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Archive for December, 2012

How could anyone not love London? The crowded trains, decrepit underground stations, the high costs, and the off-handed attitude of many of its residents.
But a city is what you make of it, and a music fanatic like myself can easily turn into a child in a sweet shop. Gigs every night, of all types, and music stores on all corners. Well, there were in the late 1990s when I arrived in South London, for a new career adventure.
I landed in Croydon, a booming sub-city in what was once part of green Surrey, now just another overcrowded borough of London, in 1998, to work for the local newspaper. It was a characterless place littered with high-rise office blocks, a very busy train station, and the Crystal Palace football team.

To massage all this economic fanaticism, there were a surprising number of record stores. Like Groucho’s in Dundee or One Up in Aberdeen I was drawn to Beano'sthe Daddy of them all, Beano’s, reputedly the biggest in Europe at the time. It was huge. Three independent stores had merged into one, on a humdrum side street, containing three, or was it four, floors of just about everything. They had boxes of old seven inch singles you had to ask to view, divided into genres, the punk and new waves ones being the ones that would have my nimble fingers pawing over.
Beano’s was always busy on Saturdays, but obviously not busy enough as it closed in 2009, due to falling sales. I am absolutely certain a small punk store near the railway line would have gone the same way some time before then. It was owned by a weedy looking chap, who while not appearing like a record store owner, was an incredibly affable gent. He ensured it had excellent stock and they would have bands such as the Moldy Peaches on occasional Saturday afternoons.
Down in Redhill, in Surrey, near the train station, was a store that sold great post-punk records for reasonable prices.
But London proper was where it was at, and there were clumps of stores and markets where you could find everything and anything. Camden or Berwick Street, the miniscule Rough Trade Records in Neal’s Yard and another branch in  the west end, several outlets of the Music & Video Exchange in Notting Hill, a reggae-only vinyl store in Finsbury Park (on my first visit in the 1980s), Tower Records in Piccadilly, and what was probably the biggest Virgins and HMVs in the country on Oxford Street. I could have spent a fortune on a day-trip to the centre, and often did. Virgin held regular in-store band shows, with Ultrasound and the Warm Jets (a sort of new wave revival band) being two standouts, while even Rough Trade, in a store that could have held about 20 people before the Fire Service became worried, had decent acts squeezed into a corner. The briefly-feted Spitfire played there in a haze of sweat and loud guitars.
After Porky left, and made a trip around the world, he landed in Suffolk in eastern England. Nothing stands out though there was an Andy’s Records in Bury St Edmunds, and a neat CD store down a seriously obscure backstreet in Ipswich.
And that was that. The flying pig took off to New Zealand.
The first stop was Auckland and this brought me back to the wonders of Real Groovy, the aural equivalent of a giant chocolate shop. Think of a Virgin Megastore with a wooden floor and dust in appropriate places. Add in sections Real Groovysuch as New Zealand alternative, an in-house clothing store and in-store bands. A day or two after I arrived, The Shins played there.
At that time, all the main centres, other than Hamilton, had a Real Groovy. However, financial problems closed the Dunedin and Wellington stores and the Christchurch earthquake in February 2011 forced the closure of the one there. In 2005 CD-DVD Stores  and Sounds were plentiful as Kiwis indulged in a major passion outside rugby and wine, but alas all these stores, which stocked a range from mainstream to obscure, have virtually all closed down, as has Borders. The famous Records Records in Dunedin which first stocked Flying Nun material, is also sadly no more.
Still, many outlets remain, Slow Boat is now the daddy in Wellington but new ones have popped up over the last 18 months: Rough Peel (which came out of the ashes of Real Groovy), Vanishing Point and Evil Genius which both specialise in vinyl; while Wonderland right out in the sticks survives. There’s still Everyman in Nelson, Real Groovy and Conch in central Auckland, The Rock Shop in Hastings, Vinyl Countdown in New Plymouth and several others dotted around the two islands.
Good on them all, though you have to wonder how they can survive in such an environment, with stores closing on a regular basis. But they do and going back to the future is the key, so says Vinyl Countdown owner Mark Thomas.
“People are obviously really keen to sell and buy vinyl, and because we offer both services and can import almost anything, we’re tapping into a niche market.”

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This is Porky’s annual round -up of, not necessarily the best albums of the year, – we haven’t heard the Leonard Cohen one after all – but the ones that endeared us the most.

The Black Seeds: Dust and Dirt (Rhythmethod/ DRM)

Solid Ground from 2008 moved the Seeds in a slightly different direction, one that encompassed more fluid influences. They haven’t strayed from that ubiquitous path on Dust and Dirt, although the trademark Jamaican grooves and skanks are very much in abundance.
You can imagine they’ve been listening to early 70s funk, 90s acid jazz and Curtis Mayfield on the tour bus. There’s an enormous amount of great ideas on this album, which is undoubtedly their finest yet, and the one that could smash open doors in North America, Europe and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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Paul Weller: Sonik Kicks (Universal)   SonikKicks_Cvr

In a 21-year solo career, Weller has never dwelled on the successes; every album is a new adventure, and to be truthful, some have needed to be to make amends for a lapse in judgment. Such an accusation can’t be levelled at Sonik Kicks, a glorious ride through rock and electronica’s magnificent history. Dragonfly soars like Goldfrapp with the scent of sci-fi wafting throughout; Around the Lake is a course, bitter fruit, with drumbeats and screechy effects mingling with guitars-a-plenty; Drifters has a flamenco touch, while Paperchase has ‘a slight Blur feel to it’ says Weller and it’s hard to disagree. Like Bowie he is a living legend but like The Grand Dame, he has that innate ability to change and move in a new direction, without sounding like a bandwagon hopper.

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The Heartbreaks: Funtimes (Nusic)

Funtimes is jaunty, effervescent and joyful, while referencing the decline of the great British seaside resort. You can imagine they spent their pre-teen years on the coconut shy and ungainly wrapping their arm around a girl, “I’ll be waiting outside the Winter Gardens, feeling slightly worse for wear; if talk of romance thrills you, honey, maybe I’ll see you there?” coos Matthew Whitehouse on Winter Gardens.
Standard indie guitars abound and it’s reminiscent of Tom Allalone and the 78s, who promised more than they actually delivered but the vigour, passion and northern Englishness of Funtimes is winning me.

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Madness: Oui Oui Si Si Ja Ja Da Da ( Lucky Seven)  
Ah Madness, they call it gladness. The London boys have always had a place in the heart of this porker. Their tenth album, with a title that seems like it was taken from a Bad Manners b-side, won’t pretend to be their greatest but is one of the highlights of a grand year. It’s the poppy, ska-lite, soulful work I fully expected. My Girl 2 harks back to the single of 1979, and that feeling of nostalgia worms it’s way in syubtle ways throughout. Download-contender How Can I Tell You has a jolly ol’ knees-up Mother Brown feel to it, “the last chocolate in the box, a pair of mittens and some cotton socks”.
Madness always wore their influences proudly on their jackets, it was what endeared them to millions in the 1980s, so it’s only natural that will wear them loudly again in 2012.

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The Proclaimers: Like Comedy (Cooking Vinyl)  LIke Comedy

This is the sound of two men maturing: “A hundred years ago/ I thought happiness was ice cream and football/ But time went by so fast/ Till I couldn’t see their attractions at all.”
Nevertheless, despite their affection “for the lassies” there are the occasional nods to the national game, such as on the opener, where the brothers hope for a good season on account of their main foes’ poor defence.
It’s a typical Proclaimers mix of folk and country lurching from the reflective Dance With Me to the stirring There’s, though the highlight is the title track, which starts with one of the Reid brothers (they’re twins so fuck knows who’s at the mic) singing plaintively before both Craig and Charlie rouse their vocal chords with enough energy to wake up a morgue as they observe how life moves on form the days of hellraising.

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Richard Hawley:  Standing At The Sky’s Edge

Sitars mingle with distorted guitars on the seven-minute opener,  She Brings The Sun, and I’m transported back to the meeting that never happened between The Beatles and The Byrds.
Later, a surge of guitars drone out from the start to Down Into The Woods and the incessant hum continues for the remainder of this wonderful little buzz. It’s surprising, and refreshing to have a massive gear change, with Seek It offering beautiful harmonies, a love song without the clichés.

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Factory Star: New Sacral (Occultation recordings / Fishrider records)

Mini-album 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 Martin Bramah (ex-Orchids) 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.

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Bruce Foxton: Back In The Room (Basstone)

Back In The Room sees Foxton’s oft-fracticious relationship with Paul Weller seemingly fully repaired as the legend appears on three tracks, and that Weller-Jam influence is fairly obvious, sometimes too transparently, but that is far from a fault. It means enchanting pop dongs like Number Six, the blues-driven verse-chorus-verse anthem Find My Way Home and the essence of Motown in Don’t Waste My Time.

Piano playing augments The Gaffa, a trip back to the days of rock’n’roll; there’s a couple of pleasant instrumentals while there’s a feeling of contendness on the breezy Drifting Dreams.

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Ultrasound: Play For Today (Fierce Panda)  Ultrasound

It’s been a whopping 13 years since Ultrasound released their one and only platter. Money wasn’t a motivator, but a need to prove that they could have made an impact is.

It is somewhat fitting then that the opening track is Welfare State, released in an era where the unemployed are regarded as pariahs, on a level slightly below Middle Eastern bombers and child-snatchers. “We are the greasy, unwashed scum/ We are the paupers on the run/ We’ve never done a day’s work in our lives.” intones Wood, mimicking hundreds of right-wing, snooty tabloid headlines.

Long Way Home is gloriously upbeat, as it purrs along like a Japanese car on the fastest highway in the country. These two plus Twins more than mitigate for some of the lesser lights, such as Glitter Box that seems out of place.

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Jim Jones Revue: The Savage Heart (Play It Again Sam)

Jim Jones and his Revue offer no surprises, no charm offensive .. it’s the bare-bones rock’n’roll rampage of a band born with The Cramps and Bo Diddley playing at their birth, and Iggy and Jerry Lee Lewis at the first birthday party.

Radio won’t play them but word of mouth has seen the not-so-young rockers with greased-back quiffs move up from the toilet circuit to proper venues.

Needless to say there’s no room for electronics; it has strong whiffs of 1950s attitude, 70s raw power and the proto-goth rock of the Birthday Party in the 80s. Rock on.

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Madness: Oui Oui Si Si Ja Ja Da Da ( Lucky Seven)  
Ah Madness, they call it gladness. The London boys have always had a place in the heart of this porker. Their tenth album, with a title that seems like it was taken from a Bad Manners b-side, won’t pretend to be their greatest but is one of the highlights of a grand year. It’s the poppy, ska-lite, soulful work I fully expected. My Girl 2 harks back to the single of 1979, and that feeling of nostalgia worms it’s way in syubtle ways throughout. Download-contender How Can I Tell You has a jolly ol’ knees-up Mother Brown feel to it, “the last chocolate in the box, a pair of mittens and some cotton socks”.
Madness always wore their influences proudly on their jackets, it was what endeared them to millions in the 1980s, so it’s only natural that will wear them loudly again in 2012.

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Hull in East Yorkshire was exactly the kind of city I needed to study: pubs aplenty, a low cost of living and some parts looked like Albania circa 1974. It was never renowned for its musical talent although Mick Ronson came from there and the Housemartins/ Beautiful South were formed there.
It was a city with a lot of record stores, perfect for a student with a dusty record player and a stereo containing a cassette deck. Other than Virgin and HMV the centre had Sydney Scarborough’s under the Town Hall and, like Andy’s Records, sold more interesting stuff, with Sydney’s selling a fair bit of vinyl. Syds
Along Princes Avenue, there were a clutch of shabby specialist stores, including two selling vinyl. One, Norman’s Records was the daddy of music outlets in the city, with its extensive collection, but Golden Oldies two doors down was basically for older collectors, as my mate Neil recalls:
“The shop was very scruffy, with the records mostly in disarray, therefore it wasn’t one of the easiest places to find what you were looking for. It wasn’t particularly cheap either and I’m scratching my head to recall anything I bought there except Scott 3, a cassette reissue, which I promptly dropped on the way back home and broke the case.”
Princes Ave also had a branch of Oxfam where I bought a copy of Wire’s Pink Flag which was hard to get at the time, although this copy didn’t have an inside sleeve.
Going north into the university area was Pools Corner which sold lawnmower parts downstairs and masses of vinyl at generally cheap prices upstairs.
Here’s Neil again:
“I recall the dealer being an Orange Juice fan and had seen them live on a number of occasions. I found this out simply because of my desire to get hold of any OJ record which might come his way. That place was excellent for New Wave and Mod Revival singles, I always recall seeing a copy there of The Cigarettes ‘They’re Back Again, Here They Come’ for a few quid, which is now selling on eBay for over a hundred pounds! Just goes to show what 20 years can make in the value of old Mod vinyl.
Lauper“I also recall going in there once and they were playing the latest Cyndy Lauper Greatest Hits CD which was out at the time, only for some old bloke to regale us with his own fantasies of Miss Lauper and how much he would like to shag her. This led to some blokish banter in the shop upon the nature of his Miss Lauper: ‘I bet she’s a right goer’ etc and also the embarrassment of some of the more sensitive customers. It’s strange how these things sift into your memory and stay there like glue, but every time I now hear Girls Just Want To Have Fun etc I always think of that old bloke in that shop and the object of his mucky desires.”
Equally stacked with old vinyl was Disc Discovery, which I was pleased to find on my return to the city last year is still going, under the same  house on Springbank Ave. It was raining that day, and every trip there seemed to be on a day when it was pissing down.
There were others of course, and in a town full of students and people with low incomes a lot of charity shops. In the three years I was there I expanded my collection considerably with cassettes, seven and 12 inches, CDs and memorabilia. It was also a great city for gigs, with a string of good, and less than good, venues, but that is for another day.
My next stop was Sheffield for eight months and, strangely, I didn’t find the music scene there as good as that in the eastern half of the county, despite being far bigger.
But you couldn’t say that about London with it’s various corners of delight .. Camden Town, Berwick St, and Croydon in the south. Next time …..

* With immeasureable thanks to Neil Peacock

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