Saturday, 25 August 2012

Remo Four - In The First Place (1967)

The Remo Four Quartet started out as a vocal harmony band from Liverpool. They  formed in 1958 with a line up of Keith Stokes (Vocals, Guitar), Don Andrew (Vocals, Bass), Colin Manley (Guitar) and Harry Prytherch (Vocals, Drums).  By 1960 they had shortened their name to the Remo Four and were gigging regularly around Liverpool, cultivating a large following including Manley's old school mate, Paul McCartney, who would often check them out at the Cavern Club.  In early 1963 Prytherch left the group to get married and was replaced by Roy Dyke.  A little later Tony Ashton joined the group on Keys and Philip Rogers replaced Andrews on Bass.

The band would release several singles on the Pye/Picadilly label between 1963-64 whilst  occasionally serving as a backing group for the likes of Tommy Quickly, Johnny Sandon and Gregory Phillips. In 1965 the Remo Four (alongside Quickly) performed on Pop Gear (aka Go Go Mania), a British music review film directed by Frederic Goode and hosted by Jimmy Saville.  By 1966 the band had left their beat group sound behind, now favouring a more mod approach of Jazz and R&B and relocated to Germany where they were more popular than in their native country.  They were now playing a residency at the Star Club in Hamburg and had also became the unofficial house band for German music television show Beat Club and can be seen in many episodes.

While in Germany the Remo four signed to the Star Club's record label, releasing a few singles which sold well over there and eventually cut an album in 1967 called Smile! Recorded in just two days, the album is a collection of cover versions of mod standards and sounds along the lines of Brian Auger & The Trinity, Georgie Fame and Graham Bond. Following the album's release the band released one more single, the excellent "Live Like A Lady" (comped on Rubble 16) b/w "Sing Hallelujah" then returned to the UK for a brief stint of cabaret, backing Billy J. Kramer.  It was around this time that they were approached by George Harrison who asked the band to back him on his first solo album.

In December 1967, London based American director, Joe Massot met George Harrison at the opening party of the Apple Boutique where he offered him the job of creating the soundtrack to a film he was making in the UK called Wonderwall.  Harrison accepted the offer and recruited the Remo Four as his backing band for the recording sessions. The first recording sessions were held in EMI's Bombay studios during January 1968 where Harrison conducted several Indian session musicians over three days of recording (he also recorded the instrumental track for The Inner Light while he was there).  The Remo Four did not attend the Bombay recordings but were required for the preceding recording sessions at Abbey Road studios.  Joining the Remo Four on the sessions, it's rumoured that John Lennon plays some rhythm guitar, Richie Snare aka Ringo plays some drums (on "Party Seacombe"?), Harrison's best mate Eddie Clayton aka Eric Clapton plays guitar on "Ski-ing" and Peter Tork plays Macca's banjo on "On The Bed" (?).  The album was released in December 1968 by which time the Remo Four had split up with Ashton and Dyke joining forces with Kim Gardner from the Birds/Creation to form Ashton, Gardner & Dyke. Neither movie nor soundtrack album were successful and were soon forgotten until thirty years later.

In 1998 Massot, now an established film director, decided restore Wonderwall for re-release.  He contacted Harrison and asked for him to send the master tapes for the soundtrack.  On the masters was a track that Massot had never heard. "In The First Place", written by Manley and Ashton, is a vocal recording, a heavily phased song, similar to "Blue Jay Way" with Harrsion on vocals and the Remo Four providing the backing.  George hadn't submitted the song to Massot first time round as he was under the impression that he was only to provide instrumentals for inclusion on the soundtrack.  Massot loved the track and added it to the newly restored film.  The song was also released in conjunction with the movie as a single on cd and 7" vinyl credited to the Remo Four (produced by George Harrison).

A version of "In The First Place" was recorded for the first Ashton, Gardner & Dyke album released in 1969  on Polydor records.  Retitled to "As It Was In The First Place", the re-recording, now clocking in at 6 minutes and 32 seconds, suffers from an annoying wailing vocal and a two minute lounge/jazz outro.

Check out the killer version, recorded in 1967 and released in 1998 on the Pilar label.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Hudson Brothers - So You Are A Star...Oh Yeah! (YouTube)

YouTube has slowly become my main source for discovering music.  I can spend hours at a time diverging between bands and genres, adding new entries to my ever increasing wants list and being totally knocked out by the rarities that I find on a regular basis.

There are a few clips from the Hudson Brothers TV Show which aired in the US in 1974, miming to their latest song in the most over the top fashion.  This particular clip makes me laugh every time at around 1:45 when moustachioed Mark Hudson fluffs his line but carries on like a true pro.  He's the real star!

Check him...

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Bite It Deep Volume 4 (Mixcloud)

Volume 4

Los Shakers - B.B.B. Band
Dalton & Montgomery - All At Once
Liverpool Echo - You Might As Well Surrender
The Tokens - Commercial
Jigsaw - And I Like You
Excelsior Spring - Happy Miranda
John Killigrew - Brand New World
Unknown Artist - Deeper Magic
Allison Gros - Naturally
NRBQ - Talk To Me
Edison Lighthouse - Reconsider, My Belinda
Colin Hare - Alice
Gigymen - Plain Jane 
Bread - Down On My Knees 
Malcolm & Alwyn - Buried Alive
Airbus - Walking The Silver Hay
Fairfield Parlour - Sunny Side Circus

Friday, 17 August 2012

Nick Garrie - The Nightmare of J.B. Stanislas (1970)

Around ten years ago I became obsessed with CD reissue label Rev-Ola.  I'd buy anything that they put out and at one point, in 2004-2005, releases were coming thick and fast.  It felt like having a friend who new exactly what music you'd like, recommending you loads of killer albums.  A lot of the releases from this time I still regard as some of my all time favourite albums.  One that really stands out is Nick Garrie's "The Nightmare of J.B. Stanislas", a true Baroque/Folk/Pop lost classic if every I heard one.  I already knew "Wheel Of Fortune" from the popsike compilation Circus Day's Volume 1, but never thought of looking up Garrie (aka Nick Hamilton).  It wouldn't have mattered anyway because if had found a copy of Stanislas, I wouldn't have been able to afford one. shows that copies sell for between £200 and £500.  I did manage to get a copy on vinyl eventually, thanks to spanish label Wah Wah Records who released it on LP back in 2006.

Half Russian, half Scottish Garrie was brought up in France and England where he went boarding school and university, he never fitted in with the hippy or drug crowds instead preferring to spend time on his own reading poetry and studying surrealism.  Garrie along with a musician friend spent time in the late sixties travelling round Europe, performing in various bars.  By the Autumn of 1968 the French record label DiscAZ had offered Garrie a record deal thanks to a meeting set up via a friend of his mothers.

Studios Davou in Paris along with Eddie Vartan (Sylive's brother) and a 56 piece orchestra were chosen by DiscAZ for the album recording sessions.  Garrie was left disapointed with the output from the sessions as the heavy orchestrations was not how he imagined the songs, instead preferring a much starker, moody sound.

The album opener and title track starts with big strings and echoey vocals, a little electric sitar and tack piano. More dreamlike than nightmarish, this track could fit on any of the Fading Yellow albums.  I've seen Garrie's vocals compared to Peter Sarstedt's before which is very close. Check out Sarstedt's song "Sayonara" from his 1969 album "Peter Sarstedt" and you'll see where such a comparison stems from. "Can I Stay With You?" is reminiscent of Nick Drake circa Bryter Layter.  Again, embellished with the full production works by Vartan much to Garrie's dismay but to the listeners delight. "Bungle's Tour" tells the story of the type of holiday "pack pack pack pack pack pack package" tours which were becoming more common during this time.  This should've been included on Carry On Abroad with lyrics like "Bungle's will be waiting at the bus, the French are crooks so put your trust in us.  We'll get you fish and chips, an english beer to wet your lips", bringing a smile to my face every time I hear it.  "David's Prayer" and "The Wanderer" remind me of John Pantry's early solo records and like most of the album, have that slight melancholy vibe with loner songwriter lyrics sung to upbeat melodies.  Not the sort of thing you'd play at a party but more like what you'd listen to on your earphones while going for a walk.  "Ink Pot Eyes" sounds like the similarly, under appreciated at the time, Bill Fay. A singer songwriter whose music career almost parallels Garries.  "Little Bird" my favorite song on the album. Think the Byrds (Younger Than Yesterday/Notorious Byrd Brothers era) crossed with the Honeybus and you're about as close as you can get pop perfection.  Clocking in at two minutes n the dot, it would've made a great single.  "Deeper Tones Of Blue" and "Wheel Of Fortune" are much like the title track where the orchestration is big but not in a cheesy way like Tom Jones or Shirley Bassey.  Now I don't know what he was thinking when he recorded "Queen of Queens" and I remember Sweet Floral Albion comparing this track to Shaking Stevens! Obviously its not that bad but it sure does stand out.  Final song "Evening" is probably closer to the sound that Garrie had in his head for the record and ends the album on a darker note.

Following the completion of the album, DiscAZ boss Lucien Morrisse committed suicide.  As a result, the album couldn't be found in any shops and without any promotion it was forgotten about and remained largely unheard, apart from a few lucky record collectors, for over 30 years.  But, like all good music it got discovered eventually and its reputation continues to grow, slowly but surely, thanks to reissue record labels and the internet.

Nick Garrie continued playing music on and off, eventually scoring a number one album in Spain thanks to some good exposure through a tour with Leonard Cohen.  Garrie's most recent album "49 Arlington Gardens" released by Elefant Records, sees him backed by Duglas T. Stewart of the BMX Bandits and Norman Blake of Teenage Fanclub.  My band The Junipers were fortunate enough to share the bill with Nick Garrie at the Doune The Rabbit Hole festival in Scotland in 2011 and can confirm that he's still got a full head of hair and has kept that fine singing voice that made "The Nightmare of J.B Stanislas" so great.  With any luck he will continue to record and perform, bringing Stanislas to the masses, gaining the recognition it deserves.

The Nightmare of J.B Stanislas was given the deluxe reissue treatment as part of a 3CD box set and can be purchased from Garrie's fine website here.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Space Opera - Space Opera (1972)

Although it's not necessarily a full on pop record, I love Space Opera's debut so much that I couldn't not write a bit about it so here goes...

I first heard Space Opera a few years ago on a compilation called "Great White North", a series of albums focusing on Canadian bands from the 1960's to 1980's which is why I've always had it in my head that they were from Canada.  The LP inner gatefold notes that the album was recorded at Manta Sound, Toronto, Ontario which is probably why the compilers made such assumptions.  It turns out that the band were from Texas, nowhere near Canada!

The Space Opera story starts off in 1964 when The Beatles first appeared on the Ed Sullivan show.  14 year old Scott Fraser was one of the 73 million people who watched the show and decided that he wanted to be in a band of his own.  By the end of the 1964 Fraser was playing drums for high school band The Mods and in 1966 they released their lone single, the jangly Beatles/Byrds influenced, "Days Mind The Time".  Rumour has it the the band were so influenced by the Byrds that they once performed the "Notorious Byrd Brothers" album as part of their set a week after the albums' release!  The singles' b-side is a version of Lennon & McCartney's "It's For You", which was unreleased by the Beatles who instead gave it to Cilla Black. The Mods recorded the track without ever hearing it and Fraser arranged the song using the sheet music and teaching each member of the band their parts.

The band continued with several musicians coming and going and the last know line up of the Mods contained Fraser, Eddie Lively and future Space Opera members David Bullock (guitar)and Philip White (bass).  By 1968 the Mods had morphed into Whister, Chaucer, Detroit & Greenhill who joined by Dave Carrick on vocals, Dave Feguson on violin and T-Bone Burnett on songwriting and production duties would release an album "The Unwritten Works of Geoffrey, etc" on the UNI record label.  Before the album was released Lively had left and the band did little to promote it by means of live performances resulting in poor sales.  Thanks to the internet and an article in Mojo magazine the album is finally getting some recognition and is favoured by fans of the folk rock genre.  "Unwritten Works" is a well produced album with excellent musicianship which might please fans of the Byrds "Fifth Dimension", Buffalo Springfield and early Fairport Convention.  Personally I struggle with Dave Carrick's vocals, which I find a bit dull and would probably not have returned for another listen had it not been for the Space Opera connection.

Brett Owen Wilson (drums) joined Fraser (now on guitar), White and Bullock in 1969 and they renamed themselves Space Opera (due the bands interest in science fiction).  The band made some recordings which help them get many gigs around the Texas area including sets at the the Texas International Pop Festival and supports including Jefferson Airplane, Jethro Tull and the Byrds. In 1971 the band auditioned for CBS in New York and were turned down but were given a deal by the Columbia Records of Canada which granted the band full artistic control including production. which they took full advantage of.

"Space Opera" was recorded at Manta Sound, Toronto during 1972 with each band member sharing the role of producer and taking perfectionism to the next level during lengthy recording sessions which utilized the 16 track recording equipment.  After many delays the album was eventually released in March 1973 in the US.

The album opens "Country Max" which starts with some nice vocal acapella harmonies courtesy of Fraser, Bullock and White claiming "I'm in love, that's no lie. You don't need to ask me why cause I'm high, high, HIGH..." this is followed by layers of electric and acoustic guitars all chiming and twanging.  Anyone expecting prog at this point will be disappointed. This track was issued as a single in the US on Epic but failed to achieve any chart action.  I bet Roger McGuinn would be proud to have "Holy River" in his songbook as it's great tune with what sounds like about a hundred layers of the thinnest, fuzziest guitar ever complete with haunting lyrics "I stood by the water, lonely, I might jump in". Philip White's first composition on the album, "Outlines" sits perfectly between "Holy River" and the 7 minute, self explanatory "Guitar Suite".  Harmonising flutes and piano contrasting perfectly against the guitar noodling tracks which sit beside it.  As mellow as it gets and the parting lyrics "Take it easily, take it easily" might be a nod to The Eagles who were launched around the time of the recording.  It's my favourite song on the album and is reminiscent of America at their best.

Side two starts with the Bread-esque "My Telephone Artist (Has Come and Gone)" followed by "The Riddle", an acoustic number with some orchestration and harpsichord.  Next up is "Prelude No. 4" which although it's not a song that you can sing along with, it's guitar hooks grab you in.  Scott Fraser's "Lookout" is similar to the style and sound of "Outlines" although not quite as good.  The vocal harmonies on "Blue Ridge Mountains" are stunning and demonstrate what a creative band can achieve in the studio without record company influence getting in the way.  With a running time of two minutes thirteen,  this might have made a better choice for single than Country Max.  The record ends with "Over and Over" a Fraser composition which begins as an acoustic song with the lyrics "over and over I go" repeated before bringing back the hundreds of layers of fuzzy guitar and phasing for its long fade out is way better than it sounds in writing. Trust me!

Columbia had lost interest in Space Opera by the time of the albums release mainly due to the band delaying to tour the album whilst waiting for $50,000 worth of equipment to recreate the album in a live environment.  By the time the gear turned up the buzz had died.  Apparently the few gigs that the band did to promote the album sounded great.   Columbia didn't offer another album so a jaded Space Opera called it a day in November 1973.  The band remained friends and continued playing together for the next three decades and follow up album "Space Opera II" was released in 2001.  The following decade saw the passings of Fraser, Bullock and White.  Surviving member Brett Owen Wilson hopes to put out unreleased Space Opera recordings that should see the light of day sometime soon.

Check out the Rock and Reprise website here for a more in depth look at the Space Opera story.