Albert Ketèlbey

  • In a Monastery Garden

Yeah, I bought this as part of a three-cds-for-a-pound thing in a charity shop. I only wanted two cds, so this was something of a punt. It’s not really my sort of thing. Another one for the Sell pile.

Al Jolson

  • Songs
  • The Best of

A couple of greatest hits collections will get you all the Al Jolson you need, which is, frankly, not a lot. An influence on everyone from Jackie Wilson to Tom Waits, he was clearly a hugely influential and successful artist but most of his output now sounds overly sentimental or cartoonish to modern ears. All I really got from listening to these albums again was confirmation that the three songs I have on my ipod are plenty.

Al Bowlly

  • Sweet Someone
  • The Dance Band Years
  • The Classic Years vol. 2

It is fair to say that my purchasing of Al Bowlly records has been haphazard and uneducated. I don’t know what I’m doing. I buy stuff when I see it.

According to Wikipedia, he released over a thousand records. That’s a lot, isn’t it? Where would you start? It’s all good, or at least all the stuff I have heard is. Though there must be a few stinkers in there. A thousand is a lot of records. Nobody is that good. Are they?

If you don’t know who Al Bowlly is, you will almost certainly have heard him at some stage. His songs have been used in Withnail and I, Amelie, The Shining, Empire of the Sun, The King’s Speech, Doctor Who, Snowpiercer, Eastenders, several Dennis Potter plays, and dozens of other things. He was one of the very first crooners and one of the first singers whose records were sold under their name (as opposed to the band leader). That he is mostly forgotten now, apart from when somebody needs to establish a time period in a film, is more down to a whole era of music slowly disappearing rather than him alone. As a society, we listen to very little music from before 1963, but while bands like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones established a break in the style of popular music there was no real break in quality. So much great music from the twenties and thirties is forgotten now just because baby boomers thought it was square. But Al Bowlly isn’t square. If you want to hear square, check out a Grateful Dead album. Urgh.

 

 

 

 

The Afghan Whigs

  • Gentlemen
  • Black Love
  • 1965

So, if my memory can be trusted, I’d stayed up to watch Blur perform their new single on The Word (Boys and Girls, which according to Youtube would make it February 25th, 1994, which would make me seventeen). I was a big Blur fan at the time, and enjoyed Boys and Girls well enough (though this wouldn’t have been the first time I had heard it) but it was The Afghan Whigs that made the biggest impression on me that night. They played Debonair. Debonair is a tune. I bought the album. I bought the t-shirt.

I still love Debonair, and one or two other tracks, but mostly my love for The Afghan Whigs has faded. We grew apart. Looking back, there is a reason why two of the band were wearing polo necks on The Word: it’s who they were. There is an aura of of-course-On-the-Road-is-great-but-if-you-really-want-to-understand-Kerouac-you-really-need-to-read-Visions-of-Cody about the whole enterprise. They are like a musical Bill Hicks, great in parts, and cool to seventeen-year-olds but also, in hindsight, a bit too bro-ish. Polo necks. You grow out of them.

Which seems a bit harsh, probably. When they stayed on the right side of the swagger/strut divide they were really good. Debonair is still a tune. Going to Town is great. I dunno…

Anyway, transport yourself back to February 1994, my mom’s house, the tv is on…

 

Adem

  • Homesongs
  • Love and other planets
  • Takes

I once crawled on to a stage between sets to ask Adem to play my wedding. He didn’t play my wedding but he was very polite about everything. Nice guy, Adem.

In fairness, this was around the time of Love and other planets, and the sound of a man singing about loss and love accompanied by a couple of bells and a harmonium or whatever probably doesn’t scream wedding. It’s a cracking album though. Homesongs and Takes have good tracks on them but Love and other planets is beautiful from start to finish.

We hired some dj equipment and all took it on turns to play our favourite songs in the end.

 

Adam and the Ants

  • Kings of the Wild Frontier
  • Prince Charming
  • Goody Two Shoes (7″ picture disc)

When David Bowie died, a lot of people shared stories about how seeing him on Top of the Pops when they were a child or young teenager changed their lives. The sight of a man dressed as a, well, as a David Bowie opened up new possibilities for them. Bowie broke barriers of gender and sexuality. He gave many people the courage and the freedom to experiment with their identity.

I was slightly too young to have my mind melted by David Bowie (though he did have a profound affect on my life, obvs, and we’ll get to that in time) but that doesn’t mean my mind has remained unmelted. I had never really thought about Adam Ant’s place in the melting process until this week but he may very well have been the person to kick things off for me. I was five when Prince Charming was released and the title track of that album, and Stand and Deliver, were as much a part of my childhood as LEGO or Star Wars or repeats of Huckleberry Finn on summer holiday mornings. They were just there, and the fact that they were sung by a man dressed as a, well, as an Adam Ant was just the way things were. I don’t think I thought about it. Adam Ant was no more unusual than C-3PO or Darth Vader. He was just a guy in a costume, being awesome, singing an awesome song about being a dandy highwayman. We’ve all been there. We’ve all done it. Nothing to see here.

Maybe Adam Ant set off a chain of events in my brain that led to me going to Walsall to buy records as a teenager in ripped jeans and a lime-green mohair cardigan and maybe he didn’t. There was a lot going on in my mind back then. It would be impossible to entangle all of it. I’m not sure it would be healthy to try. He definitely had some sort of influence on me though; for a long time the words ridicule is nothing to be scared of would have made an excellent logo for at least three quarters of my wardrobe. I owe him some debt, however undefinable it is.

As for the music, well, the singles have definitely aged better than some of the album tracks. Eight out of twenty two tracks from the two albums have made the cut to my ipod, most of them are singles, all of them are awesome. I find myself squirming with embarrassment when he tries to rap or sings about sex as he tends to increasingly do on later tracks on Prince Charming but Dog Eat Dog, Kings of the Wild Frontier, Prince Charming itself, these are things of beauty.

Action Swingers

  • More Fast Numbers

Action Swingers are rubbish. More Fast Numbers is rubbish. It’s all so male and stupid and stupidly male. Two out of five songs rhyme ‘disease’ with ‘on your knees’. When I bought it I was sixteen or seventeen and probably thought it was edgy, then, over time, I probably thought I was enjoying it ironically. It’s shite though, and I know that now, so why is it still smelling up my record collection?

In her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo recommends you should hold your possessions one by one and ask yourself whether they “spark joy”. More Fast Numbers does not spark joy. It doesn’t spark anything. It blows. I should have got rid years ago.

But it’s difficult, isn’t it, getting rid of records? They connect with a part of our life that has gone forever. They are a doorway to our past. If you get rid of a record, especially one you are unlikely to hear ever again if you do, are you throwing away a piece of yourself? Keep it. Keep the memories alive.

I’m getting rid of More Fast Numbers though, because it is bollocks.