Friday, 25 September 2015

Hector's House

No Post next week – I’m taking a well-deserved week off – so here’s a bumper bundle of badness to tide you over until I return.

I love 60s French pop music – the freakbeat stylings of Jacques Dutronc, the genius pop of France Gall’s Poupee du Cire and the nutso pairing of Brigitte Bardot and Serge Gainsbourg for example – but why on earth would the world need a French Screaming Lord Sutch (or Screaming Jay Hawkins for that matter)?

Yet that’s exactly what it got in 1963 when Jean-Pierre Kalfon, better known under his stage name Hector, released a handful of records via Philips France.

Not to be confused with the French actor of the same birth name (that particular Monsieur Kalfon is eight years older than our Hector and would launch his own singing career later) our Jean-Pierre was born in 1946 and was only 15 years’ old when he became Hector, the flamboyant singer of the beat combo Les Mediators (which translates as The Picks). Stealing liberally from both Hawkins and Sutch – he used to emerge on stage from a coffin just as Hawkins (and later Sutch) had done – Hector would appear in white tie, tails and cape (as Sutch often did) accompanied (in a nod to James Brown) by his faithful valet Jerome. He was also known to emulate Sutch’s caveman look from time to time. His incredibly (for the time) long, bushy hair earned him the nickname The Chopin of Twist.

Hector et Les Mediators released one 45 single and two EPs (the preferred medium in France at the time) in 1963, including covers of such rock ‘n roll standards as Peggy Sue, Whole Lotta Shaking Going On and Something Else alongside material written specifically for him, including the diabolically awful Hawkins rip-off Je Vous Déteste (I Hate You). During his wild stage show, when he wasn’t imitating Sutch (who would later be photographed with Hector, holding his famous fake axe to the Frenchman’s neck) he would take off other stars of the day… including the Singing Nun! Like Sutch he was publicity-hungry, even going so far as to try and fry an egg on the flame at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

After a heated disagreement with Philips over the reissue of a brace of his old 50s covers on a then-current EP he left the company, and Les Mediators - Marc Schleck (lead guitar), Serge Mosiniak (bass), Gilbert Krantz (rhythm guitar) and William ‘Atomic Bill’ Roudil (drums) - behind him. Hector continued as a solo act for a couple of years, issuing EPs in 1964 for Ducaret Thompson (via Pathé Marconi) - Alligator/Mon Copain Johny//La Femme De Ma Vie/Hong Kong - and Polydor (Abab L’Arab [a cover of the Ray Stevens/Jimmy Savile novelty hit Ahab the Arab]/Il Faut Seulement Une Petite Fille//Le Gamin Couché [a cover of the Monkees-related US hit The Gamma Goochee]/A La Fin De La Semelle [a dire French language version of Otis Redding’s I've Been Loving You Too Long]).

After recording an (unreleased) cover of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ The Whammy he left France in 1967 and moved to Canada, where he dabbled in artist management and rubbed shoulders with Tony Roman, the man behind Mme St Onge, before returning to Paris and re-emerging in 1970 as part of the trio Hector, Tom et Jerry with the one-off 45 Un P’tit Beaujolais/La Societie. Tom et Jerry had previously recorded as a duo for RCA.

And that was that. No more releases. He became artistic director at Barclay Records and at Pathé Marconi before becoming an actor, appearing in Gomina (1973) and Marriage (The Wedding) (1975) with Jeane Manson. In 1983 Hector bought a packaging machine manufacturing plant in Seine-et-Marne, which he sold on four years later; the following year Philips issued Je Vous Déteste, a mini-album compilation of the six sides he recorded for the company. In more recent years he has made a living out of touring the French r’n’r revival scene.

Last year (2014) Hector resurfaced with several members of Les Mediators at the unveiling of a plaque to mark the Golf Drouot – a club where many of France’s top performers (including Hector et les Mediators) performed between 1955 and 1981.

Anyway, here’s a handful of Hector’s finest. Enjoy!

Friday, 18 September 2015

Jefferson, I Think We're Lost

I’ve been reading about – and listening to a lot of – R.E.M recently; reacquainting myself with one of the finest bands this world has ever seen. It doesn’t really matter if you like them or not, but take my word for it: even if you never got on with their records they were – quite simply – one of the best live acts I’ve ever been fortunate enough to see. I cannot count the number of times I saw that band live, from a pub in London (when they used the pseudonym Bingo Hand Job) to a TV studio in Paris: from a rugby stadium in Wales to the Hammersmith Odeon and a Victorian theatre in Dublin. When R.E.M played live it was a magical, cathartic experience. And I miss them. Although in my humble opinion they should have called it quits a few years before they did, and Around the Sun High Speed Train aside) is bollocks.

Anyway…to the point.

Issued in 1988 on his own Dog Gone Records label, the five track 12” EP Come On In Here If You Want To may be credited to Vibrating Egg but is actually a vanity project from former R.E.M manager Jefferson Holt.

Holt, who was with the band from its earliest days, was dismissed as manager of the world’s biggest act in 1996 – around the same time that they signed with Warners for what was one of the largest deals in recording history at the time: reportedly $80 million for five albums. Both camps have resolutely refused to talk about why he went – in fact the terms of the financial package means that they cannot legally discuss why he was booted out after 15 years’ service, but according to the Los Angeles Times (June 1996)  ‘Holt was asked to leave after members of the group investigated allegations that he sexually harassed a female employee at [their] tiny Athens, Ga., office.

The 42-year-old manager officially left the R.E.M. organization last week after receiving a hefty severance package, sources said. In a phone interview, Holt denied he had ever sexually harassed anyone and said that the decision to part ways with R.E.M. was mutual.

"I've agreed to keep the terms of my agreement with R.E.M. confidential," Holt said. "However, 15 years is a long time, and as time passed, our friendships have changed. I think we found as time passed that we have less and less in common. I've become more interested in other things in life and wanted to spend more time pursuing those interests. I'm happier than I have been in a long time."

Representatives for R.E.M. refused to comment, but released a statement Thursday that said the band and Holt terminated their relationship by mutual agreement. According to the statement, "the reasons for this decision and terms of the termination are private and confidential, and no further discussion of these matters will be made by any of the parties."

Band members were "shocked" when a female employee complained four months ago about Holt's alleged behaviour, one source said. The employee did not file a lawsuit nor register a claim with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, but complained to the band that Holt had harassed her with lewd remarks and demanded sexual favours, sources said.

Band members questioned Holt and then spent about three months investigating the allegations, sources said. In May, the band called a meeting and asked Holt to leave the organization, sources said.’ This same story has been repeated in other media, including the New York Times, but Peter Buck, R.E.M’s guitarist, strongly denied that anyone connected with R.E.M had planted the sexual harassment story. Whatever happened, Holt was quickly erased from R.E.M history. Two songs mention him – Little America and Can’t Get There From Here – however whenever they performed Little America live after his departure they changed the lyrics to avoid referencing him.
Reviewed by Trouser Press in 1988, Ira Robbins had this to say about Come On In Here If You Want To: ‘A 12-inch of five cool covers by an unknown band on an indie label would normally rate little notice, but Georgia's Vibrating Egg has more than just the good sense to dedicate its record to Leonard Cohen and Viv Stanshall. Raoul Duplott, the unsteady vocalist on these amiable renditions of Procol Harum's A Whiter Shade of Pale, Roky Erickson's Bermuda, an old spiritual and two of Alice Cooper's finest, is none other than Jefferson Holt, then-manager of R.E.M. and founder of the Dog Gone label, surrounded by a host of pseudonymous players. (Hmm...) Good fun, but Holt had best keep his day job.’  

‘Amiable renditions’? A Whiter Shade of Pale is eight and a half minutes of torture, with Holt’s pointless, artless prose followed by Keith Reid’s equally pointless and tortuous lyrics. Bermuda later turned up on the same Roky Erickson tribute album (Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye) that featured R.E.M’s version of I Walked With a Zombie. The two Alice Cooper covers - Be My Lover and Under My Wheels – even with their rewritten lyrics are plain awful. As far as I am aware, the only member of R.E.M who plays (and adds backing vocals) on the disc is bassist Mike Mills. Holt used the pseudonym Raoul Duplott for the project; Mills appears as William B Carr.

Long out of print, here are all five tracks from Come On In Here If You Want To – the aforementioned A Whiter Shade of Pale, Bermuda, Be My Lover and Under My Wheels, plus Particularly Zeke, a spiritual previously covered by Elvis Presley as Swing Down Sweet Chariot on his gospel album His Hand In Mine.


Friday, 11 September 2015

So Who Likes Gary Glitter?

So, who likes gary Glitter?

Ahh, the early 70s; a more simple time when our pop stars were not paedophiles and when the disc jockeys on the nation’s number one radio station were not scared that the next person to knock on the front door  would be a policeman.

Ed ‘Stewpot’ Stewart – born Edward Mainwaring in 1941 - is a British DJ and television presenter, best known for his years working for BBC Radio 1 between 1967 and 1980 (particularly Junior Choice) and BBC Radio 2 (1980-1983 and 1991-2006) and as one of the many presenters of Top of the Pops and Crackerjack on BBC Television. For many years he was also associated with the children’s TV magazine Look-In.

Although he began his broadcasting career with radio Hong Kong in 1961, he’s most closely associated with the BBC. Ed has had an often tempestuous relationship with them: in 1983, he was ousted – along with other old favourites including Pete Murray – by the controller of Radio 2 Bryan Marriott with the rather vicious remark: ‘I am not prepared to let the network stagnate. It is time to inject new blood into our programming, and there is no room for Ed Stewart.’ Ed was ‘shocked and disappointed’ at the sacking. ‘I don’t think I’m any more old hat than anyone else in the network’, he said. His replacement was Gloria Hunniford… 54 weeks older than him.

He had a rather outré private life, meeting his wife to be - ‘I arrived (at her parents) at 7pm and was greeted at the door by what I can only describe as a 13 year old apparition! She was simply stunning’ - when she was barely a teenager (and starting to date her at that age, according to his own autobiography, even though he was 30 at the time) and continuing to live with her after they divorced and she moved her lover in to their house.

But anyway, back to the music. Today’s cuts come from a prime slice of ham entitled Stewpot’s Pop Party, one of a number of albums released under Ed’s name during the 70s. As he was most closely associated with radio and TV shows aimed at children, most of Ed’s recordings feature him narrating (or attempting to sing) kid’s songs and nursery rhymes – his debut was the 1968 45 I Like My Toys, performed with the Save The Children Fund Choir, a cover version of the Jeff Lynne/Idle Race song.

Stewpot’s Pop Party is a kind of precursor to the awful Mini-Pops: in other words the album mostly consists of children singing pop songs of the day in the hope of appealing to other children and failing miserably. Pulled together as a kind of instant kids party - the album is awash with the background noise of laughing, squealing children; the gatefold cover features recipes and games and there’s even an insert with pre-printed party invitation. The record includes four tracks by TRex and one by the Move alongside several songs performed by ‘The Children’ and Stewart’s own inane narration…which, as you’ll hear, includes several references to well-known child molester Gary Glitter.

It’s a period piece from a more innocent age. And it’s truly rotten.


Friday, 4 September 2015

Absolute Insanity

Brian Wilson – 100% certified genius. The man behind some of the most beautiful pop music of all time. He wrote God Only Knows, easily one of the greatest songs of all time. His reputation should be unassailable.

But he also wrote Smart Girls… a song I would have all but forgotten about if I hadn’t been recording a podcast with The Squire recently.

Brian is a troubled soul; his mid-60s meltdown caused the abandonment of the Beach Boys’ Smile project (an approximation of this missing album finally surfaced in 2011 as part of the essential Smile Sessions box set), signalled the end of the Beach Boys as a major chart act and would lead to decades of pain for him and his family, years of substance abuse, and periods of virtual house arrest from his controversial therapist Eugene Landy before he finally re-emerged in 1988 with the rather wonderful Brian Wilson album an its’ hit single Love and Mercy. He’s since toured the world – both solo and with the band he founded – to great acclaim and released several albums of new and re-worked material.

Following the release of Brian Wilson he set to work on a second solo alum, originally to be titled Brian. He has said that the master tapes from the project – later titled Sweet Insanity - were stolen, although the songs were prepared for release (cassette promos exist) and have since appeared on numerous bootlegs. Five of the songs from the sessions were rerecorded and released on his 2004 album Gettin' in Over My Head, and one - The Spirit of Rock and Roll - which featured Bob Dylan on vocals, eventually turned up on the hard-to-find 2006 Beach Boys album Songs from Here & Back. However several of the songs remain officially unreleased to this day including the track I present for you here, Brian’s misjudged attempt at rap, Smart Girls. I’m breaking with tradition slightly by bringing you a recording that hasn’t officially seen the light of day, but I thought you’d enjoy it anyway.

Smart Girls – with a co-writer credit to Landy - was produced by Matt Dike, the co-founder of Delicious Vinyl and part of the production team behind hits by Tone Loc and Young MC, who chose to sample bits of earlier Beach Boys hits and sprinkle them liberally throughout the song. Wilson played the song on the air during an interview on Dr. Demento's show in 1992.

"Sweet Insanity was never really released,” Wilson said in an interview earlier this year. “You’ve got bootlegs, but it was never released. And I thought some of the stuff was pretty good. It wasn’t the best album I ever wrote. We just didn’t think it was good enough. They were just like demos. We recorded about 10-12 songs, and we decided not to put it because we thought that maybe people wouldn’t like it, so we junked it."

Good choice, Brian. The interviewer, Dave Herrera of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, asked Brian about Smart Girls: “Was that just you fooling around and having a good time?”

“Yeah, we were just having a good time,” Brian answered. “It was fun. We were just kidding. I felt like I was going in the right direction. I thought if I added a little bit more harmony, that people would like (that). Harmony is something that people love.”


WWR Most Popular Posts