Wednesday, January 18, 2023

"I can't imagine a life without music."

Gordon Hayes, owner of Nervous Records, the longest-serving record shop in Hinckley, died on Monday, and a town is in mourning.

Gordon was our friend, and was thought of as a friend by most of our small Midlands town, it seems. With sparkling blue eyes behind spectacles gently channelling those of his idol John Lennon, he wielded the exuberance and sparkle of someone much younger than his date of birth might suggest; sharp of wit, firm in his beliefs, he was unfiltered in his kindness and generosity.

So far this sounds like the kind of write-up that would have him cringing, batting it away with a checked shirt sleeve while offering you a cup of tea. I can hear this distinctive voice tutting and laughing as I'm sitting here grappling for phrases that don't succumb to cliché. You can hear that gentle voice in this interview.

I grew up next door to Gordon's Dad, Eric, who lived at No. 4 Hays Lane. It was decades before I was corrected in my belief that the lane was named after Eric; it wasn't, as Gordon pointed out one day, because his 'Hayes' has an 'E' in it. Gordon would arrive at No. 4 in a rocker's jacket with long hair, cool specs, looking grown-up and dramatic, and I would watch as this elongated, slim 'youth' wandered up the drive. That's Gordon, my Mum and Dad would say.

He opened his shop in the 70s, and its history is the subject of this documentary. And although the shop's breathtaking longevity is impressive in itself, surviving recessions, streaming, online shopping and pandemics, this blog is about the man who ran it.

He bought our records, we bought his; he ordered in the rare things for us. We sold him records, he sold our 45rpm adapters during the years that we made them. He bought our vegan solid chocolate eggs and we drank tea. There were all the conversations in the Co-op; the joy over their vegan doughnuts, when such things were still a distant fantasy for us. His horror when it closed down - how far was he going to have to walk now! I still refer to brussels sprouts the same way as him, my fellow sprout-lover— ‘little cabbages’.  I even designed him a new shop logo once; I think he used it on paper, but it never made it to the shopfront (why would it, when his hand-rendered type stands as bold and clear today as the day it went up?)

And he was our biggest cheerleader when we released a 12" with Sage Francis:

Gordon came to our gallery events and surprised me with his never-diminishing interest in my work. I worried I was boring him if I went off on a work chat, but he was always curious. Maybe I was still the art-school teenager in his eyes; the one that would have walked into his shop asking for awkward records when I could easily have sought them from the 'other' record shop - the one I didn't like to go in, because the staff could be aloof and they never had what I wanted.

Speaking of work, his DIY ethic was front and centre, and a significant contributor to our own modus operandi. Of particular charm were Gordon's hand-drawn shop signs. Long ago established as a way to save cash, his beautiful, almost casually-calligraphic letters were called upon to write every sale board and every poster. He somehow managed to master kerning and justification without resort to digital means - no small achievement. The little stars too; check out the little stars!

I was emailing him a week or so ago, as he'd sent me his annual home-produced birthday card - always funny. His last words to me were "Again, just the one at the back!" - I chuckled, but it wouldn't be funny here even if I tried to explain it. Gordon's desire to argue his point was strong and informed, but he was also a listener. His lapel badges and posters were a neat non-verbal heads-up to his stance on a way of life - which you could choose to engage with or not - and wherever you stood on the spectrum of those issues, he'd talk with you about them all. His influence was such that, having had to give up dairy in 1997 as an already non-meat eater, I was inspired to cut the remaining animal-based foods and products from my life, like Gordon. We continue to live that way today, and in further examples, we're able to reflect back on our music-buying and identify the things that came to us through the Nervous sphere of influence.

In the hours after the news of his death was made public, Gordon’s many customers began deploying the word 'legend' - and when I looked it up, I realised it wasn't a lazy superlative; it actually fitted like the proverbial Smiths' Hand In Glove:

His legendary status came from his humility, his wealth of knowledge, his ethical stance, his humour and warm welcome. There’s more, but they’re all quality traits in a human. His existence on earth spanned seven decades, so not only did he possess a musical knowledge that was empirical and encyclopaedic, he had a customer base that was multi-generational: people all over the area knew him, but so did their Grandpas, their Mums, Aunties, siblings - and then their children. The poet Buddy Wakefield, seen with Gordon in the photograph above, said "truly humble people don't use the word humble"; Gordon's humility first and foremost seemed to shape everything else he did and was.

He's gone. But someone on Facebook said that they thought Gordon "was just always going to be there" - and in all the ways that truly matter, he will be.

~ The growing collection of tributes outside Gordon's shop today, 18th January 2023. ~

Photos: First (Will Johnston/Leicester Mercury) and last photo of Gordon borrowed from The Hinckley Times where I briefly worked as a typesetter of obituaries for a while. All other photographs are my own.

The Annual Fist Fight.

I've just seen someone talking about a website called My Future Self where you write to yourself privately and check back in later - either much later, or just a few months. The potential for encouraging, moving, sorrowful or grateful readings years later is all there, and it seized my imagination in the moment. What a novel idea, I thought.

But then I remembered I've been writing myself a letter every single year for the past 16, 17, 18 years - I can't remember how long, as I don't always keep the letters. I do it once a year, and I always do it as I'm taking the Christmas tree down, filing the letter in a sealed envelope deep in the decorations box. Then, when it's time for the decs to be put out once again, the letter is there, and I'm able to review where I was - and see where I am, in comparison.

Every single time I forget a letter's going to be in there, then I laugh at my own surprise, and then I see it and I put off reading it because I'm a sombre little sod with a leaning to the saturnine, especially at the turning of the year when Christmas is over and I've a whole year yawning out before me. No-one reads this letter, and I wholeheartedly don't want them to; I can't bear the idea. It's addressed to Moley, because that's what Leigh calls me and it's what I feel is most purely and entirely Me. And usually, in that moment, I'm feeling a bit small and mammalian with trouble seeing into the distance.

Moley's usually a bit sad, and the letter's always long and a bit rushed, because I write it between dusting and wrapping up decorations. I never thought I did journaling - I react to the word with the cynical lip-curl of a teenager who thinks All That Stuff Is Bollocks (which is a cringingly obvious sign I probably should be doing some of it) - but I realise this is what this is, albeit with entries a year apart.

What do learn when I read these letters? 

Well, I learn that I love to moan it all out onto the paper. All the things I can't say to anyone. I am very cross with myself, often. I definitely swear a lot and I stay angry about things. not exactly grudges, but if I spot something that seems to be afflicting me fro one year to the next, I can see that I get really f*cking angry about it. I like to take it all out on myself. I like to take it out on others, too. I like to choose a different sparkling fountain pen ink to do it with, the glitter gel pens of the same eye-rolling teenager much in evidence. And I also see that the struggle is real when it comes to giving gratitude: these letters have shown me year on year that I can only see the things that aren't sorted, that weren't done, and that still need work.

Work itself, actually, isn't mentioned that much - a significant book publication or project might get a nod, but that's not what this is about; I have Instagram (for now) to show me chronology of professional high points. When it comes down to it, my assessment of the success of the year hinges on three things, and is seen through the prism of those: my relationships, my health, my mind, and the stuff I didn't do.

I still have a lip-curling teen reaction to the idea of journaling, of brag documents; I'm not comfortable with end of year round-ups of my achievements on social media (though we do that privately, making coffee and going over the previous year's wall planner before we put it away) but I wonder if I need to rethink my approach. Because left to my own devices, left to my own blank page, I only fill it with ire. And the amount of stuff to be grateful for, and celebrate, is actually overwhelming.

"Beating yourself up is never a fair fight" - Andrea Gibson

Thursday, January 05, 2023

In Spite Of It All, Life Is Beautiful.

For 2022's Christmas project I decided, in a break from 20+ years of massive annual mailings, that I wouldn't post anything - Autumn's Royal Mail overwhelm, the cost of postage, workload and the strikes led me to that decision. Instead, I decided to make an animation instead, and make a very small print run for only those people I could physically hand a card to.

As you may know if you've already seen my posts in December, I chose to illustrate this excellent line by the band Idles; it comes toward the end of their track 'The End', from their album Crawler. The end of the year, with its political, social, economic and emotional landscape almost begging to be served a reminder of this line's sentiment, was the opportunity to deploy the words we've loved since hearing them hurled out from singer Joe Talbot's passionate jaws for the first time.

They were printed in a single colour using one of my tiny Japanese Gocco printers, which use a system that's halfway between a screen print and a rubber stamp. The Gocco can be notoriously difficult to get a good outcome from, but this one came out right first time and was the perfect printing machine for this style of work.

I've been using Goccos for almost 20 years now, and have made myriad projects with them.

A relative of the Riso (it's actually made by Riso) the Gocco is a 1980s toy made for children, also used by adults and now something of a cult item, and is a gnarly, unpredictable and joyful little beast which uses small screens that are exposed with old-fashioned flash bulbs, similar to the kind you'd get with a separate flash unit on a 35mm camera. Battery-operated, the flash bulbs are single-use, as are the screws, so this is robustly not a great environmental choice - but it is obsolete, with consumables hard to find (I collect them!) that would otherwise simply be landfilled - but I've already got an alternative screen solution lined up for when that day comes.

A to-size original is printed by laser printer into white paper, which has to have a nice and deep, even toner application - this can alternatively be created to-scale using the carbon-based Gocco pens you can still find from time to time. A new screen slid into the holder, then placed under the plastic window where pressure is applied to the lid - this houses the batteries - and the popping flash bulbs expose the screen. 

The ink's then applied to the screen one colour at a time and built up once each colour dries.

Those are the basics, anyway. There's quite a bit more to it than that, but I'm going to save the detail for a video I'm making to accompany the still-sealed Gocco I have coming up for sale, if anyone is interested! I already have four...five is getting carried away...

I Gocco'd some envelopes too, and realised with horror that about 10 of our best chums were too far away to deliver by hand (I obviously didn't think it through all the way!) so did post a handful using these brilliant google-eyed fruit and veg stamps I'd saved for a rainy day - they must be 15 years old at least! But not the 1000 or so I would have posted in previous (aka 'pre-Covid') years.

I loved how these turned out, and although I adore Christmas and every speck of glitter associated with it, I sent them to people with myriad religious views and attitudes to the season of Santa, so I made them gently non-Christmassy. For that reason I also printed a heap of extras, to put in the shop, as they carry a simple message of affirmation, without the tyranny of the toxic positivity trotted out from so many memes and home decorations. You can find them at while stocks last.


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