Monday, December 19, 2011


The first single I bought was Beat the Clock by Sparks, which I bought from my local Woolies in 1979 or so. I still like Sparks and I like to think that having this as my first single indicates what great musical taste I had as a 10 year old. Actually, the reality is the charts in those years were so strong that you could have sent a chimpanzee into Woolies with a quid and a sign saying "I want a random Top 20 single", and the chances are he would have come out with something pretty decent. Unless he spotted the Pick n Mix counter first, I suppose.

For the next 8 years or so before I went off to college my record buying was mostly done in my local town's music shop (and it was a music shop, not a record shop; there was as much space given over to acoustic guitars, recorders and accordions as there was to Iron Maiden albums). There was nothing cool about the place, it was a family-owned shop that had a couple of racks for records, one of which had Scottish music albums (I hesitate to use the word "folk" here: mostly they were awful records with middle-aged blokes on the cover wearing chunky sweaters and kilts with titles like My Heart is in the Highlands), while the other was for rock and pop. The fact that it has such limited space meant that you soon ended up ordering most of your records, and my friends and I became well-acquainted with the shop's copy of the Music Master catalogue as we ordered such obscure recordings such as Meddle, Houses of the Holy and Master of Reality (before CDs came along back catalogue records seemed to be doomed to obscurity, especially the older ones. You would never see a copy of, say, Pet Sounds or John Wesley Harding in a record shop).

So, happy recollections of more innocent times? No, not really. Most of the time, the ordered records arrived within a week or two, but delays were common, especially if you weren't ordering from the majors. My copy of Black Sabbath's Sabotage, on the cheaper-than-chips NEMS label took seven months to arrive. Seven months! Plus, not everything was available and you would often arrive at the shop hoping to pick up your record only to hear the dread word "deleted".

I now realise that I was buying my records back then in essentially the same way as I buy the majority of my music these days - by mail order. The exception being that I was using the Music Master as opposed to Amazon (and if I could have accessed Amazon on my ZX Spectrum 48K, I would have).

I don't think the music shop is there anymore, not many of them are, having been bit torrented and amazoned to that great high street in the sky. And to be honest, I don't really mourn them. I thought I did, but the process of writing this post has made me realise that, if I'm really honest, I don't. Now on the other hand, I think second hand record shops should be goverment-subsidised, as they are effectively museums of popular culture where you can buy the exhibits. But that's a different post.

Anyway, as it's that time of the year, it's time to wish you all a good Christmas and post a picture of the record below, which may have been the first 12" single that I ever bought (I told you that my 10 year old self had good taste).

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Crystallised Banana Show

 I suppose I should have enjoyed the Anvil film a lot more than I did. After all, heavy metal documentaries are usually catnip to me, even though they tend to cover the same ground (Birmingham ...blah blah .... heavy industry ... blah blah ...Born to be Wild ... blah blah) and have the same old talking heads with the leaky memories. I'll sit and watch them all night. So why didn't I like the Anvil film?

Well first of all, the film suffers from that common ailment that we can call "Swollen Opinions". Now I remember Anvil back in the 80s, when they were seen as a silly bunch of chancers from Canada who would pose for photos with a vibrator (or as Kerrang! put it: "erm, a crystallised banana"). However, according to the film, they were one of the time's most influential bands who somehow unjustly missed out on stardom. So we saw an old copy of Kerrang with them on the cover, even though back then Kerrang would put pretty much anybody on the cover, such as Aldo Nova, Baron Rojo and Budgie. We had Malcolm Dome go on about how "heavy" they were, and we got endorsements from folk like Lemmy, Scott Ian, Lars Ulrich and Slash. In fact we got to hear more people talking about their music than the music itself, and when you heard the music you realised why.

However, the other reason I didn't warm to the film may just be a consequence of me getting older. The "plot" of the documentary involves Lips raising 13,000 pounds from his sister to finance recording professionally their new album (their 13th) which they then hawk (unsuccessfully) around major record labels. We're meant to see this as showing that they have a Never Say Die spirit and are fully dedicated to living the Rock & Roll Dream. But I just saw it as desperation, a last Hail Mary from a bunch of 50-something musicians in denial who can't accept that their time has past. The younger me would probably have admired that dedication. The older me felt sorry for the sister.

Edit: I've realised that my friend Bright Ambassador also wrote a (much better) post about the film, and moreover, unlike me, wrote about the damn thing when it came out. You can read it here.