Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Best New Album – Worst Live Band (Part 1 of 2)

"How old is Cambridge University anyway? Didn't Henry VIII start it or something?"
"Nah, I think it's even older than that. He probably just went there."
"Says here it was founded in 1209, by some
Oxford scholars who had to move after a fight with some of the townspeople."
"I bet they lost."
"Well, obviously."

M and I are out of our depth discussing the noble history of student-bashing in and around the world's oldest universities. I did get pushed down a flight of stairs and stamped on once, for looking a bit like Wolf off of Gladiators, but this was the same year PEL became UEL and hardly in the same category.

M has many happy teenage memories of
Cambridge, the city. I know it fairly well too, and no longer imagine the success of the shop to be dependent upon me getting students into Lightnin' Hopkins and even greater debt. Further, we both probably knew that we wouldn't have been able to afford Oxbridge.

Like with the albums that will be for sale, a long and illustrious history doesn’t necessarily mean ‘Better’ in 2018, anyway. Nevertheless, we are still rather taken aback by an ad for what looks like a crappy room in a crappy house, being available for rent at a hundred quid a week. That, as they say, is Almost London Prices.

We've just spent a lovely week in Leigh on Sea, which has some terrific houses (also at Almost London Prices), and some great records and beer for sale, which are both justifiably expensive, regardless of geography; I'm sure you would agree.
Cambridge has at least some of that too, in addition to the best part of a millennium's history as one of the world's great seats of learning.

This isn't what we are looking for, though. The city centre has nowhere to park a compact motorhome, and its suburbs are, as with the other endless residential Nowheresvilles surrounding most cities, mind-numbingly dull. This may be the perfect working environment in which to bring together quantum theory and thermodynamics, or to write a double album of tuneless non-songs full of weird noises with some cows on the front, but it leaves me cold. Which is exactly how I felt as we waited for the Park and Ride bus.

Deal, which we revisited in-between-the-two, is a place of real inspiration by comparison, and would be an excellent place to open a record shop with good beer if it were not a place that already had Smugglers Records in it.

When I visited early in the tour, I was kidding myself that it was not the time to be shopping for records, but more recently I've caved to my instincts, perhaps in anticipation of setting the shop up soon. Leigh's old records by Alex Moore, The Cure and the John Renbourn Group may appeal enough to make me part with cash (even when my hi-fi is still disconnected and spread to the four winds), but what I am really craving now is something new. I've always wanted my own little record shop, but it was when I started buying brand-new records again, just a few years ago, that it became an imperative.

The remarkable Fives sold me discs by Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett, or by the Wave Pictures, that were very good, but won't bother my thousand favourite albums. Yet every day I am anticipating that first listen of another Benji, or another Channel Orange.

And so it was that I was in Smugglers again, flicking through racks of titles I know well and others I know nothing about, but failing to fall for these sleeves because I was just listening to what it was that they were playing. It sounded so new and fresh and cool, perfectly recorded and produced, with lots of classic rock motifs. A tourniquet-tight little band of thrilling musicians with a really great singer.

Shit, I thought, ALL the hip young people must be into this band. I've probably heard of them already, because they are so good, but I have no idea who it is. It’s hard rock, sure, but (and I try so hard not to use this word because it is so frequently misappropriated by square teachers talking to children) it’s just so damn FUNKY. They're going to be MASSIVE.

I gave in. “Who’s playing?”

And he held up the sleeve of DEEP PURPLE IN ROCK.

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