Saturday, June 19, 2010

5. From the estate of Cavell Nichol: Acker Bilk

Genre: Jazz
Place of Purchase: Auction, Wellington, $16 (bulk lot)
Why I bought this: I had no choice

My ownership of several Acker Bilk records stems not from an interest in lightweight jazz, but from an auction house policy of selling a lot of LP’s alphabetically.

For the many years radio announcer Cavell Nichol hosted a jazz show on New Zealand’s 2YC station. With the snazzy title Cavell Nichol’s Cavalcade of Jazz, Cavell’s show mostly consisted of mainstream jazz with a few excursions into the better known fringes; Thelonius Monk, John Coltrane. Like a genuine record collecting bloodhound I had dutifully cut the auction notice out of the paper (notifying the public the deceased’s possessions were up for grabs), pocketed my dole for the week and headed downtown.

Turning up at the auction house I discovered that Nicol’s collection of 600 records had been divided up into lots of 20, arranged alphabetically. If I wanted those original 60s/70s Coltrane and Coleman discs it turned out I was also going get myself some Bill Coleman, Jimmy Cleveland and a ton of Acker Bilk.

For $16 I got myself not only 20 LP’s from the B-C section but also about 40 reel to reel ¼” tapes and an Akai ¼” reel to reel tape player. Outside the auction house I hungrily piled my booty into a cab and sped home.

The Coltrane and (Ornette) Coleman LP’s have been played for a few years now. I’ve even found time for the zippy uptempo of Jimmy Cleveland. The ¼” reel to reel tapes are a massive archive of jazz taped off air. But until now, nothing of the 4 records I own by Mr Bilk.

Musically, this is trad jazz and not really my cup of tea. But while the music is indeed lightweight,  Nicholl’s attention to Bilk is not. Inside each LP are clippings, reviews, previews, interviews, all cut from pop magazines and newspaper, lovingly treasured and itemised. Inside one is a 7”. If I get rid of these albums, the clippings will have to stay with them.

Any lingering sense of sentimentality towards Mr Bilk is more or less done away with by the cover of Acker In New Zealand which  fills me with a powerful sense of yechh. Acker sits in the engine of an Air New Zealand plane his very tight trousers, his bowler hat and devilish moustache all combining for a sense of the aging Lothario on tour. One wonders why this British musician returned to NZ so often, if it was indeed for the ladies, Mr Bilk certainly also struck a chord with the jazz aficianado Mr Cavell Nichol.

Friday, June 11, 2010

4. Musical Follies: Liberace / Star Blaze

Genre: Lounge
Place of purchase: Unknown
Why I bought this: I didn’t - Birthday Present from 'friend'

The cover of this LP shows Liberace standing by his limousine waving joyously to his unseen fans. Clad in a white fur coat, bulbous rings and with a smile bigger than a casino jackpot, the image is less an acknowledgement of his audience than a celebration of the reinvention of Wladziu Valentino Liberace as the King of Las Vegas.

From behind his piano Liberace leads the band in a medley of light classical, lounge shuffle and cocktail jazz. One could either admire Liberace’s Showbiz dexterity or lament his desperation to be loved; either way the sum total of constantly switching styles is a complete lack of substance.

There is an old showbiz maxim about how some performers only come alive onstage; here it also proves to be the venue for Liberace’s slow death as inbetween songs he talks about his outfit, his rings, and makes awkward attempts to sort-of tell the audience he is not gay.

The audience sounds surprisingly small. One wonders who they are - desperate deluded housewives hoping this Ninny will take them away from their aging, wilting husbands? Indeed, if this music has any usefulness it would be as background for the opening scenes of The Love Boat where 'Doc' shimmys over, picks up a middle-aged heiress' bags and with a twinkle in his eye says "May I help you?" Hilarious, ridiculous but ultimately just plain Laborious.


Genre: Musical
Place of Purchase: Unknown
Why I bought this:

A 1982 New Zealand musical about... Space! And why not.

There is a curious mixture of ambition and modesty about this release. Written by the twin talents of John Reynolds and Shade Smith the back of this LP states that it could be staged by 'schools or community groups'. At the same time, the very fact of Star Blaze’s existence as a real vinyl LP makes me wonder if Messrs Smith and Reynolds had greater ambitions for Star Blaze than it’s likely fate as Room 6’s end of year production.

Certainly, the plot is wide ranging, combining action, romance, space battles and a character described as ‘Dr Sneech - traitor with a brilliant mind’. Tell you what, if I was in Room 6, that’d be the role I’d be gunning for.

Unfortunately though, just reading the plot makes my mind hurt;

Star Blaze tells the story of a group of female freedom fighters on board the spaceship ‘Vigilant’. After a space battle they capture the evil dictator Odium and his Heavies. However, with the assistance of the traitorous genius Dr Sneech, Odium captures the ship and forces it to land on the Planet Zodark. All the pirates are taken under guard to Zodark City except Sandy, the daughter of the captain who manages to escape. Alone and frightened in the outlands of Zodark she meets a young Zodark called Astro and after an initial period of mutual suspicion, the two become friends. However they are quickly captured by a band of roaming monsters called the Horriffs whose personal appearance is so repulsive that for years they have struck fear into all Zodarks. But it transpires that they are in fact ‘misunderstood monsters’ who simply want to be friendly to everyone.

Bloody Hell.

Musically, Star Blaze resembles sparse New Wave rock meets the Wiggles, with a sort of awkward exuberance reminiscent of Waiting for Guffman. Most is utterly forgettable, and does not in any way evoke space. Apart from that, there is very little info about this on the LP sleeve or on the internet. Or maybe there's lots, but I certainly can't be bothered looking for it.

Just when I was ready to write this LP off I discovered the tune Misunderstood Monsters, sung by The Horiffs, of course. Heh. This fills me with glee. It’s appeal may also have something to do with it’s wholesomeness, for which, after Liberace. I am grateful.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

3. The Iron Curtain: Neubauten/Shostakovich/Driftwood


Genre: Industrial / Pop
Place of purchase: Slow Boat Records, Wellington
Why I bought this: Searching for the avant-garde

German industrial noisemakers Einsturzende Neubauten carry a formidable reputation for extremism. So why is this record so boring? Opener Ich Gehe Jetzt makes for a magnificently droll and moody beginning, as if Welsh popsters Young Marble Giants had grown up in a steel factory rather than a coalmine. But over time, the marriage of industrial materials with 'songs' on Perpetuum Mobile sounds too deliberate. The record is bogged down by the consistently low/mid-paced tempo, and Blixa Bargeld's vocals methodically. spell. out. each. word. The cd itself is magnificently packaged with the lyrics in German and English, colour pictures of the group and a double cd-sized package; but somehow, like the music, it's all too formal, too designed.

While some Neubauten traditionalists no doubt wish their heroes were back to their roots sawing bridges in half, I suggest a more radical step; the West End.

Neubauten - The Musical begins with a pantomine Zorro tip-toeing round a corner, putting his finger to his lips, looking at the audience and going Sssshhh! Pretty soon, lone Panto-Zorro is joined onstage by 30 more Panto-Zorro's, all walking round corners and going Sssshhh! Then Blixa Bargeld is lowered from the ceiling in one of those hanging 70s wicker chairs with a giant oversized book in his lap, kind of like a gothic Ronnie Corbett. Just as BB raises his finger to go Ssshh! the rope breaks and he falls through a trapdoor into a cellar. The 30 Panto-Zorro's pause. After about 15 seconds we hear Blixa Corbett go Sssshhh! from his cellar, and off go the Panto Zorro's, walking round corners, etc...

SHOSTAKOVICH - LENINGRAD SYMPHONY (as performed by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, LP, 1974)

Genre: Classical
Place of purchase: Wellington Public Library sale
Why I bought this: Attempting to 'get' Classical

Wouldn't it be fantastic to enjoy classical music? (Ba-Dom-Tsh!!!)

Well, I think so... just the record collector in me gets all hot 'n bothered thinking of all those 2nd hand LP's in the sale bins, and all going dirt cheap because the owners have switched allegiances to Rare Groove.

But what do I know? I've been too lazy to get around to listening to the small Classical collection I have. Listening to Mr Shostakovich now, an avalanche of surface scratches, crackling and pop make it virtually unlistenable. I fear my entry into the Classical world is to be further delayed.

My reluctance to play this LP over the years may be explained by a distant memory of a sleepwalking flatmate pissing in the fireplace next to it. No doubt it's much-loved past this contributed to it's 'withdrawn' status from the Wellington Public Library. Either that or someone pissed on it there, too.


Genre: Pop
Place of purchase: Salvation Army Thrift Shop
Why I bought this: The title

On first listen this 45rpm disc has a rollicking idiocy that fills me with glee. "Oh, The Bear Flew Over The Ocean! The Bear Flew Over The Ocean! The Bear Flew Over The Ocean to see what he could see!"

Unfortunately the Bear in question is USSR President Khrushchev on a visit to the USA. "Big Bear go back and tell them that all our people are free". I just wanted a song about a flying bear. Is that too much to ask? In it's favour, Jimmie's video takes an impressively literal approach to evoking the reality of life behind the Iron Curtain.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

2. Yoko Ono - Onobox

Genre: Rock-Avant
Place of Purchase: Defunct Record Store, Wellington
Why I bought this: I didn't - it was a gift in lieu of cash

Most of you know the Yoko Ono story; how she drowned the Rolling Stone's Brian Jones, invented Glad Wrap and most heinously of all, foisted avant-garde-ism on The Monkees. Yes, that Yoko Ono.

The Onobox has been in my possession since 1997. In 14 years of ownership I havn't made it through one of the 6 cd's. It includes a deluxe colour book and a coupon with the special offer of ... an 'Onobox Ultracase'. ; a metal container in which you can store your Onobox.

What's more, the Onobox Ultracase includes a 'best of Yoko' compilation and ahem, one of Yoko's limited edition glass sculptures.

Now, first of all, I'm not sure I really give a hoot about Yoko's glasswork. Likewise her knitting or play-dough modelling. Secondly, having bought 6 cd's of Onobox I'd be mighty peeved if the folks at Rykodisk left the 'best' tracks off.
Finally, for what possible purpose would I need to encase my Onobox in metal? Perhaps if I took it ... underwater? Or to the beach? Iraq?

Mostly Onobox consists of 70s soft rock with occasional lightweight forays into disco.

For me the best moments are on Why? where John Lennon, Ringo Starr and bass player Klaus Voorman kick out a monstrously rockin improv groove for 9 minutes over which Yoko screams like a banshee. Walking on Thin Ice and Every Man Has A Woman Who Loves Him are pretty cool disco grooves. Other tracks from the Double Fantasy period (O Sanity, Yes I'm Your Angel) are weird 2 minute pop excursions but ... oh, let's cut to the chase.

If there's one recurring theme in this box of 6 cd's, it's PAIN.

Now it's perhaps natural that someone who grew up in World War 2, had her husband murdered, and was generally hated for pushing Monkee Davy Jones to debut his microtonal field recordings at Woodstock should feel somewhat... aggrieved.

But Onobox just wears me down. Lyrically, her reflections on men, war, women are awkward, labourious and if anything are better suited to 1 disk.

Bizarrely, the Rykodisc press release described Onobox; "Not as bad as you might think". With that sort of endorsement one wonders if Onobox was some sort of trade-off for Yoko's home recordings of John Lennon singing in the shower (with extra bass and drums to be added by Paul and Ringo, just in time for the Xmas market, of course...)

I have decided to sell this box. I'm sorry Yoko. But for the first time since I began listening to this music, I feel happy.

Monday, March 22, 2010

1. Emmylou, meet Sewer

Obsessive-compulsive record collecting is a pursuit that first appears in ones teens. Inspired by the music filling your head, you begin to compliment it with vast amounts of pointless knowledge gleaned from the credits of your favourite records. "Noddy Oldsmobile (Bass, 6). "Jesus", you think - "Who is this guy??? Is everything else he does this good???" Sometime later in ones 20's this private study consolidates into record collecting gold, when, rifling through the sale section of your local store you discover Noddy's solo album - for just a dollar! As you walk to the counter your heartbeat quickens. You hope you don't get mugged. Certainly you won't by the ignoramus behind the counter - how could he have let this one through?! Sometime later, in your 30's you unpack your stuff after moving house and find Noddy's record. At this point you realise you never even listened to it.

Hence this blog.

Last week I realised I have dozens of unheard records. Noise. Country. Alt/Indie. 60s/70s. Jazz. Comedy/Novelty. I decided to have a clean out. But first, I have to listen to everything. After all, I can hardly take this stuff down to my local record store if it skips, right? But more importantly, what if there's gold lurking in here!? I mean real gold, not fools gold like Noddy, or ... er, Dewey Martin.

Genre: Folk-rock
Place of Purchase: Sale Bin, Real Groove, Dunedin, $1
Why I bought this: This guy used to play drums in Buffalo Springfield

One can only imagine what this poor guy had to put up with in BS, what with Stephen Stills telling fairy stories about serving in Vietnam, Bruce Palmer dreaming of a 16/7 prog symphony and Neil Young obsessively re-reading The Catcher in the Rye. As this album starts with a drum roll perhaps it's not unfair to see this LP as an act of revenge by someone relegated to the much maligned status of 'the drummer'. Sadly, it doesn't deliver. 'One Buffalo Heard' may be intended as a statement, but is really a collection of incredibly anonymous folk-rock. It's so anonymous that I only finished listening to it 5 minutes ago and I'm having trouble remembering anything about it.

Genre: Chanson/Folk
Place of Purchase: The Warehouse, Levin, $6.99
Why I bought this: At the time I was listenig to a lot of Jacques Brel. I suspected that he must have other goofy friends.

My high school French is somewhat rusty. However, I can tell you for a FACT that in several songs here, Leo is either singing about his 'copain' (friend) or his 'putain' (whore). The cover of this compilation lists Leo's hits - "la vie d'artiste", "le pont maribeau" and "monsieur william". I must admit "monsieur william" is a real toe-tapper! I like this record! As for what he's talking about, well... I'm a little unsure but from the look of this video it seems someone believes that Leo had a vision of a dystopian future, and the true subject of this song was none other than monsieur bill "weelllliiam" gates.

Genre: Comedy/Spoken Word
Place of Purchase: Slow Boat Records, Wellington, $0.50
Why I bought this: I like to gamble.

Set to a background of upbeat Cocktail Jazz piano, hyperactive host 'Billy Playtex' doles out his comedy radio show of used-to-be-funny sketches. "Introducing that ruthless gangster of the underworld - Huckleberry FINK!" "Tonight that romantic comedy 'Are Husbands Necessary?' with Ga-Ga Zabor!" "Thank you Alfred Bitch-crock!"

Euuuggh. Pretty much nothing can save this Turkey. Even my personal favourite gag - burping with tons of reverb.

Mind you, at a certain time of the night, like 6am, after a night getting blitzed, this will send my guests over the edge. Heh heh heh.

Genre: Country
Place of Purchase: Echo Records, Dunedin, $1.00
Why I bought this: She's famous and meant to be good.

Why have I found it so hard to play this LP? Answer: the cover.

On the front, Emmylou stares downwards, perhaps into her lap, perhaps into her smouldering cup of yet-to-be-invented Chai Latte. Or perhaps at David Crosby cutting her toe-nails and reading her fortune. "Yessssss... tonight you will sleeeeep with a dwarrrfff". On the back she stands on top of a hill wearing a dress made out of Mum's curtains, one hand by her side, the other raised as if to protect her unborn. Emmy as Earth-mother. I mean.... pleaaaase... Thankfully, some of the music is fantastic. Most notably, Before Believing and From Boulder to Birmingham, where Emmylou's delivery hits the right line between the winsome waif of the cover and ... I dunno, something. The band has amazing dynamics of soft and loud, which is exactly the kind of playing that you don't hear on modern records. Do you hear me, young man?

Genre: Noise
Place of Purchase: My house, from Donald, who was leaving the country.
Why I bought this: Donald asked me if I wanted to buy it.

This charmingly monikered group come packaged in a plain brown sleeve with a screenprinted image of a (presumably) single man with his shoulders slumped and his head cast forward. As with Emmylou, I can only speculate what he's looking at. However, the three slices of dirgy noise improv on this disc suggest it's not David Crosby.

All you really need to know about this disk is that the music is in perfect synergy with the band name, song titles and the cover. I'm inclined towards keeping this, but click the video below and decide for yourself.

That's all for now. A bit disappointing, cos I was really looking forward to getting some of this stuff out of my house. Next week, prepare to poo your pants when I review my Yoko Ono boxset. I hope I hate it, cos I reckon it's worth at least $60 for trade.