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Digging in the crates

October 30th, 2022 · Posted by Skuds in Music · No Comments · Music

At the moment I am still enjoying the novelty of having a turntable again and the rituals of playing a vinyl record. For a start there is that way of holding an LP by the edges and flipping it over, which just can’t be taught or described; you just do it, and even after so long the muscle memory is still there. The same goes for the lifting and placing of the stylus, but the biggest pleasure has been re-discovering the rituals of browsing.

Of course, if you know exactly what you want then it is easy to just go to Amazon and order it, which I did with the Anna Calvi album. In fact that is probably best if you do know exactly what you want and can’t guarantee that your local shop will have it in stock, but it is not a lot of fun.

This week I rediscovered the simple pleasure of going into a record shop and just browsing. I did this in the local HMV, going in without any firm objective beyond just seeing what took my fancy, which turned out to be Nadine Shah, PJ Harvey and Public Sector Broadcasting. It was like being 15 again, except when I was 15 a new LP cost about £2.98 and now it is upwards of £20 on average, which never ceases to shock me.

The experience of shopping in a proper shop is not quite the same as it used to be because there is just not the range of stock that there used to be. It is probably because vinyl was effectively dead for some years, so all that is in the shops is new music from the last few years, plus whatever has been re-released/re-pressed in the last few years. There is a lot less chance of finding surprises. You are not going to find an LP from 20 years ago, unless it has had a re-issue recently, let alone something from the 70s or 80s.

While in Heathfield this week I had a look in the charity shops there. I thought that it might be fun to look through whatever vinyl they had, which it was up to a point. Unfortunately there was nothing in any of them that took my fancy. I suspect that anything new or interesting gets snapped up quickly and that what remains just stays there for ever. I was tempted by Bizet’s L’Arlessiene suites, but the disc itself was so grubby and mouldy that it wasn’t even worth the pound it was priced at.

What I needed was something more up-to-date than the charity shop range but wider (and cheaper) than what HMV has to offer, but to find an independent shop or dealer means going to London or Brighton. However, there is another alternative – a record fair. I had a quick Google and found that there was one in East Grinstead today, so I went along for a look.

This was more like it! A church hall absolutely rammed with vinyl. A few new records, but mostly old. There were some highly-priced ‘collectable’ albums; limited editions, signed, imports or whatever, but also a lot of more normal albums at various price points. I really could have spent a) all day and b) a fortune there.

As it is I just picked up a couple of albums by 10cc and Peter Gabriel for a fiver each. As a matter of principle I was avoiding anything that I used to own but got rid of and that ruled out all the Pink Floyd, Yes and Genesis that would have otherwise tempted me. Unlike when I was a teenager I could have afforded to buy armfuls of records, but part of the pleasure of it all is the ritual of browsing for ages and just picking up a couple of things.

I did reflect, once I got home (and that was a challenge, getting fragile 12″ vinyl home on a motorbike!) that my purchases might have felt like a bargain compared to the sky-high prices of new vinyl but those two records probably cost significantly less than £5 each when new.

I also reflected on how flimsy records of the 70s and 80s are compared to the new ones. Most new records are on really heavy, thick vinyl which feels really substantial. The ones I picked up today felt almost like flexidiscs in comparison, though they are not as flimsy as some of the records I used to own, manufactured in Spain in the 70s.

I can’t complain though. An hour or so of browsing was a joy in itself and a tenner was a small price to pay for that, even before actually listening to the records. I shall be looking out for future record fairs locally – I think there is one in Crawley next month. I will also continue browsing HMV when I am in town, because it is a good way of killing time, but I think that when I want something specific I am likely to get it direct from the record company websites and I expect to be a frequent visitor to the Burning Shed, Soul Jazz Records, Mute and Cherry Red websites.

I will try to stick to my original intention of only having a small collection, but already I am starting to see how my brother-in-law turned into a born again vinyl junky!

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