CDs and other perils…

April 3rd, 2012

As mentioned in a previous blog post, I have a weakness for boxed-sets. It appeals to the collector/completist in me. I’m a sucker for the detail of the packaging and for any alternate takes/bits and pieces that come with some of the best sets. It also makes me happy that I still have the urge to delve headlong into the exploration of composers/artists that I know little or nothing about – following their journeys from start to finish. It all began years ago when, after hearing only one album by Bill Evans (the beautiful I will Say Goodbye) ordered the Complete Riverside Recordings.

I can remember my excitement as my dad went to collect it (and pay for!) from HMV in Bristol and, as I sat in the car waiting in anticipation of a large, lavish box with booklets etc. I was slightly disappointed to receive a much smaller package consisting of three, double-disc jewel cases (each containing four CDs), all housed in a thin card slipcase. This disappointment immediately vanished upon hearing the music, though – and was (and still is) a treasured companion – especially in my last years at secondary school. Soon after moving up to Leeds to study at LCM, I experienced my first real ‘boxed set love’ in the form of Miles Davis’s The Complete Live at The Plugged Nickel 1965:

– an eight-disc set of Davis’s legendary quintet, purchased from Jumbo Records. Beautifully made with fine card booklets in the jewel cases, great photography and extensive analyses of each track (which I found slightly unnecessary and annoying). Once I sat down to listen, I thought nothing the £80 price tag (even though I couldn’t really afford it) – and it is still a set that I never tire from listening to. My shopping lists for food became shorter and shorter – as I spent much of what I’d slaved in the summer holiday before migrating to the north. It was all being spent on boxed sets and was also feeding an insatiable appetite for vinyl – particularly British Jazz from the late 1960’s and 1970’s, but that’s story for another time…

Back to China. I discovered a row of street stalls near the University on the Yanwu Road, a few of them selling CDs (mostly classical) with little or no difference in stock between them. Approaching the first stall I immediately spotted something familiar – Keith Jarrett’s Sun Bear Concerts. GENUINE. £12.

Not bad, right?

At the neighbouring stall I bought Björk’s Biophilia for £1.50 (and got shouted at for not buying anything else!)

and at another bought Mahler’s complete Symphonies for just £15. Again – all GENUINE.

I also bought another copy of Sun Bear for only £6 this time. Most of the stall attendants are quite pushy, except one… Right at the end of the row of stalls was one very kind and gentle chap who definitely wasn’t pursuing the hard sell approach and from whom I bought the Mahler/Jarrett sets, above. All the sets are priced on a per disc basis and with a hassle-free buying atmosphere, I kept returning for more… “Piracy!” I hear you cry! I really don’t think they’re fakes at all. What pirate(s) would go to all the trouble, time and expense of making lavish, glossy boxes/slipcases/booklets etc. for such a niche market? There are a few possible explanations as to how these sets are ending up here:

One theory is that, as an increasing number of western companies are turning to East Asia and China for manufacture, the pressing plants themselves inevitably produce a small quantity of genuine (but not exactly legitimate) ‘extras’ that then mysteriously make their way onto the streets.

At close inspection, I began to detect slight cosmetic imperfections – the sort of blemishes that might prevent these units from passing through quality control or something. For example, on the Mahler set, the box containing the first five CDs is slightly too small for the discs (and the rather thick booklet), has a huge interior crease (which not visible on the exterior) and some slight peeling from the cover overlap:


The Shostakovitch set is fine – there’s a slight indent to the back of the box (barely noticeable, really), with discs housed in cheap, blank white paper slipcases (with cellophane window). The discs themselves have some marks/flecks and other imperfections but aside from this work absolutely fine. At £10 for an eleven-disc set I really don’t give a shit about such lilliputian imperfections…



Amongst the large quantity of classical boxed sets there were also a number impressive sets by Radiohead, The Rolling Stones, Metallica, Bon Dylan et al. and I’d been eyeing up a complete album set by The Beatles, too.



Yes, I know. It’s the Japanese edition of all the albums in stereo, based on the 1987 remasters. Yes, I know the mono set is better for lots of reasons but it wasn’t there to choose from, OK?! (although had it been there I would have bought both of them). Still, the packaging is lush and glossy – with gatefold digipak versions of each album (containing two booklets and archive photography) a two-disc set of past masters and a DVD of mini-documentaries corresponding to each of the albums.

The set was £15. FIFTEEN POUNDS!! I think I can leave my geekery at the door at that price. Setting aside my fetishistic tendencies, it really is all about the MUSIC at the end of the day…

And then there’s the DVD shops I’ve recently discovered… After sending back all the above purchases with some other things I’ve collected during my stay, involving an experience in the post office I DON’T wish to repeat, I will have to forego my desire to purchase yet more complete Cohen Brothers/Kubrick/Polanski/Bergman (a huge 45-disc set!!)/Curb Your Enthusiasm/The Wire/Breaking Bad sets. I restricted my purchasing to just two Criterion Collection DVDs:


God, give me the strength to resist any further purchases…