Saturday, 26 April 2014

High street, bloody high street (or, He came from Strictly Commercial)

There is something a little odd about a traffic system where a left turn is indicated by a small book-shaped sign on the right side of the road. And then, it is curious a café blames poor service on a lunchtime rush. Cafés, in a town centre, on a popular day out, busy? No, you don't say.

Those two things aside, Wakefield is pretty awesome. You've never been? Mm, why, if you don't mind me asking? You see, I rather like visiting the Hepworth, you like sculpture and photography. Yes, I thought so. So, visit the Hepworth, visit Wakefield.

What I like about Wakefield is Rhubarb Bomb and the Long Division music festival. The town is good for a wander, with some nice architectural and historical highlights, and there's plenty of books. And now there is a new record shop, Wah Wah Records.

For a few weeks and months there's been postings online, Wah Wah is coming (think Gabbo in the Simpsons, just less about puppets and definitely about records). With a visit from my in-laws planned I took the opportunity to suggest visiting Wakefield, for the Hepworth, of course, and did you know a record shop has opened there recently?

Before we visit Wah Wah we have lunch in the unnameable afore mentioned café and visit the Cathedral*. The central chamber is gorgeous, I am sure I've read about concerts held in there, possibly a great place for haunting music (that said, Young Knives singing "I was punching your father while you screamed at your mum" might also work).

You have probably guessed that I can be a little shaky with directions at times, so I find Brook Street from the local tourist information office. It is not far, though the effect could be a million miles distance. A proper record shop, lp covers beckoning us in off the street, Hookworms on the shop's hi-fi (I checked twice, the second time on Twitter%) which Alan (I assume, I didn't ask) was happy to swap to Black Sabbath when I wanted to check the sound.

Some record sellers are happy to apply a premium for 'known' artists, such as Black Sabbath or Frank Zappa, though I am glad Wah Wah don't. Music is about discovery, who discovers something if a secondhand copy with a damaged cover costs £20? Stock is added all the time, both new and old, so I am looking forward to my next visit.

Abba, The Visitors, Black Sabbath, Greatest Hits, Police, Ghost in the Machine, T'Pau, Bridge of Spies, Frank Zappa, Just Another Band From L.A. and Jazz From Hell (all lps), Wolfmother, Woman (7inch single, picture disc)
Wah Wah Records, Brook Street, Wakefield, West Yorkshire

*Opposite the Cathedral is a cream coloured Waterstone's, why it should be allowed out of the corporate colours I do not know but it is a welcome sight.

%Why not follow me on Twitter, I take shop recommendations and happily talk musical and literary pleasures.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Close to the edge (of the known world though not actually the *known* world at the time)

Easter was spend near the edge of the world (allegedly) and the centre of Britain. Yes, Hadrian's Wall and Haltwhistle. Easter was spent in the Youth Hostel Association's Once Brewed hostel.

Let's clear something up, as it bugs me constantly. Hadrian's Wall was not the edge of the Roman world; they travelled beyond it; they traded with people from the other side of it; and they fought with people outside it. No one in Rome sat down and asked the next fellow, "do you know what is beyond Hadrian's Wall?," to get the following reply: "Cliff, void and endless namelessness nothingness."

And what evidence do I have for this? Well, the gatehouses for one. Civilisations don't normally build gates onto the unknown void unless they want the unknown to come in, pay taxes and trade.

Youth Hostels are great way to travel. We have been visiting them for about a year, and while there can be some niggles the experience has been good. Once Brewed appears like a building built in the 1960s, with a canteen, self caterers' kitchen and a good lounge. While we were there there were at least two other walking parties and a number of bicycling groups. Unsurprisingly the hostel is on two major walking routes (Hadrian's Wall Path and near the Pennine Way) as well as national cycle routes. Everyone was friendly and mostly welcoming.

During our stay we walked along the Wall. We also looked into the unknown void that is Northumberland north of the Wall, and the unknown void looked back and said: "Next time maybe you'd like to walk here, too".

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

DC comics and chocolate milkshake, one of these things is available at OK Comics

Would it surprise you that one of my first experiences of coming to Leeds was finding OK Comics? My wife was being interviewed so I had wandered and found Briggate, then Thornton's Arcade, them OK Comics. I didn't go in as I needed to head back to Millennium Square, but it was there, a little corner of independent comic book shopness in Leeds.

Since 1996 I have had a serious interest in comic books, and this was encouraged by Gosh! in London and Page 45 in Nottingham. Good shops are essential for comic book readers, and while those two are lovely, OK Comics is really good, the staff friendly and knowledgeable, fellow customers nice, and the whole atmosphere is welcoming. Comic book shops are not a mystery or forbidden; they are another way of buying different narratives.

This blog is about book and record buying so I will save you of my random thoughts about Lovecraftian references in 2000ad*, what I bought today was 47 Ronin. It is not a movie tie-in (I asked almost as soon as I saw it too), it is in fact drawn by Stan Sakai. Stan is awesome, Usagi Yojimbo is one of my favourite characters, and his art is full of emotion and displays of character. I waited about a month just to buy this one book and each page is worth it. The story is of Japan's "enduring national legend", an epic tale of loyalty and revenge.

Back to talking about narrative delivery, have you ever read The Unfortunates by BS Johnson.

47 Ronin by Mike Richardson and Stan Sakai (book)
OK Comics, Thornton's Arcade, Leeds

* And not to mention the almost weekly wonder of this week will be the week we say goodbye to Joe.

Postscript. Saturday 3 May 2014 is Comic Store Day, and aside from lovely stuff happening in OK Comics, next door is the equally lovely Hepworth Deli is worth a coffee and cake filled visit.

Monday, 14 April 2014

We didn't start the fire

Up until I read Stephen King's It for the first time most of the books I read barely reached 300 pages long. The 1000-plus pages of It posed problems; the paperback didn't fit in my college bag, I couldn't read it lying in bed, and if I did I dropped it and lost my place.

Now, the next time I read It will be on my Kindle For Android app. For a very long time I slightly disagreed with the idea of electronic books and felt they weren't a suitable medium for books (despite Douglas Adams's propaganda). They just weren't 'right', even though 'right' in terms of books is the most personal and varied aspect. I have changed my mind, e-readers are fantastic, they offer up possibilities never before dreamt of (except in Douglas Adams's propaganda).

Now I am never without a book, my mobile phone has a copy of The Castle of Otranto on it for those moments when I am without a book book. I have downloaded free books and content from a great many sources (most recently pulling down several reports on attendance and attainment in HE students). Back in 2010 I bought a copy of Dune to read on an iPod Touch (not particularly enjoyable).

With a trusty red Hudl I can use Kindle properly. Today I bought three books for it, though I had been planning to do so for a month. First on the shopping list was Laura Bates's Everyday Sexism, a fantastic book on the opening months of the project. I would certainly suggest read it, especially if you want a more equal society. One commentator in the Guardian reviewed it by saying it 'didn't offer a solution' though I don't think the book or project is aiming for a solution; it is collecting information and data on what needs to be changed, not dictating the change needed.

Next up is a Alastair Reynolds Doctor Who book, The Harvest of Time. This features The Master (in my head, correctly, the Delgado version), and UNIT. I had though about some of Reynolds's other books (Absolution Gap being the next one I need to read), but something about him and the Doctor, and the moonlight highlighting meaningful glances (may be over the top with that description, I liked the look of it the first time I saw it).

The final purchase today was The Shorter Wisden 2014. I like cricket, I like reading about it, and I like reading Wisdens. This is perfect for me, something to dip into whenever I have a spare moment, a reminder of the dark humour of Wisdens and the wonderful stupid game of cricket (this edition, a collection of the best writing in the 151st edition, includes a section on Sachin Tendulka's retirement that notes his ability to undertsand that sport is  meaningless and important to many people).

While I enjoy the books the process of buying them isn't just 'right' though. May be that is just me, one-click purchases don't feel like I've bought books just pressed on button over and over again.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

The Touring Guide To Headingley Library

It was a pleasure to visit libraries. It was a special pleasure to step through the door and find books, local information, book groups, information technology, children's reading area. Headingley Library is a good place to visit.

This was supposed to be a quick visit, drop off two books that were finished and near their return dates. Still, a little look around wouldn't harm. Thirty minutes later, one near collision with a fellow library user (his fault, I was looking in horror as he walked backwards from science fiction) and a librarian asking my wife if she writes books herself later, and I have two new books borrowed. One a sci-fi novel based in the Warhammer 40K universe, Deathwatch by Steve Parker (kind of like who watches the detectives, the detectives being aliens, sorry, xenos). The other a travel guide.

Libraries are important. Libraries are not just about books* and Headingley Library demonstrates this in abundance. There is a children's area where books are read out aloud, and the aforementioned information technology. Headingley also has a travel section, and among the far-flung parts of the world I found The Country Living's Travel Guide to the North East. This book is not perfect, it doesn't seem to do cafés and was published in 2010, but like most travel guides it is useful. Over Easter we will be wandering around Hadrian's Wall, and there's a few points of interest.

That said, I do not think I am a typical reader of Country Living. Try as I might I can't find an entry for Durham's People's Bookshop in the guide. A secondhand bookshop promising to fill the gaps left behind in the headlong rush for bestsellers. I found them on the internet and can't wait to visit.

*Anyone who argues libraries are only 'about books' has, in my view, not stepped in a library for quite some time. Either that or they have an ideological reason for not acknowledging the community and civic roles libraries play, or the personal need for them. If someone tells you libraries are useless and expensive wastes of money ask them about the last time they made personal use of a naval warship or air force bomber.

Postscript. It is a pleasure to reread Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. If I were to travel America reciting a book I would attempt to memorise Richard Brautigan's Sombrero Fallout.

Second Postscript. Rereading through my draft of this post made me remember something that happened near the Kirkstall mobile library in Spring 2013. While checking out our books some university-age men walked passed the entrance they shouted "libraries are gay". These were not children, grown adults whose education has at some point relied on a library. So, next time someone tells you that, say they are wrong both about libraries and for using sexuality as a derogatory term.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Never mind the drokk, here's Record Store Day 2014

Next Saturday will be Record Store Day 2014, the annual day of celebration of independent record shops across the country. A good day will be had by all, and if one would like I would certainly suggest going along to your local to see what's happening. I don't know for sure though I understand Leeds's Jumbo Records will be open from 8.30am on the day and Crash Records has tote bags. All shops involved will have special limited editions releases.

I will miss Record Store Day. I do think it is a good idea to engage people and show them the worth of local shops, particularly record shops. I think on Saturday 19 April 2014 there will be new coverts to the joys of independent shops, though rather on the day this relationship will be cemented on the next visit.

I have two cherished RSD purchases, neither purchased on the day. Last year, November 2013, I purchased a copy of Pink Floyd's See Emily Play as a pre-birthday present. Before that I bought a CD copy of Drokk. These will be mine forever, played with the memory of joy of discovery in Jumbo Records; I never expected to find them, they were just there with a familiar, 'hello James'.

Who wouldn't want to cherish their RSD purchases? Oh, well, there will be some who arrive early, mingle with the crowds while calculating the best return of investment on each purchase, eBay accounts already primed. Obviously, for these people RSD is about turning a purchase of roughly £10 into a listing of £50, £80, or £120. Ultimately money will be going into local record shops, and some people will not be able to attend, though part of me secretly wishes that RSD purchases on eBay were 'at face value' like concert tickets.

As for me, I'll let you know what my 2014 purchase is when I buy it.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

I Had To Start It Somewhere So I Started There

Charity books shops survive on donations of books, so armed with plastic bags of my wife's recently read books we head to Headingley, Leeds. Two bags equalling roughly twenty-odd books shared between St Martins Hospice and the British Heart Foundation.

Good deed done, a suggestion is made, 'I might have a look next door', next door being a RSPCA branch. I like this one, it has clothes, books, CDs and DVDs, and random stuff, as well as some vinyl. So, while my wife scans through the books (and finally picking Eric Newby's Something Wholesale), I have a look at the records. Some of them are not very well cared for, the same copy of Hunky Dory by David Bowie is still here since the last time I visited, and then there is Madonna.

She stood out, an instantly and very noticeable woman in a roomful of musical talent, showing off her early singles. Hey, James, do you want to have a good time? I have never owned The Immaculate Collection before but know the songs off the radio, they are mostly familiar, and £3 for a double LP seems a good purchase. The sleeves are good, the cover looks nice aside from the little price tag (which hours later is easily removed) and I am happy with my buy.

In the shop I also noticed Uriah Heap, Jesus Jones, Blondie and Queen's News of the World. I will be back, and probably in a few weeks' time.

Post Script. The Immaculate Collection is not the first vinyl I got this April, before the trip to Headingley I picked up my copy of The Understudies Let Desire Guide Your Hand from the Post Office sorting office. I pre-ordered it in March as one of the limited available from Fire Station Records. I've been a fan since seeing them at the Indietracks festival.

Madonna, The Immaculate Collection (double LP)
RSPCA, Arndale Centre, Headingley, Leeds

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter and Spring, or How I Arrived At April 2014

2013 was an awesome year to buy books and records. Everywhere I looked I found something I wanted to buy. I kept some notes in preparation for this project though never got around to properly starting. Until now, that is.

However, it might be worthwhile to get some background as to why. Since as long as I can remember I have loved listening to vinyl, and started my original collection around the early 1990s (I didn't keep details then, I do now). I can remember listening to Holst's Mars, Bringer of War at primary school (a good school experience) and then getting home and having my parents play their version on their trusty B&O deck. I remember the allure of my Dad's red Beatles double LP, years later supplemented with the later blue.

I can remember when I got books. I have always read to some degree, always enjoyed stories, though books didn't seem to be something for me. Then, sat waiting for a flight in Heathrow with my late Uncle Nigel, it clicked. Nigel told me about the science fiction and fantasy books he had read, and thus interested I asked what he would recommend at that moment: Mort by Terry Pratchett. Luckily the nearest WH Smith had a copy, and the rest is history.

Book and record collecting started in the early 1990s. My collections have grown and shrunk over the years, either by choice (shedding books to move home) or by force (losing majority of my LPs and 12 inch singles to water damage in 2012). They have been added to by partners, family and friends, sometimes I have bought something because I was looking for something else, sometimes I have found exactly what I wanted.

From the Spring of 2013 to Spring 2014 I visited bookshops and record stores in Edinburgh, Morecombe, Robin Hoods Bay (note, not near Nottinghamshire), Cambridge, Great Yarmouth, Leeds, Kendal, Grange-Over-Sands (in a railway station), Kirkcudbright, Whiteheaven and Carlisle, as well as others. I have bought records off eBay and books from Abebooks, scanned through lists posted by colleagues on our work's email system to see if there was anything worth considering. I have also passed up some pretty impressive records and books that I've always wanted to read.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

To begin at the beginning...

It was a dark Saturday night in April 2013 in the Scottish Borders. My wife and I were staying with her parents in a holiday cottage and we had found a large collection of leaflets and guests' suggestions for what to do. Activity leaflets, tourist guides and maps, all useful stuff. And a leaflet for the Borders Book Trail.

This is great, a guide to the independent and secondhand book sellers set up by the sellers themselves, detailing their location, what they sell and their opening times. In the course of a week we visited all of the bookshops listed that remained open, and managed to buy something from all but one (and we really tried to find something to buy there).

The shops were good too: an independent bookshop and café in St Boswell's that had a deli counter; a cavernous seondhand bookshop in Innerleithen, the same town that has the working print museum of Robert Smail's; and adventure books in Peebles alongside a museum dedicated to John Buchan. The guide helped us get around and see other bits of the Borders that we might not have travelled too.

And it got me thinking, wouldn't it be nice to have something similar for Yorkshire, a Great Yorkshire Book Trail. There are lots of places I buy books from in Yorkshire that I tell other people about, my colleagues at work and friends all have their own recommendations, all I need to do is collect them together and then I can produce my own leaflet. My very own literary classic. I wonder if there are any prizes I can submit it to.

As the seasons progressed through 2013 I thought about this and mulled it through. It is clearly a very good idea to share locations of recommended bookshops, every one knows where to get books from, and there's plenty of booksellers in Yorkshire. And yet, why just Yorkshire? Why just books? And why just a leaflet?

Why just Yorkshire? Most of the time I have bought a book I have been either in my home county or travelling. Part of the joy of travelling is finding new places, new bookshops, new books. And not all bookshops are in Yorkshire, not all readers are here; why not write about finding bookshops wherever I travel from my home country. This also allows me to take recommendations from readers about places to check out further a field.

Why just books? For me, finding a good, well stocked secondhand book shops goes almost hand-in-hand with finding records. That week in the Scottish Borders was completed with a few days in Edinburgh, we swapped the booksellers for music and booksellers. No more Middle of Nowhere Bookshop, welcome to Leith's Elvis Shakespeare. Here I managed to buy, amongst other things, a Robert Greaves book and a Housemartins vinyl that urged me to 'take Jesus, take Marx, take hope'. This was a fantastic shop, full of gems. (While we were there the lovely Elvis Shakespeare staff managed to 'do a High Fidelity' by playing the Clash's first lp and persuaded my wife to get it). So, this will be books and records and where I found them.

Why just a leaflet? While the Borders Book Trail was useful, someone had carefully put a pen 'x' through the details of two shops: closed, no more. Collecting together the recommendations and finds online allows for information to be kept relatively up-to-date, and any changes can be made without the need of a ballpoint pen.

As it is now April 2014 I decided to put this project in motion. I will write about the places I've visited to find books and records from this point onwards. It will also be about other places that take my interest, like the youth hostels I have stayed it, cafés visited, and so on. I intend to start out with only taking recommendations for bookshops and record stores, though let's face it, plans rarely remain the same once life is involved.