Sunday, November 28, 2010

If I Had A Hi-Fi

It felt almost like a betrayal. Hi-fis were what adults had, to play their adult oriented rock and their opera. Kids had Walkmans in their ears, ghetto blasters in their bedrooms, and it was there that pop music belonged. A household’s secondary aesthetic, under the radar, secret but for the racket it made. Siblings meant opposing secondary aesthetics, related but independent sonic strands. In her first year at university, the elder of my two sisters went crazy for the Manic Street Preachers, and this caused tension with the younger when Nicky Wire said in an interview that he had ‘never seen the point of Nick Cave’. I loved both, of course, it was easier that way. And I would have listened to Murder Ballads and Everything Must Go on a Walkman, on tapes made from CDs, or on a pre-CD ghetto blaster with a portable CD player perched on top (it wasn’t very portable – movement made it skip). The tape A. made for me of Everything Must Go had ‘A Design for Life’ missing, because it had been on the radio so much and she thought the other songs should be given the chance to catch up. Any records which came my way were swiftly transferred to tape, too, for the actual listening part of the process. It wasn’t until the record player across the hall disappeared, along with the flatmate and student life, that I began to think that it might be good to own one.

I found an old Sony hi-fi in King Buyer on Albert Street (King Buyer sold all sorts of second hand household goods – fridges, sofas, TVs, and stereos. It’s gone now). It was one black block, almost a cube, designed to look like a stack of separates. It was £40, which was all I could afford and so, not wanting to make a rash purchase, I went to fetch N. from his flat nearby for a second opinion. A man in his late fifties or early sixties sat in an armchair amongst the bric-a-brac and gave us a demonstration. It took the three of us a while to work out that to get the turntable to spin you didn’t press a button, but moved the stylus arm towards the record. The record he had chosen was a 7" single by The Associates, Dundee’s only real claim to 1980s pop stardom (unless you’re going to count Ricky Ross, which I presume you’re not, or Edwyn Collins, who went to school here, and dreamed of adulation). We said how much we liked them, which was true – this was a few years after Billy Mackenzie’s terribly sad death, and there had been some recent re-issue activity, plus a biography, The Glamour Chase, which N. happened to be reading at the time. What happened next I can’t remember exactly – he didn’t come out and say, ‘I’m Billy Mackenzie’s dad, you know’, but he made a few quiet, proud comments which led us to this tentative conclusion. I mentioned a copy of the Perhaps album I’d picked up in Groucho’s, and this annoyed him a little – they were supposed to give him first refusal on any Associates records which came in, he said. He knocked a fiver off the price in exchange for Perhaps, which I dutifully handed in at the next opportunity. His daughter gave me a lift back into town with the stereo, and she said it was ‘always a pleasure to meet people who appreciate Billy’s music’. It was so touching, this brief impression of a family determinedly committed to his memory.

In truth, I was still a little ambivalent about The Associates at that stage. Sulk is a record which grew on me very slowly indeed, maybe a decade went by before it really clicked (the same thing happened with David Bowie’s Station to Station, thank goodness for regular re-issues). The first time around Billy’s voice was probably a bit much, and I only took to the more tuneful songs. But that is wrong-headed, it is a masterpiece for the taut yeowling miasma of side one, as much as for the energised hits which whip up an impossible peak on side two. These days I love every last note.

Sad to say, the stereo has been showing its age recently. Loose connections plague the panel at the back, half the time the turntable won’t turn and it takes a delicate massage of the electronics to get any sound out of the right hand speaker. It’s time to say goodbye.


Spare Snare – If I Had A Hi-Fi


Anonymous said...

Aw, lovely piece, Chris. That hi-fi's given good service.

I love this Corbjin photo of Billy and his whippets, but have never been able to find a decent copy...

Chris said...

Of course, now I can't throw it out because of the snow! So I have two hi-fis, which is pretty bourgeois.

That's a great photo of Billy.

Richard said...

Fond memories of sticking "The Man" or that Ornette Coleman record with the drum solo (what was it called again?)on this turntable...

Chris said...

That'll be 'Ornette!' It did play those two particularly well.

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