As a 13-year old, I bought my first ever concert ticket to see The Jam at Exon’s Record Store in Weston-super-Mare. It’s cost me £3.50, so that should give you an idea as to how long ago it was.
I used to spend hours in that shop flipping through the record racks, finding new music and listening to the advice of the guy who ran the shop, Ken Exon, on what was worth listening to. Ken was a bit of a local legend, who also deejayed at a nightclub in town, the hippest and grungiest of them all. It was a hotbed of alcohol, drugs, dancing and great music. All of the faces went there. I didn’t of course, at least, not until I was 15.
Exon Records also was where I first bought records from bands like The Clash, Sex Pistols, Joy Division and, of course, The Jam.
When I needed a big fix of fondling record covers, I’d head to the nearest major city, Bristol, and check out the Virgin Megastore, as well as the independent stores. I bought an original pressing of Buzzcocks’ Spral Scratch EP at the Virgin Megastore, as well as The Cure’s single, 10:15 Saturday Night, among other treasures. On one trip, delving through the racks at an independent record store in Bristol (can’t remember the name), I found an autographed copy of the first album by an outfit called Inner City Unit, a band formed by Nik Turner after he was shown the door by Hawkwind for taking too many drugs. Imagine that! I wrote to them at the address on the back of the album sleeve and they wrote back, a handwritten letter from Nik and a sheet of stickers with a little gift sticky taped to it. The post used to arrive before breakfast in those days. When my mate came to pick me up for the walk to school we shared half each and by lunch time had to go home as we were just a giggling mess.
Those were the days? Well, they were different days, anyway.
When I arrived in Perth as a 17-year old, the only thing I made sure to bring with me was my record collection. It didn’t take me long to discover Dada and 78 Records and, eventually, once I found Fremantle, Mills. I was comforted that, even in this far-away place, I could continue my fetish for records and spent many happy hours going through the racks finding rarities. At Dada, for example, if you really persisted with the flip, pick up, drink in the cover, read the liner notes on the back, repeat action, you’d occasionally find bootlegs interspersed with the legit pressings. I remember buying bootleg albums like, The Yardbirds Live in the Big Apple, and Led Zeppelin Live at Detroit Cobo Hall, which was, according to the cover, a limited edition of 350 numbered copies.
A few years later, when I became a poor uni student, I sold my record collection. The need for cash was, at that time, greater than my attachment to my vinyl. Also, by that time, CDs were the new way of things. Vinyl was dead as a format, so I embraced the new.
I’ve never been one to whine about the warmth of analogue or complain about being able to listen to digital music without the snap, crackle and pop of a flawed vinyl pressing. I’ve always appreciated the clarity of digital audio and my ears can’t really tell the difference warmth-wise.
I also don’t mind the notion of digital downloads and streaming. I do mind way that artists get ripped off by streaming companies, very much, but as a way of consuming music, online distribution works pretty well.
What it takes away from the experience is the ability to handle music. Humans have hands, touch, sight and other senses for a reason. Our senses feed information into our brains, sparking cognition and emotion, invoking chemical reactions that then translate into things like pleasure and curiosity. Being able to handle records, in record stores and when you got them home was a big part of the vinyl experience. So was that additional feeling of closeness to the artist that owning their records invoked.
One thing I always used to do when I bought a record and got it home, before I ever played it, was have a look at the locked groove at inner edge of the record to see if any messages had been stamped into the vinyl. Independent record labels in particular would put the oddest little cyphers on those spaces between the end of the music and the inner label. Not sure if that still happens today.
The thing about the Internet and digital music is that it makes everything available to everyone all the time. Notionally, that’s a good thing, because equity of access is important. Notionally. With music, though, rarity is a way of attracting people to what you do. Scarcity of supply creates greater demand, that’s just basic economics. But it’s not part of the music marketplace any more. Perhaps that’s one reason for declining sales?
Music is also a very emotional thing. Consuming via the Internet takes all of the personal and emotional experience out of the equation. I can’t imagine for a moment that, once streaming is dead and music gets downloaded directly to our frontal lobes, we will have a Streaming Day. No one will care.
But it seems that people still care about records. There’s been a resurgence in vinyl sales over recent years and Record Store Day gives people an opportunity to get directly in touch with the proprietor of their local record shop and get their hands on some genuine rarities. It’s a bit of a contrivance, things aren’t what they used to be, but it’s still a good thing and worth taking part.
Did you get out to your local record store today? If so, what did you buy?