It’s a long, long time since I’ve been able to play any vinyl – despite continuing to acquire it from friends, charity shops and second-hand record emporiums around the world! Now with good friend and Passport regular Jon G having re-conditioned his turntable, it was the chance to bring some of these mysterious LPs back to life! They’ve been biding their time, waiting patiently all this time – it must be years, or even decades, since some of them were last played. It’s exciting – what will we discover???
First thing of course, the joy of the record cover and the handling of this extraordinary object. Then the action of lowering the needle onto the record. Whoo – there’s an immensely satisfying, electrostatically-charged click that lets you know everything’s engaged and we’re in business. And then the sound – maybe it’s imagination, but it seems to be so present and immediate: the nearest thing to having the musicians in the room with you. We play something by Joseph Spence, recorded in Nassau in 1964. The cover shows guitarist and singer Spence in a sunny courtyard in the Bahamas – we really feel that we’re almost there. This is a great start! And there’s the action of what’s going on up there on the turntable – the record revolving, the needle riding the groove like it’s following a map. It seems so primitive in a way – yet it sounds like this!!! Amazing!
We move on to a record called ‘Goodbye Sandra – Various Zimbabweans Volume 2’. We’d probably like to just play it all, but pick out a couple of tracks: opener ‘Africa (Le Bucheron)’ by John Kazadi and The Desh Band – it’s so danceable! – and something by the tremendously-named Marxist Brothers(!) It’s hard to move on…
We try out something I brought back from Japan – it’s a live album recorded in Hawaii by a Japanese band who sound of bit like Deep Purple, but more smiley. There’s nothing in English to tell us their name, but there’s a cheery American (military?) announcer introducing the group at the beginning of Side A – could be Gato, or Gator?? Anyway we’re agreed the sound is fantastic – the drums especially are incredibly sharp.
Next is a real humdinger – absolutely nothing written in English, what looks like an old colourised photograph of a scene from Chinese Opera on the cover and lots of Chinese writing on the back in what could be a plot summary. Very good condition and a beautiful label on the LP too. (£1 from Oxfam, Newcastle!) By now we’re really in the mood to hear something extraordinary and we get it! Beautiful singing – a duet it seems; voices like birdsong, with little interludes of Chinese flutes and strings and all of a sudden an enormous gong! Again we could listen happily to the whole thing and just imagine the story! I wonder if anyone can enlighten us as to what we were listening to??;)
Next Jon threw in an album of English folk – gorgeously sung by Peta Webb? I’ve never heard the name before – or such a beautiful version of ‘Oxford Town’ (beware jealousy!). By now we’re just listening with our eyes closed…
On to a live double-album by the striking-looking Ewa Demarczyk; again there’s little English but a lot of Polish. We drop the needle and are transported to a Warsaw after-hours club; an announcer with a wonderful, tobacco-burnished voice welcomes us to the evening’s entertainment. Ewa Demarczyk turns out to be dramatic, vehement, spine-tingling – and her band sound incredible, especially the intertwining violin and accordion. Once again, we’d love to stay, but we have many more places to go this night…
What came next? Ah, I think it might have been possibly my favourite of the night – and the best record I’ve ever heard to drink red wine to… (Luckily, we had some red wine…) I would really LOVE to find out more about these two – Lole y Manuel. It’s flamenco – just voice and guitar. And the most beautiful cover – I think I’m going to frame it. Did this duo make more records? And how did this one end up here? It’s definitely a Spanish release – so how did it come to be here in the UK? It must have been important enough for someone to carry with them – and then discarded in a charity shop. With all of these records, we started wondering about their physical history, and what stories they could tell.
Next we moved to slightly more familiar territory: an album of Laura Nyro (‘The First Songs’) and ‘Something/Anything’ by Todd Rundgren – the first passed on to me by a lovely friend who knows how besotted I am with Laura Nyro, the second brought back along with a whole suitcase-full of goodies from a gigantic second-hand record-shop in Ann-Arbor, and never played! As ever, Laura astounded us with her brilliance (we played ‘Billy’s Blues’ – this is from 1966!); Todd sounded like a wunderkid using every bit of studio equipment ever invented. Glorious stuff!
So much music, but we’re not filled yet! We pick up something breezy – Joyce with Tutty Moreno, ‘Tardes Cariocas’; and follow it with the breathiness of Hariprasad Chaurasia (last purchase from the old Stern’s record shop at Warren St) – a 20-minute raga for bansuri flute and tabla that gives us time to stretch our legs!
We’re almost at the end – the heavy stack has gone down and there are just two LPs left. One is actually quite a new one – Sufjan Stevens’ ‘Come on feel the Illinoise’ (including Superman TM on the cover), complete with triple-gatefold sleeve! How magical he sounds tonight – even more magical and filled-with-wonder than usual – it can only be the vinyl effect! Or possibly the bottle of red wine, which is now empty. Or something to do with the idea of listening to music together: music is a social activity, it’s one of its chief joys, and listening to music like this heightens the experience – it feels right.
We sign off with Tom Waits (you guessed?) – Kentucky Avenue from ‘Blue Valentine’ that has us both quite teary;))
Thanks to Jon for a beautiful evening and all those old records for not getting too scratched and holding their treasures for us to rediscover and enjoy.