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Fan Essays

The Roddy Frame Fan Experience
by Danny Burkinshaw

The Roddy Frame Experience, to quote the song, can be a frustrating one. Or at least the Roddy Frame fan experience is.

At the inception of this piece, as snippets of great Aztec Camera tunes and lyrics swirled around my head, I considered writing a treatise on the magical way, achieved by no other musician to my knowledge, that Roddy's words and music accompany one another. As a solitary example, my favourite ever Aztec Camera song, Backwards & Forwards, illustrates my point more eloquently than a thousand words could ever do. And if anyone knows what he's on about in that song. But I didn't want to become lost in the realms of academia, because Roddy's work transcends that.

So instead, I thought readers might be interested in reading about the 'Roddy Frame Album Preview' that I attended in August 1998. There were five of these events across the U.K that week, and probably only fans who attended the London Dingwalls concert on 18th August 1998 were aware of them. After the initial worry about availability had subsided and my invitation had dropped through the letterbox I was free to relax and walking into HMV in Leeds that Wednesday afternoon, I was as excited as the first time I entered a record shop to buy a new Aztec Camera release.

The whole idea of the album preview was new to me, although I had heard people talk about them before. The opportunity to hear the North Star album before it had even been released was just a massive privilege. But then the paranoia set in. Would it ever be released? I asked myself as I pulled a dictaphone from my pocket and prepared it for recording. To counter my companion's astonishment, I cited the example of the great lost album Green Jacket Grey, and the inexplicable delay between the release of the Spanish Horses single and its long player, Dreamland. Like I say, being a Framo fanatic is frustrating - misinformation abounds and prospective releases are curtailed. In hindsight, I was proved right, to a degree, by the shelving of the Sister Shadow single.

If you can imagine a big room populated by about twenty-five strangers talking in their own small groups, you can imagine the backdrop to the album preview. As some of the guests queued at the refreshments table to take advantage of the free pop and crisps, Back To The One started up in the background, and I made a beeline to a bloke who appeared to be a record company representative. Sure enough, he was an album rep for Sony - Independiente's distributors - and after introducing myself as an Aztec obsessive, although omitting to tell him about my dictaphone - he was a mine of interesting information. He seemed bemused and amused by my enthusiasm, but also impressed, and imagine my delight when he presented me with a promo North Star CD, featuring five of the album's cuts, and signed by Roddy himself. Needless to say it is my most treasured possession and resides in a safe place, with safe being the operative word.

I had heard many of the songs from the album at the Dingwalls concert, but there were two or three that were unfamiliar. After the album had completed one play, I checked that my dictaphone had worked successfully and then sat back in comfort to listen to the second playing. The album rep introduced me to his colleague, who dealt with singles, and he explained that he was confident that Reason For Living would break the top forty and that there were at least three other songs on the album that would make suitable singles. He was less assured about the actual release date of Reason For Living but stated confidently that there was no possibility of its being aborted. The albums man also revealed to me that the North Star would definitely be released on 21st September - in my case, a very nice 25th birthday present.

The album preview will probably prove to be quite literally a once-in-a-lifetime event. I was slightly disappointed that dyed-in-the-wool Aztec fans appeared to be thin on the ground, with many of the guests being local media, but this was offset by the information that the Sony reps imparted to me. For a couple of hours on that night, it appeared that the impending release of The North Star was elevated to a status of prime importance - which anyone who's reading this knows it was!

With a nod to history, the objective in using the dictaphone was to ensure that if the album release was delayed or cancelled, I had a copy saved. But it has served as a wonderful additional purpose, for when I played it back before writing this, it transported me back to that late summer's evening in the record store, and I experienced the sheer excitement that I felt at that time. The recording is hardly helped by the rattle of crisp bags and the click of Tetley ring-pulls, but I suppose that's what would be termed an "authentic" quality.

Unless Roddy ever writes an autobiography, the technical hitches that have dogged the release of many of his records are destined to remain a mystery. But it all adds to the great mystique and aura that surrounds the man and his music, in the same way that makes me wonder about the meaning of Backwards and Forwards. It's all part of the Roddy Frame Fan experience.

In reflection, it was a superb night. However, the bidding for my North Star promo mini-CD starts at 5OO,OOO plus package and posting. I only wish I'd been to a Green Jacket Grey album preview, too!   

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