Customers coming into our little suburban record store to buy music seemed to fall into several categories.
There were the positively vague.
“That song on the radio, it goes Do-de-Do-de Dum Dum Dum… Got that one?”
There were the negatively vague.
“Don’t suppose you know what that new album’s called, the one with the zither solo?”
There were the straight-to-the point focussed buyers.
“A copy of Hot August Night please. Do you charge for the plastic covers?”
Then there were the unfocussed browsers.
“Just looking, thanks.”
This last were the most frustrating. Often they would spend ten to fifteen minutes leafing through records in a desultory manner, sometimes pausing to lift out an LP and examine the back of the sleeve before dropping it back into the racks, usually in a different place. In my early days, full of helpful enthusiasm and a desire to sell records, I would try to engage the LP-flicker in relevant conversation.
“Looking for anything in particular?”
“Not really, I thought I’d get a new record.”
Can you see the trap opening up here?
“A new release, you mean? Or something new and different for your ears?”
“Oh, either really. I liked that last Neil Diamond album.”
A discernable sinking feeling began in the gastrointestinal regions of your correspondent at around this point in the dialogue. Ignore it and plough on.
“Have you heard any Jackson Browne?”
“No o o…”
More ignoring: this time the uncertainty in the voice.
“His new album is just great. I’ll put it on and you can have a listen as you browse.”
Moments later the melodious, doleful sounds of Late for the Sky filled the shop.
The words had all been spoken
And somehow the feeling still wasn’t right…
Clearly it wasn’t right for the customer. A few minutes later I saw them sidling out the door.
Graham fitted none of these categories.
He came in early one Friday evening, soon after finishing work at the Municipal Library around the corner from Max Rose Electronics. I knew this because I used the Library occasionally, though despite being of similar age I’d never spoken to him. Neatly dressed in a polyester shirt and tie, diffident, nervous even, Graham muttered ‘Hello’. He hovered near the counter, frozen like a jammed film of a runner wanting to break away but caught in stuttering still-frame.
“F- F- Fairport Co- Convention.”
“Pardon?” Was he talking about a sea-side gathering of librarians?
“Th- The English folk band. D-Do you have any of their records?”
It was a small shop. I’d been through the stock many times. I’d never heard of Fairport Convention and thought – ignoramus that I was –folk music was for silly old duffers. But there was a standard response in these situations, one that we employed quite regularly as the stock was limited. It really was a small store.
“I don’t think so. But I’m happy to order you anything in the catalogue. I takes a bit over a week.”
I didn’t add: If you’re lucky. If the boss remembers to check the order book. If it is in stock at the record company. If they get the order right. If the delivery drivers aren’t on strike. If the order actually arrives at our record shop rather than one of the three others in the Centre Road strip.
Fortunately Graham, who rarely made eye-contact, did not detect these thoughts flashing across my poker-player’s face.
“Yes p-please. Rosie and Nine.”
What? I’m confused again. A lightning glance provided this intelligence to Graham.
“They’re the albums I want,” he said helpfully.
Reaching out the first of the loose-leaf catalogues supplied – and periodically updated – by each record company, I thumbed through the alphabet.
“Nope. Not WEA.”
Next catalogue. “…nor CBS.”
I pulled out the massive Festival folder. They distributed a lot of overseas labels and if I’d been a bit more experienced, I would probably have started there. Sure enough, a substantial series of entries for Fairport Convention.
“Rosie, released last year. Nine, also 1973. Shouldn’t be a problem.”
Smiling nervously, Graham paid a small deposit (well, who else in seventies suburban Melbourne was going to buy two English folk albums, huh?) …and bolted.
But he came back and seemed delighted with his purchases. Better him than me; I’d spun one of them and not liked it at all. Too fiddly (that is, too much fiddle) and folky (too much ‘Hey Nonny Nonny’) for someone deeply into Close to the Edge at the time.
Periodically over the next couple of years, Graham came back and ordered further pairs of records, always by the same artist, usually sequential releases. I don’t remember all of those visits, but I do recall the second one. It was some three months after the Fairport order and a cold winter’s Friday night.
“Hi Graham. How’s it going?”
“What’ve you been listening to?”
“Oh, err…” He seemed a little taken aback by this invitation to engage. “Er… different r-records.”
Move along. He’s a sweet guy, don’t make him sweat.
“What can we help you with this miserable Melbourne night?”
A tentative smile.
“Mac. F-Fleetwood Mac.”
Now at this point in time Fleetwood Mac were not the world-conquering pop-rock gods of the second half of the seventies. No indeed. They were an obscure British blues band who more-or-less disappeared after Peter Green (and then further guitarists) imploded. Except that, as I was about to learn, they did not disappear or even disband. They recruited. First Christine Perfect – soon to be McVie – then Bob Welsh. The result was an outfit moving away from the blues towards a melodic, more US friendly sound that paved the way for the 1975 re-grouping that added the famous Buckingham-Nicks couple. The rest is history, but wasn’t then.
“Yeah, I think we have that double, Fleetwood Mac in Chicago.”
“Oh. Um. These are the two I want.”
Graham handed me a piece of paper with two album titles scrawled on it. I reached for the WEA catalogue (you see, I’d learned a little more in the interim). There they were: Penguin and Mystery to Me, both released the previous year, 1973.
“Easy. Consider it done.”
Recalling the two 1973 Fairport albums I was curious about the order of his order. The years, the sequence, the alphabetical proximity. Was it a librarian thing?
“Are you working through the Fs?”
A little giggle. “S-sort of.”
It turned out that Graham was indeed on a mission. He was collecting music across genres and countries in a methodical and enthusiastic way. Avid, even. You may be thinking, “Four albums in three months? That’s not exactly over-the-top.”
But here’s the thing. With much coaxing, Graham revealed that he was ordering not just from Max Rose Electronics, but also from the other record shops in the strip. From Bentleigh Sewing and Records, from STA Electronics, even from Allans (the city-wide chain: Bah! Humbug!). What a triumph of organisation and egalitarian consumerism! This young, shy music fan was working his way through the alphabet of rock, distributing his custom amongst the vendors of his home suburb. I found myself wondering what he’d acquired in between visits his Fairport and Fleetwood visits to our store. Some Family LPs, almost certainly. Perhaps a spot of Brian Ferry. Maybe even something satirical from US comedy troupe the Firesign Theatre. I love the idea of Graham gingerly approaching another counter and requesting I think we’re all bozos on this bus or Don’t crush that dwarf, hand me the pliers.
The Fleetwood Mac albums duly arrived. As usual when I encountered ‘new’ music, I spun them in the shop first; this time with partially positive reults. But this reminisce has gone on quite long enough so maybe I’ll save the comments on Penguin and Mystery for another time. Suffice to say, there is no doubt that the LPs were subsequently filed in Graham’s collection in exactly the correct order. I hope he enjoyed them.
I do wonder, though, did he ever make it to ZZ Top?