You’ve got to admire a man like Chris Topham. An airline pilot with a floor-warping collection of vinyl, one assumes he chose the profession not for the glamour or the air miles, but for the opportunities it offered to scour the murkier corners of the world’s great cities for ever more exotic pressings.
For the last few years he’s run the Plane Groovy label (“My attempt to give something back to the hobby which has defined much of my life,” he says), providing a vinyl home for all sorts of musicians, the deals done on handshakes and the profits split 50⁄50.
All of Topham’s vinyl is heavyweight and high quality, and it’s been something of a bumper year already. Currently taking up needle-time are album-of-the-year contender Folklore by Big Big Train, Robert Reed’s Sanctuary II (in which the Magenta man continues to carry the Tubular Bells torch into uncharted territory), the sophisticated pop of This Oceanic Feeling’s Universal Mind, and a terrific double vinyl set from Francis Dunnery, where the former It Bites man strikes a glancing blow in the ongoing loudness wars. He’s recorded the album without EQ or compression, and says, “You should be able to turn it up without hurting your ears or making you feel sick after 15 minutes.”
Prog’s current favourite artefact is Bari Watts’ lovingly curated tribute to Marc Bolan, There Was A Time (Black Widow), which is packaged in exactly the same fashion as the first Tyrannosaurus Rex album – it boasts a textured, flip‑back sleeve, although the lack of a spine means there’s a danger it’ll disappear into your record collection for good.
Less spectacular – and also on Black Widow records – is the new Goblin Rebirth double live album, which has a hint of ‘my first design project’ about it. Our pressing features more clicks and pops than a choir of cicadas, although you can’t quibble with the impact of the still blood-curdling Profondo Rosso as it oozes terrifyingly from the speakers.
Speaking of design, Disconnected from Norwegian proggers Airbag comes in one of those matt black sleeves with varnished black highlights, a design motif that’s also reflected in the impossible-to-read sleeve notes. Thanks for that, guys.
Finally, there’s a very nice reissue of Bert Jansch’s From The Outside on Earth Records. Originally released in 1985 on the now-defunct Belgian imprint Konexion, the rather dreary image that adorned the original has been replaced by a somewhat natty Smithsonian Folkways-style sleeve. This is available in either yellow or red to match to colour of the vinyl inside. There’s 500 of each variant available, and each comes with a download code and an obi strip.