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The Vinyl Staircase: October In Record Buying Misery By John Doran
John Doran , October 7th, 2015 08:20

A NEW MONTHLY COLUMN: Jonesing for a hit of the black wax, John Doran seeks solace with The Units, British Sea Power, Cassie, Black Sabbath, Barbara Carr, The The and more

All album sleeve art reinterpretations by Sean Reynard

I’m about to leave the record shop.

I know I should leave the record shop.

But then I decide to go through one last rack and my fate is sealed. Reissues and Comps - H to M. And… oh be still my beating heart… what is this?! Is this triple vinyl? No, it’s a single LP but the card the sleeve is made out of is so thick you could build a fucking yurt out of it. The cover art is blown up from an old Polaroid - tipped on of course - and shows some dude, circa 1974 with an Afro, playing what looks like a cross between a Flying V and an oud run through an Orange stack… and what’s that in the background? An active volcano? This already has to be the greatest album ever recorded.

Well, it’s on Finding Dust In My Beard vinyl, and those guys really know their potatoes. What does the sticker say? “The private pressing collector’s private pressing and DJ holy grail is finally getting its first ever release outside of Uruguay. Mastered straight from wax cylinder, Beach Therapy by Joakim ‘Slippers’ Sanchez is the missing link between John Berberian, Reichman, The Devil’s Anvil, Lewis, Annette Peacock and John Bender and a must own for any serious collector who wants to explore the liminal zones between gnostic psych-folk, South American Krautrock, modular synth boogie and proto-metal cumbia.”

Aiiieeeeee! I... must... buy... immediately... How much is it? £39.99… don’t worry about the cost… only five quid per track… bargain! Just pay for it. It’ll be worth twice that in eight weeks time on Discogs after the run sells out.

I have to leave the record in the bag the entire way home lest my sweaty palms, ripple the sleeve. When I get back to my flat, my hands are shaking so much I can barely put the stylus on the record. This is going to be the one - the masterpiece I’ve been waiting my whole life for.

And then when the first track starts, it sounds like Merle Haggard but sung in Spanish and recorded in the shithouse on a dictaphone.



My name is John. I like buying vinyl records. I am an idiot. I already have more Italian horror movie soundtracks on wax than I’m ever likely to play during the rest of my life. I have such a sizeable collection of cosmic disco 12”s that I could do a straight seven or eight hour DJ set. I really don’t need to expand my collection any further but as soon as I finish writing this I’m about to go out and attempt to buy some more. Gary Numan picture discs instead of new clothes? Don’t mind if I do. Another SunnO))) record to go with the 25 I already own? Sure thing! A genre of music no one had even heard of before 12 months ago? I’d like to own 30 representative albums on 12” plastic by the end of the year please.

Record collecting is silly and I’m silly for doing it and so is everyone else who does it whether a vintage frock or peak beard-sporting neophyte; an over earnest 7” collector with deep pockets; an unblinking and obsessive single artist completist; a hobbyist DJ whose bitterness towards professionals who use USB sticks is perhaps a touch OTT or a mouth-breathing genre partisan who values obscurity and rarity of music way over quality.

Silly, silly, silly people. But my people nonetheless. This column is for us and everyone like us. While descending The Vinyl Staircase I’m going to be reviewing a very random selection of vinyl that’s come out over the previous month or so as well as talking about some of the booty I have bought from Discogs, record shops, car boots, gigs and charity stores. And hopefully, in doing so, we’ll get round to discussing many of the various issues that obsess and enrage those with a crippling addiction to the circular pressed wax.

This column is, of course, named in honour of a Coil track (which can be found on the Horse Rotorvator album and The Anal Staircase EP). I think now is as good a time as any to say, for what it's worth, that I for one would be really happy if the many people who have the rights to this group’s mighty back catalogue could set aside their differences and allow a full remastering and reissuing project to get underway. Jah bless.

BACK CATALOGUE REISSUES OF THE MONTH: Black Sabbath - The First Eight Albums

Now, before we put just one foot on the vinyl staircase, I feel like there’s a word I need to say, to dispel some tension. And that word is “mastering”.

Mastering, in case you don’t know, is a form of audio post production, that nearly all records undergo while being prepared for release (although not Iron Maiden’s brilliant A Matter Of Life Or Death LP for some bizarre reason). So, while mixing refers to how all the different elements of the recording are balanced in relation to one another, mastering is one of the last processes carried out on the actual final mix prior to its release. Mastering has several potential functions including noise reduction, corrective equalisation, volume adjustment and alteration of the stereo field. During the EQing process, a good mastering engineer (a master masterer?) will always approach the job differently depending on whether the record is due to be released on vinyl or CD/digital.

It tends to be something of a red button/trigger warning topic for some music fans when new reissues of old albums for vinyl are being discussed as, sadly, in the majority of cases, these tend to be created from an intermediate CD remaster.

One thing that often isn’t factored into the argument, however, is the fact that if you have a good deck and a nice amplifier with a pre-amp, listening on vinyl will give the music that much romanticised “warmer feel” anyway - regardless of whether the music comes from a digital or analog source. It’s wise to remember that not all musicians and labels have the luxury of doing what Jimmy Page did recently with the new Led Zeppelin remasters, working direct from the quarter inch tapes. In a lot of cases, the original tapes no longer exist, or they have degraded and there isn’t enough budget to get them baked and transferred professionally, or the owners of the tapes have no interest in helping out the reissue label. In most cases the more recent digital masters are all that exists and you know what? In most cases they are just fine for the job.

So in this column, I’m not going to go into tedious detail about mastering in every single instance. I’m going to save that discussion for when we really need to have it. (If anyone remembers that batch of New Order reissues, they’ll know what I’m talking about.) The truth of the matter is this - in the vast majority of cases, the vast majority of listeners, if put to a blindfold challenge would not be able to tell, after the needle hit the record, whether they were listening to an analog or digital mastering job; and despite overseeing the mastering of several vinyl and digital releases, I would include myself in that category.

BMG acquired the Sanctuary catalogue in 2013 and one of its undertakings has been to reissue Black Sabbath’s first eight albums on so-called “heavyweight” 180g vinyl. While record buyers would be wise to be slightly suspicious of any vinyl reissues being sourced from CDs mastered in the first decade of the CD boom, like I said above, more recent CD masters tend to make for fine vinyl reissues. All eight of these Black Sabbath albums are sourced from the last tape to digital transfer, which was carried out in 2009. There’s every chance that the original tapes had to be baked to carry out this process - and this is pretty much a one shot kind of deal. And damn, they sound just great to me.

Now, I don’t know about you but I can’t afford to buy eight albums by one artist in one go, even if it is Black fucking Sabbath - one of the greatest groups of all time. If I were heading down to either Rough Trade East or Flashback this afternoon, a quick scan of my bank balance reveals I could just about stretch to three, if I was happy enough with staying in and living off peanuts and tap water for the rest of the month.

So, in this instance, my first choice would be Master Of Reality even though - mastering notwithstanding - it kind of sounds like it was recorded in a squat by drunks who had nothing but contempt for heavy metal. This is unsurprising. Sabbath were not a priority for Vertigo and metal, which was really only about 18 months old at this stage, was still seen in most quarters as an embarrassing fad. In fact some of the contempt the label had for their charges, can be seen by the fact that despite becoming quite popular since the release of their self-titled debut and follow up, Paranoid in 1970, the band were still forced to begin recording Master on New Year’s Day, 1971. As we’re talking about Sabbath I’m contractually obliged to mention Tony Iommi’s fingertip-severing factory accident. When talking about this historic and slightly bloody occurrence, most people forget to mention that it was only during the recording of Master did Lord Riffington Of Aston Manor start down tuning his guitar to make it easier for him to play. This in turn meant that Geezer Butler had to follow suit with his bass and then even Bill Ward re-tuned his kit and the effects are distinctly audible on landmark tracks ‘Children Of The Grave’ and ‘Into The Void’.

My second choice would be Vol. 4 which, as the joyless name suggests, marks their slide into personal anhedonia. The raucous boozing has been replaced by a permanent hangover; the ganja-dazed enlightenment by coke-numbed desensitisation. But as much as it must have been a nightmare for the band, what a great album it made for us. ‘Snowblind’ and ‘Cornucopia’ go some way to dispell the idea that cocaine has absolutely no creative worth. And it is in ‘Supernaut’ that the band have what is, for me at least, their finest moment. Ozzy is cast as an Icarus with foresight as Ward and Geezer power through a funk rock rhythm that could bring the mountains down into the sea. It’s perhaps a bit of a stretch to say that this track wouldn’t sound out of place on Maggot Brain but it certainly demands to be mentioned in the same breath as Chicago Transit Authority’s peerless ‘I’m A Man’ and surely it’s only fashion that stopped this from becoming a disco staple. Bill Ward’s funky drummer breakdown featuring Iommi’s Flamenco vamping on the six string is my go-to schooling device for those clueless enough to still insist that heavy metal is somehow stiff, graceless or sexless.

And the final choice my all too real wallet will allow me to make is Sabotage - the last great album the classic line-up would make. (It’s an argument we can have all day long but for me personally, Heaven And Hell featuring Ronnie James Dio is the last world-bestriding Sabbath LP - it certainly knocks spots off Technical Ecstasy and Never Say Die!) By the holy blood that poured from wrists of Padre Pio, last of the true stigmatics, I swear there’s nothing like this album. When you hear ‘Hole In The Sky’ you wonder why heavy metal didn’t just die right there and right then, with every other musician that wasn’t in Black Sabbath slinking away in shame thinking to themselves, “What’s the bloody point in trying… they’ve nailed it.”

So, great work. But there’s another side to this which I feel I need to mention here and that is this: it’s not exactly hard to find playable versions of these LPs in second hand record shops. I have a feeling I’m just about to reveal more about myself than I’m necessarily comfortable with but anyway… My old version of Master is the 1971 embossed box with Vertigo swirl poly inner. It’s kind of knackered but I like it. Can one make an objective assessment as to which is better? Well, take a look and let me know what you think.

Since 1971 there have been about a thousand reissue of Master, with many of them having the title as well as band name filled with the colour purple. I think this decision was pusillanimous. The words should, initially, be hard to discern and resolve slowly, leering out of the dark, like a bad trip coalescing out of unfathomable depths. The original sleeve was always bound to get knackered; laminate sleeves always do. But there is a grandeur to the way it decays, with the innevitably compacted box and lifted laminate. The new record looks nicer and neater and sounds better but, importantly, the old one makes you think of death, decay, madness, drugs, wizards and the transience of all things - and if that is not the primary function of a Black Sabbath album, then I don’t know what is.

However… if I’m dispassionate about it, I have to concede that maybe not all future Black Sabbath fans are as mentally distressed as I am, and perhaps they just want a nice copy to play. The main thing is, a good record will age with you, no matter how you live your life. It was George Orwell I think who said, "By the time people turn 40, they have the kind of record collection they deserve." So if you're grave facing with one foot pressed firmly down on the accelerator, you'll soon have the kind of Black Sabbath records that remind you of your own mortality.

I think the main lesson I’ve learned while listening to these reissues is that there are no one size fits all rules about record buying. You should buy discs that suit you. I have to admit I was ready to slam these reissues by saying, “Look, you can buy playable versions of the originals for cheaper on Discogs.” But it turns out you can’t. (I’m using the VG+ media and disc as my minimum entry requirements for the sake of this column and tend to buy M or M- myself.) My boxed edition is apparently worth £70, or at least it would be if it were less redolent of the yawning grave itself and even a standard edition that came out in 1971 on Vertigo tends to go for £40. So fair play to BMG - get down the shops young heavy metal fans! Just get rid of the bloody “Includes CD” sticker and don’t, whatever you do, buy Technical Ecstasy.


Scott Ryser, left, with fellow Units

No matter how worthy the Sabs reissues are, past a certain age it should be difficult for music fans to get ultra-excited about any canonical reissue that’s part of the cultural landscape. With vinyl, I never go into shops looking to buy something I knew well when I was younger. Ideally - if it’s an old record I’m after at all - I want it to be something I wasn’t aware of in the first place.

I only became a fan of The Units relatively recently. After hearing the track ‘High Pressure Days’ in a club, I tracked down main Unit dude Scott Ryser for this interview which we ran six years ago. Despite having a lot of digital music by The Units now, I never ran across a copy of their debut LP in second hand shops or car boots. Well, give nuclear-powered praise to Optimus Prime, the big, shiny, metal, Matrix of Leadership bearing, truck based bastard - because those fine people at Futurismo have only gone and given Digital Stimulation the full super reissue treatment.

Futurismo is a great new label that specialises in synth pop, new wave and post punk reissues - also recently banging out mainly desirable LPs by the likes of The Contortions, Devo, Suburban Lawns and Our Daughter’s Wedding. Rather than trying to match what the original issue looked like they’ve gone in the opposite direction - giving it a kind of 2.0 revamp with redesigned sleeve, thick colour inner, 12” booklet, coloured vinyl, poster, additional tracks etc. In situations like this, you’ve got to admit that the new version is actually a lot better. And if you’re one of those weirdos who like buying vinyl but don’t own a turntable, you get the ubiquitous DL card. (I’ve got so many of these little things cluttering up my flat I’m starting to have dreams about getting buried under an avalanche of them. Please email me suggestions for what I could use them for.) I talked to Scott about the reissue this weekend.

Scott, can you tell me in which ways the Futurismo reissue differs from the original?

Scott Ryser: It had been 35 years since we originally released the Digital Stimulation album. I had been approached by several labels over the years to re-release it, and frankly, I never wanted to. I never liked the way the original sounded. In fact, listening to certain parts of it made me cringe.

At the time we recorded it, we had come up with our own money and hired the cheapest studio we could find. They had just bought some newfangled 16 track, 1 inch tape machine and we were kind of like the guinea pigs on how to use the damn thing. To compound matters, I was totally into the “Do It Yourself” punk ethic, so I thought I could do anything and everything myself - including producing music. So that’s what I did.

We had recorded our first 7", 4 song E.P., pretty much live, on a friend's 4 track reel to reel, and I’ve always thought that came out pretty good. But I guess 16 tracks and “a mixing board” with “outboard gear” was all just too much for me to grasp in a couple weeks. I was used to loud amps, feedback, chaos and confusion, improvisation and playing live in the ambiance of a punk club. The sterile precision of a real recording studio really did a number on me. It ended up sounding like shit. I was complaining to our friends at 415 Records about it and they listened to it and talked me into letting them put it out. I trusted them and I guess in the end they were right.

Over the years I started seeing [the debut LP] selling on eBay for over $150 (and still do). I’m convinced that half of those are bootlegs that sound even worse than the original. And then someone started selling it as a bootleg CD (which they actually did a pretty nice job of). And then all these DJs and producers and such started doing remixes of the songs from the album and putting them out on 12” singles, and some of them sounded pretty good. Of course I wasn’t getting a dime off of any of it.

Then in 2011, Gianluca Pandullo from the Opilec Music label in Italy organized and released a 3 CD box set that included over 45 DJs and producers from 13 different countries doing remixes/reworks of the songs from the album. I figured it was time to re-release the original record at that point. The only question left was, with who?

That’s where Futurismo came in. I figured that if I was going to re-release Digital Stimulation, I wanted it to be on a label alongside other bands I respected and had some connection to. I didn’t want it to get lost on a label with hundreds of artists I didn’t know or like. I also wanted the artwork and sound to either be the same as or better than the original. When Del Jae from Futurismo got in contact it became an easy decision. He sent me their reissue of Devo's Miracle Witness Hour and I saw what an incredible job he had done with the artwork, vinyl and sound.

Del gave me everything I asked for on the reissue. The vinyl version is worth the money just for the artwork alone. It includes a 2 by 3 foot poster, photos of the band and all the song lyrics. He agreed to let me write liner notes, so I could put that time into today’s perspective.

I also asked to include the song 'iNight' on the reissue. I didn’t include the song on the original and I’ve always regretted it. It’s my favorite Units song, and if there is only one song a newcomer to the Units hears, I’d like it to be that one. And there are "hidden tracks” on the reissue. We included tracks of many of the songs from the original album from a live show we played in San Francisco in 1979 at the Mabuhay. The live tracks finally represent what I had wanted Digital Stimulation to sound like from the very beginning.

How does it sound? Was it mastered from tape?

SR: I think it sounds really good this time around. I was really tempted to remix the whole thing, but it’s become kind of a classic, sounding the way it does, so we stayed with the original mixes. I had to “bake” the master tapes because they were starting to shred after all this time, then transfer them to digital. There were one or two songs we had to lift from the actual record (luckily I still have a few unopened copies of the original). After that I sent it off to Futurismo. I think the only difference is that the song volumes are the same from track to track this time around. When I did it back in the day it was a little inconsistent.

Is it important for you to have it available on vinyl?

SR: Yes. It’s not just the difference in the sound on vinyl versus MP3. Vinyl is a piece of art. A tangible memento of time, place and feeling. An MP3 is like a dream. Vinyl is like a friend.

The Units' self-titled debut four track, 7” EP entitled “UNITS” will be re-released in 2016 on FDH. Watch this space.

BOXSET OF THE MONTH: British Sea Power - The Compleat Illustrated British Sea Power (Vol. 1)(Golden Chariot)

I’m going back now. Back through the mists of time elapsed. Back to 2003. Back to when things really weren’t all that different to what they’re like now, if I'm completely honest about it. Back I go, back I go, back I go… So, in January 2003 I became a music journalist by accident after getting drunk at a interview for a job on a film magazine and then threatening to kill all of Coldplay. And this new job as music writer ended up being a baptism of fire of sorts as I’d spent the previous decade listening to nothing but dance music and NOMEANSNO. It was apparent that I needed to reacquaint myself with popular guitar music very quickly if I was to remain in gainful employment. For the most part, this wasn’t a very pleasant experience if I’m honest, although there were some very notable exceptions that year.

On the insistence of my new friend and colleague, Simon Price, I went to Club Sea Power at The Garage at Highbury Corner, London. Crossing the threshold of the venue was like passing through a permeable membrane into a different world. The space - including the stage - was decorated in foliage and some people were carrying pints of ale and taxidermied herons about the place. Someone was dressed as a bear. Obviously, most people there, myself included, looked depressingly ordinary but some looked as if they’d stepped out of the pages of a graphic novel written by George Orwell, Dostoyevsky, WH Auden, a drunken OS cartographer and Alan Moore - very British, very old fashioned but also very exotic, romantic and exciting by that very same token.

A white blanket had been hung over the back of the stage and the support act, as such, was a screening of Powell And Pressburger’s A Matter Of Life And Death. During the scene where, the crew of the Lancaster bomber have bailed and only Squadron Leader Carter remains on the flight deck and is talking to the forces radio operator June, the volume started to increase. I can still hear David Niven's voice echoing around the venue: “I love you, June. You're life and I'm leaving you.” The plane came down into the sea and a figure on stage - dressed as a WWII air raid warden - started cranking a deafening siren and the band came on and blazed into a track… An hour or so later the entire venue was in complete pandemonium. It will always remain one of the best rock gigs I have ever seen.

And the act of using a thumbnail to puncture and slit the cellophane wrapping of this gorgeous artefact has plunged me back into that very same world. “A comprehensive audio-visual guide to the decline of British Sea Power” says the legend on the hard, embossed, inner sleeve to this treasure trove of material from a dozen years back. There is a hint of melancholy to this. An anger inducing sense of regret at what could have been. Listening to Decline now it’s even harder to comprehend why the NME kept them at arm’s length. They were better looking and better dressed than The Libertines, and more to the point, smarter and quite obviously better song writers. And that’s before you factor in all the other bands further down the urchin rock pecking order. Sure, the music didn’t sonically rewrite the rulebook - you could hear some Joy Division in there but also Hawkwind, Suede, My Bloody Valentine and Wire, but it did something more important. It acted as a portal to a new headspace. Anyway, it’s not like I judge the success of a band on whether they headlined the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury or not - and BSP aren’t doing so badly at all - it’s simply that I want everyone to share in the enjoyment I get from music.

The book that comes with this box, is excellent. Much more than an afterthought. More than a scrapbook of press cuttings. More than an eye-watering compendium of merch, setlists and photos. It is a worthy companion to Roy Wilkinson’s inimitable BSP book Do It For Your Mum - one of the best bits of writing inspired by a love of music to be published in recent years. There is also a second vinyl album of Decline-era B-sides, plus CDs of rarities and live tracks and a DVD of video promos, not to mention a beer mat and patch to sew on your napsack. But if you’ll excuse me for a few minutes, I need to raise the stylus out of the run out groove and lift it back over to the start of the spiral scratch for one last play today.


I’m so suggestible. If we were being invaded by aliens right now, I’d be at the front of the queue, saying, “Look, let’s give these giant mantis like beings - whose mandibles stink of human flesh, whose giant drill bit is pointed directly at the Earth’s core - a fair crack of the whip. After all, they did say that they came in peace.” I got sent a bunch of records recently. (You can call them vinyls if you want, I don’t care that much, there appear to be more important things going on in the world today according to the news.) They were from Be With Records, bearing the slogan: “Because You Need It On Vinyl.” And I nodded and said to myself: “Yes. That is exactly right. I do need these on vinyl.” Except, after listening to them, it turns out I actually do need some of them.

I was already familiar with Letta Mbulu, the South African soul star who fled to America during the height of apartheid. I'd fallen in love with the amazing ‘What’s Wrong With Groovin’ 7”some 20 years earlier (probably after hearing at the Monday night Bar Rhumba session run by Giles Peterson and James Lavelle). That was as far as my exploration went however and I'd never even heard of her 1983 disco/boogie LP In The Music The Village Never Ends. The lead track ‘Sweet JuJu’ has now become a staple of my DJ sets. Also, thanks to this label I’m now down with the easy rolling, new age Kraut pop of Hatchback via their smooth Colors Of The Sun LP.

But the real reason I’m so made up with Be With Records is that they’ve introduced me to Cassie’s astounding self-titled debut LP from 2006. Now, I don’t know what I was doing in 2006 (it probably involved ketamine, Wolf Eyes, Crown Royal bourbon and sleeping behind a hedge down the park) but shamefully I wasn’t listening to this album with its ultra crisp, economical production, giant shiny hooks and ultra-satisfying bass, with tracks evenly divided between clubby R&B and straight up pop. Now, I’m aware that opening track ‘Me & U’ received over nine million plays on her MySpace before the album was even released and that I'm hardly voyaging into unknown territory here, but it is often the way when you’re immersed in the world of extreme metal that you can miss out on these things. And to be fair to me, most R&B fans probably weren’t all over Things Viral by Khanate at the time either. But brothers and sisters, let us not fret about my failings in the past but instead look ahead together. I can see a brighter future for all of us. Just imagine all of those Anaal Nathrakh fans who could be getting down to Amerie and all of those Dawn Richard partisans who could be enjoying everything that Piss Grave have to offer. Or even better imagine ripping down the unnecessary dividing wall that separate these two mighty genres until we have a rich new lyrical hybrid that focusses on the journeying of Weedians toward Nazareth, the explanation of highly complex smartphone rituals, meditations on the actual experience of damnation and amusing bon mots on the observance of nightclub etiquette. This, brothers and sisters, sounds like a utopia to me.

Various Artists - Northern Soul 7” Vinyl Collection Box Set

Can I let you into a secret? I don’t really like 7”s generally speaking. Don’t get me wrong, I do have a lot of love in my heart. I’m the sort of person who’d be remarkably civil and relatively conversationally upbeat toward a ginger stepchild should the circumstance arise for example. By the same token I have at least four boxes of singles in my flat that I wouldn’t part with for love nor money. But really I’m an LP, a 12”, a picture disc shaped like a bat flying away from an upside down crucifix kind of guy. So when I see dinky single reissue box sets of previously really rare 7”s, I think, “Come on! Put them on an LP already!” Because who wants to walk to the stereo 14 times in 40 minutes? (The answer to this is probably people who are living out some kind weird, financially impoverished, I’m-northern-soul-DJ-check-out-my-tunes-except-don’t!-because-I’ve-put-Tippex-on-the-labels kind of person. And to these people I’d say, “Your wallet just helped you dodge a bullet my friend. Go out and buy a large picture disc of a Norwegian church burning down and have a social life instead… you can get all of these £287 7”s on a £3.50 CD comp these days.”)

So, is this sevens box set terrible? Don’t be daft, it’s enjoyable - and contains loads of great tunes. Between ‘50 and ‘75 Chicago label Chess was responsible for releasing some of the sweetest soul, R&B, rock & roll and jazz ever recorded and a first time introduction to one or more of the jaw-dropping tracks in their catalogue, trumps all other considerations. Consider for example Barbara Carr’s ‘My Mama Told Me’ from 1965, a song which is like a ray of sunlight hitting your heart, that simply earns its bravura key change. Then consider the fact that the original seven is apparently so rare it’s never been sold on Discogs before and the last time it deigned to show its face on eBay it went for £66 and there’s your answer. Because all joking aside, I’ve got a million northern soul CD comps and I never listen to any of them ever. I think perhaps we should talk about the link between genre and format in a later edition of this column. Maybe the best thing to do is to get this box if you’re a budding northern soul fan and simply train your four-year-old boy to swap the records for you and reward him with Haribo every time he does it correctly without scratching the disc. (NB: If my girlfriend is reading: I’m joking. I have never done this.)


Do you know what would be amazing? If The The announced a comeback this week. I generally don’t have much patience for bands reforming. That depressing schlep to the Roundhouse for pissy-eyed sad dads on lager night. Bands who weren't even that good in the first place, cramming themselves into girdles and putting on fedoras to hide the bald spots, end up looking like Wonga-generated bailiffs in the process. However, think about it for a second - Matt Johnson putting a large, killer band together and treating us to ‘Giant’, ‘Sweet Bird Of Truth’, ‘Infected’... that would be truly awesome. But here’s the thing - The The never actually threw in the towel; Johnson simply scaled down operations after 2000’s Naked Self, choosing to concentrate on his online audio presence, publishing and making soundtracks instead. And this, to my ears, is easily his best OST so far.

It's a soundtrack to a brutal looking crime caper shot by his brother Gerard that deals with Albanian drug dealers and corrupt policemen in London. (I’ve not seen it yet but the photos on the packaging alone make me want to rectify this pronto - not to mention the news that it also stars the UK's most terrifying man, Scouse actor Stephen Graham from Boardwalk Empire and This Is England, not to mention the CBeebies' Jackanory reboot, Bedtime Story.) Johnson has dusted off some vintage gear, namely a MiniMoog and Roland SH101 as well as an array of analog effects and set it all up in conjunction with a tape delay feedback system, using two multi-head tape recorders; a setup innovated in the early 60s by Terry Riley (and his engineer) who called it the Time Lag Accumulator. It’s a rich, deep and very satisfying listen and those acquainted with Mind Bomb or Burning Blue Soul or Dusk for example will be surprised, I would imagine, at the sublime drones and narcotic ambient passages it contains.

It’s a Death Waltz production, so, y’know, it’s a lovely artefact: a gatefold sleeve double LP (one blood red vinyl disc, one blue disc with the band's logo), a nice booklet and a sleeve that feels like it was fashioned out of lizard skin. Seriously - touch the sleeve of this LP. It’s what I imagine the fucking Predator feels like after a nice shower and exfoliating scrub. You know, I was talking to Stephen O’Malley once and he said… ha ha ha… he said that the reason that high end vinyl releases come in such high quality, shiny sleeves is… ha ha ha… because collectors like to… ha ha ha… er, no, actually, I’m not going to repeat that in case my mum’s reading. (And in case you didn’t know, there are rumblings of both a box set of Infected and a new The The album ‘proper’ coming out next year, so maybe we will get to see some kind of big live show after all. Watch this space.)


The Heads - Time In Space (Rooster)

At the weekend I went up to Liverpool Psych Fest and after giving a lecture on Aphrodite’s Child and the consciousness-expanding potential of the hangover, I headed straight for the merch stall. As soon as I got there I was greeted by the sight of Heads/Kandodo man Simon Price sitting on the floor surrounded by a pile of records. He was pulling vinyl out of some sleeves and putting them back in others. If he was a cartoon character there would have been a dark rain cloud directly above his head and worry lines coming off him. “Someone’s put the bloody blue vinyl in the splatter sleeves and the splatter vinyl in the blue sleeves,” shouted a merch man. “Where are the fucking T-shirts?” shouted a merch woman. And Simon let out a massive sigh, as if he’d sooner be literally anywhere else in the world.

But then, later that night on stage, The Heads were wreathed in oil projections, multi-coloured smoke and looked 100 foot tall and hewn from rainbow coloured granite. It was as if some terrible magickal alchemical ritual had temporarily combined The Stooges, Neu! and Hawkwind into a new breed of slacker god, for a few glorious, fleeting minutes at least. They took a riff and modulated it so slowly and deliciously that finally I could see a second kingdom behind this kingdom. The road I was on fell temporarily away and I could see a glowing path to new Jerusalem open up in that warehouse, directly in front of me. And so could my friend Julian if his dancing was anything to go by. And those two contrasting images kind of sum up The Heads for me. Plus it’s always nice to commemorate a really blinding gig with some plastic isn’t it?

(There’s a point to this by the way. Do you genuinely want to support your favourite bands? Do you like it when they roll through town on a tour? Well buy some vinyl off them then. According to RIAA figures vinyl sales have swollen by so much and streaming rates remain so fucking weak and insulting to the arttist that more money is raised by the former than the cash generated by (free) Spotify, YouTube and VEVO combined. And vinyl tends to be cheaper at shows than it is in shops anyway.)

Sex Swing/Clinic - ‘Night-Time Worker’ / 'Tape For Jase' 7”

“How many times mate? I’ll let you watch Dora The Explorer and give you some Haribo but only if you turn Daddy’s 7” record over for him without scratching it.” Actually, I love the 7”’s released on God Unknown Records a stellar, DIY label run out of Liverpool, that has already featured the talents of Hey Colossus, Acid Mothers Temple, GNOD (this track is particularly good), Teeth Of The Sea, White Hills and Carlton Melton. The titular “Jase” of the Clinic track, is gregarious Scouse-lord, Jason Stoll of Mugstar, who runs the label and can, apparently, clone himself off like a bearded noise rock version of Dr Manhattan from Watchmen as he is always at all underground gigs and festivals ever. As good as Clinic are, I’m including this record because of Sex Swing, the killer free-Kraut noise rock group featuring talent from Part Chimp, Dethscalator, Gin Palace, Action Beat and Stoll himself. This is just a little appetiser for their debut album coming early next year (on the Quietus Phonographic Corporation) which, if the live shows are anything to go by, should be a cross between very early Pere Ubu, Iggy Pop singing ‘Mass Communication’, Fire! and Harmonia. Just when you think all the combinations have been done, someone still manages to turn up and get it completely right.

Pour Le Plaisir - Tin Machine EP
(Blue Tapes And X-Ray Records)

In case you didn’t know, our pal David, who runs the amazing Blue Tapes label has expanded his remit to include vinyl under the X-Ray banner as well. I’m really digging the second release on the label by Pour Le Plaisir which is a four track, one sided, clear vinyl, screen print patterned, LP full of chunky hardware house, post Giorgio Moroder electro disco and Dan Avery-style bangerness. Of course, as with everything in life, I’m completely out of date (this came out before the Summer) and one look at their website shows that they’ve had vinyl releases out by mighty Mats Gustafsson and Benjamin Finger since then. I’m always the last to know, as Del Amitri pointed out to me back in 1992.

The Jimmy Castor Bunch - It's Just Begun
(RCA Victor)


Tantra - 'Hills Of Kat Mandu' (Patrick Cowley Mix)

There's a record fair held in a Turkish community hall on Kingsland Road, Hackney, one Sunday every month and I like to pop in and look at all the records I can't afford to buy. It's generally a mix of hardened old traders, people selling boxes of stuff they've picked up from charity shops and boots and small indie labels flogging their wares. When it first started a year ago, that beards, frocks, couple-blogging and listening to "vintage" LPs on Dansettes wave was just cresting and, I swear, some of these record sellers must have thought all of their Christmases had come at once. Looking around now, it already seems to have tailed off a little bit though. There's probably only so many times you can sell earnest young couples a second hand reissue of Let's Get It On for £40 before you run out of opportunities to do so.

This weekend, one of the bigger old school traders had a nice selection of boogie, disco, Afro funk etc and had a bunch of things I really wanted. The first thing I noticed was Power, the second LP by Barrabas, the Spanish funk rock outfit responsible for the insanely good 'Wild Safari'. "Ah! Their first album", shouted the guy on the stall, "A bit of a rarity that one." I lifted out another copy of Power by Barrabas with different sleeve art that he had in his own racks and showed it to him. "Well..." he said, "that's a Canadian pressing and the other one is the original from south of the border in the US."

Barrabas, as I've pointed out, are from Spain.

I had to ask him to quote me a figure as none of his stock was priced and after doing some Brando-esque face pulling, he said, £20 and added that I was getting it for a tenner cheaper than it was worth.

The other was a record I'd never seen or even heard of before, S.U.B. by the German Afro funk rock band Niagara (I've got the self-titled debut on vinyl and it slays). It was clearly a reissue but, again, he told me that I'd never see another copy of it again and, after a tenner discount, he'd do it for £40.

I told him to leave it and went and bought the Tantra 12" for £15 and The Jimmy Castor Bunch LP for £10 from a different stall where everything was priced up.

Now the reason for this insanely boring story is this: my feeling is you simply cannot trust the majority of record traders who don't price their stock. They may spend a lot of time at record fairs in Europe, they may have a high turn over of stock, they may feel the need to display the amazing recall they have for sleeves, titles and prices. Whatever. Not my problem. I may be paranoid but unpriced stock says one thing and one thing only to me: a trader is willing to make a value judgement after sizing you up as to whether you know what you're talking about (in which case they will offer you discs at market value) or you don't (in which case they will tax you depending on how gullible they think you are).

After checking Discogs when I got home, it turns out my initial suspicions were right; you can buy a decent copy of that Power LP for as little as a fiver and, super-fucking-annoyingly, my suspicions were dead wrong and he was telling the truth about Niagara album. It's massively rare, (often going for about £100 when in very good nick) and he was offering me an excellent price. He lost out on a sale and I missed out on a bargain. Bummer. But there you have it; personally speaking I'm always going to trust the trader who prices his stock over the one that doesn't. Priced up records act as a guarantee that a trader is completely conversant with the current market value of his stock.