An Introduction

I first became interested in 4AD, a UK independent record label founded in 1980, towards the end of the '80's. I was falling in love with the music of Dead Can Dance, Clan of Xymox, Pixies, Bauhaus and The Birthday Party and was surprised when the 4AD label sampler "Lonely Is An Eyesore" came out in 1987 that all these bands were from the same label.

After visiting a Pre-Raphaelite exhibition of some American's collection of art, I came to thinking of all this musical art that 4AD have released that may one day drift into obscurity unless someone shows it as art. So now I'm on a crusade, to collect the first ten years of 4AD's releases and exhibit the collection on 4AD's 50th anniversary in 2030. This is a big task which will have some interesting twists and turns along the way.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Utrecht International Record Fair 2016

I have seen adverts for the Utretcht International Record Fair for a few years now and always wondered what it would be like to see it for myself. I live in the UK, so getting there wouldn't be that difficult, but I'm far away from being a comfortable seasoned traveller. This is not helped by the fact that I have one of the greatest disadvantages of being English. That means I belong to a country where the language is spoken nearly the world over and so, many English people, myself included, don't ever feel the need to even try and speak another language. Don't get me wrong, speaking other languages gives a person great confidence and potential, but my problem, apart from being English and being awfully lazy as well, is that I'm just not cut out for languages at all. I can barely master English (as many of you readers may well be aware of) so I'm awful at other languages. This doesn't help one's confidence when planning to go abroad. I personally would think it ignorant if someone talked to me in England in another langauge and just expected me to understand them and help them. So I think it's ignorant of me to be the same abroad. But then, if I had to learn another language to go abroad, I simply wouldn't travel. So I drag my ignorant arse around other people's countries with no attempt at the local languages. This makes me ashamed to be so ignorant and lazy, which puts me off travelling. Thankfully I have a wife that isn't so ignorant, so she drags my sorry ass to places I wouldn't dare to go myself, because I'm pathetic!!

This holiday was supposed to be different. I really wanted to see if the International Record fair would restore my faith in record fairs in general and in the traders as well, after all it should be the pinnacle in record buying. So I talked about it with my wife, who said I should go. As usual, the idea excited me no end, but the prospect of dragging my ignorant arse across Europe quashed that excitement harshly. I know the rest of the world probably think that most British people are drunk, inconsiderate twats when abroad and so most foreigners expectations are likely considerably low anyway, but I have a problem with re-enforcing negative stereotypes. I like to think that as a person with strange dress sense and an alternative view on life, it's a life bonus to hit people that have a stereotype with a persona of intelligence and moral fibre (rarely found in many walks of life). I don't care what people think of me, I do care what I would think of me if I bumped into myself on the street. My wife says I think too much....which was the whole problem, I was going to go, then I talked myself out of it, then changed my mind again, then decided against it.

After a couple of months fighting with myself over the decision to go, my wonderful wife offered to go with me and just get the thing booked. So we did.

The flight only took an hour to Amsterdam. We booked a hotel in Utrecht right next to the train station, which was actually reasonably priced for it's location and was only a stone's throw away from the location of the record fair as well. The trains from Amsterdam Airport to Utrecht are every 15 minutes and it takes about 30 minutes travel time. We took out extra luggage space for the flight, just in case I found loads of stuff at the fair and needed to bring all that heavy vinyl back in a suitcase ( only hand luggage was included in the flight price). I had no idea if I would return empty handed or packed to the gills with so much stuff that I would be overweight at the airport check in on the way back....I had no clue if this fair would be the same as all the other UK fairs and be a total disapointment, but just bigger, or be an absolute delight.

The fair runs over two days, Saturday and Sunday. If the pickings were amazing, I may do both days, if they weren't, I may be going crazy by lunch time. We booked 4 nights at the hotel, so if my worst fears were realised we would still have time to look around Utrecht and even Amsterdam. Besides which, Holland has so many record shops, surely the backup of those may rescue an otherwise disastrous trip. There was plenty to do otherwise. So I booked tickets just for the Saturday in advance, that way if the fair was awful, at least I wouldn't have wasted a weekend ticket. If the fair was unbelievably good, I could still go on the Sunday as well and buy a ticket on the door. The tickets where about 12 Euro's each for one day and the weekend ticket wasn't much cheaper than buying the two days individually. There are supposed to be around 500 stall holders, but I have seen this before where exagerations border on complete lies.

The most difficult thing about the trip would be inconsideratly dragging a bored wife around with me for 5 days. Usually when my wife books a holiday, I remain totally ambivalent to the prospect, even right up to the day itself. This is mostly becuause of the reasons explained earlier and also becasue of the uncertainty that usually goes with a holiday. I like to know what to expect and have every scenario covered, which when it comes to holidays abroad is just unreasonable and impossible. This time, although there were still so many unknowns about this trip, I was excited and my wife was completly non-plussed. Once we got on the way to the airport though, we had everything planned and discussed beforehand. I just bought the Saturday tickets for us both with the option of doing Sunday if needed. I printed off a booklet of my 4AD collection from Discogs and also another booklet of my wantlist from Discogs too. The plan was for me to hunt through the records on each stall and when I found something that had potential, my wife would look the item up on my list. That would keep us both involved and hopefully try and minimise her boredom. She took her kindle book reader anyway just in case.

We arrived in Utrecht on the Friday afternoon and booked into the Hotel NH Utrecht, a surpisingly nice hotel. We had a tip to get a room as far up as possible as recent renovations had started at the top of the tower and worked down. The room was wonderful on the 15th floor and had an amazing view over the south of the city. After settling in we went out into the city to get something to eat. The Utrecht Centraal train station has quite a few fast food eateries that open quite late. The city centre canal has quite a selection of places to eat. We wanted to find some traditional Dutch food, but found that difficult to find. Instead, like in the UK, there were loads of Italian, Indian, Turkish and Greek restaurants and after a long day we just settled for an Indian, which was wonderful. While in there waiting for our food to arrive, two men just finishing and leaving the restuarant asked me if I was a trader at the fair, he thought he recognised me. They were traders themselves and like many we bumped into over the weekend, especially at the hotel, they had set up that day ready for the weekend.

The fair opens at 9am on Saturday. I planned to get there early to maximise the day, although I had read a review of previous fairs that told me that the Saturday is for enthusiastic collectors and Saturday morning brings the highest prices. Sunday tends to be cut price attempting to lure the passer by rather than the avid collector.

There is a map of the trade hall showing the hundreds of traders and who they are and which pitches they hold. Each one also has a small description of what they sell, if they bother to tell you. From those I put together a battle plan of the most likely top targets to hit first. There is a whole section in the fair devoted to Metal / Punk / New Wave, but the list of best potentials seemed to be all over the place. At least I had a plan, which was a start, which gave me a zig zag through the floor and at least gave me a focus to start on.

Although the fair is advertised as being held at Jaarbeurs which looked on a map to be part of the Beatrix Theatre, in fact it's accross the road and is a massive exhibition centre. On the Saturday morning after a quick breakfast stop in the train station, we made our way to the exhibition centre. I wasn't sure how many people would be lined up at the entrance at the opening time and I even wondered if it would be best to hit the fair a little later to miss any initial rush. There were streams of people walking their way to the entrance, strangely a mix of all sorts of people. This mixture made me wonder if we were going the right way as a 50/50 gender mix is not the record fair norm at all. When we got in I realised why. The entrance queue moved pretty quickly as the tickets were all printed barcodes which got the public through pretty fast. Once zapped in, I was all ready to go, trader map in hand. But in front of us was a massive hall of antique traders. As far as the eye could see, there were tables of bronze and old wood. I remembered another review of the fair which talked about getting past the other halls of traders, non music related. We moved into another hall and the antigues had turned into comics and movie collectables. We couldn't find any music at all, just hundreds of traders and people looking at "vintage" collectables. Out of the corner of my eye I could see a yellow sign that stood over a stall which said "45's". As we neared the sign, the next hall showed a mixture of scruffy looking and poorly labelled traders selling cheap vinyl mixed with other souvineer stalls, this still wasn't the fair I was looking for. Through into another hall there was a half empty expanse and I thought that this would be it. There were a buch of food traders selling allsorts of fast food and more cheap vinyl traders that looked like the records had seen too many poor days. Through the food retailers though was another hall, filled with lots of vinyl traders covered in banners and hanging "eye catchers" as their backdrops.

My poor wife, I was really concerned with the hell I was going to put her through for the next few hours, but she had a brave face on and we started to tuck in. The first stall was just on the outside of the main hall and looked sparse. The guy with his missus behind the counter was wearing a leather jacket and looked like a full on metal rocker and his stall was half empty. When a trader lays out his stock flat on the table, he hasn't got much to sell. That stall didn't last long, onto the next one. The hardest thing moving from one planned stall to another was closing my eyes to the draw of signs such as "New Wave" and "Alternative" sections on other stalls. I was determined to stick to my plan and get to the what I thought was the most likely best hitters.

After the third or fourth stall and finding they had practically nothing of what they had advertised as having and nearly a half hour of finding nothing even close to any 4AD stuff on sale, I started to get frustrated and pulled away from my plan by the section signs on other traders stalls. The problem with the fair is getting lost if you randomly have no method of going through the stall holders. I should have crossed off the ones I had visited as after an hour, I couldn't remember which stalls I had been through already. I'm usually not lost easily and I'm well coordinated, yet already I was struggling. I think just starting at one end and working a way through may seem a logical way to hit the rows one after the other, but that just may take a week to work your way through. The size of the fair just can't be under estimated, it's fucking huge!

After about an hour and half way through my list, I still hadn't bought a thing. I have talked before about how easy it is to recognise early if you are onto a winner. If there are no Cocteau Twins or Pixies, there's every chance that you won't find anything else. I had found practically nothing and was suprised that I hadn't bumped into any Cocteau Twins at all, anywhere. I had on my list a reminder to drop in on the Discogs stall and simply just thank them for a great site. With all the problems that I do have with Discogs, next to what I had before, which was an annoying Excel spreadsheet, it's an absolute godsend of a site. I turned up to the Discogs stall still empty handed. A lovel lady greeted me and asked if I had used Discogs. Of course I had to tell her how much I liked Discogs and also how much it also annoyed me as well, particularly the online snobbery of some of it's ardent users. She asked me to get in touch with her about any behaviour, but you can't stop people being gits online, otherwise there would be practically no-one on the internet. She left me her card and gave me a free vinyl carrier and some Discogs stickers. It was good to put a personal face to Discogs.

After a quick loo break, I finally bought an item. I was off finally after nearly two hours of nothing. There were quite a few items over the next few stalls that I already had. I was purposefully avoiding the UK stalls as I have practically everything on UK releases. It was amazing how easily I could spot a UK stall without talking to the trader or looking at the trading sign above the stall. Every UK trader had the same predictable stuff that I trawl through when at home at record fairs. There was more than once when I got halfway through a box and said "I think this is a UK stall" and lo and behold it would be.

In the centre of the Metal / Punk / New Wave section of the fair was an amazing trader that sold tons of Dark Wave, Industrial and Goth stuff. In there was the first Dead Can Dance stuff I had found as well as loads of cool stuff, unfortunately all ridiculously priced. There were a couple of Love Is Colder Than Death vinyl LP's both of which were priced at over 100 Euros each. The stall also had a Dead Can Dance picture disc, a bootleg, but a nice one. At first I thought the 20 Euro asking price was too much, but I changed my mind later in the day and by then it was gone. That's a lesson right there, if you see something and you are thinking twice about getting it, then just get it, because it may well be gone before long.

One other great stall was a Japanese owned stall of just Japanese releases. I got a Cocteau Twins and a This Mortal Coil releases from there. A lot cheaper than getting them posted from Japan. That stall also had good quality releases and all labeled very clearly. It was one of the best laid out stalls in the entire fair, very professional. By lunchtime we had resorted to just going up and down each aisle and picking out any New Wave or Indie section. The vast majority had absolutely nothing at all. Overall it was very surprising how few pickings there was. I still think that the main vinyl collecting market is still stuck in the sixties and seventies.

At lunchtime we pigged out on a disgustingly sickly waffle which just dripped with fat and sugar but filled a hole for a few hours. By the end of the day, this is what we had picked up :

The Breeders - Pod (4AD, Rough Trade - RTD 168) LP,
Cocteau Twins - Echoes In A Shallow Bay (Virgin, 4AD - 15VB-1064, BAD 511) 12"
Colin Newman - A-Z (Beggars Banquet - BEGA 20) LP,
Colin Newman - Provisionally Entitled The Singing Fish (CNR Records, CNR Records - 656 010, 656010) LP,
Colour Box - Breakdown (Second Version) (4AD, Megadisc - BAD 304, VR 22633) 12"
Dead Can Dance - Spleen And Ideal (DG Discos - DG-219) LP,
Modern English - After The Snow (Expanded Music - EX 28) LP,
Pixies - Monkey Gone To Heaven (Rough Trade, 4AD - RTD 052T, M1-266) 12"
Pixies - Surfer Rosa (4AD - VG 50372) LP,
Pixies - Surfer Rosa (4AD, 4AD, Rough Trade, Rough Trade - MD 7917, RTD 72) LP,
This Mortal Coil - Filigree & Shadow (Virgin - 60047) 2xLP,
This Mortal Coil - It'll End In Tears (4AD - YQ-7045) LP,
Various - Doctor Death's Volume I - Cette Enfant Me Fia Mourir (C'est La Mort - CLM001) LP,
Various - Lonely Is An Eyesore (DG Discos - DG-214)

...and also a non 4AD release I had on my wantlist, an LP I have been after for a while and is hilarious. 

Bad News (3) - Bad News (EMI, EMI - EMC 3535, 74 8310 1) LP,

My verdict on the Utrecht International Record Fair? It left me slightly warm. It was huge, there was a massive amount of vinyl on offer, but out of all that vinyl there small pickings from the 900 items I have on my wantlist. Record traders seem to be an internationally poorly organised set of beasts with a crazy variation of prices. There were a couple of items I already had that were priced in the range of a hundred Euros that just weren't worth that kind of money. Maybe on the Sunday they would have gone down in price, but after a full eight hours of searching, I was knackered and didn't fancy starting to rifle through A-Z boxes with all mixed genres in a hope of having a small amount of luck. My wonderful wife was also extremely knackered as well and hadn't moaned once all day. If it had been the other way around, I would have struggled to have been that patient and supportive. I am a lucky sod really.

I think I would go again. I would probably go row by row next time and pick out the labelled boxes on each stall. I may even confine myself to a Sunday to see if the prices are any better, although the pickings may be even slimmer by then as well.

Deciding not to go back on Sunday, gave us two days in Holland to do a spot of sight seeing. Utrecht is a wonderful place and well worth a visit. On the Monday we made a train ride to Amsterdam which in contrast is too busy and filthy next to the cleanliness of Utrecht (maybe because of all the drunk and stoned Brits that visit Amsterdam). There was always going to be an element of record shopping that had to be done when in Holland and the record fair just wasn't enough. So once again I dragged my poor wife around Amsterdam looking for what one website called the best record shops in Amsterdam. After hours once again spent looking through records, I finished with just one purchase :

The Birthday Party - Prayers On Fire (4AD, CNR Records - 656.009) LP, 

By Monday afternoon both my wife and I had had enough of records and went around Amsterdam on a boat trip trying not to waste our tour money by falling asleep in our seats. 

The whole experience was absolutely knackering. It was great to get home and get some rest. It's hard to know if it was all worth it for just 16 records. I suppose it beats doing it all online and I got to see some of Holland as well. Utrecht is a great city.

On a final footnote, if you ever go to a large fair such as this, take some hand cleansing gel with you. Once back home, I noticed that both my eyes had started with infections and it was only at that point I realised that I was handling goods that hundreds of other people had also rifled through. A good anti bacterial cleanser used occasionally may be a good idea.

Thanks for reading and sorry for taking so long once again to add a post. I will once again endeavour to make an effort and keep posting

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