My love for vinyl is well documented. Being 47 years old and starting DJing in the early 80s, you shouldn’t expect anything less. But I’m not a blind purist — I do not believe that vinyl sounds better than digital in every instance. And I absolutely get that digital audio is a considerably more convenient medium that vinyl for DJing and indeed listening to. But I do believe with all my heart that vinyl is a magical thing, with a culture, process and experience that digital will never ever have. And seeing as it was Record Store Day on Saturday, I decided to embark on my own vinyl buying experience to support my small but very local record shop.
Firstly, the English pedant in me baulks at the term “record store”. We Brits are, according to Napoleon, a nation of shopkeepers. I go shopping in shops — always have and always will. But seeing as Record Store Day started in the US, and unites small vinyl outlets around the world, I’m going to suck it up for the cause.
So to my own adventures. I live in the outskirts of a small northern UK town called Keighley, and have done on and off for the best part of 35 years. When I first moved there in 1979, there was a solid selection of shops where I could build my evolving collection of Punk and electronica. But in 1982, with the purchase of “Planet Rock”, my entire shift to the new fangled Hip Hop was complete. In the early days, my needs were serviced by the small independents who would generally stock whatever Punk singles I wanted. Our Price did have a policy of not stocking or ordering artists like Crass or Discharge because of their content, but others picked up the slack.
But as my musical tastes developed, and my needs as a DJ became more discerning i.e. paying £4.99 for import 12’s, my need for local shops diminished, and trips to the bright lights of Leeds became a weekly event. And at the same time, CDs began to have an impact, followed by the internet… well you know the rest. Keighley now has no record shops, except one tiny independent that holds a special place in my heart.
Nestling beneath a small camera shop is The Den — a very small audiophile boutique that sells gear of a quality and price that most of us can only aspire to. But back in the day, it was my goto shop for new and interesting vinyl. If I couldn’t order something in the retail chains, Neil Ramsden could get it for me. This was where I laid my hands on early House releases, as well as dipping my toes into other areas on music (Jazz mainly) that were more suited to The Den’s audiophile profile.
Now fast forward 24 years to Record Store Day. The Den is still going, albeit with a vinyl selection that is smaller that what I used to play out with. The audiophile gear is still selling well, but vinyl is a different picture. The proprietor Neil is a specialist — a real vinyl purist of epic proportions. He tells me that it’s near impossible to make money selling quality vinyl in the UK, but when the US exchange rate is better, he’ll stock up again. He does however distribute home-grown vinyl abroad.
His disdain for much of the vinyl that is produced these days is palpable. His passion boils over into anger as he relates stories of studios pushing MP3s to pressing plants. “They just don’t get it” he says, and I have to agree with him. His opinion is balanced by tales of local recording studios who still record entirely in analogue and follow that connection right through to pressing vinyl.
I guess it comes down to why you buy vinyl. I used to buy it for numerous reasons, but mainly so that I’d have hot tracks fresh from the importer. But these days, I’m enjoying the story — the quality, provenance and the journey of new releases, as well as plugging what I would consider to be gaps in my collection. On Saturday, I grabbed a mint copy of Ornette Coleman’s “Skies of America” from 1972. Why that? Well I need more Jazz in my collection, and Ornette Coleman is one of my favourite Jazz artists. But I also got this because it fuses Jazz with Classical. I was recently very taken with Benji B’s urban fusion with a string ensemble, and figured that this particular LP was worth the £12.99 I paid for it. But at the end of the day, I bought this piece for a reason, and I’ll always remember the day I bought it, where I bought it and why.
So this one piece of vinyl has travelled across the ocean from 1972 to 2012, in mint condition, and has been bought for very specific reasons that I’ll always be able to relate to anyone who asks. And that dear reader is the magic of vinyl for me. It is real, touchable, collectable and magical. You pay your money and you get an actual tangible thing in return, in this case including a hand-written receipt that will stay in the sleeve. I know that much of my collection is mass-produced trash that sounds awful, hence me not buying into the sound quality discussions, nor will I be spending £250 on interconnects or £5000 on a slab of wood with a tonearm. These days, I’m much happier with iTunes and having extensive playlists being pumped out through a Focusrite Forte interface to KRK RP6 monitors, if only because it’s convenient. And I really don’t care about the science or anecdotal evidence, because for me and my ears, digital sounds bloody amazing in the worxlab.
Did you partake in Record Store Day? Is every day Record Store Day for you? Are you a young buck for whom vinyl is a relic of a bygone era? Or do you have a record buying story to tell?