The other day I was reading about the British actor James Mason, star of films such as Kubrick’s Lolita and Hitchcock’s North by North West. After moving into Buster Keaton’s former house in the Hollywood Hills, Mason discovered a small building, hidden in the undergrowth within the properties grounds. He broke open the rusted door and found a projection room and shelves bursting with cans of rare and unseen Keaton masterpieces, a movie lovers treasure trove. I imagine the basement of the Finders Keepers re-issue label to be somewhat similar to Masons garden projection house, stacked high with hundreds of rare and dusty records plucked from obscurity to be re-released and re-appraised.
The owners of the Manchester born but London based label describe themselves as: “psychedelic librarians and cosmic pop quiz elitists” committed to leaving: “no progressive pebble unturned or record collection un-rifled” in their search for music’s lost gems. The troika of owners include Manchester based record producer Andy Votel, DJ and designer Dominic Thomas and owner of Delay 68 records Doug Shipton. Their aim, to bring obscure lost gems back into the public sphere, from across the world, reproduced in the style of their original packaging.
The labels inaugural release in 2005 was Jean Claude Vannier’s L’enfant Assassin des Mouches. The record is perhaps best known for its cover which shows the protagonist Jean Claude Vannier who was the arranger for Serge Gainsbourg’s sublime Histoire de Melody Nelson, running across a beach stark naked. Jarvis Cocker searched for the album during its years out of print and said of it after the records re-release: “This is one of those records that you really can’t believe whilst you’re listening to it; So you put it on again just to check, pinching yourself to make sure. Yep, here it comes again – insane guitar? Check, unhinged orchestra? Check, demented choir? Check, this record is real, you really need it in your life.”
The title which roughly translates as “The Child Assassin of the Flies” was scribbled on the back of a piece of paper by Gainsbourg after he heard the record for the first time. This elusive title is the only explanation provided for the music that lies within the cover, although Mojo magazine did attempt to flesh out the plot saying it roughly concerns: “a small boy who drowns enormous sentient flies in a lake of jam while an array of alarm clocks, a ghostly 140-voice choir and random bursts of accordion create aural mayhem.” To me it sounds like something David Axelrod would have turned out if he had been an arty Frenchman, living in the tenements of Paris, perhaps next to Gene Kelly in the opening of An American in Paris. Fuzzy guitars and stabbing strings abound, but their is also the sprinkling of showbiz and old Hollywood musicals about it. No doubt everyone will come to different conclusions as to its hidden depths and meanings.
However the labels most successful release to date has been Lubos Fiser’s Valerie And Her Week Of Wonders, a soundtrack to a Czech new wave film. Czech new wave films apparently all have weirdness in common and never brush past the notion of being “easy going”, in fact Czech cinema is really best avoided at all costs ,unless you want to watch something not unlike Crossroads blended with Hammer House of Horror.
The soundtrack though garnered a cult following after the film was showed at the Glastonbury Festival and the soundtrack release has even spawned a tribute album. It took Andy Votel 12 years to track down the original studio recording and the baroque rock cycle of suites has been organized into something that vaguely resembles the plot of Jaromil Jires original film. The music has a mystic feel tinged with uncertainty and foreboding.
The slew of records released under the Finders Keepers umbrella is not limited to European musical obscurities though. Turkish psych rock is provided by Selda and Hungarian folk by Sarolta Zalatnay, the Janis Joplin of her native country. Both have voices that could jar a corpse or at least give a dentists drill a run for its money in the irritation stakes and are example of some corners of the catalogue that are difficult to get into. But the trio of Welsh psychedelic rock albums, compiled by Gruff Rhys from the Super Furry Animals, more than makes up for some flights of fancy that are sometimes found. And of course not forgetting Yamasuki, a psych-rock opera about karate sung in French, something that truly has to be heard to be believed.
Votel, Shipton and Thomas promised on the launch of the label to provide: “Discerning purveyors of the bizarre and abnormal with Japanese choreography records, space-age Turkish protest songs, Czechoslovakian vampire soundtracks, Welsh rare-beats, bubblegum folk, drugsploitation operatics, banned British crime thrillers and celebrity Gaelic Martini adverts… presented on CD, 7″ and traditional black plastic discs in authentic packaging.” All so far achieved minus the odd bump in the road.
Bob Dylan once said that he thought himself a “musical expeditionary” when he whiled away hours of his youth seeking out and listening to obscure Americana records. We don’t have to do the record hunting now though, because Finders Keepers are there to do it for us.