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Sunday, 23 April 2017

Welcome back old friend - The incredible rebirth of the vinyl format

More than 3.2 million records were sold in 2016, a rise of 53% on the previous year, according to the BPI, which represents the music industry. BBC News

More than 3.2m LPs were sold last year, a rise of 53% on last year and the highest number since 1991 when Simply Red’s Stars was the bestselling album. This was also the first year that spending on vinyl outstripped that spent on digital downloads.  The Independent

In comparison to recent years, vinyl has made a significant surge, clawing back from what seemed like extinction. With a 52 percent increase in vinyl purchase in 2014, hitting the highest number of sales since 1991, it seemed clear that vinyl was poised to make a comeback as a common means of music consumption. Huffington Post

I grew up with vinyl being the main format for music consumption - I think I was around ten years of age when I had a small Dansette type record player for Christmas. I can still remember the three albums I had with it - one was that perennial favourite Elvis Christmas Album, and the other two were tribute albums by artists whose names are long lost to me. One was some guy doing the best known songs of Elvis Presley and the other was some band covering Beatle hits. Back in those days records were expensive and my parents were never the hippest of cats - they would have no doubt figured these albums were super,fab,gear,groovy and like those cheap Hallmark Top of the Pops albums, music covered by non original artists was a thriving industry.

You know what I played each of those records to death, and no doubt that Beatle cover album likely had something to do with the beginnings of my life long obsession for the fabs. And don't even mention those cheap and tacky Top of the Pops albums, usually sold in Woolworths and John Menzies. These days those albums are hugely sought after by collectors.

I though kind of ignored those albums as I got more and more interested in music - during the mid Seventies I fell for the punk explosion in a big way, and all my pocket money was spent in Wendy's Record Shop in Tonyrefail - a shop now long gone. I wonder what  ever happened to Wendy? Come to think of it, 'Whatever Happened to Wendy' would be a cool song title that would fit wonderfully on one of those Top of the Pops albums.

Fast forward to the late 1980's - a time of rampant consumerism, industrial disputes and putting old records in the rubbish bin. Or, even more fun, using them as quite deadly frisbees.

Now during the late 80's/early 90's I, like everyone else, fell for the con that was compact disc - 'they sounded better than vinyl', we were told - 'they were indestructable', we were informed.  And CD quickly became the biggest selling format for music while vinyl was consigned largely to the history books, loved by only a small number of audiophiles who were mocked when they said, 'Wait, CD doesn't sound as good as vinyl'  However these cro-Magnon hipsters were right all along. Vinyl pisses all over digital music, whatever the format.

 It is not CD that has made a comeback in the age of digital downloads and streaming. Nope it's vinyl and in 2017 the format is looking healthier than ever.

A couple of years ago my kids bought me a copy of Sgt Peppers on 180g vinyl - now I already had that album but not on vinyl. And holding the record I felt the years falling away, so yeah nostalgia may be a part of the new found love for vinyl. I couldn't play it, mind. I didn't have a record player. And so I went out and bought a turntable and amp and gradually the vinyl collecting fever overtook me and now fast forward to early 2017 and my vinyl collection numbers a couple of hundred (with more being added weekly) and I've spent far more than I should have on good equipment to play my records. But you know what - I'm actually listening to music again, I mean really listening not just humming along to reconstructed bits and bytes.

There is a tactile quality to vinyl records...They are large, you can hold them.In this day and age where everything has gone digital, people are kind of pushing back against that a little bit. A record seems much more real than a digital file.

Recent figures show that during the first quarter of 2017 vinyl sales have outstripped digital downloads. This is good news for us Vinyl fans.

There is definitely something appealing about holding the album in your hand. The sleeve art really comes into its own with the larger format. Often albums come with gate-fold sleeves containing all manner of information from lyrics to recording information. That in itself is so much nicer than a digital file which, when all is said and done, has no more substance than fresh air.But I firmly believe that the main benefit of vinyl is that the music just sound so much warmer, much more real. With a good system the separation between instruments is much more apparent, the vocals sweeter or rougher depending on the music itself.

Vinyl offers a richer sound than downloadable digital songs, which although hiss-free lack the 'warmth' of vinyl records. There is also the satisfaction of owning a beautifully packaged artifact. And there's a certain coolness in the rejection of the sprawling, multi-tentacled reach of the digital world.

Vinyl is more expensive than digital and takes effort to play - good art deserves a little effort.

Vinyl rocks baby, and don't you forget it.

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