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.