Random Play by Graham Reid

Off The Record

There was a second hand record sale in a hall just round the corner from us a couple of weekends ago, so naturally I went.

My patient wife tagged along although I did warn her at the door that she would most probably be the only woman in the place. I was out by one.

I don’t know what it is about middle-aged men (like myself) and the thought of running their fingers over old vinyl. I’m not really interested in a whole lot of old Hall & Oates albums, the dozens of copies of Neil Diamond’s Hot August Night which inevitable turn up in such places, or those old MOR orchestral albums by Percy Faith (who knew the guy made so many?)

But of course that is part of the adventure. As with people who climb to the top of high mountains so they can appreciate the view and the reflect on the struggle, I am prepared to wade through Debbie Harry solo albums, scratched copies of Herman’s Hermits Greatest Hits and an unnatural number of mid-80s albums by guys wearing plastic pants just to find that one thing that I have always needed -- even if I didn’t know I needed it when I walked in the door.

So we had fun: I bought The Roy Wood Story (a double album which included some of his early hits with the 60s band the Move, but I wanted for his bloated rocker See My Baby Jive when he was helming Wizzard); Elton’s Madman Across The Water (always loved the string arrangement on the title track which I’m surprised hasn’t been sampled) and Dylan’s uneven Empire Burlesque (and when I got home I remembered I already had a copy, must have been an adrenalin rush).

All up about $10, can’t complain.

These things have amused me a little over the past few days -- although not Losing You To Sleep by Tommy Hoehn which the guy behind the counter said was really great power pop.

It’s not. I know my power pop and this is wimpy. I should have spotted it straight away: the guy has a Kenny Loggins beard -- and power poppers don’t have beards, especially not ones from Memphis.

Anyway these are piled up by the stereo now alongside the Demis Roussos, Cilla Black, Frankie Lane and Brothers Four albums I got for $2 (in total) at the local second hand shop a fortnight ago. (The Cilla is good, the Brothers Four do close harmony on Beatles songs, the Frankie is uneven and the Demis is scratched).

But this is cheap fun, although my astute wife who headed straight for the old 45s got the best stuff the other day.

She picked up singles by Philip Michael Thomas (the guy from the original Miami Vice), Bunny Walters’ election year ballad To Be Free (flipside is the rather more specific To Be Free With Labour!), and Destination Zululand by King Kurt (on Stiff, flipside She’s As Hairy!).

But best of all was Sick Songs And Worse Verse by Horatio, an EP on the HMV label with (of course) a skull on the cover. The tracks include Kiss Me Till My Gums Bleed, Love At First Bite, A Patriotic Song, Horace and Janet, Land of Snobs and Tories (to the approximate tune of Land of Hope and Glory) and Shall We?

All are written by someone Flynn, which we take to be Horatio himself.

It’s hilarious. It is sort of spoken word-cum-music hall piano from somewhere in the mid 60s at a guess.

The liner notes read: “Approximately 23 years ago Horatio was born. At the tender age of six he unsuccessfully stood for parliament. His keepers decided that, on account of the colour of his teeth, he should learn the piano.
He made his first public appearance at the age of 12 and really hit the international headlines. He got six months for that.
It was at this stage that he began to write songs for no other reason than that of inciting the occasional riot. Hence this recording.
Horatio’s tastes are catholic. He is proud of his heritage (Land of Snobs and Tories) and is very fond of animals (Love At First Bite).
He is also an ardent believer in sexual security (Kiss Me Till My Guns Bleed) and the Well-fed State (A Patriotic Song).
Horatio came to NZ to better himself.”

I wonder who Horatio is/was. Any clues anyone?

And the other that my smarter-than-me wife got was Songs of New Zealand on Viking by the New Zealand Maori Chorale (soloist Wiki Baker). One side is Pokarekare Ana -- but the other is the sponsor’s product: Songs of the Railway.

It’s interesting and kinda sad: Simon Morris sings Riding High (that’s the interesting bit, not the sad bit) and it came out in 1978.

It’s a McCann-Erickson thing and was obviously a promo disc for the New Zealand Railways (remember them?) One of the tracks is Rail Freight to the tune of Rawhide which was all over the telly back then.

What is sad is the liner notes.

“Right back in the beginning of this country there was the Railways. That iron track opened up vast areas of New Zealand -- for the people and for the produce of the countryside. It was the Railways [note the use of a capital throughout] in both North and South keeping communications open, keeping trade going. It was the Railways that kept New Zealand in touch with itself -- making New Zealand one country. The look of the railways today has changed beyond recognition. Old steam trains have gone -- the big diesels now hauling 20th century payloads. But even now the railways are as important as they ever were.
“Freight trains are the backbone of the haulage industry. They haul heavier payloads, far more fuel efficiently than road transport. And Railways help to keep New Zealand clean -- the air, the water, the environment.
“The big passenger trains -- the Silver Fern, Silver Star, Northerner, Southerner, Endeavour -- are among the most modern passenger trains in the world with sleeping cars, dining cares and often hostess service. It’s a far cry from the 19th century service.
“But if the Railways look different, their significance is still the same. NZR is one of the largest employers in the country; it takes staff from every walk of life; it binds both islands together with over 4,500 kilometres of track, doing today what it’s always done: driving together and making the country one.”

Quaint, huh? Didn’t seem so long ago either, did it?

PS: Okay, Music From Elsewhere doesn’t -- yet -- have the capacity to play you old vinyl like Horatio, the Rail Freight song or Bunny singing, “remember the dreams of the days our childhood, remember the promises everyone made. How did we lose it? Where have the dreams gone to? We can’t let the promises fade. . . Labour can make it, we’re born to be free . . . With Labour we‘re free“.
Nope Elsewhere can't top that conceit, but there are some interesting tracks listed here which you probably won’t hear anywhere else either. Check ‘em out.