The vinyl curtain is not about to fall

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2006 may have been the year that the BBC finally pulled the plug on Top Of The Pops, Barry Manilow went into hospital for a hip replacement and Keith Richards fell out of his tree, but one old veteran of the pop scene has made a comeback worthy of Ol' Blue Eyes himself - the seven-inch single is back.

According to industry sources, the number of vinyl singles sold in the last five years has soared from 200,000 in 2001 to over a million copies this year. This turnaround has surprised many high up in the music business who had assumed that with the increasing popularity of CD singles, music downloads and iPods, that seven-inch singles would go the same way as the eight-track cartridge, Betamax video recorders and Hearts' annual title hopes!

Yet not only are sales expanding, but more and more artists are now insisting that their singles come out on this old fashioned format, from the Rolling Stones to Robbie Williams, Kate Bush to KT Tunstall. Many believe that this resurgence is down to the new breed of guitar bands who have broken through in the last couple of years, such as the recent Mercury Music prize-winning Arctic Monkeys, and exciting new up and coming Scottish bands like the Fratellis and The View. These bands hark back to what is increasingly seen as a golden age of popular music, an age epitomised by the seven-inch single.

What is the unique joy of the seven-inch single? Well, as one pop pundit eloquently put it, nobody goes around humming albums. They're sexy and sensual and fun, completely of the moment like all great pop music but also redolent of our teenage years. They're equally at home at the school disco, a student bedsit or a 40th birthday party.

Some say that it's the very smell of the vinyl itself that is so intoxicating, others that it's the expectant drop of the needle on to the vinyl and that anticipatory hiss before the music kicks in, that makes the seven-inch such an evocative item.

But make no mistake, the greatest music is defined by the three-minute pop song - the perfect length of a seven-inch single. It is a design classic, as much as the Mini Cooper or the mini skirt. Indeed, for men of a certain age - and unfortunately it does seem to be mainly men of a very certain age - the seven-inch single can be used to measure out and define our lives. Just visit any pub in Edinburgh and come the witching hour - usually round about the fourth pint of IPA - the talk will turn to record collections, Fall B-sides and that very first single you bought.

Mine was in 1977, at the tender age of 13, the year that punk rock broke. Unfortunately it wasn't Anarchy In The UK by the Sex Pistols or The Clash's White Riot but Knowing You Knowing Me by that well known Swedish punk rock combo Abba, bought at the music department of Woolworth's from the lovely but aloof Saturday girl, just next to the pick 'n' mix counter. The very thought of it still gives me teenage kicks.

One friend of mine has collected 54 copies of Joy Division's Love Will Tear Us Apart on seven-inch. Why? Nobody knows. Another, a high-profile Edinburgh lawyer, has as his proudest possession every Jam, Style Council and Paul Weller single stored in a neat little seven-inch record box at home. Proudly stored that is until the whisky comes out, at which point they're played, in chronological order of course, until the sun comes up.

If this all sounds like the film High Fidelity, then you'd be right. For years at Avalanche Records, our seven-inch single section has been the still-beating heart at the centre of our store. At times only frequented by a few regulars who had kept the faith, they now have to fight it out on a Monday morning with the new kids on the block, hungry for the week's new releases. As the record companies have grasped the size of this new market, their creative departments have gone into overdrive. Each week sees a new batch of picture discs, coloured vinyl, eight-inch sleeves, badges and patches and posters and one-sided etchings. And don't the kids just love it!

This explosion in new singles has seen a resultant increase in our sales of second-hand seven-inches as youngsters start off their collections, regulars fill in the gaps or tourists search for that long-lost Scottish classic. It's always a poignant moment buying in someone's seven-inch collection - there's always a story to be told. Couples splitting up, spare rooms turned into nurseries, emigration to the New World, all needs to be done, but done with a heavy heart all the same.

And as for the future . . . well it's black and it's round with a hole in the middle and it travels at 45 revolutions per minute.

Andrew Tully is manager of Avalanche Records' Cockburn Street branch. Those with vinyl to sell, or even those new-fangled CDs can visit Avalanche's stores at 63 Cockburn Street, 0131 225 3939 or at 17 West Nicolson Street, 0131 668 2374