From the collection of Stephen Coates (The Real Tuesday Weld, Antique Beat, X-Ray Audio), Issue 2 of Echo (“the magazine you play on your phonograph”) arrived in October 1959 containing five off-white, semi transparent flexi discs with features on Steve Allen, Queen Elizabeth‘s Royal Tour, Lady Chatterly’s Lover, the Ahmad Jamal Trio and Le Mans 1959. Art director Tony Palladino did some lovely work in this issue using very modern type treatments, cropped photos and lots of blank space to give it quite a timeless feel.
Issue 1 was featured a few days back and if you missed a look at issue 3. back in my original Flexibition posts then look no further. To my knowledge Echo lasted for four issues before folding, a potted history of which can be found on Boing Boing by John Wilcock.
The French, it seems, went gaga for flexi disc magazines in the late 50s as these four examples from Stephen Coates‘ collection illustrate. The 7″x 7.5″ ring bound format, similar to the American Echo magazines and their own long-running Sonorama seems to have been a winner although there are less pages in these examples which lean towards more specialist subjects. Occasionally included as a supplement with the main magazine, Theatrorama showcased extracts from plays across no less than nine discs and made it to at least a third issue in 1959.
Cuisinorama (can you spot a theme emerging here?) followed the same format in the same year with five discs, a full colour cover as well as colour pages inside, concentrating on recipes, restaurants and food prep. You can see more examples of ‘orama’ spin-off publications on this excellent Made In Vinyl page including many of the issues featured here, Echo and the previously featured Soviet magazine, Krugazor.
‘Sound magazine of medical information’ Medicophone, issue seven from 1961. I’ve found evidence of up to 26 issues of this, all with the same cover. This one came with five discs covering such fascinating subjects as the heart and hernias.
In The Beginning There Was Rhythm, ‘strictly reserved for the medical corps‘ (this is stamped no. 0131 inside) concentrates on jazz and seems to be a freebie produced or sponsored by Vegetaline, a coconut-based lard.
Again from the collection of Stephen Coates (The Real Tuesday Weld, Antique Beat, X-Ray Audio), Echo magazine no.1 (“a magazine of sight and sound”) debuted in 1959 with five two-colour, card-backed flexi discs featuring Mike Nichols & Elaine May, Fred Astaire, Larry Alder, ‘Gypsy’ and Alexander King on the Human Dilemma. Art directed by Cynthia Pennell, the issue has an almost medieval look from the choice of fonts with a more ‘jazz’ feel to the discs which include the red and gold of the cover – sadly lacking in later issues, of which no.2 will be featured here soon.
After finding the Humpty Dumpty release in the Slotty range of pop-out and slot together nursery rhymes with flexi discs in London earlier this year I chanced upon a second one inside The Diskery in Birmingham a few weeks back. Again it was in near perfect condition inside with none of the Three Blind Mice having been made or popped-out and again, the musical arrangement of the terrible tale of rodent dismemberment is on the funky side. That’s two out of three now, only The Owl & The Pussycat to find.
A curious object I found in a South London charity shop earlier this year. It was stuck to the wall and the light reflecting off it suggested it had grooves in the middle. On closer inspection I saw that the centre was some sort of flexi disc and the outside a series of doors forming a circular advent calendar. 50p later it was in my bag and a fairly traditional version of ‘Silent Night’ emerged from the crackly surface upon reaching a turntable. ‘Made in Denmark, copyright L. Levinson Jr. Ltd, No. 3242′ is the only info on it apart from the title in multiple languages. All doors are still sealed except #2 which has been torn off. Apparently it dates from 1965.
This blog seems to suggest that L. Levinson Jr could have specialised in making Advent calendars – anyone with more info please leave a comment…
A Ritchie Hawtin pseudonym, F.U.S.E., released this 6″ flexi disc and 20 page comic in 1992 on his +8 Records imprint. Showcasing pounding, shouty techno on one side and soothing ambient on the other it’s an odd combination subtitled, ‘The Unreleased Experiments’. It comes wrapped inside a comic book drawn (and written?) by Alan Oldham which displays all the hallmarks of the Rob Leifeld style of the 90s.
Running for nearly 30 years between 1964 and 1993, Krugozor was a monthly magazine focusing on ‘documentary, history, classical and contemporary art, literature and music (including music from western countries)’. Immensely popular with the Soviet youth, each issue would contain up to six 33rpm, double-sided flexi discs bound into the 7″-sized magazine. A spindle hole punched through the centre and ring-bound pages enabled the consumer to fold the pages underneath each flexi and place the whole magazine on the turntable so that the discs could be played.
A recent trip to Moscow yielded many of these, bought mainly for the covers as my Russian isn’t so great but finding them in good condition after all these years isn’t so easy. The bindings are brittle and easily break, the paper is thin and tears and some of the discs are sometimes neatly cut out. There’s an amazing archive of the covers, ordered by year online here, it looks like there should be pdf scans of the issues too but it’s all in Russian and hard to decipher.
Roughly translated as, “Modern as the time in which we live“, this beautifully designed flexi disc was given to me in exchange for an interview, having been picked up in a Berlin flea market. The disc has printed paper labels which is a rarity for flexi discs and it contains four tracks, the best of which is here – ‘Beat’ by F King‘.
Found in the basement of a local South London record store and liberated to the surface this Brit oddity come complete with an envelope-style sleeve and a personalised birthday message (as long as your name is John). A quick google search reveals that versions for Charles, Annabel, Leslie, Anthony and Granny all existed with presumably many more too. Considering the amount of potential names to cater to and that each recording would have to be different it’s hard to think how this was a cost-effective idea.
‘Happy Birthday from Radio Wonderland’ states the bottom of the sleeve whilst Fermaley Flame (a cartoon-ish candle with his head on fire) sings for you. No idea who or what Radio Wonderland was but a quick search reveals an artist of the same name and not much else. On the reverse Fermaley plays the piano – careful you don’t get too close and reduce the thing to ash Ferm! Unfortunately mine only had the flexi disc inside but not the greeting card it was originally meant to come with, some also came with an ‘It’s My Birthday’ sticker.
Found the other day in the middle of the West End, was only looking wistfully at one on eBay the other week. Inside the cover, the contents are beautifully preserved with the slotty having never been assembled. The version of Humpty Dumpty on the flexi, by Roger Hyslop, actually breaks into an uptempo funky arrangement halfway through! There are two more slottys in the range but this is by far my favourite.
It’s the end of the year and the final Flexibition post – either I messed up on the weekly numbering or we have an extra week in 2015. Regardless, this is post #53 and after this I’ll be moving on to something else format-wise although there will probably be additional Flexi-centric posts in the future but of a more sporadic nature. Over the year whilst I’ve been doing this people have given me discs at gigs, drawn my attention to them via the web and I’m always on the look out for odd examples so this won’t be the last by any means.
A huge thank you to everyone who gave their time and dug through their collections to contribute to the collection here: Jonny Trunk, Pete Issac, Jon Brooks, Markey Funk & Ofer Tal, Stephen Coates, Jon More, John Stapleton, Steve Cook, Anton Armtone, Sarah & Leigh and Spencer Hickman. You can access all the Flexibition posts in one handy click under the ‘Site Selections’ heading down to the left of the site which will bring up everything tagged with the Flexibition label.
So, onto the final selection, actually five discs from Jack Dangers aka Meat Beat Manifesto and collaborators Ben Stokes and Mike Powell, all collected under the banner of ‘Sounds of the 20th Century’. The discs, all double-sided, are spread over several different releases so pay attention. ‘Sounds of the 20th Century no.1’ was a 9″ flexi included with the Meat Beat Manifesto 12″ release, ‘Eccentric Objects’ in 2000. Side 1’s ‘Peristaltic Wave’ has sounds and speech from medical records whilst side 2, ‘My Shorty’, consists of shortwave radio recordings.
‘Sounds of the 20th Century no.2’ was a 7″ flexi included with the Jack Dangers ‘Tape Music’ 10″ release in 2001. You’ll notice that the cover design is a rip of the National Geographic ‘Space Sounds’ flexi disc I featured right back at the start of the Flexibition. Side 1, ‘8 Miniatures With Origins‘ is exactly that, eight concrete shorts and their sources. Side 2, ‘The Human Voice’, is a collection of vocal noises and speech therapy recordings, montaged together to showcase the versatility of the vocal chords, along with robotic examples.
‘Sounds of the 20th Century no.3-5’ were all included with the ‘Flexidisc’ 7″ release in 2001, a sub division of the Tino Corp. label. Tino is a fictitious alter-ego drummer that was used to front a series of break beat and scratch DJ albums created by Dangers, Stokes and the MBM crew and ‘Sounds of the 20th Century no.3‘ features a cut up interview and live excerpt on side 1. A fake Tino advert, DHS and Quintron remix of ‘Drum Buddy’, sound FX and scratches make up side 2.
‘Sounds of the 20th Century no.4‘ – ‘Telephone Sounds’ / ‘Talking Machines’ is again by Stokes – all switchboard operators and dial tones sequenced into an acid track which then disintegrates into a collage of voices both human and mechanical and is one of the best of the five discs. Side 2’s ‘Sounds of the Internet’ is a music concréte buzz of atmospherics, modems, static, transmissions and otherworldly sounds.
‘Sounds of the 20th Century no.5‘ by Mike Powell is perhaps the weakest of the collection being field recordings of the Burning Man festival and shortwave radio broadcasts from 1941. All three discs are housed in a tracing paper sleeve with Tino Corp. and Flexidisc stamps on the cover and, to the best of my recollection, were sold through the MBM online shop which still has copies of 3 & 4 for $1 (for both!) plus the Tape Music 10″ for $6.00. None of them seem to be on the web in any sonic form but, considering the price that most of them are still available for, that shouldn’t deter anyone from taking a chance on them direct from the artist.
This being the night before Christmas it makes sense to have a festive-themed Flexibition entry this week. It should be the last one being week 52 but there will be one final post next week with something I’ve been saving until the end. First up here and now though is last year’s 8″ Xmas audio postcard from People Like Us, ‘Dreaming’. Each were individually lathe-cut on laminated cardboard in a tiny edition by the good people at Hasenbart in Germany with artwork by Vicki Bennett (full colour printing on both sides, stamped on the back, audio on the front side). Only produced until Dec 24th and then deleted forever. The previously unreleased Dreaming was a new edit of a plunderphonic collage of several versions of a well known Christmas tune (originally dubbed over selected horror film samples) and was part of a People Like Us live performance entitled The Magical Misery Tour.
The next flexi is one of the weirdest in my collection with an even odder back story. In 1978 Jonathan King made a record commenting on a story that the paint that Smurf toys were being made with contained high levels of lead which led to their withdrawal from sale for a while. Naming himself ‘Father Abraphart’ and misspelling the Smurfs as Smurps so as to avoid a legal situation the innocently sung ditty was a little more subversive than it first appeared, encouraging kids to ‘Lick a Smurp For Christmas’ after it was reported that the lead levels in the paint had been causing children to be taken ill when putting them in their mouths.
Originally given away at petrol stations (where you could also get free Smurf toys as special offers) it has the GAS 1 catalogue no. but was later pressed as a regular vinyl 45 on Magnet Records and made number 58 in the UK charts. Only someone as odious as King could make a song wishing for kids to ‘all fall down’. The song isn’t currently on YouTube but you’re not missing much to be honest.
‘Xmas Cuts’ may just be the most 80s-looking piece of graphic design I’ve ever seen. This was a playable Christmas card from the Island Records stable of sub-labels: Stiff, ZTT, Ensign and 4th & Broadway sent out to DJs at the end of the year. It’s a three and a bit minute megamix of many of the label’s hits from 1984 using Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s ‘Relax’ as the foundation and might just be the sloppiest example of the genre yet. Remember, back in ’84 the megamix was still a fairly new thing and few outside the US had perfected the art, certainly not inside the three minute mark with 29 tracks in the mix anyway. The mash up is credited only to ‘The Lexington Posse’ (Lexington Street in Soho maybe?) and I’m guessing it would have been done with a mixture of turntables and tape edits. My copy is pretty battered with jumps and scratches I’m afraid but it’s a curio worth hearing.
As it’s Xmas I should just mention some of the most famous festive flexi’s out there, The Beatles‘ Fan Club Christmas records – none of which I have incidentally – but which are renown for their creativity and behind-the-scenes look into The Beatles mucking about in the studio. They were sent out to the UK and US fan club members at the end of each year between ’63-’69. You can chart the band’s career through the years from the stilted boy band at the beginning to the jolly japes of the Sgt. Pepper era, the sound collage and FX-scapes of the ’68 disc is a real highlight and was edited together by none other than Kenny Everett. There was some really nice cover art of some of them too which you can see in the YouTube clip.
By the end the cracks are beginning to show though as John alludes to ‘some of my beast friends’ not getting on too well with Yoko and there’s a Tiny Tim cameo that takes up a bit of the ’68 recording. The final disc is pretty depressing listening as you can hear the band falling apart, it’s mostly John & Yoko controlling the show with interjections from the other Beatles intercut, seemingly from elsewhere, the Python-esque camaraderie of the mid-sixties totally gone. Some kind soul has compiled them all on YouTube which will save you a lot of time and money as, to the best of my knowledge, these haven’t been officially reissued aside from one song on the Anthology years ago.
And finally to a mysterious – and sometimes very expensive – Xmas flexi disc that some believed involved The Sex Pistols at one point. That myth has largely been debunked in recent years as the mega-rare ‘LENTIMAS’ one-sided flexi with Christmas card is a freebie that was given out to journalists with the message, ‘A Seasonal offering to you from Virgin Records‘ in 1975. There’s nothing to suggest the Pistols are anywhere near it with a hippy message about lentils making you go at Xmas interspersed with carols and snippets of Ras Michael’s ‘Run Come Rally’. It sounds more like a Kenny Everett or Python sketch and, ironically, Graham Chapman pops up at the end. There’s also the cynical sound of cash registers ringing over Phil Spector‘s Xmas massage which is the only slightly punk aspect about it.
Today being the UK premiere of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, the only possible option for the Flexibition was the Autumn ’86 edition of the Star Wars Fan Club zine, Bantha Tracks, that came with a flexi disc inside it. Concentrating on the sound design of the movies by Sprocket Systems and detailing how they got that distinctive light sabre sound among other things, the flexi was the perfect medium for this little behind the scenes chat. The piece is excellent and, being sound designers, they’ve put the whole thing together beautifully. Instead of a dry, technical look at the world of foley we get an entertaining concrete collage with creative panning, tinkering rhythms and an aural bombardment of sounds and voices.
In fact it’s actually a bit over the top, I’ve listened to it a few times and still get distracted from the main narrative as there’s so much sonic detail happening. It’s also one of the cleanest, clearest sounding flexi’s I’ve ever heard, virtually no noise or crackle. Look at that lovely painting under the clear disc too and check the fan mail addresses for the main actors on the back. A copy of this is still not that hard to find for a decent price either.
As we speed to the close of 2015 – and the projected end of the weekly Flexibition – I want to take this week’s (rather late) entry to showcase a whole heap of discs which haven’t made it so far but merit a mention. The three final entries in the series are specific to their dates and I’m crow-barring these latecomers, oddities and ones-that-didn’t-fit-in here.
At the beginning of the year I laid out a rough plan for the collection week by week and along the way some got pushed out as guests came through or new purchases were made. There’s no theme or connection to any of these discs but they warrant inclusion, mostly because of their oddity or rareness.
DX7 Sound Sensation demonstration disc (Yamaha)
Bought at a Norfolk Record Fair earlier this year, this double-sided disc is a mostly terrible succession of demo sounds from the ubiquitous 80s keyboard. Amazingly, someone has put both sides on YouTube as well.
Alan Howarth – Silver Shamrock TV jingle from Halloween III (Death Waltz Recording Company) – this came out in 2012 and was quickly snapped up by subscribers to the label, fetching a high price on the secondary market. Spencer from the label found a clutch of them recently and I was one of the lucky recipients.
Cliff Richard’s Personal Message To You included in ‘SERENADE’ magazine in 1960. I love this, it’s SO cheesy, a spoken work message from Sir Cliff on wafer-thin blue plastic (see bodged repair job of the split spindle hole).
Kraftwerk – Boing Boom Tschak – Russian bootleg flexi disc. There are nearly 100 of these included in the band’s Discogs entry and from what I can make out they are just random single tracks cut in Mono on up to three different coloured 5 1/2″ flexis. Each has custom-made artwork photocopied on paper, rarely anything to do with the band and the sound quality is terrible. There are also 6″ colour postcard records of random tracks that originate from Poland.
Sonopresse Pocket Disc – I know nothing about this but it’s a tiny 5″ disc, a French or Belgian promo for something. Any help with translation appreciated…
Inscription under the line on the inside:
Flexi discs from series ‘Krugozor’ (Outlook) are made by all-union studio record ‘Melodiya’ (Melody) – Krugozor was a musical magazine that ran from the 60s to the 90s, issued by Melodiya, Russia’s only official record label,.
A playable Happy Birthday card – there are several different designs featuring Happy Birthday songs which are still fairly easy to find in vintage card shops or stalls.
Finally, the ones that got away (or I just plain didn’t get round to picking them up yet)
Astralwerks‘ Music In 20/20, 20x flexi set
Domino Recordings’ Smuggler’s Way 5x flexi zine
Johnny Jewel Lost River CD / 6x picture flexi release (Italians Do It Better)
I gave a post over to Stephen Coates and his collection of Soviet ‘bone discs’ back in October but this is the perfect week to return to the subject matter. The second time round is to celebrate the release of his ‘X-Ray Audio’ book which comes with a free flexi for the first run (pictured above and below). The exhibition of the same name opened last weekend at The Horse Hospital and I already featured images from it earlier this week. The flexi contains three tracks including a Real Tuesday Weld original and you can get a book from Strange Attractor Press.
The book is a delight too, a thoroughly researched document of the phenomenon of bootlegging illegal music onto X-Rays, poetically etching the music onto the bodies of the public. It goes further and shows postcard discs and weird finds from the flexi genre which were used when X-Rays were in short supply. Highly recommended for any format fetishists, lovers of the arcane and the underground subcultures that thrive under repression.
I also have to plug my event this coming Saturday at the Horse Hospital – ‘A Night At The Flexibition’ – where I’ll be playing and talking about selections from my collection. Stephen will be doing the same and we’ll have Aleks Kolkowski, his X-Ray cutting engineer on hand too (also interviewed in the book). Come and see the exhibition at the same time.
They were printed by the lovely people at the Sonsoles Print Studio in Peckham over recycled 7″ sleeves. They run a great little studio near to where I live and have screenprinting courses as well as doing limited runs – highly recommended. There will also be four 10″ ‘Soviet Mystery Discs’ that I was given in Russia on my last visit, courtesy of Mr Armtone, I’ll be playing these and trying to find out more about them from Stephen and Aleks on the night. I never guessed that, when I started this weekly feature nearly a year ago, this would be one of the outcomes.
The second of John Doran‘s ‘Vinyl Staircase‘ pieces went up Monday on The Quietus. The first one was a riot and this treads a similar path plus it includes a little interview with yours truly on the subject of flexi discs.
On Saturday I visited the opening of the X-Ray Audio exhibition at the Horse Hospital in London for the launch of Stephen Coates‘ book of the same name and a series of events related to the subject of Soviet ‘Bone Music’.
One of these events will be my own ‘A Night At The Flexibition‘ event this Saturday the 5th of December where I’ll be chatting to Stephen about various discs from my collection (some pictured above for the Quietus piece). We’ll be playing selections and talking to Alex, the engineer who cuts audio onto X-Rays for Stephen in performances. It should be very informal and there will be a small quantity of random flexi discs free to the first 20 or so people through the door, pulled from my own stash. The X-Ray Audio exhibition will be viewable so you can kill two birds with one stone and maybe even pick up early copies of the excellent book with free facsimile flexi while they last.
Above is the flexi disc that comes free with the limited edition version of Stephen Coates‘ new book on Soviet Bone Music, ‘X-Ray Audio’. The book and exhibition launches this Saturday at the Horse Hospital in London showing discs, films and images that tell the story of how these strange artifacts came to be.
On Dec 5th at the same venue I’ll be in conversation with Stephen showcasing some of my flexi disc collection, playing selections and telling the stories behind them. First through the door will get a random flexi and Stephen will also bring some of his Soviet 78rpm discs too no doubt.
Back in 2012 and 2013, the Stones Throw label placed flexi discs inside four consecutive issues of L.A. Record magazine (Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring – issues 107-110), each by a different artist. Vex Ruffian, Boardwalk, Jonwayne & Jonti and Chrome Canyon all contributed tracks and they’re obviously pretty hard to find unless you live in California. Some show up on Discogs but are becoming harder and harder to find at a decent price as collectors of the label snap them up.
Speaking of Stones Throw and seeing as it’s ‘Black Friday’ tomorrow I have to highlight their release with the Vinyl Factory even though it’s not a flexi disc. A white triangular 7″ by The Egyptian Lover housed inside a fold out, gold foil embossed pyramid sleeve featuring two of his most-loved classics, ‘Egypt, Egypt‘ and ‘Girls’ (Bonus Beats) in what must be 45 packaging of the year even if it’s not going to be record box-friendly.
Acid, on a 7 inch? Flexi disc? In a box set? From Greece? Only 50 copies? Not something you find every day but I’m happy to confirm that such a delight exists. Not only do you get a clear 7″ flexi featuring 2 tracks but you also receive a CDr of same with two additional tracks plus stickers and a badge. All in a numbered, reassuringly Kraftwerk Computer World-esque yellow box.
Released on Record Store Day 2013, I ran across this upon finding DiMDJ‘s track ‘Kraftwork Radio’ on Soundcloud which uses samples from the ‘Radio Activity’ album. It’s included here (although sadly not on the flexi) on this split release with Cleon on Kinetik Records who have been operating from Thessaloniki for over 20 years now. All tracks are Acid in style, were apparently recorded live and you can still order copies online via their Bandcamp page for just €15. It appears that I have #3 of 50!
Speaking of Acid, the I Love Acid crew have a new(ish) bi-weekly radio show on Sub FM every second Thursday and I’ll be doing a mix for them shortly. If you’re reading this before 12 midday GMT then you can catch today’s show live here. Or if you want to listen to old shows then they have them archived on Mixcloud too.