The Vinyl Fix: November 2013
If you believed the headlines, you'd think the resurgence of interest in good old-fashioned vinyl was going to save the record industry. Truth is, despite rising sales figures, vinyl still only constitutes a tiny percentage of annual sales and hasn't stalled an overall decline in the market for albums. Still, whether you're buying vinyl for the first time, or getting back into it after putting your collection into the attic, there's no denying the visual and tactile pleasure that comes from handling a well-designed new release, or the buzz that comes from picking up something interesting from a second hand shop or car boot sale.
With that in mind - and the fact we're old school vinyl heads here at TMF and like nothing better than boring people with details of matrix numbers and test pressings - we thought we'd give some space over to what we still call 'records' in a new, quasi-regular column, The Vinyl Fix. Leave us a comment below with your thoughts!
Score! Digging for Records in ... DumfriesIn our first 'on the ground' report, our undercover guy (or it could be a lady!) hits the streets in search of that vinyl fix, scouring the back alleys in hope of finding that ever-elusive ska 7" or 'God Save The Queen' on A&M for 50p. Will you come with us and flick through endless dog-eared copies of 'Introducing the Hardline According to Terence Trent D'Arby' in hope of uncovering that long sought-after gem? Only the brave survive!
The Scottish border town of Dumfries, if it's know for anything, is best remembered for being the place where national bard Robert Burns died. But it was poetry of another kind that we were looking for: the kind that goes "A wop-bop-a-loo-bop!" and comes on black plastic. Mostly.
Strangely, for a town with a population of less than 45,000, Dumfries still has two record shops. Look upon that fact and weep, middle England. Barnstorm (128 Queensberry Street) is the kind of small town shop that probably hasn't changed much since the 1980s - and it certainly hasn't changed in the ten years or so since we first set foot in the place. There's a solid wall full of second-hand vinyl at front of the shop that's worth a rummage if you have the time, although I recognised a lot of it from the last time I was in. Turnover is clearly an issue, evident from the dusty piles of VHS and cassette tapes that still inhabit some of the racks. For the first time visitor, this probably has novelty value, but it also rather suggests a shop in dire need of a talking to from Mary Portas.
Barnstorm participate in Record Store Day, so they have a small stock of new vinyl - although it's hard not to wonder whether the real gems lie long forgotten in the voluminous shelves behind the counter and piled high in the stock room. We emerge with a couple of Belle & Sebastian CD singles (one of which I'm convinced is already on the shelves back home - it is) and a copy of one-hit wonder The Maisonettes' 'Heartache Avenue' from 1982. The latter looks so new the notion of Barnstorm's 'lost stock' seems ever less fanciful.
Domino Records (52 White Sands) sits down beside the frequently flooded River Nith. Last time we ventured inside, it was a strange experience, with such paltry stock they were reduced to putting Phil Collins albums on the walls. The range has improved since then, although how many people there are willing to hand over ten quid for middling copies of Double Fantasy is less obvious. Pricing is an issue generally: they have quite a nice selection of genre 7"s but nearly everything is £5, which means we leave empty handed, rather than coming out with a couple of impulse buys for the hell of it.
And what is it with Dumfries and cassettes? The fact Domino is just along the street from the Tourist Information Office probably means they get pensioners from the tour buses that stop in the town, but c'mon - even my old Mum has been buying CDs for years.
The instinctive dodge into the charity shops can be a hit or miss affair, as any victim of the vinyl itch can attest. The Dumfries Oxfam has a small but reasonably priced selection (a nice copy of Springsteen's The River for £3.99 for example) and a smattering of stuff for 99p. A sealed copy of The Beatles' Help! DVD for £1.99 puts a skip in the step. The local Cancer Research (or whatever they're called nowadays) throws up a small collection of singles from the early 1960s in mostly fine condition for 25p each and I pick up a few novelty numbers including Jimmy Rodgers doing 'English Country Garden', a lovely copy of The Best of (Peter) Sellers no.2 and Benny Hill's 'Transistor Radio'.
The fact that two shops can still make some kind of living in a town the size of Dumfries is heartening - boosted no doubt by the local tourist trade. Yet both could probably do to just dispose of dead stock and freshen up a bit. Neither outlet strikes as being the kind of place teenagers will go and hang out on a Saturday, which doesn't bode well for the longer haul.
Spin the Black Circle: ReviewsRegular readers of the Digital Fix's film and TV sections will be well aware of the sterling work done by the Network label in bringing back archive shows and movies to DVD and Blu-ray formats. Now Network have begun to dabble in vinyl and two new releases highlight the cult material that sits in their vaults.
Man in a Suitcase (1967-8) followed the adventures of an ex-US Intelligence agent (played by Richard Bradford), unable to return home after being accused of treason. He makes a living as an investigator for hire, his undercover status drawing him into the clutches of various ne'er-do-wells who don't have his best interests at heart. It was part of the ITC stable of TV productions so beloved of a young Morrissey, although it's less remembered than some of its quirkier contemporaries.
Ron Grainger's theme tune was re-used by Chris Evans for TFI Friday, making it one of the most recognisable ITC numbers for modern audiences. Incidental music was written by Albert Elms and it's very much of its time: sometimes it leans towards a jazzier, noir-esque sound; 'All That Glitters' is a cheesy bossanova; while 'Man From The Dead' gets the Hank Marvin's out half way through. There are snatches of harpsichord-driven chamber music and more obviously sinister 'spy'-styled efforts like the central section of 'Variation on a Million Bucks (Part One). Although we're well past the fad for 'Easy' music, Man in a Suitcase plays well if you still fancy yourself as a bit of a Jason King.
Randall and Hopkirk Deceased was a supernatural ITC series that ran for 26 episodes during 1969 and 1970. Starring Mike Pratt and Kenneth Cope in the titular roles, it was essentially another private investigator show, the twist being that one of our heroes is a ghost! Soundtrack duties fell to Edwin Astley, who also scored The Saint and Danger Man, and he leans heavily on harpsichord motifs and melancholy woodwind (as on 'My Late Lamented Friend and Partner') to add to the show's other-worldly sensibility. Compared to Man in ..., the soundtrack to Randall ... is more obviously quirky and seems less dated as a result. If you've never dabbled in the genre, this is a fun place to start.
As an initial foray into the field, these are two exemplary discs nicely presented in gatefold sleeves and on heavyweight vinyl. We can only find one glaring fault: no sleevenotes! While the intended audience is likely to be familiar with the material, an insert with at least some background reading on the shows or the composers wouldn't go amiss. With access to such an incredible archive, future efforts are sure to get the mouth watering.
New and future releasesThe Jam's The Studio Recordings (25th November) sees all six of their studio albums remastered on vinyl, plus two extra discs of non-album singles and b-sides plus photos, memorabilia, and a hardback book with new liner notes and an introduction written by Paul Weller.
Nu-proggers Sound of Contact will release a (double) vinyl version of their debut album Dimensionaut on 2nd December.
Neil Young's Live At The Cellar Door album, the latest in his Archives Performance Series, is released on 9th December on Reprise Records. The 180-gram vinyl version (mastered by Chris Bellman at Bernie Grundman Mastering and pressed at Pallas in Germany) features material drawn from Young’s intimate six-show solo stand at The Cellar Door in Washington D.C. between 30th November and 2nd December 1970.
Funeral For A Friend will reissue a re-mastered, remixed and expanded version of their first EP Between Order And Model through End Hits Records / Mighty Atom on 18th November. The newly remixed and re-mastered four original songs are joined by three rare/unreleased tracks from the same recording session and live versions recorded by the current line-up. A 12 page booklet features new pictures from the bands archives and liner notes from singer Matt Davies, Josh Latshaw (Boysetsfire) and Oli Sykes (Bring Me The Horizon). The release will be available as digi-pack CD and, for the first time ever, on vinyl (limited to 1000 coloured copies).
SUNN O))) are set to re-issue their sixth album, Black One as 180-gram, 2xLP version, bound in a thick Stoughton-style gatefold jacket in an exclusive Record Store Day edition of 1000 copies on black vinyl on 26th November. Fans can order the new pressing of the album on white or grey vinyl now, in runs of 1000 each. The white version can be ordered now at the new SUNN O))) presence here and the grey vinyl here. A further silver edition of 1000 will also be available in Europe via Southern Lord Europe soon after.
Exit Stencil Recordings are set to re-release the long out-of-print 1976 debut album by 15-60-75 (The Numbers Band), Jimmy Bell’s Still in Town. The album was recorded live on a night when the band opened for Bob Marley and the Wailers at Cleveland’s Agora Theater. The re-issue will be presented as a limited edition of 500 deluxe, 2xLP gatefold copies featuring liner notes from David Fricke (Rolling Stone), David Giffels (co-author of Are We Not Men?), and recollections from the band members. Also included are three previously unreleased bonus tracks from the same era.
Alt. black metal outfit Wolves In The Throne Room have scheduled a vinyl release of their 2011 BBC Radio session as Anno Domini. Featuring two tracks, ‘Prayer of Transformation’ and ‘Thuja Magus Imperium', the 12" will appear on 11 November via Southern Lord.
Jimi Hendrix's Live At Miami Pop Festival is being released as a limited edition, numbered double 12" audiophile vinyl set (all analogue cut by Bernie Grundman, pressed at QRP on 200 gram vinyl) alongside the CD version.
Vinyl Virgins: CounterfeitsThe ongoing vinyl revival means that many people are buying the format for the first time. One of the obvious pleasures of building up a collection is the fact that you have decades' worth of great music out there just waiting to be discovered - often at pocket money prices. If the bug catches you, and you want to dig deeper, perhaps by concentrating on a certain act or genre, things can get a little trickier.
Any hobby with a commercial element is bound to attract to occasional charlatan - and I don't mean of the Tim Burgess variety. With many records now worth hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds, inevitably crooks have moved in to try and extract money from unsuspecting customers with items that are not what they seem. In other words, counterfeits.
To begin with, counterfeit records are not bootlegs - although some people use the terms interchangably. Specifically, bootlegs are recordings which have not been authorised by the artist or their label. Usually featuring live recordings or rare studio material, they've proven popular with hardcore fans who want to hear everything an artist ever did. You'll still come across bootlegs in some shops, at record fairs and online, although the market has fallen away in recent years as fans began to swap material for free over the internet.
Counterfeits are more devious because they (usually) pretend to be something they're not. The most obvious counterfeits you'll find are fake signed items - Ebay is awash with them. But most counterfeits try to dupe the buyer by replicating the record itself. Often it takes a trained eye to spot a fake: maybe the typeface on the spine of the record is wrong, or the crooks have used a different weight of card on the sleeve, or the lettering scratched onto the run-out groove is different in some respect.
Occasionally, some counterfeits try not to disguise their origins. If the original record was only ever available on black vinyl, someone might press up coloured vinyl and sell it at near normal prices. If all you care about is having the artefact, you might feel these versions will fill a hole in your collection, but most are worthless junk and rarely retain their value. Sometimes you need a keen eye, especially online, where a seller will declare that an item is a 're-issue' or 're-press', but only in tiny print at the bottom of the auction, with everything else giving the impression that it's an original being sold. It's depressing to watch people bid up the price of fakes, but the fakers prey on the bidders' ignorance.
The authorities still take counterfeiting seriously; it does, after all, defraud buyers of their money. If you do start to dip a toe into pricier records, do some research and arm yourselves with the facts. Most bands and artists have online discussion groups and communities where you can ask for advice - and if you see a record at a too-good-to-be-true price, it probably is!