Thursday, 25 June 2009

Why could replace your friends...

As something of a musical purist, nay occassional ranter I've been something of a latecomer to the digital music revolution. I still love the crackle of vinyl and the look and feel of a proper bit of packaging...

7 inches by mail. Player Piano 'Into The Dark EP' Utterly fan... on Twitpic

My current phone was purchased with the express intention of being used for in car entertainment to save lugging dozens of CDs around - though in practice this hasn't quite worked as all of the Megane's many nooks and crannies are crammed with everything from Phil Campbell to The Very Best of Northern Soul via Kate Nash and The Who. I digress. The point is that I've kind of accepted that music's available digitally and I'm trying to use that to my advantage by compressing it on the phone's software and using it to carry thousands of tracks about with me so that if I feel, as I did recently, like listening to Wreckless Eric's ode to funerals then I can, literally at the press of a button. Or touch screen.

My own personal digital revolution has even seen me embracing Spotify. About which Roddy Woomble has written in typical articulate and erudite fashion, here. As yet I've not embraced Spotify's radio function, though I may well do so. What I have done as a result of Tuesday's post about Sam Cooke is to sign up for This may well prove to be a huge mistake.

My friend Kevin - I've had to interrupt myself, as if to prove the point I'm coming to The River Detectives have just popped up with a brilliant song I'd never heard before - tried, unsuccessfully, to point me in the direction of a good while back now but I must confess that I couldn't really see the point. I mean, what kind of word is "scrobbling" anyway? However, when I searched for the aforementioned Mr. Cooke's "Another Saturday Night" and played it three or four times in a row, I could't help but enter a few details - isn't it incredible how easy it can be to sign your life away online? - and get myself an account. Before I knew it I'd entered the names of a few artists I rather like just off the top of my head and in no particular order at the prompting of the registration software.

For no reason other than I'd either been listening to them lately or that they popped into my mind, I typed: The Rolling Stones, Kevin McDermott, Otis Redding, Paolo Nutini, Idlewild, King Creosote, Sam Cooke, Kings of Leon and The Black Keys. I don't know that it's particularly eclectic - it's certainly very male focused and leans heavily towards a folk/blues songwriting ethic, but there you have it.

What, you may well ask, has all this to do with replacing one's friends? Well I'll tell you...word of mouth, for so many things, is always a winner. Restaurant recommendations, plumbers, holiday destinations, films and, of course, music. When I switched secondary schools I brought with me some under-developed musical appreciation genes: Johnny Cash, Alice Cooper and Guns N Roses being about the limit of it. Though it could be argued that you don't really need much more that The Man In Black to keep you right.

Anyway, mention of Alice and GNR (somehow even back then I knew that the world wasn't ready for me to unleash my penchant for Mr Cash on them, though given his posthumous resurgence it's clear I was ahead of the game...) led classmates to point me in the direction of The Almighty and Love/Hate - excellent hard rock acts in a similar vein to my own already trumpeted choices but who, it's arguable, I might never have come across. One particularly left-field classmate (thanks Scott) insisted I should be listening to The Charlatans, The Stone Roses, Primal Scream and The Happy Mondays. So I did. And he was right. To this day I'd be far more likely to stick on I Am The Resurrection than Welcome To The Jungle.

This system of recommendation based (very much as Amazon does now) on "well you liked that so I reckon you'll like this..." continued in the car on the way to five a side football on a Saturday morning with my next door neighbour. Gerry (for it was he) would always have a new mix-tape ready for the trip from Kelvindale to Whitehill. Allowing for the inevitable backlog of traffic on Great Western Road on the return journey, this would give us around 80-90 minutes of listening time. Ideal for a TDK-extravaganza!

Remember Cassette Tapes?Image by Erica_Marshall via Flickr

I never asked Gerry if he made a conscious effort to include the four passengers' tastes in the compiling of his tapes (I'm sure he didn't, there was always a Prince track on there - I can't be doing with him, Gerry was a huge fan of the diminutive purple one) but perhaps there was just some kind of meeting of musical minds. Around this time I was listening to The Kevin McDermott Orchestra and Del Amitri on heavy rotation - very parochial of me I know - and as well as the odd KMO and Dels track on the Saturday Fives Tapes (as I have just christened them) there would inevitably be at least a dozen people I'd either never heard of or never bothered with: The Four of Us, The Pale, House of Pain, The Trash Can Sinatras, Aztec Camera, The Jesus and Mary Chain; or people that I'd forgotten I liked or had dismissed after a brief listen: The Pixies and Superchunk (forgotten), Teenage Fanclub (criminally dismissed after dubious recording of a Peel Session given to me by John Wood - sorry Fannies, I love you now if that helps...)

Old cassettesImage by Phil Gyford via Flickr

As well as putting a strain on the finances (I needed a lot of C-90s to bootleg Gerry's albums and EPs..."rip" what kind of a word is that for copying, sorry, "sharing" music?) the tapes stimulated discussion and provided a topic of conversation amongst the rest of the players when we got there - music fanatics to a man. I can still recall Karl's tirade against Blur's Parklife single as a poor man's Lazy Sunday as he danced around the dressing room chanting "rooty-dooty-doo-rooty-dooty-dido." And do you know what, he was right.

I'm not saying that without friends' recommendations I'd never have come across certain acts but it's easy to dismiss something after one radio hearing, it's a different matter entirely when someone you know and whose opinion you respect thrusts a cassette into your hands and entreats you to listen to it with the phrase, "honestly, you'll love it..." it's hard to resist. I can think, from tapes given to me by my good friend Stef alone, of bands from Compulsion to The Bluetones and Therapy? that, as someone who'd stopped buying the NME and didn't listen to Radio1, I might never have encountered. Now I'd quite gladly cite the Bluetones as one of my favourite bands. Yes I know I didn't include them on my list.

It's not, of course, guaranteed that you'll like something a friend has recommended but this in itself presents an excuse to either (a) chat a bit more about music to explain your reasons, (b) get a pint in as you sit down to hear them explain why you really will like it if you give it another listen or (c) make a tape for them with something you think is even better (honestly, the Vaselines beat Nirvana every time, no question); three excellent things to do at any rate.

Perhaps that's why could but ultimately won't replace your friends. Sure, you can argue your point and champion your favourites virtually via emails and, as rather naffly calls them "shouts", you can debate and engage in badinage and all manner of repartee, you could even make up virtual playlists and suggest things people in the community might like. But you can't mix them up a Maxell, thrust it into their grubby mitts, order a Guinness and sit them down and say, "this lot, really, I know I've said it before, but this lot really are amazing..."

16/365 vinylsImage by Sara in Montréal via Flickr

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