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"If a Savoy record arrives by post, it's sure to have been blacklisted by every distribution chain known to mankind."
R E C O R D C O L L E C T O R
IF MANCHESTER (or, indeed, England) was a virtual reality simulation you'd probably switch it off. On Savoy's records and CDs you can actually listen to the sound of England's arteries hardening. They are probably the last Rock'n'Roll records of the Twentieth Century!
Savoy knows that taste destroys art. That the ubiquitous 'they' once banned Elvis, broke Jerry Lee's heart, killed PJ Proby's career, censored Jim Morrison to death and pilloried the Pistols.
To Savoy, the opening bars of a 1950s Rock'n'Roll or R&B single are more of a temporal disruption device than Marcel Proust's madeleine ever was.
The risk element in Rock is threatened with becoming an endangered species: but not here. Savoy have perpetrated the most audacious scam since McLaren's celebrated 'Swindle'. Their enticingly strange juxtaposition of '60s sex-god PJ Proby (who demo'd for Presley and nightclubbed with the Beatles) with an atrocity exhibition of tracks like Anarchy in the UK and Love Will Tear Us Apart provoked deliciously tasteless assaults from the tabloids that resulted in their offending vinyl being banned by every reputable distribution chain in England. It's precisely this FUCK OFF iconoclasm that makes Savoy so important and which, together with their unerring sense of Rock's eclectic history, has enabled them to produce discs like these. Like Rock'n'Roll itself, this is the stuff you'd die for. So let's danceone more timeto the beat of the living dead!
SAVOY WARS sleeve notes
|Clinton Heylin, in the introduction to The Great White Wonders: A History of Rock Bootlegs (Viking/Penguin, 1994), describes the illicit ambience of the
Savoy book and record emporia in the mid-seventies:
Bootleg collectors the world over will remember their initial 'hit', that first time they stumbled upon a stall or store selling albums you weren't supposed to be able to buyand the charge that first blast of illicit vinyl gave them. For me it was as a thirteen-year-old would-be obsessive that I learnt of a seedy little porn shop in the nether regions of central Manchester, free-standing in the centre of an area modelled on Dresden circa I945. It was a Sunday and the store was closed, but a friend and I bussed into town just to confirm that this really was a purveyor of hot wax. Sure enough, sellotaped in the window were three of their more attractive artefacts, with titles at once cryptically enticingLiveR Than You'll Ever Be, Seems Like a Freeze Out, Yellow Matter Custardhuh?
Returning the following Saturday, oblivious to the well-endowed German ladies thrusting out from the covers of magazine upon magazine, I edged my way to the back of the store and two cardboard boxes. I was searching for one item in particularBob Dylan at the Royal Albert Hall. Having read a description of the events one night in 1966 when Dylan scrambled the synapses of an entire generation, how could I fail to be intrigued?
I furtively flicked through whatever quasi-definitive Dylan bootleg guide I had along for the ride. It recommended one they did have, Talkin' Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues. Great title. And I loved the lyrics I'd read in Writings and Drawings. It had a proper cover, t'boot. 'I'll take it.'
My most recent legitimate acquisitionMr Bowie's Aladdin Sanehad required a seemingly hefty £2.19, courtesy of Boots the Chemists.
After all the scaremongering that accompanied bootlegs in the early seventies (and even today), I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the sound quality of this new addition to my Dylan collection (which numbered exactly two collections of Greatest Hits) was perfectly gooda bit of hiss that was largely lost on my parents' Grundig gramophone, but pretty damn fine (little did I know it was actually a Berkeley Records edition of an original Trade Mark of Quality bootleg and that TMQ's version was hiss-free).
By the time I established that the acquisition of these items carried considerable kudos among the record-swapping fraternity at school, I was a teenage bootleg junkie.
In those days there was no real way of knowing what one was buying. Bootleggers were (and are, though no longer for the same reasons) notoriously vague about the sources of their material. My friendly neighbourhood bootleg dealer was generous enough to let me take 'items' home to decide if I wanted them. Though funds were tight, I bought what I could. Soon enough he had moved to new premises and the German ladies had been shunted to the back shelfin two cardboard boxes. The albums kept multiplying. The 'above board' record store across the road did not appreciate all the punters who came in asking if they sold bootlegs and decided to make a phone call. One Saturday I saw a new Dylan bootleg, Joaquin (pronounced 'walkin'', as in 'she's a...') Antique, the first to feature outtakes from his recent return to form, Blood on the Tracks. The official album had been out all of six weeks. I was broke and prices had by now nudged up to £2.60. I was obliged to return the following weekend, money now in hand, intent on buying this exciting new platter. There was no stock. Indeed there was no window. Orbit Books was no more.
Twenty years later, I'm sitting in an upmarket Chinese fry-up joint trying to tape an interview with one of the central figures in the eighties 'Boot Biz' over a cacophony of sizzling fat. 'Eric Bristow'his chosen pseudonymdespite a healthy American tan, has not lost his broad Lancastrian accent. He is telling me about this great shop in Tib Street, Manchester, where he first started buying bootlegs...
...And there you go, Rock fanseven back then David Britton and Michael Butterworth were setting alight the North of England youth with the fire of their illicit doings (what they did for bootlegs, they did for underground comics, rare and eclectic, for literary or pulp novels, for imported American science fiction, for books on murder and drugs and herbals, for cult, and HORROR and all the other delicious things that are forbidden you). To the aficionado of the finest quality pornography they gave a legitimate status years before Eurotrash and Loaded cashed-in on its low glamour.
Anyway, at the same time as Clinton Heylin's testimony to the Savoy shops (by the time Orbit Books closed, Bookchain had opened across town on Peter Street) all the budding young musicos on the Manchester scene (and elsewhere) were tracking in droves to Savoy establishmentsPeter Shelley, Howard Devoto, Ian Curtis, Mark E Smith and many other soon-to-be famous, stocking up on all manner of elitist material. Joy Division/New Order, were customers. In his youth, drummer Steve Morris used to hang around Dave's first bookshop, House on the Borderland, just off Piccadilly Gardens.
In the '80s a flood of music peopleTony Wilson, Jon Savage, Paul Morley, C P Lee of the Albertos, Ian Dury, Lydia Lunch, Gavin Friday, Mani from The Stone Roses and Primal Scream, Andrew Weatherall (even Iggy for a day) were regular visitors. Morrissey, of The Smiths, came to see Dave for information for his James Dean book... No sign of the apes from Oasis but then they can't read, can they?
The same was happening in Savoy's city centre Liverpool shop, Chapter One, which played host to the likes of Echo and the Bunnymen, Julian Cope, Pete Wylie, Holly Johnson and all the lads from around Eric's Club and Probe Records. •
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