Saturday, April 6, 2019


It is becoming clear to me that there is a Roxy Music connection to all fake bands. Or at least the ones I am choosing. See if you can guess what it is with this band, who despite being made of felt, foam and cloth, sustained a number of hits through the 1970s, and a brief comeback in the late 90's, from which time the above clip is from.

At the time, of course, I thought it all tawdry nonsense, coming latterly, only now, to a sort of grudging respect. OK, the lyric will never win a Nobel prize and the tune, well, the less said the better. To this day, the writer and musical arranger, Mike Batt, has had to live with the derision this work has brought him, despite a long and illustrious career with songs and artists you will know. And some that will surprise. Did you know, for instance, that he signed grizzled blues-rockers The Groundhogs, producing also their first LP?

With skills mainly in the arrangements, of brass and strings, added to embellish more simplistic fare, he became an in demand name by the shrewd move of writing the theme tune to the TV series based about the mythical litter cleaning Wombles, who lived underground at Wimbledon Common, based upon the childrens books of Elizabeth Beresford. Instead of a flat fee, he asked instead for the musical rights to the characters, with the subsequent ker-ching of 8 hit singles and four gold albums.

Producing venerable folk-rockers Steeleye Span came next, arguably making their name with his retexturing of their sound, a move which appalled their die-hard fans, yet gave a huge boost to their finances, with a top ten hit record. I still loathe it, the arrangement seemingly one and the same as used for the Wombles.

As I write I realise upon quite how shaky the ground my 'respect' for Batt might be, but a soft spot does remain for his next project, the Art Garfunkel sung 'Bright Eyes', from the original animated version of 'Watership Down'. Thank goodness this wasn't ruined by tacky ching-kaching guitar riffing, but I bet there is somewhere a version in the vaults.....

Space (hooray) forbids me a further blow by blow, of how he discovered Katie Melua, how he orchestrated Justin Hayward, how he wrote innumerable projects with and for the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and so on. But it is to space I return, as, astonishingly, last year saw a most unexpected coupling, an album and tour with Hawkwind, as they orchestrated their back catalogue to celebrate 50 years of their being space-rock gypsies of the counter-culture.

So, were the Wombles his serial high point or his low water mark? Arguably both. Or neither. But, far more important, what's the Roxy link? Right then, scroll back up to the top clip, the Wombles,  wombling free on Top of the Pops. See the one, Wellington, that is, with the flying V guitar? That's Chris Spedding, guitar for hire and session man extraordinaire, a latter day guitarist with the 2001 reformed version of Roxy Music, staying on to be the current guitar foil for Bryan Ferry. And still with the same guitar.

Remember you're a Womble!

Friday, April 5, 2019

Fake Bands: The Monkees

purchase [I'm a Believer ]

Despite what J. David says about the Monkees (or maybe in spite of what he says), they appeared to me as a real band. I had at least one of their albums. Actually, I had to do some searching to recall which one it was that I spent my allowance on, and it appears to have been not just one, but the first two albums! Aw, come one now- one hit from each: <Last Train to Clarksville> and <I'm a Believer>. Great Pop. For those days.

It must have been PR/chart appearances that did it for me. At that time, my musical selection was "guided" by AM radio hits - and that they had. I didn't have no older brother to set me straight, and - I confess - it appealed to some part of my adolescent psyche. We are talking late-mid 60s here and I was all of about 12 year old. The ideal demographic for their output.

It wasn't until a few years later, when someone more informed than myself shared Crawdaddy magazine with me, and I began to get a sense of the music industry's perfidies. The Monkees were a joke. That made money off of pre-teen dupes like myself. And they weren't the only industry that followed this curve by any means.

That said, we need to expose the fake-ness:
The Monkees were very real to me in 1967:  hey ... top of the charts is real enough. Seems it wasn't as real underneath- what was presented to the public:
Time magazine said> The Monkees are about as real as a fake band can get.

Fact is, it blew up: they really wanted to be real.

Again, as Time says > it’s hard to tell where the actors ended and the real band began.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019


So it is just me then. Again. Rock Follies? TV show, in the 70s? It was shown stateside, I gather, possibly late at night, probably on PBS, but that wasn't, obviously, where I saw it. I was in my mid to late teens when this first appeared, a series set in the somewhat seamy setting of 70s London, following the aspirations of 3 women and their vainglorious journey towards rock stardom. Or not. Catnip to me, of course, embarking on my infatuation with music and the inkies, and featuring slinky and sultry women, together with the talents of Roxy Music sax and oboe meister, Andy Mackay.

If I am honest it was a better idea than a reality, the storyline somewhat predictable, the songs never quite good enough, maybe too broadly based for a true believer, pitched perhaps a bit lower to sustain the more casual viewer and to not frighten their possibly more civilian musical tastes. But it was there, and there wasn't much else of this ilk around. There was even a second series, rather more surreal and exotic, albeit no little kiboshed by a TV strike that took most shows off air for a while, the momentum lost as it returned. I also seem to recall some parental criticism as to it being 'unsuitable' viewing, missing entirely the exact reasons I may have been tuning in, but that's another tale.

What of the cast and after? The three leads, Rula Lenska, Charlotte Cornwell and Julie Covington, had mixed success. Despite the LPs from each series doing very well, an instant UK number one album for the first, only Covington was ever really much of a singer. Indeed, some may call the controversy later, when having provided the singing for the original recordings of 'Evita', by the time it opened in London on stage, she had been replaced by Elaine Paige, itself clearly long before Madge took the part in the film. This was not through her being in any way the worse singer, much, much better to my ears, but, in my suspicion, that she was a somewhat spiky figure, as compared to the altogether mumsier persona of Paige, who was, by coincidence, I am sure, the long time mistress of lyricist Tim Rice. (I should point out I have learnt subsequently that Covington actually turned down the stage role.) As well as continuing an acting career, Covington also made a fabulous LP, helmed by and featuring Richard Thompson, with the Island records folk-rock mafia of the day producing most of the backing musicianship. As well as an exemplary version of Thompson's '(I Want to See the) Bright Lights Tonight', this also included the UK hit single version of 'Only Women Bleed', surely the oddest and most atypical song written by Alice Cooper.

Cornwell never really seemed to make much headway thereafter, now more famous for being the half-sibling of spy author, John LeCarre. Meanwhile, Lenska, aside from shampoo adverts, settled into a career of providing exotic eastern european eye-candy into any number of british TV shows, arguably fitting as a descendant of Polish royalty.

I hesitate toward pointing toward either of the records, one from each series, but, nonetheless, if you are feeling brave, look further below...... Far better you come right up to date with Andy Mackay, a man seemingly never finding a niche outwith his time within the two periods of Roxy Music. In fact, he has produced a fair body of music aside and apart from that band, if none making any huge impact. But last year saw an ambitious project, '3 Psalms', come to fruition, an amalgam of his many influences, but notably drawing on his classical training and religious leanings; in 1991 he graduated as a Bachelor in Divinity. A setting of three biblical psalms, and an interlude, featuring orchestration, choirs, electronica and rock instrumentation, one track (one psalm) with erstwhile Roxy buddy Phil Manzanera on distinctive guitar, I can recommend it.

If you must.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Fake Bands: The Wonders

The Wonders: That Thing You Do
[purchase the film’s extended cut in which it seems that Hanks’ character might be gay]
[purchase the soundtrack]

I’ve written about, or at least mentioned, a bunch of fake bands, including The Archies, The Monkees (which some would argue turned into a real band), The Commitments, Spinal Tap, The Blues Brothers, and The Rutles. But never The Wonders.

In 1996, Tom Hanks was one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. He had recently done A League of Their Own, Sleepless in Seattle, Philadelphia, Forrest Gump (a move that I found to be overrated and uncomfortable to watch), and Apollo 13. And many of these roles won him Oscars, Golden Globes and other awards. But Hanks, like many actors, it seems, wanted to write and direct a film. While doing the lengthy publicity tour for Forrest Gump, Hanks became tired of talking about himself, and banged out a screenplay in 30 days, which 20th Century Fox agreed to produce it as long as Hanks agreed to star in it (which he did, as a record company executive).

Hanks, who had a love for early 60s music (particularly the Dave Clark Five, who he inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame That is Missing Many Great Acts and Includes Some Terrible Ones), wrote a story about a 60s band’s rise and fall, and even wrote much of the music for the soundtrack. The film, That Thing You Do! was filled with then-unknown actors, many of whom later became stars, including, in rough order of future fame, Charlize Theron, Liv Tyler, Tom Everett Scott, Giovanni Ribisi, Steve Zahn, Ethan Embry and Johnathon Schaech (and many of Hanks’ family and friends in smaller roles or cameos). And it was a charming, fun movie that was well received by both critics and the general public.

But one song that Hanks did not write was the title track, “That Thing You Do” (without the exclamation point). It was written by Adam Schlesinger, who wrote it at roughly the same time as his band, Fountains of Wayne, was working on its great debut album. Schlesinger (who I just found out is a cousin of Jon Bernthal, TV’s “The Punisher”) had just gotten his first publishing deal, and someone from the company told him that there was a call out for a song that would sound like something that an American band in 1964 would write, after being blown away by the Beatles. Schlesinger, who considered it a writing exercise, wrote a bouncy pop song, and recorded a demo, with Mike Viola, of The Candy Butchers, singing lead vocals because, as Schlesinger later stated, “He’s just a much better singer than me.” He got the gig.

In the film, “That Thing You Do” is originally a ballad, but when the band’s new drummer joins, he plays the song faster, and it becomes a hit. In the movie, the song hits #7, and the liner notes to the soundtrack album state that it peaked at #2. But, spoiler alert, the band breaks up before any more of their songs become hits. The real world also liked “That Thing You Do.” It had moderate chart success in the United States and overseas. Schlesinger was nominated for both an Oscar and Golden Globe for the song, losing out to a tear-jerker from Evita sung by Madonna.

The version of the song that appeared in the film was not played by the actors, who nevertheless learned to play their instruments so that it looked convincing, but instead was a re-recorded version of the demo. In 2017 three of the four actors got together and performed the song live—missing was Steve Zahn, who was the lead guitarist and who was replaced by someone else wearing a Zahn mask.  Ethan Embry, who played the bass player, and in a running gag, was never named (and whose character was listed in the credits as "T.B. Player), did perform.

Remarkably, the song has been covered a number of times, including by another Beatles’ influenced band, The Knack (although it failed to make my piece on their covers), and by ‘NSYNC.