With apologies to those of you who don’t like Arab Strap and those of you who can recall the TVV piece from back in May 2010 which forms the basis of today’s posting.

Up until a the spring of 2010 I had never spent £70 on a single bit of music. Indeed, it had never crossed my mind that I’d even ever consider spending such an amount of money on a single bit of music until the day that I read Chemikal Underground were putting together a box-set of Arab Strap material.

My original plan has been to place an order directly through the excellent website of the record label but then came news that the release date had been brought forward to support Record Store Day 2010 (which was Saturday 17 April) and so I changed tack and decided to buy it over the counter.

The thing is, I’ve never been a fan of Record Store Day and prefer to go back to the shops a few days after to pick up things if they happen to be left over rather than try to deal with the mania of dealers who swamp the stores buying things they believe they can make a killing on in later times, thus in one fell swoop defeating what should be the main purpose of the day.

Come Monday morning, I dropped into my favourite wee indie shop in Glasgow to be met with the news that it had sold out of its copies of  Scenes of A Sexual Nature but with Chemikal Underground being located just a short distance away, more stuck was due to be delivered. I returned 48 hours later and so ensured that Wednesday 21st April 2010 would go down in history as the day I handed over more money than I ever dreamed I would for a single bit of music.

Actually, I didn’t hand over money. I paid with a bit of plastic. And actually, it wasn’t for one piece of music when you look through the contents of the boxset.

OK, I already owned copies of the LPs The Week Never Starts Around Here and Philophobia. And I had a copy of the various singles etc released between 1997 and 1998 which were available on a specially compiled CD. But what I didn’t have previously were:-

– a copy of the first ever Arab Strap gig at King Tut’s in Glasgow in October 1996;
– a copy of the gig at T In The Park (aka Nedstock) in July 1998:
– ten demo songs, some of which never saw the light of day in the recording career; and
– seventeen other bits of music, made up of rare recordings, John Peel Sessions and an old unreleased track specially recorded in late 2009 for inclusion in the box set.

And on top of that, there were sleeve notes from Aidan Moffat and Malcolm Middleton that were royally informative, enlightening, entertaining and very fucking funny (c’mon, its Arab Strap I’m writing about here….I can use an expletive).

Was it value for money?

Well, I reckon so.  I’ve often scoffed at people who bought all sorts of box sets and limited edition material released by well established musicians on major labels on the basis of them being fools for further lining the pockets of moguls. This purchase felt different…and still does all these years later.

Chemikal Underground is a label that has put a lot more back into the music scene in Glasgow than they have ever taken out.  Nobody has got obscenely rich via Chemikal Underground and indeed throughout its existence the label has tried prices as low as possible with one way being to keep profit margins very tight.  I was more than happy to pay £70 in this instance for what, when I counted them up were 43 new, live or different versions of songs that I hadn’t previously been in the collection.

As it turns out, the limited nature of the boxset (there were just 1,000 made available) and the demand for it worldwide has led to all sorts of silly money being demanded for copies – just looking on ebay as I type this reveals that two are on sale with bidding starting at either £250 or £360.

I’d hope that one day, Chemikal Underground might counteract such behaviour by making the limited edition material available to buy on digital form on an individual basis.   OK, as Brian from Linear Track Lives said in a comment the other day, even when he/she has copies of certain tracks in their collection, most music fans will still obsess over owning a physical copy and so there will always be somebody likely to pay well over the odds for things like the Arab Strap boxset.

When I first put up a posting about Scenes of A Sexual Nature, I did make two of the ‘new’ tracks available and make no apologies for doing so again.

The first is a different version of the band’s famous debut single that was re-recorded for a John Peel Session. To quote from Aidan’s sleevenotes:-

…..a new version of our debut single in which the lyrics were rewritten to document the most recent weekend and the trip down to London to do the session. Unfortunately, these new lyrics are shit. Also, for some reason – probably legal – they omit the highlight of the trip, an incident at our horrible hotel involving the cheapest cider we could find mixed with even cheaper cherryade, Malcolm’s head, a charity shop oil painting and some gaffer tape.

mp3 : Arab Strap – The First Big Peel Thing

And from a different Peel Session, an incredible version of one of the most amazing songs to open any album.

mp3 : Arab Strap – Packs Of Three

Yes, it is a slightly sanitized version so that it could go out on the radio, but again to quote Aidan’s notes:-

…we were a much more focused and sophisticated group – the difference between this Peel Session and the last is quite dramatic. I can’t imagine a better document of the 1998 four-piece Arab Strap sound than the tracks from this session and, if you may permit me a modicum of gentle hubris, I think they sound quite brilliant.

There was just one thing that disappointed  me about the box-set and that was Aidan’s closing words after describing how well he and Malcolm had got on when they had turned an old instrumental into a new song in the Autumn of 2009 – he simply says ‘There are no plans to reform properly, in case you’re wondering.’

I said at the time that I harboured hopes they would get together for at least one more gig.  Well, didn’t they just do that in November 2011 to commemorate the 20th Anniversary of the opening of Nice ‘n’ Sleazy, one of Glasgow’s most celebrated concert venues…..and the tragedy was that I didn’t get myself along.   Sigh.

I really can’t recommend this boxset highly enough. I know it was an awful lot of money to splash out, but at £70 it was still an awful lot cheaper than most of the hundreds of pairs of shoes and handbags that Mrs Villain stows away in various cupboards.  And while I’m here, I may as well add a third track:-

mp3 : Arab Strap – Daughters of Darkness

This was the instrumental turned into a full song for the box set and to the best of my knowledge, remains the only place it was ever released.

Happy Listening.


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