Books and Music at the Heart of Independent Publishing

Some things you can never escape, hard as you might try. Many of you remain in denial and some of you will never accept the brutal reality of your vinyl initiation – and I may be one of them. But like your birthplace (Stockton-on-Tees), your football team (West Ham Utd), and your first kiss (Nicola Sugget, Lady Lumleys School, Pickering), the first 7 inch single you acquired with your own hard-earned (pocket) money is an inescapable rite of passage. It sets you up for many future crap decisions about music, literature and fashion, and it is a Badge of Dishonour you’ll have pinned to the lapel of your donkey jacket forever.

Memory is an unreliable mistress and many of us are seduced into a fantastical version of what this first record really was. I’m convinced my first purchase was from the now sadly departed Hill & Jackson electrical hardware store on Pickering Market Place and that single was, the still epically groovy in an admittedly quite infantile way, Ghostbusters by Ray Parker Jr. But the fact this arftefact now seems absent from my collection suggests that a) my sister had off with it or b) the purchase never happened. So perhaps, and more likely, it was one of Elton John’s belters from the early ’80s or something abominable by Living in a Box. Whatever it was, it wasn’t as good or bad as some of the selections below. Let us know your own shameful first purchase, if you dare – or perhaps, if you ‘remember’ …


‘All I really remember was dragging my mum by the hand into ‘Scene and Heard’, a record shop in Halifax, and saying I want that song where the man counts backwards and he goes into space and gets lost. It was 1975 and I was 10 years old. Little did I know it but I was about to change the course of my life. The ‘a’ side kept me going for a few months but it was years later when I flipped the 7” over that it all started. Not one but two classic Bowie songs – Velvet Goldmine and Changes. A door was open and boy did I enter. I’m a Bowie bore to this day and prefer it when people call me The Fat White Duke. James is such a rubbish name.’

— James Endeacott, Faber Music, ex-Loop, ex-Rough Trade A’n’R fellow

‘Revealing the embryo of what would quickly become an impeccable grasp of the musical avant garde, my first purchased records were Whigfield’s Saturday Night and East 17’s Stay Another Day. I was ten at the time – if I remember right it wasn’t even a record shop, more of an odds-and-sods shop selling everything from car manuals to air-fix kits, so hopefully it was a case of me not having much choice rather than me not having much sense. Definitely a bit of both though.’

— Richard Milward, author of Apples and Kimberly’s Capital Punishment

‘Like most things in my life, my first record purchase is surrounded by murk and fog. And possibly just a touch of credibility-boosting reinvention. So whether it was the first or not, the first record I’ll confess to buying was a 7″ of Running With The Devil by Van Halen from W.H. Smiths in Newport, probably a year or so after its release. It’s a song that sounds now as it sounds then – a jaw-droppingly propulsive strut from the self-styled atomic punks, a record as vital as anything released in the England’s Dreaming period and certainly a much better look to admit to than the first album by Father Abraham and the Smurfs.’

— Robin Turner, author of The Search for the Perfect Pub

‘I so wish this weren’t the case but: I walked over a mile with my mum aged ten to a newsagent in Whitchurch, Cardiff which had a dusty singles section at the back and spent 99p on the 7” single of Bill Wyman’s Je Suis Un Rock Star. God knows what I was thinking.’

— Hannah Griffiths, Publisher for Fiction, Faber

Looking Through The Windows by The Jackson 5. Bought with record vouchers from Boots in the Victoria Centre, Nottingham. 1972. I was ten years old.’

— Jeff Barrett, Heavenly Records

‘The First Record I Bought was at Squires, in Ealing Broadway. This was a large furniture shop where you could also buy gramophones. The record department was downstairs, around a circular counter. (I’ve just found out that Dusty Springfield worked there at some point). Sometime in early 1963, at the age of nine, I descended into this pop environment and came out with Del Shannon’s Little Town Flirt – a fantastic slice of teen melodrama. Everything is heightened, loud, strange (those falsettos!), and it has the killer middle eight: “but you’ll think you’ve got a paper heart / when she starts to tear it apart”. I still love it.’

— Jon Savage, pop historian, author of England’s Dreaming

Last Spring, Andrew Weatherall released the aptly-named Masterpiece, a 3CD, near-to-five-hour mix of such range and addictive gungo-ho turntable joy it rekindled the dormant house music fanatic in me. It was a record and reflection of the regular low-key club nights Weatherall was hosting with Sean Johnston under the ‘A Love from Outer Space‘ banner. A reference back to the classic 1988 AR Kane record which appears as a cover on The Asphodell’s debut outing, these were (and continue to be) nights of echo-y abandon which perhaps back in the day may have been affectionately, and rather nostalgically called balearic. It’s been called narco-disco, sludge-rave, even drug-chug – because he and Sean, ever the raver-gentlemen, tailor their cuts to a 120bpm measure so the ageing (ageless), discerning clubber can keep apace … at least this side of 2am.

Ruled by Passion, Destroyed by LustThe euphoric original house sound of Masterpiece turned out to be a prelude to the brilliantly titled Ruled by Passion, Destroyed by Lust, Weatherall’s debut with Timothy J Fairplay, as The Asphodells. From the moment you press play, Weatherall’s guiding presence is evident. It is a record full of space and empty of clutter. Its landscapes are memorable; sometimes even ‘remembered’ and it feels like a visitation from the past, even though there isn’t a mark of retro nostalgia about it. For the first time, I think Weatherall takes on vocals; rather like Johnny Marr who has similarly discovered the inner front-man on his new solo outing. They’re back in the mix and modestly delivered but compliment the dub, electro, house and kraut sounds of the tracks elegantly. It’s not an album built for the iTunes generation of smash-n-grab select-a-track listeners. It’s an album which grows with each listen as a full narrative experience; its subtle architecture gathering authority track-by-track.

And so The Asphodells’ Ruled by Passion, Destroyed by Lust is Faber Social’s inaugural Album of the Month, a feature we will endeavour to fulfill over the coming who knows how many years. It is electronic music built on analogue principles from the original alternative to the superstar DJ; The Chairman whose Board has for years been the dancefloors of underground venues across the country. Long may he reign … and keep surprising us.

Ruled by Passion, Destroyed by Lust by The Asphodells is available on Rotters Golf Club.

From my early teens right through to my late thirties I spent an unholy amount of money on records, lugging them with me from one end of the country to the other before finally landing, exhausted, in my current home. It grieves me to admit that those records now sit, boxed and sealed, in my attic – all 3,000 of them. I sometimes lie in bed and study the cracks across the ceiling and worry that my entire family might be flattened in some sudden, joist-busting vinyl downpour. It’s the kind of thing that preys on the minds of men my age.

I’d heard whispers that the world of publishing was undergoing some sort of transformation (have you heard this?) so when I was approached by an organization known simply as ‘Underwood’ and asked if I’d consider reading one of my short stories to the accompaniment of a string quartet for release on vinyl I gave it serious consideration. I was assured that I would make precisely nothing from my involvement but decided to embrace the sheer audacity of the enterprise.

Thus, last week I found myself sitting in an art gallery in St James, central London, attending the record’s launch, beside Michel Faber whose story ‘Fish’ takes up the other side of the disc. Listening to a recording of oneself can be an embarrassment of buttock-clenching proportions but last Wednesday I got to hear myself read ‘The Lepidoctor’ in the company of a sizeable audience. It was very odd – the whole gallery sat in silence as the record played on the turntable, illuminated by a single angle-poise lamp.

The first few minutes were about as excruciating as expected but, weirdly, as the evening wore on I began to feel first cheered, then exhilarated. I once met the sound artist Aleks Kolkowski who told me how, in the early 1900s, there were public performances of air-powered gramophones. Thousands gathered round bandstands in municipal parks as this most modern of inventions pumped out recorded music through vast horns. Last Wednesday’s recital was perhaps a little like that.

Towards the end of the evening I was introduced to the man who underwrites the whole Underwood exercise. During our brief exchange I enquired whether he had some sort of ‘marketing strategy’. He stared blankly back at me, as if he’d never previously encountered these words – either in conjunction or on their own. In retrospect, I take this as a good sign. It confirms for me that his intentions are as quixotic and perhaps even as benevolent as I’d suspected.

I was on my way home when it occurred to me that I may well have seen The Future – a future in which vast audiences sit and listen to vinyl recordings of contemporary authors reading their stories, accompanied by string quartets. Outside, the crowds who couldn’t be accommodated are getting restless. The organizers take pity and open the windows and the perfectly-turned prose drifts out on the balmy air and calms them …

Underwood produces limited-edition audio books on vinyl. Each record features short stories by leading contemporary writers.

Follow Mick on Twitter @mickwriter.

James Fearnley, founding member and accordion player in The Pogues, dives into his vast record collection and whittles them down to select his top 5 records for us.

Astral Weeks – Van Morrison

A collection of the most romantic and spiritual songs I have ever heard, recorded in New York, Morrison showed the material to the session musicians – most of them jazz players – on a guitar, giving out no sheet music, then isolated himself in a booth and let them get on with it.

Eat a Peach – Allman Brothers

The newly finished, empty, flats on the building site in Bolton where I had a job sweeping sawdust in 1978 had acoustics perfect for the whistling of Duane Allman’s slide guitar solos on ‘One Way Out’, ‘Trouble No More’ and ‘Mountain Jam’, which, with an overlap, took up sides two and four – three of Duane Allman’s last recordings before he died when his motorcycle ran into, apocryphally, a truck full of peaches, from which event everyone I knew at the time were convinced the album title had come.

Sound Affects – The Jam

When I was in the Nipple Erectors with Shane MacGowan, we went on what were called Nips Outings to see the Jam, who were on tour promoting Sound Affects, at the Rainbow in Finsbury Park (where, high on amphetamines, I clambered round the ‘Andalucian village’ above the proscenium arch), and further afield to the Conference Centre in Brighton (where I got physically ejected by the Jam’s tour manager for being in the wrong place with the wrong pass too many times) and to Aylesbury Friars where I tried to sleep in a graveyard but settled for one of the seats in a railway carriage – empty when I stretched out, but full of the destitute when I woke up the following morning.

Rain Dogs – Tom Waits

Never off the Pogues’ tour bus’s sound system on a tour of Germany in 1985, the otherworldly grating, creaking and thumping sounded as if we were truly on board a ship with straining timbers, and the lyrics a zoetropic parade of slaughterhouses, roadhouses, shovels, whiskey, pistols, umbrellas, tumours big as eggs, Cincinnati jackets and paladin’s hats.

La Pistola y El Corazón – Los Lobos

When Elvis Costello pushed Los Lobos on the Pogues in 1985, I couldn’t understand how he wouldn’t think that they were anything but a second-rate bar band, until this ‘mini-album’ of Tejano/Mariachi-inspired music played mostly on traditional instruments came out and more or less piped me on board to embark on my new life in Los Angeles.

 

On March 4th, Faber Social celebrated our first monthly event of the Spring with perhaps our most international line-up of novelists so far. Nadeem Aslam, Pakistani-born and Huddersfield raised, and Deborah Levy, the recently Man Booker-shortlisted author of Swimming Home, shared a stage with two Argentine writers of very different sensibilities, Iosi Havillo and Patricio Pron. An evening broadly dedicated to Lost in Translation, Levy offered us an intoxicating shot from her just published collection, Black Vodka after we had heard Aslam read with poetic, almost visionary, intensity from one of the most acclaimed novels of the year, The Blind Man’s Garden. The sense that perhaps we had just witnessed one of 2012′s Booker-alumni handover to a candidate for 2013 was impossible to indulge, just for a moment.

deborah levy

Deborah Levy at the Faber Social

Either side of these established but uncompromising literary voices were the two young Argentine novelists. Pron, a Granta ‘Best of Young Spanish Writer’, was up first, reading from his forthcoming English language debut, My Fathers’ Ghost is Climbing in the Rain. Hailed as one of the leading lights of a new generation of Latin American novelists not in thrall to Garcia Marquez and his peers, Pron’s reading displayed the intellectual dexterity of his storytelling voice but also a sense of quiet mischief at play. Havillo concluded the evening with a chapter from Open Door, his first novel, which is about to be published by And Other Stories, the vigorous and fearless Wycome-based independent, who already boast an enviable list of translated and English language fiction. In an act of bold repetition, Havillo performed his reading first in English, then in a visibly more animated Spanish. ‘The music’, he said, of a writer reading his work, was what mattered.