Monday, 24 June 2013

For the 'PRESENT'...and the future

A few years ago, a good friend of mine gave me a fabulous birthday present. It was very thoughtful, highly imaginative and rather historic - yet it was an absolutely useless gift! Thirty shillings worth of EMI Record Tokens, and still stuck to an original gift card showing the 'Top of the Pops' studio in colour. Amazing how this piece of ephemera survived at all. These Tokens were designed to be exchanged for records - and not treasured as what would have been a rather expensive keepsake back in 1968. Perhaps the original owner used the small (10 cms x 13 cms) folded card as a book mark, and then just forgot about it?

interior pages: date of issue 23.12.68
It's impossible to discover why this particular EMI Record Token Card has survived. But, I'm very glad it has. This item is a little window into the past, which offers plenty of tempting details to dwell on...

The EMI Record Tokens were purchased in December 1968, at Tudor Radio, which was an electrical supplies shop in Worcester Park, South West London. The buyer would have been able to choose from several designs for the greetings card - which actually set you back an additional 4d (converted into Two New Pence by Decimalisation in February 1971).

Forty five years ago, the owner of thirty-bob's worth of Record Tokens would not actually have been able to buy a full-priced LP record. A stereo classical album on the Decca label was 43s 6d in 1968, and a pop disc on the Parlophone label was a little lower at 37s 5d. In fact, the Number One LP at Xmas '68 was 'The Beatles' or more commonly known as 'The White Album'. It retailed at a massive 73 shillings! Of course you could have been tempted by the far cheaper budget labels like 'Music for Pleasure', which back then cost 13s 11d.

In fact the owner could have bought an album for almost the exact sum! I've tracked down a triple LP package which was issued by the budget 'Marble Arch' records with its snappy title: 'Two Hours in the Wonderful World of Piano Concertos and Rhapsodies'. It was on offer at the price of 29s 11d - just one single old penny under 30 shillings! But, according to the 'Instructions' on the back of the Record Token card, the Penny could not be refunded in cash.

I suspect that these days the recommended retail price of music, compared to two or four decades ago, has never been cheaper on the pocket. Thirty shillings, according to various online historic inflation calculators - is equivalent to just over £22 today. That's the price of not just one, but two, pop albums today.

With the EMI Record Tokens in my hand, I play the daydream game, imagining that I've been transported back to my local record shop. It's Xmas 1968. What records would I buy with my 30 shillings (and the few extra quid in old pound notes that I've snuck in my pocket to top it up)?

Oh, as for June 2013. The site of 'Tudor Radio', where the Record Token Card that was originally purchased back in 1968, and which has taken me on this musical-ride through space and time, is now, wait for it...a KFC fast food outlet.

Suppose you can get several buckets worth of chicken and chips for today's equivalent of 30 shillings...

the cover of 'Record Token Series' 86: a neat colour photo of the BBC's 'Top of the Pops' studio

Token backcover: Instructions, and the 4d charge for the card

the ad for EMI Tokens on a generic 1960's Columbia 7" single sleeve

Question. Will this iTunes gift voucher have any nostalgic or design value in 40 plus years?

a fabulous pop-red circle from a 1968 edition of 'record song book' magazine to finish this post with!

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

The Home of Music

a cantorial double-sider by Berele Chagy from c.1920 issued by Columbia Records, UK and housed in a Levy's master bag
How can a Jewish cantorial 78rpm disc that was originally sold from an East London record shop be connected to the first studio recordings by The Clash in 1977?  Well, as I attempt to join the dots, I shall make several detours via a Yiddish Rock 'n Roll tune, and the cheapo record racks of Woolworths department stores. Please read on...
This tale begins in Whitechapel, East London back in 1890. The Levy family had begun trading in sewing machines and hiring out bicyles before a very smart move into what was the fledgling gramophone records market.

their slogan was "It's easy to buy your Records from Levy's"
From their shop at 19 & 20 Whitechapel High Street, E1 with "100,000 records in stock", the Levy's branched into selling all kinds of paraphernalia relating to the music industry. The family built their own recording studio, imported the sizzling 'hot jazz' tunes of the era (in fact they were the very first distributors of Django Reinhardt's recordings in the UK), and the Levy's even became pioneers of the nation's independent record label industry with their own imprints which included the aptly-named 'Levaphone', and the rather more famous one, 'Oriole'.  
it's back to Levy's own East European Jewish roots with this 1959 LP release on their Oriole label 
A major coup for the company (by now run by Mr Levy's boys, Morris and Jacques) was their winning bid in 1954 to produce for Woolworths sound-alike pop records of the big hits of the day - and significantly to be sold at half the price of the originals. For about ten years between the mid-1950s and mid-1960's, hundreds of cover songs on 'Embassy Records' were rushed out almost instantaneously with the full-priced versions, and sold exclusively in branches of Woolworths. Ironically, today some Embassy recordings are more sought after by collectors than the best-selling originals, like this version of John Leyton's chart-topping Joe Meek-produced classic:

does Johnny remember this version by Bobby Stevens?

The Levy's operated from offices and studios in New Bond Street, and a record pressing plant in Buckinghamshire - all far removed of course from their Whitechapel roots. Their success may well have been due to operating autonomously from the grasps of the major recording labels. But all that was to change in 1964 when CBS purchased the Levy's empire - meaning that the Levy name thus slipped through the grooves of music history, and then out of sight.

But for me, there's a nice rock 'n roll twist. When CBS bought Levy's, they planned a new state-of-the-art recording studios, which were built a few years later in central London's Whitfield Street. It was there at CBS in February 1977 that The Clash recorded their first album, and my own favourite ever track by them: '1977', the B side of the 'White Riot' single...

So from "The Home of Music", Whitechapel, it's a hop, skip and a jump through the 20th century to those spiky punk lyrics by The Clash that paired: "No Elvis, Beatles or the Rolling Stones in 1977", with "sten guns in Knightsbridge"...

1977 - on that 'major' label

Aldgate pump up the volume at Levy's

Sunday, 16 June 2013


On Saturday I visited my cousin in the village of North Weald, Essex, and checked out its former rail and underground station which had been closed down since 1994. For the past decade the attractive Victorian station has been reactivated as part of a local heritage railway line. Parked in front of the station building was a bizarre triple-component vehicle called 'Supercar'.

It had originally been constructed in January 1991 by London Transport, to help promote their new 'One Day Travelcard'. This 'Supercar' was part-London Bus, a section from a 1973 London Tube train, and a replica of a Network SouthEast train for the rear end. It was once viewed by millions on the TV advertising campaign for the Travelcard, but was soon after mothballed and forgotten. And now 'Supercar' has recently been rescued, restored, and is back on the road - turning up at events like real ale weekends and heritage railway shows.

Funny how certain names stick in your head. A previous incarnation of a 'Supercar', was of course Gerry Anderson's 1961/1962 TV series - the first of his SciFi puppet shows - which opened with a neat tune composed by Barry Gray:

Supercar... Supercar...
With beauty and grace,
as swift as can be,
watch it flying through the air.
It travels in space,
or under the sea,
and it can journey anywhere.

Supercar... Supercar...
It travels on land,
or roams the skies,
through a heavens stormy rage,
It's Mercury-manned,
and everyone cries,
"it's the marvel of the age!"

Supercar... Supercar... Supercar!

A section of the cover my old 'Supercar' LP issued by Golden Guinea records in 1961

Thursday, 13 June 2013


Postmark from the postcard that I'd sent from Hell
There are days when something really frustrating happens, and you just feel like you're 'in hell'. That's my today - and it just took one email that was totally unexpected, and which has shoved me in to a miserable funk all day. A kind of hell that's insignificant in the big sweep of life, but the type that neatly expresses a certain kind of mood.
Anyway, I remembered that 25 years ago, I'd visited 'Hell' (the real place) during a backpacking trip around Norway. Like English-speaking tourists have most probably always done once they'd stumbled upon the name on the map, I felt compelled to see this place marked as 'Hell'. The name in fact is old Norse meaning an overhang, and having got off the train at Hell Station, the village looked small, typical and unremarkable. Except for one thing, it had a strangely large shopping centre.
Significantly though, the sign towering above the whole of Hell village was worth my stop-off.  Almost as if it was designed by an underground comic book artist depicting an image of grotesque American-styled consumerism. Here was a huge US Dollar symbol with the word HELL in block capitals and coloured blood red on top of three ugly concrete pillars. My photograph taken at the time shows the HELL sign monstrosity as it was:
Hell shopping centre, Norway. Did they accept payment in Dollars?

I've now just had a quick scan through the web, and it appears that the sinister-looking '$' signage that I snapped a quarter of a century ago has since been replaced by something resembling the bland logo of a towelling products company:

Hell today, taking just Krone now...

OK. Perhaps by putting together this short post, I can take the opportunity to say 'Hell today, Hello tomorrow'...

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Walls (Wales)

Another handful of my photographs, and it's time to return to some deserted landscapes in Wales, where I'd wandered into over twenty years ago. At each location, an eerie silence seems to have been preserved within the images. Very strange.
Where was everybody?

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Cosmic Wimpy

This post is like a cosmic platter, connecting a Wimpy burger, LSD and some spacey Marvel super heroes. Mystified? Well please read on...
On the occasional school lunch break, several of us would tuck in to a 'Wimpy and Chips'. It was the Spring of 1979, and 'The Home of the Hamburger' had a promotion on, giving away with each meal a 5 cms x 7.5 cms card with Marvel Comics characters on them. There were 20 different cards in the set, and I remember getting several sets worth in one go from one of the guys who worked there - he was happy that I was interested in them, and it seemed like he just wanted to get rid of the piles of cards by the cash register. A run of the cards he handed me have since remained in the same old OXO tin all this time.
A reminder for those who recall the days when Wimpy restaurants were an almost ubiquitous fixture on every high street in the UK (and beyond). It's now almost 60 years (1954 it was) since the first Wimpy was sold in London from one corner of The Lyons Tea House in Coventry Street, W1. It had put aside a section of the restaurant to sell a new style of comfort food: American-style hamburgers. A thousand Wimpy Houses then came and went over the next few decades, when in the early '80s a new tidal wave of US fast food chains saturated our shopping streets. Some Wimpy's are still around though - I recently spottted a Wimpy House in Peterborough city centre.
Even better to trigger the memory with - I've found an example of a Wimpy House menu, which is actually dated 1969. Looking at the 'Followers' (after the Starters), it's all coming back: the Bender, the Polynesian, and the Shanty...
Perhaps the Spaghettiburger was crossed out in blue biro after the customer vowed never to have another one?

Anyway - I'll scroll on about fifteen years, and after my paternal grandmother died, I became the repository of her collections of family photographs, part-loose, some in albums,  and envelopes containing various newspaper cuttings. Amongst them was an incomplete copy of the Majorca Daily Bulletin, dated 13th August 1967. I expect that she would have visited the island then, but I can't find any other clues why she'd have wanted to hang onto the paper. But there on page 12, I discovered quite a remarkable advertisment which was almost waiting for me to cherish for all these years.

This most bonkers of adverts was used to promote the Wimpy Bars of Majorca:
Turn On with a 'Really Way Out' Wimpy
So, in the drug-drenched 60's, if you had already experimented with psychedelics, maybe you would really think twice about taking a trip IN Majorca when you could Try a Wimpy instead?  I suspect that this home-spun ad didn't travel much further than the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean.

Another newspaper amongst her collection was The People from 1952. So 15 years earlier, there's an advert for another well-known brand - Rennies tablets for indigestion.

I tuned in to the copy headline, it said Acid Stomach. Now I thought that was the equivalent of what you get when you tucked into a Wimpy in Majorca in 1967...

anti-Acid, pre-Wimpy
and ironic then that amongst those Super Heroes cards that were being handed out by Wimpy were two of Marvel's most cosmic and mystical creations - the Silver Surfer and Doctor Strange... 
Want to Really Turn On?

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Yesterday and Today and For Ever

'the scream house', Cardiff 1992
A couple of weeks ago, I posted several of my photographs from the early 1990s of 'the Scream House'. I've now just re-discovered a pair of my 35mm negatives dating back to 1981 showing another example of a screamer (though of the religious zealot variety).
If I remember rightly, this 'Yesterday and Today and For Ever' house was snapped in Jersey, in the Channel Islands.

Saturday, 1 June 2013


File:Spearhead from Space.jpg
Autons 1970

Like so many youngsters watching the legendary 1970 Dr Who episode 'Spearhead from Space', I was terrified by those creepy life-sized plastic dummies known as 'the Autons'.

These nightmarish rampaging mannequins even had a killer-weapon which was fired when their right hand dropped open. 'Autons' were in fact animated by an alien disembodied intelligent life-form called 'the Nestine Consciousness' which had arrived on Earth in hollow plastic meteorites.

Seven years on, with the Autons still very much etched into my consciousness, came the iconic Kraftwerk LP 'Trans Europe Express'. Side One ended with their classic track 'Showroom Dummies', with the lyrics:

"We start to move, And we break the glass, We are showroom dummies, We are showroom dummies"

Oh yes, the Autons and the Showroom Dummies were so very connected in spirit (of the imagination). But next up came yet another component of this dummy automata in human form, and this time they were for real. 'Auton-like' shop dummies had suddenly appeared at the most unexpected of places - and they were somewhere near you. Almost overnight, they'd all taken up an almost identical position at the entrances to petrol station forecourts. And there were dozens and dozens of them...

This 'Auton' (below), was wearing a trim yellow anorak-like jacket and a branded-hat to match, with the distinctive 'Renault' logo. I took this photograph in the early 1980's. North West London I believe.  Note that even its eyes had the function to light up - glowing, and then guiding (or more likely beckoning) the unexpecting, and creeped-out, driver into the petrol station with its left arm - which also had the ability to move up and down at a consistently spooky pace.

Fast-forward several decades, and I expect that this 'Auton' has since sold the petrol station to property developers, and a block of expensive flats has now been built on the site.

"we step out, and take a walk through the city..."

(I bet that even it couldn't get tickets for those recent Kraftwerk concerts at the Tate Modern...)