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"Use every man after his desert, and who should 'scape whipping?"

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Spinning yarns at thirty-three and thirds revolutions per minute – Vinyl life, or "There is such a thing as society"

And so to The Social, a very modern bar of sorts in the scary hinterland of BBC, for a strange evening of talking heads and vinyl.

It was really a glorified PR event arranged by Faber, a smart way of giving three of their authors an airing to a group of would-be authors and musos critics and their friends and their friends of friends in this delightful venue - a place that is so much on the cusp that you feel that is nowhere near the cusp, even though you are approx three times the age of their ideal punter. In truth, a pleasant drinking spot.

Apart from good beer, there were good words and good things to learn. For example, I never knew  that the 33rpm/45 rpm,  LP to single divide was the result of an early audio format war - CBS vs RCA -  which was resolved to everyone's benefit by simply accepting both formats. Nor did I know that Lonnie Donegan's "Rock Island Line" was originally just a last-minute filler for a Chris Barber LP because Chris had not realised how much music you could get on one of these new-fangled vinyl things.

This came from an erudite and quite nervous young writer called Travis Elborough, who illustrated his rather beautiful lecture with examples of rare LPs he had brought with him in an old record case - each time, fumbling to pull out the cover he needed. It went well, though. He won a lot of hearts, I think, in that young and brainy audience. All those nuggets of vinyl history. If I was a Faber PR I would be pleased in the certain knowledge that at least half a dozen of the audience will buy his new book, The Long-player Goodbye.

A certain Prof Simon Reynolds then held forth; he is already famous, and his specs had even thicker black frames than anyone else's, it seemed.

He read from an A4 notebook. I was reminded of a slightly more detached Geoff Dyer, as he described a visit to some US dance music festival; he became almost apologetic when he had to describe the teenage girls wearing only semi-translucent glittering underwear at an EDM festival somewhere in LA. I wish I could remember  his excellent metaphors on the inferiority of this new US digital sound,  the way it made this hollow massive crashing sound.....and  how much better our own rave/ecstacy-fuelled bands using only the crude instruments of 80s techno - 808 state etc - had been.

But....I have forgotten them all. I will have to wait until the release of the updated edition of his 2008 book on the whole rave thing, Energy Flash, but of course by then I will have entirely forgotten the whole evening.

The event was beginning to seem a bit like a flashback to the early 80s, those  earnest post-punk polemics, the NME, Scritti Politti etc...until along came the lovely Pogues accordion man with his shiny pate and his lyrical prose. Name of James Fearnley,  he's written a memoir of his times with the Pogues in their heyday called (and where did we hear this before?) Here comes everybody, and as soon as he started reading i thought of ....our old punk poet....it was  as though he'd signed up for a 10-week course on public reading from John Cooper Clark, but had dropped out after the first lesson... but loved it all.

And of course, Peter Paphides in the flesh!

We had already enjoyed his intro mixtape dj set - a jewel of unimpeachable taste, the perfection of the blend of white and black music, or should I say musics?

Paphides. The name, which had buzzed around my brain for oh decades - there he was, exactly as you'd imagine him, the erudite, north London rock music Guardian writer (did he ever work for City Limits? No, surely too young). I was reminded of a precursor, Charles Shaar Murray, who we kept bumping into at IPC chapel meetings in the 1980s....It's that English Lit rock criticism thing, the seven types of ambiguity somehow underpinning the cooler-than-cool writing styles, the smart-arseries and the self-effacement that didn't quite efface the self.

In fact the best comments of all came from the vinyl man, the man who used to work for Rough Trade and now does the record shop thing. His name was Spencer Hickman and he had the only really acceptable argument for the infinite superiority of vinyl over any other audio format. It was better, he said, because, well, it was just obviously better.

I agree.

Oh lord, will you forgive me ever?

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