MUSIC FOR BISCUITS
TRUNK JBH019CD / JBH019LP
Update 15 June 2010 Chris M. writesYou don't know me from Adam but thought you might like to see the product that Mike Sammes and Co were singing about on 'White Heather' on your fab Music For Biscuits CD. Sadly the same boot sale didn't produce any vintage bottles of Loxene, tins of Dulux Super 3 etc, though we did see an International Harvester tractor in a neighbouring field. God that's a catchy tune. Altogether now . . Gettin a new high, the new high performance 454, 574 . . . .
Lost advertising and rare film sounds by Mike Sammes and The Mike Sammes Singers.
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This album has a peculiar history. We have to go back a few years, and we have to travel South West to Reigate in Surrey. I'd been on the trail of Mike Sammes, the legendary vocalist, for some while. He'd made some fine LPs and odd recordings throughout his prolific and long career, and being the nosey sort, I'd thought I'd go and find him and have a chat about his musical life that time sadly had quite forgotten. My investigations had taken me as far as his neighbour, a fine fellow by the name of Gordon. He'd been looking after Mike for a while as Mike had no close family, and I discovered that Mike had just been admitted to hospital. He wasn't well at all. Gordon told me that he'd mention me to Mike, and we'd all meet up when Mike was better.
A couple of months later I had a weird call from Gordon. He told me to come to Reigate. Immediately. Mike had died, the Sammes home had been ransacked - house clearances had been in and taken anything of any value and everything left was to be skipped and destroyed by the end of the week. Gordon was insistent that I came to Reigate. So, the next day, and through a bright, crisp winter morning I drove with morbid curiosity to meet Gordon outside "Orchard End", Mike Sammes' Reigate home, and was given a fuller story of what had passed...
Mike had owned the house, a three bedroom 60s semi-detached, since it was built. His mother had lived there with Sooty the cat, and Mike had moved in when she became to elderly to cope. Back in the 60s Mike also had a fine apartment in Elstree, near Boreham Wood and therefore close to the major recording studios. He'd spent much of his time in Elstree with Enid, his love of many years. She was one of the Sammes Singers and they'd met on the music circuit early on in their careers. They never married as Enid always wanted to keep her name and independence. Mike's mother had died in the late eighties, and Enid had sadly passed away in 1993. The story goes she'd come over one night to work on some music and just passed away sitting down in the front room. From then on Mike was quite alone. Gordon had moved in next door and they gradually became good neighbours. Then in the early 1990s Mike took a bad fall. Late on a cold November night he'd opened the back door from the kitchen and collapsed onto the drive outside, breaking his leg. Luckily a neighbours dog found him, but he'd been lying outside helpless and in freezing conditions for hours before he was discovered. Mike never really recovered from this fall, and his overall health deteriorated rapidly from that point on. Gordon has his own theories about this. It was only after the fall that he noticed Mike's old gas boiler in the kitchen had been leaking. Maybe Mike (even possibly Enid years earlier too) had been overcome by gas fumes, but who knows. Anyway, the damage had been done.
It got even more sad when I actually entered "Orchard End". It had just been ransacked in classic "house clearance" style. Everything of any commercial value was out, anything that looked useless still there. So there was no furniture anywhere, no light fittings, no pictures. It was a bleak place to walk into. Gordon confirmed that everything left was to be thrown away in two days time, so anything I'd like I could have. I asked myself if this was grave-robbing or not. It's all a bit weird walking through a dead mans home and rummaging. So I thought about the situation I had got myself into. Everything "worthless" had been left in this home to be destroyed. Nobody in the world wanted it. Now Gordon was urging me to take it all, or at least something, and that's why he'd got me there. What would Mike Sammes think? Would he rather a fan of his music maybe rescue something here or would he rather see the lot go down the dump. While I was in the throws of deciding what the hell to do I was handed a copy of "Backing into the Limelight" - the Mike Sammes Story. Actually I was handed a box of 20. Gordon scurried off and put them by the door insisting I took them with me.
From the stripped ground floor I was led upstairs where three rooms lay in various states of disarray. In the tiny music room his groovy piano was waiting to be rescued. It had been left because the house clearers couldn't get it out. The good news was that a proper piano man was on his way. Everything else in this humble little studio was gone. We went into the room next door, piled high with just about every scored arrangement of every popular tune Mike Sammes had ever covered. These had been meticulously kept and neatly filed for decades, and now they were on the floor under piles of scrap paper, boxes and rubbish all waiting disposal. The next bedroom was empty except for a corner full of master tapes of varying size and speeds, all again hoping for rescue. Then books. Lots of books all over the floor most with a fifties musical flavour - works on vocal harmonies, the art of arranging and a superb songwriters dictionary of words that rhyme. The more I looked the more I began to think of how sad it would be if this all ended up as ash.
Gordon was again insisting I take anything I wanted, and was still adding to the pile he had started for me next to the front door. There was a certain urgency about Gordon, and he really kept passing things to me - "have it, take it, just take it cos it's all going...it's all being destroyed". The whole experience started getting a little weirder, as I began to come across masters tapes of classic Mike Sammes LPs I have at home, like "Love is a Happy Thing" and "Sammes Session". Then finding the entire vocal harmony notation for "The Windmills of your Mind" and other numbers close to my heart actually bought a small lump to my throat. Seeing his immaculate notation and knowing when it was performed and what it sounded like gave me a strong feeling of being in the right place at the wrong time. Bob then mentioned that he'd cleared the loft the night before and passed me a small acetate box. Inside was a really odd 78 called "The Bristol Bounce", a most unusual promotional record for a fashionable cigarette in the 50s called "The Bristol". Bob trotted off with it and put it at the front door. Then we found a box full of even more Mike Sammes ephemera, a running list of artists that he had worked with. And phenomenal it is too. Anyone who was anyone throughout the fifties, sixties and seventies used Mike Sammes and his singers as backing. They weren't under contract to any studio or label, just notoriously good at what they did, and were constantly in demand. They accompanied Crosby, Sinatra, Streisand, Judy Garland and believe it or not the voices of Pinky, Perky and the Diddymen are those of Mike Sammes and his singers. And here I was, in the great mans last real home, getting a very strong feeling of loneliness and wishing I'd got there a year earlier just to say thanks to him personally for making listening so very easy.
Further stories came out as we looked through reams of paper and found photos of a young Mike, the Coronets (his first vocal group) and the Sammes Singers. There were also several books on ballet and works on the life of Margot Fontaine. She too was a native of Reigate, where Mike was born, oddly they both arrived on this earth at about the same time and in the same hospital, so his fascination with her had begun early on. When Margot was just plain Peggy Hookham Mike's mother used to babysit.
We carried on wading through cases and cases of neatly filed paper, even uncovering a box full of empty bags dating back to the thirties. It seemed as if Mike had never thrown away anything. And now, nobody really cared. "It's all got to go" said Gordon, "do you want them - go on have them, take them".
I came to yet another box of masters, huge sealed Ampex reels, film I was told from various BBC shows of the sixties. Gordon, being the dynamic super neighbour had already told the Beeb they existed and a representative from Auntie was heading towards Reigate the following day to save them from destruction. Then underneath these was another box, this time full of smaller quarter inch tapes, all neatly crammed together. I pulled one out expecting another classic Sammes recording but only found the word "Timex" written on the front. On the tape next to it "TUC Biscuits". The next had "Fine Fare" scribbled on the side. This was a box of advertising jingles no less, about 30 in total. And dare I say right up my street. A whole box full of advertising ditties from the mid sixties to the mid seventies by Mike Sammes and his singers. Now how cool is that I thought, as a rush of "wow lost advertising masters that simply must be heard" went through my mind. "Take them all" said Gordon. I explained to him my obsession with TV music and madness from this golden era and before I knew it Gordon had plonked them at the front door in the queue to leave the house.
We then moved downstairs and out into the garage. In here, along with Mike's vintage Flymo ( he was one of the first men to ever get less bovver with a hovver) were 3000 LPs, all the same, Mike's late and possibly last attempt in the early nineties of making hit LPs. Here they were, packed as the day they were first delivered, and now ready for the skip. But 3000 early 90s LPs by Mike Sammes are not easy to pop into the back of a very small car and I could think of no record dealer anywhere who'd want to take charge. I found a lonely little single floundering on the floor - "The Great Gnome Robbery" sung by Brian Murphy (George from George and Mildred) which seemed spooky and appropriate to take. We closed the garage door and slowly walked back through the house to the front door, where, as if by magic, Mrs Gordon appeared and told us she'd made coffee. We went next door and talked a little more about the sad demise of this great musician. I was told he also suffered greatly from a back complaint. He was a very tall man, and always stood at the back of his singing group. So as not to look too tall and out of place he had taken to stooping, and years of stooping led to an unusual spine curvature which just got worse as the years rolled on. His bad fall had just exaggerated the whole situation. The more I heard the sadder it seemed to get, and I promised that everything they had given me would not go to waste. We loaded the boot with the boxes and reels just as Gordon's son arrived. It dawned on me that the childless Mike never enjoyed such occasions.
A couple of hours later I got home and couldn't really face even opening the boot of my car. Once I had done, it still took a little while to look through exactly what I had been given. I studied the listings of the great man's collaborations. Impressive is the wrong word to use here, as everyone from the Beatles to Andy Williams had enlisted the harmonic help of Mike. Looking a little longer the list revealed itself as a who's who of the sixties - Dudley Moore, Johnny Harris, Marlene Dietrich, Burt Bacharach, Sid James, Andrew Loog Oldham, Rolf Harris, Georgie Fame and even "Mr Dark" himself Krzysztov Komeda were among those who worked with him. Everything just seemed to fit into place, those Dudley Moore jazz vocal harmonies and all those beloved Bacharach "ba-ba-daas" all came from Mike. And nearly everytime uncredited. It's like he spent his entire life in the shadows, making all the right noises but never really wanting to reveal himself. And what I find truly sad is the man who accompanied so many great artists for so many years dies almost unaccompanied and quite alone.
I spoke to Gordon a few days after my visit and was pleased to learn that the old Sammes Singer network could still swing into operation. He'd made SOS calls to them telling them the fate of all Mikes possessions and luckily, the day before disposal, singer Val came and collected all his manuscripts and tapes. As for the Beeb, they didn't turn up.
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Fast forward now to the naughties, 2006 and the box of odd advertising reels was still in my possession. I'd been waiting for the "Quadfather" and "Sound Curator" Patrick Whitaker to have enough time to capture the recordings on his scary vintage professional reel to reel system down at Garden Studios. He's a busy man. I'd waited years. But I'd met Patrick through the easy listening London scene and there was no other man in the world who I could trust the job to. Not only would he understand and appreciate the music, he'd ensure the sound was perfect.
We ended up with two full CDs of material captured by Patrick, which, after a couple of extra meetings was then honed into shape by Martin Green and myself into the album "Music For Biscuits". Also included along with the adverts are the instrumentals from "Youth", another reel in the old box I found. All we can gather is that it's the score to a short film, possibly financed by the Children's Film Foundation. There seemed to be references to camp fires and first fumblings in the music. And the recording is quite sublime.
In fact there are many high points on the album and for many reasons. Most have instant, unforgettable hooks and you'll end up singing them for weeks - possibly even months. Others, such as International Harvester Tractors (track 20 and 28) are insanely brilliant. Firstly, to get all the complex technical specifications into a short vocal harmony number is pure genius. But then attempting to sell tractors to farmers using vocal harmonies is also quite insane. Or maybe it isn't. And finally it's worth pointing out that some of the recordings here are of the very highest quality, with fine musicianship, wondrous scats, great ideas and all supremely recorded. Even over 40 years on they still sound stunning.
I promised Gordon that when I found the reels an album of sorts would be produced. And now it is here and I love it. I just hope Mike is listening somewhere. And taking it easy of course.
Anyway, here are some nice pictures...