Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Car Booty

My local car boot sale has been kind to me recently. A couple of weeks back I picked up a mono first pressing of Cream's Disraeli Gears on the Reaction label for £2.00. It's sleeveless sadly, but somewhere down the line I'll pick up a trashed copy with a decent cover and all will be good.

Last Sunday I ignored the overcast skies, hoping that the sellers would follow suit, and headed to my favourite field full of tat. I'm not a morning person (to put it mildly), so dragging my corpse out of bed early on a weekend is not a decision I make lightly. Turned out to be a good move.

You see a broad cross-section of humanity at a boot fair: cosy families selling off the toys their kids have outgrown, blurry-tattooed shysters offloading bootleg electricals, herds of clinically obese take-away tourists mobbing the burger vans at 10am, hippie chicks trying to drum up interest in their hand-made trinkets and knick-knacks, enough people on mobility scooters to fill a multi-storey car park and guys like me, courier bag slung over the shoulder, trying to beat all the other predators to the vinyl treasures that are lurking somewhere in this sea of stone washed denim, Breville sandwich toasters, clapped-out Flymos and foot spas.

The dealers and flippers are easy to spot. They're unsmiling, make no attempt at conversation with the stall holders and clearly resent their competition, that is, the people who buy records for the music contained in them, not for profit. Two weeks ago I had one of these low-lives take a record out of my hand while I was looking at it. I explained to him in unambiguous terms what I thought of his behaviour and he backed off. If he'd waited ten seconds I'd have put the record back in the pile and moved on. As it was I ended up buying a record that I didn't especially want just to spite him. Petty, but satisfying. Perhaps I'm a bit of a hypocrite as I do buy records sometimes and sell them if they don't do it for me or if they're not an upgrade on my existing copy, but they're not a commodity to be turned around for a quick profit. It's all about the music.

If I'm going to relieve a stallholder of a record that they may have cherished for years, I want to hear their stories. Some of the same faces are there every week: the guy who deals in jazz and dog-eared music biographies; the woman who is selling off her husband's vinyl collection in dribs and drabs to boost their retirement income; and the couple who used to be in a band and are offloading their blues records to help fund their next trip to Memphis. Then, this weekend there was a charming lady called Lynne who, hidden beneath the usual boot fair detritus on her stall, had an easily overlooked box of vinyl. As I pulled the records out of the box she became misty eyed as she recalled that her first boyfriend had bought them for her. Did she really want to part with them I asked? The usual story: nothing to play them on any more, and "at least they're going to a good home". I handed over £15 and walked away happy, clutching three LPs by Matthews Southern Comfort (first pressings on Uni / MCA), Procol Harum's Shine On Brightly (mono first pressing on Regal Zonophone), an Incredible String Band album and The Who's Who Are You. Some of them have inscriptions on the sleeve from Lynne's first love. These records have a history. I like that.

I've discovered the brilliance of Charles Mingus recently, so was chuffed to find a near mint copy of his The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady album for a fiver. Continuing the Jazz theme I unearthed a copy of pianist Andrew Hill's Point of Departure LP which was hidden under a pile of godawful hits of the eighties-type albums. It looked like it could be interesting as I recognised the names of some of his collaborators from other albums in my collection. At a quid it seemed worth a punt. As it turns out it's a typically essential mid-Sixties Blue Note album with stellar performances from all concerned. I'm sure that's not news to anyone with a deeper knowledge of Jazz, but Hill's name is new to me.

My interest in vinyl leans heavily towards the long playing variety, but I'm a sucker for a 7" picture sleeve and early singles by classic, or for that matter, obscure bands from the Sixties and Seventies. How could I resist a couple of German 45s by Elton John and Paul Simon each wrapped in a picture bag? A pristine Ray Charles E.P., Slade's In For A Penny, a brace of early Stones singles, the Small Faces' All Or Nothing and Queen's Seven Seas of Rhye are some of the highlights of the dozen-plus seven inchers that begged me to take them home.

I eventually procured a nice original copy of Ten Years After's Ssssh LP after ten minutes of trying to get the stallholder to commit to a price. He seemed uncertain what to charge for any of his stock and was clearly relieved when I made him an offer. He accepted without hesitation. At £7.00 I think I got a good deal. The afore-mentioned pension fund-boosting retirees let me take away a minty copy of The Beatles Live At the BBC double album for £13.00. A steal!

I was about ready to call it a day when a final rummage through what appeared to be another box of uninspiring, commonplace vinyl dross revealed the magic words Half-Speed Mastered - Special Limited Edition in an eye-catching yellow band along the top of an LP sleeve. I've been trying to lay my paws on a half-speed mastered LP for some time now. They tend to go for silly money, money that I'm reluctant to spend, but word is they sound vastly superior to a standard pressing. Or, as the promotional guff that accompanies the records states: "You are about to hear recorded music as you've probably never heard it before." A bold claim. I nonchalantly waved the LP in the vendor's general direction and disinterestedly asked how much he wanted. And so, for a quid I have a minty, half-speed mastered copy of 10cc's Greatest Hits 1972-1978. I have to say, in common with many of the titles given the H-SM audiophile treatment, the original pressings of 10cc's albums ain't too shabby anyway (it's not as if anyone's going to knock out a high fidelity pressing of Stormtroopers Of Death's Speak English Or Die LP anytime soon), but having said that... wow!!! There is a supernatural, inky blackness between tracks and a clarity of detail and imaging that kid you into believing that you are sat in the control room at Strawberry Studios listening to playback in the company of Lol Creme and Kevin Godley.

So many great records for the price of a night down the pub! And without any hint of a hangover or beer gut. Inevitably, this being England, the rain will set in soon and take up residence for the next six months, robbing me of my source of al fresco vinyl sustenance. Fingers crossed for another few weeks of fine weather!