Friday, 28 May 2010

Cheapo 2008

Found this on flickr, dated February 2008, credited to Federella. Think you can glimpse some CDs bottom left, but it's mostly DVDs, which began to crowd out CDs in the front of the shop. The figure is looking towards the back, wherein a range of viny and jazz/nostaligia, classical etc CDs lurk. It certainly gives a sense of how cosily cramped the premises were; I'm proud to think I may have contributed to the wearing out of the floor. Click for a larger image.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Cheapo - a musical tribute by Alastair Dougall

I stayed on for an hour at work to add more to the previous blog entry. Getting home, I googled "Cheapo Cheapo closed" and found this musical tribute by Alastair Dougall, which suggests there's plenty of grief to go round. I haven't picked out all the words yet but it sounds beautiful. And who needs words when you have music? Although I caught bits and pieces like "Phil's still frowning in the grave." And the song is also a lament for the dispossessed of the record industry, and the artefacts they produced: Cheapo is the place "where old albums go to die."

Update: Alastair has kindly forwarded the lyrics and given me permission to quote them here:


An open door, past the pushers and pimps and whores, that was Cheapo Cheapo Records, three full-to-bursting floors.
Phil the owner, perpetual frown, keep you head down when he's around...
If you want to piss him off, just ask him what's in the shop.

Goodby, goodbye, Cheapo Cheapo Records, Rupert Street won't be the same...
Closing time, Cheapo Cheapo Records, green paint peeling in the Soho rain...
It's a shame no one will look through your racks again.

The famous, the failed, deleted and the super-rare, second-hand and never played, the has-beens and the never-were...
Priced up the same, best check on the condition, don't ask Phil for your money back, there's no receipts or compensation...

Good bye, goodbye Cheapo Cheapo Records, where old albums come to die
Closing time, Cheapo Cheapo Records, you could pick out a classic for a song...
But it's a shame the way those Cheapo days have gone.

...Rock and roll and jazzy noises, funk and country m/f voices, soundtracks, classical, spoken word,
And piles of promos no one's ever heard....

Goodbye, goodbye, Cheapo Cheapo Records, Phil's still frowning in the grave...
Closing time Cheapo Cheapo Records, you surely lived up to your name...
But it's a shame no one will look through your racks again.

Alastair Dougall's myspace page with more songs and info about him is here

Earlier blog entries working through my feelings about the closure of Cheapo:

A Wreath for Cheapo (this is the main one)
Nowhere (to buy records) Boy
Cheapo Revisited (photographs of the premises as they are now)
Cheapo Cheapo's vinyl stock up for sale (includes link to ad on gumtree site)
Cheapo Cheapo Closure Closure (an unexpected chance to go through the racks again - kind of)

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Cheapo Cheapo Closure Closure

Hmm ... not quite as I would have wished in every particular, but those who have read the earlier posts lamenting the loss of Soho's Cheapo Cheapo Records may be gratified to learn that I have unexpectedly achieved what amounts to a kind of closure today. And it all came about from a conversation at a party (ooh, get me) on Sunday.

I was talking about records to a former bouncer and mod, who bought a lot of Northern Soul in Cheapo, which led to my googling for recentish comments about the shop and finding the Gumtree advertisement mentioned in the previous entry. I emailed enquiring about CDs (the ad only mentions the large stock of vinyl) and today phoned to arrange a time to come and view whatever there was. I said to my colleague, only half-joking, "This feels like happiness," comparable to a wonderful moment during my dominie incarnation when I was given a week off normal duties (still paid, mind you) to take part in a sitcom summer school. Ohhh yessss. And the knowledge that my colleagues received no comparable dispensation made it, I have to admit, all the sweeter. (The eventual fate of a sitcom I wrote a few years later kind of balances things out, but no more o'that.)

Anyway, off I trot to a warehouse near Hanger Lane. The actual process of reaching it is unnecessarily arduous, largely because the directions at a bus stop are, in effect, upside down, causing me to stride away from my goal until I can figure the matter out. Not to worry, I say to myself: it's a kind of a quest, Christopher Vogler-like. Riches and fulfilment await once the obstacle of my essential stupidity in practical matters such as these is overcome.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Cheapo Cheapo's vinyl stock up for sale

Just spotted an ad on the Gumtree site offering Cheapo's vinyl stock for sale:
13,000 records are available at the price of £1 each, for those willing to buy in bulk. These were the stock of the famous Cheapo Cheapo record store in London before it closed down.
Details, including a small sample of what's available, can be found here [LINK OUT OF DATE: GO TO BLOG ENTRY HERE TO FIND OUT WHETHER AD STILL RUNNING].You can email for a list of more than 5000. The ad was posted on 26th April, so it may be that the stock has been already sold. [update: received an email confirming stock still available.]

Earlier blog entries about the closure of Cheapo:
A Wreath for Cheapo
Nowhere (to buy records) Boy
Cheapo Revisited

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Notes from Nowhere Boy

Question: Does the world need yet another review of Nowhere Boy?
Answer: Almost certainly not, but I am impelled to record my comments.

Talking about the Brian Jones biopic Stoned in an earlier entry, here, I said that whatever the facts of the matter, a coherent narrative had been assembled - ie that it worked as a film if you didn't know about Jones's story beforehand and weren't already wedded to a specific theory about the manner of his death. The idea of Jones being intimidated at times by his builder, Frank Thorogood, which came over in more than one account I've read, was downplayed in the film, which chose instead to emphasise the idea that Jones taunted the builder with his rock god lifestyle, as it made the film's conclusion - that the taunting  escalated to the point where Thorogood snapped - more logical. It's not the only story which could have been fashioned out of the mass of available material, but it certainly makes sense.

I have to admit that with a Beatles-related film, however, I'm much more inclined to be picky about details. This may be partly because, having researched the Jones material for my own non-project, I'm more aware in that case of choices having to be made - but also, perhaps, because of  a proprietorial sense about the Fabs which I've never felt about the Stones: they weren't "mine," but belonged to my two elder brothers, one of whom actually styled himself "Mick" on occasion. The Stones were a more grownup interest; the Beatles belonged equally to all five of us (doubleclick to double your viewing pleasure).

And hey, John Lennon was my favourite going right back to the days of those Beatle chewing gum days, when you'd get some pink gum and a photo, all for however much it was. And since then I've devoured most (who can say all?) of the Beatles-related literature out there. Hey, I even own a book devoted to the "Paul is dead" myth, although I've never done more than skim it. Reading about the Stones for the specific purpose of researching a play was interesting but not wholly involving, as they weren't "mine" (which may well be one among several reasons why I never nailed the play).

So what do I think of Nowhere Boy? I certainly enjoyed it, but it was impossible to discard my baggage while watching. I won't try and write a proper review but will simply make some notes about things which struck me.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Fisk Jubilee Singers radio play alert

Only caught the last twenty minutes of this so will refrain from detailed comment but am posting this to alert people to this play, The Jubilee Singers, which will be available on the BBC Radio 4 website, here, for one week, ie until 22nd May. It was written by the late Adrian Mitchell and originally intended for the theatre. All the background you need is in the above link although there is a more detailed account, here, of why it wasn't produced onstage as intended.

All I will say for the moment is that it felt like there was a missing dimension: you could imagine how much the presence of the singers onstage for the whole time would have added. But more of this later.

It was directed by Marilyn Imrie, whose name has become enshrined (for me) in the phrase "Marilyn liked it," after another producer had put forward my radio play about a doo wop singer without otherwise exciting any interest - or, more to the point, development money. I still plan to make a recording of it, even it counts as a vanity project. And all I can say about it with reasonable certainty is that if you have chosen to read the posts here (rather than scouring the pages for non-existent downloads then exiting in disgust) you will probably get something from it.

Frayed armchair to hold you

A few years too late to appease my father (see entry here) but I can't resist including this story by Dave Itzkoff from the New York Times, found via the excellent Hey Dullblog, a site for "people who think about the Beatles maybe a little too much" - which covers most of my immediate family.
Forty Years On, Vatican Tells The Beatles They Passed the Audition

Tuesday, 11 May 2010


Davieslisten, really: the continuation of my quest to work out how ace broadcaster Russell Davies manufactures, on a regular basis, that there radiophonic Red Fire. I've been paying close attention to the latest Russell Davies show (broadcast last Sunday and available online here  until about 9pm BST Sunday 16th May) and have been pleasantly surprised to find that it's less "May-minded", to use his phrase from last time. In fact, there isn't really much to do with dates in this edition at all.

True, the first recording came from fifty years ago but thereafter the driving force behind the selection of this week's records was a phrase which appeared in that first song: "some day" or "someday". This then provided an excuse to play a range of songs employing one or other version of that word or phrase. Well, no, not excuse, as the subtle differences in nuance were genuinely interesting. And that week's choice of container allowed some comparatively unusual choices for this programme, including Judy Collins' famous version of Someday Soon.

Donovanagain - again

Caught up in a madness I cannot fully explain, I have become a Friend of Donovan's - in the limited, online meaning of the term - and watched a bit of footage of him performing during some kind of film award thing recently. First he plays Sunshine Superman - but during Mellow Yellow two people came out and joined him, and you know what? I enjoyed it. Mellow Yellow has become a bit like Happy Birthday: everyone knows it and it's fun. People were clapping along, having a good time, and the presence of others onstage made it seem revived, refreshed, especially as those people were just messing around. The Donovan Concert to which I linked in an earlier entry (see below) now only survives as a few images on his website; this three or so minutes of him singing recently is on youtube so maybe it'll last longer. Anyways, here it is. And my new "friend" tells me that he has been celebrating his birthday - so happy mellow yellow birthday, Mr Leitch.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

They Turned Me On - Part Six: Those Unheard or There is a Balm in Islington

Granted, it doesn't look too good now, and may in fact have disappeared altogether since this photograph was taken, but Reader, please to believe that this building was once a proud branch - perhaps, indeed, the main one - of the Dalziel Co-operative (always pronounced "Copa-ray-tive") in my  home town.

As mentioned in a much earlier entry, here, they always did well with their Santa presentations at Christmas, but the reason this branch in particular may fit into this series about the influence of broadcasters on my musical tastes lies in a vague sense of the aural equivalent of deja vu (deja etendu?) when, over the years, I've heard the odd Sinatra track - for example, Rain during the opening of a play called Buddleia in 1996 - or, in  one case, an obscure Fats Waller airshot called Lila Lu. Too long ago to remember with any accuracy, but I can only presume that if I heard them, or recordings like them, over the airwaves in any location it would have been in the above building in happier days - for me and the Copa-ray-tive.

Aurelian Chimes - not

Chimes by the Pelicans is one of my favourite doo wop recordings. Think I first heard it in the late nineties - certainly in time for me to nominate it as one of five faves on the doo wop shop board in September 2000 in a post archived on this blog here.

I first came across it on a CD reissue (above) of two compilations of rhythm and blues tracks mostly or exclusively on the Imperial label which had been compiled by Canned Heat's Bob Hite, if memory serves. I see from Mike Callahan's Imperial discography on the excellent Both Sides Now website, here, that both albums were originally issued in 1968.

Hubert Gregg's autobiography

Mention of Hubert Gregg in the previous post reminds me that I have now read and thoroughly enjoyed his autobiography. It is available exclusively from the official Hubert Gregg website here.

Just to be clear, there is a separate book, entitled Thanks for the Memory (and also well worth reading), mentioned in an earlier entry, which consists of Gregg's salutes to his musical idols, and can be found fairly easily secondhand online. His autobiography is entitled Maybe It's Because ...? and has a wealth of anecdotes about his life in the theatre in addition to his own musical adventures. 

Both books call to mind the distinctive broadcasting style feted earlier (indeed, Thanks for the Memory arose out of two radio series) but the autobiography also has an occasional acerbic note which might not have passed muster at the Beeb (I won't spoil the surprise; let's just say you will never listen to Jack Hylton's records in quite the same way again). It also conjures several vanished theatre worlds - and by sheer coincidence, a colleague had been discussing Robert Atkins with me a few days ago after I had read it.

There are various setbacks and near-misses which seem to have dotted Hubert's life but - if it doesn't sound too Lear-like to put it this way - they are offset by his actual successes and the simple fact that he endured for so long. The radio shows may have been a relatively small part of his overall output but I think he is right when he says in the book that no one who subsequently climbed on the nostalgia bandwagon could do the particular job which he did, which I think comes down to the sense he always communicated of a direct involvement in the music and the implied courtesy, as I said in the original blog piece, here, of the carefully scripted links.

I'm a fan of AA Milne's grown-up writing and the style both of Hubert Gregg's autobiography and of his radio links seems similar: there is a sense of compression, of musicality almost, which suggests the hard work was done in the writing so that the act of reading is remarkably easy and moreish. (When someone told Milne that a piece of his in Punch seemed "funny without trying" he admitted: "That's what it tried to be.") I will forever be in Hubert Gregg's debt because he took seriously what could have been a throwaway programme and introduced me to much of the music which I still listen to and love - and indeed much of what I buy in the course of my job reflects my memory of those programmes.

They Turned Me On - Part Five: Russell Davies

There are a few more broadcasters I'd like to salute before bringing this occasional series to a conclusion. Gearing up to do my own podcasts (well, I've bought the microphone, anyway), I thought I'd attend a bit more carefully than normal to Russell Davies's regular BBC Radio 2 show this week (access it on the Radio 2 website here). Not that I don't enjoy it on a regular basis anyway, but as such a range of music and artists is included, I thought I'd pay a bit more attention to the links, to see just how he squeezes them all in and makes them seem of a piece in my personal quest for the secret of Broadcasting Man's Red Fire.

If you have read earlier entries in this series then you may remember that Ken Sykora got over the problem of selecting records by calling his 1970s show for Radio Clyde Serendipity with Sykora: provided some associative process, however tenuous, could be cited then just about anything went.

Which, following my own paperless trail, reminds me that Bob Holness of British TV quiz show Blockbusters fame actually hosted a programme of that title - I mean Anything Goes - on the BBC World Service. It enlivened many a late night/early morning for me when I was working as a security guard in the 1980s - though Holness's task was rather easier as the show was wall to wall listener requests, and even spoken word recordings, pastoral-tragical or whatever, were permitted.

Oddly, though, he chose Duke Ellington's Things Ain't What They Used to Be as the theme rather than the Cole Porter song suggested by the programme title, much as Hubert Gregg eschewed Thanks for the Memory and chose Nelson Riddle's arrangment of Time Was for his programme. Odd, that: is it about not being in thrall to one song, or prohibitive costs for regular use of particular songs? I think in Gregg's case it was about the title being foisted on him, and his shaping the programe, over time, to reflect his own particular enthusiasms (and how do I know that? Because I've now read his autobiography, which I'll discuss in the next entry).

What? No, that was a different Things ... And made different again when recorded by Max Bygraves. What? You haven't? Oh, but you must - at least once, anyway:

Friday, 7 May 2010

Stoney Endgame (Brian Jones)

Talking of music biopics, here's one which is resolutely non-doo wop but of particular interest to me, as it dramatises the last days of ex-Rolling Stone Brian Jones. I don't think there was a critical consensus about this film's merits but I was fascinated by it as I had laboured unsuccessfully some years before to create a coherent stage play linking Brian Jones with AA Milne.

Jones had bought what had been Milne's home (he died in 1956) as part of his attempt to get-it-together-in-the-country after a series of drugs busts and troubles with his personal and professional relationships with the other Stones; he famously drowned in the pool which I think had been added by the American couple who had owned the place in the interim.

The play failed overall, probably because I was never able to get a real sense of who Jones was, nor to bring out any connection between the two men which seemed more than "an accident of geography" as one literary manager rather devastatingly put it: a painful lesson that if a play doesn't have a shape then ultimately dialogue counts for nothing. Whether that experience should make me particularly well qualified to pass judgement on the film or debar me from comment, my review, which has already appeared on a well-known shopping website, follows. I have come unstuck in the past when trying to update reviews on the hoof, so will add further thoughts separately.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Doo wop to soul for early Temps

Talking about the Temptations biopic in the previous post leads naturally to this twofer CD. As more of a doo wop than a soul fan this double album, bought for work reasons, was something of an education for me. I had always assumed that the joint forces of Motown and the British invasion crushed doo wop; here, however, especially on the Meet the Temptations album, it's clear that for Gordy's company the move from streetcorner harmony to a more readily identifiable and distinctive Motown sound was a process of gradual evolution and experimentation.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Doo wop biopics

There aren't that many films about real or fictitious doo wop groups, as far as I know, but here are my notes about three examples of the genre, available on DVD: The Five Heartbeats, The Temptations and Looking For An Echo.

Set in 1965 and based in part on the great doo wop-to-soul group the Dells, this is a pretty good film. It has the sentimental bits associated with biopics, and the emphasis is on entertainment, occasionally at the expense of exploring the darker side more fully, but that's the story Robert Townsend wanted to tell and the way he wanted to tell it. It's also a story not told often enough: read the biography of the Spaniels, Goodnight Sweetheart Goodnight (reviewed here) for a similar tale - but they, alas, could not transcend the "oldies" tag and largely failed to benefit from the huge hit of the book's title while the Dells, who started out on the same label (Vee-Jay in Chicago) made themselves more versatile and even refashioned their doo wop hits into soul classics.

Townsend, who cowrote, directed, and stars as the Smokey Robinson-type creative heart of the group, says he initially set out to write a comedy but then added darker parts about prejudice and the relegation of a tiny group photo to a corner of the album cover so that an image of a bikini-clad white lovely would ensure them crossover success. When I saw this with a largely black audience in London when it first came out, I recall the vociferous reaction when a group member, confronted with the picture, says something to the effect that Elvis Presley got to have his own photo on his album cover.