Saturday, 22 January 2011

They sold them and they played them

I used to live in Nottingham. It was a place I had escaped to from the confines of a small northern town that was guaranteed to bring you right down. Guaranteed to take you nowhere. I remember being deposited there by Mark and Anna – it was a Sunday. A car ride to Beeston Rylands – to Leyton Crescent – a car ride to the beginning of all of this.

The thing I liked about Nottingham was the fact it was run through with record shops – second hand, independent, the big chains all sat side by side – shipping out the vinyl to the streets – to the bedroom DJs, the newly formed bands, the rock obsessives , hip hop headz, pop tarts and dub troubadours. And I liked to browse - that simple feeling of flicking through piles of records and finding a spark, a name, a title or a photograph that grabbed you and forced you to look that little bit closer. Pull out the record, check it for marks. You know the drill. We don’t really change – although the autist in us all will have to evolve the ritual to include the wait to see if i-tunes can return the search.

You see that’s what fucks me off – I was getting ready for Christmas here – it’s always busy - the boys have their birthday on the 27th. And I happened to be getting something out of the cupboard – some secreted gift. When I was drawn to a pile of records - a pile of records I was definitely going to have a look through – suddenly off task. How can that happen when you have a list – already in order on your i-pod? You can search and find – search and order – search and sequence – the playlists of the mindless – it can sort it for you – it’s ‘genius’ like that. Now don’t misunderstand – I have tried to order my records from time to time. I have listed them and moved them around and put singles in genres. But as I have moved house at least five times whilst having them it’s safe to say that I have forgotten what I own and where to find it. That is I would love to play the second Razorcuts album or Caveman or the white label Electronica album from Fat Cat but would not be able to find it – easily. In fact I know there are two boxes of vinyl sitting in the garage – slowly warping and eroding.

And buying records was something I did a lot of in Nottingham.

I worked across and out of town – in a village called Radcliffe – in the school there. It was a wonderful place to learn and work. Free of responsibility and willing to take risks – sometimes the best things happen in the classroom when we’re not obsessing about the progress and attributing arbitrary levels to performance – and instead indulge in telling kids about stuff and getting them to use that stuff to make their existence that little bit richer. Anyway – I don’t want to rant about education. I got my education.

But working in the sticks meant I had to head across town to catch the bus to Beeston – just outside the library. Angel Row gallery – Nottingham was thin on the gallery ground in the late 1990s – now everyone has an institute of modern contemporary art. Actually I remember a series of canvases in the Angel Row gallery that depicted classic concerts – realised through simple dots – the band on stage – one was Joy Division represented by four white dots and the audience – represented by a hundred or so dots – all about 2ft by 4ft. Simple and effective. The artist had also made replica album covers on wood and left them stacked against a wall – inanimate objects – redundant images without the sounds - but somehow providing the rush of excitement when you came across an album you owned. So catching the bus home rather than taking a lift from Hutch [a wonderful Science teacher – a roll up in one hand driver – I once drove the wrong way up Electric Avenue with Hutch – but that as they say is another story] meant I could record shop in the centre of town. Again free from responsibility – not rushing home not wanting to stay out – it was a simple as that – I had time. Time has changed now – in a good way – but time has now changed. And of course Emma worked in the city – so I would meet her.

I would alight from the L3 [I think] at Broadmarsh bus depot and shopping complex – Alders, H&M, a Bookworks and all of that. HMV was just outside – opposite the ‘jacket spuds’ stand. A quick glance – a shake through the vinyl racks and then up to Virgin Records on the corner of Slab Square – that beautiful centre to a Midlands city. Civic and open – a genuine welcome for / from the people of Notts. In the city there’s a lot of things I want to say you. More rack raking – a possible purchase of a reduced CD and then up to Selectadisc – the big one – I would do the small one on the way down for some reason and Rob’s if he was open.

Selectadisc has closed now.

Sometimes cities lose the things they most need. I remember turning up to the first listen of Hello Nasty by the Beastie Boys at a Selectadisc – a 6 o’clock airing with bottled beers and bass – I was wearing a suit from work but you could do that in there – no one really judged you – the staff where there to help – source and recommend. Not like the staff at the selectadisc on Berwick Street – the one on the What’s the story cover – a great deal of the staff in there were twats. London/ Nottingham thing duck.

That Selectadisc is also closed.

The staff played records. They sold them and they played them.

Downstairs general / new releases – CDs that sort of thing – upstairs vinyl. A race up the staircase. The change of sound systems from the push of independent alternative strains to repetitive beats and twisted grooves – upstairs was the hipper cooler older brother – downstairs was rockin it – but upstairs knew that little bit more. And so to the racks – I would start with the latest hip hop releases – move into the new releases – possible over to the sales rack – back into the psychedelic or reggae area – maybe the sixties or just stand and listen to what was playing.

So I grabbed a handful of vinyl and had a look. Because that’s what vinyl obsessives do. Not that I am one now – the fatherhood thing means you spend real time doing real things. Although today – I just found myself moaning. But there you go – no said it was going to be easy. Once I had grabbed the 12 inches – I was hoping that Loop by LFO would be in there. First heard on an epic Weatherall Essential Mix – a bleeping builder – with repetitive beats – 303s sounding out the sounds of the underground – all K-holes and trance like states. I’ve been looking for it for a while – trying to track it down on the ‘net’ – but I can only find the LFO vs FUSE version. That is not the one I want. Funnily enough it was right in the pile – tucked into the Orbital Mutations record. And I was taken back to Nottingham – that moment of discovery as the hand flicked through the covers – or in the case of the second hand shops – the actual records. Also if you liked the look of a record – or recognised a producer etc they let you have a listen. Like Danny did in Record Village.

I haven’t mention Rob’s Records. It deserves a little more than a few sentences. But suffice to say I think it’s still open – and that’s got to count for something. I once sent Emma into Rob’s – in her lunch break – I wanted a copy of Shirley Ellis’ The Clapping Song – he had several copies – some more scratched than others – it cost three quid. A guaranteed floor filler. That ride cymbal introduction – into the rhyme as the r’n’b funk begins to bring the whole thing together – and the horns get hornier and by the end we’re all clapping and back patting and slap slapping. It’s finds like this that exist in record shops. Real record shops. My copy of that single smells a little – like it’s been hanging around a while.

But now it is found. I can clap my hands for that.