RPM Review of the year 2017.
It’s that time between Christmas and New Year when the world seems to be on hold…….it must be time for my RPM review of 2017……………or more accurately, random musings upon record shops, music and time.
Too Much Music?
Some good releases this year. My favourite band Hawkwind (have I mentioned that before……? 😉) slipped out their 2nd album of new material in 2 years. Other favourites included Robert Plant, Black Star Riders and my album of the year, Other People by The Rails. With not a filler song in sight, it’s an engaging, succinct slab of folk / country tinged rock which hasn’t really left my turntable since its release…………oh, and the vinyl came with a download code as well which made me very happy, of course. A CD can hold up to 80 minutes of music and it seems to me that bands have increasingly been tempted to fill up all that time with “extras” or “bonus tracks” or songs which in the old pre-CD days just wouldn’t have “cut the mustard” and would have been left in the vaults, probably where they belonged. In my view, lots of recordings are now just plainly too long! I’m sure artistic motives are in the right place wanting to give the fans as much music as possible, but around 40 minutes is just the perfect length for an album, isn’t it? I’ve found very few bands able to sustain consistently strong material for more than 45 or 50 minutes maximum…….and I wouldn’t say I have a particularly short attention span, either……I can listen to Radio 4 all day and not get bored! Clocking in at about 34 minutes, I thought Other People was a breath of fresh air. It leaves the listener wanting more. So, flip back to side A and play again………and again. Their live gig at Norwich Arts Centre was super stuff as well. But there’s no need to write my list of favourites here, just zip over to the RPMers Top 5 Albums of 2017 page for this and other RPM members likes from the past year.
Music Is Time.
I’m sat typing this at the table in Ewan’s front room in his house in York. Looking outside, it’s a bright sunny day, about zero degrees and Stevie Ray Vaughan is playing on the CD player. After writing the heading, I realise I haven’t written anything for about the last 4 songs as I’ve been so absorbed in Stevie’s playing. It’s a recording of a live radio broadcast from Seattle, September 1985. The band is tight and cookin’. Stevie is superb. He plays a one note guitar solo for 22 bars that holds one’s attention the whole time with the sheer feeling he puts into that sustained singular note. When he finally releases the emotional tension with a slick turnaround lick, it’s a “hair-standing-on-the-back-of-the-neck” moment. My mind comes back down to earth and that’s when I realise 20 minutes has flashed past in what seems like next to no time. Music is time………..I’ve spent a lot of time listening to music. It’s unexpected moments in time like this that keep me musically enthused, fed and nurtured. You’re probably the same.
Musings Upon Record Shops
I’ve just bought this CD from HMV in York. It’s part of a 3 CD set of SRV radio concert broadcasts which I hadn’t been aware of. A purchase was required. I’d gone to HMV to browse their post-Christmas sale. Nothing had taken my fancy, however, even at “reduced” prices everything seemed…..well, over-priced. The vinyl section had expanded since the last time I had been in the store. It now takes up one end wall and half of a long side wall. Good to see but also somewhat disappointing upon closer investigation as well, for among the new releases the racks are bulked out with what I would term safe bets. You know the sort of thing. Those titles that have recently appeared in supermarkets in end of aisle displays; Beatles Hard Days Night, Queen Greatest Hits, Ramones 1st album, Nirvana Nevermind. It’s these record companies, remember, that were telling us not that long ago that vinyl was dead and were encouraging us to ditch the format and to re-purchase our collections on that shiny new CD thingy. Are they really hoping that we’ll now go out and buy our vinyl collections back on (newly released) vinyl because we ditched our old vinyl when CD arrived? I can smell the corporate cynicism from here. Oh, and what’s this thing of a new record having to look like a double album when it’s actually not? It seems to me that records are now being marketed as collectables – 180g vinyl, different colour options, heavy weight card and paper, everything in a gatefold sleeve - to justify the high retail price. Extending a recording over 4 sides of vinyl instead of 2 doesn’t make it more collectable, or make the music any better or warrant a higher price tag, in my opinion. It’s in fact using more raw material than is necessary and becomes a bit annoying with the increased requirement of turning the discs over every 12 minutes or so. What’s wrong with a single disc? I’ve bought the record for the MUSIC, not as an artefact…………although a great sleeve with readable lyrics and notes is of course very welcome and adds to the vibe of the whole package.
Leaving HMV and along a few streets, finally cutting down a little side alley finds me in Earworm Records. The door opens into a room probably about 12’ x 14’ and crammed with racks of 2nd hand records. The place seems popular and, with about 7 browsers, is full! I manage to squeeze into a corner and start flicking through the interesting mix of album sleeves. There’s an older man next to me and as we get to the back of our respective bins, we shuffle around each other and swap places. It’s certainly a very cosy shop. Now to my right are a couple of teenagers. The lad turns to the girl as he pauses at a particular sleeve. “That’s my grandad,” he states. “Which one?” the girl asks. “Bottom left,” he points. The album is Old, New, Borrowed and Blue by Slade. “Noddy Holder is my grandad.” It’s one of those priceless moments which could only happen in a record shop like Earworm. I’ve turned up a few cool items as well; Arrive Alive, the vinyl 1983 copy of an initial 1981 cassette only release by 80s prog band Pallas being a particularly surprising find of which I’m very pleased…….and it’s sensibly priced, not inflated and sold as an audio antique like some 2nd hand dealers are now attempting. I leave happy with my purchases and will certainly come back to this great little shop.
So that was one afternoon hanging out in record shops selling both old and new and it certainly seems vinyl has made a comeback big time at the moment. In Earworm there were enthusiastic youngsters loving the vinyl browsing experience and in HMV I spotted one girl in her 20s clutching 3 or 4 albums, obviously feeling particularly flush or with Christmas money to spend. It’s good to see and hopefully means musicians will continue to use the album format as a means to express their musical ideas to their fullest extent, preferably within a time frame of about 45 minutes! Remember, we’ve be told rock music, the electric guitar and vinyl were all dead but here we are at the end of 2017 with all 3 still alive and kicking and refusing to lie-down. Don’t believe what they tell you.
So here’s the bit I’ll always repeat every year…..but it’s true and heartfelt. Thanks to all RPMers for continued service to the cause throughout the past 12 months. Without you all, there would be no “club” and I’ve really enjoyed the mix of music, banter and biscuits this year. I hope you have too.
I hope you also enjoyed the two Music Markets we staged in April and October in conjunction with Elsing Village Hall. These proved so popular that i have plans for a couple more in 2018..............
So here’s to another 12 months of musical time passing.