Vinyl Revolution

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We are in the midst of a vinyl revolution. You’ve heard that phrase over and over again, but it really is true. People all over the world—young and old—are discovering and rediscovering the warmth and tonality of high fidelity vinyl sound and experiential listening one record sleeve and liner note at a time. But where does one procure such archaic wares?

 

Well, outside of your parents’ basement, eBay, not to mention charity/thrift shops, there are still in existence these little places called “record stores,” with scuffed wooden floors, a couple of turntables strewn about, and packed to the gills with thousands of records. It smells like the attic at your grandma’s house, but the soundtrack playing in the store is really somethin’ else.

 

If you’re lucky, you have one of these incredible retail establishments in your town –  and when I was in Seattle, I was spoiled for choice, but the ultimate destination was always Dave Voorhees’ wonderful Bop Street Records, in Ballard, where you felt you’d died and gone to vinyl Heaven. But, if you’re not so fortunate, you may have to hunt far and wide for a suitable shop. Here in Glasgow, what there is is very tiny in comparison to Bop St., such Play It Again Records (as the photo taken inside) at the back of Ruthven Lane, just off Byres Road.

 

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All politicians know – and often quote – the response from the unflappable Harold Macmillan when asked by a journalist what a prime minister most feared: ‘Events, dear boy, events’.  Put more colloquially, and much less elegantly, shit happens and politicians have to deal with it.

 

Things that happen can transform the political landscape, for better or worse, in a flash…or perhaps a ‘Flashman’, as current British prime minster David Cameron (whose political hero is Macmillan) discovered to his cost that one of those ‘events’ done for him last week: he took a huge gamble and lost with his in/out referendum that not only saw a split with the EU and a ‘Brexit’ but also split the country.

 

It was one of the most disgusting and divisive political campaigns ever in British history, as an often ‘blue-on-blue’ Tory squabble turned a complex debate about openness, tolerance, equality and solidarity into a sequel to Lord of the Flies.  The fear-mongering and outright lies of Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Nigel Farage, The Sun and the Daily Mail won – and thanks to the cahoots of that cabal, this is probably the most disastrous single event in British history since the second world war.

 

Every region of Scotland voted to remain by a large margin, the overall Caledonian result being 62-38.  In 2014, during the Scottish Independence Referendum, the Scots were told that the only way they could be guaranteed to remain citizens of the EU was to stay in the UK – and this, among others, was the main reason they voted to stay part of the Union.  Now following last week’s divisive vote, Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon has no option left to her other than to start the political process of a second referendum here in Scotland – only this time with the current fallout, I can see the vote coming down heavily in favour of independence.

 

The 2014 vote in Scotland came on the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn.  And if I were a betting man, I’d say the next vote is going to come by 2020, which by coincidence would be the 700th anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath, without a doubt the most famous document in Scottish history. Like the American Declaration of Independence, which is partially based on it, it is seen by many as the founding document of the Scottish nation. It was drafted on the 6th April 1320 – and 700 years hence, it could well be that Cameron’s successor discovers that Union is no more.

 

Ah, events dear boy, events, as Super-Mac was wont to remind us.

 

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Ah, yes! Who can forget the Ska Revival of the late 70s? And recently I was reminded of this when trawling through a backstreet vinyl record and book shop off Byres Road in the west end of Glasgow, as this medical resuscitation torso dummy was kitted out with a suitable trilby hat and nicknamed “Two Tone Tony” by the staff, because he was stationed at the 2 Tone section and looked as if he was belting out one of the hits from that era.  

 

Anyone who was around at the time will remember the unique and energetic sound from the Coventry label 2 Tone that launched a musical movement with reggae and ska-influenced pop that attracted disaffected youth during the harsh realities of Thatcher’s Britain.  And with it came fresh new bands such as Selecter, Madness, and my own particular favourites The Specials – who could forget Too Much Too Soon and especially Ghost Town, that proved to be eerily prophetic about inner-city malaise in 1981; and went to number one just as rioting erupted throughout the nation during a summer of unrest.  

 

And if it wasn’t the music that caught you, it was the sartorial cut of their cloth: a combination of mod, skinhead and gangster fashions, with highly polished shoes or boots, fitted drainpipe/straight leg trousers (or jeans) which were cut short to show off their dazzling white socks, button down shirts, braces, skinny ties, Harrington jackets, overcoats, pork pie or trilby hats and wayfarer or wraparound shades. Footwear included loafers, brogues and Dr. Marten boots.

 

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The single Don’t You Want Me shifted gazillions and was said to have made the cutting-edge British synthpop band the Human League. It came from their 1981 album Dare!, and was one of my favourites from the early Eighties.

 

But you can boil down the lyrical content of Human League’s big hit to the catchiest and, perhaps, most thematically important line: “You were working as a waitress in a cocktail bar.” The gist of the entire song boils down to that anyway, right? And then at 1:35 on the video, Susan Ann Sulley takes up her half of the duet with Philip Oakey and responds “I was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar, that much is true. I was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar. I guess it’s just what I must do.”

 

What’s clearly important here is that both sides understand that the woman was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar; perhaps even a cocktail bar and brasserie not too dissimilar to this popular one in Glasgow, Urban, that once had a previous life as formerly being the home to the Bank of England’s Scottish headquarters.

 

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Is it possible for anyone to listen to the song Handbags and Gladrags these days without thinking of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s original UK version of The Office? It’s sad when bad things happen to great songs – not necessarily that there’s anything wrong with The Office; and the personal images they conjure up for you keep getting interrupted by things like dreary Slough roads.

 

The song was written by Mike D’Abo, lead singer of the popular UK beat combo Manfred Mann, and is about the shallowness of being trendy and desiring expensive clobber, such as the trio of mannequins dressed up to the nines I found recently in a Glasgow charity shop. Even though it’s actually aimed at a teenager, the song always made me think of a certain kind of girl you’d likely run into in bars and clubs around the posher postal codes of London, such as Chelsea and the like, who had some vague job in magazine publishing and affected a devil-may-care, bohemian attitude because they came from stinking rich families.

 

Though Rod “the Mod”  Stewart’s version of the song is by far the best known (please don’t mention the Stereophonics version to me), I don’t think a lot of people know that the original was by white soulster Chris Farlowe, who released it as a single in 1967 and it was only a minor hit. Farlowe’s best known for his big 1966 no.1 hit, Out Of Time, and his singing style might be a little overwrought for some – he sounds like he’s going to burst his trousers on the line “they told me you missed school today” – but I love the hyper-passion he brings to his version, which matches the grand production perfectly.

 

Even better, it doesn’t ever once make me think of Slough; nor David, Gareth, Tim or Dawn for that matter.

 

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The last time I bought a Deacon Blue compilation CD set, it would have probably have been “The Very Best Of” which was really rather magic. But in 2015 “Dignity: The Best Of Deacon Blue” came out which is similar to “The Very Best Of” but there are good compilations and not-so-good compilations, and this one seems to be stuck in both sections.

 

Dignity was, of course, the Glasgow band’s first official release; a song that set them on a trajectory to pop stardom. The rest, as they say, being history. And one of the best pop songs ever with lyrics that are so inspirational, it starts:

 

There’s a man I meet, walks up our street
He’s a worker for the council, has been twenty years
And he takes no lip off nobody and litter off the gutter
Puts it in a bag and never thinks to mutter

 

Deacon Blue frontman Ricky Ross (he’s originally from Dundee, but we’ve now taken him to be a Glaswegian at heart) tells the story of how he was inspired to write the song. Working as an English teacher and living in a flat in Kenmure Street, Pollokshields, Ross used to look out of the bay window of his Glasgow tenement at the street-sweepers of the city cleansing department as they changed shifts. Watching them walk by with their cart and brushes, wondering about their lives, it gave him the idea for the song.

 

It’s one of those rare songs which transcend their writer, Dignity, which came out in 1987, has now become part of the fabric of Scottish life. You hear it at the football, on the radio, at the shops; at weddings and funerals; works nights out; and a very popular choice at pub karaokes. Dignity is special, in a Glasgow sort of way: ​an anthem for the decent, aspirational working life of the ordinary citizen – and still sounds great nearly 30 years on.

 

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Who doesn’t enjoy losing themselves in a second-hand bookshop? Here in Glasgow, you could go to the decidedly dusty variety such as Voltaire and Rousseau in Otago Lane where towering piles threaten to descend upon you, like some sort of bibliophile version of Jenga, or you could opt for relative safety by walking a bit further to the Oxfam charity second-hand bookshop in bohemian Byres Road.

 

The Oxfam shop is a haven of peace, quiet and warmth. And welcoming with all bright lights, smart flooring and neat shelving – all of which makes it one of the busiest charity bookshops not just in Scotland but the whole of the UK. And that was before it had its recent first-ever refurbishment and relaunch, making it even cleaner and swankier than ever.

 

About 50 books are donated to the shop every weekend, and there are 120 volunteers on rotas staffing the shop throughout the week. When you flick through a smart book there, often or not you’ll come across one that has an “Ex libris” sticker inside – now that is a bit of posh west end upmarket for you, gently reminding folk that they have borrowed a book from your library.

 

And like many, there’s never a time when I’m on Byres Road when I don’t pop in “just for 5 minutes” to take a quick look…only to emerge over an hour later with decidedly less money and the backpack crammed. Their books are a tad more expensive than any other charity shop, but at least it all goes to a good cause, I try to gently remind myself.

 

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Much as I love the nostalgic whiff of vinyl records, I’m not sure I’d want to be memorialised in this McGuinness Flint When I’m Dead and Gone sort-of-way: By having my ashes pressed into a favourite LP by startup And Vinyly (rhymes with “And Finally”), as can be read by clicking here.

 

Seems a bit strange to me (on the bright side, at least it isn’t a picture disk), and knowing my luck I’d probably end up covered in scratches, jumping all over the place and filed in the wrong album sleeve, most likely one of those awful early 1970s Top of the Pops cover version compilations some thoughtful auntie gave as a Christmas present.

 

Though I guess you could convert it to an mp3 so your loved ones can carry you around on their iPods. Maybe Apple could be persuaded to start charting an iDied service on iTunes, of top LPs people are being memorised on?

 

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They say that the average woman gets through around 30 hairstyles in a lifetime, with some changing their look entirely every 15 months. And through my lifetime, I’ve witnessed some iconic hairdos…from the meringue-like confections of Raymond ‘Teasy Weasy’ via the geometric ‘bob’ cuts of Vidal Sassoon. Yes, those were the ‘big hair’ heyday of bouffants, beehives and bobs.

 

Today, apparently young women are revisiting hair fashions of that earlier generation – big hair and blowdrying are back in demand, whilst many young men sport Edwardian ‘peaky blinder’ short back and sides. And specialising in those ‘blowbacks’ to our past is PinUps, the Glasgow West End vintage hair and makeup salon just off bohemian Byres Road. 

 

Me? Now, which hair clinic did Elton John go to again?

 

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There was rightly worldwide outrage earlier this year when an American dentist killed a famous lion in Zimbabwe called Cecil. Rather than a routine procedure gone wrong, the medical worker had actually paid roughly £35,000 to hunt the animal, seemingly unaware of the lion’s popularity.

 

Almost immediately, the fight for justice for Cecil was taken to Trafalgar Square in London. One of the bronze lion sculptures in the square was adorned with the slogan ‘Je suis Cecil’, which takes inspiration from the phrase ‘Je suis Charlie’, that was used to show solidarity with the victims of the Charlie Hebdo killings in January.

 

There’s also been tributes to Cecil through art. Recently the elusive Tontine Lane in Glasgow had a makeover and was open to the public, albeit briefly. For some time the lane has remained locked to the public, and it’s beautiful neon signs switched off, but for a couple of weeks in July/August the lane housed a pop-up restaurant and live art. Near the end of this run, I was lucky enough to see the legendary Belgian graffiti artist DZIA at work.

 

The artist, who has been commissioned by the likes of Mercedes and Dr Martens, specialises in painting urban settings quickly, completing many of his large scale animalistic murals in just one hour. His mural of choice was a lion to highlight the similarities between Scotland and Belgium, which features on Scotland’s lion rampant flag and the Belgian coat of arms – and in addition, he mentioned it was also a little further tribute for us all to remember Cecil by.

 

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