far as I am aware, no previous experience in the recording industry, but that didn’t stop him. Not only did he write the song, a miserable little ditty entitled My Lady Diana, he also funded the entire operation, setting up his own EPS label to market and distribute the disc.

Eric even went as far as to send a copy to the Prince and soon-to-be Princess at Buckingham Palace, receiving a nice letter back from Charles’s office telling him that ‘his Royal Highness much appreciates your kind thought in composing and sending this gift’ and thanking him ‘most warmly’.

With vocals by club singer Lynn Bryan, due in part to Eric’s lack of experience the record sank without a trace. Sad, because according to his local newspaper, Eric had hoped that ‘it would be a hit,’ and that ‘it would be a real honour if it were played for the waltz to start off the Royal Wedding ball.’ Still, he was in good company: there is a plethora of Diana-inspired discs out there. All are terrible and (almost) all were quickly consigned to the bargain bins.

Sadly, Eric’s muse only lasted for the one song: the b-side to the single is an instrumental version of the same tune, with Ms. Bryan’s tepid vocals replaced by a nasty synth wash. Still, I had to listen to both sides, so you can too!


Download Diana HERE

Download Instrumental HERE

Friday, 22 November 2019

Hallmark Halmark

Just a short blog today, partly because I am away from home currently but also because I wanted to get another couple in before we begin our annual Christmas Cavalcade. But mostly because I am staying in a Hallmark Hotel.

Today’s disc is something a bit special, all four tracks from a mid-to-late-period EP from the Halmark song-poem studio. Well, I had assumed that, it’s impossible to tell for sure, but a little research shows that the disc was minted around 1973, so that would be right. Plus a couple of the music beds utilised on this particular release from Ted Rosen’s song-poem company are among the more rare of their regular accompaniments. I certainly cannot immediately recall having heard the tune used behind the astounding The Suffering of a Serviceman’s Wife or opening track Honeymoon On The Moon before.

Those two cuts are the standout tracks on this EP, both sung by Halmark staffer Mary Kimmell. My friend Bob Purse had previously blogged this, and as he rightly noted all four tracks are credited to Bob Storm on the disc’s label, despite two of them clearly being sung by a woman. The other two, much more pedestrian cuts – the wonderfully-titled Trench Coat, Umbrella and Boots and the eminently forgettable Unapproachable – do indeed come from Halmark’s regular male solo vocalist Bob Storm. Those last two songs were both copywrited by “arranger” Jerry Dee in 1973... the cheeky beggar: the arrangements for these and pretty much every disc ever issued by Halmark (and subsidiary labels Chapel and Grand) cam straight of an open reel of ½ inch tape. Anyway, at least it helps us date the disc.

The tune used on the final cut on the EP, The Suffering of a Serviceman’s Wife sounds like it could have been written for a third-rate James Bond rip-off, but the 60s spy flick ambience is a little at odds with the lyrics, which tell the harrowing tale of a (rather selfish, if you ask me) young woman bemoaning her lot now that hubby is back from Vietnam, somewhat the worse for wear. My mind boggles at why she would chose to call him ‘half a man’, the thoughtless trollop, but maybe he lost something fundamental to her happiness overseas.

These particular cuts come from my own copy of the EP. I’ve given it a bit of a clean up and I hope it isn’t too crackly for you!


Download side one HERE

Download side two HERE


Monday, 18 November 2019

Mad Charles

What can I tell you about Mad Charles, the world’s first karate robot, or the man behind it/him, Eugene G. Viscione?

In 1975 Eugene Viscione, under the name “UGE” (eUGEne, geddit?) released a single dedicated to the amazing Mad Charles. The incredible psychedelic fuzz guitar work can’t hide the fact that Mad Charles is a ridiculously silly record.

Viscione was a barber from New Jersey who began writing songs in 1957. He also fancied himself as an inventor, and Mad Charles was one of his many creations.

Charles himself even appeared on the disc’s label. The record was issued twice, first with Mad Charles Love Theme on the flip, which was later replaced with the oddly-titled Sophie the Polish Chicken Hen, a song Eugene had written back in 1970. Mad Charles Love Theme features the lovelorn Charles singing to his girlfriend, Charlene, and can be seen in Part Two of the video (below).

Viscione was an odd duck. Working since the early 1960s, he had made a series of recordings for the Cleopatra label, including the ridiculously overwrought Parting Kiss, before setting up his own WGW Records (which issued Mad Charles) and, in the 1980s, Viscione Records, releasing a series of singles as Eugene (often with added parentheses for dramatic effect), but also producing and/or providing songs for a roster that included The Werps, D. Spade and Co., and Keep Off the Grass as Geno Viscione. My personal favourite is a single Eugene issued in 1989 called Hubert, the Fat Elf. Eugene shot his own ‘holiday special’ to accompany that particular release, using his kids as actors and including 10 self-composed songs. The show aired on local cable channel C-Tec in 1990.

Eugene Viscione, who at one point had his own recording studio situated in the Rustic Mall in Manville, New Jersey, which shared space with his barber shop, died in September 2009, aged 75 having enjoyed a 56-year long marriage to his devoted wife, Mary. Luckily for us he left behind an amazing body of work, much of which has been collected by the Numero Group, and issued as Fresh Cuts With Eugene Viscione. Sadly, the collection does not include Viscione’s tribute to his favourite president, his 1982 composition The Reagan March.

Sadly, I do not possess a copy of either pressing of the single, although one is winging its way towards me as I type. I shall update the sound files when it arrives, but for now i am now the proud owner of a copy of this wonderful oddity, so here for your delectation are both sides of the first version of the disc, Mad Charles and Mad Charles Love Theme, along with the earlier-mentioned Parting Kiss.

If you want to see Mad Charles - and Eugene - in action, here is the instructional video: Mr Viscione is the man in the colourful shirt and football helmet. Those of a nervous or overly Politically Correct disposition should probably avoid Part Two, which features ad-hoc promotional videos for both sides of the single, but includes some horribly racist and outdated depictions of Asians (and female robots).


Download Charles HERE

Download Theme HERE

Download Kiss HERE

UPDATE: Following a lead from Bob (see below), I managed to track down the original Mad Charles press release from 1973. Here it is, warts and all:

Mad Charles ™ Helps in the following areas:
  • Self-defense
  • Recreation
  • Karate
  • Training
  • Exercise
  • Boxing

Defense enterprises, incorporated is introducing the most Advanced model of patented automated exercise, recreation and training machine. Each machine is custom built with the users safety and a product with life long durability as foremost concerns, Mad Charles ™ enables anyone from the novice karate student (or person just wanting to learn how to defend themself) up to the black-belt karate expert. Mad Charles can help develop general reaction time by speeding up the attacking limbs. Each limb can operate (chop- vertically or horizontally)  independently of one another for greater reaction development. Mad Charles ™ simulates an attacker, where the student must block the oncoming, moving limb and physically hit one of the built-in targets as hard or soft as you desire.

If you have an established course in self-defense or karate, or are thinking of starting one, Mad Charles ™ is indispensable for student exercise, recreation and training.  Mad Charles is a great addition to you're karate school.

Mad Charles ™ is a Registered Trademark. 1973

Friday, 8 November 2019

Beyond the Pale

In twelve years, and in over 540 posts (this is, in fact, blog post 543) how on earth (pun intended) have I managed to ignore writing about the Christian Astronauts, otherwise known as the Shoup family from Fremont, Ohio, and their one classic album Beyond the Blue

I did include them in a write-up on Christian music in The World’s Worst Records Volume One, but for those who have not read the book yet, let me introduce you to one of the weirdest and most wonderful records this side of Into Outer Space with Lucia Pamela.

This delightfully amateur outer space epic first appeared in 1971. Dean Shoup (referred to on the album’s liner notes and throughout their 10-year career as Captain Shoup), like Marcy Tigner, was a self-taught ventriloquist who realised that America's fascination with space travel could provide him with a platform for spreading the gospel.

Advertising himself as “one of the world’s leading ventriloquists” and as a “gospel magician” (whatever that may be), Dean and his family toured America and filmed more than 300 episodes of a cable-TV children's ministry programme, also called Beyond the Blue, which was broadcast in the Washington state area. The cast included his wife Connie (a.k.a. Sister Shoup), kids Rick and Michelle (also known as Shelly), Jerry (a shrill-voiced ventriloquist’s dummy) and his grandmother, and starred a seven-foot tall robot, Loosenut, apparently fashioned from cardboard boxes and tin foil but which came equipped with flashing eyes and moving arms and who sounded, unsurprisingly, exactly like the good captain. In 1972, after the album was released, the family would be joined by their third and last child, son Brent. sadly I have been unable to find any footage of the TV show... but I'm sure it's out there somewhere.
The brilliance of Beyond The Blue lies, in part, to the obvious lack of money spent on the project: Captain Shoup provides all of the sound effects as well as the voices for the non-human members of the ship’s crew and the album’s narrative content, while Sister Shoup’s whole raison d’etre seems to be to chirrup through a handful of hymns.

According to the sleeve notes: “Capt. Shoup is in the pilot seat and Loosenut is the co-pilot. Lt. Green is sitting at the computer giving us assistance in helping us to stay on course, using the Bible for the flight manual”. It’s childish, cheap and utterly charming: Captain Shoup’s stumbling delivery only adding to the album’s appeal.

Despite the Christian Astronauts delivering their last earthly sermon in 1981, it’s my hope that the Shoups, Jimmy, Granny and Loosenut are still out there preaching the good word in a galaxy far, far away. Originally issued by Gospel Empire Records, the album received a limited reissue, on CDR, from outsider music specialists Companion Records a few years ago, fully endorsed by Captain Shoup himself. Sadly, this has now sold out, but you can hear a couple of tracks here, My Heart Is Reserved (sung by Rick) and I’ll Never Be The Same (sung by Michelle).


Download Heart HERE

Download Never HERE

Saturday, 2 November 2019

Thirteen Minus Two

 Inspired by a recent comment on this here very blog, I have just purchased a copy of the rather splendid Eleven Plus Two by brother and sister act the Twintones. And I’m so glad that I did.

Issued by Cornish independent Summit Records in 1974, Eleven Plus Two houses the entire (as far as I am aware, anyway) recorded output of The Twintones. It’s a name oft employed by bands, but this particular act consisted of twins Kay and Gary Tucker, who hailed from the village of Nanpean, approximately 4 miles north-west of St Austell.

It’s a fun little record, and for pre-teens – the album was recorded when they were just eleven-years-old - these kids are really quite accomplished. Kay played keyboards and Gary drummed, although the duo also dabbled in other instruments, as can be heard on their recording of Remember You're A Womble, where Kay also plays trombone and Gary plays euphonium.

The album features an odd mix of family-friendly standards, from recent chart hits including Popcorn and Y Viva España (rendered “Eviva Espana” on the sleeve) to a rousing rendition of the Dambusters March and Ode To Joy. Still, you have to admit, the noise of heels clipping across the floor on These Boots Were Made for Walking (the addition of a 'g' at the end of walkin' is all-important) is inspired, and the duo almost manage to keep time to it. “This engineer, Alan, brought in a plank of wood and wore cowboy boots, and walked in the same rhythm as the piece, to embellish what we were doing,”* Kay explains.

Banana Rock, although mentioned in the sleeve notes and sandwiched on side two of the album between Ode To Joy and Melody Waltz (a tune composed by Kay herself), isn’t credited nor included in the track listing. A shame, as it’s the duos only vocal. It’s the second tip of the hat on the LP to the then-hugely popular kids’ TV show (and earlier book series) The Wombles, and to Mike Batt’s musical group of the same name. Coincidentally, the two tracks recorded by the Twintones bookended the album Remember You're A Womble, issued in the same year as Eleven Plus Two. Banana Rock provided the Wombles with their third consecutive Top ten single in June 1974.

Sadly, everything about the packaging and marketing of this is half-arsed. The cover photo appears to be a blow up of a dimly-lit Polaroid, and Gary was none too impressed with the result: “The sleeve looked very dull to me, for two youngsters. They just used a flash camera, and it was all brown around the outside. They didn't do any location shooting – it was in the studio, they took the camera. We could have gone out on the cliffs and done a lot more to make it a bit brighter – not two children stuck in this dark hole,”* he said, many years later. The endorsement on the reverse of the sleeve from “international star” Dick Emery amounts to little more than an admission that he once met the siblings, although apparently he was impressed enough to invite them on stage with him for the last night of his residency at the “Talk Of the West”, the rather grand-sounding club within the Perran View Holiday Park.

And why the nonsensical title for the album? Surely Eleven Times Two would have made more sense: the twins were both eleven at the time of recording, after all. Unless, of course, it’s a pun on the Eleven Plus exam that kids moving from juniors into secondary school sat in those days. Apparently, the title came about because, according to Kay, “We started recording the album when we were 11, but thanks to a strike somewhere in the chain it took two years for the record to come out. When we asked what we should call the record, Job Morris [co-owner of Sentinel Records] said: ‘Well, 11 plus 2’. It was a reference to the exam, and the fact we were now 13.”* It's a shame because these kids were clearly talented.

There would be no further records from the Twintones, although Kay did release a solo cassette, Kay Plays Technics which Gary recorded at home and which was issued, again by Sentinel, to sell at gigs.

The Twintones career petered out as the twins grew up, and the demand for live acts of their type diminished, although in 2013 the pair reformed for a charity show in support of Cornish cancer support charity Tanya’s Courage Trust.

Anyway, here are a couple of stand out tracks from Eleven Plus Two: These Boots Were Made for Walking and Banana Rock. Enjoy!

Download Walking HERE

Download Banana HERE

*The quotes in this from Kay and Gary come from an interview conducted by journalist and stand-up comedian Dave Waller, and first appeared on the Sentinel Records blog in 2014 

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