Wednesday, 24 January 2018


Stadiums appear smaller when empty than they do full. Which perspective is more definitive? Are they bigger than they look when they’re not in use, or smaller than they look when they are? A binary equation, perhaps it comes down to one’s perspective: whether you're a half-full or a half-empty sort of person. I would also contend that the time of day has an effect: a game played by night, against an obsidian sky, possess a dimensional grandeur that a midday kick-off cannot equal. In my youth, a match down at Home Park on a Tuesday evening was always more exhilarating than the same on a Saturday afternoon.

It was in 2005 that I took a tour of Barcelona’s Camp Nou, and I haven’t the impression it’s changed much since. According to Simon Inglis in The Football Grounds of Europe, published in 1990, “There are stadiums great by reputation and association which, when first encountered, disappoint. The Nou Camp… is not among them.” He goes on to say that, “…when full it is indubitably one of the world’s most breathtaking sporting arenas.” I’m assuming, then, that Mr Inglis is heaping his lavish praise upon the ground’s interior, principally in its occupied state, although he later stipulates that: “Entry to the Nou Camp is no disappointment, full or empty.”
I labour this point because when I approached it back in 2005 I found Camp Nou’s presentation mildly disappointing. Don’t read too much into that – I was aware that the grander spectacle lay within – but as you advance from a westerly direction, which you are obliged to do, the scene that presents itself is comparable to the main entrance of an airport terminal. Two overheard walkways lead at angles from the ‘FC Botiga Megastore’ to the stadium itself, its curved façade swathed in glass. In front, tarmac, amenable to the arrival of taxis, shuttle buses and bloated suitcases. The building’s profile is fairly low from this perspective – Camp Nou’s pitch rests 8 metres below ground level – but rises as one traces the perimeter. At the same time the building takes on the bearing of a multi-storey car park. This is not to disparage it – multi-storey car parks can be imposing structures, entirely worthy of our attention – but in terms of relating to the stadium’s interior, the impression is misleading.
Camp Nou began life in 1957 as a two-tiered manifestation, typical of other Spanish manifestations built from the 1950s onwards such as Athletic Madrid’s Vicente Calderón, the Estadio Martínez Valero in Elche, Malaga’s Estadio La Rosaleda. The common denominator is a reinforced concrete framework upon which the terraces are supported, as I pointed out when writing similarly about Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán in Seville. Before that, FC Barcelona played at Camp de Les Corts, which for its time was impressively modern and suitably large. Opened in 1922, with an initial capacity of 22,000, by 1944, Les Corts could hold 60,000 and had been furnished with a low-slung cantilevered roof ribbed with metal strips, its contour serpentine in aspect. Floodlights were installed in 1954, but by now the demand for tickets was such that the stadium was deemed too small. There wasn’t the available space to expand any further, so the club acquired land a few miles west and set about building their new stadium there.
And a very handsome stadium it was, larger than many of its contemporaries, and costing more. The reason for the greater expenditure, apart from its size, may have had to do with the ground’s shape: a rounded polygon, rather than a rounded rectangle, with elliptical sides. In contrast, Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán has curved sides but straight ends, whereas Estadio La Rosaleda has four straight sides with circular corners. In any case, the ground as it was held 90,000 spectators, second only at that time to Madrid’s Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, which had recently been expanded to hold 125,000. Of course, only something approaching a quarter of these capacities were ever seated.
So far, so typical – the stadia of southern Spain are remarkably uniform – but then came the 1982 World Cup and Barcelona set about expanding once more. What happened next was what gave Camp Nou its visual identity. A third tier was added to the three sides of the stadium that could accommodate it, the cantilevered roof of the tribuna being too low slung to allow for complete encirclement. Actually, a shallow third tier already existed above the two tiers of the tribuna, wedged in beneath the base of the roof, and so was extended outward, rising gracefully and gradually before culminating along the opposing rim. The shape traced is something approximating a truncated elliptic cylinder, as if the structure has been tipped slightly but with its sides remaining perpendicular to the horizon. More pertinently, the stadium’s capacity rose to over 120,000.
A quick word before we go inside. Camp Nou does not domineer it’s environment. It’s slanted profile softens the structure’s silhouette, and it sprawls more than anything else. Moreover, the surrounding utilities, parks and high-rise tenements – as well as the adjoining ‘Mini Estadi’, home to FC Barcelona’s reserve team and a decent enough ground in its own right – aid to uphold the stadium’s physical presence in a way that Barcelona’s gridded inner city would be incapable of doing.
Awash with the club’s colours of red and blue, Camp Nou’s interior is a neat and tidy affair. There’s something of the American football stadium about it – of New York Giants’ old home (although some of the more recently built American football stadia are the barmiest of them all.) Despite the steep rake of the upper tiers, it doesn’t look as big as you expect, but it still makes for a very impressive sight – Simon Inglis was right. The roof is particularly imposing, and I’d want to be under it on a hot, sunny day and not stranded atop that ascending third tier. I guess that’s why La Liga games kick off at 16:00.
Camp Nou’s current capacity rests at an all seated 99,354, which makes it the largest football stadium in Europe and the largest club ground in the world. Nevertheless, plans are afoot to expand still further. I can understand this. Barcelona have a huge fan base, and it’s unusual for a stadium of such magnitude not to be covered. The video on FC Barcelona’s website talks about such things as ‘urban integration’ (building a new metro station, improved pedestrian access, expanding the car park), ‘urban acoustic comfort’ (an all-encompassing roof that will keep the crowd noise from disturbing the neighbours, although if I were them I’d quite miss it), ‘thermal and visual comfort’ (again, the roof will protect fans from the elements; what ‘visual’ comfort might entail is not explained), and a number of other dubious concepts that I’ll generously assume have been mutilated in translation. I doubt anyone will miss the Camp Nou’s functional exterior – except for maybe aviation and car park enthusiasts – but wonder whether the ground’s internal identity will be diminished? The intent is predictable: the old roof will be done away with and the top tier will be levelled off, enforcing a symmetry that is the plight of many a modern arena.

Nou Camp's iconic third tier being built (Courtesy FC Barcelona)

Prior to 1947, Real Madrid played their football at the Estadio Chamartín, replete with English-style gabled grandstand and room enough for approximately 25,000 spectators (4,000 seated beneath that gabled grandstand). When wealthy lawyer and ex-striker Santiago Bernabéu de Yeste assumed the club’s presidency in 1943, he set about acquiring neighbouring land upon which to build a bigger, more modern stadium, which he subsequently did. Foundations for the new Nuevo Estadio Chamartín (the ground would not be renamed in its benefactor’s honour until 1955) were laid in 1944. However, the footprint of the new ground impinged on the old, which meant the eastern side could not be completed until the old Chamartín was vacated and demolished. There followed, so I have read, a ‘shortage of construction materials’. For this reason, the newly constructed two-tiered structure was left unfinished, leaving a section of uncovered terracing along the ground’s eastern perimeter, and a tower above it maybe by way of an apology. The capacity at this point was around 90,000 and would remain so for the next six years.
In 1953, just as Barcelona were about to begin work on what would become their new home, Real Madrid finally resumed development of their ground’s eastern quarter. Rather than simply joining up the existing structure, an anfiteatro (amphitheatre), flanked by two monolithic towers, was built above the east side’s additional second tier (the original plan and been to do the same thing on the opposite side of the ground, but it never materialised). On its inauguration in June 1954, capacity had risen to an incredible 125,000. More than that, architects Manuel Muñoz Monasterio and Luis Alemany Soler delivered something that was both contemporary and practical, and in the façade of the stadium’s eastern wing a thing of concrete beauty.
Like at Camp Nou, Estadio Santiago Bernabéu depended upon the coming of the 1982 World Cup for the next significant stage of its development. Unlike Camp Nou, Santiago Bernabéu had no roof to speak of, which it needed if it was host a world cup final. Indeed, half of the Bernabéu’s budget would go towards the roof, amounting to somewhere in the region of 350 million pesetas, the rest being spent on extra seating, which pegged the capacity back to 90,200, new changing rooms and press facilities, and an overhaul of the ground’s facade, which was required to support the new roof.
The stadium’s concrete framework was finished in the same material used to assemble the roof – according to Simon Inglis, a light, fibre based cement called Cemfil. Mr Inglis also comes up trumps describing the overall effect: “Like a clean white plastic lid snapped tightly onto a bowl.” That would be a rectangular bowl with curved edges. A black lines runs around the inside fascia of the roof, like the filling in a neatly cut sandwich, giving way to video screens above each goal. Where the ends of the roof finish, contiguous to the two towers either side of the anfiteatro, it becomes apparent that the roof is concave in profile. Inglis offers us this delightful simile: “It is as if (a) liquorice sweet had been neatly sliced at each end, then squashed in the middle.”
Yet whereas Barcelona had increased their stadium’s capacity, Real Madrid had reduced theirs and could only offer something like 30,000 seats – just one third of the ground’s capacity. It’s also worth noting that, despite his enthusiasm for the roof, Inglis laments the general condition of the Bernabéu, and in particular its physical discomfort. It’s little surprise, then, that Real already had plans to add another tier to the south, west and north sides of the ground, making room for a total of 110,000 spectators.
By the time work began in 1992, UEFA had taken note of what happened at Hillsborough and the recommendations of the Taylor Report, which would culminate in the ruling that from 1998 all games played under its patronage would have to take place in an all-seated environment. (UEFA has since has broken down its ‘Stadium Infrastructure Regulations’ into four separate categories. A ground awarded Category 1 status permits standing. However, UEFA will not consent to the use of anything less than a Category 4 stadium in any of their competitions. Weirdly, UEFA  has not published a list of which stadia pass as Category 4.) Whether this legislative development was taken into account is moot: the Bernabéu’s new tier was to come with 20,200 actual seats, as well as four cylindrical stairwells providing access, which will have satisfied the most stringent of requirements.
Completed in May 1994, the Bernabéu was visually transformed. The original roof had been raised by 23 metres to allow for the addition of the steeply raked top tier – technically two tiers stacked on top of each other – which was a feat of engineering that doubled the height of the existing structure, diminishing the anfiteatro in the process. The previously subdued exterior took on an almost post-modern character. In between every other supporting stanchion, there appeared protruding semi-cylinders, which I assume serve some sort of substrative purpose. Below these, rectilinear concrete struts lean outwards, connecting the newer supporting stanchions to the older ones. Glass fills the space between. The stadium’s façade has changed little since.
In 1998, Real Madrid installed seats throughout, reducing the capacity of the Bernabéu from 110,000 down to just over 75,000. Come 2001 and they were at it again and by 2004 the east side of the stadium had been expanded, covered and re-finished, raising the capacity to what it currently stands at: 81,044. It’s this most recent development that is the most interesting. For one, it cleaned up the area behind the east stand, along Calle de Padre Damian (to an extent: there are commercial premises built adjacent to the stadium that obscure the view). Its rear has been clad entirely in what I assume is aluminium meshing, as have the towers, and the roof itself appears to be made from the same material but without the holes. It should be a little incongruous, but rather the modernity and clean lines of the east stand have allowed it once more to take centre stage, as it did prior to the redevelopments undertaken in 1992-94.

Santiago Bernabeu, 1982 - note the 'liquorice' roof.

Stadiums are not structures that call for equilibrium. I’m not sure any structure generally does. Symmetry is ornamental, and buildings are not normally supposed to be ornamental. Buildings that are we call follies, which in their disingenuously ruined state will be asymmetrical. The only structure that might demand a symmetry of sorts could be a fort built upon a perfectly circular hill. Even then, one would probably want to take into account the position of the sun and the surrounding topography.
Football is a game that concerns itself with geometry and space. But it is a game and is thus improvised, reactive in nature. Players need to orientate themselves accordingly, both physically and mentally. Quite aside from the benefit of having actual points of reference by which to gauge one’s ever changing position, there’s also the added intrigue of exploring areas of space that possess their own character: “Just kick towards the Gwladys Street end, the fans will suck it into the goal,” said Howard Kendall to his Everton players in 1985 before the second half of their match against Bayern Munich during the second leg of European Cup Winner’s Cup semi-final, which they subsequently won. The Gwladys Street end does not resemble the Walton Lane end and cannot be confused for it. Nor can the three tiers that make up the Goodison Road Stand be mistaken for the two that comprise Bullens Road directly opposite. Liverpool were right to expand their Main Stand rather than move elsewhere (although a grandstand’s lowest tier should never be its deepest). If at all possible, I advise that Everton follow their neighbour’s example.
Real Madrid are planning to embark on a project that will alter the exterior of the ground while leaving the interior relatively untouched: a retractable roof, restaurants, a hotel, landscaping outside, a radically different façade. Regardless of whether this goes ahead – funding permitting – fans of Real Madrid probably won’t feel any less at home than they do now. For the hordes that follow Barcelona, familiarity is not part of the plan.

[This article has also featured in The Football Pink.]

Friday, 19 January 2018


1.     No Pussy Blues – Grinderman
2.     Big in Japan – Tom Waits
3.     The Decision – The Young Knives
4.     Evergreen – The Brian Jonestown Massacre
5.     What Have I Said Now? – The Wedding Present
6.     Wings – The Fall
7.     House of Cards – Radiohead
8.     The Rip – Portishead
9.     Sugar Mountain – Neil Young
10.   Brides of Jesus – Little Feat
11.   The Pink Room – Angelo Badalamenti / David Lynch
12.   Pânico – Mercenarios
13.   Give It Lose It Take It – Field Music
14.   Bennie and the Jets – Elton John
15.   Contact – Bridget Bardot
16.   Lucky Number – Lene Lovich
17.   Harmony in my Head – Buzzcocks
18.   On My Radio – The Selector
19.   Gangsters – The Specials
20.   Pull up to the Bumper – Grace Jones
21.   Let’s Dance – David Bowie

Bonus Tracks:

22.   Black Magic – Jarvis Cocker
23.   Parachute Woman – The Rolling Stones
24.   Bird of Beauty – Stevie Wonder
25.   Is that Love – Squeeze
26.   Cracked Actor – David Bowie
27.   Genius of Love – Tom Tom Club

In his book A New Time for Mexico (and many other works besides) the Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes affirms that, “Religious temperament without religious conviction has branded some of the greatest works of the twentieth century.” He offers up Luis Buñuel, Albert Camus, Ingmar Bergman and Graham Greene as examples of artistes who have attempted to make sense of suffering in the absence of Christ, to comprehend that which might be deemed sacred when divested of doctrine. Theism is antediluvian – predates the profits – but our contemporary morality is consociated with scripture and, by definition, the numinous. In other words, you can’t get shot of theology all that easily.
Fuentes might also have cited Nick Cave, who is not a man of proclaimed faith but nonetheless likes to make reference to Judeo-Christian subjects in his work. But not so with 'Grinderman'. The album Grinderman is the sound of midlife crisis conveyed with such humour that you probably shouldn’t assume that the midlife crisis in question is necessarily Cave’s – or if it is then viewed from a distance. According to Cave, the song No Pussy Blues was inspired by the negative reactions his Zapata moustache received. Cookie dusters are divisive at the best of times, so the result in and of itself is no firm indicator of middle aged angst, but the fact that Nicholas grew such a thing in his late 40s/early 50s maybe is.
I hadn’t made the connection when I put this compilation together – both tracks were provided by the lad who used to beat me at snooker, so I might have expected to – but Tom Waits was also 50 years’ old when he recorded Big in Japan and also appears to be railing against his advancing years. Whereas Cave just isn’t ‘getting any’, Waits can at least console himself with the fact that he’s doing business in Asia. Despite Tom’s gruff incantations that form the spine of the song, Big In Japan is a far more buoyant tune than No Pussy Blues, but it’s still rough enough to perpetuate a sense of anxiety.
The Decision by The Young Knives supervenes, a continuation of the millennial post-punk revival, which was by now on the slide; credit to them that their album Voices of Animals and Men was nominated for the 2007 Mercury Prize in the face of this. The Decision is a song whose lyrics intrigue me, specifically the lines, "I'm your monarch, your supreme monarch. That decision was mine," which I assume to be a swipe at royalty. Supposedly, I am the Queen's subject, but might I not make the same claim for myself: that the Queen happens to be my subject, along with everybody else?

Have you seen the documentary Dig!? If you haven’t, and if you like music, which you doubtlessly do if you’re reading this, then I recommend you watch it. Its subject is the trials and tribulations of bands The Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Dandy Warhols from the mid ‘90s through to the early 2000s. I was done with The Dandy Warhols but had heard nothing by The Brian Jonestown Massacre, and so I bought the double compilation album Tepid Peppermint Wonderland: A Retrospective which gathers together 38 tracks spanning a period of nine years. The Brian Jonestown’ sound is various but can be categorised roughly into three parts: melodic folk-rock numbers, like Servo, Prozac v Heroin, Nevertheless; tripped out psychedelia of the kind you hear on Anemone or Whoever You Are; and, especially early on, a kind of lo-fi take on shoegaze. Evergreen is from the band’s first album, Methodrone, and sounds like Slowdive jamming with Yo La Tengo. The common thread running through their work is lead singer and multi-instrumentalist Anton Newcombe, who comes across as some sort of malevolent genius who wears both his heart and his influences on his sleeve. However, his obsession with the 1960s is not parodic; making use of 12 string guitars, tablas and sitars does not exempt ingenuity. “The Beatles were for sale. I give it away,” Newcombe tells us 20 minutes into Dig!. You can be cynical towards that, but it’s not the sentiment of someone interested in pastiche.
I used to listen to a taped copy of The Wedding Present's Bizarro during my second year at university. I’d got rid of all my old cassettes by now and didn’t have anything to play them on anyway. Cue Bizarro, completely remastered and repackaged with seven bonus tracks and extensive sleevenotes, on compact disc. This time around it was the tune What Have I said Now? that caught my ear – specifically the moment when, after chugging along in F (with transient forays into A#, A and C), it crashes into E after the second verse.

It took a while to compile this compilation. The reasons might be: my continued indifference to current music; a temperamental MiniDisc player; my subsequent decision to switch over to MP3; the difficulty of converting vinyl to the MP3 format; leaving work in July 2008, a five week sojourn in Southeast Asia and the period of unemployment that followed; apathy. I’d also taken to making ‘best of ‘ playlists of individual artists: Best of… Stereolab, Best of… Talking Heads, Best of… The Fall, and so forth. Putting together the best of The Fall was especially rewarding for I had added the records Perverted by Language and Grotesque (After the Gramme) to my collection, as well as acquiring digital copies of The Wonderful and Frightening World of…, The Frenz Experiment, Extricate, Code: Selfish and Shift-Work to supplement what I already possessed on vinyl. Such was the weight of material that I felt it necessary to divide my anthology into two parts. (The only other artist that has bid the same approach of me is David Bowie.) I took five tracks from the album Perverted by Language alone, although two of these – The Man Whose Head Expanded and Wings – were singles tacked on the end of the re-issued CD in the form of bonus tracks. For the sake of this compilation, I went with Wings, whose tempo and monotonous groove is consistent with the tunes I’ve placed before and after. In this respect, this playlist is more calculated than many of my others, which is the benefit of working with MP3. Although MiniDisc certainly provides for a cut-and-paste approach to recording, with the MP3 it's almost compulsory, and so one pays more attention to the order of things. House of Cards by Radiohead does a good job of following on from Wings but works even better as a precursor to The Rip by Portishead. (Footage of Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead playing an acoustic version of The Rip appeared on the internet shortly after.)
I received my copy of Decade by Neil Young at the end of 2006, so by rights Sugar Mountain should have kicked off this compendium. It wouldn’t have worked. Sugar Mountain is a lament for lost youth (written when Neil Young had freshly turned 21) and nearly six minutes’ long – it’s not going to get any party started.

Atheism, as it is currently understood, may one day prove to have been just a passing fad, if only because its antithesis – theism – might itself lapse. Such a narrow view of things is problematic, not least because the subject is rooted firmly in semantics. The scientific and the religious – and I refer to the religious in the theological sense rather than the dogmatic, which is merely the realpolitik of organised religion – are interested in the same thing and destined to converge upon ontological grounds. Whether this terrain will be defined as Cartesian or monistic remains to be seen.
Jesus, although just a man, has a firm hold on our collective consciousness, and his presence looms large within the realm of contemporary music, through gospel, blues, country, soul, and thus rock and roll. “You don't want to walk and talk about Jesus, you just want to see his face,” incants Mick Jagger on I Just Want to See His Face, and he’s not alone: The Byrds, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Big Star, The Velvet Underground, The Doors, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Manassas, Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, Felt, Spaceman 3, The Vaselines, Teenage Fanclub, The Verve, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Half Man Half Biscuit… The Nazarene turns up in the most unlikely places.
Not a moment too soon, I discovered Minus Zero / Stand Out Records off Portobello Road. What’s this they’re playing? “The Factory, Lowell George’s first band – you know, the guy from Little Feat.” I didn’t. After releasing but two singles, Lowell George joined Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention as rhythm guitarist and co-vocalist. His tenure was short lived and after contributing to Hot Rats, Burnt Weeny Sandwich and Weasels Ripped my Flesh he left to form his own band, called Little Feat. Not long after clarifying this chronology, I returned to Minus Zero / Stand Out Records and purchased the Little Feat and Dixie Chicken albums, paired together as part of WEA’s slightly weird ‘2 Originals’ series, which repackaged two albums by the same artist in a gatefold format. The music is reminiscent of that I heard playing in the Eiffel Bar in Copenhagen more than a year earlier, although persons I’ve played it too have tentatively asked if it might be the Rolling Stones – songs like Strawberry Flats can give that impression.
The title and the lyrics to The Brides of Jesus suggest the Parable of the Ten Virgins [Gospel of Matthew 25:1-13], yet the reference in the final line to ‘entertaining angels unawares’ is attributable to Hebrews [13:2]. It could be that Lowell is playing one proverb off against the other, saying that the ‘five foolish virgins’ who did not bring surplus oil for their lamps, and were subsequently denied entrance to the ‘wedding’ on account of being ‘unprepared’, should have been treated better, for they may have been actual angels. Lowell Gorge died of a heart attack in 1979, and I can find no evidence that he ever expatiated upon the song’s subject.

The Pink Room is taken from the soundtrack to the David Lynch film, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. According to the credits, this swampy, instrumental dirge was written by Lynch himself, rather than Angelo Badalamenti who composed the film’s score. I once listened to The Pink Room in a static caravan on a campsite in the New Forest, with The Wilkinsons, the guy who used to own a pager and Roz Childs, surrounded by conifers and pines.
The Sexual Life of the Savages is a compilation of São Paulo post-punk that I requisitioned from my Cornish friend. I must have kept hold of it for a while because it made more of an impact on the anthology I put together over 2009/2010. In the meantime, I recorded Pânico by Mercenárias, which sounds a bit like very early The Fall fronted by The Slits, only sung in Portuguese. I wouldn’t ordinarily have followed on from something like this with anything by Field Music, but Give It Lose It Take It is one of their livelier numbers. 

Like many people – or like many people are want to say – I’m not too bothered about New Year’s Eve. Ideally, I’d attend someone’s house party, preferably not mine, but for three years running I spent New Year’s Eve at the Hawley Arms in Camden. It was all down to the girl who used to live with my lady friend on the Isle of Dogs who’d met the proprietors on a beach in Southeast Asia, kept in touch, and extended a repeated invitation to see in New Year’s at their establishment. In 2004, rolling into 2005, there had been enough room to spray a bottle of celebratory champagne about the place without fearing reprisal. By the time 2007 was imminent, there was barely enough room to raise a glass (my lady friend and I decamped to Lisbon to see in 2008). I don’t remember much else about that night but I do remember Elton John’s Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting playing on the jukebox. (Fortunately, it was a Sunday). Mr Wilkinson advised I buy the 1974 album Greatest Hits if I was serious about it, which I was and so did. Rather than go through the laborious process of recording Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting from vinyl onto our laptop, in real time, I later picked up a copy of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road on CD from a charity shop for a couple of quid, introducing me to the delights of Bennie and the Jets in the process. Bennie and the Jets is a strange song in that it’s made to sound like it was recorded live, which makes me wonder whether it sounds much different when it is played live.
I wandered into Beyond Retro in Soho and found something I hadn’t bargained for: not an item of clothing but a ‘sound’. I suppose a lot of people would have just asked what was playing, but I’m not one for talking to people unnecessarily so instead memorised key components of the song and looked them up on the internet when I got home. I didn’t have much to go on: it was sung in French, sounded like it was more than likely recorded in the 1960s, and exhibited a one-word chorus that exclaimed ‘Contact!’. It was French chanteuse Brigitte Bardot, with a little help from Serge Gainsbourg, and I downloaded it from iTunes.
If not French psychedelic pop then what had I expected to find in Beyond Retro? Not sure but it won’t have been jeans, because fashion had finally caught up with itself. That is to say that the slimmer profile appropriated by purveyors of the post-punk and garage rock revival had begun to permeate the mainstream. Enter the Levi’s 504/514, a comparatively slim-fitted jean with a tapered leg offering a very welcome alternative to the bootcut 507/517/527. The 504 would probably be considered fairly loose by today’s standards but in the mid-to-late 2000s was about as skinny as you could get (I’m resolutely a 511 man these days). In 2007 I purchased a light blue pair of Levi 504s, which my lady friend ridiculed, and then a darker pair. In 2008, we flew to New York City and I picked up a black pair of corduroy 514s for a little more than $20, on sale in Urban Outfitters, which worked out at about £12 back then. The 514s were slightly less tapered than the 504s and I had them altered to match.
Slimmer fitting knitwear was also now easier to come by. I’d been merrily buying my jumpers from Marks and Spencer since 2005 – specifically their Collezione range – and I was fine with that, but now I could find things I’d be comfortable wearing in any high street store: Fred Perry, Farah, Uniqlo, even Gap. Peacoats were suddenly all the rage too, whereas a few years earlier I’d been sifting through army surplus stock to find them. But it wasn’t as simple as that. Men’s mainstream fashion may finally have been shedding the boyish post-Britpop baggy-isms that had preoccupied it for the last ten years but in its place was something almost schizophrenic. Whereas American groups such as Arcade Fire, Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver, and even Kings of Leon, were moving towards a leaner, more rugged sort of look, British groups such like Hot Chip, Mystery Jets and Klaxons dressed like an explosion in American Apparel – tight jeans and baggy T-shirts in dayglo colours, with real crazy hair. Ultimately, the boots, brogues and beards of our American cousins would win the war but there was a very confused period in between where some of the worst offences of the 1980s threatened to take hold.
I got wind of Lucky Number by Lene Lovich somehow – in another shop maybe. It was the brevity of the chorus that caught my ear: four dissonant chords sung in rapid succession and the ostinato that comes after, and so I downloaded it from iTunes. I found a copy of Singles Going Steady by Buzzcocks on CD for £3 – the same album the chap who got me into Sarah Records had lent to me back in 1994/95 – and so reacquainted myself with that. The guy who used to own a pager was now playing guitar in a ska/two-tone covers band. Among other things, they’d make a good go of On My Radio by The Selector and Gangsters by The Specials, and I was encouraged to download them (from iTunes). These four songs were all released in the year 1979.

The laptop I was working from was not my own: it was my lady friend's and a mere repository for my music which I would then transfer across to my newly acquired MP3 player. The problem with interfacing directly with a mobile device is that you have direct access to everything stored upon it. You don’t even need to make playlists: just ‘play all’ or select ‘shuffle’ and let the hits keep on coming. The shuffle function is particularly pernicious. One finds oneself continuously skipping until something shows up worthy of one’s immediate attention. Furthermore, there’s nothing random about whatever algorithm the shuffle function works from. Certain groups will make remarkably frequent appearances, whereas others will be conspicuous by way of their absence.
So I stopped using the shuffle function and went about the business of making a new compilation. I’d have normally done this with a certain amount of pre-planning, but found it simpler just to make it up as I went along: Add to > playlist, notionally entitled ‘2007’, to be renamed at a later date when I felt suitably inspired. I listened to my incomplete playlist as I was compiling it, changing the running order here and there and re-transferring it across to my MP3 player as and when I’d added new songs. The problem was this mutable approach did not foment the urgency required to finish it. By the time Pull up to the Bumper by Grace Jones and Let’s Dance by David Bowie had been appended to the running order, I’d reached what would under usual circumstances have been my limit – the 80 minutes of time available on a MiniDisc. I had no problem adding to this duration, but where would I draw the line? At what stage would I stop subsuming music gathered in 2008 to a compilation intended to reflect 2007?
As it was, I felt the playlist worked well, so I decided to defer the tracks I had left over until the year after. It was not to be. The recording of vinyl continued to be an issue: the stupid device I had bought necessitated I record in real time and use software to isolate the individual tracks that then had to be saved as individual files of questionable quality. iTunes wasn’t as comprehensive as I’d been led to believe either, so I couldn’t source as much material as I would have liked. It’s conceivable that the reason why I included Pull up to the Bumper and Let’s Dance is a direct result of this – as filler.

I have identified a number of tracks that might have originally featured on Harmony in my Head in less troubled circumstances, or could have gone towards a playlist for 2008.
Black Magic is off of Jarvis Cocker’s debut solo album Jarvis, which I have on vinyl. I don’t regret having it on vinyl because it’s got good artwork, and back then CDs were not much cheaper than their shellac siblings, so why not?
Parachute Woman is taken from Beggars Banquet, the record that kicked off the Rolling Stones’ golden age. The guy who used to own a pager first introduced me to it when he brought it to Exmoor with us in 2003, but it had been overshadowed by Their Satanic Majesties Request. This seems odd because I’m now of the opinion that Beggars Banquet is second only to Exile on Main Street in the Rolling Stones’ canon.
In 2008 I purchased in fairly quick succession the Stevie Wonder albums Music of My Mind and Fulfillingness' First Finale, and was more satisfied with the latter, in spite of the former possessing the better cover-work. I recall being very enamoured with Boogie On Reggae Woman, but nowadays I err towards Bird of Beauty.
I purchased Argybargy by Squeeze from the Collector’s Record Centre in Kingston, which is where the Stevie Wonder records came from (and many others besides). Is That Love (absence of interrogation point theirs) isn’t on that album and was sourced from the lad who used to beat me at snooker, who had a copy of Big Squeeze: The Very Best of Squeeze which we transferred from his laptop to ours. Is That Love was the song I was after – I’d heard it on the car radio but then forgot what it was called and had hoped it might feature on Argybargy. Argybargy is a decent LP nonetheless, so it worked out all right.
In September 2007, I went to see a David Bowie tribute band, at the Grey Horse in Kingston, called The Thin White Duke. The keyboard player resembled the actor Ian Smith, who played Harold Bishop in the Australian soap opera Neighbours, but they were actually quite good and their rendition of Cracked Actor motivated me to add Aladdin Sane to my collection (which I think is a better album than Ziggy Stardust, and maybe Bowie’s fourth best after Station to Station, Low and Heroes).
Back in April 2007, I picked up a vinyl copy of Tom Tom Club by Tom Tom Club on a visit down to Plymouth (from Really Good Records?). It’s quite a cool record to have and a very good album to put on if you have people around socially.
There were other purchases, most notably albums by the likes of Black Sheep, Main Source and Public Enemy, as I went about trying to replace all the hip hop I used to keep on cassette after getting a taste for it again on a night out in Cologne. Maybe that’s why I never got around to creating a playlist for 2008: not because I spent six weeks abroad, or because I was unemployed for much of the year (after deciding that five years with Nikon was probably enough) and had to watch my spending, but due to that fact that I was preoccupied with making playlists of the music I listened to in my youth.

[This complete playlist can be listed to here.]