Record shopping is a funny world and one that I inhabit. My life has involved a long and varied relationship with record shopping, record collecting, record boasting and lumping boxes of the fucking things from one flat or house to another. Like any long-term relationship, it’s had its ups and downs. There have been failed experiments (I’m looking at you Willie Nelson), tragedies, (still reeling from the damp floor/ruined Ninja Tune sleeve incident of 1998), epiphanies (half-term, dingy room, Aphex Twin), dysfunction (6 months without a record player in the noughties after an ill-advised boozey attempt at scratching with a belt-driven deck) and, most of all, love. So much love. Despite the cost, the dust, the space or the endless conversations with delivery people (‘yep, that IS a lot of records…no, not really into the Eagles…well, you never know what’s hidden away in a loft…yes, maybe you should get it valued…’), I love the things.
I don’t have kids and I don’t have a dog. I have records. I have weird records that I bought on a whim. Most of these are shit. Whims are shit. I have records that, bunched together, tell stories of time-bound fads and obsessions. That moment, for instance, when I went a bit West Coast mad and bought as much CSN, Byrds, Country Joe and the Fish and Flying Burrito Brothers as I could (an endeavour ruined somewhat by the discovery that much of the live material had clearly been recorded by a dude concealing a tape recorder in his bong). There was my brief flirtation with gabber. For those unfamiliar, this is stupidly speedy (tempo and otherwise) Euro techno that is, basically, fucking awful. My wife is not keen on that at all. Although, she prefers it to my on-off friendship with skate thrash and the Pacific-North-West-power-violence scene. That’s just ‘shouty bollocks’.
There are some bits that are longer lasting of course. The emergence of grunge and the broader American underground in the late 80s and early 90s is a sound and style that I have never really moved on from. The names Mudhoney, Tad and the Melvins still send a drop D, plaid shirted, shiver down my spine. The same can be said of the records that make up my first real spending spree. Before I got cool and started buying things on Warp and Rephlex; post-baggy indie pop emerged just as the economic conditions of my life improved.
You see, early teenage me was skint. I don’t mean pushing a bike up a hill for fucking bread or whatever skint, I lived in the bad land suburbs in the south east after all. I mean that like most kids who are twelve or thirteen, I had no money of my own. It was that weird bit of your life when your body is half boy half man. Sprouting hairs and accumulating zits like no tomorrow. It’s that time when your voice moves from baritone elegance to weird squeaky oddball. The time when your female teachers are both substitute mother and unbearable sex fantasy (and who you accidentally call Mum in moments directly followed by a wish for instant death). It’s also the time when your consumerist desires change. For many years (about three or four really) all I wanted was football stuff and Star Wars stuff. My room was homage to the first division and to the Death Star. My heroes wore Crown Paints on their shirt or wielded light sabres. Music was sort of there but not really. I could hear strains of Wham, Spandau Ballet and Frankie drifting out of my older sister’s room (she is STILL listening to all of those bands) and my mum played Neil Diamond when she was a bit pissed, but real devotion to music playing was just not a thing in our house. For my part, I liked Kylie and I quite liked Madonna. I loved Five Star. Transvision Vamp started to trouble my teenage testosterone and Jon Bon Jovi had cool hair. It wasn’t what you might call connoisseurship.
Like everyone else though this changed at secondary school. Toys were suddenly a bit embarrassing. Liking sport was ok as long as you didn’t seem too bothered by it. The hard lads at school seemed to see any kind of enthusiasm as evidence of weakness and a free pass at giving you a thump in the guts or a withering insult (both hurt). The cool lads knew their music. They were mostly different from the hard lads but with some Venn diagram overlap – the cool/hard lads were a rare breed still talked of in hushed tones. They mostly had older brothers or sisters that were in a different universe. They got in cars not driven by their parents. They went to the pub. They smoked fags without coughing and looked like grown-ups. Yes, they wore our school uniform, but they did it better. They put the thin bit of their school tie out the front and tucked the fat bit inside their shirt. They wore trainers instead of school shoes. They had acid smiley face badges on their lapels and always seemed to have a walk that exuded confidence rather than the limping shuffle of their awkward peers. They knew their tunes. Man oh man, did they know their tunes. Earphones appeared from inside their school blazers. Their Walkmans (Walkmen?) were handled with quick-fingered expertise and tapes were flipped with the magnificence of Vegas croupiers. Not for them the latest Smash Hits freebie or the top 40 taped off of Radio One. No, they had albums by bands with mysterious names that sounded like they were made on other planets. They listened to loud guitars that chimed in minor chords or bleeps and breaks that sounded illegal. It seemed that the rule here was simple; chart music equalled shit music. You had to find something outside of the familiar. You had to crack some kind of code. You needed a cool mate. You needed Rich.
He came to our school a little later than most and like those kids always seemed to be, he was cool in a quiet way. He wasn’t intimidating or unapproachable. He was just sort of nice. He had cool hair and had a girlfriend called Jenny. He smoked Marlboros. The go to brand at our school was Embassy so this marked him out as some kind of maverick. He listened to Hendrix and the Doors. He had a tape with a banana on the front with songs about taking heroin on it. He had another one that had strange unsettling songs about loneliness sung by a man with a deep voice and a Macclesfield accent. This wasn’t just cool music; it was fucking amazing. Rich lent us tapes so we could copy them at home (miles ahead of those Johnny come lately Napster twats). He lent us magazines that had articles about these bands. He told us who John Peel was. He told us tales of the vast and epic vinyl landscape in his house. His older brother (a figure who lived in an unknown land named ‘Uni’) had passed on records to Rich. We could go round and listen them if we wanted to. Thank fuck for Rich.
This is where it all began. I wanted records. I wanted a record player. I wanted to get rid of all of my Star Wars toys and my pile of Roy of the Rovers comics. I was suddenly ashamed of my Superman wallpaper and Spiderman duvet set. It was time to grow up and buying records was how I intended to signify this move into adulthood. The problem was, as I said above, I didn’t have any money. I had my pocket money I suppose. It was enough for Panini stickers and a bag of rhubarb and custards (the actual sweets, not the celebrated disco biscuits of later years) but not great for fitting out my newfound maturity with a suitable record collection. My Dad is a good bloke and resists many of the stereotypes about Scottish people of his generation. He doesn’t drink whiskey or smoke javelin length cheap fags. He likes Billy Connelly but has no interest in the Proclaimers. He hates Hogmanay and thinks Sean Connery is a bellend. But he is a bit tight. By that I don’t mean he’s a skinflint or bitter about other people’s success. He’ll always get a round in (just not whiskey) and he’s helped out the adult version of me on more times than I care to list here. But he is a bit tight. He hates money being wasted and he hated me wasting money on teenage fads. Records were such a fad. They weren’t like books or bikes or car stuff; they were items that had longevity and they lasted. Records were a passing interest at best. If I wanted records, then I had to earn the money and even then, I probably shouldn’t actually buy any. There’s a bit of me that’s probably still rebelling whenever I buy a record. By ‘probably’, of course, I mean absolutely without a doubt.
I love going to the car boot sale these days. A good wander around, some second-hand records, a cup of terrible tea. It’s the sort of middle-aged bag I am happy to carry around. It’s remarkable that I do really because it was a car boot sale held on a shitty spring Sunday at my sister’s school that left one of my deepest teenage scars. This is a grievance that I will carry to my grave. I admit that I hold grudges about the smallest things (crap presents and unresolved arguments still linger from last century) but this is no small potatoes. It’s a mountain of fucking mash. My dad made me sell all my crap. At a car boot. For not much money.
I know, I know, I’ve already said that I was eager to make the leap from child to adult and that the toys needed to go. But not this way. Not on this morning. My Star Wars figures were piled up in an ice cream tub and flogged for a tenner. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those wankers who wants to salivate over box fresh toys and bang on about their value. People like that don’t deserve toys in the first place. But come on! A tenner? The geezer that bought them could hardly contain himself. I once got hold of a copy of LFO by LFO in its lovely purple sleeve for 50p. I was shaking as I handed the coins over, sure that I would be rumbled. This must be a bit like this man felt. The difference is that I bought this record from a house clearance bloke who didn’t know his Phil Collins arse from his bleep and bass elbow. Not from a child. A grown man bought a child’s Star Wars toys in an old ice cream tub for a tenner. I hope he at least did well out of them. Bought his first car or put down a deposit on a house. No, fuck that. I hope he choked on Han Solo’s blaster gun.
If that wasn’t bad enough, ten minutes later I sold all of my Roy of the Rovers comics in a bundle for a fiver. For most readers, I imagine that won’t even cause a ripple of shock. So what? A football comic? No bother. Not for me though. The emotional investment I put into those stories is hard to quantify. It wasn’t just the titular hero and his Melchester Rovers team (Roy Race was actually a bit too much of a sanctimonious twat for me) but the super weird adventures of Billy Dane and his magic old time boots, the pure and unadulterated thuggery of Johnny ‘Hard Man’ Dexter and the lethal right foot of Highland league superman ‘Hot Shot’ Hamish Balfour were my foundation stories. I work with books and complex narratives every day of my working life and this is where it began. As a young man, I didn’t read books really (unless they were football annuals) and struggled with English lessons at school. But those stories…wow. The thunk on the doormat as the comic arrived on a Saturday morning (about an hour or two before Saint and Greavsie started) was the best moment of the week. I even went on the telly to talk about Roy’s 50th birthday. The editor of the comic lived on my friend Jason’s road and he, alongside a BBC film crew, came into our school looking for interviewees. Me and a bloke called Simon spoke. My school tie was flapping over my shoulder as I talked about Roy ‘looking good for his age’. I was on the Breakfast news, the lunchtime news and, most impressive of all, John fucking Craven’s fucking Newsround. It’s still my proudest moment (and my mum’s too if I’m depressingly honest). So selling these in a tatty bundle for a fiver was rubbish. No more Star Wars toys and no more Roy of the Rovers. But I did have fifteen quid. All mine. All ready to join the record buying elite. Now was the time to become cool and emulate Rich and his magical brother. Bollocks to you hard lads. Cool lads, I’m coming for you. Make room for a new member.
Reader, I choked.
I bought a Madonna record. I bought a Dire Straits record. I bought a Poison record.
Why? I cannot say. It just sort of happened. Madonna sat there on her bed and her big belt buckle said ‘buy me’ (turned out it said ‘Boy Toy’). Mark Knopfler’s guitar against its pastel blue background reeled me in. Fuck knows what happened with Poison. I would make a joke about every rose and its thorn but it’s all too sad. Over the next few years these records sat at the back of my collection. A collection that had got better and better and definitely cooler. They sat there as a reminder of the sliver that exists between cool and not cool. They were laughed at by friends and girlfriends. So I flogged them. They went to another car boot sale on another shitty spring morning at my sister’s school. A quid each. I can live with their loss.
The money issue persisted though. I only had so much stuff to sell. So, I went through the rite of passage all suburban kids must endure. A paper round. Two, in fact. One was the St Albans Observer, the other the St Albans Herald. They were indistinguishable. Free sheets that nobody wanted unless there was a photo of their kid’s school play on page two or a report about their spouse in the courts section. They were mostly made up of adverts and printed with ink that was both blurry and indelible. I had to deliver 200 odd to the houses around my red brick housing estate. I used an old trolley and it took hours. I hated it. I got paid £4.62 for one round and the much finer sum of £7.18 for the other. This amounted to £11.80 for about 7 hours work and is probably the reason that I’ve always joined the union in my adult life. Some snotty little kids had their mums helping them. Their mountains of papers were in the boots of Volvos and were driven around the various crescents and cul-de-sacs with their weird pastoral names. Not me. My mum and dad insisted that this was character building. They just didn’t say what kind of character. The fact that I’m still whinging about it now probably answers that question. Still, it was a regular wage of sorts and gave me a chance to recalibrate by record shopping. It meant a couple of singles a week or a new LP. It meant a weekly trip up town with my mate Paul and a trawl around the shops. It meant Saturday mornings on the bus with two brown envelopes laden with coins ready to spend. It was a start but it wasn’t enough. Greater financial clout lay ahead. I was about to get a Saturday job
These days, Boots is just a massive shampoo and pain killer supermarket but it wasn’t always that way. No, in the mid-90s it sold all sorts. It had a ‘cook shop’, millions of photo albums, horrid picture frames, crap clothes and my own domain, the unintentionally Bowie-esque ‘Sound and Vision’. We sold CDs, tapes and all the plastic gadgets one required for playing them. These ranged from the desirable (the yellow Sony Sports Walkman is still the single greatest aesthetic achievement in human history AND it had auto reverse) to the rubbish (anything that was made by Alba and came in that weird pastel grey colour). I learnt the language of gadgets without ever really knowing how they worked. I knew that joggers needed ‘anti-rolling’ technology’ but never knew what that was (or why joggers always tell you that they are joggers with the first five syllables they utter). Best of all was the staff discount. Oh boy. I could get stuff for 20% off. I actually got a massive 40% off Boots own brand stuff but most of it was so shit and shameful that this remained unused. This was handy for Christmas and was great for my parents’ silver wedding (incidentally, if my sister is reading this, you still owe me fifty-five quid for the dining set). But, sadly, it was crap for music buying.
Me and two blokes called Pat and Gav sort of fooled ourselves into thinking that the job was cooler than it was. I mean, it was definitely the plum spot in Boots, the lads who worked on the main tills selling hair spray and pre-packed BLTs looked upon us with genuine envy. One even sidled up to me in the smoking room and asked if I could ‘get him in’. Not a chance sir, this was an exclusive club (and I had beyond no influence. My influence was in the negative). Yep, we were the rockin’ bad boys of Boots. The chemist’s own tastemakers. But what that position really entailed was playing the few CDs in stock that were just about ok. The Sound of the Suburbs CD was not bad in a kind of Jam and Buzzcocks sort of way. The Stones greatest hits got plenty of airtime (until it hit the 80s bit) and Legend got played a lot (regularly requested by Jules the lonely Jamaican security guard). Our boss was a terrifying psychopath called Avril. She loved telling us that she ‘bled Boots’ and would be ‘happy to die here’. Yep, this was as depressing as it sounds and may have even come true for all I know. She used to walk past us and demand that we ‘turn off the heavy metal’ (a reference to anything involving an electric guitar). CDs in the top five were the store policy but this was a regulation we were proud to break. It’s not like we were Miles Davis and John Coltrane rewriting the rules of jazz (there is only so much iconoclasm one can manage in a polyester tie) but we did play ‘Jesus Built my Hotrod’ by Ministry (I even brought in my own copy) at ten to five on my last day. Eat that Avril you knob.
We dreamed of conversations with credible punters who were looking for new drum n’ bass compilations or indie kids searching for rare 4AD releases. Instead, we got mums looking for the new Now compilation for their kid’s 10th birthday. We got dads clutching post-it notes with band names scrawled on them (one smug idiot proudly asked for ‘the album by…* adjusts glasses*…Rapid Eye Movement’). The worst of it all was the shoppers tapping in to the so-called ‘over 35 CD market’. I don’t know who coined this term but they need a punch. It meant dross. It meant the kind of played out dad rock that gives Jeremy Clarkson and David Cameron a semi (funnily enough, the sort of stuff that now gets repacked and flogged in ‘special collection’ vinyl box sets to the same set of wankers who were buying it from me in the 90s). It meant compilations with beaches and palm trees on the cover or pictures of cars driving past beaches and palm trees. Or pictures of women in swimming suits in cars driving past beaches and palm trees. It meant blokes who wear suits with the sleeves rolled up and make videos with identikit women playing in their band. It meant Later with Jools fucking Holland. It meant estate agents and regional sales managers spending their soul-exchange money. Ultimately, it was music for people who don’t like music. Getting a 20% discount on this was the epitome of futility. No, my money was going elsewhere.
I want to tell you about the grungy little indie shop I used to go to. About its cast of quirky characters and their Nick Hornby ways. I want to tell you about a shop like the one Richard King describes in Original Rockers as ‘tatterdemalion’. The sort of place that Charlatans head honcho Tim Burgess celebrates in his vinyl love letter Tim Book Two. I want to tell you that the punters were all connoisseurs on the hunt for that special and oh so rare limited edition gatefold pressing of Teenage Fanclub or the rumoured Frank and Walters run of 500. I want to tell you that the staff consisted of Frank Zappa savants who had smoked crack with Bez and shagged Mark E Smith (possibly at the same time, probably not). I want to tell you that it has survived the slings and arrows of the industry and is still standing. I want to tell you all of that because it is the story we’ve all got used to. It’s the one that we all love.
But I can’t.
St Albans only had Our Price. Actually, it had two but one of them was pretty small and was in the new fangled ‘Maltings’ pedestrianized shopping ‘experience’ (this was where my sister and her friend Dorothy Perkins and the girls Chelsea and Tammy hung out. It sucked.) The other Our Price was a bit better. It was near the market stalls so on Wednesdays and Saturdays its shop stereo battled with the fruit and veg blokes shouting ‘pandapandapears’ and ‘gerralaaavleeegrapesnappppellll’. To get through the front door you had to boot litter out of the way and say ‘alright’ to whichever staff member was having a quick smoke outside. It had two floors and they were dirty. It had three staff and they were pretty dirty too. It was branded in that famous red and grey but it was long past needing a lick of paint. Staff badges hung at weird angles from crumpled staff t-shirts. Boxes of stuff fought for space at the back of the shop. Cargoes of empty jewel cases made a break for freedom. Downstairs was all the crap. Piles of the stuff 90s enthusiasts conveniently leave out of the Brit Pop celebrations, BBC4 epics and lottery funded exhibitions. Aqua, Whigfield, Mr Blobby, the second Stone Roses album. All that shite. Upstairs, however, was where they kept the Holy Grail (or at least as close as you got to it in my middle England hell).
The indie section.
It was only three racks, but it was wonderful. It contained the names of bands I’d only glimpsed on the psychedelic fairground bit of the Chart Show or seen written on the back of German Army jackets worn by some of the cool lads at school. Fugazi, Bridewell Taxis, Mega City Four, New Fast Automatic Daffodils, Silverfish, Th’Faith Healers and, the band who were to become an obsession, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin. The indie section was held in reverence. These were the actual records we saw reviewed by the smug fucks in the NME. These were the actual records we heard on John Peel. There they were. They were just a pay packet away from sitting in our bedrooms. They were just a Tippex bottle away from being enshrined on our school bags and on the back of toilet doors. They were just a C60 away from being shared with mates who would gasp at your newfound cultural clout and insider knowledge. There. They. Were. Fuck me it was glorious.
So, my world of record buying had finally arrived. Me and my little band of pals talked about records ALL the time.
No, that’s bollocks.
We talked about records some of the time. We talked about girls we were impossibly in love with much more. And we slagged off our mental teachers and parents quite a lot too. We also talked about the best people to score small bits of hash from. So there was all of that. But, we did talk about records quite a lot and a lot of these conversations were on the same day as all the stuff about girls, teachers, parents and small bits of hash. This was a bit of my life soundtracked by weird indie bands. The more obscure the better. We talked of Grebo and shoegaze. We liked the Camden Lurch scene but weren’t so keen on the fact that the NME had named it. We read that famous old rag every week on the day it came out. Obsessively. Religiously. But we all claimed to hate the fucking thing. It was bourgeois nonsense. It turned our beloved music into a broken commodity in a world of transparent cultural capital. Well, that’s what our mate Jim said and we usually agreed with him. We wore indie T-shirts to show our taste. We learnt the hard way, though, that you shouldn’t wear a band’s t-shirt to one of their gigs. You also shouldn’t wear a Swervedriver t-shirt to a gig with a pissed crusty on the door as they might think it’s a Screwdriver t-shirt and call you a fascist cunt as they cover you with marker pen (true story – it happened to Jim). Nope, this was a terrible faux pas. We argued with our parents about how grubby our DMs were and how nasty or unkempt our hair was. We wasted all of our newly earned money on records (and small bits of hash) and that caused rows too. It got to the point where you would sneak records home. They would be hidden under your coat and stashed away in a drawer. Once we got ensconced in our rooms and got those beauties on our shitty record players (no 1210s for us), the world opened up. We were Mark Gardner or Dan Dan the Fast Drumming Man. Tennis rackets for guitars, hockey sticks were the bass. Lyrics were internalised, ready to be yelled at the band the next time they played in Hatfield or Hemel Hempstead.
Records, records records. Sometime wax, sometimes choons. Never ever fucking vinyls. Since the early 90s they have been the constant. My one true love.
Wait, that’s bollocks too.
My first true love was actually a pretty dysfunctional one. Tapes. Neat little rectangles stacked in corners. Those perfect spines just big enough to display the contents. Shops selling row upon row of them. Most of my early musical purchases were on tape. They were cheap and, of course, they were the format best suited to my mobile teenage life. Like most kids my age I became a kind of cyborg human-walkman hybrid. The first of these machines was bought with that Boots discount. A top of the range matt black Sony auto-reverse machine…sat right next to the Alba monstrosity that I bought for about half the price (and with my discount). It was an awful thing. Clunky, coloured in that terrible grey palette and replete with spongy orange headphones on a metal alice band. It was a handy way of telling your schoolmates that, no matter how low your finances were, your levels of taste and sophistication were even lower. It did the job though. I listened to my freebie indie compilations and my treasured copy of Bossa Nova by the Pixies while I was cycling to school and while I was doing my paper round. I even started carrying around spare AA batteries just in case the music started its strange and lysergic journey to flatness when voices grew bassier and the gaps between tinny beats lasted that little bit longer.
Tapes were also my first real shot at law breaking. All of my Mum and Dad’s LPs (all 8 of them) carried dire warnings regarding a musical apocalypse. A skull and crossbones on the inner sleeve loomed over the phrase ‘home taping is killing music’. It was a chilling sight and one that would be repeated years later by those ridiculously threatening adverts about pirate VHS tapes. These communiqués told us that committing either of these acts was a line too far. You would have the doors of your house kicked in by a cabal of coppers, market stallholders and tooled up members of Genesis. Yep, it was a serious offence. We didn’t care though. We spent money on packs of TDK blank tapes. We bought C60s usually (C90s were for wankers and show offs) and we taped the living fuck out of each other. We taped LPs and singles. We sat by the radio hitting the pause button to cut out the droning bullshit offered by Bruno Brookes. We taped other tapes, the music becoming a Baudrilladian version of itself, fading and fading until the gaps and absences meant as much as the pentatonic solo. We taped stuff at home on equipment so crap that it picked up mum’s hoovering and Dad’s lawn mower. We swapped tapes, we nicked tapes of each other and we traded tapes for luxury items (those small bits of hash again). We impressed the girls on the bus and up town with our tapes (although we very rarely made them mix tapes, that was a high school rom-com cliché and far too much effort for us to ever really do). The cool lads had tapes from raves or bought on Camden market. It was a world in flux where you would tape music over other music and end up with accidental hybrids and collages. They were useless and they unwound but they were glorious in their functionality. Oh God they were ace and they were shit.
I see now that they are making a trendy comeback. There’s a ‘cassette store day’ and you can buy t-shirts, mugs and phone cases (guilty, guilty and fucking well guilty) with pictures of cassettes on them. I think I’m OK with this. I reckon it won’t be long before we all remember that tapes were basically crap and that any nostalgia for them is probably the same as nostalgia for chopper bikes; fun for five minutes until they crack you in the nuts and fall apart.
I have hundreds of CDs too. No one could live through the nineties and noughties without them. Look, records are ace but they can be a pain in the arse. You have to get up and flip them over (I would have written all of this a fuck of a lot quicker if I hadn’t been flipping records over every 20 minutes). You can’t skip to your favourite track. They can’t be played on the road or in a mate’s car. They get damaged easily. They take up lots of space. CDs, we were promised, were the answer to all of this. Tomorrow’s World used to be a real programme. It’s hard to believe this now as it seems like a hauntological parody of itself. But it really was a big part of weekly telly. They told us that CDs were pretty much indestructible. You could chuck them out of a car window. You could stub out an Embassy Number 1 on them. You could even take your house keys and play noughts and crosses on the things if you so desired. They were the future. I don’t care what anyone says now. We all bought into this. Rather than remembering stuff like the Berlin Wall coming down, I remember going to the Galleria shopping centre in Hatfield with my dad while he bought out first fancy stereo. It was a Kenwood and it was genuinely wonderful. It had a record deck that only conked out when I had it in Finsbury Park in 2001, a CD player that lasted about a year more and the biggest, heaviest, badass speakers I’ve ever known (my mate Adam has them on the Isle of Wight now and I check on their wellbeing whenever I speak to him). It was matt black and sexy as fuck. It beat all the rubbish I sold in Boots into a cocked bucket hat. Who wouldn’t want some of that? So began my own CD years. The first was Hendrix in 1992 the last was Squarepusher this week. They’re still great. They are handy, cheap and available. Sorry vinyl, you’ll have to share me with CDs.
And with my IPod too.
This is getting weird. I’m supposed to be convincing you of my unadulterated love affair with records but it seems as if I am a big old tart who’ll have a go on anything. I got an IPod once all of the fuss had died down. It was a Christmas present and I was pretty sceptical. You see, I’d been burnt. I got into mini discs. I was an evangelist for the things. I bought a stereo (the one that replaced the awesome Kenwood) and made sure it had capacity for playing mini discs. I bought a portable mini disc player (inevitably named a ‘mini-discman’) and spent hours copying album after album onto them. It was only after a few months that I noticed the names of tracks would appear across the dot matrix screens of my newfound kit. This blew my mind to bits. I carried bundles of mini discs wherever I went and banged on about their ‘superior fidelity’ to whoever was unfortunate enough to be listening. I was a mini disc bore. I was living the mini disc dream.
And then they vanished. Gone. No one was talking about them or using them anymore. They just stopped being a thing. Why? Fucking Apple and their fucking vision of the fucking future.
I heard Lauren Laverne talking about IPods once and she said something that I think about nearly every time I use mine. She said that if someone had told her 15-year-old self that one day she could carry around her whole record collection in her pocket it would have made her mind explode. It’s pretty hard to argue with this. Now that we access music in the way that we do, it’s hard to remember just how mad the concept of the IPod was to the uninitiated. It was a little bit of plastic that carried around thousands of tunes. Actually, scratch that, the final iterations of the product carried thousands of hours of music (alright, it’s not that many but the repetition of thousands reads better). It’s all so overwhelming. How can you listen to that many songs? How can you get a handle on all of those musical ideas or all of that history? All wrapped up in a neat little gadget with its playful click wheel and practically perfect white earphones. It’s like the class swot or the person that keeps winning on Bake Off. You sort of admire them yet find them deeply irritating all at the same time. There’s so many songs in them and they find them so quickly and it’s all so fucking clever. Even the clicks are sweet and lovely. It’s tedious. But, just like CDs they are fallible. It turned out that CDs weren’t indesctructable. One speck of dust or a spilt ashtray would fuck them into oblivion and destroy whatever machine was try to eek music out of them. IPods are the same. They run out of steam. They start behaving weirdly. The neat little earphones are destined to shed their pure white sheaths and reveal their wirey nakedness. All of these gadgets end up on the scrap heap. I chuckle at the idiots that flogged all their music because they had ‘ripped’ (what a telling verb) all of it to a computer only for that computer to wave cheerio as it went to the great hard drive in the sky (is this what the cloud is?). While we’re on the topic of gadgets and new fangled ways of enjoying music, it’s time to categorically state that streaming is bullshit. No one is getting paid. This means that posh twats are making all the music for focus-grouped mugs. Streaming is the reason that Ed Sheeran is the biggest artist on earth. People who make Spotify playlists are the same people who bought C90s.
This is why, despite dalliances and adventures in the sun with other formats, records stay the course. They don’t offer convenience. They don’t offer portability. They don’t offer visions of the future or a chance to go to the #susanalbumparty. They just sit there being great objects. They sound ok to me on my average stereo and they look pretty good on my shelf. I am more than halfway through my life now and I don’t really care about the next big thing. I have the records I have and they will last as long as I do and probably a bit longer. They’ll end up in car boot sales or the charity shop or some enterprising relative I haven’t met yet will flog them. I don’t mind which. I still go to record shops and I love crate digging in charity shops and at car boot sales. I order a lot online too. The thrill at my weekly Roy of the Rovers has now been replaced by the mysterious red cards left by the postie and the awkward knock on my neighbour’s door (to be fair, if you sit around in your pants smoking draw all day you do end up as the local sorting office pretty quickly). I still shiver at the word indie and keep promising myself that I’ll get a cool record label tattoo one day (my mate Nathan has Trojan on his bicep – it’s well good). Friendships that are still dear to me are shaped around chances to listen to each other’s records and pretend we’ve heard of the latest obscure release. I love techno, I love jungle, but I am still a bit scared of dance music shops. I love grunge and shoegaze, but I am still a bit bored by nerdy indie fans. Most of all, I am my records. They are 12-inch slabs of memory and the stories they hold shape me. They are dusty and they are annoying. So am I though, and that’s alright.