My CD first experience

They were well meaning, even if they fell rather wide of the mark. My parents presented me with my first CD player, some eleven years after the fuss had begun and a good three or four after most households had succumbed. As part of a hi-fi system that also allowed tape-to-tape dubbing and had a mini-turntable atop that always played things ever so slightly too fast, it represented a new dawn and a crucial moment in the construction of my record collection. How did they fall wide of the mark? I was presented with a selection of reduced CD singles from Woolies with which to christen the beast and, as a result, the first sounds to emanate from this groundbreaking device were The Original’s ‘I Luv U Baby’ and PJ & Duncan’s ‘Stuck On U’. Still, at least they were finally being played off a CD. Additional birthday funds were quickly sought out and a hasty retreat was beaten towards the doors of the aforementioned local Woolies, from which I emerged soon after with a copy of Pulp’s ‘Different Class’, feeling rather happier about the prospects for the new CD player.

PJ & Dunc

It’s strange to trace back fifteen years of rabid musical purchases to that day. The moment when it got serious, even if it wouldn’t be until the arrival of the first instalment of my student loan for things to get truly messy. I’d spent so long being told that CDs were the only way to listen to music, so long oggling the cases in local record shops and so long pestering the family to finally give in to modern technology, that the very act of playing a CD was a reverential experience, savoured from the prising open of the case and the liberating of the disc from within, to the ejecting of the tray ready to receive the hallowed item. Though probably not if playing PJ & Duncan’s ‘Stuck On U’. Early purchases were infrequent and agonised over at great length, resulting in strategic spending plans in order to ensure that, for example, both Manic Street Preachers releases for ‘A Design For Life’ could be purchased in the week of release. Sleeves were pored over, just as I previously had with vinyl and after a while the lustre surrounding the format du jour (I would have put the French for ‘the format of some years previous that I’d just caught up with’ but don’t know the translation) wore off a little as it simply became the way I listened to music now.

ADFL 1 and 2As labels the length and breadth of the country queued up to convince me to spend £2.99 per version, I was utterly convinced that multi-formatting was a wondrous thing providing access to a previously unknown wealth of splendour. Looking back, there are slightly too many ‘Chemical Brothers remixes’ and ‘Radio Edits’ for my liking across many of those vintage indie singles but at the time it was truly exciting. As such, my CD habit only expanded. Slowly but surely, the shelves filled and I gradually began to realise that the prices I had to pay for records in my small Welsh town weren’t all that cheap. Occasional visits to Cardiff for gigs along with accidentally on purpose becoming separated at lunchtime from the group when on a school trip provided opportunities to explore enormous record shops with exotic names like ‘HMV’ and ‘Virgin Megastore’, where some titles were actually…gasp…reduced. Flicking back now through magazines from the late Nineties, it’s hard to believe all those Woolies adverts pointed out how new releases would be ‘only £12.99’ in store. £13. For a CD! However, back then, I had two options. The aforementioned Pick & Mix retailer and my local indie store, Dominion Records. Neither were what you called cheap, but it was all I really knew. Our Price in Newport fared little better although I still vividly remember the day I found ‘The Holy Bible’ in there reduced to £5.99 and thought all my Christmases had come at once. Then I played it. I was still a little bit too young to understand at that point, I think. Plus, I couldn’t really play it loud in case my parents heard the lyrics. So thoughtful. So timid. Anyway, that particular bargain was the sole delight in years of wandering around Our Price during its death throes and so I remained blinkered when it came to the potential to seek out bargains and I was unprepared for what was soon to come.

Give a child too many brightly coloured sweets and they may never calm down. Have seven pints of Guinness and half a dozen flavoured vodkas for your first night drinking and wait for the carnage to ensue. Present a Welsh lad in his late teens with a student loan, a city full of record shops and no sense of perspective and wait for the food budget to evaporate. The autumn of 2001 will forever remain one of my happiest music buying periods. I, incorrectly as it turned out, believed I was in a position to hoover up CDs, left, right and centre, without any consequences. The HMV sale deliberately timed to coincide with the issuing of the first loan started the damage, only for numerous second hand shops to truly render me a consumer of 18p a tub fluorescent ‘spread’ from Morrisons on bread that cost even less. It was then I finally got to grips with what has become one of my all-time favourite albums: Teenage Fanclub’s ‘Songs From Northern Britain’, which was only £4.99. Elvis Costello’s back catalogue was suddenly available to me in its entirety, and at a very reasonable price, and finally those early Eighties R.E.M. albums were to be mine. It was glorious. There was more wonderful music than I ever imagined I could own and then it got to the end of November, when I read my balance sheet and struggled to keep my balance.

It was the first time that the record collection truly demonstrated its hold over me. The first of many times, it must be said. As I attempt to thin down the shelves, sift out the mediocrity and further cement the reliance on beautiful vinyl pressings, I’ll be detailing a decade or so spent overdosing on 5” discs of delights and recalling the moments when I probably should have exercised my right to say “no” to a special offer or seven. I’ll consider how the love affair peaked and what caused its eventual decline, how vinyl gradually usurped it in my affections, what the mp3 meant for my music consumption and ponder what a wall full of CDs means in 2010. There’s every risk it’ll be self-indulgent, but feel free to chip in at any point and broaden the story.

More soon.

Cucumber sandwiches all round

I’m supposed to be working. That’s why I’m here. If you like, you can imagine the traditional apology for a delay in posting. Feel free to inset it about here. Done? Splendid.

If you like buying records from people then you will soon be officially ‘odd’. It’s not possible, apparently. Even the odd record shop still going – yes, HMV, I’m talking about you – doesn’t appear to actually want to sell music anymore. Branded ‘listen’ or ‘hear’ or something equally patronising, music is gradually being shunted into the small section previously reserved for ‘special interest’ DVDs and magazines. In the last couple of months, we’ve had the demise of Woolies, Zavvi and, more personally, the news that Nottingham’s Selectadisc is shutting up shop at the end of this month. I’ve written about this topic many times on here, so I’ll try not to witter on about the same-old, same-old, but I’m genuinely pissed off at the fact that my record shopping will soon be done almost exclusively online. Where’s the fun in that? Anyway, Selectadisc has always been a shining beacon of how to run a record shop – I’ve said as much here and Nottingham’s Left Lion folk have a tribute here too.

The other thing I felt compelled to mention – admittedly, once again, fuelled by work avoidance – is the new project from Neil Hannon and that fat beardy bloke from Pugwash, called Thomas Pugwash. While his voice is largely unremarkable, the splendidly, well, splendid voice of Mr Hannon delivers the goods aplenty on the Myspace page for this new venture, charmingly called, The Duckworth Lewis Method, as in cricket. The album’ll be out around the time of The Ashes for prime cash-in factor. They appear to have forgotten that neither of them sell many records, but it’s quite sweet logic, nonetheless. Anyway, whatever the sales figures, the track they uploaded yesterday, ‘Gentlemen and Players’ is sublime. I’ve not been able to stop playing it since I first heard it. I’m playing it now, actually. Go listen yourself. Click here.

Should probably do some work now.

Oooh, it’s lunch time.

 

When rock stars grow old

One of the many splendours of Sky + is the way in which it invites you to record even the most minimal and insignificant fluff, just because it’s no effort at all. For me, the clearest example of this is the Channel 4 tendency to show exclusive first plays of new music videos at some time around midnight. Can I be arsed making sure I’m watching the telly for that precise five minute window? No. But give me the chance to press a button, forget all about it and then come back to it another time, and I’m in!

Last night, Channel 4 played out the new video from Morrissey, for ”I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris‘. This morning, feeling a bit fluey and equipped with a strong cup of tea and some Nurofen, I settled down to flick through the telly. As I watched this particular video, I could only think of one thing. Doesn’t Morrissey look old? Let’s be absolutely fair to the chap – he is actually getting on a bit. It’s not like he looked 25 last week and now he looks like he’s smoked Amy Winehouse, but he just seems to actually be looking his age or even a little older.

It’s no great surprise, people get older after all, but my first proper exposure to Moz was his Nineties Britpop incarnation and he was still rather spritely then. Even his most recent albums were supported by performances that suggested a man full of energy, passion and natural charm.

Watch this and see if any of that is still there now:

See? I’m not imagining it, am I? Now, I should confess that the reason why I’m so struck by his aging appearance is entirely selfish. I can’t help thinking that time must have seriously moved along if ‘my’ generation of indie legends are starting to look a little rough around the edges. Noel‘s greying, Supergrass have the sideburns of a randy farmer who, in times of loneliness, has been eyeing up the goats and Moz looks like he’s been cryogenically frozen and is now being operated by strings. I’m getting ever nearer to dropping out of the traditional ‘new music’ demographic and it feels odd. Of course, there are self-imposed boundaries that don’t exist in the real world, but it still feels a bit strange to look at the figureheads of my youth and find them appearing more than a little lived in. Still, doing an impression of a Weeble trying to seduce a small dog is nothing compared to this silly old tart.

As for the song, it’s quite good actually. It’s Morrissey-by-numbers, but after ‘Ringleader Of The Tormentors’, which was about as much fun as an aneurysm, I’ll happily take that. After all, that’s what made us all like ‘You Are The Quarry’ so much, wasn’t it?

***

As this blog is actually called Vinyl Junkies, I should take this moment to point you in the direction of your nearest Zavvi. They’re currently flogging all of their vinyl at half price. Provided your local shop had a reasonable range prior to their administration issues, they should have plenty for you to pick up at rather splendid prices. Ok, they’re not exactly giving them away, but anyone used to buying plenty of vinyl is used to fairly robust pricing, so getting it at half price is quite a big deal. I’m quite happy to tell you this as I’ve already cleared out the two stores nearest to me! Get there while you can.

This is, of course, the precursor to a potential repeat of the recent insanity found in Woolworths stores, as stock was cleared prior to closure. Nobody’s saying anything about how secure Zavvi’s future is right now, but it’s hard to imagine any single buyer coming in and keeping the chain as it is now. While I picked up a fair old number of CDs and DVDs in the Woolies clearout, it was a rather depressing affair. Plenty has been said in the media about the demise of this much-loved chain, but anyone who loves music has their own precise memories of the Woolworths music section and it still seems odd that it’s not there now. I was in one store a few hours before it closed and it was very odd. Imagine that Britain is at war, everything – even pick’n’mix and large plastic replicas of minor characters from Doctor Who – has been rationed. Sprinkle in some paranoia and desperation and that’s a little bit like how it felt. Still, cheap CDs, eh?

***

And finally, it’s been such a long time since I posted here that I never did anything about albums of the year for 2008, so I’m just going to re-post the list that I submitted to the end-of-year lists on the various music sites I frequent.

1. Elbow – ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’
2. Laura Marling – ‘Alas I Cannot Swim’
3. Tindersticks – ‘The Hungry Saw’
4. Joan As Police Woman – ‘To Survive’
5. Pete Molinari – ‘A Virtual Landslide’
6. Bon Iver – ‘For Emma, Forever Ago’
7. Portishead – ‘Third’
8. Malcolm Middleton – ‘Sleight Of Heart’
9. She & Him – ‘Volume 1’
10. Paul Weller – ’22 Dreams’
11. Our Broken Garden – ‘When Your Blackening Shows’
12. Helios – ‘Caesura’
13. James Yorkston – ‘When The Haar Rolls In’
14. The Last Shadow Puppets – ‘The Age Of Understatement’
15. Jamie Lidell – ‘Jim’
16. Fleet Foxes – ‘Fleet Foxes’
17. Elvis Costello & The Imposters – ‘Momofuku’
18. Calexico – ‘Carried To Dust’
19. Glow – ‘I, Yeah!’
20. Ladyhawke – ‘Ladyhawke’

Honourable mentions to: Beck, Nick Cave, Jenny Lewis, The Dears, R.E.M., Max Richter, and Ray LaMontagne

Even looking at it now, I’m fairly certain I’d shuffle a few of them round, but it’s a moment in time and nobody really cares anyway, so that’ll do. Feel free to post your own via the comments section, should you be that way inclined.