Musician Jason Leach is bringing a whole new meaning to the term vinyl revival – he is creating special memorial discs that include the ashes of the dead. Chris Burn reports.
Normally, hearing pops and crackles on a vinyl record is not a positive sign. But when you have commissioned Jason Leach to create you a very personal recording, it is exactly the sound you want to hear.
Leach, a musician from Scarborough, has set up a rather unusual – and surprisingly touching – business in which people provide him with the ashes of deceased loved ones, along with photographs, details of their favourite songs and recordings of them speaking.
He uses this information to create unique vinyl records that essentially act as a living memorial to the person who has died. And while the small amount of ashes that goes, quite literally, into the record does compromise the sound, that interference is actually a reminder of their physical presence on the recording.
Jason, aged 46, came up with the idea of And Vinyly in around 2007 when he started properly contemplating his own mortality for the first time when his mother started working at a funeral directors.
“It was something for myself which I wanted to do. I had started contemplating all our mortality, as I had been lucky enough to be protected from everything and death was something I hadn’t thought about,” he says.
“I was amazed how closed everyone was about the topic and how little I had contemplated it before. That intrigued me and frightened me.”
He was further inspired by hearing about American author Hunter S Thompson, whose ashes were blasted out of a cannon by actor Johnny Depp in line with the writer’s final wishes.
“I thought, wow, that is great,” he says. The musician, who had been making his own records since the 1990s, says he initially came up with the idea of putting ashes on a vinyl recording for his own parting gift to his family and was surprised when others became interested after he set up a website.
And his business has become known across the world, particularly on the back of a moving short documentary called Hearing Madge. The 10-minute film, which has been viewed more than 90,000 times on YouTube explains how Jason helped a man called John Hobson create a record with the ashes of his mother Madge.
Jason says: “He had the ashes of his dear old mum and never knew what to do with them. Before her death, he had sat with a mini-disc and asked all these questions about the family and where they had come from. He gave me about three hours of fantastic material. The whole record is her recording.”
Mr Hobson says on the documentary: “I know a lot of people would think it was creepy, think it was sacrilegious but I know my mother wouldn’t have, she would have thought it was a hoot.”
Jason says there is growing demands for the records, which can cost up to £3,000 and come with specially-created sleeve notes and album covers. He is currently in the process of making some for two bands.
But Jason says the well-publicised growing popularity of the vinyl industry after years of decline has actually been more of a hindrance than a help to him as pressing plants become busier dealing with re-issuing records for major music labels and smaller independents get “shoved to the back of the queue”.
He says the idea of living in the memory of our loved ones is an appealing one to many people.
“It is a nice way to be able to keep someone’s memory alive and to be able to pass it on through the family. That is really what people like.
“Just to be able to think, our great-great-great grandchildren could hear your voice is quite cool, that is a nice thing. It is something I would love to have my own great-great grandkids be able to listen to.”