On a scorching hot German day we left Olivia’s secret village for a trip to Frankfurt with her Mum. Siv flying to Sweden to see relatives, Olivia and I having a day exploring Frankfurt or in truth checking out some record stores. Leaving at 7 AM was tricky for night owls and once Siv had left we found ourselves in the centre of Frankfurt at 9.30 AM. It was then at Sick Wreckords that we discovered that the record stores didn’t open till between 2 and 3 PM.
So time to kill, new streets to stroll down, oddly Frankfurt sitting on the Main River (pronounced mine), the German financial centre, is the only city here with multiple skyscrapers and is locally know as Main-Hattan. Left waiting we asked what does every big city in Europe have? Yes, it’s Oxfam, guaranteed to have a seriously overpriced scratched copy of a record you don’t want and an underpriced nice condition copy of one you do. Three Oxfams in our sights before the record stores opened. It was then that we found Oxfam in Frankfurt was loosely themed. The first, a long walk away, led us to racks of over-flowery dresses, nylon shirts and brown shoes. I swear that I saw an old lady walk into a changing room, scream and disappear behind a hidden wall.
Too hot to walk anywhere else, we slinked into the underground, bought a day ticket and excitedly headed for the next Oxfam with it’s carefully guarded secrets and hidden passages. On arrival, I said Guten Tag to the man behind the counter. His response was muted, inaudible as if he might not make it through his reply. He was tall, probably in his seventies and somehow managed to look straight through me as he spoke, it was as if I was a ghost, he knew I was there but struggled to admit it. Thankfully whilst browsing he was replaced by a wrinkled old lady that despite her arched back, 1000 year old staff, long beard and star ridden cloak, she was able to talk or at least conjure up a conversation. The theme here was books and classical records and I found a wonderful 1948 French copy of Jean Genet’s poetry, a hardback of Ian McEwan’s Amsterdam and an English language version of Goethe’s The Sorrows Of Young Werther. Smart people donated here. Most of the records were either pricey Classical or cheaper throwaway Easy Listening (although have you ever heard James Last’s interpretation of Hawkwind’s Silver Machine?) I also found an interesting German folk record from the sixties – Belina and Behrend, for just 1 Euro, out of context for the limited genres.
The third Oxfam was also a subway ride away and down in the wide bright tunnels of Frankfurt there were large round black and white pictures from German movies, most noticeably Franka Potente in a still from the classic Run Lola Run (Lola Rennt in German). Leaving the station, I realized that the escalator worked both up and down depending on who got there first, German engineering innovations extend beyond Audi, BMW and Mercedes to the two way moving staircase.
Inside Oxfam, three friendly ladies stood behind the counter. I showed one of the ladies my record so she didn’t think I’d picked it up at her shop, forgetting the themes as she told me they didn’t sell records, only CD’s. This last store did seem to be more varied, we bought a wheelie bag (to transport records), looked at more books and I found four cheap CD’s in great condition. Kate Nash – My Best Friend Is You, Röyksopp – Junior, Feist – Open Season and KD Lang – Drag. Exchanging frivolities with these ladies in German was lovely and out of it came one serious fact – one of the ladies told me that Oxfam started in Oxford and stood for Oxford Against Famine – I didn’t know that.
At last the record stores were open and a return to Sick Wreckords, where we met Sven in his triple-ripped T-shirt and pleasant disposition. Inside a feast of interesting records, Jimmy Page’s 3 LP Session Man Box, Jackson Heights, Bump ‘N Grind on Vertigo from 1973 (I was wearing my very cool Vertigo T-Shirt) – on the same label a Nucleus collection, the first Eroc album (drummer from the German band Grobschnitt), Keith Christmas (hear him on Bowie’s first album playing acoustic guitar), an Atlantis Greatest Hits (Vol 2), the third album from Jazz Rock giants, If, and the playful and complex Dutch Prog of Supersister, as well as a cheap box compilation of various German bands from the seventies.
I’m reminded of how much interesting music there is out there whether it be old or new – you just have to investigate. It seems that we are fed music via the radio, via the media but most of the music I like, listen to, buy, I discovered myself. In the era of Netflix, iPlayer, HBO, YouTube, you don’t need to watch what they tell you at the time it’s on, it’s the same with music, you can choose, you have so many outlets to listen to the music you want to hear – take some chances, listen to something you’ve never heard, it will lead you somewhere to something unexpected, surprising, inspiring. The fundamental problem with the mainstream – the radio, movies, books, is that they aren’t trying to inspire you before they take your money. Of course many great successes, many great artists are rich but many more are unknown, the well is deep, dip the tip of your ear under the surface, that’s the true meaning of riches.
The treasure continued to leap out of the racks in the shape of a Japanese Herd compilation album from 1977 with Peter Frampton on the cover, obviously released in conjunction with his seventies superstardom and nine years after being the face of 1968 as a member of The Herd.
German reissues and compilations can be interesting finds. The German Rock Scene series: Star Collection, Pop Giants, History Of British Rock, Pop History. When I’m in Germany I always try and pick some of these; so a Star Collection mint copy of the first Doobie Brothers album, a Jack Bruce Pop History, a Pop Giants Richie Havens (featuring his version of Strawberry Fields). I fantasize about collecting every one in each series – there’s hundreds of them, wish me luck. Not considered very interesting for collectors, these compilations with their seventies cover art and random selection of songs are intriguing even if you already have all the songs on the original record. There’s something about hearing songs in a different order according to the whim of the compiler. The order can change the mood of a record, sequencing is a forgotten art in annum digitalis.
Finally Sick Wreckords revealed a brand new copy of the Robert Wyatt/Gilad Atzmon/Ros Stephen album, For The Ghosts Within (2010). The opening track Laura (1945) is a David Raksin/Johnny Mercer song with over 400 recorded versions. The album consists mainly of Jazz Standards but with Stephen’s strings and Atzmon’s saxophone they are presented here in a way you haven’t heard before, add Robert Wyatt’s voice and you are in unknown territory. I’ll leave Pitchfork and All Music to give you in depth reviews but the Pitchfork contributor Brian Howe’s last paragraph eloquently explains the other side of the record.
“But for all of its nostalgic comforts, For the Ghosts Within is also a protest record. Atzmon, an Israeli-born British citizen, is a notable anti-Zionist writer and activist. On the title track, his sax yodels like a muezzin calling the faithful to prayer, and the lyrics by Wyatt’s wife Alfreda Benge are unmistakable in their sympathies: “We’re still here, under the olive trees/ When will you see it’s where we belong?” The theme of Palestinian displacement and rage is sounded again on the album’s strangest song, “Where Are They Now?” A palimpsest of Charleston-dancing horns slams abruptly into furious Arabic raps by a pair of British-Palestinian MCs. The way Atzmon weaves exotic foreign figures into fusty Western standards is more than progressive fusion, seeming to angrily parody the besieged mindset of xenophobes and cultural purists everywhere. Leave it to Wyatt to craft a record that simultaneously celebrates and criticizes the limits of the traditional.
Last stop before leaving was to Mythos, Thomas and Rolf, super nice, wanted a photo but with time and money running out I only managed to pick up two albums although both hard to find in England and one of the two super rare everywhere. The first This Is Guru Guru, the second the debut album by Epitaph. I’ll endeavour to feature this album sometime in the future but for now I have to leave the shop and get in the car and leave as quickly as possible to get back to Olivia’s secret village because there’s a massive thunderstorm coming, Gerd has phoned to warn us.
In the car on the autobahn, the heavens opened, the raindrops like falling horses from the sky, the windscreen pummeled, aquaplaning becomes a reality, the autobahn turns into a car wash. Fork lightning, jagged electric fingers, splitting the sky in two, severing the branches from the trees with the snap of a whip crack followed by a sizzling thunder morphing into a low moaning rumble.
As sunlight and a clear sky returned we arrived back in the village laden with new inspirations, luckily our grubby fingers wouldn’t make a difference on the CD’s and those damn records would only collect dust.