Marking World Record Store Day

Yesterday I was a bit distracted by things sciency, so didn’t get to acknowledge World Record Store Day! Usually I would try to be at home and play records I haven’t played for a while. But better late than never.

World Record Store Day is of course a marketing initiative, and has been going for over ten years now – how time flies! Although I haven’t bought any new vinyl for a long time, I have happily held on to my collection across many house moves, and through the advent of CDs and iTunes, despite the derision and scoffing of others. “The recording in digital is so much better, the sound production perfect,” I was told. “Records take up so much space …” Well, yes. But so does sports gear, or children, or books.

While I can accept the arguments, that is not what it’s about for me. This is my collection (and I use the term loosely. It’s not a regimented collection as some of my former radio station colleagues would have built, with every record ever made by an artist, 45s and 33s). I do not have every album by say Fleetwood Mac (although we do have two copies of Rumours). I do not have every Elton John album. But I have what I like – such as Elvis Costello’s Imperial Bedroom, Kate Bush’s The Kick Inside,  Blondie’s Parallel Lines, Flowers’ Icehouse, and Hall & Oates’ Bigger than Both of Us. The opening saxophone strains of their Back Together Again transport me to the adolescent bedroom in the inner suburbs of Newcastle, where the only knowledge of Philadelphia was the cream cheese sold in blocks in the supermarket. And that is what it is about – this music, the album covers, even the plastic sleeves from the record stores where I bought them – all contribute to a memory that is somehow tangible. I was there when I heard it.

These pieces of rotating vinyl are the soundtrack of my life’s formative years, and it is not by co-incidence that when I am feeling low or disconnected, that I turn to this collection. Some have crackling and jumps (not too many), but it is those very imperfections that I like, remembering when I flogged a particular track or side, or why it jumps there. Sometimes I put a record on to be surprised by the tracks on a second side because I hadn’t ever flipped the disc.

At the Patti Smith concert in Sydney recently, they were playing the whole of the Horses album live. After playing Free Money, she quipped wryly, “And that is the end of side 1 of Horses,” knowing that a large part of the audience would understand her reference.

A 2016 YouGov study indicated that the recent resurgence in vinyl record purchasing is driven by midlife nostalgia. The research found that, “Those who have recently purchased a vinyl album are most likely to be aged between 45 and 54.” Ironically, many are re-purchasing albums they previously discarded.

While there are some albums I can see myself discarding in the future – bits and pieces that I picked up along the way – playing records is such an important part of my life, I can’t ever imagine not having them. So I am glad for World Record Store Day – it means I won’t have difficulty getting a new stylus for the turntable (it was a bit tricky for a while in the 90s) for some time yet.

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Their Finest – movie review

Their Finest (and the novel Their Finest Hour and a Half by Lissa Evans, from which this film is drawn) takes its title from one of three speeches given by Sir Winston Churchill after the withdrawal and evacuation of troops from the beaches of Dunkirk in France during World War II.

“Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be freed and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands.

But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new dark age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, This was their finest hour.” 

Their Finest is a 1940s period film about the role of propaganda, set within a story of people making a propaganda film. It explores how facts are manipulated to reach the end goal of validating the British government’s decisions and shoring up the public’s support for them, while at the same time making a film that tells a good story. It shows the political pressures that arise, the financial limits (and the seeming never-ending magic pudding of Ministry of War finances), and is set against the washed-out and dreary background of a London being bombed beyond recognition.

Gemma Arterton and Sam Clafin Photo by Nicola Dove-Nicola Dove - © Nicola Dove

Sam Clafin and Gemma Arterton in Their Finest (image Nicola Dove) 

Viewed through the lens of modern tenets of the role of women, the film can be viewed as feminist – the protagonist Catrin Cole (played by Gemma Artherton) has followed her socialist artist husband, Ellis (Jack Huston), to London from Wales. She walks into a screen-writing job because all of the men are off fighting. She is to write the women’s perspectives into the script, “the slop” (!), and as she settles into it, she withstands Ellis’ pressure to leave her job and follow him to his next painting location – under the guise of them needing the money, which they do. But she also has found her passion and is not going to give it up. She’s already given up too much.

There are stars aplenty in the supporting roles here – the wonderful Helen McCrory is under-used as an actor’s agent, but still looks glamorous amidst the grey restaurant and hospital scenes; and Bill Nighy, again playing a version of the naughty pop-star figure that brought him to the public eye in Love Actually, steals almost every scene. A bit too much ham, although his scenes with Catrin are moving and genuine. Richard E Grant is subdued but strategic as a senior bureaucrat, and Jeremy Irons is the Secretary for War – very Anthony Eden in prep and presentation. Catrin is supported at work by screenwriter, Buckley (Sam Claflin).

The turning point of the entrance of the United States into World War II and Churchill’s exhortation of that country’s support becomes the focus of the film being produced within Their Finest – the Ministry of War wants a US presence in this film. Catrin and her co-writer Buckley have to find a way of introducing an American “hero” in their Dunkirk-based story, despite there being no US troops in the Dunkirk evacuation.  Never let the facts get in the way and all of that …

The background stories in Their Finest help to anchor the viewer – there’s more than enough to keep us interested. And the film they make is ultimately shown to be very effective in manipulating the public’s support for the Churchill government’s actions. However, the real value of Their Finest is in reminding us how and why this is done -and should be a warning in this re-emergent age of fake news.