Single of the week

Airport (Motors)

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Over the years many music genres have come and gone, some, like prog rock, glam, punk and new romantic made a lasting mark on the international music scene, others, like, acid, happy house and bashment went almost unnoticed. Pub rock was one that went unnoticed by many but did garner a cult following for those who were there in the 70s and included bands like Dr Feelgood, Brinsley Schwartz, Kilburn & The High Roads and Ducks Deluxe.

Brinsley Schwartz spawned Nick Lowe, Kilburn launched Ian Dury and Ducks Deluxe morphed into the Motors, all who had more success post pub rock. Ducks Deluxe was led by Nick Garvey and Andy McMaster. McMaster left when the band split in 1975 and went into music publishing. Garvey left Ducks Deluxe around the same time and formed a band called The Snakes with his friend and drummer Ricky Slaughter and vocalist Robert Gotobed. After one single they split with Gotobed going onto form the punk group Wire.

Just a few weeks later Garvey’s manager Richard Ogden suggested that he form his own band. He brought Slaughter with him and also contacted McMaster who rejoined him. They also brought in Bram Tchaikovsky (born Peter Brammell) as an extra guitarist. They recorded some demos in early 1977 and made their debut just two months later at the Marquee Club in London. The same week they recorded three songs for John Peel for his evening show on Radio 1.

In July 1977 they landed a contract with Virgin records and released their first single, Dancing the Night Away which reached number 42 and spent four weeks on the chart. Christmas that year saw the follow-up, Be What you Gotta Be, fail spectacularly as it got lost in the Christmas rush. April 1978 saw there next single, Sensation miss out in the Easter rush.

Their lyrics were meaningful and often compared to another fledgling band at the time, Squeeze, but with a more grittier sound. This was proved with the release of their next single which proved to be their biggest. Airport was written about a man whose woman has decided to leave him and live in another country and blames the building from where the plane took off for taking her away. McMaster had never revealed if it was based on a personal experience nor did he implicate the airport in question.

Airport spent three months on the chart and was followed-up with the equally catchy Forget About You, another song about lost love. The Motors were scheduled to give an interview to Q magazine in 1995 but primary song-writer, Andy McMaster, declined leading Garvey to explain that McMaster is a ‘very complex character and you need to understand him’.

They hit with two albums, their eponymous debut reached number 46 and the follow-up, Approved by the Motors flunked at number 60. They released a ‘Greatest Hits’ in 1995 which troubled nobody.

In the glamorous world of pop music, the Motors got bad press about their looks. In the 90s, Garvey said, “We made no concessions to glitter, we just looked how we looked. If you don’t make an effort it can be another nail in your coffin, then again, Mark Knopfler is no oil painting s he?”

Their final hit Love and Loneliness in 1980 reached a lowly number 58. They released further singles Metropolis, Whiskey and Wine and the excellent That’s What John Said which featured 12 different ‘John’s’ on the sleeve including Travolta, Cleese, Peel, Conteh, Lennon, F. Kennedy and of course, Olivia Newton. Sadly I wasn’t on there, but then again there is no H in my name!

By 1982 the usual ‘artistic differences’ excuse reared and they split up. Garvey tried his hand at music publishing working with Fingerprintz and Bad Manners, McMaster still writes the occasional song but no-one has heard them yet. Tchaikovsky originally built a recording studio but sold it in 1986 and, in his own words, “has done bugger all since. I make enough money for beer and fags which id the most important thing.” Slaughter was very put out when the band split and sent Garvey his smashed up silver disc in the post. He went on to work with the Buggles’ Bruce Woodley and XTC’s Barry Andrews.

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Cuddly Toy (Roachford)

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We all know that bad press can really have an effect on someone’s career and this was certainly true in Roachford’s case. He originally hit the UK music scene in June 1988 and the majority of the music press at the time gave him a hard time. Gary Newby and Brian Bateman of the pop group The Railway Children in their singles review in Record Mirror said of his latest single, Cuddly Toy, ‘He sounds like Phil Lynott. He’s got his way of singing…or not singing but it’s a bit of a rock-out.’ They added that the lyric ‘You gotta feel for me baby was criminal’. Where are they now I wonder?!

Roachford is a band headed by Andrew Roachford. His mother was not best pleased in one aspect when he was born, Andrew explained, “I was born at 6pm on Friday 22nd January 1965 and it was just when my mum’s favourite programme, Ready Steady Go, came on the telly. She went straight into labour just after it started.”

He was born into a musical family with his dad being a drummer in a showband and his uncle Bill, a saxophone player, who was famous for playing on the Kronenberg TV advert. Andrew began writing songs at a young age and then went out on the road with his uncle. One day Bill suggested he sings a number on stage, although initially reluctant, Andrew eventually agreed and sang a cover of Ray Charles’ Georgia On My Mind. He began studying at a music college in London’s Kings Cross and was soon spotted by the Clash’s manager Bernie Rhodes who took him under his wing and used him as a talent scout. Andrew soon lost interest in college and decided to form his own band with some musician friends and named the group after himself.

He sent demo tapes to a number of record companies and it was by sheer luck he got a record deal. “I’ve got Terence ‘Trent’ D’Arby to thank for getting me signed up,” explained Andrew, “He heard one of my tapes one day at the offices of CBS and said ‘Hey man, this is brilliant. Who is this guy Roachford? Sign him up immediately.’ He then invited me on tour with him.”

He got noticed because then it was unusual to see a black kid, as Andrew puts it, with a guitar and having jazz and rock influences.  Cuddly Toy is just a straightforward pop song, “It’s effectively your safe and reliable ‘friend’ unlike members of the opposite sex who can mess you around. Its title was influence by Garfield the cat. He said, “My manager also manages Garfield the Cat and that’s why I’ve got one in my bedroom.” In 1990 Andrew said, “We may be successful but we’ll never be bigger than Garfield as far as my manager is concerned.”

Cuddly Toy reached number four in the chart and it was the only time he would trouble the top ten. His next hit was actually his debut single which had flopped and that was Family Man, this time it reached number 25. He continued throughout the mid to late nineties turning out hits like Get Ready, Only to Be With You and his last top 40 hit in 1998 with How Could I (Insecurity).

He released a solo album in 2003 called Heart of the Matter and the follow up, Word Of Mouth, three years later, was back with the band. In 2010 he and the Canadian actor/singer Tim Howar were both asked to join Mike & The Mechanics as joint lead vocalists. Their only album to date was called The Road and it spent a solitary week at number 42.

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Brimful Of Asha (Cornershop)

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Singer and guitarist Tjinder Singh was born to Indian parents and grew up in Preston, Lancashire. It was in 1992 whilst studying at Preston University he formed Cornershop, a name he chose as an observation to the supermarket take-over and demise of the local shop

He recruited guitarist and keyboard player Ben Ayres, another keyboardist Anthony Saffrey, percussionist Peter Bengry and drummer Nick Simms. Tjinder never told his father what he did. “An Asian on stage was unusual especially when I was playing guitar. It would have upset my father, so I told him I worked for a record company. My brother eventually told him.”

By 1997 they had slimmed down to a duo consisting of Tjinder and Ben. Tjinder wrote the song as a tribute to Bollywood actress Asha Bhosle. On its initial release in August 1997, it faltered at number 60 on the chart. The word ‘asha’ while referring to Asha Bhosle, has another meaning; Hope. Many of Asha Bhosle’s movie songs were filled with messages of hope that the younger generation took to heart and dreamed of better lives. The line ‘Well, it’s a brimful of Asha on the 45’refers to the speed the vinyl spins round at. In the bridge there are a number of non-Indian music references including the song Bancs Publics, the French singer/songwriter Jacques Dutronc, Marc Bolan and Trojan Records.

Soon after, Fatboy Slim who liked the track, sped it up and began dropping it into his DJ set. It was well received by the crowd so Fatboy worked out a definitive remix and offered it to Cornershop’s label, Wiiija, free of charge. They accepted it and issued it as a strictly limited white label 12″ single. A couple of copies found their way into the hands of Radio 1 DJs Mary Anne Hobbs and Anne Nightingale who began playing it on every show. Then Steve Lamacq began playing it and within a week there was an on-air campaign to have it officially released. Part of the song was a celebration of the 45rpm single. Fatboy said, “All I did was speed it up, put a drum beat, a heavy breakbeat and a bassline on it and left the rest of the song as it was. It was brilliant.”

The single was re-issued on seven inch and CD single, but Norman’s remix was confined to the B-side or track two on the CD. The A-side was a straight re-issue from the previous year. However, hardly any radio station played the A-side so everyone thinks it was the Norman Cook remix that topped the chart.

Tjinder publicly expressed that he wasn’t happy with the single’s success. He felt disappointed that after releasing songs for over six years without success that his glory had been stolen by a remix. Subsequently, the follow-up, Sleep on the Left Side, which only reached number 23, was compared with the remix. The second album, Handcream for A Generation, despite featuring Noel Gallagher on guitar, performed so badly that they were dropped from the label.

Norman said, “I thought I should apologise to Tjinder for fucking up the band’s career. Tjinder said he wasn’t bothered, but it doesn’t feel good, making people sound jolly when it wasn’t them.”

Cornershop were out of the limelight for four years, but began recording again in 2002 on their own Meccico record label and returned to the chart in 2004 with Topknot. In 2008 their song Candyman was featured in the TV advert for Nike’s Lebron James VI shoe. The following year they released the album Judy Sucks a Lemon for Breakfast and also formed their own Ample Play record label. In 2011 they were awarded a prize for Commitment to Scene in the UK Asian Music Awards and in May 2012 their eighth album Urban Turban was released and has yet to appear on the UK album chart.

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Reason To Believe (Tim Hardin)

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Tim Hardin is one of those mysterious people who had a violent temper and terrible drug habit yet a mesmerising voice. He died at the age of 39, but his beautiful music lives on mainly through people who have covered his songs.

Tim, who was born James Timothy Hardin in Oregon just before Christmas 1941, was a complex character equalled by people like Syd Barrett and Nick Drake. He often exaggerated stories of himself thus leading to controversy about the enigmatic figure. His closest friends were people like Elvis Costello, Janis Ian, Donovan and John Sebastian, yet none of them could help him kick the drug addiction that eventually killed him in 1980.

His only UK hit as an artist was the beautiful Hang On To a Dream which peaked at a pathetic number 50 in 1967, but thankfully just three months earlier Bobby Darin had brought his name to the fore with a cover of If I Were A Carpenter. This song was inspired by John Judnich, the man who built a small recording studio at Lenny Bruce’s house. Such was the power of the song that exactly 18 months later the song became a top ten hit again when covered by the Four Tops.  In 1971, Rod Stewart opened his chart account with another Hardin song, Reason To Believe. The song entered the chart at number 31 then climbed to number 19. At this point radio DJs across the world, all of a sudden, were flipping the record over and playing the B side, which was Maggie May. The following week the song climbed to  number 11 and Reason To Believe was no longer listed and so Maggie May went on to become an international best seller and Reason To Believe was soon forgotten about.

Hardin’s 1965 comparatively subdued original has an air of tragedy with the elements of a hurt and wounded person blaming an unfaithful lover. It appears on the album Tim Hardin 1 which mainly contained demo tracks. The lyrics are sad and heartfelt. The line ‘Someone like you, makes it hard to live without somebody else, Someone like you, make it easy to give never think of myself.’  When Tim’s voice cracks while singing, ‘If I gave you time to change my mind, I’d find a way just to leave the past behind, Knowing that you lied straight-faced while I cried’ is heartbreaking. You really believe his life was tragic.

As much as his studio work is amazing, his live appearances were often not well received. There was a time in San Francisco when he turned up late because he’d been out drinking and sang so poorly that he was booed off stage. This seemingly regular occurrence could well have aided his reliance on drugs and ultimately his downfall.

He released a total of 10 albums in his lifetime and two posthumously but it was his first and third albums, Tim Hardin 1 and Tim Hardin 2 (there was This Is Tim Hardin in between) that reportedly earned him $423m although he didn’t see much of it. Even at the time of his death he had sold his precious catalogue of songs and still owed the taxman hundreds of thousands of dollars. This fourth album, confusingly title Tim Hardin 3, was billed as a live album but it turned out that his managers and record label at the time were so fed up with his lack of new material because of his addiction, that they were actually a set of early demos with added canned applause which explains his well documented surprising change in direction at that time!

Reason To Believe has been covered by a multitude of artists ranging from The Carpenters, Wilson Phillips, Lovin’ Spoonful, Vonda Shepherd, Denny Laine and Ron Sexsmith each one of them managing to keep its sentiment.

The song gained a new audience when it was featured in the 2000 film Wonder Boys which starred Michael Douglas and Robert Downey Jr. The film also featured other classic songs from John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Clarence Carter, Junior Walker & The All-Stars, Van Morrison and Neil Young.

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For A Friend (Communards)

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Many songs have been written as a tribute to famous people in all walks of life, some famous, some infamous and some not known at all. When the Communards released their eighth hit, for a friend in 1988, it had an impact on all people who know someone who they’ve lost to the dreaded AIDS virus.

The Communards came into being after lead singer Jimmy Somerville walked out of Bronski Beat in the spring of 1985. He teamed up with an old friend, Richard Coles who he worked with in 1982 when Richard played saxophone on Jimmy’s track Screaming and they began rehearsing as The Committee. After realising there was another group with that name, they changed it to the Communards, a name taken from a group of members and supporters of the short-lived 1871 Paris Commune formed in the wake of France’s defeat of the Franco-Prussian War.

Their peak came in 1986 when their cover of Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes’ Don’t Leave Me This Way, which was dedicated to the GLC (Greater London Council) spent four weeks at the top of the UK chart and featured former Happy End vocalist Sarah-Jane Morris. They followed it up with So Cold The Night which reached number eight and their next and final top 10 hit came the following year, a cover of The Jackson Five’s Never Can Say Goodbye.

The Communards’ penultimate hit was the self-penned For A Friend. Jimmy Somerville said to Record Collector magazine that pop music doesn’t come out of thin air it comes out of real life. For A Friend was written about Mark Ashton who died on February 11th 1987, Jimmy explained the story. “Mark was a close friend of both of us and my best friend. He was the first friend of ours to die from AIDS and it really thumped us, really brought it all home and I suppose this is a way of getting it off our chests.”

Richard recalled, “He was a mental queen. He was a barman, well a barmaid actually…” Jimmy continued, “He used to work behind the bar in the British Legion and he was really into 50s drag. He was flamboyant, had a massive blonde beehive hairdo and used to wear polka-dot skirts. The two of us were the two most notorious queens in London! We used to get into so much trouble and get duffed up in demonstrations. We were just so mouthy back then!” Richard quipped, “You minced everything except your words!”

Mark decided he wanted a change and went off to Bangladesh where his life changed completely. “He came back and turned up on my doorstep,” remembered Jimmy, “He was wearing one of those orange things that that Buddhists wear and his head completely shaved, and I thought ‘what a shambles’. He’d got involved in politics and became a general secretary of the Young Communists.” Richard added, “He was totally devoted to women’s politics and gay politics. He was still a mad queen, but brilliant.”

All proceeds from For A Friend went to the Mark Ashton Trust which, as Jimmy said, was a sort of memorial because he was such an influential person. Richard concluded, the hardest thing was dealing with people’s attitudes afterwards. AIDS is still seen as the ‘gay plague’ as if it has nothing to do with anyone else. The whole AIDS campaign missed the point, really.”

The Communards had one further top 20 hit with There’s More to Love before going their separate ways. Caroline Buckley & Sally Herbert, their backing singers, formed Banderas and had one top 20 hit with This Is your Life. Richard studied for a BA in theology at King’s College London and was selected for training for priesthood in the Church of England. After ordination he worked as a curate at St Botolph’s Church in Boston in Lincolnshire, and subsequently at St Paul’s Church in Knightsbridge. Additionally he provided the narration for The Style Council’s film JerUSAlem in 1994. Jimmy embarked on a successful solo career including two top ten hits with cover versions of Sylvester’s You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real) and The Bee Gees’ To Love Somebody. He is still recording and in 2011 released an EP called Bright Thing.

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