Archive for September, 2012

It was, as all good record stores should be, a place where a warning notice should have been placed on the door on behalf of all claustrophobics. There were vinyl records everywhere, in the masses of rows and in boxes underneath them. Groucho’s store at the former Overgate shopping precinct in Dundee during the 1980s was a haven for collectors, and the first time I had experienced a boutique vinyl store other than Woolworths and John Menzies in my home town.

I bought Blue Monday by New Order, on the recommendation of my friend Gordon, – a brilliant pointer as it turned out –  and later, the 2-Tone classic Dance Craze for 50 pence. Further up the road was another grubby little store, with a particular odour, called Rock City (at least I am sure that’s what it was called but I can’t find a single mention on the net). They also had racks and racks of records, but this place seemed to have more obscure stuff, and having just gotten into indie and alternative music, provided a challenge as I attempted to make a connection with the bands I’d heard recently (Jesus and Mary Chain, Cocteau Twins, Echo & the Bunnymen, Teardrop Explodes etc) with bands that had far less chart success than any of the above, or had been lost in the mists of time.

The city also had in the mid 80s, The Other Record Shop, in the Overgate which according to a photo posted on the Retro Dundee blog, had a rack of CDs in 1984, among the masses of vinyl. Alas that situation would soon be reversed. To be honest I barely remember this but one of my favourite haunts in the city was Chalmers and Joy, near the bus station. Downstairs there were plenty of Scottish traditional, folk and so on, but upstairs was where anything new and alternative was sold. It would be easy to mock the hierarchy of the musical genres, but upstairs had a lot more space so would have been more ideal for the array of records they had. It was also memorable for the staircase on which every space was taken up by a poster.

There were others, a little one in the 90s on an obscure back street that probably didn’t last long, the chain stores such as HMV, Virgin and Our Price, and several in the 1970s – Bruce’s being one of the main ones, but that was way before my time.

All the others mentioned have since gone to the wrecking ball hitting independent stores but Groucho’s remains and, after moving out of the Overgate, was located in a couple of places before finding it’s home nearby. When I began reviewing CDs I would sell the offcuts – which accounted for the bulk of what I was sent – sometimes for hundreds of pounds. These were the days when record labels would throw albums at even the most lowly newspaper in a bid for a review. But in order to sell this rubbish I had to endure the steely eyes and ‘strictly business’ mannerisms of the assistants who were clearly employed without a personality in mind.

In the 1980s I was also taking my hard-earned cash to Aberdeen, where One Up was the Daddy of record stores. Like Groucho’s I recall it as a shop battling for space, in one of the small alleys off the city centre. On finding this jewel I was mesmerised by the giant Che Guevara poster – in bright red, of course, and before the man became an icon to people with little knowledge of socialism – but the eight pound price tag was beyond me. This was when albums cost about a fiver. Records were what I wanted, and it was a lot of the nascent shambling/ twee scene that I stocked up on, The House of Love being one that maybe wasn’t in that bracket, but the shop assistants helped me in getting pretty much everything that was available by them. They even resisted the temptation to laugh me out of the shop when I asked for Johnny Hates Jazz (chart fodder with a chiselled cheekbone of a singer) for my sister.

One Up moved to Belmont Street, no more central but far more spacious. Among the normal stuff record stores sell, it was one of the places in the city that sold Aberdeen FC fanzines, a frothy, droll A4 rag with enough anti-Rangers bile to satisfy a Celtic fan.

Other than One Up Aberdeen didn’t quite have the quota of good quality indie stores as its southern neighbour … there was Bruce Millers’ on the main drag, Union Street, though that specialised in instruments; a traditional Scottish store at the eastern part of the thoroughfare, which I popped into once because I just couldn’t walk past a record store; and a very prominent and rather excellent HMV bang in the middle of Union St. Best memory of that store was obtaining Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ much-maligned Don’t Stand Me Down for 50 pence. Given its elevation to something of a ‘lost’ classic, clearly this was a diamond buy.

At this time, a fantastic source of cheap records was a stall in the Mercat, the localised way of saying market. On a rampage I pulled out a 7″ by a punk band with four skinheads on the cover, thrust it toward the assistant, and claimed  it was pro-Nazi propaganda. She said she would point it to the owner, but I later discovered I had got it very wrong and I should have bought the bloody thing instead. Still, you can’t fault my noble intentions.

Much later, Fopp records opened in Aberdeen, next to a butchers, and sold masses of CDs and books at very amenable prices. Sadly it has gone, though the one in Glasgow I believe is still going strong.

Elsewhere, in the north-east, there was a cracking wee store in Arbroath that had a limited lifespan, and one in Montrose that sold almost wholly vinyl. It was not rare for small towns to have a store, owned by someone whose passion was in music and certainly not money .. on my travels I came across such stores in Stirling, Kirkcaldy and Falkirk, but that was just the tip.

By the time I moved down to England, I discovered an equally enthusiastic scene in cities like Hull, but more of that later.

Thanks to the Retro Dundee blog, http://retrodundee.blogspot.co.nz/

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Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti

Mature Themes (4AD)

To get a measured introduction to Ariel Pink and his motley crew, refer to our review of 2010’s excellent Before Today, here.

Once a lo-fi cult hero, Pink and the Graffiti are now a full-on experience, using and abusing every instrument, gadget or tool within their radius. First, you may be wondering about the title. Well, here’s a sampler of lyrics: “Blonde seizure bombshells and the blow jobs of death/ bring on the bogan shemales hopped up on meth.”, “backlit jaccuziwad will fondle yer ass/ suicide dumplings dropping testicle bombs”, and virtually every line from Is This The Best Spot? You get the idea.

But this sleazy discourse requires qualification: these outpourings of lustfulness all eminate from the first two songs, and after those exciteable streams of consciousness are out the way, Pink can firm up his thought processes. Mature Themes is the soundtrack to late-night channel hopping, of schnitzel-only Imagebarbies, of arguments about who buys the pornographic dvd, and of a day of driving along that country road your parents once took you as a child.

It is as strange as that conglomeration of activities would suggest, the kind of record made in 1982 that found its way into the bargain bins and op shops, before an internet scribe lauded its genius. Which, I would imagine is exactly how Pink would want it.

Anything mair? The Californians have gotten around a bit, one of the selection of photos in the booklet is taken outside Te Papa, the national museum of New Zealand, in Wellington.

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Who: Factory Star  Image

Title: New Sacral

Label: Occultation recordings / Fishrider records 

Tell me more: Few may be familiar with Martin Bramah, but he was an original member of The Fall, and the lynchpin of Blue Orchids, who took The Fall’s hypnotic, psych-punk to a new level. 

The Lowdown: New Sacral is a mini-album, a rarity nowadays with the emphasis increasingly on downloads and the opportunity of expansion, but they were a relatively common sort in the 80s and 90s largely by indie bands taking the opportunity to experiment or diversify. New Sacral is a work that delves into the darker side of life, with an eerie, yet invigorating Strangely Lucid being the focal point of the release. It does share an affinity with Blue Orchids’ Greatest Hit album from 1982, (which I was coincidentally listening to before receiving this), notably on Incorruptible where Bramah intones the title track numerous occasions with a grim knowningness. It would fit in perfectly on the Flying Nun label but much kudos to Fishrider records for picking up on this. 

Look further: occultation.co.uk/ fishriderrecords.com


ImageWho: The Chrysalids

Title: Neither Love Nor Money

Label: Pronoia records

Tell me more: The Chrysalids were formed by John Wood, of the mid-80s twee-pop act 1,000 Violins and Frenchman Yves Altana, who had found his way to Manchester.

The Lowdown: Spearmint, themselves an under-looked English pop band of the late 90s/ early 00s, recorded a brilliant tribute to the forgotten masses of the music scene, the acts who never released a single, and bailed out after a tour of the surrounding towns. If there ever was an updated version of Sweeping the Nation, the Chrysalids would be among the roll call of bands they could pay their respects to.

Only one track – My Heart Is Where My Home Is – ever made it onto a formal release, on a “low-rent compilation …  which found its way into the bargain bins”, according to the sleeve notes.

Having shrugged all twee/ shambling influences to the side, Wood and Altana created a band that sounded far more mature, with a lot of emotion, and willing to delve deep into their psyche. This belated release reveals a dynamic duo with big choruses, evident on Shrine (one of five tracks re-recorded last year) and the hook-laden Too Lucky to Listen, but there are also a number of sombre moments.

The sleevenotes suggests The Chrysalids were undone by record labels prowling for anything that smelt of the Stone Roses. Which has a certain resonance, but most bands of that time, including the Roses, James, and the Happy Mondays began on small indie labels and fought their corner for years before making it. That surely would have been the route for Wood and Altana.

Look further: pronoia-records.com, alchemized.co.uk


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