I’m still buzzing from last week’s record haul. I’ve listened to maybe 20 or 30 or the 80 records I picked up, and the overall standard is excellent. Here’s the first batch of reactions. The reviews might be a little insubstantial; hopefully I’ll revisit them in the future.
James Last: 'Well Kept Secret' (LP; Polydor; 1975)
This is a really nice album from 1975. Everything is in a nicely arranged gentle funky style, and the arrangements are quite spare and appealing. ‘Bolero '75’ was featured on one of the Mojo club compilations from Germany. My favorite track so far is ‘Slaughter on 10th Avenue’. ‘Question’ is bizarre – at the beginning, it has a strange fast-strummed chord sequence that makes it sound just like My Bloody Valentine (but without the distortion!). It turns into a pretty dippy vocal, although the instrumentation is still cool. The final track ‘Theme from Prisoner of second avenue’ is a fun, bouncy track with strings. Kind of a bridge between early 70s easy listening and disco.
Jimmy Jacobs and The Nite Spots: 'Swingin Soho' (LP; Gargoyle; 1961)
Described as ‘Surely one of Britain’s most exciting rhythm and blues groups’, this actually sounds like quite average pleasant small combo piano jazz. Vibes and stuff. Then ‘rock’n’roll’ comes into play. ‘Write myself a letter’ is a vocal with sax. ‘Whirlwind’ is a fun fast latin style piano number. An unusual record, but not in the way I wanted it to be (I would have preferred smokey/bluesey early rock'n'roll).
Compilation - John Gregory: 'Gregory Conducts' (LP; Philips; 1967-1972)
This is an early 70s 'sampler' compilation of lots of different John Gregory albums.
It actually contains some very nice material indeed. ‘Fire and Rain’ is a very cool early 70s instrumental with strings, beats, etc.
Hawaii 5-0 is so-so. Onedin Line is a pleasant enough slow stringy romantic theme. The version of ‘Sunny’ is very nice – upbeat and jazzy. A face in the clouds is a Gregory original. Very nice beaty, vibey track; the rhythm at the beginning reminds me of ‘bubbles’ by The Free Design. Shaft is nice. Somehow cooler than lots of takes on this tune. 'Softly whispering I love you' is a breezy and rather twee pop song with wordless vocals.
Aquarius is absolutely outstanding, with a huge breakbeat and a very imaginative arrangement. La Mer is a bit of a letdown after that, but it’s actually quite a nice version of Trenet’s tune. ‘Spies and dolls’ is a nice original (kind of a 12-bar blues actually) in the style of a detective theme with bongos and blaring brass. Meditation is a homely adaptation of a Massenet theme. ‘Softly Softly’ is the only track on here that I’d heard before; I think it’s on the ‘detectives’ LP that I have. It’s a cool theme with big brass and bongos.
I've seen dealers attempt to hype this up, but still fail to sell it on ebay for a few pounds. Although not as rare as some of his other albums, I think this is well worth getting hold of, particularly in light of that irresistable take on 'Aquarius'.
Compilation - John Gregory: 'Spotlight on Chaquito' (LP; Philips; 1962-1972)
This is a 2 LP set compiling Chaquito recordings from 1962–72. It's quite pleasant, with a mixture of Latin American and Brazilian stuff, plus some standards (‘it’s magic’) etc, all played in blaring brassy style with lots of bongos. I've had some of these albums before, and while they're quirky, they're not as outstanding as some of Gregory's other work as an arranger. The highlight for me on this set is the 1972 version of ‘Upa Neguino’, which is excellent. I wonder if the original album it comes from is as good.
John Gregory: 'A Man for All Seasons' (LP; United Artists; 1974)
This is a weird one. A concept album featuring classical/hymn music, with a bizarre cutout new-agey looking cover. Also included are three absolutely storming upbeat hybrid easy listening/funk tracks of the highest order: jetstream, jaguar, and earthshaker. Jaguar in particular has it all – really cool chord changes, heavy drums, organ, brass, thick sheets of smooth strings. Jetstream and Jaguar are both on the ‘sound gallery’ compilation, but I had never heard the beaty ‘earthshaker’ before; cool stuff!
John Gregory: 'Melodies of Japan' (LP; Fontana; 1965)
The first track, ‘drizzling rain’ is really lovely. Very gentle with a nice melody and some tasty strings. The strings and flutes and vibes imitate the sound of falling rain very well. This is the real standout. The rest of the LP is also nice, but slightly kitchy and almost 50s sounding to my ears. I definitely need to go back and listen some more in the future though
John Schroeder: 'The Dolly Catcher' (LP; Pye; 1967)
An interesting concept album about catching 'dollies' - birds I guess. There are some reasonable/middling tracks and a few stormers. One of these, ‘But she ran the other way’, was on the ‘easy project’ compilation. The other two winners to my ears are ‘explosive corrosive joseph’ and ‘I was made to love her’, which are both very hip almost-funky tracks with nice percussion and organ.
Keith Mansfield: 'All you need is Keith Mansfield' (LP; CBS; 1969)
Quite a rare one I think. Very nice upbeat Swinging London style stuff with occasional vocals. Much more of a soul edge than most of the records I picked up. Still not exactly soul, but just more beaty and with more insistent basslines. Towards the end of the first side comes ‘Soul Thing’, a very cool beaty piano version of a tune I’ve heard in an organ funk version on compilations of KPM library material. The side ends with a version of ‘Moanin’ with a nice Hammond organ and some interesting vocals; the only other vocal version of this track I had heard was Lambert, Hendricks and Ross. This one is more hip, with latin percussion, organ and big brass. The second side opens with a tasty version of ‘Walk on by’ (they’re all pretty tasty for me). There’s another good original called ‘Boogaloo’. A very nice album
Tony Hatch: 'Love Sounds' (LP; Pye; 1976)
This disco-era album is actually surprisingly enjoyable for me! What are you doing the rest of your life is very entertaining: an upbeat disco romp through this slow song, which I know best via Scott Walker’s version. The album continues very nicely with ‘Love in the Morning Sun’. It’s slightly bland proto-disco music with some nice strings. I like it! It goes off a bit, but there’s a couple of other nice disco versions of standards – ‘ebb tide’ and ‘I’ve got you under my skin’. The album ends with the funkier ‘Brazilia’. While this is the 'hip' track that would probably be picked out by DJs, it's actually kind of annoying. I'm happier listening to the bastardized disco versions of standards.
Tony Hatch: 'Downtown with Tony Hatch – The Tony Hatch Sound' (LP; Marble Arch; 1966)
This is a cool sounding record. ‘Man Alive’ is a nice mid-60s jazzy instrumental that appeared on one of the sequel ‘loungecore’ comps. ‘Where are you now’ is a Bacharach-like instrumental. Really nice. There’s something very appealing about this record that just works well. Almost every tune is a Hatch or Hatch/Trent original, so perhaps that just helps give it a freshness that some of his later records don’t have. ‘Round every corner’ is another very cool jazzy instrumental that’s familiar to me from one compilation or other. Overall, a very tasty record that's a cut above a lot of other similar easy listening albums.
Tony Hatch: 'What the World Needs Now' (LP; Pye; 1971)
This is an okay record, but I’m actually not crazy about some of the arrangements. Hatch tries to be clever in a way that doesn’t really appeal to me. It’s innocuous enough, but doesn't really press my button. Having said that, some of the arrangements work pretty well. 'Walk on by' is probably the best track. 'I say a little prayer' and ‘the look of love’ are nice too.
Tony Hatch: 'Brasilia Mission' (LP; Pye; 1969)
I don’t think any Tony Hatch albums are going to live up to what my expectations once were for them. I was dreaming of something really rich – layered strings and solid percussion. I’ve known for some time that the records aren’t really like this. But they’re not bad at all.
In a nutshell, this is pleasant piano-led orchestral easy listening without much of a bite. It’s nicely arranged and can be really quite tasty when the songs are good, recalling Dudley Moore’s work on the quieter Bedazzled tracks. ‘On a clear day’, ‘Love song’, ‘The dangerous age’ all come across very well. ‘Wichita Lineman’ and ‘Light my fire’ are good too, although I’ve heard too much of these songs recently to be too impressed. ‘Endora’ is a Tony Hatch ‘original’ which bears more than a passing resemblance to Joao Donato’s ‘Amazonas’. And it’s all the better for it!
The album concludes with ‘Brasilia Mission’, a simple but very catch track with similar instrumentation to the rest of the album, but slightly jazzier piano.