Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Bob Dylan - Many Happy Returns

No self-respecting music blog of whatever genre persuasion can let the 70th anniversary of the birth of one Robert Zimmerman go by unremarked. The man has spent a lifetime railing against "The Man" in all his many insidious guises, while at the same time defying his critics, constantly surprising and sometimes alienating his fans, all with that famous whine. Jimi Hendrix was ashamed of his own lack of vocal prowess until he heard and fell in love with His Bobness' nasal whine, not to mention his songs. If he can get away with it, then so can I he must have thought.

But Bob's voice was transcended by his songwriting which highlighted a fierce intelligence and a constantly questioning spirit all with a poet's sensibility. Remember he was doing this kind of thing when The Beatles where singing Hard Day's Night, Drive My Car, Paperback Writer. Only a fool would deny his crucial importance in progressing pop music to an altogether more political level, in both the personal and wider sense.

Blimey, this is beginning to read like an obituary, but, as with most of the 60s musicians still working his best days are a loonnng time ago - stand up The Strolling Bones - but he will undoubtedly be remembered long after the likes of Lady Gaga are consigned to the passing fads of history.

A list:

Fave Dylan song - Isis
Fave Dylan album - Blood On The Tracks
Best Dylan Cover - All Along The Watchtower - The Jimi Hendrix Experience (yeah, I know it's a bit obvious, but hey, that's what I reckon)


Friday, 20 May 2011

Sonic Reducer

Watching Lord Sugar on The Apprentice telling the assembled cast of mental age fourteen year old wannabe capitalist movers and shakers sat in front of him that he is an electronics expert and knows all there is to know about consumer based gadgetry got me recalling my first ever proper "hi-fi", and I use the term as loosely as the resulting debilitating effects of the previous night's fiery curry!

This behemoth, bought on hire purchase some time in 1977 or 1978 for the princely sum of £130, plus interest, spread over three years (!), was purchased from a furniture shop (no, really) and bore the name Amstrad. Now, Sugar's company is rightly credited with popularising the home personal computer and I've no doubt with other innovations, although none spring to mind. However, their so-called hi-fi systems were another kettle of fish entirely. The one I bought was at the lower end of their already budget range and consisted of....

A turntable from space!..

LPs 32 & 7/12 rpm, singles 44 & 5/8 rpm....sometimes...with the wind behind it.

This little beauty while looking fab, was powered via what appeared to be an elastic band looped round the base of the three-pronged platter and then over the motor spindle. In the picture you can see the band but the spindle is hidden from view. Sounds fine in theory, but due to the poor quality of the band (or worse, it could have been the motor) the speed of rotation that resulted was, shall we say, variable. Occasionally hitting the right speed but usually running slightly slow, this had a weird effect on the sound produced, as you may imagine!

By the way, although this is not a pic of my old record deck, long since binned, I too added a Dust Bug, the object at the back of the pic whose job it was to rest on the LP and remove dust while the record played. This probably did not help with the speed fluctuations!

And now, introducing...a really ugly amplifier!..

Note the tasteful Fablon finish..
I could not find a pic of my amplifier exactly as I remember it, but this is very close. Instead of the toggle switches mine had clunky sliding switches that made loud thumps when changed from the up to down positions, as the toggles shown probably did too. The aural assault produced from this Neolithic construct could be manipulated from woolly all the way down to muddy, although that may have been exacerbated by the quality of the speakers provided. Coupled with almost enough wattage power to make a mouse wonder what that faint rumbling might be, you'll note the volume sliders set at max in the pic as this was the only level anything approaching a decent noise could be produced. This pic comes from a recent online auction, and it would not surprise me if the volume sliders are stuck in that position given the antiquity of the goods.

I was soon disappointed with this box of tricks, and wired the turntable through my old valve radio instead. It may have been mono, but the sound produced was much clearer and more importantly at a parent (and sister) annoying level.

I suppose beggars could not be choosers, but I wished at the time I had done more research before taking my first journey into the wonderful and frightening world of hi-fi. If any of you have similar tales of woe, or indeed triumph, I'd be honoured to read them.

Monday, 2 May 2011

2019, the insanity grows...

Odd title for an annual music review, but them's the times. With these words I aim to provide you with an escape from the creeping madne...