A memory from August 2013
It’s started. After a 23 year gap I’m buying LPs again.
Not that I’ve got a turntable mind. That won’t come ’til next week. But it’s ordered.
For months, possibly years, I’ve been magnetically pulled towards any turntables I’d happen to see when we’ve been in town shopping. Or rather when Sarah’s been shopping and I’ve been loping along beside her. Because I don’t really ‘shop’ and have very little need for ‘things.’ My birthday present this year was, well, nothing. And I was very happy with it because there was nothing I wanted. If it was relying on me the economy would be in an even worse state than it is.
And in charity shops, ostensibly there to recycle our books, I’d find myself flicking through the second-hand LPs. Until fondly reminded that I no longer possessed a turntable to play them on and hadn’t had one for many years.
Well there’s a turntable been ordered now and I’ve been to the Smithdown Road Oxfam and flicked through the second hand LPs with renewed vigour. Because I’ve found that I want LPs back in my life.
I stopped buying them when I finally got my first CD player back in 1990. I’d resisted CDs for all the usual reasons:
- I already had thousands of LPs and wasn’t going to be conned into buying them all again;
- I loved the sound of them and hadn’t been as impressed with my friends CD players as I was with my own turntable;
- And I’m a naturally contrary sort, so ‘everyone else is doing it’ is always a good enough reason in itself for me not to join in.
But in the end I did join in and I even bought some of my ‘essential’ music on CD when I already had all their stuff on vinyl. You know, the Beatles, David Bowie, Kate Bush, Scott Walker, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder, Dusty Springfield, Miles Davis, Blue Nile. I could go on.
And in the end, after Sarah had moved in with me, bringing her own healthy vinyl collection, there came the day when I rang the Vinyl Exchange in Manchester, they came over, we agreed a price, and they carted all the vinyl away. Shortly followed by selling the turntable to Cash Convertors.
- We were clearing everything, minimalising;
- Creating space for our new idea, our a sense of place;
- Getting ready to leave our jobs and start anew;
- As you can read in our story, here.
But why did the vinyl go when I loved it so much?
Well, there was too much of it and we wanted space more than stuff. And I’ve never regretted getting rid of it all for a minute. What we’ve done with our lives these past 20 years has been a wondrous adventure. And it’s not like there’s been no music in it. There were CDs, then iTunes, also Spotify. And there’s a music collection backed up on little hard drives here bigger than anything we had when the studio where I’m sitting now was groaning with LPs.
Compilations are now easy to do and are a joy. In fact, much of our listening is done with iTunes on permanent shuffle, or the giant collections I’ve compiled on Spotify.
But I’m buying LPs again. Why?
Some of it’s about CDs. I never did really take to them. Nasty little cases, cramped artwork, too long for the most part too. And the sound? We’ve had expensive, highly rated CD players here, but never better than ‘all right’ to my ears. When our last CD player broke a couple of years ago we didn’t bother replacing it. So we now have our perfectly decent amplifier and speakers linked to a computer, and CDs only get played in the kitchen or the car. Exactly the fate that befell cassettes in the early years of our coming together.
But a lot of my change of heart is about LPs and turntables themselves. I love the noise they make together. I love the beauty of the engineering.
And as our lives have become more considered and peaceful in the last year, with the walking and the ever more focussed working, I have found myself increasingly drawn back to the slow pleasures of the LP. Taking it out of its sleeve, dusting it, putting it onto the turntable and then carefully placing the needle on the record. And sitting back to the pleasure of what the engineering then does. Plays music better than any CD, cassette, DAT, mini-disc, mp3 player or computer I’ve ever heard.
So I’m looking forward to that. Deeply.
LPs aren’t perfect though. Flicking through them all, A-Z, in Oxfam today, was a salutary reminder that most LPs were crap. Two hits and a load of filler, compilations botched together by someone in a marketing department who doesn’t like music, or Neil Diamond. No wonder people like iTunes and Spotify.
But a well thought about LP is a wonderful thing. Forty odd minutes, in two halves, of music that flows, surprises, challenges and resolves. And so that’s what my new LP collection will be like. Won’t it?
So who makes these brilliant things? Well, erm, the Beatles, David Bowie, Kate Bush, Scott Walker, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder, Dusty Springfield, Miles Davis and the Blue Nile, of course. But also I’m looking forward to newer people. People whose stuff may never reach Oxfam. What does a Laura Marling LP sound like? People I haven’t even heard of yet? LPs are where the best recorded music has always lived most happily and I’m off to find it.
So follow my further adventures in vinyl here and don’t think for one minute this was a one-off article. One of the major pleasures of my life has just re-entered it. And I couldn’t be happier.
I am as of now, by the way, the possessor of one LP, from Oxfam today. ‘Still crazy after all these years.’ A piece of perfection from 1975 by Paul Simon. This weekend, before the turntable arrives, I’ll be visiting Liverpool’s premier vinyl supplier since 1971, Probe Records for some more perfection. And I’ll feel every inch the prodigal son returning.