Monday, 26 March 2012

A Day At The Old Boys' Club

Okay, so there are exceptions, but on the whole, collecting is a male preserve. Yes, some women buy huge quantities of handbags and shoes, but they do this because they want to look nice, not because they have a pathological hoarding compulsion. I've yet to meet a woman who catalogues her shoes, who can quote the barcode number on the box they came in, or who can tell you the name of the particular operative responsible for stamping out the insoles in her favourite slingbacks. Last weekend I paid an overdue visit to the VIP Record Fair at Kensington Olympia and, when I finally came up for air after many hours inspecting matrix numbers and flipback sleeves, I felt something of a chill when I realised that, with the exception of a few long-suffering wives helping their husbands to 'man' the stalls, there was not a female to be seen.

Blokes looking at records
More blokes looking at records
It was like a horrific post-apocalyptic vision of a world where women have been wiped out by an awful plague or, more likely, just got fed up with their train-spotter menfolk and pissed off to make babies in test-tubes and watch Thelma And Louise together. And who could blame them?

Some more blokes looking at records
Oh, you get the idea...

I would like to say that my wife supports my record collecting compulsion, but I think that perhaps 'tolerates' would be a more accurate choice of verb. The danger with being a collector is that eventually your passion fools you into believing that not only is your hobby interesting, but by extension, so are you. I'm sure she thinks she's got away with it, but I've seen my wife's stifled yawns when I've attempted to explain the significance of a George Peckham Porky's Prime Cut, or why the weight of a vinyl LP is of less importance than the depth of the grooves. And, when you're done boring your nearest and dearest with the minutiae of vinyl acquisition, the next logical step is to write a blog about it in the hope of boring complete strangers. To paraphrase the Alien marketing tagline: 

"In cyberspace no one can see you yawn".

It would be wonderful if a scattering of members of the fairer sex brightened record fairs with their presence if only to stop me from feeling like such a deviant when I stumble, blinking, back into the daylight clutching bags heaving with vinyl. Do the organisers of the VIP Record Fairs really need to provide such conspicuous, bright yellow, plastic bags which draw attention so loudly to their contents? I would feel less self-conscious walking down the street wearing a gaping flasher-mac and holding a greasy, brown paper bag with the word "PORN" emblazoned on it in foot high letters. There must be some female record collectors out there who, by frequenting vinyl fairs and record shops, can make me feel less like the Steve Buscemi character in Ghost World (if you haven't seen it, you must). 

That bin must be like a Tardis inside!
I had toyed with the idea of attending the enormous two day record fair in Utrecht later in the year, but I'm not sure I could live with the shame. There's a fine line between enjoying the simple thrill of a train ride and standing on a murky station platform surrounded by other men in anoraks, jotting down engine numbers in a notepad. Utrecht may well be that murky platform.

The obligatory photo of highlights from my haul

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Ronnie Montrose R.I.P.

Ronnie Montrose 1947 -2012
It seems like hardly a week goes by without news of the passing of yet another musical legend. My definition of a legend may well differ from yours. They don't necessarily have to be a household name or to have spent their life being scrutinized by the media. I unapologetically use the term 'legend' to describe someone whose music has colonised my soul and helped to shape the person I am. A bit over the top, you think? Consider this: during my lifetime music has gained me friends, lost me jobs, mended my broken heart, opened old wounds, dressed me, cut my hair, fucked up my hearing, made me dance like a man possessed, won me the girl and given me more joy than anything without a heartbeat could ever reasonably be expected to do. But, of course, music does have a pulse, a lifeforce that is breathed into it by the sorcerers who pick up their instruments and conjure up new and exciting ways to present the same old notes and rhythms. Recently we've lost Gerry Rafferty, Ronnie James Dio, John Martyn, John Barry, Phil Kennemore, Mike Edwards, Dobie Gray, Mike Starr, Kelly Groucutt, Gary Moore, Michael "W├╝rzel" Burston, John Du Cann, Billy Powell, Mick Karn, Larry Reinhardt and Davy Jones to name just a handful of those whose music has enriched my life.

I clearly remember a typically hysterical Daily Mail headline reporting the death of Led Zeppelin's drummer John Bonham back in September 1980 (of course I remember it, I still have the yellowing newspaper cutting in a box in the loft). It screams, 

"Rock: The Great Destroyer"

and goes on, in characteristic poor taste, to criticise the lifestyles of Bonham, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, when perhaps an even-handed, respectful obituary would have been more appropriate. Of course, what the sanctimonious cretins at the Daily Mail chose to ignore is that alcohol and drug abuse are not the sole preserve of rock stars. Indeed, the journalist responsible probably wrote his copy over a liquid lunch in some Fleet Street watering hole full of hacks well on their way to cirrhosis. The Daily Mail aside, perhaps we fetishise the rock stars who die young and fast because their demise seems comfortably removed from how we expect to meet our own ends. Perhaps what is most depressing about the recent glut of rock star deaths is the sheer mundanity of the cause of death in most of these cases, heart disease and cancer being the commonest culprits. It is all too easy to imagine that our own lives will one day be snuffed out, not by one too many speedballs and a spot of sexual over-exertion in a jacuzzi full of hookers, but by a banal, indiscriminately savage, yet common disease. To die at 28 from a heroin overdose is to have lived too quickly. To die at 64 from cancer is to have died far too young.

Despite having played incendiary guitar in his own bands, Montrose and Gamma, and having contributed his six string skills to classic albums by Van Morrison and Edgar Winter, Ronnie Montrose's name and his guitar playing don't seem to be as familiar to rock fans as they ought to be. If you loved Ronnie's playing you have no doubt already dug out Montrose's debut LP and given it a spin since hearing of his death.

For those of you unfamiliar with Ronnie, or who just need a reminder of the magic he produced, here are a couple of my personal favourites. Rest In Peace, Ronnie.