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Old 11th May 2013, 9:55   #1
amner
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Default The Vinyl Thread

Making good on gil's request (and our tacit, nodding agreement) that we post blog posts on The P, to hopefully stimulate interaction, I'm going to kick off a vinyl thread, using a few bits I've got elsewhere.

So, I'd created a blog, The Venn Diagram of Pop, to record my crawl away from mp3 and toward vinyl, and thought I'd repeat it here. Not to get comments on it particularly, but maybe to encourage you to talk about vinyl in general. We've had a go before, sort of, here, which is a lovely trawl through the records we remembered from being kids.

This is about being an old fart trying to get back into music, through making a physical connection to it. I'll try not to say that vinyl "has a warmer sound" or anything like that. Anyway, hope it starts a debate. Please jump in as and when.
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Old 11th May 2013, 9:57   #2
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Default Re: The Vinyl Thread

Having a good idea that comes to nought, like Paul Simon’s woman lying in bed and wondering, is a bad day. Things that might have been. I fired up The Venn Diagram of Pop thinking that; it might have been this, it might have been that, it might have been somewhere to say things about those songs with which no-one could argue. Waterloo Sunset, Teenage Kicks. You know what I mean.

Never happened, of course. And I see this place on my stats, connected to my other blogs, and it’s just kicking about in the dust, looking at its shoes, squinting mournfully at me, doing nothing.

And then something did happen. I decided to go back to analogue. There are lots of reasons for this, but I guess the most important among them is that I found I’d managed to diminish the way I feel about music over the years. I’d gone from seeing bands every week, to getting vinyl on a big old fashioned stereo, to CDs on a midi-system, to an mp3 dock, to my computer. What a terrible way to treat music.



It doesn’t really work when it’s taken down to that level. Not for me, it doesn’t. I’ve stamped down on my music like I’m trying to fit it into a box and hide it away. So much, that it doesn’t really exist anymore. Just files. God, just a stream of bytes, an unknowable sequence of data. Gradually I’ve arrived at a place where I don’t want to be.

So, I thought I’d reclaim it. I wanted the old thing back. A turntable. Amp. Speakers. And vinyl, proper old school vinyl. A tactile experience. A managed and full sensation, an attempt to reclaim what I used to love. Adventures in vinyl, right?

Should be simple.

Wasn’t.

I’ve put my coat on. I’m heading out. I haven’t been fashionable since that afternoon in July 1988, and I don’t care. It’s time to have an adventure.
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Old 11th May 2013, 10:05   #3
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Default Re: The Vinyl Thread

So, a turntable, then. Picture dissolves to head-in-hands.

This isn't going to be as simple as I'd hoped. I never had this much trouble in the past.

[fade, wavy lines]

When I was growing up we had two record players. The first was a majestic old BUSH machine. Actually, contraption may be a better word. Heavy and grey as lead, it sat in our "best" room.

That's anathema now, I expect, but as a kid I knew plenty of families, especially of my grandparents’ generation, who had a best room, or perhaps you called it the front room, or the parlour. It was for Sundays, or receiving visitors. I think I may have only poked my head 'round the door of my Nan’s best room once or twice; and we went there almost every weekend for the dutiful familial visit. Twice, in years and years. Lord knows who she was keeping it best for. My Mom followed suit with one, too, but we weren't anywhere nearly so constrained in its use.

As we grew up it turned into a dining room (we got a special thrill out of using the serving hatch, we were a simple people) and then eventually a quiet spot for homework.

The player was an all-in-one squat box, and quite intimidating. A rectangular cut along the top and sides outlined the lid. Inside, the turntable was a solid steel wheel covered with rubber that today would cost the earth for its anti-vibration qualities. Records stuck to it with admirable loyalty, and the box itself pulled fiercely toward the Earth’s core. Vinyl geeks would kill for such unvarying stability. The speaker – there was only one – let the quality down, sadly. A tinny little effort sat behind a cream fabric mesh at the front of the whole thing. The BUSH logo emblazoned in gold, stuck to the front and resonated and buzzed with the lowest bass notes.

The entire box was covered in a scaly hard plastic coating that was slippery to the touch and often as a little nipper I’d try to stealthily grasp the edges (there was no handle), misjudge it, and drop the lid back with a clunk, skipping the record along and probably scratching it.


We played my Mom’s and Dad’s old 45s on it, mostly. We didn’t appreciate it at the time, but these were their date records, their before us records. Al Martino’s Spanish Eyes, Sinatra's Strangers in the Night. Brilliant big show tunes that make me smile and fill up a little now. With a little horror I’m recalling some original Parlophone Beatles singles in there. Eleanor Rigby, for definite. That’s lost now.

There were 78s, too, and I don’t know where they are either. I know that if you dropped them they would shatter. Maybe we worked our way through them that way. There was stuff in there like Al Bowlly that I would love to rediscover. The very thought of it.

We weren’t much for LPs to begin with. What we had we’d inherited as a job lot from my Grandad. Big band, but not good big band. Geoff Love, Vic Parnell. That sort of thing. One thing we did play a lot was the original soundtrack to The Sound of Music. We’d all been along to watch it, my twin and I as babes in arms, not even a year old at the time, and – not having a car – three times we’d had to leave before the end because the buses didn’t quite work out. Imagine that, sitting through the whole thing three times and leaving the Von Trapps in peril each time. Mom bought it to finish the story. I have listened to that record hundreds of times, and to that story of hers almost as many.

When I was ten we replaced the BUSH with a black plastic and wooden behemoth from Pye (a Cambridge company now owned by Philips) that my Dad called a “music centre”. Think of that; the centre of music. It made deeply satisfying ker-kuh noises whenever you pressed a button. Arms and levers and cogs whirred and skirled unseen in its echoey depths. It was vast. It had to be. It included not just a turntable but a cassette player and radio. You could record stuff.

No, you’re not listening. You could record stuff.

The future had arrived. And with it, my eldest brother discovered record shops. It was like Pizarro or Belalcázar arriving in Quito and showing the Inca horses for the first time. Sort of. Whatever, it was a world changer. Naturally we took it for granted almost immediately.

It’s just kit, right? You can find this stuff even now. Wrong. Returning to that world proved incredibly frustrating. Almost straight away I was wondering if you can ever go back.
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Old 11th May 2013, 10:09   #4
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Default Re: The Vinyl Thread

I’m yet to close off the dreamy wavy fade. You’ll have to bear with this a little longer.

Throughout Uni and into my years as one of Thatcher’s 3.2 (it was the 80s, alright? Fuse Bars. Button Moon. Gripper Stebson) my standard musical conduit was a ridiculous silver tape deck as big as a robot badger. An awful piece of painted plastic hardware that gradually became chipped and cracked so badly it later doubled as the Liberator model during long shots and explosion sequences in Blake’s Seven. It was a terrible, terrible thing. I may have worn flourescent socks near it at one point, probably while reading The Face and thinking about Tracy Corkhill. Sigue Sigue Sputnik certainly had a play or two on it.

The last time I saw the wretched thing, I think Sharon Watts’s The Banned were recording Something Outa Nothing into it while arguing at the Walford community centre.

It was a decade of tapes and taping, and taping tapes and buying C120s and listening to them stretch to fuck inside the player. Vinyl had gone for a burton back then. I was in address after address, sometimes hardly unpacking and so anything like the set-up at home, a music centre if you like, let alone the delicate fiddly-ness of a turntable, was a non-starter. I hated it.

It was only with snaffling a job and moving to permanent digs in Cambridge that I was able to ditch the tape deck. I still have my brother’s demo from when he was in a band that got played on the radio (the radio!) but even he graduated to releasing vinyl (more of that another day) and eventually it was obvious that if I was going to want to continue listening to music I needed to invest in something. Something decent. Something big. Something black. It was 1990. Everything had gone black. Black was the new black. They even spray painted MDF black.

I bought a separates system. I overcompensated massively. The thing was huge. It weighed a ton. It was a monstrous Technics behemoth of plastic and punctured metal, with speakers that came up to my waist. Nigel Tufnel would have blanched at the scale of the thing. Joyfully, it had all the gubbins the single 23 year old needs in a music system, especially a graphic equaliser that could switch into cheesy display mode with ‘futuristic’ interlacing loopy light shows. Jesus.

But; turntable, check. Tuner, check. CD player, check. My first CD player. I was in clover. I didn’t know it then, but the turntable was already turning into the awkward stepchild. It came with the deal, but I liked the new baby.


I have fond memories of that system. It was bloody loud, for one thing, and… no, that’s about it, actually. Well, it’s enough. I lugged it with me everywhere. It was the first item out of the van during house moves, and the first thing to get set up. You can’t move in to a place with no stereo, after all. Mount Technics lasted longer than most relationships, and at least one marriage. In the end though, it was too big. Moving in to one place, a decade on, and suddenly it was too big to accommodate. Plus, suddenly, there were smaller entities to consider, sentient creatures who were apparently “more important than the bloody stereo.” It was sidelined. Untouched for weeks.

I ended up almost giving it away at a car boot sale, to a nice chap who appreciated I was selling it with a heavy heart. I carried the bits to his car with him, and he gave me smile that said, “chin up, son, I’ll crank the volume up a bit,’ or it said, “you can go now, you peculiar man.” Either way, I think he realised he was taking something precious away.

We switched then to a mini-system. I don’t know who made it. Aiwa? Is that a name? Awful thing. All pine-effect and little speakers, with one of those depressable CD player lids that retreated and then lifted back up again in slo-mo. No tape deck. no turntable. It went on a shelf. A shelf. In the kitchen. Listen to yourself, man.

And after that. I bet you can fill in the gaps. The vinyl’s gone, the tapes have gone (much as I hated them). With just CDs, which can be copied, you can guess the trajectory.

The machinery became smaller and smaller. I listened to less and less. Not purposefully, it just happened. Gradually it dawned on me that it, the music, was almost apologetically reduced to nothing. It had vanished.

I needed one further, excruciating reduction to happen before I brought everything to a close. The arrival of the enemy, the latest knock on the door.
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Old 11th May 2013, 10:13   #5
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Default Re: The Vinyl Thread

If I had to describe my relationship status with the internet it would be, “it’s complicated.” I am fully aware of the meta implications of that statement. So let’s stop that right there. I’m going to write this quickly, before I end up getting carried away with such silliness.

But it’s difficult. The internet encourages it. It is essentially a very silly place, and not a particularly sensible spot in which to spend a significant amount of time. We sail across dominions barely seen – wrote Norman Mailer – we plow through fields of magnetism. Past and future coming together on thunderheads and our dead hearts living with lightning in the wounds of Gods. That is the internet, this amazing resource, this power we have no idea how to tether. And we use that extraordinary generationally-privileged gift to share pictures of kittens on skateboards, to plaster private moments inelegantly across social networks, and to utter whiny pleas seeking reassurance from strangers.

How did I get here? We are, if you’re still taking notice, on the last leg of the history of my musical consumption. And it’s been a rocky road. The internet lays witness to what I had, and – I thought for quite some time – even killed it stone dead. Certainly, for a long, long time I played almost no music in the house at all beyond a few familiar, soporific songs from my iPod that I may have used to send me off to sleep. And even then with headphones. The tree wasn’t falling in the forest, there wasn’t any sound at all.

It seems totally incredible to me now, and it would have seemed totally incredible to the me of twenty years ago, too. And the internet was to blame. Partly. Certainly at the end.


I moved into my current place in 2007 and immediately went about installing broadband. I had never downloaded anything before. I’ve still never torrented (if that’s a verb, and I don’t think it should be). But the option was there, all of a sudden, and so was Limewire. Things move so fast you probably won’t remember Limewire now. They were a peer-to-peer file sharing service where people who wanted stuff but had justified away the need to actually pay for it, met up with like-minded folk and allowed each other to copy lots and lots of songs (and porn). This was great. All of a sudden, you could set your computer to copy just over half of an album’s tracks, tantalisingly missing out on the bits you really wanted. But never mind, because it was free. And who cared if you didn’t get the quality you might have had from a CD, or the artwork files? Or the lyrics sheets? Or the liner notes? A vast array of icons with a big grey in your album lists looked kind of minimalist and mysterious anyway.

Ultimately the Recording Industry Association of America decided enough was enough and Limewire was discontinued, finding itself embroiled in a ridiculous, bloated court case that did no-one any favours, with the RIAA seeking reparation on earnings lost to the sum of up to $72 trillion in damages. That’s more than the GDP of the entire global economy. Or put another way, more money than there is in the entire world.

Did Limewire really do that much damage to music, to art and artists, or just to profits? I don’t know, and beyond making a few cheap jibes at people with a heightened sense of their own entitlements, I don’t really care. The arguments on the rights and wrongs of downloading bore the jittery fuck out of me. I’ll tell you what damage it did to me, though. It hammered the coffin lid down on my musical appetite. When you find yourself on a Sunday afternoon, still in your dressing gown, urging the status bar to hurry up so that you can listen to Keith Michell sing Captain Beaky, just because you were reminded of it and the facility to get it is there, well, you know you’ve lost an argument somewhere along the line. Limewire remains the only music stealing sharing device I’ve used and the balloon went pop for me long before it did.

It wasn’t even as if I was a heavy user. I counted everything up just now: 187 songs and instrumentals and bits and pieces. Some good, some mediocre, some downright appalling. Not much, I reckon, but I’m not excusing it. It genuinely makes me go cold. When I bung iTunes into ‘number of plays’ mode and see that in five or so years I’ve listened to Cozy Powell’s Dance With The Devil once (it was on an incomplete Hot Fuzz soundtrack album I stumbled across), I shrink and crinkle and fold in on myself like a crisp packet chucked in the fire. It lasts 3’23″ and it’s not very good. It probably took five times its playing time to download the bloody thing. What was I thinking?

Treating songs like this, treating music like this, changed my relationship to it and I stopped listening because I’d gradually squeezed all the fun and fuck yeah!-ness out of it.


Nothing used to beat playing duelling singles, I recall, sitting with a pal until the wee small hours and alternating 45 after 45 on the turntable, discovering new songs interspersed with playing old favourites. And albums. Albums didn’t exist any more. I’d have seven or six or four songs out of the entire listing. There are nine songs on What’s Going On because Marvin put nine songs on there. And he put them in that order because he had a damn good reason to, and yet apparently it would seem that there are some who entertain the notion they have a better idea about what goes where. These people should be boiled.

Incomplete downloads, shuffle, the power to skip. I was done. It wasn’t so much the day the music died, Don. It was already terminal. I just walked away. I didn’t even send flowers.

It’s a gloomy little tale, but there’s hope, a tiny glimmer. And not just that I’ve finished my wretched history after three posts. We’re in the here and now, people. And something’s happened.
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Old 11th May 2013, 11:39   #6
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Default Re: The Vinyl Thread

That's it, so far. I'll transfer more as and when they go up in the other place.

So...your vinyl opinions, please!
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Old 14th May 2013, 0:34   #7
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Default Re: The Vinyl Thread

I currently have two record players neither of which I use anything like as often as I should. My current excuse being my 600 or so LPs are currently buried under several dozen boxes of misc 'craft stuff' of my wife's and my equally large pile of singles are in boxes - somewhere. They're in the house but for the life of me have no idea where.

One player is downstairs in the living room where you would expect it, the other is attached to the computer here in the office and was bought for me by my wife who had the rather bizarre idea that I could MP3ify my LPs then get rid of them...

(pause for laughter)

I ended up using it to digitize and post some gems from my collection. Gems like this one...



and posting them on my now more than slightly defunct Cheesybeats blog. (All the links are dead now but I'll re-up* them somewhere, sometime.)

I've introduced my kids to vinyl. The ten-year old has just borrowed the LPs of the Goon Shows that I learned off by heart when I was a kid (same copies) though I doubt if they will ever love the stuff as much as I do.





* also not a verb.



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Old 17th May 2013, 13:14   #8
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Default Re: The Vinyl Thread

We only eBayed our Thorens turntable a couple of years ago. Someone in Italy snapped it up for more than double its original (1972) price, and I think that was when we started to realise we were making a mistake. Then we only got £35 for two wine boxes full of decent LPs. We sent the junky LPs to JM. Well, he seemed to like that kind of thing. Before we committed ourselves fully to digital, we bought a Sony double cassette deck, so we still have a foot in the analogue camp, and we had transcribed most of the best LPs to cassette before they got scratchy. That was why most of the LPs we sold on were in good condition.
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Old 27th Jul 2013, 12:23   #9
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Default Re: The Vinyl Thread

Born in 1979, I must be part of the last generation to remember the record player being a key part of the living room furniture. It features in some of my earliest memories: dancing around the coffee table with Dad to his Bob Dylan and Beatles records; singing along with Pinky & Perky and a record of favourite kids' songs my mum picked up from somewhere, which gave me my first encounter with Do-Re-Mi; being thrilled by Michael Jackson's Thriller; listening to my friend next door's only three singles over and over again (Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep, Puff the Magic Dragon and one that's completely dropped from my memory).

But equally, I was a child of the 80s, so my own first music came on cassette, and when we weren't having a Kylie and Jason singalong or arguing over Lego my sister and I spent much of the indoor parts of our school holidays sprawled on the floor listening to Storyteller tapes.

The arrival of the CD player was a big moment in our house. The ability to play any track you wanted at the press of a button, the option to play a whole album in a random order and, for Dad, the clarity of the sound were all very exciting, and for a long time CDs took over our communal listening. My sister and I got our very first CD to share: Saint-Saens' Carnival of the Animals.

Though tapes have gradually dropped out of the picture, vinyl's definitely making a comeback, at least in my dad's house. Not least because he's turning to jazz and buying a lot of odd things to try out. We've got a turntable, too; one of those all-in-one record player and speaker things, but since we still haven't quite got the house in proper order since moving three years ago (how time flies!) it hasn't yet found a home so has been tucked away in a box for some time.

I do feel there is something special about having an actual record collection (no matter how small), like owning books, but I feel major affection and pride for my CDs, too, or at least the music on them and the memories a glimpse of the cover art or the sound of the first note of the first track can evoke.

I think it's what you grow up with that gives you the warm and fuzzies - the happy listening memories that make it special, not necessarily the format. Saying that, though, I can't imagine anyone getting that same lift of spirits reminiscing about their first download, but perhaps I'm just old-fashioned.
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Old 29th Jul 2013, 14:02   #10
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Default Re: The Vinyl Thread

I have persuaded one of my best buds to invest in a turntable. He is a man with a BEAST of a sound system, but thankfully no close neighbours.

So, he went and bought a fabulous piece of kit and two records: Dusty In Memphis and Kind Of Blue. Very much wanting to get into some smooth stylings right there.

His first comment was "no skip button!"
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