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Sunday, April 6, 2014


My bromance has started up again. Andy was round the other night and we watched the latest episode of The Walking Dead, drank some wine and then started listening to Elbow’s excellent new album The Take Off and Landing of Everything, and generally having a good time.

It’s what all bromances should be like.

But as we were listening to the music Andy said, “There’s something wrong with your left speaker.”


“Can’t you hear it?”

“Hear what?”

“There’s a faint crackling sound coming out of the left speaker. Are you sure you can’t hear it?”

“All I can hear is the music.”

“No – listen carefully. Can you hear it now?”

Of course I could hear it then! Once Andy had pointed it out with his bat-like ears I couldn’t help but hear it.

I’m probably going to have to go out and buy some new speakers – even though I don’t need them, because there’s nothing wrong with the ones I already have. They’re perfectly fine for what I want, but because Andy heard a crackle in them and pointed out which speaker it was coming from, I can now hear that crackle. If it hadn’t been Andy that pointed it out I probably would have suspected that there wasn’t a crackle at all and that he had made it up as a joke. I would have suspected that he used the used the power of suggestion to make me think there was a crackle and that he did it to everyone before going home and having a good laugh about it.

But Andy’s not like that. He wouldn’t have gone home chuckling to himself before selecting an album from his fine collection of vinyl records that he owns, which he would then place onto his top-of-the-range deck and listen to it without any crackles.

The thing is – Andy can genuinely hear things like that. He’s not like the rest of us poor demented souls who have been going slightly deaf for years without realising it. People like us have to pay regular visits to the nurse in order to have our ears syringed with warm water. I’ve been so many times that if I’d collected all the stuff that was forced out of my ears at high pressure I would now have an impressive set of tapers that would rival my friend Gillian’s collection of Yankee Candles.

Andy treats his LPs like children. He cares for them lovingly and if I didn’t know any better I would probably say that he sings lullabies to them before going to bed. I don’t have any vinyl records. I replaced all of them with CDs years ago and since then I’ve replaced all my CDs with downloads.

Downloading music has virtually brought about the disappearance of the independent record shop on our high streets, which is something of a relief to a lot of people. It wasn’t that I didn’t like going into record shops – on the contrary I loved being in them. I could spend all day flicking through the LPs. The worst part about being in a record shop wasn’t looking – it was buying.

The staff employed in independent record shops were required to have three distinct qualities. The first was unhelpfulness. I remember one time in early 1970 when I went into a record shop in Blackpool to buy my mum an LP for her birthday and when I asked where I could find it one of the assistants rolled his eyes and pointed vaguely at all the records in shop and said, “It’s over there somewhere.” He then ignored me completely to continue talking to the other unhelpful assistant about the concert he’d been to the previous night because I’d just had the nerve to ask him for the latest Englebert Humperdinck release.

The second quality required was condescension. My friend was a big fan of Jimi Hendrix and in the October of 1970, a week after the great guitarist had died, he was walking out of a record shop after he’d just bought and paid for the album Band of Gypsys, when he heard one assistant whisper to the other, “I bet he’s only bought that because he’s just died.”

My friend stopped in his tracks and said, “I haven’t bought this just because Jimi Hendrix is dead. I’ve been a fan of his right from the start.”

One of the assistants sniggered and the other gave my friend a condescending look, before saying, “Yeah, right.”

The third (and probably the most important) quality required was to be judgemental. No visit to a record shop in the 1970s was complete without the assistants sneering at your choice of LP. They didn’t even need to speak – one look would tell you that they thought your taste in music was shitter than shit. There’s a great scene in the film High Fidelity that perfectly illustrates the judgemental attitude of these assistants, where Jack Black, won’t sell a customer the album Safe As Milk by Captain Beefheart because he didn’t look cool enough to own it.

Back in 1972, when I was going out with a girl called Patricia (not her real name), I had a growing collection of LPs and Cassettes. I liked, and have always liked, music that’s a little bit different to the mainstream rubbish that often appeared on Top of the Pops. Patricia had her own car – a mini – and when she picked me up one day she announced excitedly that she had just bought a cassette player.

“Brilliant!” I said, and then asked her to wait while I went back to my room to gather up some of the cassettes I’d just bought so that I could attempt to force my opinionated taste in music on her. Trust me she needed it – she was, after all, a fan of the awful, twee chirpings of Gilbert O’Sullivan. I was a massive fan of Rory Gallagher, John Mayall and Paul Butterfield – or indeed anything with a basis in blues.

Real music, in other words.

I’ve been into blues ever since I was sixteen and discovered that my mother hated it. I remember bringing home my first blues album – it was a sampler album that I had bought in Woolworth for about 2/6d and it featured twenty of the best of the original black Chicago and Delta blues artists. There was the likes of John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, Elmore James, Lightnin’ Hopkins and the great Robert Johnson.

As I placed side one of the LP on the turntable of my Dansette record player and the first strains of Muddy Waters came out of the tinny speaker at the front, my mother came into the room and asked, “What the bloody hell’s this rubbish you’ve got on?”

“It’s blues, mum,” I said, “it’s brilliant.”

“Well, it’s making my bloody ears bleed,” she replied. “Turn it down, will you.”

“It’s meant to be played loud, mum.”

“It’s meant to be turned down or off, if you want to go on living in this house.”

Mum was a fan of Val Doonican, Englebert Humperdinck and Cliff Richard, which meant that she had no taste in music whatsoever and was, by that token, not educated enough in the development of music in the western world to comment on anybody else’s taste in music – and by that I obviously mean my taste in music.  This caused a problem, in that I was living in her house and she was just as opinionated as I was.

I dislike opinionated people – especially if their opinions differ from mine – and so I went out each week and bought a new blues album to add to my collection. This had the desired effect of driving my mother almost to the point of insanity and when I arrived home she would often have her Val Doonican records playing at full blast on my Dansette.

This had the desired effect of driving me almost to the point of insanity. Luckily I joined the RAF a few weeks after that and never had to listen to them again. Unfortunately Patricia’s taste in music was almost as bad as my mother’s and so I was looking forward to educating her in what real music should sound like.

I was in for a shock. When she had told me that she had got a cassette player she had not specified what type of cassette player she had actually acquired.

Patricia had not got the type of cassette player that I, or indeed virtually everyone in Britain, owned. No – Patricia had gone out and bought an 8-Track Cassette Player.

Remember those monstrous cumbersome things? They went the same way the Beta-Max Video Player did fifteen years later. They were on their way out even when she bought it. The cassettes you played in these things were about the same size as a packet of Paxo Sage & Onion Stuffing and they were more expensive than ordinary cassettes.

Worse still, they were on a continuous loop and so once she put in the Gilbert O’Sullivan cassette it would never stop playing – ever – and would continue to play until the end of time, or until someone smashed the thing that was playing it with a sledgehammer. Even worse was that, because the tapes inside their casings were of a fixed length, tracks would often fade out and then fade back in when it turned itself over.

Who, in their right minds, thought that that was good idea? Imagine listening to Stairway to Heaven by the mighty Led Zep only for the song to fade out just as it was getting to the best bit.

I’ll tell you who thought that it would be a good idea – people who don’t like music – that’s who! People like Patricia and my mother who listened to insipid, middle-of-the-road shit – that’s who!

There was only one thing for it. There was only one way to stop her playing the rubbish that she so obviously liked.

“There’s something wrong with the left speaker.” I told her.

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