Wednesday, 29 December 2010

An interview with James/Jim/Jimb/Jimmy Currin

This interview was published in issue three of SSN (Space Surveillance Network, a zine published by now-defunct Wellington, NZ gallery/shop/zine library/venue Spacething). The transcript has more italics than a JD Salinger story but Jim speaks in italics so it seemed necessary. It turns out there were a couple more Ray Off releases on United Fairy Moons after "Split The Lark" (which was looking like the final UFM release at the time of writing the introduction below). These have been added to the discography at the bottom.

Since moving to New Zealand from his native Australia (where he was a member of Crabstick) in 1998, James Currin has had a firm hand in the creation and distribution of some of Dunedin’s most vibrant and affecting music: Three Forks, Ray Off, Sinking Infinities, Jo Jo ef Steve, Khomet and the United Fairy Moons label. When we met for this interview at a Wellington pub one Sunday night in April 2007, Jim was promising an imminent and violent death for United Fairy Moons. It hasn’t happened just yet – a gorgeous Ray Off triple CDR set, “Split The Lark”, was released in December 2007. Whether or not this release signals a tidying up of loose ends for UFM and/or Ray Off (problems maintaining a steady line-up have been ongoing) is not yet clear but let’s hope it is merely the start of phase two. In an attempt to nail down some of this history we started right at the beginning with stories of school band mayhem at fairs, dog shows and, er, the Sydney Opera House. Is music still about “getting really loose and actually having a fucking ball and going mad” as it was then, I asked?

JC: Uh, less and less [laughs]. It’s probably been a while since I was actually in a band with people who were regular and pretty good drinking partners or stuff like that. I mean, Ray Off’s not bad. Ray Off went through a very, very strong musical period but also a bonding period of playing every week rigorously for months and months and months and months – most of last year [2006]. And that was totally about vodka. Totally. I would go overseas, come back and have nice [duty-free] vodka. You hear the musical difference in the recordings [laughter]. So actually I’m lying because Ray Off, last year, was a hell of a lot of fun socially. Just being together a lot made the music really great.
BS: That was a steady line-up for that period?
JC: It was a steady line-up [Currin, Pamela Poppins, Katrina Thomson and Tim Cornelius] for almost an entire year, ten or eleven months. Incredible, yeah, totally.
BS: At Lines of Flight [biennial Dunedin festival curated by Peter Stapleton, last held October 2006] it was pretty clear that something … I mean, I think everyone loved it but it was clearly a different thing from, y’know, the Morley thing, the Alastair Galbraith thing, the …
JC: Yeah, Alastair’s done things that are acoustic and droney but they don’t sound anything like Ray Off, y’know? Tristan [Dingemans] from HDU does stuff that’s improvised and really pretty [as Kahu] but it’s nothing like Ray Off. Ray Off is totally a world to its own and it’s so obvious when we play on a bill with other Dunedin bands. We always get asked where we want to play in the line-up because … no-one has any fucking idea, well, one, of what we’re gonna do because I think it’s fair to say we’re, far and away … we’re just hugely changeable. I’ve got a CD of stuff that I want to release somehow that’s like the gnarliest Spontaneous Music Ensemble stuff, like “Quintessence” and stuff like that. It sounds like that. [This material comprises disc one of the “Split The Lark” triple CDR].
BS: With the same line-up?
JC: With a lot of the same people.
BS: Yeah?
JC: Yeah [laughter].
BS: And, again, is that just the vodka? Different kinds of vodka? [laughter].
JC: That phase of Ray Off kind of came about because of a drummer called Lee Noyes, it’s his real name [Noise/Noyes pun], who had been overseas and had been totally involved with playing with people from that kind of lineage. He did this amazing duo CD [“A Present From The Pickpocket” by Phil Hargreaves & Lee Noyes, on Whi Music]. And he [Noyes] moved to Dunedin and started studying down there. He’s got a family so he’s not available to play very much. He just came along and just his influence on all the same players as usual kind of … it just doesn’t sound like anything else. Ray Off is totally out of the box. The last show was a duo, me and the harp player Katrina Thomson and it was back to how Ray Off was quite a long time ago, being semi-composed. I’d come with something and I’d go like, “Well it goes like this for a while and then it goes like that for a while and when you think that’s finished then probably we’ll go back to this, or maybe you could do that”. That level of composition.

BS: So things haven’t been composed recently?
JC: No. All of last year when we had the steady line-up we worked on just playing together a lot, so that we could improvise and have it … Y’know a lot of people improvise but they might play together, like, twice a year. That happens a lot. Or just not very often. You do it every week with the same people and you make it … it’s a real social occasion, you start to get to levels of psychic transference that you just can’t fake. The whole thing with that line-up of Ray Off, every single time we played, I guarantee it, after every single gig, and we probably did about seven shows, every single one, someone came up afterwards and went, “Wow, that was a lot of complex stuff to remember!”. It sounded composed! But it wasn’t!
BS: So it just got to the point where you didn’t need to compose anymore? In some ways?
JC: Yeah. The version of Ray Off that was about composition was, for me, kind of a drag because … It started off good. There’s that version of a piece that’s on a CD that I put out, “I Am Not in the Racing Sky”, and that was the first really big thing that I’d done for a group. That was really fun and really successful for what it was, and I kept on doing that sort of thing but it was kind of a drag to constantly be putting all this information in front of people, and I didn’t want to do a big piece and repeat it again so every show was a new piece. We did a show on the second of January or something like that at a pub in Port Chalmers, for a going away party, and I’d put a lot of work into this piece but … a lot of things happened. One: two of the people who were meant to be playing on it could only make one rehearsal and that was like a week beforehand, and the other thing was it was a going away party so no-one fuckin’ listened anyway!! I thought, why put myself through this sort of stress about it and not have the piece performed in the way that I’d like, and then also, y’know … I’d rather have fun, I’d rather make something that’s quite special and it appeared to me that to get people to turn up every week, the same group of people, because the line-up had been so totally fluid … so I fired people! Friends of mine! I had to say, “Sorry, you’re not in Ray Off anymore”. People who sort of expected that if there was a Ray Off show they would be called. I had to say, “Well, y’know, you’re not able to turn up very regularly, and it’s a drag, and I’m sorry”.
BS: What are you aiming for with Ray Off? You seem to have a very clear, yet quite open, vision for the project.
JC: The best thing that we achieved with Ray Off and the thing I’m most proud of is gigs where everyone was just fucking silent because they completely became involved in the music, and I used to say to people that I knew who were into improvised music and into the further reaches of music and would wonder why Ray Off was such a melodic, nice sounding kind of instrument. That’s a deliberate fucking move, man. It’s to invite people into it so you can take people places. Yeah, sure, if you’re so inclined a guitar drone, a hard driven kind of thing, you can get into the zone that only improvised music can take you to, right? But if you create this really inviting, acoustic, nice sounding ... nylon string guitars for god’s sake. Harps. Chord organs and fucking flutes man. Ray Off gigs used to be so fucking freaky because we’d have this swelling kind of acoustic thing going on and then, because of the connection that we had, all of a sudden it would go [vigorous recreation of Ray Off in noise improv mode] all together. We’d play this weird fucking shit all together. But also, more than impressing people, people got involved in listening to it and that’s the best thing about it, the best thing that we did, is that people got involved in listening to something that is really ... it’s fringe culture. It’s so amazing to actually put your hands out and go, “Come here”, and take people into that world with you and go, “Look, it’s not so fucking scary, is it?”. It’s just about thinking for yourself, about maybe thinking that there’s a way to ... I guess the difficulties I have being fuckin’ alive is that I see that there’s this whole other way of being and I think a lot of people feel that way, I really do. Maybe they haven’t thought it through about what that involves, that this type of existence that we have in this type of culture is not completely conducive to the best fucking time and the best way of dealing with people that you could do. So it’s all about that. If you can just grab people in there and go, “Hey, this is what it’s like to have this kind of mind where you’re dealing with that kind of realisation, a lot”. Or you’re kind of like, “This is what it’s like to have a world of really raw emotion around you, a lot”. Just for a little while, and hold them there. The reactions I’ve had to Ray Off have been ... even though it’s been some of the most difficult gigs and it’s been a draining fucking band to be in at times, I’ve never gotten reactions like that from any other music I’ve done. Ever.
BS: You can’t really beat that.
JC: Yeah, yeah, exactly.

BS: Just quickly, to finish up with Ray Off, did it start as a solo thing?
JC: It did, yeah.
BS: Was that still in Australia or …?
JC: Oh no, no, it started as a solo thing in Dunedin because Three Forks just weren’t jamming very much. At the time of Three Forks I was really excited about music again. I’d kind of been a little bit burnt out after being in Melbourne and had moved to New Zealand totally with this idea of this completely other life that didn’t even involve music. I came over here and worked on farms for a year in ’98 and met my then-partner on the third day I was in the country and, y’know, she ended up getting a job in Dunedin so we moved to Dunedin. So it was a complete accident [laughs]. It was good because I didn’t want to live in big cities. Dunedin is not a big city but it’s a good trade off between living in the country, which has its own difficulties, and living in a big city. So yeah, with Three Forks it was really exciting. Where the music was going, I just thought it was fantastic. It wasn’t just [us], there was Three Forks and then Eye started almost precisely the same time. And The Futurians were going and they were fucking … just legendary, and The Aesthetics were still going in Dunedin. There was basically quite a bit, not a hell of a lot, but what was happening was really good. Y’know, Dick The Phone … weird little side things cropping up here and there. It was cool, y’know?
BS: I was going to come to this later, but it’s a good point [to ask]. Was that the impetus behind starting United Fairy Moons? Had you [previously] thought about having a label?
JC: No, not at all, not at all, no. God. And I wish I hadn’t [laughs].
BS: That was one of my other questions ... I remember you saying that running a label is a “mug’s game” [laughter] and you wanted to “shoot United Fairy Moons in the head”.
JC: Yeah, and that’s gonna happen really soon. Yeah, I really don’t have what it takes to run a label, which basically is consistency. On a very basic level. The label totally came out of Donald McPherson because Donald had had that one record come out on Metonymic [“Bramble”] which, in Metonymic terms, did really well.
BS: But he’d had other records before that though hadn’t he?
JC: He did all the little lathe cuts and stuff. I don’t know how or if he distributed them. I don’t know if he ever did more than 20 of each one, yet people know about them and that’s a measure of how fucking amazing he is.
BS: So United Fairy Moons started with that Donald McPherson record [“Liquified” lathe cut LP], which sort of was the start of Three Forks in some ways?
JC: Yeah, totally. It’s got Donald playing solo, and then Donald playing with Tim [Cornelius] and then Donald playing with me and Tim and Nathan Thompson. And that was a show we did one night in Dunedin. It really knocked me sideways because the stuff Donald was doing, particularly the stuff he was doing solo, was on a whole other level from what’s on that Metonymic CD.
BS: How many copies were there of that record?
JC: 40. I just sort of bit the bullet. I had barely even used email before then, just written to a few friends, and before I knew it I had Thurston Moore writing to me saying, “Can I get a copy of the Donald McPherson album?”. That was a little freaky. It felt like this classic New Zealand story of, “Here we are at the end of the world and before we know it our little songs have touched the other side of the world”. Doing the first few lathe cut things I thought there’s probably people who will be into checking out New Zealand lathe cuts. There’s probably people who will be into checking out, say, something that’s got Peter Stapleton on it, or Alastair Galbraith on it. And I just went, well fuck it, y’know? This is happening now so we’ll put it out and it’ll be cool because at that time there was cool music in Dunedin but there was fuck all records. I think The Aesthetics had just had an album come out in the States. The Futurians hadn’t quite started their inexorable run of releases [laughs].
BS: And Metonymic was kind of on hiatus at the time.
JC: Yeah, Metonymic wasn’t doin’ nothin’ really. So I thought fuck, yeah, cool, let’s do that. But then when I did the first Ray Off thing ... did like three lathe cuts and then I did the first Ray Off CDR [“Ghost Wolf of Thunder Mountain”], that was so totally for myself, to get myself going. I can’t tell you what a bad year I had had that year [laughs]. I lived on my own for the first time in my life, and settled down and made that record, and then started to do solo shows along with that. It was funny because it was actually almost the exact same day that “Ghost Wolf” came out and I played a solo show to release it, that Three Forks broke up.

BS: So Three Forks definitely don’t exist anymore?
JC: Oh, hell no. No [laughs].
BS: Very much not so?
JC: Very much not so. Ah, yep. In fact I’m quite impressed really at how two people, namely myself and Donald, can be so fucking stubborn. But there it is; we are [laughs]. Yeah, it’s really strange because I know that Donald really likes the stuff I’ve done as Ray Off and of course I love Donald’s music. We’re just not getting on.
BS: Have other people helped out along the way with United Fairy Moons? Is it all you or ... it kind of seems like it’s mostly you but there’s kind of a collective thing when necessary?
JC: Sometimes there was a little coterie of people to help get that stuff done. I find it very difficult to do on my own. It’s possibly got something to do with how I think about this stuff, even making this music. It has to come out of some kind of social interaction that you can’t fake, you can’t buy, you can’t summon it out of nothing. It has to exist, it has to be there because of the goodwill and because of the necessity that people feel for it to be there. That’s where the music comes from.
BS: So you think of the label in that same [sense], ideally?
JC: Yeah, well for me to struggle to screen print a bunch of covers, then cut them, then glue them, all this sort of thing, it’s not why I started doing the things that I do anyway. If that makes me lazy, if that makes me a fucking failure, fine. It’s been weird in the last year because distribution has dipped radically [laughs] but the things still exist.
BS: You mean in terms of ... you haven’t been sending stuff out to distributors?
JC: Yeah, hardly at all. But the thing is they still exist. There are people out there who have heard of Rory Storm’s “Fuck the Memescape” album. They haven’t got fuck all chance in hell of obtaining a copy [laughter]. But it’s out there and god bless Rory. Never a more trusting or beneficent soul have I known ... to let me be the purveyor of his extremely, extremely fine music to the world. One day he’ll get his due because he’s great ... and I was there at the beginning [laughs]. May history judge me kindly.

United Fairy Moons discography:

UFM 001 Donald McPherson & Co. “Liquified” lathe-cut LP

UFM 002 Eye/Three Forks “Jawbone”, “Arabesque”/”Baby Ives” lathe-cut split 10"

UFM 003 $100 Band/Spit “Old Chronicle”/”Keltic”, “Lament” lathe-cut split 10"

UFM 004 Ray Off “Ghost Wolf Of Thunder Mountain” CDR

UFM 005 Sinking Infinities “Forever Young” CDR

UFM 006 not released - see note at bottom

UFM 007 Eye “Black Ice” CDR

UFM 008 Ray Off “I Am Not In The Racing Sky” CDR

UFM 009 Sinking Infinities “Thousand-Year Reich” CDR

UFM 010 Rory Storm “We Are Superior Beings” CDR

UFM 011 Spit “Trash Music Spitacular” CDR

UFM 012 not released - see note at bottom

UFM 013 Three Forks “Seven Layer Ape” CD

UFM 014 Jo Jo ef Steve “A Ouiet Night In With...” CDR

UFM 015 Ray Off “Clean & Dry Area Before Application” CDR

UFM 016 Rory Storm “Fuck The Memescape”' CDR

UFM 017 CJA “Ponds” CDR
UFM 018
not released - see note at bottom
UFM 019 Sinking Infinities “The Life of Riley” CDR
UFM 020 Ray Off “Split The Lark” triple CDR
UFM 021 Ray Off "Don't Touch Your Moustache" CDR
UFM 022 Ray Off "My Favourite Plum 2:18" double CDR

Note on UFM 006, 012 and 018:
"Every 6th release was not released. Reasoning being that one out of every six cdr releases was superfluous rubbish. Not a literal assessment - just trying to make a point. There were things that COULD have been released... and everyone should be glad that they weren't..."

“Stud Or Houseboy?” LP (Feel Good All Over)
“Discoverooster” LP (555 Recordings)
“From Measles To Seagulls” LP (Blackbean & Placenta)

Three Forks on other labels:
“Firewood” 3” CDR (Metonymic)

Ray Off on other labels:
“Nothing Like A Ribbon Round A Parcel” CDR (Black Petal)
“'Middlemarch Hop”, track on v/a “Sound Surrounds Us 5” CDR (Music Your Mind Will Love You)
“Reveille”, track on v/a “Compact Listen” CD (CLaudia)
"Douitashimashite" CDR (Black Petal)

Bogan Dust (Jim Currin, Jon Chapman, Eamon Sprod, with members of Castings):
“Tonight I Present My Back To The Future” Cassette (Spanish Magic)

“Live at None 29 06 07” CDR (no label)

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Spend, Spend, Spend Pt. 2: Manchester, Glasgow and Newcastle

Manchester (16-19 August, 2010)

Manchester was the ugliest of the three cities I visited on this trip. The canal is disgusting. Yet, every time someone asks me which city I liked best out of Manchester, Glasgow and Newcastle, I find myself saying Manchester. It got under my skin in a way I didn't anticipate. The city is fiercely proud of it's musical heritage. Sure, there's a hint of the cash-in about Peter Hook's
Factory club and in the Smiths/Stone Roses/Factory Records t-shirts, coffee mugs and framed posters in some of the shops I visited, but it seemed as much about pride as pound-chasing. You can feel it in the air (along with the feverish passion for football).

Empire Exchange, 1 Newton Street
Grace Jones Private Life/She's Lost Control 7"
The Sugarcubes Birthday 7"

Not just a record store, Empire have loads of second-hand books, magazines, comics, pop culture artefacts, Manchester United memorabilia and, er, pornography. It's a totally un-slick downstairs den and all the better for it. My hit-rate here wasn't great but the trash adds to the charm and it's a good place to kill an hour or two. I very nearly bought a second copy of The Pink Floyd's Relics just for the sticker on the lovingly crayon coloured-in cover: "Original textured sleeve with genuine stoned-hippy colouring-in!". Didn't know Grace Jones had covered "She's Lost Control". Her version's pretty odd, yet somehow perfect. Empire also have a publications wing for Manchester-related books, including Phill Gatenby's
Morrissey's Manchester. I bought a copy and it's a pretty useful guidebook to the city in general, though it did make me realise that I'm no uber fan (I did walk past Granada Television but not because there's a photo of it on the back cover of the deluxe CD reissue of Viva Hate).

Kingbee Records, 519 Wilbraham Road, Chorlton
B.C. Gilbert/G. Lewis 3R4 LP
Albert Mangelsdorff/Masahiko Sato/Peter Warren/Allen Blairman Spontaneous LP
Curtis Mayfield Sweet Exorcist LP
Mike Murray/Randall Colbourne/Stephen G. Scholz In Motion LP
Mike Osborne Trio All Night Long LP
Buffy Sainte-Marie She Used To Wanna Be A Ballerina LP
The Wedding Present Go-Go Dancer/Don't Cry No Tears 7"

The very helpful man at Empire said Kingbee was worth a visit. They also had a half price sale on all their vinyl starting that day. Enough said. I took the bus out there the next morning and found a bunch of treats. I always maintain that finding record stores is a good way to see a new city. I never would have taken a bus to Chorlton (or left the city centre at all) without that motivation. I bought the Wedding Present 7" primarily for the b-side (yep, Neil Young cover) but "Go-Go Dancer" is incredible! Can't believe I was lukewarm on them until this year.

Good Grief!, Third Floor, Afflecks, 52 Church Street
Bridget Hayden untitled CDR

Good Grief! is a tiny little handmade art nook tucked away on the third floor of the labyrinthine Afflecks indoor markets. They've got comics, zines, hand-screened tea towels and a small selection of mostly local tapes, CDRs and vinyl (including stock from Manchester label
Golden Lab Records, who released this Bridget Hayden CDR).

Piccadilly Records, 53 Oldham Street
Sun Ra The Antique Blacks LP

One of my favourite haunts growing up in Tauranga, NZ was Piccadilly Records. Of course it's gone now and in light of shops I've visited since it wasn't that great. But they did have plentiful Flying Nun releases, and key punk-era stuff like Suicide, Patti Smith and the Buzzcocks Product 3CD set, which I had on lay-by for what felt like years, whittling down the amount owed with my pocket money. The guy who normally worked there was a Radiohead nut, which I didn't get, but he also turned me onto Joy Division, gave me a nice 3Ds promo poster and once made me a VHS tape of The Cure's Play Out and The Jesus & Mary Chain's Videos 1985 to 1989 (with some live Radiohead on the end for evangelical purposes), all of which I'm very grateful for.

So was this Piccadilly Records anything like my one? No. Their stock (all new, focusing on recent releases on vinyl) is very good but the shop itself is pretty sterile. It would've been hard to pass up this recent reissue of a '74 Sun Ra live recording though with its stunning all-black debossed sleeve. When there's so much Sun Ra available that's as good a reason as any to choose one album over another.

Vinyl Exchange, 18 Oldham Street
Akiyama/Sugimoto/Wiget Periodic Drift CD
Ascension Five Titles CD
Ed Askew Little Eyes CD
Che-SHIZU A Journey CD
Marchetti/Noetinger/Werchowski s/t CD

I hit a rich seam of '90s/early '00s noise here, which was a treat. Lots of Corpus Hermeticum and Metonymic titles, including a few I'd been after. Also plenty of
PSF albums, though Vinyl Exchange make the same mistake as many others in thinking that all Japanese underground music is extremely rare and should be priced accordingly (there are actually very few PSF titles that are out of print and their English language site makes all the rest available at quite reasonable prices). Their jazz vinyl section was pretty stunning but very much priced towards the collector nut market. Frustrating.

Vinyl Revival, 5 Hilton Street
Amon Duul II Yeti 2LP
The Carter Family A Collection Of Favorites By The Carter Family LP

This was an interesting experience. The whole time I was there the stereo was blaring with talkback radio of the "all people on benefits are lazy scum" variety. One of the hosts made a heartfelt statement about the profundity of his favourite film Wall Street and what it says about the moral benefits of working hard and the beauty of the capitalist system. The content was borderline funny but it was cranked up SO LOUD IT ACTUALLY HURT. I gathered that the man behind the counter was filling in though, so don't be put off. The focus of the shop seemed to be vinyl reissues, which is fine by me, and a lot of items seemed to be considerably cheaper here than elsewhere. There were also solid Manchester and cheapies sections, so definitely worth a look.

Glasgow (19-22 August, 2010)

I love Scotland. It feels more like home than anywhere else I've been in the Northern Hemisphere. Even the hills on the way in look right in a way that English "hills" don't (a slight incline is considered a hill here). They're dramatic and rough, not rolling and grassy. This time in Scotland there were some not so great external factors which made my stay a bit miserable. I received news of an extended family death just before leaving Manchester and then a second, closer family death (my grandmother) on my first full day in Glasgow. My accommodation in Glasgow was about as un-comforting as you can get. It was a hovel masquerading as a hostel. More like a "squat-stay experience" (now there's a business idea) than a backpackers, though that comparison is unkind to the squats I have visited. But I soldiered on, surviving on a diet of poor sleep, numbing whisky and cheap Chinese food.

Unlike Manchester, where all but one of the record stores I visited are located within five minutes walk of each other, the Glasgow shops are very spread out so I did a lot of walking. The first place I visited, Lost Chord in Park Road, was disappointing I must say. The stock was mostly '80s trash and it was so cluttered and disorganised I couldn't really be bothered searching through it all. Like Empire Exchange in Manchester, they also had a used porn section. None of these things were endearing. Then I spotted a sign saying that their rarities are listed in a green folder at the counter. I spied a yellow folder and went to pick it up. "That's out of date, most of those will be gone now", said the woman pottering behind the counter. She asked me if I had access to the internet and said to look them up on
Gemm. So basically even the shopkeeper told me that visiting their shop was a waste of time. Not a great start.

Mixed Up Records, 18 Otago Lane
John Cage with David Tudor Variations IV LP
Quicksilver Messenger Service Happy Trails LP

Luckily Mixed Up isn't far from Lost Chord so the walk wasn't wasted. In Scotland, Otago is pronounced Oh-tay-go, not Oh-tar-go as it is in NZ. Good to know. Otago Lane is quite hidden away so there is a good chance you'll need to ask someone. I noticed that there's a "Save Otago Lane" campaign underway. Hopefully it can be saved from redevelopment because Mixed Up is a nice little shop (all second-hand). The prices are good too (£12 and £4, respectively). The Quicksilver Messenger Service purchase is me giving them a second chance. The compilation I heard about five years ago was patchy - some stunners and some duds - but their name keeps popping up in relation to interesting things. Plus, when I went to Modern Music (the PSF Records shop in Tokyo) with
Kawaguchi Masami last year, he bought three Quicksilver bootleg CDs from this era (and nothing else). That's a good enough recommendation for me.

Cancer Research UK, 269 Sauchiehall Street
Funkadelic The Best Of Funkadelic 1976-1981 2LP

Funkadelic double LP for £3? Sold! There wasn't anything else of interest but who cares when you strike a deal like that?

Love Music, 34 Dundas Street
New Order Movement LP
v/a 53rd & 3rd: Fun While It Lasted ... The Compilation LP
v/a 53rd & 3rd Present AGARR Retro: Fun While It Lasted Part II LP

To be honest I can't remember much about this one. It's right by the Queen Street Station. They have a combination of new and used. Umm ... what else? Love Music used to be a branch of
Avalanche Records, which I guess is why they had new copies of the 53rd & 3rd Records retrospectives for cheap (they were released by the Avalanche label).

Monorail Music, 12 Kings Court
Circle X Prehistory CD
D!O!D!O!D! Ghost Temple CD
Flipper Gone Fishin' CD
Husker Du Land Speed Record LP
Islaja/TV-Resistori Melodi Melodika/Kammen, Kynsi, Kieli Split 7"
JPS Experience Precious 7"
Nagisa Ni Te Yosuga 2LP
Octis Navlt/Twelon 7"
Swell Maps Wastrels And Whippersnappers CD
Peter Wright Pretty Mushroom Clouds CD

Stephen Pastel's label (he co-founded 53rd & 3rd) to Stephen Pastel's shop. A couple of very pleasing finds here. I fell in love with the Islaja/TV-Resistori 7" while I was looking after Jane Austen's Northern Hemisphere record collection for a few months last year. There were three records that I really coveted in that collection (the others were KTL's 2 and the Vivian Girls' Wild Eyes 7"). This is the only one of the three that I hadn't since ticked off my shopping list so finding it at Monorail for a bargain 99p was a treat (especially after a near miss at Spillers Records in Cardiff). Trumping this, though, was the JPS Experience 7", which I'd been after for much longer. Big nostalgia points here. Precious came out when I was 11 and still a couple of years away from getting into the whole Flying Nun thing but I remember loving it instantly. There is something very 11-years-old about the song, with its wide-eyed twinkly naivete and almost tweeny poppiness. Twelve would be stretching it. Definitely not 13 - that's the end of the golden weather. Those wide eyes start to narrow and harden (mine did anyway). Like any good pop song it seemed to drop out of the sky but, even now, I still struggle to think of it in any kind of FN/JPSE context. In addition to personally being oblivious to its context at the time, the song didn't appear on their next album Bleeding Star and, curiously, hasn't popped up on any FN compilations, all of which makes it easy to think of the song as being outside the canon. Maybe the band hate it? It's definitely of a time (shoegaze indie pop circa '91) but I still think it's near-perfect for what it is.

Most of what I bought was second-hand or bargain priced so the damage wasn't quite as bad as the list would suggest, but yeah, obviously I liked Monorail. It's located inside
Mono, which is a very nice vegan cafe/bar/venue. Music shopping is better on a full stomach.

Volcanic Tongue, 1129 Argyle Street
Arthur Doyle with Rudolph Grey Ghosts II 7"
Alastair Galbraith Mass LP
Rudolph Grey "The Real Evelyn McHale?"/4 Hands Is Better Than None 7"

Across the other side of town, Volcanic Tongue is about the size of one of the toilet cubicles at Mono. Like most online shops with a physical presence, it's somehow less impressive in person than you imagine. The stock is of course very good though, so unlike most shops you don't need to wade through acres of dreck to find the good stuff. Given an unlimited budget I'd buy half the shop. I'm always a bit torn with Volcanic Tongue because while David Keenan has, both as VT founder and as a writer for Opprobrium and The Wire, introduced me to some incredible music he has also perpetrated some journalistic atrocities (
H********c P*p being the worst). I'm uncomfortable with the influence he has as a tastemaker but he is on the money about some things, damn him (these Doyle/Grey and Grey 7"s really are as good as he says - come back Rudolph!).

Subcurrent 2010 (merch table), Centre For Contemporary Arts, Saturday 21 August, 2010
Part Wild Horses Mane On Both Sides Blew In The Face LP

The Volcanic Tongue-curated Subcurrent event at the CCA that night provided another opportunity to sample Keenan's tastes. It was mostly enjoyable. Smoke Jaguar were a pretty impressive good cop/bad cop noise guitar duo, though about two thirds through they dropped in the riff from Les Rallizes Denudes' "The Last One" and stayed with it, which seemed a bit gratuitous. The out-of-nowhere hype around flute/drums duo Part Wild Horses Mane On Both Sides in the last year or two meant that I was hopeful but also ready to be underwhelmed by them. On paper they seemed right up my alley (some kind of post-noise psychedelic Mu) and as it turned out they were great! Things were a little ropey to start off with but by the end I was a fan. Their unflashy and relaxed command of the space was such that it felt like being transported into their practice room rather than them being dragged into a slightly sterile performance space. Keenan's wife and Volcanic Tongue partner (not to mention ex-Charalambides pedal steel star) Heather Leigh was up next. Her combination of pure, clear vocals, brutal string sound and glamorous presentation reminded me of a dream I once had about a kind of female pop star version of Keiji Haino wowing crowds of normals at a village fair. It was the most incredible thing I've ever "heard" and I've been searching for that sound ever since. Heather Leigh's not quite it but she's moving in an interesting direction for sure. I wasn't quite sure how Richard Youngs (pictured) would perform his pop album Beyond The Valley Of Ultrahits live. His decision to do it as an "Ultrahits karaoke" set was inspired and it made for the performance of the night. Having only the vocals to perform live left him free to sing his heart out, while hamming it up a little and revelling in the absurdity at the same time. The songs were all brilliant - pop in the sense that Colin Newman's A-Z is pop. MV & EE still bore the shit out of me. About five minutes into their set I thought maybe I'd misjudged them. They certainly changed the atmosphere in the room, which is always an impressive feat. As it went on (and on and on), though, I remembered what bothered me about them in the first place. The dynamics are so flat that over time mellowness turns to agitation and then anger. I had to leave.

Newcastle/Gateshead (22-25 August, 2010)

Newcastle was as much about visiting a friend as visiting Newcastle so that, combined with record store fatigue (and wallet fatigue), meant that I took things easy. We did briefly visit one record store,
Beatdown Records on the corner of Clayton and Bewick Streets. It was as good as a lot of the shops I'd visited elsewhere but there wasn't anything I had to have.

The Baltic, Gateshead Quays, South Shore Road
Christian Marclay Guitar Drag One-sided LP

We went to The Baltic to see the excellent exhibition of John Cage's visual art, Every Day Is A Good Day, which consisted mostly of elegant works on paper, though there was also a sound/video/projections installation HPSCHD (pictured below) created in collaboration with Lejaren Hiller. There was a wealth of great supplementry/educational material on offer too, with interview and performance videos and sound recordings. Christian Marclay had a piece in a Cage tribute sideshow exhibition, Cage Mix, hence his Guitar Drag LP being on offer in gift shop. It's funny how in an unexpected context records don't look like records (there were a few CDs and DVDs in the shop but no other vinyl). At first glance I thought the stack of Guitar Drag LPs on display were calendars. I almost escaped Newcastle without buying anything but not quite.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Spend, Spend, Spend Pt. 1: Brighton and Cardiff

I've been on holiday for three of the last five weeks, which has meant travel. And that has meant rampant splurging in the record stores of Brighton, Cardiff, Manchester and Glasgow (and remarkable restraint in Newcastle). Here are some notes on the best and the rest that those cities had to offer.

Brighton (28 July, 2010)

The first charity shop I walked into had a Ran Blake LP so that was a good omen. The ocean was calling so I left it for the time being (and didn't get around to going back for it). The beach was stony, the souvenir shops were exceptionally tacky and the Tai-Chi-in-the-park hippies were shirtless. The West Pier was astonishing. Burnt out, intriguing, isolated from the shore. Please don't tear it down or rebuild it. Please.

Resident, 28 Kensington Gardens
The Breeders Title TK CD
Brilliant Colors Introducing LP
Inca Ore Silver Sea Surfer School LP
Swell Maps Train Out Of It CD

Kensington Gardens is one of the more interesting shopping areas. There's an incredible tat/trash/treasure market, Snooper's Paradise, which has records but I gave up pretty quickly. Someone else can have those barely playable Wedding Present LPs. After the sensory overload of Snooper's Paradise, Resident is positively minimalist and serene by comparison. All new stock but they have a good range of £5 CDs and a small vinyl sale section (from whence the Inca Ore came). The man who served me was approachable and happy to recommend other record stores in town. Nice change from surly, hard-bitten London record store clerks (I don't live in London but do most of my physical music shopping there).

Across The Tracks, 110 Gloucester Road
Anthony Braxton This Time ... LP
My Bloody Valentine Loveless LP
David Toop/Max Eastley New and Rediscovered Musical Instruments Split LP
The Velvet Underground VU LP

Just around the corner is this classic dusty secondhand record store with classic secondhand record store characters and yarns (bargains, rip offs, run out groove message this, tan label that). Good stock, ok-ish prices. Bonus points for use of manual carbon copy zip-zap credit card machine. Also for having a decent jazz section (lacking elsewhere in Brighton).

Rounder Records, 19 Brighton Square
Black Flag Everything Went Black 2LP
The Can Monster Movie LP
Roky Erickson Gremlins Have Pictures LP

Rounder's secondhand section was almost entirely charity shop trash but they had a good selection of reasonably priced new vinyl. I had several of the recent My Bloody Valentine bootleg vinyl reissues in my paws until the last minute, when I put them all back. They're so confusing and messy! The You Made Me Realise/Feed Me With Your Kiss twofer combo LP is an exact replica of the YMMR EP with no mention of FMWYK and certainly none of the artwork or anything. You've got to figure out what they've done by looking at the tracklist and checking against
Discogs or something. What a mess. They've done the same with Sunny Sundae Smile/Strawberry Wine and Glider/Tremolo too. Dumb.

Cardiff (30 July, 2010)

I'd been lead to believe Cardiff was "a bit rough" but what I saw was mostly pretty flash. The ultra-modern library is striking and the view from the top floor is useful for getting your bearings. Don't bother with the waterfront area near the Millennium Centre though. The brown-water harbour is bit of a turd and unfortunately attempts to polish it have only highlighted its faecality. Actually, I'm sure it was fine when it was just an unassuming brown-water harbour. Maybe those eateries and bars are the true turds. On the more Ye Olde side of things the animal wall outside the castle is a must see and the castle itself is worthwhile too. Oh, and the smokestack near the train station with the word "BRAINS" down the side in huge letters is brilliant. Was almost disappointed to find out Brains is a brewery. Cool that you can drink a pint of brains though. Gruesome.

Spillers Records, 31 Morgan Arcade
Cromagnon Cave Rock (aka Orgasm) LP

Now this is a strange one. Spillers is "the oldest record shop in the world" (founded in 1894) so my expectations were pretty high for some kind of something. Unfortunately it's not in its original location - they'd just moved into their third premises when I visited. It's a nice enough shop in one of Cardiff's many little arcades but don't expect any feeling of historical gravity. The shop was also very sparsely stocked. I figured this was due to the recent move but was later told by a friend that their old shop was like that too. Still, the stock they did have was reasonable and I was very pleased to find this strangely under priced (by about £5 compared to elsewhere) Cromagnon reissue LP. It was a happy end to the woeful tale of a poorly packaged eBay-bought copy of the same album suffering brutal treatment at the hands of Royal Mail. Spillers couldn't find the Islaja/TV-Resistori split 7" that I also wanted to buy but the girl was very apologetic and nice about it so no hard feelings.

Kelly's Records, The Balcony, Central Market
Babes In Toyland Fontanelle LP

The indoor Central Market is great in a tatty kind of way. Antipodeans excited by the sight of raspberry lamingtons (see below) should not be fooled by the disgusting imitations on offer though. The one I had was like a piece of student flat couch foam dipped in pink toilet cleaner and toenail clippings. Kelly's Records looked to be a goldmine at first but ended up being more a case of "water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink". I persevered because there surely had to be something amazing amongst all those records but mostly found multiple copies of 80s and early 90s pop. I'd been thinking about Babes In Toyland recently though so it was cool to come away with Fontanelle anyway.