Friday, December 19, 2008

God Bless Bam Caruso Part One

THE MIRROR-Gingerbread Man/Faster Than Light Phillips 326 878 BF 1968 Germany

In 1984 or 1985 when I'd firmly decided it was OKAY to call myself a mod and still listen to decidedly "un-mod" music like British 60's psychedelia Mick London (of Mod Fun) turned my pal Rudie and I onto the "Rubble" compilation LP series put out by the good folks at the decidedly strangely monikered Bam Caruso records. The series focused on British 60's psychedelia and freakbeat ( a phrase actually coined by one of the labels founding fathers Phil Smee). Rudie and I duly set out to Vintage Vinyl to seek out these LP's. He purchased "The 49 Minute Technicolor Dream" and I snagged "The Psychedelic Snarl". On my choice there was a poppy little ditty called "Faster Than Light", the sole 45 release by a British band called The Mirror. Despite the 1968 recording/release date it was not at all heavy and sounded distinctly out of place for the era. It also transpires it was the flipside to the semi-ludicrously named "Gingerbread Man".

While original U.K. copies have always been quite scarce German pressings (some even in picture sleeves) were not. At least back in the mid 90's anyway and were not terribly hard to come by. One would assume it had some hit potential in Der Fatherland because there is footage of the band on Beat Club lip syncing the A-side and "Beat Club" did not seem to make a habit of featuring no hope acts. Regardless, let's talk about the record. Despite the daft title, "Gingerbread Man" is not a bad song. The lyrics are typical nonsensical nursery rhyme goobledegook without an ounce of lysergic irony ("lemonade streams and chocolate trees and houses made of sugar...") BUT there's these eerie phased/phlanged horns that brings to mind The Rolling Stone's "We Love You" or The End which are so way out. It's like someone dosed Cliff Bennett & The Rebel Rousers or fed magic mushrooms to Amen Corner. It moves along at a really choppy pace and the middle section features those wiggy horns playing various melodic scales (my favorite part). Flip it over and we're back where we began: "Faster Than Light", the B-side. It begins with an amped up jangly riff and throbby bass and then the uptempo vocals kick in. Imagine The Pre-Fab Four's "Last Train To Clarksville" on a handful of leapers, lyrically it sounds like it could be about a bad trip, but is it? There's a phlanged section in the middle when everything speeds up and the drummer goes Keith Moon style apeshit and it's washed back down to it's beginning speed in a whirl of psychedelic mixing board knob twiddling. Brilliant! "Gingerbread Man" has yet to surface on a legit compilation, but "Faster Than Light" is available in all it's glory on "Rubble One:The Psychedelic Snarl" (don't let the title scare you, go ahead..taste it) or as part of the wonderful box set "The Rubble Collection:Volumes 1-10".

Watch "Gingerbread Man" on German TV's "Beat Club" 1968

Hear "Faster Than Light":

Monday, December 15, 2008

60's Brum Beat Part One

MIKE SHERIDAN'S LOT-Don't Turn Your Back On Me Babe/Stop Look And Listen U.K. Columbia DB7798 1966

First off let me start by answering a few questions about my blog: no I won't be posting audio clips with the songs I write about because A.) I don't know how, B.) there's no one to show me how and C.) I don't care. In answer to another question, I only write about 45's I've owned or still own. I've sold off most of my 60's 45 collection so on occasion I have to steal scans from elsewhere because I didn't have the foresight to scan all of the 45's I let go years back when I began the massive analog vinyl divestment.

Here we've got the very last 45 by the Birmingham, U.K. beat group fronted by Mike Sheridan. Formerly known as Mike Sheridan & the Nightriders they became Mike Sheridan's Lot for their previous 45, the brilliant "Take My Hand". The group is also known as the starting point for one Roy Wood, shortly to leave this group and join members of other "Brum beat" acts Carl Wayne & the Vikings and Danny King's Mayfair Set as The Move (in fact the Move were a functioning band for a few months by the time this 45 hit the streets in January 1966).. The A-side is a Jackie de Shannon number. Jackie's tunes were scooped up quite often by British beat acts , usually with fairly decent results and this one is a perfect example of what her tunes were capable of in the hands of competent musicians. This version is especially good because of the gutsy lead guitar riff by Roy (who adds his distinct backing vocals) throughout the number and Sheridan's strong voice. The flipside "Stop Look Listen", while not incredibly good, is not terrible either. It's a mid paced "beat number" not too dissimilar from The Roulettes or The Merseybeats when they tried mid tempo stuff. After Roy Wood's departure for The Move the band became The Nightriders for one final 45 on Polydor (of cover of The Kingsmen's "It's Only The Dog") in late 1966 before morphing (minus Sheridan) into Idle Race following the addition of one Jeff Lynne.

Sadly neither tune has turned up on CD yet and for some odd reason Edsel never issued their complete late 80's Mike Sheridan compilation LP "Birmingham Beat" on CD unlike most of their other titles, leaving these two tunes unheard of by most folks outside of us 60's anoraks.

Hear "Don't Turn Your Back On Me":

White British Long Hairs On Blue Beat

MICKEY FINN and THE BLUE MEN-Tom Hark/Please Love Me U.K. Blue Beat BB203 1964
For those not in the know, Blue Beat was a label set up in the U.K. by an enterprising gentleman named Emil Shalit for the purpose of pressing and releasing Jamaican ska music records in England (the label's best seller was the well known ska legend Prince Buster). Ska was quite lucrative in the U.K. owing to the West Indian expat communities mass consumption of such sounds and to a lesser degree the mod movement's discovery of it care of DJ's at the Roaring Twenties club in London. Chris Blackwell helped score a major hit with the ska flavored "My Boy Lollipop" by Millie Small on Fontana records in the summer of 1964 and the scene seemed set for mass ska craze in Great Britain.

British bands were quick to pick up on the ska craze, but others were already there and done with it by then. Georgie Fame & the Blue Flames had previously cut two ska instrumental 45's (J. A. Blues / Orange Street R&B JB 114 and Stop Right Here / Rik’s Tune R&B JB 126) earlier in their career as The Blue Flames for the small ska label R&B in 1963 and were including ska numbers in their live set (and eventually releasing an entire E.P. of ska covers "Rhythm N' Blue Beat" on Columbia SEG 8334 in 1964 ). Chris Farlowe and the Thunderbirds cut a 45 under the pseudonym of "The Beazers" called "The Blue Beat"(Decca F11827 1964) and the dreadful Migil Five had a hit with a cheezy ska flavored version of "Mockingbird Hill"(who cares what label it was on, it was god awful).

Britain's Mickey Finn & The Blue Men were an odd lot. They'd been playing r&b, had Jimmy Page actually in their band for a time later on and (to my knowledge) hold the distinction of being the only white British band to have a single released on Blue Beat. Their one and only item on the label came in the form of "Tom Hark", a number that was a 1958 #2 U.K. hit for a South African group called Elias and the Zig Zag Jive Flutes. Georgie Fame included his take of it on his "Rhythm n' Blue Beat" EP in 1964 as well, though I still haven't been able to ascertain which act cut it first. Anyone familiar with it's infectious melody will know how hard it is to remove from your head once you've heard it. Mickey Finn & the Blue Men's take is an instrumental that chugs along with a shuffling mid tempo with some lively organ and plonky bass until a very lively sax bursts in joins on for the rest of the song. The arrangement is unusual because the band's next few releases featured no horns. The B-side "Please Love Me", is sadly a dreadful affair delivered by a VERY deep voiced gentleman who would've been better suited singing doo-wop to the mild ska backing similar to the A-side, it was also written by one Alan Hawkshaw! The record failed to dent the charts but the band held firm to their ska influences when they released their next 45 later in the year on Oriole CB-1927 coupling versions of Bo Diddley's "Pills" b/w Jimmy Reed's "Hush Your Mouth, both numbers being cut with a ska rhythm behind them (you can read about that here) . Both sides of the Blue Beat 45 have been legally reissued to the collection of their work "Garden Of My Mind: The Complete Recordings 1964-1967".

It was recently revealed in "Ugly Things" that the actual band Mickey Finn and The Blue Men had nothing to do with this record and that it was recorded using session musicians, among them Alan Hawkshaw who would go on to find fame with The Mohawks and as a KPM house musician.

"Tom Hark":

"Please Love Me":