Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Tables have turned

Last Monday, I went into work and pitched a feature idea to the commercial director on the vinyl revival, I know not exactly new, but quite apt for Christmas I thought, plus I know most of the record shops from Warminster to Penzance, and thought it was a good idea. The commercial director thought so too, and told me to go for it.

So I researched the record shops, designed a fact sheet for the advertising guys to send out to record shops, designed the ads they sold (six in all), interviewed Matt the hat, who owns a record shop in Barnstable, and then wrote the actual feature. The three-page article appeared in The Independent (the regional paper for the south west, not the national) last Sunday, 1 December.

The so-called vinyl revival has been well underway for over a decade now, and showing no signs of abating, with last year’s sales topping four million in the UK and almost ten million in the US. But 2019 is the first year records are set to overtake CD sales, ironic to consider that by the late 1980s, the CD was said to be the death of the record.

Events such as Record Store Day, held every April since 2008, have helped ignite the vinyl revolution, with Universal Music’s sales manager calling it “the single best thing that has ever happened” to independent record shops. And although records can now be bought everywhere from your local supermarket to coffee shops, as well as HMV (which was saved from administration in February this year and now believes vinyl could be its saviour), it is local record shops which offer the most passion, variety and loyalty among collectors.

The south west offers numerous, excellent record shops in its big cities, such as Rooster Records in Exeter, Really Good Records in Plymouth and Wanted Records in Bristol, but the smaller market towns also contain treasure troves of vinyl. Raves from the Grave has branches in Warminster and Frome. The award-winning Drift Records in Totnes is family-owned and serves cocktails on Friday and Saturday nights. It has also become focal point for local musicians. Clocktower Music in Bridport have around 8,000 items in stock and West Quay Records in Bridgwater is locally well-loved.

Further down in Cornwall is Room 33 Records in Bodmin, Museumvinyl in St Austell, Lost in Music in Camborne and Music Nostalgia in Truro’s Pannier Market. Falmouth contains Sounds OK and Jam, a cafe and record shop selling new vinyl upstairs and secondhand records in its basement.

What becomes the common thread in all these shops is the owners’ love of the music. Matt Poulton – otherwise known as Matt the Hat, due to the top hat he doffs – has been running Discovery Music, his record shop in Barnstaple, for over thirty years, and he’s always done it for the music, having loved music and records since a teenager, and never for the money (though he did recently sell an LP by little-known UK prog-rock band Steel Mill for £1,800).

Matt attributes today’s interest in records to various things, including nostalgia and a backlash against technology – and though he is famously a technophobe, he believes the internet, with young people listening to playlists and flicking seamlessly between musical genres, has increased the variety of music they listen to. The main difference in record buying Matt has noticed in recent years (he’s against calling it a vinyl revival as for him, and many others, it never went away) is the variety of people buying records now – all ages and backgrounds.

Like all grand pronouncements at the start of the new century – from the end of the world to the end of print – the death of vinyl didn’t happen. The opposite did. Whilst arguably the CD has crystal clear sound, there’s nothing quite like the warm, dusty, analogue sound of needle on vinyl.

Previously on Barnflakes
Top ten vinyl wants
Notes on being me
Top ten records I would have bought in Totnes if I had any money
South London record shops
Top ten missed vinyl barngains


Wing Man said...

It was the best feature the paper ever ran. What a time to be alive!! You were absolutely snowed that week. Busy busy busy! Unbelievable feature

Barnaby said...

Thanks. It was write write write, design design design all week. What a time to be snowed.