Every month the postman would deliver a ‘Classical Music’ LP from the Australian branch of the World Record Club. Often, under the watchful eye of my mother, I’d get to carefully liberate the new disc from its square cardboard mailer, but I had insufficient status to actually play records on the stereogram. That was a grown-up job.
Despite being a student of classical piano, I confess that I enjoyed the album covers more than the music. One striking design was a recording of ‘The Trout Quintet’ by Franz Schubert. Decades later I can still conjure up an image of the sumptuous speckled fish, painted as if from beneath, the river surface hovering above.
An added bonus on early pressings was the stroboscope around the edge of the label, allowing audiophiles to check whether their HMV was spinning the platter at exactly 331/3 revolutions per minute. Too fast and there was an illusion of the little rectangles edging forwards; too slow and they shuffled backwards. But if they sat there looking all stationary and smug, then Mister your record player was managing 100 laps in exactly three minutes.
Looking to expand their market, the World Record Club began releasing jazz LPs too. In time there were even rock/pop releases. Most of the records had redesigned covers which meant that they were shunned by young hipsters as being ‘inauthentic’. Fool that I was, I gave away my WRC copy of ‘Magical Mystery Tour’, possibly the most enduringly satisfying Beatles album, released in a unique Australian cover. It commands a tidy sum these days, as do other previously derided World Record Club releases. What was once flicked over with disdain is now clutched triumphantly by collectors.
Here are a few jazz examples from the Vinyl Connection Collection. The covers certainly have a retro charm.
Now the World Record Club was not only a mail order affair. There was a shop in the Melbourne CBD and others in capital cities elsewhere. The one I occasionally visited on my way home from uni was a drab little shop located in Flinders Lane. Well, I think that’s where it was; it was a while ago.
What I do remember clearly was purchasing a copy of BB King In London one autumn afternoon. At the time I knew little more than the artist’s name. One album I’d heard in the Rowden White Library Listening Room [see Part 2 of this post] was bluesy and rocky and had an amazing watermelon-guitar on the cover. Hard to picture? Here you go:
Anyway, as I was interested in where the British blues-rock I enjoyed came from, I thought In London worth a punt for $2.99. Also, it had Ringo playing drums on three tracks.
The grey-haired lady behind the counter adjusted her cardigan and slid the LP into a paper bag bearing the legend: World Record Club. I handed over a green two-dollar bill and some coin. She folded the top of the bag closed and sealed it with a carefully judged one-inch strip of tape. I left the shop. No words were spoken and I never saw her again. An hour later I was sure I’d never see the record again either.
The Frankston line runs from the centre of Melbourne down through the south-eastern suburbs to the destination that gives the line its name. I lived in a tiny flat attached to the back of the family home in Moorabbin. It was previously my Grandparents home, and the flat was built by my Grandfather, Fred, to provide a modicum of income for him and his forceful wife Blanche in their retirement. It comprised a miniscule kitchenette (which I had no use for, all meals being provided by my doting mother), and a tiny lounge room just large enough for a very modest stereo and two easy chairs, two adolescent bookcases and a standard lamp for mood lighting. My moods only; no-one other than my best mate ever visited. The bedroom had a built-in wardrobe and a single bed; there wasn’t space for more.
Back to the railway. It was a bit over half-an-hour from the city to Moorabbin station. Long enough to read a chapter of whatever text-book was needful or perhaps a few chapters of my latest Sci-Fi paperback. But mostly I’d doze; the rocking, repetitive clatter of the train a sure-fire inducement to lower the eyelids and succumb to disjointed semi-dreams until some inner sense alerted me to the fact that we were departing Bentleigh station and almost home. Except that on this particular afternoon, the inner alarm didn’t go off and I awoke with a start to find the train stationary at Moorabbin. I leapt for the door and staggered out onto the platform, congratulating myself that I hadn’t overshot and ended up at Highett yet again. But the befuddled air of celebration was short-lived. As the train disappeared down the line I realised that BB King was still sitting on the carriage seat.
Don’t panic, I told myself. People must leave stuff in trains all the time. Adrenaline dispersing the fog of drowsiness in quick time, I strode up the ramp and went to the ticket window, explaining to the shadowy figure behind the glass what my problem was. He grunted and gave a hawking smoker’s cough – not a promising start – but managed to dredge up some language from the phlegmy depths, saying that he could ring Frankston station and see if my item got to the end of the line. Come back tomorrow, he said.
Didn’t sound promising, but having few other options I slouched off home and put on Humble Pie.
Next morning, after waiting for the commuter queue to disperse, I again fronted up to the ticket window, explained to another employee the situation and was delighted to have passed under the window bars the square white bag, still sealed with Sellotape. Vic Rail had come through.
So what’s the album like?
In London is a 1971 studio album recorded with musicians from the US and UK. It opens in fine stomping style with “Caldonia”, a great blues shouter with punchy brass (including Bobby Keys of Rolling Stones fame on sax) and a terrific Duster Bennett harmonica solo. Gary Wright (Spooky Tooth) plays organ and Pink Floyd’s Rick Wright chimes in on electric piano (though not so much that you really notice). “Blue Shadows” has a Fleetwood Mac feel (or rather, some early Mac has a BB King feel) and has Steve Winwood on organ with Klaus Voorman on bass. “Alexis’ Boogie” has BB in a rare acoustic performance accompanied by legendary UK bluesman Korner and Steve Marriot (Humble Pie) on harmonica. Side One rounds out with the smouldering slow blues “We Can’t Agree” (Louis Jordan) that is really lifted by Winwood’s classy organ. BB’s solos are just fabulous, firing volleys of ball-bearings dipped in Mississippi moonshine. “Another one of them crazy endings,” he says as the song finishes.
Ringo’s drums open proceedings on Side Two, as the mournful drama of “Ghetto Woman” unfolds to understated strings. Normally I dislike strings but it really works here, adding a filmic quality to a magnificent BB King vocal.
“Wet Hayshark” is a Gary Wright instrumental that boogies along. Jim Price on trumpet and Keys’ sax punch the clock as BB stings and jabs.
As this piece is now almost as long as the Frankston line, I’ll abandon the track analysis at this point, other than to say that the quality remains high right to the end. As BB sings in “Power of the blues”, “it ain’t what I play it’s the way that I play it”. Too true.
If you wanted to augment your blues holding, a well-compiled BB King collection is recommended but if you stumble across In London, snap it up. It’s robust, beautifully recorded and full of great performances. Just remember that it will probably look like this: