Monday, 28 May 2012

'Unknown Pleasures' - Joy Division (1979)

"I’ve walked on water,
Run through fire.
Can’t seem to feel it anymore."

You’re Factory Records. Design maestro Peter Saville is creating the most wonderfully enigmatic record sleeves for you. May as well have a go at redesigning the traditional cassette case. By basically super-sizing it. And making it much more purple-y.

The vinyl junkies all bemoaned the loss of great sleeve art with the advent of CDs, and now again with downloads, but it was always cassette artwork that niggled me. The completely different dimensions always meant the sleeves were simply shrunk or poorly cropped. Few labels went to the trouble of producing specially designed cassette sleeves that truly celebrated the songs within.  

When Factory came to reissue the Joy Division and New Order albums in 1985, they addressed this issue. Entirely for my sake, I’m sure. The results were, as befits Factory, completely unworkable. A case too large and fragile for the cassette sections of most stores – they were always wedged in to the shelves of Our Price and took a mighty battering from folk yanking them in and out. The three I have all sit awkwardly in my collection to this day – waiting for colleagues that will never join them. But ‘Unknown Pleasures’ does come with two lovely textured postcards – with the classic cover image now replicated as silver on white. So every cloud has a … "No, no Michael – let’s leave it there, before you embarrass yourself."      

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Friday, 25 May 2012

'Doolittle' - Pixies (1989)

"So the theme for last week’s art assignment was heat. We have this lovely beach painting from Allison. And the flames of Olympia from Alec. And then we come to yours, Michael. It appears to be three figures throwing themselves in to a volcano."

"Yep, that’s right, Mr Grieves. And they’re melting on the way down."

"Hmm. I was hoping for a still life."

"In many ways it is. There’s lava in there."

"Erm, ok. This may affect your grade for the term, Michael."

"I’m guessing not in a positive way." 

First editions of 'Doolittle' came with this lovely lyric book featuring
evocative still life images inspired by the songs.  
Art direction and design: Vaughan Oliver/v23
Photography: Simon Larbalestier
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Tuesday, 22 May 2012

'Some Kind Of Stranger' - The Sisters Of Mercy (1985)

 "I could wait a long, long time,
Before I hear another love song."

Slap bang at the mid-point of the Great Goth Wars (1985-1989), I found myself in the cold, dank trenches. Well, in a cold, dank hole. In some forgotten valley in Devon. Way behind enemy lines, on a school geography trip (yep, the same trip where I’d been made to sleep on a fire escape for three days).

This had been my friend Scott’s idea. Not the trip. He didn’t have that kind of influence over the educational board. No, the whole sleeping-in-a-hole thing. Our teachers were taking us camping on the wild and windy moors for the night. So we could sleep under a tree by a stream. Still not sure to this day why that was so essential to passing my geography O-Level. But, as was quickly becoming the theme of the week, the school hadn’t brought enough tents. So two people would have to make their own shelters. You can see where this is going.

The upside was that Scott and I didn’t have to lug a rucksack of poles, tarpaulin and other gubbins over hills and across dales. The rather major downside was that we spent an April night shivering in an insect-infested hole, covered by a plastic sheet weighed down with bricks, as condensation slowly dripped on to our faces. So it kind of was a learning experience I suppose, in that I’d never do it again.   

Inner sleeve gothic brooding.
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Monday, 21 May 2012

'Here Today, Tomorrow Next Week!' - The Sugarcubes (1989)

"Yes to food,
Is yes to life."

This doesn’t really work. Advertised as ‘silver vinyl’. In reality, more like an insipid grey.

This limited edition of The Sugarcubes’ second album was released in my first few weeks at college and had to be bought through the Chain With No Name – an affiliation of UK indie shops that (after a quick Google) I’m pretty certain no longer exists.

Fortunately, it didn’t take me much hunting down as I had picked my college primarily for its close proximity to the indie stores of central London. This is pretty much how I make all the major decisions in my life. Where to live. Where to work. Where to holiday. If it’s within a short walk of a record store, then I’m happy. A theory my friend Alice put to the test one weekend by inviting me to the vinyl wastelands of the Cotswolds. Never again.

I just flipped open the gatefold sleeve and out popped the very bag I bought this in 23 years ago. (Hoarder? Me?)

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Friday, 18 May 2012

'Tom Verlaine' - The Family Cat (1989)

"You’ve got to come to the Agincourt tonight, Michael. They play all indie and goth stuff on a Friday."

"By indie and goth stuff, Laura, do you mean ‘Blue Monday’ and ‘She Sells Sanctuary’?"

"Yes, exactly. It’s great!"

"Is it really?"

"That girl you’re always moping after goes there."

"But does she like it?"

"Well, no – she’s about as difficult as you, Michael. But it’s not just about the music."

"Clearly. Do they play The Family Cat?"

"I don’t know who that is."

"I’ll see you on Monday. Ta ra."

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

'Lola' - The Kinks (1970)

"I met her in a club down in old Soho,
Where you drink champagne,
And it tastes just like cherry cola.

Every band should do this. "What, spell out the name of popular carbonated beverages in their opening verse?" No, that would just be stupid. Every band should use their songs to pitch new product ideas and test the audience's reaction. "Oh, and that’s not stupid at all?" Nope.

The much-repeated story is that the BBC asked The Kinks to change the line from ‘Coca-Cola’ to something more generic – with Ray Davies flying from New York to London to make the change mid-tour (these days he could probably just Skype it in). And so we got a wonderful promo for cherry cola a good decade and a half before the big drinks companies finally put it on the shelves of our local newsagents.

‘Lola’ is a wonderful song in many, many ways. (Yes, it has greater over-arching themes beyond fizzy drinks. It’s a ‘mixed up, muddled up, shook up world’ indeed). But every time I heard Annie Nightingale play it on her Sunday evening show, my imagination would be smitten by the thought of cherry cola. What would it taste like? (Cherry.) What would it look like? (Er, Cola.) Granted, my imagination was hardly running wild, but it stopped me thinking of ‘Star Wars’ for  a few moments.

And then it finally arrived. For the special introductory price of ten pence a can. And every school lunch-time I’d become bloated on its sickly sweet acidic charms. Today, I get stomach ache just looking at a can. But this song never loses its appeal.

Monday, 14 May 2012

'Paintwork' - The Fall (1985)

"And sometimes they say,
"Hey, Mark. You’re spoiling all the paintwork.""

Has anyone ever actually been stranded on a desert island with just a few records for company? I’ve never seen that on the news. An air rescue team spot a lone shipwrecked survivor stumbling out of the jungle clutching a half-eaten coconut and a copy of Beethoven’s’Ode To Joy’ (apparently the most requested song, fact fans).

It’s a wonderful quandary though. Which songs would you pick ? The mistake most people seem to make is they choose their all-time favourites. There seems little point in this. All my favourite songs I can remember note for note in my head - I won't need them with me. I’d suggest picking something completely new from your favourite artist – with the risk that you may hate it. Or something completely perplexing. Which is why I’d choose 'Paintwork’ by The Fall.

I’ve listened to this song for over 25 years now and it continues to puzzle and bemuse me. From the ramshackle opening, where it appears we’ve turned up early and everyone’s still chatting in the studio (or impersonating a pantomime horse in to the mic). Through to the moments where it sounds like two other songs are battling to intrude in to this ballad of the absurd – cue the flute!? Notoriously, just as the song gets going, we cut briefly to a TV documentary about stars. Legend has it that Mark E. Smith was listening to a tape of the song in his hotel room and hit ‘record’ instead of ‘stop’ – he quickly realised his mistake, but liked the result so much that it stayed on. Genius.

The song clocks in at just over six and a half minutes, but is endlessly fascinating – I’ve yet to find a site that can even fully interpret the lyrics. It would keep me perfectly entertained on that desert island – in between dodging smoke monsters and pressing that button down the hatch.

Don't we all miss inner sleeves like this?

Saturday, 12 May 2012

'River Of No Return' - Ghost Dance (1986)

"Where the fear and the four winds blow,
That’s where I’m headed now."

And so darkness fell. And an acrid mist did rise. Through the glooming comes a pulse of light. Indistinct silhouettes. An incessant pounding. A mordant wailing. Welcome to Ghost Dance (featuring ex-members of the Sisters and Skeletal Family) at the Kilburn Town & Country Club (now the HMV Forum, kids).
Little did we know at the time that these same conditions were being replicated on the late-October streets outside – with perhaps a little less wailing. Though only a little less. Stepping out of the uncomfortably sweaty gig in to the bitter cold midnight air, we discovered North London had been shrouded in a thick mist. It really was like something out of a Stephen King tale. Specifically, ‘The Mist’. In fact, you could see next to nothing, which would make it more like a fog. The kind of creeping, suffocating haze you’d get in a horror movie. Specifically, ‘The Fog’.    

Somehow we had to drive home through this. I say ‘we' but my friend Chris was doing the actual driving (in his trusty Mini). My job was to stick my head out of the window and see if I could read any of the road signs. Or spot any other cars before we hit them. It was a tortuously slow and highly treacherous journey – long before the days of sat navs and even mobile phones. And worried parents were waiting up at home. But we finally made it back to our pleasant Surrey suburb, without landing in a ditch or encountering the vengeful ghosts of shipwrecked Californian mariners. We were just sleep-deprived, nervous wrecks in school assembly the next day.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

'Blue Bell Knoll' - Cocteau Twins (1988)

"What’s she singing about, Michael?"

"Is this even English?"

"Is the whole album like this?"

"Have you done your plate tectonics assignment?"

"OI! GOTH!! Take this gibberish off the stereo or I’ll ram the tape down your throat!"


Tuesday, 8 May 2012

'Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain' - Pavement (1994)

"But I don’t care,
I care,
I really don’t care.
Did you see the drummer’s hair?"

My first (and only) office (it’s been all open-plan ever since) was a magnet for peeping toms, police snipers, and the Mitchell brothers from EastEnders.

The company was nestled amidst the vice dens and adult entertainment shops that still populate the shadiest part of London’s already quite shady enough Soho area. And my office overlooked one of the more livelier parts of the neighbourhood – a charming little block where fiends would drop syringes in to the primary school playground below.

I’m using the term 'office', but it was little more than an unwanted cupboard with enough space to house my desk and a chair. But at 3pm every day it suddenly became extremely popular with my boss and the sales team, as the local ‘working girls’ awoke from their night shifts and began watering their window boxes. In their underwear. I was always fascinated by their horticultural tendencies. Everyone else was naturally fascinated for other reasons.

Unsurprisingly, some trouble kicked off in the club opposite one day and I arrived at work to find the block cordoned off and a police sniper positioned in my office window. The rumour was that one of the girls had been taken hostage. But our sales team probably started that rumour,so who knows. Fortunately, it all ended peacefully. No plants got watered that day.

Now if this all sounds like a scene from EastEnders, things were about to take another surreal turn when I found out my boss had hired out my office to Ross Kemp and Steve McFadden!? Turns out the soap was filming outside for a few days (makes perfect sense considering how miserable it always is) and they were looking for dressing rooms. So I was turfed out and had to squat in reception – writing scripts for paving stones whilst fielding calls from Peggy Mitchell, aka Barbara Windsor. I’m not a fan of the show though and never saw the final episode. But I lived in hope that my boss would one day get a call from The X-Files production team. They’d have fitted right in to this bizarre place.

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Monday, 7 May 2012

'This Ole House' - Shakin' Stevens (1980)

"This ole house once knew his children,
This ole house once knew his wife.
This ole house was home and comfort,
As they fought the storms of life."

Deciding to write today’s post was a very difficult decision for me. But it’s something I felt I had to do. For two years now, I‘ve been sharing my record recollections with you. Hiding behind rare indie imports and obscure gothic gatefolds. While all the while recoiling in shame from a shadowy figure from my past. A figure that holds an unearthly dominance over The Smiths and Sisters of Mercy in the ‘S’ section of my archive. Yes, today I must face you all and reveal that I was once a Shakin’ Stevens fan, and own everything he released between 1978 and 1983.      

I have no excuses. But if I did have some, they would be things like… It was a long time ago. I was hanging out with a bad crowd. And I never really thought about the consequences.

I’m not going to blame anyone else for giving that first Shaky record to me, or even say who it was. I take full responsibility for my own actions. But I know now it was dangerous and can destroy lives. I just hope this hasn’t caused you too much upset.    

Saturday, 5 May 2012

'Echo Beach' - Martha & The Muffins (1980)

"It’s a habit of mine,
To watch the sun go down."


"What’s this?"

"A 7-inch single.
Have you ever seen an album?
It’s like that. But with just one song on each side."

"Is it a one-off?"

"No, they made lots of them."


Cue Rod Serling. Surely we’ve entered the Twilight Zone. But no. The woman isn’t suffering from amnesia. And she’s not an alien being or some form of Artificial Intelligence learning our Earth ways. And we haven’t traveled to a post-apocalyptic future where our subterranean grandchildren have only heard legends of a giant ball of fire in the sky, mighty oceans, and mid-80s Heavy Metal chart toppers.         

On overhearing this conversation, I realised this blog has greater historical significance than I first imagined. It began as a way to simply share the many trivial recollections triggered by my record collection. But now it seems the average young person on the street can’t even identify what I’m writing about. The true value of these scribblings is now clear. I’m curating a national archive. Something the great institutions of the world will one day display as a public record of our natural evolution. I should probably look in to getting a grant or something.      

Back in the store, I couldn‘t resist flicking through the second-hand single boxes that had so bemused the young lady. I rarely buy second-hand vinyl. Or second-hand anything. (I can’t even read a magazine if someone has already looked through it. Just another of my quirky charms.) But here was an original pressing of ‘Echo Beach’. For a pound. I’ve loved this single since I first heard it on Annie Nightingale’s Sunday evening show back in the mid-80s. I’ve bought it since on many New Wave CD compilations. But I just had to own the original vinyl. Which is what really defines my generation. And this blog. And obsessive compulsives.     

Friday, 4 May 2012

'Darklands' - The Jesus And Mary Chain (1987)

"And Heaven, I think,
Is too close to Hell."

It’s the Mary Chain. Which can only mean one thing. Anniversary time. It’s two years today since my first ‘Psychocandy’ post. And I’ve been humbled by some of the great responses I’ve received over that time:

"Your earlier posts were funnier."

"Do we really need to see your thumb in each picture?"

"There’s not enough Sigue Sigue Sputnik."

As has become tradition, to mark the occasion I’ve chosen another Mary Chain record that’s celebrating it’s 25th anniversary: the magnificently melancholy ‘Darklands’. A radical departure for the Mary Chain after the feedback-drenched nihilism of their debut. Now we got acoustic-plucking nihilism.

It was the soundtrack to my O-Level revision. Or, perhaps more accurately, the soundtrack to me avoiding my O-Level revision. It was such an influence that the Mary Chain began popping up in the life model prep work I was doing for my art exam. Which was quite a radical departure for me too, as before then my inspirations had been mainly Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio and Judge Dredd. This new direction did little to boost my grades. And my tutors were only to become even further bemused as A-Levels beckoned and I entered my Pixies period.   
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Wednesday, 2 May 2012

'Travelling Light' - Tindersticks (1995)

"Do you remember, how much you loved me?"

My nan has always said that if she won the lottery, she’d give half to the Tindersticks. So they could play a live show in her back garden. She's longed to see them for years, but feels she's too old to travel to their gigs - and they have yet to do a live DVD. So this way she hopes they'd come to her.  

This would be the best gig ever! (Yes, better than Live Aid). It would need to be early evening as my nan gets tired past nine. Some time between ‘Deal Or No Deal’ and ‘Corrie’ would be ideal. And we’ll need to keep everyone off the flower beds, obviously. But I can ‘t see any other complications. Oh, limited parking out in the road, I suppose.

The perfect end to the show would be ‘Travelling Light’ – my nan’s favourite. In fact, it would be the perfect start and middle too. They could just play this one song and the show would be the best ever. "Better than Live Aid, Michael?" Yes, weren’t you paying attention earlier?   

My nan’s always had a soft spot for men with a deep voice. Nick Cave. Leonard Cohen. The Mysterons. (I made that last one up.) But Stuart A. Staples from the Tindersticks is her absolute fave. I so hope this show happens one day. Guess I better go get this week’s lottery ticket for her.
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