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...
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.
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
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
8 out of 10
Label / Cat. No: Stereo Gold Award MER 336
First Released: 1971
What The Album Blurb Says...
Here's a dance party with two favourite ingredients - the great, nostalgic sounds of Glenn Miller and hit songs by The Beatles.
These sweet and swinging arrangements were written by Bill Holcombe (an old T. Dorsey sideman), who has taken these British bred hits and written the inimitable Glenn Miller style around them.
The Hiltonaires under the baton of Stan Reynolds are joined by the vocal stylings (a la Modernaires) of Tony Mansell and his group.
Here's big band at its best - with familiar hit songs.
What I Say
I apologise for going highbrow for a moment, but Samuel Johnson once wrote of women preachers, "Sir, a woman’s preaching is like a dog’s walking on his hinder legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all." If the great Dr. Johnson were alive today, I am convinced that he would have felt the same way about this album. Well, maybe 'convinced' is putting it a bit strongly, but I can understand this attitude entirely when applied to 'the big band beat of the Hiltonaires'.
Come with me for a moment into the future. The year is 2013, and someone decides to release an album of Coldplay songs performed in the Mel & Kim style. There'd be uproar, rioting in the streets and possibly the end of civilization as we know it. But back in 1971 this kind of evil alchemy was not just thinkable, it was actually happening.
It's of little surprise then that this was released on the 'Stereo Gold Award' label. To be fair, I was as much drawn to this album by the very fact that it was a Stereo Gold Award offering as I was by the fine bevy of 1970s lovelies on the cover. You may recall that Stereo Gold Award have already given us Big Dave who I exposed as a fraud and a charlatan. It seems that the label was owned by a chancer who just made cheap, cash-in rubbish, and this album certainly fits into that category.
There's just so much wrong with this album it's difficult to know where to begin. Well, for a start I'm confused as to why they actually included some Glenn Miller / Big Band tunes. After all, the album's called 'Dance to the Beatles Hits...) Does that mean you have to stop dancing when Moonlight Serenade comes on? It's preposterous I tell you. Is this a Beatles album? Is this a Glenn Miller album? Frankly I'm confused, and I suspect it shows.
And then there's the fact that these are two entirely different genres of music that simply do not fuse well together. I accept wholeheartedly the fact that the Beatles, and in particular Lennon & McCartney wrote classic, timeless songs which can withstand reinterpretation and have been covered, reasonably successfully many thousands of times. Which then begs the question how did they make these Beatles songs sound so crap.
I think the answer lies in the fact that the Hiltonaires (or at least Bill Holcombe's arrangements) concentrate on the style rather than the substance of the song. There is no sensitivity to the mood or the lyrics of the Beatles numbers, it seems to have been rattled off a checklist of Big Band stylistic hooks regardless of the order or original speed of the songs.
The very worst culprit (if you can get past 'Hey Jude' without waves of nausea welling up) is the butchering of 'Let It Be'. Not only does this start with the most awful Barbershop Quartet style prologue, but is the possessor of possibly the worst guitar solo ever, both in tone and tune. Really, it's that bad. Just listen. See? There's 20 seconds you're never having back.
I didn't expect to enjoy this album, and I wasn't disappointed. In the past I've commented that the brevity of an album often makes up for its awfulness. Not in this case. It may only be 24
minutes long, but you try sticking cocktail sticks in your thighs for 24 minutes, and believe me, it will seem like an eternity. This is the aural equivalent.
The good news however is that this isn't the last Stereo Gold Award album in my collection. Let joy be unconfined!
1. Moonlight Serenade
3. I Want To Hold Your Hand
5. Bird Cage Walk
6. Londonderry Air
1. Hey Jude
2. Let It Be
4. Diamond Rock
5. A Hard Day's Night
1 out of 10 - for using the term 'vocal stylings' unselfconsciously.
1. His Name Is Wonderful
2. Every Moment Of Every Day
3. He Lifted Me
4. When I Kneel Down To Pray
5. I Would Be Like Jesus
1. Sweet, Sweet Spirit
2. His Gentle Look
3. Take Up Thy Cross
4. He Touched Me
5. Beyond The Sunset
2 out of 10
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
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
1954 out of 10
Label / Cat. No: D&M Sound DML 1
First Released: 1976
What The Album Blurb Says...
As one Disc Jockey Said - "The Vast Majority is not just wall to wall sound; it is city block to city block sound - and babe, it's all disco heat and color!"
That's where T.V.M. is at! Sixty of the greatest players and down home singers that ever hit a speaker system. They start by working out driving funky rhythm charts and tracks - add strings, brass, reeds and then finally their great blues and salsa vocalists. You name it! From funky blues to symphonic jazz - sensuous salsas to hard rock. The vast majority has it covered.
What I Say
I believe that there is a transatlantic and generational gap in understanding of the word 'Disco'. Clearly for our American cousins in the 70s, Disco was an exciting, energetic movement. It was a scene, with its own rules, its own dress code, its own moves and its own drugs of choice. It was cutting edge, it was, frankly, funky.
For me, hitting my teens in the early 80s, the word 'Disco' means a school organised event once a term, where teenage boys fuelled on Mars Bars and Coca-Cola would act like pillocks on the dance floor until the slow set started, when they suddenly became stuck to the walls.
American 70s Disco had Studio 54, Tavares and Shep Pettibone. English 80's Disco had middle-class white guys called Tim who'd play a selection from that weeks Top 40, plus 'The Birdy Song' and 'The Can Can'.
I can still clearly remember my first Disco, in the main hall of Causton Junior School, Felixstowe in July 1982. It was still light outside, and all the P.E. equipment had been moved to the side of the hall to make room for a dance floor. I even recall that two of the songs that were played were 'Green Door' by Shakin' Stevens (who, I'm sure I needn't remind you, was dubbed 'The Welsh Elvis'.... hah!), and 'The Hucklebuck' by 'Coast to Coast'. A happening scene, it was not.
And all this background flavour is only to point out that I am the last person who should try to review a Disco album. I am thoroughly unqualified to make any assessment as to what's good and what's not. To be fair, I know that's never stopped me before in my reviews.
I've spent some time trying to find out if this is a proper, genuine Disco album, or some cheap cash-in. I started with the assumption that it was probably the latter, not least because it has the words 'Disco Dynamite!' plastered across the back of the sleeve. I thought that a genuine part of the Disco movement wouldn't need to state it so boldly. I then discovered that the scores were by Colin Fretcher and Roy Budd. Now, Roy Budd may be a respected film score arranger, but he's also from South Norwood, which is just round the corner from where I was born, and most definitely not Disco Central. The other chap, Colin Fretcher, is credited as producer on this album which is hardly going to do his credibility any good.
But the producers, Dave Miller and Marty Wilson seem to have a good enough reputation, and know what they're doing. The catalog number of DML 1 made me think this might be some fly-by-night outfit, but D & M records were set up in 1975, just in time to get in on the early days of Disco, and according to some sources, they invented the concept of the 12" single. Yikes!
So, I'm prepared to accept that this is the genuine article - an album from the early days of Disco. But is it any good? Well.... I enjoyed it well enough. It didn't make me want to get up and dance, though very little does these days. You know, what with my ageing bones and everything. But what really struck me was the unpolished nature of the songs. They seemed slightly plodding, pedestrian almost. None of the high polish and perfect production that marks the later Disco sound. I suppose for me that that's what gives this its authenticity. It's a snapshot during the development of Disco. It's not the finished article, but a work in progress. All the elements are there, but it would take a while for this professional shine to be applied.
And that's about it. It's OK. Actually, it's quite good. But of course, Disco gave rise to Disco Dancing, which was always a challenge. Until now....
And those tracks from my first school Disco...
1. Love For Sale
2. Move It!
3. Pain Dealin' Woman
1. Muddy Sneakers
2. Salsa Woman
3. Take It!
4. Oceans Apart
6.5 out of 10
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....
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...
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
2. There'll Never Be
3. Rose Marie
5. Lonesome Me
6. Spanish Eyes
7. Phoenix Arizona
3 out of 10, (2 points for Scarborough Fair, 1 for Johnny Remember Me)
Label / Cat. No: A&M Records SP-4775
First Released: 1979
What The Album Blurb Says...
Special thanks to Kip for having such a good idea; to Kip and Herb for bringing me into it; to Juliea for all the help along the way; to everyone at A&M for keeping it such a good place to work/play; and a very special thanks to Ms. Merman. If it weren't for her great talent, dedication to "the work to be done," sense of humor, love of life, generosity and the ability to give of herself...well then, most of us wouldn't want to do another hundred records, T.V. shows, state fairs, etc... with her.
Thanks, Ethel, for the continuing reminders of what it's all about...
Love, Peter Matz
"For decades Ethel Merman has been the heart and soul of the American Musical Theatre. Hearing this album, I'm convinced that this Disco Diva may be taking a whole new career! Not only are these songs among the world's favorites, but the sheer joy of Merman's voice makes me want to get up and dance. Bless you for boogeying, Ethel, you're hot as a pistol!"
"P.S. When are you going to sing one of my tunes?!"
What I Say
Back in the late 80s I was a big fan of Whose Line Is It Anyway, the 'comedy' improvisation show. (I put 'comedy' in speech marks because, seeing it again recently on re-runs, I realised just how pedestrian it really was). Often the show would end with a game called 'Party Quirks' - one of the ensemble would play the part of a party host, and his guests all had idiosyncrasies which the host had to guess. The guests of course couldn't just walk in and say 'I'm a Mexican Astronaut' because that would just be too easy, and not make for very interesting television. Despite having been quite a big fan, the only thing I remember is one round of party quirks where someone had to demonstrate that they communicated with the dead. At one point he sang 'I hear voices and there's no-one there', to which the host (on that occasion Tony Slattery) replied, "Oh! He thinks he's Ethel Merman".
Stealth edit: - As LJ user huskyteer pointed out, Tony Slattery was in fact quoting from Airplane!, which makes sense.
And that, gentle reader, was the sum total of my knowledge of Ethel Merman until now. Or at least, I thought it was. Having listened to this album, I realise that although I may never have seen or heard Ethel directly (see, we're on first name terms already), I have heard her parodied a thousand times. On all those American sit-coms when somebody 'amusingly' bursts into song, or takes on a big dramatic number, the voice that they're impersonating is Ethel's. You don't believe me? Just listen to the how she pronounces 'know' in 'like no-business I know', and you will have an instant pang of recognition.
It seems that our Ethel is a comedic cliché, the distinctive voice of American Musical Theatre, a vocal shorthand to all that is glamorous and over-the-top in Broadway. I'd say she was the American Elaine Paige but that seems unfair. At least Ethel seems to have some charisma...
But if Ethel herself is a cliché, then what can I say about this album? In 1979 when Disco still seemed newish and exciting, this may have been a truly revolutionary album. When worlds collide. The old and the new. But now it just seems like a bunch of old standards with an uninspired disco backing added on afterwards. It's kind of telling that Ethel came into the studio and did her normal renditions of the songs in a single take. There's no integration or fusion here, and the two layers seem to operate independently of each other. You have some lively old songs, and some non-descript Disco instrumentals, but the total is substantially less than the sum of its parts.
Ethel's voice sounds... strong for a 71 year old, but I can't say it's exactly to my tastes. There's nothing fundamentally wrong with this album, other than it should never have been made. Ethel worked in Musical Theatre, not Studio 54, and it just seems to tarnish what was otherwise a pretty heady career. I say shame on the producers who clearly wanted to make a fast buck on the back of the Disco phenomena by trying to appeal to two separate markets to try and double their profits. The cads.
It's worth reading the 'About This Video' section on this YouTube offering to give another insight into opinions of this album. Unapologetic. Shocking. But honest about this album's place in the Disco pantheon. (2017 edit - sorry, this no longer exists, and I can't remember for the life of me what was sound, but it seems intriguing, doesn't it!!??)
As a final point, I should probably point out that this barely falls into the category of 'Forgotten Albums'. After all, this was rereleased as a CD, and apparently has quite a cult following. It even has its own Wikipedia Page. So, can I call it a Forgotten Album? Well, it was in a cardboard box, under a table, in a corner of a charity shop sited in a Livestock Market in Hereford. I'd therefore say pretty much, Yes. I also think, having forced myself to listen to the whole bloody thing that it really should have stayed forgotten.
Doing it right:-
1. There's No Business Like Show Business
2. Everything's Coming Up Roses
3. I Get A Kick Out Of You
1. Something For The Boys
2. Some People
3. Alexander's Ragtime Band
4. I Got Rhythm
2 out of 10
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.
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
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.
4 out of 10
Label / Cat. No: Hallmark CHM 624
First Released: 1969
What The Album Blurb Says...
For those of you who are as yet unacquainted with the happy looking gentleman on the right, permit us to introduce you to Mr. Bob Blaine
Early biographical details can be found on the sleeve of his previous album 'BOB BLAINE SINGS COUNTRY MUSIC FOR BEDTIME' - Hallmark HM. 581. Suffice it therefore for us to say that he hails from Liverpool, has had years of experience with many name bands, and, as you will discover, he is a very fine singer.
Bob is considered by many people in the music business to be a walking encyclopeadia on standard songs and for this album he has personally selected the best, and most romantic of the songs of the Islands and just for good measure has thrown in three brand new ones that he wrote himself, including the title song 'HAWAIIAN HONEYMOON.'
So if you want to escape the weather, the tax man, or anything else that bothers you, may we suggest you get the album, go home, slice a pineapple, light a sunlamp, turn on the record player, sit in your favourite chair, play the record, close your eyes and you're off to Hawaii - Bon Voyage.
What I Say
Last time I admitted my ignorance regarding national musical exports, I managed to (quite understandably) ruffle a few Canadian feathers. As I pointed out at the time, any nation that gives us Celine Dion should surely face international sanctions. Anyway, I confess an equal lack of knowledge on the musical history of Hawaii, and shan't compound my ignorance with ill-informed commentary.....
Oh, who am I kidding. That's my stock-in-trade - ill informed opinion based on incomplete facts and minimal research. So, what do I know about Hawaiian music? Well, there's the Ukelele, which isn't what George Formby played (that was a hybrid between a ukelele and a banjo, and was quite seriously known as a banjolele. See, I do know some things....) Beyond that, I get stuck, although I did like that Israel Kamakawiwo'ole song they used in that advert.
And, er.... that's about it I think. Except to say, I really don't think that what we're presented here bears much relation to real Hawaiian music. Not least because it's been recorded by some Scouser who's probably never been further west than Llandudno. To my uneducated ears, it sounds like a series of slow tempo Country Music songs with a bit of ukelele and slide guitar stuck in the mix for good measure. I'm prepared to accept that this might be the genuine Hawaiian sound, but I seriously doubt it.
The songs really do all sound the same - same tempo, same arrangements, more or less the same melody, with just a couple of exceptions. "Black Is The Colour Of My True Loves Hair", despite sounding like a Donovan lyric is quite a dark, moody piece, clearly showing the harder side of our Scally Bob.
The second slightly odd song on an album called Hawaiian Honeymoon is 'Flower of Tahiti'. I had to go and check on Google Earth, but I'm right. Tahiti really isn't anywhere near Hawaii. But hey, those South Sea Islands are all the same, aren't they....?
In 1969 Merseyside, Hawaii, and indeed Tahiti, must've seemed endlessly exotic, and they were therefore prepared to accept any old tat with a Hawaiian tag just to get themselves a taste of the islands. But knowledge of other cultures was a little more.... basic than perhaps it is today (anybody for My Boomerang Won't Come Back?Anybody....). I'm sure the English record buying public were prepared to believe that this light country froth really was the sound of the islands.
And clearly Hawaii is synonymous with romance, lust and dusky maidens if the cover's anything to go buy. Despite the title track being about the romance and special nature of taking your new bride to Hawaii, the cover depicts a new bride in a revealing negligee, clutching a book called 'Honeymoon Hints', looking shocked because her husband has lured four Hawaiian beauties to the boudoir using only his Ronco Slide Guitar. Looking shocked and mildly put out is probably the best reaction he could have hoped for - I'm pretty sure if I'd lured four dusky maidens to the bedchamber on my honeymoon I wouldn't be a father of three now...
All in all this is a bit of a wallpaper album. It's so gentle it just washes over you so that you almost don't notice, like a warm breeze in Waikiki. Not that I've been to Waikiki, but I have been to Llandudno. But I've never been to me.
And this is how to do it right:-
And this is a bit of banjolele for you good people.
1. Hawaiian Honeymoon
2. Hawaiian Wedding Song
3. Song Of The Islands
4. South Sea Island Magic
5. Blue Shadows And White Gardenias
6. Beautiful Dreamer
1. Aloha Oe
2. Hawaiian Memories
3. Moon Of Manakoora
4. Black Is The Colour Of My True Love's Hair
5. Flower Of Tahiti
5.5 out of 10
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.
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.
(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
(e) There But For Fortune
(f) Tramp On The Street
(a) Love Is Teasing
(b) I Never Will Marry
(c) Nine Hundred Miles
(d) Country Girl
(e) Cotton Fields
(f) Nobody's Child
6.75 out of 10
2017 Bonus - More album art of Maralene looking even foxier. Wowsers.
Label / Cat. No: Golden Hour (Pye) GH511
First Released: This Compilation 1970
What The Album Blurb Says...
John Schroeder, the brilliant young producer and creator of Sounds Orchestral has come a long way since 1962, the year that first saw him thinking about a musical concept that sprang to triumphant fruition three years later when "Cast your fate to the wind" sets Sounds on the international chart trail.
But while the years since have been filled with hit sounds for a multitude of artists, Sounds Orchestral continues to occupy a very special place in John's affections. For time and again, in the company of those other Sounds Orchestral veterans, Johnny Pearson and engineer Ray Prickett, John Schroeder returns to the studios to make fresh albums, yet albums that still retain the ingredients that keeps Sounds Orchestral a best-seller all over the world.
This, his latest contribution to the Sounds success story starts, appropriately enough with the Vince Guaraldi classic that began it all. But complementing it are a string of familiar and enduring melodies that have found their way into many hit parades and into the affections of millions of people. Johnny Pearson has arranged them with the brand of perfection that has become his trademark and because the musical performances that graces them maintains the Sounds Orchestral formula, the result is sheer enjoyment for anyone who loves good music.
Arranged, Conducted by, and featuring the Piano of, Johnny Pearson
Produced by John Schroeder
Engineer: Ray Prickett
What I Say
When I was a sweet young thing of 13, I recorded a copy of 'Waiting' by Fun Boy Three from one of my sisters friends. Shhh, yes, I know, home taping is killing music. It's a great album, and one I still own. But my over-riding memory is that it managed to fit on one side of a C60 tape, all except for the last word of the last song ('that' of 'well fancy that'). If I'd bothered, I probably could have edited out the silence with judicial use of the pause button and made up those few precious moments to allow the final song in its entirety to fit on the tape. As it was, I didn't bother, and I quite liked the way the album just hung in the air, not quite resolved.
The point in all this reminiscing is that clearly the album, if it could fit on one side of a C60 only really lasted about 30 minutes. Pretty short for albums which in those days, you'd reckon to get on one side of a C90. 45 minutes was pretty much the norm until CDs came along and stretched things out. So to have an album with a guaranteed 'Golden Hour' of music would've been quite a bargain. Mind you, you're not getting any more than that. This album runs to 1 hour, 1 minute and 13 seconds. That's about as close as you can get, though I wouldn't set your watch by it. Well, I might set your watch by it, but not mine.
I have to tackle the cover. I can understand that with the butterflies, the fish and the logs / rocks you're getting a pretty literal depiction of 'The Earth, The Sea & The Sky', but whoever thought it would be a winning formula to stick a dead fish on the front of an album cover really needs to go back to marketing school. I grew up believing that album art was something to treasure. That in some cases, the cover was as important as the contents, that together they produced the whole experience intended by the artist. That may be because I listened to a lot of Prog Rock (I know, I know...) and they tended to go for the overblown, pompous, album cover.
But it was all part of the experience, listening to the album, poring over the cover art, looking for clues, for details, for messages. An hour spent looking at a picture of a couple of dead fish might push some people over the edge, however great the music is.
And the music isn't great. It's competent. It's nicely arranged, but it does nothing new. It falls between two stools like so many of its contemporaries - It won't radically change the arrangements of the music because the target market need nice, recognisable tunes that they can tap their toes to. So the arrangements aren't particularly bold or exciting. But equally, they don't have the full Orchestral sweep that would put them firmly into that realm. In fact, I wonder who on earth came up with the name 'Sounds Orchestral'. It sounds like a jazz trio plus a violin or two when the budget allowed. That it took John Schroeder three years from having the idea to making 'Sounds Orchestral' a reality makes you think that he spent that time building the foundations of something special. I suspect he didn't leave himself enough time to come up with that winning idea. That, or he just got distracted for a couple of years building a scale model of York Minster out of matchsticks and Jaffa Cake packets.
I'm afraid that this is all fairly generic stuff. Nothing in particular stands out (except for the drummer - he must've been sleeping with the Engineer to have got placed so high in the mix. That is of course a joke, and I'm not implying anything of the sort.....) Anyway, where was I... Oh yes. I don't expect innovation on every album I listen to, but if I could just find a spark of something interesting, something new or different then I would look far more kindly on this kind of album. But I really can't here, no matter how I try.
The saving grace however is that it does have a copy of 'Good Morning Starshine' on it. I don't think you can ever top the Original Cast sound recording of that particular song, but it's always good to hear any version of a song that has the following lyrics:-
Gliddy glub gloopy
Nibby nabby noopy
La la la lo lo
Sabba sibby sabba
Nooby abba nabba
Le le lo lo
Tooby ooby walla
Nooby abba naba
Early morning singing song
Can't go wrong there now, can you?!
Sound Clips (& Bonus full version of 'San Jose' thanks to Uncle Leo!)
1. Cast Your Fate To The Wind
2. What A Wonderful World
3. Moon River
4. Stranger On The Shore
6. Nocturne (Chopin)
7. Petite Fleur
10. Many Moons Ago
1. Good Morning Starshine
2. Do You Know The Way To San Jose
3. The Poor People Of Paris
4. Canadian Sunset
5. Romance On The North Sea
7. Red Roses For A Blue Lady
8. Pretty Flamingo
9. Waltz Of The Flowers (Valse Des Fleurs)
Lots more information about 'Sounds Orchestral' can be found here
4 out of 10
Label / Cat. No: EMI DUO130
First Released: This Compilation 1981
Fourthly, you can go a long way if your Dad's leader of the
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....?
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
1. TRUMPET CONCERTO IN E FLAT
4. THE SWALLOWS SERENADE
5. A HUNTING MEDLEY
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
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)
5 out of 10
Label / Cat. No: Stereo Gold Award MER408
First Released: 1976
What The Album Blurb Says...
The truck driving man is about as individual and as special a breed of man as you're ever likely to meet. He's a man used to long silences broken only by the soft hum of wheels that burn up the miles between lonely townships. He has his own set of driving rules, his own language and his own songs. They're songs that truly reflect the nomadic life that he leads and the situations that lie around each bend in the road, songs with titles like "Soft Shoulders and Dangerous Curves", "Burning Rubber" and "Bumper to Bumper". The truck driving man may sing, hum or whistle them as he drives along that long black ribbon of tarmac towards his destination. Now you can share these songs of the road, as Big Dave and the Tennessee Tailgaters play and sing the tunes that have their own special message for each truck driving man... wherever he may be.
What I Say
I'm really sorry to have to tell you this, but I'm as sure as I can be that this album is a cheap and nasty record cynically trying to cash in on the 1970's trucker / Convoy fad. Yes, shocking I know, but I'm willing to bet there there is no such person as 'BIG DAVE', let alone the Tennessee Tailgaters.
Let's look at the evidence shall we? Firstly, there's the fact that BIG DAVE isn't being used to push this album. The biggest text on the album sleeve is 'Truck Driving Man'. Poor BIG DAVE is relegated to a small corner of the tarmac, and his Tennessee Tailgaters get an even smaller point size. If you go looking for BIG DAVE on the internet (along with the TTs, of course), the only reference you'll find is to this album. Hmmmm.... sounds mighty fishy to me.
Secondly, Big Dave manages to sound like a very convincing woman on 'Soft Shoulders and Dangerous Curves', probably because it is sung by a woman. So unless BIG DAVE is either a) an hermaphrodite with an ability to switch voices at will, b) a very good impressionist or c) has an incredible range, then I don't think he alone tackles the vocals. Fair enough, it may be one of his Tennessee Tailgaters, but as there are sadly very few details on the record sleeve, it's hard to tell.
But the most damning evidence for how nastily this album has been thrown together to hang on to the 'Convoy' fad of '76 is all connected to that particular song.
Exhibit A - the big splash across the young ladies nether regions saying 'including CONVOY'. Clearly the makers of this album are using that song as the attention grabber. After all, why else paste those words across her mimsy. However..... there is a further implication by placing the splash there. It's suggesting censorship, that the young lady leaning suggestively on the cab of the truck may be showing more than she should.
But look! Thanks to the internet, I found a copy of the original, American version of this album, and LOOK! No splash, no 'including CONVOY', and no flesh needing to be censored....
Exhibit B - some simple maths. On the front cover it lists 7 songs, and says '& 4 Others'
By my reckoning that makes 11 songs. But look at the track
listing.... six songs on each side. That always made 12 when I was at school, which means they've stuck an extra song on there. I'm betting it's Convoy.
Exhibit C - The vocalist on CONVOY does not sound at all like BIG DAVE. In fact, he sounds completely different to BIG DAVE, to the degree whereby I would argue with some confidence that it's not BIG DAVE at all, but some completely other person.
Exhibit D - The credits on the album label are all intact for every other song. Every single one. Except Convoy. Why would that be, unless it was a last minute addition to the album.
Now, I may be going out on a limb here, but I reckon that this album, originally released in America, had a version of Convoy stuck on for the British market becuase the timing meant that Convoy was fresh in the mind of the British music buyer, and this was a dirty, nasty, cynical way of selling their grubby little record. BIG DAVE? Big FRAUD, I say.
Which means I haven't spoken about the music (mostly Country with a couple of Bluegrass instrumentals), the inability for the culture to translate (American Knights of the Road on the wide open plains vs. a bloke from Dudley in overalls sitting on the A14 to catch the night ferry to Zeebrugge) or how this music is inappropriate (instrumentals telling of the life of the truck drivin' man? How does that work. Oh, and that 'Diesel Smoke Sally' seems to be about a woman who'll sleep with any trucker who passes through her cafe. Charming).
But you don't need to know about all that, when it's all been built on such flimsy foundations. You know, I never thought I'd have to turn detective, but I'm glad that I've saved you from this charlatan. You may thank me at your leisure.
1. Truck Driving Man
2. Gimme Forty Acres
3. Soft Shoulders and Dangerous Curves
4. Burnin' Rubber
5. King Of The Road
6. T-Town Tailgaitin'
2. Six Days On The Road
3. Giddy Up-Go
4. Diesel Smoke Sally
5. Bumper To Bumper
6. Girl On The Billboard
1 out of 10
Label / Cat. No: BUK BULP 2000
First Released: 1976
What The Album Blurb Says...
None. Once I again, I feel cheated. And so should you.
What I Say
These are the things that you need to know about Tony Monopoly.
1. He looks like my mate Brian.
2. He used to be a monk (Tony, that is. Not Brian. He's never been a monk).
3. He's the only person to be named after a board game to release an album named after another one.
4. Monopoly isn't even his real name. His real name is
'Monopoli'. I might be being a bit picky here.
5. He lost his virginity to a Go-Go Dancer called 'Big Pretzel'
6. He's dead.
I find Number 6 the most surprising in many ways. You see, I was kind of aware of Tony Monopoly, in that I knew the name from my childhood. Actually, that was it. I knew the name. But it's one of those timeless names that's going to play the club circuits forever. And it turns out he died in 1995. That's 13 years I've been going round quite happily still thinking I might get a chance to see him live in concert, whereas in fact I've been kidding myself. Damn.
Having said that, if he hadn't died, I wouldn't have been able to find out facts number 2 and 4. Tom Lehrer once said that the obituary of Alma Mahler was the most exciting he'd ever read. For me, that honour most definitely goes to Tony Monopoly's. Allow me to quote you the first paragraph:-
Tony Monopoly was a former Carmelite monk who abandoned the contemplative life and went on to win six consecutive editions of Opportunity Knocks. Famous for his white suit, medallion and luxuriant chest hair, he was frequently compared with Tom Jones and Englebert Humperdinck. Monopoly was the youngest and least successful of this awesome triumvirate, but the only one with a sound grasp of the teachings of Saint Teresa of Avila.
The second reason I chose this album is because it's been touched by the hand of Tony. Look.... an autograph. Not one of your insignificant squiggles - Tony takes the effort to write his name in full, legibly, but with a definite flamboyance.
And just look how he signs himself... "Sincerely...." I can feel the
sincerity oozing out of every pen stroke, and every groove on the vinyl.
To be honest, I thought I wasn't going to enjoy this album - a bunch of fairly obvious cover versions by a talent show winner - not the kind of thing I'd normally go for. But I found myself singing along during the first song, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It is fairly corny, and that sincerity oozes and drips in every phrase Tony sings, but if you want to be entertained by someone who can belt out a tune, you could do a lot worse than let Mr. Monopoly into your life.
The arrangements are a bit odd though - it must be difficult for an artist to make a song his own, and a surefire shortcut is to make an unusual or different version of a song. But really... 'I Believe' with a proto-disco backbeat. I'm not sure I approve. And our Tony (see, I'm getting ever more familiar...) also has a number of voices to help differentiate the songs. In 'You've Got A Friend' we have intimate, gentle, quiet Tony. 'I've Got A Name' sees bombastic Tony, and 'I Believe' gives us the real crooner that Tony was trying to release.
In later years fortunes don't appear to have been too good.... long stints on cruise liners seem to have been the norm, and there was a brief re-flowering of Tony's career when he got the lead in Cameron Mackintosh's musical version of Moby Dick (sadly, no. I'm not joking...). Oddly enough, it got scathing reviews. I can't think why....
Oh yes, hang on. It's because it was crap. YouTube has again been my friend, and I offer you Tony Monopoly as Captain Ahab. Please don't let this be his legacy. Remember him as the hairy chested eye-candy for ladies of a certain age that he was.
And finally, a 2017 edit - at last YouTube has come up with the goods, and here's Tony giving it his unrivalled all, with a bit of Bernard Manning thrown in for bad measure. Ladies and Gentlemen, sit back and enjoy, Mr. Tony Monopoly.
1. I've Got A Name
2. Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow
3, I Have To Say I Love You In A Song
4, Macarthur Park
5. I Believe
6. Walk On By
1. Bless You
2. Every Time I Sing A Love Song
3. You've Got A Friend
4. One More Mile (And Darling I'll Be Home)
5. My Foolish Heart
6. Rock 'N' Roll (I Gave You The Best Years Of My Life)
8 out of 10
HOW FANTASTIC IS THAT??
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
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
7 out of 10
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.
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 Oasis, Spacehog 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.
Put On A Happy Face
Something's Going To Happen Tonight
Love Me With All Your Heart
Never Ending Song Of Love
Everybody Loves A Lover
High On A Hill
Where Have All The Flowers Gone?
White Rose Of Athens
A Short Selection Of Famous Overtures
Midnight In Moscow
Volga Boat Song
From Russia With Love
6.5 out of 10 but only because I'm strangely drawn to their bass playing daughter...
So, I finally got around to reading my copy of 'Merla's Miracle' which some lovely person on Amazon sold to me for a ridiculously cheap price. With all the sense of moment that I could muster, I opened the cover (featuring the grisly, gruesome and graphic photo of Merla's mangled mitt), and found this...
Isn't that the most wonderful thing you've seen today? OK, probably not actually, but look. There. A proper, signed by the author autograph. Merla has touched this book. She has written in it (with her good hand, of course...) and now it's mine, all mine.
Am I the luckiest man alive?
Label / Cat. No: Columbia PCC-80105
First Released: 1985
What The Album Blurb Says...
None. Boo! But, but.... when reading through the lyric sheet, I came across this gem...
"Are we alone? Erich Von Daniken asked us to believe the temples and pyramids are proof that earth was visited in its embryonic stage by an ancient intelligence.
In writing the lyrics for the interconnecting songs on 'Alien Shores', I was inspired by the thoughts of unexplained mysteries of our past, which may never be answered. But Hungry Eyes will perpetually seek the truth.
What I Say
This album has purged me of my guilt. You see, in 1993 I bought a pair of slacks from a gentlemen's outfitters in Albert Road, Morecambe. I believe the colour was described as 'stone', and I wore those stone slacks. Often.
With hindsight, I had tortured myself in the knowledge that they were the worst pair of trousers I had ever bought, and probably the worst pair of trousers in the world ever. Yes, they reall were that bad. But then, oh happy day, I slipped the inner sleeve out of this album, and what did I find? This...
Those really are the worst slacks ever to have been created. And not just one pair of bad slacks, but FOUR! That's a 100% hit rate for the Platinum Blondes. Combined with those four nasty white jackets, we have the perfect snapshot of 1985. I believe this photo should be kept in an archive somewhere as an important historical document. And of course to serve as a warning to future generations.
And try as I might, I can't not speak about the hair. Back-combed, sprayed, bleached, coiffed, and... wonder of wonders, the bloke on the right has one of the best expressions of the mullet that I have ever seen. This is a man at the top of his hair game, and yet he looks the most uncomfortable of the four. Somehow his face just wasn't made for those times. Oh..... and is there a hint of black eye-liner there.... Marvellous.
As far as I can tell, with no research whatsoever, Canada has produced only 3 notable musical talents that have become known outside their country. And considering that two of those are Bryan Adams and Celine Dion, you'd think they'd learn to keep their music to themselves. (For information, the third is Barenaked Ladies, for whom I maintain a soft spot). But in the mid-eighties, it seems that Canada was at the forefront of pop music. Platinum Blonde have got everything needed to be a pop sensation in 1985. They've got the clothes and the hair, they have the ability to pose and to brood under their floppy fringes. They even have perfectly competent 80s style pop songs, so why oh why weren't they massive.
Well, they were. Really. This album went quintuple platinum in Canada. For a brief, glorious moment, Platinum Blonde were major stars on the Canadian scene. Which illustrates again how subjective I am in choosing these albums. I would consider this record to be obscure and unknown, but that's just in my experience. Given a different time and place, this was monstrously successful. Only goes to show how much I have to learn....
But the other reason I believe they weren't more successful outside of Canada lies in a description given to the band of 'The Canadian Duran Duran'. On reading this I'd assumed that it was because of the look, and maybe the style, but no. Most of the songs on this album could easily have been written by the Durannies. The blokes voice (I really can't be bothered now to go and check his name. Oh, that's a bit rude isn't it. Hold on.... It's Mark Holmes) even sounds like Simon Le Bon. And there's the rub. Did the world really need two Duran Durans? I think not. So outside of Canada (where I assume their homegrown status helped enormously), they were pretty much redundant.
It seems that they keep plodding on, and there are interesting photos showing the band playing on a small stage outside the Hard Rock Cafe in Ottawa to about 12 people and a dog in 1999. And not a mullet in sight.
Oh, and I forgot Alanis Morissette, though I think that probably only adds to my argument.
2017 Edit - And here's the 80s in a four-and-a-half minute nutshell.
2017 Edit 2 - Shhhhhh..... Don't tell anyone, but.....
1. Situation Critical
2. Crying Over You
3. Red Light
4. It Ain't Love Anyway
5. Somebody Somewhere
1. Lost In Space
2. Temple Of the New Born
3. Holy Water
5. Hungry Eyes
5 out of 10 - not bad, not good, not original, not my cup of tea
Alternate version of 'Wheels by 'The String-A-Longs'.
Extra Double Bonus for people who remember the 80s in Britain...
1. The Stripper - David Rose & His Orchestra
2. Soul Coaxing - Norrie Paramor & His Strings
3. Stranger On The Shore - Mr. Acker Bilk & The Stan Tracey Big Brass
4. Sucu Sucu - Pepe Jaramillo & His Latin-American Rhythm
5. Love Is Blue - Franck Pourcel & His Orchestra
6. Legend of The Glass Mountain (Theme from film) - Ron Goodwin & His Orchestra
1. Wheels - Joe Loss & His Orchestra
2. Live For Life (from the film) - The Norman Newell Orchestra
3. Can't Take My Eyes Off You - Basil Henriques & The Waikiki Islanders
4. The Fool On The Hill - Ralph Dollimore & His Orchestra
5. A Man And A Woman (from the film - Manuel & The Music Of The Mountains
6. Ritual Fire Dance - Jack Emblow (Accordian)
9 out of 10 - the highest so far.