Wednesday, 30 September 2015

A different way of doing things.

My wife joined the Labour party yesterday.

It's really easy to do online apparently, literally a matter or minutes. I've got other friends who've joined recently too. I'm excited about this. Not because I'm not the most political person - you'll know that if you read this regularly -  but I do find it exciting that the ostensibly 'comfortable' 'middle class' and 'middle aged' or whatever other social groups I and my friends fall into... that these people are not being complacent.  They are  inspired that there genuinely appears to be an effort from Jeremy Corbyn to do away with the PR of politics and try to talk frankly about the issues that affect everyone apart from a small proportion of the wealthy. Of course that's been made into a PR slogan itself now:

But I like the idea that we might return to a country or indeed a world where people are interested in more than just going to Westfield shopping centre or how much their house is worth. I love the fact that Corbyn has more important things to think about than wearing an expensive suit and is quite happy getting on with things dressed like this:

This movement towards a rejection of 'The way things have always been done' is a GOOD THING. I genuinely think people are angry and increasingly motivated. With the help of the Internet, they are beginning to form communities that work for them without having to put money into the pockets of large corporations.

Here is a short list of things that I am viewing as part of this move away from being told what to do :

1) The explosion of craft beer and the return of local breweries.

2) Local Sell or Swap sites preventing needless throwing away or giving eBay more commission.
3) The rejection of car culture and return to cycling after Bradley Wiggins' made it cool again.
4) The debate about home ownership beginning to move towards the realisation: there is no longer a Property Ladder.
5) Actual empathetic human beings with social skills on reality shows.

6) The recognition of vinyl as the best way of communing with recorded music.

Obviously, this being A&Rmchair, it was inevitable that I'd slip that one in.

The point about all this is that it is something of a step back in time, to pre-globalisation when we weren't all supposed to buy and do the same things. I hope you will definitely have things that you've spotted about our lives changing. And those of you with children may say that you try and battle with the corporate stuff but give in to pleas for iPhones or McDonalds. I know I do. But small steps...

Of course, what is also going on is that many of the above 'middle class' people are a) having to find alternative ways to make a living and b) maybe a bit righteous about that. The fact that the creative industries have been changed out of all recognition in the last fifteen years means that a lot of the jobs in print journalism, TV, radio, publishing and music now no longer exist.

I'm finally reading Gone Girl (don't tell me who Dunne it!) the protagonist of which, Nick Dunne, is a longhand version of the sort of journalist who is no longer allowed to write about popular culture because there is no paid media for him to do it on. I'm also reading How Music Got Free which is a brilliant, forensic study of the events which led to the MP3 revolution which decimated the record business. What are all the people who lost their previous living doing now. In the book Dunne opens a bar (hello craft beer!) and the people in the music business are either managing artists or have reinvented themselves (hello, everybody!)

And now there's a book about the overall situation called Crash: The Killing of The Creative Class. The author, an American called Scott Timberg, himself a journalist laments the disappearance of culture in the climate of corporate domination. I confess to not having read it yet but apparently after the catalogue of misery that the book largely is, he finds some solace in the fact that creative people have always found a way to be creative.

Here's hoping. Now where was that Labour party url...

Monday, 21 September 2015

Rocks off in Dismaland

We've slalomed around the maze of cattle gates in front of the building and are now standing inside it,  in another queue facing CCTV cameras, metal detectors and baggage screening machines.

Everything is made out of cardboard.

The girl in the paper inspector's hat glares at the couple standing in front of us:
"Wipe that grin off your face," she says to the guy,"and take that hat off."
Perhaps not wanting to enter the spirit of the thing or maybe because he's a bit chilly in the austere vestibule, he fails to remove his wooly hat. 
"You heard what I said, sir, take the hat off!"
I can't see the expression on his face but his girlfriend is now looking up at him with now only a half smile. 
"Sir, I'm going to have to ask you to step to one side and assume the position."

While all this is going on, Robyn and I have been keeping tabs on the queue adjacent to us and now there's a gap, which we could jump into. But just as we're about to move, the other security guard , an equally fearsome piece of work, bars us with an upright palm. 
"Don't even think about it! I'm not being your second choice. Get back in line!"
We return to our original place and watch at the man finally removes his hat to reveal stylish, shoulder length hair.
"Disgusting!" says the security guard, "now put it back on."

We are, of course, in Dismaland

The entrance to Banky's Bemusement Park

For those of you who've been asleep or drinking too much in the last month, Dismaland is the temporary "Bemusement Park" set up by Banksy showing work by over 50 contemporary artists from around the eorld all of whom have a similar anger, humour and energy to the legendary street artist. If it was based in London or another one of Britain's cultural capitals, it would be another great must-see modern art show; another thing to tick off in your Time Out weekend attractions.

The view at night from the rather splendid bar - note the Disney-style castle actually looking quite fairy tale-like as opposed to its usual day time burned-out shell makeover.

But it's not happening there, it's happening in Bank's old seaside stomping ground up the road from Bristol, Weston Super Mare. The old Tropicana lido on the seafront has abandoned by the city council since the early 2000s much to locals ire and disgust. There are no municipal pools in the town and despite it being a picture perfect seaside resort, it has the reputation of being the ultimate Btitish summer holiday let-down location: crying children, rain, squalid hotel.  It's the perfect location for a state-of-the-nation contemporary art show.

Another bonus for us is that, now that we live in Stroud, it's very near. We came just after it opened
on a bright, blue-skyed day and stayed until chucking out time. Indeed closing time at Dismaland manifests as the incongruous Hawaian steel guitar soundtrack being interrupted on the tannoy by a gruff voice saying, "Dismaland is now closed. Go home. We don't want you here anymore."

And now we're here again on a Friday night in September. Partly because we wanted to come again before it closes at the end of this month (Boo!) but mainly for Sleaford Mods, a band almost too perfectly suited for such a venue.

Jason Williamson has some pointers for David Cameron.

Like Dismaland itself, Sleaford Mods don't need any introduction unless you've been hiding under the stairs got the last two years. In the picture above you can see frontman Jason Williamson in full on rap rant towards a handily placed canvas of David Cameron in dress suit, dicky bow, champagne flute aloft. Unfortunately my photograph has caught Cameron's suit and shirt but obliterated his face. Something which Williamson pretty much achieved over the course of the show: anticipating today's #piggate PR nightmare, he continually punctuated the tunes with shouts of "Piggies! Oink oink!"directly to the Cameron artwork.

Here's a pic I took the first time we went so you can see what the PM's face looks like in the day - if you look closely you can see a Banksy figure pushing the PM's poster off the wall like so much unwanted graffiti.

The Dismaland stage during this year's day of summer.

I love swearing. It's big and it's clever but only when it's done by the masters - think of Harold Pinter's sudden 'shit cake baker' exchange in No Man's Land, the best of  Derek and Clive, or more recently The Thick of It. It's funny and powerful and achieves the very opposite of when it's used by teenagers at bus stops or drunk cricket fans in pastel shirts. Sleaford Mods unleash a torrent of abuse in every song and you find yourself smiling, laughing outlaid and nodding along in agreement at what a mess we're all in.

And than's exactly what you do at Dismaland too. I don't want to come across as a sales representative for the place (indeed there would be no point as it comes to an end this week, no doubt before Disney's lawyer's can get their teeth into it) but there is so much fun to be had here (not least to see the old, witty and playful Damien Hirst back in full effect after years of investment banking and see some really great new art.

Finnish artist Jani Leinonen's modified cereal boxes. He also collects beggars' signs which he plans to exhibit in gold frames apparently.

Here's a great image gallery of some of the best exhibits put together somewhat ironically by arch lefty newshounds, The Daily Express.

There's also a tough politcal edge to the exhibition too - stalls highlighting how landlords are hiking up rents and forcing people out of their homes (it's happening a lot in Banksy's hometown), an ACAB stall and a self-contained exhibition space called Cruel Bus, which highlights the way urban design increasingly tracks, controls and manages us like cattle. It's a haunting 10 minutes and one that on both of our visits produces the longest queues. Also, it's put together by Jonathan Barnbrook who amongst other thing is Bowie's sleeve designer.

Robyn leaves the bus early, upset by a Morrissey-esque montage of pigs being slaughtered. I stay on, examining various pieces of police riot gear and some cute freebie sweets given away at fairs by weapons manufacturers. Suddenly a voice booms into the bus, startling everyone:
"Ben... Ben! BEN"
I turn round and see a member of the Dismaland staff in distinctive hi-vis DISMAL jacket.
"Er... yes, that's me..."
"Sort it out, Ben! You your wife's waiting for you outside. You might get your rocks off if your lucky."

I sheepishly exit avoiding eye contact with those still on the Cruel Bus.

Monday, 14 September 2015

In which I ask Squeeze an awkward question...

There's a question that I have to ask. I came up with the question but now I'm not sure it's any good and the people I'm asking might not want to answer it and it might be awkward and embarrassing and all that might appear on national radio.

I'm walking down a low-celinged beige corridor with strip lighting and worn out carpet. Despite the austerity of it, it has a comforting, welcoming feel. It's the BBC of old. Not the New Broadcasting House that we're all familiar with from the Beeb's own brilliant W1A but the beautiful old former ice skating rink Maida Vale Studios.

It's a lovely old building that the BBC owned before the original Broadcasting House. But it's a property which I fear will be on the list of things that Director General Tony Hall lets go as part of the corporation's funding cuts. I've been here a few times before many years ago as some of my bands recorded sessions here for John Peel. No doubt there will be plaque dedicated to him on the wall of the luxury apartments that will inevitably be built on the site.

I'm here for the recording of one of Radio 4's Mastertapes. It's a series of interviews with artists about their breakthrough album, which my friend John presents and to which he has invited me. He did this because he knows how much I like the band he's interviewing today: Squeeze. Just like this blog, Squeeze are very much back after a lengthy absence. Unlike this blog however, they're already on the A list at Radio 2. Bet their A&R man is happy. As Pavement once sang: I know him and he is.

The Mastertapes format consists of an A and a B side and during the B side the audience get to ask questions. I'm a lifelong Squeeze fan and South East London veteran. If you search for Squeeze in the tabs on the right you'll find the tale of when I watched them writing a song at my friend's house - or did I? You'll also find how I briefly worked with Chris and Glen when Aimee Mann recorded a song with them. Oh yes, previous form on Squeeze? Tick. So I had confidently suggested some questions for John to ask during his interview but instead of marvelling at my journalistic prowess he's sentenced me to asking one of my own terrible questions. He gives me a card which looks like this with the question written on the back:

It's just Chris and Glen who are being interviewed and the room is full of men and women of a certain vintage - like the ones I described at that Wilko Johnson Rough Trade event in a previous blog: lots of ear hair, jowls and loose fitting black Levis. I've recently turned fifty so I am very much in the same demographic. Fortunately, without those jeans. Glen, as he told the assembled throng is now 57 so he's hopefully leading us all towards a dignified last few decades. Here I am in my own jeans and young person's T shirt in front of the stage in Studio 3:

For my fiftieth birthday last year, I actually went to see Chris and Glen at the Union Chapel in London's fashionable Islington. The crowd there were the same as described in the previous paragraph but with a frisson of media confidence and success. As I sat down on my pew (yes, pop pickers, it is actually a chapel!) I listened to the voices around me chatting excitedly about the imminent show. A voice cut through from behind, a throaty cockney fella with a deadpan delivery: "Blimey, no one's avin' a drink in 'ere! Why can't you get a bleedin' drink? I'm parched!"
A similar voice responded, only it was female and, if possible, throatier, "Calm down, there's a bar upstairs! You can't 'ave everyfink! It's a blinkin' church! You can getchaself a drink upstairs later!"
Were these two for real? It was like they were Mike Leigh characters. I turned round and, I kid you not, it was Paul Whitehouse and Kathy Burke.

This is the only image I could find of Whitehouse and Burke together. It's from the Slobs appearance on game show "Call Me a Wanker".

Back at Maida Vale, Chris and Glen talk about the album East Side Story and play Tempted, Labelled With Love and Is That Love? It is impossible not to get a bit dewy eyed about the whole experience. John points out how many of Chris' lyrics have to do with bathrooms and ablutions and Chris actually looks like it's never occurred to him before. Glen, just like old friends always do, leaps into relentless piss taking: as they stand for another performance his partner's guitar strap is giving him problems  "not clean enough for you?" asks Glen innocently.

And then it's time for the audience to ask questions. I hold my card apprehensively. Other audience members are all starting with an unnecessary introductory bit of flattery about how great East Side Story is ("Greatest album ever made", says one young punter) or how great the new album is (it is actually really, really good, just as good as the Danny Baker inspired series Cradle To Grave it soundtracks). Being a seasoned pro (after all I'm interviewing every week on the Podcast, right?) I tell myself I have no need of this. Be confident  - after all, I've researched it, I already know the answer to my question:

As I read the question to myself I realise that it's been poorly worded and I'll need to change it a bit to make it sound less like Lennon was shot just outside of the building where they were working. While I'm doing this, a married couple are getting loads of laughs with their list of Squeeze urban myths "All true!" laughs Glen. The audience are loving the banter when suddenly John introduces me, "Next question is from former A&R man turned writer, Ben Wardle" And I find myself falling into the flattery trap immediately:
"I just wanted to point out that Glen is wearing a great pair of blue suede shoes that radio listeners sadly aren't going to appreciate..." Actually, this is a good segue, the lighthearted tone is being kept afloat. The laughs die down and I ask the question. The atmosphere immediately changes. Chris and Glen look very serious. Shit.
"Yes, it was a very sad day," says Glen, "We didn't record anything"
OK, I think, now they'll tell the story about producer Elvis Costello suggesting they spend the day playing rock and roll classics and how cathartic it was and how maybe somewhere there are some tapes of those sessions...
"We just went to the pub," says Chris flatly.
"Yes, we were devastated and we just wanted a drink" says Glen.
There's a pause. That's it.
"I think Nick Lowe may have popped in," adds Chris helpfully.
Sound of tumble weed etc.

When the shows go out later this year (December, I think) I suspect my own particular mastertape will end up on the cutting room floor.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

We Shall Not Be Moved

So yesterday the band I wrote about in the previous blog just over a month ago (I know, I know, apologies) were sentenced. Two years in a penal colony. Absurd. As Nadia Tolokonnikova's husband, Pyotr Verzilov commented, "What happened now is a clear sign that Russia is moving towards becoming more like China or North Korea".

I'm not going to write up the backstory as I'm sure by now everyone reading this will know about Pussy Riot. There were lots of comments on Facebook and Twitter (but curiously not on my actual blog),  about my suggestion of getting a record deal for them to raise awareness but now I'm sure that would have made little difference to the outcome - after all, if you've got the world's biggest stars like Madonna and Paul McCartney publicly showing support and TV news featuring it repeatedly as a lead story then how much more awareness is a hit record going to make? What I haven't read anywhere is how the verdict was timed nicely to occur just after Russia's Olympics result. Is it coincidence that it was left to the post Olympic back-slapping period when Russians and the world might be distracted by the country's triumphant fourth position? The good news is that nobody was distracted.

I watched the Olympics 2012 opening and closing ceremonies but failed to get swept away by the sport. Yes, I know I am perhaps the only person in London and possibly the rest of the world who behaved like this. Those of you who have read this blog over the years will no that I never write about sport and there is a reason for this. Whilst I enjoy cycling, swimming and the occasional kick about in a park, when it comes to watching sports I am missing a gene: I just can't do it.

For those of you who love watching sport - and judging from the Olympics that's pretty much everyone - it's hard to explain how I feel. One analogy might be a deaf person watching others enjoying music: I understand that it's a sheer rush of enjoyment and excitement but I am still left cold. I sat down with my children to watch the 100 metres sprint that Usain Bolt won and I'm glad I did because I could register their own excitement at  history being made. But I got this at no more that an academic level. Perhaps my inability to engage with sport is comparable to those people who struggle with humour. For example, the literal mindedness of people on the autistic spectrum or with Asperger's means that they struggle with 'getting' jokes. That's me; I am sportistic. Unfortunately, I don't have any of the compensatory
 levels of high intelligence and sensitivity in other areas that autistic people do.

It occurs to me that there are some unfortunate people who are like this when it comes to music. They hear it and watch others getting swept away by it and yet it leaves them cold. Even music lovers can relate to this because there is always some music which simply does not do it for them. One man's Revolver is another man's No Parlez. One Tweet I read during the closing Olympic ceremony was that it appeared to be a music concert organised by someone who didn't like music. Now whilst I won't have anything said about The Who at the moment (I am currently going through a massive rediscovery of their brilliance, including finally finishing Tony Fletcher's massive and brilliant Moon biography),  I do think that compared to the opening ceremony that this is true: it was a cavalcade of former BRITs winners. At times it felt like I had tuned into one of those I Love The 80s shows. All that was missing was a C-List celeb not born at the time, talking about how much they love the Eurythmics.

There were scant live performances in the opening ceremony but what there was represented a vision  - and the choices of song formed part of a tapestry. Danny Boyle's vision was like Grayson Perry's Walthamstow Tapestry: charged with challenging images and juxtapositions (NHS beds, Pretty Vacant in front of the Queen, the industrial revolution vs ecology), the closing ceremony resembled nothing more than a tapestry your auntie might stitch on a Sunday afternoon. No surprise that artistic director Kim Gavin has previous with the BRITS, Take That and many Cowell-related shows. Whilst clearly someone who knows the power of celebrity and glamour, musically it was something that could have been phoned in by someone who buys two CDs a year.

If there are people who like me are tone deaf to sport, or indeed some who are simply unmoved by music itself, then there are of course those who are unmoved by others' suffering. It's just a shame that  it is frequently those people, like Vladimir Putin, who take the reigns of power and refuse to let them go. 

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Sign Pussy Riot!

On Friday, the three members of Pussy Riot who have been in prison since March were detained for another six months by the Russian Authorities. They face seven years in jail. Puts the Bill Grundy episode into perspective doesn't it?

A quick primer for those of you who know about Pussy Riot: they are a Russian punk collective who stage flash performances in Moscow wearing dayglo dresses, tights and balaclavas. Their music, they claim, is inspired by the Oi movement bands like 4-Skins, Angelic Upstarts and Cockney Rejects. Ouch, I hear you say and I don't blame you - although I get the feeling the latter are due for a reappraisal after Punk Britannia and a forthcoming documentary about them made by the team who made Oil City Confidential. 

But actually, Pussy Riot's music is more interesting than an Oi rehash. Here's a song, which has more in common with early 90s Riot Grrl bands like Huggy Bear. It is genuinely exciting stuff.

However, the music is not the most important thing about Pussy Riot. The band (or collective; it's difficult to make a distinction but perhaps a useful model would be 70's Crass) have a distinct political agenda. They are all former Humanities students who came together to protest in the wake of the December elections in Russia. They like a lot of Russians massively disillusioned with a corrupt and broken system.  Back in March they staged a protest in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, the church near the Kremlin where Putin and various other dignitaries go for their services. They performed a song called Virgin Mary, Mother of God, Expel Putin which was filmed and quickly put on Youtube. As usual. it was shot and edited by their own team of video makers to maximise the impact of their performances. Here it is

What happened next completely validates their protest. Three members of the band, Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, and Ekaterina Samutsevich were arrested on charges on hooliganism the day before Putin was re-elected. Despite an outcry - particularly because two of the women are mothers of young children - the Head of the Russian Orthodox church, Patriarch Kirill, showed no forgiveness: "the devil laughed at us" he said, of the band's cathedral performance. That's the sort of review Lemmy would kill for. Since then there have been benefits performed by Beastie Boy AdRock, UK punk bands and other artists all over the world. There is also a Free Pussy Riot campaign now to get the girls released which accepts donations.
But then as I said earlier, last Friday (20 July) the three girls were detained for another 6 months by the Russian authorities despite Amnesty International campaigning for their release since April this year.
So what now? I don't blog about politics as you know, but it seems to me that Pussy Riot are exciting for all the reasons that made punk originally so appealing: they have something to protest about and they are doing it in a stylish way. What's more, they're not protesting about being bored or having no furture; they are directly and bravely addressing what is wrong with their society. So to recap:  the music is exciting, the goodwill is there and the band look great. From the point of view of a manager, promoter or record company this is surely gold dust. Let's get them a record deal! OK, the downside is that three of them are behind locked doors but surely the remaining members of the band could go on tour and use the money and publicity to further the cause. There are bands out there currently trading on a name with less original members for no cause worthier than their own wallets.
Plus - and here's the big one -  of the three girls currently detained, one of them looks like a total star - see if you can spot her:

There are already fanboy sites and Youtube video homages to Nadia Tolokno. 

I am not in touch with many remaining A&R people out there and anyway, my recollection of political awareness in A&R departments, is that most were more familiar with Roman Abromovich than Vladimir Putin, but Pussy Riot to me seems like a no brainer. Although now of course I have combined the dreaded words No and Brainer (applied by my last MD to such dead certs as The Twang and the Wombats) and thus have tempted the fate of the unrecouped advance.

Anyway, something needs to be done. What I propose to anyone out there with the budget and the marketing department is that all the Pussy Riot master tapes so far need to be collected, appraised and the best tracks should be mixed, compiled and mastered into a short, aggressive album - with English translation of all the lyrics in the package.  It needs to be made available online in all formats including vinyl and there needs to be a single, possibly with additional production and by a producer du jour - that of course, would be Paul Epworth. Just a flourish of syncopation and a light dusting of electronic squeak should work.

If Pussy Riot were to have a hit - and let's face it, the marketing is already done  - their cause would quadruple in awareness overnight and the pressure on Putin and his chums would put the oligarchs in an even more awkward position.

And punk rock would finally triumph. Come on!

Sunday, 15 July 2012

What am I going to do with my record collection?

This week there was a conference in Oxford, led by Bill Clinton, addressing the likelihood of what we do as a planet when we start running out of stuff. 

The usual conclusions were made by the Resource 2012 Forum,  but one issue they didn't tackle to my knowledge is what we do with the all the stuff we already own. Shoes, shirts, books, powertools... the endless accumulation of things that as a 'consumer society' we have been convinced we really, really need. And of course as far as I am concerned, the key problem faced by gentleman of a certain age: all that vinyl; all those CDs. The record collection. 

Last weekend I spent a hugely enjoyable time with two old friends in Norfolk. Both are still working in the music business so when the inevitable subject arose of what to do with a lifetime's collection of albums, singles, CDs , box sets and other spoils of quite liking music, there were different suggestions:

"Spotify, mate," said Andy,"you don't want to bother with the physical product."
Michael and I both looked at him in horror. 
"But.. but... what about the artwork? The liner notes?"

The problem with really REALLY liking music is that it is a holistic experience. It's about the memories of going to the shop to buy the album, the smell of the vinyl, the shrinkrwrap coming off a new CD, the first flick through the booklet to discover fresh pictures and information. I realise I'm sounding like a serial killer here but hey, increasingly, it does feel like I'm going to have to keep my music collection in a dark, concealed celler. 

I hate the expression guilty pleasure but that's precisely what it is sometimes. I know I already have Quadrophenia but that doesn't stop me wanting to find a copy of the original on vinyl with those amazing Ethan Russell photographs (incidentally, if you didn't see the Quadrophenia documentary it is well worth looking at even for the most part time Who fan). I know it's not the greatest album in the world but I still want a copy of the Damned's Music For Pleasure on vinyl because Barney Bubbles' artwork is so fantastic. I already own the Impressions' Young Mod's Forgotten Story on CD but I still have an eBay watch out on an original vinyl version. 

Of course, you know I'm a huge lover of artwork because of the book from a couple of years ago The Art of The LP. And my new novel (which is out now, reading fans!)  features an updated version of Wire's Pink Flag sleeve from which it takes its name. 

But it's not just about artwork. I like to have liner notes, information so I can really immerse myself in the album. Often this can be disappointing like when the record company employs someone who can't spell or in some cases, even write. I shall be doing a separate blog about this so beware.

So what do I do with all these trophies after I've hunted and gathered them? Shelves. Space. Walls. Cupboards. I'm a reasonable person and I like to think I do things in sensible proportions but this is what it's come to:

Perhaps that's a familiar sight to some of you. All I know is that as my daughters get bigger and want space for their own stuff (and the Barbie army is beginning to compete with my Rock/Pop section in volume) something has to give.

What are the solutions? Andy would suggest ripping the remaining undigitised CDs, then selling the whole lot. I have been shedding some of the dusty unloved stuff I've hung on to for years but it doesn't seem to have made much difference. Perhaps he's right. Burn everything, sign up to Spotify and enjoy the cat swinging space. My mate Steve next door did this. He loves music probably more than I do but has not bought a CD for over two years without any perceptible side effects. Crucially though, he's not one for packaging. He has a fantastic vinyl collection (some of which I used for the above book) but from the spines you'd never know - collectively they look like an old carpet as a result of cat clawing: original Stones, Beatles and classic jazz all mauled by an overenthusiastic feline. Ouch. I'd be shelling out for extensive therapy but he's fine as long as the vinyl still plays. My problem was discovering music at the same time as artwork became exciting - punk 7"s pic sleeves and coloured vinyl - all that late seventies packaging thing. I'm a sucker for Malcolm Garrett as much as Pete Shelley. Packaging and music have always gone hand in hand. Witness my constant involvement with the artwork of the acts I signed. The marketing departments hated me.

Another option would be to get a second home. Ha! Ludicrous and though it sounds in such harsh economic conditions, there are people with second homes and some of them are still my friends. Their solution is to ship their extra 'stuff' out to these places. Not a bad solution particularly when it's books and DVDs that you don't feel so attached to emotionally and which can be enjoyed by those people who visit and rent the property. 

But of course, I don't have a second home so that one's out. Other solutions could be a boot sale, donate to charity or even use Music Magpie. The latter, a seductively simple online selling site, don't give you a great deal for CDs but they do take pretty much anything that has a bar code. Interestingly, the only things I haven't managed to force on them were Madonna and John Lennon whose barcodes gave me the chirpy response: "We're sorry we don't like this album. Try something else!" Christ, if it's not looking good for those two then what hope for No Parlez? Actually, the last time I sold to Music Magpie (in every sense of the word 'last') they claimed that two albums out of the batch of 20 or so had not arrived. Interestingly, those two albums had the highest value and would have netted me about £10. Eventually I found one of their staff on the phone and was given some high number of packages received excuse. They caved in the end but it was a hollow victory, frankly.

I really would like some suggestions though. I love my record collection - a sentence which I am fully aware sounds more and more old fashioned as every year passes. Where will it go? I have less and less time to listen to it and like all of us, find myself experiencing most things digitally while I sit typing this or on the iPhone while I ponder condiment choices in Sainsburys. And yet the joy of flicking through the new Dr Feelgood box set or reading about the history of Yellow Submarine in the CD booklet is still a pleasure I look forward to. 

Of course, switching to Spotify would certainly meet the approval of the gathered intellects at Resource 2012. Music is, after all, merely a vibration of air molecules that requires no storage other than the instruments on which to play it. You don't need forest-consuming booklets and oil-guzzling discs to enjoy it. Being an ace guitarist, Bill Clinton would know that. But I bet he still has a shelf full of 70s classics back home in Westchester County.

Monday, 2 July 2012

What have the Stone Roses ever done for us?

In amongst the Saturday chores last weekend, I became increasingly aware of a chorus of Tweets from gentlemen of a certain age. The Heaton Park 'massive'. Mincing about down South it really felt like I was the only man of my generation who hadn't dug out a pair of voluminous Joe Bloggs trousers and headed for Euston. Yes, The Stones Roses reformation shows. Word on the Tweet seems to be that the shows were amazing with the caveat that Ian Brown had trouble keeping in tune. So no change there then.

The great thing about the Stone Roses was always that they inspired extreme opinion. That's a rare thing in pop culture today; there seems little to genuinely provoke and perhaps fewer people who care  - witness this week's demise of The Word. I'm the demographic for The Word and a subscriber - I even wrote for  it for a coupe of issues. The Stone Rose graced the June cover of The Word and in that feature Andrew Collins described his involvement in their story and what great times he had. In the Guardian the weekend before last, John Harris did the same thing from the negative perspective. See what I mean about polarising opinion?

The Stone Roses came at a point in pop when a lot of key writers and broadcasters were just starting out and this was their first taste of the glamour of the entertainment business. Like punk 13 years before, Baggy, Madchester, Indie dance - basically the movement inspired by Fools Gold - was a decisive break from the past. Up until The Stone Roses - credible music had been either Indie C86 underachievement or polished, gleaming and professional like Prefab Sprout, Lloyd Cole, The Smiths or Heaven 17. Here was a band who had a front man akin to Johnny Rotten: his appeal was not in his vocal chords but in his attitude. And this of course opened it all up again for the like of Happy Mondays, Charlatans, and later the whole Britpop movement.

In the official programme to the Heaton Park show, Damien Hirst claims The Stone Roses are more important than Picasso. Again, with the extremities; although, of course we should expect this from Hirst. I really like the Stone Roses album but the gigs I saw at the time made little impression on me - I just remember the terrible singing and the horrible football terrace crowds. Everyone I know who remembers them, gets dewy eyed about the wonderful male bonding and camaraderie. I think I was just there for the music and I missed the point.  But all that aside, here are five things I'd like to thank them for:

1) The first album.

I won't bang on about it because everyone is sick to death of hearing what an absolute classic it is. Suffice to say it still hangs together is eminently hummable and like all classics manages to be of its time as well as transcend it.

2) The singer

They brought a return of the handsome lead singer concept. Since the mid 80s, Indie had been whacked about the head by the ugly stick. By 1988 the best we could hope for was Miles from the Wonderstuff or David Gedge, but more often than not we got Black Francis or the blokes from Pop Will Eat Itself. Now, for the first time since the Smiths, the singer in a credible indie band could be a pin-up without NME readers becoming suspicious. The way was paved for Blur and Oasis.

3) John Leckie

A seasoned pro - as well as an absolutely lovely bloke - Leckie had done some engineering for Pink Floyd, Lennon and then made some classic punk albums including debuts from Magazine and XTC. But by 1989 he was no longer a go-to name. The Stone Roses changed all that and he subsequently never looked, back going on to produce Radiohead's The Bends and Muse.

4) Goodbye Rattle & Hum

Anyone who can remember 1988 must have been there. It was full of terrible post Joshua Tree raggle taggle faux Celtic rock bollocks. Bands like Deacon Blue, singers like Tanita Tikarum; it was The Waterboys wishing they were fishermen and everyone throwing in a bit of world music to show how in touch with their roots they were. The Stone Roses had no truck with being right on. Right on!

5) It's OK to Disco!

It's been said before and much better but Fools Gold - (don't be mistaken into thinking that the debut had anything to do with it) opened the door for music fans who were either shy of saying they liked a bit of a dance, rock fans with no previous inclination or hip hop fans who hated wimpy indie kids. It brought them all together in a great big melting pot and offered them fags, drugs and a good time.

So fingers crossed for the new Stone Roses material. Or maybe once again, I'm missing the point. Perhaps the best thing about them for most people just happened: in a field with your mates, all singing Waterfall better than Ian Brown can.