Jim Duffy: Vinyl record experience has got me back into the groove

The pleasing feel of a record and the look of its cover artwork have been a big loss with the transfer of music to streaming, says Jim Duffy.
The pleasing feel of a record and the look of its cover artwork have been a big loss with the transfer of music to streaming, says Jim Duffy.
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Turning back time with a retro turntable reminds Jim Duffy of a few forgotten pleasures of buying and playing an album

I received a gift voucher for HMV at Christmas and thought I’d go and spend it at the weekend. I’ll be honest and say that I had not set foot in an HMV for years as - like many of you – I buy my music online or use Spotify and pay a monthly subscription. I no longer possess a CD player in the house. In fact, I cannot recall when I last had one. I put everything through my iPad and just wirelessly ping it to my speakers and hey presto. So, no need for CDs or DVDs kicking around the living room. Just what was I going to get when I visited HMV? What could I spend my £20 voucher on? Well, what I found was a blast from the past.

For some reason, I honestly thought that stores like HMV had disappeared from the high street and big shopping malls. But, after a quick Google search, low and behold, I found my nearest store. On entering, I was immediately struck by how busy it was. There were people everywhere looking at all sorts of media, T-shirts and, of course, CDs. But, when I turned a corner, I thought I had been transported back to 1981. A whole quarter of the store was dedicated to selling records - aka vinyl. And alongside that was what really blew me away - record players! Holy Toledo Batman, I thought.

Having moved away from record players and vinyl records decades ago, switching to CDs, MP3 players, iPods and now streaming, are we moving back to records and stylus generated music? Surely this must be for the stalwart or the puritan who has never really moved on and embraced new music technology? It would appear not. I knew that Lynn Products still made awesome record players for those who really and truly loved the stylus and the experience of sticking on an album. But, here in 2017 in Livingston, all genres of people were looking up and leafing through albums and not a MP3 in sight. So what has prompted the renaissance of the record player?

I’m not going to say it’s nostalgia. I’m sure that many never really gave up on their record players. As human beings, all the technology in the world will never replace the tactile experience of touching and feeling products. Add to this the mechanics of setting up the record player and watching the turntable spin and it all starts to make sense for me. It truly is an experience and one that I realise I miss. When we think about it, newspapers were all to be dead by now. Technology would have brought about their demise as we would all be using tech to get our daily fix. Far from it. While newspapers do indeed find it hard to compete with online technology, they are still in existence and still have meaning. How many of you will buy the Sunday paper and read it throughout the day? Exactly, we still like the feeling of a newspaper and obviously now the feeling of a proper album cover.

There is no doubt that we do consume media in a different way than we did in 1981. But, as humans, we still like to touch and hold stuff and play with things that are not all online. There is something more satisfying about leafing through your album collection than a bunch of plastic CDs. Even the thought of having an album collection again kinda gets me excited. I’m not sure what my teenage girls will think when they visit me and see that dad has a record player and Bat Out of Hell is sitting on the turntable with the album cover strewn across my coffee table. But, by the same token, I don’t really care. It’s all mine… And again that is art and part of building and owning an album collection. It’s a very personal ownership that connects me with the planet and reminds me of time alone with me and some basic old-fashioned technology.

The whole point of having streamed music is that you can take it everywhere with you. It’s flexible and easy and generally works - opening up a huge choice to listen to. Not so with my record player and 15 albums. They can’t go anywhere. They’re stuck in my living room and show no signs of wanting to be mobile. And that is again where the magic comes in. Selecting an album, teeing up the stylus and ensuring the turntable is all operating well is a process that engages me deeper into the music. I’ve had to actually do something meaningful. I’ve had to work at putting on my music – not just click a button. And this engages me more with the music and the experience.

Let’s also not forget the album cover artwork and the different colour vinyls that I can get to keep me interested for hours. I recall some terrific creative album covers that sucked me into the music and added to experience. In fact, as I write this right now, my mind is taking me on a cognitive recall to that magnificent double album, War of the Worlds. Jeepers Creepers… that was amazing and I could have studied it for hours as I listened to the haunting music from Jeff Lynn.

Why not think about treating yourself and paying eighty quid for a decent wee turntable? After all, you are only human.