Friday, 26 February 2016

Floral Dunce

2016 hasn’t been a good year so far, has it? Far too many great entertainers have gone, and the world is a much poorer place without them. One of those - the late, great Terry Wogan - left us on January 31, but he also left us with a musical legacy that we’re celebrating here today.

Former bank employee Sir Michael Terence ‘Terry’ Wogan will be forever remembered as the charming, avuncular and slyly subversive radio presenter, game- and chat-show show host, and the front man of such annual televisual events as the Eurovision Song Contest and Children In Need. And, of course, you can’t be a star as big as Our Tel without occasionally being coerced into making a record – one of which narrowly escaped being a top 20 hit in 1977.

The Floral Dance is a popular song written in 1911 by Katie Moss, inspired by a visit to Heston in Cornwall where she took part in the age-old traditional Furry Dance – part of the Flora Day Festival. The annual Flora Day is a traditional festival to welcome the coming of spring and sees couples, dressed in their finery, dancing around the village and actually through many houses, to the accompaniment of the town band playing their traditional tune. Katie Moss’s song was based upon this tune and over the years gained wide popularity across the country.

Everyone who is interested in bad music will remember Terry’s awful ‘sing-speak’ version of The Floral Dance. What you may not know – or perhaps had forgotten - is that famed brass band the Brighouse and Rastrick Band had already recorded the song, had copies pressed up and were selling them at concerts before Terry decided to ‘do his thing all over it’. The B&R version was already gaining some airplay and was on the way to becoming a modest hit before Terry started to champion it on his Radio Two show. By the time he finished, two versions of the tune were competing for chart position.

The B&R version – arranged by the band’s conductor Derek Broadbent - was released on Transatlantic in 1976 and produced by serial offender Ivor Raymonde (father of Simon Raymonde of the Cocteau Twins). Wogan’s was issued by Philips the next year, with the credits ‘arranged by Andrew Pryce Jackman’ (the keyboard player and musical arranger who worked with Yes) and ‘produced by Mike Redway’ (a busy session singer and former member of the Mike Sammes Singers, who recorded over 80 sides for budget label Embassy). That ‘arranged by’ credit is iffy, to say the least: outside of the addition of a cheesy drum machine, the arrangement is absolutely identical to Derek Broadbent’s version.

1977, don’t forget, was the year that punk exploded. The B&R’s version of the Floral Dance stalled at number two in the UK charts, kept off the top position not by the Sex Pistols or the Damned, but by Wings with Mull of Kintyre! Sir Terry, backed by the Hanwell Band (uncredited on the record) reached a lowly 21. Not bad for a man whose only previous single had been a flexidisc given away free ‘when you try on any bra, girdle or corselette’ from the Playtex 18 hour range. 

Every single needs a B-side, of course, and Terry’s Floral Dance was backed by the atrocious, sub-Skellern drivel Old Rockin’ Chair. Philips, with a minor hit on their hands, pushed Terry back in to the studio to record an album of similarly awful nonsense, featuring covers of the Bee Gees’ Words, Otis Redding’s Try a Little Tenderness and today’s third track, Me and the Elephant, which another national treasure, Cilla Black, would cover the following year.

Rest in Peace, Sir Terry: this world is a poorer place without you.


Friday, 19 February 2016

Just For Fun

This record is like nothing you’ve ever heard before – unless of course you’ve heard it, in which case it is exactly like something you’ve heard before…

An absolute classic in the world of bad music, the cover turns up time and time again on those ‘bad album art’ sites, but people seldom bother with the audio, which is a shame as Gary Schneider’s demented, off-kilter takes on lounge classics are a gas.

Issued on his own Schmaltzy Records label, Just For Fun, Just For Friends is the only album from Gary Schneider, a San Francisco Bay-based lounge organist and entertainer. Originally from the American Midwest, for a number of years he provided the in-house entertainment at the Driftwood Lounge in Alameda, CA, and was known for his by somewhat risque humour, which would include singing dirty parody lyrics to some of the best-known lounge standards: What A Difference A Day Makes became What A Difference Getting Laid Makes, I Left My Heart In San Francisco became I Lost My Ass In San Francisco and so on.

“I made this album, in 1979,” he says. “I was just having fun. I'm still very much alive and living in Alameda. I had a good 35-year run in the organ bar business, but it's a dead horse now.” Gary employed all manner of keyboards, electronic effects and so on for his recording: “The device I used for the talking guitar was the Sonovox. It was invented by Gilbert Wright in about 1938 and was used in the movies and on old time radio” Predating the Vocoder by decades, you can see a clip of the Sonovox in use in 1940 here:

If you can bear the whole album, you can find it at Mr Weird and Wacky, but for now here are two tracks – Green Tambourine (“I still prefer the Lemon Pipers’ version”, says Gary; personally I think he gives Mrs. Miller a run for her money here) and Sweet Georgia Brown.


Friday, 12 February 2016

More Marty

We've visited the career of Ellen Marty on several occasions in the past, but adding a new 45 from her to my collection is always something worth celebrating. She has become something of an obsession.

Forgive me for repeating her story (which previously appeared in The World's Worst Records Volume Two), but for those who are not yet acquainted with the wonderful Miss Marty, here goes...

Of Swedish descent (although the liner notes on her one and only album attest she is actually half Norwegian and half Irish), Ellen Marty’s real name was Mary Ellen Mart. Born in the American mid-west but schooled in New York, she appears to have started writing songs at an early age, copyrighting her first compositions - See Saw Love and My Christmas Gift - in 1957. Moving from New York to California, Mary Ellen based herself in Hollywood and started her own publishing company, Lycklig. Mary Ellen chose the name Lycklig as it’s the Swedish word for ‘happy’.

She initially tried to break into showbiz as an actress, appearing in at least two films: Spring Affair in 1960 (as a waitress) and the 1962 cult prison drama House of Women. Neither of these films were going to make Ellen a star, and it seems that she quickly decided to concentrate instead on her musical career.

Ellen seems to have made most of her recordings pre-1968, releasing 45s under her own name and also as Buttons. Although she recorded several sides as Buttons there’s no connection between her and the many other acts who used the same name. There are at least four Buttons 45s on the Rain Coat label and several others under Ellen’s own name on Raincoat, the interchangeable name of the record company which seems to have existed primarily (and, quite possibly, exclusively) to handle Ellen’s recordings. All of Ellen’s 60s recordings were produced and arranged by Joe Leahy, the bandleader, arranger, writer and producer who previously set up the Unique Records label (which issued Leona Anderson’s collection Music To Suffer By).

Ellen also recorded an album, Mixing and Making, for her own Marty Records, an album given three stars by Billboard magazine. That LP - on which Ellen was backed by a stellar line up of musicians including drummer Hal Blaine and guitarist Bud Coleman - included her cover of The Man in the Raincoat (retitled Man In A Raincoat), which was later issued as a 45 (catalogue 601) on both the Raincoat and Marty record labels under its correct title. She followed this up with the 45 Bobby Died Today which, despite rumours to the contrary, has nothing whatsoever to do with the death of Bobby Kennedy. There are no dates on any of these releases, but Bobby Died Today appears to have been issued in 1966, two years prior to Senator Kennedy’s assassination.

All of Ellen Marty’s recordings are a delight: her voice is unconventional to say the least, veering from a kittenish whisper (as on the 45 Lovetime) to that of a truculent teenager (vis Bobby Died Today) and she occasionally sounds as if she’s about to slit her wrists. Her lyrics are distinctly odd (her single The Barn Is So Far From The Steeple starts off with the line ‘On a day that was warm I decided to be born’, for example), and her sense of scansion and timing is often at odds with what pop record buyers are used to - as in the odd, hiccoughing rhythm of Give Me A Raincheck, Baby which, when I first heard it, had me rushing to ensure that the needle of my tone arm was not skipping across the precious vinyl. One of her earliest 45s – A Petal A Day/Baby Blue Eyes – is a fine example of her slightly off-kilter world. I love the B-side, with its wailing police sirens and jaunty tack piano accompaniment, and the little giggle in Ellen’s voice towards the end is a real winner. It could easily be the soundtrack to a cartoon about a prohibition-era speakeasy. The more subdued plug side, A Petal A Day, is a miserable little ditty about unrequited love whose lyrics clash ridiculously with the jolly backing track: a suicide note sung to a fast food jingle. Locked Up And Bolted (which originally appeared as Locked Up and Bolded, resulting in some poor soul having to correct the labels on each disc by hand), the flip of the circa 1966 single Raindrops, is one of the most fun recordings you’ll ever hear, reminiscent of the Patrick Macnee/Honor Blackman song Let’s Keep It Friendly. The one thing you can say about Ellen’s material is that it genuinely deserves the epithet extraordinary.

Unfortunately Ellen Marty the recording artist, songwriter and erstwhile actress seems to have retired. She briefly resurfaced in Nashville in the mid-70s when, as Elie Marty, she released a brace of singles again on Rain Coat. However this time her mentor Joe Leahy was not available to help out, having passed away the previous year, and the ‘prestigious’ Hollywood address had been swapped for a PO box in Music City. The unusual, beguiling voice is the same, but the quality of the songs – a cover of the 1920s standard Do You Ever Think of Me and Bob G Dean’s Paper Planes (later covered by Pat Alexis; Dean was the co-author of Stella Parton’s hit I Want To Hold You In My Dreams Tonight) among them – can’t hope to compare with the best of her 60s work.

Since then there’s been no sign of her. My research has lead me down several dead ends, and the former Lycklig offices – just a stone’s throw away from Hollywood Boulevard - are now part of an apartment complex. 

Perhaps I’ll never know who the ‘real’ Ellen Marty is (or was). Maybe I don’t need to. At least she has left me the key to her treasure chest of ever-so-slightly peculiar recordings. And for that I shall always be grateful. 

Anyway, here's my latest find, the Vaudeville-inspired 1967 45 Cats Have Whiskers/It All Depends on You. 


Friday, 5 February 2016

More From Mark Fox

I’ve written about Mark Fox and the creepy ‘child’ Lil’ Markie before, but I’ve just found a copy of his third album Little Bits for Children Everywhere and felt compelled to share it with you.

This time credited to ‘Mark Fox Featuring Little Markie’ (although, according to the label, this travesty is entirely down to Little Markie himself), and housed in a sleeve that’s a complete rip off of the posthumous Elvis collection Sings For Children… and Grownups Too! - right down to the colours of the Crayola crayons - Little Bits features Pastor Mark Fox duetting with his inner child on a half dozen tracks on side one, with the flip given over to his famous Story of an Alcoholic Father discourse. Elvis Sings For Children... features his awful rendition of Old MacDonald, of course, but again we've already been there.

If you had only heard, but not seen, Lil’ Markie you'd be forgiven for thinking that he was a pudgy, apple-cheeked nine year-old, sweetly singing his way through life with songs about Jesus – but Markie is, in fact, the creation of adult evangelist Mark Fox, who uses his ability to switch between his own voice and a terrifying, childish, Donald Duck-esque falsetto to sing cautionary Christian tales with titles such as the aforementioned Story Of An Alcoholic Father (Something's Happened To Daddy), I Will Obey The Lord and the incredibly vile Diary Of An Unborn Child - the story of a foetus, from conception to abortion; a disgusting diatribe based on an article which originally appeared in a Jehovah's Witness magazine. It’s all very Baby Lu-Lu.

Mark/Lil’ Markie/Little Markie released a slew of similarly insane ramblings, many through his own Mark Fox Family Ministries company. He also briefly recorded under his own name, issuing the gospel album Let The Son Shine In: on the back cover he is described as 'a personable young man who communicates Christ through his music.' The not-so-fantastic Mr Fox even had his own public access TV show for a while. I assume that the majority of people tuning in to his programme would have reached for the phone to call 911 as soon as Mark stopped singing in his usual pleasant baritone and started screeching like a lisping simpleton for fear that the evangelist had actually swallowed and was choking to death on a Tickle Me Elmo doll. He’s a ventriloquist without a dummy (unless you count those in his audience that is), a scary enough concept in itself.

Many of the tracks on the Lil’ Markie/Little Markie/Mark Fox albums were written by Rick and Rosemary Wilhelm, regular performers on the Christian Baptist church circuit, who released their own eponymous album in 1977. The couple are still active today. Mark Fox is still about too, troubling people in churches around the United States with his insane alter ego.

Anyway, judge for yourself after you listen to a couple of tracks from Little Bits for Children Everywhere – the medley of B-O-R-N  A-G-A-I-N/For God So Loved The World and the ‘duet’ J-E-S-U-S. ‘Little’ Marcy Tigner must be turning in her grave.


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