Thursday, 28 April 2011

Joe Jackson Ruined My Life

I'm running out of room. The custom-built shelving erected to house my vinyl was supposed to be sufficient to accommodate decades' worth of new additions to the collection. I think subconsciously I saw those empty shelves as a challenge. They were taunting me: "Call that a record collection you wimp? Man-up and fill me with your twelve inchers!" So I did, and now that those shelves are groaning with the weight of my frequent deposits, I need to find other receptacles for my Long Players. My wife refuses even to consider my suggestion that we downsize the family. Giving up one of the kids for adoption would free up a whole room for vinyl storage in one fell stroke, but will she listen to reason?  Er, that would be a no! Neatly shelved vinyl can look imposing, impressive and, dare I say, aesthetically pleasing, but with piles of records having found their way onto the dining room furniture, it might be time for a more wife-friendly storage solution. I don't want to be one of those collectors who appears to have lost the plot. I refuse to be that guy who has to lift a mountain of LPs off the toilet seat every time he wants to answer the call of nature. I don't relish the thought of sleeping standing up, wedged between precariously balanced pillars of vinyl.

Cat taking up valuable space

To compound the problem, and at the risk of sounding scarily 'Nick Hornby's High Fidelity' about all this, my LPs are currently stored alphabetically by artist and I'm loathe to have for example, A to T in one room and U to Z elsewhere. There's just something not right about that. What would be acceptable would be to introduce a completely new filing system. If I gave every album marks out of ten and relegated the 3s and below to storage in the nether regions of the house, that might make sense. The problem with that is that I'd have to listen to every album at least once to determine its grade, and I doubt I'll live long enough to have time for such a project and my wife would probably kick me out long before I really got my teeth into it anyway. Also, the success of that particular system would depend on my remembering the rating that I'd given every LP. A filing system which virtually guarantees that I'll never find anything? Not ideal. The obvious solution is to split the collection up by genre. I've long considered this, but can't help but see pitfalls. I would love to have all my Progressive Rock LPs in one easily accessible section to drool over, but what happens when a band like Soft Machine goes and introduces Jazz into the mix, where the hell do you file them then? There's all these fantastic Progressive Jazz-Rock Fusion artists that blur musical boundaries, the bastards! Don't they have any consideration for the anally-retentive vinyl nerd? And Kansas, what about them? Sometimes they're Prog, other times they're more straight AOR. Am I supposed to split their catalogue up into different sections? Sacrilege! Can't these Progressive bands try a little harder to avoid any musical progression and just churn out a stream of easily classifiable product? Is that too much to ask?

One artist leaps out at me as single-handedly encapsulating the whole file-by-genre minefield, and that is Joe Jackson. He unleashed some supreme Powerpop on his Look Sharp! and I'm The Man albums, but went and clouded the issue with every subsequent release, most notably the Swing/Jazz of Jumpin' Jive. So where do you want me to file you then Joe, you genius eclectic bugger? Oh, and look, you've even dabbled in film soundtracks with Mike's Murder. I give up, carry on like this and you'll find yourself filed in the charity shop pile.

No, you're an eclectic pain in the arse

Maybe that's the answer: a spot of rationalisation. Weed out the under-performers to free up some space. Does anyone really need eleven REO Speedwagon albums?

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Digging Manchester

I may make a few cheap jibes at my mother-in-law's expense, but I genuinely love visiting my wife's parents. My favourite part of any trek to see them in South Manchester is when they settle down in their 'morning room' with gallons of milky tea and stale biscuits to discuss the latest scandals, infirmities and deaths in the community... while I scour the local digging spots for a few vinyl gems. Last weekend was one such occasion. Without having to exert myself too much there are two great little record shops within spitting distance.

Parked car with wheels intact shock

Housed in quite possibly the ugliest building in the Western Hemisphere, Sifters is unlikely ever to earn listed building status but, because Oasis name-checked Mr Sifter, aka Pete, in Shakermaker on their debut album, don't be surprised if the people of Didsbury petition English Heritage for a blue plaque to mark the site where a teenaged Noel and Liam spent their pocket money. Then watch it get nicked within 24 hours! No, despite the Gallagher brothers' endless protestations of working class street smarts, the Didsbury / Burnage area isn't exactly Compton. Admittedly, it ain't Primrose Hill either, but they do a nice exchange scheme locally where, while you park your car and make use of their attractive shopping facilities, they swap the wheels on your vehicle for four beautifully fashioned house bricks. Inside Sifters, my first port of call is always the 95p racks where, amongst the predictable selection of Christopher Cross / Men At Work / Bonnie Tyler LPs, can be found the occasional surprise: I've previously found albums by Target and  Point Blank here. One of the joys of Sifters is that the prices are all very reasonable. You do have to take Mr Sifter's condition ratings on the price labels with a very large pinch of salt though. I'm not sure I've ever seen an LP rated as anything other than 'mint' and almost all of them fall below that standard. Just make sure you check the condition before handing over your cash, but you always do that anyway, right? Despite being preoccupied with bemoaning Manchester United's humiliating exit from the FA Cup to arch-rivals City, Mr Sifter was able to concentrate sufficiently to work out what I owed him for my purchases and to give me the usual discount for nodding sympathetically in the right places. I left with, among others, LPs by Mahavishnu Orchestra (Apocalypse), King's X (Faith Hope Love), John Martyn (Live At Leeds) and Humble Pie (Performance: Rockin' The Fillmore).

My next stop is Kingbee Records in Chorlton.

Bike with wheels intact shock
Generally this is more of a collectors' store than Sifters in that the rarity factor of the stock is considerably ramped up. This is where you come to get that elusive mono, first pressing Beatles LP or obscure Krautrock treasure. Understandably, the prices reflect the quality of the stock, but crates of £1.00 LPs are scattered throughout the store and are well worth digging through: I scored a pristine copy of Tim Weisberg's Live At Last LP. He's an artist I'd previously only encountered through his collaboration with Dan Fogelberg, Twin Sons Of Different Mothers, but his solo stuff is very reminiscent of Herbie Mann's jazzy flute freak-outs. For £5.00 apiece I also snapped up two Sweet LPs, namely Give Us A Wink! and Strung Up, and the first album by Ian Lloyd's Stories from 1972, which I have been trying to procure for AGES. This is a superb slab of vaguely proggy baroque psych pop and is highly recommended.


Despite the impression given by my photograph, on the Monday I was there, Kingbees was buzzing. The owner tells me that he hasn't seen any drop in sales during the current economic downturn and regularly has customers flying in from the States to buy up huge chunks of his stock. Another phenomenon that he's observed recently is an influx of younger customers, that is, ones for whom Live Aid seems as historically removed as the Crimean War. Apparently they are flocking to buy LPs by Yes and other Classic Rock acts. It's heartening to be able to relay a story about a record store that isn't all doom and gloom.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Crockett & Tubbs Snub The Leather Boy

Many bands split up due to musical differences, but how many go their separate ways as a result of dress-code cock-ups? I have a feeling that Jenson Interceptor may have been one band to have fallen victim to the rarely discussed phenomenon of sartorial incompatibility.


Picture the scene: it's the tail end of 1979, Miami Vice won't hit our TV screens for more than four years and, despite the profound influence that the 'slutty Sandy' scene at the end of Grease has had on rock chicks the world over (see above), nobody is quite sure what direction men's rock fashion will take in 1980. Throughout the 1970s the jeans / denim shirt combo was a safe bet for any rock musician. Yes, your Freddie Mercurys or Marc Bolans were partial to the occasional blouse and feather boa, but denim gave your average working muso a tried, trusted and versatile uniform he could rely on: as comfortable on stage as in the dole queue when that multi-album deal fell through. The dawn of a new decade, exciting times, but who would have wanted to be in the position of releasing a debut album in 1980 with the ever-present threat of a fashion faux-pas? You have to pity Jenson Interceptor because it went so horribly wrong for them.

Perhaps no one will notice... 

Despite being the proud owner of a crystal ball, the hapless ginger fella clearly failed to predict the rise of the white suit in rock 'n' roll. The body language here says it all: the be-suited chaps refuse to look at their colleague, hoping he'll do the right thing and leave without a fuss, whilst he stares contemptuosly at his cheap, mail order crystal ball and wonders if it can tell him where he put the receipt for those leather strides . As a tiny crumb of consolation, the russet-bonced leather boy might be in with a chance of sueing Simon Cowell for stealing his nipple-encroaching-waistband look.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Another One Bites The Dust (Almost)

It's close on two years since I last strode past the trollops half-heartedly displaying themselves in the doorways of the seedy titty bars on Soho's Rupert Street. As always, I was sweating in anticipation of getting my hands on something that I had been fantasising about for months. To the strippers' consternation the objects of my desire were housed in an establishment even grottier and more down-at-heel than their sordid clip joints, for I had eyes only for Cheapo Cheapo Records

Soho Vinyl Fetish

My determined gait and fixed gaze transformed into a stumbling lurch and wide-eyed horror as I saw that not only was the shop closed, but it was actually closed down. With my forehead pressed against the cold, hard shutters that separated me from my favourite musty vinyl hovel, I peered into the gloom of the shop, the shelves empty of all but dust. Ground level had always been the home of the CDs and DVDs, so part of me clung to the hope that the basement, where all the vinyl hung out, was still heaving with dusty gems and if I just waited long enough someone would spot me at the shutters and welcome me in. Figuratively, if not literally, I'm still waiting.

To say that I felt something approaching bereavement at the loss of my favourite digging spot is no exaggeration. Yes, a couple of hours in the dank confines of Cheapo Cheapo's basement usually left me feeling like I was in the grip of tuberculosis, but it was always worth it. Somehow, the Dickensian conditions and the need to heft boxes of unsorted records around to make sufficient space for my feet, added to the joy of finding some obscure gem or other that would leave me mentally crossing yet another item off my wishlist. The bloke who oversaw the record department, I think his name was Ian, must have had a time machine to take him on regular trips to the 1970s. How else could he suddenly get hold of multiple promo copies of albums by The Lavender Hill Mob, Easy Street, Aviary, Bobbidazzler and The Dixon House Band? Perhaps not rare according to The Record Collector Rare Record Price Guide, but priceless when, like me, you're a fan of the kind of bands who never quite got noticed enough in the first place to slip off the radar. I believe the store owner died suddenly - I hesitate to speculate that it was down to a respiratory disease - and the vinyl part of the shop was presumably no longer viable without him at the helm to deal in the bread and butter that was the sale of the devil's coasters and their moving-picture cousins, the DVDs. Turning up at his funeral to ask what had happened to all the stock was not something I considered. Not for long anyway.

But that's old news and I'm getting over it now. At least, my therapist thinks I'm making progress. What has brought all these feelings bubbling to the surface again is the fact that just this week I paid a visit to one of the dust and mildew farms that I started to frequent on the rebound from my prematurely terminated relationship with Cheapo Cheapo only to find that it too is soon to close its doors, permanently. The record shop in question is Music Search, a suitably fragrant and unkempt little dive in Chertsey, Surrey, which just happens to have all the ingredients that make for a perfect digging spot, namely: thousands of poorly organised records spilling out of grubby crates and boxes; friendly, anecdote-spewing staff; no discernable natural light; patrons who drop in just for a chat; and a flexible approach to pricing. The owner is rather fed up with the local hoodies breaking in to steal his petty cash of an evening and, as of August he is handing the premises over to a cobblers. Cobblers! While you still have the chance, get yourself down to Music Search, pick up a few bargains and a respiratory disease and, if you see Clive, the elusive owner, try to get him to reconsider. Tell him I sent you.

If you have a local record store that you want to tell the world about (by 'world' I mean the handful of discerning punters who visit this blog), let me know and I'll give your fave digging venue a mention here. Let's not lose any more of these wonderful places.