Listen again

I was 17 and probably on my second car as the first one was too far gone on the floors and sills to be worth repairing. I was attending College and hung around with a similar group of people doing the same course. Fortunately, we lived reasonably close to each other so took turns in driving each other in every day. There was only one rule – whoever was driving was in charge of the music. This was about the time when the factory fitted Radiomobile AM car radio was being replaced by a stereo radio cassette from the likes of Sanyo, Philips, Sony or the new kid on the block Pioneer. Graphic equalisers were not a thing yet however having both bass and treble controls was just out of this world.

When it was my turn to drive, it was Iron Maiden, Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath – you get the gist however, with the others, it was soul music, country and western and 1 person that played a lot of late Genesis which was soul destroying to the likes of me.

I never really enjoyed College. Everybody looked the same and on the first day there, I wondered where the hell the disco was that everybody was dressed up for. It was the early 80s and every bloke my age had highlights and a wedge (I’ve never been able to actually identify a wedge haircut). My ‘uniform’, because that is what it really was, was very different – Doctor Marten boots, jeans and a T-shirt of whatever rock/metal band was in favour at the time… though more likely to be whichever T-shirt my Mum had ironed for me.

Anyway, it was the late Genesis lover’s turn to drive and he played something very different. It was a bit boring and samey to me so I let him know. It should be remembered that ribbing was absolutely allowed by passengers but not too much as it would be a long walk.

Some crap by The Alan Parsons Project apparently called “Ammonia Avenue”. It was all too predictable, the guitar solos were dull and it was easy pickings to take the mickey.

Image by Mike Gattorna from Pixabay

Roll forward a few months and I was out looking for a new pair of jeans when I noticed a sign in the window of Boots saying “Record department closing down – everything must go”. This was the good old days when Boots sold records, cameras, hi-fi equipment, radios, cassette tapes and even more records.

I went upstairs and looked around and it was a very sorry sight. I rifled through the albums and they were down to 50p in some cases. I grabbed a couple of the “Best of” type albums then I saw it – Ammonia Avenue by the Alan Parsons Project – the album that had been the bane of every third week on my travels to and from College.

So I bought it – come on, it was cheap and I liked the cover!

In the end, I bought almost as many records as I could carry as there were some pretty good albums in there and plenty of transparent TDK D90 tapes so I could listen to everything in the car and convert my passengers to rock and metal.

After some time, I thought I would play the Alan Parsons album, it didn’t sound too bad this time around but I’d be damned if I’d tell anybody as this could be embarrassing.

I then found myself searching it out whenever I was driving. What did I find so interesting about it? Well, there were few love songs, a couple of instrumentals, the guitar solos were fitting rather than raucous, the lyrics had meaning rather than being repetitive and trite, many had an orchestral backing and best of all on that album, the title track was nearly 7 minutes long. I’d started to become more interested in longer tracks and the change from a classical theme to rock then back to classical and then to rock again was interesting as they complemented each other so well.

What I didn’t know was that this album would send me off on to a completely different musical trajectory. This was the beginning of me becoming a lover of prog. Rock. Yes, I’d played Dark Side of the Moon until it was practically worn out but this was a little different and complemented Floyd very well. Only later did I discover that Alan Parsons engineered DSoTM so his fingerprints were on both albums – perhaps this was the connection?

Anyway, I kept this dirty little secret to myself and then went out in search of the back catalogue. There was no internet in those days so it wasn’t always easy to find stuff out or buy it – everything had to be available in the shop as my experience of trying to order records through a shop appeared to be a waste of time. Later on, more of the back catalogue was released on CD and this is where I made up for lost time and got everything I could. Yes, I still listened to metal but I now preferred to have considered, thoughtful, expert musicianship rather than a track that I could upset people with.

So what is the Alan Parsons Project? It’s a core group of musicians, singers, songwriters including Alan Parsons himself that bring in other singers or musicians for particular tracks. Alan Parsons is the chief engineer and his decision is final on major things – sounds harsh but it’s his band

Fast forward to the present day and I have every album, CD and now Blu Ray audio of everything (I think) they have ever recorded. I’ve mourned the death of their main singer/lyricist (Eric Woolfson) an incredibly talented man who I consider to be the voice of the Project though he and Parsons both agreed that he wasn’t as proficient as others. Also lost over this time have been Chris Rainbow, another talent that never got the solo success he deserved though singing with the Project, touring with Jon Anderson as well as joining Prog. Rock Gods Camel would be enough for most. Ian Bairnson, lead guitarist and player of almost any instrument left us last year. The Project has received limited success in the UK however they are huge in the US and rest of the World so rarely tour here though I managed to see them just before they went on the “On Air” album tour in 1986. One track had a superb saxophone solo however before it began, Parsons announced that the original saxophonist couldn’t make the tour so Bairnson stepped up and said he would learn with 2 weeks to go before they had their first gig. Bairnson was magnificent, played with feeling and not a duff note. Remember, this is Prog. Rock where the fundamental aspect is that of musicianship… OK, and long tracks with 20 minute solos for each instrument but you get the point!

For me, On Air was their last, brilliant album. The others have been a bit flat and disappointing but brand loyalty keeps bringing me back. The latest album “From the New World” took a while to listen to. It sat, unopened, on the CD player for a couple of weeks whilst I felt good knowing that there was new Project music in there that I hadn’t heard before. Similar to keeping a decent bottle of wine, knowing it’s there and will be great when I choose – doing this sort of thing has probably got a name but I don’t know what it is.

It took 3 months to listen to it. I’d listen to a track when and only when the house was empty – no interruptions – and when I was in the right mood at a suitable volume of course.

What I have discovered about myself in all this is that I thought I knew what I liked but in reality, I only liked what I knew. If you have made it this far, all I can say is that I’ve been a fan of this group and music for nigh on 40 years now and although I originally rejected it, I was offered a second chance thanks to a cut-price sale in Boots.

Listen to music, all music, even give that which you do not like another go as it may resonate with you this time and it could open up entirely new avenues of listening pleasure.

Thanks for reading.

© RatCatcher 2024