Single of the week

Excerpt From A Teenage Opera (Keith West)

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Four songs reached number two in the 1960s that don’t mention the title of the song within the lyrics, the first was The Seekers’ Morningtown Ride in 1967, then Alternate Title by the Monkees the following year and the last was Ain’t Got No-I Got Life by Nina Simone in 1969. The other is the subject of today’s Single of the Week which, despite often being referred to as Grocer Jack, is actually called Excerpt From A Teenage Opera.

Although sung by Keith West, it was the brainchild of the German-born EMI staff producer Mark Wirtz. The song is rarely heard on radio these days except for the odd bland Gold station but when it is heard it stands up today, just like it did 45 years ago. In the year of flower-power the song arrived just in time to be part of the soundtrack of the summer of love and it brought a certain innocence enhanced by the sound of a children’s choir.

When it arrived, it heralded the arrived of what many thought would be the grand Teenage Opera which many eagerly awaited. Two further singles followed but the full opera did not. It was much like the British equivalent of the Beach Boys’ Smile. It became a holy grail as fans tried for years to find out what happened to it and where to track it down.

Wirtz arrived in the UK in 1962. He had grown up with comedy and wanted to be a comedian. He explained, “Germany was hardly the humour capital of the world, so I picked up a guitar and learnt piano standing up and then I moved to England and planned on becoming a rock idol who came to the attention of movie producers who’d sign up me. I would let them know I was funny and they would put me in a comedy and the rest was history.” Hmmm, not quite! He had based himself in Surrey and formed a rock’n’roll covers band called the Beatcrackers. He wrote one tune which he included in his set, it was a instrumental called Bubble Pop. A rep from EMI was at a gig one night and was so impressed that he was signed to the label as Mark Rogers and The Marksmen as a replacement for Russ Conway. He became fascinated with the business and soon formed his own production company and began leasing tracks to other record labels.

“In January 1967, I had a dream. Not a daydream, or a fantasy, but a real dream in my sleep,” explained Wirtz. “Actually, it was more like a dreamlette- about an ageing door-to-door grocer named Jack in a small, turn of the century village, who was as mocked by the children as he was taken for granted by the town folk. When Jack unexpectedly died, the town folk reacted with anger about the inconvenience of now having to be self reliant about their staple provision, while the children were heartbroken, in truth having loved and appreciated Jack all the while. That was it, simple as that. Little did I know, that this innocent dream would turn into The Teenage Opera, which soon twisted my fate into a real life opera far more dramatic and plot filled than the musical one could ever have been. Its life altering impact and consequences not only resonate and haunt me to this day, but the saga is a still ongoing one – 30 years later. ”

To trace the true moment of birth of the Teenage Opera, we go back to January 1966, when Mark, in a small studio on London’s Bond Street, tried something new. “I experimented with a musical vision by independently producing my composition A Touch Of velvet – A Sting Of Brass under the moniker Mood Mosaic. My vision was as simple as it was ambitious, and evolved as a theme which formed the core of my music work throughout my career.”

In 1965 a group called Four + One had signed to EMI’s subsidiary label Parlophone and released one single, a cover of Irma Thomas’ Time Is on My Side. Their lead singer, maracas and harmonica player was Keith West. After one single they changed their name to The In Crowd and released a cover of Otis Redding’s That’s How Strong My Love Is which just scraped into the UK chart. The follow up, a cover of the Byrds’ Eight Miles High failed to chart. In 1967 they changed their name again to Tomorrow after a suggestion by Junior, their bass player, who made the comment New music, tomorrow’s music.

“Mark approached me to write some lyrics for this backing track he had,” remembered West. “It was a bit odd with lots of mandolins, and orchestra but no choir, it wasn’t my type of music but it flowed nicely and it reminded me of Pet Sounds. He went out for a while and left me writing, when he returned a couple of hours later he thought I’d done a good job but told me he wanted the name Grocer Jack to feature in it. When we’d finished we decided to bring Steve Howe in to play guitar but we speeded it up to sound like a mandolin, session guitarist Big Jim Sullivan was brought in too but this time on banjo, session drummer Clem Cattini on drums and the Ivy League on backing vocals.”

“The clavioline intro was laid down then strings were added and finally the brass was layered on top. As the track grew and grew it became obvious that a vocalist had to be found,” West continued,” They took me into the studio late one night and I noticed there were some session singers. Being naive I thought I was there to arrange it, but I ended up singing the demo. There was talk of Cliff Richard being brought in but they all said that my vocal suited the song so I was asked if it was ok and thought no more about it.” The finishing touches were added with the children’s choir from Hammersmith Corona stage school led by a girl called Charmaine. “I was unable to hide the expense of the children’s fee within the official paperwork,” remembered Wirtz, “So I paid for the kids’ performance out of my own pocket. Best money I ever spent!

When it was finished, Wirtz remembered Kim Fowley’s buzzword, ‘teenager’ and Grocer Jack quickly became Excerpt From A Teenage Opera. Why? Wirtz explained, “The reason was, that if the single was a hit then people would want an LP of the whole opera. Before all that, though we had to admit to the bosses at EMI that we’d abused the company’s time, which I did and then played them the track. They were horrified and silence followed. All of a sudden the dam of silence was broken with condemning phrases like ‘Absurd record’, ‘Four minutes long?’, ‘Have you gone mad’ and ‘you think anyone is going to buy a rock record with children on it?’ The committee’s final verdict was to shelve the project. That would have been the end of it if it hadn’t been for John Peel on Radio Caroline. I took it to John in the studio and he played it on his headphones. Before it had reached the end, John opened the microphone and with a big grin on his face told the listeners, ‘I’ve got a marvellous surprise for you’ and put the needle back to the start.” The phones lit up and, to cut a long story short, EMI were forced to rush release the track. It entered the chart and climbed to number two behind Engelbert Humperdinck’s The Last Waltz.

The follow up single, Sam, only just managed a top 40 placing but as West says, after that the rest of the Teenage Opera material wasn’t really up to standard so I passed.” Wirtz went to on to be a producer at Page One and Chapter 1 records before moving to Los Angeles in 1971.

In 1997, thirty years after its conception, Wirtz decided to finish the project. “I finally decided to exorcise the haunting which had cursed me for three decades. I spent nine months day and night working, composing and recording the complete Teenage Opera. I created a fully dramatic story and script – a romantic fantasy revolving around H.G Wells’ abduction into the future by a villainous time master. It now exists as a double CD called Tempo but is unlikely to see the light of day.” At least for Mark, but not for his fans, the Teenage opera will be laid to rest forever, but the spirit of it will live on forever.

Magic (Pilot)

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Abba were the first group to take their name from the initials of the members of the band, the second were Pilot and it was lead singer and bass player David Paton’s wife who was the inspiration behind their two biggest hits.

Pilot were formed in Edinburgh in 1973 by former (early) Bay City Roller’s member David Paton and Billy Lyall. Later that year they enrolled Stuart tosh and Iain Bairnson and after recording several demo’s they were signed to a management deal and in due course a recording contract with EMI by Nick and Tim Heath who were band leader Ted Heath’s sons.

David and Billy left the Roller’s before they were really famous which seemed an odd move, David explained why, “Yes, well I always call that my apprenticeship years. There were plenty musicians around Edinburgh who had a stint in the Rollers. But after about a year with them, which was a very enjoyable time, because the manager, Tam Paton, who was no relation of mine, has us gigging six nights a week and when we had an occasional night off we went out for a meal and I think his idea was to keep us away from girls so we didn’t get involved and thus making us more desirable to the fan base. But I left because they were about to sign to Bell records and I thought to myself I would do without success than to be a successful Bay City Roller, that was just me because I wanted to achieve things musically and I don’t think the Rollers were taken that seriously and I was becoming very serious about my music and I thought I’d take a chance and it paid off.”

The name Pilot was taken from the three surnames, Paton, Lyall and Tosh and it was their manager’s girlfriend who suggested Pilot.  Their first hit came at the end of 1974 and reached number 11 in the UK and a respectable number five in the USA. The song was called Magic and Paton tells how it came about, “Like a lot of songs I wrote back then, I always had a tape recorder on top of my piano and when any idea came into my head i would just slap it down and I had that chorus, which was a four-bar chorus, technically, it was just an idea and one morning I had to get up really early and my wife said to me ‘I’ve never been awake to see a day break’ and I thought there’s a line for a song that will go with that little chorus and the rest of it just fell into place.” Originally the song had a different intro. “I first recorded that intro just a piano and voice,” remembered Paton, “And then we realised that this just isn’t dynamic enough and we have to go back in the studio and put a nice new dynamic intro to it and that’s what we did.” One person who was clearly inspired by that redone intro was Carlos Santana as you will hear if you listen to the intro of his 2000 top three hit Smooth.

Their next single was Just A Smile which failed to make any impact. Next came January, which, again, was inspired by a book that Paton’s wife was reading about a girl called January and although that was part of the inspiration for it, the rest came from the success of Magic. Paton explained, “In January, the verse is totally unrelated to the chorus, the verse is more talking about the success of Magic and how it’s opened up the world to me and that’s what I’m singing about.”Pilot appeared on Top Of The Pops many times and got to meet many stars of the day, one story that Paton particularly remembered was when they met Queen. “yes, EMI paired us with Queen as we were both relatively new signings and I remembered after on show, I went over to talk to Freddie (Mercury) and Freddie said ‘Why have you come over to talk to me’ and I said, Why not? and Freddie said, ‘When I have a number one, I’ll talk to no-one!”

Call Me Round was their next single which only reached number 34 and this was followed by the re-issue of Just a smile which only managed three places higher. There were albums too Second Flight (1975), Morin Heights (1976) and after Bairnson and Lyall had left and not replaced the duo recorded their third album Two’s A Crowd in 1977.

Pilot split in later in 1977 with Bairnson, Paton and Tosh all joining the Alan Parsons Project and Tosh also working with 10cc. Paton and Bairnson did session stuff for EMI including working with Pink Floyd and most notably Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights in which Bairnson plays the guitar solo. Paton also worked with Elton John and featured on his album Reg Strikes Back in 1988.

Lyall died in 1989 of an AIDS-related illness but Paton and Bairnson reformed Pilot in 2002 and re-recorded their Two’s A Crowd album but re-titled Blue Yonder. After that all three went to live in Spain. Paton returned in 2005 and still tours as David Paton’s Pilot, whilst the other two remained in Spain. In 2012 Paton has just released a new album called Under The Sun which was inspired by a recent health scare. It includes a re-recorded version of Magic sounding mightily close to the original. Paton explains how, “I recorded that backing track originally for the BBC who had a charity day in the 80s but they didn’t want to use the original because there’s a string section on there and everybody would have to be paid so they asked me to re-record and I was using a drummer at the time who put down the track and I decided, after all these years, to dig it out and use it and it still sounds terrific.”

Jig-A-Jig (East Of Eden)

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During the 1950s & 60s, tons of instrumental tracks made the UK chart, but by the early 70s, they were few and far between, in fact the only instrumental number one of the 70s came in 1973 with Simon Park spending four weeks at the top with Eye Level. This was also the last truly instrumental chart topper. Fortunately in the following three decades quality lyric-less songs made the chart and one such was the violin-led Jig-A-Jig by prog rock band East Of Eden.

If you only know the one track by East Of Eden, then you probably wouldn’t have guessed they were a prog rock band. They formed in Bristol in 1967, originally as Pictures of Dorian Gray, by Dave Arbus who played violin, flute, saxophone and trumpet. He enlisted the services of alto sax player Ron Caines, guitarist Geoff Nicholson, bass player Mike Price and drummer Stuart Rossiter but over the next three years there were to be various personnel changes. The last to leave was Nicholson who was replaced by Davey ‘Crabsticks’ Trotter on Mellotron which added a new angle to their trademark sound.

Their debut album, Mercator Projected was released in 1969 but failed to attract buyers. Their second album, Snafu had more of a jazz feel as it featured Charles Mingus and John Coltrane influenced tracks. The first single from it was Jig-A-Jig which was the encore number in their set, an ironic throwaway twist to the rest of their show. Dave Arbus recalled how it came about, “”At the end of a show one night I launched into some jigs and the band followed me. It was quite spontaneous, the audience went wild. It became our finale. We probably invented Celtic rock by accident,” he explained in Mojo magazine in 2010. “We’d been listening to a lot of Frank Zappa & the Mothers Of Invention and that told us that we could do anything we wanted.”

Although a big encore number it failed to chart. The follow-up was Ramadhan which also failed to chart but did reach number two in France in 1970. On the strength of this, their record company, Deram, decided to re-release Jig-A-Jig which second time round did make an impression across Europe.

“The song drew a new audience for the band,” Arbus continued. “A lot of people came to shows and didn’t realise what kind of band we were and we weren’t clear who our audience were any longer. We were serious about what we wanted to do, but the record company wanted a follow-up. We were at a loss what to do. We were an albums group, I think it destroyed us.”

A further two albums followed, East Of Eden and New Leaf both in 1971. The next four albums Another Eden (1975), Here We Go Again (1976), It’s The Climate (1976) and Silver Park (1978) were all Europe-only releases. The band split in 1978. The three core members Arbus, Caines and Nicholson reunited in 1996 and have concentrated on playing mainly jazz based instrumental material. “Looking back at it, I’m still very fond of Jig-A-Jig but I wish we had more help in presenting ourselves as we were,” Arbus remembered.

Dave Arbus has one other big claim to fame and as a close friend of the Who’s Keith Moon he was invited to play the violin on the much loved Baba O’Reilly. In 1978 he formed another group called Fiddler’s Dram with singer Cathy LeSurf, Alan Prosser, Chris Taylor and Ian Telfer but left before they had their one and only UK hit Daytrip To Bangor in 1979.

Summer Of ’69 (Bryan Adams)

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In the Summer of ’69, Bryan Adams was just nine years old, many think the song for which is most often associated has sexual connotations and maybe not as innocent as it seems? Let’s find out.

It might be misheard lyrics. The song opens with the line ‘I got my first real six string bought it at the five and dime’. Bryan recalled in a recent interview, “I had someone in Spain ask me once why I wrote a song with the first line “I had my first real sex dream”… I had to laugh.” So what is the Summer of ’69 all about? Bryan: “It’s a very simple song about looking back on the summertime and making love, but for me, the ’69 was a metaphor for making love not about the year.”

It was co-written with rock songwriter and fellow Canadian Jim Vallace who incidentally was 17 in 1969. He had worked fairly extensively with Aerosmith and Alice Cooper, but he and Bryan began working together in the early 80s. In January 1984 they sat and wrote Summer of ’69 in Jim’s basement studio. Jim  recalled, “During the next month or two the song went through a number of changes, and we still weren’t convinced it was strong enough to include on Bryan’s Reckless album.

Jim revealed that the Jackson Browne song Running on Empty, which contains the lyrics, ‘In ’69 I was 21,’ was a subconscious influence on their writing, and that Bryan may have been influenced by the movie Summer Of ’42. Certain lines in the song were inspired by other songs too, I got my first real six string was from the line I bought a beat up six-string in a second-hand store in Foreigner’s Juke Box Hero, Standin’ on your mama’s porch, you told me that you’d wait forever came from the line Like a vision she dances across the porch as the radio plays from Bruce Springsteen’s Thunder Road and finally when you held my hand, I knew that it was now or never from the Beatles’ I Want to Hold Your Hand.

Jim broke the rest of the song down line by line: “When I was growing up in the 1950’s and 60’s there were shops called Five and Dime where you could (supposedly) buy anything for five or ten cents, which wasn’t always true. Now they call them “Dollar Stores. Neither Bryan nor I ever bought a guitar at the Five and Dime. I got my first guitar from my parents, Christmas 1965, when I was thirteen. Bryan bought his first guitar at a pawn shop in 1972, age 12.” Played it until my fingers bled:  “Anyone who’s ever played a guitar knows the strings can be brutal on your fingers when you’re first learning. I played my new guitar all Christmas day 1965, and half that night. I remember my dad coming down about one o’clock in the morning, telling me to get to sleep because I was keeping everybody up. I actually played it ’til my fingers bled.” It was the summer of ’69: Jim continued, “This is where the phrase “summer of ’69” appears for the first time … quite casually, as line four of the first verse.  It’s interesting to note: in our first draft of the song, the lyric summer of ’69 appears only once, never to be repeated.  It wasn’t the title it was just another line in the song. In fact, we originally planned on calling the song Best Days Of My Life.” Me and some guys from school had a band and we tried real hard:, “Bryan’s first band, Shock played top 40 songs in Vancouver nightclubs in 1976. My first band, The Tremelones, was formed in 1965 in Vanderhoof with some guys from school. I was 13 and the other fellows were a bit older, maybe 16 or 17.”

So who was in the band and who did quit? Jim: “I remember Bryan and me going back and forth on this line. I suggested Woody quit and Gordy got married, like the guys in my high-school band, but Bryan thought Jimmy and Jody sounded better, and I had to agree although I’m not sure where Bryan got the name Jimmy from. Jody is definitely Bryan’s sound-man, Jody Perpik, who got married around the time we were working on the song. Jody and his wife appear in the video driving away with a Just Married sign on the back of their car.”

So what of the line, I shoulda known we’d never get far: “When we were writing I suggested the lyric I got a job at the railway yard, because that’s what my band-mate Chuck had done: he got a job loading two-by-fours into box-cars at the Vanderhoof railway yard! The railway lyric survived the first three rough drafts but was eventually scrapped. Personally, I still prefer it.” ‘Ain’t no use in complainin’ when you got a job to do’: “I was thinking about Chuck and his job at the railway yard.  Bryan was probably thinking about his brief stint as a dish-washer at the Tomahawk Restaurant in North Vancouver. There aren’t many drive-ins left, and I wonder if kids these days even know what they are? When I was growing up there were two kinds of drive-ins: the big outdoor movie screens, and the drive-in restaurants that served burgers and soda while you sat in your car, like in the film American Graffiti. They’re pretty much gone now, but I have fond memories of going to both kinds of drive-ins as a kid.”

Man we were killin’ time, we were young and restless, we needed to unwind I guess nothin’ can last forever, Jim continued: “At this point the song goes to an electric twelve-string guitar break that’s really a nod to The Beatles, The Byrds and The Searchers with songs like Ticket To Ride, Mr Tambourine Man and Needles And Pins – some of my favourite music from the 1960’s. On our very first basement demo of we started the song with the 12-string riff, exactly like the break down section in the middle of the song, but on subsequent demo’s we replaced the 12-string with a chunky 6-string intro. In fact, we toiled over the musical arrangement for several weeks, maybe longer. We recorded the song three or four different ways, and we still weren’t convinced we had it right! Bryan even considered dropping the song from the album. Now, nearly 30 years later, when I hear it on the radio, I honestly can’t remember what bothered us.”

The song has won a couple of nonsense polls, eg, In a poll conducted by Decima Research in 2006, it was voted the best driving song among Canadians who sing in their cars and in 2010 and it was voted the ‘hottest summer song’ in Germany. Right! What’s even more astonishing is that in the UK, the song only ever reached number 42 in the chart.

Stay (I Missed You) (Lisa Loeb & Nine Stories)

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These days many artists ‘try out’ their songs via social media sites and Youtube etc to get public opinion, but back in the good old days artists had to try their new tunes out on a live audience and would gain a proper reaction and that’s what Lisa Loeb did for her 1994 hit Stay (I Missed you).

Loeb grew up in Dallas listening to the music her parents played her and particularly fell in love with Elton John and Olivia Newton-John (I know the feeling!). Her first foray into music was when she formed a duo with her roommate Liz Mitchell and began performing at the Speakeasy and the Bitter End clubs in New York. After she graduated she went it alone but was looking for a percussionist when, at her first solo acoustic show, a friend introduced her to Juan Patifio who not only played percussion but also had his own studio and within a week they began recording together.

Her debut single was Stay (I Missed You), but how did it come about, Lisa explained, “At the time I was having arguments with my boyfriend, who was actually my co-producer. I remember somebody close to me was going through severe depression. A lot of times in my songs, I get into some phase where I describe some other situation, and there’s a whole verse in there about somebody who is very depressed. But yeah, it was a story about a breakup I was going through, and that situation where it’s gotten into your head too much. Partially because somebody else is telling you that you’re only hearing what you want to, and that puts you in a little bit of a tailspin because you can’t figure out what’s actually real, are you only seeing things through your own eyes? Are you actually seeing things the way that they really are, or are you making things up? And at what point do you know whether you’re seeing things the way that they really are?”

She embellished the lyrics to make the song sound more dramatic. After she had finished it, Patifio had heard that Daryl Hall was looking for new songs. She recalled, “I was a big fan of Hall & Oates especially their older R&B and Motown-influenced songs and I thought they needed a new Sara Smile, but the opportunity fell through and so Lisa decided to do it herself.

She began performing it at her shows where the response was astounding, “I usually write songs that are more fictional, and for some reason when I sat down to write that song”, she remembered, “I let myself write more about how I was feeling at that moment. And that’s something I think about a lot as I continue to write music, that the songs that I write that are more personal and without as much editing, are the ones that people connect to more.”

In the song, she sings ‘I turned the radio on, I turned the radio up, and this woman was singing my song’, “That was when you hear somebody telling your exact story, she explained, “It’s funny, because it wasn’t until later, after a couple of major breakups, that I realised when you’re depressed and you’re going through these breakups, the breakup was supposed to happen. If you’re going through difficult times, it’s hilarious how you turn on the radio and even the most cliché things perfectly capture how you’re feeling. And then you realise why people wrote those songs. Hopefully, as a listener, you get a feeling like when you just can’t get away from your problems. You leave your house, you’re driving down the road, you’re going to do something different, and all of a sudden you hear, oh, here’s my story on the radio. It’s like the last thing I need to hear right now.”

She formed her band, Nine Stories, which was named for a collection by the author J.D. Sallinger, which comprised; Tim Bright on guitar, Joe Quigley – bass and Jonathan Feinberg on drums.  While she was recording in a studio in Greenwich Village she became friendly with the actor Eathan Hawke who was in the middle of making the film Reality Bites. Hawke lived across the road from the studio and once she’d recorded Stay she gave it to Hawke who passed it on to the film’s director Ben Stiller who decided to use it in the film’s ending credits.

RCA records signed the soundtrack and one day Lisa, who had taken a temping job, got a phone call from Ron Fair from the label asking Lisa if he can use the song on the soundtrack. She said, “I told my lawyer to call this guy and there and then I quit my job.” Because of its impact, the song shot to number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and in doing so, she became the only artist in history to hit the top without actually being signed to a label. All of a sudden everyone was interested and she eventually signed to Geffen records. Fair asked the band to go to Los Angeles to re-record one line of the song and add a tambourine part. When it was finished RCA decided to service the radio stations with the whole album rather than just the single and they all started playing Stay, so it was that version that became the single.

She made a video which was directed by Hawke and he suggested that she alter the title slightly so as not to get confused with the many other songs called Stay, so, against Lisa’s initial wishes, the parenthesis (I Missed You) was added. The album Tails was released the following year and it also contained the follow up single Do You Sleep which fell short of the UK top 40.

In 2010, Lisa launched Lisa Loeb Eyewear Collection, which features her own eyewear designs for which she is most recognised. Each type of frame is named after one of her song titles. In between time she still continues to write songs and in 2009 she got married and gave birth to her first child, a baby girl called Lyla Rose. In June 2012 she gave birth to her second child, a son called Emet Kuli.

The Colours (The Men They Couldn’t Hang)

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It can be very frustrating for an act when your debut hit single gets off to a good start in terms of radio airplay, but then comes to a sudden halt when radio decide to ban it. In the case of Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Relax, the controversy just fuelled people’s intrigue and everyone rushed out to buy it which sent it to number one and thus became one of the biggest selling singles of all time. The Men They Couldn’t Hang didn’t have such luck when their single The Colours fell of the chart after just four weeks.

The band were formed in 1984 after Paul Simmonds, Philip Odgers and his brother Jon, all former members of post-punk band Catch 22, got together with singer Stefan Cush, and drummer Shane Bradley. They spent much of the mid-eighties appearing at a number of alternative country music festivals. Their first two albums, Night of a Thousand Candles (1985) and How Green Is the Valley (1986) made little impact. In 1987 Bradley was replaced by ex-UK Subs drummer Ricky McGuire and the following year they switched to Magnet records and released their third album Waiting for Bonaparte which launched them into the spotlight across Europe, but not in the UK. Magnet had the budget to promote them better and it resulted in one track called The Colours which, as mentioned previously, got substantial airplay on Radio 1 with DJ’s like John Peel and Janice Long supporting it.

Although it received evening airplay on Radio 1, The Colours, which told of an English mutineer sailor during the Napoleonic War and The Crest a stretcher bearer during World War II, was blacklisted from daytime airplay due to the line ‘You’ve Come Here To Watch Me Hang’, which echoed the events happening in South African townships at the time. Despite this, it still reached number 61 in the UK chart and hung around for four weeks. What probably meant more to them was that in 1988, they ended up at number three on John Peel’s Festive 50.

In 1988 the band changed labels again and this time signed with a new label called Silvertone (which later became home to The Stone Roses). The first album on the new label was Silvertown which included Rain, Steam and Speed, A Place In the Sun and A Map of Morocco. They followed this up in 1990 with The Domino Club, which had a more conventional rock sound and thus dispensed with much of the folk element in their sound. The band split in 1991 after releasing a live album called Alive, Alive-0. Paul Simmonds and Phil Odgers then formed Liberty Cage. This was short-lived as The Men They Couldn’t Hang reunited in 1996. They returned with a new power and excitement to their music and the new album Never Born to Follow included the excellent single, The Eye.

The band are still on the road and have confirmed that they are appearing at the Rhythm Folk Festival on Friday 24th August. They’ve also just announced that they will be headlining a tribute concert for the Clash’s Joe Strummer on Friday 16 November at Notting Hill’s Tabernacle club where they will be accompanied by sets from Strummer’s mentor and sometime Mescalero, Tymon Dogg. They are also writing songs for an as yet un-named new album.