Interview with Mark Helmore, the beat of The Malcolm Wilce Duo

Older readers of Forgotten Albums will know that I like to try and do what I laughingly call 'research' on the albums I feature here.  Of course, what that really means is that I do a quick google search and hope for the best, regurgitating any tasty morsels that I find.  And yet 'The Malcolm Wilce Duo' remained a bit of a mystery for me.  Most of the results I could find were catalogue entries listing a whole career's worth of albums, but no hard facts about the Duo themselves.

 

Ah, but then, but then, nestling amongst the text under the link on the final page of my search were the words 'former drummer with Malcolm Wilce Duo'.  Hope bursting in my heart, I clicked on the link to MTH Dancing, and there on the front page was the man from the cover of 'Sincerely Yours' looking back at me.  Older, wiser, but unmistakably the same man.

 

A couple of e-mails and a few texts later, I found myself on the phone to Mark for in interview to try and find out more about The Malcolm Wilce Duo, and Sincerely Yours....

 

(All photos are ©Mark Helmore 2017, and taken from his website - link below)

Forgotten Albums:

 

Hi Mark, thanks for taking the time to talk to me.  First things first - how did you get involved in the Malcolm Wilce Duo?

 

Mark Helmore:

 

My dad was a dance teacher in Banbury in Oxfordshire, and I was in a band playing in the General Foods Sports and Social Club.  The organist who was in that band, my Dad asked him if he'd be interested in playing for Sequence Dancing.  He thought he'd give it a go and we started playing as the band - it was just the organ and drums then for the dances.  But then he got ill and needed a kidney transplant, so he was laid up just as my Dad had a big dance we needed to play for.  Malcolm's name was given to my Dad, so he called him and explained there was a big dance coming up, and asked if he'd be willing to play with a drummer. Malcolm said yes and that's how it all started.

 

FA: After that start, how long was 'The Malcolm Wilce Duo' out gigging for?

 

MH: We were operational from 1982 until, 2014.  That was a long time!

 

FA: And in that time, how many gigs to you think you played?

 

MH:  Crikey!  I wouldn't like to say to be honest.  I mean, we did so much it's unbelievable.  I mean not only did we do one night gigs, but we also did weeks away, fortnights away for dance holidays. We literally covered the length and breadth of the country in the early days.

 

FA:  Forgive my ignorance, but is this Ballroom Dancing, old time dancing, or is there a different terminology for what you do?

 

MH:  No, the recordings we did with Maestro [the record label] are what you would class as 'Modern Sequence'.

 

FA:  Modern Sequence?  And is that for a group, for couples, individuals?

 

MH:  Basically, it's ballroom dancing, but for Modern Sequence the dancing, the steps are put into 16 bar sequences.  So in other words people will dance 16 bars of a sequence, and repeat that all the way through until the sequence stops.  And they name them, so rather than say you're going to play a waltz, you'd announce it's The Waltz Catherine, which is a particular dance made up of these 16 bars which are repeated.

 

FA:  My only exposure to ballroom dancing while growing up was 'Come Dancing', and that seemed to belong to my parents or grandparents generation.  I got the impression that in English culture it was tailing off, but obviously from what you're saying, there was still a demand for the music you play.

 

MH:  That's right, and there still is today to a certain extent.  There's been a bit of a resurgence recently since 'Strictly', but more for the Ballroom side of it as opposed to the sequence.  What tends to happen from our experience is that people have perhaps learned to do Ballroom, and then they look at the Sequence.... a lot of people don't like Sequence, they're brought up with Ballroom and Latin and they stick with that.  But then there are another group of people who enjoy the Ballroom and Latin, but like the fact they can put their steps into certain dances and enjoy Sequence as well. It's quite a mixture right across the board really.

 

FA:  And it feels very much like a community thing, that people are going for the social aspect.

 

MH:  That's right, it is a social evening really.  

 

FA:  I've listened to the album a few times now, and from my experience drummers are people who like to have a bit of freedom, to improvise and hit things hard.  Your style is very different - very precise, very controlled which goes with needing to keep a tight beat for the dancing.  But did you ever feel restricted in your drumming by the style of music you played?

 

MH:  Yeah, you do find with that side - Ballroom or strict tempo you are restricted with what you can do.  But as I said, with my Dad being a dance teacher, that's what I was brought up with.  And obviously when I was younger in bands that were more than just keyboards and drums, like a five piece band or something playing for a dance, I'd always sit there with the drummer and they'd let me have a go sometimes, and that's how I learned.  I'm self taught, but I have played everything - Jazz, Pop and Rock, I've done it all. It's always good to let your hair down a bit!

 

FA: And are you still playing now?

 

MH:  I still play now, but not touring so much now, not since I stopped playing with Malcolm.  But there's a keyboard player called David Last who plays the same sort of thing that Malcolm and I did, and I play with him, but it's not so much touring now as one-night bookings.  I've also done a few recordings with him too.

 

FA:  So are the records, the recordings made for people to play at their own dances, or were they made as merchandise, giving people a reminder of a night out.

 

MH:  Maestro, the record label are specialists in strict tempo dance music, and the records and cds are designed for people to have their own sequence dances, and they still produce all that kind of music.

 

FA:  I did find a flaw though - my copy of the album was well played, and skipped in places.  Surely that would have caused problems.

 

MH:  Yeah, that would put them out of sequence!

 

FA: My copy also has a sticker on the front, as it was previously owned by Brenda from Barrow-in-Furness.  Is sequence dancing a peculiarly British thing?

 

MH: No, not at all. In Australia, they have sequence dancing too, but the CDs go all over the world. (side note - I've since noticed a lot of sellers on eBay have copies of Malcolm Wilce Duo CDs on sale from the USA....)

 

FA: I have to ask you about the sleeve notes - they were written by Terry and Ethel Grundy, who I see are still active and running their own tea dances in Cannock.  How did you know them?

 

MH: Well, they used to run their own dances in Birmingham, and they had all the records that we'd recorded.  In the early days, what we used to do was ask someone we'd worked with and who'd used our music in their dances to do the write up for us.  But Terry and Ethel we met at Butlins when we used to do the dance festivals, mainly at Bognor Regis & Minehead and they were the MCs there.  We run dance holidays ourselves now in places like Bournemouth, Paignton, Dawlish and so on.

 

FA: So there's still a large enough following for the Sequence Dancing movement

 

MH: We're well placed here (Weston super Mare) as people aren't that willing to travel more than an hour or so, plus we have the ballrooms down here.  You wont find so much as you travel north.  But I think we had the best of it.  There are still people playing this music, but a lot of the sequence clubs aren't around any more.

 

FA: Do you think that's a demographic problem, with this being an older person's social activity?

 

 

MH: Yes, that's right.  A lot of people have passed on, and there's nobody coming up to replace them.  But there is a future, as I said, it is going more to social dancing, which is what you'd class as ballroom, latin and social sequence which is the easy sequence dances that people know.  You combine it all in one evening now, whereas when we used to play for a sequence dance, everything was sequence all night so everybody would be doing the same thing at the same time.  Whereas by the time we finished we were playing more social dancing where you'd be doing a mixture of ballroom and sequence and latin, so right across the board.

 

FA: It sounds to me that there is a similarity between the idea of sequence, and that of line dancing.  Did line dancing have any impact on the world of sequence do you think?

 

MH: We do incorporate that as people enjoy line dancing, so we've brought that in to the social side of what we do.

 

FA: If I can ask about the album sleeve, I've noticed that almost all of your other album covers are very formal, with you and Malcolm in suits or DJs, but this was taken in a park in Weston.  Was this a deliberate change of style?

 

MH: That's right, we came out of the dickie bows and the dinner jackets, to go for a more casual look.  I look a lot younger in that photo, and I had more hair!

 

FA: So, the big question.  Do you dance yourself?

 

 

MH: I do, after a fashion!

 

My massive thanks to Mark for his time and patience.  You can find out more about his work (and I would encourage you to do so) at www.mthdancing.com

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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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The Exciting Sounds of Chico Arnez - Non-Stop Dance Party

Label / Cat No: Music For Pleasure MRP 50179

First Released: 1974

 

What The Album Blurb Says:

 

Regular listeners to BBC Radio 2 will be familiar with the infectiously catchy stylings of Chico Arnez, thanks to all year round appearances on programmes such as "Late Night Extra", "Night Ride" and the tony Brandon, Charlie Chester and Joe Henderson shows.

 

twenty years on the business has brought the ultimate degree of professionalism to Chico's music, and he has a dazzling stage show to back it up, utilising strobe lights, slides, movies and a machine which blows bubbles over the audience!

 

but the essence of it all is the happy, good-time dance sound itself - ideal party fare as is obvious from one listen to this non-stop collection of some of the best numbers to grace the pop charts in recent years.

 

Chico carries a 14 piece line-up including a rep-roaring brass section, pulsating rhythm and four voices.  their distinctive brand of excitement has carried them around the world, playing in such places as Hong Kong, Japan, Australia and Europe as well as here in Britain.

 

Chico himself sings, as well as directing the band and playing double-bass and a little piano, while the inventive arrangements stand to the credit of Chico, John Clark and John Osborne.

 

Over the years half-a-dozen albums have helped carry Chico's talents to the public and each time h has gone one better. On this record there are the soul classics Land Of A Thousand Dances, a hit for Chris Kenner and Wilson Pickett, Do The Funky Chicken,  which marked the greatest triumph of Memphis Sound veteran Rufus Thomas, and Pickett's memorable In The Midnight Hour. Sonny and Cher's The Beat Goes On, the infections Resurrection Shuffle, the gospelly Put Your Hand In The Hand and the heavy rocker spirit In The Sky also get a new lease of life.

The fourteen exciting new arrangements on this album make it right for any party - so get ready to dance - non-stop!

 

Roger St. Pierre 

 

What I Say...

 

This album has been one helluva ride.....  Really.  I've had more ups and downs with this record than a Trump Tower elevator.  So let me take you by the hand, and lead you through the streets of... Streatham, as I take you on a journey of lies, betrayal and deception.

 

I picked this album up just a few short weeks ago in a charity shop in Winchester.  As ever, it was the gaudy cover that first appealed to me.  An early 70s slack-jawed beauty with unnecessary nipplage (yes, nipplage.  That really is a word that I haven't just made up...) poking through her chemical yellow tank-top vest type thing.  Standard fayre of this vintage, but more usually associated with the studio cover type albums of 'Top of the Pops', or 'Top Hits', it immediately piqued my curiosity that this was for a single artist.  Chico Arnez.

 

I'd never heard of Chico before, but he was clearly a bit of a radio favourite, and as the album notes say, he was a regular on Radio 2 back in the day.  Plus we see that man Joe Henderson popping up again.  Looks like I'm getting to know far more about Joe's friends than I'd ever imagined.

 

There's not a lot of information about Chico out there in internetland.  Over his career (which apparently is well traveled if you believe Mr. St. Pierre), he only released a handful of albums, of which I can only find this to be the fifth.  Often with 'His 'Latin-America Orchestra' or 'His Cubana Brass', the albums were understandably heavily latin-influenced.  This group of musicians don't have the benefit of being 'His' anything, but I entered expecting those exciting South American rhythms, but I got more, so much more.

 

On playing the album, I thought within moments of the frenetic opening number that I'd struck gold.  I don't think it's too much of a stretch to compare my job here at Forgotten Albums as being romantically akin to that of a gold-panner.  I spend hours in dark, cold places sifting through piles of murk and grime in the hope, the oh so distant hope, that the one shining nugget will gleam through, making my life immeasurably richer.  And with this album I thought, at last, that I'd hit pay-dirt.

 

This album is choc-full of brilliant tunes, amazing arrangements and unexpected choices.  This 14 piece band cavorts through 34 minutes (yes, it is quite short) of great music.  From the opening duo of 'The Locomotion' and 'Put Your Hand In The Hand', you expect this to be a high-energy, densely musical foray into the mind of the party animal of 1967.  The style is so drenched in sixties' tropes that you expect Austin Powers to come bursting through the window at any moment.  Swinging London at it's apex.

 

It's the mix of fast paced bass guitar, wah-wah rhythm guitar, twiddly hammond organ and hi-hat led drum riff that gives this that loving 60s feeling, and the addition of the frankly amazing brass section gives this whole band depth and diversity.  And diversity there is aplenty.  He doesn't just stick with pop numbers, but we get blues, soul, funk, gospel, country, tv themes, traditional folk tunes, rock, and even proto heavy-metal.

 

I've listened to this album over and over now, and there's another factor at play here.  The non-stop element, clearly designed to prevent the poor over-stretched party host from having to change 45s over on their radiogram every 3 minutes, has thought out the playlist.  Fast tracks to get you going, through to solid legitimate tunes to keep you on the dance floor.  A couple of slow songs to bring the mood down, then Hava Nagila for the community dance, and then back to the luscious 'Love's Theme' to play you out while you smooch with your chosen special one.  It's a whole night's playlist condensed into a well packaged 34 minutes.

 

And so as you can tell, I clearly have a real affection for this album.  It's just fun.  That's all, no pretence to anything else, just fun.  But then, oh, but then the doubts started to creep up on me...

 

Firstly, there was the fact that when I looked closer, I realised that the album was published in 1974, probably recorded the same year.  This was 7 years later than I would have dated it from the music alone.  This means, surely, that rather than being a pioneer of that 60s sound Chico's arrangements were, let's be kind, and call them a homage.  Let's be less kind and suggest that maybe he was an opportunist with a talent to copy others' styles.

 

But what really led me down the path of surprise was reading the album notes again.  It's only a small thing, but the arrangements "stand to the credit of Chico, John Clark and John Osborne". I know that Chico was London-based, but for someone with the flamboyance of Sr. Chico Arnez, surely he wouldn't be working with blokes called John, whether it's Clark or Osborne, it just feels to pedestrian.

 

With a little more digging, I finally found the truth.  At least, I think it's the truth - it is repeated in more than a few places, but it seems that Chico Arnez never existed.  Chico Arnez was a persona created by a bassist.  Called Jackie Davis.  From Streatham.

 

There is apparently a story that does the rounds of the BBC about Chico.  I quote here from The Independant:-

 

"Chico was in fact Jackie Davies from the East End of London. Chico would introduce himself in a cod South American accent, as the band played behind him.

'Hello amigos. Thees ees Chico Arnez weeth the sounds of Latin Amereeca,' he said, as one of the band hit a bum note, at which Chico turned round and thundered in the unmistakable vowel sounds of the East India Dock Road: 'Oo the fuck was that?'"

-Martin Kelner

I don't know why I felt so disappointed, so cheated.  Maybe I cursed myself for being caught up the excitement of those pulsing latin beats.  And so I remind myself, Jackie or Chico, it doesn't really matter.  The music speaks for itself. And it's bloody brilliant.

 

Oh, and the engineer on this album, John Kurlander - he was only assistant engineer by request on the Abbey Road album, and has a handful of Oscars and other awards for his music for the Lord Of The Rings trilogy.  See, Chico may be a sham, but at least this album has pedigree.

Video Clips

And compare the pace of this Elvis version with the madly frantic Chico one below!

Sound Clips

Tracks

 

Side 1

 

1. The Loco-Motion

2. Put Your Hand In The Hand

3. The Resurrection Shuffle

4. Do The Funky chicken

5. Soul Finger

6. Soolaimon

7. Hawaii Five-O

 

Side 2

 

1. In The Midnight Hour (You Can't Love Me)

2. Spirit In The Sky

3. The Beat Goes On

4. Land Of A Thousand Dances

5. I Had A Sad Dream

6. Hava Nagila

7. Love's Theme

 

Final Score:

 

9.5 out of 10 for Chico, 4 out of 10 for that charlatan Jackie.

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Bernard Manning / Joe "Piano" Henderson's 40 All Time Singalong Party Hits

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...

Sound Clips 

 

Tracks

 

Side 1

 

1. Opening Medley

Trudie

Little Brown Jug

Don't Dilly Dally On The Way

2. Flanagan & Allen Medley

Underneath The Arches

Strollin

Hometown

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

British Grenadiers

Drunken Sailor

Poor Old Joe

Saints Go Marching In

John Brown's Body

For He's A Jolly Good Fellow

 

Side 2

 

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

Ship Ahoy

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

My Bonnie

Daisy Bell

She Was One Of The Early Birds

After The Ball

Goodnight Ladies

5. Boomps A Daisy

6. Cokey Cokey

7. Knees Up Mother Brown

8. Lambeth Walk

9. Auld Lang Syne

 

Final Score:

 

4 out of 10

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The Kaye Family Album

Label / Cat. No:  HIRA HL 8536

First Released: 1972

 

What The Album Blurb Says...

 

In the grooves of the record contained within this sleeve is a wealth of talent performed by one family of four people - mother, father, daughter and son.

 

Don't run away with the idea tha this highly popular family foursome became a versatile show overnight.  What they are today is the product of many years experience in the world of entertainment.  The mother and father, Ellen and Eddy, were both playing individually  in concert parties when they met and married in their early 20's.  Ellen is an organist and vocalist and Eddy is an organist, accordionist and pianist.

 

The musical twosome continued for a number of years but it was a forgone conclusion that their two children, Sharron and Adrian, would follow in their parents' footsteps.

 

Sharron had just reached the age of 10 when she was considered proficient as an alto saxophonist and was introduced into her parents' well-presented show.  As years went by, she added clarinet, soprano and tenor saxophones, bass guitar, vibraphone and her contralto voice and is now a very accomplished young lady - a versatile musician with a charming personality.

 

Adrian was introduced into the show two years later at the age of eight and his terrific personality showed through in his ability as a percussionist and guitarist.  Now he is a young man with a wealth of experience behind him and is a very polished performer.

 

It was at this point that  "The Kaye Family" was born and Sharron and Adrian soon proved their worth by helping to obtain rave notices in "The Stage" and other newspaper media.

 

The family went on to appear at many top venues throughout the country in every field of the variety entertainment industry - theatres, halls, commercial studios, clubs, cabaret, restaurants and the like.

 

success followed success and now HIRA RECORDS place The Kaye Family before you to perform at your command in your own home.  This high quality long-playing record shows clearly some of the many facets of this fascinating family.

 

Sit back and relax and dwell in the wonderland of sound that the Kaye Family presents to you - and you alone!

 

Drift along on clouds of romance, feel philosophical, hear the swirling colours of sun-drenched Spain, linger upon lonely seashores, fly amongst the stellar constellations, go for a trolley ride, swing with the up-tempo big band style beat.

 

yes, all this comes to you everytime you fall under the magical spell of the sound of The Kaye Family.

 

Happy listening!

 

Martin Philips

 

What I Say...

 

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand we're back.  Hello.  Sorry for the delay.... The real world took over for a while.  I'll try not to let it happen again.

 

And what a way to come back, a return visit to The Kaye Family everyone's favourite family musical combo.

 

After hearing the 'Live!' album, I just had to go back to the charity shop where I'd bought it to see if there were any others there, and Bingo!, this little beauty was in my hands in a matter of moments.

 

Pre-dating 'Live!' by a couple of couple of years, this album is so much more fulfilling.  The production values here are vastly superior, and we have a clear sound rather than the somewhat muddy live recording.  Having said that, I'm not sure if that's entirely a good thing.  After all, you can actually hear Sharron (note, two 'r's - very showbiz) and Ellen's arch vocals, combining to provide a sound that I find slightly scary. Listen to 'You're Just In Love' and tell me you haven't been even slightly traumatised.

 

The album is of course worth every penny, if only for the sleeve notes.  At last I get to know all their names.  Ellen and Eddy - what a pairing.  A partnership made in the stars, names that chime together.  And let's not forget the second generation, Adrian and Sharrrrrron, virtuoso musicians in their own right.  And please note, I've been very realistic here, and made sure that I didn't run away with the idea that this highly popular family foursome became a versatile show overnight. Only a fool would do such a thing.

 

Musically there's not much of a surprise -  I can't see that they took any major direction changes between this and 'live'.  I mean, I would love to have found that this was their forgotten psychedelic masterpiece, or they'd made an experimental jazz album.  But this is again simply a series of standards set to a bontempi bossa nova beat.

 

Which takes me back to Adrian. I may have suggested in my last review that he was conceived just because Ellen and Eddy needed a drummer for the band.  I take it back of course.  After all, he's not exactly prominent - throughout the whole of side one I couldn't tell if it was Ade or the organ's built in rhythms that were providing the percussion - some of the fancier fills during Telstar testify to a human hand.  His playing is subdued, almost unnoticeable.  If only Keith Moon had been more like Adrian Kaye, things would be very different today.  Ah, the benefit of hindsight.

 

The choice of songs seems to show their club roots - a couple of 'modern' tracks, and plenty of old favourites for the mums and dads.  Of course, with Sharrrrrrrrrrrrrrrron being a clarinettist, 'Stranger on the Shore' was a given - I suspect she'd just taken her Grade 5 exam, and that was one of the set pieces, so the family recycled it into their set, chuck in a bit of an inappropriate fancy rhythm and Bob's your uncle.  You know, Bob Kaye.  Everyone knows Bob.

 

So, er.... yes.  This was pretty much as I'd expected.  I'm glad I revisited this fine family. I can't decide if it's a good or a bad thing that this kind of act isn't around any more.  Or maybe it is - maybe I should've been watching 'Britain's Got Talent' to discover the 21st Century's 'Kaye Family' rather than listening to 35 year old oddities.  All I know is that my world is marginally richer thanks to Ellen, Eddy, Sharrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrron and Adrian.  Thanks guys, you've been great.

 

 Sound Clips 

Tracks

 

Side 1

 

1. The Wonder Of You

2. Blowin' In The Wind

3. Stranger On The Shore

4. You're Just In Love

5.Telstar

 

Side 2

 

1. Trolley Song

2.You Don't Have To Say You Love Me

3. Espana

4. The Wedding

5. Ticket To Ride / 'A' Train / Chattanooga Choo-Choo

 

Final score:

 

 

7 out of 10

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Peter, Paul & Pianos

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'.

Sound Clips

Tracks

Side 1

1. Hejre Kati
2. Edelweiss
3. Tonight
4. Czardas
5. Yesterday
6. Malaguena

Side 2

1. Love Story
2. As Long As He Needs Me
3. Love Is Blue
4. Ritual Fire Dance
5. Clair De Lune
6. Bolero


Final score:

7 out of 10

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Fred Jordan - Songs Of A Shropshire Farm Worker

Label / Cat. No: Topic 12T150 
First Released: 1966 

What The Album Blurb Says...

Fred Jordan was born on January 5, 1922, at Ludlow, Shropshire. He is a farm labourer, living in the village of Aston Munslow, about seven miles from Ludlow. His house has a view of Corve Dale and the distant Clee Hills.

In 1952 Peter Kennedy, then working for the British Broadcasting Corporation, visited the area, and being told by the local blacksmith that Fred Jordan was a good singer, he recorded him for the BBC's folk song archive. In the autumn of 1959, Fred attracted the attention of participants in the folk song revival when he appeared at the English Folk Dance and Song society's festival wearing his everyday clothes - heavy boots, leggings and weather-defying hat. His singing drew immediate acclaim. Since then he has appeared with increasing regularity at concerts and clubs, with other country singers and also with revival performances. He enjoys concert and club work, where he sings with the straightforward 'professionalism' and unselfconsciousness common to most country singers.

As a folk singer he may be classed with the best - and that best includes Harry Cox, George Maynard and Phil Tanner. Though he is still a young man he has the essential style of this older generation. His musical sense is very highly developed; his ability to make small rhythmical changes to suit the words of songs is marked and his use of melodic ornament is subtle and skilful. the quality of his voice may seem strange at first hearing, but it is not unique, and there is nothing here of an old man's quaver, for Fred Jordan is in his prime.

In performance, he inclines to let his personality retire behind the song, in the true manner of traditional singers. He sings without change of facial expression, without physical mannerism. He performs Barbara Allen and The Old Armchair in precisely the same manner, in the straight-faced almost deadpan way that amateur singers still adopt in town pubs where they stand up to give out with I'll Take You home Again, Kathleen.

Fred Jordan acknowledges three main sources for his songs: first his parents (his mother came from Warwickshire, his father comes from Leeds); second the travellers and gypsies who frequent the district; last, his acquaintances in the countryside. In his own mind he distinguishes between what he now calls 'proper folk songs', music-hall songs, and the arranged versions of folk songs that he learned at school.

All the songs on this record are found up and down the country in one version or another. Many are to be found in the classic folk song collections. Others, of known authorship, the pops of yesteryear, have taken their place alongside traditional songs in the folk singers' repertoire on their merits of narrative and melody. Some of these are American in origin. The music-hall and touring show all played their part in widening the popular repertoire, and radio and gramophone records have also had their effect. This record shows the mixture of song types in the repertoire of a country singer in the 1960's.


What I Say

Some of you will have seen 'The Green Green Grass', the spin-off series from 'Only Fools & Horses'. If you have caught this show, then you have my deepest sympathy. Really. The premise, for those of you who haven't seen it, is that Boycie, a second-hand car salesman from Peckham in South London, moves to the Shropshire countryside to avoid some shady underworld types, and what follows is a fish-out-of-water "comedy". For anyone who lives within 100 miles of Shropshire, the biggest mystery is why do all the Shropshire characters dress like they live in the 1930s and speak with yokel Somerset accents. I mean, just look...

...and listen

Sorry to have to put you through that, but it just isn't Shropshire. But Fred Jordan, now he's the real deal...

What an unexpected gem we have here. I chose this album from my pending pile because I have spent the last week working on a farm not 10 miles from the Shropshire border - barn building, labouring and general jobbing. I believe this makes me supremely qualified to look at an album by a fellow man of the soil. Well, to be fair, I didn't get that close to any actual soil, but still, Fred Jordan must be singing the songs that speak to my heart, mustn't he?

Well, yes and no.... the title is a touch misleading - these aren't songs about Shropshire farm workers, or even songs that Shropshire farm workers in general would sing. Instead, it's a collection of songs sung by one Shropshire farm worker, namely Mr Jordan. I won't go into details of Fred's life here, because there are some excellent biographies around - try here for starters if you want to know more about the Fredster.

The songs aren't even all about farming or the bucolic life. At least two of them are nautical in flavour, and Shropshire's pretty far from the sea at the best of times.

But that's of not matter. I can honestly say that this is unique in all the albums I've listened to - what we have is Fred Jordan. Nothing more, nothing less. No musicians, no backing singers, no accompaniment whatsoever. This album stands or falls on Fred Jordan's voice, and it stands.

It stands as a period piece, it stands as a collection of English folk tunes sung by someone steeped in the folk tradition, and it stands as a collection of tunes by an accomplished singer. True, there are some vocal mannerisms which sound curious to our pop-soaked ears, and the starkness of hearing a single voice cut the silence takes some getting used to. But that also summarises the character of this album. It is raw, stripped back, nothing but the singer and the song, and to my jaded ears it made a very refreshing change. I can't say that this is going to be a recurrent favourite on my playlists, but unlike a lot of what I plough through (see what I did there?), I'm more than happy to give this a second listen. Maybe even a third.

In looking for details of this album on this wonderful internet of ours, I was amazed to find that the Topic record label not only still exists, but is a beacon of independent labels, having been releasing albums now for 69 years. Go and have a look at their site to find out more, but any label that boasted John Peel as a fan must have something going for it.

Lovely jubbly.

Sorry.

 

Sound Clips

Tracks

 

Side 1

 

1. We Shepherds Are The Best of Men
2. The ship That Never Returned
3. Down the Road
4. We're All Jolly Fellows that Follow The Plough
5. The Watery Grave
6. The Dark-Eyed Sailor
7. Three Old Crows

Side 2

1. John Barleycorn
2. The Banks Of Sweet Primroses
3. The Bonny Boy
4. Polly's Father Lived In Lincolnshire
5. The Royal Albert
6. Down The Green Groves
7. The Farmer's Boy 

 

2017 Edit - Full album available on Spotify - click here

 

And on YouTube

Final Score

8 out of 10

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Enjoy Your Slimming with Eileen Fowler

Label / Cat. No: BBC Records & Tapes REC 284 
First Released: 1977 

What The Album Blurb Says...

I say "enjoy your slimming" because it is much more successful if you do. It is a bore to be forever worrying about strict diets and complicated calorie counting. It can be just a simple "way of life". Regular exercise and sensible eating will keep your weight where you want it. It works for both men and women, as my husband could tell you. Cut down on fats, starches and sugars, exercise regularly and you are on the way. To help you to select the non-fattening foods there are two lists. Plan your meals around the first and try to avoid the second. Don't deny yourself all the foods you really like even if they are on the fattening list because this way leads to tension and you won't enjoy your slimming. Just reduce the quantities and include small amounts in a balanced eating programme.

For a really spectacular loss of weight, say six to seven stone, then I would suggest group therapy - Silhouette Slimming Club have wonderful results, which I have seen for myself, that is why I sought their advice with this album for those of us who wish to lose a lesser amount and to stay slim throughout our lives.

Don't forget the bathroom scales, these play a major part in our slimming plan. Decide on a reasonably weight for you height and work for that. I find at 5ft 2 1/2ins, eight and a half stone is about right and easy to hold, but bone structure can make a difference of several pounds. Weigh yourself once a week minus clothes and look for a gradual but steady weight loss - 2lbs a week adds up to nearly four stone in six months. Don't be disappointed if after losing weight at first - nothing happens for a time. This is quite normal while the body adjust to its new exercise and sensible eating pattern. But watch that fattening list! My own personal best hints are these: BUY THE RIGHT FOODS. If you have got them in the house you will eat them. If you haven't you will eat what is there, and they may be on the wrong list!

Finally, get out and walk. Carry nothing but yourself but carry yourself well - and don't worry. If you slip up today, there is always tomorrow.

Best Wishes,

Eileen Fowler

SLIMMING FROM THE MAN'S POINT OF VIEW

In a man's world a light-hearted approach to slimming is more likely to be successful than serious denial, as sensible eating and exercise are not usually his favourite subjects. he will joke about being overweight while fully realising the importance of keeping it down. Long hours spent sitting in an office chair or other sedentary occupations tend to tire the brain and exhaust the body, leaving him disinclined to take kindly to anything but the food and drink he likes in order to relax.

The pace of life today with its attendant stresses and strains can have a lasting effect on the way we look and feel and it's essential to counteract this in the best way we can. If overweight and the ensuing lack of vitality and energy is a problem , what better way than to Enjoy Your Slimming. Near starvation and tiring work-outs are out of date, and the more relaxed and healthy way to combat spreading and tension is in. It's a question of application. When eating out, study the menu carefully and choose as far as possible according to the suggestions given on List 1. If you really want Ma's apple pie, have it - not too much and not too often, and you won't feel deprived. of course you will want a drink, but the odd tomato juice can be useful. Drink, if and when you need it - or the occasion demands.

Figurewise - take a look at these diagrams and cut this exercise bogey down to size. concentrate on two areas - chest/shoulders and back for good posture, and you will never walk head first, but stay straight and tall. Work on the tummy muscles for control and you will look and feel better. try the following three exercises - Side 1. The Wall Game, Hairpin Bend and Arm Circling, Touch Toe. With a bit of help from the family regarding food, you will be slimmer and fitter and it's quite painless.


What I Say

I have this indistinct memory of seeing black and white footage from the early 50s of pert young girls in pointy bras and gym knickers doing healthy, wholesome exercises - presumably to keep them sound of morals and fit for whichever young buck they might marry, settle down with and make a home for. Assuming that this isn't just some figment of my fevered imagination, the work presented here by Eileen Fowler would be the perfect soundtrack to such a film.

Eileen is a no-nonsense woman. Oh, she seems friendly enough with her occasional chuckles and chummy manner, but the authority in her voice commands you to follow her instructions immediately and to the letter. There's a schoolma'am quality that marks her out for an ideal P.E. teacher in Malory Towers.

It turns out though that Eileen was a very sensible woman who spent her life crusading to get people fitter and eating more healthily. Perhaps it is this campaigning zest which fires the authority I mentioned. Yet that is forgiveable when you realise that what she's trying to do is improve people's lives. If there had been more people spreading Eileen's message a bit earlier, we might not be facing the supposed 'obesity crisis'. What's more important is that we might have been spared endless fitness DVDs of pneumatic 'lovelies' in lycra.

This album clearly focuses on the exercises - simple things that you can do at home. No equipment is needed, just a willingness to obey Eileen's commands at a moments notice. She whizzes through the exercises, and leaves it a bit late with the instructions. I have to admit, I haven't actually tried any of the exercises, not least because I know that a combination of my unco-ordinatedness and her late instructions would lead to an unsightly tangle. However, this isn't just about exercise. We are handily presented with two lists in the sleeve notes - food to eat lots of and food to avoid where possible. Unsurprisingly, the former is full of fruit, vegetables, fish and Ryvita whole-grain (OK, that last bit's a lie, but you get the picture), and the latter list seems to be a foretelling of my diet - chocolate, fried foods, biscuits, alcohol, and really anything that makes life worth living.

I would have assumed that this was common knowledge, even in 1977, but I really don't know. But that's the main feature of this record - it seems anachronistic, even for such unenlightened times as the late seventies. If this album had been produced in 1954 it would seem perfectly natural, but to think that it was produced in my lifetime makes it seem alien. To be fair, this record was a tie-in with Eileen's series of the same name on Radio 4's "Today" programme. I suspect that those listening to Radio 4 in 1977 thought it was still 1954.

As with that Peter Powell exercise album, it's hard to pick out any individual tracks, so instead I've compiled just a few of my favourite soundclips. I'm very pleased to know how to avoid a 'Dowager's Hump' thanks to Eileen's sound advice. Now, can anyone tell me what a Dowager's Hump actually is?

 


Sound Clips

Tracks

Side 1

1. The "Wall Game" For A Slimming Stretch 
2. "Hairpin Bend" For Tummy Muscles
3. "Circle Touch Toe" For Arms, Chest, Shoulders and Back.
4. Sequence - Repeat all three exercises linking them together 

Side 2

1. See Saw Stretch For Waistline And Knees
2. "Roll And Reach" For Tummy, Seat And Hips
3. "Rolling Pin Roll" To Fine Down Your Figure (sic)
4. Sequence - Repeat all three exercises linking them together and improvising to the extra music

Final score:

1954 out of 10

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Carl Gibson - Chapter One

Label / Cat. No: Ebony Records - ERC1 
First Released: 1978 

What The Album Blurb Says...

Carl Gibson, being of Cherokee Indian descent, is one of the most fiercely independent men I know, (this being a typical Indian trait). He created this record almost entirely alone and unaided. It has been my privilege to witness a great talent at work. His "Sessions" in the studio would make good writing for a "Best Seller" alone. His moods during the recording, the anguish when he fell short of his aims, his great elation when "things" went right. He is voted by Opinion Poll as one of the World's leading "Country Fingerstyle Guitarists", to me, after watching him, this is an understatement!!! His Vocal Range is second to none. To see him "LIVE" is sensational, but it's impossible to appreciate his great talent by just one or even two performances. He created this Album with just his voice, one electric guitar, one acoustic guitar, bass and a tambourine, and his deep determination to 'achieve'. Well, he certainly has achieved, in this case, a more beautiful portrayal of Vocal and Instrumental talent than I've ever heard in this field before. His outstanding arrangements of 'Ghost Riders' and 'Skip-a-Rope" are, I'm sure, going to be among the biggest hits in the field of Country, since they were first written two decades ago. I may add at this stage, that he puts great store by his choice of sound engineer Des Bennett, the only other person to work with Carl on the Album. He acknowledges Des to be certainly one of the best in Britain today...

Carl has just one particular life-long friend who has recently become his co-producer and adviser, Jeff Purnell. In General Production, Research, Publicity Promotions and the fiercely competitive field of Marketing, Jeff has no equal! He handles all of these with a quiet but extremely powerful driving force, as well as being an influence on Carl, which proves a steadying effect. Every decade carries a provincial "Star Maker". I believe Jeff Purnell to be in this category.

"Chapter One" can only pave the way to Chapter Two, Chapter Th.....

WATCH FOR THEM....

PATTI NOBLE


What I Say

I would have thought it a pretty basic requirement that the person writing your sleeve notes should probably like you. It can only help to sell your record if you get a kind word or two extolling your virtues, and saying what a great singer / musician / human being you are. At first glance, it seems that Patti Noble is doing a fantastic job at selling Carl Gibson - if you take the gushing prose at face value, you'd think that here was a talent unparalleled in the Country Music field, that Patti had discovered a new Dylan or McCartney.

But look a bit closer. He's described variously as 'fiercely independent' (read: stubborn, awkward and impossible to work with), has only one life-long friend (is anti-social), and needs a 'steadying effect' (is difficult to manage). Underneath the high praise, I think that Patti's had just about all she can of Carl's artistic temperament, and this is her chance to let the world know what he's really like. She'd have been more honest if she'd just scrawled 'I think this man is an absolute shit' across the back of the album.

Oh well, I can't vouch for his character, but I hardly think it's surprising that a Cherokee might harbour a tendency towards fierce independence. You can hardly blame them.

Of course, talk about Native American musicians, and thoughts turn immediately to Jimmy Carl Black. What do you mean who? Jimmy Carl Black was a member of Frank Zappa's original 'Mother's of Invention' which in my eyes elevates him to hero status without question. Oops - I've given to much away. Anyway, my mate Shaun, through a series of 'too complicated to go into now circumstances' once let Jimmy sleep in his bed. Jimmy duly thanked Shaun by autographing his toilet door. When Shaun then moved house from Haringey to Lewes, the door moved with them. Some poor sod bought a nice house in London without a toilet door all because of Frank Zappa's drummer.

Well, it's not much of an anecdote, but at least it's 100% true. And besides, it's curious to notice that Carl and Jimmy share a moustache. Well, I don't mean they have one between them, but they both wear the same style. I am ignorant of Indian ways, so I can't venture an opinion as to whether it's part of their cultural heritage, but personally I think it's probably just a coincidence.

Anyway, back to the album. I think it was a brave assertion of Patti Noble's that this 'Chapter One' would pave the way for future Chapters. I have to say, I've scoured the internet, and I can't find any mention of Carl, let alone of Chapter's Two, Three or beyond. I assume it's safe to say that this was pretty much it, and that it failed to live up to the high ambitions that Carl held. It also strikes me that this being record catalog number ERC1 that this was probably something of a vanity project, and that Ebony Records didn't survive (in this incarnation at least) very much after this album was released.

I mean, Carl has an OK voice - he can hold a tune which is more than I can. He seems to have quite a range, demonstrated in 'Ghost Riders' and 'Rose Marie' where the high notes are frankly scary. His guitar picking is fine. What more can I say? It's fine. 

But this album doesn't make any kind of statement. It's a competent musician playing it safe with a pile of standards. There's no individuality, nothing to make this stand out against the other countless covers of 'Ruby' (Don't Take Your Love To Town) or 'Rose Marie'. I'm not searching for endless novelty, and there's no point in change for the sake of it, but I think it goes some way to explaining why Carl Gibson isn't remembered as an outstanding international artist. There is no character or personality in this album. It's just those same old songs. Again.

If there is anything that marks this album out, it's that Carl has a tendency to sound anguished. Yes, he does anguished very well. The cries of 'Johnny , remember me' closing the song of the same name takes that 60s schlock to a whole new level. But this anguish is best demonstrated on 'Scarborough Fair', my favourite track from this album. The 'remember me to one who lives there' no longer sounds like a request to send your best wishes, but an animal response to being forgotten by your true love. It actually made me stop in my tracks and listen, which was a nice contrast to the rest of the album.

If only he hadn't followed it by an overly jangly and jolly version of 'Ring of Fire'. The fool.

No Carl Gibson, I'm afraid, so here's the original JCB instead...

Sound Clips

Tracks

 

Side 1

 

1. Ghost Riders
2. Okie From Muskogee
3. Fight'n Side Of Me
4. Scarborough Fair
5. Ring of Fire
6. Johnny Remember Me
7. Bobbie Magee

Side 2

1. Skip-a-Rope
2. There'll Never Be
3. Rose Marie
4. Ruby
5. Lonesome Me
6. Spanish Eyes
7. Phoenix Arizona

Final score:

3 out of 10, (2 points for Scarborough Fair, 1 for Johnny Remember Me)

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The Best of Robert Wilson

Label / Cat. No: Starline SRS 5134 
First Released: Unknown - possibly early 70s, but recorded from at least 1943

What The Album Blurb Says...

Robert Wilson was born in a Glasgow suburb in 1909 and from a very early age had the burning ambition to become a singer.

He first broke into the entertainment world when he bacame a memeber of a concert party at Rothsay, on the Isle of Bute. While savouring the applause that these rather small beginnings brought him, he had the good sense to realise that he needed years of study and hard work to reach the top of his chosen profession. To this end he joined and stayed with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company for several years, touring America, Canada and Great Britiain, and from this he gained vast experience which was most valuable to his future career. In 1939 he decided that the time had come for him to enter the Variety scene as a solo artist - and how right his judgement proved to be. What with his magnificent voice, charming personality and superb stage presentation his success was almost immediate, and he soon became 'top of the bill' wherever he appeared. Not only was he starred in every medium of the entertainment world, but he was particularly acclaimed by exiled Scots both near and far who, like those in the Homeland, saw in his grand voice and fine physique the very embodiment of a true son of Scotland. No one wore the Kilt more proudly or better than he.

Much to the regret of all who heard him, Bob Wilson, as he was affectionately known to his many friends, died in 1964, but there remains a wealth of those great Scottish songs which he recorded during his lifetime and for which we have received many requests. The fourteen songs presented in this album illustrate why his was generally acclaimed to be "The voice of Scotland". 

T.D.
What I Say

There's one thing that the Scots are very good at. Actually, before I get myself into trouble, I should point out that I'm sure that there are lots of things that Scots are good at. Lots and lots. Really. But one area in which they excel is being Scottish. I mean proper, professionally Scottish. How many 'professional' Welsh or Irish people can you think of? Max Boyce, Daniel O'Donnel, Terry Wogan maybe... People for whom one of their distinguishing features is their nationality. OK, now think of professional English people. I'll give you Steven Fry, and I'll accept David Niven, even though he's dead. Any more...? No, see. And yet without putting any real effort into it, the Scots can proudly boast The Proclaimers, Billy Connolly, Moira Anderson, Harry Lauder, Sean Connery, Carol Smillie, and of course, the Krankies. OK, that may be stretching the definition of 'proudly boast', but I hope you get my point.

 

They say that the most Scottish part of Scotland is just over the border from England, where the difference between countries is clearly marked. Tartan and Saltires everywhere. It seems that the Scots have a very clear cultural identity, and the business nous to translate that into profitable entertainment. Our Robert Wilson (or Bob, as we must call him) falls strictly into this 'Professionally Scottish' category. You only have to look at the album cover to know what you're getting. A burly man in a skirt, sorry, a kilt, his face red from the harsh highland wind rolling off the moors and the whisky he has on his porridge. His pose is also extremely Scottish, though I can't quite figure out why. I assume it's meant to reflect Bob about to launch into a Highland Fling - right hand tucked in his belt, left knee slightly raised. Tunic and tie making him look like a policeman about to knee some poor suspect in the knackers. Delightful.

 

And the songs don't disappoint. Well, they do if you don't like maudlin songs about your wet, dour homeland, but let's assume for a moment that they're the very reason you bought this album. The choice of songs is absolutely perfect. It's 'The Greatest Scottish Songs In The Whole World Ever' for our parent's generation. Some of the arrangements however are... well, on the camp side of traditional, shall we say. When I first listened to 'Scotland The Brave' (which you'd expect to be the standout track here), I was transported back to a Saturday evening in the 70s, with the Two Ronnies about to do their musical number dressed as a pair of Highland Infantrymen making suggestive songs about Gay Gordons. The arrangement is pure Ronnie Hazlehurst. Actually, it is the standout track on the album, because it's the only one that sounds vaguely happy or interesting. The rest conjure up a wet Wednesday in Aberdeen with incredibly clarity.

 

The problem is that I don't think Bob sings very well. His voice, described elsewhere on this internet of ours as a 'rich baritone' sounds to my uneducated ears as a thin, weedy and reedy baritone. That doesn't even always hold the tune particularly well. This album was released after he'd died. I have to wonder if it was also recorded then too....

 

This man was called 'The Voice Of Scotland' which is a bit worrying. I could accept 'The Voice of Arbroath' which would allow for bigger and better voices to represent the nation. So don't judge the Scots too harshly. Though I do wonder who's the 'Ears of Scotland'. 

 

However, I do have one small niggle. From 1997 to 1999 I lived in Galway, and I'm sure, absolutely positive that it was on the West Coast of Ireland, and not in Scotland. It seems therefore that this song is an IMPOSTER, and should be removed immediately. Unless they're playing the Celtic card, in which case of course, everything is fair game.

 

 

By the way, our Bob Wilson, is not this Bob Wilson, one time goalie for Arsenal...

Nor is he this Bob Wilson, who's an English Lecturer, and posessor of one of the finest hair confections known to man...

And this is the Krankies. I think the Scottish Government should apologise immediately.

Sound Clips

Tracks

 

Side 1

 

1. Westering Home
2. Scotland The Brave
4. Down In The Glen
5. Bonnie Mary Of Argyle
6. Marchin' Thru' The Glen
7. The Black Watch

 

Side 2

 

1. The Gay Gordons
2. The Road To The Isles
3. Hills O' The Clyde
4. Galway Bay
5. My Love Is Like A Red, Red Rose
6. The Gathering Of The Clans
7. My Scottish Homeland.

 

Final Score


4 out of 10

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Maralene Powell - Just For You

Label / Cat. No: Cambrian MCT 219 

First Released: 1972 

 

What The Album Blurb Says...

 

Maralene Powell made her first record as a solo artiste. Her second recording was in comapny with Gareth Edwards who for a brief moment exchanged the rugby field for the sound studio.

 

In this, her first album, Maralene presents a collection of songs which are as varied in subject as they are melodic in nature.

 

Family music at the fireside has been usurped in past decades by radio and television, but these technical wonders are now commonplace and making one's own music is becoming a rediscovered pleasure. This is indeed a talented family for in this record Maralene is joined by her brother and sister, Aubrey and Denise and her brother in law - John. The quiet mid Wales valley of Pantydwr must often echo to their songs.

 

"Amazing Grace" cannot be too frequently recorded for each singer brings something new to the listener. The Gentlemen Songsters who join Maralene in this version with such effect are too well known to need introduction. "Morning has Broken" is an old melody which lingers in the mind long after the echoes have died away.

 

This is a collection of ballads and folk songs, some old and some new. "Love is Teasing" is from the distant past while "Deportee" underlines how cheaply human life is sometimes held in the modern world.

 

Together they are a collection without a theme - unless what ordinary people feel and experience is thematic. Maralene is already well known on record and in concert, but this is the first recording of the Four P's and it must widen even further their circle of admirers.

 

What I Say

 

In light of the fact that the Taffs had a lucky victory on Saturday, I thought it only right we should look at one of their countryfolk for today's outing. And so we have the lovely Maralene Powell, a farmer's daughter from Pantydwr in Radnorshire. I'm not sure Radnorshire even exists any more, though there is a pub just a stone's throw from here called the Radnorshire Arms. See, a little background colour for you there.

 

Although it's ostensibly a Maralene album, the full title is Just For You - Maralene Powell and the Four P's sing a selection of folk and country songs for your pleasure. And I thought Script For A Jester's Tear was enough of a mouthful. These 'Four P's' confuse me though. There's a picture of them on the front, matching Salmon pink tops, flares armed and dangerous, and rolling Welsh landscape behind. And I think Maralene is one of the Four Ps. It certainly looks like her, and the sleeve notes refer to how Maralene is "joined by her brother and sister, Aubrey and Denise and her brother in law - John". That makes three other people, Maralene being the fourth. So why is it Maralene AND the Four Ps. Surely it's either 'The Four Ps' or 'Maralene and the Three Ps'. Surely Maralene is being counted twice. I shouldn't let it bother me, but this is exactly the kind of thing that keeps me awake at night.

 

I've just noticed that on the back of the album it says it's called 'Maralene Powell with the Four "P's" and the Gentlemen Songsters present a selection of Folk and Country songs for your pleasure. Seems like everybody's getting in on the credits. Good job they didn't put that on the cover of the album, or there wouldn't have been enough room for that lovely picture of Maralene looking foxy.

 

The songs are a bit of an odd mix. Understandably, given the nature of the Welsh, there are a few religious songs on here - 'Tramp On The Street' stood out for likening the treatment of Jesus to the death of an unloved Tramp. On The Street. A strange comparison to make, but at least I remembered it! Amazing Grace is handled well, and the Male Voice Choir, sorry, the 'Gentlemen Songsters' make sure you know this is a Welsh record. But the version of Morning Has Broken struck me as a little... off. The pianist and the guitarist seemed hesitant, and not quite sure when to come in to best compliment the vocals. It leads me to believe (though I may be completely wrong) that the song was recorded 'live' in the studio.

 

I do have a few concerns though with the choice of songs. Firstly, there is a tendency on this side of the Atlantic to believe that Country songs hold some meaning for us. They don't. Really. It's nice to listen to, and I've learned over the last few years to love Country music, but there is something so very wrong about a singer from North Wales telling me about her Louisiana home, and how the cotton crop has done this year. I'm not saying you have to stick to what you know and sing about daffodils and leeks, but there is only a certain degree of credulity I can muster, and it stops short of believing you're a prairie flower.

 

What causes me more of a worry are the two songs that start side two - 'Love Is Teasing' and 'I Will Never Marry' - they both carry the same message, which is that men are feckless bastards who will get what they want from you, then cast you aside. You can't trust them, so don't waste your time on them. I shant comment further, only to suggest that maybe Maralene had one or two boyfriend issues at the time....? Mere speculation....

 

We also have a rendition of 'Nobody's Child', a song last seen on Tony Best - By Request, and of such awful sludgy sentimentality that it makes me nauseous just to think about it. It's a song about how the narrator goes to an orphanage and finds a blind boy who nobody wants (because he's blind, obviously), and how said blind orphan believes he'd be better off dead because at least in Heaven he'd be able to see. This really is the most unpleasant song I think I've heard since No Charge. Yes, it's really that bad.

 

The record is released on Cambrian Recordings, a label I hadn't come across at all before, and one that has a strong Welsh pedigree, boasting Max Boyce and Mary Hopkin as signed artists.

Maralene's voice is rather lovely. It has that pure, clean tone that was so favoured in folk circles in the 60s and 70s. That may however have been her downfall in that while the voice is technically good, it doesn't ( to my ears at least) stand out above the other recording artists of the time. There's absolutely nothing wrong with it, but it lacks that distinctive edge that could elevate it into wider public recognition.

 

Equally, the album doesn't have a focus - had it been an album of religious songs or an album of standards, it might have fared better, but it seems to lack identity as one or the other, and so ends up a bit of a hodge podge. That's not to say I won't be listening to it again. But you can be sure I'll be skipping Nobody's sodding Child.

 

 

Sound Clips

Tracks

 

Side 1

 

(This is, by the way, the first album that I have ever seen that listed it's tracks a, b, c.)

 

(a) Amazing Grace

(b) Morning Has Broken

(c) See That Little Boy

(d) Deportee

(e) There But For Fortune

(f) Tramp On The Street

 

Side 2

 

(a) Love Is Teasing

(b) I Never Will Marry

(c) Nine Hundred Miles

(d) Country Girl

(e) Cotton Fields

(f) Nobody's Child

 

Final score:

 

6.75 out of 10

2017 Bonus - More album art of Maralene looking even foxier.  Wowsers.

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Man of Brass - The Best Of Harry Mortimer O.B.E.

Label / Cat. No: EMI DUO130 
First Released: This Compilation 1981 

What the Album Blurb says is here - Be warned, it's very, very long!

 

What I Say

I think we need to talk about the blurb for a bit. Did you read all of it? No? I'm not surprised. Bit much really. I think it's fair to say that the author, Jack Oliver was given a brief to fill out the inner sleeve of a gatefold album, and he has done so. However, apart from the tedious repetition of how great Harry was and how fantastic the EMI recordings of his work are, one thing becomes painfully obvious. As we go on and on, the grammar becomes more and more tortured. Allow me to give you an example from the final quarter of the blurb:-

It was featured in a notable series of EMI records and a taste of the superb quality of the band is provided by their performance of the suite KENILWORTH by Sir Arthur Bliss, one of the classics of brass band literature, recorded in 1960 which appears on side 2 of the second record of this album.

I suspect that the deadline came round a bit quick for Mr Oliver, and he found himself the night before, hunched over his typewriter, desperate to fill the blank page before him. It started well enough, but as the night wore on, and our Jack started to tire, the language got more and more tortured.

But, bless him, he managed it, and he even used the UNEXPECTED CAPITALS trick that I'm so fond of. It works particularly well when confronted with things like "ALL-STAR BRASS", making it seem exotic, exciting and mysterious...!

But we can easily sum up this massive amount of blurb in the following way.

Harry Mortimer played the cornet. He started playing in his Dad's band, and continued to play in his Dad's band in an example of crass nepotism. He could hold a tune, better than most, and played in both brass bands and orchestras. He kept busy, had a job with the BBC for a while, and helped to popularise brass band music in the post war years. He organised the odd extravaganza like "MEN O'BRASS" where his maxim was clearly more is more, and he chucked together all the bands he worked with so that there was a big crowd of blokes playing brass instruments instead of a small crowd. Here are some recordings. They were made by EMI. Enjoy. Oh, and he also did a bit of conducting on the side.

See. That wasn't too hard was it. But no, instead we had to have Jack Bloody Oliver going on and on about 'Harry Mortimer' always bloody 'Harry Mortimer', never just Harry, or Mr Mortimer, or even Hazza. No. I shan't let it get to me. But really...

So, where was I? Oh yes, Brass Band music. It seems, as it goes, Harry Mortimer was a bit of a fan, and that's fair enough. But I'm not. I'm afraid I was put off by my next door neighbour, James Hearn. When we were children, he would practise his bloody trumpet every Saturday morning, without fail, starting at 9 o'clock and going on for a couple of hours. Yes, exactly. Prime Tiswas time, ruined by a trumpet. To be fair, it wasn't his fault, and he was very good at it (or at least, he became very good at it, though not as good as Hazza, of course...), but that put me off brass as a whole. 

Therefore, I'm not really in a very good position to tell you whether this is a good brass album or not. It certainly seems very... professional. There's lots of brass, a few tunes we know, and plenty we don't. So I'm going to have to take the middle ground here and just say it's OK.

And what have we learnt?

Well..... firstly, that Brass Bands all appear to have double entendre names like 'Black Dyke' and 'Fairey'.

Secondly, there is (or at least was) a whole thriving brass band community, one that probably was damaged irrevocably by the closure of the mines in the 80s. Which reminds me - if anyone out there hasn't seen Brassed Off, they probably should.

Thirdly, there was a composer called 'Granville Bantock'. I wish I'd called my child Granville Bantock. I promise that if I ever get a dog, that's what I shall call it. And he was a fine looking fellow too. Proper beard - the works...

Fourthly, you can go a long way if your Dad's leader of the band.

And finally, Harry Mortimer, the 'Man Of Brass' himself does indeed look like a cleaned up version of Father Jack Hackett...

Edited to add - Thanks to Gareth for pointing out that Harry Mortimer also looks like Rowley Birkin QC....

Oh, and of course, I couldn't leave an entry on Brass Bands without this now, could I....?

Sound Clips

Tracks

Side 1

1. Overture: ZAMPA

2. MAC AND MORT

3. RICHMOND HILL

4. Polka Brillante: SHYLOCK

5. ALPINE ECHOES

6. IL BACIO

7. CHAMPION MEDLEY MARCH No. 3

Side 2

1. TRUMPET CONCERTO IN E FLAT

2. ZELDA

3. HAILSTORM

4. THE SWALLOWS SERENADE

5. A HUNTING MEDLEY

Side 3

1. OPENING FANFARE

2. THE THREE TRUMPETERS

3. Suite: KENILWORTH

4. JENNY WREN

5. THE SHEPHERD'S SONG

6. THE LOST CHORD

7. RADETSKY MARCH

Side 4

1. BLAZON

2. RIDE OF THE VALKYRIES

3. TO A WILD ROSE

4. Overture: THE BARBER OF SEVILLE

5. SPRING (Elegiac Melody No. 2)

6. JESU, JOY OF MAN'S DESIRING (from Cantata No. 147)

7. GALOP AND FINALE (from the William Tell Overture)

Final score:

5 out of 10

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Elaine and Derek

Label / Cat. No: Parlophone PMC 1160 
First Released: 1961 

What The Album Blurb Says...

Fairly bursting with confidence and talent are Elaine and Derek Thompson, the thirteen-year-old twins from Belfast, who have been busy lately making a name for themselves with their records and television appearances.

Born on October 23, 1948, Derek is ten minutes older than Elaine - "and very proud of the fact," says his mother. They both attend Belfast Modern School where everyone is very excited about their popularity and success: it appears that the only two calm people in the school are Elaine and Derek themselves!

"We've been singing since we were six years old," says Elaine, who always takes charge of the situation, "at socials, parties and charity concerts, so I think this is why we don't feel nervous about singing before large audiences and in recording studios. It's Mum and Dad who suffer for us while we just get very excited. We don't sing rock 'n' roll, but we enjoy listening to it - it amuses us. Gene Vincent is one of our favourite performers; we like the way he flings himself around the microphone on stage!"

At school the twins' favourite subjects are French and algebra. They are not madly keen on sport, and all their spare time is taken up with singing. In fact they allow themselves little or no time to enjoy the hobbies and amusements that children usually like.

The twins were introduced to promoter Phil Raymond by a friend, when they were singing at a party one evening,. Raymond liked their voices and within a short time he booked them to appear at the Belfast Opera House with Gene Vincent and Emile Ford.

Recording manager Norman Newell was told about tht twins and flew to Belfast to hear them, with the result that they travelled to London and the E.M.I. studios to record their first disc for Parlophone Records - One Little Robin and Brahms' Lullaby (45-R4783). This proved so popular that before long they returned to cut another single - Bluebird, coupled with Wooden Heart (45-R4829) - and this delightful LP of twelve children's hymns, to the sensitive accompaniment of Michael Collins and his Orchestra.


What I Say


Hmmmm.... this album is rather like an onion. It has so many layers, and there's something new to discover underneath, but all the layers are really the same, and it makes me cry when you cut it up, and it makes a delicious base for most savoury meals. OK, so I didn't think out my metaphor very well before I started, but this album holds a few surprises, which aren't at first apparent.

For example, as is my practice, I chose the album on the qualities of its cover alone. Although first released in 1961, the influence of the 50s is still clear to see, from the typeface used on their names, to the formal outfits and hairdos of the twins. Dereks frilly fronted shirt and hand-made slacks (see, always the slacks) provide a formal accompaniment to his sisters frilly, fussy party dress with faux-pearl buttons and sewn on corsage.

What I didn't know when I picked up the album is that this is full of Children's hymns. Twelve songs that are supposed to uplift and convince children of the glory of god. But is it really aimed for children? I have a sneaking suspicion that the market for this kind of album is the grannies of this world. I have a clear image of a grey haired granny settling down in her favourite armchair to listen to 'those wonderful Irish children' sing about Jesus. And it must've been a comfort, for in 1961 when this record was released, rock 'n' roll was shaking the foundations, but just so long as teenagers were singing about Jesus and not girls and cars, then there was hope for the future.

And this album has been well loved. Unlike most of the records that I pick up which are in pristine condition, this is worn and scratched, with jumps, pops and hisses all over it. Someone has played this album over and over again. Either that, or they hated it so much they've used it as a dinner plate.... but I'm sticking with my doting Granny theory.

I'm also surprised at how happy they both seem to be. If you'd asked me at thirteen to stand next to my sister to have my photo taken, let alone smile, or - horror of horrors - touch her, I would have sulked and made the most unattractive of photographs. But here we have true professionals. They both look happy, relaxed, almost like they like each other. That's not normal in a teenager, is it?

Now, I know in my review of The Kaye Family that I suggested that there was something weird about families playing together, (although I did qualify that about it being weird across the generations), but there is one clear benefit of families singing together. I've heard it suggested that the reason why the Beach Boys, the Proclaimers and the Bee Gees do harmony so well, is because that they have similar physical vocal structures, as well as similar accents and similar tonality to their voices. Because they've grown up in the same environment, their voices sound very similar, and you end up with harmony not just of notes, but also of tone. (I am of course bluffing here, but don't tell anyone...) The same applies here - the songs sound sweet because the two voices compliment each other very well.

That's another thing. In a world where we are so used to our child stars being brash to the point of obnoxious, precocious and schmaltzy, the gentle sweetness of these two is quite refreshing. It's not my kind of music at all, either in subject matter or musical style, but there is something very calming and gentle about the way they sing together which is unexpectedly lovely.

Derek tends to sing the lower parts (unsurprisingly) with a fairly linear melody, while Elaine tackles the more complex melody lines. It's a traditional arrangement, but it works here. The songs I've picked for the clips are all much of a much - I just chose the ones I knew - there isn't a great amount of variety in this album, it must be said.

I wonder how annoyed Derek was though, that although he is chronologically and alphabetically first, that his name came second in the billing. That must've hurt, though it does say clearly on the sleeve notes that Elaine is in charge. I wonder if she made that business decision.

But who's laughing now, eh? For while Elaine has subsided into obscurity (I say that like I know - for all I know, Elaine could be a major star under another name....) Derek, the mighty Derek of Elaine and Derek grew up to be one of England's favourite TV stars.

Yes, this was the biggest surprise that this album yielded for me. When I started doing my 'research' (assuming a bit of googling can be counted as research) for this album, I discovered that this album's Derek is......
.....
Charlie Fairhead 'off of' Casualty. It really is. Look.... proof and everything.

HOW FANTASTIC IS THAT??

Tracks

 

Side 1

1. There's A Friend For Little Children
2. O What Can Little Hands Do
3. When Mother Of Salem
4. How Great Thou Art
5. Standing Somewhere In Life's Shadows
6. Jesus Loves Me


Side 2

1. Gentle Jesus Meek And Mild
2. Stranger Of Galilee
3. I Am So Glad That Jesus Loves Me
4. Who Is He In Yonder Stall
5. Jesus Tender Shepherd
6. Nearer My God To Thee


Final score:

7 out of 10

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The Kaye Family - Live!!

Label / Cat. No: Hirra HLS 207831 
First Released: 1974 

What The Album Blurb Says...

The Kaye Family must surely rank as unique among musical entertainers. Mother, Father, Daughter and Son, whilst each projecting strong individual qualities in their respective talents, merge into a blendship of melodic unity, which is smoothly maintained throughout a warm and appealing performance.

Audience attention is commanded by supreme musicianship, smack on timing that would do justice to a space shot and a superb arranging ability. Deeply insighted into people's requirement in entertainment, they have the happy gift of presenting the very best material covering a spectrum from light to popular music.

This intimate family unit, small as it is, nevertheless produces the big sound.

The skillful change of immaculate gowns, by the ladies who supply the vocals, compliments their splendid harmony.

There is nothing magical in their success, just hard unrelenting work, dedication to their art and that impelling desire in all true professionals to bring and give only of the best to the people.

Ringing the curtain down on The Kaye Family is a difficult task, the clamour is always for more.

Call your own family together, set the turntable to 33 1/3 r.p.m. and be assured that you too will spin this disc many times.

DICK DOYLE
Gwaun-Cae-Gurwen
South Wales


What I Say

Can I get this out of the way first. Musical family groups are creepy. From the Von Trapp singers to The Jackson Five, there is something just so.... wrong about large members of the same family performing together. I think the optimum level is two brothers - just look at OasisSpacehog or The Black Crowes. Two brothers bring the necessary friction, the dynamic which pushes both to outperform and out achieve the other.

But just look at the Kaye Family. You know behind the bearded face at the keyboard lies a tartar. A man who has marshalled his wife and children into his dreams of stardom. "Sharon darling, we need another baby. We don't have a drummer. Brace yourself...".

And this is the result.... I'm saying nothing.

To be fair, the family are all talented musicians (in their own way), but how many teenagers would a) voluntarily practice their musical instruments, b) want to spend large amounts of their free time rehearsing with their parents, and c) appearing in public, not only with your parents, but wearing the same clothes as them. I can only imagine the number would be very small, which means that either the Kaye Family are one in a million, or Old Man Kaye beats his children in time to the 'Rumba' setting on his organ.

Of course he doesn't. I think legally I need to make it clear that I do not believe that Mr Kaye in any way mistreats his family. Though of course, he does mistreat the audience with his organ led arrangements. The Rumba is his favourite setting (NOT for beating his family, NOT for beating his family - I can't stress that enough), as everything has that very 1970s latin arrangement to try and make them sound exotic and mysterious. I'm not sure how exotic and mysterious the Canton Liberal Club, Cardiff on a June night in 1974 really was, but I'm sure the Kaye Family helped the atmosphere along enormously.

These are clearly a band who've done the club circuit. They belt out the numbers double fast, not giving the audience the chance to catch their breath, throw missiles or shout insults. Just listen to the introduction and see how long it takes them to launch into the fastest version of 'Cabaret' that you will ever, ever hear. And 'Aquarius' gets the same treatment. Be still my racing heart, it's all that I can do to keep my breath.

I've often found that if you listen carefully to a lot of these old albums I find, you can often find one of the musicians, there in the background, just itching to be allowed a chance to break free and really show what he can do. You don't have to look too hard on this album to find that member of the group. The son (let's call him Jim. I have no idea what his name is, but Jim seems as good as any) clearly toes the party line on the drums. His father's arrangements are strictly adhered to. But there seems to be a pay off. Maybe Jim's got something on his old man... some indiscretion maybe, or knowledge of a dark family secret. But clearly there is a deal been struck here. Jim plays his old man's parts to the letter, but he's allowed to let rip at the end of the songs. And by Jove does this boy let rip! Think Animal from The Muppets on steroids. Jim is up for some serious thrashing of those skins. So the gentle folk rhythms of 'Where Have All The Flowers Gone' end with Jim rockin' the house. And good on him I say.

Dad demands his moment in the spotlight, and gets a solo spot with his 'Short Selection of Famous Overtures', which I will just say is possibly the most tedious thing I have ever had to listen to. Although Jim livens it up a bit at the end in his own inimitable style. And then Jim gets to lead on 'Midnight In Moscow', and things start to go crazy. Seven Russian Themed songs in a medley with drums as lead instrument all the way. Magic in a tin it is, magic in a tin.

Ultimately, I can't blame them for the way they look, because it was 1974 so this was what was expected (even the silver capes, I suspect). I can't blame them for providing populist entertainment because they're doing the club circuit, and that's what's needed. I can't even blame them for being slightly creepy because they're a family, and unlike a lot of families, at least they're spending a lot of time together and doing something creative.

What I can blame them for is getting Dick Doyle to write their album blurb, and for using a word as obscene as 'blendship'. Eurghhh. What were they thinking?

Oh, and it turns out his name's not Jim. It's Adrian. I should have guessed. He looks like an Adrian.

 

Sound Clips

 

Tracks

 

Side 1

Cabaret
Put On A Happy Face
Something's Going To Happen Tonight
Love Me With All Your Heart
Quando Quando
Never Ending Song Of Love
Everybody Loves A Lover
High On A Hill
Where Have All The Flowers Gone?
Too Young

Side 2

Granada
White Rose Of Athens
A Short Selection Of Famous Overtures
Aquarius
Midnight In Moscow
Volga Boat Song
Gopak
Black Eyes
From Russia With Love
Kalinka


Final score:

6.5 out of 10 but only because I'm strangely drawn to their bass playing daughter...

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Joe Henderson - Join In With Joe

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, would we.

Sound Clips

Tracks

 

 

Side 1

1. Hold Me
2. Everybody Loves Somebody
3. I Love You Because
4. Together
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")

Side 2

1. The More We Are Together
2. Nice People
3. Who (from "Sunny)
4. On Top Of Old Smokey
5. Heartbreaker
6. Glad Rag Doll
7. Who's Sorry Now
8. Hole In the Bucket
9. Heart (from "Damn Yankees")
10. Heartaches
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


Final score:

2 out of 10

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Keep Fit and Dance with Peter Powell

Label / Cat. No: K-Tel INTL ONE1167
First Released: 1982

What The Album Blurb Says...

An Album to help you take shape and have fun while you’re doing it.

Exercising to your favourite music has proved to be one of the most successful and enjoyable ways of keeping fit.

Feel better and look good.

Keep Fit and Dance is precisely what it says. This album will give you a range of exercises you can do easily in your own home – either by yourself or with your friends or family.

The dance steps are fun to work out and you’ll find when you’ve learned them you can use them to very good effect in the disco or at parties.

One word of advice – don’t overdo it! Gradually build up the exercises as you feel fitter and more supple. Only do what you feel capable of doing.

Enjoy yourself.

*If you are in any doubt about your health or ability to do these exercises, you should consult your doctor before commencing the exercises.

What I Say

1982. What a heady year that was. E.T., The Falklands 'Conflict', The Commodore 64, Come On Eileen, T.J. Hooker, and, most importantly, Jane Fonda's very first 'Workout'.

Naturally, on this side of the pond we needed to find a British answer to this American type, trying to tell us how to exercise. A home grown role model to knock Hanoi Jane into a cocked hat. Who had the necessary gravitas, the long history of keep fit and the engaging personality to take on the future heavyweight of workout videos? Peter Powell, will you please step forward.

Yes, Peter Powell. That Peter Powell. It's sad to think that a man who was once one of our most highly regarded radio stars will forever be remembered as the man who married, and was left by, Anthea Turner...

 


...but we won't dwell on his marriage mistakes when we have this record in front of us. Oh no, we'll focus on his career ones. I think the problem here is that 'generally being a bit matey' isn't quite enough to compel people to start exercising. There is no authority from the man - he cajoles in a quaintly cheesy way, but there's no way you're going to listen to him and think,"oh, well I'd better start exercising then". No presence, you see.

Equally, I'm not convinced that Peter Powell at this point had ever been anywhere near a gym. His photo on the cover of him in a sweatshirt and wearing a towel casually round his shoulders isn't enough to convince me that he's a regular aerobics aficionado.

Speaking of which, it's interesting that this album (which only achieved number 13 on the British album charts for just the one week) was also released in America. Taking on La Fonda on her own turf, eh? I have no idea how well it did, but there is one interesting addition to the album:-

...it features the words 'Aerobic Dance Program' on the cover. Clearly the word 'Aerobic' hadn't made it to the UK at that point, but was a major selling point in the USA.

Anyway, as I was saying, I have no belief whatsoever that Peter Powell had even thought about joining a gym before this album, so his sports clothes and fake involvement annoy all the more. He's clearly in a sound booth, probably sitting in a nice comfy chair, telling the listeners 'I know it hurts' and then scoffing like a schoolgirl into his sleeve. The barrage of 'terrific's and 'great's really.... grates. The whole thing is so contrived.

See, at least with a video, you can see that the instructor / celebrity is actually doing the workout, and therefore has some kind of a bond with you. Having just a disembodied voice which, for all you know could be sat within reaching distance of a plate of doughnuts and a trifle, just doesn't inspire.

To make up for this lack of visuals, there is a free poster included which demonstrates all the moves that you should know for complete involvement with this record. Is it Peter himself, photographed in the various stages of exercise? No it sodding isn't. It's the same leotard-clad lovely who graces the cover in a range of clothes and hairstyles to try and convince us that K-Tel weren't so cheap that they would only pay for one model.

I'm not sure how helpful the static images are in getting you to do the right exercises, but here are the moves to the first routine.

 All in all I found this record fairly confusing. I've never indulged in 'keep fit' products in my life, and if this is in any way representative, then there's no chance of me ever getting involved. The instructions are confusing, they come too fast, Peter, for all his DJ skills seems to have little sense of rhythm or timing and the whole thing just seems a bit rushed. I imagine the results of trying this at home would be akin to something from the golden age of 'The Generation Game'.

I know we all need to exercise in these post-holiday girth-widening times, but take it from me, this album is not your friend.

As a final point, as the songs are secondary, with the exception of the 'Can-Can' which demonstrates the bizarre pace, nasty matiness and general weirdness of this album, the soundclips are just some of my favourite Peter Powellisms from this record. I'm sure they'll become your favourites too.

Sound Clips

Tracks

Side 1

1. The Shakedown (‘Use It Up and Wear It Out’) – A general warm up and de-tenser. A preparation for the exercises to come.
2. Firming The Body (‘Isn’t She Lovely’) – Firming exercise for the stomach and thighs.
3. Firming The Legs (‘Physical’) – Leg kicks and ‘bicycles’ for firm shapely legs.
4. Body Stretches (‘Body Talk’) – Let’s tone up some of those muscles that don’t get used too often.
5. Looseners (‘Ai No Corrida’) – You’ll be amazed what you can do with just the back of a chair for support!
6. Troublespots (‘Young and Beautiful’) – Waist, bottom, bust – you know the spots that need a little extra attention.

Side 2

1.The Energiser (‘Hooked on a Can Can’ – specially edited version) – A lighthearted track to ‘get some energy into your body’ – when you’re feeling very fit, play this track twice!
2. Absolute Collapse (‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’) – Rest for a few moments after the exertion of the last track and take a few deep breaths.

Now learn four simple dance sequences:-

3. The Strut (‘D.I.S.C.O.)
4. The Wrap (‘Celebration’)
5. The Rotor (‘Cuba’)
6. The Slice (‘Hands up’)
7. Danceability (‘Dance Yourself Dizzy’) Put all the steps together and enjoy yourself.

8. Relaxation (‘The Canon Suite’) – After the exercises a special time put aside for you to relax your body and mind.

Final score:

3.25 out of 10

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Chas & Dave's Christmas Carol Album

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. 

Sound Clips

Tracks

 

Side 1

 

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

 

Side 2

 

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

 

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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Tony Best - By Request

Label / Cat. No: Karma Records KZ1002LS

First Released: 1979

 

What The Album Blurb Says...

 

Here, at last, is the long awaited first album by Shropshire’s ‘Mr Entertainment’ Tony Best – and if you are reading this wondering whether or not to buy one, read no more. Buy it now! You won’t be disappointed.

 

Including as it does 14 of the songs for which he gets the most requests, all the songs are favourites ranging from old country music standards to recent chart hits for Larry Gatlin and Kenny Rogers. Add a few of Don Williams’ most popular songs, a couple of the best loved country gospel numbers and a fine version of the Bee Gees’ hit ‘Words’, and you have the recipe for a great album that will be eagerly snapped up by Tony Best’s many fans.

 

And you can count me as one of his biggest fans. Like many professional acts who travel all over Britain singing country music, I first met Tony when we appeared together a few years ago at a show in the small Shropshire village of Minsterley. I took an immediate liking to the warm, friendly personality of the man described as “22 stones of entertainment” – and what better description!

He was born in South Wales, entered the Forces straight from school, and served in the R.A.F. for twelve years, during which time he entertained in such places as Germany, Cyprus, Aden and the Persian Gulf. On leaving the service, Tony spent some time playing in groups, appearing in many different parts of the country. But it is since he came to live in the thriving Shropshire town of Shrewsbury that he has established himself as one of the most talented all-round entertainers in the business.

 

As a comedian, he will soon have you rocking with laughter – he was recently voted the winner of an award as ‘Comedian of the Year’ by Staffordshire and Cheshire Clubland; an excellent compere for any kind of show with the ability to get an audience with him from the first minute he walks on stage; a talented musician, usually playing accordion to back his own fine singing voice, and the versatility to entertain any type of audience, from a chidren’s party to a rugby club stag night.

This then is a brief look at the big man with the big talent, who is destined to be one of the big names in all-round entertainment, Tony Best. I am proud to have been asked by Tony to write these few words, and proud to know him as a friend.

 

Good Luck in everything you do, Tony, and here’s to continued success.

 

Tony Goodacre

 

What I Say

 

Oh what a fantastic find this is for so many reasons. I’ve mentioned before that I have a strict rule when choosing albums for review, and that is that I go by cover alone. I don’t allow anything to get in the way of that snap decision, not even reading the sleeve notes. So imagine my excitement when I found I’d got an album by a local artist, Shropshire being only 7 miles from my front door.

 

I can’t think of any other famous people from Shropshire except Percy Thrower, so history wasn’t really on Tony’s side in terms of heritage. After all, I’ve been to Minsterley village hall, and it’s really not the most auspicious of venues in which to be discovered.

 

The cover shows our Tony in a leather bomber jacket, looking for all the world like Arthur Scargill’s cheeky younger brother, his warm, avuncular face oozing reassurance. This is a man you can trust to deliver the goods. On the back of the album we get a full body shot of Tony standing next to an ornamental chair - relaxed pose, one hand on the back of the chair, the other tucked into his trouser pocket. His blue suit is buttoned up, but the lack of tie shows his devil-may-care attitude. The album is also autographed to ‘June & Jim’, who have clearly treasured this album since 1979, as it’s in mint condition.

 

My favourite aspect of this album is that the title and artist rhyme – Tony Best – By Request. I think that albums would be a lot more interesting in general if artists took more effort to rhyme their name with the album title. Who wouldn’t want to buy ‘On The Cover of Vogue’ by Kylie Minogue? Or ‘Playing With Dave In The Park’ by Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark. At the very least, you now have a game to while away long hours with the family over Christmas. Consider that my gift to you. You’re welcome.

 

I have doubts as to whether anyone would bill themselves these days as ’22 Stones of Entertainment’. It probably contravenes some kind of hate crime law, but this album hails from less enlightened times, and Tony’s size defines the man. Which makes it all the more surprising to find that he has quite a high register, coping admirably with the Bee Gees classic ‘Words’, and hitting a worryingly high final note on ‘I Don’t Want To Cry’.

 

Tony’s strengths are without doubt the country tunes. This whole work is dripping in country, whereby even the more rockin’ numbers have the benefit of steel guitars draped all over them (played, I might add, by the gloriously named ‘Slim Pickens’). This is a man who takes his Country Music seriously – and boy does he take it seriously (but of that more later….) His voice isn’t as bombastic as you might expect, though clearly a history of working the clubs comes through in some of the dramatics that his vocal melodies display. There’s a fragility in most of the songs here, but give him a standard like ‘The Old Rugged Cross’, and he turns in a polished and professional performance.

 

What we have here is a product of its times. It’s country music in the traditional mould. It’s not going to break down any barriers. But if you like your Country Music sung by a Welshman in Shropshire with a mid-Atlantic twang, then Tony really is your Best option.

 

Sorry.

 

Sound Clips

 

Tracks

 

Side 1

 

1. San Antonio Rose

2. You’re My Best Friend

3. Words

4. One Day At A Time

5. I Don’t Want To Cry

6. Turn Out The Light (Love Me Tonight)

7. The Old Rugged Cross

 

Side 2

 

1. Love – Or Something Like It

2. A Legend In My Time

3. Today I Started Loving You Again

4. Crazy

5. Some Broken Hearts Never Mend

6. Nobody’s Child

7. China Doll

 

Final score:

 

8.75 out of 10

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