Yes, it is true. Faber & Faber have acquired a forthcoming book by Beastie Boys. Lee Brackstone, Creative Director, Faber Social, acquired the book from Denise Cronin at Random House US, with UK Commonwealth inc Aus/NZ rights and will be published in Autumn 2015.
The book by Michael Diamond (Mike D) and Adam Horovitz (Ad-Rock) will be the panoramic story of the band and its times using oral history as its narrative backbone. Interviews with a wide assortment of people will trace the unique story of one of our most beloved musical groups, from its origins as a New York City high school hardcore band in 1981 through last year’s induction in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The book will also include contributions from world-famous writers and cultural figures and will explore the myriad aspects of the band’s influence, including the legacy of member Adam Yauch (MCA). Noted hip-hop writer and editor Sacha Jenkins will help compile the volume.
Brackstone says ‘This is a landmark acquisition for Faber and our growing music list. Beastie Boys have entertained us for years with classic albums like Paul’s Boutique and Hello Nasty. They will now entertain us on the page, in this book which celebrates the thirty-plus years of their unique story and influence.’
The book will be lavishly illustrated with a plethora of images which have never been seen before and the design will be inspired by the spirit of Beastie Boys’ cult fan magazine, Grand Royal.
The book by Beastie Boys will join other music titles on the Faber Social list, which in recent months has published Beck’s Song Reader, Julian Cope’s Copendium, Nicky Wire’s Death of a Polaroid and Jarvis Cocker’s Mother, Brother, Lover.
Spiegel & Grau, an imprint of the Random House Publishing Group, will publish the book in the US.
In this second interview with our Artist-in-Residence, Andrew Weatherall talks in the Archive about ‘the slightly sleazy, fruity side of Sir John Betjeman’.
This is the second in our series of interviews with Andrew – if you haven’t seen it yet, click here to watch part 1.
Kim Fowley once looked into the eyes of my muse and wife to be, Lady Elizabeth Jane Walker, pointed to me and offered up a prediction.
‘You will bear that man’s child within the next five years.’
He then clambered on stage and rattled through some psyche standards backed by an increasingly bemused-looking pick-up band before making a request.
‘Are there any young girls out there who would like to kiss an old man?’
A young lady too cute to be a minute over seventeen (© Chuck Berry) jumped on stage and proceeded to Frenchy the Lord of Garbage. This was all too much for one of The Actionettes (London’s leading formation go-go dancing troupe), who snatched his microphone from him, angrily proclaiming, ‘I don’t care who you are or how many good records you’ve made, you’re just a dirty old man. Why don’t you just fuck off’ – an announcement that brought an abrupt end to ‘The Dirty Water Club presents an evening with Kim Fowley’.
With this memory in mind, I had already formed an opinion concerning what I was about to read. Kim Fowley is a man walking a precarious line between sex magick and sex pest. However, apart from a mention in the epigraph – ‘Rock ’n’ roll is driven by revenge and sex’ – some references to his father’s amorous adventures and the fleeting appearance of a pink feathered dildo, there is relatively little sex. And there are next to no drugs. (‘Why do I need to be high? I’m already insane/crazy/enlightened.’) But when it comes to rock ’n’ roll it’s there in spades, starting with the moment Mr Fowley realised its effect on the teenage brain.
‘One day I was heading for school and there was a girl standing there, crying. She said Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper were dead. I heard the call and I heeded it. February 3, 1959. That was the day I marched into Hollywood USA.’
The next ten years (this is volume one of an autobiographical series taking us up until 1969) sees Kim coming into contact with Bob Dylan, Steven Stills, John Lennon, Jimmy Page, Bruce Johnson and B. B. King, to name but a few. He shares a house with Viv Prince of The Pretty Things and P. J. Proby whilst in England, when he was ‘a big idiot enjoying Beatlemania and swinging London’, and shares a lunch of turkey sandwiches with Joe Meek after making a pilgrimage to his Holloway Road flat/studio.
What makes Lord of Garbage intriguing is that although packed with rock heritage and pedigree it is short on lengthy anecdote, and reading it feels like reading the transcript of a stream-of-consciousness outpouring you were once on the receiving end of after being cornered by our hero in a downtown bar. It is this lack of gory detail that fires the imagination like a horror movie that relies on glimpse and shadow rather than buckets of blood.
Unlike some, Mr Fowley is not particularly interested in basking in past tawdry glory. This is because he is a true hustler, and to quote Andrew Loog Oldham, ‘the true hustler lives in the present and future’. And to quote the last four lines of Lord of Garbage . . . actually, on second thoughts that would be like revealing the last four lines of a whodunnit. Just buy it and read for yourself. Suffice to say this book is reminiscent in tone of a Faber Finds re-release about to hit the shelves, Geoffrey Household’s Rogue Male, in that it is a story of survival through existing in the moment.
Earlier this week, Faber announced that Jarvis Cocker, our Editor-at-Large, had acquired a history of British folk clubs from the 1950s to the present day, Singing from the Floor by JP Bean. It’s a seriously good account, containing interviews with pretty much everyone you’d hope for, from Shirley Collins to Richard Thompson, along with some you hadn’t imagined. In their voices, there’s a vital impression of recent history coming to life, and of a renewed interest in folk as history to come.
If there were a defining feature of the folk revival of the 1950s and ’60s, it would be that everyone was welcome to give it a go. Race, age, sex – none of these were necessarily barriers for the performers, in the way that they often were – are – in that other popular form of the post-war years, rock ’n’ roll. This was a grassroots thing.
In this spirit, in the run-up to the publication of Singing from the Floor next year, we’ll be encouraging your takes on folk tunes, online and hopefully elsewhere.
To kick it off, here’s my version of a tune of Irish origin called ‘Napoleon Crossing the Rhine’.
I learnt this from the fantastic British banjoist Pete Stanley, who features in Singing from the Floor. For the musos among you, it’s frailed on a five-string banjo tuned to gCGBD and capoed on the second fret.
There’s tab here, albeit in a slightly different tuning (gCGCD). And there are lots of versions on YouTube (some under the title ‘Bonaparte Crossing the Rhine’).
So why not it a go! Email firstname.lastname@example.org with your YouTube or Soundcloud links with ‘Singing from the Floor’ in the subject header along with some information about yourself, and we’ll aim to post as many as possible.
In this, the second of four instalments, Gary Atkinson, MD of Document Records, tells us how his vinyl addiction really took hold.
The first albums that I bought were cheap, ‘budget range’ ones. The Marble Arch label was owned by Pye Nixa, which had licensed material from Chess records in the early 1960s. As a schoolboy in the late 1960s, I could just about afford these, at 14s 11d, that’s just short of 75p or $1.14. My first purchase was a compilation simply titled The Blues, which had several of the Chess heavyweights on it. From there on, each Saturday, I went into town on a record-buying trip. Quickly, I devised an expedition route taking me round all of the city’s record shops, the grand finale being Hammond’s department store where, on most Saturdays, it would be mayhem in the record department on the top floor. Everyone would be crammed around the racks of LPs set out on the outer side of a kind of pentangle, with the counters and staff situated within it. Around the perimeter of the department were several listening booths which would invariably have queues of teenagers waiting outside. With very little money in my pocket, early forays consisted of little more than gazing longingly at LP sleeves. Eagerly, my eyes took mental snapshots of covers, fonts, titles, sleeve notes and their writers, musicians, producers, recording studios, record company names, everything and anything that would help unpick the mysteries of this huge realm of record collecting that lay in front of me.
No sooner had I exhausted the offerings of the budget labels, than I made a wonderful discovery – a ‘book and record exchange’. Newly opened on Carr Lane just south of the city centre, it was run by a chap called John Sheridan, a brooding, quiet-spoken man. With lengthy grey hair, sometimes tied in a pony tail, I could never quite tell whether he was friend or foe. A little daunting, both visually and characteristically, he was not unlike the Professor Dumbledore character played by Richard Harris in the Harry Potter movies, and this walk-in magic box of vinyl could have been comfortably placed in Diagon Alley. As a fresh-faced thirteen year old, late on a cold December afternoon, I walked into the shop and found the blues section. Immediately, I practically passed out, having come across Blind Willie McTell’s 1940 Library of Congress sessions. Completely beside myself, I walked up to the counter and handed the empty sleeve over to Sheridan. He looked down at the sleeve over his wire-rimmed glasses, studied it for a moment and then looked back up at me. ‘You want this?’ he asked in a soft Irish voice. The word ‘this’ was accentuated by him glancing down at the sleeve and then quickly back at me. It was as if to say, ‘Do you know what this is?’ My ears detected a tone of menace, perhaps concern, as though he’d said, ‘You young fool, do you know what you’re getting yourself into?’ The LP was put into a plain brown paper bag and with it I stepped back out into the darkening wintry air. As I walked quickly away I felt, for the first time, an odd sense of having just done something that wasn’t quite right, something that wasn’t socially acceptable. Why were my hands soaked with nervous sweat? Why was my heart thumping? Why did I have a sense of excitement and guilt mixed together? It was practically as if Sheridan had metamorphosed into a shady drug dealer and the drug was vinyl.
I took my LP home and seconds after the stylus kissed the vinyl of my new friend, in my bedroom, I was hit by the driving sound of McTell’s first few intense bars of music, played with great zeal on his 12-string guitar. It had an immediate and life-changing effect on me; the nearby River Humber turned into the Mississippi, the flat, fertile farmland around me became the Delta, and Hull, as anyone could surely see, had turned into Memphis, or was it Atlanta or Jackson? I could never quite tell. Life was now an ongoing explosion of discovery as more and more music came into my bedroom, served on a platter of vinyl.
By the time I was fifteen I had become a nigh-on unbearable purist. It was vintage, pre-war blues recordings from the 1920s and ’30s or nothing. I had stopped watching Top of the Pops and had no interest in what was happening in the charts. The whole thing was a tedious, puerile abomination. Anyone not able to understand the sublime integrity of the records I was prepared to trade my soul for was, in my eyes, little more than an imbecile.
It was clear to all concerned, including friends and family, that my collecting habits had become serious and possessed a worrying air of longevity. My mother had become concerned about how I was spending my money. My father put up a case for my defence, but he had an ulterior motive. Some years later, he confessed that when I used to go to him, appealing that I had found a bunch of ‘must buy’ records and was short by a pound or two, he would subsidise me, convinced that I would eventually tire of all of this and the collection would become his. Sadly, his plan backfired on him and he never saw his vision come true. Yet, even though my mother’s concerns had been, to some extent, alleviated, I was very mindful of them and would return home from a Saturday record-buying binge with a twelve-inch square chest, having stuffed my latest haul up my jumper to dodge parental customs and excise. It was then a quick-paced walk to the stairs, which I would ascend, two or three at a time, trying to remain calm and without raising any suspicion.
Things got even better. Shortly after, Sheridan opened up a second, bigger shop a mile or so from the north-west of the city centre on Princess Avenue. It was a shrewd move. This Victorian, double-fronted shop, with its large windows, was situated within the university student’s accommodation area. By this time I had left school and had settled into my first ‘proper job’, as an office junior in the huge Dickensian accounts section of the City Engineers Department of the Hull Corporation. The wonderful thing about this was that we had an hour and a half for lunch. Instead of having an electronic clocking on/off machine there was a register, a large book with a pencil tied to it. The lunch period stretched over three hours, from twelve to three o’clock. There were around fifty people in that office, many young teenagers like me. Shortly after starting, I was told by my young colleagues that if I wanted a long lunch all I had to do was ask someone who was staying in the office over lunch to sign me back in at 1.30. Consequently, I would often sign out at 12.00 and go on a three-hour record-browsing rampage, usually making a bee line for Sheridan’s Princess Avenue shop.
It was the uncertainty, the not knowing what would be trawled up in the nets as I bobbed around the book and record exchanges on those lunchtime and Saturday expeditions, that created the excitement leading up to a find. The majority of records were from established collections and were usually a few years old, at least. This gave me a chance to do some catching up on many wonderful releases that had appeared before I became a collector. I think that the earliest LP I bought at that time was a Sonny Terry album on the Topic label, which had been released in the late fifties. Some records had been brought in from bigger cities and were far more interesting than what I could buy, new, in town – such as Jesse Fuller’s rare Frisco Bound album on Cavalier. And get this, it was SIGNED ‘Jesse “Lone Cat” Fuller’ on the front.
Visiting the Princess Avenue shop, nestled deep within bedsit land, it didn’t take long for me to work out the weak points in the student fiscal calendar. I soon learned that those students who liked blues and had brought with them some excellent LPs from afar also had a tendency to hit a financial crisis at around Easter. Although I admired their musical taste and sympathised with their impecuniousness, the advantage proved time and again to be mine. Going through the racks was like panning for gold. Striking it lucky depended on a sequence of events.
For example; blues-LP-owning student from one of the country’s bigger cities, after considering various options, is now attending Hull University. Student decides, at last minute, not to return to family home for the break and unexpectedly meets girl or boy of his or her dreams at Christmas or New Year’s Eve party. Student develops relationship. With relationships comes happiness, good times, festivals, pubs, cinemas, clubs, endless phone calls etc. By Easter student is lost in heady romantic whirl which has cost quite a bit more than student expected or budgeted for, but for the moment he or she doesn’t care. Eventually, after a reluctant look at student’s bank statement, student starts to wake up from ‘to hell with the money, I’m in love’ dream. Student is brought out of his or her trance by their rapidly depleting bank balance. They are back in the bedsit room and find, under discarded fish-and-chip paper and empty cans, the deadly final demand for rent. Student franticly calculates how many weeks to go before the summer break and considers options. Parents? Luck has run out. New partner? Too early into relationship. Try and get job back working behind bar of nearby pub? They won’t have student back because of that disgraceful behaviour towards one of the customers and then not turning up the next day for work. Despite reducing weekly food budget and living on a diet of cheese on toast and the odd tin of beans, student has suddenly arrived at a financial crisis. Last option is the nuclear one. Go to Sheridan’s on Princess Avenue and get money for blues LPs. Meanwhile, record-buying fiend walks into the shop and BINGO! With a slight tremble in my hand and an intent stare at the covers that, only hours before, lived in student’s nearby bedsit, I hear the stylus settle down onto the vinyl in my mind and I swear that Robert Johnson and all of his Delta blues chums begin the opening bars of the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’. The whole unpredictable process has been like the effect of a butterfly flapping its wings on the other side of the planet. Indeed, the student would probably agree that my having struck gold in the vinyl mine was the result of his chaos. Like a vulture perched on a telegraph wire biding its time, all Atkinson had to do was wait for financial disaster to hit before he would swoop on his prey and gorge himself on an orgy of sound.
Two labels were of particular interest to me in the early days. The Yazoo label, based in New York, which was established by Nick Perls, a young , independently wealthy East Coast collector of old blues records. Yazoo albums were very well put together with excellent sound restoration, re-mastering and informative sleeve notes. The Roots label was equally interesting, but compared to Yazoo its LPs had an anarchic quality about them. There were no concessions towards sound restoration and no sleeve notes whatsoever. Only occasionally would original recording dates be shown. Nevertheless, of the two labels, Roots albums seemed to dig deeper into the stock of obscure blues recordings. The only other information given on the backs of Roots record sleeves was a mysterious Viennese address and the name Johnny Parth. Little did I know, as I bought these records second-hand as a young teenager, that this name would mean a great deal to me some twenty-five years later.
I’ve read thousands of thrillers, but only about five have ever made me gasp and look around for someone to harangue about the brilliance of their twists. I read Innocent Blood on holiday in Portugal a few years ago, after a friend told me it was his all-time favourite crime novel. It starts superbly, with a young woman, having taken the decision to trace her biological parents, discovering that they were a pair of notorious child murderers. She decides to seek them out and try to form a relationship with them all the same (s’family, innit?), so she tracks down her birth mother and at first things seem to go well, but then, it being a menacing thriller, things start to go less well there is the most astonishingly gasp-inducing yet immensely subtle revelation that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end for the duration of my Portuguese holiday. Absolute genius – and beautifully written.
Jarvis Cocker, the frontman of Pulp, has made his first acquisition in his role as Editor-at-Large at Faber and Faber.
Singing from the Floor by JP Bean, an oral history of British folk clubs, was recommended to Jarvis by critically acclaimed guitarist and singer-songwriter Richard Hawley.
Jarvis says, ‘When my friend Richard Hawley said he’d met “a man in a pub who had a book for me” I have to admit I was slightly dubious. But he was right. Singing from the Floor portrays an important movement in vernacular culture in the voices of the people who made it happen – and that’s not an easy task. Especially when the events in question took place many years ago and may have involved the consumption of alcohol. JP Bean has captured this moment before it is lost forever, and has made it live again on the page. He’s a very clever chap. Let’s raise a glass to him’.
Richard Hawley adds ‘This book is about music, music made from life, it’s also a work of love. If you love music you’ll love this book. Life is better with music and far far better with love. This book is for the brave lovers of it ALL.’
JP Bean is author of several books including Joe Cocker: The Authorised Biography, The Sheffield Gang Wars and Bold as a Lion: The Life of Bendigo, Champion of England. He has written plays for radio, and has broadcast many times on both radio and television. The first folk club he attended was the Barley Mow, Sheffield, in 1966.
Singing from the Floor is the story of an acoustic revolution that took place in Britain in the 1950s and ’60s. This was the folk revival, where a generation of musicians, among much drink and raucous cheer and influenced by the skiffle craze, rediscovered Britain’s own folk music tradition alongside the folk and blues coming over from America.
This remarkable movement has been faithfully captured in the voices of those who formed it. The book contains stories from luminaries such as Shirley Collins, Martin Carthy, Peggy Seeger and Ralph McTell, alongside figures such as Billy Connolly, Jasper Carrott and Mike Harding, who all started their careers on the folk circuit.
Of the publishing deal, JP Bean says, ‘I am delighted that Faber and Faber recognise, as I and the many singers and musicians interviewed in Singing from the Floor recognise, the importance of the folk clubs in British cultural history.’
Singing from the Floor will be published by Faber and Faber in April 2014, £20 Trade Paperback.
The opening scene tells you everything you need to know about Harry Levin. In three terse pages Peter Leonard sets his protagonist up for the remarkable two-hander that is Voices of the Dead / Back From the Dead. It is Detroit, 1971, and Levin is on the way to his office when he is ambushed by two thugs carrying knives. They demand he hand over his wallet. Levin complies and, while the men are distracted, reaches for his gun. In a scene that could be a sly nod to Dirty Harry, Levin swiftly disabuses his would-be-muggers of their larcenous intentions.
It is an unforgettable opening scene, introducing us to one of crime fiction’s most interesting and complex protagonists in recent years. Harry Levin is a Holocaust survivor, originally from Munich, now running a scrap metal business in boom-era Detroit. Later the same day he gets a call telling him his daughter has been run over and killed in Washington. She’s his last surviving relative. He flies over to talk to the detective in charge. The DC cop tells him she was run over by a car with diplomatic plates and that he’s been told to drop the case. Levin begins his own investigation. It leads him to a respected German politician and ex-SS camp commandant whose thirst for taking human lives wasn’t quenched in the swirling death pits and crematoria fires of the second world war.
The two novels detail Harry’s dogged pursuit of Hess, through Washington DC, a Munich getting itself ready for the ill-fated 1972 Olympic games, and many points beyond. Part of the reason I loved these books was because they remind me of the golden age of geopolitical thrillers in the 1970s, the works of Robert Littell and Alistair MacLean and Ira Levin (an intentional nod by Lenonard?), where history’s riptide and the shadow of the Holocaust are never too far away.
Leonard has managed to transcend his father’s sometimes glib narratives and create a work of startling resonance and scope. This is no tawdry exploitation of history. This is an intelligent and trenchant imagining of the psychopathology of an ideology and how it translates into a peace-time world. It is also a tremendously gripping and relentless crime novel, replete with lashings of humour, great characters, horrible characters, and moments of genuine pathos. From fending off roving packs of skinheads in Munich to the sun-soaked brilliance of the Florida coast, Levin’s pursuit of Hess leads us through the twentieth century’s deepest scars and battlefields.
The best crime novels often deal with the intersection of private lives and public events. Leonard’s two Levin novels are a testament to the versatility of crime fiction, its ability to entertain and thrill us, to unspool the past and place history squarely in the crosshairs.
Hans Christian Andersen said, ‘Where words fail, music speaks.’
Gustav Mahler said, ‘If a composer could say what he had to say in words he would not bother trying to say it in music.’
I have always believed that some fundamental connections exists between the rhythm of prose and the rhythm of music.
As both a writer and a musician, I can see it. More accurately, I can feel it. More times than I can recall, I have read back a sentence and just felt that there was one syllable too many. The rhythm wasn’t right, that was all.
Some of my greatest inspirations for storytelling came from noir Golden Age of Hollywood classics – Strangers on a Train (based on a book by Patricia Highsmith, screenplay by Raymond Chandler, directed by Hitchcock; what more could one ask for?), The Maltese Falcon, The Postman Always Rings Twice, White Heat, and dozens more. Even now, when I think about the real art of storytelling and how it translates to film, I think of Carol Reed, Elia Kazan, Billy Wilder and John Huston.
Of course, there are the screenplay greats, writers of such brilliance that their turns-of-phrase and killer one-liners have entered the very psyche of our culture. WR Burnett, author of such noir classics as Little Caesar and The Ashphalt Jungle also penned the screenplays for the 1932 production of Scarface and 1963’s The Great Escape. John Michael Hayes wrote incomparably brilliant screenplays for such films as Rear Window and To Catch A Thief. Even Raymond Chandler himself, remembered primarily for his novels, wrote not only Hitchcock’s Strangers … but also co-wrote the screen adaptation of James M. Cain’s classic, Double Indemnity. The directors were exceptional, the scripts second-to-none … but then there was the music.
Who can forget Anton Karas’ zither in The Third Man. Karas, until then an unknown wine bar performer, wrote the score, and the central theme itself spent eleven weeks at Number One on Billboard’s chart.
And then there was the shower scene in Psycho, that discordant Bernard Herrmann string sequence that lends itself to evoking images so much better than the images themselves could conjure up. Just that alone reminds me of my grandmother when she said, ‘The best pictures are on the wireless …’ Even Hitchcock himself was reported as saying that ‘thirty-three percent of the effect of Psycho was due to the music …’
And then we think of Maurice Jarre’s score for Lawrence, Tiomkin’s High Noon, Rota’s The Godfather, Bernstein and Sondheim’s On The Waterfront, and we begin to understand that there is not only an inextricable link between the power of film-making and music, but an inherent and inextricable link between storytelling and music.
Recently I published a novel called A Dark and Broken Heart. Bearing no real relevance to the content of the chapters, the chapters are nevertheless titled with the names of sixty-one songs by the same band. Why, you might ask. Simply because it seemed so very real to me that the tense and frenetic emotions inspired by those songs was the very same tense and frenetic atmosphere that I wanted to create with the story. It was also an acknowledgement to the man who wrote those songs, a little homage if you will, for music accompanies me in everything I write, everything I do, everything that I am.
And so, perhaps both Andersen and Mahler were equally right. It always comes back to words and music, one standing for the other when either one will not suffice alone.
— RJ Ellory, along with SJ Watson, Sophie Hannah and others, will be appearing at Faber Social’s Crime evening on Tuesday 7th May – find out more here.
Warmth and catching the record-collecting bug.
In this, the first of four instalments, Gary Atkinson (above left, with Jack White), the MD of Document Records, tells us how he caught the vinyl bug.
Talk to any collector of vinyl records, or those who fondly reminisce about the days of singles, EPs and albums, and it is a safe bet that sooner or later, in their attempt to describe just what it is that puts vinyl up and above any other format that carries the recorded sound of music, they will use the adjective ‘warm’.
‘I don’t know what it is. It’s got that warmth, do you know what I mean?’
Yes, I do, but unless you have heard it and experienced it radiating from the speakers, like the comforting warmth of a 1960s three-bar electric fire on a cold winter’s day, then it is difficult to articulate what is meant by it. Being caught in its glow is quite a difficult thing to describe. I dare say that someone with a PhD in physics might be able to tell you exactly what it is, in scientific terms: the average decibel range, the frequency, how it hits the ear drums and sets off our sensory system within that part of our brain that takes care of, well, that sort of thing.
You can hear it when the stylus makes contact with the outer perimeter of a vinyl disc, the ‘lead-in groove’. Straight away and for a few seconds before the anticipated music begins, there it is – the sound of warmth. If one needs a visual metaphor, it is like watching the cream being poured onto the back of a polished, silver teaspoon, before it caresses and delicately glides over the dark, whiskey-laden coffee that lies beyond.
Standard recording contracts, or any contract which involves the production and distribution or licensing of a sound recording, carry a ‘Territory’ clause outlining where in the world the recordings will be sold or used, for example, either as records or in films or TV advertisements. In the distant past it was not unusual for the territory to be defined as ‘the world’. However, within the last couple of decades this clause has been broadened out and in some cases states ‘the world together with the universe which may from time to time be visited or occupied by man’. This additional wording is an attempt to cover any type of electronic or digital transfer of music downloaded via satellites some 150 to 450 miles up in space, whizzing around the planet at a decent 17,000 mph. You don’t find any of that warmth in outer space.
As the digital revolution erupted and poured into the average household with CD players, and computers with CD-burning abilities and access to the Internet, for a time it looked like the digital carving knife of the recording process and the silver CD that it would be served on would cut out the warmth for ever. The clearest thing that could be heard with the advent of the digital CD was the death knell for vinyl. Ironically, after the record industry had more or less thrown vinyl out with the metal master’s electroplating bath water, some of the early rock and pop CDs featured the scratch and crackle sounds of vinyl, including albums by Beck and Gomez. Yet, though such noises (becoming something of a soundtrack for the retro era) came through loud and clear, the subtle sound of warmth, like a record’s organic, steady breath, was no longer there.
I have tried to imagine young teenagers inviting their friends, girlfriends or boyfriends up to their bedrooms, sweeping a hand in front of their computer screen and proudly saying ‘So, what do you think to my record collection?’ Surely, one of the best ways to get to know someone, break the ice, discover what someone is about, acquire an insight into what makes them tick, was to flick casually through their record collection, with such comments as, ‘I’ve got this, it’s great,’ or, ‘Brilliant, I didn’t know you had this,’ or, ‘Bloody awful!’ followed by smiles and a mixture of dissent and amusement as you pretended to Frisbee the offending article across the room. Real gems would be met with ecstatic groans and gasps of admiration. Records carry within their grooves every emotion known to the human race, from hot passion to cold dejection, from elation to despair. Curiously, the records themselves can create passionate feelings and intense debate, with stories being told about where they were bought, the description of the record shop, the occasion, who they were with and even the weather at the time.
For the first few years of collecting I wrote the date, where I bought the LP and, occasionally, how much I bought it for on the inside of every LP sleeve, along with my signature. A practice which I now regret stopping, because pulling an inner-sleeve out of those earlier purchases brings back some marvellous memories.
Now one can go into someone’s home and not have any clue as to whether they are a huge music fan or not. Gone are the experiences, memories, the full gamut of emotions of a person’s life presented there in a tangible, tactile, three-dimensional form. With a record collection, there on the shelves is the music, but there also is the companion that you share the music with – the record. So often I have not only heard the phrase ‘I love my music’ but also ‘I love my records’, as if these were two separate entities, inexorably brought together. Will anyone in the future be talking about the joy of downloading? Is it really as exciting as going to the record shop for a browse, a pre-planned or unexpected purchase? Will they talk about how they gazed at the WAV file, absorbing the design of the icon, which is just the same as millions of others, before playing it? And will we ever hear the phrase that has people nodding knowingly in agreement, ‘I love my MP3s’?
I was born at the time when 78 rpm shellac records, the CD of the day, were coming towards the end of their fifty-year reign. Although vinyl had been around for a few years, it was not until the late 1950s that the new vinyl ‘single’ or ’45’, as it was also known, began to sell in great quantities. By the end of the fifties it was all over for the heavy, easily breakable, ten-inch 78, and there was no looking back for the new, easily portable and practically indestructible 45.
When I left the Cottingham Road maternity hospital in Hull, East Yorkshire, having recently been born there, in January 1956, records were already waiting for me at home: rock and roll 78s by Elvis Presley and Bill Haley, skiffle by Lonnie Donegan, Johnny Duncan, Chris Barber and others were all there in quantity. But then there were records from where my father’s heart truly lay – jazz and blues. Jazz by people like King Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, Kid Ory; blues by such artists as Big Bill Broonzy, Sonny Terry, Roosevelt Sykes, Fats Domino, Jimmy Yancey and more. There were also new vinyl 45 EPs by the likes of the Everly Brothers and many of the names that were already on the 78s.
By the time that I was about four years old, my father and I were already having record-playing sessions. Before I could read I would choose records according to how attracted I was to the colours and design of the labels. I clearly remember choosing Brunswicks because of their dark, chocolaty colour and ornate design. ‘Georgia Bo Bo’ by Louis Armstrong became an early favourite, as did the riotous ‘Steamboat Stomp’ by Jelly Roll Morton, initially chosen by me not because of Jelly Roll’s fantastic skills and artistry as a jazzman but because of the curious little dog sitting by the horn of a gramophone on the red HMV label.
My father loved this music. He was not an expert on it. He wasn’t bothered about who recorded what when. Matrix numbers, issue numbers, labels or recording dates were not important to him. All that mattered was the music. It was his fix. Even though he lived over 3,000 miles away from where this music came from and a world away from the society and lifestyle that went towards creating it, he seemed to instinctively empathise with it and those that performed it, and as I later learned more and more about this music, the more I realised that his instinctive, self-educated understanding of it was so correct.
By the time that I was seven or eight years old, he would explain, in his own layman’s way, as the records played, how a piece would work. ‘OK, so the band has established the melody. They’re all going with it, but, now listen, each one of the band is going to play their own interpretation of the tune. Here comes the piano player –’ He would pause and let me take it in. ‘Now, here comes the clarinet player. He’s playing the same thing but he plays it differently to the piano player –’ Another pause as we both listened, and so on. Finally, he would say, ‘And now they’re all going to come back together and all of those interpretations will become one sound, but if you listen, you can still hear each musician putting in their own version.’ It is only now, looking back, that I realise that I was already, at such a young age, getting my own private lectures on jazz, blues, syncopation, improvisation, and so much more. But I wasn’t self-consciously a blues fan. It was all quite normal to me – for this music to be played in the house, with all of the family loving it. In fact, as I began to visit my friend’s houses, I found it increasingly odd that this music was not being played in them.
The first record that I purchased was ‘Love Is Strange’ by the Everly Brothers, which I bought at the age of nine. The record shop was owned by a blind chap. He wore a brown dust coat and would courteously ask, ‘Would you like to listen to it?’ There was no listening booth. Instead, there was a record player, with its lid up, sat on the counter. Carefully, but without one wrong move, the old chap would put the record of your choice onto the turntable, steadily lower the stylus, and then listen to the record with you. ‘Would you like that?’ he would ask, as the record came to an end and the automated mechanism clattered its way to putting the tone arm back onto its rest. This was 1965. Happier and safer days one might say, but it wasn’t. Later, perhaps only by a few months, the blind old man was mugged, beaten up in his own shop and left for dead with the till cleared out.
When I was eight my brother, Mike, six years older than me, began to buy ‘singles’ at a fairly regular rate. Again, his leaning was towards the blues. Over the next few years the Atkinson record library swelled with additions by the likes of the Spencer Davis Group, the Yardbirds, John Mayall’s Blues Breakers and the Animals.
With the arrival of his EPs and LPs came the added bonus of some sketchy but nevertheless significant and welcome information to be found in the sleeve notes. They gave clues about those who were influencing the blues boom of the early 1960s. Odd names like Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Slim Harpo and Howlin’ Wolf were cropping up, along with Jimmy Reed, John Lee Hooker and Sonny Boy Williamson. At the same time, Mike was visiting a folk and blues club in town. Whilst the electric British ‘R ‘n’ B’ bands were mimicking their heroes and bringing their music to a new and delighted audience, so too were musicians performing material by the older pre-war blues artists. It wasn’t long before Mike was bringing home LPs by people such as Jo Ann Kelly and Stefan Grossman. Notes found on the back of LPs by these artists brought attention to stranger names – Memphis Minnie, Mississippi Fred McDowell and Son House, to name a few. But the LP Mike bought that had the greatest effect on me was Oh, Really! by Mike Cooper. For some reason, despite all that I had heard before, this album, with its hard-hitting country blues, bottleneck style being played at full throttle on an old 1927 National resonator guitar practically blew me off my feet and into another dimension. I had heard nothing like it before. It had the effect of a starting pistol. Something went off in my head and that was it. Perhaps it was the timing, where I was in life, hormones, fertile imagination, an explosion of creativity going on in my head. I don’t know.
The effect of that album was an event waiting to happen. The building had been filling up with highly inflammable fumes over the years and all that it was waiting for was someone to unwittingly stroll in and light a match. That someone was Mike Cooper and the match was Oh Really! With that I started to buy vinyl with a vengeance. It was 1969 and I was thirteen.