Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Cry Me A River

It is a conventional cardboard (as opposed to the more normal jewel-case) cover to a CD and is, I suspect, designed to sit within one’s own CD storage device (no, not a personal hand held device, I wittered on about them last time out).

The front displays a CD-sized image of a lot of vinyl albums racked tightly together with just their multi-coloured spines on view.

It reminds me of various book-shelves that I’ve adapted (OK, that should read fiddled-about with) over the years as well as the ones that I’ve either constructed myself – with varying levels of success – and those I’ve had purpose-built. Each variant on the theme has been crammed with many hundreds of vinyl recordings.

Oh, alright then, I'll own up – the hundreds bred a bit over the years to become thousands and despite the oh-so-fashionable change to all things digital (either compact disc or download) have travelled with me to wherever I’ve lived. And, as has been referred to more than once since I first stood up on the grassy knoll out there in the prairie, their present home is where I’m not – down in the dungeon at Merle HQ.

And much missed they all are as well.

Not least since a very fair proportion of those I have squirreled away over the years on vinyl have never been digitised.

Digitised or not, there is something quite magical about a vinyl album and its cover; yet that something isn’t quite so easy to define. People talk of the warmth of sound that is elicited from a vinyl album – perhaps its that which makes it so special. Perhaps its that tangible thing whereby one can actually hold it, something of proper size in one’s hands. Perhaps its because that was when the true art of sleeve design came into its own – designers actually having a bit of space within which to weave their own breed of creativity that, no matter how hard they’ve tried, simply doesn’t cut it when it comes to the jewel-case format.

A time when size came to matter.

Cue double albums, gatefold sleeves and special inner bags, luxurious boxed sets and one really had something of substance to gaze at, to mull over while the vinyl that its exterior contained revolved at thirty-three and a third revolutions each minute before one’s very eyes. Perhaps its because it was always a dead handy surface for constructing herbal cigarettes back in the day. Yes – there’s another pair of personal hand held devices to add to the growing list.

Over time, some (not many thank goodness) sleeves have become slightly watermarked or damaged; some from many, many years gone past show their owner’s name – when I’d write my name (albeit in small letters) on the back cover top right or left – this to identify them as mine as opposed to any of my friends when we went to early-teenage parties, clutching the newest release with which to appear ever so cool in front of girls who were growing tops to go topless in (so we hoped).

Across this phalanx of closely stacked 12-inch vinyl spines someone has Photoshop’d the image whereby the 5 and the 0 are picked out as if the sleeves, themselves have been lit up by a strong light.

A magnifying glass (actually this effect is achieved by the judicious use of two pairs of my glases) – because I’m needing to be in mega-magnification-mode – shows me the Island albums they’ve found to group together and make up this display.

A Uriah Heep album is right next to Nick Drake’s magnum opus, Bryter Layter; John Martyn’s first mono recording of London Conversation (ILP 952) rests against Tom Waits’ masterpiece, RainDogs; the double-album soundtrack to Countryman (starring… you guessed it… Countryman) with its bank of Wally Badarou propelled synth-driven mellow-moods is alongside Richard Thompson’s Henry The Human Fly – his first solo album, the sleeve photograph being shot in some baronial hall… somewhere; the first Renaissance album (ILPS 9114) bookends Third World’s, Tony Wright deigned sleeve to Journey To Addis; The In Crowd’s Man From New Guinea which probably sold in the tens as opposed to tens of thousands is in there alongside Lee Perry’s Super Ape; Mott The Hoople’s Rock & Roll Queen is nestled up close to Head Hands And Feet’s Tracks; Alan Bown’s Stretching Out with its bizarre (probably Hipgnosis-designed) black and white front cover of a man pulling his chest skin (or was it a nipple) hard is there as are records by Marianne Faithfull and Vinegar Joe.

Luther Grosvenor’s Under Open Skies – again, hardly a best seller, is there alongside the Jess Roden fronted, Doors minus Morrison, The Butts Band’s Blue Thumb release, that particular cover depicting one of those Fender amplifier / four-speaker combinations so beloved of road-crews from the late sixties / early seventies. Eddie and the Hot Rods Teenage Depression featuring a sleeve with someone putting a gun to his head snuggles up to an Emerson Lake & Palmer album; and there’s Jimmy Cliff’s Goodbye Yesterday – but, I wonder, is that the original sleeve, the cover that was almost cloth like in texture?

There’s another Marianne and Nick Drake record further along the line, Inner Circle’s Everything Is Great is in there, Mountain’s Nantucket Sleighride and Roxy Music’s Stranded compete for space with Paul Weller’s Modern Classics, Sheep On Drugs and Keane albums – the new(er) Island as opposed to when CB was at the helm.

Robert Palmer’s Sneakin’ Sally – with the sleeve shot at the entrance to the tunnel that leads to Heathrow Airport, backlit by the twin-headlights of a Rolls (I think) – I really should know that as I wrote about some of these covers for a book that was published in the late Nineties that contained a few choice pieces of Island poster art. Looking back, that really was a great sleeve – one for the connoisseur.

The second Traffic album is represented too – this must be an original as the catalogue number which carries a capital T after the index number is plain to see; the original sleeve had a four-page, stapled in insert filled with grainy black and white images shot up on the Berkshire Downs (the White Horse at Uffington for completists) fronted by Gered Mankowitz’s studio portrait that would have been taken in his Mason’s Yard studio; the very same studio in which his legendary portraits that became defining images of Hendrix were taken.

Oh and look… there is the Kid Creole, Fresh Fruit album – licensed in from ZE Records this was the zoot-suited one’s calling card; floating back through the night from New York, I played its final cut – Dear Addy – over and over again as the dawn rose. From that day to this, cemented into a top twenty position on the all-time Storey juke-box. Back then, not just the only person on the ‘plane with a copy but about to land at Heathrow and be (for a short while) the only person in Britain with a pre-release cassette tape of it.

Fairport Convention’s Angel Delight is there – I wonder if this, too, is an original since the very first copies had a stuck-on image of the band as it was at that time; Jim Capaldi’s Oh How We Danced is there as well – though that was never a record to much trouble the compiler’s of the charts – those were the days when solo albums by band members were almost de rigeur… and, in amongst all of the others there looks to be a little gem that I’ve not come across before entitled The Island Scene… I wonder what that was or is? Perhaps a compilation from… hmmm… methinks that might be some Euro compilation because it certainly isn’t in any of my (as near as dammit definitive) lists that I’ve compiled over the last few months.

Below, it says, off-grey-back on white, A celebration to mark the 50th anniversary of Island Records. Inside, there is (predictably) no CD at all but another wedge of cardboard on one side bearing the message: Island Records and Chris Blackwell would like to invite you (in this instance, that means me) to the launch of Island Life. A celebration to mark etc etc on Wednesday 20th May at 10.30pm.

Entry to the holy of holies is, so it says, strictly via this invitation which, in turn, is absolutely non-transferable. Nor can I bring a plus-one, the music industry’s obligatory arm-on-one’s-arm manner of referring to one’s guest be they partner, wife, husband, live-in lover, concubine, rent-boy rented especially for the evening, gigolo, high-profile colleague (male or female), associate, co-worker or even ex-lover.

I wonder who’ll be there?

Prior to which, I’ve got a day of advancing AlphaBetaMusica to be getting on with interspersed with pulling together further meetings on behalf of my newest recruit… whose music – if yesterday was anything to go by – is falling on the exact opposite of deaf ears.

What with one thing and another, all really rather encouraging.

1 comment:

Drew said...

Surely an invitation for the privileged and doubtless and event which could prove valuable on so many levels. However, I'd hate for you to attend to find it's more about what Island has become, rather than what it was.
Change is a necessary thing whre the survival of an entity is at stake. But not at the sacrifice of the core-ethos.
The core-ethos of ABM is forming, as is the release on the world of DL.
Time for a prioritizing, me'thinks.