Saturday, 21 November 2015

Devo, The Adicts, Benjamin Clementine and Motörhead.

If you read this with any regularity you may have noticed, perhaps with some disdain, that you are here far more regularly than I am. I apologise. The whole point of a blog is to be regular. 'Regularly and in small doses' writer Tony Fletcher once advised me about blogging and it looks like I have completely ignored him.

If I have an excuse it's not because I've been spending time with the telly. Although I was of course glued to it last night watching the Mercurys. Benjamin Clementine, eh? 

Benjamin Clementine graciously invited the other eleven nominees up onto the stage with him after the announcement that he'd won. It was a genuinely moving moment, topped only when he almost broke down honouring those affected by the atrocities in Paris.
The attraction of the Mercury Prize is that it is about what is happening NOW. There is little thought for posterity in the judges'  voting which is a good thing; they always go for what feels right precisely at the time of voting. This accounts for Gomez beating Massive Attack or The Verve, Roni Size trouncing Radiohead and of course famously M People triumphing over the combined muscle of Blur, Pulp, The Prodigy and Paul Weller. If anything - and I have to confess to preferring Clementine's cheekbones over his voice -  this year's winner pipped the others to the post because of his Parisian backstory. PJ Harvey's win in 2001 was partly because of Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea's connection to a grieving New York.

I was due to go to Paris the weekend the atrocities happened. My brother had  never been to Paris and is a massive fan of Motörhead who happened to be playing at the Zenith that weekend in the 19th Arrondissement. 

Motörhead went on to cancel the show despite the venue initially claiming all shows there would go ahead.

I'd booked the tickets, Eurostar and hotel months before and we'd both been looking forward to seeing Lemmy barking out Ace Of Spades as well as doing a quick once around the beautiful city. As I travelled down to London to stay with him on Friday night, the news bulletins started coming in and by the time I arrived at his in Cricklewood, it was clear that even if we did get there, our weekend in Paris would be a very different one to the one we'd planned. 

I'd booked the tickets, Eurostar and hotel months before and we'd both been looking forward to seeing Lemmy barking out Ace Of Spades as well as doing a quick once around the beautiful city. As I travelled down to London to stay with him on Friday night, the news bulletins started coming in and by the time I arrived at his in Cricklewood, it was clear that even if we did get there, our weekend in Paris would be a very different one to the one we'd planned. 

In the end, after a day spent watching the driving London rain whilst checking Twitter, Facebook and BBC updates (and watching Spectre - more international terrorism, thanks), we gave up and I travelled back home. I felt the luckiest man to be alive and shortly to be able to see my family. The target could just as easily have been the show we were due to attend. 

Going to a gig is such a magical, freeing thing to be able to do and to know that something like that can happen in a the capital city of a country whose entire ethos is based on liberty is truly tragic. My sympathies are with anyone affected by the events.

To briefly sink to bathos: that's another reason why the blog never happened. 

Other reasons are that I've been travelling. I went to L.A. for the first time in 20 years to conduct interviews for a book I'm putting together on DevoFor those of you who aren't sure what I'm talking about, just click on that link and watch the clip for their film (produced by themselves incredibly in 1976) and you'll get a sense of just what a remarkably odd, influential and yet always melodic group they were. 

I struggled picking a photo of the band that encapsulates them because they changed their look with every album release.  However this one (despite being a mirror image of the actual picture I think) does it better than most as it features not only their legendary Energy Dome hats, but also their collective facial expression, self designed clothes and also, remarkably, self designed fabric behind them. Sweating the small stuff, that's what it's all about.

I'm not going to band on about Devo now though, because I suspect I'll be bringing the subject up again in the course of the next few months. Suffice to say, that both founder members Jerry Casale and Mark Mothersbaugh were incredibly gracious with their time and also brilliant fun. Plus, visiting Mark in his office/studio was a bonus because it looks like this:
This roman amphitheatre style office on Sunset Boulevard was originally built in 1967 by a plastic surgeon. Mark painted it green ostensibly to offset the gold tinted windows but really I suspect because it makes it entirely Him.

While I was there I also had the opportunity to do a little shopping. Blimey, there are a lot of second hand record shops in L.A. I think I went to all of them.

I took this shot outside Gimme Gimme just after emerging with my mate Jason (who shares my vinyl addiction and knows every record shop in LA) laden with albums including Sly And The Family Stone's There's a Riot Going On ($1!) and Mandrill's first album ($15). I was jealous of this passer-by, partly because she'd found a trolley to match her top but also because I needed something to cart my booty around in.

On the flight back I had an odd serendipitous experience: The overhead lockers on VS23  were all stuffed full of hand luggage and I was trying to add mine to it at the eleventh hour. Sat next to my window seat was a middle-aged man who looked all toothy and charming  - a bit like the actor Phil Davies. 

He stood and offered to move his coat and make room. 
"haven’t got anything fragile in there have you?” he asked about the Amoeba Records bag I was shoving in on top.
“Actually, yes, I’ve got a couple of vinyl records ..”
His eyes lit up, “Really? What you got?”

As I finished loading the locker and sat down next to him I prepared myself for his deflated reaction to the ancient obscurity in the bag.
“Well, I was in Amoeba earlier today and I found an original copy of a record by Patrick Fitzgerald”
Patrick Fitzgerald!” 

I don’t usually write the word ‘exclaimed’ but there is no better verb to  describe how he repeated the name. Fellow passengers’ heads turned. He continued, “what, the punk troubadour? Safety Pin Stuck In Heart? Genius!”

If you want to hear what my fellow passenger got so excited about here it is

The Virgin check-in person had not only sat me next to the only person on the flight to have heard of Patrick Fitzgerald but quite possibly the only person in L.A. to have hear of him. 
“What a treat to sit next to fan of punk wave,” I replied , “Pleased to meet you, I’m Ben, “ I said offering my hand.
He took it and gave a toothy grin, “Kid.”

It turned out that I was sitting next to the drummer from Clockwork Orange-clad punk chancers, The Adicts.

Kid is the fella sitting on the far right. He's actually much cooler looking than this pic gives him credit for.
He proceeded to tell me some amazing stories about his early life, growing up in a family where dad was the entertainment promoter for military bases where the itinerant family lived. Kid - or Michael as he was then known - would often wake up in the morning and discover members of The Kinks or whoever had played the previous evening, sleeping sitting room. 

I must confess to having been almost entirely ignorant of the band's work other than their Alex Droog-look, but listening to the stuff on Spotify the songs are witty and pretty powerful, kind of like early Adam And The Ants without the whips and leather. What was genuinely inspiring to hear from Kid (still can't quite resolve that name with my 50-something fellow passenger) is that their longevity and popularity has earned them a real respect from fellow bands young and old. They now headline punk festivals all over the world and  have a seriously devoted fanbase. Lemmy's a fan apparently.

Kid had been in L.A. writing and recording new stuff with his brother Pete Dee and singer Monkey who both live there now. Kid has remained true to the band's hometown of Ipswich and was returning there to wife and kids. "We're still popular because we're still the same - I mean, no offence, right (he points at my shaven head) but we've all kept this (pointing at his own) and Monkey still looks the same in his make up. But when I get home, I'm not Kid anymore, I'm Michael Davison, just out walking the dogs..."

And so we sat there, two fellas of a certain ago talking about music and enjoying the inflight hospitality. Kid seemed remarkably adept at persuading the initially reluctant staff to keep us refreshed, something he put down to the 35 years of punk rock international travel he's had.  It struck me that like The Adicts, Devo could in theory have gone on without pause given that their image was about costume and disguise too.

The reformed Devo in the noughties. Older, wiser..

And that's all pop music is isn't it? Just dressing up and making up songs. Some artists use  their own life experiences like Benjamin Clementine, others dress up and sing about imaginary events people or invented worlds like Motörhead, The Adicts or Devo. Jerry from Devo was at Kent State University when State troopers opened fire on students protesting against the US invasion of Cambodia during the Vietnam War. His friend Allison Krause was one of those killed and he witnessed it. The trauma part inspired Devo. 

Let's hope the events in Paris last weekend go on to inspire something positive.

Monday, 2 November 2015

10 Reasons Why Rock Music Might Be Dead

This could be what a new fan of rock music looks like. But who is it?

Last week found me sitting in a ubiquitous coffee chain in Central London talking to the Saul Galpern ahead of him guesting on the podcast. Saul was on to discuss the Mercury Prize and as we went through the nominees it was clear that there wasn't much in the way of guitar music represented. Saul was telling me about a recent conversation he'd had with the son of a singer from quite a famous band and how this young fella - himself a huge fan of music - uttered the immortal words, "rock is dead."

So while I don't necessarily agree with him, here are some reasons why he might be right. As my seven-year-old daughter would say, "Just putting' it out there."

Rankin took this picture. I'm undecided as to whether it does the album justice.

1) The Mercury Prize
There are only three Mercury music prize nominations which you could describe as guitar rock  but while each has its own merits, are any of them really taking the genre forward? In fact has rock been redefined by anyone since, say The White Stripes, Arctic Monkeys or The Libertines. Wolf Alice have got some tunes and good vocalist but there's something relentlessly ordinary about them.  I'm fond of Slaves, but it's a concoction which most people over 30 will be very familiar with. One disclaimer to this point might be that I am relentless old so I am clearly not the target audience. As Saul wisely said, if he was 15, he would never have heard Buzzcocks or The Fall so Slaves would be a clarion call. The third nomination is my favourite of the entire Mercury shortlist: Gaz Coombs' Matador. Arguably Coomb's has never wanted to break rock's mould but with this album he has definitely swerved off Supergrass Boulevard into something more interesting. Perhaps he could keep rock alive for a bit longer.

Sleaford Mods in their state of the art recording studio
2) Sleaford Mods
One band who are getting championed  as doing something interesting and showing genuine passion are Sleaford Mods. But these guys are almost old enough to remember punk rock the first time around. As a boy, singer Jason Williamson was a huge Jam fan, which led to his disillusionment with recent Weller output. As well as this, the audience at Sleaford Mods shows would appear to comprise of ladies and gentleman of a similar age to the band who have - like me, I admit - found angry kindred spirits in the band. Great, yes. Keeping rock alive by inspiring young kids? Not sure.

3) Archivisation
Dylan's label started this back in the 90s with the Bootleg Series, which is now on its 12th volume with The Cutting Edge, a trawl through the outtakes of his 1960s big hair period featuring, I kid you not, 20 versions of Like A Rolling Stone. Again, the old fellas like me, especially the ones who like packaging (again: me) will be adding this on their lists for Santa, but it's more nails in the coffin for the plan to convince 'the kids' that rock is about exciting, rebellious new things. Oh, and there's another Beatles package for Christmas too.

4) Bedroom Strumming
Bands are expensive. To keep going with no art school grants or any of the other financial support networks that used to exist (in the UK at least ) in the past is hard. Who pays Paying for rehearsals, equipment, petrol for gigs and all the other stuff you need to do to keep a band going? Clearly it's the greatest fun in the world playing in a room with other musicians but wouldn't it be quicker and cheaper to do it in a bedroom with computers and shit? Well, ask Ed Sheeran, Laura Marling, Villagers. And these are just names I'm plucking from the forefront of my brain. These days it's easier to cite solo artists or duos than bands. This doesn't necessarily make for less effective music - the previous three artists are at the forefront of my mind because I like them - but are they rock? I think the answer is no.

Sheeran archived.

5) It's Everywhere
How good do your favourite records sound after you've been starved of them? I remember coming back from holidays when I would only have so much room for CDs and experiencing the physical pleasure of satiating myself on missed music. Now we can take everything everywhere. And if that wasn't enough we're also exposed to it in shopping malls, hold music while your call is being valued, in taxis, and while we wait for planes to take off. Even when you're on a flight there is no escapge from Classic Rock - which now means Ride, apparently.

Virgin Atlantic's current choices of All Time Greats.
Incidentally, I just found a copy of There's a Riot for one dollar. Result!

6) Books Books! BOOKS!.
First sign of something being over is when it gets its own shelf of books. Books on Rock used to be tucked away in a corner of Waterstones. Recently in Foyles in London I was confronted with the sight of three bowing shelves full of rock minutiae. And still they keep coming. Peter Dogget has just written another 720 words about 125 years of pop music. Like so much modern art, I suspect the main achievement here is really to say I Have More Time Than You.

7) Brand extension.
My brother now has a pair of Motörhead headphones. Why not? The Motörhead logo is arguably the finest part of their legacy; it should be on more products. Extra Mature Motörhead cheddar, anyone? I'd buy that. Iron Maiden have just marketed their own beer Trooper which looks like this:

You can buy Clash notebooks, Sex Pistols iPhone cases, Rammstein steel lunch boxes and... well, I don't need to list them all here. You know what I'm talking about - and don't get me wrong, I am tempted. My favourite purchase is the punk rock coaster set:

8) Heydays
Think about classical music. Or Jazz. Every music genre has its heyday. Yes, classical is still immensely popular. But here the clue is in the name. Those going to a classical concert will more than likely be listening to music written hundreds of years ago. Just like those of us going to see Iggy Pop. As for Jazz, it's been a heritage industry for all of our lifetimes and is still going. Yes, practitioners still write new jazz music but it's the great artists and albums which attract young fans. Having just seen the movie Amy, it was clear that Winehouse was not queuing up to listen to Courtney Pine or John Schofield, she wanted Tony Bennett and Billie Holiday. So perhaps Rock will soon just be another canon of work which new artists interpret. But will anyone be reinterpreting Catfish And The Bottlemen in 50 years?

9) Reforming reforming.
Recently I saw a bunch of posters on a wall in a market in Bristol. For a moment I thought it was a collectors stall with lots of original posters from the late 70s: The Rezillos, The Ruts, The Cockney Rejects. Then it became apparent that these were freshly produced posters for artists who were on tour and playing at a nearby venue. It's now hard to pick a band from this period who haven't reformed. The original artists reinterpreting their old work. Can't see the kids queuing up for it.

10)  The ruddy music!
I'm desperate for a new innovative band to come along like The Libertines, Arctic Monkeys, The Strokes or The White Stripes. But they all emerged over 10 years ago. Yes, I am old and jaded and possibly not worth trying to engage with new music, and I know that it's the same for every music fan to chase the thrill of discovery first felt when they heard that band or that record for the first time. But I'm open-eared and I know lots of people male and female just like me who have not given up looking for new acts which excite them.  Please someone direct us to them!

So is it dead? I think I'm with Pete Townshend.

Oh yes, that new rock fan up at the top of the page. That's my daughter Maddy. She likes Rockaway Beach by the Ramones and Bad Blood by Taylor Swift. On vinyl of course.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Along For The Ride

An apologetic, yet simultaneously confident voice greets the crowd at the Academy. Like Hugh Grant in a Humphrey Bogart hat, holding a Fender. ‘Hello Brixton, we’re Ride. Thanks for coming.’

Mark Gardiner (the man in the hat - who'd have thought?) seer into a song that I’ve not heard for maybe two decades but it sounds… well, it sounds fantastic; absolutely up to date and somehow not of its time at all.  Loz, Steve, Mark and Andy are ripping through Leave Them All Behind. Possibly their finest moment. They're back together (again, who'd... etc.) and it’s a good thing that they’re back together; good for them, good for fans, good for those who were born the year they first played. I wonder what Taylor Swift would make of them. 

Ride were a good group. Notice I didn't use the word great. Somehow, the apologetic air haunts them still, although as I stand watching them this October night 26 years after first seeing them, I think maybe that adjective might start getting used. They were Creation Records’ first popstars, a band on the cusp of greatness when they got swept away on the tidal wave of Grunge then crushed swiftly by the red double decker of Britpop. 

Don't be fooled by the Starting Out (1988 - 1989) entry on Ride's Wikipedia page.  This is how it happened: 

By rights, they would have been the first band I signed. I got my first music business job working as a talent scout at East West in 1989. Within days, I was coursing through boxes of unsolicited demo cassettes that had been abandoned by my predecessors and the rest of the A&R department. Dutifully, I listened to the first few bars of each of the standard three tracks on each one and then packaged them up in pristine Jiffy bags to be returned. Such were the pre-Internet days of the record business: Tanita Tikaram, Enya and The Ginger Prince provided us with the funds to spend on the R&D and I felt we were almost offering a public service. My rejection letters were masterclasses of tact and evasion “Thank you for making the effort to send us your material… It always boils down to a personal opinion so if we’re saying no that doesn’t mean you should give up – somebody else might love it!” Or words to that effect. I’ll try and dig out a rejection letter but for now here’s a collection of all the misspellings of my name on demos sent to me, which I made into a complements slip.

Ride were, as you might expect, not discovered via an unsolicited demo cassette. I heard about them from a local Oxford music paper called Gig. I believe Ride’s future manager, Dave Newton, had something to do with Gig but anyway, it was he I spoke to at the paper. Nobody tells you how to be a talent scout so I just did the things I imagined a private detective would do: I phoned up a lot of people who I thought might know something and asked lots of questions. Without hesitation, Dave  recommended Ride and a couple of days later a tape arrived which was and remains the best-presented demo I ever came across. Ride started as they meant to go on – everything had been thought through: 

The block capitals logo, kept for their entire career, was there from that very first demo; the solid, defintive colour; the minimalism; the iconography. 

Musically too, it was amazing. Both future classics Chelsea Girl and Drive Blind were included as well as a third (and first in the running order) I'm Fine Thanks (later available on the box set, completist chums!)

I went to see them live and it was clear they had been blessed: It all. That’s what they had. A great guitarist, a charismatic, hurricane of a drummer, a stoic, monolithic bass player and a ludicrously handsome lead singer. They were young, they were intelligent and they played a cover of Tomorrow Never Knows.

I couldn’t get much interest from the rest of the A&R department but Cally (a legend who I have written about here before  and had the pleasure of interviewing earlier this week for the podcast) loved it as much as I did.  He had signed a kind of UK version of Jane’s Addiction called Underneath What who despite being signed to our multinational powerhouse, had just released their debut single Firebomb Telecom on a small label called One Big Guitar for credibility’s sake. Cally suggested we convince Ride to do the same – we wouldn’t even sign them, just put it out for goodwill and see what happened. Again, the public service nature of how some of us viewed the job is apparent. Cally told me recently that he never thought the band would happen if they signed to East West and he may have a point. But then again Geoff Travis had done the Blanco Y Negro deal with WEA and Jesus and Mary Chain were doing quite well thank you very much.

The Reed brothers as it turned out, were Ride’s favourite band.  Cally and I found this out when we travelled to Oxford to meet them. They were hugely polite and well behaved but genuinely inspiring. We suggested doing some recording with them. One thing major record labels did all the time in the 80s and 90s was offer artists ‘demo’ time. Normally budgeted at around £500 it was both a gesture of goodwill (public service!) and a way of avoiding making a foolish A&R decision by simply signing a group because you’d seen one exciting gig. Looked at another way, it was a way of avoiding making an actual decision whilst keeping your options open. 'Umming and Erring' as the perenniel  A&R joke used to go.  I did it a lot at East West because I couldn’t get my boss interested in most of the things I brought in. But that’s another blog.

The band quickly agreed to us recording them so we could put out a record. I can’t remember any other record companies sniffing around. Major labels were all looking for the next Deacan Blue or U2. Even a handful of years later, the kind of scenario where a band this good, building a fanbase locally would be able to exist without their every show being rammed full of industry chancers. But back then, when Taylor Swift wasn't even 1,  it was just me, Cally – and one other person I’d told about them, Mike Smith who was at MCA Publishing. He couldn’t get any interest from his boss either.

Cally and I paid for some demos and recorded them in Oxford at same studio where they had recorded the demos. If you look back to the pic of the demo you can see Cally's distinctive writing in pencil '16 track Oxford'. My scrawl is next to the phone numbers, where I've put Mark and Steve's names next to the numbers (I've obscured the numbers just in case). You see the slick way we worked: proper grown-up A&R man and trusty scout. We mixed it in London at a studio called Arkntide of which I have a vague recollection. There is however one crystal clear memory.  

Crucially, when it came to the final mix, the band and manager trusted myself and Cally to man the faders to get it sounding how we thought would best show off the band's brilliance. It was the first and as it turned out, only time that a band let me get my own mucky paws directly onto their work. All respect to Ride, they knew we loved them and perhaps did it out of thanks. In addition to that Cally and I got a credit for remixing it. Not in our actual names, mind but in alternative monikers based on that favourite band of Ride's you remember from earlier. They switched Jim and William Reid's names to James and Bill and lo! Cally and I were immortalised. 

What happened next happened fast. Dave sent us transparencies of the artwork, the beautiful roses artwork that I'm sure you remember if you're bothering to read this:

Cally, being an artist and sleeve designer himself helped with all this and we started setting up the release with One Big Guitar. Then suddenly...


We were nowhere. 

What had happened was inevitable. Just like a girl in the tentative early stages of a relationship, Ride stopped returning calls. Eventually, we were told. It was obvious really, and we should have known all along: the band had been seduced by Alan McGee at Creation. Who could blame them? If you were 19 and in love with Jesus And Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine and then their manager and record label offered you a deal, would you sit around waiting for a a pair of blokes who worked for Tanita Tikarum and Chris Rea's label? 

Ride rose swiftly after the release of the Ride EP. Cally and I wished them no ill because they were great and deep down we kind of knew that Creation was a better label for them than us. As well as this, Dave and his charges remained very loyal: we got our credit on the record and even a decade later they credited us on the OX4 box set and indeed sought us both out to give us a copy each.

And now here I am watching them on stage. They play two sets, one comprising the imperial period from Going Blank Again then they return and give us the whole of Nowhere. They've just returned from the US and they're going back again after they finish in the UK. The signs of this relentless touring are not that they seem jaded and exhausted but rather they have become the band they always threatened to become in their heyday: Loz's drumming is tighter, the harmonies are more strident, the playing simply better. They are as muscular as the block capitals behind them:

Added to this the audience are not, it must be stressed, just a bunch of old blokes like me, but a healthy mixture of male and female. This makes sense because Ride were after all, the thinking women's early 90s totty alongside the Charlatans and before Blur. 

After the gig I decide not to go backstage and shake hands with them all 26 years later. It would be lovely of course, but I suspect it being a London show that there are many folk like me who will be forming an undignified queue outside the dressing room. 

I say goodbye to the friends I came with and walk back through Brixton humming Drive Blind and Chelsea Girl. After everything, those two songs from that first demo are the songs they save for the encore.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Haven't you got enough records already?

Walking to my mum's house last week I did a double take. Outside the door of the house a couple of doors up from her was a small box

My mum, AKA Granny, lives in a narrow one way street with tiny pavements lined with pretty cottages and  full of people who sculpt and paint and have summer garden parties where lutes might get played. It's just the sort of street every grandmother deserves to live. But what about the box sitting there taking up space on the already cramped pavement?

Naturally, being a reader of this blog, you've spotted exactly what I spotted. Not the cat books leaning desperately against the door (take me home!) , nor the collection of small plastic knick knacks. No, the Apple Records logo on a 7" which in turn fronted a wodge of more records behind it.

Who could resist having a rifle though?

I don't know about you - and I really wish I did - but I love nothing more than looking through second hand records. The joy of serendipity; the thrill of finding a record I've wanted for ages, or finding something I never even knew existed, or never knew that I wanted or... Well, those of you who love pop music will hopefully know what I'm talking about. Refreshingly, there are many people in the music industry who are still like this. My friend David Laurie, for example, who, not content with running his own record label Something In Construction, has just published his first book DARE ...

Relax, I only have the one copy; this is one of David's snaps, I think.

In the introduction to this book (which is excellently researched, lavishly illustrated and a breeze to read), David freely admits that he remains incapable of walking past a record shop without going in. I very much hear him. It is a common problem amongst music fans - there are simply so many tempting records and there is actually a simple answer to the perennial rhetorical question posed first by parents then later by spouses: haven't you got enough records already? That answer, my friends, is NO.

So did I find a copy of God Save The Queen on A&M? A Beatles Love Me Do promo disc? An
unreleased John's Children 7" ? Read on and I'll let you know.

There is something tantislising about singles, isn't there? In the 60s, 70s and 80s albums were a big pocket money investment and generally only purchased by committed fans or people with jobs but the single had an entry level price; besides what else was there to spend your money on back then? Because of this, charity shops are now clogged with them, which means that in terms of finding a interesting or rare one, you have to sift through an awful lot of Doolies. You may have already seen this pic I took a couple of weeks ago for my ongoing game Charity Shop Fruit Machine:

Whole lotta Shakey going on.

These days the price is not so entry level: If you want to hear music on 7" by new bands they are made in such small quantities that you'll end up paying close to ten quid for one single. But a couple of months ago a mate of mine told me about a way of getting 7" vinyl from brand new bands delivered to your doorstep. He sent me the first batch from the Flying Vinyl singles club. Inside a doorstep of a box came five seven inches from bands I'd never heard of. Inevitably some of them were better than others but crucially they were all lovingly housed in unique picture sleeves, one of them was on purple vinyl and there was a handy booklet about the artists. I've just received the third batch:

I love cardboard.

There, I've said it - and the folks at Flying Vinyl seems to understand the importance of the tactile experience. After all, I could listen to all these bands on Soundcloud, couldn't I?  But these guys have chosen who to release (a spot of A&R) and then gone to town on the packaging. Even removing the outer shell of the posted package is a little bit exciting. Yes, yes, I know. I should get out more:

Ooo, what's in here?

Argh, mustn't tear it, the pressure, the pressure...

Phew, we're in.
The club charges you £20 every month for the singles including the postage, which isn't bad even if you only like a couple of the singles. This month is a vast improvement on the first month in my opinion: Here's a snapshot of my thoughts as I played the records:

Beach Baby
A lovely purple coloured vinyl record (each month one artist gets a coloured release - not sure how they decide this) Four piece who've got a vocalist reminiscent of Babybird's Stephen Jones and a pair of cracking tunes. I wish their logo was better but you can't have everything.
Kid Wave
Signed to Heavenly already and sounding not unlike the wave of Thames Valley bands from the early 90s. Big tunes sung by shy people. I'm not going to the Sh word which ends in oegazing. And lovely artwork too.
The Big Moon
A really great A side (Sucker) from this all girl band  - the B side isn't so good but the singer's got a very convincing voice. Either they're not interested in artwork that much or Flying Vinyl ran out of pantones for their sleeve.
Theo Verney
The least convincing of the bunch - the booklet tries to persuade me that he's 'the artist that the psych-rock genre has been long-awaiting". I hope their wait is over.  Sounds like Kasabian demos to me but maybe he's great live.
Oh So Quiet
Undeniably a terrible band name but it does at least encapsulate the gentle, mellifluous sound they make. The Argentine-born female singer has a voice which touches on Nina Pearson from the Cardigans, but that doesn't quite rectify it for me. A great sleeve though.

Regardless of the single in it, though, anything that keeps 7"s on the turntable is a good thing. Even without it, though, I don't think I'd have any trouble. I can smell the magic of a copy of Janet Kay's Silly Games a mile off. Even my eleven year old daughter is now asking to put "the small records" on because they're more fun. Yesterday she found my copy of Rockaway Beach (picture sleeve, of course) and she, her younger sister and I danced to it for its duration, as we watched it go round and round.

And as for that box in my mum's road, it turned out to be, well, a bit of new wave treasure trove, albeit with the former owner's name making its way onto the artwork a little too much. Ah well, that's 7"s single for you, they all tell a story.

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...