Posted on

Alarm bells are ringing

Some musicians have fans that are more fanatical than others, they just inspire that loyalty that stays with them. This means that invariably these fans end up amassing a huge collection of items by their favourite artists, including most notably vinyl.

I caught up with 3 fans of power-rockers The Alarm who shared some stories with me about how they got in to them and the collections they have. They are Chris Quigley, a young-in-the-mind 51 year old who is married with two children, Chloe and Dominic, who are both big Alarm fans too. Mark Dougall is 53 and has been a fan of The Alarm for 28 years, first seeing them them when he was 15. He lives near near Nottingham. Finally, Paul Huggett is a Surrey musician who gigs under the name of Billy Liberator.

Who do you collect and why?

Paul – I collect Alarm records and associated acts. I fell in love with the music of The Alarm in 1984 and have enjoyed decades of recorded music and live gigs with the Alarm name on it. I consider it a privilege to have followed a band whose recorded output has been huge in number and by and large, unwavering in quality. The Alarm have been, and remain, a ‘fans’ band and they have always been a great band, extremely hard working, dedicated to their fanbase, and purveyors of the finest rock n roll!

Chris – I collect all vinyl from The Alarm and have followed them from early 80’s up to the present day, in its various transformations, but always with Mike Peters as the main frontman.

Mark – I only really collect anything connected to Mike Peters and The Alarm, which includes all the other collaborations Mike has been involved in such as Dead Men Walking, Coloursound, Big Country, Jack Tars & Children of the Revolution. I also collect anything from Eddie McDonald (Small Town Glory) and Dave Sharp from the 80’s – 90’s line up of The Alarm and of course Smiley and James Stevenson from the current line-up. I collect them because I first saw The Alarm back in the early 80’s and they were ‘my band’. No-one really knew of The Alarm then as this was a good 18 months before ’68 Guns’.

How did you get into them?

Chris – I was at an ex-girlfriends house back in the early 80’s when she put The Alarm ‘Declaration’ album on, it totally blew my mind, the music and the lyrics had me hooked and still does today.

Paul – A school friends older brother had a copy of ‘Declaration’, their debut album. He played it to me one lunch break and I was hooked. End of story!

Mark – I first saw The Alarm as support to U2 in 1982. I bought ‘Marching On’ and ‘The Stand’ and was hooked. It was the raw energy of the band and the use of acoustic guitars that made them stand out for me. I have seen Mike/The Alarm around 250 times over the years now.

How big is your collection?

Mark – I only collect Mike Peters/Alarm items and I have 576 items logged on Discogs but I estimate I have at least another 100 Mike Peters/Alarm releases that aren’t listed on Discogs so would estimate circa 700 plus of course my collections of Mike Peters/Alarm Videos, fan club magazines/books and badges and T-Shirts, that’s another circa 250 – 300 items. I think it’s safe to say I have around 1,000 Mike Peters/Alarm items in total!

Chris – I think I pretty much have all the UK releases from the original line of The Alarm. I am currently working through Discogs to pick up US releases and Japanese releases. My collection consists of many advanced DJ copies, promos, white label test pressings and lots of bootleg vinyl too.

Do you collect all formats?

Paul – Yes I do, although I’ll say that one of the good things about the Alarm is that usually with multiple format releases there would always be a variety of live tracks, demos, and other rarities. 

Mark – Yes – I still collect cassettes and VHS even though I don’t have a cassette player of VCR. My life long objective with The Alarm is to own every release, in every format in every country of release. I have been collecting for over 35 years and you never ever get everything as there is always a promo or in particular a white label test pressing that appears that you don’t own. White labels and test pressings are a whole different level of collecting and whilst I have quite a few there are still lots to collect and discover.

Chris – Mostly vinyl, but I have started to look at CD’s and also cassettes, but vinyl is my passion.

How do you store your collection?

Chris – Very carefully! All my vinyl is locked in good quality vinyl storage boxes and all record sleeves are in protective clear coverings to protect and preserve the artwork of the outer sleeve.

Paul – Mostly in additional plastic sleeves on partitioned shelves.

Mark – In boxes and cases, mostly in the loft, under lots of waterproof sheeting in case the roof ever leaks! I keep my most prized items in an Alarm record bag with my record player. I have around 10 items in there at the moment.

What’s the rarest item you have in your collection?

Chris – At the moment it would be 7 inch single ‘Bank Holiday Weekend’/’Don’t Let Go’ by The Alarm when they went by the name of Seventeen. There’s not many copies out there and its the one I paid the most for.

Paul – Probably ‘Unsafe Building’ or a Japanese maxi disc of ‘The Chant’.

Mark – As a single item it would be the mustard vinyl pressing of ‘The Deceiver’, actually I have two copies, one fully signed and one unsigned. The in-joke amongst Alarm fans is that Mike has signed so many items over the years that things that are unsigned are actually worth more! I also have the ’68 Guns’ 30th Anniversary release. As a set I would says it is the 32 mixing desk direct-to-CDR live releases recorded between 2001 and 2004. People have 1 or 2 of them but I believe I am the only collector with the complete set.

How do you find your stuff?

Paul – eBay, fan forums, browsing places like Ben’s Collectors Records in Guildford, Record Corner in Godalming and 101 Collectors Records in Farnham.

Chris – Mostly on the internet and mainly through Discogs but visits to record shops near home and on holiday turn up some rare finds. In the early days before internet it use to be record fairs.

Mark – eBay, Discogs, auctions, swaps with other collectors. I spend hours each week trawling for items. I have various alerts set up but often find items by visiting the same sites week after week and searching. I try to be sensible about the amount I spend but there are some items that come up that I say ‘I just have to have that’ and pay whatever it takes.  Other items I pass on and hope they come up again.

Do you have a favourite record shop?

Mark – Probably Vinyl Exchange in Manchester plus one in Germany for European releases and one in Japan for Japanese releases. I find that I have everything that physical record shops have, so spend more time looking for online record shops or dealers.

Chris – Astonishing Sounds in Burnley. The shop owner always seems to find bits of Alarm vinyl for me and it is also good for Record Store Day where I can get my new Alarm releases from.

Paul – Probably Ben’s Collectors Records in Guildford, though I preferred the one in Woking when it was down The Broadway in the ’80s.

Is there anything you’d particularly like but cannot find?

Chris – At the moment its has to be a mustard coloured 7 inch single ‘The Deceiver’ but it’s very rare that they come up and the most recent one for sale went for silly money in the US…..but one day hopefully I’ll get hold of one of these and complete a holy trinity of rare Alarm singles.

Paul – I probably would buy the mustard coloured ‘The Deceiver’ 7″ if it came up at the right price and there are one or two picture discs I don’t own.

Mark – There are two in particular – the ‘Knife Edge’ uncut poppy picture disc, I know of two copies and neither person wants to sell to me. Plus the ‘Two Rivers’ acoustic given away at the Record Store Day listening parties. 

Many thanks Paul, Chris and Mark.

Posted on

Have I the right?

Ever seen the words ‘An RGM Sound Production’ (or indeed Meeksville Sound) on any UK 1960’s 7” single releases? The chances are that you will have done at some point. Robert George “Joe” Meek was a pioneering English record producer and songwriter who sadly committed suicide in 1967, aged just 37. His record production company was RGM Sound Ltd (later Meeksville Sound Ltd).

His best-remembered hit is “Telstar” by ‘The Tornados’ from 1962, which became the first record by a British group to reach No.1 in the US Hot 100. It also spent five weeks on top of the UK singles chart, with Meek receiving an Ivor Novello Award for this production as the “Best-Selling A-Side” of 1962. He operated solely from his home studio which he constructed at 304 Holloway Road, Islington, North London, a three-floor flat above a leather-goods store.

There are many others productions of Meeks’ that sold by the bucket load and will be familiar to many. ‘Have I The Right?’ by “The Honeycombs” or ‘Johnny Remember Me’ by John Leyton being just two.

However, it’s when you delve deeper in to the output of this very tortured man who was obsessed with the occult and paranoid about his own homosexuality (at a time when it was still illegal in the UK) that you discover some real little-known gems. How anyone can by-pass Laura Lee’s fantastic “Tell Tommy I Miss Him” (released on Meek’s own short-lived label ‘Triumph Records’) is unforgivable. A retort to the million-selling 7” single “Tell Laura I Love Her” by Ricky Valance it was released in the wake of Meek’s own actual released version of “Tell Laura…..” by John Leyton, which was totally ignored by the general public and then surpassed by Ricky Valance’s version. This irked Joe somewhat so his “Tell Tommy….” retort sounds even sweeter when you know the full background.

There are many other obscure gems to track down as well, Meek was very prolific with his recordings and worked tirelessly from 1960 to 1967 with a whole bunch of weird and wonderful acts. ‘That’s My Plan’ by “The Beat Boys” (An ironic name when Meek famously turned down “The Beatles” several times when Brian Epstein was touting them around trying to find them a deal), ‘Evening In Paris’ by “The Packabeats” and ‘All My Loving’ (the only time Meek ever recorded a “Beatles “ song) by “The Dowlands” are particular highlights. Meek certainly had a production ‘sound’ he could call his own too. If you know what you’re listening for you can almost instantaneously tell one of his recordings at first listen – stomping beats, echo-laden vocals (a huge trademark) and distinctive guitar lines (courtesy of Richie Blackmore on many occasions).

However, the hits dried up and Meek’s depression deepened as his financial position became increasingly desperate. A French composer accused Meek of plagiarism, claiming that the tune of “Telstar” had been copied from a piece he had written for a 1960 film. This lawsuit meant Meek never received royalties from “Telstar” during his lifetime.

On 3 February 1967 Meek killed his landlady Violet Shenton and then himself with a single-barreled shotgun at his Holloway Road home/studio.

Search out what you can of Joe’s work. Some will be easy to find, others won’t be. One thing you can almost certainly guarantee is that every record Joe made (his acts recorded for all the major labels of the time from Top Rank to Decca, Parlophone to Oriole) will be heartfelt and have that distinctive Joe Meek sound. If you can collect the whole 7” discography you’ll really be doing very very well indeed.

Posted on

Inside sleeves?

Ever found something inside a record sleeve that you’ve bought second-hand? Ever wondered more about the item and how it got there? It seems to be more than a regular occurrence. Maybe it’s an obvious place to keep flat things?

So, you’re out at your local car boot sale, you pick up that fantastic LP that you’ve been looking for and when you get it home and start devouring the sleeve you find an anomaly inside. What is it and why has it been kept?

Here’s a great example of one of these kinds of rare finds. A Roberta Flack ‘First Take’ LP purchased at a Hampshire car boot sale. Inside is this, a postcard written by Louise to her mother. All about playing strip poker.  The date is 1977 and the price of the stamp is 7p. Now, you have to wonder just how old Louise was (the terminology mummy would lead you to think not that old), just who were the people she was playing strip poker with and what happened to her?

Just like the time someone found a letter written by Paul McCartney to Pete Best, inviting him to join The Beatles, inside a book at a car boot sale, these things are obviously kept for a reason. They mean something to someone. Why then do they end up just being forgotten about?

One of the obvious and regularly found things to look out for inside record sleeves is actually flexi discs. Being made the way they are flexis are thin, flimsy and not so easy to store or look after. So, people tend to file them inside LP sleeves. Many a gem can be found, whether you’re looking for them or not.