Wednesday, 1 April 2015

55 From 55 - 1999

55 songs in 55 days - one for every year of my far. 

Promotional bits and bobs. The ridiculous amounts of stuff that record companies gave away. Quite apart from advance copies of singles and albums, in my time I was given bottle openers, pens, writing pads, bottles of plonk, hip-flasks, towels, cameras, denim jackets, cuddly toys, mugs, tea-pots, mouse-mats, baseball jackets, hats, sunglasses, presentation discs, concert tickets, hundreds of t-shirts, thousands of posters and many more strange and unconnected things that were used to plug the latest releases. Most of these items would come decorated in the band's logo or a sleeve design and the majority of them I would give away to genuine fans of the bands in question, as a thank-you for their custom. I often wonder how many of those freebies subsequently found their way onto eBay, when they were discovered at the back of a cupboard, years later.

1999 was my last full year of trading. HMV and Virgin were busy undercutting each other, supermarkets were selling CD's for less than cost price and a new phenomenon called file sharing was beginning to take hold. It was a very stressful time. No-one knew the full extent of the financial hole I was in, other than my accountant and bank manager and they were both pleading with me to throw in the towel. As midnight approached on December 31st, I took a walk along the prom, which was buzzing with people who were out and about to usher in the new millennium. I left the crowds behind and wandered to the quieter end of the beach and looked out into the darkness as the waves crashed in. I still hoped for a miracle, but in my gut I knew that the game was up.


In 1999, ace UK post-rockers Fridge briefly signed to Go! Beat Records, who released the band's third album, 'Eph', as well as a couple of EP's. Kieran Hebden of Fridge later found great success trading as Four Tet. From the 'Of' EP, this is the fantastic 'Remix'.
('Remix' was nowhere to be found online, so this is my first attempt at using Box. Please let me know if I've uploaded this incorrectly!)

Fridge - 'Remix'

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

55 From 55 - 1998

55 songs in 55 days - one for every year of my far. 

A handy aspect of running a record shop based in such a small town was that the local press were always keen to support small businesses. If anything interesting was going on that I wanted to publicise or promote, I only had to pick up the phone and invariably, someone with a camera would be dispatched to record the event. I featured an example of this earlier in this series, when Donny Osmond came a-calling. Sometimes though, it was the local press who reached out to me. That's how I wound up writing brief record reviews in the newspaper for a couple of years. And every now and then, presumably during very quiet news weeks, they'd offer to run a feature piece on the shop. Here's a photo from one such piece in 1998. Times were getting tough though. I'm putting on a brave face. Either that, or I'm burying my head in the sand.


There were some excellent David Holmes remixes around in the late 1990's, his re-imagining of 'If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next' by the Manic Street Preachers is one of my favourites.

Monday, 30 March 2015

55 From 55 - 1997

55 songs in 55 days - one for every year of my far. 

Real gone goatee. One last turn behind the mic, 1997.

Large Virgin Records and HMV stores opened in a town 10 miles away. Up to now my business had thrived on my ability to track down, order and receive any available CD quickly and efficiently. From 1997 onwards, the tide subtly turned. Any CD that anyone could possibly want was only a bus-ride or short car journey away - why would they wait? The writing was on the wall, but I was either too close to the wall to read it or was deliberately looking the other way. Those superstores, only 100 yards apart, became engaged in an ongoing battle to outdo each other and caused considerable collateral damage to the independent record shops in the town. 10 miles down the road, the ripples steadily began eroding my business away too.

Sierra Leone musician S.E.Rogie died in 1994, soon after recording what would become his final LP, 'Dead Men Don't Smoke Marijuana'. The album was finally released in 1997 on the Real World label. This is the beautiful title track, 'Dieman Noba Smoke Tafee'.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

55 From 55 - 1996

55 songs in 55 days - one for every year of my far. 

I had helping hands in the shop every now and then, but for the majority of the time I was a sole trader. This meant whatever the condition of my physical or emotional health at any given moment, I still had to be behind that counter, smiling at everybody who stepped through the door. It was particularly difficult to work through relationship upheavals, one of which occurred in 1996. My emotional trauma at that time also meant that I wanted to keep very busy after work, so I hit the gig circuit harder than ever before, running myself pretty ragged in the process. There are a larger quantity of surviving ticket stubs in the family archive from the period '96/'97 than for any other. And many more have been lost over the years.

I didn't get to the first UK Ramones show in 1976, but I was there to say adios amigos at the last one, 20 years later.

One man I've never seen in concert is Joe Henry. In 1996 he issued 'Trampoline', one of my favourite albums of the decade, probably of all-time. 'Trampoline' marked a distinct change of musical direction following a series of accomplished alt-country releases and the LP perfectly reflects the slightly woozy fragility I felt for much of the year.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

55 From 55 - 1995

55 songs in 55 days - one for every year of my far. 

Belting out 'Powderfinger' and 'Mr Soul' during a Neil Young tribute night.

By 1995 I'd been through Madchester, Rave and Grunge, now Brit-Pop was at its peak. I didn't know it at the time, but my shop was riding the crest of its final wave. Business would never be this good again.

 A few surviving ticket stubs from the year in question.

1995 was the year I first stumbled upon Chicago post-rockers Tortoise, via a marvelous 12" single 'Gamera'. The following year the band would release their groundbreaking 2nd LP, 'Millions Now Living Will Never Die' and they are currently working on their 7th studio album.

Friday, 27 March 2015

55 From 55 - 1994

55 songs in 55 days - one for every year of my far.

A while ago, I wrote a bit about about a band I and a couple of mates put together in 1980 (here). For my sins, I was the singer in that band. It's probably the greatest regret of my life that I never learned to play a musical instrument, so to make up for my lack of talent, I surrounded myself with people who could actually play and nominated myself as the person who would stand at the front and make unpleasant noises into a microphone.  In 1994, 14 years after the demise of my little band, from my vantage point behind the counter of a small record shop, I once again found myself in regular close contact with local musicians. I did anything I could to assist, encourage and promote their bands and solo endeavours at the time and it's a source of great joy to know that many of them are still making music today. Every now and then a local charity gig or private party would crop up and I'd ask a handful of those hugely talented young players if they'd mind backing up this old fool while he belted out a couple of good old good 'uns for old times sake. They invariably said yes, bless 'em. This explains why you'll be seeing a couple of shots of me clutching a mic over the next few days. Here I am bangin' out 'Like a Rolling Stone' at a friend's garden party in 1994. Note the dramatic return of facial hair!


I enjoyed a couple of tunes from Failure's debut album, 'Comfort', in 1992 and third LP, 'Fantastic Planet' in 1996, but, for me, 1994's 'Magnified' is by far their best effort. The band's sound on 'Magnified' packs a massive droney wallop, particularly impressive when you consider Failure were a three piece. I caught a memorably deafening performance at the tiny Borderline venue in London, a few days after the album's release.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

55 From 55 - 1993

55 songs in 55 days - one for every year of my far. 

In September 1993, Virgin Records chose Madame Tussauds in London as the venue for the retail launch of Belinda Carlisle's new LP, 'Real'. As was the norm for these events, the alcohol flowed, the nibbles kept coming and the album blasted from a specially erected sound system. There was no sign of Belinda though. After a while, several small groups of shop managers and buyers fell into individual conversations around a large central room. A man appeared with an expensive camera hanging around his neck and gradually made his way around the room, stopping to arrange each small gaggle of people into a group pose, while not actually taking any shots. We were slightly baffled. He arrived at our group and we asked what was happening. 'Belinda's on her way...' he replied, grabbing a couple of us by the shoulders ' stand there...and you stand there....' And he was off to do the same to the next group, standing a few feet away. After a few minutes, the photographer re-emerged, this time accompanied by Belinda Carlisle herself. As they moved from pre-posed group to pre-posed group, Belinda paused momentarily at the front of each, just long enough for the shutter to click, then moved on. She walked up to us, beamed at the camera, 'click', and walked away without saying a word. That was it. 'Real'? Surreal more like. Then again we were at Madame Tussauds, perhaps she thought we were waxworks.


From the final Gun Club LP, 'Lucky Jim', here's the sad and beautiful 'Idiot Waltz'.

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