Sunday, 27 March 2011

Sticky Fingers

Now, I buy a lot of second-hand records. Some might say A LOT. I pride myself on my ability to see past all the crud that has built up in the grooves and to ignore all the muck that the previous owner has seen fit to smear on the vinyl. I've lost count of the number of times that I've gently prised mummified snot clots off a pre-owned LP. What would make somebody wipe their bogeys on their record collection? Don't they own carpets? One has to assume that if the fruits of one bodily orifice are regularly harvested and found laminating the grooves of those pre-loved charity shop finds, then all the other less-easily identifiable bodily emissions are present in varying degrees too. How many copies of Marvin Gaye's Let's Get It On have unwittingly been the victims of 'friendly fire' so-to-speak? There's a lot to be said for keeping the lid closed on your turntable and putting it on a high shelf away from the bed. I've yet to find cast iron, indisputable evidence of sexual paintballing on any of my LPs, but by the law of averages some of them must have experienced the odd money shot. I did however once open a library book to find that someone had resourcefully improvised a bookmark from a used condom. It wasn't even that kind of a book! Never Mind The Bollocks? Too right, it's the contents you need to watch out for. Probably best not to think about the origins of that stubborn crust on your Barry White LP. Just don't eat a KFC while sorting through your car boot sale finds. Finger Lickin' Good!

Can't You Hear Me Knocking (One Out)?

Perhaps it's because I always found it easy to see the images in those Magic Eye pictures (what d'you mean "just a bunch of coloured splotches"? It's clearly a lobster in a top hat reading Exchange and Mart on a sun lounger!) that I can ignore the love glue and arse flakes on second-hand vinyl and see the pristine plastic beneath. Maybe all record crate diggers have this ability but refuse to get that filthy to satisfy their habits, but I'm happy to do it. Indeed, I get a kick out of it. The B&W speakers in my previous post were bought with the £120 someone paid me for an LP that I found a couple of weeks earlier for a quid. It was in a pile of forlorn-looking LPs in the corner of a record shop that the owner couldn't be bothered sorting through because he assumed that because it was all dirty, it must be damaged. Wrong! Of course, cleaning all the organic matter from these gems takes time and effort, but I find that if I pretend to be Time Team's Tony Robinson and kid myself that I'm engaged in a spot of archaeology it turns the removal of every daub of ear wax into my being one step closer to unearthing audio gold.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

I've Got Wood! (and Aluminium)

You can't have a vinyl obsession without having some decent gear to play all your treasures on. Welcome to my second obsession: vintage hi-fi. Now, I can barely screw in a light bulb so the technical aspects of turntables, amps and speakers leave me baffled, but I know what I like. My ears have just about enough life left in them to separate the hi-fi wheat from the chaff and I'm a sucker for the aesthetics of wood and aluminium. Looks like a job for the 1970s!

Main system

The main system consists of a Linn Sondek LP12 with an Origin Live modified Rega RB250 arm coupled with a Denon DL110 high output moving coil cartridge which tracks like a tram and makes car boot sale records sound like virgin vinyl. I feed all this through my Luxman R-1040 receiver which, as the name would suggest, kicks out 40 watts per channel into 8ohms, but as was always the case with amplification from this era, the stated output is very conservative. If I were ever to crank this baby up it'd do more than blow the bloody doors off! For those occasions when I want to listen to one of the Devil's coasters I have a black plastic CD player (is there any other kind?) Up until recently I was squeezing the noise from this set-up through a pair of Kef Concord IVs which are superb speakers and are going absolutely nowhere, but I couldn't resist purchasing a pair of B&W DM14s which may well end up in the second system at some point in an attempt to boost its analogue warmth.

Bowers & Wilkins DM14

Things of such beauty! And they sound wonderful too, with crystal clear highs, a precise and uncluttered mid-range and warm, musical bass. The Kefs, lurking in the background, wouldn't win any beauty contests but you'd definitely want them on your side in a fight. Part of the appeal of speakers like the DM14s is the quality of the materials and workmanship that went into making them. None of your wood-effect black ash here!

Get a load of that grain!

Why is it that speakers look so much sexier with the grilles off? Is it just blokes who think like this? Perhaps we're reluctant to leave anything to the imagination: hi-fi porn anyone?

Sunday, 20 March 2011

What were they thinking?!

Being in a band is great. Freed of the responsibilities and consideration for others with which the rest of us are lumbered, Rock Stars can kill their friends in drunken car wrecks without incurring more than a token slap on the wrist (oh, I forgot, Vince Neil had to endure the hell of telling some school kids to "Just Say No" on top of the half an hour he spent in prison), they can incite riots by strolling on stage four hours late on a virtually nightly basis while the 'yes-men' around them continue to tell them their farts smell of Chanel No.5 instead of giving them the slap and dressing down they deserve, and they can even release a shockingly dull album (with what sounds suspiciously like auto-tuned vocals) when their fans, who have been waiting over fifteen years, not unreasonably, are expecting a masterpiece. You know who I'm talking about. Is it too much to hope that a singer might (however much he sounds like a bronchial dog coughing up a lung while his nuts are snagged on a barbed-wire fence) produce a decent enough vocal performance over the course of fifteen years spent in the studio to be able to dispense with the need for auto-tuning? Just a thought! And one I can express because this isn't China, it's a democracy.

No, however galling their behaviour, we still put these people on a pedestal, we continue to buy their records and we make excuses for them because, when all's said and done, we enjoy watching their vile antics, albeit through our fingers. They are like the drunken uncle at a wedding reception waggling his trouser vegetable at the bridesmaids on the dancefloor: you don't stop him because you can't wait to see what he'll do next. On top of that, we can't be certain that we would behave with any more dignity and respect for others if we were in their elevated position. Quite simply, we can excuse them anything. Anything that is except combining facial hair with make-up. May I present exhibit 'A'...

Jesus wept!

Words fail me! Actually, no they don't. What were they thinking? By 1975 Bowie had moved on from his Ziggy phase and the whole British, brickies-in-slap, Glam Rock thing had left the Chicory Tips of this world as an amusing footnote in pop music history. As bandwagon jumping goes Hall & Oates' timing was somewhat off. But that's not the issue here, what disturbs me most is that John Oates thought that lipstick under a moustache could ever be acceptable. Admittedly, some of my mother-in-law's coffee morning friends sport this particular look, but they are too old to see in the mirror clearly and they're female to boot. No, sorry John, but it's moustache or make-up, not both. You don't look glamorous and androgynous, you just look disturbing. Didn't management take them to one side and have a quiet word? Did they do it voluntarily or were they pushed? Did they do it for a bet? So many questions, so few plausible excuses. As if this LP cover wasn't humiliating enough, Hall & Oates / their record company / their management / their Avon Lady girlfriends (delete as appropriate) saw fit to furnish the LP with a lyric insert replete with the following 'not-while-I'm-eating-my-tea-please' photo of the duo.

Hall & Scrotes

It would be remiss of me to let pass unremarked the fact that Daryl Hall, sheathed in rubber, has entered John Oates' purple passageway in this picture. From behind. As Roy Walker always used to say on Catchphrase, "Say what you see."

In its defence, this album contains some excellent material (not least the classic Sara Smile) and Hall & Oates are responsible for recording an album that I return to time and time again, the magnificent Abandoned Luncheonette, but nothing can compensate for the fact that I can never erase these images from my mind. They're burned onto my retinas, you bastards!

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Turn The Page

Looking back through my previous posts I have come to realise that the subtitle of my blog should be extended beyond its current "A celebration of vinyl records and the people who collect them" with the phrase "and the inherent ridiculousness of the bands who make them". I hope its apparent that all the fun-poking here is done with a great deal of affection. Having spent many years playing in bands myself (all with a very selective appeal I hasten to add) I am no stranger to looking and acting like a complete twat in the name of Rock 'n' Roll. Thank God I'm not alone.

And so to the mighty Bob Seger, seen here spinning on my turntable...

You can't tell from the picture, but the track being played is Turn The Page from the Live Bullet album. If you've only heard the Metallica cover, then do yourself a favour and check out the original in its 'live' incarnation. This is a classic track about life on tour, complete with observations on the narrow minded attitude the band encounters on the road whenever they walk into a diner after driving through the night: "Most times you can't hear them talk, other times you can, all the same old cliches: is that a woman or a man?" opines Mr Seger. Now, for those of you unfamiliar with Bob Seger's appearance, may I present this outrageously effeminate man as pictured on the cover of Live Bullet:


Not clear enough for you? How about this?

Woman or man?

What kind of hick town did the Silver Bullet Band stumble into in the Seventies? Was Deliverence filmed there by any chance? We're not talking about Culture Club or Poison here: if the locals were 'mistaking' them for women, then I think there was a fair dose of self-deception on their part. You know, the kind of self-deception that results in Western tourists 'accidentally' sleeping with Lady Boys in Bangkok. As clues go, Adam's apples and penises can so easily be missed in the heat of the moment. To give the residents of hicksville a small break, I have to concede that if the band was still wearing its stage gear when they walked into the local Dairy Queen or Denny's, it might cause them to do a double take, but a lumberjack in hotpants is still a lumberjack, he's not Kylie Minogue however much you might wish he was.

The Pussycat Dolls Take A Bow

Can I be bothered to get out the Face Fungus-Ometer for the Silver Bullet Band? The beards and moustaches are unexceptional except for the one hanging off the guy in the pink spandex Farrah Fawcett threads, but context is everything. That's another realisation I've made since looking back through my posts, the juxtaposition of facial hair with clothing is what can turn run-of-the-mill face fuzz into something quite special. Just look at the bearded guy in the tied-at-the-waist minty green number. He looks like a Quality Street that the dog's chewed and spat out.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

More Face Fungus Of The Day

It's about time I exposed another band whose tours were definitely not sponsored by Gillette. To that end, I give you Starwood.

Give 'em a big hand...

This, their self-titled second album, is a tasteful mix of Crosby Stills & Nash, the Doobie Brothers and any number of West Coast-styled acts of the 1970s that you care to mention. With one-time Doors producer Bruce Botnick helping out on production, it's no surprise that the album sounds great too, even if it lacks a truly killer song. But hell, you don't care about that, what you want to know is what they look like, right?

Happy To Be Hairy

Clearly, a strict no shaving policy was enforced at the audition stage of assembling Starwood, but they had the sense to vary the styles of facial hair on offer. This has the effect of giving each band member his own personality and appeal. In much the same way as pre-teens across the nation argued over the merits of their favourite Beatle or Spice Girl, I can imagine school playgrounds were once buzzing with the question, "who's your favourite Starwood?" Despite stiff competition, my vote has to go to the moody Chewbacca look-alike adjusting his Reactolite Rapide shades in the back row. The flourish of grey in his beard lends a certain mature and worldly gravitas to an otherwise jovial band portrait. I also like the fact that his Open University Lecturer look could be perfectly recreated with the aid of an inexpensive toy, surely adding to his already considerable playground appeal.

Starwood rivals KISS for merchandise tie-ins

And so, to the Face Fungus-Ometer. Just the fact that all seven band members are making such a concerted effort to sprout face cress warrants a high score. About the only group I've seen with a more impressive variety of moustaches are my mother-in-law's coffee morning friends, and for that reason...