Old Soul records and other incurable diseases…
I bumped into Nige Horrocks today at a café in Freeman’s Bay. Nige is, amongst other things, a broadcaster, the award winning editor of Netguide and a good buddy. But more to the point, and a point of major connection between us…Nigel has an incurable affliction. Its an affliction suffered by dozens of otherwise balanced people I know but today Nige smiled and honesty admitted to it. It’s the inability to walk past a record shop, no matter what city or exotic location you may be in; an inability not to browse trivia filled fan obsessed web sites; an inability not to discuss obscure b sides and unreleased mixes with like minded souls; an inability to resist the purchase of that highly regarded album that you own five copies of because of one new added demo on the re-release; an inability to keep that money in your pocket. Credit card companies love us and most record company employees (especially in the quaintly misnamed Godzone) simply have no comprehension of what we are about. And I wouldn’t want it any other way…apart maybe from the record company thing (of which more later).
Nigel Horrocks (I know two guys with the same name, both with ties to music which is quite something in a small country like NZ) knows more about music of virtually any rhythm based genre than anyone I know and deserves to be back on a radio station...god knows we have enough of them..in very short order and it remains a crime against style that he’s not. Just a thought…
Another friend with the same affliction is Chris Bourke. Chris used to work for Rip It Up back in its golden age and now works as a producer for National Radio. He was also responsible for the very fine Crowded House book a few years back before the mass media leapt all over local music as a flavour, a risky proposition at the time I would’ve thought but I’m glad someone took the punt. Chris fired me a lengthy and fascinating email about a whole swag of different musical topics, some about this blog, some about the UK music scene, and a wondrous review of Elvis Costello live in February (“Allison” into “Suspicious Minds” with EC on his knees…the whole thing made me green as hell…) in Hammersmith. I saw the final gig of the first instalments of The Attractions there in about ‘84…where the encore was twice as long as the main set. I just wish he would get over the Sweetwaters debacle (he’s an obnoxious and obstinate bastard I think with a few ego problems) and bring his show back to this country again.
Chris also casually dropped the fact that he’d met Allen Toussaint in the street one day whilst walking through the crescent city…just casually dropped the fact. Gordon Bennett!
I unreservedly love Allen Toussaint’s music, writing, and his productions. He is, without any doubt, one of the towering figures in contemporary American music over the past fifty years and yet he’s widely unknown. I’m not going to document his achievements here…that’s well covered elsewhere but it’s a sad commentary on the state of the industry that other, substantially lesser talents are far more lauded than this man. And here is where my personal affliction shows through…I bought recently, for far too much, a beautiful numbered edition Rhino repackaging of the complete Warner / Reprise works of the man between 1970 and 1978. I own all these vastly underrated albums, on vinyl and CD, but I needed this remaster with a few bonus tracks almost as much as I needed oxygen when I discovered it, and I couldn’t help but do the one-click dance. And, yes ..it was worth it.
Chris just happened to bump into him on the street. As you do. What do you say to Allen Toussaint…” ‘Working in the Coalmine’ was a good tune, Al”?
So to repackaging and such. There is so much beautiful and intelligent repackaging and compiling done around the world that what’s done locally is often a disgrace. I guess as much as anything that’s a result of increasing downsizing, de-prioritising, and staffing by people who simply have no idea about what they’re selling and why people buy music, about the passion that drives their industry (as compared to the need to eat or clean that drives a supermarket chain for example). Music is a discretionary expenditure driven by pure passion rather than a fundamental need to survive. And it can’t, despite the way the majors are now driven by the counting of beans and clearing decisions with some desk in NYC, be treated the same way. Sadly, the majors seem to have lost track of why they exist. In 2005 the most important record label on the planet is Apple Computer. And the second most important is the collection of dozens of peer to peer networks and the small indie labels that have figured out how to use this technology to their advantage.
I can’t help but feel, every time I see some label or industry exec on TV bleating on about downloading or burning as destroying their industry, they are reacting against the problem rather than flowing with, and working with, it. It feels like a thousand fingers being pushed into a million holes in the dyke, like slow corporate suicide. It may take a while but the party is inevitably over. If it wasn’t so pathetic it would be comical.
God…I was intending to write about great repackaging so I guess I’d better try. Locally, EMI have done a commendable job with their sixties re-issues (which I believe have done pretty well), and FMR too have had their moments thanks to Dylan, Jonathan and John Baker. But you have to ask, where is the Flying Nun box set, or singles collection, why are the Split Enz albums only available in shitty eighties cheapo packages, where is the Streettalk collection; an intelligent seventies NZ collection; a decent eighties collection that doesn’t simply recycle the same bloody Dobbyn and awful Satellite Spies nonsense; proper remasters of Hello Sailor’s albums…the list is endless. Wayne Bell and I toyed around with a worst NZ tracks ever set once (it included Citizen Band’s Greatest as bonus disc) but backed down after we realised we’d lose too many friends.
Warners might be going down the gurgler, but the intelligent recycling and repackaging of their legacy by WSM’s Rick Conrad in the UK sets a standard by which pretty much every major should be judged. The Disco and Club Connection series, the Funk Drops albums, the four Natural High collections, the untouchable Philly set, “You Better Believe”, and a swag of others are simply fantastic. He’s given life to long forgotten club hits, album tracks and obscurities and in doing so has satisfied the passion urges of people like Nige, Chris & me and turned tracks that were long regarded as dead into returning investments for their owners and performers. I know the concept is a borrow from the likes of Soul Jazz and BBE but most of the majors simply haven’t cottoned on to the fact that there is gold in the vaults. And a compilation can be more than a collection hits supported by a slap bang cheesy costly TV campaign.
Talking of which….I have to laugh at the current Air New Zealand campaign where they now make a big fuss about offering the same sort of service on “selected longhaul’ routes that every other bloody airline has been offering for years. I don’t believe Air NZ should’ve been flicked off to Qantas..its our only flag carrier and the Australians have no interest whatsoever in sending tourists into NZ to spend money..lets face it, as Ansett showed, good business decisions do not come easily to ANZ. But, call me unpatriotic if you want, I refuse point blank to support companies like Air NZ or Telecom who happily screwed us for years until completion forced a change (Telecom still screws much of the country on broadband with government compliance). Besides which, travelling on Air NZ remains, at best, an unpleasant experience compared to just about any other airline you can think of…….