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IPods for idiots

It is three years since I last wrote about my iPod.

9 April 2008

12:00 AM

9 April 2008

12:00 AM

It is three years since I last wrote about my iPod. When I first bought the blighter, my then 12-year-old son warned me that it would prove a disaster and he was absolutely right.

Unable to cope with the technology required to load the thing I enlisted the help of my nephew, Tom, who agreed to transfer my favourite CDs for 50 pence a time. By the end I had some 2,000 tracks on a machine the size of a cigarette packet. I was a little frustrated because it was capable of holding 10,000 tunes, and poor Tom’s computer had given up the ghost, but how I enjoyed putting on those smart white earphones on my rail journeys to London and choosing whether to listen to the Stones, the Grateful Dead or classic soul.

Days after writing my column, however, the bloody iPod got jammed. You could still listen to it, still turn it on and off, but it was stuck in shuffle mode. In other words, the machine did the choosing, and had a spooky knack of invariably selecting a track you didn’t want to hear. At first you could hit a button and move on to the next selection, but then that facility broke down, too. You were lumbered with whatever the machine wanted to give you. Then it became impossible to turn the thing off. And then the bastard ran out of juice.

I was so fed up I gave the wretched thing to my son, who had so cheerfully predicted fiasco. He managed to recharge it, but not to get it out of shuffle mode, and took it on a school camping holiday. By the time he came back, he’d learnt how to turn the iPod off. The snag was that it now wouldn’t turn on.

Eventually Ed passed the thing on to his friend Oliver who reported that he could sometimes get it to work by pressing the wrong buttons rather than the right ones. And then the thing died on even this savvy technician, and that was that. With the original cost of the machine and the money I’d paid to Tom I was down by about £400 and a great deal of heartache. I concluded iPods were great when they worked and sheer hell when they didn’t.

So it was with some alarm that I took a call from Kathy, the lovely lady at Past Perfect, the nostalgia label that offers brilliantly remastered CDs of the music of the Twenties, Thirties, and Forties ranging from jazz to French chanson, and from the dance music of the Twenties to the hits of the second world war. I’ve written about the label here before, readers have snapped up its albums with gay abandon, and I have never heard from a single dissatisfied customer.

Now Past Perfect has had the brilliant idea of putting its entire back catalogue of lovingly compiled albums on to an iPod Nano. There are more than 1,376 tracks ranging from Billie Holiday to the Andrews Sisters, Count Basie to Cole Porter, Fats Waller to Beniamino Gigli. And while I reckon it would cost about £600 to buy the entire back catalogue on CD the fully loaded iPod is available for just £249.97.

Reluctant to rush into print after my previous experience, I’ve been vigorously road-testing the Past Perfect iPod for the past two months. It hasn’t jammed once, recharges like a dream, and even tells you the time. Technology has moved on since my last iPod experience — the Nano is smaller than a credit card and not much thicker and you get reproductions of Past Perfect’s stylish album covers on the full-colour screen, so you can leaf through the virtual records and pick out the one you want to play just as if it were a real LP. Indeed the neatness and ingenuity of the tiny machine is a pleasure in its own right.

The sound quality is apparently significantly better than you will get by downloading the songs at iTunes. The default quality for encoding is 128kbps while Past Perfect offers 224kbps. The lovely Kathy also sent me two pages of absolutely idiot-proof instructions and I’m sure she’ll do the same for you if you ask her nicely.

Time speeds by as you sample the portable delights on offer. You could start for instance with Noël Coward and Gertie Lawrence in Private Lives (strange how potent clipped accents are), move on to some classic swing and bebop and end your session with a blast of George Formby whose cheeky inanity never fails to cheer me up.

With the extra sound quality, the iPod is full to capacity so you won’t be able to add tracks of your own, and my one niggle is that the great Louis Armstrong is seriously underrepresented in Past Perfect’s otherwise immaculate catalogue. But for those who feel daunted by technology, this preloaded iPod is a thing of beauty, wonder and unexpected simplicity, packed with music that is truly olden but golden.

You can contact Past Perfect on 01869 325052 or

Charles Spencer is theatre critic of the Daily Telegraph.

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