Tag Archives: virgin

TANGERINE DREAM: Alpha Centauri / Atem (2LP, Virgin VD 2504, 1976)

Tangerine Dream: Alpha Centauri / Atem

Record companies love to repackage and resell existing product, but in the case of this double album – which compiles a couple of Tangerine Dream’s early releases (Alpha Centauri was originally out in 1971, Atem in 1973) – I don’t have a problem with it. It’s a convenient way for me to hear a couple of albums that I haven’t heard before, and the artwork and gatefold sleeve is most pleasing.

Anyway, it’s kind of a moot point, as I was only around three years of age when this record came out, and wasn’t even alive when the two albums were originally released. So it’s not as if I was compelled to complete a collection by buying multiple formats. That said, I’m pretty sure that if I happen across either Alpha Centauri or Atem in their original single-album releases, I’m likely to buy them. Such is the mindset of a collector.

I bought this record very recently, as part of a small haul of stuff found at a Sue Ryder sale. You see, the charity Sue Ryder has its headquarters quite near to where I live, and they regularly hold large-scale sales of the kind of thing that hasn’t yet made it into any of their charity shops. This includes a room full of records, and from time to time there are some gems to be had.

As it’s a new purchase, I’ve only yet listened to Alpha Centauri, and haven’t moved beyond it as it’s so good. It sounds like the more abstract, bits-between-the-bits sections of early 1970s Pink Floyd, stretched out to cosmic extremes and played using early synthesiser technology that provides rich, affecting soundspaces. I’m not sure whether the Tangerine Dream personnel were reeling from the influence of gargantuan amounts of hallucinogenic substances, or if they were floating in a drug-free new-age appreciation of space and emotion – or perhaps both? Whatever they were up to, they created some deep music here – and, as the liner notes say within the gatefold: “This album is dedicated to all people who feel obliged to space”. Gotta love the early-to-mid 1970s.

The double album’s gatefold sleeve shows the Alpha Centauri artwork on the front, and the Atem artwork on the back. However, both have been augmented with the other’s title, included in a way that’s artfully and nicely executed. Inside the gatefold, there’s a glorious photograph of a dark, shimmering landscape, right out of the journey-through-space-and-time segment of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Both the Alpha Centauri and the Atem artwork is credited to Monique and Edgar Froese: Froese is a member of the band; Monique is his wife. As they were married in 1974, this means that they collaborated on the artwork before marriage. Maybe the art brought them closer together? Who knows. Very sadly, Monique died in 2000. Froese, and Tangerine Dream, continue to make art and music.

Link: Tangerine Dream

THE HUMAN LEAGUE: Open Your Heart / Non-Stop (12″, Virgin VS453-12, 1981)

The Human League - Open Your Heart / Non-Stop

My random number generator, before picking this record for me, suggested five or six 7″ singles – problematic, as my 7″s are still not in an easy-to-handle order, meaning that I can’t quickly track down any of them in particular. Note to self: sort this out.

Anyway, to the first record picked that I can easily locate. I’ll never tire of The Human League – they bridged several musical gaps for me, from being around when I was very young (as radio/TV-based pop music), through reflecting the kind of ‘pure pop’ moments that I craved in my late teens and twenties, and ticking a variety of post-punk/electronica boxes that appeals to my more po-faced muso side.

I picked up this record at some point within the last twenty years – certainly not when it was released, but probably as a charity shop find. One issue for the record-buying completist can be a love of a more mainstream band – it’s easy to get lost in a morass of endless releases and formats; is it really necessary to track down the 7″, 12″, 12″ remix and cassette version of every old single? For me, it’s a no – such format-itis makes me realise that what I really like is collecting all of the music rather than the releases; albeit tinged with some desire to make sure I’m grabbing the music in any different versions that were released, and as its ‘original’ release, whatever that may mean.

‘Open Your Heart’ is a superb song, a fine combination of off-kilter electronics, post-punk-seriousness in the vocal style and unashamed melodic pop. ‘Non-Stop’ pushes things slightly too far in a cutesy-childrens’-TV-theme direction for my liking. Despite having a clear break between songs on the record, they’re bracketed together as a single 8 minute 15 second piece. Art, innit.

And art always seemed close to The Human League’s collective heart, in terms of their records’ packaging. Check out the white space, the careful positioning, the sparse use of colour and the typographical spacing on this record’s front cover; on the back a single line containing the bracketed word ‘Instrumentals’ is justified by spacing the left and right brackets to the edges of the measure, while the word itself is left centred. Nicely done. The band also had the whole ‘Blue’/’Red’ thing going on – their band name augmented with a colour which, according to Wikipedia, was to “to help buyers differentiate between the band’s musical styles”.

Cover design is credited to ‘Adrian and Philip’ – presumably frontman Phil(ip) Oakey along with Philip Adrian Wright (renamed as Adrian to avoid confusion?), who was the  band’s ‘Director Of Visuals’. More bands need a ‘Director Of Visuals’. There’s also a credit for ‘Layout And Co-ordination’ given to the mysterious ‘Ken (at A.S.)’. That’ll be designer Ken Ansell, then of Ansell Sadgrove, now Creative Director at London design agency Clinic. Perhaps Oakey and Wright did the conceptual bit, and Ansell gave it life?

Links: The Human League

MIKE OLDFIELD: Tubular Bells (LP, Virgin V2001, 1973)

Mike Oldfield - Tubular Bells

And… the Tubular Bells! This album reminds me of a lot of things. I only bought a copy for myself around five years ago, but a copy was owned by my parents and I used to really enjoy listening to it. The B-side, in particular, with its sober voiceover announcing the huge variety of instruments played on the piece, I used to love (and still do). Maybe it appeals to the cataloguer/collector-type in me, to have the elements of the music filed into a series of proclamations across the duration of the record?

My parents had a modest but excellent quality stereo system on which records were played as I grew up in the 1970s and ’80s. They used to know a couple that we lived next door to, and I recall them getting in an extraordinarily futuristic-looking Bang + Olufsen stereo when I was probably around eight or nine years old. It looked like a weird, space age table; sleek, silver. That kind of thing predated the fetishistic ‘look at my technology’ obsessions that enveloped much of the 1980s – but it looked darned cool, at the time. Funny how Bang + Olufsen haven’t really moved away from that glossy presentation of actually rather simple technology, even thirty years later.

I have a vague memory that their stereo was actually quadrophonic, but that may be a fake memory. I was young, after all. Another strong recollection of that couples’ household is that their chair and table legs were placed onto small metal disc-shaped trays, to prevent them digging holes into the carpets. Not sure why that’s a memory, as it’s possibly one of the most unimportant things one could keep in one’s mind.

Odd how this record, except for some dabblings in the record shop industry, pretty much signalled the launch of the now mega-globo-huge-corp Virgin. It was a cool record label for a time, and if a label can be defined by the first release that they decide to put out, Virgin was a fantastically hippy-dippy experimental dreamer of a label.

MAGAZINE: Touch And Go (7″, Virgin VS 207, 1978)

Magazine - Touch And Go

I picked this up a couple of years ago from a second-hand record shop. I was drawn to it less because of it being Magazine and more because of the title ‘Touch And Go’ being, I presume, the inspiration for the amazing Touch And Go record label who’ve released stuff by a barrel-load of outstanding bands. Magazine I’ve yet to be convinced by – they’re one of those bands that I’m constantly told are brilliant, and I’d love to love them, but they never seem to click. I don’t dislike them by any means; they just kind of pass me by in a musical sense. I’ll soldier on. Maybe it’s like with food, where if you eat something you don’t like eight times you’ll begin to enjoy it. Magazine are my brussel sprouts.

Fantastic cover design on this record. It has a touch of the Saul Bass style with its off-kilter modernism, and reminds me of Blue Note’s cover designs in the typography and dynamism.

It’s funny that the now ultra-gigantic Virgin monster used to be just a modest little independent record label. Well, maybe not modest – perhaps just simple. When Richard Branson was putting together his first release (Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells), was he scheming away and imagining running train companies, airlines, space travel companies? Here’s a brilliant (if true) Wikipedia paragraph about the early days of Virgin – Powell is Nik Powell, another of Virgin’s starters:

Branson & Powell had initially run a small record shop called Virgin Records and Tapes on Notting Hill Gate, London, specialising particularly in “krautrock” imports, and offering bean bags and free vegetarian food for the benefit of customers listening to the music on offer.

I’d love a record shop like that to exist today!

Oh, and if you’re wondering, ‘Goldfinger’ on the B-side of this record is a cover of the Bond movie theme.