The CD library within the Library of Birmingham has undergone some serious changes, with bestsellers being moved to the community libraries and/or into the archive. A new, more focused collection is now out there for me and other lenders to browse through and make new notes on leaves and leaves of scrappy bits of paper.
The first thing I noticed was that everything seemed more compact and ordered. Going over to look for one of my favourites – Gong – I noticed that they had the band’s dearly departed leader’s swansong I See You from late last year, and a few more compilations I hadn’t seen before. Nearby, placed proudly was a three CD/DVD edition of Serge Gainsbourg’s Histoire de Melodie Nelson, and, something else for the Gong fans, a copy of Steve Hillage’s Rainbow Dome Musick.
Because of the recent resurgence of everything mid-90s (including the regeneration of Chris Evans) and that I was lucky enough to see the Manics at Cardiff Castle recently, I had the urge to listen to some Nirvana. I’d given Incesticide a whirl again last week (terrific) and thought I’d look for some more. Indeed, there was only Unplugged in New York, but to the left I saw CDs by Kurt favourites The Melvins and to the right Mudhoney. There seemed to be a beautiful synchronicity to the selection, and what was on display.
What also struck me was the esoteric and eclectic selections given space, not just shunted to the back, but prominent and cared for, shouting “try this!” rather than being ashamed and awkward about their contents. Case in point – John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s completed Unfinished Music collections on Rykodisc – Two Virgins, Life With The Lions and The Wedding Album in the same rack. That’s something I thought I would never see in a public library, and of course, with Two Virgins, something else I thought I’d never see in a public library. No brown paper bags here.
John Legend to the left, and Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D City on the right, ordered for those people like me who’d be interested in the rapturous noises made about his latest album To Pimp A Butterfly.
It seemed to be that there was a direct communication between this music selection and the city of Birmingham’s art and culture scenes, refreshingly talking to other. Whether this be by chance, telepathy or actual physical communication, it was working. I noticed the last album by Supersonic favourite Swans, To Be Kind, and two albums by Goat, the terrific World Music and the most recent one, Commune.
In preparation for the festival season, it looked as though the already extensive jazz, folk, easy listening, classical, reggae and world music selections had been given a tightening up and brush down, preparing and allowing music lovers to recollect sounds heard at the aforementioned Supersonic, and also Mostly Jazz, Funk and Soul and Moseley Folk Festival, Birmingham Jazz and Blues Festival, Simmer Down, the BBC Proms and the Birmingham International Concert Season. In the boxsets, a 3CD collection entitle Glastonbury Fayre, hopefully enticing festival virgins and old lags alike to come up or come back to down to songs with titles as “Uncle Harry’s Last Freak-Out” (Pink Fairies) and “Glad Stoned Buried Fielding Flash And Fresh Fest Footprint In My Memory” (Daevid Allen and Gong, of course.)
That day, the collection also boasted of Birmingham’s previous successes. Stockhausen CDs, of which there has always been a good supply were today ever more prominent, recalling Birmingham Opera Company’s ground-breaking production of Mittwoch Aus Licht in 2012.
It reminded me of when before Birmingham Central Library’s closure, the music section on Floor 3 had brought out a load of CDs from their archive, with a tempting sign boasting that the music included here was for the lovers of the offbeat and the weird and wonderful. Experimental electronic music and bizarre composers, faded and well-thumbed inlays from when CDs were first released from bands such as The Residents and Tangerine Dream. And a hell of a lot of Zappa.
Here however, it didn’t seem as any tastes were being side-lined in favour of promoting one particular genre or interest. On speaking to a librarian about this, he said that the aim was to get more people into the library, and hope that the new stock and the delights of the archive would keep them coming. Indeed, there would be some items here that you wouldn’t see in a public library, be it locally or nationally. He also mentioned that they have the same amount of CDs on display as they do in storage, so it’s well worth checking the library’s extensive catalogue.
I went out that day with Histoire de Melody Nelson and Rainbow Dome Musick, but I very nearly could have come out with a full 8, and possibly put another 8 on my daughter’s card too. Get yourselves down there!