Thursday, January 7, 2010


I found this 45 for a few cents at Camberwell Market, the reverse of the German picture sleeve was particularly enticing with the word BEAT prominently featured above a fine selection of CBS LPs. Turns out 'Sister Marie' is a pretty abysmal slice of badly sung 60s kitsch with lyrics about a nun and what sounds like humming through grease proof paper and comb. I nearly didn't post it. But I did. Sorry!

The instrumental B-side, though still total kitsch, is a much more fun and atmospheric proposition. Heavy drums dominate, keyboards stab and some nice fuzz guitar adds colour. It puts me in mind of the sort of stuff that soundtracked European porno movies in the early of 70s. In fact an Italian calling himself The Duke Of Burlington had a hit single with a note for note cover of 'Flash' in 1969.
However, it turns out the story of this record is much better than the music.
The men behind The Marquis Of Kensington were actually Mike Leander and Robert Wace. Leander was a great producer and arranger who played a part in many classic records. While at Decca he produced or arranged Marianne Faithful, Billy Fury, Cliff Richard, The Rolling Stones, The Small Faces, Them... I could go on but I think you get the idea. He then had a short spell in America with Atlantic where he arranged 'Under The Boardwalk' for the Drifters, was back in England in time to arrange 'She's Leaving Home' for The Beatles and spent the early 70s at Bell where he helped craft Gary Glitters glam hits.
Robert Wace though certainly not as musically talented as Leander is just as interesting a figure in the British pop. Like Kit Lambert with The Who, Wace and his partner Grenville Collins were bored ex public school types who saw pop music management as a way into show business and the rapidly exploding excitment of what would become the swinging sixties. With their connections and talent for publicity, hype and provocation, they helped The Kinks become one of the biggest bands in the England and managed them right through to 1971.
In fact in Wace's case he'd actually fancied being the star himself, and had initially employed The Kinks as his backing band until the limits of his vocal style, which Dave Davies described as a "kind of mixture of Noel Coward and Buddy Holly", became all too apparent and he joined Collins in management.
This record is evidence that Wace did not put his singing completely behind him. 'Sister Marie' is sung by an incognito Robert Wace and was the follow up to another Marquis Of Kensington single 'The Changing Of The Guard', which had been a hit in continental Europe. 'The Changing Of The Guard' is a great little tune, sort of sub Kinks, with nostalgic lyrics that actually suit Wace's 'upper class' vocal style.
There is a comment below this video on youtube which I'd like to think comes from Grenville Collins:
"Great to hear this again, it was the last throw of the dice, the Kinks were not working and money was tight - desperate times, desperate measures. We took the track to Germany and sold it, got the contract and the cheque all in one day! We thought no more about it until one day the record coy called and said that it was a hit and they wanted to do a TV promo tour. This is where our troubles began, Robert Wace refused to go so we found a good looking kid on the King's Road and taught him to mime."
I guess 'Sister Marie' was then thrown together to keep the German record company happy and earn a bit more cash. I wonder what ever happened to the guy they got in to mime, who's also featured on the above record sleeve?

1 comment:

Cousin Creep said...

I wonder if this lip syncing ruse in Germany later inspired the folks behind Milli Vanilli?