Searching for gold
By ProgBlog, Jun 14 2015 09:43PM
Two recent family trips, on the face of it quite different, to Milan and Brighton featured common ground: the search for record stores. Regular readers will know this is something of a ProgBlog obsession but planned breaks, of whatever length, require a balanced approach to cater for all the requirements of the members of the party. This means that apart from some shared interests such as architecture and exploring historic and cultural influences, I have to drag family around record shops and, on the flip side, have to suffer antique shops and flea markets and boutiques selling trinkets though flea markets do in fact offer the possibility of finding suitable recorded music, either CDs or, more frequently original vinyl.
From arriving in London with a single Boots vinyl-coated record box in October 1978 I began to accumulate what I considered to be a worthy collection of essential progressive rock.
Though I’ve never lost interest in my records, the ubiquitous nature of the CD format and its less demanding storage requirements meant that I undertook a massive format conversion beginning in the early 90s when prog bands began to resurface with new releases and record companies worked out that they could make easy money from new format re-issues. The last new releases I ever bought as LPs included Pink Floyd’s The Final Cut, 90125 by Yes, Three of a Perfect Pair by King Crimson and probably last of all, A Momentary Lapse of Reason or Big Generator, none of which I would regard as classic prog apart from A Momentary Lapse; the 1981-84 incarnation of Crimson certainly wasn’t straightforward progressive rock. Peter Gabriel’s So was a leaving present from the NBTC in 1986. I did of course continue to buy second-hand vinyl during the genre’s lean years, when Croydon’s 101 Records was actually located at 101 George Street and picking up a somewhat battered Yessongs from a boot fair in Thornton Heath and a copy, even more battered, of Tempest’s eponymous first album from the Crystal Palace Antiques Market which is a warren-like flea market, just off Westow Hill. Much more recently I picked up a pristine copy of Anthony Phillip’s The Geese and the Ghost in a flea market in Lewes.
Stupidly, I also ditched some prized records as I replaced them with seductive bright, shiny compact discs. Out went Bedside Manners are Extra, In the Court of the Crimson King, Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Starless and Bible Black, Atom Heart Mother, Meddle, Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here plus some not-so-loved material like England by Amazing Blondel, itself picked up second hand from somewhere. The value wasn’t really in the music itself because I’d invested in other versions, ‘definitive’ or 20th or 30th anniversary editions with extensive additional sleeve notes but without surface noise, it was the (mostly) gatefold sleeve packaging that facilitated a comprehensive sonic and visual experience. The main beneficiary of this clear-out was Beanos of Croydon who I believed would give me a fair price for my well cared for offerings. I find it funny discovering dog-eared copies of In the Court selling for £40 in some of the shops I now frequent.
On reflection, the whole listening experience of CDs was far poorer than listening to a 12 inch piece of vinyl on a record deck: the care taken when removing the LP from the inner jacket; lowering the stylus onto the run-in grooves; sitting in an armchair with legs draped over one of the arms... This behaviour made up the soundtrack of my youth and I afforded it time and effort. When the CD format came along I was in a relationship and had full-time employment so I didn’t have the same amount of time to dedicate to the process of listening to music; on a sociological-political level those two times were also very different and I think the compact disc stands as a symbol of burgeoning consumerism, when time was wasted if it wasn’t being used to generate money.
Finding record stores in other countries, and Milan and Bergamo were no exception, is not always straightforward. Google will provide a list with addresses but the information is not always up-to-date and the restrictive internet provision of some UK mobile service providers means you can’t always use your phone to get you to the door. Last year in Pisa, one of the shops listed had changed its name and was primarily an urban stylist, with records found in a back room behind the main retail space with its shoes, shirts and trousers; in Bergamo a couple of weeks ago, the record store had moved within the previous month and, as it was almost closing time when I turned up at the old address, I had no time to locate the new premises. However, Rossetti records and books wasn’t too difficult to find and I managed to get hold of some obscure progressivo Italiano including the self-titled release by Dedalus (which strays into jazz-rock territory); the experimental Il Giorno Sottile by Fabio Zuffanti project Quadraphonic; and symphonic prog Il Bianco Regno Di Dooah by Consorzio Acqua Potabile. This last example was me sticking to the idea of buying releases by local musicians.
The Lanes in Brighton may be inhabited by local hipsters and tourists but that’s hardly surprising when you find out what’s on offer. In Shoreditch-by-sea the cafés and boutiques are right-on and trendy and full of very nice things to eat or to kit out your Kemptown renovation (Brighton Architectural Reclamation.) There’s an incredible incidence of musical instrument shops; I bought a second-hand vintage style Flange pedal from Brighton Guitars (44 Sydney Street) after trying it out with the help of singer-songwriter (and very helpful sales person) Jack Pout. We chatted a bit about prog (he quite admired Long Distance Runaround) and suggested I listen to the band If.
There are a number of flea markets (I picked up The Steve Howe Album and Imaginary Voyage by Jean-Luc Ponty for £5 each in the North Laine Antique and Flea Market, 5 Upper Gardner Street) and some epic second-hand record stores where I really could have spent more time. Across the Tracks (110 Gloucester Road) has a dedicated prog section and some records I’ve not seen for a long, long time but I just came away with Spyglass Guest by Greenslade. The labyrinthine Wax Factor (24 Trafalgar Street) also sells books and there’s even a diner-style café in a back room. The selection here is immense but its arrangement, though logical, means you have to surf through the mundane to find the gems. I picked up Steve Hillage’s L on CD and Six Pieces by The Enid on vinyl.
The Brighton trip was a semi-retirement day off. Though our house needs a lot of decorating and some renovation, retirement should provide the impetus and finances to get it sorted, to be followed by an upgrade of the hi-fi and, with a bit of luck, more time to listen to vinyl.