I recently bought my son a turntable for his birthday and, since he owned no vinyl, I spent a couple of weekends scouring various second hand and charity shops in the hope of assembling an interesting little ‘starter’ collection for him. In the modern parlance, I was able to put together a decent selection of ‘vinyls’ for his nascent collection, including records by Bootsy Collins, Robert Palmer, Bowie, Joni Mitchell, Funkadelic, Steely Dan and Stevie Wonder. Yes, you’re right; that is a ‘tragic dad’ kind of selection, but I’ve learned to embrace the tragedy, so don’t judge me. As well as the stuff I was able to pick up in the second-hand shops, I donated a few items from my own collection. As the saying goes: ‘Greater love hath no man than this: that he is willing to give away his vinyl copy of ‘The Isley Brothers Greatest Hits’.
Those shopping trips took me back to the days when my Saturday afternoons would be spent browsing, buying and generally hanging around record shops. Over the years, I bought some really mediocre stuff, but also discovered some artists that I treasure to this day. Such was my devotion /addiction that, at one point in my (admittedly rather sad) life, the cultural highlight of the year would have been HMV's January sale. For someone whose disposable income went mostly on music, that seasonal temptation to gorge on the discounted goodies was impossible to resist.
My son's taste in music is much more eclectic than mine’s would have been at his age. One of the reasons for that, I think, is that I had to physically go out to find and buy music, whereas he merely has to browse and download (and let’s not get into the subject of whether or not downloading music for free is stealing, because I’m right and you’re wrong). The act of investing energy, money and time in acquiring something gives you a greater emotional stake in an artefact. My son’s musical taste may be wider and, in that sense, more culturally sophisticated than mine’s ever was, but I’d argue that my deep connection with certain records is based not only on the physicality of the artefacts, but on what it cost me to get familiar with them; having committed to buying an album, I had little choice but to stick with it and give it a chance to lodge itself in my consciousness. My boredom threshold, out of necessity, was located several miles down the road; had I had the ability to click a mouse and browse through a million digital files, I wouldn’t have developed the relationships I have with certain pieces of music.
Since acquiring his groovy new turntable, my son has confessed that he has started to spend his spare cash on vinyl, mostly obscure groove-based foreign stuff. Part of me feels like I have helped open up a whole new world for him, but another part feels like I may have administered his first dose of heroin.
The examination of my own dust-gathering vinyl collection allowed me to re-connect with some music I had forgotten about. One gem I had (almost) forgotten is ‘K-Scope’ by Phil Manzanera. It was released in 1978, but I reckon I picked it up in one of those HMV sales sometime in the early 80s.
Manzanera was the guitarist with Roxy Music and, although ‘K-Scope’ is billed as a solo project, he was smart enough to surround himself with some really talented people, including Mel Collins, Eddie Rayner, Tim and Neil Finn, Simon Phillips, John Wetton, Bill and Ian McCormick, Andy Mackay, Paul Thompson, Kevin Godley and Lol Crème. That’s quite a cast list and the quality of musicianship is evident throughout, something which might not necessarily have impressed any young Turks who’d still have been fighting the punk wars when this album was released.
The lead vocals are handled by various folk, but Manzanera’s finely honed art-pop sensibilities give the album compositional consistency. ‘Remote Control’ is a brief and sparky slice of prog-punk, while ‘Slow Motion TV’ sounds like a cross between The Stranglers and 10CC (in a good way). ‘Hot Spot’ is probably as close as the album gets to sounding like Roxy Music (albeit with their disco shoes on) and there is much to love about the languid Latin-reggae groove of ‘Cuban Crisis’, the tale of a loser musician (‘just a dime-a-day tunesmith’) pining for his departed girlfriend.
Manzanera’s guitar work is distinctive without being flashy; the beautiful colours and textures he creates on ‘Gone Flying’ might have sounded more like Eno’s ambient work were it not for the rhythm section of Philips and McCormick cooking up a quiet storm. The highlight of the album, I think, is ‘Walking Through Heaven's Door’, which appears to delineate a drug-fueled adventure in an unnamed foreign city. It starts out sounding like an 80s take on ‘Surf’s Up’-era Beach Boys, before John Wetton’s gut-churning bass pulls it into the kind of menacing groove territory once occupied by Magazine or early Simple Minds, before an extended end section, replete with hypnotic mantra, lulls us towards anthemic oblivion.
When I bought ‘K-Scope’ I considered it quirky and charming, but maybe just a little bit too ‘prog’ around the edges; now, several decades on, it sounds witty, fresh and sparkling. Check this out: