When it comes to re-issuing collectable records in super-duper, 180g ‘audiophile’ pressings, there’s no escaping the degree of cynicism that infects the process. As each re-issue label grows in size and popularity, it starts an almost inevitable slide towards choosing repertoire based on what it assumes will sell, rather than on the musical merit of the recorded performance. The original Mobile Fidelity – not to be confused with its current incarnation – slid towards its slow demise on a wash of Greatest Hits albums, while Classic Records’ trawling (and re-trawling) of the RCA Living Stereo back catalogue took cynicism to a whole new level: “You mean you have already bought the 180g version? Well now we have 200g editions (with or without Groove Guard) – and if you’ve got that, how about a 45RPM single-sided, four-disc set. Then there are the numbered stamper box sets to consider…” Yep – cynicism is a nasty attitude – but it can be hard to avoid when it comes to pricey, re-pressed records. Fortunately, for every Classic or early Mo-Fi, there’s a Pure Vinyl, an Acoustic Sounds or a Coup d’Archet.
Coup d’Archet? Just who on earth is Coup d’Archet? Well, in physical terms that’s easy. Coup d’Archet is Glenn Armstrong, a one-man band – but a one-man band on a mission. If re-issued records (at least as we know them now) started with the likes of Linn’s Re-Kut label, the original Chesky issues or even the Practical Hi-Fi Super Cuts – which really take me back – then the motive was to make great recordings more accessible. Linn re-issued the Kleiber Beethoven Fifth, while Chesky were the first to make a concerted assault on the Living Stereo back catalogue. In their original form these records were becoming harder and harder, more and more expensive to find. At the same time, the quality of mainstream record production was plummeting, meaning that if you wanted to hear what a record player could really do, those older (increasingly rare) recordings were what you needed to hear. On that level, the quest to increase access to these musical documents is laudable, if open to opportunistic exploitation. As I’ve already observed, some of those engaged have stayed truer to that ethos than others – while there’s no escaping the fact that quality varies pretty dramatically too.
Then there’s a higher plane altogether – a level of artistic commitment where the economics make little or no sense at all and the musical performance is all that counts. That’s where you’ll find Glenn Armstrong – and that’s where you’ll find the Coup d’Archet records: records that are, for the most part, not re-issues at all. Yes, they feature historical recordings and yes, they are beautifully pressed on pristine 180g vinyl, but these discs contain music never before committed to record, by artists many of you will never have heard or heard of.