A spot of anarchy by the seaside
In which resident vinyl junkie Simon Armitage feeds his habit with £33.33 of OMM's money. This month, trawling a Cornish record fair …
- The Observer,
- Sunday September 14 2008
- Article history
It's the holidays, so it's raining. Bad news for the ice cream and pasty emporiums along St Ives harbour and for the gangs of rapacious herring gulls waiting to mug tourists of their seaside comestibles, but good news for the St Ives Record Fair, which at least offers shelter. Inside the Parish Room (entry £1), it's everything that a good record fair should be – trestle tables, dozens of scruffy cardboard boxes full of records, and scruffy cardboard dividers scrawled with misspelt category information. About six men (it's usually if not always men) are truffling through the albums. One has tipped a record from its sleeve and is inspecting it thoroughly. There should be a name for this act of vinyl reverie, whereby each black disc is held on outstretched fingers, sometimes with the little finger acting as a balancing spindle, then tilted and turned at an angle to the daylight. It's like watching a Mayan ritual, the high priest looking for significant reflections in a bowl of congealing blood. Isn't it?
Back in the old days, being into Crass was serious stuff. Like being in an outlawed cult. I never saw them play; I was too timid, and probably thought that I might be abducted and sold to the gypsies, or wake up next day in a London squat with a nappy pin through my lip and a Molotov cocktail in my hand. Stations of the Crass (£11.50) is both an ugly and a beguiling object. Ugly in its blurted slogans and its scrawled graffiti and its shoddy typography, beguiling in its terse imagery and its artful packaging. Like Crass's anarchistic politics, everything here is either black or white, as if colour has been dismissed as a bourgeois indulgence. The sleeve, an object lesson in origami, is a giant, folded poster enveloping the two discs. Of the four sides of (ugly) music, three are played at 45rpm and only side four, a live recording, is at normal album speed. Why, after hanging on to a record like this for more than a quarter of a century, would someone decide to get rid of it? Didn't it match the new settee? Opening it up, I hold it not to the eye but to the nose. It smells like damp washing and hand-rolling tobacco.
I also buy Contenders by Easterhouse (£3.99), equally black and white in their artwork and only marginally less radical. Still sounds great. I also plump for Birdland by Birdland (£3.99). Remember Birdland? Four bleached Warhol lookalikes in Billy Liar suits. This particular pressing of their only album is white vinyl in an entirely white sleeve. Even the lettering is white on white, barely discernible, like milk stains on a paper tablecloth. Birdland were all over the media for about three days but I never heard them. The music sounds like an Eighties indie compilation album played by a teenage Japanese mod band, and perhaps as a psychotropic antidote to all this monochrome-ism, I buy Echo and the Bunnymen's Crocodiles (£4.99). When the Bunnymen released Ocean Rain they declared it to be the greatest album ever made – impossible, because it wasn't even as good as their first one. I already own Crocodiles on several formats, so I'll give this as a present, and whoever receives it should consider themselves indebted, cherished and chosen. My makeweight is The World of the Bachelors (97p), an album 'laminated with Clarifoil', I'm fascinated to learn, and from the days when it was cool to dress like a golfer, ie never.
Staying in St Ives, in the top corner of the Porthminster Café, behind the more esoteric liqueurs, is an abstract painting by the exuberant Cornish artist Anthony Frost, which, keen-eyed diners might have noticed, is the cover from the Fall's latest album, Imperial Wax Solvent. One of Frost's pieces was also used on Extricate, but in typical Fall style (wilful perversion meets chaotic accident) was printed upside down. In his Penzance studio, Frost tells me that the image on the new album is also the wrong way round, this time by 45 clockwise degrees, and has acquired a horizontal black stripe, because the cover was reproduced from a creased old photo which had been in Mark E's arse pocket for several weeks. It's highly satisfying to own a Fall album on vinyl (£7.89, eBay, inc. postage). Frost's high-spirited works are available for purchase in the cafe. But not the one behind the Galliano and the grappa, which has acquired, of late, a further adornment: a little red dot.