Sunday 23 April 2017

The Great Record Store Day Swindle

It started off as a great idea - Record Store Day started in 2007 in order to get people into physical record stores. Each year the day is celebrated with limited releases, only available on that day, and has been a resounding success. However there is a dark side and recent years have seen people who never visited a record store throughout the year standing outside stores all night, snapping up the limited edition, and then fleecing the fans on online auction sites such as eBay.

This year, yesterday in fact, April 4th, record store day saw a limited amount of 45 singles of penny lane and Strawberry Fields issued - these are already turning up on eBay for upwards of £50.

Way back in 2014 Paul Weller said he would never again be involved in record store day because of the touts and Beatles producer Giles Martin hinted on Twitter that he wants to try and get this year's  RSD release of Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields available for everyone.

It’s such a shame because as you know I am a big supporter of independent record stores but the greedy touts making a fast buck off genuine fans is disgusting and goes against the whole philosophy of RSD. It only takes a few to spoil a wonderful concept for everyone else. Shame on those touts.” Paul Weller

Some stores said their regular customers felt alienated by the prices and the queues and now avoid RSD; some wished that any benefits could be spread across the whole year; others expressed a desire to opt out, but couldn’t afford to lose the sales; another said they had already opted out because they could no longer afford to buy stock in the first place.

This is how Record Store Days works:

Arrive at 4:00 AM on a blustery April morning and still not be the first in line.
  • Incur the wrath of your line mates when you dare take a pee break in the nearest Starbucks or alley.
  • Endure the stench of men who have not showered or likely left their parents’ basement in months.
  • Get pushed around by hired goons and their extended family members who have no interest in talking about music, they have a list of items to buy for their eBay overlords and will kill you to get it.
  • Once the doors open, get herded in like cattle and face the gauntlet of which part of the alphabet you hit first.
  • Strain, hop, grope, beg and fight over access to plum bins.
  • Decide what to spend your money on since there are hundreds of releases — and you already have one mortgage.
  • Wait in line for another hour to pay while blocking every inch of aisle space from actual patrons of the store.
  • Leave feeling exhausted and defeated yet superior to the hopeless schmoes still in line.
  • Check eBay prices throughout the day to see if you are newly rich or a complete sucker.
Fuck record store day so bad man. Cba with cunts waiting in queues for shops they don't enter for another 300+ days. Twitter user

just bought the exclusive strawberry fields forever/penny lane 7" reissue at 4x markup on ebay... fuck record store day Twitter user

There have also been reports on Twitter of record stores holding back on these special items and then selling them on eBay for a fortune...Record Store day has indeed become a disgrace. And fans are threatening to boycott physical record stores over the Record Store Day which is the opposite thing of what RSD was originally intended to do.

How can record store day help record shops when all the profits are made after sale on websites like eBay?

Welcome back old friend - The incredible rebirth of the vinyl format

More than 3.2 million records were sold in 2016, a rise of 53% on the previous year, according to the BPI, which represents the music industry. BBC News

More than 3.2m LPs were sold last year, a rise of 53% on last year and the highest number since 1991 when Simply Red’s Stars was the bestselling album. This was also the first year that spending on vinyl outstripped that spent on digital downloads.  The Independent

In comparison to recent years, vinyl has made a significant surge, clawing back from what seemed like extinction. With a 52 percent increase in vinyl purchase in 2014, hitting the highest number of sales since 1991, it seemed clear that vinyl was poised to make a comeback as a common means of music consumption. Huffington Post

I grew up with vinyl being the main format for music consumption - I think I was around ten years of age when I had a small Dansette type record player for Christmas. I can still remember the three albums I had with it - one was that perennial favourite Elvis Christmas Album, and the other two were tribute albums by artists whose names are long lost to me. One was some guy doing the best known songs of Elvis Presley and the other was some band covering Beatle hits. Back in those days records were expensive and my parents were never the hippest of cats - they would have no doubt figured these albums were super,fab,gear,groovy and like those cheap Hallmark Top of the Pops albums, music covered by non original artists was a thriving industry.

You know what I played each of those records to death, and no doubt that Beatle cover album likely had something to do with the beginnings of my life long obsession for the fabs. And don't even mention those cheap and tacky Top of the Pops albums, usually sold in Woolworths and John Menzies. These days those albums are hugely sought after by collectors.

I though kind of ignored those albums as I got more and more interested in music - during the mid Seventies I fell for the punk explosion in a big way, and all my pocket money was spent in Wendy's Record Shop in Tonyrefail - a shop now long gone. I wonder what  ever happened to Wendy? Come to think of it, 'Whatever Happened to Wendy' would be a cool song title that would fit wonderfully on one of those Top of the Pops albums.

Fast forward to the late 1980's - a time of rampant consumerism, industrial disputes and putting old records in the rubbish bin. Or, even more fun, using them as quite deadly frisbees.

Now during the late 80's/early 90's I, like everyone else, fell for the con that was compact disc - 'they sounded better than vinyl', we were told - 'they were indestructable', we were informed.  And CD quickly became the biggest selling format for music while vinyl was consigned largely to the history books, loved by only a small number of audiophiles who were mocked when they said, 'Wait, CD doesn't sound as good as vinyl'  However these cro-Magnon hipsters were right all along. Vinyl pisses all over digital music, whatever the format.

 It is not CD that has made a comeback in the age of digital downloads and streaming. Nope it's vinyl and in 2017 the format is looking healthier than ever.

A couple of years ago my kids bought me a copy of Sgt Peppers on 180g vinyl - now I already had that album but not on vinyl. And holding the record I felt the years falling away, so yeah nostalgia may be a part of the new found love for vinyl. I couldn't play it, mind. I didn't have a record player. And so I went out and bought a turntable and amp and gradually the vinyl collecting fever overtook me and now fast forward to early 2017 and my vinyl collection numbers a couple of hundred (with more being added weekly) and I've spent far more than I should have on good equipment to play my records. But you know what - I'm actually listening to music again, I mean really listening not just humming along to reconstructed bits and bytes.

There is a tactile quality to vinyl records...They are large, you can hold them.In this day and age where everything has gone digital, people are kind of pushing back against that a little bit. A record seems much more real than a digital file.

Recent figures show that during the first quarter of 2017 vinyl sales have outstripped digital downloads. This is good news for us Vinyl fans.

There is definitely something appealing about holding the album in your hand. The sleeve art really comes into its own with the larger format. Often albums come with gate-fold sleeves containing all manner of information from lyrics to recording information. That in itself is so much nicer than a digital file which, when all is said and done, has no more substance than fresh air.But I firmly believe that the main benefit of vinyl is that the music just sound so much warmer, much more real. With a good system the separation between instruments is much more apparent, the vocals sweeter or rougher depending on the music itself.

Vinyl offers a richer sound than downloadable digital songs, which although hiss-free lack the 'warmth' of vinyl records. There is also the satisfaction of owning a beautifully packaged artifact. And there's a certain coolness in the rejection of the sprawling, multi-tentacled reach of the digital world.

Vinyl is more expensive than digital and takes effort to play - good art deserves a little effort.

Vinyl rocks baby, and don't you forget it.

Saturday 15 April 2017

A Coffin Full of Dollars Joe Millard Western Book Review

A Coffin Full of Dollars
By Joe Millard
originally published 1971
Award Books a division of  Charter Communications

It's Sergio Leone meets Bronco Billy as the Man With No Name joins a travelling circus as a sharpshooter in order to bring in the outlaw Apachito - dead rather than alive, of course.

Joe Millard was a working writer who wrote under a sting of names, in a variety of genres. He was  responsible for penning a couple of the novelizations based on Leone's western trilogy that turned Clint Eastwood into a superstar - the series sold so well that a string of continuation novels were licensed based around the character Eastwood played in the movies. A Coffin Full of Dollars was actually the first of the original novels to use the character and, apart from a barking plot, it is actually a pretty good read.

Joe Millard was a prolific contributor to pulp magazines, including Thrilling Mystery, G-Man Detective, Exciting Detective, Detective Novels Magazine, Popular Detective, RAF Aces, Exciting Western, Popular Sports, Sky Fighters, Fantastic Adventures, Amazing Stories, Thrilling Wonder Stories (as N. J. Westwood) and Startling Stories in the 1940s before contributing articles to Bluebook. He eventually contributed to around 100 different magazines and some 25 trade journals, including Holiday, Reader's Digest, Good Housekeeping and Argosy. Joseph John Millard was born in Canby, Minnesota, on 14 January 1908, the fourth child of rancher Frank Earnest Millard and his wife Alice A. (nee Lake). He was educated at the Pioneer School of Business in St. Paul, Minnesota, graduating in 1926, before joining an advertising agency. He subsequently worked as advertising manager on Northwest Furniture Digest in Minneapolis before becoming an account executive with Minneapolis-based Kraff Advertising Agency and Chicago-based Industrial Advertising Associates. He died in 1989. Information from Bear Alley Blog

The author sets out the narrative using the plot of the Good, the Bad and the Ugly as a blueprint - we've got the Man with no Name teaming up with scheming Dandy Deever, the  circus owner as well as Shadrach, a fellow bounty hunter who resembles the character played by Van Cleef in the movies. He even wears the same kind of frock coat and is described as having snake eyes - at one point he gets out the meerschaum pipe that Cleef puffed in the movies. The obligatory sadistic villain of the piece is Apachito.

We get double cross upon double cross as the all action narrative moves towards a great conclusion that satisfies both western fans and admirers of Leone's gritty and surreal westernscape. The author also builds on the character we know from the movies, and a dream sequence gives us the origin of the Man with No Name. We discover what it was that turned him into a bounty killer in the first place and although it is odd seeing the character as a young boy it does work within the conceit of the story.

It's a pity that the days when men's adventure paperbacks such as these filled the bookshops are long gone...I miss those days. The book runs 155 pages and is paced at a breakneck speed. Excitement is the key word with these books and this one is particularly well written and displays a good handle on
the characters we first got to know on the screen. Sure the Man with no Name is more talkative in these books than he was on celluloid, but then that is somewhat necessary  to tell the story. Those long silent scenes where the eyes do the talking are incredibly cool in the Leone pictures but wouldn't transfer as well to prose. And so the author builds on the characters, adding flesh to the bones provided by those classic movies. In interviews Clint Eastwood said he stripped the character from the dollar movies down to the bone and what Millard does is to reimagine the discarded elements, so that the characters who walk these pages whilst not exact copies do come across as a believable facsimile.

There's an interesting article on the Dollar novels and Joe Millard HERE.

Return of the Saint: Episode 1 - The Judas Game

Originally broadcast 10th September 1978
Episode written by Morris Farhi
Directed by Jeremy Summers

Opening with our fresh new Saint clinging precariously to the side of a mountain that really doesn't look that daunting - we are then given a voice over from Mr Templar in which he mentions how important it is to choose your climbing partner carefully. Though he may have to eat his words when his particular partner betrays him by sabotaging the climbing rope - however we soon discover that this is a test by MI6 to see how Templar reacts. They are hoping to recruit Templar in order to send him out to rescue British secret agent, Selma Morell (played by the lovely Judy Geeson).

It's all good ITC type fun - these are the guys and gals who brought us the original Saint TV series as well as shows such as Dangerman, The Persuaders, The Protectors. In fact ITC's list of   fondly remember cult classics is endless - Joe 90, Stingray, Man in a Suitcase.

I vividly remember getting excited when the show was set to air. I was twelve years old at the time and had grown up with re-runs of the previous version of the Saint starring the always wonderful Roger Moore. There was a publicity frenzy for the new version, with features in not only the TV Times but Look In magazine and no doubt given the preponderance of beautiful ladies in the show, the Sun Newspaper would have made a big deal of the rebirth of the action hero. Look-In magazine was a comic book with strips built around whatever TV series were popular at the time - anyone of my age will remember the magazine which seemed to be on sale everywhere. These were the days when children still read comics, rather than buying them for the free gift attached to the cover.

Look-in was a children's magazine centred on ITV's television programmes in the United Kingdom, and subtitled "The Junior TVTimes". It ran from 9 January 1971 to 12 March 1994Look-in had interviews, crosswords and competitions, and it had pictures and pin-ups of TV stars and pop idols of the time. Its main feature however was the many comic strips of the favourite children's television programmes, all of which were being shown on the ITV network at the time.

When the magazine began publication, it was edited by Alan Fennell and the strips were written by Angus Allan. Fennell left in 1975, and the art editor, Colin Shelborn, took over as editor. The covers in the 1970s were paintings by Arnaldo Putzu, an Italian working in London who had created many cinema posters in the 1960s, including designs for the Carry On films. His Look-in covers were mostly painted using acrylics. Wikipedia

Ian Ogilvy was perfect casting for the show - not only was he a fresh face but he was a fresh face who resembled a young Roger Moore - indeed had Moore quit the role of James Bond when he originally said he would that Ogilvy would have likely followed into Moore's shoes once again and took on the role of 007. Alas, that was not to be but although Return of the Saint is sometimes considered a flop given that a second season was not commissioned this is far from the truth. The show was sold all over the world and remains hugely popular today, even if it is overshadowed by the Moore version of the character.

"What a disappointment the first episode of this much-publicised new series turned out to be." The Sun newspaper.

Now re-watching this first episode as part of the superbly packed Network DVD box set, I was surprised to see how violent the show actually was. Before ten minutes have passed several people are machine gunned to death at point blank, but it is presented as comic book violence - there is no blood and people fall neatly, without trauma when shot. In the age of shows like The Sweeney, this was perhaps not a wise move but this fact doesn't take away the superb quality of the series when taken as a whole. And the first episode is not as bad as the Sun newspaper made out - Ogilvy perfectly embodies the character and the climax is incredibly exciting with Templar punching, chopping and blasting anything that moves.

I'm looking forward to going through the entire series. The Return of the Saint is not as familiar to me as the Moore version, and I've likely only seen most of the episodes the one time and that was way back during the original broadcast. So in some ways this show is fresh to me.

 The extra features on the DVD box set are superb - we get a documentary written and directed by foremost Saint expert Ian Dickerson, which features recorded segments from both Roger Moore and Ian Ogilvy as well as many other Saint luminaries. There is a wealth of PDF material which includes original scripts and magazine interviews from the time of the original show.

Now is the perfect time to Return to the Saint - the box set is currently available from Amazon and anywhere else DVD's are sold.

Wednesday 12 April 2017

First Frost by Henry James

R D Wingfield's curmudgeonly detective Jack Frost returns in the book which sets out to continue the late author's work by going back to the character's origins - First Frost is actually written by two authors, Henry Sutton and James Gurbett who go by the collective pen name of Henry James - I'd read and enjoyed the other three books they've written around the character of Jack Frost as created by the late R. D. Wingfield but until now this first book in the prequel series had escaped me.

Of course the TV version of Frost is so well known that it is impossible to read this book without conjuring up a vision of David Jason as our hero. It's the same with the Morse books - I defy anyone to read an Inspector Morse story and not have a mental picture of John Thaw. Mind you the Frost in this book is much younger than the original version, these books being prequels, so maybe it's a mental image of Dell Trotter that sticks in the mind. This may, in fact be fitting, since Frost's superior Mr Mullet is a right plonker!

R. D. Wingfield's Frost thrillers are much loved and the authors here have managed to capture the feel of the books as well as the popular TV series which still plays in repeats today. Of course the original author said of David Jason's portrayal of Frost in the TV series that the character was not his Frost, but the authors here have wisely in my opinion set their version somewhere between the character from the original books and the TV series. Now the character of Jack Frost was a troublesome creation and radio dramatist R D Wingfield struggled to get his first Frost novel into print.  Frost at Christmas failed to find a publisher for many years. It was written in the mid 1970's but  was eventually published in Canada in 1980,not appearing in Britain until 1989. Five more novels followed: A Touch of Frost (produced as a radio play in 1987 and published as a novel in 1990), Night Frost (1992), Hard Frost (1995), Winter Frost (1999) and A Killing Frost (published posthumously in 2008).

The rest is, as they say, history and these days Jack Frost is truly an iconic creation - the plot of this novel is typically chaotic and sees our hero tackling a missing child, spousal and child abuse, a rabies scare and an IRA threat.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and once started found it difficult to put down; finding myself turning the pages until well into the early hours.

Monday 3 April 2017

The Walking Dead Season 7 finale - Finally, we're going to war.

Just watched the season 7 finale of The Walking Dead and after a string of boring episodes it made good with an incredibly tense episode that has actually got me looking forward to the next season and the war with Negan. Overall the second half of this season has been a slog, with too many filler episodes but the finale didn't put a foot wrong and may rank as the best episode of the entire season.

The twist with the Trash-People was unexpected although the thing with Sasha could be seen a mile off - if there was one thing wrong with this episodes it was the flashbacks, there were far too many of them though the final one while we were waiting for Sasha to be released from the coffin really turned the screws on the tension.

The appearance of the tiger in action (at last) was a punch your fist in the air moment, though I still struggle to take that king dude serious. And what about Eugene? Is he still loyal to Rick? It certainly seemed like he was now loyal to Negan but given that he must gave supplied Sasha with that death pill and his final interaction of the episode with Negan it suggests that he may prove to be a hero after all.

Speaking of Negan - he  has been a disappointment - he comes across as a cartoon villain which is sad given the promising start he had in the show. Still I can wait to see that motherfucker die; hopefully in the next season. But please please don't give us umpteen boring episodes to get to the meat and potatoes.


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