The Malcolm Wilce Duo - Sincerely Yours

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.

Sound Clips

Tracks

 

Side 1

 

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

    Only You.......................................FT/Saunter

5. The Old Rugged Cross................................W

6. Skye Boat Song

    Comin' Thro' The Rye.................................W

 

Side 2

 

1. Mornings At Seven.....................................R

2. Yours

    Isle Of Capri.............................................R

3. Winchester Cathedral.......................Cha Cha

4. Roulette.........................................Cha Cha

5. Oom Pah Pah

    Wonderful Copenhagen....................OT/Waltz

6. Say Wonderful Things......................OT/Waltz

7. Zambezi......................................Bossanova

 

Final Score:

 

7 out of 10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You're not safe down here....

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Alan Moorhouse and his Bond Street Brigade - Hits On Parade In New Swinging Military Style

Label / Cat No: Music For Pleasure - MFP1414

First Released: 1970

 

What The Album Blurb Says:

 

Hits on Parade is an album which incorporates a wide variety of popular tunes. Each has a well defined, bouncy rhythm and lends itself to a march theme, the theme of this record. Puppet on a String proved to be a winner for Sandie Shaw in the 1967 Eurovision Song Contest and the following year Cliff Richard came close to winning the same contest with Congratulations. The Scaffold burst into the pop scene with their jaunty records and their Lily the Pink forms quite a contrast to the delightful tune of Those were the days that took Mary Hopkin sailing into the hit parade. Leapy Lee obtained his first chart success with Little Arrows as did Esther and Abi Ofarim with their Cinderella Rockefella although Esther and Abi were very well known on the continent beforehand. All these tunes, plus many more can be heard on this record, excitingly recreated in stereo by talented studio artists who successfully capture the original atmosphere of each hit in turn.

 

Verity Stevens 

 

What I Say...

 

It's been a while since I took the writer of the sleeve notes to task, but the blurb here irked me because it seems to have been dashed off in the last ten minutes of a Thursday afternoon.  Verity Stevens appears to be the 'Music for Pleasure' in-house sleeve note writer, and judging by the output from that label alone (4000+ titles at least), I can't expect her to be an expert on everything and everyone.  But why is it that groups 'burst' onto the pop scene, eh?  Surely they graft and rehearse and gig and tour and build a following and eventually get a modicum of success.  That's not bursting, that's slogging, and it seems to undervalue their achievements.  And while I'm at it, if Verity is going to deal in cliches, surely it's burst on to the pop scene, not in to.  Grrrr.

 

I suppose it could be my reading, it could be clumsy sentence structure, but she seems to be saying that The Scaffold are crap in comparison to Mary Hopkin.  I think she's contrasting the 'jauntiness' of Lily the Pink with the 'delightfulness' of Those Were The Days, but it looks like she's saying that one is delightful, and therefore the other isn't.    Maybe I'm just being fussy.  It has been known.

 

Tunes "excitingly recreated in stereo by talented studio artists who successfully capture the original atmosphere of each hit in turn" is it?  What about a somewhat cynical cross market appealing album recorded by a bunch of jobbing musos who sound like they were recruited from a Soho jive club on a promise of a portion of chips and the chance to get jazzy on a couple of tracks.  Of course they don't capture the atmosphere.  They rob it of all character and transplant an alien structure and instrumentation onto it.

 

Calm, calm, calm.  So, what we have here is a collection of songs which have been shoehorned into a military march arrangement.  Is your pop music not formal and regimented enough?  Is your military music too stuffy and pompous?  Well here's the album for you.  To be absolutely honest, when I introduced this album to the very lovely Mrs. ForgottenAlbums, her first comment was 'oh, my Mum would like that', so there clearly was a market out there for this kind of crossover.

 

Unlike our previous genre-bending experience, this at least makes a bit more sense.  Rather than playing one band's songs in the style of another, this at least takes loads of different songs, and corralls them into a singular format.  Actually, that's probably not that different from The Beatles and Glen Miller now I come to think of it, but I know what I mean.  I think.

 

I remember as a child, my sister had a magic robot game.  You'd point the robot to a question, move it to a circle of answers, and it would give you the right answer.  If you don't know what on earth I'm taking about, or you really want to see it in operation, watch this.....

Although I can't be certain, I'm pretty sure that Alan Moorhouse used one of these to arrange the album.  On the questions side it'd have Introduction, Verse, Chorus, Middle Eight etc, and on the answers side it would have Drums, Pipes, Drums, Brass, Drums, Loud Drums, Loud Brass and so on. Pick your section, get the answer, bingo, there's another song completed.  Loud drums, loud drums, brass, pipes, drums, loud drums, loud pipes, brass swell, end. If you love drums, this album is for you.  If you love pipes or brass, this album is for you.  If you want subtlety, nuance and variation..... probably not so much.

 

That's not to say that this all sounds like the Red Army Band circa 1982, although an awful lot of it does.  I can just see them goose-stepping on the Mayday parade through Red Square to 'Cinderella Rockefella' in an attempt to prove to the proles that the Communist Government was really very groovy.  But there are some tracks which stand out.

 

'When the Saints Go Marching In' for example is pure Trad Jazz.  I'd be happy to have the band play this behind my coffin when the time comes.  While the strictly military tunes keep the musicians in check, you can hear the joy in the freedom that this version brings.

 

And then there's the 'Rock 'n' Roll March', which unlike the other top tunes on here was actually written by Alan Moorhouse.  Ahhhh, Alan Moorhouse.  I'd actually forgotten until I tried to research him that I used to work with someone called Alan Moorhouse.  OK, that may not be that interesting, but at least it's true.  Or at best it's true, I don't remember which.  Anyway, I'm getting off the point. The 'Rock 'n' Roll March' sounds to my ears exactly like the music a British film of 1966 would play during a scene in a seedy underground club with striptease artistes shaking their tassled brassieres at the camera in red light in close up.  Maybe I've given this too much thought, but take a listen below and tell me I'm wrong.

 

I have a feeling that Mr. Moorhouse may have had a falling out with the sleeve designer.  No, not because the young lady on the front is not in regulation military uniform (she's missing her hat, not to mention her trousers), but because the red splash that says 'Alan Moorhouse and his Bond Street Brigade' is not printed on, but is a sticker applied after the event.  His name isn't on the spine either.  It's clear that this omission was serious enough that the follow up album (oh dear Lord yes, there's another one of these out there) prints his name in almost sarcastically large lettering on the cover.

It would seem that this album was popular enough to warrant a second go, and Mr. Moorhouse's penchant for rearranging other people's work into themed collections doesn't end here, oh no.  There are albums called "McCartney, Mendelssohn & Mancini Go Marching With Alan Moorhouse", and yet more intriguingly, "Beatles, Bach, Bacharach Go Bossa".  It seems that consistency of genre is less important to our Alan than alliteration. That's obviously the secret to his success.

 

I seem to have been very harsh on this album, and the truth is that although I hate the conceit, and the constant military style gets on my nerves, musically there's nothing wrong with this album.  It delivers what it says it's going to, and just because it's not my thing doesn't mean that it's a bad album.  In fact, I've been quite happy to just have this on in the background as I'm driving to work, and compared to some of the drivel I've been listening to lately, it's actually not that offensive.  In fact I may take that as my new personal motto - "Actually, not that offensive".  Works for me.  You'll either like this or you won't, but I think a predisposition to drum and pipe music is a must.

 

One final thought?  Who's that scruffy little 'erbert running along behind these fine marching men? Oh, that'll be the traditional military bass guitarist who is also represented in this brigade.

Sound Clips

Tracks

 

Side 1

 

1. Yesterday Man

2. I Was Kaiser Bill's Batman

3. When The Saints Go Marching In

4. Little Arrows

5. Rock 'n' Roll March

6. Lily The Pink

 

Side 2

 

1. Cinderella Rockefella

2. Hello Dolly

3. A Walk In The Black Forest

4. Congratulations

5. Those Were The Days

6. Puppet On A String

 

Final Score:

 

5 out of 10

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Claude Denjean - Moog!

Label / Cat. No: Decca PFS 4212 
First Released: 1970 

What The Album Blurb Says...

The Moog Synthesizer, this incredible and new electronic musical wonder, has had an uneven ride on records, especially in the popular field. Effectively used on two great-selling albums (Switched-on Bach and The Well-Tempered Synthesizer), the Moog served the classics as a kind of musical duplicator, that is, reproducing and imitating the sound of real instruments. In the "pop" field it has been a fairly different story. Most often used as a gimmick for the odd effect, the Moog has not fully come into its own in the popular field. This may be due to the Moog's personality: it speaks with strength, it doesn't care to be in the background and if used improperly it completely overshadows everything else that is going on.

On this LP Claude Denjean comes to terms with the problem by giving the Moog its rightful place in a fair exchange between synthesizer and orchestra. To exciting settings of twelve great hit sons, this LP really gives the Moog, it all its electronic glory. That plus the stereo excellence of Phase 4 adds up to irresistible listening.


What I Say

Imagine it - 1970. It was a good year, vintage some might say. An especially good year for boys born in Croydon. Around September time I'd say. Yes, very good indeed.

Of course, space was still sexy, the Moon looming large in people's minds as well as in the sky. Music and technology coming together in one big cosmic fusion, with the magnificent Moog! leading the charge. Wibbly wobbly farty noises added a bit of universal mystery to any song, and boy is that a lesson that Claude Denjean has learnt.

Claude Denjean. Ah, the mysterious Dutchman who rode to the rescue of the Moog!'s reputation. Noble Claude, the man who was going to put the Moog! centre stage to show it's critics what it could do. What I can't understand is why anybody wouldn't like the Moog! it's got an exclamation mark and everything. It's also one of only three instruments named after a real person - The Moog!, The Sousaphone, and of course Rolf Harris' Stylophone. Actually, that would be an album I would pay to hear, one combining those three iconic instruments. Someone should pitch this to E.M.I.

Anyway, it seems a bit unfair to call this a 'Forgotten Album', because there's plenty of pictures and copies of it all over the internet. I fear that it may have become a bit of a cult classic because, like the moon, this album is made of pure cheese. Extremely cheesey cheese at that.

I shouldn't be harsh. It's just a reflection of the times, and I'm happy to accept an album that hangs on the idea of a synthesizer as a novelty. I would of course be happier if it was a better album though.

Stylistic tics aside, this could have been an opportunity not only to showcase the versatility of the Moog!, but also to use it to enhance the songs chosen for the album. Instead, it really is mostly an opportunity to make wibbly wobbly farty noises over pretty bland arrangements of popular songs.

The Moog! also seems to take on the melody lines of the songs, which is fair enough. It is after all the Moog!'s album - it says so on the cover and everything. It's trying to have its cake and eat it (do Moog!'s eat cake? I'm not sure....) It could work if it were being purely tuneful, it could work if it were trying to be atmospheric, but trying to be both ends up as overkill.

The Moog! may well be a victim of its own success. It shows too much variety in what it can do to give this album any kind of thematic structure (oh, look at him, old Mr. Forgottenalbums, getting above himself and talking about thematic structure....) There's no common thread through the (wildly differently arranged) songs here.

And the arrangements themselves are, frankly, weird. Not just odd, but outright looney tunes. All you need to do is play the two (yes, two!) 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' clips to see what I mean. Without the sleeve notes, it took me over half a minute to work out what the song was.

'Come Together' is unusually sombre, 'Everybody's Talkin' has completely removed that beautiful rolling guitar that makes the song, and 'Lay Lady Lay' literally, honestly made me laugh out loud.

If this is the sound of the future, then we are all doomed. Doomed I tell you.
Sound Clips

Tracks

Side 1

1. Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye
2. Nights In White Satin
3. Sugar, Sugar
4. Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head
5. House Of The Rising Sun
6. Everybody's Talkin' 

Side 2

1. Venus
2. Come Together
3. Bridge Over Troubled Water
4. Lay Lady Lay
5. United We Stand
6. Proud Mary


Final score:

3! out of 10

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Dance To Beatles Hits In The Glenn Miller Sound with The Big Band Beat Of The Hiltonaires

Label / Cat. No: Stereo Gold Award MER 336 
First Released: 1971 

What The Album Blurb Says...

Here's a dance party with two favourite ingredients - the great, nostalgic sounds of Glenn Miller and hit songs by The Beatles.

These sweet and swinging arrangements were written by Bill Holcombe (an old T. Dorsey sideman), who has taken these British bred hits and written the inimitable Glenn Miller style around them.

The Hiltonaires under the baton of Stan Reynolds are joined by the vocal stylings (a la Modernaires) of Tony Mansell and his group.

Here's big band at its best - with familiar hit songs.


What I Say

I apologise for going highbrow for a moment, but Samuel Johnson once wrote of women preachers, "Sir, a woman’s preaching is like a dog’s walking on his hinder legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all." If the great Dr. Johnson were alive today, I am convinced that he would have felt the same way about this album. Well, maybe 'convinced' is putting it a bit strongly, but I can understand this attitude entirely when applied to 'the big band beat of the Hiltonaires'.

Come with me for a moment into the future. The year is 2013, and someone decides to release an album of Coldplay songs performed in the Mel & Kim style. There'd be uproar, rioting in the streets and possibly the end of civilization as we know it. But back in 1971 this kind of evil alchemy was not just thinkable, it was actually happening.

It's of little surprise then that this was released on the 'Stereo Gold Award' label. To be fair, I was as much drawn to this album by the very fact that it was a Stereo Gold Award offering as I was by the fine bevy of 1970s lovelies on the cover. You may recall that Stereo Gold Award have already given us Big Dave who I exposed as a fraud and a charlatan. It seems that the label was owned by a chancer who just made cheap, cash-in rubbish, and this album certainly fits into that category.

There's just so much wrong with this album it's difficult to know where to begin. Well, for a start I'm confused as to why they actually included some Glenn Miller / Big Band tunes. After all, the album's called 'Dance to the Beatles Hits...) Does that mean you have to stop dancing when Moonlight Serenade comes on? It's preposterous I tell you. Is this a Beatles album? Is this a Glenn Miller album? Frankly I'm confused, and I suspect it shows.

And then there's the fact that these are two entirely different genres of music that simply do not fuse well together. I accept wholeheartedly the fact that the Beatles, and in particular Lennon & McCartney wrote classic, timeless songs which can withstand reinterpretation and have been covered, reasonably successfully many thousands of times. Which then begs the question how did they make these Beatles songs sound so crap.

I think the answer lies in the fact that the Hiltonaires (or at least Bill Holcombe's arrangements) concentrate on the style rather than the substance of the song. There is no sensitivity to the mood or the lyrics of the Beatles numbers, it seems to have been rattled off a checklist of Big Band stylistic hooks regardless of the order or original speed of the songs.

The very worst culprit (if you can get past 'Hey Jude' without waves of nausea welling up) is the butchering of 'Let It Be'. Not only does this start with the most awful Barbershop Quartet style prologue, but is the possessor of possibly the worst guitar solo ever, both in tone and tune. Really, it's that bad. Just listen. See? There's 20 seconds you're never having back.

I didn't expect to enjoy this album, and I wasn't disappointed. In the past I've commented that the brevity of an album often makes up for its awfulness. Not in this case. It may only be 24 minutes long, but you try sticking cocktail sticks in your thighs for 24 minutes, and believe me, it will seem like an eternity. This is the aural equivalent.

The good news however is that this isn't the last Stereo Gold Award album in my collection. Let joy be unconfined!

 

Sound Clips

Tracks

Side 1

1. Moonlight Serenade
2. Something
3. I Want To Hold Your Hand
4. Michelle
5. Bird Cage Walk
6. Londonderry Air 

Side 2

1. Hey Jude
2. Let It Be
3. Yesterday
4. Diamond Rock
5. A Hard Day's Night 




Final score:

1 out of 10 - for using the term 'vocal stylings' unselfconsciously.

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(A Golden Hour Of) Sounds Orchestral - The Earth, The Sea & The Sky

Label / Cat. No: Golden Hour (Pye) GH511 
First Released: This Compilation 1970 

What The Album Blurb Says...

John Schroeder, the brilliant young producer and creator of Sounds Orchestral has come a long way since 1962, the year that first saw him thinking about a musical concept that sprang to triumphant fruition three years later when "Cast your fate to the wind" sets Sounds on the international chart trail.

But while the years since have been filled with hit sounds for a multitude of artists, Sounds Orchestral continues to occupy a very special place in John's affections. For time and again, in the company of those other Sounds Orchestral veterans, Johnny Pearson and engineer Ray Prickett, John Schroeder returns to the studios to make fresh albums, yet albums that still retain the ingredients that keeps Sounds Orchestral a best-seller all over the world. 

This, his latest contribution to the Sounds success story starts, appropriately enough with the Vince Guaraldi classic that began it all. But complementing it are a string of familiar and enduring melodies that have found their way into many hit parades and into the affections of millions of people. Johnny Pearson has arranged them with the brand of perfection that has become his trademark and because the musical performances that graces them maintains the Sounds Orchestral formula, the result is sheer enjoyment for anyone who loves good music.

Arranged, Conducted by, and featuring the Piano of, Johnny Pearson
Produced by John Schroeder
Engineer: Ray Prickett


What I Say

When I was a sweet young thing of 13, I recorded a copy of 'Waiting' by Fun Boy Three from one of my sisters friends. Shhh, yes, I know, home taping is killing music. It's a great album, and one I still own. But my over-riding memory is that it managed to fit on one side of a C60 tape, all except for the last word of the last song ('that' of 'well fancy that'). If I'd bothered, I probably could have edited out the silence with judicial use of the pause button and made up those few precious moments to allow the final song in its entirety to fit on the tape. As it was, I didn't bother, and I quite liked the way the album just hung in the air, not quite resolved.

The point in all this reminiscing is that clearly the album, if it could fit on one side of a C60 only really lasted about 30 minutes. Pretty short for albums which in those days, you'd reckon to get on one side of a C90. 45 minutes was pretty much the norm until CDs came along and stretched things out. So to have an album with a guaranteed 'Golden Hour' of music would've been quite a bargain. Mind you, you're not getting any more than that. This album runs to 1 hour, 1 minute and 13 seconds. That's about as close as you can get, though I wouldn't set your watch by it. Well, I might set your watch by it, but not mine.

I have to tackle the cover. I can understand that with the butterflies, the fish and the logs / rocks you're getting a pretty literal depiction of 'The Earth, The Sea & The Sky', but whoever thought it would be a winning formula to stick a dead fish on the front of an album cover really needs to go back to marketing school. I grew up believing that album art was something to treasure. That in some cases, the cover was as important as the contents, that together they produced the whole experience intended by the artist. That may be because I listened to a lot of Prog Rock (I know, I know...) and they tended to go for the overblown, pompous, album cover.

But it was all part of the experience, listening to the album, poring over the cover art, looking for clues, for details, for messages. An hour spent looking at a picture of a couple of dead fish might push some people over the edge, however great the music is.

And the music isn't great. It's competent. It's nicely arranged, but it does nothing new. It falls between two stools like so many of its contemporaries - It won't radically change the arrangements of the music because the target market need nice, recognisable tunes that they can tap their toes to. So the arrangements aren't particularly bold or exciting. But equally, they don't have the full Orchestral sweep that would put them firmly into that realm. In fact, I wonder who on earth came up with the name 'Sounds Orchestral'. It sounds like a jazz trio plus a violin or two when the budget allowed. That it took John Schroeder three years from having the idea to making 'Sounds Orchestral' a reality makes you think that he spent that time building the foundations of something special. I suspect he didn't leave himself enough time to come up with that winning idea. That, or he just got distracted for a couple of years building a scale model of York Minster out of matchsticks and Jaffa Cake packets.

I'm afraid that this is all fairly generic stuff. Nothing in particular stands out (except for the drummer - he must've been sleeping with the Engineer to have got placed so high in the mix. That is of course a joke, and I'm not implying anything of the sort.....) Anyway, where was I... Oh yes. I don't expect innovation on every album I listen to, but if I could just find a spark of something interesting, something new or different then I would look far more kindly on this kind of album. But I really can't here, no matter how I try.

The saving grace however is that it does have a copy of 'Good Morning Starshine' on it. I don't think you can ever top the Original Cast sound recording of that particular song, but it's always good to hear any version of a song that has the following lyrics:-

Gliddy glub gloopy
Nibby nabby noopy
La la la lo lo
Sabba sibby sabba
Nooby abba nabba
Le le lo lo
Tooby ooby walla
Nooby abba naba
Early morning singing song


Can't go wrong there now, can you?!

 

Sound Clips (& Bonus full version of 'San Jose' thanks to Uncle Leo!)

 

Tracks

 

Side 1

 

1. Cast Your Fate To The Wind

2. What A Wonderful World

3. Moon River

4. Stranger On The Shore

5. Guantanamera

6. Nocturne (Chopin)

7. Petite Fleur

8. Moonglow

9. Carnival

10. Many Moons Ago

 

Side 2

 

1. Good Morning Starshine

2. Do You Know The Way To San Jose

3. The Poor People Of Paris

4. Canadian Sunset

5. Romance On The North Sea

6. Starglow

7. Red Roses For A Blue Lady

8. Pretty Flamingo

9. Waltz Of The Flowers (Valse Des Fleurs)

10. Exodus

 

Lots more information about 'Sounds Orchestral' can be found here

 

Final score:

4 out of 10

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Raymond Wallbank - Relax & Listen

Label / Cat. No: Contour 2870 317

First Released: 1973

 

What The Album Blurb Says...

 

As well as his popular programmes in the Sun Lounge on the North Pier at Blackpool Raymond Wallbank has also appeared as a concert organist in many parts of the country, including performances on the fine organ at the Gaumont, Manchester.

 

During the winter months Raymond plays for dances almost every evening. His recent engagements include appearances at the Floral hall, Southport on the same bill as Victor Sylvester and his Orchestra and as successor to Reginald Dixon as organist at the official switch-on of Blackpool Illuminations carried out by Danny La Rue.

 

Like many top-class artistes Raymond makes time to do special charity performances, including regular broadcasts for local hospitals. He also took part in a special B.B.C. television programme about Blackpool, and has been heard on B.B.C. Radio programmes.

 

He is, of course, well known to many thousands of Blackpool holiday-makers and his twice daily organ recitals in the Sun Lounge have become a permanent feature of the North Pier summer-time entertainment – in fact an important contribution to Blackpool’s wide range and variety of top class artistes appearing each year for the enjoyment of countless holiday-makers.

 

His special request programmes offering on-the-spot birthday, anniversary, or purely sentimental tunes, from (sic – I’m sure it should be 'form') the high-light of a programme content which caters for all ages and all tastes, recalling nostalgic moments for many patrons. His sense of humour and pleasant personality set the scene for a delightful two-hour concert of relaxed musical entertainment with, of course, the possibility of a sun-tan at the end of it! Why not try it for yourself when next in Blackpool.

 

What I Say

 

I know you must all think that it’s a life of glamour, searching England’s premier charity shops to find albums for your delectation and delight, but believe it or not, there is a down side. Every so often you’re reminded that you’re looking through the once-treasured record collection of somebody recently departed. I had such a moment when I chose Relax & Listen. One day, about 30 albums of organ music appeared, all together, in one particular shop – obviously somebody found this sort of thing appealing.

 

There were a number of albums there by Reggie Dixon who as I’m sure you know is the Daddy of the Blackpool organ scene. In face I’d go so far as to say that the former owner of the records had been a serious Reggie fan. But of course, I try not to go by names, I go by the covers. And oh my, what a cover.

 

I’m sure Raymond is a lovely chap. It says so on the back of the album after all - ”his pleasant personality” - but he would also appear to be easily led. I’m fairly confident he didn’t choose the scenario for the album cover, not least because he looks so uncomfortable having a semi-clad ‘lovely’ snuggling up to him in his acrylic suit and kipper tie. His smile is forced, and his eyes are wishing he was somewhere, anywhere but there. Those aren’t laughter lines he’s got – that’s 100% tension.

 

And I know this may well be a case of pots and kettles, but does anyone think that a man like Raymond would be the recipient of attention from as young a nubile lovely as we have on this cover? I know that certain women go for musician types, but really….. are there organ groupies (fnarr….)

 

In a past life, I used to run a betting shop in Blackpool. I know, how do I live with the shame, etc… but I can tell you that having worked for two summers in Blackpool there is not one single day when you would want to be wearing a bikini. It’s cold, it’s wet and it’s windswept. I wouldn’t be surprised if our lolly waving lady wasn’t painted to hide the lovely shade of blue her skin must surely have turned. You don’t wear bikinis in Blackpool. You wear scarves and gloves. And a hat. And one of those coats that looks like a duvet. I actually laughed out loud at the comment that you could enjoy a two-hour Raymond gig, and have a sun-tan at the end of it. Now frostbite I could believe.

 

Lolly wielding wench aside, I’m a bit concerned that all we learn about Raymond is by association. He once played on the same bill as Victor Sylvester. Well whoop-de-do. I once played on the same bill as Bobby Nolan. What do you mean who? Bobby Nolan is the brother of the “fantastically talented” Nolan Sisters. But I don’t boast about it. Equally, just because he played the organ when Danny La Rue was switching on the Illuminations doesn’t actually raise his standing as an organ player. He just happened to be doing his job at the same time. I once performed as part of a double act while Benny Hill just happened to be in the audience. Doesn’t mean I put it on my journal info page. Actually, that gives me an idea….

 

Well, at least you’re getting to find out more about me.

 

So I have to say I’m very suspicious of a man who seems only to be famous by association. Even that cover has to have the Blackpool Tower lurking in the background just so we know that’s he’s from the tradition of Blackpool organists.

 

All in all very poor.

 

What do you mean I haven’t spoken about the music? Well, it was crap. Really, truly, awfully dreadful. Painfully so. But if you actually like this kind of thing, then it might be passable. But to me, this is the worst thing I’ve put myself through in years. Save yourselves. Avoid the sound clips. Especially ‘Delilah’. You poor people, flee while you still can.

 

Sound Clips

Tracks

 

Side 1

 

1. A Wonderful Day Like Today (From the musical ‘The Roar of the Greasepaint’)

2. The Onedin Line Theme Music (Love Theme for Spartacus)

3. Delilah

4. More

5. This Is My Lovely Day

6. If I Were A Rich Man

 

Side 2

 

1. One Of Those Songs

2. Somewhere My Love (Lara’s theme from ‘Dr. Zhivago’)

3. Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head (from Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid)

4. Sleepy Shores (theme from BBC TV series Owen M.D.)

5. Ave Maria

6. Climb Ev’ry Mountain (from ‘The Sound of Music’) 


Final score:

1.5 out of 10 for the violently coloured lollipop

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Stereo Spectacular - Stereo Action Orchestra Created & Directed by Cyril Ornadel

Label / Cat. No: RCA Camden CDS 1105
First Released: 1972


What The Album Blurb Says...

If there's a recipe for an album that sets out to combine the very best in songs with the best in orchestral performances, then Cyril Ornadel has surely achieved it with this collection. What's more he's managed it with a style and a panache that has, quite rightly, placed him in the forefront of music makers.

Certainly he's had the very best of ingredients to work with because names like Kaempfert, Lennon and McCartney, Bernstein, and Simon and Garfunkel find a ready acceptance and respect from all musicians. In compiling this album, Cyril Ornadel hasn't just set out to make an LP that is perfection by musical standards, although that's as much a part of the album as anything, but on a broader basis he's created an album that is rich in the kind of musical pleasure that stems from listening to old favourites like "Lazy hazy crazy days of summer", "Strangers in the night", "In the midnight hour" and "Zorba's Dance". They're songs that have a lasting popularity and listening to the Stereo Action Orchestra perform them it's easy to see just why they're so frequently played. But although you've heard them before under different guises we can safely guarantee that in the hands of Cyril Ornadel they remain not only great melodies but lasting moments of enjoyment.

What I Say

"Thrill to the exciting sounds of Stereo Spectacular" shouts the rather garish cover. "An LP that is perfection by musical standards" and " We can safely guarantee....lasting moments of enjoyment" shrill the cover notes.

Big words indeed. But can the Stereo ACTION Orchestra (I like to type it like that, as it makes them seem even MORE dynamic) live up to those words. Or is Cyril Ornadel all piss and wind?

Actually, it's kind of difficult to tell, because whoever engineered this album must've been thinking about something else at the time. I was expecting one of those Stereo demonstration albums where everything is mixed either to the extreme left or the extreme right so that stereo salesmen in shiny grey suits can demonstrate the AWESOME power of the latest groovy hi-fi.

What seems to have happened is that everything is mixed pretty much near the centre, but occasionally the levels drop out, and so the extremes are of volume not of audio panorama. Either you have a very poor sound engineer who doesn't know the difference between left and right and up and down, or somebody thought that this could be a job for the work-experience boy 'cos nobody would notice.

It's also clear that Cyril is an equal opportunities employer, as everyone gets a shot at the vocal melody, each instrument getting a line or two, though not too much now as there's a lot of instruments to get through. Oh, and let's not worry about contrasting mellifluous pipes with grating buzz guitar; it only serves to make the listening experiences more enjoyable...

The overall effect is listening to the endless demo on a 1980's keyboard. It's a showcase of all the sounds that it can create, but without any real consideration being given to the internal harmony of the piece. Sure, it can make lots of different sounds, but do we want all of them, all the time?

And there's a strange mix of songs here - a bit of soul, a bit of musical theatre, some 60's pop and some classic 'oldies' all given the Cyril Ornadel treatment. I can just see him, working out the score, thinking "What Eleanor Rigby really needs is MORE BONGOS". Fantastic. In fact, Eleanor Rigby is the perfect encapsulation of the whole of this album, so ENTIRE SONG available below. I am so good to you, it hurts.

One thing I particularly like about this journal is the surprises these albums sometimes turn up. I was amazed to find that Cyril wasn't just a Blackpool Organist who got ideas above his station and created the Stereo ACTION Orchestra, but was, nay IS, a bit of a big-man in musical theatre. He's a composer of original scores, and he's even written a song that you may know - "If I Ruled The World".

Strangely though, the partial discography on his biography doesn't mention the Stereo ACTION Orchestra. Maybe I should e-mail them about their oversight.

Sound Clips

Tracks

Side 1


A Hard Day's Night

Strangers In The Night

The Magnificent Seven

Bridge Over Troubled Water

In The Midnight Hour


Side 2

If I Were A Rich Man

Serenade (From The Student Prince)

Those Lazy Hazy Crazy Days Of Summer

Zorba's Dance

Eleanor Rigby


Final score:

7 out of 10

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Your One and Only Mrs. Mills - I Was Queen Victoria's Chambermaid And Other Piano Favourites

Label / Cat. No: Music For Pleasure MFP1406
First Released: 1968


What The Album Blurb Says...

Gladys Mills - one time superintendent of the typing department at the Paymaster General's Office in London - turned professional pianist in 1962 at the age of forty, and has since become a household favourite. Mrs. Mills has been playing the piano for most of her life. She began at the age of three but lessons ended for her when she was twelve years old. 

She was fourteen when she entered her first talent contest, and needless to say she won it. As a member of an amateur concert party Mrs. Mills travelled many hundreds of miles during the last war entertaining the troops, visiting camps, gun-sites and military hospitals throughout England.

It was at a golf club social evening that club member Paul Cave heard band pianist Mrs. Mills and gave her a phone number to ring. This she did and found herself booked to appear on Billy Cotton's television show and to maker her first record.

Since that time Mrs. Mills has made countless records and her popularity has risen over the years. Hear her now on this record as she plays twelve bright and breezy tunes including Second-hand Rose, I'm Nobody's Baby, Candy Floss and Oh Johnny! Oh Johnny! Oh!, together with many more, a tremendous selection of popular melodies with that extra touch that only Mrs. Mills can add, so why not sit back and listen to the cheerful sound of Your One and Only Mrs. Mills.

What I Say

OK, so I have a confession. This was the very first album I bought from a charity shop, all those years ago now, and purely because of my grim fascination with the cover. A middle aged woman in a maid's outfit holding a feather duster and proffering a cup of tea? Why, that'll sell millions!

The very first thing you need to remember about this classic album is that it was released in 1968. That's one whole year after Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band, and I can't think of two more different albums. While the Beatles broke down barrier after barrier and innovated in ways almost unimaginable, Mrs. Mills is squarely in the easy listening genre, and this album could have been made at any point in the twenty years up to 1968.

I do have a slight complaint, that although it promises on the front that the album is full of 'piano favourites', I have to say that they're not my favourites, and nor are a majority played on a piano. This is Bontempi music for the masses, with subdued swing guitars, over enthusiastic closed hi-hat playing drummers and bored double bassists a-plenty. The arrangements do have one redeeming factor though - Mrs. Mills 'piano' is often so low in the arrangement and the mix that you'd be hard pressed to tell it was her album.

The overall effect though is that the faster numbers all sound like theme-tunes for seventies sit-coms, and the slow ones sound like the generic tunes played at a pensioner's tea-dance in Morecambe on a wet-November. Actually that's not quite fair. The faster numbers sound like the score to the film versions of seventies sit-coms. See, never say I'm not prepared to be fair about these matters.

The only exception is the final track, 'Thank You Everybody' which has an uncharacteristic edginess to it - a more 60's production all round - shrill horns, fast paced, choppy time signatures. I'm not saying it's an excellent example of contemporary music, but after the predictable twaddle that comprised the previous 11 tracks, this is a refreshing change. For that reason alone, I'll stick up the whole song for you to "enjoy".

I'm still baffled as to why this album was made - Mrs. Mills is far from being a concert pianist, and her contributions to this album seem to be less than technically demanding. As a crap pianist myself, I feel that I'm able to make these kind of ill-informed judgements with impunity! But she doesn't stand out as a lead instrumentalist, and I can't help get the feeling that someone's just using her 'fame' to promote an album of bog standard, bland easy-listening. I fear poor Mrs. Mills has been sore abused, and I just hope that she didn't become too disillusioned with the music industry after making this album.


Tracks

Side 1


Second-hand Rose
I Was Queen Victoria's Chambermaid
Indian Summer
Newsboy
There's A Blue Ridge Round My Heart Virginia
Alice Blue Gown


Side 2

Oh Johnny! Oh Johnny! Oh!
Someone Like you
Where The Black Eyed Susans Grow
Candy Floss
I'm Nobody's Baby
Thank You Everybody

Final Score

7.5 out of 10

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Music For Dining - The Melachrino Strings and Orchestra

Label / Cat. No: RCA RD-27081
First Released: 1958


What The Album Blurb Says...

"Dinner at eight, Monsieur and Madame."

And here is Melachrino to cater to your dining pleasure with music to complement the most succulent cuisine, or add that little bit of extra seasoning that turns an ordinary supper into an adventure. In the Continental fashion chef George has arranged a dozen musical courses to accompany your delectation.

To start, an apéritif - vermouth for the gentleman, and perhaps Madame would prefer that exotic cocktail of American origin, the dry martini. Whatever the drink, the maestro has prepared a frothy, utterly sippable arrangement of an old favorite, Diane.

Pâté de foie gras is offered up next (with truffles, of course), to be nibbled at while the orchestra presents a lush treatment of Too Young. For the somewhat more autumnal touch of Kurt Weill's September Song, a chilled dish would be most fitting. Perhaps a lobster mayonnaise - but then again that deliciously iced soup strewn with watercress, Vichysoisse, is deserving of serious consideration.

And now for the entrée, something hearty, warming and elegant. A dish of classical proportions is called for - duckling with orange sauce bathed in flaming brandy, or for the less adventurous palate, a château-briand - the Parisian approach to a Kansas City steak. A semi-classical melody, Clopin Clopant, is an intriguing side dish to either choice. The deep tones of a nine-foot grand announce the lovely strains of the Warsaw Concerto and overcome the discreet tinkle of silver and crystal (and perhaps a slight loosening of the belt) as the waiter presents the pastry tray. His silver tongs hover lovingly over the eclairs, rum-soaked babas and brandied tarts, thereby throwing our gourmets into an exquisite agony of indecision. The black and white of Domino must surely signify the dark richness of cinnamon-spiced coffee in which a large helping of whipped cream floats languorously - a concoction to be sipped Tenderly.

A song of very old vintage, Charmaine, accompanies a digestif of even older date - a sparkling snifter of napoleon brandy brought up from the cool cellar especially for the occasion. Now the time has come for murmured whispers over the candlelight and for the romantic melodies of Faithfully Yours and the haunting Chansonette. Dark Secret must refer to the bil, discreetly hiding its face in a remote corner of the napery. And although Legend of the Glass Mountain signifies the end of a charming dinner, it also marks the beginning of a brilliant evening.

**********

Perhaps your dinner lacks a few of the courses just mentioned; perhaps it's prepared in a one-room apartment and not in the kitchen at Maxim's. Perhaps the china isn't Wedgwood and the wine hails from California. But whatever the circumstances, Melachrino's romantic music will enrich your evening beyond measure.

IMPORTANT NOTICE

This is a "New Orthophonic" High Fidelity recording, designed for the phonograph of today or tomorrow. Played on your present machine, it gives you the finest quality of reproduction. Played on a "Stereophonic" machine, it gives even more brilliant true-to-life fidelity. You can buy today, without fear of obsolescence in the future.


What I Say

George Melachrino. The Man. The Legend. When the history of romantic string music designed to accompany eating is written, I feel confident that our man George will feature highly in the list of movers and shakers.

Carefully selected to enhance even the most basic of meals, George's lush arrangements for strings makes good food taste great. I don't know what I did before I had this album. All my meals tasted bland and unadventurous. But then George came along and...

Oh, I should stop this now. Sarcasm isn't good for the soul. And I'm sure that George Melancholic deserves better. I mean, the music isn't to my taste in the least, and sounds to my uneducated ears to be competent but not outstanding arrangements of a number of middle of the road tunes. It's the kind of music that would be used for cut scenes in 1950s American films. Or accompanying documentaries about British family life where the nuclear family are gathered in their cosy living room powered by mains gas, listening to the light show on their shiny new bakelite and raffia wireless set.

I can't for the life of me relate what I'm hearing to the pastime of eating. I think old Georgie got the commission, threw any old tat together, and got some junior copy writer to tie it all together on the album notes with all that fancy talk about aperitifs and ducklings. In much the same way that the River-Boat Banjo Band album sleeve tried desperately to forge a link between boating and banjos, here the relationship between The Melachrino Strings and Dining is pushed to breaking point and probably beyond.

Let's be honest. This album does not enhance your eating experience. At all. I'm sat here with a Snickers, and it's done nothing for me. The joy of this album is all in the sleeve notes and the stylised cover of a civilised, perfect 1950's couple sitting down to enjoy each other's company and a light frothing of romantic strings. Speaking of the cover, I'm assuming that the white smudges in the middle of the picture are supposed to represent cigarette smoke. If not, then that bloke's cock's on fire and someone should tell him pronto. Maybe he could douse it down with his aperitif.

The one thing I can tell you though is that the fine people at RCA are as good as their word. They said that I could buy without fear of obsolescence, and I'm happy to report that this 48 year old record played perfectly well on my Stereophonic Phonograph. Obviously forward thinking chaps at RCA.

Almost finally, there's stamp on the back of the album that says "Return BBC Library". Seems that I may have the very album that accompanied a nation of gourmets indulging in their passion.

And actually finally, I can only assume that the modern equivalent of Music for Dining is probably the EastEnders theme tune. Discuss.

Tracks

Side 1


Diane I'm in Heaven When I See You Smile 
Too Young
September Song
Clopin Clopant
Warsaw Concerto
Domino 


Side 2

Tenderly
Charmaine
Faithfully Yours
Chansonette 
Dark Secret
Legend Of The Glass Mountain 

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River-Boat Banjo Band

Label / Cat. No: Embassy WLP 6030

 

First Released: 1961

 

What The Album Blurb Says...

 

Anchors aweigh! Splice the mainbrace! For the Riverboat Banjo Band is about to be launched - and you'll really go overboard about the tunes they've decided to play.

 

Yes, as nautical a crew of strumming chaps have never made such a happy-go-lucky voyage. Welcome aboard. First-class accommodation only, and a guaranteed smooth passage for all.

The Riverboat Banjo Band really make you feel you're having a carefree, away-from-it-all time. Why not sit comfortably amidships and relax?

 

Boats and banjos have a long association now. You can look first at the old Mississippi paddle boats that went out from New Orleans. Southern belles were serenaded against a background sound of churning paddle wheels by the banjo which raised its sometimes plaintive, always pleasing, melody above the noise.

 

Then came the time when the banjo was a more exclusive instrument. At least, there were just two in a boat. A girl reclining on the cushions of a drifting punt, a man strumming his banjo between spells of poling.

 

Today, we get the best of both worlds.

 

There are some tunes that seem to have been written for the banjo; they have that something extra at the nimble hands of the banjo-player. That's certainly how it sounds here. A dozen of the banjoest tunes you could ever imagine, played at a fair turn of knots by a blue riband crew of banjoists.

 

Listen to them and you can well understand why the banjo is enjoying such a return to popularity. It is happy music, all-pals-together music that could change a hornpipe into a twinkletoe quickstep, that could even make the Ancient Mariner forget his years.

 

All we ask as you play it, don't have your friends all dancing to starboard as the Riverboat Banjo Band sets sail. Your turntable could well turn turtle. So, indeed, could your dancers.

 

Which would be a pity, because before the riverboat drops anchor, there is a cargo of happy memories to be shared, and a tidal wave of warm, flowing melodies to enjoy.

 

Take a trip with the Riverboat Banjo Band and you'll be wanting the same, sparkling voyage again and again.

 

What I Say

 

OK, let's get this out of the way. Any album that features the sleeve notes "a girl reclining on the cushions of a drifting punt, a man strumming his banjo between spells of poling..." is going to get my vote every time. Such an evocative picture, and so unintentionally funny when viewed in a somewhat less innocent era.

 

But I should start with the sleevenotes rather than the sleeve or the music, because they are so wonderful. Obviously, the junior writer who was given this commission picked up on the supposed nautical theme and really ran with it. After all, they start "Anchors aweigh! Splice the mainbrace!" Now I'm no nautical cove, and even I know that a paddlesteamer or riverboat is propelled by a steam driven waterwheel, and not by sails, therefore making a mainbrace redundant. I'm sure I'll be corrected now by somebody far more educated in these ways than I am, but I still stand by my argument that whoever wrote these notes was stretching an already tenuous link. 

 

Again, I'll concede that banjos and riverboats might go together in popular culture, but banjos and punts? I return to our gentleman strumming and poling (and all in front of a young lady too - shocking). I've been punting, I know how difficult it can be, and I can tell you from personal experience, if I'd had to pick up a banjo and give it a quick strum between strokes, I would have become pretty disillusioned with the whole affair very quickly.

 

Our valiant writer does his (or indeed her) best to try and make the banjo sound interesting and desirable, but gives themselves away by saying that the banjo is enjoying "such a return to popularity" Clearly at this stage it had been properly unpopular for, oooh, about 80 years I'd suggest. And with good reason too. After all, the banjo is not the most serious instrument in the pantheon of music makers. It's the hyperactive young cousin of the guitar, useful for novelty songs, but little else.

This is abundantly clear on this album. When they stick to stomping banjo tunes, you can almost forgive these men for learning to play in the first place. OK, so it's not to my taste, but I can see how you'd be caught up with the foot tapping revelry that they suggest.

 

The album opens with a perfect banjo styled opening , and we start with a proper footstomper.

Sadly though, by the time we get to Moonlight Bay, the second song, they've overstretched themselves. Two cardinal sins have been committed - firstly, the song is slow and tries to convey emotion other than light hearted wackiness. Secondly, the banjo takes over a vocal melody, which it clearly wasn't designed to do. It sounds like an octogenarian Italian crooner. Or at least what I assume an octogenarian Italian crooner would sound like.

 

But with the next two songs we hit the motherlode. The banjos find themselves with their natural bedfellows: The trombone and the muted trumpet. The three pariahs of the orchestra sitting at the back of the class, causing mischief. They rattle along at a fair old pace, and after racking my brain as to what they reminded me of, I realised that either of them could be used by the Two Ronnies as the accompaniment to their musical number at the end of the show. Yes, they're so good, they could have been written by Ronnie Hazlehurst himself.

 

Yes Sir, That's My Baby is an odd one. It has vocals. Yes, I know. Vocals. On a banjo album. How dare they? Close harmony male and female combo vocals at that. If I didn't know better, I'd say it was The Brian Rogers Connection from 3-2-1 (or almost any ITV light entertainment programme from the late 70s). Sorry if you'd only just managed to wipe the horror that was 'The Brian Rogers Connection' from your mind.

 

The last couple of tracks on side one are more middle of the road banjo type ramblings. There's only so much I can about banjos, considering I know so little about them. In 'You Are My Sunshine' the banjo and muted trumpet take turns to replace the lead vocal line. As you know, I believe that the banjo substituting vocals is an abhorrent mockery of nature, whereas the trumpet sounds great. To have the two together makes for a real sweet and sour experience. And then Side one ends, as it opened, with an absolute benchmark of the style. 

Top that, Radiohead.

 

The big let down of this album is that after the stunning highs and soaring lows of Side A, the B side is just.... competent. It's more of the same really, shuffles and stomps, redeemed only by the fact that someone, somewhere decided to rhyme 'paddling' with 'Madelaine' to come up with 'Paddlin' Madelin' Home'. This would have been a stroke of genius if it had been a vocal track, but as it's just a bunch of banjos playing, you might as well have called it "Oof, my Piles are playing up something rotten." So really, they're letting the side down (pun fully intended. Sorry)

 

Sound Clips

Tracks

 

Side 1

 

Row, Row, Row

Moonlight Bay

On The Mississippi 

I'm Sitting On Top Of The World

Yes Sir, That's My Baby

How Ya Gonna Keep 'Em Down On The Farm

You Are My Sunshine 

 

Side 2

 

If You Knew Suzie

For Me And My Gal

He'd Have To Get Under

Don't Fence Me In

Beer Barrel Polka 

Somebody Stole My Gal

Paddlin' Madelin' Home

 

Final Score

 

7.75 out of 10

(It would have got 6 out of 10 just for the phrase "A dozen of the banjoest tunes....")

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