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Groovy Uncle - One Vowel Away From the Truth/Life's a Gift

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 23 / 2 / 2020

Groovy Uncle - One Vowel Away From the Truth/Life's a Gift


Malcolm Carter reflects on the reissue of two of 60's pop-influenced Medway-based band Groovy Uncle’s finest albums on extremely limited vinyl.

While it’s fantastic that vinyl has made a comeback, I don’t regret the years I bought albums on CD. In the beginning I was, like so many others, convinced that they sounded better, but, like so many others, my view has changed over the years. But there’s no denying that when it comes to storage and some of the beautifully presented box sets CDs do have advantages. Some albums during the years when vinyl was out of favour (and beyond for various reasons) were only issued on CD but were crying out for a vinyl issue. Sometimes this was due to the music; albums that took the golden age of 60's music as an inspiration were top of the list. The artwork on other CDs needed the 12” treatment. Lying on my desk is Bill Fay’s latest ‘Countless Branches’. Although I would not have dug so deep to buy the CD release, the vinyl won out, not because I thought it might sound better but because of the amazing artwork; worth every extra penny for that cover image to come to life in 12” format. Glenn Prangnell’s Groovy Uncle band released two of their best albums on CD only. Both albums needed the vinyl treatment. Not only did that pair of albums show the diversity of Prangnell’s 60's influences and feature the remarkable vocal talents of Suzi Chunk, but the artwork was outstanding. Even in the small CD format the cartoon-like artwork stood-out. 2013's ‘One Vowel From the Truth’ showed just the five band members but Darryl Hartley captured the spirit of the band and their music in his work. The artwork to 2015's ‘Life’s a Gift’ again pushed the point that here was a band who liked to have fun while still being serious about their music with a touch of 'Sgt. Pepper' for inspiration. Both albums were must-haves for any 60's interested music fan. The CD cover confirmed that before you’d even heard the music. Now Prangnell’s Trouserphonic label has issued both albums on their natural format: 12” vinyl. The only problem is that they are limited editions, very limited; it’s been said that only 125 copies have been made. But if ever an album deserved the vinyl treatment it’s this pair from Groovy Uncle. Both albums come with a download card for those hip kids who are into such things and just want to have this amazing artwork on their wall, a sticker which replicates the artwork of the album, a beautiful hand numbered lyric sheet, a postcard celebrating ten years of Groovy Uncle and a specially commissioned poster for each album signed by the artist, Jonathan Ash. Did I mention that ‘One Vowel…’ comes in beautiful blue vinyl while ‘Life’s A Gift’ is presented in sunshine yellow? So, while we take a dip into our previous reviews of both albums below, first stop should be to check out groovy-uncle.co.uk or trouserphonicrecords.co.uk to see if the vinyl is still available. While both albums are lovingly presented in vinyl, ‘One Vowel…’ just has the edge for this old pair of eyes. The back cover is a reproduction of an old, fold-over album, yellowing where the cover was glued, a crate diggers dream find. Fond memories of Garrod & Lofthouse come flooding back…it’s a lovely touch and another indication of just where Prangnell’s beating musical heart resides. There’s a full page, full colour ad for these vinyl issues in the 100th issue of 'Shindig!' magazine; one glance should be all that’s needed to head for that web site and hope that there are some copies left. February 2020 and already Groovy Uncle have set the bar so high for presentation of any vinyl releases this year, even with the promise of a new album ('The Man Who Calls the Shots') from the Groovies set for later this year. ‘One Vowel Away From the Truth’ (2013) While the sound Prangnell makes (with Bruce Band on lead guitar and Vox Continental, Nick Rice handling the bass and Mole Lambert filling the drummer’s seat) hasn’t really altered much since previous offering, 2011's ‘Play Something We Know', he’s still mining the slightly edgier R'n'B side of 60's pop for inspiration, this time there are two major attractions which make this set of fourteen songs Groovy Uncle’s strongest album to date. Adding brass to some of the songs like on ‘Neptune Girl’ really does take the songs to another dimension, but it’s not the most important addition here. Enter Suzi Chunk. Prangnell and the Groovy Uncles played a major part in Suzi’s ‘Girl From The Neck Down’ album, and, while this isn’t the first time Suzi has appeared on a Groovy Uncle album and their musical careers are intertwined, there’s a reason Suzi gets a ‘featuring’ credit on this album. Suzi is another artist who, although vocally is taking inspiration from another era, also makes the music sound fresh and new. It’s not dated at all, and like Prangnell Suzi also captures the feeling of past times in her presentation. When Glenn Prangnell and Suzi Chunk get together to make music the results are staggering, especially when backed by those Uncle guys. Prangnell has the perfect voice for songs like these. He can throw in Beatle touches here and there but never sounds like a Lennon or McCartney clone, and the fact that Prangnell leans more to the early R'n'B side of anything Beatley makes the resulting sound more like a cross between the Pretty Things and some of the more poppy 60's bands like the Fourmost or the Mojos. While not as sophisticated as Decca period Zombies, perhaps there are still elements of that band's music littered throughout these songs too. The whole atmosphere created on ‘One Vowel Away From the Truth’ is one of the band enjoying playing the songs while still keeping things interesting for the listener. Prangnell shows that he can throw a little humour into his lyrics to keep things a little tongue in cheek, ‘Ordinary Day’ is a perfect example of this, although smart one-liners are scattered throughout this album. It would appear that Prangnell has developed his lyrical skills since the last album. On some of the songs Suzi sounds like a dead ringer for Dusty Springfield. The opening track, ‘I Know Where the Sun Shines’, is one example of just how powerful Suzi’s vocals are. With the Groovy Uncles sounding like an early 60's beat group the song flies out of the speakers; it sets out the bands stall out very nicely in under three minutes and is the perfect introduction to those unfamiliar with the Groovy Uncles. Prangnell opens the brass-infused second song, ‘Neptune Girl’, with what could pass for a monster chorus. It’s so catchy, and when Suzi makes a solo appearance at just over a minute the song becomes an instant favourite. Again, Prangnell throws in some smart lyrical touches, and when both Prangnell and Suzi sing on the fade out those few seconds are worth the price of the album alone. The vocals on ‘One Vowel Away From the Truth’ are probably spilt 50/50 between Prangnell and Suzi, ‘When I Saw Love’ a ballad where the couple sing together rather than taking a verse or chorus separately, proves that this is the way to go. While both Prangnell and Suzi are more than capable vocalists in their own right when they sing together that magic happens. The fact that ‘When I Saw Love’ is one of the prettiest songs yet to come from Prangnell’s pen, and shows that the spirit of the Beatles is still alive and well and in the capable hands of Glenn Prangnell in an analogue studio in Sandgate, Kent is going to make many a 60's music fans heart glow. ‘One Vowel Away From the Truth’, despite those involved already having released some of the best 60's inspired music over the last couple of years, is where the band show they are second to none when it comes to this type of music. ‘Brand New Badge’ belted out by Suzi is proof is any were needed that Groovy Uncle are indeed the real thing. Mention must be made of the closing song, ‘Human Scaffold’. Prangnell was obviously inspired by the Scaffold’s ‘Thank U Very Much’ 1967 top ten hit, but his lyrics are both touching and hilarious. While it might not be totally representative of the Uncles' sound, it shows another side to the band and proves once again just how Prangnell has advanced as a writer. ‘Life’s a Gift’ (2015) The spy-thriller vibe that ran through some of the songs on 2014's ‘Persuaded’, the last album from Groovy Uncle, has been abandoned on this latest collection from Glenn Prangnell and his band and, while he has thankfully not deserted the 60's beat combo sound entirely, there are still ample surprises in store which make ‘Life’s a Gift’ the most varied yet satisfying set so far from the Kent-based band. Missing this time are the vocal contributions from Miss Modus who appeared on 'Persuaded', but, hey, the lovely Suzi Chunk is still there on vocals so all is okay with the world. It appears that Prangnell had been listening to a little more soul music while working on the twelve songs on ‘Life’s a Gift’, especially that of the Northern variety. While Suzi’s vocals always added a sultry, soulful edge to the Groovy Uncle sound this time round, Prangnell has touched upon the more commercial, almost bubblegum strain of Northern Soul for some of the best songs on this latest collection. The album kicks off, literally, with ‘Your Tiny Hand’, and memories of the Tams' ‘Be Young, Be Foolish, Be Happy’ come flooding back. Add in a little of the energy of Jerry Williams Jr.’s ‘If You Ask Me (Because I Love You)’ (the best 7” ever?), a touch of Edwin Starr’s ‘S.O.S’, wrap it all up in Prangnell’s own unique take on Merseybeat and you have a killer, irresistible opening track, one that it’s impossible to sit still to. As usual Prangnell is on top form lyrically too, even slipping in the words 'Northern Soul'. While, as has been mentioned before, Prangnell and his band obviously respect the music that informs all their work and are serious about it, the way he injects humour into his lyrics is nothing short of brilliant. ‘Married to the Captain of the Team’ is just one example. A jolly, upbeat 60's sing-a-long pop number, there are lines in there that will have you grinning from ear to ear while wondering who Prangnell is aiming his sharp, witty lyrics at. Lyrically it’s hilarious, musically it will evoke memories of so many 60's beat groups and it’s brilliantly performed. An absolute killer. ‘My Destination’, although less humorous, follows the same path musically. Memories of those well-crafted 60's pop songs from the likes of Graham Gouldman spring readily to mind, Prangnell really is that good. ‘Waiting for You’ (which actually brings the total number of songs up to thirteen as it’s featured on two versions, one with lead vocals by Suzi, the other with Prangnell taking the lead) slows proceedings down a little and, especially on the Suzi take, adds an R’n’B slant to their sound. Again, it’s a song that could have been featured in an episode of 'Ready Steady Go', it would have fitted in seamlessly, but it still sounds so contemporary. The title track (with sitar!) displays the band's psych leanings, a side which Prangnell really should explore a little more. Yet again the band have taken their influences and shaped them into music that excites and impresses. ‘My Precious Time’ finds the band exploring yet another variation. This time Suzi’s vocals take on a dreamy, yet still soulful feel. It’s a lazy summer’s Sunday afternoon song, just perfect. Prangnell is no doubt going to get tired of the references to McCartney when ‘Joni’s Birthday’ is studied. A pretty, acoustic driven melodic diversion from the rest of the album, it shows that Prangnell has gained the right to be compared to the masters of melodic pop. ‘You Fell For It’ follows and couldn’t be more different, sounding like the Kinks at their rocking best, Suzi blasts her way through the song with such gusto she must have taken a little sit-down straight after the recording. To prove that he’s a one-man Lennon/McCartney, on ‘This I Can’t Get Away With’ Prangnell forsakes the McCartney-isms of ‘Joni’s Birthday’ for his John Lennon moment. It’s got a slight Eastern, psychedelic flavour to it, which obviously places Harrison in there somewhere too, but vocally it recalls Lennon. Another absolute winner. The jangly ‘It’s What You Do’ mixes so many different strands of 60's music into one. The vocal by Suzi is again sultry and soulful but maybe the biggest surprise is ‘Tea and Cake’. With its spoken introduction it brings back memories of Immediate-era Small Faces and even 'The Love Affair' album. While not the strongest song on the album who can resist a good old knees up, especially at the end of the album? Mine’s milk, two sugars and none of that poncey fruit stuff please, Glenn. The album actually closes with the bonus Glenn Prangnell vocal cut of ‘Waiting For You’, which shows that while he may not be up there with Miss Chunk in the soulful stakes, Prangnell is only slightly behind the 60's Steves when it comes to putting his all into a vocal performance. Much as this writer loves the CD issues of these albums having the vinyl in my hands adds a whole new dimension to the listening experience. The artwork is even more striking in the larger format and the presentation and the little touches are genius. The fact that Prangnell has added extras like the lyric sheet, postcard and poster is further proof of the loving care put into these issues. Even if you only buy a few vinyl releases a year, these two albums are essential.

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Groovy Uncle - One Vowel Away From the Truth/Life's a Gift

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Interview (2014)
Groovy Uncle - Interview
Malcolm Carter talks to Glenn Prangnell, the front man with 60's-influenced Medway-based act Groovy Uncle's recently released third album, ‘One Vowel Away from the Truth'


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