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Good value overview of a golden era, could have been better.
on 4 November 2013
Virgin's 40th anniversary celebrations continue apace with this, the first of several 3CD sets celebrating one of the finest back catalogues in music. For this writer, the era covered here was very special indeed. Never had such a fine array of left-field talent been gathered together in one place, and thanks to the unexpected success of Mike Oldfield's `Tubular Bells', Simon Draper's A&R wish list could be bankrolled, with some fantastic results.
All the major early Virgin players are here, with the inexplicable and inexcusable exception of Tangerine Dream, whose `Phaedra' was a huge early seller for the company. The three discs are housed in an appealing digipak, and each disc reproduces the classic colour Roger Dean label artwork. (If it were me, I'd have used the early variations of the label, but not THAT much care has gone into this project, unfortunately).
The booklet is largely disappointing; perfunctory notes, a few random sleeves thrown into the mix (including `Manor Live' which is totally incidental to the story and sold about 5 copies), a poor quality picture of Mike Oldfield in case anyone has forgotten what he looks like... would it have been too much to ask for mini-reproductions of say, the first 100 Virgin releases as covered by this compilation ? Or at least a properly annotated track list ? Yet again the famous Virgin proof-reading department cocks up, this time on the Hatfields track "Fitter Stoke Has A Bath" titled here as "Fitter Stroke Has A Bath". It is one of the mysteries of life how people who are paid to research and compile these things do so with a lot less love and care than those who would, given the chance, do it for free.
Gripes aside, it is hard to ignore the stunning collection of music on offer here, and the track selection is solid enough. Oldfield's opus inevitably kicks off proceedings, and then we're immersed in a tour of the great and good from Faust and Gong to Captain Beefheart, Kevin Coyne and Robert Wyatt. There are valuable contributions from more obscure talents like Fred Frith, Clearlight and Mallard, as well as the late lamented David Bedford representing the modern classical side of Virgin.
Amusing though Ivor Cutler undoubtedly is, the flow of the third disc is completely spoiled by the lengthy monologue `The Dirty Dinner'. Whoever sequenced this collection did not do a great job, sadly.
All in all, as a collection it just about hangs together, and most of the tracks have their individual merits. It should really have been titled 1973-76, as there is only one track from early 1977, one of Can's least essential works, which rounds off the collection in somewhat anti-climactic fashion. The obvious closer to this era would have been Hillage's `All Too Much' from late 1976. It seems like the 2 Can tracks were tacked on to the end as an afterthought, and the integrity of the collection suffers somewhat as a result.
Still, there is much to love here...I would have done a better job of compiling it myself, but it makes a nice addition to the collection and serves as a wonderful reminder of the peerless early days of Virgin and the delights to be found within their catalogue. At over 3 hours of music, it's a great value set, I just wish they'd put just a little more care and attention into it to make it really special, like the Virgin Records of old would have done.