Fluff On The Needle: How My Bloody Valentine Made My Life Complete

One man's journey to make the perfect cassette recording was only ended when My Bloody Valentine washed all his fears away...
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I hate album reviews. So this is a form of therapy, so to speak – less an arse-licking or kicking. You see, what you young things don’t realise is, that you’ve never had it so good.

Music is now so freely available and so audibly perfect that you will never have the problems my generation had in nailing that optimum clarity. For as long as I can remember until the advent of digital technology, my years as a music fan were not just spent reveling in the bands I liked, but actually obtaining a copy of the tracks that I enjoyed with no ‘interference’.

There used to be a programme on Radio 1 called ‘The Top Forty’ and before that I believe it was called ‘The Hit Parade’. Hours of listening to this with excitement, as you would find out who was bumping Boney M off the number one spot, was also passed by rigging up a system whereby you put a small tape recorder as near to the speaker of the radio as you could without the result being completely distorted.

I would be satisfied with an extremely poor tape made (with pauses to cut out the announcements without erasing the name of the band and track) if that was all the technical problems presented. Unfortunately, added to this, I had the logistical problems of shutting the cats and dog out of the room and making sure Mum, Dad, brother or sister did not enter the room, opening a squeaky door or, once in the room, not allowing them to leave, or play darts, or speak. ‘Shhh! I’m recording’, with finger to lip-synch.

I didn’t live in a city or town, and the nearest place that sold records (vinyl) was 40 miles away. A Reader’s Digest record player used to carve its way through any records bought, and continually having to blow the fluff off the needle interrupted my listening, as well as pissing off the rest of the family. I tried brushes and anti-static cloths, but they never worked. I had to tape the radio to keep up. So with ice on the inside of the windows in winter, a constant stream of siblings, animals and general disturbances I carried on doing this for years until, UNTIL, the availability of the cassette radio with recording functions. My dad got one and kept it to himself for years whilst he recorded crap stuff off of Radio 2 and Radio 4. I was chomping at the bit. Eventually he bought a tape-to-tape device that did the same thing as the other one, but you could make copies of tapes. Too excited to contemplate the possibilities and potential of making compilations from this new thing, I concentrated on having the hand-me-down radio cassette recorder.

Wonderful. Brilliant. I made loads of tapes. The Specials, Duran Duran, Teardrop Explodes, OMD. All for my personal collection, which I put in a shoe box and drew stuff on.


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Then, I started to listen to my Dad talking about ‘the quality of tapes’, and he mentioned the word ‘metal’. Of course I didn’t understand what ‘metal’ meant, (I now know that neither did my Dad) but I knew that TDK made them and you could get them from John Menzies. My quarterly visit to Hereford or Shrewsbury meant that I could buy some of these, and start to build up a ‘quality’ library of recordings.

Then something terrible happened. I found out that the tapes I’d be using were leaving a trace of metal particles on the head of the radio cassette recorder, and this was (***shudder***) MUDDYING my recordings. Immediately I noticed the difference in clarity, or I thought I did, yes, it was definitely not as crisp. What to do? My friend Ted told me I’d have to get a ‘head de-magnifier’, which was like a dentist’s tool that you rubbed over the heads and it de-magnetised all the metal particles. I did this, but I couldn’t really tell if it had worked.

Then, Radio 1 went to FM. I can’t tell you how important this was. By this time I’d started to listen to John Peel, and optimum recordings were an absolute necessity. I couldn’t play my tapes in my friend’s mum’s car in mono - too embarrassing. So I tuned in, only to find that living in the middle of nowhere that it was FM but no stereo signal. But the clarity was awesome. It didn’t sound like it was being played through the middle of a toilet roll in a cave anymore. I was satisfied. But then, fiddling with the aerial, I noticed that there was a little bit of interference wherever I positioned it. It irritated me. I would cringe if I could hear it on the tapes, the tapes that sounded a bit muddy from too many metal particles. It was all falling down. On certain tapes, the other side would be playing backwards whilst I listened to a tape. Crashing, warping, upsetting. Too many spinning technological plates. I didn’t hanker for the old days, I just wanted it to sound ‘clean’.

Then, as if by magic, a My Bloody Valentine shop keeper appeared. John Peel played them. I checked with friends, yes, they’d heard it also, and yes, it was meant to sound like that. I immediately fell in love with them, as they soothed all my obsessive worrying about warped, saturated and fuzzy interference. Here was a band that turned all my recording insecurities into a feature. Twenty two years after bankrupting Creation Records with ‘Loveless’ (the label that gave us Oasis), they have released MBV. Listen to it. It soothes.