Sunday, 1 November 2015

Adventures in Vinyl: Steptoe & Son

I was only thinking on Thursday evening, as I played my second Steptoe & Son album in as many weeks how few of those vinyl comedy gems I have chanced upon over the years. Next to Tony Hancock and The Goons, several exploits of Harry H Corbett (Harold Steptoe) and Wilfred Brambell (Albert Steptoe) as the father and son rag and bone men were available for fans to listen to again and again during the 1960s over several LP releases.

Following the end of Tony Hancock's Hancock series on BBC TV in 1961, writers Ray Galton and Alan Simpson wrote a series of one-off comedy shows for The Comedy Playhouse series in 1962. The success of one show from the series, The Offer, about a father and son rag and bone business  proved to be such a hit that it was developed into the series Steptoe & Son.

By 1963, Steptoe was as popular on television as The Beatles were to popular music, so much so, several clips of dialogue were taken from the TV series and transferred to a long playing album on Pye Records.

The album, titled simply Steptoe and Son, featured the soundtrack to the 1962 TV episode The Bird as well as excepts from The Diploma, The Econimist and The Holiday. No doubt, Ray Galton and Alan Simpson's superb knack of writing comic dialogue for the series (and several years of writing radio for Tony Hancock before that) enabled the smooth transfer of the TV soundtrack to the vinyl album format. This was also an age before the Video Recorder, and as Tony Hancock and Goon Show recordings had already proved popular with record buyers, so why not Steptoe & Son?

At the end of 1963, both Corbett and Brambell were asked to appear on the prestigious Royal Variety Performance. The show that gave the royal seal of approval to Beatlemania equally hailed Britain's favourite Rag and Bone men as the crown jewels of British comedy. In fact the performance, Steptoe & Son at Buckingham Palace, penned again by Galton & Simpson was released as a 45RPM single on Pye Records and raised proceeds for the Variety Artistes Benevolent Fund.

Another album, More Junk, featuring two further recordings, The Stepmother and The Musical Evening from the 1963 series, also followed. Both this and the original Steptoe & Son album would later be reissued on Pye's Golden Guinea label, while soundtracks from other episodes would subsequently get released on both EP and LP formats.

In fact, it was a mid-60s reissue of More Junk on Pye Golden Guinea that I found on Darlington market back in 1987. I recall getting the album home and not checking the state of the grooves as it jumped all over the place. A quick check revealed it had clearly had something spilt on it in the past, after cleaning it up it proceeded to play perfectly (and I'm pleased to say, still does!).

Some 15 years later, I would regularly peruse the charity shops in Dursley, Gloucestershire during my lunch hour and turned up gold with the first Steptoe album (again on a Pye Golden Guinea) . The years in between also saw me snag a copy of The Steptoe & Son at Buckingham Palace single at a Carmarthen record fair.

So there I was on Thursday evening, giving More Junk a listen for the first time in many years. Loving the script of how Albert was thinking of remarrying and how Harold was attempting to embrace culture with a classical record collection. "How odd, I've never found more of these," I thought knowing that Steptoe albums were reissued on several occasions and there were at least six different ones available during the 1960s.

Visiting Bristol on Friday morning, my wife went to help fit our daughter with her first ballet point shoes, while I took the boys on a perusal of the neighbouring charity shops. In the Mind shop, I found several great titles on vinyl, however many were sadly scratched. My heart leaped though when I spotted a Steptoe album I didn't have. This title, just called Steptoe & Son on the World Record Club label.

This LP was issued in 1970, just as the colour series was launching on BBC1 (according to the sleevenotes). Released in enhanced (or fake) stereo, the album consists of previously issued material The Facts Of Life, Lets Go To The Pictures and The Holiday. The album opens with the 1963 single release Steptoe & Son at Buckingham Palace.

Needless to say, I am rather overjoyed with a further Steptoe and Son find, (as Harold might have been with discovering a collection of classical albums on his rounds or Albert a half drunk bottle of Malt Whisky in the back of a cupboard), and at £2.50 it was good to find the cover and vinyl in excellent condition. It just goes to show how coincidental record collecting can be!

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Instagram October Vinyl Challenge

The #octoberinylchallenge was presented on Instagram during October by @stagebanterpodcast.
Here are my wonderful vinyl choices for the month...
  1. Heaviest Album : Emerson, Lake & Palmer - Brain Salad Surgery (Deluxe edition)
  2. 10": John Laurie & Robert King - Words & Music Of Scotland (1950s)
  3. Etching: We've Got a Fuzzbox And We're Gonna Use It - Rules & Regulations (12" EP) (1985)
  4. Hip Hop: Neneh Cherry - Buffalo Stance (7" single, 1989)
  5. Comeback Album: Shirley Bassey - Something (1970)
  6. Favourite Label: Columbia Records (UK) (1960s)
  7. 7" Sunday: The Bible - Honey Be Good (7", 1990)
  8. Latest Purchase: Shirley Bassey - The Fabulous Shirley Bassey (1959)
  9. Sophmore Release: Altered Images - Pinky Blue (1982)
  10. Sexiest Album: Harry Mortimer and The Men O' Brass - Massed Brass Spectacular (1967)
  11. 5 or More Members: Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass - !!Going Places!! (1965)
  12. Purchased At A Show: Paul McCartney - Flowers In the Dirt (1990 Tour Pack)
  13. Comedy Album: The Two Ronnies - The Best Of (1981)
  14. Live: The Shadows - Live At The Paris Olympia (1975), The Shadows Live (1981)
  15. Food On The Cover: Bananarama - Shy Boy (7" Single, 1982)
  16. Midwest Album: Glen Campbell - Wichita Lineman (1974 Sounds Superb compilation)
  17. Emo: Them - Historia De La Musica Rock (1982, Decca Records)
  18. Impulse Buy: Mantovani - The World of Mantovani (1968), Mantovani - Hollywood (1967), Vera Lynn - The Vera Lynn Collection (1970s), Manuel & The Music Of The Mountains - Mountain Carnival (1961), Manuel & The Music Of The Mountains - Blue Waters (1966), Manuel & The Music Of The Mountains - Beyond The Mountains (1968), Ralph Dollimore - Piano Dimensions (1965)
  19. Got As A Gift: The Shadows - 20 Golden Greats (1977)
  20. Instrumental: Sir Adrian Boult & The London Philharmonic Orchestra - The Planets (1966)
  21. Costumes On Cover: The Manhattan Transfer - Live (1978)
  22. Wildcard: The Flying Pickets - Live At The Albany Empire (1982)
  23. Rough Condition: Various record labels from scratched records
  24. Most Valuable: Madonna - Like A Prayer (1989, 12" Picture Disc)
  25. Overpaid: Tyrant - Dirty Minds (R U Sexy?) (1997)
  26. Ebay Victory: Kenickie - Punka / Nightlife (7" Picture Discs, 1997)
  27. RIP: (Jim Diamond) PHD - I Won't Let You Down (7" 1982)
  28. Favourite Variant: Russ Conway - At The Movies (Columbia, 1961 and WRC, 1966)
  29. Beatles: The Beatles - A Collection Of Beatles Oldies (1966)
  30. Now Playing: Donovan - Golden Hour Of Donovan (1971) / More Junk - Steptoe and Son (1963)
  31. Spooky: Andy Williams - Honey (1968)

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Instagram September Vinyl Challenge

The September Vinyl Challenge on Instagram was put up by Vinylbox at the end of August. There were a few on here that did prove a bit of a challenge. Here are my choices!
  1. Debut Album: The Shadows - The Shadows (1961)
  2. Westcoast Wednesday: The Monkees - More Of The Monkees (1966)
  3. Weapon On the Cover: Clive Dunn - Permission To Sing Sir! (1970)
  4. Picture Disc: Debbie Gibson - Only In My Dreams (45rpm, 1987)
  5. Animated Cover: Lene Lovich - Say When (45rpm, 1979)
  6. Defunct Label: Contour Records (1970s)
  7. Metal Monday: Anthrax - Got The Time (45rpm, 1990)
  8. Bootleg: The Beatles - The Lost Pepperland Reel (Compact Disc, 1994)
  9. Prince: Alphabet Street (45rpm, 1988)
  10. Gatefold: Harry Secombe - Secombe's Personal Choice (1968)
  11. Colored Vinyl: Kenickie - Nightlife (45rpm,1997)
  12. Compilation: Constellation (1969)
  13. Starts With a Q: Queen - Bohemian Rhapsody (45rpm, 1991)
  14. Soundtrack: Tommy Steele - Hans Andersen (1974)
  15. Duo: Nina & Frederik - Nina & Frederik (1969)
  16. Last Purchase: Lulu - The Most of Lulu (1971)
  17. Favorite Record Store: Pink Panther Records, Carlisle (1990s paper bag)
  18. Guilty Pleasure: Pandora Orchestra - Top TV Themes (1972)
  19. 80s Album: All About Eve - All About Eve (1989)
  20. Jazz Album: Nat King Cole - Sings With The Nat King Cole Trio (1969)
  21. Released In The 90s: Belinda Carlisle - Do You Feel Like I Feel (45rpm, 1991)
  22. Fictional Band: The Backbeat Band - Money (45rpm, 1995)
  23. Wildcard: Arthur Lowe - Bless'Em All! (1969)
  24. Detroit Artist: Bill Haley & The Comets - Rock Around The Clock (1968)
  25. Car On The Cover: Mike Vickers - A Day At The Races (1976)
  26. Went Solo: George Harrison - Somewhere In England (1981) / Gone Troppo (1982) / Cloud 9 (1987)
  27. Best Of: The Seekers - The Best Of the Seekers (1968)
  28. Sophmore Album: The Beatles - With The Beatles (1964)
  29. Country Album: Jeannie C Riley - Harper Valley PTA (1971)
  30. You And Your Records: Me and My Records (2015)
  • Follow me on Twitter @retrospaceandy

Friday, 14 August 2015

"I'll Get You Butler!" - Looking Back At On The Buses Star Stephen Lewis

Probably one of the most identifiable British sitcom characters of the early 1970s was Inspector Cyril Blake AKA Blakey in London Weekend Television's On The Buses. As a child I probably identified with Blakey's character more than any of the others in the show.

I don't know if it was that look of disdain when bus driver Stan Butler or cheeky conductor Jack tried to pull another skive on their bus route or Blakey's wide eyes and funny little Hitler moustache that quivered as he yelled "I'll Get You Butler!" when he found the cuprits out on yet another mishap but there was always something really funny and appealing about the character which Stephen Lewis created on screen.

Several years ago I revisited On The Buses and was disappointed that my memories of the show were not as good as watching it as a child. Many of the actors appeared to shout and yell their way through the scripts, and although the majority weren't as good as I remembered, Stephen Lewis's portrayal of Blakey still remained brilliant. It's Blakey who remains the butt of the jokes, the one who gets his comeuppance and usually the character that gets the genuine belly laughs.

Its interesting that when On The Buses came to a natural end in 1973, Stephen Lewis' Blakey character would go on to get his own spin-off series Don't Drink the Water, indicating the comical success of the On The Buses character that would constantly re-emerge in TV guest slots in everything from The Generation Game to a promotional film for bus passes in Wales over the following thirty years.

Lewis who also wrote the screenplay for the 1963 film Sparrows Can't Sing and also had recurring roles in sitcoms Last Of The Summer Wine and Oh! Doctor Beeching died at the age of 88 this week.

My favourite Blakey memory has to be  in the On The Buses movie which sees him as an unwitting passenger as Reg Varney takes a double-decker Routemaster onto a skid-pan. This scene was emulated to a degree in a Look-In cartoon strip in the 1970s, a scan of which I include here.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Andy Howells' Glastonbury 2015 File

Here's three performers that I've recently interviewed that are putting an appearance in at this years Glastonbury Festival. Keep up with all the latest Glastonbury events via the BBC website.

Enter Shikari are playing several festivals this Summer and played Glastonbury on Friday evening. Here's my Q&A with Rou Reynolds.

Lulu is as popular in 2015 as when her career began over 50 years ago, she still looks and sounds fabulous too. Here's my interview with the Scottish singing legend from late last year.

The Cadbury Sisters have just completed a UK tour and play Glastonbury today. Here's my recent Q&A with Jess Cadbury.


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