Sunday, 24 January 2010

Voices from the Forces

Just got back from the lunchtime bootsale with not a great deal to report. Well not Hip-Hop or breaks wise anyway. I did pick up a copy of A.Z.'s "The Format" 12" for £1 which I was happy with as I missed it when it first dropped. Came from a guy with about thirty other twelve inches - all cra*ppy dance stuff mainly on the Ministry Of Sound label. Christ knows why he had this in his collection?!!

I'm not gonna bother talking about that record though. As nice as it is, there's nothing particulary out of the ordinary on it. Primo beat with A.Z. on the M.I.C. Straight East Coast banger. What more you need to know?

I did, however, find a couple of very intriguing items which I've never come across before. Tucked inside a little paper bag amongst a box of house-clearance records were these two 'shellac' coated 5" 'singles'. Now, I've seen 5" records before, which, 99% of the time, are Nursery Rhymes pressed on novelty size vinyl for children. I've also had a few shellac 10"s over the years so this was nothing new to me either. My curiosity stemmed from the fact the printed labels also had hand written (in pencil) details, which automatically suggests something quite unique. Usually 'test pressing' or, in some cases, promos will have credits and the like written on the label, but the writing on these appear to be far more personal. The printed design features blank spacing with three categories; 'To', 'From' and 'Regt.No'. Above these categories is the title (or record company name if you will) 'Voices of the Forces'. It then dawned on me just how 'personal' these records actually are, or were.

I'd already worked out by the time I got home and googled for confirmation that these records were 'one-off' messages recorded by members of the Armed Forces on international duty which were shipped back home to loved ones. I've been unable to find any specific details as to this service which, it looks like, the Army provided, but I'm guessing it would have been fairly costly so not widely available to personnel throughout the ranks.

The two examples I bought today read 'To: Mrs Nicholls, From: Sgt Nicholls' and 'To: Irene, From: Jack'. I much prefer the more heart-felt and intimate addressing of the latter but they could well be to and from the same persons, which seems very likely, as they were both grouped together in the same bag. Unfortunately I am unable to listen to them since they play at 78rpm and the grooves are pretty worn to say the least. The fact that the bronze playing surfaces display considerable signs of wear and tear demonstrates just how cherished and comforting these recordings must have been to their recipients, more than likely being played over and over again. It goes without saying that this was at a time long before skype, vid
eo messaging and even email, so to receive a 'letter home' in a more 'physical' type form must have evoked a huge wealth of emotions. I can only imagine how heart breaking it must have felt being miles away from the dearest person to you, at a time of great uncertainty, and not be able touch, see or even speak back to them whilst they speak to you. In fact as I am writing this I've just realised it's probably best I can't play the records anyway. They were obviously only made and intended for the persons closest to them, and to be listening in, no matter how many years later, would be insensitive and an invasion of privacy.

So, why do I buy records like these? Well, for a start they are cheap. Twenty five pence each in this case. I wasn't expecting samples or any other type of Hip-Hop related content with these particular pieces, although that usually is my motive when buying vinyl for pennies at the bootsales, charity shops, dumps, etc. If a record is cheap enough, something I've never seen before and looks like it has a bit of potential I'll buy it. If it's cr*p it gets thrown back into the cycle of unwanted wax. Nothing lost. Remember, you can't even buy a chocolate bar for the price of most of the records I buy. Over the years I've found a hell of a lot of known gems or 'holy-grails' that would cost an arm and a leg on eBay or any other online spot. I've also found a good amount of unknown heat that you couldn't turn up, or even know how to turn up, on eBay. That's the joys of digging in the real world. When it comes to the type of records in the this post though, it just comes down to a love of all things vinyl related. I'm old school like that. I mean, what interest would I have in an unknown soldiers message home via an email or telephone? Absolutely none. It's only the fact that I've just found out records were once used to provide this service that intrigues and fascinates me. It's kind of hard to explain to an 'outsider' (i.e. MP3 leach) but I'm sure there's plenty of other vinyl nerds out there who understand and relate...That's why you read this blog right?


frank said...

Absolutley nuts - it's like your time machine is working... Super cool - i like this post, interesting work there secret squirrel.

Waxer said...

Yes Mr Krum, that's EXACTLY why I read your blog. There is no other mthod of replicating the feeling I get after returning from a bootsale with a load of possibles. Don't get me wrong, I have had times when I buy a dozen or so easy listening style LPs to turn up nothing, and I really mean nothing, not even a single stab or the vaguest sniff of funk.

But when you do... when you do, the rest of the world doesn't exist, it's just your finger hovering over the tone arm as you seek those dark grooves, the more crackly part at the start of the record that gives way to a potential Holy Grail.

There have been times when I have discovered a used break and just can't believe that it was used just as a straight constant loop with no variation, chops or anything, it's rhymed & scratched on & sounds DEF, but that's why we love Hip Hop, simplicity, 2 turntables & a microphone? We're just replicating that with samplers.

I have found breaks on records which have literally made a bit of piss come out, so unbelievably excited... I remember finding the break to Come Clean, I didn't know what the break was called and almost shat myself when the needle hit the wax, cos at the time none of my crew of diggers knew the break and I was on the floor.

Nothing comes close to that feeling of discovering a dope break, or indeed turning someone else's music into a def Hip Hop track enjoyed by others, and inspiring them to dig for the break I USED... and so we come full circle.

I always read your blog, every post, from start to finish, sometimes a couple of times to absorb it. Quality penmanship in this world of internet dross is hard to come by, especially in a niche field like break discovery. If only more people commented and shared stories.

Still, for now, this post has sated my vinyl hunger... until the 2010 boot sales start then... peace, I'm an Audi!

MR KRUM said...


You just perfectly summed up what I try to with posts like this!

Thanks for the comments. I can tell rhat you get the exact same buzz as i do when out diggin, and like you, I've bought many'a interesting looking 'easy' LP only for them to be complete cr*p. It's all worth it when you find that undiscovered gem though.

Good luck at the bootys this summer mate. Hopefully this season's weather will be a bit better than lasts!

Cheers - D

Culture Of None said...

i've got a good number (30 or more?) of these self-recorded records, mostly from the late '40s to early '50s...all of them were thrift store finds. One particularly amazing disc is a 1940s family (audibly under the spell of drink) singing "The Shitting Song"...which i have to assume is their own invention. My plan is to convert my finds to digital very soon & share them.