Label / Cat No: Maestro MTS22
First Released: 1988
What The Album Blurb Says:
What a pleasure to be asked by Maestro records to say a few words about this very popular Duo and their latest release.
with festival time at hand, dancers everywhere will be keen to listen and dance to the to-tapping, inspirational tunes contained on this album.
With such a wide variety of melodies, we are sure that this recording will meet with everyone's approval and for many people, bring back many happy memories of times past.
Congratulations once again to Malcolm and Mark, and the team at Maestro Records.
Terry and Ethel Grundy.
What I Say...
1988, eh? What a year that was. I entered adulthood by turning 18, and on the same day Fish left Marillion and Roger Hargreaves, author of the Mister Men series died. Yeah, thanks universe. (On the same day one year later, Liverpool beat Crystal Palace 9-0, so clearly a crappy date all round). But what musical joys did 1988 bring? Well, Public Enemy released 'It Takes A Nation...', U2, 'Rattle & Hum', Prince, 'Lovesexy' and there was, of course N.W.A.'s 'Straight Outta Compton'. There are several 1988 albums which are still staples in my collection, look....
OK, to be properly transparent, I didn't hear Thomas Dolby until about 1996, or Idlewild until about the same time. Oh, and I didn't know about the Malcolm Wilce Duo until this year. But these are all albums I keep on coming back to. Well, OK, I keep coming back to 'Sincerely Yours' because I needed to give it a fair hearing for this review. Hmmm..... to be fair, I would probably never have listened to it if I hadn't found it languishing in a box in a stall in Hereford Market.
Once again, it was the album cover that intrigued me first. Two men of seemingly mismatched age in the middle of a municipal park in fine casual-wear. You don't see that every day, do you? Argyle sweaters, a good pair of slacks and a sensible coat, not really your average rock star outfit, I admit. But I think the point is they look like someone you would see every day. If I'm being honest, I looked more like a member of The Malcolm Wilce Duo in the 80s than I did a member of Bros or Dexys or Duran Duran. And I suspect you did too.
This was my first epiphany. You can't judge this album by 'pop' standards, because it's not a 'pop' album, not by a long chalk. My second epiphany (and also only an excuse to use the word 'epiphany' again) is that this isn't an album to listen to in the traditional way.
'Sincerely Yours' is an album with a very distinct purpose. It's for people to dance to - old timey style dancing, not like Chico's Non-Stop Dance Party which clearly was designed purely for you to wig out to. This is formal dancing in the traditional style. The track listing even tells you what dance the track is for - Quickstep, Waltz, Cha Cha and so on. I'm not sure if this is a complete set - do you put it on, dance your way through the variations, turn the record over and do the same, or do you take the waltzes from this album, then the waltzes from another and so on? I simply don't know, but I'd guess that this provides an evening's or half an evening's entertainment.
I was sold from the beginning, in part due to circumstance. I'd accidentally recorded the album at 45 r.p.m., and listened the first time as I was leaving work. I had the car window open, and as I drove off, a jolly ditty provided a live action soundtrack. A colleague of mine was grinning from ear to ear and doing a little jig, proving that The Malcolm Wilce Duo were made to make you dance. And also proving that we all need a personal soundtrack to our lives. Sadly, I think the muted trombone would feature largely in mine.
From listening (and from not reading the sleeve notes) I assumed that both of the fine gentlemen on the front were organists, and that the drumming was provided by the inbuilt organ rhythms. When I realised that Mark Helmore (the one who the Duo's not named after) was in fact the drummer, I had to reassess again. Clearly Malcolm can find his way round his organ (you knew I was going to make that joke sooner or later) with aplomb, creating melody, bass and pads, but Mark was a bit of a revelation. His drumming is extremely tight, very controlled - it'd have to be for me to mistake him for a drum machine, and also to keep a regular beat for all the dancers out there. Nobody wants a sloppy foxtrot now, do they.
Forgotten Albums has had drummers under the leash before - the wild, beating heart of The Kaye Family, Adrian, was clearly under strict instructions to play to the song, on the understanding that he could end every number a la Keith Moon. I get no such sense of the untamed beast in Mr. Helmore, this is pure discipline. That's not to say that there isn't flair either - you can tell he enjoys the faster numbers, and by this album's standards is positively unhinged by the time we get to the album's closer, 'Zambezi', but it's his steady hand that guides us unswervingly, patiently through the slower dances.
Malcolm certainly knows how to get the best out of his instrument. Though not an organ fan, I can at least appreciate that he gets the most out of a limited set of voices, and fills out the arrangements enough that a duo can provide a full(ish) sound. For me, I would like to hear a little more flexibility in the timing of some of the melody lines - it's very regimented, but again I suspect it's a necessity to keep people like Terry and Ethel Grundy in time when out for a trot around the parquet flooring. And why aren't more people called Terry and Ethel Grundy? You don't hear names like that any more. If I ever get another cat, I'm calling it Terry or Ethel Grundy, and you can quote me on that.
This is definitely an album of two halves. I have a soft spot for the faster numbers, they're jolly, jaunty and good wholesome fun. The slower numbers though..... to my non-dancing ears (and who has dancing ears anyway) are a bit of a dirge. 'Oom Pah Pah' feels painfully slow, 'Say Wonderful Things' is forgettable, and the previous owner of the album (Brenda from Barrow-in-Furness - there was a sticker on the front with her name and address) was clearly displeased with 'Skye Boat Song' as she'd written on the sleeve, in red pen no less, 'Don't Like'! However, I still get that these are paced for dancing, and it's the rhythm and tempo as much as the tunes that define what goes on this album.
Amongst my high points are the whole of 'Zambezi', the part of 'Winchester Cathedral' where Mark Helmore turns into the one in Chas and Dave who isn't Chas. Or Dave. You know, the drummer in Chas and Dave. He must have a name...
...Oh, I wish I hadn't googled that now. He did. It was Mick Burt, and he died in 2014.
But my favourite few seconds of the album are during 'Roulette' where it sounds like Chas & Dave are trapped in a 1973 episode of 'Vision On'. Sound clip below - just don't have dreams that Noseybonk is coming to get you.
However, my biggest issue is the inclusion of 'The Old Rugged Cross'. Going out for an evening of unbridled ballroom dancing, I don't think I'd want my hedonistic impulses being corralled by having to dance to a mournful hymn. It's like trying to do the conga to 'Abide With Me' - they just don't go together.
I must be getting older. If I'd written this when I first started Forgotten Albums, I'm sure I would have judged on the dated clothes and unfashionable music, but I'm a mellower man now. Sometimes. The very fact that there was still a market for this in 1988 and beyond shows me that there is a world out there about which I know very little. And while knowledge has never handicapped me from having an opinion in the past, I'm kind of glad that in the years between Wogan on Come Dancing and Strictly, there was a hardcore underground movement keeping the dance alive. You Can't Stop The Beat.
1988, the CD was still only a few years old - I didn't get a CD player for another 3 years. It couldn't come too soon. The fundamental flaw of this album was that my copy skipped and jumped through years of happy playing. I struggle enough to dance at the best of times, this would have finished me off.
1. Putting On the Style
Does The chewing Gum Lose Its Flavour......QS
2. Pistol Packin' Mama
The Runaway Train...................................QS
3. Deep Purple
That Lovely Weekend......................FT/saunter
4. You'll Never Know
5. The Old Rugged Cross................................W
6. Skye Boat Song
Comin' Thro' The Rye.................................W
1. Mornings At Seven.....................................R
Isle Of Capri.............................................R
3. Winchester Cathedral.......................Cha Cha
4. Roulette.........................................Cha Cha
5. Oom Pah Pah
6. Say Wonderful Things......................OT/Waltz
7 out of 10
You're not safe down here....
Label / Cat. No: Columbia PCC-80105
First Released: 1985
What The Album Blurb Says...
None. Boo! But, but.... when reading through the lyric sheet, I came across this gem...
"Are we alone? Erich Von Daniken asked us to believe the temples and pyramids are proof that earth was visited in its embryonic stage by an ancient intelligence.
In writing the lyrics for the interconnecting songs on 'Alien Shores', I was inspired by the thoughts of unexplained mysteries of our past, which may never be answered. But Hungry Eyes will perpetually seek the truth.
What I Say
This album has purged me of my guilt. You see, in 1993 I bought a pair of slacks from a gentlemen's outfitters in Albert Road, Morecambe. I believe the colour was described as 'stone', and I wore those stone slacks. Often.
With hindsight, I had tortured myself in the knowledge that they were the worst pair of trousers I had ever bought, and probably the worst pair of trousers in the world ever. Yes, they reall were that bad. But then, oh happy day, I slipped the inner sleeve out of this album, and what did I find? This...
Those really are the worst slacks ever to have been created. And not just one pair of bad slacks, but FOUR! That's a 100% hit rate for the Platinum Blondes. Combined with those four nasty white jackets, we have the perfect snapshot of 1985. I believe this photo should be kept in an archive somewhere as an important historical document. And of course to serve as a warning to future generations.
And try as I might, I can't not speak about the hair. Back-combed, sprayed, bleached, coiffed, and... wonder of wonders, the bloke on the right has one of the best expressions of the mullet that I have ever seen. This is a man at the top of his hair game, and yet he looks the most uncomfortable of the four. Somehow his face just wasn't made for those times. Oh..... and is there a hint of black eye-liner there.... Marvellous.
As far as I can tell, with no research whatsoever, Canada has produced only 3 notable musical talents that have become known outside their country. And considering that two of those are Bryan Adams and Celine Dion, you'd think they'd learn to keep their music to themselves. (For information, the third is Barenaked Ladies, for whom I maintain a soft spot). But in the mid-eighties, it seems that Canada was at the forefront of pop music. Platinum Blonde have got everything needed to be a pop sensation in 1985. They've got the clothes and the hair, they have the ability to pose and to brood under their floppy fringes. They even have perfectly competent 80s style pop songs, so why oh why weren't they massive.
Well, they were. Really. This album went quintuple platinum in Canada. For a brief, glorious moment, Platinum Blonde were major stars on the Canadian scene. Which illustrates again how subjective I am in choosing these albums. I would consider this record to be obscure and unknown, but that's just in my experience. Given a different time and place, this was monstrously successful. Only goes to show how much I have to learn....
But the other reason I believe they weren't more successful outside of Canada lies in a description given to the band of 'The Canadian Duran Duran'. On reading this I'd assumed that it was because of the look, and maybe the style, but no. Most of the songs on this album could easily have been written by the Durannies. The blokes voice (I really can't be bothered now to go and check his name. Oh, that's a bit rude isn't it. Hold on.... It's Mark Holmes) even sounds like Simon Le Bon. And there's the rub. Did the world really need two Duran Durans? I think not. So outside of Canada (where I assume their homegrown status helped enormously), they were pretty much redundant.
It seems that they keep plodding on, and there are interesting photos showing the band playing on a small stage outside the Hard Rock Cafe in Ottawa to about 12 people and a dog in 1999. And not a mullet in sight.
Oh, and I forgot Alanis Morissette, though I think that probably only adds to my argument.
2017 Edit - And here's the 80s in a four-and-a-half minute nutshell.
2017 Edit 2 - Shhhhhh..... Don't tell anyone, but.....
1. Situation Critical
2. Crying Over You
3. Red Light
4. It Ain't Love Anyway
5. Somebody Somewhere
1. Lost In Space
2. Temple Of the New Born
3. Holy Water
5. Hungry Eyes
5 out of 10 - not bad, not good, not original, not my cup of tea
Label / Cat. No: Telstar STAR 2293
First Released: 1986
What The Album Blurb Says...
None, sadly. I’ve never thought about why or when the sales pitch on the back of record sleeves declined, but I doubt you’d find many from about 1983 onwards. Are we too knowing now to be swayed by hyperbole from paid critics? Is music so compartmentalised into tiny sub-divisions of genre that we can’t just buy a ‘jazz’ album or a ‘swing’ album, and have a fair chance of enjoying it?
Or was it simply that people got wise to the fact that the glowing praise plastered across the back of almost every album bore little or no relation to the contents of the disc?
Maybe my new year resolution should be to form a pressure group to advocate the reinstatement of album blurb.
Or maybe not.
What I Say
Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. I had really wanted to enjoy this album. After all, I do have a real affection for Chas & Dave. And Christmas. I quite like Christmas too. Put them together, and you should have a winner, and yet this combination is so much less than the sum of its parts.
As far as I can make out, there are three elements that should make up this record. The Cockney musical stylings of Messrs Charles and David, the traditional brass ensemble of the Cambridge Heath Salvation Army Band, and a number of good old fashioned carols. Put them together in any combination and you’re onto a sure fire, 24-carat gold winner. Surely there can be no doubt, and yet…
This is probably best explained through the medium of the Venn diagram. Allow me, if you will…
What saddens me is that this is a missed opportunity,
a fudge if you will. Chas & Dave are (despite initial impressions) talented musicians. After all, Chas was taught to play piano by Jerry Lee Lewis. They’ve been sampled by Eminem, and covered by Tori Amos on more than one occasion. These boys have the potential to compete at a world-class standard.
Their ‘Cockney Rock’ or ‘Rockney’ as I believe they call it, is a distinct style which deserves its place in the English Folk-Music pantheon.
But this isn’t a ‘Rockney’ album. It’s a Salvation Army album with a bit of Dave’s Bass Guitar over the top of traditional brass band arrangements, and a bit of pub-rock drumming for good measure. Nothing more.
I suppose that Chas & Dave fans would buy the album because it’s got Chas & Dave on it, and Salvation Army fanatics (of which I’m sure there must be a few, though I wouldn’t like to imagine Salvation Army Band groupies) won’t be too alarmed by what is a fairly traditional Carol with Chas Hodges gruff vocals replacing those of the more traditional angelic choirboy. If it came to punch up, my money would be on Chas & Dave over Aled Jones any day.
This is not to say that there isn’t some value in this album. Firstly, I’m intrigued by the cartoon character cover. This isn’t the only Chas & Dave album that’s been done in cartoon style. Was this part of a mid-80s ploy to try and create a Chas & Dave animated series? Can you imagine how redundant the Simpson’s would have been had we been graced with ‘The Adventures of Chas & Dave’? It’s not too late, people. Together we can make this happen.
And there are moments of sheer oddity – Chas & Dave, the beer-swilling terrors of the East End singing medieval yuletide songs? Listen to Coventry Carol, and you’ll see what I mean - we’re only short of a couple of ‘Hey Nonny Nonnies’ and we’d be laughing. And that gives me an idea. ‘The Time Travelling Adventures of Chas & Dave’. It would be like Dr. Who, but with a pair of lovable Cockneys, solving problems through time and space with a knees-up round the old joanna. Really. Write to the BBC and demand that your license fee is used to commission this programme.
And just once or twice you can tell the boys are just itching to bash the piano keys and stomp their feet. The bass gets a bit more twitchy, Chas’ vocals start to run away with him, but we never quite achieve the breakthrough. The first part of ‘Good Christian Men Rejoice’ is pure Chas & Dave, and it works precisely because the Salvation Army keep their horns shut. When they do come in, they’re so low in the mix, I can’t help but wonder if the sound engineer on this album shared my misgivings. I was waiting for ‘The Rocking Carol’ to really see the boys let their hair down, but sadly it’s just a Carol with the refrain ‘We will rock you, rock you, rock you’ referring to the baby Jesus, rather than in a Queen way.
But my favourite part of the whole album is the very last song, ‘We Three Kings’. During the introduction, I’m pretty sure the drummer is so distracted, that he’s actually playing ‘Delilah’ by Tom Jones. Listen to it – you’ll see exactly what I mean. But it’s a shame I had to listen through 21 poor songs to find that gem.
So, a missed opportunity all round. Sad, but probably predictable. Which pretty much sums me up too!
And as an extra treat (and by way of an education to my overseas readers who probably don’t have the first clue what I’m blithering about), please find below a master-class in the Cockney style of music. Merry Christmas Everyone.
1. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
2. Unto Us A Child Is Born
3. While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks
4. Long Long Ago
5. Good King Wenceslas Looked Out
6. Coventry Carol
7. Wassail Song
8. O Little Town Of Bethlehem
9. Hark The Herald Angels Sing
10. Good Christian Men Rejoice
11. Silent Night
1. O Come All Ye Faithful
2. See Amid The Winter Snow
3. Yes Jesus Loves Me
4. It Came Upon The Midnight Clear
5. The Rocking Carol
6. In The Bleak Midwinter
7. The First Noel
8. Once In Royal David City
9. Away In A Manger
10. We Three Kings
4 out of 10
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