I hadn’t intended to write a follow-up to my last blog, ‘The allure of vinyl’ (now a ‘Part one’, I suppose), but due to reading a paperback by the late great DJ, John Peel, ‘The Olivetti Chronicles’ (published by Corgi Books), there was a chapter, amongst others, that really resonated with me – & it was too much of a coincidence of interweaving facts within that chapter not to write a ‘Part 2’. What was it/were they? Read on to find out………….
Just this morning (it won’t be by the time I finish writing this, of course), I was reading the chapter entitled ‘Record Shops’ from the absorbing afore-mentioned book, . The particular piece was written back in 1980 for Punch magazine, & concerned John Peel’s earliest forays into his local record shop(s). Apparently, & it was something I’d forgotten about, most record shops were merely ‘departments’ within bigger stores. He bought a Columbia 78rpm in ‘Crane’s of Liverpool’ – a furniture & musical instrument shop. It was by Ray Martin & His Orchestra, & called ‘Blue Tango’. I was born much later than Mr. Peel, but I do remember quite well (& we’re talking late 60’s, early 70’s) the location of these ‘record depts.’ in furniture shops (why furniture shops?), large department stores & musical instrument shops – a bit more of that later….
Record departments were places where you could get lost in, browsing through records of bands with names no-one had heard of (& in some cases, were never, ever, heard of again). They were social areas that felt like ‘our world’, another world of sound & wonderful album covers. It somehow made you feel special. That’s all gone now, apart from a few, dwindling, independent, & second-hand record shops (see previous blog). It seems that this situation had already started back in 1980, according to the learned J. Peel Esq. He mentioned the lack of choice in W.H.Smith stores, which of course now, has nothing whatsoever to do with music, CDs or otherwise. However, back to the plot…
I also have a 78rpm in my collection by Ray Martin & his Orchestra, but this is called ‘Tango Waltz’ (I wonder if it was pre, or post, Blue Tango?). I bought it years ago when living in London, I think, from a jumble sale. Whenever I play it (as I am at this moment in time……You’ll have to believe me here), I get transported back to my early days of listening to the valve radio – which I, incidentally, have as well………& it still works! – hearing various dance bands/groups/solo artistes of the era. God, I’m beginning to sound old! The 78 is nothing to write home about, but it’s pleasant, & although I can’t associate it with any particular moment in time, or event, it does evoke the sound & warmth coming out of the radio & the coziness of life at home in my earlier days. It’s comforting – nothing wrong with that, I think?
Now, further to connecting records & memories (once again, please see previous blog), there are three LPs that I can clearly remember buying. First up is/was:
– ‘Parachute’ by The Pretty Things. It’s a wonderful, melodic, tuneful, raucous & experimental ‘concept’ album. Bought during a lunch break from my school holiday job (in Marks & Spencer), from Wolsey & Wolsey’s electrical shop – they sold everything from televisions, transistor radios & record players – it was a revelation hearing the music in the listening booth (I really do miss those booths), with the stereo effects coming out of the tiny speakers located just above my head. I listened in wonder to side one, all the way through, & proceeded to march (in non-military style) to the counter with my hard-earned money. It all felt very subversive, & buying it made me feel soooooooo good! At last, I thought to myself, an album that filled that underground/progressive gap that was missing in my very, very minimal record collection at the time.
Next up was……
– Savoy Brown’s ‘Looking In’. Once again, this was yet another purchase made during a lunch break from my school holiday job. I found this LP in the section marked ‘Underground’. My two friends (both working in the same shop), & myself, settled into the dark, curtained listening booth, which was much more luxurious than Wolsey & Wolsey’s, in the basement (household & hardware items) of Arnauld’s Dept. Store. I remember there being a small sofa in there. We all agreed, crammed on that sofa, that there was something special about this album, even though it seemed ‘very bluesey’, & was certainly far better, to our progessive ears, than The Moody Blues album we’d all listened to on a previous lunchtime outing. Incidentally, I once copied the cover artwork, & entered it into an all-schools exhibition at the local library…..& it won first prize! I also managed to sell it, for a mere £5.00, which boosted my pocket money no end.
– Frank Zappa’s ‘The Grand Wazoo’. It was a couple of years later, when I walked from my art college, on a (you guessed it!) lunchtime break, but with my girlfriend of the time, into Allen’s Music Shop, through the highly-polished upright pianos & acoustic guitars hanging from the peg board-covered walls. I can’t remember how I knew about this album, although I do remember borrowing ‘Hot Rats’ from a friend at school, & was very impressed with it. So, maybe I thought it was in a similar vein. Anyway, I asked the assistant to play the record for me. Now, if you were listening to anything in Allen’s, the whole shop also heard it, as it was played through the main shop speakers (they didn’t have any separate booths for this purpose). We both listened to all of side one, as I stood amongst the pianos in the window to get the whole ‘stereo effect’. Customers, staff & my girlfriend all flinched during the first track, ‘For Calvin (& His Next Two Hitch-Hikers)’, & the shop was emptying fast for the next long track, ‘The Grand Wazoo’. When it finished, you could see everyone was feeling relieved & the atmosphere in the shop went back to normal. I was laughingly asked by the member of staff if I wanted to buy it, & my girlfriend also said something like, ‘Of course you don’t, do you?’. All present were totally surprised when I said, ‘Yes!’ When I got back to art college, the LP was the talk of my studio. My girlfriend didn’t talk to me for a couple of days………
If anyone’s interested, & I’m sure you’re on the edge of your seats with this one, the other side of Ray Martin’s ‘Tango Waltz’ is called, ‘Carnavalito (Festival Of Flowers)’. Now, that’s something to remember if it ever cropped-up in a pub trivia quiz!