10 December 2017

Camille - White Christmas/ Snowbelle

Label: EMI
Year of Release: 1979

Christmas singles are a complete lottery for everyone involved. If you produce a festive tune and it's a big hit, you might just - as Noddy Holder has often claimed - have created a pension plan for yourself. The PRS royalties from radio and shopping centre plays alone are enough to ensure a comfortable existence. 

Trouble is, the Christmas charts are also a very cut-throat and competitive environment, and provide a challenge even for big name artists to perform to their usual level. Just ask Elton John about his (relative) Christmas single disappointment. If you're an unknown artist with a yuletide ditty, you may find your work particularly cut out against towering giants like Reg Dwight, as we'll find out on this blog over the coming weeks.

First up is the almost entirely forgotten - if anyone really noticed it in the first place - twittering synth-pop version of "White Christmas" by Camille. This is a real oddity, combining Giorgio Moroder-esque rhythms and squelches to the Irving Berlin classic in a manner which should have pleased the futurists on the dancefloor. 

The track was partly produced by Mike Thorne, who was known to most post-punks as being Wire's producer at this point, and would later go on to enormous success working with Soft Cell. If you want a sense of where his career was going, the B-side "Snowbelle" is your best bet, being three minutes of  wintry instrumental, pulsing electronic minimalism, which will probably please "Left and to the Back" readers much more than the A-side. 

In all, this single was a fair stab at success, but copies are enormously scarce now, and nobody seems to have any clue who Camille was or if she did anything else. Discogs suggests she's actually Camille Rodwell who found some success in the USA in the nineties, but unless she took a career break of sixteen years before enjoying her first success with her second single, I find that extremely unlikely. 

Sorry for the pops and scratches on this copy, but it was a very tricky record to clean up. 

7 December 2017

Fergus - Gotcha Now/ Currents Of Your Ways

Label: Paladin
Year of Release: 1976

Fergus was much feted signing to the tiny Paladin label in 1976. Born in Sligo in the West of Ireland and raised in Dublin, Fergus was a regular teenage pub and ballroom performer in his home country before jumping ship to Britain in the mid-seventies. Finding himself less well-known on the gig circuit here, he slowly built up appreciation from a standing start before signing up with a manager in 1975.

"Gotcha Now" was his debut vinyl effort, and while it's most definitely a pop single, it's a peculiar beast, filled to the brim with screeching Moog noises, high-pitched vocals, twiddly guitar riffola and a steady, almost glam rock beat. It's a complicated and fussy dish of a record, with lots of little detours - it sounds as if everyone involved had a ton of ideas in the studio and couldn't let them go to waste. Stylistically somewhere between Sparks, Bolan and The Peppers, it was a little dated for 1976, and the world clearly wasn't moved by the single. 

Not that he'd disappear in a hurry. Fergus carried on releasing singles until 1985, all with a very different flavour. Some have been compared by listeners to Donovan, others to slick singer-songwriter fare or inventive seventies rock. An LP was also issued in 1978 on his manager's Rondercrest label, and is presently selling on Discogs for £105 or more if anyone fancies buying themselves a Christmas present or adding it to their list for Santa. The singles can generally be found for bargain basement prices by comparison, and may be slightly more acceptable stocking fillers for your family to consider.

I have no idea what became of Fergus after 1985 or whether he carried on writing and performing - but other readers may know more. 

3 December 2017

The Crew - Marty/ Danger Signs

Label: Plexium
Year of Release: 1969

Another total obscurity on the seldom-spotted Plexium Records. The Crew were a five-piece formed by vocalist and master percussionist (congas a speciality) John Wright in 1965, and subsequently went through a confusing array of line-ups throughout the rest of the decade. Neither the internet nor the usual reference tomes bother to chronicle these, which leaves me a little bit stuck.

By the seventies, however, they had become a funk band, offering their services to a variety of venues (including the Marquee on ten separate occasions) and supporting acts as legendary and varied as Fleetwood Mac, Led Zeppelin and Desmond Dekker.  

Let's not get ahead of ourselves, though, because that line-up offered a very different fare from the Plexium era group. "Marty" has already been rounded up on the "Piccadilly Sunshine" series of compilations, so can't be offered in full here - but is essentially an organ-driven piece of beat pop, slightly twee and chirpy in its delivery. It's not quite bubblegum, but it's closer to that on the spectrum than Sly and the Family Stone.

The flip "Danger Signs" is curious, in that it appears to be led by a female vocalist and not John Wright. Again, it's a chipper piece of sixties beat, and by 1969 possibly felt a little dated.

The Crew's most famous line-up went on to release a version of "Cecilia" on Decca in 1970, with Jonathan King's guidance and backing. An official website with more information on them can be found here

29 November 2017

Reupload - Dog Rose - Paradis Row/ Sunday Morning

Label: Satril
Year of Release: 1972

Well, this is a thorny mess.  Nobody can seem to agree on the band line-up for this recording at all.  The press release Satril Records put out for this single quotes entirely different personnel to the members eventually listed on their solitary 1972 LP release "All For The Love Of", and the only reasonable explanation is that as soon as this group imploded, the label quickly hired another bunch of musicians together to carry on under the Dog Rose name.  It's also possible that the name was owned by the label and musicians were hired for songs accordingly until a hit came.  

Confusion aside, "Paradis Row" occupies the same area as a great many early seventies pop singles, with a tiny drop of popsike in its veins, some anthemic McCartneyesque melancholy (the same strand inhabited by the theme to "Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads?") and a streak of Edison Lighthouse bubblegum.  Gently slapped bongos introduce swaggering riffs and beatnik-styled lyrical patter, and this eventually cascades into a huge rainbow streak of a chorus.  Regardless of who may or may not have been responsible for this, it's a bit of a buried gem, a could-have-been that never was.

The flip is much  more bizarre.  The press release describes it as "back to the fifties and rocking and rollin' down the avenue", but the jaunty pub piano, distortion and treble seem to be recalling The Kinks if anyone else.  Virtually absent of bass and overloaded with top-end screech, Graham Coxon would probably nod in approval at the lo-fi approach on offer here, though God knows what anyone made of it at the time.

If you were in any line-up of Dog Rose at any particular point and want to conclusively clear up a mystery here, please do get in touch.  

26 November 2017

Woolly - Sunshine Souvenirs/ Living And Loving You

Label: Mooncrest
Year of Release: 1973

This uplifting little single under the mysterious name of "Woolly" apparently picked up a fair bit of airplay in the summer of 1973, but like so many tracks of its ilk at the time, it went nowhere. "Sunshine Souvenirs" is a bouncy, chipper piece of pop which vaguely resembles Paul McCartney at his most carefree. It's not difficult to imagine it being a minor hit.

Sadly, it actually sold very poorly, and of course wasn't the work of McCartney at all. Rather, evidence online (at Discogs, anyway) would suggest that Woolly was simply a nickname for the popular Radio Luxembourg DJ Mark Wesley, who remained at the station until 1981. Wesley wasn't a stranger to the practical sides of the music biz, though - he was also a member of Southend psychedelic outfit Cardboard Orchestra in the late sixties, and acted as a songwriter for groups such as The Wake. Woolly appears to have been a late shot at being a popstar by the DJ, and the dayjob seemed to pay him much greater financial dividends in the long run, eventually causing him to land on Capital Gold.