Writing about Barton McLean led me right back in my thoughts to the Virgin Megastore on the corner of Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road (if I remember correctly), where in 1975 or so, I found, for £1 (or was it £2) a copy of Hugh Hopper’s “1984” in the cut-out bin.
“1984” was the first experimental rock album I bought (if you exclude “Revolution 9” from “The Beatles”) and it stood out immediately from the ‘progressive rock’ pack that was then in vogue with my schoolmates (Yes, ELP, Wishbone Ash, Jethro Tull etc. etc.). Firstly it was all instrumental. I think it was my very first all instrumental record. Secondly, it sounded like nothing I had ever heard before. It was the first music I had ever heard that rooted itself around tape looping techniques (evidently learned from Terry Riley) as opposed to using them for color and texture (e.g. The Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows”). The very sound of the record too, with extensive bass guitar improvisation, percussion playing derived from free jazz, the coloristic use of the flugelhorn – I had never heard anything quite like it. 30 years later I have still barely heard anything quite like it, even though I am now familiar with a lot of free jazz, 60s experimental music and much of the music that influenced “1984”. A strong testament to its originality. But beyond that, I still listen to it today with as much wonder and enjoyment as I ever did. It was the first record that introduced me the wild overblowing and squealing saxophone sound of 60s jazz (courtesy of Lol Coxhill and Gary Windo amongst others). I think it is fair to say that “1984” along with The Velvet Underground’s “White Light/White Heat” was the record that smashed my preconceptions of what ‘rock’ music should be, and led me on many paths in many different directions.