Category Archives: Small Factory

Listening to my Versus tape

Bright Light // Forest Fire (Pop Narcotic Records 7" single, 1992
Bright Light // Forest Fire (Pop Narcotic Records 7″ single, 1992)

I can’t seem to get it straight, stay up late and sleep all day, listening to my Versus tape is still the same…

 

 

 

I came to America and got to hang out with bands.

Small Factory from my previous post has a song on the first CD that I bought by them and it’s called Versus Tape. It seems to be about the singer trying to get his life into some kind of shape, and listening to the Brooklyn band Versus clearly helps him a lot. I love it when singers of songs mention other singers or bands in their lyrics, and especially if the singer is a fan of the particular act in question.

(There are probably hundreds of examples of artist references in songs that I sure would appreciate y’all adding your own versions to in the comments. Right now I’m stuck on Versus Tape and something by The Who that mentions drinking himself blind to the sound of old T.Rex. Patrik Fitzgerald in another of my posts mentions listening to Bowie and riding with him out through the stars. That’s just breathtaking. I love that namedrop thing.)

I liked Versus Tape so much and the way he sang about them that I went and bought a Versus CD without ever hearing them. This was back in the day when you couldn’t just key up a song on any device you happened to have handy to see if you liked it or not. (Writing this post I tried to find songs by Small Factory and Versus on the net and they weren’t easy to track down either.)

As I’ve said on here I was living in a town that didn’t have much going for it and so I just had to take a chance on a band I’d never heard. I bought the first CD Versus released – which was fairly new at the time – because even though I didn’t know the singer in Small Factory personally I trusted him implicitly. The love of a good band can do that to you.

As I found out Versus are very good and didn’t sound a million miles away from Small Factory. On their debut album Versus also consisted of two guys and a girl, like Small Factory, except the girl in Versus plays the bass and she’s called Fontaine Toups; another excellent name to rival that of Small Factory drummer Phoebe Summersquash. The other two guys in Versus were that rare thing of being Filipino brothers in a rock band in America; singer and guitarist Richard Baluyut and his brother Ed on the drums.

I guess you’d call Versus ‘indie rock’ if you were looking for a safe house. I recall being pleased with my risk purchase for the way that they played their guitars being somewhat different and more melodic to grunge and hard rock which I didn’t particularly care for. Don’t get me wrong Versus can certainly belt it out with the best of them too.

Over the years I bought everything they released up to a point, and all on compact disc as records were hard to find in lower Alabama at that time. I would do this thing to liven up or personalize CD packaging by replacing the grey back plate that typically holds the disc in place with a clear plastic back plate, which I would then store stuff behind, such as reviews and bits of receipts and such. Anything to make it seem more mine as I found the compact disc format rather impersonal and clunky and I never really got to care for it.

I recall seeing Versus one time only at a venue called Howlin’ Wolf in the warehouse district of New Orleans. The venue is still going strong in its new location in the French Quarter of the city. I say this because I don’t recall much about the show that I saw or even what year it was but I do recall that my ex-wife and I got lost attempting to locate the venue in the warehouse district, ending up driving through a poor and run-down ghetto area of the city; with huge potholes in the road, street lights smashed out or broken, and large numbers of gathered people staring in at us as we drove past, and with a cop car following us with its lights on full beam to guide us both safely out.

At the venue I met two of the members of Versus and they signed their names on a compilation CD of theirs called Dead Leaves, a detail of which I include here alongside an image from their debut CD The Stars are Insane, complete with its adjusted back plate;

Dead Leaves

Stars are Insane

I spoke to Richard from the band as he signed the inside of the CD case, and was thrilled that he referred to me as The King of England. That’s a landmark memory right there. Also behind the back case of The Stars are Insane there’s a small torn corner from a newspaper upon which Richard wrote a note to me about bringing the band to perform in my then hometown of Mobile, Alabama, thus;

Richard writes

No way was I capable or connected enough to be able to bring Versus to perform a show in Mobile as I just didn’t know how to go about doing that sort of thing. It was different in the USA to how it was when the band I’d been in – at that time in my life nary five years ago – had been given lots of opportunities and varied venues to play in England. In America I could but dream and hope that a band I was interested in would one day play in my part of the world, which at that time was a rare thing.

Speaking of dreams, one of mine eventually came true when I came across Versus on vinyl at last, via the single featured here, at a record fair in my new home town of Winston Salem some years later. I paid $6.00 for the 7″ 45 on the Pop Narcotic label based out of Boston, MA, and was chuffed that it featured Bright Light, my favourite song on the Dead Leaves CD that Richard from the band had scrawled on back there.

“Amazing!”, says the handwriting on the small white sticker that was affixed to the front of the 7″ record sleeve. “Brooklynesque pop on Brack’s candy vinyl… I (heart) dese guys!”

I enjoyed the handwritten colloquial play on the word ‘these’ written there, even if I still have no idea what Brack’s candy actually is or even looks like. Let’s look at the actual record, shall we, and see if it reminds y’all of the candy brand and colour that my sticker refers to;

Vers6

Chances are good that the white background of the scanner I use at work is not doing the vibrancy of the plastic featured here any justice at all. It really is a lovely thing; a wonder found purely through a chance meeting with another band on MTV 120 Minutes, who were singing about a cassette tape that featured another band who were so good they just had to write a song about the feeling it gave.

And now I wonder if any song on my many cassette mix-tapes had that same effect on those I sent them to.

When I first came to America I discovered so much new music so quickly that I just had to share it with my friends I’d left back home in England.

At first I couldn’t work here until I was legalized and so days would turn into months listening to music and compiling tapes at a large circular wooden table in the dining room in Mobile, Alabama. I would keep scrupulous notes of which mate got which song, notes I still have, so that I wouldn’t duplicate music that may even pass between the two. It was a light industry of creativity and entertainment and variety that I sorely miss in these digital days, when music doesn’t seem to even want to have a tangible form anymore.

At first my tapes were just songs played consecutively one after the other, until one day I decided to add a faux DJ element to the mix with a microphone I plugged into the cassette deck; my dreams of being a real radio DJ peering into the light. I even invented a name for my pretend radio station; Radio Cheezwiz, the subtle vocabulary difference allegedly separating me from the popular US cheese spread brand of a similar name.

I’d get a six-pack of beer, a full night stretching ahead of me (later with a day off from work the next day), and records and tapes stacked around as I began my journey. There was no template or plan other than the desire to belt a song over the imaginary tennis net to the receiver on the other side.

I had little or no specific response about songs from the many subscribers I had on my yellow legal pad lists, but just to do it was enough for me, and I loved it.

In return I’d get tapes from the same mates in Old Blighty, a selection of which I’ve photographed here alongside one or two of mine, to wrap this show up.

I’d make covers from magazine ads and such, double-stick taped to the label inner of the Maxell XLII 90, (Radio Cheezwiz cassette tape brand of choice. You can’t buy them in stores anymore.)

Often I would give the entire shebang a title – one pictured here that my mate Greg photographed for me from his own copy is named Search: Go To just because I liked the sound of the phrase.

Then off it would fly in the post, its destination varied, hopefully to invoke a similar reaction upon its receipt to the Frazier Chorus song String that I have previously written about on here. Same words, different feeling.

I am still dreaming and I keep listening, even if  I’m not taping anymore. Some of the cassette tapes featured have specks of dust on them, and I like that.

You can’t get dust on a digital file. I’m fairly certain you can’t even own it, and at no point does it ever seem like it’s being used. My creased up card and worn down plastic buzzes and creaks like something mechanical, and I will always rejoice in that difference.

 

Processed with VSCOcam with a2 preset

Processed with VSCOcam with a2 presettape 4Tape 3

Advertisements

The Last Time That We Talked

The Last Time that we Talked // Movies (Quigley Records 7" single, 1994)
The Last Time That We Talked // Movies (Quigley Records 7″ single, 1994)

No, no way… I’m not done. I’m having too much fun. It’s not over for me now, life has just begun…

 

 

I came to America and started a pop music quiz.

In the early oughties (or two-thousands, whatever you lot call them) my then wife and I were approached by the owner of Mobile’s only independent record store, Satori Sound Records, with the idea of sharing in the concept of a coffee house and cafe as part of the premises. The plan was to keep the record store and to attach a cafe to the other half of the building; and so it came to be that for a brief couple of years towards the end of my time in Alabama I had the coolest job of my life that far; working in the record store and also helping out in the cafe serving coffee.

(Okay, so I pretty much hated working as a barista making frothy coffee, but let’s get past that for now.)

It was during that tricky first year of opening that we needed ways to bring more trade into the cafe in the evening, and so that’s where the idea of a pop music quiz first germinated. I’d been a huge fan of the popular UK TV music quiz show Never Mind the Buzzcocks, that my mum and various friends would send to me on VHS tapes from England that I could then watch on the universal VCR I owned at the time. (That show is still going strong as a staple of Friday night telly in England, now almost in its twentieth year.) I based the original version of the quiz on that show and stole a few ideas from other less popular variants too.

I have the flyer from the very first music quiz I hosted in the USA on my bedroom wall and have just noticed that today marks almost the thirteenth anniversary of that first night. I did an eighties music quiz on Friday 15th February in 2002 in the cafe. I can’t recall much about it despite still having my script for the quiz in my archive.

In those days it took place in a small and well-lit coffee house with a creaky and uneven wooden floor and various tables scattered around. I had a clipboard and a cassette tape player plugged into a couple of small speakers. I spoke in my normal unamplified voice and it was a polite and somewhat restrained affair. There was no alcohol, only coffee and various fruity drinks.

I tell you this because just last week I hosted my 99th quiz in my hometown of Winston Salem, North Carolina, in the best live music venue; The Garage downtown. These days it’s darker, a lot larger, a little crazier, and louder via a microphone and big speakers and a much noisier crowd. You can order anything you like from the bar if you’re old enough, and it’s a good deal more fun and unhinged in its present state.

By hook and crook I hauled the bones of the quiz through my last days in Alabama, and then put it into storage in Tennessee for just under a year, until it landed a little bruised and battered but otherwise compact, and began life once more in November of 2006 and continuing since on Thursday nights monthly in downtown Winston.

I am fierce proud of what my girl Amanda AKA DJ Shute and I have done with the evolution of the quiz and you can like us on our Facebook page and see tons of flyers and photographs of the many great nights we’ve had doing it here in Winston. We’ve also seen married two couples who first met at the quiz so go easy trampling around in there. You never know what you’re gonna come away with at the quiz.

I tell you all of this because last week in that 99th quiz I did a five-question round on the days of MTV and specifically their 120 Minutes show that used to air on Friday nights between ten and midnight when I was back in Alabama. This show specialized in what was widely becoming known as alternative music in the nineties. I’d record the show on then pre-DVD standard VHS tape and watch it later, often fast-forwarding through the commercials and the stuff I didn’t much care for.

One question in that quiz round set my mind wandering about how you could hear a piece of music that you may not have heard in a long while and an entire flood of memory would travel back accompanying it. I got that same feeling on You Tube just last week watching the video to The Last Time That We Talked by Small Factory.

I first saw that same video clip one night scrolling through 120 Minutes back in my bedroom in Mobile and it had a seismic effect on me. 120 Minutes in those days was a somewhat turgid affair; with emphasis on harder rock and dark and brooding lyrical themes, heavy on angst and moody with it. Suddenly there was this fun and catchy pop song created by a band I’d never heard of; featuring two guys and a singing girl drummer who I found out later had the excellent name of Phoebe Summersquash.

I rode that wave of elation from their song for a few weeks, putting out magazines in my day job at Barnes and Noble in Springdale Mall. There were so many small-print-run indie publications we’d carry in those days, with pages I’d devour on lunch breaks trying to drain as much information on bands as I could find.

You have to remember that there wasn’t an Internet as such to gather information on music minutiae, and the local radio wasn’t helping either, nor the local newspaper, and so word-of-mouth and magazines were all I had. Tailspins magazine from Evanston in Illinois, just outside of Chicago, was one of many small publications I’d read and one day in April or May of 1995 I came across this review here;

Spangler

I couldn’t buy their new album on record because they didn’t exist for me in that format in that town at that time, but I got the CD of For If You Cannot Fly from Satori Sound, the indie record store I would later work in, and I loved it. I wrote the also ace-named reviewer Floyd Spangler a passionate retort and then got on with my everyday life.

A month or so later I get the shock of my life when flicking through the next issue of Tailspins. I see my reply to Floyd published in the magazine. Except that they didn’t actually copy it per se from my original handwriting, but reproduced my exact letter, and in my own writing, in full on their letters page!

I can’t explain to you easily just how freaky a feeling it is to suddenly catch your own handwriting looking right back at you from a place that you were not expecting it to be, thus;

SF Tailspins

As I write this entry from nearly twenty years on there are many, many things that I am sucking my teeth at concerning the verbiage of that note I wrote. Consider if you will such phrases as ‘these cats’, ‘skinny ass’, and especially the appalling ‘bleating wailment’.

NB: I right-click on the red underlining that appends to the word wailment in my text to find the computer’s closest ally; ailment. Enough said.

I’ve scant connection to that writing but I can very much tap into the sensation. From my music press archive I found the following piece on the band in the UK weekly Melody Maker from around the same time. If you struggled to grasp what I’m on about in my letter to Floyd Spangler, you’ll have as much chance as I have in trying to unravel the first paragraph of this brief feature here;

SF MM

Some years later I finally found The Last Time That We Talked on a UK version 7″ single on the most eye-popping hue of coloured vinyl I think I own.

SF record

That colour simply has no comparison with anything that I can compare it to in life. You’d have to wear sunglasses to even play it. I have no idea where I bought it.

There’s a small square yellow sticker stuck inside the cardboard of the sleeve that leads to nowhere. This is a thing I do with my records; I add things inside, so you get much more than you’d get at the cash register. This time I added the tiny yellow sticker. It doesn’t even have a price on that sticker! It’s almost as though an earlier prototype version of me thought that it made total sense to affix a sticker – and nothing else – to the inside of the sleeve. If it stood for anything at all back when I did that, like most vague details in my life these days, I have now mislaid it completely.

I read somewhere that one of the better ways to work with memory loss – something that is happening to me an alarming amount these days – is to sing along to your favourite songs. It seems that there are tiny spaces in the brain that store the millions of song words I have gathered and retained along the way. It’s weird how I can put a record on and away I go, there’s no stopping me.

In little else do I feel so confident.

On any day I would struggle hard to remember anything at all beyond the vague outline of my daily life from back in those Alabama days, but then I can put this record on and even if I haven’t heard it in ages, and never get to recall where it was that I bought it, I effortlessly sing along to every single word of it.

I think there’s more than I can remember to say for that.

 

SF press

SF LP ad