The second in my occasional series of Revitalizing and Rediscovering a 50-year old vinly collection pieces…
Neil Young’s Zuma is one of a handful of albums I own that I can state with 100% confidence not only where I bought it but also pretty much the exact date and time when I bought it. In this case, in Cottingham, just outside Hull, at about 4:00pm on the afternoon of Wednesday November 12, 1975.
But before I bore you rigid with the reason for my gobsmacking powers of recall, let’s rewind a few months.
In the autumn of 1975, I became the first person in the history of my family to ever go ‘up’ to University. Lest you think I’m getting a bit too big for my size 11s here, that ‘up’ is actually a little cheeky since the Uni I’d be ascending to was Hull. As a city, it wasn’t only ‘up’ from my Coventry hometown, it was pretty much ‘up’ from everywhere else as well.
The only thing that Hull wasn’t – indeed never has been or ever will be – ‘up’ is its own arse – as anyone who’s ever been lucky enough to live there will tell you.
With the Humber Bridge still three years away from completion, ‘Umbursard’ was then the most geographically isolated region in the UK. Keen to establish my independence and avoid following in the footsteps of mates who regularly fled back to the ‘rents for Sunday lunches and laundry, Hull’s inaccessibility was its biggest attraction.
While the city has long since surrendered its most remote title (and very probably its cream telephone boxes, too), it clings on to one very important distinction. Its football team remains the only one of the 90-odd who make up the EFL and EPL whose name contains not one letter that can be filled in.
The most disconcerting fact facing those disembarking from a train in Hull for the first time is that the city’s Paragon Railway Station has no through tracks, just buffers. It is both figuratively and literally the end of the line. I fell in love with the place right there and then. Though I’ve only been back three or four times since I left thirty (indistinct mumble) years ago, I left behind little bits of my lungs and liver in the boozers of Beverley Road. Actually, scrap that “little bits” and change to “worryingly large parts”.
My first couple of years at Uni were spent in a hall of residence in a charming little village called Cottingham some three-miles from the main campus. In those days, I was a keen cyclist. (Does anyone know why the fuck it is that anyone who regularly rides a push bike is invariably referred to as being ‘keen’ rather than ‘eager’ or even ‘ardent’ or ‘enthusiastic’?)
In those days, albums weren’t dropped or teased out like now. New releases whose creators were considered sufficiently important to shift a few copies of the inky in question were trumpeted in rags like NME, Sounds and Melody Maker. Platters by more cultish acts simply materialized in the racks of your local record shop with minimal fanfare. Either there or prominently displayed in the record collections of far hipper friends (“What do you mean you’ve never heard of Beaver and Krause?”)
If you were lucky enough, the owners of your local record shop might be sufficiently au fait with your musical tastes and tip you the wink when something suitable was gurgling its way down the pipeline. As was the case with the local shopkeeper who made his living scratching the musical itches of the village’s sizeable student population.
All of which put me right outside Cottingham Sounds on the very day the latest Neil Young album came out. Still sweaty from a bike ride undertaken while clad in a boil-in-the-bag orange kagool, I leaned my bike against the wall, grabbed the three quid that albums then cost and headed inside.
Excellent news! The guy behind the counter had been as good as his word and held me back a copy of Zuma. Horrified by the frankly hideous cover, I hoped on hope that the music inside was every bit as good as the glowing reviews in the previous week’s music press had promised.
On my way home to find out, things took a turn for the worse when I caught a guy wobbling off on the prized Claud Butler racing bike I had received as my pre-Uni birthday gift. Luckily, I managed to manhandle the Humberside Vittorio de Sicca off the saddle before he’d achieved sufficient velocity to evade my clutches. No great fan of John Law, I settled for shoving the scrote up against a wall and giving him a few choice words before letting him go. (Or ‘gherrr’ as doubtless told his fellow members of the local lumpenproletariat later on.)
Having pretty much everything NY had released up to that point, I was a big Shakey fan back then (and indeed remain so to this day). My blind faith in the Canuck was so pervasive that in a rare incidence of an acid flash forward, I’d even shelled out £3.00 for the godawful mess that is the Journey Through the Past OST. Having played the album just twice at the time, its two discs still linger – presumably in reasonably chipper condition – in the beyond-redemption area of my vinly collection. Who knows, if AWers are happy for me to continue with this series of threads and I’m caught short of titles/memories to write about, I may be forced to dig it out and let you know.
While JTTP was undeniably shite, Z was the terriers’ testes. The first time he’d reunited with Crazy Horse since Everybody Knows six years before, the album also marked the debut of Horse Mark 2 with Frank Sampedro in place of the departed Danny Whitten.
With our Neil having strip-mined his grief over the death of Whitten (TFA), roadie, Bruce Berry (TTN) and the American Dream (OTB), the so-called ‘Doom Trilogy’ of albums that preceded Z were anything but easy listening. In terms of hoicking the artistic bar impossibly high, they were also incredibly hard acts to follow.
Happily, slid out of its dreadful cover, and with the crashing opening chords of Don’t Cry No Tears pounding the walls of my tiny student room, Z was happily more than up to the challenge. Ranging from quiet introspection (Pardon My Heart), to epic pyrotechnics (Cortez) to CSN’s gossamer-light concluding “Aaaaah!” (Through My Sails), there’s not a duff song amongst its nine tracks.
Heralding the start what promised to be a sunnier period in the artist’s life, there was even a bit of classic singalonganeil in the form of Looking for a Love. Small wonder the collection is rarely ever found outside most Rusties’ lists of top five or 10 NY albums.
Less than four months later I became one of the 10,000 or so hardcore Neilistas who got to see him and the Horse rip up Hammersmith Odeon during their legendary four-night run at the venue in March 1976.
The exponential advances in technology that have taken place since then that are supposed to have made life so much easier have actually done the exact opposite. As all us AWers who’ve ever risen early and opened 20 windows in a futile attempt to secure tickets for acts like – say – Springsteen will know only too well.
Even though the tours were shorter and the venues far, far smaller, it seemed absurdly easy to get tickets for gigs in those long-gone days. The first means of doing this involved queueing up overnight outside the venue while waiting for the box office to open. While this could be fun if there were a gang of you, it was not very practical (or affordable) if you lived as far away from London as I then did. Way easier to chance your arm at the second method and dragoon as many mates as you could to simply send off a Postal Orders and s.a.e.
Grubby envelope stuffed into the nearest pillar box, all you could do was to cross your fingers and hope the musical gods would smile benignly upon your efforts. A few weeks later back came the s.a.e. Were me and my mate Robin going to be lucky? Fuck, I’d not only scored two tickets, they were front and centre seats just three rows back from the stage. Just as well really as Robin’s equally optimistic application fell on stony ground.
As R was one of the many friends I lost touch with R after I left the UK in 1981, I don’t know if he’ll remember much about the good times we shared together in Cov. I’m sure he’ll remember the night we met up in London to see Neil Young, though.
While I’m not 100% sure if we went on the Tuesday or Wednesday, I am pretty sure our night of nights was the earlier of the two. The reason for this is I remember picking up an NME with Neil on the cover at Victoria Coach Station on my way back to Hull the following afternoon.
Whichever night it was, it remains (together with the Beach Boys at Wembley in June 75, Springsteen at Manchester Apollo in May 81 and Van at the Dominion in 82 or 83) one of the best gigs I’ve ever seen.
Neil certainly seems to agree as both those nights of that legendary Hammersmith run of shows is immortalized on Archives II. The Wednesday as half of the Odeon/Buddokan disc and the Tuesday show I saw as one track (Midnight on the Bay) on CD 9.
If anyone is still reading this, you’ll be glad to hear that my powers of recall are such that I had no problem in summoning up the link for Setlistfm and reconstituting the entire set from that far off Spring 1976 night:
1. On the Way Home
2. Human Highway
3. After the Gold Rush
4. Midnight on the Bay
5. Too Far Gone
6. The Needle and the Damage Done
7. A Man Needs a Maid
8. No One Seems to Know
9. Heart of Gold
10. Country Home
11. Don’t Cry No Tears
12. Cowgirl in the Sand
13. The Losing End
14. Let It Shine
15. Like a Hurricane
16. Drive Back
17. Southern Man
18. Cortez the Killer
19. Cinnamon Girl