12-13 year olds, even those from relatively affluent background like those you'd have found at The King's School Chester then (more so now - it became independent soon after I left), didn't have a lot of disposable income to spend on records, so the significance of radio and its playlist restrictions, T.V. and its tiny coverage by today's standards was huge. Some boys had older siblings who did have significant record collections, though, and older boys would carry round their L.P.s in transparent covers that displayed their allegiances as clearly as football scarves. Consequently I was aware of the popularity of Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Yes and Emerson Lake & Palmer long before I ever heard any of their work. It was the golden age of the gate-fold sleeve too, so the few boys who pursued art to "A" level at a school where drier subjects were the norm paid regular homage to album cover artists, most notably Roger Dean (he of Yes, Uriah Heep and Greenslade adornments to name a few). Their work was given prominence on the art room wall and while I was and remain artistically inept, art was one of the lessons I'd look forward to, not least to see what the "big boys" had been up to.
I bought a single - "Sylvia" by Dutch band Focus - in early 1973 and that May I bought their double album "Focus 3" with some birthday money. I was hugely disappointed by it. Expecting similar work to "Sylvia" and their other chart single "Hocus Pocus" from the previous "Moving Waves" L.P. i.e. tuneful upbeat instrumentals, what I got was about 75% tedious jazz-rock noodling of very dubious merit and only a handful of proper tunes, two of which I already had on my single. I should have tried to return the album the next day. It wasn't cheap and I barely listened to most of it more than twice. I didn't. This was mostly because I didn't think they'd take it back (they probably would have, I now realise) and at thirteen I lacked the confidence to argue my case face to face with some dragon at W.H.Smiths. So, the first lesson is: if you don't know what you're buying, be prepared for disappointment. This fits my adopted global philosphy that a pessimist will enjoy only positive surprises while the optimist bounces from let-down to let-down.
Second lesson, though, was: if you have lemons, make lemonade. Focus 3, whilst something of a disaster, was also a disaster which not everybody (indeed hardly anyone), had heard. Given the perpetual state of financial embarrassment enjoyed then as now by teenagers, the convention at school was to lend your album to someone who would lend one of theirs in exchange.If you enjoyed the loan copy it would usually fit onto one side of a C90 cassette and thus by lending an album to half a dozen people your record money "bought" seven, albeit six of them illicit. So after the 1973 summer holidays Focus 3 set off on a circulation that brought in samplings of Status Quo, Slade, King Crimson and Emerson Lake and Palmer for my own collection.
Title for this entry Track 7 from "Avalon" by Roxy Music 1982. Not Abba - that's Take A Chance On Me!