Magazine article The Spectator

Ace Imagination

Magazine article The Spectator

Ace Imagination

Article excerpt

My colleague Caspar, who would be insufferably cool if he wasn't also ridiculously tall and unusually nice, once confessed to an engaging fantasy. He imagined he'd won a competition in which the prize was half an hour in the warehouse of Ace Records, loading as many CDs as he could manage into a supermarket trolley, free, gratis and for nothing.

For a long time, he refused to let me even look at the office copy of Ace Records catalogue, knowing that it could only lead me to financial ruin. But since starting this column I've managed to get my hands on one of my own. And while the press office at Ace is generous with review copies, I'm so greedy for its product that I'm embarrassed to ask for everything I want. So I conduct my own supermarket sweeps in the basement of the huge HMV near Oxford Circus, which has a large section entirely devoted to Ace and all its wonderful works. My credit card invariably has to be carried out of the place on a stretcher.

The London-based company was established in 1975 and deals entirely in raves from the grave. In this it resembles the American label Rhino, but Ace lavishes even greater care, and taste, on its product, and has been deservedly described as the leading in-depth catalogue company in the world.

I got my first taste of Ace with a sampler, released in the year 2000, and celebrating its first 25 years. It did this, with typical imagination, by including a track from each year from 1950 to 1975, the years the label covers in greatest depth.

The label is especially strong on soul, blues, rock 'n' roll, gospel, R&B, jazz and funk, as well as pure pop. And the sampler, which I think cost only L1.99, is like listening to the best jukebox you've ever heard in your life. You'll be furious to learn that it's probably unavailable now but if I mention just a few of the tracks included, you'll get an idea of some of the joys of the Ace catalogue.

Proceedings kick off with Pee Wee Crayton's irresistibly exuberant `Huckle Boogie', moves on to the deep blues of `Howling Wolf's Moanin' at Midnight' and BB King's `You Upset Me Baby', before hitting the delirious rock 'n' roll that is Frankie Ford's `Sea Cruise'. Little Richard, the Everly Brothers, Dion, Aretha Franklin, Booker T and the MGs, and the Fatback Band are other Ace acts on the album and the whole glorious 73 minutes and 50 seconds ends with Millie Jackson's masterpiece, `Loving Arms', one of my favourite records of all time.

What makes Ace re-releases so different from the common herd are that the compilers show rare flair and imagination. …

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