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'.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

55 From 55 - 1992

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

The album launch. Venues would vary from record company to record company and from artist to artist; Genesis at the London Planetarium, Black Crowes on a roof in Kensington, Garbage in a Soho wine bar, a long forgotten indie band on a Thames-side barge, but essentially the aim was the same. Ply us with drink and nibbles, wheel the band (or at least a band-member) out to meet and greet us, play the album super-loud on very good equipment, then take our pre-release orders while we're vulnerable! These occasions were also a great opportunity to meet and socialise with fellow indie retailers. It was sometimes a lonely business running your own, erm, business.

 Can't find any 1992 photos of me, so here are a few surviving ticket stubs from that year.

One album launch remains head and shoulders above the others though, and not just for the quality of the music. In 1992, after the success of their wonderful debut LP, The Sundays were signed to Parlophone and their second album 'Blind' was launched at the Abbey Road recording studio. I get shivers just thinking about it. The playback actually took place in Studio 2 (Studio 2!), though we were free to wander into the other studios and have a nose about throughout the course of evening. As a music nerd, it was an overwhelming and emotional location find myself in. Foolishly, I didn't take a camera with me to record this once in a lifetime event. I wish I had.

(The volume is very low on this one - crank it up!)

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

55 From 55 - 1991

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

It's 1991, I'm 31 years of age and the shop is ticking along. Several evenings per week, as soon as I've locked the door I dash off to a gig, somewhere in London or the South East of England, driving home through the wee small hours. During Bob Dylan's Hammersmith residencies in 1990, 1991 and 1993 I catch all the shows, working each day then driving there and back every evening. It makes me tired just thinking about it. Where did all that energy go?

One of the bands I caught in 1991 was Throwing Muses. I'd seen them a few times by this point, the earliest in 1988 with The Pixies in support, but the 'Real Ramona' LP and 1991 shows would be the last with Tanya Donelly. Here's her standout contribution to 'The Real Ramona', 'Not Too Soon'.

Monday, 23 March 2015

55 From 55 - 1990

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

The dream was to own a record shop with an attached small label and put out singles by local bands. I seriously looked into it at one point, but in reality I was never going to have the available dosh to fund such a venture. I promoted a couple of small local gigs (including the early psyche-pop era Shamen), but the town was simply too small to truly allow that idea to flourish. Instead I established contacts at several East Anglian venues and organised coach trips to concerts. This was quite popular for a while at the end of the 1980's and the early 1990's. We ran coaches to The Wedding Present, Waterboys, Wonderstuff, My Bloody Valentine, Sugarcubes and The Happy Mondays and more. The Stone Roses at the Norwich Arts Centre was a particularly memorable evening. After the gig a bunch of us spent half an hour chatting with the band, much to the waiting coach driver's annoyance. I also ran trips to both of Nirvana's Norwich gigs, a minibus to the Arts Centre in 1989 and a mid-sized coach to The Waterfront in 1990. I usually went to every show I sold tickets for, but those two were extremely popular even then, so I let others go in my place - d'oh!

Today's musical selection is the brilliant Weatherall & Farley mix of 'Abandon' by That Petrol Emotion. Shoot me down in flames if you like, but give me this over 'Loaded' any day of the week.

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