Monday, July 27, 2015

Vinyl log 22 - 27 July

27July1970Fairport ConventionUnhalfbricking
27July1988Fairport ConventionGladys' leap
27July1989Fairport ConventionRed and gold
27July1989Fairport ConventionHeyday
27July1989Jackson BrowneWorld in motion

With the help of an online 1970 calendar, I was able to piece together a timeline for the events of July 1970, 45 years ago. It seems that on Friday 24 July, I went to London to participate in a weekend camp held by Habonim, in advance of the two week summer camp. One of the great things about those days was that you could meet someone new, become good friends over the course of a day or two, have meaningful conversations ... and then never see this person again. There were a few people that I met that day - all at least two years older than me - that I never saw for another few years, so I'm not really sure who was there. Anyway, I recall having a long conversation with someone about Fairport Convention: I must have said that I had just bought the Fotheringay album, and this person said that if you liked that, then you'll like 'Unhalfbricking'.

As it happens, I remember that someone at school brought 'U' in one day; I remember looking at the sleeve but wasn't sufficiently motivated to listen to the record - shame, as this is one of my favourite records of all time.

The day after returning from the camp, I went out and bought this album. I remember clearly buying this from a shop which sold mainly electric appliances near Blackboy Hill, at the top of Whiteladies Road in Bristol (very interesting juxtaposition of names!). What I don't remember is why I bought it there: it wasn't the sort of shop which normally sold records and certainly there were no facilities for listening to records in advance of buying them (which is what we used to do in the shop near school).

The first song to which I became attracted to was "Who knows where the time goes" (obviously). I remember at some stage listening to this record whilst in the bath and finally appreciating "A sailor's life", which until then had been the track I was most likely to skip (or was that "Cajun woman", which I already knew and disliked from "Nice enough to eat"?). Of course, much later on, "Genesis Hall" and "Autopsy" became the preferred tracks.  It's a shame about the three Dylan covers; if only "Si Tu Dois Partir" had been replaced by another Richard or Sandy song....

I was thinking last night at how "Genesis Hall" - set in the form of a Scottish ballad - predicted the sort of songs which Richard would write in the next few years: in a sense, it was already preparing people for "Liege and Lief", even though this wasn't on their minds at the time.

I must have gone to the 'real' summer camp a day or two after purchasing this record (reference to this can be found here).

By the mid-1980s, I was very disenchanted with music. Almost all of the musicians whose music I had loved a decade earlier had ceased to be active, and those that still issued records seemed to have lost "it". The 'New Romantics' sounded interesting at first, but their songs were full of 'ear candy' without any real substance - empty calories. Computers had displaced music as my main interest in those years.

At the same time, I had become a more public official of my kibbutz; in those days, such officials (such as the secretary, treasurer, farm manager, etc) would frequently travel to Tel Aviv on Wednesdays, when they could meet officials in the kibbutz movement as well as counterparts from other kibbutzim. I had begun traveling most Wednesdays, but often had a few hours spare time between meetings; I used to utilise this time by leaving the area of the kibbutz movement offices and walking to various shopping areas in Tel Aviv.

One day, I found a record shop just off Bograshov Street; as it was hot outside, I entered in order to cool down. When I perused the racks of records (for old time's sake), I was astounded to discover in the 'F' section two new records by Fairport! These were "Gladys' leap" and "Expletive delighted". I read what I could of the sleeves and tried to understand how one of my favourite bands had reconvened; who was this 'Maart' character? I knew the name of Ric Sanders from the late 70s Albion Band, but how did he come to be involved?

Unfortunately I had no money with me  (these were the days when kibbutz members did not have private bank accounts and had little need for physical money) so I couldn't buy them that day. Presumably a week later, armed with cash, I went straight to that shop and bought the records. On the sleeves, I read something about a 'Cropredy festival'; the name was familiar - I bought a tee shirt with that name in the Fairport font at one of their concerts in 1977 - but meaningless. Let us not forget: this is 1988 and the Internet does not yet exist (universities were connected but not the general public - I became connected in 1992).

The musical style on "Gladys' leap" seemed familiar; songs such as "Bird from the mountain" and especially "The hiring fair" instantly became part of the Fairport canon for me. The latter song, especially, seemed quintessential Fairport, and the violin sound brought back many memories.

A year later, many things had changed: I was leaving one kibbutz and about to join another. I knew what the Cropredy festival was and even intended to attend it in the summer of 1989, as we were in Britain for a month's holiday and recuperation. In the first few days of arriving in Bournemouth, we went down to the centre and the large open gardens there. I have a strong memory of walking in a pedestrian area on "the other side" of the centre with "Heyday" under my arm, so presumably I bought three records there.

"Red and gold" was me getting back up to speed with Fairport; it had been released shortly before my visit and I knew about it in advance, whereas "Gladys" had been released three years before I even knew about it, let alone bought it. "R&G" contains some more classic tracks (especially the title track) along with some filler. 

I was excited about "Heyday", which contains radio performances from 1968/9; most of the tracks were covers of American songs, some very obscure, but some were alternate versions of songs with which I was extremely familiar - cue "Percy's song" from Unhalfbricking. I was very curious to hear them but I don't think that I had an opportunity to do so, as there was no record player in the holiday flat where we were staying.

I am surprised by the purchase of the Jackson Browne record. I had loved his first four albums (bought within a few months of each other at the end of 1976, beginning of 1977, in the same way that I had bought the early Fairport records), but was lukewarm towards his later output ("Lawyers in love", especially). I remember buying a record of his in the mid-1980s in a record shop on fashionable Shenkin Street in Tel Aviv, during the period of maximal disillusionment with music, and not liking it very much. So the purchase of yet another JB record - which I probably haven't heard since buying it - is surprising.

To sum up: one day, four records by the same group, spanning twenty years of their career. Quite a coincidence that they were bought on the same calendar date.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Vinyl log 21 - 25 July

25July1972Richard ThompsonHenry the human fly

As I wrote once, "On this day 35 years ago (25 July 1972), I bought a copy of Richard Thompson's first solo album, "Henry the human fly", from a record shop on Kilburn High Street". I documented the purchase in that blog, so I won't repeat myself.

This is, how can I put it, a rather quirky record. Richard himself seems to be perversely proud of the urban legend that this was the worst selling record ever released on the American Warner Brothers label - an accolade which I have seen attached to other records (notably Randy Newman's first album, "Creates something new under the sun"). The two major complaints are Richard's voice and the lack of electric guitar. The latter doesn't bother me and well, that's how Richard used to sing at the time. 

In one of the recent interviews promoting Richard's latest release, "Still", he wished for access to the original multi-track recordings so that presumably he could remix and improve the vocals. Whilst I find it intriguing that he can't access them (wiped? licensing issues?), I hope that he doesn't change them too much, as over the past 43 years, I have become enamoured of the original. There are instrumental ideas there which are much better than those on his current recording; in fact, his early recordings often include a multitude of instruments, each playing a specific part. I find those parts very much enhance the basic guitar/bass/drums recordings, making them refreshing to my ears. Offhand, the last song that I can remember which had this kind of treatment was "Beeswing" - and that was from the mid 1990s.

For me, the best track on this album is "The angels took my racehorse away", whose lyric is typical of Thompson. Musically, it's a hash of Chuck Berry along with some traditional tune played on two violins, and contains a killer guitar solo (no electric guitar, hey?). I often wonder how this was recorded: probably the basic track was rhythm guitar, bass and drums, with that guitar being mixed out at various points. Other notables are "Roll over Vaughn Williams", "The poor ditching boy", "Shaky Nancy" and "The new St George".