Saturday, 17 September 2016

I love music so why can't I get excited about hi-fi?

Last week I was asked to write another column for BBC's Front Row. (you can listen to it here by the way, about 3 minutes towards the end of the show). They were keen to do something to mark Apple's announcement of the new iPhone 7 and its ditching of the 3.5mm headphone jack plug.

As I sat there  in BBC Gloucester with the avuncular producer in London, guiding me through my reading, it occurred to me that prior to doing the piece, I rarely gave much thought to the nuts and bolts of listening to recorded music.

This is odd because, I've got shelves and shelves of the stuff as you know: a mountain of CDs which I'm trying to offload; too much vinyl, multiple copies of Velvet Underground and The Clash, a habit Im trying to curb but which gets thwarted every time I go into a secondhand record shop or do another podcast - both weekly activities, by the way;  plus boxes and boxes of singles, old cassettes and 6 disc box sets up the wazoo. But my record player? My amplifier? My speakers? Meh.

Some of my records - as alphabeticised by my daughters.

The turntable, my wife bought me when she worked for Sony a gazillion years ago; it's OK and does the job but it's not something you can stroke and admire like some of the stuff out there. I was at a friend's 50th last year where everyone was invited to bring a 7" single to play.  He had an absolute beauty of a turntable -  the same one that features in A Clockwork Orange, which I now read is a called a Mitchell Transcriptor Hydraulic Reference Turntable. A real fetish item for collectors apparently.

Alex with his Mitchell Transcriptor in Kurbrick's A Clockwork Orange

My friend, I should say is a music professional as well as a connoisseur of 1960s art and design. But when we tried to play a 7" copy of Boy Wonder's 'Goodbye Jimmy Dean', there were precious little hydraulics and certainly no transcription as the stylus resolutely refused to play anything other than the run out groove. And eventually this 7" themed party reverted, like most parties these days, to being DJ'd by Spotify.

My amplifier until last year was a second hand NAD which I'd bought from my brother years ago. It had the Volume and Balance control on one hugely irritating dial, forcing you to hold the front bit (Vol) still while you fiddled with the bottom bit (Bal) to make adjustments. Like a stubborn jam jar. Also whenever I used it at a party it would cut out over a certain volume and have to be given an hour's worth of R&R to cool down before it returned to work. Not good when you've got a bunch of drunk 40 somethings all keen to continue dancing to 'Get Lucky'.

But did I ever do anything about it in all those (20 - argh!) years? Nope. Just a bit of occasional moaning before going back out to buy more stuff to play through it. I finally replaced it last year with a Cambridge Audio amp from Richer Sounds which is, by far and away, the most expensive bit of kit I've ever bought for the purpose of listening to recorded music. About £150. Steady on, Wardle.

And the speakers? Up until Chestnut The Cat went for them, I was using speakers I'd bought years before while I was an A&R man. I can't even remember their name. Nick, the lovely man from an outfit called Seven O Sound got them for me. His company used to get BMG all their hi fi kit. It was Nick who would come out and fix it during meetings as well. This would invariably happen when the MD or Chairman would want to play something to the A&R department and no one could work out how to get the system working. It was his job to use the line, "Have you turned it on?"You think I'm joking? A love of hi fi is not consistent with a love of music.

Chestnut realising the speakers are now too high for her to destory.

Anyway the speakers Nick got me which I'm sure were great and certainly cost quite a bit, eventually got savaged by Chestnut's merciless claws and I was forced to replace them. So did I buy What Hi Fi and seek out the latest state of the art kit? What do you think? I bought an old pair from my friend Russell who had them going spare. They aren't that pretty and they're certainly not new but someone once told me that British speakers were the best and these are British and made by Celestion. Hifi experts reading this will now be nodding sagely or shaking their heads in disbelief at my nativity but I don't care; they make a noise and you can hear the bass. Woofers? Check. Tweeters? You betcha!

One of my two Celestion speakers, yesterday. Note handy copy of Roger's Profanisaurus.

I've recently put all these bits into an organised shelf system on my study wall (see below) so I can sit and listen to New Boots And Panties at full volume in a chair whilst drinking tea . I am now faced with the reality of my hifi choices; there's nowhere for them to run. Now those speakers are on the wall in the correct place there is no excuse; now the turntable is on a shelf unconnected to the floor I can do as much dad dancing as I like without the record skipping. It sounds good to me. I'm sure if someone came round who really knew about hifi they'd immediately say that the stereo channels are back to front, I've used the wrong cables, the stylus is worn out or make an ironic comment about me still having a cassette player all wired up and ready to go (Ironically, my Yamaha cassette deck is probably the most state of the art bit of kit I have - another heirloom from A&R years).

The new shelves with my rather indifferent turntable centre stage.

But I don't care - I'm enjoying myself and that's the main thing. And remember when most of us listen to music on Spotify Premium via an iPhone in a car or a portable mono Bluetooth speaker why should we get uptight about whether we've our hifi is state of the art?

Mind you, if you have any advice for me on getting a new turntable do let me know...

Monday, 25 July 2016

Oh No! He's written a poem...

Given that more prosaic areas of my life have temporarily swallowed up regularly entries here, I took it upon myself to write a poem on Father's Day. Thanks to my wife who allowed me the time to write it and Esther who inspired me to write it, which you'll see if you make it to the last stanza.


After playing with Action Man
Not quite yet thirteen
Toys began to be replaced
With new discoveries
And so a life began through school
And university
The Jam, The Clash, The Buzzcocks.

The weekend plan was alcohol
In pubs around Blackheath
With sparkling lines we would approach
Girls in twos and threes.
Defeated, back at Robert’s house
We’d curse virginity:
The Jam, The Clash, The Buzzcocks.

The names began to mount up
A new wave family tree
Biroed on my Adidas bag
And torn from NME
Played on Radio Luxembourg
Before school on Sunday
The Jam, The Clash, The Buzzcocks.
And XTC.

In my teenage bedroom
A pungent sanctuary
Lying on the carpet
Reading inner sleeves
I’ve catalogued and labelled
Each new discovery:
The Jam, The Clash, The Buzzcocks.

Tapping fingers on the wall
The man nods frantically
He’s listening to The Snivelling Shits
In the British Library
Like me, he’s there to worship
At the altar of memory:
The Jam, The Clash, The Buzzcocks.

In the second hand record shop
Through racks from A to C
There’s the one with the yellow sleeve
There’s the one in green
I own them all a thousand times
But still I need to see
The Jam, The Clash, The Buzzcocks.

“I’m going to write a poem!”
My daughter says to me,
She asks me for some paper
And scampers off in glee.
On Father’s Day, I look downhill,
A lifetime lost at sea:
The Jam, The Clash, The Buzzcocks.
And XTC.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Why Do We Listen To Music?

Today I listened to Gregory Porter’s ‘Hey Laura’. It’s from his first album, Liquid Spirit, which I came late to. Strange because the genre, a sort of easy listening mid-tempo jazz sounds really irksome on paper. What is going on? I like scratchy guitars, backing vocals and lyrics about everything being terrible. Or failing that, just something recorded in 1978.  

I listen to everything but there are some records that transcend it all. And when records like this arrive, it’s like the Bell Jar lifting. Porter reminds me of Jon Lucien, in particular his song ‘Sunny Day’. I find it very hard not be swept away everytime I hear it. Everything seems clear; everything feels OK. All the worries, the problems in front of me and the issues in the world, all of them shrink down while the hairs on the back of my neck respond and I am cleansed in voice and tune.

This makes me realise the esteem in which I place music; the faith I lay in its power. Most of the time I find myself being disparaging about everything I hear. I now realize that this is because I have such high expectations. If music is capable of such mood alchemy then what is the point of music which doesn’t do this? Of music, which just exists for its momentary singalong value?

Then again, perhaps it’s just my mood. If a piece of music hits a mood full on, then there’s the alchemy. Like that euphoric moment where the drums come back in after a breakdown on the dancefloor, or a bright Sunday morning, sipping coffee and listening to pretty much any track from Joni Mitchell’s Blue. Or when driving back from having done something great and putting Fountains of Wayne’s Radiation Vibe* on the car stereo. 

Porter has what some writers might call a warm, honeyed voice; it’s reassuring and friendly in tone and it draws you in on the ballads. Perhaps that’s what grabbed me then;  the reassurance. It changed my mood from one of mild anxiety to a fuzzy dream state. I don’t know but whatever it was, like an addict I’m going to look for that thrill again. I may not find it again in the same song but at some point I’ll find it in another. 

*A truly fantastic record but one of the worst videos of all time - I have linked to the audio; don't, whatever you do, experience this song for the first time via the video.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

The Post Bowie Vacuum Finally Begins to Fill

Of course, the first thing you'd expect here would be a nice picture of The Dame.

I don't think you need to see another one, do you? You've already got your own best image of him in your head.

Like almost everyone who has already written things far better than I ever could, I never met David Bowie. And yet... and yet. He was personally important in ways which I  - and the rest of the world - are only now really realising.

I missed the one opportunity of meeting him when I was working at RCA/BMG and he signed to us for the Earthling album. He came into the building at Putney Bridge and by all accounts hung out for a bit and was very friendly. I was out that day; probably in a studio pretending to be important or maybe sitting in traffic on the M56 in an attempt to find a group in Manchester. I have no idea. I just remember that "guess who you missed meeting?" crowing on my return. Ah well.

Anyway, since I last wrote this on my return from all those US and Canadian record shops, where have I been? What have I been doing?

Well, for starters, although it seems like a lifetime ago, there was this:

Yes, that's me, gesticulating wildly whilst doing a lecture. I was explaining What's the Point of A&R?  to a hall of students studying Popular Music. Who would've thought that would be a course? It is, though. I wonder if I'd gone on it, I would have ended up signing more successful bands?

I also wrote a text version of it a couple of weeks ago for Music Business Worldwide and was astonished how many friends and colleagues got back to me agreeing with my 3 Commandments of A&R. After all, it's been a very long time since I actually did the job. It appears, however, despite massively decreased sales, that not much has changed about the actual job. And its necessity.

Then Christmas happened, Lemmy died, then Bowie and it we were suddenly beached into a whole new year where everything seemed different.

Since then, my bearings have been steadied by a number of things. Firstly, the new Mystery Jets album Curve Of The Earth. A friend of mine gave me an advance copy of it before Christmas and I've been living with it since then. To be perfectly honest, I don't often get excited about new records: last year I enjoyed Courtney Barnett, Ezra Furman and Slaves but I'm not sure I'll be continuing to listen to them much this year. This new Mystery Jets elpee is staying with me; it's about as good as it gets: opaque intriguing lyrics, brilliantly sung by a singer who's really got the chops and most important - the thing that gets underestimated or simply taken for granted - great soaring tunes that twist in unexpected yet entirely satisfying ways. These are songs that somehow always existed yet here they are for the first time! Listen to Bombay Blues if you don't believe me. If you want a glib, quick reference it's The Shins meets Arctic Monkeys. I've read a couple of miserly reviews in The Guardian and Mojo already. Ignore them, go and listen to it, then tell me I'm wrong if you must. I met two of them a few days ago for the podcast and they as good company as their music.

Another surprise and bearings-steadier in the post Bowie vacuum was discovering that Micky Gegus, co-founder and guitarist of West Ham hard case punks Cockney Rejects is a total gent.

I interviewed him ahead of a screening of Richard England's wonderful film about the band, East End Babylon and I suspect like a lot of people, I hadn't really properly listened to the Cockney Rejects during their heyday. They were too firmly aligned with football,which I have never been interested in, and the songs I heard on the radio (I've Forever Blowing Bubbles and Greatest Cockney Rip Off) seemed too lumpen and dull to warrant investigation of any album. Now giving their tunes a bit of time (in both senses: distance from the release date as well as my own listening time), whilst they're never going to compete with, say, The Clash or The Jam,  I was overwhelmed by their musicality and freshness. Tracks like East End or Oi Oi Oi are genuinely great. They were so young at the time too. And who can argue with a band who spent their advance on fireworks and treats from the school tuckshop?

I'm wasn't going to go about rock deaths today but after losing two originals like Lemmy and Bowie within weeks, I fear, we're going to have to start getting used to losing old friends over the next few years. Rock's first great wave are now that age: getting ready to leave the planet,  It's the pitiful cry of a 50 something white westerner but we're not going to see their like again; once they're gone, will we be charting the fascinating courses taken by Bieber, Swift and Kanye? Well, I'm sure some people will be, but not me.

Just before he died, Lemmy made an advertisement for a well know brand of Finnish milk. If you haven't seen it, have a look; it's the only advert I've ever seen where the product is actively spurned by the person promoting it. Anyway, it provided me with the inspiration to write a column for BBC Radio 4's Front Row about how products use wild men of rock to promote their stuff.

And if you like the sound of my voice banging on, try this one I did on charity shops being the new record shops - it was broadcast just tonight (Thursday 28th January) but I recorded it before Christmas as a timeless piece they could use to fill space. They added it so last minute that I don't even get billed on the website - it's about 20 minutes into the show.

A lovely thing appeared online towards the end of last week which for me, put an end to the unexpected period of Bowie mourning. It was the release of a bit of studio japery by the Bo-man recorded during the Langer & Winstanley sessions for Absolute Beginners. In it he impersonates Springsteen, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Anthony Newley and several others. It's both funny and also touching; a snapshot of the great man taking a break at work. I love the fact that he was capable of being a highbrow bonafide artist whilst simultaneously being a South East London piss taker. OK, so there are far less Laughing Gnomes than Beauty And The Beasts (and a good thing too) but there is also a catalogue of evidence, which points to Bowie being able to laugh at himself and others. To be perfectly honest, when I hear a band like, say, this week, Savages, talk earnestly about their art, I just want to reach for the eject button. When Ricky Gervais suggested Bowie finally got a proper job as he turned 60, the Dame apparently replied he had one and it was 'Rock God'. This is the man who talked in the unique scatalogical manner of Derek to Brian Eno's Clive whilst the two of them recorded Heroes and Low.

And of course his last TV appearance on Extras. Is it too much to ask for Little Fat Man to be released as a charity record?

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

A Trip to The Thing: About Secondhand Record Hunting.

I'm sitting in reception at BBC's New Broadcasting House. I'm reasonably familiar with it as I have a few friends here, but this is the first time in ages that I'm doing a job. In a few minutes I'm going to go through the revolving door and into a recording studio where I'm going to read an article I've written.

Regular readers may be wondering what the big gaps have been between posts. I know, it's not a great way to run a blog but hey, it's the only way I know how right now. I've been in the States again. This time not for work but for pleasure, accompanying my dad on a trip to celebrate the 100th birthday of a friend of his. Here's a picture of me and dad 'having it large' in New York.

I think both of us need a little work on selfie technique

The 100th birthday party turned out to be a, well, a gig - held at a venue called the Town Hall. The birthday boy, Eric Bentley is the man responsible for bringing  the English speaking world's attention to the works of Bertolt Brecht. He didn't make the show but watched his party on a video stream. He's well known (to those of us who had to study Brecht at school and then went and did German at University) as being the translator and editor of a lot of Brecht's work including the songs Brecht wrote with Kurt Weil. Bowie fans may remember this, although the translation here is by John Willett. Bentley also recorded a lot of Brecht's stuff himself which makes him possibly the only scholar and critic who has his own page on Discogs.

Anyway, that's why we were there. But while dad went off to see Eric the day after the show, I did what I most like to do. I think you can probably guess what that is and it also pertains to why I am now sitting in the BBC lobby...

Just a handful of years ago, Manhattan used to be quite the place to buy records: there was a massive Tower on Broadway, Virgin Megastore on Times Square, Bleaker Bobs in the Village and loads of  smaller stores. Now all that's left seems to be Other Music. No, in order to complete my quest, I had to go to Brooklyn. Greenpoint, to be precise. I'd read about a legendary shop called The Thing which has endless crates of albums all of which are priced at $2. As ever, I'm looking for a facsimile of that charity shop experience of serendipity and bargain. I found it; here's what the inside of The Thing looks like:

Believe it or not, this is one aisle out of many - and this is just the basement!

Some of you may have seen a tweet I posted suggesting that this might be what is behind the pearly gates. It's hard to imagine anything better with the possible exception of a dinner with Harold Pinter, Jean Seberg and Kenneth Williams.

I dived in and began the trawl. At first I thought I was going to be the boy in the candy store but it soon became apparent that this was hard work. Not only were the records tightly packed into the shelves, each section requiring some manoevering before rack-flicking could commence, but also the condition of many of them was poor - dust and cardboard shards flew everywhere and soon I was covered in a thin layer of powder. It wasn't until about half an hour in, after looking at hundreds of unwantable dance 12"s that I began to find some good stuff: an early Grace Jones album complete with the original Island press pack including a glossy pic of the great lady; the debut Graham Central Station album Release Yourself still in its shrinkwrap, a sealed copy of the Bravery's album (yes, I know they're not hip anymore but it's a good album - and quite pricey on vinyl, pop pickers!)

With these and other gems, I made my way up Manhattan Avenue towards my next vinyl stop, Co Op 87. But before that I chanced upon a store which specialised in fishing tackle but had recently branched out into vinyl. There, I discovered more Grace Jones, an original of DJ Shadow's Endtroducing and the Bee Gee's Idea with its amazing Klaus Voorman cover:

Each part of the composite face is either Barry, Maurice or Robin. There's a handy guide on the back cover.

By now, I suspect you're thinking that I have a bit of a vinyl problem. And you would in part be right. The issue I have is akin to the one Henry Rollins describes in the LA Times:

You can read the whole article here

Rollins "self medicates" on vinyl, he says. And this is what I do too. The problem for me is not so much that I am desparate to hear the music but that I love the artwork: it's the presentation of the music that has always seduced me. I found myself buying a Buzzcocks T-shirt at their recent show in Stroud partly because I love those songs and they were the first group I ever saw, but mainly because Malcolm Garrett's logo is a beautiful piece of art. It's criminal that Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures (designed by fellow Mancunion Peter Saville) should beat Buzzcocks in 6 Music's T-shirt Day last month.

So given how much I love the presentation of music, imagine how excited I was to chance upon this when my dad and I were in MOMA:

Oooh! Look at the lovely Barney Bubbleses

Our trip then continued to Canada. Even writing that sentence makes me wince with the expense. I simply don't earn enough to be doing this trip, but boy, am I glad I did it. I know this blog is about music but allow me to step outside the brief for a moment and say that real, quality time spent with your parents as they get older is just the most rewarding thing. I just hope my own children see it that way too.

Anyway back to the records... In Toronto, where we were visiting my uncle, it transpired that no one had shared the news that record shops were over; the place was brimming with them. The biggest - and possibly best, although I sadly didn't have time to visit them all, is Sonic Boom. A whole floor of secondhand vinyl in the basement which is organised and curated by proper music fans and reasonably priced. Dare I say that it was better than The Thing? Mind you, there was still No Parler for Paul Young in the bargain bins:

Sonic Boom reminded me of Amoeba in L.A. with slightly lower ceilings.

Amongst other things, I snaffled a sealed copy of Fingerprinz' debut The Very Dab, Julian Cope's debut World Shut Your Mouth and Stevie Winwood's cowritten with Viv Stanshall album Arc Of A Diver. I also treated myself to a brand new 10th anniversary double vinyl version of Spoon's Gimme Fiction. If you've not heard of Spoon they really deserve a blog all of their own because they're brilliant. Listen to Sister Jack from that album. Great artwork too.

The following day I also found time to visit one of Toronto's oldest secondhand record shops, Vortex. It was situated on Eglington and Yonge Street in a squat row of red brick buildings of the sort that presumably used to be quite common in Toronto but which are now clearly fighting a losing battle with glass and steel high-rise structures. If Pixar were making a movie of it, this small row of shops would be cowering and whimpering while the rangy skyscrapers kicked sand in their faces.

Somewhat inevitably, Vortex was having a closing down sale.

Sentimentality over, I'd managed to time it perfectly. Combined with this and the fact that sterling is currently much stronger than the Canadian dollar, I emerged from the Vortex half an hour later holding a brace of albums I'd been looking for for ages but had never found at a reasonable price - Stephen Duffy's wonderful debut Lilac Time album, Squeeze's US release on red vinyl, Marianne Faithfull's Broken English, Julian Cope's St Julian... Let me pause for breath...'

Frankly, I don't know how I managed to get them all home. But you'll be happy to hear there were no breakages during the return flight. It occurred to me during the journey home that you simply don't get this vinyl hunting experience in the UK. There are not many used record shops which have such massive stock as Sonic Boom or even others I visited but haven't had time to mention like Rotate This or Gimme Gimme in L.A. And the ones in the UK, I won't mention their names in case they get cross, but they're a bit unexciting and almost always overpriced.

The experience of finding records you never knew you wanted and not paying much for them - that's the thing. Or indeed, The Thing.

The Thing, last week before I bought all their stock.
And that article I presented for BBC Radio? Well, the recording went OK, I think. I'll put a link up to it when it goes live. I won't say what exactly it's about now but it does go some way towards answering the question of where to find record shops where you can have the experience above.

Right now, I'm floating in vinyl heaven. 

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.