May 29th 1973

“H-term – from 9-4 o’clock were in Southampton buying bludy smart clothes. Bort new platform shoes. Also bought Faust album – smart”

I bet if I saw them now those ‘bludy smart clothes‘ would seem FAR from ‘bludy smart’?!

I wonder if the platform shoes I ‘bort‘ were the cream and brown brogues I can (embarrassingly) remember? They had a sole about an inch thick, and a heel around 2½-3″ tall. Somewhat similar to those shown on the right. Yes, when I walked in them I MUST have looked like a complete pillock?!

Far more fascinating – and somewhat meaningful – 36 years later was mention of buying this Faust album. It was “The Faust Tapes

It was just the third release on the then fledgling Virgin Records label. As most music aficionados are aware, the first release became a little more famous; Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells” (The second was Tangerine Dream’s “Phaedra“).

Virgin had just signed Faust, and acquired these old recordings as part of the deal. They compiled them into two lengthy tracks, each taking up one side of the album.

In a magnificent marketing coup they them sold the LP for a mere 48p ($1), which was then 1 penny less than the cost of a 7″ single

I was one of 60,000 people who bought the LP before Virgin deleted it… whilst it was still #12 in the album charts! The label had to delete it as they said they had lost £2000 on it, which seems like SUCH a small amount of money these days. (It was obviously a LOT to Richard Branson and Co back then though?!)

OK, I’ll admit it…. I probably bought it because it was cheap.

It is a VERY hard album to immediately like, so I’m pretty proud of myself for referring to it as ‘smart’ upon listening to it.

It single-handedly led me on a lifetime’s appreciation for the musical genre often referred to as “Krautrock”, a catch-all phrase to identify stark rhythms and repetitive beats… most of which has originated in Germany.

Although “The Faust Tapes” does have repeated noise structures combining both electronics and vocals, its whole is far more than that. Later in life I would compare it to free form jazz, with sounds, blips and rhythms going off in a million different directions all at once.

It very much taught me how to like ‘weird’ too, something I had only vaguely touched on previously with certain tracks on, say, the Edgar Broughton “Sing, Brother Sing” album or the more peculiar screwy elements of bands like Focus. Without this ‘weird’ Faust ‘primer’ I may later never had got into artists like Captain Beefheart, the Lounge Lizards or even the Blue Note jazz catalogue.

Not only did this album introduce me to krautrock and/or ‘weird’, it also – thanks to the sleeve – set me up with a deep love for artist/painter Bridget Riley‘s work

Her style of painting – predominantly using black & white lines or squares – is often referred to as ‘op art’, for its illusionary aspects.

The (original) cover of “The Faust Tapes” was a work of hers from 1964 called “Crest” and it remains one my favourite paintings ever. To my ongoing chagrin I have been unable to find a reprint of the work to hang on our own walls. However, a few years ago my wife and I attended a Bridget Riley exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery in London – where I oooh’ed and aaah’ed for a couple of hours – and we came away with a exhibition poster featuring her work “Reconnaissance” (seen left), an equally groovy offering. We had it professionally framed and it now takes pride of place in the entrance foyer of our home.

Thus, and inadvertently, Richard Branson’s decision to release an album for just 48p in 1973 had a remarkably profound affect on my life. Not just because of my ongoing love for German electronic rock and Bridget Riley’s work, but also because it all set me off on an appreciation of the structure of ‘music, art & design’ in general, something I would get deeper into a few years later… with a vengeance.

I think every teenage life has a series of ‘turning points’. Buying this album in 1973 was undoubtedly one of mine.


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