Tag Archives: island records

June 20th 1974

“Went into Eastleigh. PM Music session”

So, I went into Eastleigh during the day and must have decided it was time to get the band back together again.

A collective sharp intake of breath followed by a sigh of expectant hope was doubtless expressed by the music industry.

In Jamaica, Island Records boss Chris Blackwell receives a call…

“Hello Chris, this is your A&R director here. We want to advise you against this U2 band from Dublin – instead we’re recommending a power poop trio from Hampshire consisting of a piano player who can’t play a note, a talentless acoustic guitarist and a 14-year-old bongo player. We’re thinking a 12-album deal and guaranteed 47½% residuals. They could be the next Rush”

Advertisement

Leave a comment

Filed under 1974 Diary Entries

July 23rd 1973

“Stuck project into folder” / “Went into ELeigh and got Life on Mars + Pyjamarama” /”Neil came up later”

This purchase of two singles – probably both snagged at Jack Hobbs Records in their clearance bins  – would seem to solidify my teenage passion for all things musically “glam”

David Bowie’s “Life on Mars?” single was released (somewhat strangely in retrospect) by RCA Records almost two years after the album it came from; “Hunky Dory”. Twinned with the cut “Man Who Sold the World” (later butchered by Nirvana) on the b-side, it reached #3 in the charts and had remarkable staying power, staying in and around the Top 30 for over 3 months.

It came after a run of 4 hit singles – “Starman” , “John, I’m Only Dancing“, “Jean Genie” and “Drive-In Saturday” – for Bowie, enhancing the remarkable success he had been enjoying with 1972’s “Ziggy Stardust” album and the more recent (in April 1973) “Aladdin Sane” LP. I don’t think anyone could have anticipated the timeless, ongoing appeal of Mr Bowie in 1973 or the fact that now, in 2009, he is considered one of  rock music’s “gods”

I loved – and still love – Bowie’s early work (I kinda started to pass on his ‘art’ after 1980’s “Scary Monsters” album), “Life on Mars?” remaining one of my absolute faves. This is despite the unfortunate overkill the single received on the back of the BBC’s drama series (of the same name) in 2006. Like many other people of that time, I was first drawn in by the singles, moving to his classic albums a little later.

What some people may find weird is that despite seeing Bowie a few weeks earlier, I had STILL not heard the Ziggy Stardust album in its entirety!

Roxy Music’s “Pyjamarama” has been poetically talked about by me before.

Released in Island Records’ familiar bright pink paper sleeve, the single featured another non-album cut, the tunelessly-atmospheric “The Pride and the Pain” on the b-side.

It was released in March 1973, reached as high as Number 10 in the charts before dropping out of the Top 30 at the end of May. (Jack Hobbs usually sold off non-chart singles pretty cheaply as a way of clearing his shelves, which is doubtless why I waited until July to snag it).

The cut was originally scheduled to be included on Roxy Music’s “For Your Pleasure” album but was left off the final mix. The decision to use the single as the album’s “promotion” would come to be regarded as commercial madness by the music industry in later years, but I seem to remember this practise was quite common in the early part of the seventies.

Here’s today’s trivia corner…

• All-girl pop trio Bananarama’s name was inspired by the phrase “Pyjamarama”
• Rick Wakeman played keyboards on “Life on Mars?”
• “Life on Mars” has been covered by artists as diverse as Michael Ball, The Flaming Lips, Seal and Barbra Streisand

Leave a comment

Filed under 1973 Diary Entries

June 7th 1973

“Bog broke at school. Melody Maker news – ELP split from Island, now on Manticore/WEA. Magninimous amount of revision achieved”

Who broke the bog?  Did I break the bog? Did the school only have one bog? All these questions and more are answered in the special blu-ray “director’s cut” of this blog, available from Amazon and other stylish retailers.

Even if I had spelled magnanimous correctly, does the word properly sum up the revision levels? I think not. Good job I wasn’t up for my English O-Level!

As far as I can remember, the ELP news was far from a huge secret at the time, the band eager own their own label… which is what Manticore Records was.

According to greek myth a manticore is a legendary creature similar to the Egyptian sphinx. It has the body of a red lion, a human head with three rows of sharp teeth (like a shark), and a trumpet-like voice.

Did Greg Lake think he had a trumpet-like voice? I’m sure there are those who agree with that. I suspect that the closest Keith Emerson had to the “body of a red lion” was after he’d spent a few hours down his local boozer. Carl Palmer’s dentist must hate him.

The manticore creature had already been seen on the inner sleeve of their “Tarkus” album, facing up the mighty armadillo tank on the cover. As in all Manticore vs Armadillo Tank confrontations, the tank prevailed.

If you want a giggle, here’s a piece of Manticore Records trivia, sure to win you several hundred pounds/dollars should it ever turn up in a pub quiz… in 1975, Manticore Records (home, amongst others, to ELP & Italian prog-rockers P.F.M.) was distributed in the USA by….. Motown! I kid you not. That must’ve made for some interesting management meetings?

Leave a comment

Filed under 1973 Diary Entries

January 22nd 1973

“Got Tarkus bak” / “FOUND HISTORY BOOK (This’ll go down in ‘istory)” / “Went up Nigs, Mal there – listened to ELP (grate) + Cat Stevens (ugh)”

Uppercase for FOUND HISTORY BOOK eh? That means it was a MUCH bigger deal than earlier posts about its loss may have suggested.

Oh, and a ‘joke’ about the discovery. I’ll bet Tommy Cooper was quaking in his boots.

The final part of this entry has me slapping my head with a certain amount of shame.

Naturally I would have said ELP were grate in fact it may have been the case that I forced Nig & Mal to listen to them? – but to castigate the (IMHO) mighty Cat Stevens with a lousy ugh is deeply embarrassing to me now.

If I was a betting man – which, it has to be said, I am sometimes – I’ll lay odds that the Cat Stevens album we listened to that night was “Catch Bull at Four

Cat Stevens was born Steven Demetre Georgiou in 1948 and spent his early life living above the restaurant his family owned just off London’s Piccadilly Circus. He learned to play the piano in his early teens, extending his skills to the guitar at 15 years old, when he also started writing his own songs.

He started playing them in pubs and coffee houses in and around London, changing his name to “Cat Stevens” when he realised that he couldn’t imagine anyone going into a record shop and asking for an album by “that Steven Demetre Georgiou” (He was right)

He recorded a few demos for Deram Records, which led to a contract. He then had three hit singles in a row. “I Love My Dog“, “Matthew & Son” and “I’m Gonna Get Me a Gun“, of which only the first would come to represent the eventual ‘Cat Stevens sound’. (The other two, however, are MAGNIFICENT slices of 60’s orchestral beat, loved by aficionados like myself)

On the strength of his hits, he toured with the (somewhat varied) likes of Jimi Hendrix and Englebert Humperdinck, and was marketed very much as a ‘pop star’.

Things changed drastically in the late 60’s for Cat. His album “New Masters* inexplicably flopped and in 1968 he became very ill with both tuberculosis and a collapsed lung.

His approach to life altered during his convalescence. He became a vegetarian, took up meditation and generally became more spiritual. It is said that during this period of ‘self-awakening’ he wrote the vast majority of all his subsequent recorded songs.

Unhappy with his ‘pop star’ status and wanting to work on a more folksier sound, he swapped record labels, signing for Chris Blackwell‘s influential Island Records. (Licensed to A&M in the USA)

The move was a resounding success. His first album for Island, “Mona Bone Jakon“, yielded the hit single “Lady D’Arbanville”, whilst the follow-up “Tea for the Tillerman” sent his signature sounds into the international stratosphere, selling ‘gold’ in both the USA and the UK, helped along by more hit singles like “Wild World

A brief romance with Carly Simon preceeded the release of the “Teaser & the Firecat” album in 1971. This was very much a tour de force which yielded a trio of massive hit singles in the shape of “Peace Train“, “Morning has Broken” and “Moon Shadow

Which brings us to “Catch Bull at Four“, a release that reached Number 1 in the USA, number 2 in the UK, eventually sold almost 3 million copies, yielded a couple of hit singles (in “Can’t Keep It In” and “Sitting“)….. but was reviewed as “ugh” by first-time listener TRO!

Cat: Then & Now

Stevens converted to the Islamic faith in 1977, his pop career faltered and he changed his name to Yusuf Islam. He stayed out of the headlines until 1989 when he made an unfortunate and ill-advised statement in support of the Islamic fatwa on author Salmon Rushdie. Needless to say his prior protestations of ‘peace’ on so many beautiful songs were undermined and he became somewhat ‘hated’ by the press and certain ignorant elements of society.

More recently he has gently nudged his way back into public consciousness and returned to the studio to record “An Other Cup“, an album which is ‘classic’ Cat Stevens in sound, but feels a little laboured and ‘old fashioned’ in construction. He’s returned to live performances too, including turning up at the “Peace One Day” concert at the Royal Albert Hall in 2007.

Like I’ve said, I feel embarrassed about my review of “Catch Bull at Four“. I adore almost the entire Cat Stevens output up to (but not including all of) “Izitso” in 1977. To have castigated him so readily in 1973 is an insult to both Cat Stevens and my own pair of ears! Maybe proof that “first listens” don’t always count (as I tend to otherwise believe)

* Trivia Corner:- The”New Masters” album included the song “The First Cut is the Deepest” which Stevens sold to PP Arnold. Arnold had a massive hit with her version, and it was later also covered with *ahem* considerable international success by Rod Stewart, James Morrison, Sheryl Crow and others. However, Cat sold the song for…… £30! *oops!*

3 Comments

Filed under 1973 Diary Entries

January 16th 1973

“2nd Maths Mock o’level – BLOODY hard” / “After two weeks of solid revision, had to do piles of copying up” / “Got Quid for Focus ticket” / “Got Tarkus tape back from Precision”

A diary entry that has made me both remember AND forget things in equal quantities.

Firstly, conveniently forgetting that my Maths mock was BLOODY hard (please note swearing, spelled correctly, for absolute emphasis), my brain is somehow farting over the phrase “copying up”

Don’t get me wrong, I recognise the phrase “copying up” from the days at school, I just cannot – for the life of me – remember what it relates to exactly. As several of my old schoolchums might be reading this… maybe they can shed a little light on it?

The thing I CAN remember – perhaps surprisingly – is with regards to that comment about getting ELP’s Tarkus tape back from Precision. (I must have had a faulty one or something?)

The compact cassette began life in the mid-60’s, designed by Philips, primarily/initially for dictation and personal recording use. It was introduced to replace the unwieldy, huge and non-portable reel-to-reel tape recorders which had been popular for some time. The cassette was therefore an early example of product miniaturisation as a result of consumer demand, something which still exists to this day. People only have to notice how small their mobile/cell phones have become in the the past 5 or 6 years.

In 1971 three things happened almost simultaneously that propelled the cassette into the forefront of commercial recordings and allow it to take on the LP’s dominance.

The first was that the 3M company rejigged the transport mechanism inside the tape shells, making the tape run cleaner and with less flutter.

The second thing was the introduction of chromium dioxide (Cr02)tapes, giving much improved and longer-lasting quality.

The third, however, was the most revolutionary.

Tapes invariably gave off a hissing sound when played back, the result of the tape moving across the machine’s heads. In 1966 an American scientist named Ray Dolby invented a professional noise reduction system for recording studios that all but eliminated that tape hiss. That system was known as “Dolby A”. Several years later he perfected a second version – Dolby B – that made high fidelity (hi-fi) a reality on home tape machines and cassettes.

The combination of all these factors – together with the sheer portability of the format – made the cassette market take off like a proverbial rocket. (However, it would be 1979, and the advent of the Sony Walkman that would take the format all the way to the moon)

I am digressing to tell the story of the cassette, but here’s the thing I CAN remember from this period in the seventies.

Lord, then Sir, Lew Grade

Record labels did NOT release their own tapes in th UK. Instead of manufacturing the cassette versions of their best selling albums, many licensed them out to Precision Tapes, a subsidiary of Sir Lew Grade’s massive ITC Entertainment Group. (Digressing a little:- Lew Grade was the man wholly responsible for bringing  shows like The Prisoner, The Saint, Thunderbirds and The Muppets to our TV screens!)

So, although the cassettes would carry the same artwork, credits and content, the sales and distribution of those tapes would be handled by Precision.

At least until the record manufacturers had tooled up their plants to churn out tapes alongside vinyl LP’s.

So, my “Tarkus” cassette was a duffer and I obviously had to return it to Precision – rather than Manticore/Island Records – for a replacement. The date being prior to the whole “sale of goods act” – which came into force in 1979 – that meant I could have merely returned the tape to the retailer for a new non-faulty one.

You know, when I actually remember something as intrinsic as this, I get genuinely excited.

(What’s the betting I have it all wrong?)

In one of life’s “chaos theories”, I would later work for the video offshoot of Precision Tapes – for a period of about two months in 1980. Worst job ever.

Hmmmn…. have I written anything about ELP’s “Tarkus”? ….. checks EFA70’sTRO search facility…. Oh…. I see I haven’t…..

2 Comments

Filed under 1973 Diary Entries

July 21st 1972

“Trev came up. He brought up N.E.T.E. + Elegy. In afternoon we played cricket + F.ball and got told off by Grumpy”

I got told off by myself? Oh…. got it, this was not 2008, but 1972!

I really was an energetic little toad wasn’t it? Cricket and football all in the space of one day? I’d be pushed to play both of them in one decade now.

Still, once again Trev brought with him some more musical ‘education’, and the mere mention of one – N.E.T.E. – has surprised me significantly.

I have always maintained that the Island compilation album “Nice Enough to Eat” (hence “N.E.T.E. “) was the first album I ever bought. It would seem from this diary entry that I have deceived myself – and others – for a very long time? After all, I would not borrow the album if I already owned it, and didn’t I buy an Emerson, Lake & Palmer album a few months ago?

Given the fact that “Nice Enough to Eat” contains gems from the likes of Traffic, Nick Drake, King Crimson and Blodwyn Pig, and “Emerson Lake & Palmer” is … well … Emerson, Lake & Palmer, I can no longer ‘boast’ to be anywhere near as cool and hip as I’ve always thought I’d been with my first ever record.

Bugger.

That said, N.E.T.E. is a great album and (had it been my first) the perfect primer for a my ‘life in music’.  Part of a trend of ‘sampler’ albums released by the more intelligent labels around this time – the trend including Bumpers, You Can All Join In, El Pea, and The Rock Machine Turns You On, this was sold at the bargain price of about 79p (or $1.50).

The word ‘gems’ I used earlier is not an overstatement either. From Nick Drake’s utterly sublime “Time Has Told Me” (which was to become a personal anthem for my wife & I during our dating years…. “You’re a rare, rare find“) all the way to Spooky Tooth’s anthemic “Better by You, Better than Me” and via the somewhat scary “21st Century Schizoid Man” by King Crimson.

The album single-handedly introduced me to a lifetime’s appreciation of the work of Steve (Traffic) Winwood and Free, as well as utter adoration for Nick Drake’s brief but staggering output. However, the Drake song aside, there is one cut that has stuck with me more than any other. Dr Strangely Strange stumped up “Strangely Strange but Oddly Normal” for the compilation and what a great song it is, peculiarly summing up how I often feel about myself. I have included this on so many mix tapes over the interim 36 years, I feel like I have somehow personally introduced this band to the world, even though they have continued to very much remain an unknown quantity. The problem is (in my ‘umble opine) that whilst that song was great, the album it came from, “Kip of the Serenes” – despite being produced by the mighty Joe Boyd – has always been a massive let down to me. Like so many other bands and artists – just the ONE killer song!

Yes, despite now discovering it wasn’t my first ever vinyl LP purchase, N.E.T.E. will always feel like it was… even if my introduction to it was as yet another ‘borrow’ from my friend Trev and his brother Steven.

Elegy” by The Nice is another matter altogether. The Nice included amongst its number the “E” from ELP, (yes, them again!) which is why I was eager to hear it. I only liked the one cut, and a diary entry a few days from now will go into it in far greater depth.

Leave a comment

Filed under 1972 Diary Entries