A year or so ago I discovered Reading band The Amazons and really loved their music. So when I heard that they were going to be playing a homecoming gig at the Hexagon in Reading I had to go. Tickets went on sale August 2017 and were either seated in the balcony or standing downstairs. I love live music but I have reached the age where I won’t stand for long periods any more, so I elected to get a seat in the balcony.
A week ago I got out my ticket for the gig and my heart sank. It very clearly said “General Admission” on it. In other words – standing. I still have no idea how I managed to screw this up so badly but there it was. So last night I went along to the Hexagon to see The Amazons and stood for the duration. That said I wasn’t willing to also stand for what could be a couple of dodgy support bands so I got to the venue just before I knew The Amazons would be on.
I had feared that I would be the oldest person in the place but that fear was unfounded as it turned out. Myself and all the other old people formed a line around the back of the auditorium and let the drunk students get on with their stuff in front of us. They were certainly “enthusiastic” and interesting to watch, although I’d have perhaps liked to have been a little further away from the action. What seemed to be happening would be that somehow they would clear a large space in which a couple of inebriated youths would dance before there was a massive bundle like a playground game of British Bulldog. This continual expanding and contracting had the effect of pushing the old fogies further and further away from the stage.
One of the great things about new bands is they have virtually no material to play and so it was last night. By the time the lads had rattled through their first album and a couple of covers they had managed to fill an hour and a quarter. Even I can stand for that length of time!
What was that? You want to know what the music was like? You see here’s the thing, by the end of the third track my ears were buzzing so much that I couldn’t make out much at all. I know that they played Black Magic, Junk Food Forever, Palace and most of the rest of the album but it was just a fuzzy mass of noise. Part of that is the acoustics in the Hexagon which are right up there with Wembley Arena for awful sound. It’s also because it was just so loud that my ears couldn’t take it.
So, to recap. The Amazons are great. The Hexagon is awful as a music venue. I’m getting too old for this!
Some 25 years ago my first son was born to be joined a couple of years later by the second. Who knew that two small people could take up so much space? Despite moving to a larger house to accommodate everyone and everything we quickly ran out of space and realised something had to go. Having considered which of the two boys should be released I was told that wasn’t an option so the axe fell upon my large collection of vinyl!
Looking back now I regret getting rid of pretty much all my collection gathered since picking up a copy of Mud Rock Vol 2 in 1975. However, then it really did make sense. Vinyl was dying, I had most of my records on the much more compact discs and we really did need the space. Oxfam was the winner that day.
Wind forward 20 odd years and vinyl decides to make a come back. By this point I need reading glasses and can no longer read the tiny print on a CD sleeve so the thought of something much larger suddenly appeals! My original Dual CS 505-2 has long given up the ghost so I invest in a cheap new deck and start hitting the charity shops and end up with a load of tatty vinyl.
Another three years pass and the replacement deck also expires so I upgrade once again, this time to an Audio Technica AT-LP5. This presents a different set of problems in that, compared to the last deck, it is huge and heavy and putting on or taking off a record requires a dexterity that I no longer possess. So now we also need to find a new resting place for this deck, a search that is ongoing.
At the same time I was surprised to find that collection now numbers 150 records and has outgrown the space that was allocated to it taking me neatly back to the position I was in 20 years ago!
All this is leading me to re-evaluate my purchasing decisions in order to inject a little quality into the collection and so I am trying to adhere to the following “guidelines”. I will only buy a record if it is:
a limited edition in some way (so numbered, signed, coloured vinyl etc)
180g vinyl (amazed at how flimsy 140g feels now)
new (not cheap secondhand unless it is…)
a classic collectable (which, of course, covers a multitude of sins)
accompanied by a download card
I appreciate that this gives me a huge amount of wiggle room (I’m not that stupid) but if I do try to keep fairly closely to that I might be able to build a collection that is worth having and playing.
The good news is that both the boys have left home so now I can turn both their old rooms into record storage!
In what is now rapidly becoming a tradition I was up at 05:45 and in the centre of Reading by 06:15 to join the back of the queue for Record Store Day 2017.
When the list was first published earlier this year I looked down it and found that little on it moved me. I did wonder whether to skip it completely this year but in the end it’s actually a fun thing to do – stand out in the cold for two and a half hours fretting that the one thing you really want on your list will have already gone!
What I really wanted this year was the new release by The The, limited to only 2000 copies UK-wide I did wonder whether by the time I reached the head of the queue it would be gone. That presented no problems as it turned out and I even managed to snap up the shops only copy of The Buggles “Video killed the radio star” a 12″ picture disc.
This is the 10th year of Record Store Day and when it was first started it was to help local, independent record stores. With the resurgence of vinyl one wonders if that is still necessary and whether the record companies see this as an opportunity to make a quick buck.
The prices for these releases can be eye watering. The The The single is an excellent but one sided 7″ coming in at £10. While the 12″ double Marillion album on gold coloured vinyl was better value at just over double that. My total spend this year was £63 but the guy in front of me spent £380…
This year Record Store Day coincided with the Are you listening? music festival held in town. By the time this started I was beginning to run out of steam (I’m not as young as I once was) and so I didn’t do as much as I did last year.
I saw Big Zero once again and I really like their quirky ways but being on at 2pm was way too early for their kind of music. I also enjoyed the Amazons in conversation with some Radio 1 DJ (Unless it is Tony Blackburn I have no idea on modern R1 DJs) so much so that I have had their “Black Magic” on repeat almost since then.
Looking at the dates for next years festival and record store day it is unlikely that I will be able to attend either as that is when we’ll likely be on holiday which is a great shame as both are great fun.
Thirty four years ago, on 13th March 1982, I went to my first ever gig to see 10cc at the Oxford Apollo. At that point they were really only 5cc and were distinctly past their best but I was hooked. Last week I saw them again. They are now down to 2.5cc but really rather much back to their best.
As is in vogue right now the first half of the show was taken up by playing the whole of one album – Sheet Music, which, in my opinion is their best along side The Original Soundtrack. Inevitably this means putting up with some rather dodgy material along with some cracking tunes.
Sheet Music was released when 10cc where at their very best and the original four members were all together. Only Graham Gouldman of the original quartet now remains but for this performance one of the original members, Kevin Godley, had created a video soundtrack and had even contributed the vocal to the operatic, Somewhere in Hollywood, which was a nice touch. It has some great lyrics including: “He’s out on the patio | With his polaroid and scenario”.
The second half of the show was a spirited romp through a number of the groups hits along with a few lesser known tracks such as Feel the Benefit from Bloody Tourists.
The fact that the group are still going strong and that the place was pretty full seems to suggest that there is still an appetite for 10cc. Which is why I can’t understand why there hasn’t been a big money offer for the original four to get back together and play again. Maybe there has and it has been rejected? Whatever the reason that’s a great shame as they made some really classy music together including one of the most sublime pieces of all time… I’m Not in Love.
So I have been nominated by Dirk Manuel on Facebook for the “7 Days 7 Singles from the ’80s” challenge (you can read his selections here). I wouldn’t normally bother but this has been great fun to both read other’s entries and to sift through my single collection again to select my final 7.
I decided I would only choose where I still owned the original 7″ which, regrettably, meant that there’s no Love and Money but has allowed me to spend a fun evening listening to many other, forgotten, records. Some I listened to and thought “why did I buy that?”, others I didn’t even have to listen to think that!
And so to the first selection…
Day 1 (1981): In the Air Tonight – Phil Collins
I was 16, still at school at this point, and had a major Genesis obsession. I remember very clearly sitting on the floor in the lounge at my parents house listening to this with my headphones on.
Music was an area of friction between myself and my parents who always felt I played it too loud. They also objected to my singing along with the headphones on while they were trying to watch the TV!
This was so nearly a number one in the UK for Collins but was kept off the top by the death of John Lennon. But it did introduce the gated drum sound to a much wider audience.
Day 2 (1982): Market Square Heroes – Marillion
I was now 17 and going to college to retake all the O Levels and CSEs I had failed at school. I found the change of environment refreshing and gave me a new lease of life.
As an early Genesis fan I supposed a progression to Marillion was inevitable. They were one of the first bands that I went to see and I still clearly remember Fish jumping through a paper background at the start of the gig. Ever the showman. I still like Marillion and am eagerly awaiting 23rd September for the next release.
When I listened again to the single this week I was surprised as just how raw sounding and under produced it is. Such a refreshing change to the over produced sounds that it was competing against.
Day 3 (1983): What is Love? – Howard Jones
18 and on the cusp of leaving home to go to university (or, to be more accurate, Polytechnic in my case).
I’ve included this selection for a number of reasons:
1. it typifies the 80s sound
2. it’s a great tune
3. we’re all trying so hard to look cool with our selections I thought I would buck the trend!
Day 4 (1983): Relax – Frankie goes to Hollywood
Thanks to DJ Mike Reid this became a big hit and set Frankie on a path to success. There was a big fuss at the time but it seems tame now. Actually it was overblown at the time too.
This was another great piece of production by Trevor Horn (who I have written about before). He is pretty versatile as his work from the 80’s shows spanning everything from Dollar to Yes to Buggles to FGTH.
One slightly odd thing is that my copy of the 7′ has the b side label on both sides – wonder if this make is more valuable?
Day 5 (1984): Do they know it’s Christmas? – Band Aid
This, I’ll admit, is not the world’s greatest song but it is here for a number of reasons.
Firstly, it features so many of the biggest names in 80’s music and if you watch the video you will see just how you they look!
Secondly, because it highlighted the plight of those living in the drought of Ethiopia and raised substantial amounts of money through the single and Live Aid…
Thirdly, because I was there. I was 19 and now at University. Emma, my girlfriend at the time, and me were driving home and drove past the Guildhall. I have no idea where we would have been to take us back past there but we did. As we came round the square we noticed people queuing up so we stopped and went over to ask what they were queuing for. “Live Aid” was the response. So we joined the queue and “slept” outside the Guildhall overnight until the box office opened at 10am the next morning.
I remember the 13th July 1985 very clearly mainly because it so hot that there were people at the side of the stadium spraying water into the crowd to cool us down! We saw an amazing lineup of bands and for that reason alone is why Do they know it’s Christmas gets included on this list.
Day 6 (1985): Slave to the Rhythm – Grace Jones
So I rediscovered Grace Jones’ Island Life album again earlier this year and thought how it really hasn’t aged and could chart now. Can’t say that about much else from the 80’s. Of course it’s that big Trevor Horn sound (again). He really does know how to do it right.
The album cover to Island Life has Grace Jones standing wearing not very much, oiled up, arse in the air. I still remember to this day my dad commenting “she’s got a great body”. Which, of course, she has but that’s not something I needed confirming by my father!
At 20 I was still of the belief that to work out how often your parents had had sex you just needed to count your number of siblings and add one. So to hear anything vaguely sexual from my dad was quite shocking.
Day 7 (1986): Don’t Dream it’s Over – Crowded House
And so we reach the end of this music journey with the beginning of my Neil Finn obsession.
At about this time I would have been 21 and on my industrial placement at IBM. This meant more disposable income which went increasingly on CDs and a much better sound system. I still have the same speakers although the rest has gone.
I can’t remember what got me into Crowded House but it was also certainly this track which I still love to this day. For the jangling guitar at the beginning to the lyrics it is just sublime. After this I couldn’t get enough of the Finn’s output. In fact from 1991 to 2001 when, with a single exception, I saw no-one in concert unless they had been in Split Enz at some point! I’m also a member of the fan club but this is decidedly a very grown up affair.
Anyone that has been paying attention will have noticed that I am back into vinyl in a big way – mainly because I like having a physical product and also the print on a record sleeve is large enough for me to be able to read without glasses!
However, I am trying to be a little more discerning about what I buy now rather than simply plundering the local charity shops for dog eared copies of what I already have (although I do that too!). And with vinyls resurgence there is now so much new music being released on that format that it is increasingly possible to add new items regularly.
To illustrate that very point I have all of the following on pre-order, all of which are on “heavy-weight” vinyl and quite a few are also signed too:
Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool – 17th June 2016
Peter Gabriel – So, Up, Us – 15th July 2016 – half speed, limited edition, remasters
Dodgy – What Are We Fighting For – 2nd September 2016 – Signed Deluxe
The Divine Comedy – Foreverland – 2nd September 2016 – Signed
Marillion – Fuck Everyone and Run – 23rd September 2016 – Signed
There does seem to be a gap in August though but the La’s reissue would fill that nicely!
So I have been getting back into vinyl in a big way. No, not like that, but vinyl records of the round black variety.
I am trying to limit the amount I spend on records by only purchasing brand new releases and particularly if they are limited releases, special vinyl or signed. This isn’t working out too well for me as everyone seems to be jumping on the vinyl bandwagon at the moment releasing limited releases on special vinyl that are signed!
There are still some releases that are no longer available or I would like to collect so I am always on the lookout for them. When I saw that Reading was holding the largest record fair in the UK I had to check it out.
I haven’t been to a record fair for probably about 20 years or more but they haven’t changed in any way in the intervening years other than now holding a smattering of CDs too. It was pretty well attended showing that there are a lot of people still wanting a drop of the black stuff!
I think in the end I must have made three complete circuits of the stalls looking for something that took my fancy but came away with empty handed. The issue was that for the most part nothing was in any order so if you were looking for something specific, which I was, you would have had to be pretty lucky to stumble upon what you were looking for. I did come close to a signed copy of the latest Steve Hackett but couldn’t bring myself to part with the required £35.
So the visit to the record fair was an interesting trip down memory lane taking me back to my youth but I don’t think I will bother going again as I stand a much better chance of sourcing what I want to eBay.
Although it has been running for four years this is the first time that I have gone to the Are You Listening? festival (AYL) in Reading. AYL is a one day music event that showcases (mainly) local music in bars and event spaces around the town (so no mud and getting wet) in aid of the charity Mencap.
Starting at 2pm there are over 70 acts through the day at nine venues. And there is something for everyone from rock to folk to DJ sets and even a bit of close harmony.
Like all festivals the quality of the bands on offer increases the later in the day it gets and it was the same here. During my limited time yesterday I saw all of the following:
Mickey & the Milkshake
The Royal Harmonics
Big Zero were a bit of a revelation and an unexpected find. I had been “invited” to come and see them by the band themselves and having nothing else planned for their time slot went along.
The lead singer had such stage presence and he knew it. He could work the audience better than a lot of hardened pros I have seen over the years. He also suffered for his art cutting his finger and leaving a slick coating of blood on his guitar strings.
The acid test is would I buy and for Jazz Morely and Big Zero I probably would.
Last weekend it was Record Store Day and for the second time I set off early to get to my local store and pick up some limited vinyl. Having already enquired earlier in the week I was pretty certain that what I wanted would be available long after the Saturday but queueing up before the shop opens I now regard as something as a badge of honour!
This year even though I set off (slightly) earlier I ended up in roughly the same position in line as last year only this time it was spitting with rain which made the wait less pleasant.
The friend that I met in line last year also came back and joined me in the queue which meant the two hour wait to get to the front of the line was more bearable.
I had gone along with two items in mind: Quincy Jones’ The Dude and a picture disc version of Del Amitri’s first single. Now, the observant amongst you will have spotted three items in the picture below. This is one of the dangers of RSD. When I made it to the front there in a box right in my line of sight was a import version of the Dandy Warhols first release. How could I resist that? So that went into the bag too.
At the cash desk I was told that the total cost was £70. A sizeable amount to spend on vinyl but at least the sum was lower than last year and a lot less than someone in front of me that had spent £400.
Given that these are all limited editions of about 500-1000 copies I do sometimes wonder whether I should be playing them but what’s the point of spending that money and not getting any benefit from them? Also if I didn’t play them I wouldn’t get to see such a thing of beauty as this Quincy Jones yellow vinyl.
I always laugh when I see on an ad for a film that proudly states “From the producer that brought you xxxx”. From what I can see this is suggesting that I should go and see the film based on the person that managed to raise the money rather than someone that has any artistic input. I am much more likely to go and see a film if I recognise the director, writer or an actor.
The musical equivalent of cinema’s director is the producer. The difference is that while the director gets billing in the credits before the movie starts. Producers, meanwhile, get billing in the smallest possible font size in the most inaccessible place on the sleeve (if they are lucky) and in these days of digital releases not even that. And that’s a great shame as plenty of records wouldn’t get anywhere without a great producer.
Like I have a favourite director (Terry Gilliam, thanks for asking!) I have a favourite producer too – Trevor Horn. Horn is responsible for many seminal works over the years including Frankie Goes to Hollywood, ABC, Art of Noise and Buggles!
Looking through Horn’s work it is clear that he has a way of turning out hits and has a very distinctive style, which I love. Also he has worked with some of my favourite artists including Genesis (albeit only once and only on one track) and Yes who Horn worked with both as producer and vocalist. The man clearly loves his prog rock and his work on 90215 gave Yes another lease of life.
In my opinion Horn is a musical genius and like all producers should get more recognition for what he does. And to prove Horn’s genius here is Video Killed the Radio Star for your listening pleasure. Enjoy!