Father Christmas (TOWT) has b(r)ought me a record player. A rather splendid jobbie it is too, encased in a brown faux-leather attaché case, with a red interior with the letters G.P.O embossed in the inside upper lid. It can handle all formats of vinyl – records that go at 33 and a thirds, 45 and 78 revolutions a minute – and its tip of the head to modernity is a slot for a USB stick – a free one is provided – which can be used to record the vinyl into MP3 format or play music content from the stick through the player’s speakers.
The sound quality is surprisingly good, especially if you wire it up to play through an amp. Ever since digitally formatted music became available there has been a long (and for many, tedious) debate as to the respective merits of digital versus vinyl. You will be relieved to know that I won’t be adding to the debate save to say that there is something undeniably romantic, at least for someone of a certain age, in removing a 12 inch circle of grooved vinyl from a record sleeve and placing it over the metal rod. Releasing the arm from its holder and positioning it carefully on to the edge of the vinyl you are greeted with a hiss and then slowly but surely the music plays.
What you lose in the clinical precision of digital music, you gain in excitement. No play will be the same because of the condition of the stylus or of the record – the simple act of putting the stylus on or off the record inevitably leads to some surface damage and the stylus is marvellously efficient at collecting dust and fluff that previously was imperceptible to the human eye. And the lack of portability or at least the need for mains electricity means that you are required to stay in the same room as the player to enjoy the music. Your music is no longer an ephemeral accompaniment to your everyday life. It becomes an event in itself.
One of the most shocking features of Lord Ashcroft’s revelations about the youthful indiscretions of David Cameron’s time at Oxford was that he spent time listening to Supertramp. No wonder, allegedly, that it drove him to smoking dope. I know how he felt. The problem with having a new form of music reproduction is that you relive that time in your youth when you only had one record to play. You played it ad nauseam so you were painfully familiar with every nuance of every track.
TOWT thoughtfully provided me with some vinyl carefully selected from the discards in the local charity shop bins and the one she selected was Breakfast In America by, of course, Supertramp. They were never one of my favourites but by Boxing Day I was familiar with every word and every chord of their 1979 opus. It was only when friends and relatives had left after the Christmas break and sobriety had returned that I was able to get up into the loft and retrieve my boxes of vinyl albums.
It had always been a retirement task to sort through them to see what gems were lurking there and discover whether they had escaped the ravages of prolonged confinement and the dust and damp of ages. They are now in my study and during the course of the next few months I will be playing them and, where I don’t have CD equivalents, recording them. In this new series I will share some of my discoveries, the stories and memories associated with them and what I think of them now. I will have some fun even if you don’t!