By ProgBlog, Mar 25 2014 09:15PM
Croydon may not be the best town on the planet but in its time it has played an important part in the history of progressive rock. I’d heard of Croydon long before I came to live here; sitting in the dining room at Infield Park in Barrow, holding the gatefold sleeve of Five Bridges by the Nice and studying the liner notes: Recorded ‘live’ at FAIRFIELD HALLS, CROYDON. October 17, 1969. 34 Years (and five days) after that concert was recorded I went to see a reformed Nice at the Fairfield Halls and it was evident that all three members of the band had fond memories of both the place and the event and they played a couple of tracks that featured on the Fives Bridges album, Country Pie and the intermezzo from the Karelia Suite. This was something of a big event for me too, because the Nice were the second band I ever got into and though Patrick Moraz had helped Lee Jackson’s singing in 1974 by transposing the key of songs to fit Jackson’s range – something that hadn’t happened in the Nice, the vocals that night seemed affected by the poignancy of the occasion.
Despite personnel changes, Caravan’s career was at its peak when they recorded what was to become Live at the Fairfield Halls 1974, though the tapes of the recording were not discovered until Decca had begun reissuing the Caravan back catalogue in 2001. Bits of the recording had appeared before, notably For Richard on the compilation album Canterbury Tales (released by Decca), and a French release on former manager Terry King’s Kingdom label, The Best of Caravan Live. The live sound on the remastered Decca release from 2002 is quite stunning. The set list was superb and the band sounded great, despite it being the debut performance for Mike Wedgwood on bass.
The fantastic acoustics of the 1800 seat Fairfield Halls wasn’t the only attraction in Croydon. It wasn’t too difficult to find good beer (The Ship, 47 High Street; The Dog and Bull, Surrey Street; The Builders Arms, Leslie Park Road were all favoured haunts) but there were also some fantastic record shops. Beanos was once the largest second hand record store in Europe and regarded as one of the best record shops in the country. It was founded in 1975 and after my arrival in the borough in 1984 I witnessed it grow and evolve up to its eventual closure in 2009. 101 Records was situated at 101 George Street until the redevelopment of East Croydon station in the early 1990s. 101 had a bit of history because it was formed after the demise of Bonaparte Records, a key part of the story of punk in Croydon. It removed to Keely Road and continues to trade. Memory Lane Records (Frith Road) is no longer in business, though it was good for second hand vinyl and CDs and another haunt, L Cloake (St Georges Walk) has been gone for a few years.
I used to spend a lot of time in record stores, often with insufficient funds to buy anything but always on the lookout for a bargain, just in case... As vinyl gave way to the CD format (I first bought a rather nice Yamaha CD player from Richer Sounds at London Bridge in 1988) I continued to play music in both formats but opted for new releases and compilations on CD. We have never particularly been a holiday-by-the-beach kind of family, tending to stick to centres of culture and architectural interest. This, coupled with work-related conferences which tend to be in large cities, has opened up the possibility of exploring record shops around the world with the intention of locating prog from the host country, though it’s only relatively recently that I’ve felt comfortable stuffing my return luggage with CDs. We have a rule: if you see something you want, buy it because you may not see it again. This rule does not necessarily help me feel better about buying music.
I’ve been to the four corners of the USA both on holiday and as a conference delegate: New York, Miami, Los Angeles and Seattle. New York has a lot of music shops where I’ve tended to buy non-native music, things that were difficult to obtain in the UK or were very much cheaper than in the UK. I was pleased to pick up Exiles by David Cross from one of the many, slightly downtrodden-looking shops on a short lease that has now long since gone. The only time I set out to buy some American prog was in 2003 on a day off from a conference in Miami Beach and I listened to a few tracks of Day for Night by Spock’s Beard before deciding to invest.
Australia boasted the excellent Sebastian Hardie but when I was in Melbourne in 2005 I couldn’t find any of their music though I was allowed to sit and listen to a pile of CDs that the staff thought might be of interest to me. This was in the rather good Metropolis Music, Swinston Street which covered a large floor area. Being able to chat to staff in English was quite helpful, even though they didn’t have what I wanted. This was not the case when I was in Prague in 2007 and visited a couple of record stores, one just off Wenceslas Square where I wandered in and wandered pretty much straight out again, and Bontonland in the Centrum Chodov mall at the end of subway line C. This was a large, rambling store and although there were major communication difficulties between the staff and myself, they brought me a handful of Czech CDs and a remote and left me plying through the selection for about an hour. Searching for Spanish prog in Barcelona didn’t present such a communication problem because I’d researched the bands and the shops and I’m not too uncomfortable attempting Spanish. Daily Records was closed when I visited, but I managed to find a good selection of Triana and Iceberg albums in the labyrinthine Revolver and Impacto.
Sometimes it’s not too difficult to find the prog music in stores. Cover Music in Berlin has a brilliant international prog section (including many German bands) and, rather like Dublin’s Tower Records, more straightforward prog acts can be found in the ‘rock’ racks. The Italian music shops can be problematical, though they’re always a joy to spend time in: I first began seriously searching for Italian prog in Venice in 2005 when there were two music shops, Discoland (on Dorsoduro) and Parole & Musica in Castello and a day trip to Treviso that year also turned up a record shop; Rome the following year was something of a revelation, though it was only a couple of years later that I was told about the highly-regarded Elastic Rock that I’ve not yet had the opportunity to visit; Galleria del Disco in the station underpass in Florence had a good Italian prog section; Vicenza has Saxophone, where the staff were appreciative of my choice of purchases, but also has an open market with a CD stall. This yielded three Area albums that I’d not seen anywhere else up to that point and the stall holder was very happy to chat to me about prog and his children who live in Clapham! Corsini Dischi in Siena was a bit of a disappointment because the owner seemed more interested in talking to a local woman rather than serve me but GAP Records in Pisa was the total opposite. Alessandro Magnani was happy to let me browse but was equally happy to talk about RPI. If I’d had more cash (they don’t accept plastic) I’d have bought more. Pisa’s Galleria del Disco is an impressive shop with a good Italian prog section so there was no need to engage the staff in any conversation.
Red Eye Records in Sydney deserves a special mention. Having failed to find any Sebastian Hardie in Melbourne, the situation was set to rights by Red Eye in Pitt Street when I went there to visit my son in 2012. Not only did they have the full set of Sebastian Hardie albums, they also had Symphinity by Windchase, the offshoot of Sebastian Hardie. Owner Chris Pepperell was a font of knowledge, walking me around the store and suggesting Australian bands. There was nothing else in the symphonic prog mould, but Dragon and Pirana are both on the progressive side of psychedelia. My son subsequently managed to get me a copy of Clockwork Revenge by Oz-based Kiwi band Airlord, an album some regard as a Genesis rip-off but it has its personal charm and is really only Genesis-influenced.