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Why we are falling in love with vinyl, again

Shrewsbury | News | Published:

It's a finger action almost forgotten. But in The Beatles section of vinyl heaven – aka Shrewsbury's only record store, White Rabbit – Mel Barratt deftly demonstrates that not only is the art of flicking through the racks of vinyl albums still alive, but judging by the number of people doing the same it is a resurgent trend.

It's a finger action almost forgotten. But in The Beatles section of vinyl heaven – aka Shrewsbury's only record store, White Rabbit – Mel Barratt deftly demonstrates that not only is the art of flicking through the racks of vinyl albums still alive, but judging by the number of people doing the same it is a resurgent trend.

"I do love the vinyl format," says Mel, pulling out a copy of Rubber Soul. "Records are beautiful objects and they are physical objects, and the sound they make, with all their scratches and crackles, is warm and real."

In an age of digital downloads where instant musical gratification comes at the touch of the dreaded 'shuffle' button, the vinyl 33 or 45 is format that demands audience involvement. For a start, enthusiasts have to take the record from its sleeve, cue it up and drop the needle onto the groove before retreating to the sofa to enjoy the fruits of their efforts.

"I have to sit and stay where I am when I am listening to a record," adds Mel. "I don't do other things at the same time and I listen to the whole album all the way through.

"I find that with CDs or downloads it's just background music." Meaning you turn the playing device on and do the housework, listening with only one ear.

Dave Lamont, who runs White Rabbit at Shrewsbury Indoor Market, says: "I have definitely noticed that interest in vinyl has increased.

"You get youngsters who are listening to older music for the first time, the next generation up who might have thrown their records away and are going back to it, and then there's my generation – people trying to find LPs they had years ago."

Like listening posts of old, here customers can ask to hear a particular record and Dave happily slips it out of its sleeve and onto the turntable.

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There's a short crackly pause, full of anticipation, before the journey of discovery begins with the first beats of The Stones' Brown Sugar, followed by nods of heads all round.

And those returning to the format that brought soundtracks to the lives of the original teenagers are not all older fans either. Some of them are teenagers first time round.

Harry Daniels, 17, from Shawbury, is among the new wave of vinyl junkies.

"I collect vinyl and tape," he says. "You can find a lot of great music in a record store like this that you weren't necessarily looking for – you find little surprises.

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"I do download digitally and I have a Walkman cassette as well as an iPod, but the sound of a vinyl record is different from digital. It's more real somehow."

His friend, Caitlin Hazell, also 17, adds: "Vinyl is beautiful and crackly, it has more depth.

"And I like to look at the artwork on the sleeves and be able to hold it – it's a physical object."

It may be the digital age when music fans can download their favourite tunes to a device the size of a postage stamp, but it is the vinyl record that is making the biggest noise right now.

There are around 300 independent record shops still trading in the UK, but that is a big fall from 10 years ago when there were around 2,000.

But sales are rising again and it is vinyl records that are making a comeback.

Furthermore, to mark independent record store day earlier in the year, some of the biggest names in the music business such as Kate Bush, David Bowie, Elbow and Arcade Fire released tracks in vinyl to mark the event – in the hope of re-introducing some of their fans to the traditional and still-loved format.

As pop music becomes ever more disposable, and with little chance of financial appreciation on a 79p download, vinyl is becoming increasingly valuable and collectable.

Mel Barratt recently snapped up a numbered copy of The Beatles' double White Album for £110.

"But it's the search that it's all about," he adds.

Paul Quirk, Chairman of the Entertainment Retailers Association, believes can live harmoniously alongside digital music.

"It is a reaction to the fact that the CD has not changed for 20 years," he says.

"People have also got used to downloading music and they now realise that downloading is not the complete answer and that physical sales of physical vinyl can run alongside digital as well. It is amazing how many people have never seen a piece of vinyl but when they do they realise what they have been missing.

"The sound is so much warmer, with the sleeve that they have it's a piece of artwork, it gives you so much more value, and it's collectable."

Clearly, digital downloading now means that people can store their entire record collection in a gadget no bigger than an iPod; keeping the same number of records would mean filling the garage several times over.

But Paul adds: "I don't think it's one thing or the other – people will have decks at home; they will have their mobiles which they take with them – it runs parallel."

So strong is the return to vinyl in Shropshire – there's also a popular vinyl store in Newport's indoor market – that a number of 'vinyl nights' have sprung up in coffee houses and pubs in Oswestry, Shrewsbury and Bridgnorth.

Here fans can take along a small selection of their favourite 45s or albums and take over the decks for 15 minutes.

"They are very popular," says Dave. "I have started one at the Shakespeare pub in Bridgnorth and people make little playlists and put on their records."

Meanwhile, the flow of vinyl junkies beating a path to White Rabbit is healthy. "People come and have a chat about the music and to each other.

They might stay for an hour or so," explains owner Dave. "There is more to it than just music."

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