At the start of this year, I resolved to start revitalizing and rediscovering a collection of about 400 vinyl albums I reclaimed from my sister’s house in Reading after moving back to Ireland in August 2013.
Despite having followed me first from Coventry to Hull and Manchester, and then later from Coventry to Hong Kong and Reading, shitloads of these records have not been played for 40-odd years.
After buying a vinyl cleaning bath (a Spincare Record Cleaning Machine, very good if you’re asking) upgrading from a crappy Ion to a more robust audio-technics belt drive turntable, I was ready to start travelling back in time. Hence this first in an occasional series about what records I bought and when, why and where I bought them, and whether or not I will ever play them again.
Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past opens with a man biting into a Madelaine cake and unleashing a torrent of memories. The unmistakable sound of stylus gently gahlumphing into the run-in grooves of that old vinyl album you’ve tenderly sluiced clean and set spinning is not dissimilar.
As anyone lucky enough to come of age when 12” albums were king has always known, vinyl really does have a warmer, richer sonic embrace than any other music delivery platform. Aside from the fastidious handling and cleaning required, the only real drawback is having to get off your arse every 20 minutes to change the record over.
To ensure I’d continue to listen to vinyl rather than CDs for the duration of a book I’m writing,
I set my new turntable up and linked it to the Sony 5.1 home cinema system in my office.
The moment the first quiet crackles of a record I’d not heard since the early 70s started to emerge from the speakers I knew US literary giant Thomas Wolfe was wrong. Not only can you go home again, the path via which you travel back there is full of richly fascinating and hugely rewarding twists and turns .
The back in my case began on a biting cold December 1970 day in Coventry City Centre’s still then quite cutting-edge Shopping Precinct.
Having been subjected to my irritatingly relentless 15-year old pleading for a record player for several months, that was the day Dad caved in and took me to Dixons. This being the Precambrian Age in home entertainment terms, the choices consisted of big heavy radiograms or decidedly more svelte (if rather more flimsy) sideboard-friendly systems. The latter housed not only a rudimentary record player, but also a bog standard radio and a cassette atop some veneer-front drawers and a couple of album-sized vertical pigeon holes.
Still unversed in the arcane mysteries of woofers, tweeters, styluses and cartridges, I was as happy as Larry when he picked out a pretty cool-looking (to my jejune eyes) assemblage with a smoked black plastic top. Looking back now, I’m ashamed to say I have no recollection of just how much it cost. Probably a lot more than my folks could afford as I remember Dad had to sign up to pay on the ‘never-never’. This would have been a huge step for my parents who lived in terror of going into debt and always hammered the message ‘Neither a borrower or a lender be’ to me and my sister. Apart from one brief period when the doors of mid-20th Century equivalent of Newgate Prison cracked open the late 70s and early 80s, that’s a lesson that has stood me in good stead my entire life.
Within a couple of weeks of our trip to Dixons, the unit (‘the stereo’ already!) would be accorded pride of place on the sideboard in the back room that only ever got used for important family dinners. On the other side of the wall, my poor parents got set to hunker down in front of the TV for what they foolishly imagined would be a pleasant evening of light entertainment.
Soon there was to begin a sonic assault whose pounding drums and bass, slashing guitar chords and wailing vocals would assail them for most of the next five years.
Effortlessly morphing from childhood to adolescence/adulthood, I began tallying up whatever ‘Christmas boxes’ I received on my paper round that year. Combined with whatever gifts I’d received from generous aunties, uncles, I should just have enough to purchase my first album.
Having judiciously scoured the January sales, I ended up stretching to two: The Court of The Crimson King and The Crazy World of Arthur Brown. The first of these would have been bought full price from a city centre record shop called Fennels. The second came from the bargain bin in Woolworths in Ball Hill. While no one normally cares who came second, CWOAB represents a milestone in my record buying career. The reason being it was the first of a stream of reduced- to-clear albums I ended up plucking out of remainders bins the length and breadth of the the British Isles. Assuming anyone bothers reading my early witterings, several of these will feature in future additions to (or versions of) this thread.
Though much loved and fondly remembered (you never forget you first!) both platters sadly vanished from my collection more years ago than I care to remember. The earliest two albums still present on my shelves are McDonald and Giles’ enigmatically entitled McDonald and Giles, and the budget-priced Bonzos’ Gorilla. As the latter platter comes with a rather interesting story about record theft handcuffed to it we’ll leave it for another day.
As the start of ‘Operation Revitalize and Rediscover’ coincided with Ian McDonald’s recent death, it seems as good a place as any to commence this series of occasional threads.
The reason why I bought McD & G was doubtless because I heard someone like Bob Harris, Pete Drummond or Alan Black play Tomorrow’s People on Sounds of the Seventies. Undeterred by the godawful cover of, a purple-hued Mike, Ian and their two “ladies”, this seemed like an ideal companion piece for COTCK, large chunks of which IMcD had written.
There is incredibly a prog forum where some seven or eight pages are given over to debating whether McD & G failed to sell because of this very pic. Uninspiring though it undoubtedly is, the front cover is sadly representative of the frankly dreadful music contained inside. It’s also a million times more appealing than the talent-free mess with which McD’s other half, a sort of proto-Janine from Spinal Tap, had filled up the inner gatefold.
Sterling support from the likes of Steve Winwood aside, the music squeezed into the grooves of the album is mostly forgettable noodling. Given over to a indulgent 20-minute suite called Birdman, the second side is especially of its time. Apparently earmarked for Crimso’s sophomore album, McD and G grabbed the putative prog meisterwork for themselves after one of the earliest of their former band’s many splits.
It’s often said that if you can’t say anything nice, don’t bother to say anything. The best that can be said here is that dear old Robert Fripp certainly dodged a bullet the day McD and G headed out the door on their short-lived stab at stardom.
Of the rest, only the aforementioned Tomorrow’s People and the gossamer light Flight of the Ibis (effectively Crimso’s rather lovely Cadence and Cascade with different lyrics) stand up to repeated listenings.
Casting my mind back, I cannot ever recall playing McD & G very much after my album collection raced past the double figure mark. Within a year, my tastes had broadened to the point where my burgeoning collection extended to discs by Steely Dan and Gram Parsons (still all present and correct all these years later.)
All of which means it must be damn near half-a-century since I consigned poor Ian and Mike’s one shot at the top to the back of the ‘you-gotta-hear-this-man’, pile. On the evidence of my one recent replaying of the disc, it will probably be a further 50 years before anyone in my house ever plays it again.
Despite all of my yakking further up the page, my recent cleaning up of the album taught me that some things really are best left in the past. M&G’s only album is sadly one of those to which the years have been especially unkind.