Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Notes on being me

Several years ago I went to an interview of photographer William Eggleston. After the interview I thought he would sign books. I’d bought along his classic 1976 William Eggleston’s Guide and made my way down to the stage, along with several others. At the last second he wasn’t feeling well and didn’t sign any. However, he had done a signing a day or two before, and my friend R had got four of his books signed. I was mildly frustrated and, naturally, it stayed with me.

R contacted me early last week to let me know Eggleston was doing another book signing at the end of the week in London. Here I was, in Cornwall, with all my books in London at my parents, including two by William Eggleston. There was only one option – ask the parents. My dad kindly agreed to go and get a book signed for me. Except he didn't know where my Eggleston books were – and neither did I. He looked and found The Democratic Forest. Great, but not the one I wanted signed. I wanted William Eggleston's Guide signed. Dad couldn't find it. Mum couldn't find it. They sent me photos of my piles of books. I couldn't see it either. I let it go. Dad got The Democratic Forest signed. I was happy.

That was William Eggleston. Next was Bob Dylan.

Saturday was Record Store Day. Getting mugs to queue up all night outside record shops to buy already-released records you'd normally only spend a pound or two on in a charity shop – A-ha, Queen, Elton John, Abba etc – but producing them in limited numbers on – say – pink or yellow or red vinyl and then charging £30 for said records, well, it's genius from a marketing perspective and record companies surely can't believe they're raking in money from what was a dead market – not just vinyl but all removable media (just wait for CD Store Day and VHS Store Day – there's already a Cassette Store Day) – until a few years ago. (I'm being slightly ungracious – RSD often features exclusive live albums or alternate versions of classic albums and has helped spearhead the vinyl revival, but a lot of RSD is re-releasing crappy old albums with the dubious distinction of being "the first vinyl release since the last one". And picture discs.)

Well, guess what? I'm one of the mugs. Not content with owning Bob Dylan's classic Blood on the Tracks album on vinyl and CD, as well as the recent More Blood, More Tracks, the 6 CD Deluxe Edition of the Bootleg Series, Record Store Day was releasing the Original Test Pressing for the very first time (naturally I already own it on a bootleg mp3 – oh, and on cassette) which I was rather keen on (Variety called it the 'holy grail' of RSD releases). To be fair, I've never bought a single record from Record Store Day before (unless it's almost a year after the previous RSD and a record shop is selling their unsold stock half price – which happened with Heart of the Congos, the Lee 'Scratch' Perry mix from the 2017 RSD, which I got for £10 some time in 2018, despite it going for circa. £150 on eBay).

I thought I had it sorted. I'd asked my ex to get it from her local, excellent (despite, in the past, staff not being exactly knowledgeable about music) record shop in a small town in Wiltshire – all she'd have to do was walk down the road to buy the record for me. Turned out she was off to Paris that weekend. I asked her to change her flight (no lie); she wouldn't budge.

Why couldn't I go and buy a copy myself, I hear you cry. Well, I could but it would take me an hour to get to any record shop in Cornwall. I went to Falmouth on Friday to a participating cafe/record shop, Jam, and asked if I could buy a copy a day before as I wouldn't be able to make it there in time on the Saturday. The owner looked at me as if I'd blasphemed in church. It goes against everything RSD stands for, she told me, in no uncertain terms. I asked her how many copies of the record she had. Four, and they'd go immediately, she said. Cost? £25.

She did mention that Drift in Totnes would probably have a lot more copies. Then a lightbulb went off in my dim brain: my brother lives there. Which I told the woman. Ah well then, sorted, she said, you don't even have to get out of bed early, but your brother does. Getting him to do that might be difficult, I quipped: he has a new girlfriend. Ah, said the woman.

Anyway, it was a possibility. I texted him. He was on holiday too, but on his way back Saturday afternoon. I told him I was off to the Truro record shop first thing in the morning to get it, and I'd let him know. By 9am Saturday morning I am standing at the end of a queue thirty deep in Truro's Pannier Market, which is where Music Nostalgia is. The man in front of me is after the alternate mix of A-ha's debut album, Hunting High and Low. Which he gets. I do not get the Dylan. Sold out instantly, the owner tells me.

I tell my brother. He's almost in Exeter. He asks me if there's a record shop there. Of course! Rooster Records, been there a few times. He 'rushes' (after having a coffee first) to Rooster Records – they've sold out too. He phones Drift – they have copies left – and asks if he can reserve one. He's told no. I phone Drift and ask if I can reserve a copy for my brother to pick up. I'm told no, in no uncertain terms: you have to be there in person to buy the record. They have a 'pinch' of the records left. I tell brother to leg it there. After Exeter charity shops, lunch and more coffee and a late train he is in Totnes by late afternoon.

Whilst brother was running around South West England record shops, what was I doing? Having a leisurely stroll around Tregothnan House, which has the largest historic garden in Cornwall, and now contains Britain's first tea plantation, producing tea to buy in the shop which reportedly contains only 15% Cornish tea and works out costing about 50p a tea bag. Tregothnan House and gardens has been owned by the Boscawen family since the 1300s. They also own – and holiday-let to rich Londoners – property all over Cornwall. Aside from a brief ransack during the English Civil War (1642–1651), the estate has remained untouched. It beggars belief why this country hasn't had a proper revolution. Anyway, lovely garden and it was only £10 on the charity open weekend (otherwise it's £65 for a private garden visit). Then we went to Merther to see its abandoned church. It has no roof and a forest growing inside it. The squirrels and ravens were surprised to see me.

Meanwhile brother is speeding up his pace in Totnes. Then, with the shop in sight, he thinks about running and imagines having to wrestle the last copy from the hands of the punk who'd just bought it, drag him outside and 'do a De Niro on him' (his words).

Luckily time was on his side and after all the pseudo rush the shop still had half a dozen copies left after my bro bought one for me. I don't know when I'm going to see it or play it, but I've got it. The Eggleston and the Dylan – couldn't have done them without a lot of family help. Much love and appreciation.

• William Eggleston, 2¼ exhibition at David Zwirner
• Bob Dylan's Blood On The Tracks Test Pressing, Record Store Day Edition, Reviewed

Previously on Barnflakes:
Top ten records I would have bought in Totnes if I had any money
South London record shops
Weekend Barngains 
Top ten photographers


Melanie May said...

A crackimg yarn, says the ex, rolling her eyes....

Barnaby said...

I know, I know...