Making Tapes For Sweetest Girls
Shop Around … part 38
Sorting through my 7”s I was surprised to find three copies of the long-forgotten Johnny Britton single on Oddball. The flipside remains a real joy, and is a great version of 'Happy-Go-Lucky Girls', a Vic Godard song from his criminally under-recorded Northern Soul repertoire. Britton himself had doomed dalliances with Subway Sect and Orange Juice, and between such stints recorded this one-off single for Bernard Rhodes’ label (which also issued Dexys’ 'Dance Stance' and Vic’s 'Stop That Girl' thus making it the best record label ever!). Vic would later steal Johnny’s rockabilly group and thus would evolve the swing-era Subway Sect whose Songs For Sale cries out for salvaging.

On the cover of his single Britton sports one of the great pre-Smiths quiffs, and could easily be a cast member of the same era’s (early-‘80s) wonderfully enigmatic, studiedly cool, existential biker movie The Loveless, though one of its stars Robert Gordon arguably has the better barnet. Gordon also provides much of the “rockabilly” soundtrack, though contributions come from the Lounge Lizards’ Lurie Brothers. It is worth celebrating the fact that for many it was Robert Gordon who introduced a lot of people to rockabilly and Link Wray at the height of punk. His recording of 'Red Hot' was a fantastic radio hit of that summer along with Jonathan Richman’s 'Roadrunner' and Mink Deville’s 'Spanish Stroll'.

One of the real stars of The Loveless is the beautiful Marin Kanter, who also appeared in the great cult movie Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains. This elusive film tells the story of an all-girl punk group, and has long been championed by the underground. If I remember rightly the great Grand Royal magazine ran a huge article on it, and for those who believe in untangling linkages and have been reading this column it’s worth mentioning Lou Adler was behind the film, and Jonathan Demme had a hand in writing the script.

If any outfit is likely to salvage the Fabulous Stains it will be Blue Underground, who have put out cult classics of all sorts of hues on DVD, including The Loveless and Smithereens from the same era. Some of its releases are undoubtedly of a dubious nature, but another absolute gem that’s been rescued is Jess Franco’s Venus In Furs, starring sultry soul singer Barbara McNair, a Chet Baker-like trumpet playing haunted hero, and a fantastic soundtrack from Manfred Mann. I don’t know if Barbara’s performances with Manfred’s outfit are available in any other form, but they are a revelation (and even better than 'Baby A-Go-Go' which Barbara has on the first Cellarful of Motown).
Whenever I see people like Broadcast reeling off names of great Italian soundtrack composers and their wonderful works, I wonder how many of the films they have actually seen and indeed whether they are worth watching. Anyway, the soundtrack of Venus In Furs had me heading off investigating the post-pop work of Manfred Mann from the very late-60s, when they were recording as Manfred Mann Chapter Three, and produced a couple of superb sets of pretty abstract jazz/rhythm and blues, which have absolutely amazed me. One lovely touch is Mann striking a defiant anti-racism stance by calling one song 'Konekuf', and all I’ll say is that the Happy Mondays’ 'Kuff Dam' was not the first title we should read backwards.

Another Jess Franco gem in the Blue Underground catologue is The Girl From Rio, which is classic late-60s nonsense with I’m sure a Bruno Nicolai score, or someone similar, and some lovely moody bossa. I mention it because it stars the great Shirley Eaton, in I think her last screen role, as the supervillain vixen Sumitra. Don’t ask! It just made me think that someone’s missed a trick in not salvaging What A Carve Up! on DVD and promoting Shirley’s now immortal performance which serves as such a centrepiece to the Jonathan Coe book of the same name.

Another central theme to the Coe classic is Yuri Gagarin, and indeed the book starts with words from the Louis Philippe song of the same name. It’s well documented here how highly Coe regards Philippe as a songwriter, and how they have worked together. I hope Louis’ string arrangements on the new set from The Clientele will result in the underground favourites getting a high profile patron in Coe. I am sure he would love their now fully realised pop as much I do. Their Strange Geometry is a great late-summer soundtrack, and it’s high praise in a funny kind of way to say it sent me scuttling back to my old Shack records for something that sounds as lovely. And it could just be my imagination leading me to think the Clientele are about to break into a refrain from Shack’s 'Comedy', but I rather hope not.

It’s a couple of years since Shack’s last record, but Here’s Tom With The Weather sounds better now. “Stuck in me ma’s old backroom drinking endless cups of tea …” That line kills me every time. When I get the chance I am going to have to put together the ultimate Michael Head collection - all his great songs over the past 25 odd years, from the Pale Fountains through to Shack via the Strands. One of the five best songwriters of his generation, and who’s recorded those songs?

By the way, the missing Shack set, Zilch, now seems to be available as an import Japanese CD in one of those lovely cardboard facsimile sleeves the Japanese do so well. I picked up a 49 Americans compilation which is in one too, but that’s a story for another day. The Zilch reissue also rounds-up a few stray Shack singles from the late ‘80s, and yes their cover of Manicured Noise’s 'Faith' is on there!

Right ho, I’m off to put that tape together for the sweetest girl while I am in the mood. See if you can guess what will be on it.

© 2005 John Carney