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: Warwick Records WW5001
First Released: 1975
What The Album Blurb Says:
Here you have, on one tremendous L.P., two of Britain's most talented entertainers.
BERNARD MANNING, the Lancashire comedian, singer and recording artiste, who in recent years has become one of the country's most popular television personalities through such shows as "THE COMEDIANS", and more recently, the highly successful "WHEELTAPPERS & SHUNTERS SOCIAL CLUB" programme.
At the piano is the great JOE "MR. PIANO" HENDERSON. Joe's inimitable style of piano playing has made him one of the busiest piano men in Europe. the "JOE HENDERSON SHOW" is always a firm favourite on B.B.C. radio and we frequently find Joe cropping up, as a guest artiste, on many of the top T.V. shows.
These two artistes, together with Joe's rhythm group and the Michael John Singers, make "40 ALL TIME SINGALONG PARTY HITS" a perfect party L.P., or, indeed, just the record to play at almost any time, whether on your own to cheer yourself up, or with a happy singalong group of friends around you.
What I Say...
There are some questions in life to which you don't really want to know the answer. How is the sausage made? What is my child doing in there? How did he/she get into that position? To add to this, I said in my 2008 review of 'Join In With Joe', "I'd like to know more about Joe. And his friends." And now I wish I had never asked, because this album provides the answer.
I'm not going to go into an appraisal of Bernard Manning's career here, not because I don't want to, but because there's more of Mr. Manning to come on Forgotten Albums, and I would prefer to keep my powder dry for now. If by any chance you aren't aware of Bernie's legacy, everything you need to know is right here, (Warning - NSFW, contains 'language').
When we last met Joe, I discovered that his hit, 'Trudie', had been a best seller, and recipient of an Ivor Novello award for songwriting. Fair enough, the bloke's got talent. Which makes it the sadder to see that the first of the 'Singalong Party Hits' listed on the cover is..... 'Trudie'. What circumstances befell 'Mr. Piano' in the intervening years that reduces his work to being thrashed out by a racist crooner?
Just a note on the 'Mr. Piano' sobriquet - Joe is indeed 'Mr. Piano'. I'm not sure if he legally changed his name by deed poll or anything like that, but everywhere you look, it's 'Mr. Piano'. So why oh why is he listed on the front of this album as Joe "Piano" Henderson. Where's the title gone? No 'Mr.' in sight. Is this a slight on the character of Joe Henderson? Did he annoy the graphic artist to the point where petty revenge was in order? Or is this just the result of a hastily botched together album, cashing in on the rising popularity of one artiste, and the waning popularity of the other? I'll leave you to decide on that one.
The album itself is pretty much what you'd expect from the title. If you were to eat a lot of cheese, drink yourself into a stupor, and then dream of all those half remembered songs from your childhood that your grandparents used to sing, you could pretty much recreate this album without having to go to the expense or embarrassment of going out and buying it. The conceit that this is a spontaneous singalong is stretched at times by the close harmony work of the backing singers, especially at the start of 'We'll Keep A Welcome', but they do try and keep up this idea that it's a genuine good old knees up.
I suppose it's only natural, what with Joe being "Mr. Piano" and everything, that his friends would include a banjo player, a clarinettist, a bassist and a drummer, but it's a really good job that they were all able to come to his party, and that they knew all the songs, in order as this spontaneous singalong kicked off.
It is this very conceit of 'the party' that has led me to the inevitable conclusion that this album is a lost masterpiece from the golden age of Progressive Rock. No, no, bear with me. Firstly, this is truly a concept album - there is a thematic subtext that runs through the whole of the album, that we are experiencing real time at a party.
Secondly, the songs are suites that chop and change between tempo, blending from one to the next to make a thematically satisfying whole.
Thirdly, if you listen closely, it's clear that Joe Henderson is wearing a cape and pointy hat, just like Rick Wakeman.... oh. Well, maybe it breaks down a bit there, but it'll take some convincing to make me change my mind.
There are only a couple of highlights on the album, which are available below. I genuinely like the arrangement of 'Saints Go Marching In'. It takes a standard, and mixes it up just enough to make you take notice. And 'Boomps A Daisy' is just mad - think ITV light entertainment circa 1983 and you're pretty much there.
But my favourite part of all is the ending. Not just because it's the end, but also for Bernard Manning's hearty attempts to make us believe that he really was a party - "Wonderful party, Joe!", and that he's now leaving. Makes me laugh every time.
A Horror For Your Eyes And Ears
Skip to 2:20 for the full effect!
I can't help but notice that Bernard calls Joe 'Joe 'Piano' Henderson', and not Mr. Piano. Maybe Bernard got to the cover artist and made his change it. Maybe there was a feud, and this is Manning's revenge. In terms of conspiracy theories, I think we may have hit the mother-lode...
1. Opening Medley
Little Brown Jug
Don't Dilly Dally On The Way
2. Flanagan & Allen Medley
Underneath The Arches
3. Scottish Medley
I Love A Lassie
Stop Yer Tickling Jock
Donald, Where's Your Troosers?
A Hundred Pipers
Just A Wee Dreoch an Doris
Scotland The Brave
4. Let The Rest Of The World Go By
5. Irish Medley
Paddy McGinty's Goat
If You're Irish Come Into The Parlour
Dear Old Donegal
6. If You Knew Susie
7. Saints Medley
Coming Round The Mountain
Old Folks At Home
Poor Old Joe
Saints Go Marching In
John Brown's Body
For He's A Jolly Good Fellow
1. Seaside Medley
I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside
Hello! Hello! Who's your Lady Friend?
Hold Your Hand Out You Naughty Boy
Man Who Broke The Bank At Monte Carlo
I've Got A Lovely Bunch Of Coconuts
2. Harvest Moon Medley
Oh! You Beautiful Doll
You Made Me Love You
Shine On Harvest Moon
3. Welsh Medley
All Through The Night
We'll Keep A Welcome
4. Goodnight Medley
She Was One Of The Early Birds
After The Ball
5. Boomps A Daisy
6. Cokey Cokey
7. Knees Up Mother Brown
8. Lambeth Walk
9. Auld Lang Syne
4 out of 10
Label / Cat. No: PYE - NSPL41005
First Released: 1971
What The Album Blurb Says...
Every now and again in show-business an exciting piece of talent comes to the surface - it happened with Tom Jones and Barbra Streisand, but it doesn't happen often.
Stars are not made by managers or impresarios, they are made by the public - sure, managers or agents recognise a star quality and then groom it, but most stars are there because of that contact with an audience, because they are selling the goods the public wants and because that public wants them as people.
I first saw Rostal and Schaefer perform to a live audience in Johannesburg; they were closing the first half of a bill I was appearing on. From my dressing-room I heard shouts from the auditorium of 'encore!' and 'more!' - it sounded sweeter than the music they had been playing. On this night I witnessed not one but two stars being born and to watch them blossom over the past twelve months has pleased me more than I can say.
No wonder they have been booked for television shows, concerts, and asked to record sounds like you have here on their first major disc.
Although in their early twenties, they have somehow packed twenty-odd years between them in practising at the keyboard - no wonder the powers that be decided to include them in the 1970 Royal Variety Show, some entertainers work a life time for this honour - they achieved it in twelve short months.
Fly away Peter, fly away Paul and keep delighting us with your magic. It is a privilege to have this record, almost a first edition, I shall treasure it.
Most sincerely, Max Bygraves.
What I Say
I bet that Paul Schaefer rues the day he met Peter Rostal. Fine, they share interests, they work together well, and conveniently enough, they both play the piano. But in the wake of 'Peter, Paul and Mary', Paul was only ever going to get second billing. 'Paul, Peter & Pianos' just sounds wrong, even though it's in lovely alphabetical order. I bet Paul is still kicking himself that he didn't change his name to something with three syllables - Francisco, maybe. Anything to make him stand out head and shoulders above Peter.
Yet it wasn't to be. I notice that in later years they became known as 'Rostal and Schaefer' which is infinitely more exotic than 'Peter & Paul', but it means that Peter still gets top billing. The swine.
Max Bygraves seems to be pretty taken with these two young men. And who wouldn't be? Look at the pair of them with their sensible haircuts and dinner jackets. Fashionable pink shirts, and bow-ties that you just know, you just know are made of velvet. The wry smile on Paul's face, the confident 'trust me' grin on Peter's. yes, these are clearly the kind of young men that you could take home to mother. And even when they're not in their concert finest, they clearly know how to dress to impress.
Why, just look at them in their casual fineries. Cravats, Crew-necks
and Crimplene trousers. What more could a girl ask for!
But I'm being unfair. Those were wonderful clothes in 1971 and I'm judging them harshly purely because fashions have changed. This is supposed to be all about the music.
Ah! The music. I have a small confession to make - I recorded this album to review ages ago - months and months, and had the file kicking around. On listening to it this week, I loved the frantic, furious opening number - only to hear my past self go back and switch the album from 45 back to 33 1/3. It didn't seem quite so lively after that. Bum. But still and excellent opener showing these two lively guys at their best. It has a bit of an Eastern European feel, Balkan possibly.... though of course, I could be talking out of the back of my head.
The rest of side one is an odd mix. Popular standards, arranged to show off the pianists virtuosity make this album the audio equivalent of a doily - all frills and fluff, but with little obvious purpose. I mean, you could put a cake on it I suppose, but what's the point of that? And it would leave crumbs in the grooves.
Anyway.... I digress. Despite the knockabout between the two pianists, there's no killer punch. The version of 'Tonight' from 'West Side Story' is actually an arrangement of the quintet (For once I know what I'm talking about - I was two (count 'em, two) of the Jets in an amateur production in 1989, so I'm completely qualified and everything....) is artfully done, but has none of the aggression that the song should have.
Maybe that's the point though - Paul and Peter (as I shall refer to them in an effort to restore the balance) aren't in show-business to break new territory, or to threaten the Status Quo. Though that's a fight I'd pay to see - Rostal & Schaefer vs Rossi & Parfitt. Hmmm... I feel a celebrity tag boxing blog coming on... where was I? Oh yes, they don't offer anything new, but why should they. Like Max says, they give the public what they want.
And sometimes the public don't know what they want. I went into this album thinking I was going to hate it. Pre-packaged, bland cover-versions, I thought. But if you don't expect anything more from this album than a few nice tunes, then you won't be disappointed. I mean, I doubt this is going to make it onto any playlist, but it's pleasant enough. And for today (and probably only today), I'll settle for 'pleasant enough'.
1. Hejre Kati
1. Love Story
2. As Long As He Needs Me
3. Love Is Blue
4. Ritual Fire Dance
5. Clair De Lune
7 out of 10
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'
2. Come Together
3. Bridge Over Troubled Water
4. Lay Lady Lay
5. United We Stand
6. Proud Mary
3! out of 10
Label / Cat. No: Marble Arch MAL 638
First Released: 1966
What The Album Blurb Says...
None. Which is a shame. I'd like to know more about Joe Henderson. And his friends.
What I Say
The Electric Guitar was invented, almost certainly in the 1920s. The first known performance using one is recorded as being in 1932. That's 34 years before Joe "Mr. Piano" Henderson (as he indeed is known) recorded this album. In the intervening 34 years, Rock 'n' Roll had been invented, Elvis, the Stones and the Beatles had all come and made their mark. So why do we find ourselves in 1966 still making and producing this piano-led drivel?
Don't get me wrong. I like a nice bit of piano. Keane have made a virtue of using one instead of electric guitars, and I am indeed in my own small way a very amateurish pianist. But surely even in 1966 this was annoying, trite, banal, undemanding pap. Surely.
I suppose I'm from an era that spawned Prog Rock, Punk, New Wave etc. etc. We can see the rapid progression of musical tastes and styles, feeling the evolution of one form into another. Maybe fads change more quickly now, and we constantly expect the new, the different and the exciting. Was there really a time when people just liked one kind of music and stuck with it? I suppose there must've been - Country music has very dedicated fans who won't listen to anything outside of their narrow genre. Metal heads are equally unwilling to take off the blinkers.
But what surprises me the most is not just that it's the same style of music which seems to keep cropping up over and over again, it's the fact that it's also the same bloody songs. Why would anyone, even in 1966 need another recording of 'On Top Of Old Smokey', 'Hole In the Bucket', or even 'Hello Dolly'.
And Joe, or simply 'Mr Piano' as I shall refer to him from here-on-in is clearly not without talent. For a start he was the best selling artist (record and sheet music sales) of 1958 with a song, Trudie, which also won an Ivor Novello award. This man, Mr. Piano can write and play. He also got to snog Petula Clark which even in my youthful opinion can't have been a bad thing. So my question remains, why waste such a clear talent on derivative crap? It's such a waste.
Joe's 'Friends' (who I sneakily suspect are session singers) provide the kind of group singing not heard since the heady days of The Brian Rogers Connection on 3-2-1. I'm not sure if it's the same 'friends' who adorn the cover, but you'll notice that Mr. Piano seems to have significantly more female friends than male, by a ratio of 5:1. The sly old dog. There he is, knocking one out (a tune, of course) while smiling broadly at the winsome girl in the islands sweater. He knows how to impress the ladies. After all, he's Mr. Piano. Though I wonder if anyone could explain to me why there's a strange orange soft toy splodged on the end of the piano...
You may have guessed by now that I'm not too keen on this. It's
just.... joyless I suppose. Formulaic, singing to the choirstalls. I can't claim Mr. Piano sold out, but he's clearly providing a product that he knows there's a market for. I shouldn't judge a
1966 album by 2007 standards (even if Sgt. Peppers was 1967 and stands up reasonably well to critical appraisal). But if I wasn't so thoroughly judgemental, we wouldn't have this journal now,
1. Hold Me
2. Everybody Loves Somebody
3. I Love You Because
5. I Wouldn't Trade You For The World
6. Near You
7. I Won't Forget You
8. Hello Dolly (from the Mus. Prod. "Hello Dolly")
1. The More We Are Together
2. Nice People
3. Who (from "Sunny)
4. On Top Of Old Smokey
6. Glad Rag Doll
7. Who's Sorry Now
8. Hole In the Bucket
9. Heart (from "Damn Yankees")
11. Heart Of My Heart
12. Ay, Ay, Ay
13. After The Ball
14. Goodnight Ladies
15. The Band Played On
16. So Long, It's Been Good To Know You
2 out of 10
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
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.
1. A Wonderful Day Like Today (From the musical ‘The Roar of the Greasepaint’)
2. The Onedin Line Theme Music (Love Theme for Spartacus)
5. This Is My Lovely Day
6. If I Were A Rich Man
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’)
1.5 out of 10 for the violently coloured lollipop
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.
I Was Queen Victoria's Chambermaid
There's A Blue Ridge Round My Heart Virginia
Alice Blue Gown
Oh Johnny! Oh Johnny! Oh!
Someone Like you
Where The Black Eyed Susans Grow
I'm Nobody's Baby
Thank You Everybody
7.5 out of 10