Music and life's seminal moments: One man, 33 hours of records

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I was 21 when I had a gun pointed at me. It was at the University of Bradford in northern England more than two decades ago.

It happened outside the student union's Communal Building, then, and perhaps still, a brick and concrete construction every bit as grim as the name suggests.

I was DJing at a friend's 21st in one part of the building. A touring American hip hop group was performing in another.

Outside, there was some kind of hoo-ha over tickets for the latter that ended with a young man pulling out a firearm. It was very small and had an ivory coloured handle. I wasn't the target, but I was directly in the line of fire.

A friend and I were carrying a large blue plastic crate full of my records. He dropped his end and scuttled off. I didn't. I remember freezing. I couldn't leave the records.

Clearly I survived. So too the records. I lumbered inside, almost dragging the crate, and, unsurprisingly rattled, played some to a half-empty room. I was first on. Almost number one with a bullet.

A few items from that crate have made it to New Zealand since I moved here in 1999. I thought about that incident for the first time in many years when I played one, an early Italian house banger by Sbam, last Saturday afternoon.

I was near the end of a music marathon. What better way to prepare for tomorrow's Record Store Day 2016, I had thought, than to listen to my vinyl collection for 2016 minutes (33.6 hours) and write about it.

What memories would I trigger? What would I learn about my life? Why have I hung on to the bloody things for so long?

My love for music was borne from a wind-up Fisher Price record player I had as a toddler. My first exposure to vinyl was through 7"s of tracks from Disney films bought by my gran and played on a portable turntable.

Ian Kirk, a professor in cognitive and systems neuroscience at the University of Auckland, told me about research that concluded memories are formed when music plays at positive, emotional points in life. Points such as adolescence, first love, even "a particularly good night at the pub".

Bad times help form memories too, break-ups, for example.

Those who know me won't be surprised I seized on an example of the latter to frame this piece.

But music has given me countless good memories too.

Through accident of age, my formative years were in Manchester as acid house and the Madchester phenomenon took hold. Inextricably linked, they made it, briefly, the coolest city in the world.

They were days when DJs mixed old and new, guitars and dance beats. Dave Booth at Isadora's played Jimi Hendrix next to Inspiral Carpets, Dave Haslam at The Hacienda The Stone Roses beside 808 State.

I recall with clarity Haslam playing World in Motion, New Order's official theme song for England's tilt at the 1990 football world cup as his last record three nights before the quarter-final against Cameroon. At the points in the chorus when the group chanted "Eng-er-land", Haslam made like a wedding DJ and cut the sound, allowing the singalonga-shouts from the dancefloor to fill the void.

Jeffrey Stothers, who owns Auckland's Southbound Record Shop with wife Lisa, remembers Madchester too. He was working in the UK music industry at the time and recalls being whisked north to watch the Happy Mondays play at G-Mex.

Today, the 52-year-old retains the enthusiasm for buying and listening to music he's had since his first purchases. The first record he bought was "probably" Drums and Wires, a 1979 album by English post-punk band XTC.

"That joy hasn't left me," he says.

Stothers' enthusiasm is, rather obviously, reflected in his approach to Record Store Day. He's arranged home baking in he morning and live performances in the afternoon. He talks about "community" and a "great vibe".

There will be entertainment down the hill at Real Groovy as well. So too concern about what Record Store Day has become.

Jeffrey Stothers, owner of Southbound Distribution. Photo / Supplied
Jeffrey Stothers, owner of Southbound Distribution. Photo / Supplied

Owner Chris Hart argues it's become so dominated by major label novelty releases, irrelevant reissues and corporate sponsors, that the focus no longer seems to be on the stores themselves.

"It's all about business opportunities, rather than being an appreciation of record stores, and rewarding the fans that make them special. And a lot of the prices have become outrageous."

The emphasis at Real Groovy will be on "retaking control of the event with a huge drop of fresh second-hand vinyl, live bands, DJs, and the simple joy of being part of a like-minded, musical community".

"Because, when it comes down to it," says Hart, "every day at Real Groovy is Record Store Day."

Regardless of what people buy, the resurgence in vinyl sales continues.

Forbes reported in January that 2015 marked the 10th consecutive year that vinyl sales have grown considerably, at the expense of CDs.

Stothers revels in the prospect of attracting new buyers and says he's no "policeman" for people's tastes.

"What if someone buys the Justin Bieber record and that's the first piece of vinyl they've bought? We've set them on the right path.

"Now that you can have your music everywhere - in the shower, at the beach - I think it's good to get back to listening to Side A and Side B as the artist intended."

Side A and side B. A decent analogy for the two halves of my marathon.

Confession number one: I nodded off about 13 hours in and awoke a couple of hours later to the unmistakeable click of the needle trapped in the infinity of the runout groove.

I didn't intend to sleep but I'd been hard at it since 10.36am on Friday, when I lowered the needle onto the opening track of REM's 1986 album Life's Rich Pageant. The track was Begin the Begin. Just my little joke.

Chris Reed gets sleepy reminiscing on his days as a semi-famous DJ. He was even featured on MTV. Photo / Dean Purcell
Chris Reed gets sleepy reminiscing on his days as a semi-famous DJ. He was even featured on MTV. Photo / Dean Purcell

By the middle of the night I'd whipped through periods of alt-rock, indie-rock, boogie, hip hop, 80s pop, classic house and jazz. And I don't even like jazz.

There were moments when I was in the groove, one track or artist name suggesting another. Others when I was plucking records at random. I was turning records over so often I thought I was going to get RSI.

My first dance was to Remember What It Is That You Love, a single by largely forgotten English indie band The Family Cat. I might have played air drums. Always air drums, never air guitar.

I played tracks I'd thrashed on my radio show, by The Plant Life, Prince and Players, recalling in detail the positive texts they prompted from listeners.

Nine hours in my wife came home. She watched Coronation Street and went to bed. Didn't she want to know I'd fished out the Aretha Franklin slow-burner that played as we did the paperwork at our wedding? Gosh I was lonely. How I wanted to talk about the tunes and what they meant to me.

German philosopher and critic Walter Benjamin may have been surprised by my funk.

In an essay first published in 1931, he wrote: "O bliss of the collector, bliss of the man of leisure!"

That piece, recommended by Roger Blackley, an associate professor in art history at Victoria University who teaches a seminar course called The Cultures of Collecting, was about books rather than records. But the sentiments stand.

Benjamin wrote: "One has only to watch a collector handle the objects in his glass case. As he holds them in his hands, he seems to be seeing through them into the distant past as though inspired."

I was less inspired at 4.30am when I awoke cold and slumped in my chair. But, like coffee and Manchester United losing, music has invigorating powers. Get Up by Masters at Work was the first tune on Side B. Just another little joke.

I went down the rabbit hole, tracing university clubbing pals on Twitter and Facebook before bottling out of contacting them.

The wife was barely awake when I was prancing around to Bowie, Iggy and The Clash.

Later came The Smiths, and the memory of buying the DJ a pint of Budweiser when he played How Soon is Now in a poxy, pokey Manchester basement club; Tears of a Clown, vintage Motown by Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, perhaps my favourite song ever and one I played to lift my flagging spirits; Double 99's RIP Groove, a speed garage track I played to a pumping dancefloor at Brixton's Dogstar in 1995 when it was among London's most happening clubs. (Midset I was interviewed for MTV and prattled on about why Manchester and Detroit were alike. YouTube appears untroubled by such insights.)

Confession number two: I relaxed the vinyl-only rule by playing the odd CD, but only if I had the record in the remnants of my collection at my family home in England.

That allowed me to assess whether vinyl really does sound best. There are arguments both ways, although those who think otherwise are wrong.

As explains, the answer lies in the difference between analog and digital recordings. Vinyl records are analogue recordings and CDs digital. A digital recording takes snapshots of the analogue signal at a certain rate and measures each with a certain accuracy.

The website continues: "This means that, by definition, a digital recording is not capturing the complete soundwave. It is approximating it with a series of steps."

There's loads more, but it doesn't really matter. Vinyl is warmer, better. Except when you've got to carry loads when you're DJing. I still suffer back pain almost a decade after I stopped lugging records round the clubs and bars of Auckland.

Associate professor Blackley told me about the Bowie records he's got packed away; Professor Kirk of listening to REM, The Clash and Talking Heads during his teenage and university years.

I reminisced about a wretched night in Bradford hours after rediscovering 80s pop (Madness, Madonna) from the first phase of my vinyl addiction, Madchester indie from my teens, house music bought with the grant meant for textbooks at the University of Leeds.

That's what I learnt. That I'm a middle-aged man trapped in a bubble from my musical youth. Maybe we all are. Professor Kirk told me he still listens to new music but it doesn't resonate in the same way. Same here. That may explain the endless procession of so-called heritage acts still rocking all over the world.

All-too-predictably I finished my marathon with three albums by Manchester bands, all released between 1989, when I was 18, and 1994. The first was Life by Inspiral Carpets, the garage band lumped in with Madchester, the second Definitely Maybe, Oasis' debut, the third, and my final choice, The Stone Roses' debut, my favourite album.

All from a time in my life that supports the research relayed by Professor Kirk, about music being associated with the "seminal moments" that define you as a person.

No wonder I'm so miserable if someone nearly shot me.

I'll be supporting Record Store Day this year. There are different releases in different countries, so it's unlikely I'll get my hands on the Alan Partridge or Noel Gallagher picture discs that will be on the shelves in England.

But this I know: I'll be taking my 3-year-old daughter with me. She might not get it just yet, but she will. I recently spent a small fortune buying her a wind-up Fisher Price record player off eBay. And she won't be buying any Justin Bieber.

The playlist


REM - Begin the Begin
Pixies - Rock Music
The Wedding Present - Everyone Thinks He Looks Daft
The Fall - Wise Ol' Man
The Fall - All Leave Cancelled (stopped halfway through)
The Family Cat - Remember What It Is That You Love
The Family Cat - Remember What It Is That You Love
The Bodines - Decide
Jimi Hendrix - Crosstown Traffic US
The Waltones - Whats Going Wrong
Eat - Fatman
Shack - I Know You Well (Extended 12" Mix)
The Beatles - Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (album) Side A
Madness - The Return Of The Los Palmas 7
Jenny Burton - Bad Habits
Leroy Burgess - Heartbreaker
T.C. Curtis - You Should Have Known Better
BT (Brenda Taylor) - You Can't Have Your Cake And Eat It Too (Greg Wilson Edit)
Stacey Lattisaw - Jump To The Beat
Jeanette 'Lady' Day - Come Let Me Love You
Heaven & Earth - I Really Love You
Glen Adams Affair - Just A Groove (Remix)
Radiance - This Is A Party
Joyce Sims - Come Into My Life
Skipworth & Turner - Thinking About Your Love
Madonna - Holiday
Mr Blennd - Cutty Diana
Only Child feat Veba - Addicted (Only Child's Club Edit)
Only Freak - Planet Deep
Only Freak - Planet Deep (Solid Groove Mix)
4 Hero - Les FLeurs
De La Soul (featuring The Jungle Brothers, Monie Love, Queen Latifah & Q-Tip - Buddy
The Popular People's Front - Pleasures Of The Night
Barrabas - Woman
El Coco - Let's Get It Together
RSL - Wesley Music
Specials - A Message To You Rudy
Specials - Do The Dog
Specials - Gangsters
Fugees - Ready Or Not
Izzi Dunn - Unsung Heroes
Method Man feat Mary J. Blige - I'll Be There For You/You're All I Need To Get By
Nightmares On Wax - African Pirates (Troubleman Remix)
Bugz In The Attic - Booty La La
Focus - Having Your Fun
Phuturistix - Cohiba
Soul Sista - Serious
Jazzanova - Boom Clicky Boom Klack (Mr Scruff Vocal Mix)
Danny Breaks - The Jellyfish
Sugar Daddy - Sweet Soca Music
$mall Change & DJ DRM Meet Mr Wonder Uptown - Nuff Man Live Fi Jah City
Grandmagneto - Tainted Love
Submariner Meets Opensouls and Killamanraro Uptown
Horne Singers - Flat Foot
Paul Weeden - Flat Foot (Speedy's Edit)
Olli Ahvenlahti - Grandman's Rocking Chair
David Axelrod - The Human Abstract
Cannonball Adderley - The Steam Drill
The Plant Life feat Dena Deadly - When She Smiles She Lights The Sky (4 Hero Remix)
Freddie Cruger feat Desmond Foster - Something Good
The Roots - Star
Players - What's Your Problem? (Martin Brew Remix)
Nightmares On Wax - Smokers Delight (album) Side A
Ohio Players - Love Rollercoaster
Prince - Chelsea (Yam Who? Edit)
G.Q. - Disco Nights (Rock Freak)
Cerrone feat Jocelyn Brown - Hooked On You (Dim's Old School Of Disco Mix)
DJ Spinna - Rock (The Grand Finale)
Bentzon Brotherhood Play The Sugarhill Gang - Rappers Delight
The Sugarhill Gang - 8th Wonder
Jackson Sisters - I Believe In Miracles
Beyonce - Crazy (Mister K Edit)
The Blue Boy - Remember Me
The Jacksons - It's Great To Be Here (Kenny Dope Mix)
Transglobal Underground - Temple Head
Sub Sub - Space Face
Circuit - Shelter Me
Seven Grand Housing Authority - The Question
MK - Burning
Tuff Productions feat Carol Leeming - Won't Get To Heaven
Solitaire Gee - Slumberland
Seduction - (You're My One And Only) True Love
S-Bam - Take Me Away Now
The Fog - Been A Long Time
Sandy B - Make The World Go Round
Heller 'N' Farley Project - Ultra Flava
Natural Rhythm - Life Is
Streetlife Originals - Lara's Theme
World Of Twist - Quality Street (album)
Happy Mondays - Rave On (Club Mix)
Matthias "Matty" Heilbronn - Keep On Movin
Marco De Souza - Step Over
Kerri Chandler - So Let The Wind Come
Tears of Velva - The Way I Feel
Teule - Drink On Me
Grampa - I Loved You
Kerri Chandler - What Is 6:23
Dennis Ferrer - Colors
Finger In The Socket - The Way We Talked
Inner Soul - Support Your DJ
Sara Devine - Special
Quentin Harris - Let's Be Young
Jay-J, Andrew Macari and Shawn Benson - Power
Jovonn - Jurassic House Remix
Mory Kante - Dimini
Julian Jabre - Yalopa


Masters At Work - Get Up
Alex Attias presents Mustang feat Colonel Red - Help Me
The Dining Rooms - The World She Made (Yam Who? Rework)
50Hz feat Ladi 6 - Seek Know More
MC Solaar - Bouge De La
Em-Cee - If I Was Your Girl
En Vogue - Hold On
Aretha Franklin - With Everything I Feel In Me
Saint Etienne - Kiss And Make Up
Mark E and Dragon - Good Times
LTJ Buken - Demons Theme
PFM/Conrad - Western
Build An Ark - You've Gotta Have Freedom (J Rocc Remix)
The KLF - The White Room (album)
Allen Hoist - Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)
Clyde Alexander & Sanction - Gotta Get Your Love
Yargo - Bodybeat (album) Side A
Directions - Busted Trees (Carl Craig Spacetramental)
Adriano Celentano - Prisencolinensinainciusol (Greg Wilson edit)
U2 - I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For
Public Image Ltd - Rise
Joy Division - Atmosphere
New Fast Automatic Daffodils - Big
Mike Garry and Joe Duddell - St Anthony - An Ode to Anthony H Wilson
New Order - Technique (album)
James - Strip-mine (album)
Parquet Courts - Instant Disassembly (live)
Parquet Court - Duckin' & Dodgin' (live)
Parquet Court - Bodies (live)
The Clash - Tommy Gun
The Clash - Rock The Casbah
Big Audio Dynamite - The Bottom Line
Iggy & Ziggy - No Fun
Iggy & Ziggy - I Wanna Be Your Dog
David Bowie - Station To Station
Roxy Music - Street Life
The Rolling Stones - Rocks Off
Primal Scream - Rocks
Goldbug - Whole Lotta Love
Jimmy Castor Bunch - It's Just Begun
The Temptations - Ball Of Confusion
Edwin Starr - War
Paul Hardcastle - 19 (The Final Story)
Malcolm McLaren - Buffalo Gals
Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five - The Message
Flash And The Pan - Waiting For A Train
Scarlet Fantastic (No Memory)
Talk Talk - Life's What You Make It
Talk Talk - It's My Life
The Smiths - Hatful Of Hollow (album)
280 West - Scattered Dreams
Smokey Robinson & The Miracles - Tears Of A Clown
Mark Rae - Reach Out To Me
Happy Mondays - Pills 'N' Thrills And Bellyaches (album)
Crazy Penis - You Started Something
Shaun Escoffery - Days Like This (DJ Spinna and Ticklah Mix)
Alton Miller - Love Ballad
Rhythm Slaves - Let Your Love Shine On
Moodymann - I'm Doin' Fine
Masters at Work - Can't Get No Sleep
Reed & Radley - Just Buggin'
Nick Santillan - Keep Your Head Up High
Fluke - Philly
Sumo - Tribute
Sumo - Tribute
Sumo - Tribute
Soul Fuzion - I Got Rhythm
Spirit Catcher - Voo Doo Knight
Tribute - The Session
Bruce Wayne - Soca Dance
Double 99 - RIP Groove
187 Lockdown - Gunman
Silicone Soul - Chic-o-laa
Gat Decors - Passion
Taiko - Echo Drop (Dub)
TC1991 - Berry
Dirtdiggers - Raw Funk
Shaker Song
Shack - I Know You Well
Michael Head & The Red Elastic Band - Velvets In The Dark
Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds - Ballad Of The Mighty I (Beyond The Wizard's Sleeve Re-Animation)
Doves - Jetsream (Lindstrom Remix)
Inspiral Carpets - Life (album)
Oasis - Definitely Maybe (album)
The Stone Roses - The Stone Roses

- NZ Herald

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