Friday, 13 December 2013

Phew, 2013!

Wow, 2013, eh? Phew, what a year. Here's my round-up, it's been a long time since I've done one of these.

Albums of the Year:
  • Steven Wilson - The Raven That Refused to Sing and Other Stories. Just a superb LP. And it is an LP, something that demands to be listened to from start to finish. Imagine King Crimson with some ballads. No? Oh, okay, well it sounds good to me.
  • Public Service Broadcasting - Inform Educate Entertain. This project take the dialogue from old films and PIFs and puts them to music. Sound's rubbish? Nah, check this out.
  • Wolf People - Fain. This Bedfordshire quartet probably haven't heard any music recorded since 1970 or seen a film since Blood on Satan's Claw. Very, very English, er, psych-folk-prog.
Single of the Year:
  • The Maccabees - Pelican. I know it was originally released at the fag end of 2011, but it's a song it took me over a year to decide I liked. And when I decided I liked it, I decided I really liked it. They're one of those bands whom I have no desire to hear anything else by, I'd only be disappointed that it wouldn't be as good as Pelican (I put Death Cab for Cutie in the same category - they'll never top I Will Possess Your Heart). They won't be able to top this.
Gig of the Year:
  • Steven Wilson at the Royal Albert Hall. My wife and I had already seen Steven at the Manchester Academy in March, but this gig in October was quite, quite terrific. The band he assembles are all just on it - special praise for Kajagoogoo bassist Nick Beggs and former Zappa drummer Chad Wackerman - while the songs and the way they're presented are just sublime. An added bonus for this gig was that my wife managed to get us some excellent seats right near the stage (see photo). So good were the seats that VIP guests were sitting in front of us.
TV shows of the Year:
  • The Returned - Shows with subtitles, not usually my bag but the story here is all that matters. The Returned is about grief and missing people, something we've all experienced. I'm not going to complain about the ending like nearly everyone else, it could have stood as a stand alone series with that ending. Let's just hope they don't jump the shark in future series. Oh, and one of the lead actresses is rather lovely.
  • Toast of London - Just a wilfully daft comedy about a tosspot actor with Matt Berry. I loved it and am glad to see it's coming back for a second series after abysmal ratings (there are some tasteless people out there).
  • The Silent War - A late entry, this, part of BBC2's Cold War season. It's a documentary about the way submarines were used in the Cold War. A bit dry? You bet, but I love all this Mutually Assured Destruction stuff. And remember, DON'T DROP ANY SPANNERS.
  • Count Arthur Strong - Another wilfully daft comedy. You either love or hate Count Arthur Strong and it seems more people hate him. For me, this was just a delight. The episode set during a recording of a radio play really was superb, one of the funniest things on television all year.
  • Broadchurch - You've already read the superlatives. And it had a proper ending. I can't imagine what they'll do for series two though.
  • What Remains - This psychological murder mystery proves we can do this stuff as well as any foreign broadcaster. And, spoiler alert, I'm not holding my breath for series two.
Film of the Year:
  • Pfft, hardly been to the cinema. Here's what I've seen at the pictures: Rush, Alpha Papa. Yup.
  • Sightseers - probably released in 2012, but I saw it this year 'on demand'. An erotic odyssey to well-loved tourist spots in the north of England in a caravan goes horribly wrong...
Event of the Year:
  • Getting married! Yay! Believe the hype, it really is the happiest day of your life. I highly recommend it.
Anyway, that's it from me, have a good Christmas and I hope 2014 is good to you. I love you all and I'll leave you with the greatest Christmas song* ever. NO ARGUMENTS!

*Even though it's by a hoary old prog rocker who nobody likes

Friday, 29 November 2013

Now listen

Yesterday marked the 30th anniversary of the release of the first Now That's What I Call Music compilation. I own a copy, look, there's my copy over to the left. Funny out of all the records I've owned in the past, that one has stuck with me. I didn't even particularly want it. I was just getting interested in music at the time - I was twelve going on thirteen - and what I actually wanted was a compilation issued as a tie-in with the BBC's Mike Read-fronted Saturday Superstore programme. The reason I wanted that LP was because it contained a track called Love is a Wonderful Colour by a band called The Icicle Works. My sister was an assistant in a record shop at the time and was tasked by my parents to purchase this Saturday Superstore release. As it turns out, they'd sold out of Saturday Superstore so she took it on herself to buy Now... instead. When I unwrapped the parcel on Christmas Day she explained what had happened and passed it off with a "That's miles better, anyway". As it happens, it was miles better. It was through this album that my love for Simple Minds first manifested itself, a love that's held firm, through thick, thin and Street Fighting Years, to this day. Their track Waterfront is included, which I'm guessing was Virgin's way of getting the band some publicity for their new album as the blurb on the sleeve just says "Released from their forthcoming LP and cassette", which was issued in February 1984.
But what else is on there? Well, two tracks each buy Kajagoogoo (no. 1 hit Too Shy and the single Big Apple which made the Top 10 after they booted out Limahl. Limahl's first solo effort, Only For Love, is also on here) and UB40 (Red Red Wine, one of my most hated songs of all time and something called Please Don't Make Me Cry). There's Will Powers' Kissing With Confidence (rotten), Men at Work's Down Under (Oh dear), and Hey You the Rock Steady Crew by, er The Rock Steady Crew, to name but a few.
Leaving out Culture Club's Karma Chameleon - a massive no.1 in 1983 - is perhaps a bit of an oversight (although not in my book, I've always thought it's a terrible record), it was ditched in favour of, in my view, a far superior single, Victims. Whoever wrote the blurb on the sleeve was perhaps a bit optimistic though as it claims that Victims is "Almost certain to be no. 1 by the time you have this". It never reached no. 1, stalling at no.3.
What I'll never understand is why one of my favourite hits of 1983 was missed off: David Bowie's Let's Dance. It should have been a shoo-in, what with The Dame being signed to EMI at the time. Perhaps he refused its inclusion, but I don't know why he'd resist, what with him going for an all-out pop sound at the time.
I find it kind of comforting that they're still being released and still selling in healthy numbers on what we'd these days call 'physical format'. I've just bought my sister's eleven year-old Now 86 for Christmas. That's the same sister who took it upon herself to buy Now... instead of Saturday Superstore back in 1983.
I guess it's a good job I didn't get Mike Read's Saturday Superstore album, or Simple Minds might just be 'another Eighties group' to me today. I did have Mike Read's Pop Quiz board game though. It was crap.

The tracklist in full:

1 You Can't Hurry Love Phil Collins   
2 Is There Something I Should Know Duran Duran   
3 Red Red Wine UB40   
4 Only For Love Limahl   
5 Temptation Heaven 17   
6 Give It Up KC And The Sunshine Band   
7 Double Dutch Malcolm McLaren   
8 Total Eclipse Of The Heart Bonnie Tyler   
9 Karma Chameleon Culture Club   
10 The Safety Dance Men Without Hats   
11 Too Shy Kajagoogoo   
12 Moonlight Shadow Mike Oldfield   
13 Down Under Men At Work   
14 (Hey You) The Rock Steady Crew (1983 Recording) Rock Steady Crew  
15 Baby Jane Rod Stewart  
16 Wherever I Lay My Hat (That's My Home) Paul Young   
17 Candy Girl New Edition  
18 Big Apple Kajagoogoo   
19 Let's Stay Together Tina Turner   
20 (Keep Feeling) Fascination The Human League  
21 New Song Howard Jones 
22 Please Don't Make Me Cry UB40   
23 Tonight, I Celebrate My Love Peabo Bryson & Roberta Flack   
24 They Don't Know Tracey Ullman   
25 Kissing With Confidence Will Powers  
26 That's All Genesis   
27 The Lovecats The Cure  
28 Waterfront Simple Minds   
29 The Sun And The Rain Madness   
30 Victims Culture Club

Friday, 13 September 2013

The first rule of Glossop Record Club is...

I read a magazine article a couple of years ago about a record club that met on Sunday afternoons once a month in a room above a pub in London. It existed solely for people to go along and listen to a whole vinyl LP. Just listen, perhaps have a bit of a chat about it and then go home again. I thought to myself at the time that I'd quite like to go to this club but decided that a) was a four hour round trip to London to listen to someone else's copy of Liege and Lief an entirely constructive use of my time and b) did I want to sit with a load of blokes in corduroy jackets stroking their beards?
The idea of it kind of stuck with me though because I love listening to, and talking about music, and like book clubs (which I've never been a part of), thought it would give me a chance to experience  something that I wouldn't normally choose to read or listen to.
So it was handy that last week I happened to see a retweet by the DJ Marc Riley about a record club being set up in the Derbyshire town of Glossop, with the first meeting being set for the 12th of September. I live in Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire is right next door to my home county. So I thought - and with a lot of encouragement from my wife - I'd take a trip over just to see what it was like, as one likes to try new things. Anyway, turns out that my initial suspicion that Glossop was near Manchester was correct. Although in Derbyshire, it's way over to the north west of Derbyshire, and I live in the east of Nottinghamshire, just a spit away from Lincolnshire. It's 68 miles away. Now, the way this country is set up for travel, if you want to go or north to south, you're laughing. 68 miles on the A1 would take me less than hour. However, travelling east to west is not so easy. To get to Glossop from here, you must negotiate Sheffield, and then brave the notorious Snake Pass. Up until yesterday, I'd never driven on the Snake Pass before. It's well named as it twists and turns like a...twisty turny thing. Oh yeah, it twists and turns like a snake.
So I set off straight from work, the journey took me about an hour and thirty five minutes. A quick look at Google Streetview a couple of nights before led me straight to the door of the venue where it was going to be held (after a crafty trip to the toilets in quite possibly the world's swishest branch of Wetherspoon's. Yes, it really was swish), namely the Glossop Labour Club. It was an evening of firsts for me as I'd never been in a Labour club before either. I was expecting union banners and portraits of Keir Hardie to be decorating the walls while there'd be very uncomfortable stools to sit on to constantly remind you of the struggles of the workers. But not a bit of it, there was a Tolpuddle Martyrs poster and some collieryana (is that a word?) but other than that there were watercolours on the walls of the surrounding Peak District, carpets, a tastefully appointed bar area and cushioned seats.

I walked in a bit unsure of myself but spied a friendly-looking couple sitting on a banquette. "Is this the record club?" I enquired. They both smiled and said yes. So, I got myself a drink (85p for a Coca Cola - club prices, very handy) nodded to the
guy running the show, Simon, and sat down.
So, at 8.30, the first LP of the evening was started - Roxy Music's For Your Pleasure. Which was chosen as the theme for the evening was 1973. And very good it is too, I was only previously familiar with Do the Strand (which I think is one of the few songs where the vocal and instruments start together. Weezer's Buddy Holly and Squeeze's Pulling Mussels... being the only other two I know of) and In Every Dream Home a Heartache, which is a heart-warming tale of a very wealthy but ultimately very lonely man who spends his evenings making love to an inflatable sex doll. Listening to it in those surroundings where you're just concentrating on the music is terrific. I mostly listen to music while I'm doing something else so it was great to just sit and listen. I play the drums so usually listen out for drums on records. It soon became obvious that while Roxy's drummer at the time, Paul Thompson, isn't the most technical and precise drummer, he's quite inventive but at the same time keeps it simple. There's a drum fill at around 2m 20s of the track Editions of You which is just an elongated single stroke roll, but boy, does it work. And what is it with art rockers using gruff Northerners like Thompson and Woody Woodmansey as drummers?
So, Music for Pleasure came to its Brian Eno curated end and we sat and had a bit of a chat about it. One of us had even seen Roxy Music on the tour to support the LP at Nottingham University in 1973. Fancy!

We then had a comedy record interlude, which featured a Bruce Forsyth track with the most unbelievably funky Hammond B3 solo. Didn't the organist do well? The organist do well, didn't he?

LP no.2 was a based on an internet poll. All the LPs in the poll were from 1973, a list which included one of my favourite albums of all time by Pink Floyd. Now I've heard that LP thousands of times, and as I wanted to go to this record club to learn about stuff I wouldn't normally listen to I decided to vote for David Bowie's Aladdin Sane. This Bowie chap gets a lot of hype and it struck me that I'd never heard a complete album of his, just greatest hits. Anyway, Bowie got beaten in the poll by Stevie Wonder's Innervisions. All good, as I wouldn't normally choose that. Again, a superb LP. It's amazing to think that this burst of creativity he had during the early 70s produced, on just one album, tracks like Higher Ground, Living for the City, Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing and He's Misstra Know-It-All, stuff you still hear regularly on the radio today.

Us, the non-paying public, were then allowed to showcase any records we'd brought along. But time was marching on, and at about 11.20, I decided that I couldn't put the return journey up Snake Pass off any longer and decided to scoot off.
So, would I go back? Yes. Would I submit an idea to the suggestions sheet? Yes, but my natural shyness and lack of actually owning the stuff I'd like to play on vinyl is holding me back. Was it full of men stroking their beards? Yes, but I'm a man who strokes his beard anyway.

Fortunately, my trip home was incident free. Although Radio 2 was on the radio but with Steve Lamacq and Janice Long, not Brian Mathew.


Saturday, 20 July 2013

Mel Smith

I only seem to write this blog these days when somebody dies. But the death of Mel Smith, which was announced today, has pulled me up a bit short. I think Smith is one of the finest comedy actors this country has ever produced, and he never got enough credit.
When I was about eight or nine my mum used to let me stay up late to watch certain BBC2 comedy shows. I can very clearly remember her allowing me to stay up to watch the very last episode of Fawlty Towers (somehow we all knew it was to be the last ever), and a couple of years later I was given an 'up late pass' to watch a hot new comedy series called Not the Nine O'Clock News. I don't know why I was encouraged by my mother to watch these things, perhaps she wanted to pass her love of comedy on to me and my sisters, but I'm so grateful that she did as I can very clearly remember watching the very first episode of The Young Ones on the night of its first broadcast. We thought Kevin Turvey was a real person until he turned up as Rick in The Young Ones.
Anyhow, Not the Nine O'clock News was something special, it was 'Mum-approved'. Sketch shows in those days were things like The Two Ronnies playing on words that were a bit rude (at which Dad laughed like a drain, even though I didn't get the joke. Too young, you see?), or going to drinks parties which was a totally alien world to us. NTNON on the other hand was fast, 'you don't like this sketch, well there's another coming along in a minute', it was a bit rude, it took the mickey out of people we'd seen on Top of the Pops, it took the mickey out of boring politicians, it took the mickey out of Prince Charles, it had comedy songs that were actually funny, it contained some of the greatest sketches ever broadcast on television. and the man who stood head and shoulders over everyone else on that show was Mel Smith.
And it's easy to see why, from the Oxford University Dramatic Society he went on to work for The Royal Court, The Bristol Old Vic and the Crucible in Sheffield. I don't know much about theatre but I do know that there's three top notch theatres he worked for. He could turn his hand to anything from Shakespeare to the know-all-but-know-nothing slob foil to Griff Rhys Jones in Alas Smith and Jones's famous head-head sketches. He could do sitcom in the much underrated Colin's Sandwich, he could do kids stuff in the guise of a long-forgotten show he made with Bob Goody and his pitch perfect performance as the voice of Father Christmas in the cartoon adaptation of the Raymond Briggs book. He could not only star in (Morons from Outer Space was rubbish but his performance as a detective who arrests himself in Wilt is pure brilliance) but direct films like The Tall Guy and Bean (one of the most successful British films ever made, regardless of your opinion on Mr Bean).
And he was clearly great when helping to spot new comedy talent (Paul Merton, John O'Farrell and Linehan & Mathews all had early work accepted for Alas Smith and Jones). The production company he set up with Rhys Jones, Talkback, was responsible for The Day Today, Big Train, all manner of Steve Coogan stuff, Smack the Pony etc etc.
But it seems the best people die early. I think it came as a shock to most people to see the state he was in when he appeared on Celebrity Mastermind over the 2008 Christmas holidays. His former producer John Lloyd has today said: "We did know he was ill. He's been ill for some time. So although it is the most awful news - I mean, it's a tragedy, it's a great loss...I think he was not in good shape"

So thanks for the laughs, Mel. Sleep well, sir.

And finally, my own favourite. This is what Not the Nine O'clock News was about, especially as Ronnie Barker hated it:

Friday, 19 April 2013

The (nearly) perfect Storm

I know everybody says this but it really was with genuine sadness that I read last night of designer Storm Thorgerson's death. Liking the kind of music I do then it seems as though the covers he designed, or co-designed, are also are part of the story. If someone mentions The Dark Side of the Moon then even people who haven't heard the record will almost certainly know the cover.
My first introduction to Storm, and his company, Hipnogsis - apart from the DSotM cover which, along with Tubular Bells was seemingly in every home in my childhood, except ours - was when I got a copy of Led Zeppelin's fourth LP.

It's clearly a gatefold with the main cover image on the right. It's supposed to convey the ripping down of the old and the development of the new, which seemed like a pretty neat idea when the album was released in 1971. I think it shows a certain melancholy over that 'neat idea'. I've always loved the painting, that man crooked over with those bits of coppiced birch on his back. Apparently the painting was picked up in a second hand shop in Reading, fancy! I wonder how much it would be worth now?
You don't need me to tell you that his most famous work was with Pink Floyd. Not all of which was a success, I think. Ummagumma looks rushed while Meddle just looks incredibly brown. The cover of Meddle is an image taken of sound waves in the ear, it just looks more like a blob of earwax to me. I reckon Storm, and his company Hipnogsis, first truly successful design was the cow on Atom Heart Mother.
No, I don't know what it means either but I suppose a cow with a full udder has to be a mother, doesn't it? I also find it incredibly English, rather like early Pink Floyd music.
Coming back to Ummagumma, I've always quite liked this back cover photograph of all their instruments, stage gear and roadies laid out in front of their van. It's based on a photo of a jet fighter with its armaments laid out in front of it. But these are weapons for peace! Geddit? No, oh. I'll get my Afghan coat...

Back to Zeppelin and while this isn't one of my favourite covers by either the band or Thorgerson, the trouble with getting the colours right on the image caused the album's release to be pushed back by months. For any fact fans, one of the children - and there are only two, their image kept getting reproduced - is Stefan Gates who now presents food programmes on the telly. The other child is his sister. At the time they both child models, in particular on knitting patterns

These two Peter Gabriel covers are also some of my favourites. The first one for Peter Gabriel I love because he almost looks like he's dead behind that windscreen and with no colour in his face. The rain on the car is also effective. Shame the car's not taxed though, naughty naughty, Pete. Perhaps the Genesis royalties were drying up in the punk era when this was released. There was an image of the usually anonymous dubstep artist Burial a few years ago. It showed his hooded head reflected in a puddle, it must have been inspired by this.

This one for Peter Gabriel 2 is just brilliant, I think. A simple idea that's well done.

Now, his best cover for Pink Floyd. Unfortunately due to an accident with an inflatable pig, the pig here had to be added on to the photograph later. Obviously it refers to 'pigs might fly' but why Battersea Power Station? I dunno. Like the Dark Side of the Moon cover it's passed into public consciousness as a standalone work of art, often imitated. Not least by tribute act The Australian Pink Floyd Show where the pig is replaced by a pink kangaroo.

It's not all great of course. I suppose this cover image reflects the music contained within: sexist pap. The reverse image shows the woman laughing as she holds a framed photo of Scorpions. I don't blame her, I always laugh at Scorpions.

This is a good one, How Dare You! by 10cc. The image here is the wrong way around though, sorry. The main cover image is the man in the office/drinking woman. Quite a few questions asked on this sleeve: who are the people in the photo on the desk? Who are the people climbing out of the Austin Healey? Why has she been crying? Why is Dudley Moore making an obscene phonecall?

I'd like to point out here that I'm not a 10cc fan, but I got my girlfriend a vinyl copy of the LP as a present and I was quite taken with the cover and wasn't surprised to see that it was designed by Hipnogsis.

As for more Pink Floyd, I'm really NOT fan of this LP but no trickery was used in this photograph. Every one of those beds is real and were placed on a beach in Devon. The government keep thousands of beds in storage in case of an emergency and they were borrowed for the shoot. Again, I haven't got a clue what it means. Thorgerson suggesting Dave Gilmour should give Pink Floyd a rest perhaps, given the rottenness of the music contained within..?

This one I find quite sad. On the surface it's bog standard artist shot, I guess. But everyone knows of Syd Barrett's mental torment. He seems to be detached in this image, almost pushed away. The fuzzy resolution of the photo reinforces that, like the fuzziness of his mind at the time. The alternately painted floorboards also act like a barrier, like he's pushed away but also doesn't want to let you in. The wilting flowers also perhaps show his once fresh talent is now withering. I dunno, that could all be bollocks and it is just a simple artist shot. What do I know?


I've not been massively keen on Thorgerson's recent works with the likes of Biffy Clyro, Muse and The Pineapple Thief. The stuff he did with The Mars Volta has been good though. What I did recently enjoy was the work he did to mark The Dark Side of the Moon's fortieth anniversary. He recreated the cover image forty times in forty different styles. I liked this Roy Lichtenstein styled one, amongst many others.

But my favourite Thorgerson cover has to be this one - no, not Dark Side of the Moon, that's more like a trademark these days - it's Go 2 by XTC. I love the idea of it, and the text continues on the reverse of the sleeve. I know it's a bit monochrome, but hey. For me it just works. I love the idea of it. They proved that new wave acts could also get in on the Thorgerson/Hipnogsis magic and that sometimes, classic album covers aren't beautifully, and expensively, shot photographs or paintings.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

A Nipper read

Everyone else has their thoughts about HMV so I thought I'd give mine a go. Look at it as a bit of a companion piece to Friday's post.
HMV doesn't really hold any sort of affection for me; we never had one in my town. The nearest was the Nottingham branch on one of the busiest thoroughfares in the city. It was an enormous shop. A shop I never went into until I was a teenager and old enough to go shopping in Nottingham with my school friends without parental supervision. What I remember most about it then was that the records were displayed with records inside the sleeves. Up until that point the record shops I'd been used to would display the sleeve in the browser where they assistant would pull what you wanted from a shelf behind the counter - which helped combat shoplifting, I guess. Obviously in a store as big as HMV Nottingham and with a huge turnover of stock, they could take the shoplifting hit if it meant staff didn't waste time looking for the record or tape. That, and that alone, was what impressed me most about HMV. I've never felt much affection for the brand, other than all record shops are good. It always seemed a bit staid, they way they stuck with the Nipper logo. Edward Elgar opened their first store. Do you see what I'm getting at? A bit old-fashioned.
Then Richard Branson decided to open a huge, and I mean huge Virgin Megastore in Nottingham (I vaguely remember that it held some sort of record at the time as being the biggest record shop in the UK outside of London). Now say what you like about Branson ("Pol Pot with a beard" being my favourite, courtesy of Andy Partridge) but Branson knew how to do a big record shop. Inside there were two floors purely of music and music related stuff like VHS videos, t-shirts, posters etc. There was also somewhere where you could buy a coffee (years before Starbucks), a hairdresser (!) and an in-store DJ in a proper DJ booth. And his brand was associated with loads of cool bands. I know it's a bit daft to get nostalgic about a massive record shop but believe me, it was like stepping on to another planet.

Fast forward more than 25 years to just over a month ago. I was in Birmingham doing a spot of Christmas shopping when I decided to have a browse around HMV in the Bull Ring. Oh dear. It was dreadful. The shop didn't know what it wanted to be. Was it a music store? Somewhere to buy computer games? A bookshop? An electronics store? It was suffering an identity crisis. To make matters worse the whole thing just looked a mess. As soon as you walked in there were pyramids of awful American comedy boxsets stacked on the floor which you had to negotiate. I mean, does anyone really need every episode of The Big Bang Theory?
There were schoolkids taking up a huge amount of room while they played Xbox games which were being demoed in-store.
There were pyramids of iPod docks and other audio equipment stacked on the floor. One brand of which bore Bob Marley's face. Now I don't know much about Bob but I'm pretty sure he wouldn't have wanted his fizzogg and name to be used for marketing electrical goods. And why this thing about headphones in HMV by brands you've never heard of. Skullcandy anyone? Beats by Dr Dre? No? Okay. I already own some decent headphones, they were made by a little known Dutch electrical company which goes by the name of Philips. Ever heard of them? And I got them from a shop called Currys, which is where a lot of people go for electrical goods.
The music section just seemed secondary. All the top-selling chart stuff was at the front of the store while anything else was chucked in at the back seemingly as an afterthought. And I've been in multifloor branches of HMV where you had to go upstairs for music. I think they'd lost sight of their core business - don't forget that CDs still make up 70% of music sales.
It was one of the most miserable retail experiences I've had for a very long time.

So while I'm truly sorry for all those people facing an uncertain future over their job and hate to see more record shops go to the wall, I can't help thinking that HMV had it coming to them. Your business is selling music, so sell music and don't alienate your loyal customers who like to buy CDs. Perhaps they should have taken a leaf from one of their subsidiaries, Fopp. Now they're proper big record shops.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Last Shop Standing

We watched a film over the Christmas period called Sound it Out. If you've not seen it, it's a film made by Jeanie Finlay about the last record shop in Teeside called, erm, Sound it Out. The main thrust of the film concerns the owner, Tom, and the customers who come into his shop. Tom is exactly what I would look for in a record shop owner: knowledgeable, friendly to your face, wide range of taste. The customers are all, what I would call, 'good people' They aren't the sort of people who cause trouble. They're the sort of people who know what they like and are prepared to talk about what they like with other people. we often hear this ridiculous term 'Broken Britain', watch Sound it Out and you realise that most people are inherently good. Friendly, even.
The stars of the film, apart from Tom and his shop, are Shane (a rabid Status Quo fan who didn't have the best start in life but doesn't let that hold him back) and Gareth & Sam (a couple of metal freaks who make their entrance into the film by announcing that they like any music "as long as it's suffixed with the word 'metal". A bit of a double act, these two). What these, and others in the film show, is that music is the best form of escapism. It really is, as someone once said "The dog's bollocks".
The film is tinged with sadness as we all know that record shops have died a death. We're all to blame, we all got our heads turned by cheapo internet deals and downloading songs we liked off the radio. I know I did. The only place I can now buy records in my town is in a supermarket or Oxfam or a wonderful old hippy who has a market stall on a Friday. Even as little as 15 years ago there were four stand alone record shops in my town as well as record departments in Boots, WH Smith and Woolworth's. Sad times. Nothing could beat going in to my favourite, R & K and looking to see what the latest metal releases were. The owner, Richard (who looked, and spoke, like a dark-haired Mike Nolan off of Bucks Fizz) was a metal fan, so he was always well stocked. Just browsing a shop is much better than entering a search on Amazon, you never know what you'll find when you do a proper browse; we went into a branch of Fopp just before Christmas to buy a DVD for someone's present - £80 later...

As an add-on to this, I heard Paul Gambaccini on the radio last week saying that Steve Jobs was the 'saviour of the record industry'. Nonsense. Steve Jobs was the saviour of making money for Apple. How else do you explain why Macbooks are now coming without CD drives? No CD drive, no ripping CDs into iTunes = more money for iTunes Store. If Apple can't make any cash off it, they'll get rid of it. I like to have something physical in my hand when it comes to music, I still buy CDs and records. I might be old-fashioned but I like looking at sleevenotes, I need to know who engineered track 6, I need to know who played marimbas on track 12, I need to know who made the sandwiches during the recording sessions (in the case of Motorhead's Iron Fist, it was Katy). Which is why I will never fully embrace downloads or Spotify, I want that sense of ownership of something, I want something tangible. And that is slowly being taken away from us.
Hopefully people like Tom or the excellent Unknown Pleasures in Edinburgh or the equally excellent Swordfish Records in Birmingham or even that daft old Krautrock-loving hippy on the market can ride the storm for people like me. They said vinyl records, turntables and cassette tapes would all be gone by now, well they're still all here and hopefully there'll be some record shops left too in thirty years' time.