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Waxing lyrical about vinyl
AS THE needle drops onto The Family That Plays Together, a long playing record by the Los Angeles-based Sixties hard rock psychedelic blues quintet Spirit, Eric Stott proclaims, with a mixture of conviction and satisfaction: “You can’t beat vinyl – there’s nothing like it.”
In pretty good nick with just the occasional scuff and crackle, it is an original 1969 copy with the distinctive orange label and CBS logo that is familiar to fans (of a certain age) of Bob Dylan, The Byrds, Simon and Garfunkel, Santana and Johnny Cash.
Sitting next to the heater at his shop Blood on the Tracks, Eric warms to the theme: “Vinyl is quality. It has a depth of sound and warmth that you don’t get in CDs and certainly not MP3 downloads.”
But it is not just the sound that elevates plastic platters – in the eyes of many – way above other formats. As Spirit’s West Coast wonderment fills this impressively vinyl-stacked nook of Swindon’s tented market Eric goes on: “I think the artwork is just as important.
“Some of these sleeves are works of art in their own right. Just look at that,” he says pointing at a copy affixed to the wall of the lavishly Illustrated My People Were Fair and Had Sky in Their Hair... But Now They’re Content to Wear Stars on Their Brows, a rare 1968 first pressing of an LP by Tyrannosaurus Rex (on Regal Zonophone) which Eric hopes to sell for £50.
The CD equivalent is about a fifth of the size – a postage stamp imitation of the real thing: it doesn’t have anything like the visual or tactile impact of the 12-inch vinyl album. “There’s something about handling these records… something tangible. LPs are like dogs – not just for Christmas but for life,” enthuses Eric.
You may or may not agree. What is in no doubt, however, is the phoenix-like ascent of the vinyl LP. Having been ruthlessly discarded during the late Eighties by the faceless suits that run the music industry it has stubbornly refused to go the way of the eight-track cartridge, the cassette tape or indeed, the dodo.
Last month it was revealed that vinyl sales had hit a ten-year high with releases from Daft Punk, Arctic Monkeys and David Bowie driving demand. By October they had crossed the half-million mark for the first time since 2003 – sales having doubled in the space of a year.
Geoff Taylor, chief executive of recording industry body the BPI says: “The LP is back in the groove. We’re witnessing a renaissance for records; they’re no longer retromania and are becoming the format of choice for more and more music fans.”
The acquisition of vinyl albums falls into two distinct brackets; secondhand records from influential artists whose music has stood the test of time. We are talking Jimmy Cliff rather than Jimmy Osmond, Frank Zappa rather than Frank Ifield, Captain Beefheart rather than the Captain and Tennille. Such records have acquired an antique-like status amongst collectors.
And then there are brand new albums, tastefully packaged and pressed on high-quality 180 gram “audiophile” vinyl.
Acolytes of the former can be found grimly scouring charity shops and car boot sales, intensely sifting through boxes often crammed with tripe in search of rare and elusive black gold.
Digging through crates filled with hideous recordings by the likes of Peters and Lee, Bobby Crush and Showaddywaddy can be a thankless task. The thing is, you never know what you’ll find. Every dedicated vinyl junkie has a tale about fishing through mounds of dross to emerge eureka-like with an original mono Hendrix album on Track Records, an early Stones offering on the “unboxed” red Decca label, or some immensely satisfying Sixties reggae or soul on Trojan or Stax.
Former Royal Mail worker Eric, 65, has been running Blood on the Tracks with ex-barber Derek Butler, 62, for 18 months.
“We get people of all ages looking for vinyl,” says Eric, who goes on: “The Beatles are evergreens. The Stones too.”
Stock rolls in from various sources: those who are down-sizing, people raising cash on their old vinyl, or relatives of fans now grooving to that great jukebox in the sky.
Newly-pressed vinyl will set you back around £20 whereas older stuff – and it all hinges on condition and rarity – goes from a quid or two skywards.
There’s a Goth, punk, rock vibe to Ian Leighton’s IDL Records, a ten-second walk from Blood in the tented market – Swindon’s only all-vinyl emporium. Classic Seventies artists are well to the fore with “Sabbath, Floyd, Zep and Bowie” selling well, he says. But hip hop and other genres line the walls too.
“I don’t do CDs,” says Ian, 46, who stocks new and secondhand albums – the latter going from a few quid each.
“I’ve always liked vinyl and that’s what I sell. I wouldn’t be sitting here otherwise.”
Paul Holmes, 51, launched Red House Records earlier this year from the Holmes Music premises in Faringdon Road, choosing the name in honour of an old haunt.
“It’s a tip of the hat to Red Carpet Records which used to be in Havelock Street – my favourite shop from Swindon`s past. I must have spent a fortune there.”
He goes on: “With the prominence of the download culture, some might wonder why there is still a demand for vinyl records. It is bulky, fragile and costs more to buy.
“However, taking a new record from its sleeve and watching as the disc spins and the arm lowers, it becomes much more of an occasion to select and play music this way. Plus if you have a reasonable turntable, it sounds much fuller and warmer.
“There is also something special seeing the full size artwork and photography with gatefold sleeves and special edition packaging.
“My wife Laura and I have a shared passion for vinyl, and we have tried to channel this, and everything to do with both the music and the classic album sleeves, into the shop.
“Vinyl will always have some monetary value, if you look after them. Original records are highly prized and sought after by collectors.”
With the hint of a sneer, he adds: “Most CDs quickly become worthless; as for MP3s....”
- FROM ska to Afro-beat, Krautrock to electronica, old school rap to hip hop – hear it in glorious vinyl with the boys from the black stuff; Mark E Pitt, Jolyon Gibbs and Philip Heasman.
They are Vinyl Suite, which runs regular turntable nights at Piri-Piri in Havelock Street and occasionally the Beehive pub having begun life three years ago spinning LPs in their entirety at the latter.
Says Mark, 37, a musician and analyst: “We love vinyl. The sound isn’t perfect. But as the great man John Peel put it, vinyl – like life – has surface noise.
“It takes effort to use vinyl above digital formats. There is little compromise in a world dedicated to quick fixes and ultimate convenience – vinyl is a kick out against that.
“Of course there is also the artwork you get on a 12-inch. It’s nice to have something substantial for your hard earned cash, something that is designed to be kept and treasured.
“We play what pleases us on usual DJ nights. We want to give people the excitement of listening to something they have never heard before, just like we did when we first discover a great song.
“We constantly buy vinyl from gigs we go to that would be difficult to source from usual channels. More and more we are seeing vinyl being used for live dee-jaying, not just by older people but young DJs.
“I have every hope that we will still be hearing new vinyl for years to come.”
Further information: http://facebook.com/vinylsuite
- GARY Williams, 58, was well known on Swindon’s music scene during the Seventies, dee-jaying at The Brunel Rooms and Vadims.
Gary, pictured, has been an inveterate vinyl junkie since buying The Beatles’ She Loves You in 1963 at Kempsters in Commercial Road, where he later worked.
Give or take a platter or two, he is the proud owner of 5,000 LPs, 6,000 45s, 600 78s.
He says: “I love vinyl for the original sleeve notes and the lovely warm sound when played on a decent turntable.”
His most treasured album? An orange label 1970 Warner Bros original of Van Morrison’s Moondance and a signed copy of the first Roxy Music LP.
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