Saturday 26 November 2022

Cos It's Good For My Voice

 It is a by-word for luxury motoring.  Ask someone, anyone to name the luxurious car, and their response will be Skoda Favorit Rolls-Royce.

Established in 1904 when Charles Rolls and Henry Royce joined forces with the express intention of making the worlds most luxurious car.  And with Royce's Model 10, selling through Roll's car dealership the quest began.
The company re-located to larger premises in Derby and began work on a flagship new model.  This is also marked a notable change in stance, as all previous models were discontinued and all efforts focussed on a single model - making it the best it possibly could be.
They also found the time and capability to diversify into the aero-engine market, and it was Rolls-Royce engines that powered the first transatlantic flight in 1919.
A slight slump in sales after Word War I led to the introduction of a smaller, cheaper (but no less luxurious) model, before Rolls-Royce were able to expand by acquiring Bentley.
With support from the British Government, Rolls-Royce went deeper into aero engine production, building the Merlin and Griffon engines that were strapped to, most notably, the Spitfire in World War II.
After the War, Rolls-Royce sought to bring all production in-house buying panel pressing companies and coachbuilders , and by 1950 launched the ultra-luxurious Phantom IV.  In 6 years, only 18 were built and the policy of "Royalty and Heads Of State only" applied.
The Phantom V though, launched in 1959 did not apply this policy, and with money sloshing around the music industry, owners of this vehicle (apart from Queen Elizabeth II) included Elvis Presley, John Lennon (famously with a psychedelic paint job), Liberace, and some time later Elton John.
(Nicolae Ceausescu also had a Phantom V, but when you only make just over 80 cars a year you can't always be too choosy about who buys them).
But despite being a by-word for luxury, famous owners, and a rock solid reputation, Rolls-Royce seemingly over-stretched themselves and by 1971 were facing receivership, and were nationalised (primarily due to the importance of the aero-engine production).
By 1973, a new Rolls-Royce Car company was launched and the range expanded to include Convertible and Coupe version of the iconic Silver Shadow.
But with cash running low again, Rolls-Royce was sold on to Defence, Shipbuilding and Engineering company Vickers .
New models arrived in the 1980s - they had the opulence, but lacked something of the "magic" of earlier models, and Rolls-Royce was sold on again to Volkswagen in 1999, and then again 5 years later to BMW.

Marc Bolan was born Mark Feld in London's Eat End in 1947.  As a teenager he had a deep interest in 2 things - clothes and music.
It was the clothes that first brought attention to Mark Feld - first as a model in clothing catalogues, and then featured in a magazine article about burgeoning Mods about Town.
He then turned his attention to the music and found a manager who put him into a demo studio.  Nothing came of those first recordings, but in short order he changed management and name - to Toby Tyler - donned a corduroy cap and returned to the studio with (if we're being honest) sub-Donovan folk whimsy.
After another change of name and a new record label brought no success, Marc Bolan (as he was now monikered) knocked on the door of Simon Napier-Bell and announced he was going to be a star.
Napier-Bell initially pushed the solo route, but another single with no success led to the thought that Bolan could be placed in one of the two bands he also managed.
Briefly considered for Ther Yardbirds, Bolan joined up with John's Children, just in time for a riotous tour of Germany with The Who (where they out Who'd The Who).
His time with John's Children was brief and he departed to form his own band.  He advertised for musicians in Melody Maker, assembled a band, and played their first gig as a full-on rock band.  Problem was, the formation and the gig happened in about 3 days flat, so the band disbanded as quickly as it formed.
Retaining the drummer, Marc Bolan stripped back the sound, upped the mystical sub-Tolkienisms, sat cross-legged on the stage and Tyrannosaurus Rex was born.
And fairly quickly picked up 2 influential supporters - John Peel gave them air-time and exposure, Tony Visconti worked closely with Marc Bolan to hone and define the soundscape.
By 1970, it was becoming clear that the mysticism and poetry was not finding a mass market - there had been some success with a couple of singles, but the albums found only a niche / culty audience.
The sound was beefed-up, and the name abbreviated and by late in the year "Ride A White Swan" was a hit, and Marc Bolan was keeping his promise to Simon Napier-Bell of being a star.
2 number one singles, a number 2, and a number one album in 1971 assured the position.
1972 was really the peak of popularity for Marc Bolan and T.Rex - his own record label (supported by EMI), 2 more number one singles, another number one album (plus a resurgence of interest in early Tyrannosaurus Rex material, and a cash-in compilation album from his previous record label) his own film (directed by Ringo Starr), and spending a total of 58 weeks on the singles chart.
The last single of 1972 - "Children Of The Revolution" - was held off the Christmas Number One spot by Little Jimmy Osmond's "Long Haired Lover From Liverpool".  This continued the sequence of losing out on the top spot to novelty records.  In 1970 "Ride A White Swan" lost out to Clive Dunn's "Grandad", and in 1971 "Jeepster" played second-fiddle behind Benny Hills "Ernie (The Fastest Milkman In The West)"

Despite car references peppering his song titles and lyrics:

  • "Mustang Ford"
  • "Buick McKane"
  • "Hot Rod Mama"
  • "You're built like a car, You've got a hubcap diamond star halo" - from "Get It On"
  • "Just like a car, You're pleasing to behold, I'll call you Jaguar if I may be so bold" - from "Jeepster"
  • "Take me down to the country honey, in a Jeep that's neat" - from "Country Honey"
Marc Bolan never had a driving licence, so when in 1972 "Children Of The Revolution" he stated "I drive a Rolls-Royce, cos it's good for my voice", what he should've said was: "I get chauffered in a Rolls-Royce, saves me losing my voice shouting at other road users"

Children Of The Revolution

Wednesday 16 November 2022

It Just Happens To Be That Year

In 1947 the Austin Motor Company tasked it's subsiduary, coach-builders Vanden Plas, to design and build a high end luxury vehicle.  The original competitors were perceived as Bentley and Rolls-Royce, but available at less than half the cost.
In the early 1950s, Austin was subsumed/combined in the British Motor Corporation, and both the Princess and Vanden Plas badges were used to signal luxury versions of existing BMC vehicles.

BMC brought together the marques Austin, Morris, MG, Riley and Wolseley.  Jaguar joined the party in 1966, and then later merged with the Leyland Corporation which owned Triumph.
The main problem for BMC was a reliance on basically the same vehicles but bearing different badges.
After the merger, British Leyland was formed with the express intention to stop the badge-engineered duplication of vehicles.
The first fruits of this strategy were the Austin Allegro and Morris Marina - not exactly awe-inspiring looking cars (or reliable cars for that matter) but it did show that British Leyland was putting a stop to the duplicity in the range.

In 1975, British Leyland looked to fill a gap in the market (that didn't really exist) with a luxury family car, and the Princess name was resurrected.
The car was a relatively radical design - a wedge shape - which suggested aerodynamic sleekness (even though it has the aerodynamics of a breeze block.
The original intent was to have a hatchback hence the sloping back, but British Leyland decided that the existing Maxi was to be the hatchback in it's range, so the Princess was given a solid back end with a boot of a compromised size.
The Mark 1 version was a return to BMC's previous problems, by creating Austin, Morris and Wolseley variants of the same vehicle.  The basic design was the same, and the differences subtle - mainly bonnet lines, front grilles, and headlight configurations.
In terms of luxury, it was only the Wolseley variant which provided this with uprated trim levels and larger, smoother engines.
The Mark 2 was badged as British Leyland, ending the different badge names, but was also being built through times of Industrial strife for British Leyland.
Build quality, realiability, and reputation all affected sales.  As did it's pricing position - it was basically more expensive than each of it's competitors, and was also loading out to increasing imports of more realiable (and better looking) Japanese cars.
In the early 80s, the Austin-Rover Group (as British Leyland consolidated, streamlined, and renamed itself) gave it one more shot with the launch of the Austin Ambassador.
The design was similar, if more rounded, and it was eventually given a hatchback.  But the same issues prevailed - reputation, reliability, pricing - and production ceased within 2 years.

Graham Fellowes was a drama student at Manchester University when he asked in a local record shop if they knew of any independent labels that might release a couple of songs he'd written.
He was directed to Rabid Records, who picked up on the demos and with Martin Hannett at the controls, released the record - albeit in limited numbers.
One of these found it's way to John Peel who suggested on air that if the record were picked up by a record company with larger means then they might have a success on their hands.
EMI International did just that, and shipped nigh on of 500,000 copies of "Jilted John" / "Going Steady".
They even provided the funds to allow Graham / John to create a concept album titled 'True Love Stories'.
But John retired at the end of 1978, with Graham Fellowes going on to appear in several episodes of Coronation Street.  Soap star fame did not happen, and by the mid-80s a new character was in development.

John Shuttleworth's first tilt at fame was trying to get his song "Pigeon's In Flight" accepted as the British entry for Eurovison.
But fame and notoriety probably doesn't sit comfortably with John, preferring the mundane, normal, and very probably dull.
John's "unique style" of songs celebrate(?) the horror of finding 2 open margarine tubs in the fridge, the greatness of the A1111, balancing the notty problem of having 1 or 2 cups of tea, the inability to return to savoury course once you've started on your pudding.

John drives an Austin Ambassador.  A 1982 Y Registration version.

Friday 11 November 2022

A Celebration

Not content with being one of the biggest manufactureres in the US, a strong presence in Europe, a successful motor sport programme, and continually securing the top seller spot in the UK, Ford decided that they wanted to enter the small car market in 1972.
The prime competition was seen as the Mini and the Fiat 127.  Development began just as the 1973 Oil crisis took hold and the world was clamouring for smaller, more efficient vehicles.

Originally named Bravo, Henry Ford II instructed a rename to his preferred choice of Fiesta - the Spanish word for a celebration.  And furthering the Spanish connection, Ford invested in factory space in Spain, and expanded it's Dagenham plant to provide the components which were bolted together in Valencia.
The Fiesta was launched in 1976 (arriving in Britain in 1977), and very quickly beat off the competition to join stablemates the Cortina and Escort at the top of the sales lists.

The Fiesta was briefly entered into rallying and proved relatively successful, but the force of Ford Motorsport remained with the Escort - the pre-eminate rally vehicle before the Audi Quattro re-wrote the rulebook with 4 wheel drive.
The dalliance with Motorsoprt led to the introduction of the 1.3 Supersport version, partly to expand the range but mostly as Ford's competitors were developing their own "hot hatch" variants.
This was soon followed by the XR2 which pretty much became the benchmark affordable hot hatch (OK, it wasn't truly "hot" having less power than it's main rivals.  But it was cheap to buy, cheap to run, relatively reliable, and looked the part).

Since it's launch there have been 7 Marks of the Fiesta, always popular and selling well.  It's estimated that over it's lifetime, the Fiestas has sold over 22 million units.  So when it was announced that June 2023 would see the last Fiesta roll of the production it was difficult to understand why.  There is seemingly no direct small car/supermini replacement on the way.  Maybe Ford is just looking to refine the range and focus on multiple use Electric Vehicles - it's prime candidate being the Focus.

So, after 47 years I guess it's time to say adiĆ³s

Around the time that the Fiesta was transitioning from the Mark 1 to the Mark 2, squatmates and ex-members of The Nips and The Millwall Chainsaws joined forces to form Pogue Mahone with the intention of combining Punk with traditional Irish Music.

Led by the prolific writer and drinker Shane MacGowan, the band expanded and became as solid as Shane was unstable.
They quickly established a live reputation around the London circuit, andtheir first recordings - "Dark Streets of London" / "And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda" was released on their own Pogue Mahone label, gaining national airplay on Radio 1 and invitations from John  Peel for Radio sessions.
The band named was altered to The Pogues when they were subsequently banned by the BBC when it was pointed out that the Gaelic translation of their name was Kiss My Arse.

Supporting The Clash on their 1984 Tour brought more attention, and most importantly a record contract from Stiff Records.
They entered the studio and within a month their debut album 'Red Roses For Me' was recorded and readied for release.
Critically hailed, but not translating to commercial success did nothing to knock the spirit out of the band.  Their live shows continued to be the cornerstone of their reputation.
The problem was getting that re-created in the studio and down on record.

And that was just the job taken on, and pretty much delivered, by Elvis Costello with 1985s 'Rum, Sodomy And The Lash'.
He manged to capture (or closely capture at least) the bands live show.  However he was also getting romantically involved with Pogues bassist Cait O'Riordan, which soured the relationship, and Elvis stepped aside (subsequently marrying Cait, resulting in her leaving the band)

Re-configured with a new bassist, The Pogues were invited by Irish Folk royalty The Dubliners to perform "The Irish Rover" on Irish TV.
Released as a single, The Pogues & The Dubliners secured a top 10 single, but ...
This success also coincided with Stiff Records tanking, meaning any profile they'd gained was (possibly) being slowly eroded as they were unable to record or release any new material.
By early 1987, the Stiff situation was resolved and the bands own label Pogue Mahone was re-lifed under the support of Warner Music.

They linked up with producer Steve Lillywhite and entered the studio with a mix of old demos and new music.  Lillywhite assisted with arranging the new material, and dusted down the old demos recorded with Elvis Costello.
Amongst the tapes he found an raw duet between Shane and Cait, reciting a tale of a down and out couple in New York.  The backing track was re-recorded, and Lillywhite was working on them further in hos home studio when he asked his wife - Kirsty MacColl - to add a guide vocal with Shane's part to be recorded later.
Shane recorded his parts, and Kirsty's guide vocal remained untouched - indeed the two never met in the studio for the recording of this song.  One of the first times they did come together to perform it, was a mimed version on Top Of The Pops.

Released in late November 1987, "Fairytale Of New York" quickly started selling a rising the charts - ultimately denied the coverted Christmas Number 1 slot by Pet Shop Boys version of "Always On My Mind".
"Fairytale ..." has latterly received more official re-releases and is now recognised as a Christams "classic" of modern times (ie one of the seven that will be played on a loop in every Shopping Centre throughout December)

The success of "Fairytale .." boosted sales of it's parent album 'If I should Fall From Grace With God' when it arrived in early 1988.  It is a very good album - maybe a little smoother with less rough edges than previous, but shows The Pogues pushing on and proving themselves to be a very capable, inventive band, and the songs encapsualte many of Shane's most poetic storytelling lyrics.
Personally, I think 'Rum, Sodomy And The Lash' is a stronger album (just my opinion).  The presence of "Fairytale .." I am sure pushes focus (and sales) towards 'If I Should Fall From Grace With God', but it should be remembered that there are 14 other tracks on there too.

This being one of them:


Thursday 3 November 2022

Foxton & Hastings - The Butterfly Effect

 From The Jam bandmates branch out under their own names.  This being their third joint offering - 2012’s Back in the Room, 2016’s Smash the Clock - and is another consumate collection of tracks that nag like you've heard them before and ultimately reward as a stand-alone work.
The Tribute Band might be the day job (and a very popular one at that), but after nearly 15 years working together Bruce and Russell have forged a strong writing partnership with a nod to their influences, their past, and their on stage presence.
I can't be the only one hoping they sneak in a few tracks into their From The Jam shows - they have done it before, much to my enjoyment (but not always that of the crowd as they fall a bit silent patiently waiting for another Jam shout-a-long).

'The Butterfly Effect' is comforting in that it's like a run through a fine record collection mixing Motown, psychedelia, Beatles, Small Faces, and a bit of blue-eyed soul.
Influence worn on the sleeve certainly, but no this is no copy-cat collection.  This is an album stuffed full of great tunes delivered with confidence, recognition of the past, and one eye on the future.

The vocals are strong, the bass is strong, the drums are solid (courtesy of Mark Brzezicki) - in fact that is a basic fundamental throughout the whole album.

"Electronic Lover" re-imagines the bassline from The Beatles "Come Together" adds a bit of Yardbirds and (to these ears at least) a smidgeon of Sam & Dave.  "Feet Of the Ground" has a chilled summery feel, almost Jazzy and a nod perhaps to the soulful stylings of where Bruce's ex-bandmate went next.  "Wanted" performs a similar trick (and dare I say this) is not far from a Paul Weller track (Russell Hastings is no mimic, he's just blessed with a voice that sounds like Mr W)

Lead single "Lula" storms along (I hope that is one they decide to put in their live shows.  And the next track - "She Said" - power pop par excellence (with added mandolin).

"Circles" is a storming rocker lifting the tone and is  followed by the horn-drenched "Time On Your Side" (very probably one of the best tracks here).
"Two Of Us" maintains the intereest with echoes of the past again with Small Faces-like "sha-la-las" (sounds a bit rubbish when written down, but believe me, it has earworm written all through it)

The mood slows with the contemplative "Rain" bridging into the string washing of "Too Old To Cry, Too Young To Die".  The jazzy feel of "Walking With Me" continues the downbeat tone.  The grouping of these 3 songs together is I think the right thing - separated and peppered elsewhere on the album, I think they would lose impact.

How do you close an album?  Well you need something upbeat and epic.  And "Anything You Want" does just that.  A horn driven intro opening into a verse, middle eight chorus as good as anything on this album.  And then a swirling Hammond kicks in completing the picture.  There are echoes of "Got To Get You Into My Life" in the horns and chorus melody, and an almost Revolver-esque pschy coda.
But I repeat coincidence and influence - as Foxton and Hastings say: "It's not about "oh this one must sound like The Who, let's stick a bit of Beatles in here and some Jam there", it's about is it a good tune or not?"
And they are all fine tunes constituting a very very fine album - best consumed in one sitting to take in all the various influences and rises and fall in mood.

It's a fine album and one I hope finds a bigger audience and outlet than the Merch table at a From The Jam gig.  It deserves it.

She Said

Time On Your Side

Anything You Want