Friday, 25 July 2014

The Speciality of the Day


I’m afraid I can’t tell you much about Marvin A Waters, the man behind this week’s audio atrocity, or about his companies Marvin Waters Records and Marvin Waters Music (BMI). I can tell you that he was born in 1940 and that he’s still alive, aged 73, and still living in Columbus, Georgia, where he built his empire. I can tell you that he was raised in Cordele, Georgia before relocating to Columbus and – before he started to list himself as a ‘songwriter and singer’ – he was involved with the US Job Corps service, working from centres in California and Indiana and using the pages of their magazine the Corpsman to solicit young female pen pals in 1969.

He’s listed in the US phone book. Maybe one day I’ll give him a call.

Today’s tracks come from a 1989 release on Marvin Waters Records. Marvin Waters Records appears to be some sort of song poem/vanity hybrid – an operation not dissimilar to those of Norridge Mayhams and Nick Gilio – so this particular record is a bit of an oddity, with both Speciality You and You Can Go Take a Walk having been written by someone other than Marvin himself. Unfortunately the composer (one Miguel de la Vega) seems to be even more elusive than Mr Waters: there are other people of the same name (including a young Latino singer) around and active today, but this particular Senor Vega seems to have vanished.

Speciality You is a hopeless recording if there ever was one, suffering from stumbling keyboards, dreadful delivery from Marvin and what appears to be the wrong title: it’s clear from Marvin’s vocals that the song should be called ‘Specially You, not Speciality You – my guess is that the title on the label is a misprint. B-Side You Can Go Take a Walk is little better: both songs were clearly recorded in one take and one must assume that Marvin is also responsible for the useless keyboard playing. Rarely has the instrument sounded more tortured – apart that is form the truly horrific piano plonking on Grace Pauline Chew’s releases.

There were at least four 45s released on Marvin Waters Records, although judging by the catalogue numbers that have so far surfaced I would assume there are a load more somewhere:

A-9144: If You Ever Need Jesus/Why Don’t You Wake Up (both sides written by Marvin Waters) (1987)
A-9179: Speciality You/You Can Go Take a Walk (both sides written by Miguel de la Vega) (1989)
A-9190: Tired of my Kisses/Bayou Blue (1989)
A-9209: Get Out of Here/Wanted Again (1990)

Marvin composed several other songs – some of which may well have featured on other Marvin Waters Records releases, including God is so Good to Me (1983) and In the Night (also 1983), with music by Marvin Waters and words by Robert Gerold Register. To add to Marvin’s song-poem credentials, God is so Good to Me was originally recorded by song-poem superstar Buddy Raye (aka Elmer Plinger, Dick Castle and so on) on a Sunrise records gospel compilation Praising His Heavenly Light.


Friday, 18 July 2014

Absolute Agony

You’ve got Paul Nashman, the former proprietor of the infamous Nasher’s second-hand record shop in Walcot Street, Bath to blame for this one, for until he alerted me to it earlier this week I was blissfully unaware of its existence (Nasher’s late and much lamented shop featured on the front cover of the 2002 Van Morrison album Down the Road).

Issued as the second 45 on the tiny Monza record label in 1980 (the first was a cover of 10CC’s I’m Not in Love by Edwina Rigby; the third, and last, was a 45 which coupled reggae versions of the Dallas and Waltons themes), Rabies is a Killer is the sole single from Leicester’s Agony Bag, a bizarre Rocky Horror/Jayne County hybrid four piece (plus their two delightful female dancers) which sprang from the ashes of heavy rock act Black Widow. Inspired in equal measures by Jethro Tull and the teachings of black magic witch/occultist Alex Sanders (known to his followers as Verbius) Black Widow scored a minor hit with their first album Sacrifice, which included their best-known song Come to the Sabbat. Imitating near-neighbours Earth (who, in August 1969 would rename themselves Black Sabbath) Black Widow had themselves risen from the remnants of bluesy pop band Pesky Gee! I’ll tell you more about them another day, and maybe share Nasher’s tale of the day he ran into BW’s guitarist and songwriter Jim Gannon (if he’ll let me), but one fun fact is that their line-up once included Romeo Challenger, the drummer from Showaddywaddy.

But for now, back to Agony Bag.

Often dumped into the catch-all NWOBHM (New Wave of British Heavy Metal) grab-bag, Agony Bag was formed in early 1976 by former Black Widow members Clive Jones (flute and vocals) and drummer Clive Box (known professionally as Bok). The band eschewed Black Widow’s infamous satanic stage show (where the band would mock-sacrifice a nubile young woman) in favour of a poorly executed Kiss-in-drag look. After four years of slogging around the Leicester pub circuit the band released their one and only single, Rabies is a Killer backed with Never Never Land, both sides of which were written by Jones. The group made a video to accompany the release, which I urge you to check out (it’s on YouTube), if only for the sight of a makeup-caked Jones dressed up in stockings and suspenders swinging from the rafters of a Leicester rehearsal room. He looks for all the world like Frank-N-Furter imitating a chimpanzee.

Little wonder that, shortly after the recording, bass player Geoff Bevan left the band and joined the fledgling Diesel Park West. Clive and Bok added Ian Watts on guitar and Mick Wright on bass but this new line-up lasted fewer than two months: the band folded altogether when Clive decided to leave at the end of November 1980.

Agony Bag were “a most unusual band and well before its time,” Clive Jones told Polish metal website Doomsmoker. “It also gave me the chance to write more and do lead vocals. Agony Bag was great fun and we were for sure the only band to have sex onstage and not always with our girl dancers! We did many tours of Germany and have a great fan base over there.” This would explain why the tracks were recorded in a German studio and why one chorus of Rabies is a Killer is sung in German.

Agony Bag recorded several other tracks, most of which are now available on the 2001 compilation Feelmazumba, and Rabies is a Killer recently turned up on the soundtrack of indie horror flick Jessicka Rabid. In recent years Clive has once again been playing and recording as part of a new line-up of Black Widow. If you’d like to know more about Agony Bag I urge you to check out überfan Phil Mulvaney’s website at, but for now, here are both sides of Agony Bag’s brilliant Rabies is a Killer.


Friday, 11 July 2014

Put that Spoon Down!

Vilified as a fake by some, feted as a phenomenon by others, psychic Uri Geller has probably garnered more column inches in recent years for his friendship – and very public falling out - with the late Michael Jackson and for his numerous failed sporting predictions than for his celebrated spoon bending abilities.

Born in Tel Aviv in 1946, he began performing in night clubs in the late 1960s and in 1972, having already gained a huge following in Israel, he moved first to Europe and then to America where his act soon garnered coverage in the national media. By 1973 he was a household name in Britain, with TV and radio appearances by the bucket load, and major articles about him in the press.

Little more than a year after he first came to prominence he was propelled into the recording studio to cut his first (and thankfully only) pop album. Uri Geller features Uri’s own pretentious poetry put to music by pianist (and personal friend) Byron Janis. The result is a unique trip inside the mind of a notorious personality which will probably remain unmatched until turquoise jumpsuited New Age nutcase David Icke decides to commit his crazed beliefs about lizards running the world to vinyl.

Never exactly backwards at coming forwards, it may come as a shock that the utterly shameless self-promoter is surprisingly self-effacing when it comes to claims of vocal prowess. “Promoter Werner Schmidt...originally wanted to do a musical about my life,” he wrote on “(He) brushed off my claims that I couldn’t sing... until I opened my mouth to demonstrate. Horrified, he sent me to a voice coach in Zurich. The best I could manage, though, was a cross between a raven and a frog.” 

Uri is rather proud of his album: “By talking over Byron’s beautiful music, putting all the passion and meaning I could into the lyrics which I had seemed to channel from above, I recorded an album that became a sensation. I truly believe nothing like it has ever been made.” You're not kidding. Featuring a brace of duets with British soul singer Maxine Nightingale, Beck is a huge fan: “The combination of surging romantic strings and mind over matter (and forks) poetry is a potent one. I picked this up on vinyl in the early 90's and it was a favourite to listen to while we were recording Odelay.”’s Matt Collar describes it as ‘something like Peter Lorre doing a spoken-word album backed by the Carpenters’

In his 1975 autobiography My Story, Geller writes that ‘When the record did appear in Europe in 1974, it was played over the radio in Switzerland. Sure enough, the station received hundreds of phone calls from people reporting that cutlery and keys were bending in their homes.’

Interestingly, around the time that Polydor were readying the Uri Geller album for release, Geller was to have appeared in a movie based on his life. The Geller Effect was to be produced by Aussie impresario Robert Stigwood with songs and incidental music by the Bee Gees. The project, which Maurice Gibb later described as “a sort of Star Wars-cum-Love Story” was abandoned, but 20 years later the legendary Ken Russell was behind the direct-to-video Mindbender, a film about Geller which co-incidentally did feature the Bee Gees on the soundtrack.

Uri Geller was reissued on CD in the UK in 1999. In recent years he has released several self-help and meditation CDs; thankfully none of them including material from Uri Geller. In 2007 Uri hosted a TV series in Israel on which he attempted to find his psychic successor: the show went on to be picked up by TV networks in America, Sweden, Turkey, Hungary, the Netherlands and Russia. Who could have predicted that one?



Friday, 4 July 2014

Reco (the Return)

Today we're taking a short foreign vacation, going back to Scandinavia to revisit an old friend.
Back in October 2012 I posted what is easily one of the most bizarre recordings I have ever encountered. Released by Odeon in Sweden in 1971, Jolly Jolly Buddy Buddy and the even more perverse B-side Molly Cow Teddy Puff (which, even if it is billed as one composition on the disc's label, is clearly two distinct 'songs') appear to be the only two tracks recorded by Reco, the pseudonym of one Reijo Kääriäinen.

Sung in what appears to be fake English, a conceit which was also utilised by Daniel Catellano on the ridiculous Italian pop song Prisencolinensinainciusol (covered in the UK by comedian Mike Read, and featured here), Jolly Jolly Buddy Buddy and Molly Cow Teddy Puff are completely unintelligible. Reco played most of the instruments on the two (or is it three?) tracks, with Ulf Andersson on flute and Ulf Söderholm, a former member of 60’s Stockholm six-piece beat group The Telstars, on drums. Both songs were produced by Tommy Hallden who, in the 50s and 60s, fronted his own band the G-Men and Tommy Hallden and the Rocking' Jupiters. Although he played flute on the single, Ulf Andersson was one of the most sought-after saxophonists in Sweden: he would later play the famous sax break on the Abba hit I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do.

Although this appears to have been Reco's only record, as Reijo Kääriäinen he did release at least one further 45; and it is that recording I offer for your enjoyment today. Issued not in Sweden but in Finland (on Gold Discs in 1978), Pahalta Tää Kaikki Näyttää/Kuka Mä Oon? translates as something like All the Evil in the World/Who Am I? Brilliantly, the act is credited on the sleeve as being Kääriäinen and the Geniuses. No argument here.
A bizarre new wave/disco hybrid, there’s no mistaking Reco’s ranting vocal, but sadly there's very little else I can tell you about this particular recording or indeed about Reijo.  Described by his family as “a very colourful person,” Reco sadly passed away in 2005. He left a pile of cassette tapes to his only daughter, a treasury of unreleased recordings. Perhaps one day the world will be allowed to hear them.  He did bear more than a passing resemblance to Finnish singer Jorma Kääriäinen: does anyone out there know if they were related? Apologies for the poor quality of this - if I ever track down a better copy you'll be the first to know.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Football? Crazy!

As England have recently been forced to accept ignominious defeat in the 2014 FIFA World Cup, this seems to me to be the perfect time to head north of the border, to Scotland, and the Scottish World Cup Squad’s awful 1982 single We Have A Dream. If you think England has performed appallingly, perhaps you should consider the fate of the UK’s other national teams: since WW2 Scotland have never advanced beyond the first round of the finals competition, missing out on progressing to the second round three times on goal difference (according to Wikipedia. Me: I couldn’t give a rat’s arse about the dull game). Wales only appeared in the 1958 World Cup because other countries refused to take part. Northern Ireland have appeared in the finals of the FIFA World Cup on three occasions: 1958, 1982 and 1986.

So, back to Scotland. This dreadful piece of flag-waving Braveheartism comes from the pen of B A Robertson, the Scots singer and composer who had scored several solo hits between 1979 and 1981 with Bang Bang, Knocked it Off and Kool in the Kaftan among them, plus a duet with Maggie Bell and Hold Me. This hideous hymn to nationalism, which actually reached the Top Five, features actor John Gordon Sinclair telling the story of a dream he had about Scottish football success. He later resuscitated this Scottish footballing connection by narrating the 2006 BBC Scotland documentary series That Was the Team That Was. Sinclair is probably best known for his appearance in the films Gregory’s Girl and Local Hero. The single was re-released in 2008 to raise money for the BBC’s annual Children In Need telethon. That version featured a host of celebrities including Samuel L. Jackson, Ashley Jensen, Dougray Scott, Chris Hoy, Ally McCoist, comedian Fred MacAulay and actress Elaine C. Smith along with Sinclair reprising his role.
The B-side of the original 1982 version, Wrap Up the Cup I B A Robertson's 'rap' track - is equally heinous, and is also included here.

Outside of his solo career, Robertson also co-wrote Carrie and Wired for Sound for Cliff Richard and penned and sang the theme music to the television series the Multi-Coloured Swap Shop (Hello, Hello, although, to be perfectly honest, I can’t recall this song being used: the Swap Shop theme I hear in my head is completely different (Swap Shooooop! Do-do, do-do-do-do-do-do, do, do-do-do-do-do-do…). He also and wrote and sang backing vocals for the Swap Shop spin-off group Brown Sauce's UK Top 20 hit I Wanna Be a Winner: the ‘band’ Brown Sauce was made up of Swap Shop presenters Keith Chegwin, Maggie Philbin and Noel Edmonds. I’ve included both sides of the latter release here for you, just as a reminder of how truly awful the early 80s could be.



Friday, 20 June 2014

Foreign Devils

A slightly less creepy version of the Mini-Pops, The Little Angels National Folk Ballet of Korea released just one 45 in the UK in November 1972, a cover of the recent Neil Reid Top Three hit Mother of Mine backed with I’m Getting Married in the Morning, the show-stopping tune from the musical My Fair Lady. A follow-up album, Little Angels, received a limited European and Asian release the following year.

Mother of Mine was an obvious choice for the pre-pubescent emotional blackmailers; a song guaranteed to tug at the heartstrings of a certain sector of the record buying public. Listening to their performance is akin to being beaten around the head by the Von Trapp Family Singers with sticks of candyfloss. However the supposed charm of a bunch of cute moppets singing I’m Getting Married in the Morning takes on a much more sinister tone when you realise that the choir was brought together by the notorious Sun Myung Moon, the founder of the Unification Church (aka the Moonies), whose bizarre blessing ceremonies gained international attention for joining thousands of identically-dressed brides and grooms - many of whom met at the ceremony for the first time - in distinctly unholy matrimony. Ignore the dodgy pronunciation, I reckon that there were a few dissenters in the ranks. Listen carefully: I’m sure some of the kids are singing ‘Kim Jong’, rather than ‘ding-dong’.

Dance troupe and choral company the Little Angels Children’s Folk Ballet of Korea was founded in 1962 by the Rev. Moon and his wife, Hak Ja Han, as a way to project a positive image of South Korea. Still in existence today (the lineup changes, Menudo-like, whenever a member reaches her 16th birthday), the group’s dances are based on Korean legends and regional dances, and its costumes on traditional Korean styles.

“My plan was to have these 17 children learn how to dance and then send them out into the world. Many foreigners knew about Korea only as a poor country that had fought a terrible war,” said Reverend Moon in his less-than reliable memoir. “I wanted to show them the beautiful dances of Korea so that they would realise that the Korean people are a people of culture."

In 1973, shortly after they released their one and only British single, they performed at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. They have appeared Stateside on many occasions, including in 1993 when, according to a contemporary review in The New York Times, the troupe featured ‘girls from seven to 15 years old...dressed in a wide variety of colourful costumes, some drawn from traditional Korean styles. They still glide, dip and spin in mini-spectacles, inspired by Korean legends and regional dances that often resemble gracious precision drills’. The group has expanded recently and, in an uncharacteristic nod to the modern world, has added a solitary young boy to its’ cast of 33 young girls.

In 2010 the Little Angels toured the world, visiting the 16 nations that had sent troops to support South Korea in the United Nations force during the war, ‘to provide “breathtaking and heart-warming” performances that will honour and cheer the countries’ veterans, express the deep gratitude the Korean people feel toward all Americans for preserving their freedom, and celebrate the enduring Korean-American friendship’. The tour was sponsored by the Korean War 60th Anniversary Memorial Committee, whose chairman, Bo Hi Pak, is also the president of the Little Angels. They played in London that October.



Friday, 13 June 2014

Evil, Evel

Born October 17, 1938 in Butte, Montana – the former mining town which, in its heyday, was home to hundreds of saloons and a notorious red-light district – Robert Craig ‘Evel’ Knievel was an American daredevil, entertainer and (or so it says on Wikipedia) ‘international icon’. The original Lance Murdoch, between 1965 and 1980 he attempted over 75 ramp-to-ramp motorcycle jumps in his red, white and blue leather cat suit: in 1974 a failed jump across Snake River Canyon in a steam-powered rocket almost resulted in his death and, during his professional career, he broke 433 bones – earning him an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records as the survivor of "most bones broken in a lifetime".

He was well paid for his feats of daring. He earned $1 million for his jump over 13 buses at Wembley Stadium (the crash landing broke his pelvis) and more than $6 million for the Snake River Canyon attempt, where the parachute on his rocket-powered Skycycle malfunctioned and deployed after take-off. Strong winds blew the cycle into the canyon, landing him close to the river below.

At the height of his fame Evel appeared in movies, made dozens of appearances as a guest on hit TV shows including The Bionic Woman and the Sonny and Cher Show and had a range of toys (or collectable figurines I guess you’d call them now) based on him, his family and his contemporaries. Knievel toys accounted for more than $300 million in sales in the 70s and 80s.

Thankfully, in 1974, he released the thoroughly bizarre album, with the incredibly original title Evel Knievel, which featured a 26 minute press conference, a song about (but not by) him and the great man himself reciting a self-composed poem. It’s a pretty boring listen: luckily the two standout tracks – Why and The Ballad of Evel Knievel – were issued as a single. And it’s those two tracks I present for you today. When producer Ron Kramer was searching for a vocalist to sing a song he had co-written written for Knievel he approached John Culliton Mahoney, who performs The Ballad of Evel Knievel in a shrill vibrato. It sounds to me like the theme tune to a Saturday tea time TV show, which it possibly could have been intended for. Why is just horrible: a miserable piece of poetry worthy of a ten year-old in which, over swelling strings, Evel talks about his faith in God, and how the power of prayer has pulled him through his darkest days.

Originally issued on Amherst in 1974 (the long-established US company owned by Leonard Silver that also licensed 45s by The Stylistics, Van McCoy and Glenn Medeiros), the album was reissued on Tin Toy Records (on CD in 2000) as Evel Speaks to the Kids. A strange move, as Tin Toy seem to specialise in semi-legit (read 'dodgy') Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV albums. To the best of my knowledge Evel Speaks to the Kids is a Genesis P Orridge-free zone. After years of licensing tracks from other stables, John Culliton Mahoney became the first artist to sign directly to Amherst Records in 1973 (according to an article in the Niagara Falls Reporter), releasing his first album, Love Not Guaranteed, the same year. He’s still performing today.

The promoter for the Snake River Canyon jump, Shelly Saltman, wrote a book entitled Evel Knievel on Tour. The book painted an unflattering picture of Knievel's character, alleging that he abused his wife and kids and he used drugs. Enraged, Knievel flew to California to confront Saltman, who was a Vice President at 20th Century Fox. Gaining entrance to the studio lot, one of Knievel's friends grabbed Saltman and held him while Knievel, with both arms still in casts, attacked him with an aluminium baseball bat, declaring, "I'm going to kill you!" According to a witness, Knievel struck repeated blows at Saltman's head, with Saltman blocking the blows with his left arm. Saltman's arm and wrist were shattered in several places before he fell to the ground unconscious. It took numerous surgeries and permanent metal plates to eventually give Saltman back the use of his arm. Saltman's book was pulled from the shelves by the publisher after Knievel threatened to sue. Saltman later produced documents in both criminal and civil court that proved that, although Knievel claimed to have been insulted by statements in Saltman's book, he and his lawyers had actually been given editorial access to the book and had approved and signed off on every word prior to its publication. Knievel pleaded guilty to battery and was sentenced to three years' probation and six months in county jail.

Unsurprisingly, Knievel lost most of his marketing endorsements and deals and, with no income from jumping or sponsorship, he was eventually forced to declare bankruptcy. He still managed to make a living though: thousands came to Butte each year to celebrate Evel Knievel Day, where he would sell autographs and memorabilia.

Evel died in November 2007 at the age of 69. He had been in failing health for years, suffering from diabetes and pulmonary fibrosis (an incurable condition that scarred his lungs); he had undergone a liver transplant in 1999 after nearly dying of hepatitis C, likely contracted through a blood transfusion after one of his bone-shattering spill and he also suffered two strokes in the years before he passed.


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