Wednesday, December 19, 2012
There's just about time to get this in before it all ends. If the Mayan's are right the last record shop really will shut for good at some point on Friday making all of this and oh so much more kind of without point. But then if the Mayan's were so good why did they dress like the bad guys out of Stargate the movie? ...Exactly. Shit movie, shit calendar.
So, 'Rare and Racy'. This place has taught me a couple of things. Firstly that I have gone for thirty eight years spelling 'Racy' incorrectly - It appears that there is no 'e' in the word. Secondly, books and records can co-exist, in perfect harmony just like Paul McCartney (of Nirvana) and Stevie Wonder.
So many stores get this completely wrong and we are faced with something akin to a jumble sale or charity shop. The cross-cultural lair of some jack of all trades that nails neither, this is not the case with 'Rare and Racy', the music represented is good, the books are great. Granted the music based stock isn't what it used to be, there was a time when the vinyl section here was more exciting and diverse than anywhere else in Sheffield. Despite this it still has the feel of a very special place, somewhere I could happily kill half an hour or so.
'Rare and Racy' used to be the end of my unofficial (partial) Sheffield 'Record Shop Crawl', assuming that you are too tired to make the walk past the Octagon to 'Record Collector' on/in Broomhill. I always was. That kind of Scott like trekking needed special preparation and a day all too itself.
Before hand I would have bounced up the hill from 'Kenny's Records' on the Wicker, up to Castle Market to the Goth Shop on the first floor balcony, then onto 'Their Price', then that one up the alley way that might have been 'Roulette' then to 'Fopp', then 'Jacks' and finally 'Rare and Racy'. And that list only takes in about 50% of the shops at the time.
Now... Well now there's 'Rare and Racy' and given that the Vinyl Holocaust of the past decade has not been able to claim them maybe the Mayan Sun God will leave the cosmic battlefield head down and defeated as well.
Record wise the stock has a Jazz lilt but still caters for more experimental musical tastes. I bought an early Melt Banana CD in here at a time where the only other place in the UK to get them was London or Slap-a-Ham records. Yes it comes across as strafed, but from time to time there is enough good stuff here to keep you coming back and on the trips when there isn't it doesn't feel like a wasted journey but more a pleasant diversion.
So here's to Sheffield city centre's last bastion of civility, cultural intrigue and the occasional record, may you last forever... Which if you are Mayan is approximately 36 hours, and if you are Mayan you have built a religion around the wrong Kurt Russell film, next time try Escape From New York.
Thursday, August 16, 2012
I got the call one Saturday morning a couple of weeks back. It was my sister. Hudson's records was closing down. I stayed pretty deadpan, pretty unemotional, in my defense I hadn't had a lot of sleep and there was still a half empty glass of warm white wine by the side of my bed. my reply was along the lines of 'well it was always going to happen', defeat acknowledged, fate accepted.
It was a short phone call, she said she was going into town (Chesterfield) and asked if I wanted anything from there. I asked her to enquire about the fixtures and fittings, especially the old blank cassette showcase or the counter, I didn't hear back.
It didn't really hit me until I was looking for images to accompany this and now, looking at the picture above I feel like I missed the funeral of a friend.
I touched on the magic of this place last year or the year before when I 'reviewed' Hudsons Record and Tape Centre. Up to the age of about eighteen I spent so much of my life in that shop it is untrue. It was impossible to pass without going in, even if it had only been hours since my last visit. The shop was instrumental, for better or worse for shaping me into who I am today, for pre-defining my priorities as I stumble through this life. It's the reason I am typing these words, it's why I still reach for my camera/phone/camera-phone every time I see a record shop no matter where I am or what the occasion. I have been on dates to that shop. Just looking at the font butted at each end by two treble clefs makes me feel like Scott Bakula in Quantum Leap.
I will refrain from lamenting beyond this as this one really is too personal, what I will do is list my top 5 memories of Hudson's Record & Tape Centre, there are 6 of them:
In no particular order:
6.) Buying Superchunk's 'Seed Toss' album from there very early one morning after staying out all night, possibly at a girls house.
5.) Discovering the original now withdrawn sleeve to The Scorpions 'Virgin Killers'. I also obsessed about the rear sleeve and gatefold of 'Tokyo Tapes' by the same band for a long time around this period and considered a foray into flare wearing off the back of this - Something I did not dare try until 1994.
4.) Christmas 1985, thinking about but not actually buying the picture disc to Red Box 'Lean On Me'.
3.) Going halves on a cassette copy of Suicidal Tendencies 'How Will I Laugh Tomorrow...' with a friend, the idea being that one of us would keep the original cassette and have a photo copied sleeve whilst the other would get the original sleeve with a copied cassette. This technique was employed less successfully for a copy of the Bullet Boys album purchased from Our Price.
2.) Being picked on by another customer for wearing a black and white skull scarf as a belt. In retrospect although this is a motif that has made millions for the Alexander McQueen fashion house my aggressor was right to call this out, it was not a good look. It was on the same visit to the store that I decided against buying Guns n' Roses 'Live Like a Suicide' due to the fact that it only had four tracks on it.
1.) Buying the 12" of 'Girls on Film' by Duran Duran from there in 1984, not my first record but certainly my most significant purchase, not least because it led to an obsession with the band that continues to this day and also because it led to me crying like a girl when Simon Le Bon's yacht capsized a year later.
So there it is, or there it was. Gone just like that. Wow, isn't life a fragile and precious thing...
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Read all about it here:
I'd like to say it was a shock but despite this being a great place to shop it was always going to happen. Who to blame? Honestly? Nobody. It's evolution... Or devolution as it were. You can point the fingers at all sorts of people or events but the reality is that the disposable income of the youth of today goes on things other than cassettes, CDs and records. On the whole that 12-24 age group don't invest in Hi-fi equipment either.
Their money is spent on phones and computer games and when they do listen to music it's likely to be illegally downloaded and played through the single speaker of a Blackberry on a crowded bus. It's just the way it is: There is no inherent value to the racks of CDs you might possess, vinyl albums are now sold at Urban Outfitters so you can colour match the sleeves with your new deep v-neck t-shirt.
My question is, what happens to the staff? Where do they end up? There isn't even the option of 'selling out' and working for 'the man' in the shape of HMV. They are closing door after door in constantly reviewed streamlining programs, continually switching direction in an attempt to appease share-holders: Is it computer games today or are you the 'real home' of vinyl?
So where do they all go?
Maybe there's a secret army of ex-record store employees out there arming itself with sonic weapons, waiting and watching ready to take back the high street by force...
As much as a war of music being waged in a post apocalyptic landscape by way of turntables and speakers sounds like a lot of fun (and a lot like the video to Pat Benetar's 'Love is a Battlefield') the reality would be that nobody was listening. In 2012 music is shitter than ever: a potato-headed fuck-tard and his back-stabbing wife, the talentless ex-girlfriend of some fist-happy rapper, x-factor leftovers and elevated buskers in uniforms stolen from that Bruce Dern sci-fi film.
The consumer doesn't need any more than a stolen four minute clip to understand what music has become, unless it's the same song being played thirteen times in a row at some gig in Paris by way of some embarrassing misunderstanding of the culture of the encore in which it takes close to two hours.
Truthfully records and record shops would be wasted on them. Let them find something else to do with their Saturdays.
Goodbye Rounder and thanks for the Spacemen 3 records.
Tuesday, August 14, 2012
I was hungover when I went to Lynmouth. A nights heavy gin and tonic drinking in a Weston Super-Mare gay bar accompanied by the surprisingly robust warblings of a trans-gender crooner were midway through taking their toll. The short bed of the cramped DSS stamped manual workers lodgings that had provided a roof for the night hadn't really helped my cause either - The radiator came on midway through the morning and burnt my toes.
I needed a bright-side and I found one in the shape of 'Beautiful Days Music (Vinyl, CDs, Games)'. This has to be in my top ten of least expected record shops. Lymnouth is a quaint throwback of a sea-side resort, equal measure fishing jumpers and pre-war un-bombed wonderment, the odd second hand record in the shape of Marie Curie or the Spastics, yes, I could see that but an entire shop, housed in a white washed cottage - That I was not expecting. Think of the first time you went to Cob Records and you are on the right track.
So what of the stock? The pirates bounty awaiting me inside? Yeah, it was alright, nothing special. I do remember an unusually large Pink Floyd section. I could have spent some money if the urge took me but I was finding it hard to focus and was happy to settle for a fish and chip lunch accompanied by a couple of pints of best and swiftly followed by ice-cream of the hand made variety. Conversation centered around the night before and about how faced with a man convincingly dressed as a woman, with gin and tonic involved, you probably would and quite happily so.
The last time I was here (apart from in a number of dreams since) I was accompanied by my ex-girlfriend and sister - Needless to say it was not the longest foray into the world of well thumbed and cigarette smelling vinyl. This time round I had substantially longer to pick my racks, flick from front to back and pull-out (ever so slightly) anything that looked remotely of interest.
Having frisked the whole of 'Rock and Pop A-Z' I was disappointed to find that only three records were standing proud of the racks, winking at me at a jaunty angle a bit like those green plastic WWII soldiers I used to play with as a child - The GIs always wore their helmets without fastening the chin straps meaning they sat at an angle in contrast to the twat-helmeted British troops who always, and I do mean always had them fastened.
So what were they? I don't remember. There might have been a Savoy Brown album (isn't there always?) and I'm pretty sure I pulled a copy of Let It Be out for further inspection. Anyway, my point is this. Look at the above picture. Tell me it doesn't look amazing, like there has to be something in there? It's a strangely named Record 'Centre' in the middle of a half-arsed seaside town, how can there not be something in there? It's surrounded by Polish supermarkets and discount drinking establishments (Imagine a Yate's Wine Lodge without the fittings), surely there has to be something to get you excited...
Now look again. Prime wall space is taken up by cassettes, no plastic covers, over generalized rack dividers. If you are a Now That's What I Call Music album completist they yes, you might just go home happy. If you have an idiosyncrasy that means every time you see a copy of Terrence Trent D'Arby's 'Introducing the Hardline According To...' you have to buy it regardless of format again, my hopes for you are high. Otherwise, this shop looks awesome and the government should slap a listed building heritage style protection order on it but are you going to come away feeling like one of those champions that the guy out of Queen used to sing about?
So what makes Boscombe's very own Red Rose Records worth a visit? Well if you are a fan of Victorian architecture in the shape of scandalously undersubscribed ornate shopping arcades you could argue the stores facia alone is worth the trip (Not dissimilar to a certain Leeds record shop of yesteryear). You could also pop along to cruise the racks, see what your fingers can find: Theres was a nice copy of Ash Ra featuring Rosi on the wall and a reasonably priced UA pressing of Can's 'Monster Movies' if you are interested in that kind of thing...
The other reason you might want to visit Red Rose Records... Or indeed steer clear of it entirely is that it appears to be haunted:
Anyway. I didn't see anything but then again in a record shop environment I am usually so 'in the zone' on my quest for vinyl completion that if you aren't black, 12inches and made of plastic you don't exist. The above picture is from their website and the following is a link to not only photographic footage but also video evidence:
So if you fancy combining two hobbies, record shopping and a spot of Sarah Greene inspired Ghost Watching (minus the frightened kid hanging himself because he thought it was real) then get on the bus to Boscombe.
I had a copy of this on cassette as a young boy. Along the spine of the cardboard inlay and on the paper facia of the BASF tape it read 'Metalicca - Master of THE Puppets'. I now understand that there is only one way to spell Metallica but I stand by my original assertion that the record should have had a 'THE' in the title.
I bought my first 'real' copy used for £2.99 from Planet X Records of Chesterfield, it was the Music For the Nations single album first press so it played a lot quieter than subsequent double album remasters and didn't have the benefit of a gatefold sleeve, but then I supposed it was never really supposed to and the only real reason for the expansion of packaging, (later it graduated to a further expanded edition that might even have gone to 4 LPs) was top try and do justice to the music inside.
Twenty five years later I still don't like the sleeve, it's lazy and doesn't fairly represent the near timeless bombardment of awesome fucking metal that lies await inside like a dormant mountain bear starved all winter. This is an album that everyone has heard, one that most of us have at some point owned at least once, so why does it need to be here? What's adventurous or remotely exciting about a record that consistently comes in the top 3 metal albums ever? Well I decided to include it as a polite knee under the table aimed in the direction of those of us who be it for aesthetic reasons, metal snobbery OR the fact that Lars Ulrich is a cunt refuse to give it the acclaim that it truly deserves.
'Master of Puppets' is a truly great metal album, unparalleled for the most part in its combination of brutality and melody. Yes if you dig too deep it's lyrically inept in parts and that it is the product of some very young pock-marked West Coast idiots is all too clear but if you can happily over-look this juvenility it's shockingly well rounded. 'Ride the Lightning' does come close to capturing what James and co succeeded in doing here but despite including some of the bands greatest songs it falls short due to production issues (Way too much high-end, the entire thing has a very mid-period Judas Priest feel) which is interesting because the production here is the very thing that makes it.
The other reason, without sounding too sentimental is that 'Master Of Puppets' is Cliff Burton's swan song, his final middle fingered salute to this world. Burton was Metallica, that they have soldiered on for over a half century without his guidance, grounding and true metal sensibilities is nothing short of shocking. It's not just the fact that he played the most awesome metal bass this side of Geezer Butler or that he wore flares and looked like Neil from 'The Young Ones'. Courtesy of his choice of t-shirts Cliff is also responsible for my introduction to the world of Hardcore (no, not that Hardcore) via the Misfits and an obsession with Zombie films by way of Dawn of the Dead that continues albeit at a slightly more sedate pace to this day.
So in closing I guess I have a lot to thank Metallica for and I think that deep down, even if you have seen that documentary you do too.
Edinburgh's record shop Vinyl Villains has taught me two things, firstly how to spell 'Villains' and secondly that you can have a name that suggests you are not going to pay the best prices for used records or indeed put out stock that people might view as in keeping with any kind of real-world pricing structure and people wont care.
Not that I am suggesting that the walls of Vinyl Villains are covered with outrageously over-priced records in the style of Notting Hill Music and Video Exchanges 'Deletions' department for a second. It wasn't the cheapest shop I've ever been in but I certainly didn't come away with the kind of 'sticker shock' that can haunt your dreams after visiting certain other establishments like Beano's of Croydon for example (rest it's soul). I gave up going long before it closed it's doors due to the extra zeros and stray digits that seemed to appear in the strangest of places.
Anyway, why I like this shop: The shop front is unapologetic like a German high-street tanning salon but only with a Lake of Dracula theme. They had a Harvest records t-shirt for sale (see above) that I would have bought had the green not been a shade that makes me look drained and ever so slightly anaemic. The owner was friendly enough. He was otherwise engaged for most of my visit but the conversation I overheard was top notch record shop style banter, the kind of thing that means you can come away having learnt something rather than being insulted because you don't 'get' Bob Dylan's 'Street Legal'.
What I didn't like about this shop: New reissues in the racks with originals, no second hand only area meaning it's hard to focus.
Regardless, had this page got some kind of rating system in place so that the occasional reader could ascertain whether or not a shop was worth visiting and assuming said scale worked on a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being: Utter fucking rubbish and 10 being: Pre-Ebay Amoeba Records San Francisco I'd give Vinly Villains a wholly reputable 5.
If you can only go to one record shop whilst visiting the English city of Edinburgh I wholeheartedly recommend 'Elvis Shakespeare'. Yes much of it's floor space is dedicated to books but the records that are there are well worth a browse. Be prepared for a minor downside in the shape of the innovative storage system which employs wooden fronted filing cabinets at knee height to store much of the stock. The only way to maneuver through them is by crouching or using a stool. Even then the weight of the racks means that when you at the beginning of a section the records you are coming too keep falling onto and on occasions trapping your hands.
There is a reward for persistence here and for me that came in the shape of a first pressing of Current 93's 'Nature Unveiled' and a Spanish alternate sleeve version of '2' by Neu, It has a GREEN 2!!! (I fucking know right???) I also bought three Psychic TV albums, all of which were rubbish.
Elvis Shakespeare is the kind of shop I can imagine stopping off at a couple of nights a week on my way home from work, darting in from the rain on a dark mid-winters eve freezing fingers pressing against the hard edged plastic sleeves hands moving at an arthritic pace desperate for some kind of aural discovery to transport me away from the grey bitterness of surroundings and to take my mind of the fact that bus fares in Edinburgh are the same price as in London.
Anyway, very friendly, informative and knowledgable staff, very reasonably priced stock, lovely shop.
We all know Aidan from Arab Strap, it's been a few years since their untimely 'shutting up shop' and they are still (by me at least) dearly missed. I'd abandoned all hope of ever hearing anything as world weary, truthful and realistic again, instead retreading the body of work they left behind until it was carpet worn and threadbare like the lobby of the Scarborough Grand.
'Everything's Getting Older' is also a lot like the Scarborough Grand.
I chose this hotel particularly because they have a very favorable off season rate for OAPs, a relatively well priced bar with Skol on tap and a number of rotating entertainers including a Hits of the 60s package, ballroom dancing and a spattering of 'blue comedy'. It is also an insanely ornate monument to Victorian time of winged cars and steam powered corsets, one that has seen better days. There is a beautiful synchronicity between the aging patrons and the peeling walls cigarette stained ceilings and it just so happens to be quite possibly the most beautiful hotel on the face of the planet.
So I think that what I am trying to say is not so much that Arab Strap or indeed Aidan Moffat are a hotel, but rather that in the same way that the Grand is something of a proud old lady held together by a nice floral frock from Fenwick's and a spattering of rouge 'Everything's Getting Older' manages to marry dignity and decay to startling effect.
Bill Well's instrumentation is perfectly judged acting as an anchoring point to Moffat's sober often spoken observations. It's a beautiful album that also acts as an obvious soundtrack to the mid-life crisis that lies just south of the halfway point for most of us. Where 'The Weekend Starts Here' had a feeling of cheap drugs, all night parties and walking home in the daylight, 'Everything's Getting Older' reflects on parenthood, the inevitability of the dull daily grind and ultimately death.
It's not a cheery listen but it is brilliant and beautiful testament to somebody who has seen better days, again, a bit like the Scarborough Grand.
This came at the end of a day's wondering through the city rain, pushing a pram and discussing the merits of themed scatter cushions and whether they could be utilized to brighten up an other wise drab sitting room with my wife. I pretended to get us lost on the way back in order to take in the joy's of 'Unknown Pleasures Rare Records & CDs'
'We can definitely get back this way... Oh look a record shop!'
I expected a lot from this store, not least because the guys in Avalanche had said it was 'pricey'. I took this to mean it was full to the brim of interesting but expensive stock. Sadly this was not the case.
Despite a name that suggests the store is a haven for Joy Division completists or other similarly serious musical types it's actually very heavily geared towards Edinburgh's passing tourist trade - Lots of band t-shirts of questionable legitimacy, U2 picture disc albums and the like. The punters were exclusively Spanish and almost certainly in search 'a something special by the Depeche a Mode'. There was an experimental section but it was the kind of experimental section where an Osibisa album wouldn't look out of place.
To do the shop justice I need to go back for a rematch. All I can really say is that my first visit was pretty fruitless and despite the ambitious signage the 'Rare Records' part was not as omnipresent as I had imagined it would be. But whatever, it was a record shop on a miserable autumn's day, add a pint and a packet of salt and vinegar crisps to that and I'm happy.
For some reason the first thing that comes to mind when I see the above is the first Godflesh album (featured the track Avalanche Master Song). The second thing that comes to mind is this:
Needless to say, were I a bit more clued in on the world of Indie music the words that should have come into my head the second I saw the above record shop should have been 'Mecca'.
Avalanche Records still plays host to regular in-store spots from Indie up and comers as well as the occasional visiting main-stay. It has been a key player in the Scottish music scene for the past twenty seven years and is Scotland's biggest high-street record shop. So what's inside?
The used stock is very reasonably priced, I picked up a 12" of Pavement's 'Trigger Cut' for a fiver and a couple of other things that whilst I didn't need I could not leave the country without. The racks aren't as stuffed as you might wish but there is a decent sized new section on both vinyl and CD. There also appeared to be a coffee shop behind the counter, which if you drink coffee is great (NB: If you do drink coffee you are a drug addict and cannot listen to Minor Threat).
So what of the staff? Well If I gave out awards, medals or gongs the guy I spoke to (assuming it was the owner) would be on the top of the podium. He spoke candidly of the state of business, the successes and failures of 'Record Store Day' and where he saw the future. He had a sense of enthusiasm for new music that lost me over a decade ago and was happy to wax lyrical about some of the more recent acts to play the store.
Despite the back of the shop being a bit of a ghost town (this is where bands play) this is the kind of place I felt I could have spent the day reading sleeve notes, listening to conversations and butting in with opinions before being politely asked to leave. I can't really emphasize how important it is that this record shop exists. If you doubt the validity of the independent Scottish music scene or associate the entire thing with deep fried Mars bars, Irn Bru and heroin visit their website and prove yourself wrong:
The guy is a visionary and the entire website proves a very interesting and useful record store based resource.
I have a vague memory of when I discovered the word 'poo' was naughty. I am told that I pretty much used it every time I opened my mouth. If my mum asked me what I wanted for dinner, the word 'poo' would no doubt be in my reply. I was about two years old.
The best way of describing Whitehouse is as a group of similarly minded men who never really got over that initial excitement of discovering a naughty word. Over the years they expanded their vocabulary with an array of other words and offensive concepts both 'musical' and otherwise all of which were geared to do nothing other than challenge/upset.
Maybe William Bennett and Peter Best's mum's didn't react when he said 'poo' and that's why they kept saying it, maybe that's why they became the kind of people whose sole purpose is to ride that naughty schoolboy bus of 'shock' until the wheels fall off or the world ends. Later in their career they would graduate to songs with the word 'cunt' in the title a series of visual head-nods to the world of pre-pubescent sex and incest.
I don't have a problem with any of that, what does perplex me is how they manage to make it all so singularly dull. Take the song 'My Cock's on Fire', how is that not going to be the greatest song you have ever heard? How can it not be the opener to every compilation cassette you make? For me Whitehouse are a wasted opportunity, an unfulfilled idea. I want to like them so much it hurts. The world needs Whitehouse and others like them but beyond an awesome t-shirt what do they actually deliver on a musical plane? Not a lot... Imagine a bad Spectrum album where Pete Kember has developed Tourettes syndrome and you are scarily close.
'Cream of The Second Coming' serves as a compilation of the highlights of their pre 1990 career, it's alright but it never really gets going. Musically they are unpleasant and as difficult to listen to as you might expect but that's not the real issue I have with them. Where are the peaks, sonic explosions, walls of layered throbbing sound? Does 'Power Electronics' really just mean sub-Status Quo sonic exploration? Much of the album has a very amateur Bontempi through a Boss Distortion pedal feel, it's uninteresting and doesn't even work in a so bad it's good way. At it's worst and in part due to lyrical content it actually comes across as a novelty record the likes of which could quite easily sit next to an Ivor Biggun or Macc Ladd's album.
All of this said, does it stop me from not only owning a copy and displaying it proudly at the front of one of my piles? It does not. The sleeve is a masterpiece. For the uninitiated it screams 'explore me', for those who know it's a very neat and stylistic summary of the bands first ten years, even if, in the cold light of day they were a bit uninspired.
'Where are we? What is this?'
Almost a year later I still don't know. We were cycling around the Surrey Hills in an attempt to shed some of the weight that comes hand in hand with a love of fine wine fueled delicious cake eating and we came across this. 'Chaldon Books and Records'.
Chaldon is near Brunton, I know this because there is a sign in the above picture. I could Googlemap both of these places but I wont. I want the entire experience to be as geographically ambiguous as possible - It adds to the mystery, the odd spookiness of the occasion.
So I ride up the hill toward a junction, out of breath and wishing I had worn a helmet due to about five near misses with on-coming vehicles in as many minutes. Something catches my eye ahead, it can't be, it looks like a branch of Music and Video exchange in the middle of a one horse town.
'Fuck me! Record shop! Record shop!'
I signalled to those riding with me and they duly pulled up, glad of the opportunity to rest, to swig water from badly rinsed bottles, attempt to stop their hearts exiting through their mouths.
'Watch my bike.'
Instantly a months wages fall to the ground with a fiberglas klong and I open the door.
There are two people in the shop in and around the counter, they both greet me, they are in their late fifties possibly sixties, I can smell cats.
The layout is as you would expect. Chaotic, piles of books, records and cassettes (see window in above pic) towering toward the ceiling. Time is on my side but I am so pumped from the cycling that my hands are twitching before I even hit the racks. I lay waste to Rock and Pop A to Z in a matter of seconds, my mind, slower than my fingers still working out exactly what records I just scanned past. I hit 'Jazz' and I try and slam the brakes on, take my time to see if there is anything worth removing from it's sleeve, examining, smelling. Unfortunately there is not.
I take time to soak up my surroundings fully. There is nothing in this shop I want but this shop is awesome. I want this shop. I imagine the ghosts of records that have passed through here over the years, far enough from the greedy eyes of Japanese collectors to be picked up by random appreciators, in it for the death and glory rather than the net 60 point profit margin after Ebay and Paypal charges. I close my eyes and brush the racks, breathing in the must of ages.
'It happened here.'
Not some ancient evil or exorcism but rather an exchanging of cash for records that made somebody, very, very happy. Judging by the state of the shop it was some time ago but it happened, it definitely happened. I dearly wish I could be more specific, offering some clue to the actual event but I can't, my psychic abilities do not stretch to the levels of Mystic Meg.
If you are in Chaldon or indeed Brunton visit this shop. There is a chance, albeit a slim one that you might encounter the very same magic that I did, the very spirit of the used record shop.
Jaws 4: The Revenge is not as bad as a lot of people think it is. It's not the best film in the series but Michael Caine is in it and the dialogue is actually pretty realistic, even if the action isn't great and the plot is 'other world' ludicrous. None of this is the real issue with Jaws 4: The Revenge though, the thing that really kills the movie is that the shark, the entire shark, not just its face or teeth makes an appearance way too early in the proceedings, this way, all of the surprise, the magic is gone. You see it nose to tail in real time.
In a similar way The Lollipops album 'Lollipops' shoots its proverbial load in the shape of the god like 'Naked When You Come' far too soon in the proceedings leaving you with little if any reason to finish listening to the record, even if it's not half bad. If said track was the closer or even half way through side two you might have reason to explore the rest of the album but just like in Jaws 4: The Revenge once you've seen the shark, all there is left to do is wonder a.) how many people it's going to eat and b.) how they are going to kill it.
Not to say I came away from listening to this record wondering how I might dispatch this particular Danish trio, in fact I wish them no harm at all, not even if they do have ridiculous hair and the kind of trousers and t-shirt combination that would scare away most childrens TV presenters.
So the Lollipops, what do we know. Well for a reason other than their music they get what the kids might call 'mad respect' for naming three albums out of five between 1965 and 1975 'Lollipops'. A feat matched by very few other bands (House of Love are amongst them), add to this the fact that there three EPs were called: 'Lollipop Lips', 'Lollipop Boogie' and 'Lollipops' and we are either dealing with conceptual kinds or complete fucking idiots, either way, I am on-board.
But why? The aforementioned track 'Naked When You Come' is so ahead of it's time it's unreal. It's a stark, string led paen to either sex or a guy who takes his clothes off before his friends come round, either way it's amazing. Vocally it's perfectly pitched and the sparse accompaniment is so great that I Imagine has been sampled to death.
So what of the other music? For 1966, it's pretty fresh, bang on in fact, if not entirely indispensable or original. It's as solid as you could wish for from an upsettingly dressed Danish trio with a very specific obsession with children's confectionary.
Unlike in Jaws 4: The Revenge, when the shark turns up it looks shit, when the Lollipops have their parallel moment it it's fucking brilliant. Join me next week when I shall attempt to explain why Blonde on Blonde has a lot in common with Piranha 2 The Flying Killers.
Florence, home of romance, renaissance, enchanted Italian architecture and 'Data Records 93'.
I came upon this place by complete accident. I was working in Italy and on passing quickly explained to my colleague that I would need a few minutes and vanished inside. Boy was this place loaded? Sizable Jazz and Progressive sections, a wall of Punk, a separate New Wave divider, a big fat 'Kozmik Musik' section. So why did I come away empty handed?
Time, money? A bit of both really, the clock was ticking for the duration of my stay in this wondrous world of card covered plastic and the pricing ranged from expensive to shockingly expensive. There is also the fact that I am finding it harder and harder to get excited about specific records, I have everything I want (that I am aware of) that I can afford.
The part in brackets above is important, I am still happy to do a 'Mutant Sounds' and buy something odd looking with the right instrumentation, sleeve or production accreditation and that stuff was here by the bucket load but there appeared to be printing errors on the 'how much?' stickers. But whatever, I wont moan any more about the pricing for three reasons, firstly:
Different country, different rules. We know Italy is a strange one, we know that Italian postmen bolster their income by stealing records, hi-fi equipment, anything they take a fancy to really so maybe this has meant that records in Italy are a lot rarer than they were a decade ago.
We also know that because of the above most people on Ebay refuse to post records to Italy again, creating something of a supply and demand situation to be exploited at will by record shop owners.
Last of all, it is absolutely none of my business if the owner of a record shop wants to put a speculative or slightly inflated retail price on his product, I do not have to buy it and in the case of the above shop I felt truly honored to be able to go inside, look around and eventually close my mouth. At it's best it was like a museum: The kind of thing that takes pride of place in my collection on the wall displayed in an almost blase fashion. Multiple copies of the more difficult to find highlights from the fabled NWW list wedged together in over full racks. So much stuff that I didn't know but dearly wanted to know, but couldn't buy because now as a parent spunking 200Euros on a record because the sleeve looks good isn't really an option anymore.
Yes there were some odd 'WTF?' moments. Too much Eric Clapton, Joan Armatrading and Michael Jackson, middle of the road wankery that took the sheen off the rest of the stock but given the vast majority of what was in store could legitimately be filed under 'Aladdin's Cave' I can gloss over that.
And what do you think might be at the very back of the record shop? ...Another fucking record shop full of more of the same. So to conclude, if you are in Florence, go there, take your time but be prepared to spend your money, then eat some of those little cakes they have out there, the ones with chocolate and cream in.
Camden used to be one of the best places to go record shopping in the whole of London. There was a time when as many as eight record shops lined the high-street. Now it's just a shit storm of Spanish tourists and time-traveling dreadlocked types. If you have the patience to dig through the six deep streets of newly imported fake as fuck euro-punx, past the bootleg t-shirts and stands selling stolen street are with no sense of irony what so ever then there are still one or two places worth a visit.
Amongst them is 'Out on the Floor' which is actually (or at least it was last time I popped in) three shops in one. Sadly the stock is clouded by re-issues but there is some of the good stuff there. This said if you don't have an issue with owning 'copies' then take that as a reason to shop there because the choice of stock represents the essential musical establishment excellently. It also has one of the best Reggae sections in London, the Jazz section is solid and has thrown up some great free and 'spiritual' gems in the past and whilst the A to Z has been pilfered and exported a hundred times over, you never know what's in stock.
I used to bounce across there from Music and Video Exchange when I was local, have a quick flick, get a feel for the place. The stock is reasonably priced, which given the tourist heavy clientele is a pleasant surprise. Another reason to shop here, and this is where I wish I'd taken a picture or two is the section dividers, if, like me you have an appreciation to meticulously hand drawn band names or genres then it's worth a visit for that reason alone.
So, 'Out on the Floor', it's a good place to go for music, if you like music rather than examining matrix numbers, smelling sleeves and Gerrard & Lofthouse.
There are other places to record shop around Camden but the majority of the stock moves on a daily basis between temporary market stalls and the like. I've never bought anything from there but not to say it isn't worth a visit. If you are into Jesters Hats, juggling or drug bongs as well as records, please put this on your 'to do' list - You will be in some kind of fuck-witted heaven.
The other picture I have chosen to illustrate the contemporary Camden scene touches on a very ugly underside. No not the knife-crime or sporadic heroin shitting, I am talking about those people who think nothing of turning records into clocks or even worse melted vinyl record fruit bowls. It's not that they are aesthetically vile, or pointless and over-priced although they are all of those things. You just shouldn't do that to a record, even if it is 'The Best of John Denver' or some Readers Digest classical music cock-fest. Although I'm not usually an advocate of recycling I am pretty sure in the right hands they could be turned back into records, melted down, given a second chance not to be 'The Only Way is Up' by Yazz. By turning them into a fucking wall clock all you are doing is prolonging that death.
My only hope is that one day somebody buys a clock says 'Huh, an Elvis Presley 78, I can sell that back in Texas for a few thousand bucks' and leads them to check each and every one of those fuckers against a worn and outdated copy of the Record Collector Price Guide 1998.
I am sure it was a great gig and I am truly pleased that our Swedish friends have finally got the recognition they deserve for 'Shape of Punk to Come', I just don't think I needed to witness it first hand at the expense of a quiet night in with a nice glass of red.
It has been a very long time since I managed to get my shit together enough to put proverbial pen to paper but a quiet moment at work seems like as good as time as any to sing the praises of the above.
I always gave this album a wide berth for two reasons: The cover makes it look like overly faye El Records fayre and they have another album called 'Fuck Pussy Galore and All of Her Friends' that I accidentally bought from Relay Records in Bristol back in 1995 thinking it was a 'Pussy Galore' album (FYI it was rubbish) I blame them in no small part for the misunderstanding and consequently boycotted their output for the next 18 or so years.
We have now kissed and made up.
I bought the CD after noticing the albums appearance in about four different 'Super Hot Best US Indie Albums Ever' lists when I was going through one of my phases - One that saw little 5" parcels arrive in clusters of eight to ten every day for about a month. 'Perfect Teeth' stood out as one of the highlights of this exercise in retrospective cultural vacuuming.
As a record, it's is a very well tempered exercise in borderline commercial US Indie rock. It is in no way exceptional but delivers on a level that few other records from around that era of 'above the counter' hype managed. It got me thinking back to a time when I would buy literally any old shit because it was on the right label (Sub Pop) trying to convince myself that it was anything other than guitar led dross launched in the hope of catching that ever growing Indie Rock wave.
From the first time I played it there was something very familiar about the sound of 'Perfect Teeth', almost as if the album had been played to me in it's entirety as I slept. It's catchy, surprisingly well produced and serves as solid reminder of a more innocent time,
If you like a bit of fast paced jangly guitar accompanied by a nice bit of off-key male/female singing give it a shot. If you don't or you have an aversion to Cath Caroll's admittedly annoying face (especially not quite but nearly closed mouth) I would avoid.
Friday, May 4, 2012
First of all, Fuck.
Now whilst I literally could not have cared less what the Beastie Boys have been up to since 'Ill Communication' came out in 1994, there was a time when I held that trio of lovable idiots from Brooklyn dearer to my heart than any other.
I remember circa 'Check Yo Head' chewing the ear of anybody who would listen proclaiming them the greatest band on the planet. I remember a vivid dream I had after watching them at Reading in 1992 involving them hugging me despite my inability to rhyme (In retrospect this was blatant homoeroticism). I remember where I was when I bought my cassette copy of Pauls Boutique and before that License to Ill.
I also recall the youtube video posted by the band not so long back in which Adam Yauch told the world he had cancer of the lymph gland, that it was treatable, that they had caught it in time. There was something truly touching about that post. I hadn't even thought of the band in two decades but the news touched me, served to remind me of the fragility of life and the persistence of time. It also got me thinking about how entwined with the memories of my formative years this band are.
1986, I am invited to my first high school party - This is a big deal, at my school there were two types of people, those who were invited to parties and those who weren't. It was only through geographical fate and a favor called in by a far more popular friend that I didn't spend that Saturday night like every other before it - Sat watching late night TV, waiting to see if there would be even the briefest of glimpses of nudity, side boob even.
The party: This was how you get to meet girls, it was where you got drunk. It was generally regarded as the first rung on the ladder of adulthood. The party took place in a barn, on a farm, on hay bails. Anyway, I needed to bring a present. That present was the 7" of 'No Sleep Til Brooklyn'. At the time records were a popular choice of gift and anything in the top 40 was generally regarded as fair game, the band were surfing something of a wave of popularity their reputation of beer swilling frat boys intent on offending galvanized by Britain's popular press. The Beastie Boys were in the Top 20 and there was not a Volkswagen car in the land without a circular hole in it's grill... The fact that the host had a clear preference for the band Erasure (also popular at the time) was momentarily forgotten as I handed over £1.20 for the gift in my local Woolworths.
Later that night I got drunk, I met a girl, a girl called Lissa Bradley. I can remember it like it was yesterday. We walked away from the noise, half a can of lager, holding hands and on that hot summers night in the middle of a hay field we kissed, as we did muffled and from the distance I heard the words 'no, sleep 'til...' crackle to life from a shitty PYE stereo.
Even as a greying and jaded porned-out 38 year old who thinks nothing of watching Japanese girls shit on each other I can still appreciate the beauty of that moment. It was fucking Hollywood. It was a kiss that went on forever, it's frozen in time.
Now however many years later the two, that first kiss and the Beastie Boys are inexorably linked, memories that will live and die together.
I hadn't thought about them much at all since, assuming wrongly that they had caught the cancer in time, that there was another god awful album (Hot Pepper Sauce Brigade Part 1 or something) just around the corner but no. Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys died today. He was 47.
He is in my thoughts and memories.
Wednesday, January 4, 2012
And I completely forgot the reason for the broken silence. There I was rattling around the kitchen of our new (old, very old) house treading carefully on the cheap slate flooring following a 3am run in with a fucking slug (scariest creature known to man) when Huey formerly of the Fun Loving Criminals, you know, the one who pretends to be from New York comes on the radio. Apparently it's vinyl day, which means our hosts can only play records.
News to me that they ever stopped, but then I am relatively new to the virtual format of radio. I say new to it, that's not strictly true. Cut to 1988 - 1992 and you would see me along with a million other teens clambering to record snippets of the John Peel and Tommy Vance shows (I know, I got it half right) in attempts to educate ourselves by way of jumbled together BASFs and AGFAs.
That stopped as soon a I got part time work enough to furnish my growing habit. Little did the unsuspecting patrons of the particularly poor restaurant that I waited/bussed tables at know that there tips were going on a black plastic addiction that would span decades.
Anyway, enough waffle. Huey is on the radio playing something predictably funky (The Dazz Band?) when he announces his guest, none other than the owner of the worlds largest record collection Paul Mawhinney:
Yep it's still shit and he's still trying to sell it. He explained that it was a true archive and that something like 77% of the records in the 'archive' did not exist on any format outside of said 'archive'. That there is good reason for this still seemed to escape the poor if not heroically dedicated man.
Anyway, the whole episode got me thinking about two things. Firstly, whereabouts in the UK Huey formerly of the Fun Loving Criminals might be from and secondly, it reminded me that I had a blog, one that I had neglected of late.
I'm not sure if it was before or after the Huey thing (my New Years Day was spent in the sole company of my sick son so it's a bit of a blur) but Liz Kershaw (She's the chirpy Northerner) also came on and was killing time by talking to somebody about why Thin Lizzy's Jailbreak was the greatest record ever. Okay, they had my attention. That's the kind of idiotic sweeping statement that I live by and one that I might even have made myself back when I was in the habit of playing Jailbreak on repeat both backwards and forwards.
Anyway, it all fell apart when said claimant turned out to be an early 20s student whom referred to the format's plural as 'Vinyls' and then began to wax lyrical about the late Gary (fucking) Moore.
It was around tea time that the whole Vinyl(s) Day really came into it's own. Somebody, possibly Stuart Maconie (No relation to the Police Academy character) played Don Bradshaw Leather's 'The Distance Between Us'.
I had never heard of Don Bradshaw Leather but needless to say the record from 1972 is the kind of thing I'd love to be able to put my name to. It's on the NWW list and Donald may or may not have been a member of Barclay James Harvest. Barclay James Harvest says no, but who can really tell?
I'd like to describe it but it seems about a gazzilion websites have got there before me and done a much better job than I ever could.
WMFU's Beware of the Blog had this to say:
The four lengthy tracks here are dense, swirling, and hellish tapestries of blurred instrumentation, squawking voices buried in the mix
Which is pretty bang on. What they don't say is that it's fucking awesome and well worth the $300-$400 US dollars it's eventually going to set me back. How could I not have already obsessed over this record? How am I going to live without it? How long is it before I strip naked and paint myself black and take to gurning with my hands wide open line awkward pink stars?
Anyway, all of this would have been forever forgotten if it wasn't for the over-keen electric guitar busker at Oxford Street Underground station last night. Whilst I didn't see him I was close enough to make out some of Gary Moore's elongated electric blues Les Paul wankery, as he widdled and diddled I caught the voice of a German tourist shouting enthusiastically at him. The only words I made out 'Das Ist Nicht...' (That is not).
I would like to think the end of the sentence that was lost to me courtesy of escalators and heavy seasonal tourist foot traffic was '(Michael) Schenkner'.
'Das ist nicht Schenker!'
In my head there is even a scuffle, the latent MSG/early period Scorpions fan coming off worse for wear at the hands of our fine transport systems very own Police force.
Anyway, BBC Radio 6's New Years Day Vinyl Day Day. Smashing.
Sunday, January 1, 2012
Record shop wise, the last thing I remember is leaving Edinburgh's Avalanche records after bidding farewell to the owner. We chatted, he was less than hopeful about the future and the volume of stock Vs available space told a similar story. Plastic carrier in hand I nodded cordially at the attractive girl behind the counter and stepped out into a wet Scottish Summers day spying my wife and pram bound Son sat on a bench across the road.
Fast forward to January 1st 2012 and what's changed?
A huge chunk of last year was spent rediscovering the delights of late 80's to mid 90's (specifically 1993) Indie music, started as a US only obsession but soon blossomed to include acts as diverse as Felt and Chapterhouse. Sounds awful doesn't it? Well it's kept me pretty chuffed and I've spent approximately 100th of what I was caning on records this time last year.
The rest of my time was taken up by a shed load of personal and geographical change. It would also appear that I have walked away from a habit that has defined me for the past two or three decades.
I have quit record shopping.
Yes I still buy music, CDs mostly but that overwhelming urge to spend days on end trawling dead and dying record stores is gone. Just before Christmas I passed by Rat Records (It appears to be my de facto local and I wondered what was on offer). I don't doubt that five years back it would have been well worth a bi-weekly visit but now? Sure there were a few choice pieces on the counter but 99% of the shop was dry.
Am I saying that the game is up? That it's all about the internet? No. You just have to look further a field. Get creative. Go to the source like these guys...
(Great, no exceptional site by the way Elion. If you don't do this full time you should)
But that's only going to work if you get off on Geographically specific music, and even then you can bet somebody got there well and truly before you. Just discovered the 70s Lagos scene or Trinidadian Funk? Guess what, so did somebody else, somebody with the air-miles and fiscal means to take home small chunks of the country in question. Anyway, I'm rambling, it's not even about that. Rat Records had a copy of Ornette Coleman's 'Of Human Feelings', the one with 'Times Square' on it for four quid. I could have turned it the same day but the thought of it flapping against my leg on the walk home was too much for me. I'm just done with it.
I mean, will I still stop by the occasional record shop on my travels? Yes. Will I obsess to the extent I used to? I hope not. I get my pleasures in a far more simple way now, my album of the year is freely available to buy for less than a fiver and the thing that's making me happiest at the moment is Shack's 'HMS Fable'. Besides, I may have developed a soft furnishings habit.
So what for the blog? Who knows, I'm still trying to work that out.