For the past three months or so, I’ve been engaged in a large-scale recording and burning process, all of which was sparked by a moment of forgetfulness.
This dates back to my disastrous day in the Lakes, back in March, when I forgot to charge up my mp3 player overnight, in anticipation of four hours or so on the train. At the last minute, I thought of my old Minidisc player that I haven’t used in years. I grabbed that, stuffed in new batteries, picked four MDs and made it all the way to the train before realising I’d forgotten my headphones.
However stupid all that was, it at least brought back to mind that I had a portable Minidisc player, and over 40 Minidiscs as full as could be of music, the majority of which being transferred tracks recorded off the radio (and friend’s LPs and, in a couple of cases, the TV via a microphone). These recordings go back as far as 1970!
Having been reminded of the MDs, I decided to give them a listen. Being a good little anal-retentive, I had of course kept a comprehensive track listing for each MD during the original transfer from tape. However, these lists had long since disappeared from view. So I spent every moment I could during the next three weeks or so listening, carrying pen and paper around with me, building up a new track-listing.
It was a revelation! The vast majority of the MDs had a minimum of 20 tracks on them, which meant something like 750 – 800 tracks to listen to. There were things I hadn’t listened to in years, things I’d forgotten I had taped, plenty of things I’d forgotten ever existed!
Of course, amongst this cornucopia were more than a few tracks I couldn’t identify. Sometimes this was just a temporary blindspot, like when I couldn’t immediately remember the band that did the doo-wop version of ‘Blue Moon’ (The Marcels, pillock!). Sometimes it took more prolonged racking of my memory until something floated out (The Bluetones and The Dylans). There were others where I chased details down by pasting lines of lyrics into Google, and in the case of the three tracks of the McGarrigle Sisters’ French Album, I identified two by cross-comparing with tracks uploaded to YouTube and, when the third track proved not to be there, cross-checking titles with other singers on YouTube until I placed the song!
After all that, I’ve ended up with eight tracks I’m unable to place, in whole or part. Three of them are instrumentals, and another three are early Nineties Cocteau Twins tracks, and if you know how to identify titles without listening to every single Cocteau Twins tracks until you recognise a liquid, wordless vocal, please leave a comment below!
But that’s not even been half of the project. Once I’d identified everything I could, I started going through the new lists and checking off everything I’d already duplicated on CD (commercial or otherwise) or simply downloaded to my laptop.
I then started downloading and burning CD-Rs, sometimes three or four a day, collating all the tracks I hadn’t already got. Mostly this was by way of YouTube, supplemented by as few Amazon mp3 purchases as I had to. Even so, that still left several dozen tracks that were inaccessible from anywhere except my own MDs.
(This included three tracks from long lost Lindisfarne sessions from the early Seventies, including the session where they did four Fog on the Tyne tracks but with electric piano instead of second guitar. These tapes are missing, probably wiped, and whilst they’re in poor condition, my recordings may well be the only ones in existence. So I contacted the official website, which out to be founder member and drummer Ray Laidlaw. I ended up burning these to CD and sent him a copy, which hopefully can be cleaned up and made generally available).
This should have been a problem. However, I had some software and leads that I’d bought through eBay a good two years before, with the intention of digitizing my cassettes but, because this was not physically convenient getting the laptop to the cassette player, I hadn’t even opened the package.
The software turned out to only be Audacity, which I’ve had on my laptop for ages, but it turned out that a simple jack-lead did the trick! Plug one end into the headphone socket of the MD player, the other into the microphone socket of the laptop, change Preferences in Audacity to record from microphone and I could transfer the songs with ease.
Gradually, all the downloads built up on my laptop as I alternated between downloading/taping and burning. That was another source of great fun, deciding on how to compile this rush of new CDs. I already had a few series of self-burned CDs along various themes, and I created a couple of dozen more in those sets. Sometimes, I created genre-themed CDs: punk and new wave on one, reggae and ska on another, a bunch of more commercially popular songs on a mainstream compilation!
I’ve even got nearly enough electronic music for another compilation but, anal-retentive that I am, I’ve about six minutes space left and I hate burning CDs that don’t have every feasible minute used.
It’s also been an excuse to start burning down a lot of the stuff I’ve simply compiled over the past few years and never got round to turning into CDs,and thus clearing up memory on my laptop.
All good things come towards an end. All the tracks have been gathered in and most of them burned out. But then again, having used a USB turntable to digitize my remaining vinyl, I’ve found a way to protract the procedure. At Xmas I bought a USB cassette player, to sort out the tapes. Even with the extra convenience that allowed me, I still hadn’t got round to doing it until this last week. It’s dead simple: plug the cassette player into the laptop via the USB cable supplied, reset Preferences in Audacity back to Primary Source, and start recording!
And there’s some dead good old stuff on those tapes that I thought had been lost forever! No more lost Lindisfarne, sadly.
All of which is really by way of an ultra-wordy preamble to a little bit of musing about the human mind.
Among the digitized vinyl was a bunch of 12” versions of singles by The Beat, that wonderfully fluid, post Two-Tone Birmingham band. I saw them on stage just the once and, after playing the first eight or nine songs fairly straight, everything after that was a brilliant example of a band so masterful at their music that they could slide orthodox songs into extended dub renderings live without any jarring.
I panicked about ten days ago, when a computer issue made me fear I’d lost all my downloaded music (though thankfully this proved not to be the case). Once everything had been ironed out, I made haste to burn a Beat CD. Whilst checking for additional tracks, I downloaded the 12” of one of their last singles, ‘I Confess‘, taken from their third and final album.
It was a weird departure in sound, for a band growing steadily rootsier to suddenly come out with a piano-laden, superficial, almost cabaret sound in places. ‘I Confess’ was a good, strong track, one I hadn’t listened to for ages. So I burned the CD, checked it was correctly recorded, and deleted the files.
That was over the weekend just gone. Today, half a week later, without having listened to the track again in the interim, I had ‘I Confess’ on the brain, serious earworm time, constantly hearing it, trying to sing along to it (try it one day, it’s one of Dave Wakelin’s most slippery vocals), over and again.
So where the hell did that come from? Why did it suddenly arrive today, after I listened to it last Saturday? What was the trigger to make it now, and not then?
And why is it that an earworm, the memory of a song or performance, is so much more powerful than the music itself. Had I had the song there available, I would have played it only once, fulfilling my listening pleasure, but I must have re-run it’s intro, that tinkling piano, the little crash of drums, those opening lines literally dozens of times, no amount of it swirling through my head able to satisfy the need for it to appear, again and again.
What peculiarity makes that so common a thing? Seriously, if anyone has any idea, I’m all ears. At least the external ones: the inner ears are just going to slip the song onto the ethereal turntable seven or eight more times…