Monday, 12 October 2015

Back soon

I'm sorry I've not been able to post any music on here for a while. I've been involved in a very long process of moving house. My back has only just recovered from moving my records from my old place to the new. No internet or access to vinyl ripping equipment has made it impossible and also having a few spare hours a week to blog now seems like a luxury while I'm renovating a place that hasn't had a fresh lick of paint for what looks like about 30 odd years!

I've still been buying loads of records including plenty of fab Beatlesque and Harmony Pop killers that are perfect for this blog. Hopefully I'll be posting again before the end of the year. 

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Dr. Cosmo's Tape Lab - Beyond The Silver Sea (2015 - Sugarbush Records)

I'm bringing things right up to date here because I'm certain that the readers of this blog will love this band as much as I do. You most likely missed last years debut album by Dr Cosmo's Tape Lab. The killer 'Ever Evolving Lounge' came out last summer as a limited run of 500 copies, which sold out in an instant. 

Luckily for us, Dr Cosmo's Tape Lab's Joe Kane and Stu Kidd haven't wasted any time over the last nine months, instead they've been honing the craft of writing the perfect pop song, taking in the best influences of the last 50 years of pop music and producing what I'm declaring as the album of the year. That's two years running now! 

Like all genius songwriters, Kane and Kidd are pushing the envelope of pop and with 'Beyond The Silver Sea' they've courageously explored territories where many if not most, have failed miserably. Yep, I'm talking about the concept album, complete with spoken word interludes! Their bravery has paid off and all of a sudden concept albums seem like the coolest thing in the world.

'Beyond The Silver Sea' is twelve songs of Sci-fi Psychedelic Baroque Power Pop with the emphasis on POP and a further twelve tracks of Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy-esque dialogue courtesy of Adam Smith. The album tells the story of 'Sense Factory' worker Max, troubled by a recurring dream that inspires him to think and look different to everyone else.

The songs on the album neatly reinforce the story and will satisfy fans of Nilsson, The Beatles, The Small Faces, Todd Rundgren, Electric Light Orchestra, Super Furry Animals, The Beta Band and even Jeff Wayne's War Of The Worlds.

'Beyond The Silver Sea' is released on the always outstanding Sugarbush Records on limited silver vinyl on 30th March 2015.

Here's an interview I did recently with Joe Kane from Dr Cosmo's Tape Lab.

You guys are roughly the same age as me. Am I right in thinking that your parents' record collections were a big influence on you when growing up?

I can't speak for Stu but I got myself into all the music that I listen to and it all stemmed from seeing the opening credits of the movie 'Help' when I was ill on the couch aged 12. My mum and dad weren't massive music fans but they always made sure I had a stereo and whatever tapes I wanted as a kid. My dad liked music but nothing that particularly took my fancy at that age though he had some cool looking records in a bag in a cupboard. He did however buy me Led Zeppelin IV on cassette because I really, really liked the Rolf Harris version and he also took me out and bought me my first electric guitar which was a red Hohner Strat copy.

I was already a big fan of Stuart's work with the Wellgreen and BMX Bandits and have only recently discovered the Owsley Sunshine who are also great. Any more music projects that we need to know about?

I've been involved in various friends bands fleetingly and in a non-writing capacity such as The Fast Camels and The Martial Arts (check 'em out!) but only because I really liked their music and the opportunity came along to join and not have the pressure of co-writing and recording all the stuff. That side of things really took its toll while I was working on the original Owsley Sunshine albums, all my own fault of course. Nic Denholm (my OS writing and production partner) now lives in LA although we have accumulated an impressive collection of transatlantic collaborations we hope to release in the not too distant future.  

Off the back of the three Owsley albums I jumped in to making two home recorded solo efforts (Only Joe Kane, Some Soon Time After) just to see if I could do it all myself. They're alright but I find it hard to listen to stuff if I know it's me doing everything on it. I also really enjoy recording and producing for other people and I've worked with quite a few really good acts from around Glasgow such as The Hidden Masters, The Trembling Bells and most recently the wonderful Duglas T. Stewart from BMX Bandits (bringing Norman Blake round to my house for a session one afternoon!) Stu and myself have been working on a bunch of new stuff with Duglas which we hope will end up as part of a very fine pop album at some point in the next year. 

Your first album 'Ever Evolving Lounge', which I love by the way, came out less than a year ago and here you are with a brand new album and one without the slightest dip in quality. Have you guys always been this prolific?

We started recording 'Beyond The Silver Sea' directly after we'd done our first song 'Pin The Tail' so it was pretty much straight in and "baws oot" from the start. That was in the period of July 2013 up until maybe December so we got a lot done. We worked mainly on a Monday afternoon every week and initially we were writing and recording two songs a day with maybe an extra day here and there for "sweetening" sessions. We had a few periods of maybe 2 or 3 weeks at a time where we weren't working on stuff because either Stu or myself would be away on tour but we'd be in contact discussing where to go with it and coming up with either more plot elements or discussing songs we thought it would be fun to rip off. We brought Adam in towards the end to flesh out the story we'd created and help join the dots a bit in his inimitable style. He's got a fantastic grasp of obscure sci-fi elements as well as a talent for narrative stemming from his comic book work. 

We decided to hold back 'BTSS' and record 'Ever Evolving Lounge' in early 2014 as we thought it would be cool to release a more immediate pop album for our first LP release. We wrote and recorded that album in just over two months in my new flat (where I am now) so we didn't really stop for breath.

Where did you record 'Beyond The Silver Sea'?

'Beyond the Silver Sea' was recorded entirely in my old bedroom in a flat I shared with two other musical friends. We used a Tascam 424 mkIII cassette four track and not a lot of mic's really. We were using (at first) a NADY ribbon mic over the drums which were this weird kids drum set with a military marching drum from 1967 as a floor tom. We used one of those fat Shure bass mic's for the bass drum and a Shure Unidyne III 545 for all the vocals. I bought a couple of cheap old compressor rack units and started putting stuff through them too as we progressed so the sound really changes throughout the album. 

The sound changes a lot on the record because we were just trying everything and anything out to facilitate whatever style we were writing in and I think that makes for an interesting and fun listen. We would try and record two live instruments together on a track so there's a lot of tracks with drums and piano or bass and shaker on them (which made things interesting for me at the mix-down stage!)

Is the story of Max autobiographical and what drugs do I need to be on to understand what's going on?

Making the album was really therapeutic for me as I'd been a bit burnt out for a while and not really doing a lot of my own music before I started working with Stu. It had been nearly five years since I'd worked on anything substantial and I was only tinkering with recording at home in that period so I had to kinda relearn things a bit and experiment again to find my feet. I was on some mad stuff to sort my head out a bit when we were making it and I think subconsciously a lot of the things that had been on my mind for a while fed in to my lyric suggestions but it never felt like it was an outpouring of any sort. It really is a 50/50 collaborative process so you can't afford to get too self indulgent or confessional without sounding like a twat. 

I'm not on any drugs and the story makes perfect sense to me. It's a very tight little metaphysical pop-odyssey with a sprinkling of silliness for good measure. (Anyone who wants my convoluted run down of what exactly is going on then feel free to drop me an email.)

I read somewhere that you had to trim down the album to make it fit on to vinyl. How much was left over from the sessions and are they lined up for future releases?

We cut two tracks to meet the running time of two sides of vinyl, 'Girl In Winter' and 'The Clone And I', which are now both available as the "b-sides" of singles. Maybe someone will join the dots and make a version of the album with those two tracks reinstated! We have additional narration from Adam recorded too that filled out the story between those two songs.

What bands new and old are you enjoying at the moment?

We've been listening to a lot of Brian Eno as well as other electronic and weird-noisy stuff in the last year and that's been feeding in to our latest recordings I think. I've also been obsessed with the two incredible Country Funk compilations released in the last few years so I'm always trying to cop one of those grooves. We're just putting the finishing touches to our third album which is called 'Cosmic Tone' and we hope to find someone to release that within the year. It's a step forward for us and covers a lot of new territory- not least a 22 minute long song suite about a boy who buys a pair of haunted pyjamas from a charity shop! 

I'm glad 'Beyond The Silver Sea' is being released on vinyl. What's your opinions on the Vinyl comeback?

Getting 'Beyond The Silver Sea' out on vinyl is truly a dream come true for us and to be doing it with someone like Markus at Sugarbush Records is a perfect situation for us. To find someone with such a bang-on, no nonsense approach to releasing records these days as well as a sympathetic ear for classic pop songs is rare. When we were making the album we knew in a silly way that vinyl was the only medium for it but we never dreamed we'd find someone crazy enough to release it! ;) 

Saturday, 7 March 2015

The Raspberries on Flipside TV Show 1973

Here's some great footage of The Raspberries in the Record Plant Studio, New York in 1973, recording their third studio album "Side Three". Flipside was a Saturday morning TV show in the US produced by Casablanca Records founders Neil & Joyce Bogart which focused on artists in the recording studio. Enjoy...

Chesapeake Juke Box Band - S/T (1972)

Chesapeake Juke Box Band were duo Rusty McFinn and Steve Sawyer, who appeared out of nowhere, released a single album of progressive pop and quickly disappeared. The self titled album was released on the independent Hollywood label, Greene Bottle Records and was recorded in 1971 at New York's Record Plant, at the same time and place that John Lennon was recording his classic Imagine album. Rumour has it that John Lennon borrowed Chesapeake's executive producer, John Frangipane's Mellotron for his own recording session!

McFinn & Sawyer
The album released in 1972 is loaded with Beatles references throughout from opening track "...Until We Meet Again" with it's repeated lyric "I love Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, I love Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds" up to the album closer "The Door's Unlatched", "Martha My Dear, the door's unlatched for you". As I previously mentioned, this is pop, but of the progressive kind with Beatles sounds and psychedelic effects (way out of date by 1972) but with songs in the Van Dyke Parks' Song Cycle or Beach Boys' Smile vein. Sure, it's choppy and un-jointed but it works. Another obvious comparison would have to be Klaatu, whose ultra Beatlesque debut, "3:45 EST" would take this style of music to the nth degree, even fooling some into believing that they WERE the Beatles. McFinn and Sawyer were clearly a talented pair which makes it all the more baffling that they don't appear on any other records before or after. Unless that is, that they are pseudonyms?!? If anyone knows, do let me know.

Album highlights include "Jennifer" which sounds like "On My Side" era Cowsills, "Fizbee's Tavern" is pure 1968 Bee Gees with John Lennon on vocals and "This Time" with it's driving Macca bassline and Penny Lane trumpets is a euphonic joy.

Despite it's scarcity, Chesapeake Juke Box Band is still reasonably cheap to get hold of, and it comes in a nice die-cut sleeve, of a jukebox, natch. Get a copy quick before they all dry up.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Music That Influenced Big Star - By Jody Stephens (March 2015)

To celebrate the UK release of ‘Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me’ Deluxe, DVD and Blu-Ray, surviving member Jody Stephens picked his top 10 songs that influenced ‘#1 Record’ and ‘Radio City’ and shared them on Facebook and Spotify. There were no real big surprises (except for the ones that were released AFTER these albums came out) with the song selections but interesting nonetheless. Here's his choice for those of you that don't do social media or free music streaming...

The Byrds - Turn! Turn! Turn!
"The Ballad of El Goodo" - This is one song, of several probably, that distills influences from Bob Dylan, Beach Boys, The Byrds and The Beatles.

The Kinks - Come On Now
"When My Baby's Beside Me" - Ray Davies/Kinks played into Big Star's live sets. "Come On Now" was one of them.

George Harrison - My Sweet Lord
"Try Again" - Easy to hear George Harrison's influence here.

Led Zeppelin - Whole Lotta Love
"Feel" - Chris was a Led Zeppelin fan as well. I can hear a little Robert Plant in the opening line..."Woman what are you doing..."

The Beach Boys - Wouldn't It Be Nice

The Kinks - All Day And All Of The Night

Golden Smog - Please Tell My Brother

Matthew Sweet - Divine Intervention

Lou Reed - Perfect Day

Beck - Blue Moon

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Chris Rainbow

Glasgow born singer Christopher James Harley aka Chris Rainbow was born on 18th November 1946. Originally a graphic artist, Chris formed his first band Hopestreet who would release just two singles, "Iron Sky" b/w "Never Mind" on the Regal Zonophone label in 1972 (which may have been a demo only pressing) and the highly enjoyable "Wait Until Tomorrow" b/w "Ladies (At The Bottom Of The Garden)" on Parlophone in 1973.

Soon after the release of the second Hopestreet single in 1973, Norman Jones, a friend of Chris, passed on a tape of his new demos on his behalf to Polydor Records who subsequently signed him up on a four year deal. It was around this time that Chris changed his name from Harley to Rainbow to avoid any confusion with Steve Harley who was very popular at the time.

The debut solo Chris Rainbow album was "Home Of The Brave" in 1975. It is a very slick affair, well produced AOR with hints of 10CC ("Funky Parrot", "A Woman On My Mind") with an emphasis on Chris' angelic Alessi Brothers-esque angelic vocals. The highlight of this album for me is the Reggae-lite "Mr Man" (think "C-Moon").

The follow up album, "Looking Over My Shoulder" appeared in 1978 and this is where the real pop gems hide. This LP was my introduction to CR and I was an instant fan and could see why he was given the nickname The One Man Beach Boy. Much like Chris White's Mouth Music, the very seventies production (courtesy of Rainbow himself) might put off some people, but if you can get your head around it, you're rewarded with an album of killer pop, multi tracked harmonies galore, instant choruses and hooks that will stay in your head for weeks. There are too many great tunes on this to pick a favourite.

1979 saw the release of the third and final album as a solo artist. "White Trails", this time on EMI, might not be as instant as it's predecessor, there's plenty to sing along to on here, particularly "Ring Ring" (not the ABBA song) which is possibly the Chris Rainbow masterwork, unashamedly indebted to the Beach Boys. Pop duo Dollar had a minor hit with their version of it in 1982.

Just after brief foray into disco funk with Max Middleton on a one off single under the worrying banner of "Maximum Penetration" (be careful googling that at work!), Chris was one many artists who was dropped by EMI in their turn of the decade clear out.

The 1980's saw Chris do stints in bands like the studio-only Alan Parsons Project, Camel and Panarama. This was the decade that also saw him move into session work and production for other artists including Runrig. In 2001, now using his birth name, Chris Harley, he came back with his first solo album for over twenty years. I've looked but I can't find it anywhere so would love to hear what it sounds like.

Sadly. today I heard the news that Chris Rainbow had recently passed away. Still, he leaves a legacy of well produced pure pop of the highest order. RIP.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

D Beaver - Combinations (1973)

David Beaver's music career started out as keyboardist in Memphis Garage Pop/Blue Eyed Soul band The Gentrys whom he joined during the late sixties while they were struggling to get a hit to follow up their most known song "Keep On Dancing". By 1970, Beaver was bored with The Gentrys pop style and went on to form the much more progressive outfit Edgewood. An album, "Ship Of Labor" was released in 1972 on Steve Cropper's TMI Records label. This album has too much pseudo classical and jazzy leanings for my taste, but if you're curious you can check it out in full here.

Soon after the release of "Ship Of Labor" Edgewood split and Beaver formed another group named D Beaver. Joining him from his previous band was Pat Allen Taylor (guitar, backing vocals) and studio musicians; Tommy Cathey (bass, vocals), Jimi Jamison (lead vocals), Carl Marsh (guitar, backing vocals) and Joel Williams (drums, percussion, guitar).

A self produced album entitled "Combinations" was released in 1973, again for the TMI label and distributed by RCA. All of the songs were written solely by Beaver with the exception of This was a much poppier affair than Edgewood, although it is still a little prog but in an experimental sounds sense as opposed to pretentious noodling. The LP is very similar to Todd Rundgren's "A Wizard, A True Star" which was also released in 1973 but with catchier songs. My personal highlights on Combinations include the Hammond Organ driven, opening track "I Wanna Show You", the Abbey Road-like "Another Bad Year" and "The Wizard Of Menlo Park" which wouldn't sound out of place on The Family Tree's Miss Butters album. "42nd All-Star Review" is the kind of 10cc/Wings/Pilot pop which is just perfect for this blog.

D Beaver split shortly after the Combinations album and this, according to the BadCatRecords website, was due to them being dropped by RCA. Apparently some of the musicians carried on for a while as session men before joining more successful bands, but Beaver appears to have swapped the music business for a lucrative career in banking.