Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The Vapors Live In NYC 10/21/18

The Vapors at the Mercury Lounge, NYC photo c/o Michelle Lyons Buckner

Band reunions are always a dodgy affair, especially ones from the 80's. There's two versions of the Beat out there (depending on which continent you're on) each fronted by one original member and a host of young faces in the line up with no other originals in the line up. Then there's that farce called Big Country sans deceased original lead singer Stuart Adamson (ditto for a Jez Bird-less Lambrettas) a Members without Nicky Tesco, a Stranglers with two original members (one of them is NOT Hugh Cornwell) and don't even get me started on From The Jam and what are there like two original members left in The Specials these days?!

So with all that said I was cautiously skeptical when it was announced on Instagram that The Vapors would be coming to NYC. But the photos looked promising with lead singer/rhythm guitarist David Fenton on board with lead guitarist Ed Bazalgette and bassist Howard Smith with "new guy" Michael Bowes occupying the drum seat.  But like me the rest of the East Coast jumped at the chance to see them so much that three nights in a row at NYC's Mercury Lounge were sold out almost immediately as they went on sale.  I had not been to the Mercury in almost two decades and the trek in to the Big Apple was long, but it would be worth it.

Opening act The Split Squad's line up read like a Who's Who of power pop with Plimsoul Eddie Munoz on guitar, Fleshtone Keith Streng on guitar, Blondie's legendary Clem Burke on skins,  Josh Kantor, an organist from the Boston Red Sox on keyboards and a gent named Michael Giblin on lead vocals and bass. They were a tough act to follow playing a raucously delightful set of some heavy duty power pop (with a cool cover of The Small Face's "Sorry She's Mine" in there) and kept it short and very sweet.

The Vapors at the Mercury Lounge, NYC photo c/o Michelle Lyons Buckner
And so it was following such a heavy opener that the Vapors bounded onstage to a thunderous applause from the largest gathering of 50-somethings I'd seen since my last Paul Weller show 3 or 4 years ago.  Clearly by the looks of the young guitar player they were down to two original members (lead singer David Fenton later mentioned mid set "you may have noticed that Ed Bazalgette isn't with us, he couldn't come so this is my son Dan").  Despite a bit of O.T.T. onstage swagger Dan didn't miss a note and complimented the band perfectly in the music department. They launched into their first number, "Bunkers" like a well oiled machine and all around I noticed wide eyed, jaws agape punters who like me were in the process of being blown away. Throughout the gig I realized how intricate and melodic their material always was, clearly The Vapors were NEVER four chord wonders! Their 18 track set included just two new numbers as they played a host of tunes from their two LP's "New Clear Days" and "Magnets" and some B-sides as well (yes I'm a bit of a Homer Simpson when it comes to that: "play the old crap!") !  Highlights were a brilliant "Silver Machines" with it's complex melodies, the moody and bleak "Magnets" and my favorite "Waiting For The Weekend". They played "Trains", "News At 10",  "Jimmie Jones" and even their only US hit "Turning Japanese" (something of a stereotype and a bad punch line for idiots who slagged them off back then). They all sounded amazingly fresh. The whole set was brilliant and executed with precision and flawlessly performed and best of all David Fenton's voice sounded the same as it did 38 years ago. The band were clearly bowled over by their reception and their playing certainly showed it! Let's hope they're back again soon because in another 38 years...

Mercury Lounge 10/21/18 Setlist:
Live At The Marquee
Silver Machines
King L
One Of My Dreams
Spring Collection
Jimmie Jones
Waiting For The Weekend
Letter From Hiro
Turning Japanese
News At Ten

Here Comes The Judge

Monday, October 29, 2018

The Action Is Here! The Action's "Shadows And Reflections" new box set reviewed!

Apart from Monkeypicks  I don't think there's a bigger Action fan in the world like me so when it was announced that there was going to be a four CD set of their entire catalog I freaked. Not since their excellent tome "In The Lap Of The Mods" Action book have I been so excited to see a package arrive at my door!

Rather than give you a blow by blow account of all 86 tracks on this four CD set I figured I would give you some highlights. In 1990 when Edsel issued the very first Action CD all of their EMI recordings the tracks were remixed for some inexplicable reason (their ground breaking 1980 vinyl "Ultimate Action" comp  album on Edsel was taken direct from the masters) . Over the past three decades subsequent CD reissues of the band's EMI catalog (and tracks on various artists CD compilations of the bands EMI recordings) have used the same atrocious mixes.  Grapefruit/Cherry Red's new box set has atoned for that with compiler Alec Palao gaining direct access to EMI's master tapes giving The Action their very first "direct from the original masters" CD compilation ever. Sadly there are no unreleased songs in the EMI archives that we haven't already heard, but that said there are several alternate versions, backing tracks, rehearsal takes and previously unheard Stereo mixes of all of their EMI recordings. Also included are the band's 1967-1968 recordings (previously issued as "Brain/Rolled Gold") including full length versions of "Brain" and a previously unedited version of "Really Doesn't Matter Anymore", all the BBC tracks compiled for Circle's 2004 collection "Uptight And Outtasite", the 5 cuts recorded in '68 after lead singer Reg King's departure and a few months before they became Mighty Baby and issued in 1985 as the "Speak Louder Than" mini LP, both sides of their 1964 single as The Boys and the four tracks issued on 2014's E.P. on Top Sounds. Curiously the dreadful Edsel mixes are consigned, unnecessarily, to disc four.

Looking baked at the Speakeasy, early 1967
The real treat for me were the backing tracks, rehearsal takes and alternate mixes. The backing track take of "Shadows And Reflections" sans lead vocals bears an eerie almost Pink Floyd sounding Farfisa playing scales alongside George Martin's harpsichord that's unnoticeable on the standard 45 version. Action members are notoriously dismissive of the band's sound once lead guitarist/backing vocalist Pete Watson left at the end of 1966 and claimed they sounded "thin" without his guitar and backing vocals.  To this I say balderdash and so shall you when you have a gander at the Association like backing vocals weaving their magic on "Shadows.."!! A rehearsal of "Shadows" flip "Something Has Hit Me" sounds positively amazing with Alan "Bam" King's chiming Rickenbacker noticeable with the backing vocals absent and lead singer Reg King's soulful tones are perfectly accented in an alternate take of the Righteous Brother's "Just Once In My Life" that strips away all the backing vocals . A backing track of "The Place" (written by US r&b singer Jack Hammer best known for "Down In The Subway" who was apparently on hand for the session) highlights Watson's chiming 12 string Rickenbacker meshing with King's 6 string Rick minus George Martin's harpsichord as does the backing track for "Come On Come With Me", which stripped of it's vocals shows how Motown-esque the chord/key changes were. A rehearsal take of band original and the first post Pete Watson single "Never Ever" (minus horns and backing vocals) is a beautiful glimpse of the rhythm section of bassist Mike Evans and drummer Roger Powell, especially the later who is on fire on the cut.  And of final note is the rehearsal take of "Something Has Hit Me" with Alan "Bam" King's chiming electric almost Byrdsy guitar making the track far more ballsy than the finished product which instead utilized an acoustic guitar.

There are never before heard Stereo mixes of 15 of the band's 17 EMI recordings that offer a clearer investigation into the vocals (especially the backing vocals which sound higher in the mix to my ears than the mono versions) in addition to the original mixes of all 17 tracks cut with George Martin for EMI.

Ready! Steady! Go! 1966
There's a nice booklet included with liner notes by David Wells, an intro by our favorite "Mojo" scribe Lois Wilson and an annotated run down by Alec Palao of all the recording information for all 86 tracks in chronological order. Palao has also compiled a a vinyl LP titled "New Action" 12 tracks of the band's '65-'67 EMI material direct from the master tapes.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

More U.K. Obscurities On U.S. Labels: The Roulettes US Debut

THE ROULETTES-Soon You'll Be Leaving Me/Can You Go US United Artists UA 718 1964

Britain's beat quartet The Roulettes are little known in the United States and if they are its only as a minor footnote in backing singer Adam Faith on his sole U.S. "hit" "It's Alright" (Amy 913 October 1964) which reached #31. The band, comprised of Russ Ballad (vocals/guitar), Peter Thorp (lead guitar), John "Mod" Rogan (bass) and Bob Henrit (drums) had previously backed Faith on an early US release ("We Are In Love" Amy 899 February 1964) and today's subject. "Soon You'll Be Leaving Me" was the band's first US release sans Adam Faith. It was issued in May of 1964 (previously issued in the UK in November 1963 on Parlophone R 5072). Interestingly the UK issue featured "Tell Tale Tit" on the flip while the American issue featured "Can You Go" (pinched from the flip of their March 1964 UK 45 "Bad Time", Parlophone R 5110).

"Soon You'll Be Leaving Me" is a storming beat group number starting with a cracking drum intro and some Beatle-esque chord changes and excellent harmonies. The Roulettes always brought their A-game when it came to powerful vocals and tight musicianship and this 45 is no exception.

"Can You Go" is not as good as the top side with some hokey lyrics but its still spirited and has a rousing delivery in standard up tempo beat group abandon.  Both sides were penned by songwriter/singer Chris Andrews

The Roulettes would have one more US 45 on their own which you can read about here.

Both sides are available on a now out of print BGO CD reissue of their LP "Stakes And Chips" (which is one of the rarest British 60's albums with copies fetching an excess of $1,000!).

Hear "Soon You'll Be Leaving Me":


Hear "Can You Go":


Monday, October 15, 2018

More U.K. Obscurities On U.S. Labels: Sounds Incorporated

SOUNDS INC.-I Am Comin' Thru/On The Brink US Liberty 55844 1965

Multi-instrumentalist's Sounds Incorporated were a 6 piece British combo who had been around since the early 60's. There first singles were on the Decca label (where they cut a one 45 with the legendary Joe Meek) before moving to Columbia.  Best known to American's as the band behind the brass on The Fab Four's "Good Morning Good Morning", they also opened for the Beatles in a 1965 US tour with an entire set filmed during their opening slot at the legendary Shea Stadium gig in August. In an effort to capitalize on their fame from that tour Liberty records issued the band's latest 45 in both the UK and the US at the same time in October 1965. Issued in the UK as Columbia DB 7737 it remains one of their most sought after 45's.

"I Am Comin' Thru" was previously written and issued by Billy Preston on his legendary 1964 album "The Most Exciting Organ Ever".  I'm rarely one to claim covers are better than the originals but in this instance I am firm in my conviction that the Sounds Inc version easily trumps the Billy Preston version.  It's faster, ballsier and heavier thanks to the bands powerful horn section. Where the original is a soulful slow burner this version is a 100 mph organ/horns party tune, full on.

The B-side, "On The Brink", was the debut 45 by Mike Vickers after leaving Manfred Mann and had already been issued by him in the UK in August (on the same label as Sounds Inc nonetheless!). Though lacking the kitschy/frenetic feel of the original this version is still amazing thanks to the bands strong sax playing, hard hitting drumming (care of future session man extraordinaire Tony Newman) and solid instrumental precision.

"I Am Comin' Thru" has been compiled on an untitled See For Miles collection  but "On The Brink" has yet to grace any collections, unfortunately.

Hear "I Am Comin' Thru":


Hear "On The Brink":


Monday, October 8, 2018

The Genius Of Scott Walker

Before his slapping frozen meat for percussion and making questionable and unlistenable recordings for the past four decades Ohio's favorite melodramatic singer/songwriter U.K. transplant cut some of the most brilliant, wonderfully orchestrated pop melodramas of the 60's (and 70's). I decided to chronicle my favorites. Enjoy! All releases are UK pressings unless otherwise noted.

1. "The Plague" B-side Phillips BF 1628 1967
The flip of Scott's solo debut 45, a reading of Jacques Brel's "Jackie" was this dark, original composition (no doubt influenced by the Camus novel of the same name). With it's Ladybird's type "la la la" backing vocals it would've been just another late 60's pop record but with it's almost way out  screeching guitars, doom ladden strings and Scott's trippy lyrics it's the closest he ever came to psychedelia.


2. "Montague Terrace (In Blue)" LP track "Scott" Phillips SBL 7816 1967
The strongest cut from Scott's untitled debut album (cheekily titled "Aloner" in the US!) is yet another of his archetype voyeuristic/people watching song-essay that sees him crooning in observation of his neighbors and their comings and goings while Wally Stott's beautiful orchestration wraps it up as the perfect melancholy parcel it is.


3. "The Rope And the Colt" French single Phillips B 370.780 F 1969
By far one of the most unique Scott solo tracks was this tune composed for a spaghetti Western flick of the same name (released in English speaking countries as "Cemetery Without Crosses"). Scott croons (not unlike Jack Jones!) about all things cowboy and blazing guns and riding trails that end in death while backing vocalists reminiscent of The Jordanaires croon over some very tight musical orchestration. And there's a simple Spanish guitar solo to add to the Morricone feel of it all.


4. "The Amorous Humphrey Plugg" LP track "Scott 2" UK Phillips SBL 7840 1968
One of the most powerful solo Scott tracks for my money is this cut from his second album "Scott 2" (yes his first 4 solo long players were all numbered). Once again in his favorite musical mode of social observation Scott chronicles the day of the everyman dad as he daydreams his evenings away imagining that he is a dashing ladies man, a Walter Mitty Casanova as Reg Guest's brilliant musical backing creates a lush texture for it to lay on.


5. "Mrs. Murphy" E.P. track "Solo Scott/Solo John" Phillips BE 12597 1966
Scott spent most of 1966 swatting away rumors, conjecture and suggestions that he should ditch Gary and John and go solo. The pages of British music weeklies in 1966 were full of them making one wonder did "NME", "Disc & Music Echo" and "Record Mirror" cause the Walker Brothers break up? The fuel was already there and this E.P. was the match that lit the Walker Brothers funeral pyre. Part of what I like to call Scott's "tenement trilogy" (along with The Walker's reading of "I Don't Want To Hear It Anymore" and Scott's later "Montague Terrace") , "Mrs, Murphy" is a brilliant study (again) on human relations and follows all the gossip of an apartment building as told via a conversation between Mrs. Murphy and Mr. Wilson ("I hear that the Johnsons had a baby Mrs Murphy is that true? Why yes, but it's rumored that the little tot's real daddy, lives in 22...") . Neatly tied up with beautiful orchestration again by arranger Reg Guest.


6."Thanks For Chicago Mr. James" LP track "'Til The Band Comes In" UK LP Phillips 6308 035 1970
For me "Til The Band Comes In" was always the weakest of Scott's early solo long players and his last album I paid any attention to (I always call it "Scott 5"). Track for track it seems to lack the requisite number of heavy hitters of his first 4 solo albums, at least in my estimation.  There are exceptions though, "Thanks For Chicago Mr James" is among them. Scott's vocals are great but it's Wally Stott's brilliant arrangements and the lovely chorus of backing vocals that give it a campy variety show feel that thanks to Walker's oblique delivery actually works.


7."Orpheus" LP track The Walker Brothers "Images" Phillips BL 7770 1967
The template for Scott's solo career began with "Mrs. Murphy" (see above) and continued with this tune on what would be the final Walker Brother's album of the 60's, "Images". "Orpheus" would not have been at all out of place on any of Scott's first 3 solo albums with it's verdant orchestration and dark lyrics. "Orpheus" is without a doubt one of the bleakest things he ever wrote, and it's quite hard to effectively portray a narcissistic Lothario any better than this, from his own point of view nonetheless.


8. "30th Century Man" LP track "Scott 3" Phillips SBL 7882 1969
Possibly the shortest track of Scott's 60's career and certainly it's his most musically sparse one (it's only musical accompaniment is an acoustic guitar and a wind up music box at the end) "30th Century Man" is an interesting jab at consumerism ("Play it cool and Saran Wrap all you can...") and no doubt futuristic with talk of being frozen ("I'll save my bread and take it with me.."). The lyrics make very little sense but that's what I like about it. It was fittingly chosen as the title for the highly recommended 2006 Scott documentary.


9. "On Your Own Again" LP track "Scott 4" Phillips SBL 7913 1969
Bordering on an almost Gordon Lightfoot feel, "On Your Own Again" is one of the finest tacks on "Scott 4" (which died a death upon release). It's magic lies in the simplicity that sees Scott singing through the first half backed only by an acoustic guitar before the shimmering string arrangements sweep in. Lyrically one is tempted to see some autobiographical slant to it all.


10. "The Old Man's Back Again (Dedicated The The Neo-Stalinist Regime)" single Japan Phillips SFL-1248 1970
Culled from his 1969 "Scott 4" album in Japan, where all things Scott AND Walker Brothers were hugely successful, Phillips saw fit to release this as a single track on the flip of it's LP companion "The Seventh Seal". On top of a funky, fluid beat Walker sings from varying perspectives of citizens in the Soviet Union: the woman who's husband was taken away (presumably by the secret police), people queuing in breadlines, and a young soldier standing guard in the rain while backing vocals that sound like a disembodied Soviet Men's Airborne Chorus dart in and out of the film soundtrack strings and Scott even scats towards the fade-out.


Monday, October 1, 2018

September's Picks

This Anthony Newley/Leslie Bricusse composition has been cut by a host of artists. I recently stumbled upon this version on the odd ball New Jersey label Hoctor.  It's a groovy jazzy version with a lead vocalist (Kit Andree) who reminds me a lot of Nancy Wilson meets Ernestine Anderson.


2. THE UNIQUES-"Watch This Sound"
Cut in 1968 for the embryonic Trojan label this reggae reading of Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth" works quite well thanks to it's laid back groove that's not unlike The Wailers.


3. XTC-"Ball And Chain"
I don't know about any of you but I feel that for the brief period of two albums ("Black Sea" and "English Settlement") XTC were the heirs to Ray Davie's "Rule Britannia" mantle that he dropped after mid 70's stadium rock put him off track. With so many tracks that were more British than The Jam could ever be XTC could rightly claim his title. "Ball And Chain", though it owes nothing to it musically is like "Dead End Street" 1982, a thoroughly English kicking at the pricks in Thatcherite hell.


4. THE ONES-"Lady Greengrass"
This freaky little track hails from Germany (the Western half) from a 1967 45 on the Star Club label, a place not really known for psychedelic music outside the heavy duty prog genre. It can easily mistaken for a '67 British psych pop 45 with it's delivery and wiggy effects.


5. JOHNNY MAE MATTHEWS-"The Headshrinker" 
Originally cut for the Reel label in 1961 but re-released on Sue the following year, Johnnie Mae Mathews in addition to being a fine vocalist also founded a host of Detroit area record labels including the Northern Recording Company (home to several pre-fame Motown outfits). This killer B-side found on the flip of "My Little Angel" is a jokey call and response number with groovy organ and and wailing vocals and hysterical lyrics.


6. JON-MARK-"Night Comes Down"
Fans of the Mickey Finn freakbeat classic "Night Comes Down" will be surprised to know it was a cover, cut originally by British guitarist Jon Mark, who's original is delivered in an acoustic folk/blues feel not at all dissimilar to Davy Graham.


7. NICK NICELY-"49 Cigars"
One of the gems in the dung heap that was Cherry Red's 3 CD "80's British psychedelia" box set "Another Splash Of Color" was this trippy b-side to Nick's 45 "Hilly Fields". Owing more than a little to "Tomorrow Knows" with its backwards guitars, vocals through a Leslie and Ringo's drum beat it goes one step further with phlanged effects, female voices and vocals that have a brilliant Anglicized Syd Barrett feel.


8. THE VAPORS-"News At Ten"
How psyched am I that The Vapors are coming to NYC next month (with three of the four original members no less!)?!  Answer: VERY! See you there!?


9. COOL HEAT-"Groovin' With Mr. Bloe"
Here's a funky almost note for note cover of the UK instrumental "Groovin' With Mr. Bloe" (which in itself was a cover of a tune by the US band Wind, which depending on who you believe was this version!). Try and spot the difference, because I sure can't.


10. BRENDA LEE-"The Crying Game"
Cheers to Garbo_Sleeves on Instagram for hipping me to this ethereal version of the Dave Berry classic by Brenda Lee from a US 1965 b-side of  her 45 "Thanks A Lot".