Tag Archives: Virginia Plain

July 17th 1975

“Didn’t go to college – returned LPs to Virgin & got 6.89 credit” / “Disco – Got off with Lorna. Dedicated make me smile to Lorna + got virginia plain dedicated to me”

Virgin Records was the new major dealer in Southampton to satisfy my vinyl needs.

I wrote briefly before about how Richard Branson’s retail chain got its leg up to the High Streets of Britain (and later, the world), but its founding deserves further reportage.

Virgin Records & Tapes’ first opened in London’s Notting Hill Gate, run by Branson and his first business partner Nik Powell. Their first official store however was at the Tottenham Court Road end of London’s busy Oxford Street, initially above (I believe) a shoe shop. A while later they took over the ground floor. Here, and unlike most other record stores in 1971, the vibe was decidedly ‘laid back’, customers often crashing on the floor listening to albums and smoking substances both legal and illegal.

The first Virgin Records store in Notting Hill Gate

Branson decided to grow the chain after Post Office strikes threatened to take away his (primary) livelihood gained via the mail order business. He opened other stores in and handful towns and cities across the country. Few of them were in prime locations, Branson preferring to drive traffic to the stores rather than enjoy natural public footfall.

The response from the record buying public was pretty instant, the stores offering a breath of fresh air to people who had grown tired of the more staid HMV shops, places like Woolworths and the lack of choice in many independents. Virgin also specialised in imports, both cut-price (known as ‘cut-outs’) from America and titles which were not officially available in the UK.

Branson was also quick to take advantage of the removal of government-controlled ‘retail price maintenance’ which had kept the price of records and tapes artificially high since the sixties, discounting popular titles to create turnover whilst making most of his money from the stores’ depth of catalogue titles. It would be a record business model which many others – chains and independents alike – would emulate in succesive decades.

The Southampton Virgin store opened in what was a very much “off the beaten track” location at 16 Bargate Street, at one end of the town’s pedestrian precinct and hidden round an almost blind corner from that precinct. To make matters ‘worse’, it was situated across two floors linked by a very inhospitable and closed-in staircase.  The ground floor was given over exclusively to albums, whilst the much smaller upstairs was the singles/tapes/posters/accessories department. It was very narrow, the space between the racks little more than 7 or 8 feet. Indeed, the two floors combined probably totalled no more than maybe 1000 sq feet, a far cry from Branson’s later retail ventures.

I fell in love with its choice of albums almost immediately, attracted too by the fact that my old friend/adversary Niles had nabbed a part-time cashier’s job there and was able to pass on his generous staff discount of 20%. It was like red rag to a bull and I quickly went on a vinyl buying frenzy.

This store would eventually form an integral part of my post-college career – more on that later – and once again Niles would be involved in a way that was positive for me but unfortunate for him.

Today in 1975 it seems as if I had returned some unwanted – maybe faulty? – albums and received a credit note. (Virgin was once notorious for not wanting to give cash refunds to anyone, Branson’s policy was that once the money was in the business, it should somehow stay there)

I thought I would have a good picture or two of how the Southampton Virgin store looked in 1975, but research of my photo albums drew a blank… well, other than one of me stood outside it a few years later which I’d prefer to save for a future post.

Thanks to the ever-reliable Google “street view” application I can present a current-day pic of where the Virgin store was located. It looks very salbrious these days, despite being mere yards from two of Southampton’s main tourist attractions – the old walls and the West Quay shopping centre. The presence of all those steel shutters – the shop windows hidden behind them – certainly make the locale seem less than appealing.

In other news, it seems I got “lucky” at tonight’s disco, getting off with Lorna, with whom I subsequently enjoyed a short term fling. We were sorely mismatched and split up after just a few weeks. Her parents owned a fish & chip shop but I swear that wasn’t the main attraction.

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April 12th 1973

“All work all day. Got wages for something 2.84 (wow!)” / “Roxy Music at Gaumont. Sharks support”

So, my third ever concert was Roxy Music at the Southampton Gaumont.

Nice of me to write so very much about it eh?

Naturally, I can’t remember anything about the night, even more surprised by my diary entry that Sharks were the support act!

I know I would eventually buy “First Water”, the Sharks’ debut album. How do I know this? Because, for some inexplicable reason, I still own it! I say inexplicable because having found and played this cut on youtube, I can’t understand my fascination one little bit.

The Sharks were formed by bassist Andy Fraser after the rock band Free split up in 1972. He was joined by drummer Marty Simon, Vocalist Steve Parsons (a.k.a. “Snips”) and guitarist Chris Spedding.

The same Chris Spedding who produced the original Sex Pistols demos, played on Jeff Wayne’s “War of the Worlds” classic concept album, featured on Harry Nilsson’s “Nilsson Schmilsson” LP, and even toured in a furry costume as a band member of cult kid band The Wombles (yes, that’s him on guitar)

However, in my mind Spedding is aces for just one thing. The magnificence of his 1975 hit single “Motorbikin’“. Sadly, there appears to be no footage available of this stand-out track, so the link comes courtesy of just a 30 second snippet via last.fm

In what is something of an ironic twist, Spedding played as a member of a reformed Roxy Music during their 2001 tour of the UK.

I seriously wish I could remember at least something from the evening’s proceedings, especially as this tour was the last one to feature Roxy’s electronics guru Brian Eno. (I am now such an Eno fan, you wouldn’t believe it)

Did I dress up at all? (Unlikely). Did other concert go-ers dress up in glamware? (Undoubtedly, yes) How did I get there? How did I get home? Who did I travel with? What was the encore? (Probably “Virginia Plain“?)

*sigh*…. as ever I must consign myself (and you, dear reader) to (sadly) a whole lotta nuthin’

I will hazard at an educated guess that the band did songs from both their debut album AND their recently released “For Your Pleasure” LP, something which – it appears – I had not yet heard before attending the concert. (I know this because I have read ahead couple of days ahead in my diary!)

So, 15 years old and my concert-going list so far consists of: 1) Oval Rock Concert w/ELP, Genesis, Focus, Wishbone Ash, etc 2) ELP & 3) Roxy Music. Not too shabby a start really.

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April 4th 1973

“ARGUMENT! (smashing of the plate)” / “Got card from Gra” / “Roxy on TOTPs” / “Paid Trev for ISOS”

Oh dear – it would appear that one of the arguments took a worrying turn, with crockery being thrown? *sigh* I can’t remember this altercation – probably for the best I guess? – but it has got to me some 36 years later and made me feel – once again – incredibly sad that my folks seemed to spend so much of their lives arguing and shouting.

I think I remarked before that Graham traveled the world with his father, so I’ll guess I got a postcard from some exotic foreign clime.

The Roxy Music performance on Top of the Pops (TOTPs) would have been their second hit single Pyjamarama, which – sonically – was so very much ahead of its time.

Opening with a single guitar riff, followed by what is almost a drum solo, the song suddenly falls into a sax’n’electronics groove overlaid by Bryan Ferry’s voice crooning for all its worth. At the time, I remember thinking it was nowhere near as good as their debut hit “Virginia Plain”, but as the years have gone by I think I now actually prefer it, because its just so odd and groovily funky.

There appears to be no footage of Roxy’s performance on Top of the Pops, so I give you this OK montage instead….

I do think that Pyjamarama had some of the cutest lyrics…

Couldn’t sleep a wink last night
Oh how I’d love to hold you tight
They say you have a secret life
Made sacrifice your key to paradise
Never mind, take the world by storm
Just boogaloo a rhapsody divine
Take a sweet girl just like you
How nice if only we could bill and coo
I may seem a fool to you for ev’rything I say or think or do
How could I apologise for all those lies
The world may keeps us far apart but up in heaven, angel
You can have my heart
Diamonds may be your best friend
But like laughter after tears
I’ll follow you to the end
(© B.Ferry 1973)

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January 28th 1973

“Dave came up in the morning and borrowed Pictures and lent me Roxy Music”

I was almost dreading the debut mention of Roxy Music in this blog.

Why? Because it is extremely difficult to explain the impact that the band – and their style – had on this particular teenager. It’s also difficult to explain to an audience now wholly familiar with their sound just HOW radically different they appeared to be in 1973.

Vocalist Bryan Ferry – originally a ceramics teacher from Newcastle – formed Roxy Music in November 1970. This was a few months after he had failed to secure the spot as King Crimson‘s new lead singer following the departure of Greg Lake. (Yes, that Greg Lake) However, Crimson’s Robert Fripp and Pete Sinfield liked Ferry so much they helped the vocalist’s young band obtain a management contract with EG Records.

Ferry started the band with bassist Graham Simpson, then recruited saxophonist Andy MacKay and drummer Paul Thompson via wanted ads placed in Melody Maker. MacKay brought along his university chum Brian Eno to act (initially) as a technical advisor. Phil Manzanera joined the band just as they started recording their debut album, replacing former ex-Nice guitarist David O’List.

Ferry initially monikered the band “Roxy”, an homage to the name given to old-fashioned cinemas and dance halls across the UK. He then found out there was already a similarly-named American band, so added “Music” to differentiate the two.

The band’s debut album was recorded – along with their quirky hit single “Virginia Plain” (not included on the original LP release, but subsequently added to LP & CD re-issues) – in March 1972 and unleashed on the public a few months later.

I feel somewhat ashamed in retrospect that it apparently took me until January 1973 to first acknowledge it!

The sleeve alone stood out as completely different to everything else I was listening to at the time. Whilst groups like ELP, Deep Purple or the Edgar Broughton Band featured terrible representations of the band members, Roxy Music turned things on their head by having an extremely glamourous model – Kari-Ann Muller – lounging across the gatefold.

If that wasn’t enough to draw this impressionable teenager in, then the musical contents certainly did.

The opener, “Re-Make/Re-Model“, starts with the sounds of a cocktail party in progress before launching full-tilt into what, on the surface, appears to be a traditional rock & roll song from the 50’s, complete with solos from each of the band members. Subsequent listens unveil a whole separate texture to the song, with Eno’s futuristic synthesizer sounds and MacKay & Manzanera’s instruments creating an almost cacophonous roar. There’s more than just a cursory nod to The Beatles “Day Tripper” in the riffing, but the most off-the-wall element is the vocal chorus of “CPL 593H“, allegedly the number plate of Ferry’s car at the time!

Ladytron” is one of Ferry’s (what-would-become) trademark ‘seduction’ songs, and kicks off with an eerie duet between MacKay’s oboe skills and Eno’s synthesiser blips and gloops before eventually descending into another band battle of sounds and noises.

If There Is Something” is quintessential early-Roxy. It forges a sound that the band would duplicate over and over again;- Ferry’s vibrato – but utterly nonchalant – vocal styling at the forefront with repeated band melodies behind him. MacKay’s oboe playing is nothing short of magnificent, his mid-song solo bringing the tune its melancholy.

It would be easy to think that “2HB“, which closes side 1, is Ferry’s personal tribute to pencils. It is actually a song dedicated to actor Humphrey Bogart, specifically his role as Rick in Casablanca. In keeping with the movie, this song has a detached moody atmosphere, entirely driven by Ferry’s electric piano and MacKay’s erie Eno-enhanced sax.

Side 2’s opener is “The Bob (Medley)” , a bitty & somewhat unstructured affair – and probably my least favourite track on the whole album. Punctured by the sound of warfare (Bob is an acronym for “Battle of Britain”) the song is split into sections that veer dramatically from each other. It’s almost as if the band are showing off just a little too much, or trying a little too hard with this track, although it has be stated that without Thompson’s thumpy drums or Manzanera’s fretwork it would amount to very little indeed.

Things get properly back on course with “Chance Meeting“, one of Ferry’s more traditional love songs. It is peppered with Manzanera’s guitar – having first been fed through Eno’s box of electronic tricks – and underlined by Ferry’s own gentle piano playing.

I personally feel that “Would You Believe” is one of Roxy’s unsung little masterpieces, so ‘unsung’ that there’s no footage available at all on YouTube. The boogie-woogie piano, drum, guitar and sax section that intersperse the contrary starkness is pure rock and roll, and offers more than a mere hint to some of Ferry’s influences,

Sea Breezes” is, pure and simple, a Roxy Music ‘classic’ – assuming such a thing even exists. It is one of my – admittedly many – ‘shower songs’, wherein I persecute the walls of our bathroom with my singing. It starts off pretty traditionally, Ferry’s gentle voice overlaying some fine guitar, synth and sax work. Suddenly the silence is punctured by a drum break and we find ourselves in new territory altogether, amps turned up to ’11’ and the band members noisily battling each other. Then, as quickly as the noise starts, it all mellows out again and Ferry once again professes his love for the song’s protagonist. Delightful stuff.

Bitters End” ties the album up, a 50’s doo-wop pastiche containing a strange choral refrain of “bizarre” almost summing up the entire album’s sound. Its also the song that seems to ‘go’ with the band’s image seen on the inside LP sleeve.

I think those images ‘drew’ me to the album as much as the music itself. There’s Manzanera in ‘fly’ sunglasses a decade or two before U2’s Bono discovered them, MacKay personifying “rock’n’roll”, and Ferry & Eno in leopard/tiger skin leather jackets, the latter looking particularly ‘other-worldy’ (and, bless him, displaying early signs of hair loss)

The second Roxy Music album “For Your Pleasure” was the album that REALLY sealed my personal – and lifelong – fascination for the band, but this very assured debut introduced me to their quirky stylings and unique sound in a major way.

It also goes to underline the fact – repeated again for those that have forgotten it – that I was willing to listen to – and appreciate – just about anything that came my way. Whilst many of my school chums may have been fixated only by Heavy Rock or Pop Music my own listening rounded up both of those and a whole lot more besides.

I often wonder if bands such as Roxy Music would stand even half a chance in the current music ‘business’. I would like to think that with someone as always forward-thinking and technically-savvy as Brian Eno in its ranks the band would find a way of getting their music across to the masses but I’m not convinced there would be a 100% guarantee of success.

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