Monday, June 8, 2015

Vinyl Reckoning

Demand for new music on vinyl is on the increase: it has been steadily rising over recent years and sales are now back to their 1997 level, helped in part by April’s annual Record Store Day, when special vinyl releases by bands are much sought after. There may have been over a million vinyl sales last year but it still only accounts for 2% of the music market. Whoever the buyers are, it is still a niche area: I am sure there are some diehards who have never stopped buying vinyl and others who have returned to it; and there are undoubtedly younger music fans, raised on digital and not having known music in a physical form, who are responding to the retro appeal of records and turntables.

Even though I still listen to vinyl, I am not part of this new revolution. The sad pedant in me likes to keep my music collection compartmentalised: I have a strict line in the sand for when vinyl ended. I resisted the CD revolution of the mid-1980s and persisted with records until the early 90s when they became an increasingly marginalised format. The difficulty of finding new releases on vinyl made me finally relent. The last two vinyl albums in my chronologically arranged collection are The End of the Surrey People by Vic Godard and Sabresonic by the Sabres of Paradise. This dates my vinyl surrender to 1993 - when I made the switch to cassettes. This was just bloody-mindedness on my part and clearly did not last long as the first CD I bought was Dummy by Portishead, released in 1994. And it didn’t help that I had most of the cassettes stolen when my car got nicked. So, I have a strict format divide when buying music: anything released in 1993, or earlier, I have to buy on vinyl; anything released in 1994, or later has to be on CD.

Having been very briefly tempted by the digital age, I have chosen to shun iTunes and Spotify and I buy all my new music on CD from the wonderful Music's Not Dead shop in Bexhill; but I have never stopped trawling through the racks of charity shops and - increasingly rarely - second-hand record establishments to fill in those pre-94 gaps. Whether through sentimentality or regret, I have spent a reasonable amount of time over the last fifteen years hunting down a mental list of vinyl albums that I never bought at the time or, more usually, that I had but they fell from my clutches - either stolen, lost or sold.

When I was a young person, albums were a fluid currency, a commodity to be pawned: if you needed a few quid quickly, second-hand record shops, where you could sell a couple of albums, were legion. There were many gigs that I attended in the 70s and 80s that were funded by the proceeds of hastily sold albums. More often than not, I would pick up another second-hand copy a few weeks later; but some slipped through the net and over recent years I rectified this when I stumbled across copies of albums such as Raw Power, The Image Has Cracked and Soul Mining. The list is a lot shorter now but it still contains the first Roxy Music album, the New York Doll's Too Much Too Soon, Two Sevens Clash by Culture (how many levels of idiocy was I operating on the day I sold that one?) and The Pogues' Rum, Sodomy and the Lash. I am sure I could buy these over the internet at a click but that's not the point. It would deprive me of going to places like The Vinyl Frontier in Eastbourne.

Recently relocated from the Old Town area to the Little Chelsea quarter of Eastbourne, The Vinyl Frontier specialises in new, used and rare vinyl. In spacious and light-filled premises with a cafe area at the back, the shop boasts a large stock of used vinyl for the dedicated browswer. With rare time to spare before collecting the kids from sporting activities, I spent a glorious half an hour on Saturday morning rack-flicking. There was nothing from my mental list but I was tempted by Elvis Costello's My Aim is True, an LP I never bought at the time on the grounds that he wasn't "punk enough". That was until I saw a copy of Eden, Everything But The Girl's sumptuous debut album. I recalled playing that LP to death in a grotty South London flat throughout 1984 but didn't seem to possess it anymore. Then I remembered: I lost custody of all the Everything But The Girl albums at the closing of a former life, along with many others. Now, there's a whole new excuse to search for old vinyl...

The Vinyl Frontier is at 35, Grove Road, Eastbourne, East Sussex BN21 4TT.

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