Thursday, 17 March 2016

Discography & collection

I've just returned from a trip to Cornwall, where, amongst other things, I picked up a few more Sentinel releases. I've updated the discography accordingly.
Also, here is my collection so far. I'm still missing a few releases (detailed below), and there are still some catalogue numbers lacking any details at all. If anyone out there has any items for sale or further info on the holes in the numbering system, don't hesitate to contact me.

SENS 1015:??
SENS 1018: Marian Cresswell - Marian (Easy Listening Piano)

SENS 1019: Climax Choir – Born In Song 2
SENS 1039: Holman Climax Choir – Collected Hymns and Sacred Songs
SENS 1050: Camborne Town Band – Camborne in Concert
SENS 1057: St Austell Youth Band

Plus most 45s/EPs.
Also any obscure Cornwall-related pop/folk/rock releases.

Sentinel airplay!

Tuning in to Pete Paphides’ Soho Radio show earlier this week, I was surprised & overjoyed to hear him play Christine Quayle’s “The Seagulls Scream” from “Sounds Like West Cornwall”. He also quotes the blog entry regarding the album from this site. Makes it all worthwhile, really.
Here’s a link to the show. Christine appears around 39 minutes in, though the whole show is a great listen.

Richard Prest informs me that the recording was also included on Cherry Red's recent anthology of British Underground Folk, "Dust on the Nettles", amongst some very illustrious company

Thursday, 7 August 2014

From Paddington To Penzance

Julian Henry has been releasing records as The Hit Parade since the early 80s, starting his pop career with possibly the greatest run of 45s in all of independent music (collected here). His latest LP on JSH Records, "Cornish Pop Songs", is a tribute to Penwith; its history, its people and its attitude. It's a terrific album, and one which has recently received positive coverage from -among others- The Cornishman & The Western Morning News. But what's the appeal? Why Cornwall?

Here's why: 

What drew you to Cornwall & its culture? 

I like exploring Britain. I first visited Penwith after reading about it in books. I like the fact that it’s a remote spot with its own identity, and all the flashes I’d seen of Cornwall from afar – Virginia Woolf, Betjeman, Du Maurier – gave me a sense that there was something hidden behind the holiday homes and sandy beaches. When I was young I remember my parents talking about Cornwall as if it was distant land where people ate ice cream all day without a care in the world. It was paradise at the far end of the railway line, and Cornwall still represents hope and sunshine to me today.

 Are you a regular visitor?  

I would say infrequent. I’m an outsider looking in. I know West Penwith well enough to feel comfortable every time I’m there.

Some of the songs have very specific reference points which only locals will "get" (the Garage in Drift, Swordfish pub, the Stevensons etc). Is there a significance of these people/places personal to you, or are they just "vehicles for the idea"?
My songs are shaped by what I see in front of me. When I stood outside the old garage in the village of Drift I was thinking about migration, how people had moved from this remote spot over many centuries towards Bristol, Exeter and London to search of fulfilment and gain. The cars that pass the garage today back and forth from Land End still indicate the desire for self-improvement. Everyone wants to move somewhere where the prospects will be better. They want a view. But why not return to the Garage where the dead cars lie rusting in the rain? There’s plenty to do, the people are friendly and the pubs are great. I’m fascinated by the A30 and the stories that this road tells. 
Can you make a pasty?
No, I’m useless in the kitchen. 
Aw, shame. Cornwall has quite a vibrant cultural scene, so did you consider recording the album in Cornwall? using local musicians?
It’s a jolly idea. There certainly a lot going on in Cornwall. But I wrote this in my gloomy flat in Paddington and recorded it in south London with Ian Catt. I can’t pretend to be local. I’m an outsider looking in. A friendly face at the window.
Has there been much interest from the locals? Any dates planned in the area?
Given that most of our records have been greeted by a deafening silence and the occasional cry of ‘you’re bloody rubbish!’, I would say that the early signs are promising. No one has yet called it rubbish.
Do you prefer Jelbert's Ice Cream to Roskilly, or vice versa?
I’m not much of a foodie. But I do like that Jelbert’s place in Newlyn.
Me too. One song on the album, "Ghost of the Fishing Fleet", seems to be quite pessimistic about Cornwall's future. What's the solution?
Cornwall should be a National Park with outsiders charged a toll when they cross the Tamar. The fishing industry, those heroic men in boats, the coppermen, the women of Newlyn, as well as the artists, writers and creative community, should all be celebrated. Tourists like me should be frisked at the border and tested on their knowledge of the history of Cornwall. This is about identity. Cornishmen and women must be full of hope for the future.
Where is your favourite place in Cornwall & why?
There’s an obscure spot up on the cliffs near Lamorna Cove we call the B Rock. It’s a hidden rocky outcrop near the coastal path that was obviously used by the military or something years ago. It’s buried in the gorse but a letter B has been carved into the granite so I go up there with my children for picnics on sunny days can appreciate Cornwall’s history from up there, looking out to the sea. The old granite quarries where they dug out stone to ship up to London, the rocks down below where Laura Knight painted. Tater Du lighthouse is just along the way and it’s great to watch the fishing boats chugging round to Newlyn. It’s a wonderful view.
Thanks Julian. Here's the wonderful "Zennor Mermaid" from the LP, which you can purchase here.


Monday, 23 June 2014

Twin Redux

Awhile back I wrote about the Twintones album issued by Sentinel. This attracted the attention of fellow Cornish music aficionado David Waller, who is putting together a potentially fascinating live show about the Cornish music scene, and who has recently managed to track down the Twintones. There's dedication. Here's his report, in full.

From Shirley Temple to the Jackson 5, and the millions of youngsters currently belting out hits in their bedrooms on YouTube, the idea of children recording music is hardly unusual. But it was for Cornish kids in the 70s, especially when it meant having their own LP. The Twintones' 11 Plus 2 album, released in 1975, was recorded by a pair of young twins, Nanpean's Gary Tucker on drums and his sister Kay on organ. Laid down over two years at Job Morris' Sentinel Records studio in Newlyn, the LP featured such hits as Remember You're a Womble and These Boots are Made for Walking, as well as a message from TV's Dick Emery on its sleeve. We tracked them down and caught up over a coffee near St Austell.

How did the record come about?

Kay: We were quite well known locally as a musical family. Our uncle Ken may have written to Job Morris at Sentinel to ask if we could come down and record a demo disc. He was trying to promote us as Cornish talent.

Gary: Job Morris knew Basil Soper, ents manager at Talk of the West [club in Perran View Holiday Park]. Dick Emery was performing there and wanted some back-up, and Job said this little Cornish duo would make a great spot. So we did this gig with Dick Emery, and that spurred the record.

What are your memories of recording the album?

K: It was a big thing for us – we were only 11 years old. We had a brilliant time down there. Now there's reality TV with children all on stage and singing, but back then for us to go in with no musical backing was quite innovative. We just thought it was great. We just went down there and did what we did at home in the front room. I thought: “God, I'm here recording like the Bay City Rollers”. I was in love with them.

On These Boots are Made for Walking, this engineer Alan brought in a plank of wood and wore cowboy boots, and walked in the same rhythm as the piece, to embellish what we were doing. On Remember You're a Womble, Gary played the bass part on his euphonium and I played another part on the trombone and they double tracked that in.

We started recording the album when we were 11, but thanks to a strike somewhere in the chain it took two years for the record to come out. When we asked what we should call the record, Job Morris said: “Well, 11 plus 2”. It was a reference to the exam, and the fact we were now 13.

G: The sleeve looked very dull to me, for two youngsters. They just used a flash camera, and it was all brown around the outside. They didn't do any location shooting – it was in the studio, they took the camera. We could have gone out on the cliffs and done a lot more to make it a bit brighter – not two children stuck in this dark hole.

What was the response?

K: We got played on Radio Cornwall. We'd have people saying “ooh, I heard your record”. At that time it was a big thing, whereas now you'd just download it. They'd sell it in Hocking's, the record shop in St Austell. But there was no great scale. Of course we always had a box to take with us when we were singing, to sell to holiday makers at the end of the evening, and we used to sign them. So lots of the records will have gone back up country.

What are your memories of Sentinel?

K: The front of the shop sold records, then you went down some steps to the soundproofed recording studio, where you could open a hatch and see the river running through Newlyn. It was very small, but huge for us.

G: Job and Irene were a lovely couple. We were young and looked up to them, and they gave us great guidance. Brenda Wootton was being promoted at the time we were doing ours. The Johnny Austin Showband was very close behind us being produced. Job didn't use to hang around with these things. We went back later to produce an organ cassette, 'Kay Plays Technics', which we'd recorded ourselves at home, and Job had a go at me saying he could have done another two in the time it had taken us to record it.

What was this cassette?

K: After the record, which was made up of more or less standalone pieces, people at dances would came up to us and asked why we didn't do a dance album. So we did, playing music for waltzes, the quickstep, samba or whatever on the new Technics Pro 90 concert organ I'd bought. Gary recorded it at home on an Akai reel-to-reel, and Sentinel produced it. People bought the tape to dance to. We'd sell these cassettes at gigs.

Did you perform a lot of shows?

G We started as a family group playing local chapels and fates, and then we progressed into doing dance music and cabaret, entertaining guests at hotels and social clubs. By the time we were 15 or 16 we were out five nights a week round the hotels as a duo. Kay was offered a full-tome position on the Blackpool Tower Wurlitzer. It was a big step for a Cornish girl to go all the way to Blackpool. We declined it.

K: We had lots of offers over the years, but were happy doing what we were doing, with our family. We sent recordings to the Audience Entertains on Radio 2. We went up to Devon and Somerset. We had the opportunity to do cruise ships. Back then there were groups everywhere, it was all live music. We couldn't play a whole evening in a club, because we were too young and there were licensing issues. As well as playing for dancing I used to sing a lot of Carpenters music. We played whatever was in the charts – Boney M, Cliff Richard – as well as traditional waltzes and quicksteps to cater for families on holiday.

While the Twintones' career petered out in the 80s with the onset of marriage and children, the perfomances haven't stopped entirely. Gary has continued peforming in local opera and theatre. In late 2013 the pair reformed for a charity show in support of cancer support charity Tanya's Courage Trust – along with Kay's sons, James and George.

This is what Dave does when he's not interviewing The Twintones. It's great.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Bored Teenagers

This blog’s entry last December about the west Cornwall punk rock scene put me back in touch with a couple of old compatriots from the punk wars. So with grateful thanks to Jonathon Plunkett, here’s a track from the demo tape recorded at Sentinel studio by The Rusty Bottles in (educated guess) early 1978. The band later metamorphosed into An Alarm, more of whom elsewhere. The sound & songs are pretty lo-fi, but thinking back to 1978 I remember being pretty excited that I knew someone who knew someone who was actually in a punk rock group that had actually recorded a demo tape. It was almost like knowing Johnny Rotten. That the songs were so primitive was irrelevant. It’s still irrelevant. The point was: if you understand, go and join a band.
So, here is the opening tune from that demo, “I Know It”. Quality is a few generations down and –apparently - mono. But it’s all we could find.

In a further comment on the west Cornwall punk scene, Jonathon reminds me that April saw the release of “Bored Teenagers Volume 7”, which includes four numbers from fellow Penzance punkers The Vendettas, recorded in 1977 (again, an educated guess) at Sentinel. A brief history of the combo, together with an audio sample, can be found over on the excellent Kernowbeat website, while the album can be ordered direct from Detour Records. Their demo is a little more polished than the Rusty Bottles recording linked above....but it's all relative.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Sentinel in Music Business Weekly, May 1970

The ever-vigilant Richard Morton Jack has forwarded me another magazine article about the early days of Sentinel, this time from a copy of Music Business Weekly, dated May 9th, 1970. It includes the first details of distribution and record sales that I've read in connection with the label, though the figure mentioned is predicted, rather than actual. 20,000 seems like quite a high figure, but the album referred to in the article, "Sounds Like West Cornwall", was all over the place throughout the 70s, so maybe 20,000 isn’t beyond the realms of possibility. Many thanks to Richard for sending this piece.
Job Morris’ co-conspirator, John Hassell, seems like an intriguing character himself, and to describe him as merely a studio owner does him a disservice. He ran an independent recording/pressing facility in Barnes SW13 though the 60s & 70s (just around the corner from Olympic studios), recording & releasing much the same kind of records that Sentinel would put out. However, his reputation as a disc cutter seems to have spread far and wide, and according to the link below, he had a unique skill in cutting reggae records (the huge bass frequencies being notoriously difficult to control though the mastering process), resulting in the ex-World War 2 veteran helping to shape the sound of British reggae in the late 1970s. Marvellous.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

An Alarm

Punk rock was quite a big deal in west Cornwall. I mean, it was quite a big deal all over the UK, but it seemed to hit deeply in the far flung wilds of the south west. I guess it was easier to feel a social outcast there due to  the relative isolation of the area. Given that Penzance is around 300 miles from London (and 80 miles from the nearest sizeable conurbation, Plymouth), it’s amazing that so many bands went the distance to play shows in this town-on-the-way-to-nowhere. But they came: The Stranglers, Ramones, The Damned, The Adverts, Generation X, The Vibrators, Talking Heads, Elvis Costello and many others all played at the Winter Gardens (known as The Garden by 1977) through the punk era. Most notoriously, the Sex Pistols played one of their last ever UK shows there in September 1977 on their infamous Sex Pistols On Tour Secretly (SPOTS) tour. Julien Temple was accompanying them on the dates, and – thank Heavens - filmed some of the Penzance show for posterity.

Sadly, I was 11 years old at the time, so missed these incendiary moments.  

Because punk rock was all about participation, it wasn’t long before bands started springing up in the area. I remember seeing early local punkers The Cramp at a friend’s party in 1978; other names to emerge from the scene around that time included The Brainiac Five (who lived down the road, & recorded a couple of 45s at Roche studio) , The Vendettas (whose vocalist Simon Parker worked at key Penzance record shop Chy An Stylus), Septic and the Sceptics, and The Rusty Bottles. Formed by brothers Noel & John Lane (Noel was the band’s main singer & songwriter), The Rusty Bottles recorded a demo at Sentinel circa 1978 (which I’ve been unable to track down, more’s the pity), before mutating into An Alarm.  

An Alarm were definitive post punk, though with a unique outlook that could only be found in a place like west Cornwall. Their first demo tape - also recorded at Sentinel - was called “Welcome To Penzance”, and the opening title – “Bandwagon (Welcome To Penzance)” – had a lyric which seemed to focus on the dichotomy between the need to escape the local scene, and the need to stay, in order to keep the scene alive. The guitar solo included a snippet from “The Floral Dance”. How we laughed. Other titles, such as “Someone’s Life” were a personal take on the politics of the era (“The bomb was cleverly concealed underneath the back seat of his car. He didn’t know what hit him, and he’s quiet now. His wife fainted when she saw the blood on the double yellow line.”), while others were character sketches of friends (or, more likely, enemies): “Cally’s Cax” is the tale of a local sleep-around, “One More” cocks a snook at an associate who’s about to leave for University. Many of their songs were concerned with the unviability of being a working musician in such an insular environment as west Cornwall, and the frustration of trying to get your point across to an unreceptive audience: “We know we face blind ignorance. We receive it with gradual acceptance. We listen to – but don’t accept – advice, and try to put over an air of confidence. But we don’t give up. You can’t go back. The clocks won’t stop.” (“Gradual Acceptance”). It’s witty stuff; purposeful, and lyrically brilliant.  

An Alarm never broke out of that local scene, but they went on to record a couple more demos of increasing musical worth (“For The Sheep” and “Throttle”, both home-recorded), which maybe I’ll upload at a later date, though they rather fall outside the remit of the blog. Noel Lane left the area around 1982 to spend time in Huddersfield, where he recorded as Anne Gwirder, before moving to Bristol. Here he formed Chorchazade, who released an intriguing LP (”Made To Be Devoured”) and EP (“Ah, You Are As Light As A Feather”) for Revolver in  the late 1980s; Steve Albini was an admirer, apparently. Before the big myspace meltdown, Noel could be found there under his nom-de-plume (he was also a published writer) Bunny Dees, after which the trail goes cold. However, he was interviewed for the Perfect Sound Forever website in 2012, where he discussed – amongst other things - the making of the Chorchazade records.  

Something of a lost talent, I think. Here’s “Bandwagon” and “Someone’s Life” from that An Alarm demo tape, recorded at Sentinel early in 1979.