Despite having close to thirty-five-thousand of them, I have no real affinity with MP3s. I consider them largely valueless.
My first single was bought on vinyl, my first albums were on cassette. I was slow to embrace the CD, which was prohibitively priced at the time, and the ten MiniDiscs I own were bought cheaply when that format became obsolete.
Cassettes were my medium of choice, I was buying them and making mixtapes while vinyl was dying out and as CDs were coming in. Tapes were a constant, and I am of the generation that taped songs off the radio, finger poised over the “pause” button to try and eliminate the DJ’s prattling. Thanks to the media hype, I have – or had – a home recording of the chart show, the week that Oasis released “Roll With It” and Blur’s “Country House” contested it for the number one spot. I believed I was taping music history, although I had neutralised my vote by buying both singles.
I discovered Iron Maiden by chance, listening to the chart show and hearing them for the first time. I spent months waiting to hear them again, realising years later that the chart show was the only occasion on which they ever got any airplay. The track I heard was on a live album, which I could not afford (being a new release), but I found it on another album by them. By accident, then, my first Maiden album was their seminal work – I bought “Number Of The Beast” in Woolworths for £6.99, having heard the 1992 live version of Hallowed Be Thy Name.
I loved that album, I instantly loved Maiden: the artwork, the lyrics, the music. I spent all of my pocket money acquiring their other albums, poring over the sleevenotes and learning the names and instruments of the band members, the album chronology, and the lyrics. When I was not buying albums, I bought patches and sewed them to my denim jacket. I listened to Maiden constantly, and a book that I saw in a supermarket told me that they, along with other acts named within, were Heavy Metal. I had heard the term, with no idea of the bands involved, but now I knew. I quickly bought compilation albums which, despite the difference in styles, first introduced me to Black Sabbath, Motorhead, and Venom. My taste started diverse, and broadened.
While I discovered huge numbers of classic rock and metal bands, finding my way to thrash, black metal, industrial, and every other conceivable sub-genre, my love for Maiden remained undiminished. I spent entire student loans tracking down all formats of their albums and singles, picture discs and shaped vinyls, expanding into every realm of merchandise that I encountered. I bought my first band shirt in 1998, with money from my seventeenth birthday, and I wore my new Best Of The Beast shirt to their gig – my first ever gig – at the Barrowlands a month later. I still have that shirt, its pristine black now a very light grey and the lettering faded to almost non-existence. It is more holes than shirt these days, threatening to disintegrate if you look at it for too long.
My tastes changed, and my obsession with them faded like the shirt. However, there were a few happy years spent in pursuit of that rare record that would complete my collection of picture discs; that CD single which was only released in Australia, or the one that was sold exclusively online; the North American editions of the first two albums, which both held tracks not available on the UK versions. I traipsed the second-hand record shops of Glasgow, and then I scoured ebay, enjoying the thrill of the chase and the leap my heart gave when I acquired a new piece. It is good to have passion in your life, even if it is a passion for a band that is not to everybody’s taste.
I remember the joy I had, tracking down these rare items. There were tapes that I literally wore out, I listened to them that much. My cassettes have been unplayable for a decade, yet I still have them all (in storage.) My Minidisc player still works, having lasted longer than the format did, and I use it regularly. I accumulated a couple of thousand CDs, which furnish my flat despite the fact I never play them – my stereo’s CD player broke a long time ago, and I just play the ripped files rather than put the physical CD into the laptop every time.
MP3s are convenient, they take up very little space in a room, and yet they are soulless. They have no tangible quality, no resale value, and limited nostalgia. I recall my first downloading experience because it was so new and so novel. It is hard to imagine that anyone will get the same thrill now the conventions and software have become so established.
Last week, I was trying to decide what to listen to. Thirty-five-thousand files is a lot of music, and a lot of choice, but it is a very long list to meander through and not all of it is categorised, or it has been categorised by someone who does not share my opinion of which genre classification should be used. It is far easier, I discovered, to walk over to my shelves, find the dance albums, browse the spines of the CDs, and decide that way. That seems to defeat the purpose somewhat.
When my Grandma died, she bequeathed me her record collection. I have all of the LPs that belonged to her and to my Grandpa, whom I never met. These records are entirely reminiscent of her, of her house, and of my years spent visiting her. They are stained with nicotine and age, infused with the smell of cigarette smoke that permeated the cardboard sleeves over several decades. Some of them have their (and thus my) surname written on in biro, all of them are tangible relics – when I remove a record I am carefully holding it by the same edges that my grandparents grasped, deftly locating it on the spindle, and noticing the same hiss and clicks and crackles that they heard.
When I touch these items, I am touching my past. I am connecting physically with people who are no longer here.
You will never convince me that digital media can ever compare.
I lost my job because of Paul Di’Anno. The original Iron Maiden vocalist wasn’t directly responsible, but he was partly involved – inasmuch as I skipped work to go to a signing he was doing at a record fayre.
It was 2003 and I was working in Index, The Catalogue Shop. If you can’t remember that particular chain, imagine Argos but with less sophisticated clientele. I was principally in at weekends, and the shop would regularly look like a bomb had gone off by the end of the day – catalogues, order forms, pens, and fast food debris strewn over every available surface. This was the shop where somebody ran off with one of the stereos that was on display, the police were called, and he was caught when he came back for the speakers.
In hindsight, I actually really enjoyed working there. We got away with a lot, we had a good laugh, we got loads of shit from arsehole customers, but we were also afforded responsibility and quite a high degree of trust. We abused the managers, of course, but compared to some people I have worked for since, they were remarkably reasonable people on the whole. More often than not, we all got on pretty well and had fun. At the time, I didn’t appreciate it quite so much.
The job could be quite demoralising, not helped by the deplorable bus “service” that I was forced to rely on, and I was late for my shifts more often than not. I got warnings about it, which didn’t improve my demeanour, and I know for a fact that I missed out on a promotion or two because of it.
The breaking point came when they refused me holidays one weekend, on a Saturday in March 2003 (as I recall.) It was a few days before Paul Di’Anno played a solo show at the Barfly, and as a long-time diehard Maiden fan, it was his first visit to Glasgow since I got into them. There was no way that I was passing up the opportunity to meet their first frontman, and to get oodles of merchandise signed. Nowadays, I’m less phased by it all – my love of Maiden has waned, and I don’t really bother with autographs unless I think it will eventually increase the value of the rarer stuff I still have. I spent close to £3000 accumulating my Maiden record collection – all kinds of memorabilia – and at some point I will sell it all, but the sheer amount of money and time I spent gathering it all should indicate my devotion to them back then. I phoned in sick from the train to the SECC, and my boss told me I had to come in as they were understaffed and had refused my holiday for that reason. I apologised but said that I would be absent.
The record fayre was large and well laid out, but very quiet. I browsed various stalls and picked up some more rare gems, a phrase I deliberately chose to use there because it sounds so utterly wanky. “Rare gems” – read: promo CDs, a scarf, a 12-inch or two. Di’Anno was there with some woman, I presume his mrs, and was predominantly occupied with signing and plugging copies of his autobiography. I bought the book, and got him to sign – looking back – a quite significant amount of stuff. He signed some of Maiden’s first singles and LPs, a Japan-only release, some rare US and Canadian pressings, a back-patch that I have never yet seen another of, some cassettes, and probably more besides. I actually got one promo CD signed by Blaze Bayley seven years later, and was surprised to discover when I got home that it had already been signed on the inside by Di’Anno. That was how much of my collection he autographed – I couldn’t even keep track of it all.
The proceeds from his book were going to some cancer charity, if I remember correctly. I do remember, vividly, that his mrs approached me as I walked away having chatted to him and got him to sign everything. She said that really, since he had graciously done that for me, I should donate a tenner to the charity bucket. I was caught so off-guard by this, eyes glazed over and happy at having met someone who fronted my then-favourite band, that I didn’t protest and just fished a note out of my wallet and handed it over, unquestioningly.
Once I read his book, and its revelations about his fondness for a particular marching drug, and about the fortunes he has made and lost, I had my doubts as to where that ten quid was truly destined. The general critical opinion of his autobiography was that the recollections therein should be taken with a large pinch of salt, and in the subsequent band biographies Paul has always been portrayed as being a little wayward, and a bit loose with the truth. His stories are wild and not always particularly reliable. However, he was certainly friendly and amiable, happy to talk and to answer my questions, although I wouldn’t ever want to cross him. He gets a lot of stick for trading on his past, since he only did two albums with Maiden thirty years ago, but it is increasingly well known that he sold all of his rights back to the band a decade ago now. He might sing the songs live and cover them on his CDs, but he makes no money from them any more. That might account for the benefit fraud that landed him in jail last year…
His band played a gig a few nights later, and it was a set almost entirely of Maiden songs and a cover of “Faith Healer” – enjoyable, but I’ve forgotten most of it now. Like Index, the venue folded a few years later and neither company exists now. When I went back to work later that week, I had a disciplinary hearing and received a written warning, but I had already lined up other work in the theatre and with the Inland Revenue (which also no longer exists under that name, incidentally.) It didn’t surprise my boss when I went in and just passed her my resignation letter across the desk. When I served my notice and left, it felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders, and I realised how unhappy I had become working there. Nine years later, I look back fondly on those days – it was just a completely different time in my life. We got up to a lot of nonsense, but it was great fun. No regrets.
Di’Anno has played here once or twice since, but I’ve never made the effort to go and see him again. Not because I fear for losing another job, more due to a lack of interest as my taste in music has broadened and shifted. Maybe I’ll catch him again some day.
This has happened to me twice now, once a few years ago at Glasgow’s “Bedlam” nightclub, and again in a pub last week. The latter incident annoyed me much more than the first, and since it has now occurred more than once I’m going to document it.
I wear band t-shirts every single day, t-shirts that I used to buy at every gig I attended (or bootlegs picked up outside afterwards). Since 1998, I have accumulated something close to a hundred and fifty t-shirts. Some fit better than others, some are bands that I have since lost interest in – hell, some are bands I wasn’t even that interested in when I picked up a cheap piece of clothing. I have drawers full of ripped and long- faded shirts I keep for work, newer shirts that haven’t lost their pristine black colouring which I wear if I’m going out, and then numerous ones that lie between those states. I’ve got shirts I have literally never worn, and shirts that are almost see-through on account of fourteen years of wear. As it happens, I usually wear a dozen or so in rotation, for months at a time.
This means that, given the diversity of music I have listened to over the years, and the sheer number of shirts available to me, I am very rarely aware which band’s logo I am sporting emblazoned across my chest on any given day.
Band shirts have long been the accepted way for metallers and their ilk to recognise like-minded fans. It is unacceptable to wear the shirt of a band you haven’t heard, because you will be found out and thought a dick of when some long-term fan addresses you in the pub. This is the simple and long-standing rule, because sooner or later you WILL be addressed by a fellow fan. Or more likely by dozens, over the years. Here are the two most memorable to me.
Firstly, at Bedlam a few years ago, I was wearing a KMFDM t-shirt. I am not a huge fan of them, but have amassed ten or so of their shirts and at least as many CDs. I only saw them once, in 2005 if memory serves, and I now remember very little of the gig. In the club, some guy approached me to ask me about the band. There was a brief exchange, and he told me he had met them and drank with them in Poland on some previous tour. I think they were due to play Glasgow again imminently, and he gave me some message to pass on to their guitarist – something forgettable, and more designed to make me believe his story than to actually hold relevance for the band.
As though I was going to hang around to meet the band post-show and say “Hey, some stranger I met once and had a really slight conversation with says [‘don’t eat the honey’, or some equally-banal reference to an experience they once shared, one day in the band’s thirty-year history.]”
I shrugged it off that time, because I work in film, TV, theatre, and live music. I can take your meeting with some band or other and match it with half a dozen encounters of my own. I just choose not to, because I often meet these people in a professional capacity and it seems inappropriate – dickish, even – to boast. If you do want to read about some of the “celebrities” that I’ve happened to meet in an everyday capacity, then read the blogs on here tagged “fame.”
Last week, I was in the pub having a quiet drink. It was a very quiet drink, as I was alone at the table – one friend was playing a game of pool with his pal, and the other had nipped over the road to get food.
I was sitting in silent contemplation, my mind elsewhere and occupied by a couple of personal things that have been or were weighing on me. My peace was suddenly disturbed by an unknown wanker ambling towards me and demanding “What tour’s that from?”
It took me a second to break from my thoughts, and I had to glance down to see whose name I was displaying that day. Iron Maiden.
I was a diehard Maiden fan from the ages of 12 until 24, and no other band defined my teenage years so wholly. I’ve moved away from them now, but still have the sizeable collection of rare memorabilia I hunted down when I had the taste for it. This means that I can hold my own in any conversation about them, something I used to relish and which I latterly concede to – provided I am in the mood. I wasn’t in the mood.
As I was asked again which tour I had picked this top up on, I gauged from the artwork that it was probably the 2003 UK tour. He asked me if I had ever met the band.
The truth is, I have met all three of their lead singers at one time or another, in different circumstances, and all three have signed items for me: this was back when I cared about such things. I could tell from his demeanour that he wasn’t interested in my experiences, and was only asking as a means to share his own. I let him.
He had met all of them outside the SECC in Glasgow on the last tour, and what lovely blokes they are, apart from Bruce Dickinson. They put him on the guestlist for the Aberdeen show the next night, and – blah, blah, blah. It was apparent he had only approached me so that he could give me this information – he didn’t ask or say anything else about the band, and as soon as he had told me this he made to leave, offering his hand for me to shake. I had already ignored this advance when he interrupted me, but with it now thrust towards me it was easier and less hassle to shake his hand than not.
“That’s the hand that shook hands with all of Iron Maiden,” he told me triumphantly. If I wasn’t already resentful of the intrusion into my personal space, that sealed it. Fucking wanker.
Seriously, what kind of arsehole stoats up to people just to brag about how great they personally are? I could do it, I could go up to anyone wearing an Alice Cooper or Combichrist tee and impart, apropos of nothing, tales of meeting them and what we spoke about. I just don’t. If it happens to come up in general chat, that’s one thing, but I don’t engineer it and it certainly isn’t my opening gambit.
When this guy left the pub at last orders, he shouted across to me to say goodbye. My friend had returned and was sitting across from me, and when I shouted a goodbye so did my friend. “Not you!” the guy yelled at my pal.
So yeah. Nothing to say, but he made a purpose of telling me.
It’s been a while since I mentioned The Work Programme, partly because they fucked me over so badly last time they allowed me some leeway in the months it took to try and sort out all the shit I was left in. Then they changed my advisor.
That was a fortnight before Easter, and that holiday meant it was a month before I was due back. My new advisor had booked me in to see him on Monday past, a day he’d taken off as annual leave, and so I saw somebody else new to me. We went through the usual rigmarole of me having to provide thirty years of back-story to someone who will never deal with my case again, and I told him that I have accepted that the time is right to sell off my record collection. He tried to discourage me.
The truth is, my music tastes have changed considerably over the past ten years, and as it has been in storage for the past seven years my collection is of more use to me as collateral. At current market rates (by which I mean I’ve started watching ebay auctions to see what the stuff I have is going for), it will comfortably fund the driving licence that I feel will help make me infinitely more employable. There’s no way I’ll be able to afford let alone run a car any time in the near future, but at least if I have the Driving Licence Required by so many positions that I see advertised I will be able to apply. It’s a start.
He tried to dissuade me, though. “There must be other options for you, I don’t like to think of you having to sell something that obviously means a lot.”
“Do you know of any funding that would cover my driving?”
He snorted a laugh and said it’s hard enough to even get a couple of hundred quid in funding. I know this from innumerable past advisors. They can’t help. He was telling me I need to make myself more employable, and also telling me not to sell my belongings to do so, but couldn’t offer any alternatives to the one I suggested. He was nice enough, but completely fucking useless. They all are, hands tied by red tape and underfunding – if you’re smart and educated, they don’t know what to do with you.
He gestured to a flier on the desk in front of me, a Jobs Fair they are holding this Friday (tomorrow). “Great Opportunity!” it tells me in big letters, “We are holding a Jobs Fair. Join us.”
He explained that this will be my chance to meet a whole host of employers in various sectors, where I’ll get the chance to talk to them and they’ll get the chance to talk to me. I can fill in applications, give them my CV, and – my! – how wonderful and lovely it will all be. I expect the usual: offers of zero-hour contracts; short employment times; agency work (that last one is what fucked me previously, though all cause problems in a system not geared to cope with them); “Sorry, you’re over-qualified/under-qualified/can’t drive.” I think he sensed my cynicism, because he spelled it out for me – “I’m trying to make this sound like a really positive thing for you, because what I didn’t say is, it’s mandatory. You have to go.”
That’s the point when I realised that “Join us” wasn’t an invitation, it was an order. Suits me, I’m bored of unemployment to the point that I’ve actually sat down and photographed nearly everything I own that has “Iron Maiden” printed on it. That was the band I followed obsessively and compulsively for most of my teenage years and some of my early twenties. If they released it, I have it, usually in multiples and some of it signed. I feel a strange sense of detachment looking through every single item (of about 700) that I spent years of time, money, and effort accumulating. It used to be so treasured, a source of pride, but looking at it all now, after everything that has happened in the intervening years to change my perspective, attitude, and demeanour, I can barely relate to it. Nor to the person I was then. It’s sad, in a way, that all this that meant and symbolised so much now means so little.
It hit home the other day, when I was photographing all the magazine clippings that I cut out and kept – full page adverts, multi-page features, half-page articles, and everything else all the way down to clippings that are literally the size of my thumbnail. What struck me, looking at this vast scrap collection I have amassed, is that I can think of no clearer indication that I didn’t know nearly enough women in my formative years.
If anyone wants to just give me two-and-a-half grand for the lot, and save me faffing about with ebay for the next few months, please let me know. Imagine something they released, and I have it. Possibly signed. Some of it so rare I’ve never seen another one out there. Bargain. Ideal present for any socially-inadequate teens you may know.
Like I said, it makes me a wee bit sad that I feel this way, given how much of my life it represents. At the same time, it’s been a long while coming. And I’m enjoying the nostalgia aspect of going through it all one final time, to document it as fully as I can before selling it off. So yeah, I’m going to go and have a drink now. And then maybe go to bed, because I have to get up early tomorrow and attend a jobs fair.
At this rate, I might ask them if they have any vacancies going for archivists.