PEOPLE wax nostalgic about vinyl. Amol Rajan was on the Today programme the other week, enthusing about the buzz and crackle as stylus nestles into groove.
He went all lyrical about the album covers and artwork too, or I think so; people usually do. As an old friend says on Facebook that he’s reverted to his vinyl LPs, I’d like to echo that, but the dust on my record deck lid tells a different story.
That deck is connected to an amplifier, streamer and CD player, all contained in one clever box. Add modest-sized but good speakers and all music is yours – well, apart from cassettes, and surely no-one yearns for those unspooling bars of plastic.
That said, those little slabs did slot into the Sony Walkman, the first time many of us had music on the go. They went into car stereos too, sometimes unravelling to messy effect, the music slurring to nothing in a mess of tape spaghetti.
The newish hi-fi box sits in the conservatory, while the LPs are lined up in alcoves outside our attic bedroom, divorced from the deck by two floors. Some are 50 years old, including my original copy of John Martyn’s Solid Air, an all-time favourite.
The CDs are closer to hand, lined in their hundreds on the sitting room wall, and still have occasional outings to the spinning slot in the amplifier.
When CDs came in, people with better ears than mine worried about the clinical sound. Yes, vinyl LPs spinning at 33⅓ rpm are real and immediate – and hazardous too when the stylus sticks or skips.
The nostalgic in me, that Hendrix-haired teenager who ordered Grateful Dead’s double live album from Cob Records in Porthmadog, still likes vinyl. Some of those overlooked old discs must be due another spin soon.
That boy’s bald-headed successor spotted a story in last Saturday’s Guardian with the headline “Step inside London’s hotel for vinyl lovers.” Not so much a hotel, it turns out, as a record shop cum warehouse in East London turned into a record-lover’s guesthouse.
The accommodation is free, so long as you agree to spend £250 on vinyl – an expensive night, and a lot of albums to store. Like the stylus, I’ll skip that one, even though it does sound rather wonderful.
Are vinyl albums truly better than other formats, or is it just nostalgia; or can it be nostalgia when people too young to remember are getting into vinyl?
This is a long way to say this vinyl guy has fallen for streaming.
After a flirtation with the free version of Spotify – where adverts butt in like shouty strangers on a bus – I settled for Quobuz, shelling out £13 a month.
The sound is great over the hi-fi, no different to CDs, and as the music is contained in my iPhone, the saved albums can be played over a portable wi-fi speaker and in the car. Music man heaven!
As long ago as March 30, 2018, I wrote here about my ‘blokey’ record collection…
“Yes, those men do line up in the CD collection and slump together in vinyl. It’s always been like that, a boys’ chorus of Richard Thompson, Elvis Costello, Van Morison, Ry Cooder, Bruce Springsteen, John Martyn and Dire Straits, backed up by more recent discoveries such as Craig Finn and The Hold Steady…”
Streaming has let me put that right. On my ever-expanding musical waistline, you will now discover plenty of Rhiannon Giddens – everyone should have more Rhiannon in their lives – alongside Sarah Gillespie, Molly Tuttle, Julie Byrne, Eliza Carthy (a long-time favourite, to be fair), and Lisa O’Neil, the weirdly fabulous singer of soaring Irish folk.
Adding to the non-blokey ballast there is Gillian Welch, a great find.
Cat Power is singing Dylan in her recreation of the 1966 Royal Albert Hall Concert – a great listen, if disconcerting as sometimes she sounds just like Dylan. And Dylan is on there too, singing for himself.
Oh, and the new Sufjan Stevens album, which is lovely. Also two family suggestions: The National from our eldest son and Snarky Puppy, a spot-on tip from the middle boy.
There is jazz too, from Thelonious Monk all the way to Ezra Collective – oh, I do love them. Not forgetting Abdullah Ibrahim and his Africa suite. Andy Sheppard too, he’s always busking in the background. Charles Mingus holds up the classic end of jazz.
Oh, and that’s without the classical, the Bach, Montiverdi and Berlioz.
With streaming you can indulge your musical curiosity. At the time of writing, I am listing to the new album by Ben Folds, after wondering what it might be like. The new Nitin Sawhney is there too after he was on Later.
Unlike those old vinyl LPs, you don’t ‘own’ this music. If you stop subscribing, it’s gone. I’m too addicted to give up, but at least I still read proper books made of paper, so that’s something on the nostalgia register.
Fusty footnote: after many mentions in this blog, and in this very post, of Solid Air, streaming has reintroduced me to Bless The Weather, a John Martyn album from 1971. It’s just as wonderful, and the opening track, Go Easy, must be the ultimate Martyn song.
Old music and new discoveries keep this metronome heart ticking.