For the record: why we love vinyl

By Alan Gregson

As a teenager in the Eighties, I grew up with records. I started buying music just before the invention of CDs and long before CDs became the dominant music format. My first love was cassettes. I’ve previously written about this for British Ideas Corporation but records are my enduring passion.

There’s many a learned article been written about which music format sounds the best but listening to music isn’t a scientific exercise. Yes, digital audio straight from the mixing desk is probably the purest sound and when pumped through a pair of high-end studio monitors, it will blow your socks clean into the next room. The thing is, music isn’t pure. A piano, for instance, generates undertones and overtones as the strings either side vibrate with each note. These are known as harmonics. Even though harmonics are almost impossible to hear, they give warmth and context to the actual notes, so we are used to hearing imperfections in music. When these are removed, either from digital mastering or from mp3 compression, there is something lost from the overall sound.

I like the sound from vinyl. It may be a placebo effect but being able to see the media, read the sleeve notes without a magnifying glass and physically place the needle on the record, it provides a greater connection with the music.

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Be kind, rewind: life in an Eighties video store

By Alan Gregson

My one link to Quentin Tarantino is that we both spent five years in the Eighties working in a video store, although mine wasn’t in California, rather it was in Bury, a town a few miles north of Manchester.

I started there in May 1985, and on my first night I was shown the ropes by a nice lady who was promptly sacked when one of the owners arrived. The co-owner then gave me the keys, showed me how to set the alarm, told me how to cash-up the till and where to drop the cash through the floor into the safe. Then she disappeared.

Great first night on the job. Luckily it wasn’t busy so I coped well enough until it was time to lock up at 10pm.

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Living for the weekend: Saturday kids’ TV

By Alan Gregson

Offered: Subbuteo FA Cup Final set – Wanted: Anything to do with Adam Ant

Up to the late Seventies, our mum used to drag us kids to town and deposit us at the Odeon, where, in exchange for ten bob, we got a morning of cartoons, Fifties adventure serials and maybe a re-run film, along with a carton of drink and a packet of crisps. This was the Saturday Kids Club.

Then mum got a car and started doing the shopping at Asda, so no more trips to town and no more Saturday Kids Club, but around the same time, TV started to provide an alternative source of Saturday morning entertainment for kids in the shape of Multi-Coloured Swap Shop and Tiswas.

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Inspiral Carpets’ “Saturn 5” for Christmas No.1

If you’re upwards of 40, the Madchester movement may well have defined the person you are today. For the baggy aficionado around 1989-’90, there were four bands that filled our musical Champions League places: New Order, Happy Mondays, Stone Roses and Inspiral Carpets, with, perhaps, 808 State, Paris Angels, The Farm, Intastella, Northside, World Of Twist, The Bridewell Taxis, Flowered Up and The High trailing behind. (And yes, we realise it was the European Cup back in 1989 and only the League champions were permitted to take part – as it should be today!)

Back then, Monday mornings would naturally be spent in local independent record shops searching for indie-dance-crossover nuggets, while the rest of the week, your purchases would supply the soundtrack for everything you did, even taking a bath or fixing a motorbike, repeatedly playing the vinyl until you’d absorbed every word, bassline and beat. Heck, those were exciting times.

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The generator game: a visit to Drax Power Station

Despite the industrial ravages of the Eighties, the landscape of Doncaster in England’s unfeasibly flat north-east is still one of railway sidings, chimneys and canals. There is, however, a recent exclusion from the horizon. Colliery winding gear, so long a feature of the terrain, has vanished, although from the window of a Hull-bound train you’ll still see the odd slagheap sprawled out like an oversized, fast-asleep Labrador. Coal, which powered the industrial revolution and the engines of the British Empire, is no longer mined in Yorkshire. In 1984, there were 56 pits in the region but the 2015 closure of Hatfield and Kellingley collieries brought to an end an industry that had been active since Roman times.

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I was taping that! A treatise on the cassette

By Alan Gregson

In these days of Spotify and YouTube, it’s difficult to imagine a time when your music stayed at home and the only way to listen to music on the move was on the radio.

The birth of the Compact Cassette, commonly referred to as simply the “cassette” or “tape”, kick-started a revolution in music, and possibly in society as a whole. Now we were no longer forced to simply hum the last track we heard on the radio as we walked to school. Now we could block out the rest of the world and listen to The Clash or New Order on our Walkman, or, if our birthday funds couldn’t stretch to the real thing, a £5 Alba personal stereo from Argos or Woolworths. But we’re running ahead like a stretched tape. Let’s rewind a bit.

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Bills ’n’ thrills and violins: Peter Hook

Clocking in at over 700 pages, former New Order bassist Peter Hook has much to say in his new book Substance, which catalogues, in fan-delighting minutiae, his tumultuous tenure in Britain’s foremost indie four-piece. Intra-group wrangling, love trysts, moodiness, shocking amounts of white powder and hangovers from hell defined the band’s existence. Throw in some jet lag, tax issues and ownership of a loss-making nightclub and you have a story that’s more epic than any film could ever capture (although Michael Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People from 2002 gave it a good try.)

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Down on the farm: an interview with Andy Diagram

By Alan Gregson

Any James fan will tell you that a vital part of the band’s live show is Andy Diagram and his roving trumpet antics. What they might not know is that over the years, Diagram has performed trumpet duties for, among others, Black Francis, Nico, A Certain Ratio, The Pale Fountains and Pere Ubu.

Diagram was one of the first trumpeters to use effects pedals with his instrument and he took the sound to a new level with his own band, Spaceheads, using loopers controlled from his iPhone, along with percussion from his long-time collaborator Richard Harrison, to produce extraordinary soundscapes, usually accompanied by projections from Rucksack Cinema.

We catch up with Diagram on the Warrington farm of his mate Mark Harrison for the 11th annual Mud Hutters Tea Party.

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Tony Garnett: the film-maker with his own epic story to tell

As autobiographies go, Tony Garnett’s The Day The Music Died: A Life Lived Behind The Lens is as gritty, honest and heart-wrenching as the film and television work that he’s known for. In the Sixties and Seventies, his career was entwined with that of director Ken Loach, a producer on such notable dramas as Kes (possibly the finest film ever made), Cathy Come Home and Up The Junction. In the Nineties, Garnett’s BBC projects This Life, about a group of hedonistic law graduates, and The Cops, focusing on a police station in the fictional northern town of Stanton, were both controversial and strong signifiers of their time. Continue reading “Tony Garnett: the film-maker with his own epic story to tell”