Friday, 30 April 2010

Three for all

I am pleased and privileged to tell you that this weblog will be joined in its May celebration of all things Radiophonic by the absolutely marvellous 'Toys and Techniques'
and the totally fantastic 'A Sound Awareness' , in a historic team up that we hope will appeal to all.

I don't want to succumb to hyperbole and vainglorious boasting, but I'm pretty sure that man's long struggle for survival, gradual evolution, growing sophistication and incredible technical progress has all been leading to this moment.

Don't forget to check out all three sites from tomorrow for all manner of analogue electronic related stuff. It's what the internet was invented for!

Thursday, 29 April 2010

May days

This weblog has been pretty stylistically diverse of late so, for one month only, we’ve decided to present a series of posts related to a single, unifying theme.

Radiophonic Month begins on the First of May.

Charge your heavy duty 6v Ever Ready batteries now.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Shire Fact Number Fifteen

'The Earls of Devonshire and Wiltshire were beheaded after the battle of Towton; Lord Dacre was shot in the head by a bolt from a crossbow while resting with his helmet off'.

From 'Discovering Battlefields Of England' by John Kinross, 1968.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

I tremble at the loss

‘The Fiend’ (1971) is not a particularly uplifting film. In fact, it’s murky, sleazy, and misogynistic, just like the man who directed it, our old mucker Robert Hartford-Davis.

The film tells the story of Kenny, heroic security guard by day, colossal pervert and murderer of fleshy seventies women by night. Kenny and his beloved Mum are both in the thrall of an evangelical religious cult called The Brethren who specialise in singing groovy gospel songs and listening to crazy Patrick Magee ranting about sacrifice as as he baptises new converts in a large yellow plastic paddling pool.

Kenny’s modus operandi is to randomly pick a woman, stalk her for a bit, then brutally kill her and steal her underwear.
He tape records the murders and mixes them with recordings of Magee’s sermons, creating an unsavoury avant garde mash up that would probably only fill the dance floor at the Broadmoor Xmas Disco.

The net is tightening around Kenny, however, as his Mum’s home help (Madeleine Hinde, seemingly in all Hartford-Davis films) and her journalist sister (Suzanna Leigh, an incredibly irritating actress whose biggest role was opposite Elvis in ‘Paradise, Hawaiian Style) are on his trail. They won’t like what they find, and they may not quite understand it, as the ending is rather a muddle.

One of the last films Hartford-Davis made in the UK before moving to Hollywood (!), ‘The Fiend’ is not badly done, but the underlying tone is quite unpleasant and the storyline drawn out and unnecessarily confused. Tony Beckley gives a typically Beckley-esque performance as Mummy’s boy Kenny: arrogant, sarcastic, but deeply neurotic and odd (Tony played Camp Freddie in ‘The Italian Job’ and turned in decent character performances in a number of films before dying of cancer in his early fifties: this was his only starring role). Crazy Patrick Magee is always good value, and Ann Todd (Kenny's Mum), a forties starlet who had been married to David Lean, looks ill at ease and ready to retire (again).

One of the high points of the whole undertaking is the soundtrack, which is great. The funky pop gospel songs sung by The Brethren are absolutely brilliant with their rubbery bass lines, choppy guitar and electric organ, ensemble vocals from a gospel choir and strong lead vocals from Maxine Barrie, a talented singer who looked and sounded too much like Shirley Bassey to be successful in her right and, ironically, ended up as Britain’s best known Shirley Bassey impersonator.

‘The Fiend’ is supposedly due to be released on DVD soon, but there is no definite date as yet, which is almost as irritating as Suzanna Leigh. In the meantime, here's a clip that features murder, funky gospel, an ersatz Shirley Bassey and a large yellow plastic paddling pool.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Shire Fact Number Fourteen

'At King's Lynn, that ancient and fascinating Norfolk town, we find a man in legal robes actually carrying his head. The title? The Honest Lawyer'.

From 'Discovering Inn Signs' by Cadbury Lamb and Gordon Wright, 1968.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Open your arms let me go

Twinkle’s pop experience sums up the nineteen sixties music industry's relentless capacity to use up the raw fuel of talent – she was famous at 15, and all but washed up at 17.

Born Lynn Ripley (Twinkle was her family nickname) things started to happen for her when she started going out up with Dec Cluskey from the bland but very popular Irish singing group The Bachelors. Dec pulled some strings to get her signed to his own label, Decca, and in early 1964 she had her first hit with death disc ‘Terry’.

From a fine tradition of songs about love lost in tragic and messy circumstances, ‘Terry’ at first seems a rip off of the more famous ‘Leader Of The Pack’ by The Shangri-La’s (see below) until you check the dates and realise that ‘Terry’ actually came out well before the better known song. The disc, with its funereal pace and spectral vocals, not to mention some great sound effects, was actually banned by the BBC for being morbid – but it still climbed to number four in the charts, sold millions of copies and inspired cover versions around Europe.

Despite appearing at that years NME Poll Winners Poll (rigged by her publicists who sent in hundreds of votes for her) she was never able to consolidate the success with another big hit. ‘Golden Lights’, which was inspired by seeing boyfriend Dec surrounded by ardent fans and later covered limply by The Smiths, stalled just outside the Top 20, and subsequent singles failed to crack the charts at all. That said, she made some interesting, idiosyncratic records and, unusually, wrote them herself, often in collaboration with her Dad.

Presented here, apart from the obligatory (and still magnificently morose) 'Terry', we have her ostensibly more cheerful '24 Hours From Tulsa' inspired ‘What Am I Doing Here With You?’ and the positively chirpy ‘Micky’ which may even have been a comeback hit if Immediate Records hadn't folded just before it was released.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Shire Fact Number Thirteen

'St. Hugh of Avalon was a wise and fearless bishop of Lincoln whose pet swan met him each time he returned to his palace'.

From 'Discovering Saints in Britain' by John Fidler, 1969.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

I don't know what else I can do

Of all pop movements, the sixties girl group sound is one of my favourites, and of all the girl groups, my absolute all-time favourites are The Shangri-La’s.

Made up of siblings Mary and Betty Weiss,and Mary-Jane and Marge Ganser (MJ & Marge were identical twins), the group came from a tough, working class background in Queens, New York and were signed to Red Bird Records whilst still in their teens. Left in the capable hands of genius songwriter and producer George ‘Shadow’ Morton for a couple of months they were soon enjoying their first chart success with ‘Remember (Walkin’ In The Sand)’, a massively melodramatic mix of percussion, sound effects and lost love that, like so many of their really great records, sounds like the musical accompaniment to one of Roy Lichenstein’s famous pop art cartoon paintings.

More hits of an incredible calibre followed ('Give Him A Great Big Kiss’, ‘Leader Of The Pack’) but their operatic, emotional, essentially teenage pop music was a short-lived success quickly (and unjustly) eclipsed by other styles, other sounds and by 1967 they had faded away completely, never to return in their original incarnation (Marge died in 1970, the others retired, tied to exploitative contracts that forbade them from recording elsewhere).

Mary Weiss finally released a solo album in 2007, a mere 40 years after her last Shangri-La’s record. It feels good to have her back.

So, some 20th century pop art: ‘I Can Never Go Home Anymore’ was their last big hit (excluding reissues) and is a time capsule pop record – the arrangement and execution are flawless and guaranteed to wring a tear from even a blocked tear duct. ‘Dressed In Black’ sounds like a death disc, but is actually about forbidden love. Dripping in emotion and hormones, with more than a hint of the Gothic, it features the stark and sinister lyric ‘I climbed the stairs - I shut the door - I turned the lock - alone once more -and no one can hear me cry - no one’ and is absolutely brilliant. Finally, ‘The Train From Kansas City’ is another amazing song, originally released as a b-side (!). Frenetic and driving with some nice choo choo noises, this song is about someone else’s heartache, but the angst is no less keenly felt.

The Shangri-La’s receive my highest recommendation. For what it’s worth, I don’t think it is possible to have a full appreciation of pop music without knowing their records in the most intimate detail so, there you go, put that in your Meerschaum and take a lungful.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

British Statue Number Two

Eric Morecambe (1926-1984)
Morecambe Promenade,
Morecambe, Lancashire.
Statue by Graham Ibbeson.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

We are one

It’s the 13th of April, and it is exactly one year since we started this internet based endeavour.

What a time we’ve had!

Remember the posts about David Bowie, Havergal Brian, Kevin Rowland’s arse? What about the mixes, oh, and the Vogon nearly falling off the little train? Marvellous.

The memories will last a lifetime, assuming we retain our mental faculties up until death and nothing more interesting comes along to push all this stuff out.

Thanks to all of you that have shown an interest over the last twelve months. Stick around, there's at least another fortnight in us.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Shire Fact Number Twelve

'In a restoration of the church of St. Michael Paternoster Royal, a mummified cat was found in the roof of the building - was it Dick Whittington's?'.

From 'Discovering London Curiosities' by John Wittich, 1973.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Dancing down the drain

Phil Ochs didn't have much luck other than bad, and his life and work are inevitably overshadowed by his descent into mental illness and suicide in 1976.

One of the numerous protest singers that grew out of the nexus between folk and the civil rights movement in the early nineteen sixties, Ochs was at the forefront of the pack for a while with his direct and catchy songs, a close second to Bob Dylan in terms of commercial crossover appeal.

Whereas Dylan moved away from direct protest and issues songs fairly early on, however, preferring a more oblique approach, Ochs stayed angry his whole working life, a stance that gained him respect, but harmed any chance he had of making it really big, despite his very best efforts (Ochs was desperate for success, and his lack of it helped destroy him).

Och’s fourth album, ‘Pleasures Of The Harbor’ (1967), is a transitional LP in many respects, with Ochs moving away from the pure folk elements of his previous records in order to try and find a niche in the now all encompassing pop / rock firmament. To this end, his songs here are gentler and more reflective, not so inclined to slogans and rhetoric, and stylistically very diverse.

The album is far from a cynical stab at pop stardom, however, despite the presence of ‘Cross My Heart’, the nearest he ever got to sunshine pop, and some beautiful melodies. In truth, Ochs was probably incapable of making the move from cult folk artist to big rock star – he has too many ideas, too much to say and, ultimately, is too rooted in the folk idiom to be very commercial (his songs tend to be long and full of words; he tries unfashionable styles like Dixieland and modern Classical; he doesn’t write middle eights), and this LP was not a success.

So, for your ears: the aforementioned ‘Cross My Heart’ with its baroque keyboards and spiralling and uplifting melody and ‘The Crucifixion’ a long, brooding piece featuring an experimental electronic arrangement from United States Of America luminary Joseph Byrd, that compares JFK to Jesus Christ and made Robert Kennedy cry when he heard it.

Sadly, Ochs never achieved his aim to be ‘part Elvis Presley, part Che Guevera’ and the last few years of his life can only be described as a tragic waste of a talent, and a tragic waste of a man. But, if you listen closely to the title track to 'Pleasures Of The Harbor' there, just behind the slightly florid arrangement, you can still hear poor Phil breathing in and out, saving his breath until it’s time to sing again.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Shire Fact Number Eleven

'The great American speleologist, Dr. William R. Halliday, remarked of Tilly Whim Caves, Swanage, Dorset; "someone ought to separate the artificial / solutional / littotal features here"'.

From 'Discovering Caves' by Tony and Anne Oldham, 1972.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Show excitement or emotion

Another great song from Schoolhouse Rock and part two of our occasional series (which sounds much more thought out and important than it really is).

'Interjections' takes just three minutes to fully (and memorably) explain the titular grammatical elements which, as we learn, are generally set apart from a sentence by an exclamation point, or by a comma when the feelings not so strong. Informative, educative and just really clever, this mini-masterpiece was written by Lynn Ahrens and performed by Essra Mohawk, an exotically named singer-songwriter who does a mean 'uh huh huh' and sounds like she's really enjoying herself.

I really like this stuff: where else these days can you watch cartoons and learn something other than what a wide range of tie-in toys there are available?

Friday, 2 April 2010

British Statue Number One

Diana Dors (1931-1984)
Shaw Ridge Leisure Park,
Swindon, Wiltshire.
Statue by John Clinch.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Not even maybe

Good pop music is all about recognisable human emotion. It could be euphoria, despair or untrammeled lust, doesn’t matter: if the music and lyrics can convey that feeling in a convincing manner then the song has done its job, and the listener can relate, dance, stare into the abyss or get it on accordingly.

‘Lucky Stars’
is a 1978 Dean Friedman song that pedals through a dozen different emotions in the course of its four minute duration. More if you consider bickering an emotion. It was a Top 3 UK hit in it’s time and, once heard, can never be forgotten.

I’ve listened to this song hundreds of times in the last 32 years, unwillingly at first then ironically and now, in middle age, because I like listening to it. Yes, the setting is smooth AOR (not my usual tipple); yes, the voices grate and simper in equal amounts; yes, the dénouement makes you feel sick, but there is an enigma at the heart of the song that intrigues me: who is Lisa, and why the hell is she casting such a huge shadow over this relationship?

Anyway, I could go on, but I think I’ll save it for my dissertation. The reason I brought the whole thing up in the first place is because Unmann-Wittering have only gone and done a version of this track and we want to share it with you. Click here and prepare to be vaguely entertained, then bored, then ticked off that we’ve dumped this on your doorstep like dog shit in a burning paper bag.