Hurry back to your seat

It is 1957. You are sitting in a cinema in Melbourne, Australia, and it is Interval. Younger folk may never have experienced an “interval” in a cinema, but it used to be a thing, equivalent to half time at the football. As the house lights brighten and you rise, contemplating whether to buy an ice-cream, a fruity baritone voice floats over the PA.

This announcement was a custom acetate recording, a 78-rpm metal disc covered in black lacquer. These were used to record radio advertisements, theatre announcements and the like. In this case, the management want the punters not to hang around too long in the foyer, ruining the cinema’s screening times.

7133As you will have picked up, you were seeing The King and I, the 1956 film version of the Rogers and Hammerstein’s musical. This is a much-loved production, still being performed around the world. Personally, I’m not sure why it has such an exalted place in the canon, but millions disagree with me and it has some good moments.

Maybe, in 1957, the magic would have been stronger, and I would have rushed the next day to buy this EP. I have chosen one of the less-famous numbers, a song of love and gentle melancholy. The singing credit is given to Deborah Kerr, but along with the other songs in the film it was actually sung by Marni Nixon.

Now, grab your ice cream and get back to your seat. The movie is about to start!

Recording 1

  • Artist: Unknown
  • A side: “Interval, King & I”
  • Format: 10”, 78 rpm, acetate, mono
  • Label: Broadcast Exchange of Australia (BEA)
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: none
  • Year: Unknown (probably 1957)

Recording 2

  • Artist: Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner
  • EP Title: The King and I
  • Track: A2 “Hello, Young Lovers”
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm, vinyl, mono
  • Label: Capitol
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: EAP 1-740
  • Year: 1957

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs

 

 

Flavoursome creamy goodness

I was born too late, but I would have loved to have done the voice-overs for the old newsreels. You know the kind of thing: we see grainy footage of Lancaster bombers taking off, while a slightly posh, nasal, monotone voice intones “The brave boys of the RAF take to the air, off to give Jerry a packet. You won’t be getting much sleep tonight, Mr Hitler!”

2082Sometimes these soundtracks turn up on disc, and this is one of them. It is the voice-over which was played to accompany a six-minute film promoting a brand of butter, Western Star, in about 1962. Western Star was then, and is still, an iconic brand in this part of the world.butter

The butter, I’m happy to say, is genuinely excellent. Sadly, I can’t eat butter any more – cholesterol issues, weight, all that drab stuff which comes with middle age. But tell you what, listening to this makes me want to rush out and buy a pound of “flavoursome creamy goodness” and whip up a sponge cake.

  • Artist: Western District Co-operative Co. Ltd.
  • LP Title: Western Star Butter
  • Format: 12” acetate LP, 33⅓ rpm, mono
  • Label: Audio Visual Australia
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: c. 1962

Many of the records featured on this blog are for sale via Discogs

 

That fugitive thing

I have just read an article in which the author “hopes to catch that fugitive thing—Englishness”. He could do worse, I reckon, than contemplate the fictional secret agent John Steed.

avengersHere he is, in company of Emma Peel, with whom he shared many a rip-roaring adventure, saving the world from various villains in the 1960s TV series The Avengers. Steed was a gentleman, with a gentleman’s courtesy and sense of fair play. Mrs Peel was an English rose, a honey with a large wardrobe of mini-skirts. It’s all good, clean fun. Underlying issues of class, race and prejudice and economic injustice are cheerfully ignored, which is also the English way.

Cracker of a theme tune, too. It is performed here by Roland Shaw and His Orchestra. Shaw was an arranger and producer for Decca records. This is not the original theme, but in 1964 Shaw’s orchestra released a version of the James Bond theme which was an improvement on the original and which became a surprise hit. They followed up with several LPs of similar material, including Themes for Secret Agents in 1966. One of these was “The Avengers”.

As you will hear, Roland Shaw knew how to project the dapper, brave Patrick Steed in music. Perhaps no surprise, as he was to the manner born. His full name was Roland Edgar Shaw-Tomkins. Born in Leicester, he studied music at Trinity College, and served in the RAF during the Second World War. Englishness, old boy.

  • Artist: Roland Shaw and His Orchestra
  • LP Title: Focus On Phase 4 Stereo (Various Artists)
  • Track: Side 2 Track 4 “The Avengers”
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm
  • Label: Decca
  • Catalogue number: BPS 1
  • Manufactured in: Great Britain
  • Year: 1968 (track first released on the LP Themes for Secret Agents, 1966)

Many of the records featured on Planet Vinyl are for sale on Discogs.

 

Big in Norway

Jon English, an Australian singer and actor, died earlier this year. I had one of his records for sale online, the soundtrack to a 1978 historical drama, all about Australia in convict times, Against the Wind.  Soon after Jon died, someone ordered it. Not too surprising – except that the order came from, of all places, Norway.

atw

One of the great things about selling old records is chatting to the people who buy them. There is so often a fascinating story. So I asked:

One thing I am curious about – Jon English was big here in Australia, but I am a little surprised that anyone in Norway has heard of him. I take it you are a fan? Sad about his passing.

The buyer, Leif, replied:

Jon English is well known in Scandinavia (Norway, Sweden and Denmark). Against the Wind was broadcast on Norwegian television in the 80s, and in Sweden and Denmark at about the same time. The soundtrack album came with its own translation. In Norway, we bought the Swedish version. The Danish title was “Mod vinden”, meaning “Against the Wind”, the Swedish title was “Mot alla vindar”, meaning “Against All Winds”

A Danish artist, Lene Siel, did a duo with Jon English with the song “Six Ribbons”.

Norwegian band Green Carnation did a cover version of the same track.

Jon English played at the Sweden Rock Festival 2013.

So, you see, he’s well known here. And yes, I’m a fan myself. Very sad he died so early and so unexpected!

Lief also tells me that complete series of Against the Wind is now available on DVD in “Australia, Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands … So, as you see, Sweden and Norway, again and again…”

Usually on Planet Vinyl, we don’t play the hits, but here I will make an exception. I learned this song back in primary school, and love it still. Have a listen, and you’ll see why it was big in Norway.

  • Artist: Jon English and Mario Millo
  • LP Title: Against The Wind
  • Track: Side 2, Track 2 “Six Ribbons”
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm
  • Label: Polydor, 2907 048
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1978

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs. Mention this code “MSD519” to receive a free 7-inch disc of your choice (up to the value of $5.00) with any purchase.

 

 

Going to movies alone

I saw the film An Angel at My Table at a difficult time in my life.

I was very young, and working as a journalist on a daily paper. It was a stressful and high pressure job with a boozy workplace culture. The killer was the shiftwork. You could be rostered to start work at any time from 5am to 6pm, and the two days off you got each week were usually not consecutive, and which days you got varied all the time. You couldn’t really do anything which required a regular commitment. Playing a sport, doing yoga, taking music lessons, even just seeing a group of friends regularly – all the things that bring stability and joy into life, they become almost impossible.

angel 2

An Angel at My Table, dir. Jane Campion, 1990

There are people who can cope with this; I am not one of them. I quickly got into a downward spiral: exhaustion, anxiety, depression. A bad time, but one of the better things I did trying to make this strange existence work was to go to the cinema during the day. It is a little strange going to a movie alone, but I came to enjoy it. I could go to anything, and if it turned out to be a turkey I didn’t feel responsible to another person.

Jane Campion is a New Zealander, now famous as a film director, especially for The Piano. But in 1990, she was only small-big, known among arty types for darkly humorous films with a touch of magic realism. An Angel at My Table was completely different, a long film about the life of New Zealand author Janet Frame. I have mentioned in another post how film soundtracks can open our minds to diverse music, and that was the case here. There is a lovely original score, but it is interspersed with other music, from Schubert lieder to early rock’n’roll, to this song.7020 sleeve

“Po Ata Rau (Now Is The Hour)” is a farewell, in the Maori language, first sung in 1915 to farewell troops sailing off to the First World War. This version is not the one used in the film, but it is so similar that I had to check. It is the work of the choir of a Catholic school, St Joseph’s Maori Girls College, and comes from an EP they recorded in 1962.

It is only short, but it is a beautiful piece of harmony singing, and it lifted my heart on a grim day in 1990 and it still does now.

  • Artist: St Joseph’s Maori Girls College
  • EP Title: Maori Love Songs
  • Side 2, Track 3: “Po Ata Rau (Now Is The Hour)”
  • Format: 7” EP 45 rpm
  • Label: Viking VT62
  • Manufactured in: New Zealand
  • Year: 1962

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs

 

 

A flower on the cliff’s edge

A few years ago, my eldest daughter came down with chicken pox. I was primary carer at the time, and so needed to come up with creative ways to entertain and distract a bright and precocious child who itched all over and couldn’t play with other kids.

So, we took up stamp collecting. I bought a stamp album, and a magnifying glass, and a some packets of stamps, and we sorted and discussed and classified them. Many were 20 or 30 years old, and inevitably came one of those questions which stumps a parent.cccp stamp

“Dad,” she asked, “what country is CCCP?”

“That,” I explained, “was the Soviet Union. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the USSR. In Russian, that was CCCP.”

Blank look.

I tried again: “There was this thing, the Soviet Union. That is what CCCP means, in Russian.”

“So it just means Russia?”

“No. Not really. A bit. Sort of, yes. Russia was part of it, but the Soviet Union … look, it’s complicated.”

Another blank look, but with mean eyebrows. Dad has failed this particular test.

I know it is wrong of me to feel nostalgia for the Cold War. It was nasty on so many levels, from vile proxy wars in Asia and Africa through to the small matter that between them, the USA and the Soviet Union had enough nuclear weapons to annihilate the human race.

But … look, it’s complicated. For one thing, in those days, we in the west were, warts and all, clearly the better choice. It was the others, the bad dudes, who built weaponised barriers to prevent ordinary men, women and children from fleeing oppression, and put them in prison camps if they dared to try.

The Soviets were good at some things, too. They didn’t put people on the Moon, but apart from that they pretty much won the space race. They were good at sport, especially the Olympics. And, for a totalitarian state, their art was astonishing.

stamp shostYou would expect Soviet art to be chokingly conformist, bureaucratic and bland – and there was plenty of that. But writers, film-makers, poets, singers, dancers, musicians and composers still managed to produce works of breathtaking beauty and spirit.

This is one of those. It is the score, written by Dmitri Shostakovich, for a film called The Gadfly. It was recorded in 1962, by the USSR Cinema Symphony Orchestra. A few months later came the Cuban missile crisis, one of those Cold War moments when the human race stood on the cliff, looking down.2345 Gadfly label

I have chosen two tracks to share. This music, written by a Soviet composer for a Soviet film, performed by a Soviet orchestra, is like a beautiful flower growing on the edge of that cliff.

Shostakovich, The Gadfly, No. 8 ‘Romance’

Shostakovich, The Gadfly, No. 11 ‘Scene’

  • Artist: USSR Cinema Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Emin Khachaturian
  • Composer: Dmitri Shostakovich
  • LP Title: Music for the Film ‘The Gadfly’
  • Tracks: Side 2, Track 1: “No.8, Romance”; Side 2, Track 4: “No. 11, Scene”
  • Format: 12” LP 33⅓ rpm
  • Label: Classics for Pleasure
  • Manufactured in: United Kingdom
  • Year: c. 1978 (recorded 1962)

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs

2345 Gadfly sleeve

A western, and sad

We did not have a television at home when I was a boy. This was the 1970s, when TVs had become pretty much universal in Australia, but my Mum and Dad did not approve of this trend. Although I didn’t like it at the time I am grateful for their non-conformity now. Much of my love of music and literature stems from reading, listening to the radio and to records.

Another good thing about not having a television was that when there was something on which we wanted to watch, we would go to someone’s house, and visit and have dinner and watch it together – it was a social experience, a bit of an event.

220px-Flamsta2

Elvis. This was before he invented the deep-fried peanut butter sandwich

One of the first films I can remember seeing on a colour television (which, young ‘uns, only came to Australia in 1976) was an Elvis Presley film, a western called Flaming Star. There are a lot of seriously dreadful Elvis movies, but this was one of the good ones. I remember little about it except that it was a western and sad, and that it had a wonderful theme. My recollection is that the music crops up in fragmentary form repeatedly in the film, and then plays in full over the closing credits.

This track was originally released in 1960, soon after the movie. It was only a modest hit, and is more-or-less forgotten. I found it on a rather tacky compilation, Elvis in Hollywood. It is buried among much more famous numbers, like “Viva Las Vegas” and “Rock-a-Hula Baby”, and I suspect “Flaming Star” only got included because it fit the album’s concept. For mine, though, it is the standout. It is a sad, poignant song about mortality, a young man fearing he will die before his time. The sombre song is in tension with the up-tempo, almost jaunty arrangement, but somehow the mix works.

Elvis Presley is one of those artists whose myth is so gargantuan, so ridiculously overblown, that it obscures his art. Tracks like this help us understand what all the fuss was about.

  •    Artist: Elvis Presley
  •    LP Title: Elvis in Hollywood
  •    Side 2, Track 3: “Flaming Star”
  •    Format: 12” LP 33⅓ rpm
  •    Label: RCA ‎– VPL1 7130
  •    Manufactured in: Australia
  •    Year: 1976 (original release 1960)

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs. Most are only a few dollars, and I am open to offers.