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

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Scenic

The Kelso Run // East Mojave Shuffle / Down Black Canyon Road (Independent Project Records 7" single, 1993)
The Kelso Run // East Mojave Shuffle / Down Black Canyon Road (Independent Project Records 7″ single, 1993)

I came to America.

I had lived in the North of England for over thirty years and never travelled to mainland Europe, or to anywhere else in the world for that matter. That’s probably quite unusual, but these days I say it was different times. It’s even possible that my friends had flown or sailed to various places, but I just never did. So to find myself in my thirties and visiting the United States for the first time, well, what a reinvention that was going to be.

It came just when I needed it to. I’d been jaded and just about getting by after leaving both the band that I had been in and my hometown too, and so was probably open for adventure even if I wasn’t particularly aware of it. My pen-pal at the time – who I’d been writing to off and on for years – suddenly offered the opportunity for me to visit her in Alabama; down in the bible belt, the deep South.

I knew very little about any of America at all, but I took her offer anyway. It just felt right for that particular time of my life.

It was in August of 1993 that my feet first touched American soil at Hartsfield International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia. I was so naive to world travel, time zones, and behaviour that upon arriving in the South in the middle of summer I thought that the temperature in the airport was going to be the same as it was outside; cool and breezy and fresh.

The automated doors to America then swung open and I immediately found out how wrong I was.

In a heat like I had never known before.

“What on Earth is that?”, I ask.

That’s how it is here, came the reply.

I get in the car and immediately wind the window down.

No, I’m told. You keep the windows up.

“Excuse me?”

Air-conditioning, you see. I hadn’t known what that even was. We didn’t have it back home.

But eventually you get used to it and you learn to adapt.

I relocated to Mobile, Alabama, got married, was legalized, and got a job and settled in, working in a bookstore for my first work in America; eventually becoming the newsstand director, handling the magazines in a brand new store just outside of a mall, and next door to an established music and movie chain-store. I’d do that job for five years.

Which is how I first came across true independent music in the USA.

There was a great music magazine that was called CMJ New Music Monthly that came with a free compilation CD every month, and since my records were in storage after the journey over, I was open to anything that fired my imagination when it came to hearing new stuff.

CMJ New Music Monthly was unique in that it had a wonderful reviewing policy called ‘recommended if you like’, through which the music reviewed was compared to other artists you might already know about. I thought this was an excellent idea and had not seen it before.

NB: As new issues of music magazines were published the vendors that my store used were only interested in receiving the front cover of each magazine (containing the bar-code) sent back for full refund. They just didn’t need the rest, and so I would tear through the back issues for articles and art, and take home bulk copies of the free music CD’s. The remaindered magazines were then recycled on my day off from the job.

For several good years I would send music articles and free CMJ compilation CD’s back home to my mates in England, noting the contents of each package on yellow-lined paper so that I would not duplicate. I was a cottage industry of new music all to myself.

In Mobile, Alabama there wasn’t a good college radio station, and only one decent independent record store, so you had to work just that little bit harder to find via word-of-mouth or good reviews just what you were after. I’m mostly a fan of pop music guitar bands; with good choruses and hip-swinging tunes. Unfortunately I had landed in the states during the time of the last days of grunge – which didn’t appeal to me at all – and so the music TV and radio I did hear was mostly full of that kind of thing.

Despite the plaid shirt setback I discovered a great deal of new music in those first few years; from Low to East River Pipe, from Spain to Soul Coughing, Idaho, Small Factory, Versus, The Magnetic Fields, The Handsome Family. The list just kept on growing as more CD’s were ordered on labels like Teenbeat, Pop Narcotic, Kranky, Merge, Carrot Top, Feel Good All Over, Vernon Yard, and Parasol. In those days there weren’t many vinyl records being pressed, and if there were they weren’t reaching me down in Mobile, a good few years before the internet and the ease of buying music online. So mostly I made do with CD’s through the mail and from that one good local record store.

And then I came across Independent Project Records / Press based in Sedona, Arizona.

IPR crop

As I recall it was CMJ that reviewed a trio called Scenic in mid-1995, comparing them to Red House Painters, a band I’d bought a few albums by when I was in England. I loved the name Scenic – so evocative – and there was a snapshot of a sleeve and it too looked interesting. It was their debut album called Incident at Cima, an instrumental tour-de-force.

Ah, there’s going to be a problem right there, I thought to myself. The very idea of music with no words…

The truth is that I think I was a bit of a snob when it came to music with no words and typically just avoided it. I’m a great lover of lyrics, inner sleeves with song words on them, a really good turn of phrase etc. Surely the idea of a band playing with no singer at the front was going to lessen the impact of the music?

It was through another instrumental song called Nothing Lies Still Long by a band called Pell Mell, from a CMJ CD that crawled into my skin when playing the disc one night. It was the music of the long distances that are never far away in the USA, the endless miles stretching for hours that I’d started to travel. The song ebbs and flows as the journey grows. It’s the first track on the band’s album called Interstate, that I then bought on CD to play in the car on my own journeys. This was my introduction to the music of America’s highways.

Scenic, on the other hand, was the music of the desert.

Scenic 4

I have no idea where my obsession with deserts comes from. I suppose you could trace it back to England and my love for the Australian band Midnight Oil, who similarly came a little late to me during another music drought in the early nineties, in the midst of what the UK press had termed baggy, a la Happy Mondays and The Charlatans, The Farm and Northside, and all of that hedonistic shuffly dance beat ‘lad’ bollocks. The Diesel and Dust and Beds are Burning period of Midnight Oil may have been a guidepost towards the desert, but it wasn’t as strong then as this was becoming for me here in the USA.

Scenic 5

Even if I wasn’t exactly living in a desert climate I could almost imagine the heat from the swelter of my deep South summers. I could not even conceive of a place so empty, so vast, and so enticing. I could only dream of it.

Pell Mell Scenic

Independent Project Records is a small graphic design cum record label operation that has been in business since 1980, based in Los Angeles but later relocated to the desert town of Sedona in Arizona. These days you can find them back in California in the town of Bishop. The head of the label and design studio is Bruce Licher, the owner of the hand-fed letterpress printing press that gives the label its unique graphic look. Bruce is also the lead guitarist in the band Scenic.

Since that first introduction to his band’s music I have purchased everything I could find featuring the Scenic name, and even though after twenty-plus years of living in the states I am still no nearer to actually seeing a desert, each time I play Scenic I can transport myself to the place where the music was made, on the outskirts of the great Mojave desert.

I.P.R has kindly mailed much of their unique artwork in the form of fliers, press releases, and cards which I then like to put inside the sleeves for the next person who is going to get my records after me. I liked that I could call up the label and someone would answer and be only too happy to oblige my occasional specific questions. You just couldn’t get that from the major labels. I.P.R. has followed me through various relationships, different addresses, and states of this country as I’ve wound my way to where I am living now;

Scenic letters

For those who are discovering Scenic for the first time The Kelso Run is one hell of a place to start, with an edgy and frenetic fast-paced sound described by Rolling Stone as “a desert mirage rattle-and-strum that suggests Ennio Morricone dune-surfing in Death Valley.” I love that. The scan of the sleeve at the top of the post is of a higher quality, enabling anyone interested to read the story behind the title of the song, printed at the bottom of the sleeve.

Scenic 2

 

Flip the record over and you find two quieter and more atmospheric  b-sides – similar in style to the soundtrack to the movie Paris, Texas – in which the acoustic guitar is recorded so well that you can hear every squeak and buzz that the wood of the instrument makes. All three songs here are taken from the Incident at Cima album.

Also photographed on this post are two sheets of Scenic Post stamps, not official tender of course, that were created at Independent Project Press as promotional material for the album and single;

Scenic 6

 

and last of all some remaining inserts that were included with the original clear vinyl issue of the single – mine being #0115 in an edition of 1200 copies from December of 1993, mere months after arriving in America for the first time.

 

Scenic 7

Scenic 9

 

The last word on this significant episode in my American life goes to Bruce Licher himself, via a handwritten note he included in one of my many packages received over the years from his excellent record label. Thank you, sir. You made the journey worth it.

Scenic Bruce

 

 

String

Frazier front
Typical! (7″ mix) / String // Storm (Live Mix) / Typical! (Live mix) (Virgin Records 10″ single, 1989)

I think of paper and I think of string, I think of everything the postman brings. I think of nothing when you think like this, I think of crosses that we mean as kisses.

 

 

Some of the best things in my life have happened to me through the mail,

(and)

sometimes in life it’s what’s on the other side is better.

 

 

I like small details. Like the fact that the band name logo on the cover in the square at the top, and then the seven separate letters and exclamation point below it are in spot gloss, shiny against the matte sheen of the card, and which are also repeated on the back.

I like the fact that Frazier Chorus songs sing of small things too. It’s an undervalued thematic constant. This is important stuff.

The b-side to the band’s second single on Virgin Records is a small wonder, even more so that they made it themselves away from the bigger budget and record company bluster of the hopeful chart pop song. It wasn’t of course, that elusive chart pop hit. They never had one and yet still it resonates with me.

String is about anticipating something good in the post, as they call it in England, the very idea of which has been a significant part of my life. I found my new life in the USA through the post, beginning over thirty years ago, and then again this next life I live now through the very same thing. My whole day can be dashed if I come home from work and twist my key to open an empty mail-box.

Tim Freeman understands this too. He’s a romantic like me. He’s also the singer and songwriter in Frazier Chorus, a band who were once so unpopular and lacking in credibility that even Nigel Blackwell, leader of the magnificent folk-indie outfit Half Man Half Biscuit, had a pop at them in one of his band’s songs; “Inspired by no one, other groups bore us”, he sang. “How can you say we sound like Frazier Chorus?”

I met Tim Freeman once, one night in a venue in Manchester called The Boardwalk, notable for being the place that Oasis used to rehearse in before they got famous. Like most significant locations in my past it isn’t there anymore.

On this one night I’d bought a ticket to the one and only time I saw them live and was excited to see Tim standing in a small circle of admirers after the show. I’d bought the three singles they’d released from their debut album Sue, and was determined to speak to him as he was on Virgin Records, the same label as my band at the time.

(I didn’t want to tell him that I’d got his band’s first album for free from the record company. I wasn’t sure he’d like that very much.)

I politely stuck out my hand and said to him that I was in a band on the same record label. Intrigued, he said; “Oh yeah? What band is that then?” I told him the name of my band – a name I still struggle to tell anyone about even to this day because it’s so stupid – and he says; “Oh, right.” Pause. “I’ve heard of you.”

Well, that was me done right there and then.

(I’d had a good idea that my time on the record label was going to be brief. There was just always something in the air that made me feel it wasn’t going to be that special for us, hence the reason why I was so keen to rack up on the free stuff. I’d even called a representative from Virgin who was going to meet us at a showcase in Blackpool and told her to bring along a couple of LP records if she could. She did, and one of those two records was Sue.)

It sounds trite to say it now but I really didn’t care what happened to me in my band after that. Tim Freeman had heard of us. That would do nicely for me, thank you very much.

You lot reading this blog might well not have the slightest idea what Frazier Chorus sounds like, and probably don’t even care. Tim Freeman? Who is he anyway? But I expect the chances are very strong that you’ve watched a version of Tim performed in an excellent UK TV comedy show called The Office.

That’s because Tim’s younger brother, the actor Martin Freeman, based the character of Tim whom he was playing – and I love it that Martin’s character has the same name – on his brother in the show. That wonderfully understated, regular everyday nice chap Tim, quiet and lovable, who had a seismic skill at knowing the exact point to glance ever so briefly at the camera, and henceforth won all of our hearts, was based on his elder brother, the almost pop star.

There’s a great UK genealogy documentary series called Who Do You Think You Are that recently featured Martin in season six, searching for his paternal grandfather. I watched the show on You Tube and was thrilled to catch a brief glimpse of Tim in it. (I hope that Martin insisted he could be in there.) Tim had very much gone to ground after three Frazier Chorus albums, and I had no idea where he was or what he was doing.

He’d probably retreated back into normal life; making a cup of tea, or falling asleep on the sofa with the TV on, or sitting at the window watching cars pass by, maybe standing at a bus stop and shivering in the cold, all of which are featured in Frazier Chorus songs.

Like Tim’s Virgin Records label-mate Colin Moulding from the mighty XTC, who would have been recording Oranges and Lemons and Nonsuch as Frazier Chorus were working on their two albums for the same label, Colin too sang of the simplicity and joy of normal everyday life, like sitting and waiting for the postman to call.

If you think you might want to know Tim better, or to see if he even looks like his younger and more famous brother, you can squint at my scan up there because that’s Tim in shadow behind the letter ‘C’ on the cover; hiding from the spotlight and barely noticeable, shrinking back into nothingness again.

He’s a wonderfully underrated songwriter is Tim Freeman, and you could do a lot worse than to hear him.

You could start with String.

It’s such a sweet and quiet place to begin.

The Paranoid Ward

The Paranoid Ward (Small Wonder Records 12", 1978)
Babysitter / Irrelevant Battles / Cruellest Crime / The Paranoid Ward / The Bingo Crowd (Instrumental) // Life at the Top / Ragged Generation for Real / Live Out my Stars / George (Small Wonder Records 12″ EP, 1978)

Who needs to sleep, I play pinball ’til three in the night. Ain’t got a job, ain’t got a home, but I like the lifestyle. I listen to Bowie, I ride with him out through the stars. I live out my heroes, try to touch them, I live out my stars.

 

 

Another classic find, purchased a few years after I had first heard it, from Vinyl Exchange in Manchester, the price sticker here peeled carefully from its cover and affixed to the inside paper sleeve.

The 12″ single was not a common format in the seventies, and so to find this used for a respectable one-pound-ninety-nine pence after being reduced four times, well, I was pleased. My younger brother had this originally on a 7″ single when it first came out, long lost now, from back when he had more money than me and would introduce me to new acts on an almost weekly basis.

This could have been the first time I’d heard Patrik Fitzgerald. He wouldn’t have been played on daytime radio, and none of my heavy rock loving school friends would have known about him. This impressive introduction – eight songs on my brother’s 7″ single, there are nine on my 12″ copy – being something of a revelation to me too.

The first being how the world of music had suddenly opened up to reveal much more of itself than had existed previously in my small-town world, and secondly it was just how varied one could still be within the newly established punk rock year-zero code of musical restriction.

NB: The impact that the Sex Pistols’ offensive verbal farrago on the BBC’s The Today Show one evening in December of 1976 had on the tender ears of the nation has been widely and somewhat excessively documented elsewhere. An inebriated presenter Bill Grundy goaded the band and received a stream of expletives in response. The next morning the newspapers had the story splashed across their front covers; The Filth and the Fury being my favourite headline from The Daily Mirror newspaper that my dad would read every day.

Here’s how it might have been for me at that time.

My dad was not a particularly communicative man, and would leave most of that difficult dealing with children later becoming teenagers stuff to my overworked mum. Consequently when taking his sweet time to read his daily newspaper he would not want to be disturbed at all. Mum later informed me that he was quite dyslexic, which would explain why it could take him anything up to four or five hours to peruse his Daily Mirror, and he would also somehow want to read everything that was in it.

I was fifteen years old and in that restless phase between two stages of life, and likely to have been hoping for something incendiary to come along and shake up the mundanity. It seemed as though the Sex Pistols would be it, if only I could have read, seen, or heard anything of them to help make up my mind. There’s also a distinct chance that had I read the cover story on the paper that day I would not have fully grasped what all of the fuss was about anyway.

This was because The Today Show was a regional arts-based programme available in the London area only, and I lived in the North of England where our equivalent was called Look North. To have faced a void of nothingness regarding the Pistols one day, and then to suddenly have them all over front covers the next was a very curious and now confusing thing. Now, if only my dad would hurry up and finish reading the paper I might find out what the fuss is all about!

Fast forward to 1978 and the music world has now fully opened up to me. From an era pre-Pistols where I wasn’t even particularly aware of any small and affordable 7″ single records being available that weren’t what was in the charts at that time, to suddenly find so much choice in such different styles, pressed on different coloured plastics too, and with images of all kinds of excitement printed on their picture sleeves. Well, this was a revelation to me and I couldn’t get enough of it.

Patrik Fitzgerald was signed to the tiny London independent label Small Wonder Records – home to The Cure’s debut single Killing An Arab amongst many others. The label heard Patrik for the first time via a cassette tape recording he made in his bedroom, freezing cold, and yelling his songs via acoustic guitar into a condenser microphone on his cassette player. I know this because four of those demo recordings make up the second side of the 12″ of The Paranoid Ward I have here, which was his second release for the label.

To have journeyed from a time when I naively thought that you had to attend a record company in some castle somewhere – I was pretty naive at the time, kids – then to suddenly find that you could mail them a cassette tape of your songs and from it one day make a record, well, this was a music future I could very much relate to.

On this second record Patrik veers from acoustic guitar pop songs with witty lyrics, to a home organ instrumental, to a tiny spoken recitation over a hum drone, and a further side of almost folk-like songs featuring his wonderfully lyrical turn of phrase. Try to get to hear it if you can, or any other of his earlier singles. They’re very good indeed and to be so bold with his switching between styles less than a year after the punk explosion speaks volumes about his confidence in himself.

But there are two specific and very trivial things about this fine record that I would like to share with you today;

One is regarding the lyric I quoted up there, where Patrik talks about listening to David Bowie. It is a minor bugbear of mine as an avid reader of the music press to constantly learn of pop stars I admire having in the seventies listened to a diet of nothing but David Bowie, Roxy Music, Iggy Pop, Kraftwerk, or The Velvet Underground, and typically only those five acts in one variation or another.

These people in bands that I admire are often just a couple of years older than me, sometimes even younger. How come they weren’t listening to Slade or The Sweet, Alvin Stardust or Mud like the rest of us? Methinks that some artists have what I term ‘selective memory loss’.

They wouldn’t want to be thought of in stupid loon pants doing a dance called ‘The Bump’ or squeezing spots into a wall mirror surrounded by pictures of David Cassidy. Oh no, it was all decadence round our way, mate. You couldn’t move for arch glam icons tripping over each other in our record collections…

The second concerns my favourite team sport of rugby league. A very good friend of mine sends DVD-R copies of rugby matches that he records from the UK TV channel Sky Sports, and I keep up with games in that way, through my all-regions DVD player. It’s hard enough living in America to find anyone with even an interest in rugby league – if they like the sport at all it’s usually rugby union that they prefer, which is a slightly different game – and not their preferred premier league soccer.

So when the customer meets me at the counter of my day job and learns that I’m from England they typically ask me what my favourite team is. When I say Widnes Vikings – my local hometown rugby team – they look confused, expecting me to say one of the three teams they prefer from the premier league; those being Arsenal, Chelsea, or Manchester United. Almost always one of those three and rarely another.

So it’s with some joy in my heart to find a song that actually mentions rugby in it at all. Are there any others? Do you know of any others because I don’t and haven’t Googled it yet.

I shall leave you today with this wonderful and hilarious recitation by Patrik, from the title track to The Paranoid Ward.

Until such time, my friends.

 

 

The Paranoid Ward.

The room was quiet, the brains buzzed in all directions, but more quietly.

The old man and his friend watched TV, it was a rugby match.

The men gathered in for the scrummage, heads down.

The old man shook his friends arm urgently and whispered, nodding toward the rugby players;

Here………

They’re talking about me.

In the Nursery

In the Nursery 1

Sesudient // Archaic Torso / Blade / Incidental Guilt (Third Mind Records 12″, 1990)

My favourite record shop of my life so far is called Vinyl Exchange on Oldham Street in the centre of Manchester, in England.

I can’t recall exactly when I first discovered it but I know that it was sometime in the 1980s. It’s still going strong to this day, but for me – since the advent of compact disc taking away an entire floor of its retail space – it just hasn’t been quite the same as it used to be.

Vinyl Exchange early on carried exclusively used records and occasionally cassette tapes and videos from back in the days before small digital discs changed everything. It was stocked by offerings from the public but more excitingly through a syndicate of record reviewers and writers from Manchester who contributed to glossy magazines via features and music reviews. They would regularly trade promotional copies of free records to the shop for beer money.

In this way the records that you found in the shop were unlike anywhere else that I knew of, and often included press kits and further information about the artist to pitch the product to the writer, and these were offered gratis inside the sleeve at point of purchase, and usually referred to on the small green stickers affixed to the top right corner of the sleeve, as with this one.

You could lose hours in tireless pursuit in that place and I very often did.

I’d typically get the train on a Saturday from my hometown of Widnes in the North of England, roughly ten station stops, thirty-five minutes, and twenty-seven miles from Oxford Road in Manchester. I didn’t have a great deal of money in those days and would budget throughout the week for my Saturday visit into town. I would stop in to various record shops in the city as I wound my way inward but would always end up in Vinyl Exchange as my last port of call.

It’s on a street corner surrounded by bars and restaurants in a popular student area of town. In my day it was opposite Eastern Bloc Records on the other corner of a busy intersection; an almost exclusively-dance-music shop that had a box of 50p (75c) sale 12″ singles on its counter that were in no way representative of its typical store stock. I found some great stuff in that box.

I’m thinking that sales reps would come to the store and offer free records if the shop would invest in their latest hopeful offerings. If you could get your latest record played in Eastern Bloc on a Saturday afternoon it was a very big deal. Kids would congregate in the store before heading out to the legendary Hacienda nightclub later that night. Eastern Bloc was Manchester’s hip record shop to be seen in if that was your bag. Vinyl Exchange wasn’t quite the same kind of place.

Firstly it was much older and more earthy, dustier and I’d say even grimy compared to the sleek and polished interior of Eastern Bloc. It had racks around the walls stuffed with record covers in plastic sleeves by names I’d never heard of, and large cardboard boxes beneath those racks full of reduced stock. Vinyl Exchange had a very proactive stocking policy to cope with the volume of records it would receive on a daily basis. Every three weeks the entire stock would be reduced until the item had sold. The supply effortlessly equalled the demand at its peak.

I recall I went for a job interview in Vinyl Exchange once. I had no illusions that they would hire me but wanted to try anyway just in case. I recall I was taken downstairs into the basement and sat on a chair surrounded by more records than I’d then ever seen, and I probably spent my entire allocated time just wondering what was in those boxes all around me. The cooler young chap sat opposite me and very much going through the motions on that day said that he was looking for someone who could specialize in raising their dance music reputation in the area. I was clearly way out of my league but enjoyed the experience nevertheless.

If I could have only been left alone in that basement for an hour or so…

That was exactly my thing when shopping for records and to a certain extent very much still is. I’d always be keen to find something unusual or esoteric without being too weird or hard to grasp. I’m fascinated by the underdog I guess and try to find stuff I’ve never heard before and which intrigues me.

Consider this entry’s featured offering for a moment and let us indulge in a fairly typical mental checklist from a Saturday afternoon spent crawling around on the floor with boxes of reduced vinyl stock all around me. It was an attractive proposition for me to pick up seven or eight records for the price of one across the street, and I exhibited endless patience and tenacity for the journey;

Does the band have a stupid name? No it does not. It’s kind of intriguing. I have not heard of this band before. Does it have an appealing tinted image on the cover? Yes it does. She looks like a chanteuse in a foreign language film I would like to see, and she is holding a flower in a quietly seductive fashion.

Does it have slick art-department-style squiggly lettering for the main song that you would in no way be able to decipher where it not for the same song title repeated in clearer type on the back of the sleeve? Check. What’s a ‘sesudient’ anyway? How about featuring its year of release in Roman numerals? Check again. Very classy is that. Carry it under your arm to college and the girls will just swoon all around you.

Do you get any free stuff with it? Oh boy, do you ever! Three photocopied sheets are inside; including the intro sheet written by a representative from the record company who would happily sell you his fingernails if you’d just listen to the bloody thing. He’s talking on here about “the Bardot-like voice of Dolores Marguerite C.” as well as “atmospheric melody” and “orchestral textures.” I think I’m in…

Is it cheap? It’s 10p. Oh, sorry… It’s TEN PENCE!

In the Nursery 2 

This 12″ single was my first introduction to In the Nursery, who are two almost identical twin brothers from Sheffield in England playing militaristic and often moody orchestral music. Sesudient is taken from the album L’esprit that I probably bought the very next week from the same shop in mint condition for one-pound-99 says the sticker on the sleeve that I still have. From that record I’d recommend Azure Wings. It’s captivating stuff.

All songs spoken of you can hear on You Tube, and while we’re at it when legendary UK DJ John Peel’s impressive record collection was recently introduced to the internet and one act per month was featured from it in alphabetical order, In the Nursery was the letter I. Each letter of the alphabet accompanied a short film that highlights their relationship with John when he was giving airtime to their earlier more post-punk type stuff. I prefer the later stuff, to use a time-worn cliche.

There was a time when I would utilize strenuous efforts to remove price stickers and pen markings from records I bought, but when scanning the sleeve for this I removed the two stickers from the inner sleeve I’d affixed them to and returned them to the front cover. The older I get the more I forget and this now helps me to remember. You can see that the record had been reduced many times before someone took it home and on that day that someone was me, digging in the dirt for the never famous.

I miss those days like I cannot adequately tell you.

Tiny Black Round Thing

D.P. Gumby presents "Election '74" / The Lumberjack Song
D.P. Gumby presents “Election ’74” / The Lumberjack Song (Charisma Records 7″ flexi, 1974)

Can I just say that this is the first time I’ve been on television?

 

 

Woefully outmoded 7″ formats in the days before girls presents a flimsy, and easily creaseable, lightly bent and smudged tiny black round thing as cover-mounted and given free with the May 1974 issue of the New Musical Express rock music weekly.

I didn’t get mine from on there as I was only thirteen years old at the time and anyway the NME was full of sixteen page dissections of King Crimson and Blodwyn Pig live albums in 10-point type and with NO PICTURES.

On the contrary, I think mine came from a record fair quite some years later, in a much more sensible stiff white card sleeve and with a hole cut in the centre to make the label visible, upon which the seller had quite correctly indicated that the item inside “plays well and is jolly funny”.

Monty Python back

He’s not wrong either.

“Election ’74” is a slightly extended version of the ‘track’ (as we long-hairs called them in those days) from the classic Monty Python Live at Drury Lane album of the same year, backed by The Lumberjack Song from the same record. Prior to this on my featured record Michael Palin does an excellent announcement exclusive to this version that is hilarious and only available here.

Well, no, that’s not strictly true, as if it was only available here nobody would have ever got to hear it as it’s pressed on a flexi-disc, a record similar to a standard 7″ single in look and size, but of a completely different width. In that on a standard 7″ the playing surface won’t crease or fold if you sneeze near it, whereas this version most likely will. And anyway the entire farrago is captured for your listening pleasure on the Tube of You just over there. I’ve just now checked. Go see.

In the meantime I shall wax romantically about the kudos one could achieve back in those acned days of yore by quoting entire reams of Pythonesque garble such as this to one’s ‘troggy’ mates in between school lessons, when warming oneself by the radiator opposite the staff room. Each of us present during those eternal hours also silently wishing for the sweet breath of the female to invade our personal space but – to quote an excellent record of quite some years later – we were getting nowhere fast.

The flexi-disc itself never did catch on, although I do have a fair few of them – eight of them in total kept in one single paper sleeve and still not as thick as a standard 45. My favourite flexi is probably my ‘Synthesized Speech’ one courtesy of Bell Telephone Laboratories, affixed to a square sheet of also flimsy plastic page, and released in the year that I was born, in 1961.

There are three bands on this other record; a band in this instance not meaning Vampire Weekend or suchlike, but actually a section of the playing surface of the record. It got confusing in them days, which is possibly why the band became the track or cut in later usage.

Band 1 on my ‘Synthesized Speech’ record is ‘The computer speaking’. Band 2 (my personal favourite) is called ‘The computer reciting a soliloquy from Hamlet’, and band 3 is ‘The computer singing.’

I’ve just now visited the excellent Discogs website and stone me if this actual obscurity / piece of nonsense plastic is listed on there with many more details and seven pictures! Man, I love the future. But don’t get excited, kids. You can’t buy this baby on there.

It turns out that the computer machine on the record, on band 2, recites the ‘To be or not to be’ speech – later covered by Python in some form or other if I’m not mistaken – and on band 3 sings us a version of the classic A Bicycle Built for Two, in all of its early Kraftwerkian splendour.

This version of the Daisy song occurred seven years earlier than the one performed by the computer HAL in Stanley Kubrick’s excellent 2001 feature film. I wonder if Stan had his own copy of my Synthesized Speech record? I’d really like to know but I’m sorry there isn’t time.

Over to you, Brian, with the results from Leicester.

You never forget it.

Handling the Big Jets

3. The Members #1

The Sound of the Suburbs / Handling the Big Jets (Virgin Records 7″ single, 1979)

They play too fast, they play out of tune, they practice in the singer’s bedroom. The drum’s quite good, the bass is too loud, and I… can’t hear the words.

 

Record Shop Shots’ original idea was intended to be an internet radio show, albeit under a different name that never ventured further than a vague idea in my head. The emphasis here is on vague. I had no idea how to actually create an internet radio show, despite making cursory inquiries to a couple of people who had done it themselves once or twice along the way.

But I did have a name for it and a concept too, and that kept the idea in the to-do file for a short time.

Quite a few years back I’d read one of the first forays into books written about collecting vinyl records. Its name was Vinyl Junkies by Brett Milano, written in 2003, which now seems a longer time ago than it actually was. The catch line on the cover was a quote from musician Steve Wynn; “Makes me wish I’d kept my turntable”, it said. I can clearly recall a time when that was a statement many people spoke as they lurched in droves towards the compact disc.

There’s a quote on page 14 of the book by Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, another keen collector, who captured most eloquently my own modus operandi;

“When you’re a collector, you’re creating order out of this chaotic information”, he says. “That’s necessary in a way, and it caters to creative impulses. There’s something I really like about the archival nature of it – you’re gathering information that falls below the radar, so it becomes less ignored. That’s why I separate myself from, say, Beatles collectors. Collecting mainstream material is a different thing, more like collecting toys, more object-oriented. I’m more interested in defending the cultural value of music that’s not allowed into the mainstream. That’s more of a renegade practice.”

I like it. That’s exactly how I feel about buying records. He nailed it exactly. I’m having that.

I got it too. I got a name for my radio show. Renegade Practice Radio. R.P.R., even.

I love it.

Now I just need a theme song to open the show. It has to be an instrumental of something that would be easy to read that exact quote over and yet would also crescendo effectively. I knew just the one.

Handling the Big Jets by The Members. It’s on the b-side of their biggest hit Sound of the Suburbs, and starts out quiet and builds to a rocking riot. I even recorded the 49 seconds of intro via my mini-disc player and it worked perfectly with the text. Then I waited for further inspiration to visit.

Months passed and of course it never happened, and now all I have left of the plan is the music, and the record itself.

Take a look at that cover image up there, an absolute triumph of design. Malcolm Garrett of – in this instance – Affluent Images, excelled himself. Each single sleeve he would design (chiefly for Buzzcocks records) would for a time feature a different word beginning with the letter ‘A’ next to the word ‘Images’, and that was his shtick. It’s also how the band Altered Images got their name, from the single sleeve of Promises by Buzzcocks. True story.

The Sound of the Suburbs single by The Members comes in what I later learned to be called a die-cut sleeve, in that it has a window in its cover, allowing the viewer to see through the clear vinyl 7″ 45 to the back of the scene, in this case an excellent collage of exaggerated English suburbia. Also noteworthy is that the title and producer information of the record is scratched into the clear plastic in place of a typical paper label. It’s the only time I think I’ve ever seen that for a record label. (Fast forward to some decades later and the now fairly prevalent use of a full side of etching on the unplayable side of a double vinyl set. Quite a common occurrence in record manufacture these days is that. I have quite a few of those to marvel at.)

The back sleeve of the single is also impressive design. Let’s throw it into the mix here as a bonus;

The Sound of the Suburbs/Handling the Big Jets (Virgin Records 7" single, 1979)

In the background top left we have a faded-out shirt, featured more prominently on the cover of the band’s debut album three months later, plus typical home appliances like a food-mixer and a hairdryer, and finally the jet airliner from the cover flying over the suburban house featured in the song.

Classic design and concept cohesion strategy right there.

Wonderful stuff.