Thursday 30 March 2023

Join The Professionals

The Morris company (originally named WRM Motors) was formed by William Morris in 1912 who expanded his bicycle manufacturing to cars and set up home in Cowley, Oxford.  It's first production model was the Morris Oxford Bullnose (so called due to the rounded front grille).
A larger model, sporting more luxuries (such as proper doors) was introduced and titled the Morris Cowley after the factory it was made in.
After World War I, Morris expanded it's interests buying up subsidiaries in engine manufacturer, body parts, military vehicles, and other marque names.
After World War II, Morris looked to replaced it's Eight and Ten vehicles with a new, relatively low cost vehicle.  Morris designer Alec Issigonis set about the task, and in 1952 the Morris Minor was launched.
The Cowley production line busied itself to meet demand for the new vehicle, and also rolled out the larger (similarly shaped) Morris Oxford and Morris Cowley (again, and up-rated variant of the base Oxford)

In 1952, Morris merged with close rival Austin - based in Longbridge, Birmingham - to form the British Motor Corporation (BMC).  There may also have been some political intervention in this merger as Leonard Lord (Head of Austin) and Lord Nuffield (Head of Morris) weren't exactly close friends.
Austin may have been seen as the dominant partner, but it was Morris who had the best selling car (the Minor) and the most productive factory (Cowley).
Two major shifts occurred in 1959.  Italian styling house Pininfarina overhauled the Austin/Morris range and the identical (but subtly different in interior) Austin Cambridge and Morris Oxford (but no Morris Cowley upgrade) came of the production line.
Why Austin Cambridge?  Morris Oxford you can understand - it's the hometown.  But Austin had no links with Cambridge.  Maybe the Austin Birmingham just didn't have the right ring to it.
Also in 1959, the Cowley plant was tooled up for the production of the Morris Mini Minor (at the same time, Longbridge manufactured the Austin Se7en.
The Mini name won out, and production continued in parralel with Longbridge until 1969 when Cowley was re-tooled again for the Austin/Morris 1100, followed by the Morris Marina (and later Ital) and the Austin Princess.
After British Leylands industrial failings of the late 70s, and it's reputation for low build quality was harming sales, a deal was done with Honda to co-design and co-build cars.  Cowley was chosen as the venue for the first fruits of this partnership - the Triumph Acclaim - and continued with production of the Rover 200, 400 and 800 series.  Also on the production line were the Austin Maestro and Montego - envisaged as the saviour of the Austin-Rover Group, but again harmed by build quality and reputation.
By 1988, the Rover Group was sold to British Aerospace, who in turn (in 1994) sold out to BMW.
By 2000, BMW retained the Mini name (and the Cowely Plant) and sold off the remainder of the Rover Group.  The Cowley Plant was redeveloped and re-named Plant Oxford, and now produces solely the Mini (in it's many variants).

In 1977, ITV launched a new Police-based drama - The Professionals.  Set in the Police Department CI5 - a unit that sat somewhere between the Metropolitan Police and MI5, and invariably busied itself with terrorists threats, kidnapping, and driving Ford Capris very fast around the Docklands area.
It was led by Commander Crowley, and it's 2 chief protagonists were Bodie and Doyle.
The forenames of the characters were rarely - if ever - spoken (even though they are listed on wikipedia), I like to believe that the first name of Cowley was Morris.

Also in 1977, the Sex Pistols effectively peaked having a Number 2 single (some argue it was Number 1) with "God Save The Queen", and a Number 1 album in the shape of 'Never Mind The Bollocks' - which despite all the hype, hoo-hah, and general blowing of smoke, still ranks as one of te greatest rock albums ever released.
By January 1978, the band effectively fell apart on stage in San Fransico.  John Lydon returned to England (with the assistance of Warner Bros records, as Malcolm McLaren basically cut him off) and began assembling Public Image Limited, Sid Vicious continued his descent into heroin addiction and cartoon punk buffonery, and Steve Jones and Paul Cook flew to  Rio de Janeiro to record with Ronnie Biggs.
Returning to England, Cook and Jones busied themselves with recording and re-recording tracks for the film The Great Rock n Roll Swindle - session bassist Andy Allan was brought in to assist.
By 1979, John Lydon's court case against McLaren and The Sex Pistols begun in the High Court - upon hearing how McLaren had funneled the bands money into the film project without approval, Cook and Jones switched to Lydon's side of the fence, winning back control over their legacy.
Cook and Jones, no longer able to operate under the Sex Pistols name they once again turned to Andy Allan to form The Professionals, and Virgin Records retained the contracts.
Granted it wasn't a big jump from the Sex Pistols latter template (could it be anything else, it was the same people continuing to do what they knew best), 2 singles were released and although only scraped the charts, there seemed to be enough interest to continue (plus Virgin wanted a return on it's investment).  However plans for a full album were nixed when it transpired that Andy Allan was not under contract to Virgin and filed a lawsuit claiming unpaid royalties.  Allan was replaced in the band by Paul Myers (bass) and Ray McVeigh (guitar), and the foursome set about re-recording all the tracks to prevent any further royalty payments due.
With the legal disputes ongoing, it was 6 months before another single was released from the re-recording sessions for the album.  Again, low sales saw a downturn in The Professionals mood, and with Jones and Myers deepening heroin addiction and new producer Nigel Gray losing interest in the album project, the resultant album 'I Didn't See It Coming' was maybe not in-line with early expectations and promise.  In retrospect it is a very good album - a bit formulaic perhaps, and some of the songs maybe needing a bit of extra work.
The Professionals de-camped to America for a 6 week tour in support of an album that neither they nor thew audience were particularly impressed with.  Part way through the Tour, the band (minus Steve Jones) were involved in a car crash which placed them in hospital before returning to Britain and disbanded.
The Professionals reformed in 2015 for a one-off show (without Steve Jones, now permanently resident in America), and again in 2016 for a benefit show for Steve New of The Rich Kids.
The following year, Paul Cook and Tom Spencer reformed The Professionals and 2 further albums have seen the light of day since then.

Join The Professionals

The Magnificent

Wednesday 22 March 2023

And Then We Went To Croydon

The concept of Badge Engineering is basically taking a base model, and - usually through subsiduary companies - creating just enough difference in the look (and possibly mechanicals) to have a whole new car.
BMC (later British Leyland) had many interchangeable Austin/Morris vehicles, and Wolseley, Riley and  Vanden Plas were also in the mix,  Latterly (under the Austin Rover name) the company entered into a badge-engineering partnership with Honda creating the Triumph Acclaim/Honda Accord and Rover 200 series/Honda Ballade.
Throughout the 70s, Vauxhall and Opel models were built on the same platform (and later in the same factory), and there was further badge engineering with the Australian manufacturer Holden.
Badge engineering also encompasses the licence production route where a company sells the rights to another manufacturere to build it's own version of a tried and trusted marque.
The Fiat 124 / Lada partnership is probably the prime example of this.  While the Fiat 124 may only had a relatively short life (1966 - 1974) it's licensing to Lada saw production of the boxy vehicle continue until 2010 - total sales of all variants of this vehicle exceed 25 million.

As the Fiat 124 was entering into production in 1966, the Rootes Group - home to the marques Humber, Commer, Hillman, Karrier, Singer, Sunbeam, Talbot - entered into a badge engineering exercise using their new Hillman Hunter as a base (under the Project Name Rootes Arrow).
Rootes Group had been in existence since the early 30s and had spent a lot of time acquiring a stable of manufacturers.  The problem was although they had the range to cover almost all bases of car buying, they were never the most relaible, quality built, or profitable companies.  Often mentioned in the pantheon of great British Car Producers, but in truth often lagging being it's prime competitors.
Chrysler - one of the US Big 3 - wanted a foothold in Europe and bought French company Simca in 1958.  They expanded with a minor stake in Rootes Group in the early 60s, and by 1967 purchased a majority stake.  

The Hillman Hunter was designed for the family car market, available in saloon and estate versions.  There were also coupe versions and a panel van / pickup truck variant produced.
Badge engineering, and the desire to use as many of the names it owned as possible, led to variants:

  • Hillman Arrow
  • Hillman Break de Chasse
  • Hillman Estate Car
  • Hillman GT
  • Hillman Hunter
  • Hillman Husky (panel van / pickup)
  • Hillman Hustler
  • Hillman Minx
  • Hillman Vogue
  • Humber Sceptre
  • Iran National Paykan (built under license, and continuing until 2005)
  • Singer Gazelle
  • Singer Vogue
  • Sunbeam Alpine (coupe)
  • Sunbeam Rapier (coupe)
Built around the same underpinnings, the majority were differentiated by trim levels (surely it would've been easier to use L, GL, GLS etc ?).

It was hoped that a single model with multiple variants could make strides in markets led by Fored Escort, Ford Cortina, Vauxhall Victor, Triumph 2000, Rover P6 - basically the hope was to nick market share from every car manufacturer.  A bold plan, with a couple of issues - namely the build quality and company inefficiencies of old.
Over it's relatively short life, due to the need to cut costs the range was rationalised to just the Hunter.
In 1977, Chrysler sold out to Peugout, and although the Chrysler name (and later Talbot) continued for a while, the iconic names of the Rootes Group were consigned to history.

Hereford may not be the Rock & Roll Capital of the world - to be honest, it's probably the Perry Capital of the World, but not much else.
Mick Taylor (the best guitarist in The Stones?) and Ellie Goulding both were born there.  As were three quarters of The Pretenders (Martin Chambers, James Honeyman-Scott and Pete Farndon).  But perhaps Hereford's most famous sons are Mott The Hoople.

Mott The Hoople were originally called The Doc Thomas Group featuring original members Mick Ralphs (guitar) and Pete Overend Watts (bass), joined by Stan Tippins on vocals.  Drummer  Dale "Buffin" Griffin  and organist Verden Allen joined a year or so later, and the band renamed Silence.
Silence piqued the interest of producer Guy Stevens, but was un-impressed by Stan Tippins.
Ian Hunter - 30 years old, married with 2 kids, but desperately trying to make it as a professional musician - was selected as Tippins replacement.  With a new frontman in place (with considerably more ego and stage presence - plus a curly perm and dark sunglasses - Silence renamed themselves Mott The Hoople and plunged into the recording studio with Guy Stevens.

It's fair to say what came out (released on Island Records) did not shift units, but did find an audience.  However that audience failed to grow and by the time of album number 4, the band decided to call it a day.
But one of that small audience thought he might be able to help.  David Bowie sent a tape over containing a demo of "Suffragette City" in the hope they might record it.
The band listened to it, but decided it wasn't for them and informed Bowie that they had now split for good.  Never one to be beaten, Bowie phoned back 2 hours later announcing he had a new song for them to hear.  This time, there was "something" there that appealed to the band, and "All The Young Dudes" was worked up and taken into the studio.
With Bowie in the production chair, the single was a success followed by the album which somewhat vindicated the bands past 3 or 4 years of struggle.
Further album and singles success followed in 1973, even with Mick Ralphs leaving in mid-73 to form Bad Company.
At the start of 1974, it looked like Mott would break America but unfortunately exhaustion and band relationships put a stop to that.  And then at the end of 1974, not long after Mick Ronson joined Ian Hunter left the band for a solo career (Ronson followed him soon after) which effectively spelled the end for Mott The Hoople.
Their final single was "Saturday Gigs" in October 1974, was the last thing recorded by the band and the only Mott The Hoople studio track to feature Mick Ronson.
"Saturday Gigs" tells the story of the band from formation to demise with thanks to their audience.
IT also includes the line (in the 1972 verse) about how it all changed when they went to Croydon.  Croydon has that effect on people - once visited, the world is never quite the same again.
But in this case, the reference is either their visit to the Fairfields Hall in February (just after Bowie had presented them with "Dudes") or their return visit to The Greyhound as "Dudes" began to garner success.

Saturday 11 March 2023

Hamish Hawk - Angel Numbers

When you've released an album as great as 'Heavy Elevator', you need to be certain that it's follow-up will hit from note one.
And with the opening string crecendo of "Once Upon An Acid Glance" intoducing Hamish Hawk's Walker-esque baritone, he is certainly off to a good start.
The lyrical poetry and references, and the (successful) attempts to weave in a word with more syallables than should fit the gap remain a continuum from his previous effort.

When followed by "Thinking Of Us Kissing" and "Elvis Look-alike Shadows", you'd be forgiven for thinking the album is front-loaded and will run out of gas at some point.
It doesn't, it just keeps rolling along serving up more top tunes highlighting all aspects of Hamish's talent and delivery.

But ... great though it is, it just feels like it's missing "something" - that "something" that elevated 'Heavy Elevator' into an album that I'd recommend to anyone who'd listen.
Let me be clear there is nowt wrong with 'Angel Numbers' - it is a very fine piece of work, and the strength of some of the songs may just elevate Hamish Hawk to greater commercial success and a wider audience.  Certainly "Bridget St. John" and/or "Money" have the capacity to do just that, and "Dogeared August" would light up any festival.

And here comes another qualification: the more I listen to this album, the more it goes in.  Still not wholly convinced (7 listens so far) - is is the track sequencing?  is it the flow? is it my expectation of a closer cousin to 'Heavy Elevator' (it's the same band and the same singer, so it's not too far removed)? is it that the songs don't feel as honed as their predecessors?
Maybe I'm just expecting too much in short time, and as I say more is revealed on each listen.  I shall persevere, because there is a great album here - the songs stand on their own so maybe I just need to follow the ebb and flow of the album better. 

One other takeaway - a line in the title track "Angel Numbers" had me searching out the etymology of mortgage.  Everyday is a school day ...

Once Upon An Acid Glance

Thinking Of Us Kissing

Angel Numbers

Friday 3 March 2023

Long Live The Meadows

Vauxhall Motors ... reputationally they may be considered dull and unreliable vehicles, but I've owned several with the Griffin badge, and apart from the Chevette teaching me rudimentary mechanics (a necessity rather than choice), they have have been (generally) fine.

Vauxhall was formed in 1857 in Wandsworth Road in the London Borough of Vauxhall (hence the name)  It started as a pump and marine engine manufacturer, and then diversified into crane building.  The company was renamed Vauxhall Iron Works.  By 1903, Vauxhall built it's first car and then moved production to Luton (but retained the Vauxhall name).  In 1907 the "Iron Works" was dropped in favour of "Motors", and by 1925 after relatively successful car building and sales was bought up by US company General Motors.  GM now had presence in Europe, whilst Vauxhall retained an element of independence.
The first fruits of this partnership came in the form of the 1930 Vauxhall Cadet (the first production car in the UK with a synchromesh gearbox) and it's first commercial vehicle in the shape of the Bedford truck.
World War II focussed production on the military-spec Bedford trucks and vans, and as the War ended Vauxhall were one of the first to move back into the civilian car market.
The bullet-proof Bedford Trucks, plus the smaller vans produced, obviously provided an income source to keep the car division afloat, as did the GM partnership as closer links were forged with the Opel Group in Germany and technologies shared.
Vauxhall cars did sell, just not in the numbers to cause concern to Ford, BMC, or Rootes.
In 1961, Vauxhall shared design and technology and took the German Opel Kadett (Oliver, if you've ever seen Top Gear) and re-bodied and re-badged it as the Viva, a small family car to compete with the Ford Anglia, Austin A40, Morris Minor and Hillman Minx.
The original Viva (the HA model) was also made into a small van with the Bedford badge - this van stayed in production until the early 80s, with corporate customers including GPO/British Telecom, British Rail, Electric and Gas companies, and the Royal Mail (and is very likely to be the template for Postman Pat's van).
Such was the success of the Viva in terms of sales and reputation, Vauxhall was able to overhaul it's range and the Viva went through 3 models - such was the success that the Mark 3 Viva was regular runner-up in the sales charts to the all conquering Ford Escort.
Also in the 70s, the Viva range expanded to include the Magnum (with a modified front-end/headlight configuration and an 1800 engine squeezed under the bonnet) and a coupe version - the Firenza - with an even bigger 2300cc engine squeezed into the gap that was having trouble accommodating the 1800 version. 

By 1979, the relationship between Vauxhall and Opel grew beyond sharing technologies, the companies were now sharing body shells, running gear and production lines.  The production of the Viva (and the  larger Victor) ended to be replaced by the same rangers in UK and Europe, just with different names and badges.  By the late 1990s, the names were aligned and the only difference now is the badge on the front.

In 1977, the San Fransico Bay Area Punk scene was developing led by The Dickies, The Germs, The Go-Gos.  Black Flag pushed the boundaries wit hthe development of Hardcore Punk (alongside similar developments on the East Coast where The Misfits were formed).
Punk in 1977 America remained an East Coast preserve with The Ramones, The Dead Boys and Richard Hell & The Voidoiods leading lights.  Add to that list Talking Heads, Blondie, Patti Smith and Television. and you can sort of see the frustration building on the West Coast.
Into the world of Hardcore Punk rode a band who could see beyond the "Destroy" rhetoric and stage-diving, and add a political element to the lyrics and (often un-noticed in the frenetic pace) some un-punk musical flourishes (soul, jazz, prog, r&b, rockabilly, whatever fitted the moment).

The Dead Kennedys formed in 1978 - East Bay Ray (guitar) found his bandmates via a newspaper advert, and was joined by Klaus Flouride (bass), Jello Biafra (vocals) on vocals, Ted (drums) and the simply named 6025 (aka Carlos Cadona, rhythm guitar).
They went straight into the demo studio and started picking up live gigs wherever they could.  Controversy was never far away as a result of their chosen name  - particularly when they were booked to play a show on the 15th anniversary of JFK's assassination.
Jello Biafra (never one to hide from an opinion) expalined that the band's name was not on attack on the presidential family, but a poetic explanation of the death of the American Dream.
6025 left the band just 8 months after joining, leaving East Bay Ray on sole guitar duties.  Their debut single "California Uber Alles" came soon after.  As a result of their name and reputation, finding a record label proved a fruitless task, so East Bay Ray and Jello Biafra formed their own Alternative Tentacles label for Dead Kennedy's product (they did eventually pick up distribution deals from IRS in the US and Cherry Red in the UK).
In short order, second single "Holiday In Cambodia" was released followed soon after by debut album 'Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables'.
The album had more musical nous and tunes than it's contemporary hardcore Punk brethren, but it was in the UK where they were most successful rising to the higher reaches of the Indie Chart. 'Fresh Fruit ...' contained re-recordings of their previous 2 singles, and 1 more was single lifted -"Kill The Poor" - giving the Dead Kennedys a Number One single (on the UK Indie Chart).
Nestling at the end of the album was a 1964 song that has a literal translation of Long Live The Meadows.  That title sounds like it should be a hymn, so "Viva Las Vegas" has more of a romantic ring to it.  The song written for the 1964 Elvis Presley film celebrates the bright lit city built so Frank, Sammy, Dean and other Rat Pack guests could get away from it all and drink, gamble and entertain.
The song is a celebration of the city, but after the satire and politicking (and some slight lyrical tweaks) the Dead Kennedys reading gives with a slightly different, less celebratory feel.