We all have that seminal piece of music that strikes us at a certain age and stays with us forever as part of the epiphany of adulthood.

Sure I went through playing Black Sabbath at max volume when I was 14 … but that music never really stuck, it was a glandular experience rather than an education.

For me that piece of music had to wait until 19 years of age in my second year at university … along with a number of other significant life experiences …

Al Stewart’s album Past Present and Future was an accidental purchase that introduced my friends and myself to Nostrodamus and his multifarious predictions.

However the track that completely struck me was the musical story of a soldier in Stalin’s army as the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. It is actually derived from the experiences of Alexander Solzhenitsyn and is relatively epic eight minutes long piece of intricate acoustic guitar work interspersed with dynamic crescendos of great weight and presence.

I loved it … not only for it's music, but also it's visual narrative and the insight into the Great Patriotic War that it provided. This was an aspect of WWII that was not taught in English schools in the seventies, we all knew Winston Churchill beat Hitler in the skies over Kent and on the beaches of Normandy … however Russians have a quite different understanding of who won the war in Europe.

That piece of vinyl was played to death for three years, and not on classy equipment. It was transported irreverently with its playback device tied to the back of a BSA motorcycle even more primitive than the HMV Model 2025 semi portable Stereogram. The speakers would attach to the top and the whole thing would become a suitcase that never actually broke down and saw hundreds of dark smokey evenings ... unlike the BSA C15 that broke down continually and usually caused dark smokey evenings as yet another set of piston rings worked their way to an inevitable seizure

Post Uni the record was committed to cassette tape and put in storage in an attic when I left the UK. It finally followed me to Australia in a metal trunk when my father passed away and the attic was cleared out.

In my own small personal universe rediscovering this particular piece of vinyl is akin to getting hold of the gold record on Pioneer 10 which left Earth at about the same time.

This ancient piece of plastic … sounds fantastic.

Decades later I’m playing it on a Rega Planar 9 with an Ortofon 2M Black. I know it was abused by the chisel-like sapphire styli on the BSR ceramic cartridge and oft treated like a piece of kitchen ware by my friends and housemates. However there is none of the anticipated surface noise or worn groove distortion. The music simply fills the room with a sense of intimacy with this most considered of Al Stewart’s performances. There are few things that actually get better with age but this property of a 21st century record player to recover the raw performance of the music from so far away in time is unmatched by the world of digital in my experience.

I would have found it inconceivable in the seventies that such a wealth of musical information would be retained within the microscopic grooves of this record to be replayed so cleanly and dynamically in 2013.

Meanwhile in Moscow … they love hi-fi in the post Soviet economy, this one town is actually the largest market for several of our best known brands of European audio and is vying with Berlin to be the consumer electronics capital of the continent. The generation that had viewed the world through the hatch of a T34 has passed on and the new Russians are just getting into gear. My bet is that in the next ten years we will purveying good hi-fi with Cyrillic writing on it …

And here is "Roads to Moscow" by Songfacts with video.

Sadly in the last seven plus years since I first posted this article the only tech that Mother Russia seems to be interesting in exporting is weapons and hacking ... 

I these days have a Rega Planar 10 with Atheta Cartridge to play back the old album on ... and for very special days there is the Acoustic Signature Ascona Mk2 Turntable with Van Den Hul Stradivari Crimson cartridge, omigod it's good.

The record is held in veneration along with a number of other survivors of my misspent youth ... oddly they have survived generally better than the Cd's I bought during my misspent forties.