Why vinyl is still playing on in a disposable digital age

Pete Paphides. PA
Pete Paphides. PA
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For a long time now, owning hard copies of albums has been seen as the old fashioned pursuit of a small group of die-hard music fans.

These days, 99 per cent of all new singles are bought digitally, the vast majority from iTunes, leaving CDs and minidiscs to dance their way to the musical graveyard.

Yet there’s one analogue anachronism in this high-tech world that refuses to go offline. During the first nine months of 2011, more vinyl records were sold than in the whole of 2010 – a 40 per cent sales bump. Not bad for a product that was reportedly consigned to the scrapheap decades ago.

Next week the UK’s Record Store Day, which began two years ago, will celebrate the vinyl format, with numerous bands either re-releasing or recording special, limited-edition vinyl stock and giving copies to independent sellers across the country.

Blur, for example, after they reformed, marked the first Record Store Day with Fools Day. Only 1,000 copies were made. This year, on November 25 (aka Black Friday) a special Rolling Stones seven-inch disc will go on sale, plus very rare releases from The National, The Black Keys, Kings Of Leon, Lady Gaga and that Liverpool four-piece, The Beatles.

BBC 6Music presenter Pete Paphides, who has been collecting records since he was 12, says this growing love of vinyl is a natural revolt against a digital age.

“When people come round to my house, they go straight to the vinyl records and get amongst them in a way they never ever would with the CDs,” says the music aficionado, whose new show Vinyl Revival (the world’s only vinyl-only radio show) begins in December.

Paphides has now amassed one of the most impressive record collections in the country. Visitors will regularly struggle to find space among the piles of singles on his kitchen worktop, have to push aside towers of records he’s been looking through to use the dining table, and tread carefully to avoid tripping over crates and crates of other rare, hard-to-find classics.

As if to prove just how integral vinyl records have remained to music lovers, a pilot episode of his new series earlier this year featured heavyweights Paul Weller and Laura Marling and some of their favourite records.

Paphides also travelled to Brighton to meet fellow vinyl enthusiast Fatboy Slim to peruse his enviable record collection. The popularity of the pilot led to a nine-part series.

“CDs seem so worthless now, and vinyl always seems like buying a present for your future self,” says Paphides. “It used to be DJs buying vinyl, who sort of kept the format ticking over, but with people buying Adele, Coldplay and Noel Gallagher’s new records, it seems to me there’s a real shift and even casual music fans are interested in records again.”

And if you needed any further proof vinyl is back, look to John Lewis. Never one to miss out on a trend, the department store has recently unveiled a range of vinyl albums in its home furnishing department.

Alongside these 20 specially chosen records sit special 12in square frames, in which you can place whichever record you choose.Sales have so far been good, with The Sex Pistols’ iconic album proving most popular.

The JL electronics department is also apparently mulling over selling a range of turntables in the spring should the range be popular enough.

Paul Deckland, who is responsible for launching the range in John Lewis, says: “We wanted to sell iconic albums, so we’re selling Nirvana’s Nevermind, The Velvet Underground and Nico, Massive Attack’s debut Blue Lines, the Pulp Fiction soundtrack – an album compiled by the film’s vinyl-collecting director Quentin Tarantino – and Let It Bleed by The Rolling Stones, which boasts a cake made by a young Delia Smith.”

The resurgence in vinyl sales taps into a wider trend for nostalgia, says Deckland.

“There’s a real vein of thought that suggests digital music hasn’t got as much longevity as everyone originally thought it had. We’re obviously in an economic crisis and we’re looking back at happier times. Many housing trends in the last few years have been retro.

“As the housing market is struggling, less people are moving, so they’re cocooning in their living rooms instead and looking to surround themselves in the warmth of significant items, not disposable style.”

For more details of events in Yorkshire visit www.recordstoreday.com.