Saturday, April 14, 2012

Vinyl Obscurities - the Fontana label

My Vinyl Obscurities this time are from the UK Fontana label, which issued a wide variety of pop, folk, soul and blues 45s from the time of its launch by Philips in the late 50s through to the early 70s. As well as UK hits by the likes of the Mindbenders, the Troggs and Manfred Mann there were some interesting US releases, as at various times Fontana issued records from the Tamla Motown, Veejay, Vanguard, Okeh and Mirwood labels among others. The following 10 releases are a mixture of US and UK recordings, all of them interesting in their way. Check out the Youtube links for each one.
1. Roy Young - Big Fat Mama/ Just Keep It Up. Released in 1959 on Fontana H200. Mint value - £25,
Roy Young is, of course, still rocking his way through the Little Richard songbook on a regular basis and remains a dynamic performer over 50 years on. He made his name on the Oh Boy and Drumbeat shows and this is his first UK single. Big Fat Mama is a wild self penned rocker and was written in honour of his mum, or so he told the 2Is show audience a year or so back. The other side is a competent cover of the Dee Clark hit.
2. James Brown & Famous Flames - This Old Heart/ Wonder When You're Coming Home. Released in 1960 on Fontana H273. Mint value - £30.
This was the second UK 45 by the king of funk and comes from the period when Fontana occasionally issued records from King/Federal. This Old Heart is a pretty good mid tempo swinger but attracted little interest at the time, while the B side has a bluesy flavour to it.
3. Roy Hamilton - You Can Have Her/ Abide With Me. Released in 1961 on Fontana H298. Mint value - £15.
Roy Hamilton is a Northern soul legend with the 1964 MGM 45 The Panic Is On going for big money. His later recordings such as The Dark End of the Street show just how soulful he could be and his death in 1969 cut his career short, but this record is more typical of his earlier more middle of the road smooth voiced R and B and pop material on Epic and was his last substantial US hit. Later covers of the song included Charlie Rich, Waylon Jennings and a live performance by Elvis.
4. Marie Knight - Come Tomorrow/ Nothing. Released in 1961 on Fontana H354. Mint value - £20.
Marie Knight was a major gospel star from the 1940s, when she teamed up with Sister Rosetta Tharpe, until her death aged 84 in 2009. As late as 2002 she recorded a tribute album to Tharpe and her gospel back catalogue runs into hundreds of tracks. She also recorded some secular R and B material including Come Tomorrow, recorded for Okeh, which was to become a hit for Manfred Mann in 1965.
5. Marvelettes - Please Mr Postman/ So Long Baby. Released in 1961 on Fontana H355. Mint value - £50.
Fontana issued a mere four Motown 45s before passing the baton to Oriole and Please Mr Postman is by far the best known because of the Beatles cover of the song on the With The Beatles LP. This was the first single by the Marvelettes and a personal favourite. Songwriting credits have varied over the years but this original version attributes it to Marvelette Georgia Dobbins, her friend George Garrett and 'Brianbert' (Brian Holland and Robert Bateman). Later Freddie Gorman also got a credit.
6. The High Numbers - Zoot Suit/ I'm The Face. Released in 1964 on Fontana TF480. Mint value - £600.
I had to include this one as it's the most valuable 45 in my collection and was bought at a car boot sale a few years ago for a mere 20p. Definitely my lucky day! The High Numbers were of course an early incarnation of The Who, who recorded this one single aimed at the mods of the day. I was one of their number and rode my Lambretta to Hastings and Brighton for the mod/rocker Bank Holiday confrontations of that year (I didn't see many rockers there but it was good fun).
7. The Anglos - Incense/ You're Foolin' Me. Released in 1965 on Fontana TF589. Mint value - £25.
Just who were the Anglos? No one seems to know for sure. It's an extremely soulful American sounding 45 which has been linked to Steve Winwood, but I'm pretty sure this is a US original and there have been numerous online discussions trying to pin it down. Best guess seems to be that it was issued originally on the US Orbit label and came out in the UK on the short lived Brit label, before being reissued shortly afterwards on Fontana, and later on Island.
8. Jackie Lee - The Duck/ Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide. Released in 1965 on Fontana TF646. Mint value - £40.
This is another Northern soul favourite with a secret, as Jackie Lee was in fact Earl Nelson, one half of Bob and Earl who made it big with Harlem Shuffle. Jackie was apparently Nelson's wife's name and Lee his middle name. Recorded on the Mirwood label, this is a great dance number and still gets plenty of plays today .
9. The Olympics - We Go Together/ Secret Agents. Released in 1966 on Fontana TF678. Mint value - £30.
Yet another Northern favourite by a group who started life in 1957 as a doowop band who had a smash hit with Western Movies. Follow ups were equally good rock and roll numbers, including Private Eye, I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate and Little Pedro, and they enjoyed a second lease of life in the 60s with more soul orientated dance numbers such as The Bounce, Baby Do The Philly Dog and We Go Together.
10. Lowell Fulsom - Tramp/ Pico. Released in 1966 on TF795. Mint value - £35.
One of the leading West Coast bluesmen, Fulsom recorded many great blues records from the 1940s through to the 90s, including Three O'Clock Blues, Every Day I Have The Blues and Reconsider Baby. But Tramp, co-written with Jimmy McCracklin and recorded for Kent, became a soul classic, breeding excellent covers by Otis and Carla and Joe Tex (Papa Was Too). Fulsom died in 1999.


At 4:58 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great list Nick; the Roy Hamilton 45 has one of the great fade outs of the period (along with the Chantels 'Maybe'). The Roy Young 45 is one of the very best self-penned British rockers of the '50's;he did a great version of it at the Borderline a couple of years back and namechecked his mum, like you say. I'm impressed with the High Numbers 45; never a seen a copy in the vinyl flesh so, to say you got it for a mere 20p, I think you had a bloody good day at the car boot!!
The James Brown and Marvelettes 45's are great; do you have a copy of the Eddie Holland 45 'Jamie'?
John S

At 9:10 pm , Blogger Nick said...

Sadly I don't have the Eddie Holland 45. I remember once looking over someone's shoulder at a car boot while he looked through a pile of singles - and there was Jamie! And, needless to say, he bought it. But c'est la vie. One day I will find it!

At 3:58 pm , Blogger Dave C said...

Further to your comments on Incense by The Anglos, apparently in 1999, in an online Q&A session on his official website, Stevie Winwood denied any involvement whatsoever with the recording. The myth was also firmly scotched by Ady Croasdell in his thorough liner notes to the Ace cd ‘The UK Sue Story Volume3’ issued in 2004. Ady had spoken to producer Larry Fallon who stated that the record had been cut in Newark using session musicians and singers, several of whom were in George Clinton’s Parliaments. He adds further interesting information saying that the backing track was released with new vocals by Owen Gray in 1967 on Island and that the same label re-issued the version by The Anglos in 1969.

At 7:55 pm , Blogger Nick said...

Thanks Dave. I think that clears it up conclusively. The Winwood link seems to be some kind of urban myth - God knows where it came from, as it sounds much too good for him!


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