Monday, November 10, 2008

Bumpers

I haven't seen the sleeve artwork for this album in... goodness knows how long; my own copy is a bit battered about the edges now - after all, the album was released in 1970. Nowadays, mine is sandwiched in-between You Can All Join In and El Pea - two other seminal Island samplers from the same era in a roughly-hewn shelving unit back in the dungeon (office) at Merle HQ in France.

But... here I am, holding an otherwise pristine copy of Bumpers in my own hands with both twelve-inches of vinyl consigned to the left hand sleeve, the right hand remaining empty. It is as if the owner has recently played sides three and four but absent-mindedly has replaced the vinyl in the wrong half of the album jacket.

A quiet voice besides me intones; That was the first sleeve that Tony did for me, you know. I'm jerked back into consciousness -of-thought.

Really... I hadn't realised. I continue staring at the sleeve while the owner of the voice fiddles with his lap-top; its like walking back in time yet a voice from inside me comes as if from nowhere. And, before I know it, I'm musing out loud. D'you know, it was one of the first Island albums I bought? I used to spend hours listening and looking at the inner sleeve, trying to figure out who was who from all of those grainy black and white images that has been drawing-pinned to the tree-stump on the inner sleeve.

Did you? The voice laughs. I can't remember who had the idea of doing that.

I'm still staring down at the sleeve, almost hypnotised by this imagery of remembrance. There's still some incredible music on it... stuff that stands the test of time... tho' I'm not so sure about the Quintessence track. Actually... I wasn't really at the time either. I catch myself laughing nervously. I have a friend in France who is busting to get hold of all my vinyl 'cos you can get these digital decks now that plug straight into a computer and transfer everything across.

You'd fill up a lot of i-Pods. He laughs while continuing to tap away - the occasional expletive uttered when a depressed key fails to register.

I know but... think of all those great B-sides too... I stop myself, realising I'm meandering dangerously - after all this is meant to be a business meeting and... this sort of chatter is hardly business like.

But then, this is no ordinary business man I've spent the last nearly two hours with.

The voice besides me coughs his trademark cough before continuing. You're right.. With some of those bands,though, it was all about a time and a place and they sort of fitted in. The voice is fiddling with his glasses which are perched on the end of his nose, and he's still peering intently at his computer screen. On the wall behind us, the biggest TV screen I've ever seen offers up the news in such high-definition its almost possible to see the newscaster's hair-spray.

The voice ignoring the news is wearing a sweatshirt that is crumpled at best, no shoes and a pair of well-worn jeans.

A pair of cast-off moccasin-slippers lay half under another table that is groaning under the weight of assorted books, dvds, random vinyl, magazines, what looks suspiciously like a lot of maps and three unboxed brand-new i-Phones.

Above him on the wall is a magnificent black and white porttrait of an elderly Rasta - signed and numbered as only truly beautiful limited edition lithographs are. OK, I think this e-mail is about ready to go now... we just need to attach the file to it. Can you do that bit for me? I think you're better than me at this. I'll copy it to you and to myself too. OK?

This comment breaks my reverie for a few moments and jolts me back to the purpose of my meeting. Thats done, I attached it when you were on the 'phone...He glances up, nods his appreciation, types in the e-mail addresses and clicks a button.

The e-mail that I never dared dream might be sent whizzes into hyperspace in front of my very eyes - destination about three-thousand miles distance.

In the blink of an eye, everything has been sent - personally endorsed by the man tapping his keyboard - to one of the most influential people on this planet within his own field.

OK, great... thats gone... I love e-mail, don't you? Yeah, you're right, there is some great music there... did you know that the first track was to have been on Steve's solo album that became John Barleycorn? And, then there's Jess - or rather Bronco and then Spooky Tooth's next isn't it?...

Yes... it is... I still think that is one of the best Beatles covers... it sort of... growls. Incredible stuff. It was also the first time I think that I'd come across Nick Drake too. I dunno why, but I'd never picked up the first album and then, there was this from the second and... I guess it did what compilations were meant to do, y'know... straight out there and went and bought a copy of Bryter Layter. Its quite strange seeing this after so long... all those bed-sit nights with my friends, listening and looking and then... being part of the whole thing as long as I was... inwardly I'm wondering if I should be saying or even admitting out loud any of this stuff.

And then I catch myself saying... it was such a... I hesitate briefly. ...it was a bit like being allowed into the sweet shop and being told you could open any sweets you liked and then... being given the key to the back-room too. You know... to be paid to indulge a hobby... was just... such a privilege. I'm rambling, I know I am... but, hey... its a strangely emotional moment this - and I'm feeling like I'm stuck in a moment I can't get out of - this, after all, is the man who pretty much formulated my record collection.

He smiles, his voice is slow, he's pondering, looking for words. Y'know, I sold Island twenty years ago and, looking back and now seeing everything run by accountants and... I'm just... very very proud of what we all did... what everyone did. He glances across at me.

You should be proud of this project of yours too, it's really great... I love it... and I think that (and he mentions the name of the person to whom his e-mail endorsing project X has been sent) will get it... like I did. I think that he's the right person to help you take it forward. What did you call it again? I tell him.

He coughs again, I don't like the name but that can be changed...

Its more than kind of you... I hadn't expected this... my voice tails off... I genuinely don't know what to say.

I love it, I think its great and I hope this helps you. Another slight cough and a pause before he continues. It'll be a lifetime of work y'know?

Oh I know that... I laugh, Mind you, it should keep me out of mischief.

He's right - so, yes, if it all comes off - if (meaning the big IF) the link in the chain that the man in front of me has instigated is activated then, it won't just be me being busy for the rest of my days, it'll be absolutely life-changing.

We shake hands and I turn toward the lift thinking that, among the true mavericks and the real pioneers - Chris Blackwell, Island's founder, is probably the foremost of all.

2 comments:

Fifi Dessein said...

I wonder sometimes if there's a spiritual audience watching this painful process - a heavenly mixture of past pioneers and music icons whose memories you're trying to keep alive.

A message to them...if they are watching or listening... it's time.

Drew said...

With humble assumption, I take it I was the French-based friend mentioned in despatches, who needs to get his sticky Lancastrian fingers on your vinyl, for the iTunes-ing of
It's true! I can't lie.
With my stock being a comparative pin-prick of predictable content, not until my playlist is augmented by copies of yours, can I truly feel it's approaching completeness.
I must stress, with me it's not really the physical thing of holding the discs,(although that is nice), and as much as the artwork of a certain era of music can send me wobbly, I can live without it.
It's the spirit within the music, the movement of a time, the signature of production and arrangement when bravery and innovation were standard, which motivate Drew to never cease to swell his library, e- or hard-copy.
But of paramount importance is the sharing with you a knowledge and passion for something which has a far greater cultural effect on the receptive mind than one can give credit for.
An extension of that is 'Project X'. I 'get' it, C.B. 'gets' it, others 'get' it and as the stars line up nicely for you, Neil, the mystery recipient of the e-mail and attachment will join the enlightened.
As Chris says, it's going to be a lifetime of work. I'd prefer to use the present tense, going with 'is a lifetime of work'.

Believe.

D
x