Spotify update

It's fabulous. And free!

It's fabulous. And free!

In the past week several people have informed me that they have downloaded and are using Spotify as a result of reading this blog, which is really pleasing. At least one brave soul had also been listening to some of my recent recommendations – thanks Jim! As a result, I thought it was about time to write another article updating you with the latest developments surrounding the Swedish streaming sensation.

At the end of April there was an interesting interview on the Guardian’s Digital Content Blog with Paul Brown, Spotify’s new UK managing director. Worth a read, but some of the main points he touched on were:

  • There are now more than a million registered users in the UK
  • A “decent proportion” are paying for the service (either £0.99 per day or £9.99 per month)
  • They have launched a partnership with 7 Digital to sell downloads which is likely to expand
  • They are looking to extend the range of quality content available, including things like Peel sessions that were locked up by radio contracts
  • They are looking seriously at portability and specifically, paid services available on the iphone.

Spotify and I

From a personal viewpoint, using Spotify for the past two months has transformed my relationship with music, in terms of how I listen and what I listen to.

For a start, it’s proving to be a solid gold ‘try before you buy’ tool and more effective than any other I have used. For the record I have actually bought more albums than usual during that period (although that’s partly due to birthday vouchers etc) so listening to streamed music for free has not stopped me buying music, it has just helped me make even better choices.

I roadtested and later purchased the following excellent albums:

  • Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz!
  • The Decemberists – The Crane Wife, Picaresque
  • Great Lake Swimmers – Ongiara, Lost Channels
  • Vetiver – Tight Knit
  • Bat For Lashes – Two Suns
  • Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Being There
  • Staff Benda Bilili – Tres Tres Fort
  • Yo La Tengo – I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass

On the other hand, I chose not to buy a few others after giving them a Spotify spin (U2 and Doves take the walk of shame – although I did download “Kingdom of Rust”).

It is also a fantastic way to discover bands you’ve not heard before. Before Spotify I was not really aware of The Decemberists, Great Lake Swimmers, My Morning Jacket or Wilco and had never even heard of Cara Dillon or Staff Benda Bilili. The first couple have fast become two of my very favourite bands and I’m gradually working my way through their impressive back catalogues.

Spotify is also a fast and efficient record identifier. Last week Nic mentioned a couple of times that she’d heard a song on the radio she really liked and wanted to download it from itunes. Only problem was she had no idea of the artist, only a rough idea of the title. Thankfully that was enough, and within about 20 seconds I’d discovered the song in question. In the days before Spotify it would have taken a great deal longer to track it down and may have been quite a frustrating process.

If you’re a new user you might be too spoilt for choice to decide what to listen to, faced with such a huge array of great music. If that’s the case, help is at hand. There are a number of web sites where people are sharing the playlists they have compiled, and two of the best are Spotify Playlists and ShareMyPlaylists. Once you’ve got the hang of it of course, you can join in the fun by sharing your own selections.

I haven’t got that far yet, as I’m still wading my way through all the albums I have identified from reviews in Q and The Word magazines.

What price freedom?

I’m beginning to wonder what we ever did without Spotify to be honest, and I can’t believe that (at least for now) it’s still free. The adverts have become slightly more irritating but an occasional 15 seconds of Iggy Pop shouting on behalf of an insurance company is a small price to pay for so much great music.

However, as the company explores more revenue streams and looks to develop its business model they will undoubtedly try to tempt more of us to pay for the privilege. Back in March if you’d asked me if I’d pay £9.99 per month for the premium service I would have resolutely said “Never!”. But if that price were to cover an ad-free service and unlimited downloads as is the current rumour, I’d have to give the proposition some serious thought.

And so would Apple!

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Awkward Family Photos

I know this has nothing to do with music, but I make no apologies for drawing your attention to this wonderful blog which has had me in stitches for ages this evening when I should have been writing here.

Awkward Family Photos is such a brilliantly simple idea, but so hilarious.

There are so many great pictures up there, but my favourites have to be the two in the ‘Awkward Family Holiday Cards’ Archive. I’m sorry if it’s cruel but there’s something so endearingly hilarious about ’30/80′ (those eyes, that sweater!) and as for ‘Tis the Season’, I don’t know where to begin. Is he serious with that sweater – you just know that her matching one says ‘World’s Best Mom’. Oh Munchkin, with these his ‘n hers festive tops you are spoiling us!

It also reminded me of a fantastic photo of my family at Christmas, possibly 1978, when everyone dutifully posed for the camera apart from my Grandad and Uncle who carried on watching the telly regardless. If my dad or brother can oblige with a copy I’ll happily include it here for your delectation and delight. Worth it for the fashion infractions, hideous carpet and sofa alone.

In the meantime, enjoy the horrors of countless American family albums ….

….. and then come back here to read more about Spotify!

Tagged ,

Wired for sound

The Wire: listen carefully!

The Wire: listen carefully!

Thanks to Spotify, the other day I discovered quite by accident, the version of Tom Waits‘s song ‘Way Down In The Hole’ by The Blind Boys of Alabama.

I’d only ever heard it before as the theme song from The Wire, and as I’ve only watched season one on DVD so far I’d never seen the credits for long enough to find out the identity of the artists.

It’s a fantastic song and it suits the opening credits of the show so well, it’s hard to think of one existing without the other. As a big Tom Waits fan I’m embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t heard his version of the song before and wrongly assumed it had been composed for the TV show.

Anyway, it got me to thinking that it’s probably my favourite TV show theme song ever. I’m specifying song rather than theme tune, as that accolade would have to go to the hot slab of funk that precedes each episode of Starsky and Hutch.

I’d also like to suggest that children’s TV programme themes are a different category too, but if we’re going there I’m voting for Banana Splits as the theme tune, and ‘White Horses’ (theme song to obscure ancient TV show about horses featuring a pretty girl who was my first crush, when I was five!) a version of which I tracked down last year and actually have on my ipod for nostalgia purposes.

Go on then, I’ve set my stall out, now shoot me down in flames with your own favourites.

For me it’s fitting that The Wire, the series most critics consider to be the best TV drama ever made, should also have the best theme song.

But you may beg to differ……….

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Now playing: The Crane Wife by The Decemberists

Current favourite albums: 3 of 3

In third place this month, due to the strength of competition, it’s:

The Crane Wife: Nothing conventional here

The Crane Wife: a veritable plethora of lyrical wizardry

The Decemberists – The Crane Wife

My route to this album is a similar story to that of the Great Lake Swimmers. Initially I’d read a great deal of hype and excited press talk about the impending release of The Decemberists‘ new release ‘The Hazards Of Love‘, and whilst waiting for that to become available I decided to investigate their back catalogue.

On paper, this lot are pretty much my dream band.

Interesting name – check. Acoustic folk-rock music – check. Hailing from Portland, Oregon and thus very much American – check. Singer with distinctive, earnest vocal style – check. Wordy, literate lyrics like you’ve never known – check. You get the idea …..

Their most successful album before this one was called ‘Picaresque’. How many bands around these days can boast a leader like Colin Meloy, who actually knows what that word means (“telling the adventures of a usually likeable rogue in separate, loosely connected episodes” according to my dictionary) let alone can craft a record that includes a barrow boy, a bagman and a song about two mariners who find themselves inside the same whale, enabling one to enact a revenge on the other. Never mind one that sounds utterly brilliant into the bargain.

So, how do you follow that? Well, it would seem, by cramming your next album with an even more eclectic cast of characters and intriguing tales, including two tracks based around a Japanese folk tale involving a crane, an arrow, a beautiful woman and some clandestine weaving. Other stories include a pair of star-crossed lovers whose ending is predictably bloody and tragic in ‘O Valencia!’ and a sinister lullaby ‘Shankhill Butchers’ which warns that the horrific protagonists of the title are “sharpening their cleavers and their knives and taking their whisky by the pint” advising that they “want to catch you awake”.

Even in the midst of this horrible tale, accompanied by chains shaking in the background, Meloy has the poise to write the following lines: “They used to be just like me and you/They used to be sweet little boys/But something went horribly askew/Now killing is their only source of joy”.

Maybe it’s just because I’m a words man, but that “something went horribly askew” just makes me grin from ear to ear. I’m possibly just responding to a kindred spirit – after all I did once shout “Referee, that’s outrageous!” at a football match whilst surrounded by thugs hurling expletives left right and centre. It’s not just the clever use of words though – this song is a good example of the way he matches the lyrics to the tune to create a macabre masterpiece that you can’t help singing along to. Apparently someone has calculated that there are about 100 murders in The Decemberists’ songs so far, yet the tunes are often so beautiful and singable that you often don’t realise the horrors concealed within.

Only Colin Meloy could include the line “By land, by sea, by dirigible” in the jaunty ‘Sons and Daughters’ or create a beautiful, passionate duet in ‘Yankee Bayonet ( I will be home then)’ that turns out to be between a woman and her lover who died during the Civil War. It’s not your (very) average Kaiser Chiefs compendium of semi-literate urban brawling.

Suffice to say this is a fantastic album, and rather than attempt a full review I’ll let you see what Pitchfork, Rolling Stone and the rest (via Metacritic) loved about it.

It’s a grower, as is the new album, and the combination of an exciting vision, great musicianship and those erudite and beautifully crafted lyrics seal the deal to make The Decemberists my favourite band in reality too, despite Mr Meloy’s arrogant parpings on Twitter.

Tagged , , , ,

Now playing: It’s Blitz! by Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Current favourite albums: 2 of 3

Narrowly beaten into second place this month is:

Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz!

Now you can make an omelette ....

It's Blitz! Eggsellent, eggstatic, eggscetera

This is not a new discovery by any means – I’ve got both previous albums by one of New York’s finest bands, but it is something of a revelation.

Previously renowned for their powerful punky guitar riffs and singer Karen O’s frenetic yelping on debut ‘Fever to Tell’, and more of the same with acoustic guitars on ‘Show Your Bones’, this record represents an interesting and very successful change of direction.

Much has been made in the media of how the band have ‘thrown away their guitars’ and gone crazy for synthesisers, following the electro-pop route of acts such as Empire Of The Sun, Lady GaGa and Little Boots, but that’s just lazy journalism and an attempt to lump them on a popular bandwagon. In fact, as the Pitchfork reviewer astutely notes, on this album: “the synths are doing rock things rather than dance things”.

For example, on energetic opener ‘Zero’, there’s a heavy synth bassline pumping throughout, reminiscent of ‘Halfway Home’ by TV On The Radio, one of a few signature moves that denote the presence of that band’s Dave Sitek as producer here.

If you applied an old school method of evaluation to this album, namely, ‘how many obvious hit singles does it contain?’ then it would be an outright winner. I reckon there are 6, possibly 7 surefire crowdpleasers, namely:

  • Zero
  • Heads will roll
  • Hysteric
  • Runaway
  • Softshock
  • Little Shadow
  • Dragon Queen

The first three are all very radio friendly pop rock tunes, but heavily infused with a strong indie spirit. There’s no traditional chorus/verse/chorus pattern at work here: instead there’s all manner of miniature grooves and lengthy doodlings that give the songs their own distinctive shape.

Similarly Karen O’s voice is a versatile weapon and she uses it to create a variety of moods. On ‘Zero’, she’s sly, indomitable and downright scary, on ‘Heads will roll’ she’s commanding and powerful: “Off, off, off with your head/Dance dance dance til you’re dead”. On ‘Runaway’ she’s cold and slightly unhinged. On ‘Hysteric’ she’s warm and confident, taking centre stage to muse wistfully about the transforming power of love: “Flow sweetly, hang heavy/You suddenly complete me, you suddenly complete me”.

The latter is the album’s standout track, and rightfully destined to be on many a ‘best of 2009’ songs list and compilation album. It’s a gorgeous, simple love song with a lot of extra elements to prevent it becoming cliched, such as the “oh oh oh oh oh oh oh …. hysteric” straight after the chorus, the slightly odd lyrics about “heels turned black” and “the cinders (that) light the path”, and the quirky but perfect whistled chorus in the last thirty seconds.

With only a couple of ‘filler’ tracks (‘Dull life’ and ‘Shame And Fortune’) and a cracking low-fi ballad (‘Little Shadow’) to end with, this album’s a definite grower that reveals new delights on every play and more than justifies the decision to introduce synths into the mix. If you’re not sure, check out the acoustic versions of ‘Softshock’, ‘Skeletons’, ‘Hysteric’ and ‘Little Shadow’ on Spotify – they’re good, but not a patch on the originals.

‘It’s Blitz!’ is destined to introduce and endear Yeah Yeah Yeahs to a much wider audience, and deservedly so.

Tagged , , , ,

Now playing: Ongiara by Great Lake Swimmers

Current favourite albums: 1 of 3

Thanks to Spotify I’ve been listening to a lot of music recently, and have discovered some great albums and artists I hadn’t heard before. As a result, I’ve picked three albums out for special attention this month, with a longer than usual list of other notable mentions. Don’t worry, I’m going to spread them out over three articles so you won’t have a marathon to negotiate.

First up and top billing this month goes to:

Great Lake Swimmers – Ongiara

Great Lake Swimmers - Ongiara

Ongiara: even the sleeve art is beautiful

Until a week or so ago, I’d never heard of Great Lake Swimmers.

I read a review of their latest album ‘Lost Channels’ which prompted me to add them to my list of new discoveries to check out. As a result, I came across their previous release from 2007, which I fell in love with on first listen, and have been playing regularly ever since.

These days I find myself increasingly drawn to acoustic, folky music. Some might put it down to my age, but I just appreciate the simplicity of the sound and find its melodic qualities incredibly soothing and relaxing. Most of my favourite bands producing this music seems to originate from North America. And many of them are in some way quirky. Great Lake Swimmers are no exception, and as their name hints, they hail from Canada, and Ontario specifically.

From the outset they have made something of a habit of recording in eccentric places – their debut was created in a grain silo, and Ongiara, their third album was recorded in Aeolian Hall, in London, Ontario which was built in 1884 and originally a town hall, but is now a heritage site and a music and arts venue renowned for its fabulous acoustics.

If you are curious enough to give this album a listen, you’ll hear that the decision paid off: the guitar, banjo and strings all sound fantastic and the instrumentation perfectly complements the melodic vocals of lead singer, guitarist and founder Tony Dekker.

I’m not going to attempt a full review here – there are plenty online if you’re interested ranging from the ecstatic to the downright mean (Pitchfork again!). The point of these ‘now playing’ features is to highlight something I’ve really enjoyed, nudge others to seek it out for themselves and hopefully really appreciate it too.

If you’re a fan of folky, rootsy singer/songwriter type stuff such as Iron & Wine, or possibly even Nick Drake, then this will probably be your bag. I was sold by the end of the first few banjo bars of opener ‘Your Rocky Spine’ and it just got better. The second track ‘Backstage with the Modern Dancers’ is really exquisite – I can’t really describe why: it just is, and one of those songs you happen to stumble upon that you then can’t imagine being without.

My other favourites are ‘Catcher Song’, ‘Changing Colours’ and ‘There is a light’. That’s not to say that the remaining tracks aren’t really good too – it’s just that the first five really stand out. In fact, it’s the kind of album that serenades you slowly rather than grabbing you by the ears and demanding attention, but actually leaves you wanting more. More than once I’ve got to the end and started playing it again from the beginning: that’s not something I do often.

Great Lake Swimmers have sometimes been criticised for producing slight, fragile music and not really rocking out. Tony Dekker’s voice is, according to some, too quiet and not strong enough.

I think that’s just harsh and ungrateful.

You don’t always want to listen to brash, piercing vocals, thrashing guitars and a pounding beat.

It’s very pleasant sometimes, as Dekker sings on ‘There is a light’, to just “Stop, listen and feel” .

Tagged , , ,

Twitter ye not!

What on earth is the point of Twitter?

what a bunch of absolute tweets

What a bunch of absolute tweets

I joined about a month ago, partly for research purposes for work, but mainly as a tool for spreading the word about this blog.

Despite its massive global popularity, I am really struggling to see the appeal of this social networking phenomenon.

Like most people I guess, I was initially struck by the novelty of being able to ‘follow’ celebrities such as Stephen Fry and Lily Allen, but it turns out that being a cyberstalker isn’t that much fun after all.

Indeed, despite Mr Fry’s status as the world’s biggest Twit, I left the ranks of his followers almost immediately, because he just wouldn’t shut up. I was very soon bored by his incessant bleatings about his current stint filming in Borneo, and bunging up seemingless endless batches of photos of monitor lizards whilst whinging about the mobile coverage. Not jealous, it was just dull and irritating.

The two musicians I decided to follow haven’t fared much better. Lily Allen rivals the Ever Spotted Fry Warbler for sheer volume of bletherings, which whilst sometimes amusing, tend to focus on her devouring vast quantities of food and giving treasure hunt clues to tickets she has hidden for shows on her current US tour. If I were her management or record company I might be a little nervous about what message that sends about the success of her attempt to break the US market!

Colin Meloy, lead singer and chief lyricist of The Decemberists, has been even more of a disappointment. Having recently discovered the band and being intrigued by their love of English folklore, literary lyrics and mesmirising tunes I expected great things from this Renaissance Man. Instead, he just sounds fairly charmless and rather up himself so far.

What Twitter does illustrate very clearly is how much you can learn about a person’s character and personality from just the equivalent of a text message, or at least how quickly you can be encouraged to jump to conclusions and make a snap judgement. Now you don’t get more than 140 characters to make a first impression, never mind a second chance!

What really intrigued me about all this nonsense though was a couple of weeks back when I got an email telling me that Laila K was following me on Twitter. I know nobody of that name, and so was curious about who it could be. A quick visit to my twitter account (nest?) revealed that she is the singer of UK Punk/Hip Hop Band, Sonic Boom Six, from Manchester. My first celebrity cyberstalker!

But why? The egotist in me assumed that she’d recognised me as a major force in the blogosphere and hoped I could use my impressive influence to further her career. I then realised that she was probably doing the same as I had been in trying to advertise the blog. It worked, because I ‘followed’ her back and have since been bombarded with updates about the progress (or lack of) with the release of their latest album and tour. Then last week I was notified that a band called ”The Monotones’ are following me, but they sounded far too dull to warrant further investigation.

I’m hoping that by sticking to my policy of only ‘tweeting’ when I feel the need to boost my blog readership, they will eventually get bored and stop stalking, but for now it is quite amusing to have two bands as the only non-work-related people in my merry little virtual entourage (of only eight!).

Eventually I might get the urge to explore this medium further, maybe track a few artists I’m interested in, and possibly even add a twitter feed to the blog but for now I remain largely unconvinced, and my current feelings about twitter can be summed up in this little video I found.


Tagged , , , , ,

The chase is over!

If you read Sunday’s article ‘The thrill of the chase’, (if not, go and read it now, then come back) you’ll know that there was still one record that has eluded me for the best part of 20 years.

‘Earthly powers’ by A Man Called Adam.

The one that got away - or did it?

The one that got away - or did it?

Well, inspired by a comment posted by ‘Don Pash’ this evening, I decided to pick up the trail that had gone cold for more than one of us for a considerably long time.

This time I decided to unleash all the powers of the Internet on my quarry and conduct the search in cyberspace.

Thrillingly, a Google search bore fruit instantly, with a link to this clip on Youtube, which enabled me to listen to this classic slab of Acid Jazz for the first time in 18 years.

For nine and a half minutes I was transported back to the very late eighties, and the last time I’d heard this song, travelling in a car with my parents and my little brother, who introduced me to the awesome tune in the first place.

Appetite duly whetted, I ploughed on through the many search results, some promising a tantalising download, but failing to produce the goods. However, I did finally manage to track down a retailer willing to supply the 12″ vinyl version, the aptly titled ‘Hard to find Records’. The only snag is of course, that I don’t own a record player.

Further diligence paid off though, and I tracked down the only CD in existence on which the track is included, Totally Wired & Illicit Grooves: Acid Jazz – The Birth of a Scene 1987-1990 which I have now ordered from Amazon and should be with me very soon.

That elusive, now deleted, track will be on my ipod within the week.

Not only am I delighted to be reunited with this great song after all this time, but it seems somehow fitting that I located it using the power of technology. The ‘search’ argument that started with Spotify, via independent record stores has come full circle and ended with Google. As another wise correspondent suggested earlier this week “vinyl, CD, mp3, itunes, Spotify, they all have their merits, why can’t we all get along?”.

I believe we can, and just to prove it, Don Pash, I bought the 12″ version from Hard To Find Records for you. After all, that’s what big brothers are for.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Record Store Day – Saturday 18 April

After writing yesterday about how much fun it is hunting for rare and long lost music in record stores, I was quite surprised to read today that it’s Record Store Day this coming Saturday, 18 April. I wasn’t aware of that at all when I wrote the article, but in the light of this news I feel obliged to give it a plug.

Apparently Record Store Day was founded in 2007 in the USA as a celebration of the unique culture around their independent record stores, of which there are over 700. Like many good traditions (and several bad ones) that started in the States, it has also migrated across the globe, and there are over 50 of the UK’s independent stores staging special events to mark the occasion.

What makes this year’s celebrations more significant though is that sadly the independent store is a dying breed. I was shocked to read that there are now only 305 left in the UK, down from 1,200 in 1994, and 2,200 in the mid-80’s. Apparently 540 independent record stores have closed in the UK in the past four years. One of these was my beloved local shop, Polar Bear, on the Cowley Road in Oxford where the staff were friendly as well as knowledgeable, and would happily buy your old CDs without sneering or ripping you off.

Record Store Day: they need our help!

They need our help!

It’s all very sad, but instead of hand-wringing and moping, let’s all get out there and support our local store (or the nearest one we can find) on 18 April and encourage our friends to do so too. Without stores like the one memorably depicted in High Fidelity there would be no thrill of the chase in tracking down rare records, and many of us would have grown up without properly developing our musical tastes.

If I hadn’t have had the chance to listen to ‘So Tonight That I Might See’ by Mazzy Star in Coventry’s Spinadisc many years ago I would have missed out on one of my favourite albums and my love of indie music may never have properly flourished.

Spread the word, and support your local store on Saturday and beyond!

Tagged , ,

The thrill of the chase

Amidst all the debates about how Spotify is changing music, and what the long term effects of this might be for the industry and consumers, one thing remains clear – it’s a brilliant way of discovering new music and re-discovering tunes you’ve loved and lost.

I’ve benefitted from this greatly in the last few weeks and have a stock of playlists that are providing new delights on a daily basis. For example, only yesterday my birthday was made all the more enjoyable by discovering Great Lake Swimmers, a band from Toronto I’d never previously heard of, whose album ‘Ongiara’ provided a great soundtrack to a relaxing afternoon thanks to my fabulous new Sony laptop speakers.

The only downside though, is that it’s all really easy. Type in the name of the artist or song, and a split-second later you either have what you’re looking for, or you don’t, because it’s not in the library yet. Despite the ludicrous convenience of being able to do this so quickly and for free it is somehow less satisfying than spending ages tracking down an obscure album yourself by trawling through the CD racks of whatever independent record stores you can find still in business.

I’m sure I’m not alone in revelling in the thrill of the chase, and the immense sense of satisfaction you feel when you finally corner your quarry and bring back the spoils. Here are three of my most pleasing ‘old school’ searches for albums/songs that would probably be filed under ‘obscure’:

What treasures lurk within the racks?

What treasures lurk within the racks?

‘Century Flower’ by Shelleyan Orphan

Tracked down in Toronto

Tracked down in Toronto

Many moons ago, during the early days of The Tube, Channel 4’s first and probably best music show, I saw a performance of a song by Shelleyan Orphan which transfixed me. An impressionable teenager with artistic tendencies, seeing a band named after a Romantic Poet and featuring a pre-Raphelite beauty playing a cello, on a song that sounded like nothing I’d previously encountered, it was bound to leave a significant mark.

I can’t even remember which song it was now, but I distinctly remember the many occasions over the following decade when I’d scan the shelves in any record store I happened to be in, hoping to find their album ‘Century Flower’. Once or twice I found it, but in those days the lack of a disposable income and any opportunity to ‘try before you buy’ resulted in me leaving my treasure unclaimed, just in case I’d end up blowing my meagre funds on a duffer.

So, the years passed, and the urgency faded. Then, on holiday in Toronto in December 1996, approximately nine years after the original search began I found myself in a small independent store in the downtown area and out of habit I did a quick flick through under ‘F’ for Felt (another occasional obsession) to no avail, and then on to ‘S’, where I found one copy of ‘Century Flower’. I remember being shocked, then excitement took over and I pounced to secure the purchase, all the caution of yesteryear cast to the winds.

Sadly, this is one example where the delicious anticipation of the chase proved more enjoyable and rewarding than the prize. It wasn’t exactly a duffer, but the fact that only one track, ‘The Silent Day’ appears on my ipod today tells its own story. As a footnote to this tale I should advise you that the four or five seconds it takes to type ‘Shelleyan Orphan’ and press enter, yields 34 tracks on Spotify – it may be time to give them another try.

‘The bushes scream while my daddy prunes’ by The Very Things

Best song title ever?

Best song title ever?

This was another classic Tube moment that gripped me around the same time. If you remember it, or have ever seen the video you will understand why. Being a words man from an early age, the song title itself struck me as a work of genius, and the cod horror film style delivery of the quite baffling lyric (reminiscent of ‘Monster Mash’ or ‘The Munsters’) amused me and my little brother no end. Incessant impersonations of the song ensued around the Cook household for weeks after, much to the bafflement and dismay of our parents.

This was a hard one to track down, because The Very Things did not really become a household name, as you might imagine – probably quite rightly if we’re honest. I don’t recall ever being able to find it in a record store, though I always checked the ‘V’ rack just in case an album containing the track was lying in wait.

Then early last year, 24 years after the song originally appeared, I decided to give the itunes store what I considered to be its ultimate test. To my utter amazement, there it was, and for the princely sum of £0.79 I had captured a song that had eluded me for the best part of a quarter of a century. This time there was no disappointment – I was instantly transported back to 1984 and recaptured my initial excitement at the slightly unhinged ‘singing’ and occasionally discordant accompaniment.

I just checked Spotify and although it took about seven seconds to type in the song title, that track and the whole album of the same name are available – I might be brave enough to check out ‘Shearing machine’ tomorrow!

‘The Forest is Crying’ by the Trio Bulgarka

If only they knew how much I'd cared ...

If only they knew how much I'd cared ...

This one is my favourite search story because it’s a real saga. I first heard the Trio Bulgarka on Kate Bush’s album ‘The Sensual World’ and fell in love with their magical, mystical vocals which were obviously complete gibberish to me, yet sounded strangely compelling. I bought their album ‘The Forest is Crying’ when it came out in 1988, and played it very often, especially the track ‘Mari Tudoro’ which was just hauntingly beautiful and became a firm favourite.

‘So where’s the search in that?’ you may ask. Well, let’s cut to the chase. Just over a decade later, someone borrowed some of my CDs to take to work, including that one. When they were returned, the case for this album was empty and the person concerned made no attempt to find it or even apologise. One might even conclude that they’d done it on purpose. Bulgarian folk music may not be everyone’s bag, but that’s just rude.

So, as it was a treasured album, the search for its replacement was fervent and relentless. And seemingly doomed. After putting in the usual legwork in record stores proved fruitless, I took advantage of access to the new internet technology and extended the search online. It was then that I discovered that the album had been deleted by the record label Hannibal, and was subsequently unavailable for purchase. Refusing to accept defeat I tried various other routes, including registering a reservation request on Amazon, which again, eventually proved to be a frustrating dead end. By this time (about four or five years later!) I was feeling like the online equivalent of J R Hartley from the old Yellow Pages ad, hapless and defeated.

So I gave up. Forgot all about it, and moved on.

Until this time last year, when on a week’s holiday to New York I was pottering around the Virgin Megastore in Union Square after a fabulous breakfast burrito. On a whim, I ventured into the World Music section which I hadn’t done for several years, and had a quick look under T. And there it was, in all its glory, with the same CD cover. Just one copy.

I instinctively grabbed it, to ensure no-one else beat me to it, before laughing out loud at how ridiculous the gesture was. I was so surprised by my find I had a job explaining the significance of it to Nic (my wonderful wife) when I found her in the Pop section. To her immense credit she didn’t look at me as if I was insane, and seemed to understand my joy, even if it would have been hard for her to share my enthusiasm for the album.

There was one further slight twist, when we got to the checkout and my credit card was originally refused (due to the over-enthusiastic fraud protection measures practised by certain British banks that fail to consider you might be legitimately buying things on holiday abroad). I was not about to let that prevent me from claiming my prize, and although I was prepared to get as dramatic as circumstances required, the cash machine in the shop had less scruples and paved the way to purchase.

Twenty years after I originally owned it, and ten years after it had been cast asunder, I finally had it back in my possession. As soon as we got back to the UK it was transferred to my ipod and I was enjoying the delights of those strange ethereal warblings once again.

Satisfyingly, you can’t get this album on Spotify …. yet.

The one that got away

There’s still one song that has eluded me over the past two decades, and I haven’t even got very close. That’s partly due to the fact that I can’t remember if it was called ‘Heavenly powers’ or ‘Earthly powers’ but it was by A Man Called Adam (that’s the real group name, not further proof of my dodgy memory skills).

I’ve scoured record stores, drawn a blank with Amazon and itunes, and Spotify has also failed me to date.

If anyone out there can point me in the right direction I will be ridiculously grateful.

The chase is on …….

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,