Posts Tagged With: Record Shops

Why I hate New York…

Fabulous 57th Street which is managing well without me...

Fabulous 57th Street…which is managing well without me

Dear New York,

Why do you haunt me and taunt me so? Don’t you know I can’t get you out of my head? It’s all right for you…you just go on being yourself. You don’t care about me. You don’t miss me. To you, I was just an ant scurrying around your shiny streets. Can’t you see – I can’t love you if you don’t love me back, if you don’t want me back. Say you want to see me again, please! Until then, I’ll have to keep singing the refrain from that old Shirley Bassey song, the one that goes: I love you, hate you, love you, hate you, love you till the world stops turning

You think you are so big and important, don’t you, huh? The Big Apple. Who do you think you are? What have you got that Bradford hasn’t got, eh? You haven’t got Bradford City FC, have you? Ha ha! You haven’t got a big hole in the middle and Lister’s chimney! Come to think of it, what have you got that Porto Alegre hasn’t got, eh? You haven’t got footy star Anderson, late of Manchester United, have you? You haven’t got black-bean stew and funny Gaucho hats! So, just what have you got? Well, erm, here are a few things…

Why do I have to look through every single record in the shop?

Why do I have to look through every single record in the shop?

Record Shops: dozens of them, full to the rafters with old LPs. Each record has one of those lovely, thick cardboard sleeves to protect the disc. Each record is a bit heavier, thicker vinyl, with sound quality to drool over. For just a few dollars – the price of a blueberry muffin and a regular coffee – you can get yourself albums by Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express or The Only Chrome Waterfall Orchestra. Tearing around Manhattan and Brooklyn breathlessly, I managed to plough through 13 record stores in 3 days, dislocating my shoulder with the weight of the bag. As Jeff Ogiba of Black Gold Records in Brooklyn says: “Records are the closest thing to a human relationship that I’ve discovered so far. I’m not on drugs.”

West 57th Street: if I could have chosen a better place to parachute into Manhattan, then my name wouldn’t be Herbert Butterworth. Bordered by Central Park, 5th Avenue, 7th Avenue, Broadway and with Times Square just down the road, this bit of the Big Apple is where the action is, where those in-the-know go, where the cool cats hang out – Bert included. And…just opposite my hotel was the coolest burger joint playing the hippest black swamp jive, hidden away behind a curtain inside the swanky Le Parker Meridian hotel.

Hidden gem on West 57th - the burger joint in Le Parker Meridian

Hidden gem on West 57th – the burger joint…worth going just for the tunes

Brooklyn Bridge: landed in Dumbo, Brooklyn 4pm (freezing the brass monkeys off), steaming cuppa tea 4.15, sprawling but neat second-hand bookstore 4.30, procured little bottle Wilson’s Whiskey 5pm (getting dark), climbed the 20 dozen iron stairs up to the bridge, knocked back the fuel and prepared to brace the biting winds 5.15, marched across the bridge with glorious views of the Manhattan skyline, landed Lower Manhattan 5.45, chilled to the bone, crimson-faced but exhilarant!

Was it the whisky that made everything look surreal on Brooklyn Bridge?

Was it the whisky that made everything look surreal on Brooklyn Bridge?

Greenwich Village: like London’s Soho in the old days, the Village has a kind of seedy, Bohemian feel, where every multi-coloured cafe, pub and shop is wildly different from the place next door. I even got sucked into the beat-up East Village, with edgy streets that seem to go on forever. I was lost and scared. I felt like Jack Kerouac…”an angel-headed hipster burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of the night.” Wow!

My hero Jack Kerouac in NY 1953 - about to enter a record store, of course!

My hero Jack Kerouac in NY 1953 – about to enter a record store, of course!

Carnegie Hall: growing up a jazz fan, the words Live at Carnegie Hall on the LP cover always filled me with awe and wonder, wonder and awe. Guess what? Carnegie Hall is on 57th Street – so off I went on Sunday afternoon, sober and civilized, to watch a little jazz group. Sitting in a cozy theatre room (an offshoot of the main auditorium) with the saxophone, piano, bass and drums just a few feet away, and knowing that Manhattan was waiting for me outside, was my kind of heaven.

OK, so New York can also get on your nerves sometimes. Like when you get the bill in a diner and there is a 20% service charge. That’s because the greedy owners don’t pay the waiters. Oh no – they expect you to pay them with a hefty tip! Many times Manhattan made me feel like a little, poor guy, like I shouldn’t really be there, like I should be emptying the garbage at the back of the celebrity party. And – get this – nobody speaks English! So annoying. I went to New York specifically to practise my American drawl (“What it is, bro!” and all that) and everybody, everywhere was chortling away in Spanish…shut your eyes and you could be in Mexico.

Why does New York vinyl taste so good?

Why does New York vinyl taste so good?

But little niggles aside, I am still smitten…love-struck to the core. Every time I play one of those heavy LPs with Made in New York printed on the back I hurt inside. The trouble is, too many people already love New York, that’s why she doesn’t care a fig about little old me. But I am already planning my return – I am going to MAKE her notice me, even if it means shouting “Hasta la vista, baby!” in the middle of 5th Avenue. Start spreading the news…

 

 

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Categories: Brazil, Travel, Vinyl | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The day the music died…

Nipper is now a stray dog...

Nipper is now a stray dog…

The news that HMV – the UK’s only chain of so-called “record” shops – has gone bankrupt and closed its doors hasn’t caused much wailing in the streets. Nobody liked the shops any more. Expensive CDs and DVDs, no atmosphere, supermarket-style checkouts and no personal touch. In short, a dull and empty consumer experience. But hey – it wasn’t always like that.

Way back in 1974, an 18 year-old long-haired youth gingerly entered a branch of HMV in Bradford, Yorkshire, and asked for a job. So began a six-year period of my life which not only formed my musical taste but seeped into the very fibre of my being. On my headstone should be written “Martin Fletcher, HMV Bradford, RIP”. Everything about the shop and the people who worked there appealed to me. My previous job had been fitting tractor wheels in a factory, and suddenly I was in heaven. Now I could go to work in my high-waisted flared trousers, platform shoes, cheesecloth shirt and a smirk on my face.

The happy staff I left behind. HMV Bradford, 1981.

The happy staff I left behind. HMV Bradford, 1981.

But it wasn’t all sugar and spice. We had to be respectful in those days. We had to call the manager ‘Mr Walker’. Then, lo and behold, at my first Christmas party, my naughty colleagues plied me with so much whisky that I got fuzzy and headstrong, letting my working-class roots show through. So what did I do? I only went and called the manager, Mr Walker, a ‘bastard’. That didn’t go down very well, I can tell you. I literally got down on my knees and begged to keep my job.

Turkey No 1 - Slade in Flame...

Turkey No 1 – Slade in Flame…

Turkey No 2 - Elton John, Rock of the Westies...

Turkey No 2 – Elton John, Rock of the Westies…

But I digress. You see, this is the story of six LPs. Six records that I encountered in my early days at HMV. Let’s call them the ‘Turkeys’, the ‘Naughties’ and the ‘Gems’. I discovered the Turkeys on my first day, when I went upstairs to look for the toilets. On the way I passed two huge piles of records gathering dust in the corner. These were embarrassing examples of bad buying by the management. Expecting huge demand, they had ordered hundreds. But these two – Slade in Flame and Elton John’s Rock of the Westies – hadn’t sold well at all. In fact, they had both gone down like a bag of spannersSoon I learned that one of my jobs was to send a few of them back to the record company as “faulty” every so often – and hope they didn’t notice.

Art or pornography? Roxy Music's odd choice of cover for 'Country Life'

Art or pornography? Roxy Music: ‘Country Life’

Never mind the WHAT? Censored, please!

Never mind the WHAT? Censored, please!

The Naughties were LPs that had such obscene or outrageous covers that we had to put stickers over them to avoid upsetting the public. It seems laughable now in the highly sexualised, four-letter 21st century. But HMV was part of EMI, part of the establishment, and we had to be seen to be decent and upright. The offending albums were Roxy Music’s very strange (pornographic?) choice of cover for Country Life, and the more obvious Sex Pistols Never Mind the Bollocks. Another of my duties was to stand like a guard over the LP racks to make sure nobody tried to remove the stickers and peep inside. You had to be married to see nipples in those days (usually after closing time on a Friday night).

What a voice! Honey for the ears...Gino Vannelli

What a voice! Honey for the ears…Gino Vannelli

There is NO OTHER album quite like this gem from Gene Clark

There is NO OTHER album quite like this gem from Gene Clark

And now we come to my favourite category, the Gems. The manager had a habit of playing records in-store that he wanted to promote. Often it was because he had taken a gamble and ordered five copies and nobody had bought them. So, as I strolled around the shop, flirting with the girls at the counter and nodding to the customers, I was treated to the exotic and irresistible sounds of Gino Vannelli’s Powerful People and Gene Clark’s No Other. These two LPs have turned out to be a couple of my very favourite records of all time. I’m quite sure that if I hadn’t been there at that moment in time, in HMV Bradford, I would never have heard such cracking music. Thank you, Mr Walker, wherever you are.

I left HMV in 1980, just at the right time. I don’t think I missed much in the 1980s. Of course, some of you will be thinking I’m an embarrassing dad-rock dinosaur, hopelessly stuck in the 70s. But I was warmed by a recent interview with an artist who made his name during the 1990s – Ian McNabb (remember If Love was Like Guitars?). He was asked who he thought the new pioneers of rock were; which artists were the most innovative today. He said: “I don’t know – it was all over by 1980, wasn’t it?”

All together now: "Spent the last year Rocky Mountain way, da daa da da..."

All together now: “Spent the last year Rocky Mountain way, da daa da da…”

Certainly for me, the music died a long time ago. And so, in a way, did the people. I met a lot of great characters during my six years with the firm. Now they have all vanished into the ether. So, if anybody is mourning the demise of HMV, I would like to put in a word for all those eccentric, witty, music-obsessed weirdos I had the pleasure of meeting all those years ago. Luckily, the records remain to remind me of those happy times. Records, not CDs. Please – no CDs. LPs. Albums. Gatefold sleeves. And I still have the very first LP I ever bought at HMV in 1974: Joe Walsh, The Smoker You Drink The Player You Get. And if you think you understand the title, it means you weren’t there in the Seventies.

Categories: Global Crisis, Music, Vinyl | Tags: , , , , , , | 8 Comments

The biggest record shop in the world?

When does a country become a giant second-hand record shop? When somebody like me goes back to England from Brazil, on holiday, with the sole intention of scouring every charity and junk shop for vinyl. OK, so I did some other stuff like see my mum (Bradford) and my brother (Twickenham) and a few mates up north and in London. But for three weeks flat I planned an assault on every possible city, town or village that might have a shop in it with a tatty cardboard box in the corner containing a few old records.

New vinyl is not for me. It’s easy and expensive. No, the joy is in the accidental discovery. Serendipity. Kissing a thousand toads to find that elusive princess. Fumbling through umpteen fusty boxes of James Last and John Denver in the dim hope that a glorious little gem may turn up. Something like a US import of Mister Magic by Grover Washington for 50 pence (yes, kiddies that really happened).

If you’re still reading this, you’ll probably wonder exactly how many records I managed to squeeze into my suitcases on the way home to sunny Porto Alegre from dreary Heathrow. Go on then, guess. Twenty? Fifty? No more than 50, surely. Well, how about 115? You see, a vinyl junkie needs a lot of fixes, man. Hang on a minute – the needle has just finished playing the last track on side one of The World of Blues Power (John Mayall, Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Savoy Brown et al). Now I’ll have to get up and lift that lovely diamond before it hits the label in the middle. But I’ll be back. Honest, guv!

Categories: Vinyl | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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