the jason shergold music collector site

Sunday, 23 November 2014


Hello there and welcome to the "Jason Shergold Music Collector Site".

This blog features articles about various bands and singers, and how to go (more or less) about collecting their records. In the main, the articles will be aimed at people trying to get a collection together from scratch, looking at shortcuts to doing so where they exist, but some articles will be a bit more specialised, with features of video releases, Japanese pressings, etc. As it's built using a Blogger template, it can - at times - look a bit DIY, just think of it as the internet version of "Sniffin' Glue".

As a UK based music fan, most of these articles will revolve around UK discographies, but not necessarily just for UK bands. Although, for some artists featured, their discographies will continue to grow, the post-iTunes scenario is that you can more or less guess what formats albums and singles will be released on nowadays, so these blogs in the main will help to fill in the gaps when multiple physical formats were all the rage.

The blog will be updated at least once every month - if you find that the homepage does not show the Tamla logo above, it will be that the site is being updated, and may not be available for viewing for an hour or two. The updates are expected to occur initially at the start of each month, any later blogs to be published that month will appear at random as the weeks progress. You will be able to click on older editions using the menu buttons in the top right.

The November 2014 edition is now online, with a look at the classic debut LP by Badly Drawn Boy.

The blog is also home to my "novel within a website", 'How I Learned To Hate Record Collecting', looking at the workings of the UK record industry. Click on any month from 2014 to view one of the twelve parts that (will eventually) form the whole article. Please note: If you ever notice "newer" pages listed top right, this will be the new issue "in progress" - if you click on it, the whole page will not load. When the new issue is ready, it will be mentioned on this page. You can click on previous years tabs to get previous articles. Once you have selected that year, you can click on a different month to look at different acts.

The acts featured appear in the months listed below:
Adam And The Ants - October 2013
All Saints - February 2014
Lily Allen - August 2010
Ash - April 2014
Atomic Kitten - June 2013
Badly Drawn Boy - November 2014
The Beatles - September 2011
Beyoncé - May 2013
Biffy Clyro - June 2014
Blondie - January 2011 / September 2013
Blur - August 2011 / July 2012 / October 2013
David Bowie - September 2010 / October 2010 / November 2010 / January 2011 / June 2012 / September 2014
Kate Bush - July 2013
Buzzcocks - December 2011
Belinda Carlisle - October 2013
The Charlatans - February 2014
The Clash - May 2011
Elvis Costello - January 2013 / September 2013
Sheryl Crow - June 2013
The Cure - December 2011
Deep Purple - March 2010
Depeche Mode - May 2012
The Doors - December 2013
Bob Dylan - November 2013
Sophie Ellis-Bextor - August 2011
Embrace - November 2013
The Flaming Lips - November 2011
Foo Fighters - May 2014
Peter Gabriel - August 2013
Genesis - April 2011 / January 2014
Girls Aloud - August 2010 / November 2013
Goldfrapp - August 2013
Green Day - June 2014
Deborah Harry - January 2011
Jimi Hendrix - September 2010
Inspiral Carpets - April 2012
The Jam - May 2013
Elton John - August 2012 / September 2012 / October 2012 / November 2012
Joy Division - March 2011
Kenickie - October 2010
The Kinks - November 2010 / April 2011 / May 2013
John Lennon - May 2013
Pixie Lott - February 2011
Madness - November 2011
Madonna - April 2010 / July 2010 / August 2010 / September 2010 / March 2011 / June 2011 / July 2011 / August 2011 / September 2011 / October 2011 / November 2011 / March 2012 / November 2012 / January 2013 / November 2013 / March 2014
Mansun - August 2011
Dannii Minogue - September 2011
Morrissey - April 2014
Kate Nash - February 2011
New Order - October 2012
Nirvana - June 2011 / December 2012
Oasis - April 2013
Pet Shop Boys - May 2011 / June 2011
Pink Floyd - January 2011 / July 2011
P!nk - April 2012
Elvis Presley - March 2011 / October 2011 / November 2013 / December 2013 / January 2014
Pulp - August 2011
Queen - December 2010 / September 2011
Cliff Richard & The Shadows - July 2011
Rolling Stones - July 2010 / October 2010 / March 2011
The Saturdays - April 2011
Siouxsie & The Banshees - March 2013 / July 2014
Slade - May 2012
Sleeper - December 2013
Smashing Pumpkins - June 2012
The Smiths - June 2010
Britney Spears - November 2010 / December 2010
Bruce Springsteen - February 2012
Status Quo - January 2012
Cat Stevens - February 2012
Rachel Stevens - July 2011
The Stranglers - February 2010 / December 2011 / May 2013 / September 2013 / December 2013 / July 2014 / October 2014
Suede - August 2011
Sugababes - August 2012
Super Furry Animals - September 2014
Supergrass - August 2014
TRex - December 2010
Theaudience - August 2011
Thin Lizzy - February 2013
Tin Machine - December 2010
U2 - March 2012 / December 2012
The Velvet Underground - October 2010
The Walker Brothers - June 2011
Scott Walker - September 2010 / February 2013
The Who - May 2010 / August 2012 / July 2013
Kim Wilde - October 2013

To return to the homepage, you can click on the tab for the current year. Several blogs are in production, with articles on The Beatles, Paul Weller, Prince and The Beautiful South due over the next few months.

You can email me using the link above, and if you can add any information, you can add comments to the blog using the link at the bottom of the relevant page. Regards, Jason.

Frankie say NO to downloads!

November 2014

The November 2014 blogs feature a look at the classic debut LP by Badly Drawn Boy, and part 11 of my 'novel within a website', "How I Learned To Hate Record Collecting". To look at either of these blogs, click the relevant link to your right.

"You quiver like a candle on fire, I'm putting you out"

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Classic Albums No.15: The Hour Of Bewilderbeast

It was Summer 2000, and I was watching some sort of late night MTV “alternative” rock show. On came a video by somebody called Badly Drawn Boy, for a song called “Another Pearl”. It was strange. It started off with the camera snaking up a staircase as the song slowly faded in - the intro had a shuffling drum beat, and an almost sinister guitar and organ riff over the top, and as it ended, and the singer started to sing, the camera was poking into a room where a man with a tea cosy on his head was sat playing at a piano. The vocal seemed to be live, echoing around the empty room, and as the camera entered the room and headed in the direction of the singer, he gave it an almost dismissive stare as it came past his head. It was almost as if you were peeking into something secretive, and really, he didn‘t want you there. He just carried on playing as the camera then focused on the street outside. It was, quite simply, a surreal start to what sounded, to these ears, like a left field masterpiece.

As the video continued, a constant roll call of circus characters came into the room, and the song continued in it’s astonishingly catchy, but equally downright subversive manner. At one point, following the middle eight, the video changed from daytime to night-time, and at one point, the camera viewpoint was from a man outside on the street - the room was full of sparkling lights, and the music could be heard only as a muffled rumble. From an outsider's perspective, the viewpoint was that a major rave was taking place. But inside, it was just a man in a tea cosy, sat at a piano, surrounded by clowns, as this strange, un-rave-like piece of minor key genius rang out around the room. The overall effect was staggering. It felt like I was watching something from another planet, a genuinely odd video sound tracked by a piece of “indie rock” that almost defied convention. Even watching that video now, nearly 15 years on, it seems ground breaking, slightly psychedelic, and simply mind altering.

All of which sums up the career of Badly Drawn Boy, really. Briefly repositioned into the mainstream after sound tracking “About A Boy” several years later, he has never really fitted in at all. His music has always had an air of left field-ism about it, but often combined with a mainstream tint. Several later singles were so catchy, so “pop”, it remained a mystery as to how he never quite became a superstar, but perhaps that was because there was this undercurrent of “alternative music” always sitting beneath the surface. In some respects, he was the UK equivalent of his hero Bruce Springsteen - creator of often straight ahead, anthemic rock music, but from somebody who didn’t quite fit the mould, and whose back catalogue revealed gems that maybe the mainstream didn’t get. You had “Born In The USA”, but it had been preceded by “Nebraska”. And before “About A Boy”, Badly Drawn Boy had released “The Hour Of Bewilderbeast”.

BDB’s debut album, issued in the fall of 2000, is probably still his best. Later releases smoothed down the rougher edges, and although none of them ever lost the melodic brilliance that runs through his music, “The Hour Of Bewilderbeast” still sounds alarming even now. It darts from one genre to another, veers between beauty and awkwardness, often within a single song, and is almost impossible to pigeonhole. It is one of the finest debut albums ever released, but seems to only get talked about as such in the darkest recesses of the internet - like here - with the accepted common conception being that the first Arctic Monkeys album is the best, or The Stone Roses one, and nothing else gets a look in. But as good as those albums are, neither really come close to the sheer bloody mindedness that runs through the first BDB long player.

Born as Damon Gough, and relocating to Manchester in his youth, BDB met Andy Votel and helped to create the Twisted Nerve record label. The first BDB release on the label was the impossible to find 7” EP, titled “EP1”, in 1997. A second EP, the obviously titled “EP2” appeared the next year, which spawned a musical box release - yes, really - when an excerpt of lead tune “I Love You All” was issued by the label as a promo release on this archaic format. Just 400 of these boxes exist.

For the next BDB release, a deal was struck with XL Recordings, who would assist in the distribution of releases on the label, and this also coincided with the first release by Gough on CD, when “EP3” appeared on both 7” and CD later on in 98, albeit with different track listings on each. A single was taken from this EP, of a sort, when a live version of “Road Movie”, featuring Doves, was issued as a 7” backed with “My Friend Cubilas” from the CD version of the EP.

Next up was the “It Came From The Ground” release, dubbed by some as a mini album, but actually more of a standard single release, albeit with some lengthy track listings on certain formats. Two different 10” singles were released, with different track listings and in different sleeves, and like all of the early BDB releases, are not easy to track down.

It was at this point, mid 1999, that the pre-release promo for the album, in a round about way, started, with the release of the first single to later make it onto the LP, “Once Around The Block”. Complete with a catchy “wah wah” rhythm, and more shuffly drums, it was a glorious piece of left field pop, complete with semi comic video, in which Gough could be seen with a more regular piece of headgear - the tea cosy image came later. It gave him his biggest hit to date, just failing to dent the top 40, helped along somewhat by a bout of multi formatting by the label and minor MTV support. “Another Pearl” was then issued as the next single in June 2000, three weeks before the album was due for release. By now, the concept of issuing multiple formats, with a mix of B-sides and remixes, was par for the course and this helped this single chart higher than “Once Around The Block”, at number 41.

It is difficult to fully explain what “Bewilderbeast” sounds like. It’s the work of a singer songwriter, but seems to incorporate electronica, power pop, prog, baroque pop, piano pop and plenty more besides. It’s ambition is staggering, and although there is an argument that suggests Gough just threw everything in the mix and waited to see what worked, it’s impossible not to be charmed by the sheer originality that comes out of the speakers.

The opener, “The Shining”, which has become the most well known of the album tracks on the record, is a near perfect start. Opening with a beautiful, but utterly heartbreaking, string and brass section intro, it then shifts into a stunning Damon-plus-acoustic strum - but this is no dull “pared down” form of MTV Unplugged piece of acoustic work, but actually runs along at a fair old tempo, with some glorious key changes, with Damon’s vunerable vocals creating a piece of work that is tearful, mournful, but curiously uplifting at the same time. Why can’t everybody recording an ‘acoustic number’ create something as flawless and stunning as this?

Immediately, the sheer genius of this man kicks in on track 2, the brilliantly titled “Everybody’s Stalking”. Twangy guitars, crunching drum patterns, vocals that sound like they’ve been produced by a robot, it bears nothing in common at all with the opening track - a sure fire sign of a real talent, somebody who is happy to never record the same thing twice. And the key change into the chorus is another absolute killer. Two songs in, and already, the record sounds better than most things ever recorded.

The first of the album’s “mini” songs, “Bewilder”, follows next. 48 seconds of melodica, on any other album it might seem like a pointless throwaway. But here, it simply sets you up for the next piece of genre hopping, which is “Fall In A River” - as the echoing ending fades away, in comes another piece of weird sounding music. A drum machine that sounds like it has been taped on a faulty tape machine, with some clearer jingle jangle over the top, and Gough’s vocals again sounding slightly frazzled, as if they have been ripped straight from a 4 track demo and just glued on top. Then, just before it ends, a crash of water, and it sounds as though the final section has indeed been taped in an actual river. Total genius yet again.

“Camping Next To Water” is another stunner, a cross between Simon & Garfunkel and Kraftwerk, a beautiful acoustic strum with flashes of electric guitar, and a structured rhythmic strut, it builds and builds into something nearly Springsteen-esque in terms of it’s anthemic sound, whilst “Stone On The Water” is even better, a sort of flamenco style waltz, with some great guitar picking, glorious piano chords, and deft brushes on the drum kit. In the hands of somebody like James Morrison, this would be awful, but Gough’s talent elevates it to something of astonishing beauty.

Following the spaced out woozy vibe of “Another Pearl” is “Body Rap”. As the title suggests, it sounds like it has come straight from a Grandmaster Flash album. It struts, it grooves, and I simply cannot put into words how brilliant it is when it stops stone dead and the “wah wah” intro of “Once Around The Block” kicks in straight away. This is simply brilliant pop music of the highest order.

“This Song” is another tune subject to some odd “wobbly” vocal effects, with some lovely lyrics reminiscent of the George Harrison song of the same name and a really beautiful vibe - you want to just wrap your arms around it, and give it a big cuddle...”this song will heat you when you’re cold...blessed by this song and the gifts that it brings, beautiful song it has wings”. The words say it all.

“Bewilderbeast” is a “full band” reworking of the earlier “Bewilder”, and to my mind, just a bit prog, and thus always the sign of an album staking a claim for greatness. The choruses are great, a big booming roar of handclaps and guitar, this could have come straight off “The White Album”. “Magic In The Air” takes things down a peg, a pleasant thing of beauty, but the nearest the album comes to giving us a bit of throwaway piano pop. Still, being BDB, it‘s actually streets ahead of anyone else, and the harp solo near the end is really quite magical. It was originally the subject of a legal issue, where Gough was accused of “borrowing” a line or two from 1980s hit “Love Is Contagious”. Any copy of the album you buy now will not have those lyrics, but Gough continued to sing the offending lines in concert.

“Cause A Rockslide” takes us back to the world of wobbly and wonky indie rock, more strutting drums, psychotic guitar licks, and warped vocal effects. Imagine the Stones’ “Emotional Rescue” being covered by Pink Floyd circa 1971, and you’re halfway there. Then, halfway through, it veers off into a completely freaked out sound collage, a sort of bastard mini son of “Revolution 9” before restarting as a piece played on a Monty Python style church organ, before changing tack again to end on a simple acoustic strum. All within 6 minutes. Suffice to say, it’s nothing short of brilliant.

“Pissing In The Wind” takes us into the world of country rock, segued into from “Rockslide”, and thus forming a sort of bridge between the chaotic madness of the preceding number, and the Neil Young style simplicity of this future hit single. From the ridiculous to the sublime, you could say. It’s really quite charming, potentially underwhelming when compared to the rest of the album, but it’s simply so beautiful, and when the Dylan-esque harmonica kicks in, it’s hard not to be moved by the sheer sadness that this song seems to conjure up, helped in part by Gough almost choking his way through the lyrics “just give me something...I’ll take nothing” as it builds and builds into something which, if you like that sort of thing, could be considered a “lighters aloft” moment.

After another semi electronic/semi acoustic mini song, “Blistered Heart”, we dive into the glory that is “Disillusion”. It is the most pop thing here, but is thus also, possibly the album highlight. After all the ramshackle lo-fi madness that has peppered the album so far, hearing Gough deliver a piece of mainstream music that is this flawlessly melodic, a piece of perfect, catchy, and quite faultless pop, is simply exhilarating. It bounces along with an infectious energy, and sounds like John Lennon, The Cars and Tom Petty jamming together. If it doesn’t make you smile when you hear it, you must officially be dead.

The ending section, another spooky piano run, which for some reason always makes me think I am sat in a haunted house when it plays, takes us into the chugging “Say It Again”. More left field oddness, it trundles along at a slow pace, a sort of waltz like piece of pop, building and building until the horn section is back again as it finally approaches the final straight, where they sound not unlike the funeral march in the opening scene of “Live And Let Die”. It feels like it is setting us up for a big finale.

And that‘s exactly what we get. “Epitaph” is astonishing. Incredibly lo-fi, sounding more like a 2-track demo let alone a 4-track, it’s a (near) duet between Gough and girlfriend Clare Hewitt. There are birds whistling outside, the acoustic guitar crackles into life, and Gough, sounding like he’s about to break down into tears, opens with the remarkable line “please don’t leave me wanting more, I hope you never die”. There is a whistling solo that could bring you to tears, it’s that stunning. When Hewitt joins in, you kind of get the impression she is not a professional singer - and that makes it all the more affecting. It really just sounds like a couple in love singing along to some battered old tape, with an aura of love in the air between them - what it lacks in vocal perfection or in sound quality, it makes up for in sheer beautiful exuberance.

“Disillusion” was issued as the next single after the album was released, complete with the now classic “Taxi” video, and “Bewilderbeast” was nominated, and deservedly won, the Mercury Music prize in the fall. In keeping with the earlier singles, multi formatting was used again on "Disillusion", and this helped to give BDB his first top 40 single. This was then followed by a reissue of “Once Around The Block”, using more or less the same artwork as the original release, but with new flipsides and remixes, whilst the promo for the album was concluded in 2001 with the release of “Pissing In The Wind” as a single, with a re-recorded (and retitled) version made for radio in the form of “Spitting In The Wind”. As something of a sign as to how big a star Gough was now becoming, Joan Collins appeared in the video.

Of course, BDB was never one to compromise, and he managed to confuse and delight his audience as his star started to grow. I was there at the now famous Royal Albert Hall gig in 2001, where his support act was the St Anne’s Bellringers playing his hits on, yes, bells, and the gig went way past the curfew as he seemingly played everything on the album, every B-side, and probably a lot more besides. It was slightly ramshackle, and there was the feeling that it could collapse at any minute, especially as he walked through the audience and handed out family photos to be passed around the crowd, but I guess that was part of the charm. By now, the tea cosy was in situ whenever he was in public, complete with a “Born to Run” badge attached, and Hollywood would soon come running after this un-Hollywood-like brit indie rocker. The year ended with the release of another hard-to-find stand alone Christmas single, “Donna And Bltizen” - thankfully, CD promo copies are easier to hunt down - which you almost think was done deliberately to baffle and bemuse his ever increasing fan base.

When Gough played in Birmingham at the Town Hall in 2010, it wasn’t sold out. He commented “not a bad turn out for a Monday night”, an acknowledgement that even after “About A Boy”, he did not quite turn into a superstar. And maybe that’s because the music he makes is a lot more complex, and left field, than some might think. Perhaps Gough is simply TOO GOOD to be a festival headlining, unit shifting act. He is not Example. He is certainly not Calvin Harris. And over a decade after it’s release, “The Hour Of Bewilderbeast” kind of proves it. It’s a magnificent record, one that is not afraid to wander off all over the place. It reminds me, in parts, of “The White Album” - it has a scattergun, wildcard approach to each song, and isn’t afraid to act in such a manner. Despite being less than an hour long, there are 18 songs here, which simply screams “epic”, and it certainly does feel, by the time “Epitaph” comes to a close, that you have listened to something quite special, as though you have been on a real musical journey. This is not an album to listen to whilst you are making a cup of tea, this a record to immerse yourself in, and marvel at it’s sheer staggering genius. It recalls the “reach for the sky” style approach of classic rock acts, I guess it is his own “The River” - with added prog flourishes.

Gough was never able to make anything quite as varied as this ever again, instead offering a slightly more mainstream, but still magnificently clever, sound on the likes of “Have You Fed The Fish” and “Born In The UK”. But this album is where it all started. I simply can’t recommend this record enough - it has a glorious “devil may care” attitude throughout, it’s almost as if Gough decided to try and do, in one LP, what Bowie did for nine years between 71 and 80. And he doesn’t come far off from succeeding. The melodic pull of the record, the inventiveness on each and every song, and the sheer genre hopping insanity that runs through those 18 songs, are something to cherish. One of the finest albums ever made, and possibly the best debut LP by anybody, ever.


Listed below are the original UK pressings of the album, along with a selected fancy import that I own, which if you can find it, is my choice of format. Also listed are the singles, on each format, from 1997-2001. Many of these include exclusive tracks, but look closely, and you will see one or two “pointless” releases (such as the CD1 edition of “Spitting In The Wind“), simply included here for completeness. Later BDB releases will be covered in a future blog.


The Hour Of Bewilderbeast (LP, Twisted Nerve TNXLLP 133)
The Hour Of Bewilderbeast (Cassette, Twisted Nerve TNXLMC 133)
The Hour Of Bewilderbeast (CD, Twisted Nerve TNXLCD 133)
The Hour Of Bewilderbeast (French 2xCD, XL Recordings 7243 8504482 3, with free CD-Rom which plays the “Disillusion“ video and a TV documentary)


EP1: Riding With Gabriel Greenberg/Shake The Rollercoaster/No Point In Living/Sugarstealer/No Point In Living (Reprise) (7”, Twisted Nerve TN 001)
EP2: I Love You All/The Treeclimber/I Love You All (I Loop You All)/Thinking Of You (7”, Twisted Nerve TN 002)
EP3: Spooky Driver 2/I Need A Sign/Meet On The Horizon/Road Movie (7”, XL Recordings TNXL 001T)
EP3: My Friend Cubilas/I Need A Sign/Interlude/Meet On The Horizon/Road Movie/Kerplunk By Candlelight (CD, XL Recordings TNXL 001CD)
Road Movie (Live)/My Friend Cubilas (7”, XL Recordings TNXL 001R)
It Came From The Ground (Andy Votel Remix)/Whirlpool (10”, XL Recordings TNXL 002R)
It Came From The Ground/Walkman Demo 1/Outside Is A Light 1/Outside Is A Light 2/Walkman Demo 2 (10”, XL Recordings TNXL 002T)
It Came From The Ground/Walkman Demo 1/Outside Is A Light 1/Outside Is A Light 2/Walkman Demo 2/It Came From The Ground (Andy Votel Remix) (CD, XL Recordings TNXL 002CD)
Once Around The Block/Soul Attitude (7”, XL Recordings TNXL 003S)
Once Around The Block (Andy Votel Mix)/Another Pearl (2nd 7”, XL Recordings TNXL 003R, different p/s)
Once Around The Block/Soul Attitude/Once Around The Block (Radio Luxembourg Live Broadcast) (CD, XL Recordings TNXL 003CD)
Another Pearl (LP Mix)/(The Broadcast Remix)/Chaos Theory (10”, XL Recordings TNXL 004T)
Another Pearl/Distant Town/Chaos Theory (CD1, XL Recordings TNXL 004CD)
Another Pearl (LP Mix)/(The Broadcast Remix)/(The Fridge Remix) (CD2, XL Recordings TNXL 004CD2)
Disillusion (Single Mix)/Wrecking The Stage/Disillusion (Mr Scruff Remix) (10”, XL Recordings TNXL 005T)
Disillusion (Single Mix)/Bottle Of Tears/Wrecking The Stage (CD1, XL Recordings TNXL 005CD)
Disillusion (Single Mix)/(Blue States Remix)/(Black Lodge Remix) (CD2, XL Recordings TNXL 005CD2, unique p/s)
Once Around The Block/Tumbleweed/The Shining (The Avalanches “Good Word For The Weekend Remix") (7”, XL Recordings TNXL 009S)
Once Around The Block/The Shining (The Avalanches “Good Word For The Weekend Remix")/(Capitol K Remix) (CD1, XL Recordings TNXL 009CD, blue p/s)
Once Around The Block (LP Version)/(Andy Votel Remix)/(Nick Faber Remix) (CD2, XL Recordings TNXL 009CD2, “keyboard” p/s)
Pissing In The Wind (Lemon Jelly Remix)/The Shining (Minotaur Shock Remix)/Spitting In The Wind (10”, XL Recordings TNXL 010)
Spitting In The Wind/Pissing In The Wind/The Shining (Minotaur Shock Remix) (CD1, XL Recordings TNXL 010CD)
Spitting In The Wind/Magic In The Air (Live)/Everybody’s Stalking (Live) (CD2, XL Recordings TNXL 010CD2, unique p/s)
Donna And Blitzen (Promo CD, Twisted Nerve TNXL 011 CDP)

Saturday, 8 November 2014

How I Learned To Hate Record Collecting: Part 11 - The Super Deluxe Edition

In the summer of 2010, my wife and I got into a debate about David Bowie’s cover of “Wild Is The Wind”. At some point, I dropped the bombshell that I did not own the album it appeared on, “Station To Station”, on CD. Somebody in the Shergold household had bought it in the seventies on vinyl, whilst I bought the 1991 expanded reissue on Cassette, after deleted US Rykodisc copies turned up in WH Smiths in Romford at a fiver a pop a few months after it‘s original (re)release.

We had a look online to see how much a CD copy would cost. The bonus-track-less 1999 edition was on there, also down to about a fiver, but we also saw a September 2010 release date for a new “Super Deluxe Edition” version of the album. The price tag? About £80. Ouch. A lot of money for something I had bought on Tape for £5.

This wasn’t the first time I had seen a ridiculous price tag being attached to a “normal” album (see Dylan’s “Tell Tale Signs” boxset, the vinyl repressing of Neil Young’s “Greendale”), but it was the first time I had seen a boxset version of a normal album I already owned, whereby the price seemed to be hitched up mostly due to the extra non musical bumpf that was due to appear inside. Aside from the album, and it’s free “bonus” live double record, there were other bits and pieces that were due to be included - reprints of old Bowie fan club memorabilia, vinyl pressings of the album and the live album, a DVD featuring extra mixes of the album, etc, etc. It really didn’t seem like it was offering anything approaching ’value for money’, although it did, in total, have about 9 “discs” in one form of another, but I had to admit, it looked fascinating. Christmas was coming, and so my wife offered to buy it for me as a present.

It is a thing of beauty. The strange “padded cell” imagery on the cover was replicated on the underside of the lid of the box, with squishy bits of foam sticking out from underneath, and the extra bumpf, whilst ultimately pointless, was quite fun to play with. We played, at random, one of the alternate mixes of the album that was on the DVD and nearly fell off the sofa when a monumentally altered version of “WITW” came out of the speakers. OK, there was no getting around the fact that this was, really, nothing more than a triple album being heavily over priced, but hey, this was Bowie - the greatest rock artist of all time, and it was a one off. Nobody else was going to do something as OTT and as mad as this - were they?

There was one glaring omission. CD3 in the set was called “Singles Versions”. When the LP had originally been released, different divisions of RCA around the world tried different promotional tricks. Of the six songs on the record, five were edited for single release (either as an A-side or a promo mix), and this CD handily included all five. But here’s where the missed opportunity is. The one song not edited in 1976 was “Wild Is The Wind”. But when Bowie issued the “ChangesTwoBowie” comp in 1981, the track was included on the LP and then released as a single, in edited form. This meant that by the time he left the label, shortened versions of EVERYTHING on “Station To Station” had been created. Wouldn’t it have been brilliant if the CD had included all six edits, you know, a 50 minute album condensed into about half an hour?

But no. The “rules” were that it all had to represent what Bowie was doing in 1976, so the edit of “WITW” was AWOL. You had got a lot of bumpf for your £80, but not quite the full monty. And that, unfortunately, set the precedence for virtually all future Super Deluxe Edition releases. “Station To Station” was not, in the end, a one off - but was actually the start of a strange, and usually baffling and expensive, new format that - along with the “official bootleg” live album releases everyone was doing by now - finally made record collecting, as a hobby, impossible to “do” properly.

The Super Deluxe Edition was, to be honest, a typical “Mojo” style format. It was usually pitched at old fogies, people who “in their youth”, had wanted to fight the powers that be, smash the system, and bought Bob Dylan records for political reasons - but all of whom were now sell out managing directors of unethical global companies and all of whom had money to burn. The idea was that you would have enough disposable income to buy, at a highly inflated price, a record you already owned - only with added bells and whistles. The concept was about as far removed from punk rock as it was humanly possible to get. The record label may just as well have come round your house, and asked for your credit card details at gunpoint, such was the sheer money making cheek of the format. OK, so usually, the choice of album getting the treatment was often worthy, but sometimes, the choice of album was a record whose reputation was that it was a classic, when really, it was weaker than lesser known gems from the artist’s back catalogue (“So” and “The Wall”, to name but two).

You were being reeled in by the “bonus material”. Not the coasters and scarves in the Pink Floyd ones, but the extra CD of unreleased material, the DVD of “previously unseen” gig footage. Whenever somebody announced a new SDE release, you knew there was going to be something never-before-available in there somewhere.

At first, I did wonder if I could get all of the ones I wanted by getting people to buy me them as presents, and several more were indeed acquired. I couldn’t resist the “Dark Side Of The Moon” one, with it’s 1972 gig footage, and it’s second CD of “the whole album played live on stage“. But I did scratch my head over the packaging, as the discs seemed to be designed to slot into a bit of cardboard at the back, but which seemed to become dislodged every time you picked it up. I also couldn’t resist “Live At Leeds”, which included not only a 7” repressing of the period “Summertime Blues” single (required for my Who 45 collection), but also the (in)famous Hull City Hall gig as bonuses on discs 3 and 4. But I remember playing those discs, and feeling completely underwhelmed - it sounded like a band on autopilot, and a crowd seemingly half asleep. But hey, this was all “previously unreleased” material so you needed to own it, right?

Here’s where I started to lose interest. The second Floyd SDE release was “Wish You Were Here”, out in 2011, which as you all know, is the band’s defining masterpiece. A 2-CD set, cleverly replicating the original “double sleeved” LP record, was to include a second disc of alternate material. The multi disc SDE boxset edition was obviously going to include this as well. There were also loads of other discs, including a DVD and Blu Ray, which boasted the inclusion of “1975 Concert Films”. What this meant was, the original films shown on stage above the band when they had toured the record in 1975. Not film of the actual BAND playing in 1975. So, what extra proper “new” audio and visual material of the Floyd did you get by paying eight times as much for this one as opposed to the double CD pressing? Er, none.

When it came out, online reviewers on the Amazon site tore it to shreds. Hardcore geeks were pleased that the Quad mix was in there, whilst anybody who had seen the band play in 75 would presumably have got a twinge of nostalgia watching the concert films, but £80 was a lot of money to pay for something that just seemed to be...inconsequential. The band got knocked for including those coasters and marbles, whilst the Blu Ray disc seemed to duplicate what was on the DVD, and so questions were asked as to why so many discs had been included “pointlessly”, and whether or not the price would have been less had the scarf been excluded. There were also issues about the actual pressing of one the discs itself, as quality was “dubious” I am told. Questions were being asked about how much VFM people were really getting from these sorts of releases.

The problem with the Super Deluxe Edition, aside from the cost grounds, was what should or should not be included. “Live At Leeds” was perfect, as there was simply nothing else from that period that could be included - but when Gabriel’s “So” box was released, he got slated for refusing to include any B-sides from the period, whilst including some new previously unavailable stuff on a 12”. People grumbled about these new songs “not being in digital form”. I am sorry people, but if you are a supposed record collector, not owning a turntable is the equivalent of being a fan of Formula 1, and then moaning when somebody buys you an old Formula 1 car because “it’s too fast to drive on the motorway”.

Anyway, I digress. Gabriel’s view was that the sort of people buying the boxset were going to be the hardcore, the people who already had - or had a desire to own - the original singles from the period, and thus, all the flipsides. Fair comment. But at £80 a throw, shouldn’t a boxset celebrating a SINGLE album therefore tell the complete history of that album? When the concert DVD included later got released independently as well, people wanted his head on a stake.

By now, 2012-ish, the Super Deluxe Edition boxset was fast becoming established as an accepted format. Even new albums started to get issued with price tags seemingly aimed to entice people on Premier League footballer wages, no longer did you have to be re-releasing an accepted classic to justify inflated price tags. I have already mentioned in passing on an earlier blog the “Special Edition” boxset releases, at the £35 mark, of things like the third Cheryl Cole album, or the Lana Del Rey debut, but new hits albums like the Stones’ “Grrr!” were turning up as multi disc releases, with extra slabs of vinyl, and big hardback books, at SDE prices. They seemed to be appearing at an alarming rate, at least when you factored in the cost implications of what you would need to spend if you wanted to buy them all. And there, in a nutshell, was how I learned to hate record collecting. The good old days, when all you needed to do to own everything by your favourite band, was buy each single and album until they split up, was long gone. Now, you were being asked to rebuy, in an expensive boxset, something you already owned, just to get a discs worth of “lo fi demos”. Soon, even the quality aspect of the records being subjected to “super deluxe” repressings started to get questionable - I kind of like it myself, but when Dylan announced a SDE revamp of the much maligned 1970 effort “Self Portrait”, some people wondered if it was a massive joke by a Columbia Records exec. Dylan’s latest SDE release is a “complete” release of “The Basement Tapes” - yep, £110 for a boxset full of songs that, back in 1968, even Dylan didn’t think were worth releasing.

As these releases continued to come out, it became increasing difficult to justify buying any of them, as they all seemed to have “flaws” - the famous “Quadrophenia” boxset, with it’s “not quite finished” surround sound mix of (part of) the (concept!) album on one disc. The SDE release of “Tommy”, a decade after the “Deluxe” release, with several tracks from that one now missing in action, replaced instead by some slightly superfluous “live in 1969” recordings and “Townshend only“ demos already available on bootleg since the year dot. The Elvis Costello “Songbook” release that, when he heard how much the label were asking for it, was dismissed by the man himself as “obviously being a typing error”.

I did get “The Wall”, and was both fascinated - and horrified - by the Roger Waters home demos that were included. There were lots here, which was nice, but all had been deliberately edited - meaning that for your £80, you were only getting to hear extracts of what was actually in the vaults. U2’s “Achtung Baby” (also available in a ridiculous “Uber Deluxe” edition at about £200, where I think, for that price, The Edge personally delivered it to your house) was good, 10 discs, but still “incomplete” - material from the fan club only “Melon” CD made it onto here, but not all of it. Designed, obviously, to placate those who had it already, but could it not have at least been included somehow?

These things just don’t stop coming. Suede have released a 20th anniversary edition boxset of “Dog Man Star”, only a couple of years after a supposed “definitive” 3 disc release of the very same record by Edsel. Some will tell you it’s not even their best album. And don’t get me started on the basic concept of a SDE release of Primal Scream‘s “Screamadelica”, released by a band who have always been left field politically, who you would have thought would have been the first to stand up to their record label over an overpriced reissue of an old LP, but whom now seemed to be happy for them to take £80 off the fans for a record that, back in 1991, was a statement for the working classes, a record recognising the plight of the underdog that was resolved through hedonistic partying. A record that acknowledged the misery of being a slave to the wage, that wanted to rise up against “The Man”. I guess a lot of those poor students who originally bought it for under a tenner on Tape are now deemed rich enough, post-Masters Degree, to be able to pay over the odds to relive their youth, especially as some of them probably became “The Man“ they were originally railing against, just like all those old punks who are now all bank managers. Still, the irony of it is difficult to come to terms with. Even more morally suspect is the SDE reissue of “Never Mind The Bollocks”. Even Lydon has disowned that one. And, seriously, does anybody really want a 20th anniversary edition of the Floyd’s “Division Bell”? It’s a decent enough record, but £100 for something that is arguably no better than “Obscured By Clouds”? And getting the nod in front of something like “Meddle”?

When rock and roll was the new kid on the block, it was part of youth culture. Now, I am not here going to start talking about how great it is that Radio 1 refuses to play anything by anybody who has released more than two albums, or the way in which the BBC’s “kids” channel, BBC Three, one time failed to acknowledge during one of their festival coverage shows, that Kraftwerk - who had invented everybody on the bill that day - had even played at the very same festival, because these are obviously stupid approaches to take towards music. Shame on you, BBC. Again, I digress. But, yes, when Elvis invented rock and roll, music was viewed as being part of youth culture. When Scott Walker’s fifth solo record tanked, it was partially because it was his third record in a year, and the consensus was, his fan base simply didn’t have the financial clout to keep up.

Now, we are at the other end of the spectrum. The consensus being that these people now have the disposable income needed to shell out whatever the labels want them to pay, without question. Records being pointlessly reissued to coincide with some sort of anniversary, and with price tags to make you baulk. New albums being available on standard CD for the plebs, or with extra tracks on a “ten disc multi experience boxset” even though the album itself is a bit crap, for the hardcore. Years ago, unreleased material was left unreleased for a reason, and when some of it was deemed OK to release, you’d either get a rarities album for 11 quid, or it would be shoehorned into a career spanning boxset, for about £40 a time, where it would nestle alongside 7” edits and long lost b-sides. Now? £80, shoved into a boxset reissue of a record you already own. Where, prey tell, has the concept of “value for money” actually gone?

Of course, I am as guilty as the next man. Yep, I own a couple of those Smashing Pumpkins “super deluxe” boxsets from a few years back, mainly because I wanted to get them on CD to stick on my iPod, and I figured if I was going to rebuy them, I may as well get them with all the bells and whistles intact. But it just feels like there is no end in sight. As if no label is prepared to reissue an old album in a simple style, like when EMI had their Fame imprint, but feels it HAS to be revamped into some form of mega expensive, and expansive, multi disc release, irrelevant of how good (or bad) it might be. Hell, even the guy who runs the Super Deluxe Edition website occasionally adds his own comments to some of the news items he posts, and can sometimes be less than complimentary about what he sees. When the editor of a website which celebrates SDE’s is actually complaining about the product he is mentioning, you know something somewhere has gone wrong.

It’s a format that is here to stay. Any album that hasn’t already appeared as an 8-disc £80 boxset is thus fair game, hence the pointless, and rather underwhelming, current Led Zepp reissue campaign which is being dragged out for months on end, decades after these things first turned up on CD, with a scant choice of bonus tracks being issued as part of the process. And with plenty of potential “classic rock” artists to choose from, this sort of nonsense is going to go on forever. Christ, there are even “deluxe” reissues of PWL-era Kylie albums being knocked out at wallet emptying prices, a sign that nothing within the music industry is considered out of bounds. What next? A 6-CD repressing of Black Lace’s “Going To A Party”?

Why is this happening? Well, it may be that the labels are scared that downloading has killed the physical format concept, maybe they are worried that too many people are downloading individual tracks, that perhaps there is a struggle to get new artists to “sell” units. So, the way around it? Stick out Elvis’ “That’s The Way It Is” again, this time as a 4-LP boxset and - hey presto! More money from the obsessives' bank accounts going direct to the RCA coffers. There is something about this relentlessly retro, “looking back” approach that slightly saddens me. New albums by heritage acts, no problem. But another reissue on CD, at £80 a pop, for a Who album that has already been reissued two or three times? Where will it all end? Given by the comments I see on SDE, where somebody will put “not a great album, not much in the way of bonus material...but I love [insert band name here] so I have just ordered it from Amazon straight away without hesitation”, then why would the labels NOT carry on? Money for old rope, extracted from compulsive collectors, who need to have everything, irrelevant of how awful the material might be, and how much it might cost them.

So, I just gave up. The “Grrr!” boxset filled up the last space we had on that particular shelf in our front room, so that technically prevented me from buying anymore. I go on that SDE website every day, and am amazed at how there seems to be a new boxset being released by somebody EVERY SINGLE DAY. The record companies knew that record collectors were fair game, and so decided to “create” collectible records to get them to shell out more of their hard earned cash. With several acts releasing download only EP’s, which in my view, “don’t count” in terms of record collecting, I was already in a position where I was no longer thus purchasing everything by my favourite bands. So what would it matter if I turned down a boxset of Dylan outtakes? I did not die when I bought the single disc version of “Tell Tale Signs” for £100 less than the 3 disc one, the world did not stop turning when I decided against rebuying “Greendale” again. Some might say I shouldn’t have bought it originally in the first place. And so, I became a bit of a lapsed record collector. Somebody who bought this, didn’t buy that, and realised that by not trying to complete my collection of coloured vinyl, and to just be happy with the ones I had, I would make a saving of about £2000. Record collecting had finally beat me, and I accepted defeat. I hated it for what it had done, but I accepted it. The pressure was now off. I could buy each album on “any format”, each single on “one format only, of my choice”, and others were optional. There was no way I was going to be able to buy every one of those Pearl Jam official bootleg releases - I had four or five, why bother with the other hundred or so they had put out? Know your limits, and know when it is time to call it a day. Although, that can sometimes be easier said than done. When you love music, you can feel a bit guilty about leaving things on the shelf. But the record companies made it hard not to do so. In the final instalment next month, we shall look at how the dying physical format single finally joined the Super Deluxe boxset in the world of overpriced insanity, a world where us working class kids kept wondering if rock and roll had abandoned us for the champagne and caviar crowd.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

October 2014

The October 2014 blogs feature a look at Stranglers fanclub and online releases, and part 10 of my 'novel within a website', "How I Learned To Hate Record Collecting". To look at either of these blogs, click the relevant link to your right.

"Don't tell me that aesthetics are subjective"

Sunday, 19 October 2014

How I Learned To Hate Record Collecting: Part 10 - The Death Of The 45

Don’t quote me, but at round about the time I met my wife to be, the record industry was getting worried about the poor state of the UK singles charts, in terms of “units shifted”. I don’t think the two things were connected. It was summer 2003, and the mass of multi formatted singles being issued were not really being translated into mega sales.

Part of the problem was that there was, usually, no “cheap” single release for the floating voter. In 1982, if you wanted a Duran Duran single that you had heard on the radio, you could pick up the 7” for pocket money prices. But with most vinyl singles being pitched at the hipster market, and Cassette singles disliked by many, most floating voters wanted singles on CD - but they were often three or four quid a pop. The VFM aspect was questionable if you only wanted “the hit“.

The powers that be eventually recognised this. And in late 03, early 04, they came up with the “2 track £2 CD Single”. Basically, if somebody was going to multi format their latest 45, by issuing it on two CD editions, the consensus was that one of those editions should be no more than £2, thus making it more attractive to the floating voters - these were the people who turned reasonable chart hits into mega chart hits. These were the people who had given Bryan Adams and Wet Wet Wet enormous hit singles, the likes of which never happened to them again.

But how were you to convince EMI and co to drop their prices? Well, the “2 track” part of it was not that it should only have two extra tracks, but that it would include 2 songs ONLY. The theory, as I understand it, was that bands were routinely being herded into studios specifically to tape new B-sides, so if they now - officially - could release one less per 45, well, they would only need to record one less, and thus save on studio time costs. Any loss in revenue from the sale of the single would be recouped by not having to spend money recording dubious bonus songs, and the label would hopefully also be rewarded with a higher chart position, and, if it worked, an increase in sales and an actual INCREASE in profit.

This seemed like positive news. At the time, the album market had gone into chaotic meltdown, new albums appearing as limited editions, old albums appearing as deluxe editions, the “every gig we play is being released as a new album” insanity from Pearl Jam, the “new live album” from the defunct Doors every few months, a lot of money could be wasted on LP’s, so any savings the consumer could make from the world of the single had to be a good thing.

At first, the introduction of the 2 track £2 single caused major confusion. I seem to recall a Virgin Megastore in London got round it by filling their stores with a “Euro-import” 2 track copy of Kelis’ “Milkshake”, and thus charged £3 for it instead, as it didn’t have the “pay no more than £2” sticker on the front. Atomic Kitten, who up till this point had been tossing out B-sides and remixes like nobody’s business, suddenly figured that the format allowed them to ape what the likes of Madonna had done with the 7” back in the 80s (album track on side 1, and another one on side 2), by sticking out an old hit as “track 2” on their “Ladies Night” single, making the single utterly pointless. Blur, too, seemed to go a bit loopy, issuing B-sides on these 2 trackers that were otherwise available on other formats of the same single.

But there was a bigger problem. At no point, it seems, had anybody factored in the situation that some indie labels were already only charging £1.99 for a single. In the summer of 2004, Franz Ferdinand issued “Michael” on the usual 7” + 2 x CD formats. CD1 had three songs, but so did CD2. As soon as the single hit the shops, their label Domino were told that the sales from one of those CD editions would be discounted from the charts, thus meaning a potentially poor chart position. As such, CD2 was withdrawn from sale, only to be repressed a week later with the offending track 3 missing, but with THE SAME PRICE TAG on the front. Yes kids, even the likes of Domino were more interested in chasing chart positions than offering value for money. That, really, said it all - this disdainful approach was what had put the single in this precarious position in the first place.

Whilst the “2 track £2” single began to establish itself as a format of choice of sorts, it was difficult to know if it was having any real effect on the charts, or people’s bank balances. Singles were still appearing at an alarming rate, on three (or more) formats, and getting a quid off such releases per week was really just a drop in the ocean. When I moved to Birmingham in mid 2004, I took a pay cut, which just made it that more difficult. But did Sony care about me? No, not at all. Everybody just carried on like they had before, a new B-side on a 7”, another one on CD1, and two more on CD2.

With a drop in wages, and thus a drop in disposable income, I had to adopt a special approach to my single buying. Just as I had deliberately “let go” mid 90s CD Singles before picking them up, for less, in Romford’s greatest 2nd hand record shop, “Sounds Familiar” (now demolished), I figured I needed to have a measured and selective attitude to what I bought. By this point, a number of acts had issued singles boxsets, where the box featured repressings on CD of old singles. Where a single had been issued on multiple formats, and in alternate sleeves, the common approach was to issue the CD in the “standard” sleeve, but with all relevant B-sides tagged on as bonuses. So, for anybody who was issuing two CD singles, I point blank refused to buy CD1 (unless it was Madonna), on the basis that any future boxset would use, as it’s artwork, the cover of CD1. In theory, anyway.

But the cost savings were quite minimal. £2 per artist. I was still struggling to balance my love of J Lo with my need to pay some bills. So at one point, I started to “forget” to buy 12” singles as well. The reasoning here, was that the 12” was usually housed in the same sleeve as CD1, and I figured there was probably a white label promo, in a unique sleeve, also knocking about that might turn up in my local Oxfam (quite a few have done, over the years). So that had the potential to save another £4. But not many people really did 12” singles anyway, so again, another drop in the ocean.

By the time we had got married in the summer of 2005, the continuing run of multi formatted singles was still in danger of causing me not being able to afford the required amounts of cat food needed for that week. Ignoring CD1’s, and 12” singles, simply wasn’t enough. Especially as the ongoing flood of “limited edition” first pressings of new albums were surfacing on a regular basis. I decided that, to try and at least keep my hand in, I would generally only buy new singles on one format only (Madonna excepted again, I had come this far getting most of them in, I couldn’t stop now). Pop acts would have their singles purchased on CD2, such as Girls Aloud, for the indie bands it was the 7”, as it was now impossible NOT to find a 7” single with an exclusive B-side contained within. And so, when Franz Ferdinand previewed their second album with “Do You Want To”, I purchased a 7” only, left the multiple CD editions on the racks, and waited for the (never to be announced) singles boxset that would hoover up the flipsides I had left behind. The reason for buying the 7”, rather than the CD2 edition, was that it was cheaper, and arguably, would be harder to track down second hand than the CD2 edition.

But in the grand scheme of things, it still didn’t help. By the time 2006 came round, I was struggling to keep up even with this approach. Trying to keep up with a continual run of deluxe edition albums, meant that the singles became an irritation. But was this not just the story of a man with too many bills, and not enough income? Not really, because record companies were starting to try and “entice” people to buy singles with special deals, that were actually cheaper than they had been five years before. When Ash issued all of their 2001 singles on three formats, they came with stickers advising “get all three for £7.50”. When Belle & Sebastian issued “The Blues Are Still Blue” on three in the spring of ’06, it was “3 for £5”. The impression I got was that the 2 track £2 single had not saved the record industry, and as multi formatting continued to press on regardless, the labels knew they had to try and drop the prices to try and reel the punters in. But I had been damaged and bruised. I bought “The Blues Are Still Blue” on one format only, the 7”, because it was on blue vinyl and had an exclusive B-side - and was cheaper than the other formats. I didn’t buy any of the other singles released from the album (2006’s “The Life Pursuit”) because I had spent all my money on the “special CD+DVD” edition of the LP, and the other singles were not pressed on coloured vinyl. My approach to buying singles was getting increasingly “picky”. But as far as I was concerned, it was the labels themselves that had caused this dilemma.

With the acts for whom I “had the set”, I kept the faith. I continued to buy at least one copy of each Madonna, Britney or Girls Aloud single, but with the indie bands, the shops just felt like a barrage of oppression when you walked in, multiple singles everywhere suffocating me. It got worse. The concept of the “2 track £2” single seemed to irritate the indie bands. The CD single had never been fully taken to heart, vinyl was always “cooler”. For them to now be told “you will have a CD with just 2 songs on”, it seemed to wind them up. So what came of this? Something even more bizarre then the “double CD single set”. Ladies and Gentlemen, we now had the “double 7” release”.

Yes, really. Born out of nothing more than record company greed, the concept of the double 7” bore no resemblance to any form of normality. It seemed to be nothing more than blatant profiteering, from bands and labels who should have known better. At first, it seemed like fun. The now defunct Dogs issued several singles in 2005 as double 7” releases, and given that I was buying all 7” releases at the time, I figured I had no choice but to buy both - my “rules” prevented me from doing otherwise. But there was an element of “collectability” and a “thought out” approach to their singles. The first 7” would come in a gatefold sleeve, and the second in a die cut sleeve which was designed to fit into the back half of the gatefold of 7” number 1. Nice. So you had a sort of double EP. Only with so few songs, they could actually have fitted onto a “normal” EP.

So the VFM aspect, again, was being passed over in terms of chart positions, industry rules, and profits.

By 2007, most “double 7” single” releases had long abandoned the concept of the two singles being released in a style as so they could fit together, and instead, most releases like Badly Drawn Boy’s “A Journey From A To B” were appearing on different editions, in different sleeves, with different flipsides - but with neither in any special form of packaging. It simply felt like another disdainful way of fleecing the fanbases. I responded to this by more or less refusing to buy any singles by anybody, unless they were Madonna or Britney or Girls Aloud, in order to carry on “completing the set”.

But then things started to get confusing. Back in early 2006, the UK chart rules had shifted yet again. Downloads were to be allowed to count towards the chart position, as long as a physical format was due for release a week later. The idea behind this was two fold - to give the floating voters a chance to get hold of the hit they had heard on the radio for cheap (an iTunes download was less than a 2 track £2 single), whilst it would also allow the single to have a bit of chart life - singles were usually hyped up months in advance, that by the time they got released, everybody would buy the thing on day 1, it would go to number 1, and then just disappear the next week. The theory here, was that the download sales would get it into the top 40, and then the physical sales on top would push it up the charts on week 2, just like in the olden days.

This concept went wrong in March that year when Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” entered the charts on download sales at - number 1. The only way, apart from staying at number 1, was down. It was like a year zero for the physical single. Downloading, up until now, had seemed like a niche geeky thing, but now, it seemed as though so many people were fed up with overpriced singles, even at £2 a pop, that they were drawn to the cheapness and immediacy of the download. The single was dying.

As such, I was split between snarling at certain labels for issuing too many formats for a single, to the point where I didn’t know which one to buy - and feeling rather sad that on the other side of the shop, the single was starting to wilt. Arcade Fire issued three singles from their “Neon Bible” album on 7” only, as if to say “the end is nigh”, and I could not help but buy each of them. After all, one purchase and voila! All new b-sides (ie. Just the one) for said single in the bag. But then Biffy Clyro would issue their latest single on the now obligatory indie rock approach of 2 different 7” singles, and a (2 track, perversely) CD single, and I would grumble and sneer and refuse to buy any. The 45 was on the way out, it was just that some of the labels were pretending it wasn’t happening.

When Girls Aloud returned in 2008 with “The Promise”, it appeared on just one format (bar the strange, mail order only, 7” picture disc they issued via their website). It was a 2 tracker, £2 only. No CD2, no 12”, certainly no DVD. It was almost as if it was being issued as a retro style release, a kind of “this is how we used to issue singles” style event. The next single was marketed in exactly the same way. Overnight, a band who had been tossing out double CD single sets left right and centre, simply, went very quiet. It was not just a case of carrying on with a band for whom I had to collect the set, it felt as though I was purchasing the final singles that anybody was going to release on the format.

And so when The Saturdays stepped in soon after to borrow their pop crown, I shifted my attention to them. Each single, on it’s one lone format, was purchased almost as a mark of respect for the old 45. With only one format to worry about, and at £2, it would have seemed rude not to. Biffy Clyro were still issuing multiple singles, as if the death of the single wasn’t happening, but with the vinyl copies starting to creep up in price, and with no obvious version as to which sleeve would or would not be used in my fantasy BC boxset, I often walked away from buying any of them - a throwback to my confused state of mind from several years previous.

But in the main, the single was becoming a very niche format. Downloading was winning. There had been some concern, when downloading of ANYTHING at random could allow an old song back into the charts (no longer did a physical release now need to appear the next week for a chart position to be awarded), about how to display the top 40 in the shop, if some of these things weren’t actually available to buy. But this was resolved - shops usually just shoved all the vinyl, old and new, into a big pile, and all the CD’s, old and new, into another big pile. You just had to rummage through it to see who, if anybody, had released a new record that week - assuming the shop had decided to order it in in the first place.

I began to feel a twinge of sadness towards the old single. The album, well, I had given up there. That was safe, multiple albums being pressed and repressed, that wasn’t on it’s way out - so I simply bought albums at random, caring little if it was a limited edition one or not, the labels had beaten me on that score. Just being able to afford a record of any description, be it with bonus tracks or not, felt like a victory in my cash addled state. But the 45 was different. I had often used it as a barometer of pop culture - it was always interesting to see if what you had bought would make the top 40, and - back in the day - whether or not it would then get the band or singer on “Top Of The Pops” at the end of the following week. I couldn’t just let it get away from me. I figured I needed to keep buying them to try and keep in touch with reality.

In late 08, Florence And The Machine arrived on the scene. We saw them bottom of the bill on the NME Awards tour early next year, and liked what we saw. Kate Bush lite, admittedly, but it never did Tori Amos any harm. With the band relatively new on the scene, I was determined to get in early, not to miss any rarities that might emerge were they to turn into superstars. “Kiss With A Fist” was doing the rounds for less than a tenner, “Dog Days Are Over” was purchased on some bizarre looking 12” that looked like a bootleg, but was apparently official, and when the promo for their first album started “proper” in the summer of 2009, I was - sort of - ahead of the game. Florence’s label were not adverse to a bit of multi formatting, and “Rabbit Heart” appeared on both 7” and CD - but I had made a promise. I purchased the single, CD only because it had more tracks, and felt quite pleased with myself that in a download encrusted world, I was still keeping it real - just about.

But I was in a minority. The long lamented Teletext page, “Planet Sound”, claimed later that same week, that although the single had charted inside the top 20, only 64 copies had been sold in physical form as part of those sales. That, if it was true, was a ridiculous figure. They laughed at Scott when “Climate Of Hunter” dented the album charts on about 15000 copies in 1984. But 64 copies? The single was, more or less, dead.

Singles continued to trickle out, and often, my previously “measured” approach was abandoned. When the so-called “mail order only” Ash singles as part of their A-Z series starting turning up in HMV, it was impossible to resist them. I continued buying the Florence singles, Girls Aloud split up, and Britney stopped issuing singles completely in the UK by the time “3” was being prepped for release. Hell, I even bought a Biffy Clyro 7” in 2010, when the sublime, near perfect power pop of “Bubbles” was too much to resist owning on 45. But it cost £3.99, which seemed an awful lot for an album track backed with a single b-side. Had I bought the other 7” and the CD, it would have come to £9.97. You could buy their latest album for less than that. And it was this insanity, coupled with the rise of the download, that murdered the single. They were being released in small numbers, certain shops simply saw no reason to stock them, and the vinyl editions seemed to be edging up in price. The idea of the 7” being the “cheap” format was no longer valid when the likes of Stephen Malkmus began knocking out 45’s at a fiver a throw. The likes of iTunes, with their “79p for the hit” approach simply appealed to the techies, those careful with their cash, and those people too lazy to actually go to a record shop. The physical single was, more or less, over. All we needed now was a ridiculously priced album format to finally make record collecting even more miserable.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

The Stranglers on SIS, Coursegood - and beyond!

Perhaps it’s the current state of the record industry, or perhaps just the sign of a band wishing to cut out the middle man when it comes to releasing new material - but either way, a quick look at The Stranglers discography over the last couple of decades have seen an alarming number of audio and video releases that have NOT appeared on the band’s then-current record label. As I type this, fans are awaiting the release of a DVD taped earlier this year in Manchester on their 40th Anniversary “Ruby” tour, which almost certainly will follow previous such releases - and appear as an online only event. But this is nothing new. Because for many years, pre-Baz and pre-Paul, a number of releases had already appeared as “fan club only” records, courtesy of the Stranglers Information Service, AKA the “SIS”.

The SIS were responsible for the publication of “Strangled” magazine, which originally started life in 1977 as a punk fanzine, with a slight bias towards the band, before eventually morphing into more of a fan club magazine at the start of 1980. These “glossy” releases (Volume 2) tended to be more of a band focused magazine, but still with articles written about subject matter that the group thought the readers may be interested in - there were regular contributions by band members themselves. The second issue featured a logo adapted from the famous group logo, although it wasn’t until the first issue of 1981, Volume 2 Number 6, that this special “Strangled” logo was featured on the cover again, before remaining in situ for all future issues. The final issue appeared in 1996, before the SIS turned into an online presence known as “The Rat’s Lair”.

The SIS specialised in making available again Stranglers rarities, such as the repressings of the “Peaches” radio promo, and the “Rattus Norvegicus” freebie single, “Choosey Susie“. In the summer of 1980, they released their first “exclusive” single, when early years outtake “Tomorrow Was The Hereafter” (SIS 001) was issued as a mail order 7”, backed with the “Cocktail” version of “Bring On The Nubiles”, a ten minute long ramble in the studio where Cornwell attempted to record a “muzak” cover of said song - remember the comedy band Raw Sex? It was housed in a plain die cut sleeve, although a later repressing in 1988 was conducted, where each copy was housed in a picture sleeve instead. However, only 1000 copies of the repress were made, and as such, are now highly collectible - resulting in a curious situation where the original release is actually worth less than the reissue.

During the rest of the decade, “new” SIS releases were generally restricted to side projects, rather than proper Stranglers releases. SIS 002 was a single by a band called A Marriage Of Convenience, featuring Jet Black, which saw them having a stab at an - at the time - unreleased Stranglers tune called “My Young Dreams”. SIS 003 was a JJ Burnel solo flexidisc, and indeed, it wasn’t until after Cornwell had left that the next Mark 1 SIS single surfaced, when “New Day Today” (SIS 004) was released on a flexi in 1991. It was included inside an issue of “Strangled” magazine that introduced Paul Roberts to the readership, and so anybody who has the original magazine with the flexi, holds in their hands a piece of memorabilia that effectively shows a passing of the baton.

Having been rather quiet during the 80s, SIS suddenly became rather productive, issuing fan club videos on an annual basis. Now, these are near impossible to find, and I don’t have many of them, so I don’t want to cover them in great detail when I only know what bits of them look like. But, for the record...”Live In Madrid” (SIS 005) was the first one, issued - apparently - before SIS 004, and was a VHS detailing the band’s TV filmed gig in Madrid on November 18th 1986. Although the whole gig is here, the show was, for some reason, split into two, with each half cherry picking bits of the whole show, rather than the first section having the first half, and the second the second. In other words, to watch it in the order in which the songs were played, would require you to keep fast forwarding, then rewinding, then fast forwarding, and so on. It is available on Youtube, last time I looked - albeit still in the wrong order.

“The Meninblack In French” (SIS 006) was the official release of a “Feline” era French TV documentary, including mimed performances of “Paradise” and “London Lady”. “SIS First World Convention” (SIS 007) was exactly that, a video detailing the Mark 2 performance at their 1992 fan convention in Peterborough. “Battersea Power Plus” (SIS 008) documented, what could be found of, the band’s infamous Battersea Park gig in 1978, with a few other bits and bobs. Whilst audio bootlegs exist of the whole show, nobody has been able to track down the complete video footage, even though Hugh has confirmed the entire gig was definitely filmed. The likes of “Peaches” and “Nice N Sleazy” had already surfaced on other VHS releases, but this one is still the only (official) place to find the likes of “Grip” and “Death And Night And Blood”.

1993’s “Live At Fontwell Park” (SIS 009) was the first SIS VHS to come in a proper video case, and documents the band’s “gig in a tent” show at the Southern England racecourse on October 30th that year. 1994’s “Live At Rennes And Other Stories” (SIS 010) documents another gig from earlier on in 1993, along with footage from the second fan convention, at New Cross in London, from September 93.

I seem to remember buying 1994’s “Bodysearch” (SIS 011) in a Virgin Megastore at the time, not sure how that happened. But officially, it’s a mail order only release, documenting most - but not all - of the band’s show at London’s Shepherds Bush Empire on 12th November 1994, as part of the minitour of the same name. The missing songs were held over for inclusion on “The Parr Street Chronicles” (SIS 012), the bulk of which documented a recording session at Parr Street studios.

“Rennes Deux The Return” (SIS 014), from 1995, is a document of a gig held earlier that year at the same venue as SIS 010, hence the title. The audio from this one has also surfaced in bootleg form. “Strangled In London 1996” (SIS 015) documents the band’s 1996 fan convention, and features Mark 2 doing some obscure stuff, which makes it all the more frustrating that it’s so damn hard to find. With SIS and Strangled magazine coming to an end during this particular year, it was thus the final SIS release.

Whilst SIS were issuing these videos, they also made a slightly more hesitant venture into the world of the full blown album. 1993’s “Strangled: From Birth And Beyond” (SIS CD 001) was used to collect the material from the first four SIS singles, along with some previously unheard material by Burnel, Mark 1 (“The Beast”, an outtake from 1984) and a pair of tunes from Mark 2, including the at-the-time concert regular “Mr Big”. The front cover featured images of both line ups of the band.

SIS CD 002 was a reissue of the previously French only JJ Burnel solo album “Un Jour Parfait”, and was followed in 1996 by “Access All Areas” (SIS CD 003) - another one I seem to recall buying in a Virgin Megastore. This was a live CD showcasing, mostly, the typical Stranglers setlist from their 1995 UK winter tour, space constraints preventing the album from being a full document. Nevertheless, the songs that were included were presented in the order in which they were played on the tour, and were sourced from a number of gigs, suggesting that the vaults include the full performances from all these shows. It’s unlikely any will ever get the nod for an official unedited release though, such is the disinterest now in Mark 2 - not least from the band themselves! Other live performances from the tour, from the London Forum on the 16th December, appeared as B-sides to the 1997 “In Heaven She Walks” single, including songs that had failed to make “Access All Areas”.

With the SIS ceasing to exist, some members of the organisation decided to relaunch the fan club as an online entity, called The Rat’s Lair. For well over a decade, it operated as the band’s official webpage, detailing up to date news items, as well as having a link to the band’s online merchandising website. It was through the website that the next batch of fan club releases appeared, starting with reissues in 1998 of “Access All Areas” (Voiceprint SOF 001 CD), “Strangled” (Voiceprint SOF 002 CD) and the release of the brand new “Exclusive Fan Club CD” (Voiceprint SOF 003 CD) - all three were joint releases between the fan club and the independent Voiceprint label. The latter is another hard to find item, detailing a show in Southampton during the late 1997 tour, a tour which saw the band play numbers from “Written In Red” for the first, and only, time.

As the end of 1999 approached, the band formed Coursegood Ltd, designed as their mail order and merchandising enterprise. However, at first, any new music issued through their website was not issued on the Coursegood label, but simply appeared with scant details as to which label it was on - if any - and little detail as regards catalogue numbers (although the info was there if you looked hard enough). The first two mail order releases available through Coursegood were a pair of archive “official bootlegs” issued in 2001, “Rattus Britanicus” (Impress LVL 071 01 6) and “Forgotten Heroes” (Impress PYCD 064 036). Both these CD’s were basically band endorsed re-releases of a pair of old vinyl bootlegs, albeit in new and improved artwork. The oddball catalogue numbers seemed to have been “borrowed” from one of the earlier CD bootleg releases that surfaced in the early 90s.

“Britanicus” was sourced from a show at London’s Roundhouse in 1977. The band played there multiple times that year, and at least three shows were recorded, remaining in the vaults until selected tracks were chosen for 1979’s “Live (X-Cert)” album. “Britanicus” detailed about 40 minutes worth of the show at the Roundhouse on November 6th, but as with so many bootlegs, the issue about how you could condense an 80 minute gig onto a 40 minute slab of vinyl was resolved by simply including 40 minutes worth of material from halfway through the show! So, it starts with a faded in “Dead Ringer”, and ends with “Peaches”. Nothing on here had been officially available before, with the exception of “Dead Ringer” (which was unedited on “Live (X-Cert)“). It’s a nice release, but with tapes of the entire show now doing the rounds online, it’s impressiveness has been dented a bit.

“Forgotten Heroes” documents, sort of, the now famous 1978 tour, where the band, having just released “Black And White”, often took to performing gigs more or less split into an opening half of old stuff (“Black”) and a second half of new songs from the album (“White”), sometimes joined by the stand alone single “5 Minutes”, issued after the “No More Heroes” album and before “Black And White” (this explains why you can hear Cornwell shout “Black And White!” before “Curfew“ on “Live (X-Cert)”). This CD was taped in America, at the Agora Ballroom in Cleveland on 3rd April 1978, but seems to be heavily biased towards the earlier material - I guess this is because this particular show was conducted a month or so before the LP came out, so perhaps new material was being "held back". Much has been made of how, with the exception of the edited Battersea show, no mixing desk quality releases from the tour have ever been made available in full through the official channels, so this is the best you’re gonna get.

With still no physical fan club imprint in existence (post SIS) towards the end of 2001, “Live In Poland 2000” was effectively released with no label details, and no catalogue number at all, after receiving it‘s “movie premiere” style preview at the September 2001 convention. It is, as the title suggests, a VHS release of an early period Mark 3 gig, sold through the band’s website. It has been made available more widely now, as a commercial release on DVD in a new sleeve and with the title “Euro Live”, with a 2002 copyright it may have thus actually turned up on the website in 2002, rather than 2001 - I can’t fully remember. Late 2001 did see the release of the web only “Laid Black” (Coursegood CGTSM 001CD), a CD which saw Mark 3 have a crack at bits of the old back catalogue in an acoustic form. As you can see from that catalogue number, the Coursegood imprint was now being used for fan club style releases. “Laid Black” was also issued commercially in 2002, in the same sleeve but on the Zen record label with a new catalogue number. “Euro Live” was also issued on Zen - and given I could find no “Coursegood 2” release mentioned anywhere whilst researching this article, it is possibly safe to assume the original “Live In Poland” was in effect the second Coursegood release, ie. CG2.

Or maybe it was this one - 2003’s “Live At The Apollo”, another release with no label details and no catalogue number, just a CD in a nicely designed sleeve. This is another album with a story. At the end of 1981, the band toured the UK in support of “La Folie” and played a show in Glasgow on 23rd November. It was recorded by Radio Clyde, and in 2003, independent label Alchemy decided to release the show as “Apollo”. For reasons I can’t fully understand, another label - the affiliated Burning Airlines - issued a longer version of it almost immediately, called “Apollo Revisited”. As I understand it, these labels were able to release the show without the band’s permission because, being a radio broadcast, it was the radio station that owned the rights to it, and they could license it to whoever they wanted. The band then arranged to release their own, edited, version of the same show as “Live At The Apollo”, which had the band’s logo intact - thus giving it a more official look - but had four songs missing from the original broadcast. Why? You tell me. The official release meant that, unusually, the band had now given the nod to two official releases from the same tour, as the band’s Jan 82 show at the Hammersmith Odeon on the same tour had been released by the BBC in 1996.

At the time, Mark 3 were working on “Norfolk Coast”, without label support. The album was completed, and the group were seemingly prepared to release it on Coursegood, before managing to get a distribution deal in the UK with EMI. The copyright on the album remained with Coursegood. A follow up mail order live CD documenting the resultant tour was issued via the indie label Absolute, but with a Coursegood style catalogue number - “Coast To Coast” (Absolute AMD CG 3). This partnership seemed to remain in situ for each subsequent Coursegood release.

In 2007, the Mark 4 lineup played some wildly different shows in November 2007, which spawned two mail order only releases. The first was the DVD “Rattus At The Roundhouse” (Coursegood RATTUS 07), filmed during the band’s ‘30th anniversary’ gig at the venue, where they performed a set identical (ish) to the set they played there when last at the venue in 1977. A few weeks later, and the band played one of their acoustic shows in Brugge, as documented on a CD called “The Meninblack In Brugge” (Coursegood CG 004). Both releases have since been given more wide scale commercial releases on the European-based Ear Music label, and whilst both reissues have appeared in new covers (both using similar typography and design approach), it is only the latter that has been retitled second time around, now known as “Acoustic in Brugge”.

“Live At The Apollo 2010” (Coursegood APOLLO 10) is another hard to find DVD, taped on the 2010 tour at the now renamed (former) Hammersmith Odeon, documenting the typical set the band played on their “Decades Apart” tour. Initial copies included a free CD showcasing highlights of the DVD, but even CD-less copies are nearly impossible to find.

My December 2013 blog explains the reasoning behind 2012‘s “The Weekendinblack” (Coursegood CGCP 001), a triple disc mail order set including the band’s (then) new studio album “Giants”, and some bonus discs of audio and video footage from the recent band convention. The deal with EMI by this point had seemingly come to an end, and the standard CD release of “Giants” (Absolute CG 005) was another joint release between the band and Absolute. Different formats exist, with a similar catalogue number, such as a vinyl pressing, a double CD edition and the promo copy sent to purchasers of “The Weekendinblack” as an apology after delays in production of the set. The single issued to plug the album later that year, “Mercury Rising” (Absolute CG 006), was also issued by Coursegood through Absolute.

As also mentioned in that blog, was the fact that several shows on the tour were recorded for a new live album, highlights of which were condensed into 2013’s “Feel It Live” (Coursegood CG 007). Initially released as a mail order CD, it was later sold in the usual retail outlets, with no changes to the catalogue number or basic packaging. The same could not be said of the other 2013 release, “Never To Look Back: The Video Collection 1983-2012” (Coursegood CG 008), a glorious DVD release that is still only available via the band’s merchandising website. Essentially, this was an update of Epic’s 1983-1990 VHS video collection “The Meninblack In Colour”, bolstered by (virtually) all of the band’s promos from the Mark 2, 3 and 4 lineups, thus bringing the story up to date. The sleeve excitedly makes reference to some 16 bonus clips - these are a mix of previously available clips from releases like “Apollo 2010” and “SIS World Convention”, done to either document a single where no promo clip was made (“Sugar Bullets”), highlight one lineup of the band doing a version of a song recorded by another (Mark 3 previewing Mark 4’s “Summat Outanowt”, from the “On Stage On Screen” DVD), or simply to just show something interesting (Mark 3 doing an acoustic “Instead Of This” from the same gig). Also included are promos for singles that never were (“Golden Boy”) along with some previously unseen footage from the band’s Isle Of Wight festival appearance in 2012.

The 2014 tour saw the release of “Here And There: The Epic B-Sides Collection 1983-1991” (Absolute/Coursegood CG 009) on the band‘s merchandising stall. As the title suggests, this was a double CD trawl through the band’s flipsides of the period, following earlier flawed (major label) attempts which either missed half of them out (2013’s “Skin Deep - The Collection” on Music Club Deluxe) or never got off the ground (Epic had planned their own one in the early 1990s). Disc 1 deals with the standard studio B-sides, with the exception of the “Chronicles Of Vladimir” material, which are placed separately at the end of disc 2. Not only do you get all four of the Vlad related flipsides the group issued in the 80s, but you also get the second installment, “Vladimir & Sergei”, which was released only on the JJ Burnel/Dave Greenfield “solo” album “Fire And Water” in 1983, and the previously unreleased - in physical format - “Vladimir And The Pearl” (part 6), a track which never got beyond being recorded by JJ and Dave in anything other than demo form, and was made available - aurally - some years before if you phoned the SIS Telephone Hotline, before later surfacing as a stream-able audio clip on The Rat’s Lair.

The rest of disc 2 includes the “Riot Mix” version of “Hot Club”, and all of the live tracks that appeared as b-sides during the period - along with a couple that were actually issued as limited a-sides, namely “Shakin’ Like A Leaf” from 1985 and “Always The Sun” from 1990. All that is missing is the not entirely musical “An Evening With Hugh Cornwell” and the remixes of “Sweet Smell Of Success” that appeared as B-sides on the remix 12” edition of the same single. It is also worth mentioning that the live recordings are not the “revamped” mixes that were spread across the 2001 expanded edition of “All Live And All Of The Night”, but are the original mixes, meaning you get to hear snippets of “Dead Ringer” and “Down In The Sewer” in some of the fades, along with some long lost things like the “Bradford” version of “Peaches” for the first time in 23 years, and the “Madrid" version of “Was It You” in audio form for the first time in even longer. Nice.