1. Licence to Confuse – Sebadoh
2. Bad as Me – Tom Waits
3. It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue [Version 1] – The Byrds
4. Al Capone – Prince Buster
5. The Vampire – The Upsetters
6. Concorde – The Prophets
7. Typical Girls – The Slits
8. 52 Girls – The B-52's
9. Boredom – Buzzcocks
10. Neat Neat Neat – The Damned
11. Leave the Capitol – The Fall
12. This Night Has Opened my Eyes – The Smiths
13. Whoever You Are – The Brian Jonestown Massacre
14. Sometimes – My Bloody Valentine
15. Dead and Gone – TOY
16. Any Day Now – Elbow
17. The World’ll Be Ok – Teenage Fanclub
18. My God – Bombay Bicycle Club
19. Lorelai – Fleet Foxes
20. The Look – Metronomy
21. Rock Lobster – The B-52's
Sound is analogue, comprised of continuous waveforms. The music derived from a phonograph record is likewise analogue and as such is a reproduction of the original sonority. Compact discs are not: they are the result of analogue-to-digital conversion, whose values must be derived from a discrete set. Digital signals are simply ‘snapshots’ of information that are converted back into an analogue waveform by way of an amplifier. By definition, the digital recording can only ever be a simulacrum of that which it purports to represent. That all said, a hi-fi system is only as good as its weakest link, and there are many external factors at play: the quality of the shellac, where one positions a set of speakers, the acoustics of the room, and so on. I am not a vinyl evangelist.
A photographic negative is the result of a chemical reaction arising from light being projected upon a transparent plastic film coated with microscopic, light-sensitive halide crystals. The photograph itself is also born of a chemical reaction on a molecular scale: from the projection of the negative upon paper coated with a light-sensitive emulsion. As such, its optical texture is random. Digital photography does not capture light on photosensitive film but by means of an image sensor (usually a charge-coupled device, or CCD) which converts the variable attenuation of light-waves into electronic signals to convey the information that comprises the image. Thereafter, the image is printed directly onto paper using a peripheral device, such as a laser of inkjet printer. This method of printing lacks the continuity of tone associated with traditional photographic processing techniques, whereby the image is ‘developed’.
Digital music and digital imaging are analogous then. Yet whereas vinyl is undoubtedly superior to its digital alternative, with the photography it’s not so clear-cut. For one, the ear is more discerning than the eye. Or is permitted to be. You could in theory record digitally with such a high sampling rate to be almost indistinguishable from vinyl, but this would be both expensive and impractical. With digital imaging, the extra level of detail doesn’t impact much on the size of the device or its relative cost. There’s certainly a difference between the photograph and the digital print, but it’s not – or at least not any more – much of a hierarchical discrepancy. (A bias towards saturating the colour green, to reflect the physiology of the human eye, backfires in verdant landscapes, but it’s nothing that can’t be remedied either in-camera or in post-production.)
No, the catch with digital photography is that it’s ephemeral. Those of us who used to shoot on film will recall sending our rolls off to the developers or taking them into high-street chemists to get them printed. It was not an instantaneous process, and I think we paid more attention to the results because of this. Not to mention the fact that we took greater care over the composition and the conditions of the each shot, knowing that we were limited to a certain number of frames. Those of us who could be bothered, which included me, would also collate our prints into an album. At the very least, you’d keep them in the paper wallet they came in, along with the negatives should any of the human subjects be desirous of reprints.
Digital images live a much more precarious existence. They’re lucky if they even make it off the camera and onto a computer. Those that do may well end up in the 'recycle bin'. The chances these days of an individual photograph being appreciated are as about as likely as surviving an encounter with the Ebola virus. And when an image is deemed worthy of sharing, where is it normally displayed? On Flickr, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or some other on-line vanity showcase I’m not aware of.
The practical purpose of (amateur) photography – to record specific events in one’s life, or to make something aesthetic out of it – has become secondary. The picture is no longer a representation of time and space but a symbol of time and space. It has become freelance, to be viewed when browsing through My Documents, whenever you’re retrospectively tagged or commented upon in somebody’s else’s on-line posts, or as an avatar, a personal ‘logo’. It’s as if the photograph has embraced libertarianism, to exist for its own sake. The idea that images should live side-by-side in an album – even a ‘virtual’ album – and form part of a narrative is nearing redundancy. Instead, photography’s primary purpose has become that of a marketing tool for the individual, a precession of simulacra intended as a primary source of self-identification.
Resistance is of course futile. I persisted to shoot on film for longer than most but it soon became clear that the industry was now calibrating their equipment primarily to cater to digital imaging (this was in 2008, but places like Boots were making a mess of it as early as 2001.) There were independent businesses that still utilised traditional ‘wet lab’ technology but they’d become very expensive. So I went digital and bought a Ricoh R8.
Digital images don’t make for very good 6 x 4 inch prints. For one, the default aspect ratio for most compact cameras is different to film. This shouldn’t be a problem, but service providers continue to follow the standard 3:2 ratio, and so your prints are either cropped or a boarder is imposed to accommodate the whole image. For two, colours are often overly saturated and skin tones can appear unnatural. My advice would be to do away with prints altogether and instead compile A4 sized ‘photobooks’, which are more forgiving. The dilemma presented is this: holiday snaps aside, is it really worth incorporating all those random pictures of buildings, meals, cloud formations spotted on the way home from work, feet, abstract close-ups of road markings and street signage, roadkill, shadows streaming through windows at oblique angles, into any sort of album? And if it is, would you get anything out of looking back over it?
Sebadoh’s Licence to Confuse reminds me hanging out with the guy with the indie tapes during my first year at university, early 1994. It does not remind me of a weekend I spent in Lyon with my lady friend in August 2011. Licence to Confuse is taken from the album Bakesale, which was released on Sub Pop in August 1994. Ergo, I couldn’t have listened to it in the guy with the indie tapes’ room at our halls of residence. However, I could, and did, listen to the EP 4 Song CD, which I bought on vinyl in or around June 1994. The four (proper) songs that feature on 4 Song CD all appeared on Bakesale, which I assume I finally listened to around the new house of the guy with the indie tapes from September 1994 onwards. I’ve only just worked this out, which means back in 2010, when I bought a copy of Bakesale on CD, I was erroneously attributing most of its content to something it couldn’t be attributed to. The Sebadoh album that I did actually listen to with the guy with the indie tapes in our halls of residence must have in fact been Bubble and Scrape, which is a markedly different album. Anyway, I’d been getting a bit misty-eyed over the alternative music scene as it was before Britpop got out of hand. If I had to explain to somebody what this all sounded like I might just play them Bakesale.
Neither does Bad as Me by Tom Waits recall being in Lyon, but it does evoke the period. It might have been recorded off the lad who used to beat me at snooker, although it could just have easily been downloaded from iTunes. Either way, the lad is a big fan. Bad as Me is as frantic and barmy as Big in Japan. If you crave something milder, check out the deliciously paranoid What’s He Building? off of Mule Variations.
It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue reminds me of the Heart and Hand in Brighton, one of my favourite pubs. It does not remind me of drinking in the hotel lobby of the Grand Hotel Tazi in Marrakesh, October 2014, one of the few places around the old town that sells wallop. The Byrds first recorded this Bob Dylan tune during the sessions for Turn! Turn! Turn! but it never made the cut. A slower, country-inflected iteration later materialised on the Ballad of Easy Rider in 1969, but I wanted the faster, rougher version they recorded in 1965. The Heart and Hand had it on their jukebox – still do – so I assumed that it had seen life as an early B-side. It hadn’t. It was re-released in 2004 as part of a collection of 7” singles entitled Cancelled Flytes, which is how the Heart and Hand must have got hold of it. (If you’re interested, it’s also available as a bonus track on the extended CD version of Turn! Turn! Turn! as well as the 1987 compilation Never Before.) This is not the first rendition of It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue to have featured on one of my compilations. I included the 13th Floor Elevators’ much slower interpretation on 2002’s Come on Let’s Go, which lasts 5 minutes and 17 seconds. Bob Dylan’s original recording comes in at 4 minutes and 12 seconds, whereas The Byrds complete their ‘version 1’ in a little over 3 minutes, which should give you some idea of the relative cadences.
I wasn’t keen on my new job but it paid fairly well and my manager would regale me with stories about surviving avalanches, the efficiency of the French town councils, and what London pubs had been like in the 1960s. This place of work was located in Brentford, which hadn’t changed much since I’d lived there ten years before. I was able to cycle there and did so most of the time. On Wednesday nights I began ‘bouldering’ with Mr Wilkinson, one of the guys who used to live at The Grosvenor and a couple of their acquaintances. I drank mostly at The Turks Heads and the St Margarets Tavern in St Margarets, The Fox in Twickenham and The Prince’s Head in Richmond. I was fit and working again.
Despite the two year timeframe and the confused associations, I consider The World’ll Be Ok to be one of my most accomplished compendiums. This is in no small part due to the renewed involvement of ska and rocksteady: Al Capone by Prince Buster, The Vampire by The Upsetters, and Concorde by The Prophets. These three instrumental tracks allow the listener to rest their ear after the earlier onslaught of guitars, as well gearing up for what follows. Al Capone by Prince Buster isn’t completely instrumental; he asks that we don’t call him Scarface because his name is not that, it’s Capone: “C. A. P. O. N. E. – Capone!” The Upsetters were the house band for Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry’s record label, Upsetter Records, which he established in 1968. I don’t know much about The Prophets other than they were signed to Big Shot, a subsidiary of Island Records that was later taken over by Trojan. Al Capone is certainly ska but The Vampire and Concorde would be described as rocksteady, which came after ska and before reggae. I don’t feel qualified to fully explain the differences between these genres, except to say that the shifts between them represented a slowing down in tempo, a diminished interest in brass and a greater focus on bass. (Legend has it that the ‘slowing down’ of rocksteady occurred during a prolonged spell of hot weather unconducive to dancing.)
All this leads neatly into Typical Girls by The Slits. The Slits were a punk band with an appetite for dub. In a nutshell, dub is reggae with the drum and bass turned up and the vocals taken off. Just as ska informed two-tone, dub and reggae had an effect on post-punk: The Clash, The Ruts, PIL, and dare I say it, The Police. The Slits debut album, Cut, is probably more experimental than any of that lot, its intricate rhythms reaching far beyond reggae. But, a bit like The Fall, if you can’t get on with Ari Up’s vocal inflections, it might not be for you.
The 30th birthday of the girl who was going out with the former cohabitant from Brighton was to be celebrated at Fitzherberts in Brighton, and I was invited. Such is the fallibility of memory, as has been proven, I hesitate to say whether I heard the B-52’s that night or not, but something of that type was certainly played. I cannot be sure either if it was before or after this party that I purchased their eponymous debut album. I do know, however, that the record had been on my mental ‘to buy’ list ever since I’d heard Planet Claire on BBC Radio 6 whilst working at Nikon between 2003 and 2008. In any case, I was looking for something to proceed Typical Girls by the Slits, so 52 Girls seemed appropriate: both songs are strong rhythmically, both contain female lead vocals and harmonies, both incorporate ‘girls’ into their title. Despite The B-52’s reputation for kitsch, they could certainly rock – this is a band that cut their chops at CBGBs. Ricky Wilson’s guitar forms the backbone to many of their best songs, a guitar tuned to taste, sometimes shorn of a string or two.
Buzzcocks Spiral Scratch EP was purchased from Really Good Records in Plymouth a few years earlier (possibly on the same visit that yielded Tom Tom Club by the Tom Tom Club) on 7” (the brevity of its four sings allow for that) in a sleeve that had seen better days. The hassle of recording vinyl onto my laptop had precluded its inclusion on any previous playlist so I decided, finally, to download it. Spiral Scratch was the third punk record ever released by a British band, the first and second being New Rose by The Damned and Anarchy in the UK by the Sex Pistols respectively. Boredom is its lead track, as fast and frantic as Neat Neat Neat by The Damned, which is what comes next. Both records were released in early 1977 within less than a month of each other, implying that Neat Neat Neat can’t be far off being the fourth punk record ever released by a British band.
The Fall’s body of work can be categorised into four parts. The first phase spreads from the group’s first album Live at the Witch Trials, published in 1979, through to the their fifth, Room to Live, published late 1982. Thereafter Brix Smith joined the group, whose tenure embodies The Fall’s second phase. She departed in 1988/89 after the release of I Am Kurious Oranj, and the third phase then begins, probably ending around the time of 1997’s Levitate following the sacking of guitarist Craig Scanlon and the resignation a little after of bassist Stephen Hanley. (Those more familiar with their later work may wish to break the canon down even further.) I embarked on my relationship with The Fall in 1993, between The Infotainment Scan and Middle Class Revolt, by way of Extricate – so during their ‘third phase’ – and proceeded to work more of less backwards, reverse-chronologically. Live at the Witch Trials exempted, this fervid exploration of The Fall’s back catalogue ran out of steam after I’d reached 1984’s The Wonderful and Frightening World Of... (although I did also own Hip Priest And Kamerads, a compilation that gathers tracks from some of their earlier albums). It wasn’t until The Wilkinsons gave me The Complete Peel Sessions 1978–2004 in 2005 that I was inspired to carry on where I left off.
Neither a single nor an album, 1981's Slates is an EP highly regarded amongst Fall followers. It’s far more upbeat musically (by Fall standards) than the work that preceded it – the LP Hex Enduction Hour – and Leave the Capitol in particular. In May 2012, I saw The Fall play at The Coronet in Elephant and Castle.
And never seen again.
I wandered into The Vintage Showroom on Earlham Street off Seven Dials, as is my want. Never bought anything from there but I like the feel and smell of the place. This Night Has Opened my Eyes by The Smiths was playing on this occasion, and it had me captivated. Why had it not resonated with me before? Maybe because it only appears on The Smith’s motley compilation album Hatful of Hollow, a collection of Peel Session tracks, singles and B-sides. I retrieved the CD from my collection and added This Night Has Opened my Eyes to this playlist.
The Brian Jonestown Massacre double compilation album Tepid Peppermint Wonderland does not include the song Whoever You Are. This surprises me as there’s plenty of footage on YouTube of it being played live – at the Hove Festival in Norway, for example – and it’s amongst their best work. No matter, I simply bought Give It Back!, which also features Anton Newcombe wrestling with the sitar on a number of tracks.
My nostalgia for old-school indie music pushed me in the direction of shoegaze, and My Bloody Valentine in particular. They’d completely passed me by the first time around – in the late 1980s/early ‘90s I only really listened to hip hop. It was the soundtrack to Lost in Translation that provoked my interest. Their early records aren’t really shoegaze at all and have more in common with the alternative American indie rock. Loveless is the where the association comes from, and it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, although Sometimes is probably the most accessible song from it.
I would have thought TOY like My Bloody Valentine. They display the hallmarks of shoegaze – although the noise pop of Split-era Lush might be a more accurate point of reference – and they don’t look too dissimilar to how MBV did at the start of their career: long hair, drainpipe jeans, leather jackets, not a beard in sight. After watching the video to Left Myself Behind and a live performance of Dead and Gone on YouTube, I was persuaded to purchase their album. The band still appear to be active, although it looks like a case of diminishing returns.
If you’ve read my liner notes to the 2002 compilation Come On Let’s Go then you’ll know that I purchased the single Powder Blue by Elbow expecting it to be their album track Any Day Now. I soon realised my error, but settled for Powder Blue in that instance because it’s still a very good song. Elbow had since hit pay dirt with their albums The Seldom Seen Kid in 2008 and Build a Rocket Boys! in 2011, neither of which impressed me much but may have provided the impetus to finally get hold of Any Day Now.
I resigned from my job in March 2012 (although I ended up staying on until June). It doesn't matter why, except to say that my manager was very stuck in his ways and had quite a temper, although he never directed it towards me. So I was unemployed again. Perhaps to reassure myself, I fixated on the The World’ll Be Ok by Teenage Fanclub, recorded especially for their greatest hits album Four Thousand Seven Hundred And Sixty-Six Seconds - A Short Cut To Teenage Fanclub. I also needed a song to jolt my compilation out the reverie of its third-quarter, which is very welcome reverie but an unsustainable one.
Bombay Bicycle Club’s album Flaws had endured, and this time I reached out for one of its moodier moments. Mumford & Sons aside, I quite like the ‘indie folk’ sound, despite lacking the chin follicles to fully embrace the look. Fleet Foxes suffer no such encumbrances. The band bring a fuller sound to bear than Bombay Bicycle Club, a wider repertoire of instruments, grander gestures, production values more akin to those of Phil Spector, and beards. (I can actually grow a pretty good moustache, and did so under cover of Movember in between jobs.)
The Look by Metronomy reminds me of revisiting the likes of Uniqlo in Richmond. It does not remind me hobbling around Porto, having turned my ankle whilst bouldering three weeks prior. I suppose Metronomy were born out of that electro-pop scene that flourished in the mid-2000s, although it was their third album, 2011’s The English Riviera, that brought them to the fore. I didn’t buy the album – The Look was downloaded – but the song is more than a mere novelty, despite the quirkiness of the accompanying video, and I made a mental note to keep an ear out for them.
Was it the Olympics, the Tour de France, or having time on my hands that got me into cycling? None of those things. It was Stage 5 of the 2012 Vuelta a Espana when, early on, Javier Chacón (racing for Team Andalucía) broke away from the rest of the field, built up a 12 minutes’ lead before being chased down by the pack approximately 30 km from the finish. What did it for me was the instant he must have known it was all over, when Javier glanced back over his shoulder and saw the Team Argos-Shimano led peloton gradually bearing down on him. It was a singular spectacle that evoked both fear and humour, like watching an explosion unfurl in slow-motion. Rock Lobster by The B-52’s does not remind me of the 2012 Vuelta a Espana but recalls that night at Fitzherberts in Brighton, whether it was really played there or not.